Category: Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories

Tiny Theropod Dinosaur Fossil Found in South Korea

Tiny Terror from South Korea

A South Korean news agency has reported that the nearly complete fossilised skeleton of a new species of meat-eating dinosaur has been discovered in Hadong county, some 300 miles south of the country’s capital Seoul.  A think tank, the National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage has stated that not only is this the most complete dinosaur skeleton to be found in South Korea it is also the smallest.  The specimen represents an individual animal that would probably have been around 30 centimetres in length, with a good portion of that being made up of the tail.  The miniature meat-eater’s skull measures 5.7 centimetres long and is 2.6 centimetres wide.  Palaeontologists have yet to determine whether the fossil is of a young dinosaur or an adult animal.

A Picture of the Fossil Material Released by the News Agency

Tiny fossils from South Korea.

Tiny fossils from South Korea.

Picture Credit: Yonhap News Agency

The picture above shows the partially exposed skeleton, elements from the skull as well as the ribs and part of the back bone can be made out.  From the photograph, it is difficult to determine what sort of creature this could be, it does not look particularly Theropod like with this dorsal view (view from the top looking down) of the specimen.

A number of dinosaur and other prehistoric animal fossils have been found in the Early Cretaceous rocks that are exposed in Hadong county (South Gyeongsang province).  This fossil has been tentatively dated to around 120 million years ago (Aptian faunal stage of the Early Cretaceous).  Sauropod tracks are also known from this part of the world, as well as fragmentary evidence supporting the presence of large, carnivorous dinosaurs including some remarkable bones that might have preserved evidence of dinosaur feeding behaviour.

To read about the discovery of dinosaur bones that might provide evidence of feeding:  Strange Marks in the Bones – Dinosaurs Feeding?

Back in 2008, the South Korean Government failed in their attempt to get part of the coastline of the country, with its rich and varied Mesozoic fossils, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Intriguingly, notes accompanying the press release stated that the tiny fossil had vertebrae connected to the ribs, whether this statement means that the ribs were actually fused to the backbone is unclear.  It has also been suggested that another specimen is located in the same matrix.  We at Everything Dinosaur, will look out for further press releases, hopefully more information about this discovery  will come to light.

Could the Fossils Represent a New Species of Tiny Theropod Dinosaur?

Many small meat-eating dinosaurs once roamed the British Isles

Many small meat-eating dinosaurs once roamed ancient environments.

Picture Credit: Dinosaurs of the British Isles (Siri Scientific Press)

Getting our Teeth into Malaysia’s Dinosaurs

Putting Malaysia on the Dinosaur Fossil Map

Back in February of this year, February 18th to be exact, Everything Dinosaur wrote an article about the discovery of Malaysia’s first dinosaur fossil, a small tooth believed to represent a member of the Spinosauridae.  Although, this fossil was just a little over two centimetres in length, it made a big impression on Asian palaeontologists.  Here was evidence that Malyasia, like Thailand and Laos, could be home to dinosaur fossil remains, most probably new species to boot.

Now, exactly nine months later, we are happy to report on the unearthing of more fossils from Malaysia, they hint at a potential treasure trove of new dinosaur discoveries that could be made, perhaps rivalling the recent dinosaur discoveries of Western Malaysia’s northern neighbour Thailand.

To read about the discovery of Malaysia’s first dinosaur fossil: Malaysia’s First Dinosaur – A Fossil Tooth is Found

Firstly, the team behind the discovery of and research into the Spinosauridae tooth have reported that they have found evidence of a second type of dinosaur in the same region.  It’s another fossilised tooth, but not from a meat-eating Theropod, this tooth is that of a herbivore and similar to the teeth of bird-hipped dinosaurs (Ornithischians), although the family is difficult to determine as the teeth looks to be heavily worn and from the photographs that have been released, it is not easy to determine any clear, distinguishing traits.  According to some press reports we have read, the tooth may have come from an armoured dinosaur, a member of the Thyreohora (shield-bearers), a sub-group of the Ornithischian dinosaurs that consists of the armoured dinosaurs.

Malaysia’s Second Dinosaur Tooth

A second fossil tooth has been discovered.

A second fossil tooth has been discovered.

Picture Credit: AFP

In the picture, of the lead researchers in the Malaysian dinosaur project, Dr. Masatoshi Sone from the University of Malaya (Kuala Lumpur), holds up a coin to show the size of the fossil specimen.  This tooth is smaller than the Theropod’s discovered earlier, it is just 13 mm long and measures 10.5 mm wide.  The age of this fossil has yet to be determined but the research team, which also includes scientists from Japan’s Waseda University and Kumamoto University, hope to use pollen micro-fossils, recovered from the surrounding matrix to help date the specimen more accurately.  For the time being, the fossil tooth is being described as from the Early Cretaceous so it could be around 140 million years old.

This second fossilised tooth was found in the same locality as the first tooth fossil, the Taman Negara region of Pahang State (Western Malaysia), the exact location of the fossil find is being kept secret, to deter amateur fossil hunters from damaging the site.  The Taman Negara region is extensively forested and searching for fossils in a part of the world that is heavily vegetated is not easy, but the research team were keen to point out that construction projects often allowed access to bedrock and rock strata not normally within reach.  Dr. Masatoshi remarked that he often took his wife with him to explore the ground works of housing construction projects, as these building sites, with the vegetation cleared and excavations, were ideal places to look for evidence of ancient life in the freshly exposed rocks.

When asked about the possibility of further dinosaur finds, Dr. Masatoshi stated:

“It is plausible that large dinosaur fossil deposits still remain in Malaysia.”

How true!  No sooner has the University of Malaya held a press conference to show their new dinosaur discovery, then there comes a report from the Mineral and Geoscience Department of the Malaysian Geological Heritage Group that more evidence of dinosaurs has been found, this time in the Mount Gagau region of Terengganu State, some distance from the Pahang fossil finds.  These new fossils are believed to be unrelated to the finds made by the research team led by Dr. Masatoshi and they have yet to be accurately dated.  The discoveries consist of several footprints, bones and teeth and at least three different types of dinosaur are represented, although it is impossible to identify them down to the genus level at the moment.

Commenting on the dinosaur fossil finds, one of the directors of the Mineral and Geoscience Department of the Malaysian Geological Heritage Group, Datuk Yunus Abdul Razak stated:

“They are significant findings that will lead to even more dinosaur fossil enquiries, also, the fossils that we found were more intact.”

A tooth, measuring about 1.5cm in length and two footprints could be from an Iguanodontid, a member of a group of highly successful Ornithischian dinosaurs whose fossils have been found in Cretaceous aged deposits all over the world.  There have even been reports of Iguanodontid fossils recovered from Upper Jurassic strata, for example Camptosaurs and other North American Ornithopods.

The Rocks with the Tooth of an Iguanodontid are Shown to the Press

caption

Geoscience assistant Mohd Azrul Aziz shows the rocks that could contain Iguanodontid fossil material.

Picture Credit: Mineral and Geoscience Department of the Malaysian Geological Heritage Group

Fossils of Iguanodontids are known from South-East Asia, with a number of fossil specimens identified as belonging to members of the Iguanodontidae family, but once again, genus identification is difficult.  With luck, as more fossils are found, the scientists will be able to build up a picture of the Dinosauria of South-East Asia and assign some fossils to new genera.

At Everything Dinosaur, we look forward to hearing more about dinosaur discoveries from Malaysia.

To Clone or Not to Clone a Woolly Mammoth

Documentaries on Woolly Mammoth Autopsy and Cloning Possibilities

Two documentaries focusing on the study of a remarkably well preserved female Woolly Mammoth carcase are due to be shown in the UK and the United States towards the end of this month.  Channel 4 (UK) will show “Woolly Mammoth: The Autopsy” on Sunday, November 23rd at 8pm.  Stateside viewers will be able to see a similar documentary entitled “How to Clone a Woolly Mammoth”, it will air on the Smithsonian Channel on November 29th.

The 40,000-year-old star of the show, is “Buttercup” a mature female Woolly Mammoth.  The frozen carcase was discovered back in 2013, when a research team from the Research Institute of Applied Ecology, the Russian Geographical Society and the North Eastern Federal University was exploring the remote Lyakhovsky islands, part of the Novosibirsk archipelago, situated in the Eastern Siberia Sea in the search for Woolly Mammoth fossil remains.  The scientists found that entombed within the ice, much of the front part of this Mammoth’s body was intact.  This was one of the best preserved specimens ever discovered and the television programme makers examine what these remains can tell us about these long extinct creatures and then the programmes discuss the prospect of scientists producing a clone.

When the body cavity of the Mammoth was examined, in places where it had begun to slightly thaw, a thick, red liquid could be encouraged to flow out of the flesh.  At the time this was described as “blood”. Although it may have contained constituents of blood, the television documentaries will explain in more detail what this was.  However, one thing that the field team could be confident about, this one of the best preserved Woolly Mammoths ever found.  Having a strong stomach is needed for this sort or work.  A nose peg/face mask is recommended, once the body starts to warm up, decomposition and putrefaction are not far away.

Returning a Woolly Mammoth, a species that has not been seen on this Earth for thousands of years, back from the dead.  This might sound like the stuff of science fiction, but the cloning of a Woolly Mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius), is a distinct possibility although probably not for at least another thirty or forty years – just a blink in geological time.

To read about the discovery of the Mammoth that is now called “Buttercup”: A Woolly Mammoth with Fresh Blood?

Should the Woolly Mammoth be Resurrected?

Will the Woolly Mammoth return?

Will the Woolly Mammoth return?

Picture Credit:  Everything Dinosaur

 It is likely that this elephant became mired in a bog and she probably succumbed to exhaustion, although an attack from predators is not ruled out as much of the rear portion of the skeleton has been lost and that which remains shows feeding damage.   Whether this was post-mortem, we at Everything Dinosaur are unable to say.

Whilst we at Everything Dinosaur are very much in favour of the study of these Siberian giants.  After all, actually examining the slowly thawing out flesh of such a creature provides science with so much more information than just the bones. We remain concerned about the moral and ethical issues involved in any cloning process.  True, scientists from Harvard University and from South Korea’s Sooam Biotech Research Foundation are trying to just that, to bring a Woolly Mammoth back by cloning, although both teams are going about it in slightly different ways.

We feel that certain questions have to be asked, for example, what contribution to overall genetic research would such a project make?  Indeed, is it right to focus on trying to resurrect the Mammoth when more resources could be directed at trying to save critically endangered flora and fauna that are still around.

We imagine a scenario, whereby, many Indian elephant females are subjected to experimentation and if a clone could be created, then there is the problem of surviving the lengthy gestation if a successful implanting into the womb of a surrogate mother could be achieved.

If the baby could survive to term, then there is the birth itself, or most likely a Caesarean section, as no commercial company would want to lose their “genetic investment” at this late stage.  If the baby survives, boy or girl (gender will probably be determined for it), then it could end up being rejected by what would already be a traumatised mother.  If the calf lives, we suspect there may be a number of unforeseen medical issues (as has been the case in the cloning a number of extant animals), then what sort of life would this young Woolly Mammoth have.

Could we See a Baby Woolly Mammoth in a Zoo in 2050?

Baby Woolly Mammoth - the New Lyuba?

Baby Woolly Mammoth – the New Lyuba?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Possibly rejected by its own mother and never able to be part of a herd, this elephant, highly social by instinct, part of a species that had a childhood almost as long as a human’s childhood, would be totally isolated and alone.  It would have no references, no role models, no benchmark.  It would be a Woolly Mammoth or something resembling a Mammoth (depending on the proportion of Indian elephant DNA involved), but it would not know how to behave or act like a Mammoth.

We at Everything Dinosaur foresee a heart-breaking scene in a zoo, perhaps in the not too distant future, whereby, a shaggy, rough coated elephant is paraded in front of crowds of visitors to the great satisfaction and economic benefit to the institution that owns this genetic wonder.  For the animal itself, it would most probably be doomed to live an entirely unnatural existence with none of the social interactions that these elephants would crave.  Just as we have captured Orcas and displayed them at theme parks and we are now only being to understand the trauma we put these magnificent creatures through.

Being able to explore the flesh and blood of a long dead creature is of great importance to science.  We accept that one day in future the cloning of a Mammoth may indeed be possible.  But just because we can do something doesn’t make it right to do.  To clone a Mammoth would involve a tremendously dedicated team of scientists who would be pushing at the boundaries of our understanding of genetics, but just as with the study of the carcase itself, when it comes to the moral and ethical implications, a strong stomach will be required.

Let’s hope that the documentaries examine the ethical dimensions of cloning such as a creature as well as providing more information on how these ancient creatures lived and died.

A Fishy Dinosaur Tail from South-western Alberta

Fishermen Spot Duck-Billed Dinosaur Fossil in the Castle River

Palaeontologists at the Royal Tyrrell Museum (Alberta, Canada), have a new Hadrosaur specimen to study, thanks to a pair of keen-eyed fishermen who spotted the fossilised remains of an 80-million-year old dinosaur whilst on an angling trip to the Castle River in the extreme south-west of Alberta.

Back in August, a father and son fishing trip on the river was interrupted when the son, spotted the brownish/black outline of some bones exposed on the surface of a huge boulder that had been washed into the middle of the Castle River.  Last year, the south-west of Alberta experienced some of the worst flooding in living memory.  The devastation caused by the extensive flooding had a silver lining for vertebrate palaeontologists as a number of fossils were swept into river systems. This Hadrosaur specimen, which consists of a partial skull, articulated cervical vertebrae and bones from the upper portion of the chest, could represent an entirely new species.

The Fossilised Bones are Entombed Inside a Sandstone Boulder

The exposed skull (top right) and the articulated neck vertebrae.

The exposed skull (top right) and the articulated neck vertebrae.

Picture Credit: Royal Tyrrell Museum

Hadrosaurs, or more specifically dinosaurs that belong to the Superfamily known as the Hadrosauroidea, were bird-hipped, herbivores that had horny beaks and batteries of teeth to help them cope with tough vegetation.  Known from the Mid Cretaceous to the very end of the Age of Dinosaurs, these reptiles, also referred to as the duck-billed dinosaurs were amongst the most speciose of all the known types of dinosaur and they were particularly numerous and diverse during the Campanian and Maastrichtian faunal stages of Late Cretaceous North America.

Commenting on the significance of this discovery, the Curator of Dinosaurs at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, Dr. Donald Henderson explained that the unusual location of this fossil find, just a few miles from the border with British Columbia, makes this specimen extremely important.

He stated:

“It is one of the reasons we were so keen to get it, every time we find something different in another part of the province, it’s something important.  This means we could be finding new dinosaurs in the extreme south-west of Alberta.”

A helicopter was called in to airlift the one tonne boulder onto a low-loader for transport up to Drumheller, where the museum is based.  The specimen will then be carefully prepared in the museum’s laboratory.  Field workers did search the rest of the river bed and along the banks in the immediate vicinity of the fossil in a bid to find other parts of the skeleton, but to no avail.  Last year’s floods may have delivered this partial specimen but the remainder would have most likely been washed away.

It is rare for such a specimen, to be preserved in this manner.  The sandstone rock in which the fossil is entombed is extremely hard, the resistance of this rock to erosion helped preserve the fossil, although extracting the fossilised bones from the surrounding matrix will be a very difficult and time consuming job due to the tough matrix.

Dr. Henderson added:

“It’s in really, really hard sandstone, otherwise it would have been smashed up a long time ago.  It’s [the fossil specimen] sort of coiled up inside, at the time of its death, the neck and head curled back and the body was swept away in a river of sand. “

A Close up of the Skull Showing the Rows of Teeth in the Jaws

Erosion has led to the skull and jaws being cross-sectioned to reveal internal details.

Erosion has led to the skull and jaws being cross-sectioned to reveal internal details.

Picture Credit: Royal Tyrrell Museum

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur said, that the actions of the fishermen should be praised.  It is important for members of the public to alert museums when they come across something unexpected and unusual.  The fossil is probably preserved in three-dimensions, the hard sandstone protecting the bones, normally such bones are crushed, flattened and smashed.  Palaeontologists might be able to learn a great deal about Late Cretaceous Ornithischian dinosaurs as a result of this fossil discovery.

Researchers Report on Cretaceous Trace Fossils From Angola

Important Prehistoric Animal Tracks Discovered in Angola

Amongst the many exciting news stories that have come out of the annual Society of Vertebrate Palaeontology meeting held this week in Berlin, is the report from the Paleo Angola Project about the discovery of extensive vertebrate tracks preserved in sediment that now makes up part of a diamond mine in north-eastern Angola.

Angola is one of the new frontiers for palaeontology.  This vast, yet underdeveloped country in southern Africa is believed to contain a number of Mesozoic aged, highly fossiliferous deposits and it is likely that any dinosaur fossils excavated from this country are likely to be species new to science.

Researchers Map the Trace Fossil Locations

Mapping the fossil locations.

Mapping the fossil locations.

Picture Credit: Paleo Angola Project

The picture above shows an aerial view of some of the trace fossils with their locations highlighted by the research team.  Dinosaur tracks are highlighted in the centre and on the right of the photograph, whilst the mammalian tracks can be seen highlighted towards the bottom left portion of the picture.

To read an article from Everything Dinosaur about Angolan fossil exploration: Angola Starts to Share its Fossil Secrets

In a report to the Society of Vertebrate Palaeontology, researchers from the Paleo Angola Project described a location in the silt and sand deposits that represents a lacustrine (lake) environment dating from approximately 118 million years ago (Aptian faunal stage).  Approximately, seventy distinct footprints have been identifed so far.  These trace fossils represent footprints made by Sauropod dinosaurs, crocodiles and a relatively large prehistoric mammal.  The mammal print is particularly intriguing.  Most mammals during this part of the Cretaceous were very small, no bigger than rats, but the five-toed print measuring more than three centimetres across indicates that a mammal the size of a Bedlington Terrior dog or a North American Raccoon.  The scientists stated that the tracks were probably made over a substantial period of time, as the lake dried out over several seasons.

A Close Up and Line Drawing of a Single Mammalian Print

Five digits can be clearly seen.

Five digits can be clearly seen.

Picture Credit: Paleo Angola Project

The mammalian track suggests that in at least this part of Africa, mammals were much larger than previously thought.  The mammal track has been described as “a very rare find.”

Working out what kind of mammal left the rare footprints may not be possible, after all, no body fossils have been found.

Commenting on the discovery, Marco Marzola, one of the palaeontologists with the Paleo Angola Project explained:

“We cannot narrow down to a species but we can say what they [the footprints] do belong to.  They were made by an exceptionally large mammal, that we can say for sure.”

In the same location, eighteen Sauropod tracks have been discovered, the Paleo Angola Project team have already named and described one giant, long-necked dinosaur that once roamed Angola.  The fossils of this dinosaur were found in marine sediments.  It is likely that the corpse floated out to sea and there is evidence preserved on the fossilised bones of feeding from sharks, that were scavenging the carcase.

To read about the discovery of Angola’s first dinosaur: Angolatitan – Dinosaur that Ended Up as Fish Food

Praising the action of the consortium which owns the diamond mine (Catoca mine, the fourth largest diamond mine in the world), the scientists said that the mine owners stopped all activity at the mine to allow the researchers to map and plot the trace fossils.  The mine owners put the promotion of vertebrate palaeontology in Angola ahead of their own desire to make money.

Ankylosaurs with Air Conditioning

Complicated Nasal Passages Helped Keep Ankylosaurs Cool

Animals have a number of ways of controlling their body temperatures and cooling down.  Some warm-blooded animals like kangaroos and antelopes seek shade during the heat of the day.  Elephants cover themselves with mud or take a cooling dip.  Dogs pant and humans sweat, but how did the heavily armoured dinosaurs keep cool?  These “living tanks” with their huge, armoured bodies could have been in danger of overheating as they wandered around in the Mesozoic.  A new paper suggests that their complicated nasal passages not only would have helped these animals with their sense of smell, but they would have acted as very efficient heat transfers.

Ankylosaurids with Built in Air Conditioning

Armoured dinosaur models.

Armoured dinosaur models.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A team of scientists based at Ohio University used CAT scans of ankylosaurid cranial material to map the anatomy of the complex nasal passages in two different North American Ankylosaur species.  The team then modelled the air flow in three dimensions using a computer programme that interpreted the CAT scan data.  Palaeontologist Jason Bourke, one of the authors of the scientific paper stated that the complex nasal passages would have given the inhaled air more time to warm up to body temperature by drawing heat way from blood vessels in the nasal cavity.  This would have helped cool the blood and in turn this would have cooled vital organs such as the brain.  The brain of even the largest ankylosaurids was extremely small when compared to their body size.  The dinosaur experts at Everything Dinosaur regularly compare the brain of a large Ankylosaur such as Euoplocephalus tutus to the size of a child’s fist.  The nasal passages would have helped to keep the brain in its heavily armoured skull cool and stable.

Mammals and birds use scroll-shaped bones called conchae, otherwise known as turbinates to warm air that is breathed in, but the armoured dinosaurs seem to have achieved the same result with a completely different anatomical configuration.

Commenting on the study, Jason Bourke stated:

“There are two ways that animal noses transfer heat while breathing.  One is to pack a bunch of conchae into the air field, like most mammals and birds do, it is spatially efficient.  The other option is to what lizards and crocodiles do and simply make the nasal airway much longer.  Ankylosaurs seem to have taken this second approach to the extreme.”

Doctor Lawrence Witmer (Ohio University), who was also involved in this research explained:

“Our team discovered these “crazy-straw” airways several years ago, but only recently have we been able to scientifically test hypotheses on how they functioned.  By simulating airflow through these noses, we found that these stretched airways were effective heat exchangers.  They would have allowed these multi-tonne beasts to keep their multi-ounce brains from overheating.”

Ohio University researchers had previously studied the complex nasal passages of another group of Ornithischian dinosaurs – the Pachycephalosaurs.

To read this earlier article: Nosing Around Pachycephalosaurs

Just like noses in humans, (Homo sapiens) ankylosaurid noses are likely to have served more than one function.  As the complex nasal passages helped condition the air that was breathed in and out, water may have been removed from exhaled breath helping these dinosaurs to retain water, important when you live in arid environments.  In addition, the convoluted passageways may have added resonance to the low-pitched sounds this dinosaur made.  The nose could have amplified these sounds acting as a resonator, making the noises made by Ankylosaurs  heard over greater distances.

Egg Shape Could Explain Survival of Birds into the Cenozoic

New Study Suggests Egg Shape Might Hint at Clues to Survival

Eggs come in many different shapes and sizes.  There are large ones, small ones, those that are more rounded, others that can be more ovoid in shape and so on.  However, a new study, conducted by evolutionary biologists at Lincoln University (UK), suggests that egg shape could have been a factor in why some birds survived the Cretaceous extinction event, whilst other types of bird and the Dinosauria did not.  The research published in the on line journal of the Royal Society, looks at the geometry of eggshells and highlights morphological differences between the eggs of birds and those of their extinct, but very close relatives, the Theropod dinosaurs.

Birds, Reptiles and Mammals are linked as all these types of creature are descended from Carboniferous Tetrapods that evolved an ability to reproduce from an egg that was contained within a semi-permeable eggshell.  These early terrestrial animals were no longer dependent on the presence of water in order to breed and reproduce successfully.  These types of eggs are called Amniotic eggs.

A Diagram Showing the Structure of an Amniotic Egg

The growing embryo is protected by a semi-permeable egg shell.

The growing embryo is protected by a semi-permeable egg shell.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Safe from drying out, the embryo inside the egg is further protected by a robust, internal membrane called the Amnion.  It is the evolution of the Amniote egg that permitted Tetrapods to conquer all terrestrial environments.

In this new study, the research team noted that there were notable differences between the eggs of birds that survived the Cretaceous mass extinction event that took place around sixty-five million years ago, and the shape of the eggs of those creatures that become extinct.  Although, the fossil record is far from complete when it comes to preserving evidence of eggs and reproductive strategies, the results suggest that early birds from the Mesozoic laid eggs that had different shapes to those of modern birds.  It is possible that egg morphology indicates different physiologies or different rates of embryonic development and this may have implications when it comes to surviving a mass extinction event, such as that which led to demise of around 70% of all terrestrial life, including all the non-avian dinosaurs.

Could Theropod Egg Shape Have Doomed the Dinosauria?

Dinosaur Eggs - New Extinction Theory gets Laid Down

Dinosaur Eggs – New Extinction Theory gets Laid Down

Picture Credit: Associated Press

One of the authors of this new paper, Dr. Charles Deeming (School of Life Sciences, Lincoln University) explained:

“These results indicate that egg shape can be used to distinguish between different types of egg-laying vertebrates.  More importantly they suggest Mesozoic bird eggs differ significantly from modern day bird eggs, but more recently extinct Cenozoic birds do not.  This suggests that the range of egg shapes in modern birds had already been attained in the Cenozoic.”

As extant Amniotic eggs vary considerably in size and shape and this variety reflects different patterns of egg formation and development, then the variation seen in the fossil record of eggs may also reflect different patterns of egg formation, egg development and even nesting behaviour.

Dr. Deeming commented:

“From a biological perspective, it is self-evident that different egg shapes by birds, both past and present, might be associated with different nesting behaviours or incubation methods.  However, hardly any research has been carried out on this topic and fossil data are insufficient to draw firm conclusions.  We hope that future discoveries of associated fossil eggs and skeletons will help refine the general conclusions of this work.”

Although there might be a link between eggshell shape and the ability to survive the Cretaceous mass extinction, it is likely that a lot of other factors contributed to the survival of one group of vertebrates whilst others died out.  The eggshell shape itself may be a part of the story, but palaeontologists are confident that dinosaurs, including many Theropod dinosaurs engaged in complex nesting behaviours, brooded eggs on nests and invested a great deal of time and effort in raising the next generation.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur stated:

“Although the fossil record for eggs and nesting sites is extremely fragmentary, there is evidence to suggest that members of the Dinosauria exhibited altricial and precocial behaviours.  How one group of birds, the Neornithines were able to dominate the Aves remains uncertain, more research in this area is needed.  However, this data adds a fresh perspective and it is certainly intriguing.” 

Dr. Deeming advised that this new paper does not provide all the answers, but it hints at the tantalising possibility that eggshell morphology could have been an contributory factor in the extinction of the dinosaurs.  Dr. Deeming and this paper’s co-author Dr. Marcello Ruta (Lincoln University), are continuing their investigations.  The scientists intend to explore how highly variable amounts of yolk (food for the embryo) and albumen (egg white) could possibly effect egg shape.

Mary Anning at the Natural History Museum

Being Associated with the Wrong Marine Reptile

As team members from Everything Dinosaur travel around they sometimes get the chance to visit a natural history museum whilst out on their adventures.  There are many splendid museums in this country and elsewhere in the world and it is great fun looking at the various fossils held within the collections.  Occasionally, we come across an exhibit that has inaccurate or out of date information, mistakes do occur and we are always appreciative of the time and trouble curators take over their particular charges.

One such anomaly can be seen in the Fossil marine reptiles gallery in the Natural History Museum London.  There are some spectacular marine reptile fossils on display, Ichthyosaurs, Pliosaurs and their close cousins the Plesiosaurs.  The fossil specimens (most of them are casts) are truly astonishing and this museum (quite rightly in our opinion), does much to acknowledge the contribution of Mary Anning to the nascent science of palaeontology and her work excavating and describing fossils of ancient Jurassic marine vertebrates preserved in the cliffs on the Dorset coast around Lyme Regis.

Information about Mary Anning and her work can be found on various information boards on display.  However, one thing that has always puzzled us is that there is a prominent information board about Mary located on the Rhomaleosaurus cramptoni cast, Mary Anning had nothing to do with this specimen, its discovery or research into it.  In fact, she died about a year before this specimen was found.

Wonderful Marine Reptile Exhibits – but Nothing to Do with Mary Anning

Mary Anning died before this fossil was discovered.

Mary Anning died before this fossil was discovered.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Rebor

The specimen in the photograph is not a fossil but a cast, a copy of the fossil which was made very probably in the late 19th Century by the American Henry Augustus Ward, who set up one of the world’s first fossil dealers and provider of museum replicas and casts.  The animal that the cast represents is called Rhomaleosaurus cramptoni.  It is pronounced Row-ma-lee-oh-sore-us.  It is mounted on the wall of the fossil marine reptiles gallery in the Natural History Museum, but we are aware of similar casts of the same fossil specimen in Monash University (Victoria, Australia), Cornell University, (New York USA), University of Illinois,  and the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution (Bath, Somerset).

The actual fossil is part of the National Museum of Ireland (Natural History), Dublin, Ireland, we don’t think it is on current display.  The code for the specimen is NMING F8785 (all significant fossils are given a unique identifier, this helps when searching for information on a particular specimen).

A Model of the Fearsome Rhomaleosaurus cramptoni

A super model of a marine reptile.

A super model of a marine reptile.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Rhomaleosaurus means “strong lizard” an appropriate name for this fearsome predator that grew to more than six metres in length and might have weighed as much as 1,000 kilogrammes.

Tracing the Origins of the Ichthyosaurs

Short Snouted Basal Ichthyosauriform from the Lower Triassic of China

It had long been predicted, but until now one of the enduring mysteries of the marine reptiles had remained unsolved.  One of the most successful clades of marine vertebrates ever to have existed were the Ichthyosaurs , reptiles that form the Order Ichthyosauria (fish lizards), also known as the Ichthyopterygia (fish flippers).  These animals thrived in the seas and oceans for much of the Mesozoic but unlike other types of back-boned animals that had adapted to a life in water, no fossils of transitional forms showing a link with terrestrial ancestors had been found.

However, this week a team of researchers led by scientists from the University of California have published a paper detailing the discovery of an amphibious Ichthyosaur, an animal that, although adapted to a life in the sea was still capable of clambering about on land.  This specimen is believed to represent a transitional form, between the Ichthyosauria and their terrestrial ancestors.  Writing in the science Journal “Nature”, the researchers document a nearly complete specimen (just end of the tail missing), of a forty centimetre long, amphibious reptile that is probably part of a group of animals that were the ancestors of the nektonic Ichthyosaurs, widely regarded by many palaeontologists as the most well-adapted to a marine existence of all the reptiles.

The Fossil Specimen that Indicates a Transitional Form

Cartorhynchus

Picture Credit: University of California – Davis/Professor Motani

Commenting on the research, lead author Professor Ryosuke Motani (University of California, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences) stated:

 ”But now we have this fossil showing transition.  There’s nothing that prevents it from coming onto land.”

Professor Motani and his colleagues uncovered the fossil specimen in eastern China (Anhui Province) from Lower Triassic strata believed to date from around 248 million years ago (Olenikian faunal stage).  Unlike the long-snouted fully marine Ichthyosaurs this animal, which has been named Cartorhynchus lenticarpus, had a short snout, its bones were also heavier, traits associated with fully terrestrial ancestors.  Unlike later Ichthyosaurs, the flippers were large in proportion to the body size and the wrists flexible.  These features helped this creature crawl around on land, in a similar way to extant seals.  C. lenticarpus means “truncated snout with flexible wrists”, an apt name for this little reptile that spent part of its life on land.  During the early part of the Triassic, eastern China was covered by a shallow tropical sea, there were numerous small islands, the whole area resembled the Caribbean today.  The isolated islands with their limited resources probably acted as a spur for vertebrate evolution.  There was plenty of food in the sea but it was a question of being able to reach it, this probably led to the evolution of reptiles that were more at home in water than their ancient ancestors.

The researchers also had to consider the implications of the Permian mass extinction event on the evolutionary pressures that these animals were under.  Just four million years earlier, planet Earth had undergone the most devastating extinction event known in the history of our planet.  More than 95% of all life on Earth died out.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur explained:

“Extinction events mean the inevitable demise of many genera and families.  However, for those organisms able to survive, such events open up a whole range of new opportunities and often there is a “burst” of evolution as animals and plants adapt to take advantage of vacated niches and new resources.”

Collaborating with the University of California were scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Peking University, Anhui Geological Museum, the University of Milan, and the Field Museum (Chicago).  As a basal Ichthyosauriform has been discovered in China, and the most primitive true Ichthyosaurs are also known from Triassic rocks from this region, then it is likely that the Ichthyosauria evolved in this part of the world.  This clade then radiated out and occupied a number of ecological niches including apex predatory positions before dying out in the Late Cretaceous.

Later Ichthyosaurs were agile, swimmers, although the end of the tail is missing, scientists speculate that Cartorhynchus lenticarpus was probably a relatively poor swimmer.  It probably hunted soft bodied animals and Arthropods in coastal waters.

Determining the Extinction Date of Megalodon

C. megalodon Extinct by 2.6 million Years Ago

The giant prehistoric shark known as Megalodon (C. megalodon) has certainly attracted a lot of scientific attention in recent years.  This predatory shark, believed to be the largest, carnivorous shark to have ever existed, might have reached lengths in excess of sixteen metres.  Bodyweight estimates vary, but a number of scientists have calculated weights around the twenty tonnes mark.  With a mouth that could gape nearly 3 metres wide, this fish would have been capable of swallowing an extant Great White shark (C. carcharias) whole!  Some fishermen, such as those who fish the waters off South Africa have claimed that Megalodon still exists, but a team of researchers from the University of Zurich and Florida University have used a statistical technique to provide the best estimate yet of the extinction of this apex marine predator.

Safari Ltd Introduced a Model of the Giant Shark Known as Megalodon this Year

Fearsome marine predator.

Fearsome marine predator.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Writing in the on line journal PLOS One (Public Library of Science), the researchers Catalina Pimiento (Department of Biology, University of Florida) and Christopher Clements, (Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, Zurich University), used a statistical analysis to calculate the approximate time of the extinction of these predators.  By developing a better understanding of the time of the extinction, the research team are able to map the consequences of the extinction of an apex predator on the marine ecosystem.  Using a mathematical technique called Optimal Linear Estimation (OLE) the scientists have calculated that around 2.6 million years ago C. megalodon became extinct.  This is the first time the extinction of C. megalodon has been quantitatively assessed.  A total of fifty-three fossils of this ancient shark were used in this study, but this number was reduced to forty-two for the statistical assessment, as eleven of the fossil specimens gave the researchers less confidence over their actual age.

Optimal Linear Estimation is used for mapping the extinction of modern species, but with the abundant and widespread fossil record of Megalodon, mainly the large number of fossilised teeth associated with this species, the team were able to apply this mathematical method to calculate the time when the very last of these magnificent creatures lived.

Fossilised Tooth from C. megalodon

A large fossil tooth from a Carcharodon megalodon.

A large fossil tooth from a Carcharodon megalodon.

 Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Although the team admit that their calculations are subject to margins of error, this work represents a refinement on previous estimates of the extinction of this shark species.  Why this apex predator became extinct remains a mystery. Most Megalodon fossil material dates from around 16 to 11.6 million years ago (Miocene Epoch) with some further fossils known from the Pleistocene Epoch, although a lot of the fossil material associated with Pleistocene deposits were not included in this particular study.  With a more accurate extinction date established, the researchers can then assess the impact of the removal of a large predator from the marine environment on other genera including Cetaceans.  The date of 2.6 million years ago marks the border between the Pliocene and Pleistocene Epochs, it was after this point that the baleen whales began to increase in size and to evolve into the many giant forms alive today.

As marine mammals are thought to have made up a substantial part of the bus-sized shark’s diet, although there is no conclusive evidence to suggest Megalodon fed on large whales, if Megalodon died out, did this trigger the flourishing of the baleen whales?

Commenting on the research, Catalina Pimiento stated:

“When we calculated the time of Megalodon’s extinction, we noticed that the modern function and gigantic sizes of filter feeder whales became established around that time.  Future research will investigate if Megalodon’s extinction played a part in the evolution of these new classes of whales.”

Megalodon is a prime candidate for this sort of statistical analysis, due to the relative abundance and widespread distribution of its fossilised teeth.  It is hoped that this technique can be applied to other extinct species to plot more accurately the impact of a single species extinction on the wider ecosystem.

Did Megalodon Feed on Large Cetaceans?

Did this apex predator attack large whales?

Did this apex predator attack large whales?

Picture Credit: Science Photo Library

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