Category: Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories

Baby Dinosaur Returns Home

Baby Oviraptorosaur May Be New Species of Giant Feathered Dinosaur

The fossilised remains of a baby dinosaur, identified as a member of the Oviraptorosauria clade have been returned to China, some twenty years or so after it was taken out of the country.  The baby dinosaur, a hatchling, may represent a new species of dinosaur, possibly a dinosaur that could have grown to about eight metres in length, around the size of Gigantoraptor (G. erlianensis) which is the largest species of this type of feathered dinosaur described to date.

To read about the discovery of the 1,400 kilogramme Gigantoraptor: New Chinese Dinosaur Described – Gigantoraptor

There is a large market for illegally obtained dinosaur fossils from China, many fossils found by local farmers such as dinosaur eggs and even baby dinosaurs, end up being carefully collected and smuggled out of the country to become part of a wealthy individual’s private collection.  This is what happened to the baby dinosaur fossil, it was found perhaps in the mid 1990’s amongst a collection of fossilised eggs in the Henan Province of China, it would have moved through various parties until eventually winding up in the hands of a private collector in America.

The Fossilised Remains of “Baby Louie” – An Oviraptorosaur

"Baby Louie" returns home to China.

“Baby Louie” returns home to China.

Picture Credit: Darla Zelenitsky (University of Calgary) with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

The nearly complete fossil specimen was eventually purchased by the Indianapolis Children’s Museum (purchased in 2013), even though it was now in a museum collection, detailed scientific study of the fossil material was not possible, to provide a more complete understanding of the significance of this dinosaur, it would need to be examined in conjunction with other dinosaur egg fossils from the same Upper Cretaceous strata.  The fossil, nick-named “Baby Louie” after photographer, documentary maker and acclaimed contributor to National Geographic, Louie Psihoyos, was returned to China and now resides in the collection of the Henan Geological Museum, where scientists are confident that with other contemporaneous fossil material available, much more will be learned about this particular dinosaur species.

Darla Zelenitsky, of the University of Calgary, recently updated the Society of Vertebrate Palaeontology at their annual conference held in Dallas, (Texas), about the progress being made with the research.

Dr. Zelenitsky stated:

“I have initially started doing research on the specimen in an attempt to identify the parentage of the eggs, but interpreting the fossil wasn’t so simple.  Most dinosaurs are named from adult specimens and multiple studies have underscored the fact that dinosaurs changed dramatically as they grew up.”

Unable to Speculate on the Nature of the Species

Although it has been widely accepted that the fossil represents a baby Oviraptorosaur, it has proved difficult pining down a genus or indeed erecting a new species for this fossil.

Darla Zelenitsky summarised the problems:

“Because of the nature of the preservation and the immaturity of the skeleton, who laid the eggs was difficult to identify from the skeleton alone.  The best bet seemed to be some kind of Oviraptorosaur, feathery Theropod dinosaurs that had strange crests, and strange beaks.  Yet baby Louie seemed to large for such a species”.

It was not until that Gigantoraptor was described in 2007, that scientists became aware that some types of this Theropod dinosaur could grown to be very sizeable animals.  Most members of this clade tend to be just a couple of metres in length, some such as Caudipteryx are a lot smaller than that.

Dr. Zelenitsky added:

“The eggs themselves suggest Oviraptorosaur, but their size indicated an adult egg-layer that would have been more than a dozen times larger than most Oviraptorosaurs known at the time.”

Whilst it is still not possible to assign a species to the fossil, the discovery of Gigantoraptor suggests that “baby Louie” could have grown to a similarly large size.  Although it is difficult to speculate given the paucity of the fossil evidence, it has been suggested that this young dinosaur could have grown to be the size of Gigantoraptor.

Could Baby Louie Have Grown to the Size of Gigantoraptor?

Feathers used for display and courtship.

Feathers used for display and courtship.

Picture Credit: BBC (Planet Dinosaur Television Series)

Now that the specimen is in Henan Province, Dr. Zelenitsky and her colleagues can put together a sustained research project to learn as much as they can about how Oviraptorosaurs grew and matured.

Jack Horner Announces Retirement (Well Almost)

Jack Horner Calls it a Day

Jack Horner, one of the world’s most famous palaeontologists, has announced his retirement from the post of Curator of Palaeontology at the Museum of the Rockies after thirty-three years in the post.  John “Jack” Horner, the Regents Professor of Palaeontology at Montana State University has enjoyed a sparkling career having been thrust into the scientific limelight with the discovery of Maiasaura (M. peeblesorum) and the implications on dinosaur nesting behaviour and how dinosaurs raised their young which subsequently arose.

The Very Influential Jack Horner

Palaeontologist John "Jack" Horner.

Palaeontologist John “Jack” Horner.

Picture Credit: Montana State University

The scientist who advised on the Jurassic Park franchise and is credited with being the inspiration behind the character Dr. Alan Grant (at least in part), will not be hanging up his geological hammer just yet.  Although he is retiring from some of his commitments, he has lots of other projects which are going to keep him busy well into his seventies.

Commenting on the announcement of his retirement, the Professor stated:

“I can assure you that I’ll not be slowing down any time soon.  I will be pursuing a number of projects, including helping another museum amass a large dinosaur collection and finishing a couple more books.  I also have a very exciting project that I’m not yet ready to announce.”

Jack Horner’s official retirement date is June 30th 2016, just shortly after his seventieth birthday.  Montana State University intends to hold a special public event on the campus to celebrate the Professor’s contribution to vertebrate palaeontology.

Shelley McKamey, (Executive Director of the Museum of the Rockies) stated:

“Jack and his team of staff and graduate students have amassed the largest collection of dinosaur fossils from the United States.  He opened the science of palaeontology to the general public and sparked the imagination of countless aspiring palaeontologists.”

Professor Horner, has championed the theory that dinosaurs were warm-blooded, he has also courted controversy in his rich and varied career, playing a pivotal role in the Tyrannosaurus rex “scavenger versus hunter” debate.

The discovery of “Good Mother Lizard” – Maiasaura, in the late 1970’s brought about a complete revision of theories relating to dinosaurs and their parenting strategies.  Jack Horner and his colleagues demonstrated that some dinosaurs provided extensive parental care (Maiasaura young were altricial – incapable of feeding themselves).

Maiasaura – Described by Jack Horner and Robert Makela in 1979

"Good Mother Lizard"

“Good Mother Lizard”

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Long-time collaborator and University of California, Berkley professor Kevin Padian, wrote:

“It is difficult to imagine someone who, rising from such considerable obstacles, has achieved so much, given back so much to the profession, stimulated so much new investigation and supported so many younger colleagues and students.”

The search to replace John “Jack” Horner has started in earnest, however, finding a replacement with the same charisma and with the same high regard in this field of scientific endeavour is going to prove difficult.

Everything Dinosaur is grateful to Montana State University for the compilation of this article.

Tracing the Family Tree of the Brachylophosaurini

New Dinosaur Species from Montana – Probrachylophosaurus

The Hadrosaurs, commonly referred to as the “duck-billed” dinosaurs were a highly successful group of Cretaceous ornithischian dinosaurs that dominated the mega fauna of most of Asia, North America and Europe towards the end of the Mesozoic.  Many different types of genera are known and there is a general consensus amongst palaeontologists in terms of the taxonomic relationships between most species.  However, even though these large herbivores were abundant and the fossil record of these animals as collected from famous formations such as Hell Creek, Dinosaur Provincial Park (North America), and the Jingangkou Formation of eastern China, is quite detailed when compared to other types of dinosaur, there is still a lot we don’t know about these animals.

The “Super Duck” Probrachylophosaurus

Talented artist John Conway was commissioned to produce this illustration for the press release.

Talented artist John Conway was commissioned to produce this illustration for the press release.

Picture Credit: John Conway

The publication of a paper announcing the discovery of a new “duck-billed” dinosaur, nick-named “super duck”, in the prestigious journal PLOS One, sheds new light on how one particular group of these prehistoric animals evolved over time.  The new dinosaur has been named Probrachylophosaurus bergei, it translates as “before short-crested lizard” in reference to the fact that this new genus was found in strata that was laid down earlier than the very closely related Brachylophosaurus canadensis.  Indeed, in the paper written by Professor Elizabeth Freeman Fowler (Montana State University) in collaboration with her mentor and fellow Montana State University palaeontologist Jack Horner, the authors outline the anatomical similarities between these two members of the Brachylophosaurini clade that suggest that Probrachylophosaurus was ancestral to the later Brachylophosaurus.  This newly named dinosaur could be regarded as a “missing link” neatly fitting in between a much older type of “duck-billed” dinosaur (Acristavus) and Brachylophosaurus.  In addition, when all three skulls of these related dinosaurs are studied, they reveal an evolutionary link towards the development of evermore elaborate crests as display structures.

Tracing the Timeline Showing Evolutionary Transition in the Brachylophosaurini

Mapping the evolutionary transitions that led to more elaborate crest development.

Mapping the evolutionary transitions that led to more elaborate crest development.

Picture Credit: PLOS One

The diagram above shows the relative positions of fossil finds of dinosaurs that are grouped into the Brachylophosaur clade (Brachylophosaurini).  Acristavus gagslarsoni, from the lower portion of the Two Medicine Formation of western Montana lived around 81 million years ago.  It had no nasal crest.  Brachylophosaurus canadensis is known from Canada, the Oldman Formation of the Belly River Group, these fossils date to around 78 million years ago.  B. canadensis had a flattened, almost paddle-shaped nasal crest which projected backwards over the skull roof.  The very well known and more recent Maiasaura peeblesorum is also a member of the Brachylophosaurini.  The fossils of Maiasaura are associated with the upper portions of the Two Medicine Formation of western Montana and it had quite a substantial bump on its snout, a much larger more striking crest.

Commenting on the significance of Probrachylophosaurus, Professor Freedman Fowler stated:

“The crest of Probrachylophosaurus is small and triangular and would have only poked up a little bit on the top of the head, above the eyes.  Probrachylophosaurus is therefore exciting because its age – 79 million years ago – is between Acristavus and Brachylophosaurus, so we would predict that its skull and the crest would be intermediate between these species.  And it is.  It is a perfect example of evolution within a single lineage of dinosaurs over millions of years.”

Skull Comparisons between Probrachylophosaurus and the Later Brachylophosaurus

Skull comparisons between Hadrosaurs.

Skull comparisons between Hadrosaurs.

Picture Credit: PLOS One

The picture above compares  some of the known cranial material from P. bergei with a crest of the later Brachylophosaurus canadensis (left lateral and dorsal views).  The green arrow indicates the extension to the naris and other bone changes that led to the evolution of a more prominent and pronounced crest in Brachylophosaurus.

Professor Freedman Fowler with the Probrachylophosaurus Illustration and Cranial Fossil Casts

Professor Freedman with an illustration, and casts of the skull material.

Professor Freedman with an illustration, and casts of the skull material.

Picture Credit: PLOS One

This newest member of the “duck-billed” dinosaurs was nick-named “super duck” after it emerged although not fully grown, this dinosaur would have measured close to ten metres in length.  Body mass estimates suggest an adult weight in excess of five tonnes.  The fossils, including substantial post-cranial material were discovered in 2007, near to the town of Rudyard in north central Montana.  The species name honours Sam Berge one of the landowners who allowed access to the site to excavate the exposed fossils.

A nearby dig site revealed a fragmentary juvenile of the transitional Probrachylophosaurus, which suggests that successive generations of the Brachylophosaurus lineage grew larger crests by changing the timing or pace of crest development during growth into adulthood.  This change in the timing or rate of development is called heterochrony, a process which is being increasingly recognised as a major driving force in evolution.

Explaining the importance of heterochrony and how fossils of juvenile dinosaurs can assist scientists in piecing together evidence regarding change in populations, the professor said:

“Heterochrony is key to understanding how evolution actually occurs in these dinosaurs, but to study heterochrony we need large collections of dinosaurs with multiple growth stages, and a really precise time framework for the rock formations that we collect them from.”

The well-documented and accurately dated Campanian-Maastrichtian faunal stages as mapped out in the exposed Upper Cretaceous strata of North America provide palaeontologists with an opportunity to map heterochroneous relationships between animals of different ages but of the same species.  These in turn can permit the analysis of how these changes influenced the macro-evolution of the entire lineage.

An Illustration of the Closely Related (But Later) Brachylophosaurus

Brachylophosaurus illustrated.

Brachylophosaurus illustrated.

Picture Credit: Houston Museum of Natural Science

Celebrating South African Dinosaurs

Poster Celebrates  South African Dinosaurs

Earlier this week, scientists from the Evolutionary Studies Institute of Witwatersrand University (Johannesburg) put on display the fragmentary fossils of a huge dinosaur which roamed South Africa.  The fossils date from the Early Jurassic and represent an plant-eating dinosaur, a Sauropod that measured perhaps in excess of sixteen metres.  There have been a number of remarkable fossil finds over the last two years or so in South Africa.  These discoveries have helped to shed new light onto the fauna and flora of the Late Triassic and the Early Jurassic geological periods.  The announcement of the latest dinosaur discovery the “Highland Giant” coincided with the celebration of UNESCO’s World Science Day for Peace and Development.  A special poster has been commissioned to celebrate South African dinosaurs and other prehistoric life.  This poster was designed by artist and poet Maggie Newman.

Celebrating the  Prehistoric Life of South Africa

The prehistoric life of South Africa.

The prehistoric life of South Africa.

Picture Credit: The Evolutionary Studies Institute (Witwatersrand University)

The beautiful and very detailed poster depicts South Africa some 200 million years ago (Hettangian faunal stage of the Early Jurassic), a time when the continents were formed into a super-sized landmass that was beginning to split apart.  Dinosaurs were becoming the dominant terrestrial fauna but they shared the land with a wide range of other bizarre reptiles as well as some synapsids that were from the branch of the Tetrapoda that would lead to modern mammals.

Poster Key

This poster shows a scene in South Africa between 200 and 183 million years ago.  At the time the continents were splitting apart and there were many volcanic eruptions (1).  The climate was drying and there were sand dunes (2), tree ferns (3), yellowood (4), monkey puzzle (5) and ginkgo trees (6) formed patches of forest.  Early dinosaurs like this egg-laying Massospondylus (7) are shown fending off a hungry Coelophysis (8).  Heterodontosaurus (9) was different from other dinosaurs because it had incisor, canine and molar type teeth for cutting, biting and grinding up their plant food.  The name Heterodontosaurus means “different types of teeth” and this interesting small animal may have had quills like a porcupine.  In the scene, three Heterodontosaurus are fleeing a kill made by a crested dinosaur called Dracovenator (10), a relative of Dilophosaurus.  The Dracovenator is being threatened by a Ceratosaur (11).  The herbivorous Aardonyx dinosaurs (12) in the background are foraging peacefully.  Dinosaurs were not the only animals alive at this time.  Megazostrodon (13) was a small insect eating animal closely related to the earliest mammals.  Tritylodon (14) was a mammal ancestor with teeth like a dassie (Rock Hyrax – Procavia capensis).  The animal that looks like a lizard (15) is a small armoured land-dwelling crocodile called Protosuchus.

The original fossils of the dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals depicted in the poster are on display at institutions and museums around South Africa.

Dr. Jonah Choiniere (senior researcher at the Evolutionary Studies Institute at Witwatersrand University) stated:

“We think that this poster will show young learners…. ‘yes, South Africa does have dinosaurs’.  We hope that it will get them excited about studying the science behind South Africa’s incredible palaeosciences heritage.”

The poster is available for free and upon request to all visitors to the Origins Centre while stocks last and it will also be distributed to science centres, museums and visiting schools in the country.

To read an article all about the latest addition to the dinosaur dominated fauna of South Africa: South Africa’s “Highland Giant”

Everything Dinosaur would like to take this opportunity to thank those institutions involved with the commissioning of the poster, helping to inform and to educate people about life in the past.

The “Highland Giant” of the Karoo Basin

Femur of Giant Dinosaur Put on Display

The fossilised bones of the largest dinosaur ever found in South Africa were put on display at the Witwatersrand University Origins Centre this week.  The fragmentary remains, including a colossal partial femur (thigh bone), represent a plant-eating dinosaur that once roamed the land that is now known as the Lesotho Highlands some 200 million years ago.  The size of this, as yet, unnamed dinosaur is certainly impressive.  At an estimated fourteen tonnes, it was twice as heavy as Tyrannosaurus rex, but its sheer bulk is of limited interest to palaeontologists.  What is much more significant is that this specimen indicates the presence of very large dinosaurs in this part of the world during the Early Jurassic (Hettangian stage), it extends the faunal mix that existed in this region of the super-continent Gondwana, just a few million years after the Triassic/Jurassic extinction event.

A Scale Drawing Comparing the South African Sauropod to Well-known Dinosaurs and a Human (with Dog)

Dipolodcus, T. rex and the

Dipolodocus, T. rex and Aardonyx celestae are compared


Picture Credit: Witwatersrand University Origins Centre

The picture above also includes Aardonyx, a basal Sauropodomorph from South Africa.  Aardonyx has been described as a transitional form of lizard-hipped plant-eater, showing a trend in this part of the Dinosauria for heavier and heavier animals that eventually evolved into obligate quadrupeds.

To read an article about the discovery and naming of Aardonyx: South Africa’s Transitional Dinosaur Fossil

Nick-named The “Highland Giant”

Nick-named the “Highland Giant” the first fossils of this huge basal Sauropod were found during excavations under the Caledon River for the Lesotho Highlands Water Project some twenty years ago.  The bones were so bulky that they were stored in separate storage rooms.  It was only after the fossil specimens were relocated to new storage facilities that it was realised that the fossils represented the remains of a single, individual dinosaur.

Commenting on the fossil find, Dr. Jonah Choiniere, a senior researcher at the Evolutionary Studies Institute at Witwatersrand University stated:

“This is the biggest dinosaur we have ever found.  We do not know what the species is, hopefully we will know in a year or so.  We are not sure if this is a new species.”

Dr. Jonah Choiniere with Some of the Fossil Material

Dr. Choiniere with the fossils of the  "Highland Giant"

Dr. Choiniere with the fossils of the “Highland Giant”.

Picture Credit: Witwatersrand University Origins Centre

Other fossils collected in the same region have been associated with this giant Sauropod, the picture above shows Dr. Choiniere with some of the fossils, having a person in the picture provides a handy scale.  Recently, there have been a number of important dinosaur discoveries from South Africa.  For example, in August Everything Dinosaur reported on the naming of Pulanesaura (basal Sauropod) and in June, team members produced an article featuring Sefapanosaurus.

Pulanesaura article: Pulanesaura – A Case of “Four Legs Being Better than Two”

Sefapanosaurus article: New Sauropodomorph from South Africa

Fossils of the Early Jurassic Sauropod Have Come to Light Over Twenty Years

Fossils of the "Highland Giant" include claws and a vertebra.

Fossils of the “Highland Giant” include claws and a vertebra.

Picture Credit: Witwatersrand University Origins Centre

Dakotaraptor a Giant Raptor

Dakotaraptor steini and Niche Partitioning

An international research team which included scientists from the University of Kansas, Pete Larson (Black Hills Institute of Geological Research) and Bob Bakker (Houston Museum of Science and Nature) , have finally solved a hundred year mystery with the describing of a very large dromaeosaurid from fluvial deposits that form part of the famous Hell Creek Formation exposed in South Dakota.  Teeth, very typical of a dromaeosaurid, had been found in the Late Maastrichtian deposits indicating the presence of a very large “raptor”, however, no bones to link to the teeth were known.  However, a paper published in “Paleontological Contributions” describes Dakotaraptor (D. steini) and a new super-sized Dromaeosaur has been introduced to the world.

Dakotaraptor – A Fearsome Predator

Dakotaraptor steini

Dakotaraptor steini

Picture Credit: Emily Willoughby

At an estimated five and half metres in length, this new meat-eating dinosaur, known from fragmentary remains representing two individuals fills a niche within the food web of the fauna represented by the vertebrate fossils associated with the famous Hell Creek Formation.  A number of small Theropods are known as well as the super-sized Tyrannosaurs such as T. rex.  Dakotaraptor represents a sort of “halfway house” when it comes to the carnivores associated with Hell Creek.  Its limbs and body are very similar to the smaller dromaeosaurids known from this part of the world, dinosaurs such as Dromaeosaurus, (the first dromaeosaurid ever described), Saurornitholestes, and the recently named Acheroraptor but proportionately much larger.  Dakotaraptor was one “raptor” that actually did grow to be as big as the “Velociraptors” featured in the Jurassic Park franchise.

Commenting on the size and scale of Dakotaraptor, co-author of the publication and Kansas University palaeontologist, David Burnham said:

“This new predatory dinosaur also fills the body size gap between smaller Theropods and large Tyrannosaurs that lived at this time.”

The fossils were found in 2005, lead author of the research, Robert DePalma, (curator of vertebrate palaeontology at the Palm Beach Museum of Natural History) led the field expedition to Harding County (South Dakota) where the specimens were located.  At the time, he was a graduate student studying under former Kansas University professor and curator Larry Martin, who sadly passed away in 2014.

He explained:

“This Cretaceous period raptor would have been lightly built and probably just as agile as the vicious smaller Theropods such as Velociraptor.”

In addition to being roughly the size of the iconic “Raptors” from Jurassic Park, there are two very exciting skeletal features preserved in Dakotaraptor.  The paper describes a massive dromaeosaur sickle claw on the middle toe.  It measures 16 cm from top to bottom and 24 cm along the outer curve.  This was an impressively large raptorial claw, even for an animal this size.  The ulna, a bone in the forearm, bares 15 large and distinct quill knobs, or ulnar papillae, which are reinforced attachment points on the wings of birds and other dinosaurs where the large, pennaceous feathers attach.  This makes Dakotaraptor the largest known dinosaur with confirmed wings.

Reconstructed Dakotaraptor Wing and Proposed Plumage

The "wings" of Dakotaraptor.

The “wings” of Dakotaraptor.

Picture Credit: Robert DePalma

Dakotaraptor may not have competed directly with adult Tyrannosaurs.  Perhaps it adopted a different hunting strategy or specialised in attacking a different sort of prey.  By doing this it would have avoided direct competition between it and other large predatory dinosaurs. This is an example of niche partitioning.

When asked by Everything Dinosaur about this particular aspect of the research, Robert DePalma explained:

“Niche partitioning is a given, Dakotaraptor had to occupy a distinct ecological niche.  If it coexisted with the other large predators, had the same herbivores available to them, and did not out compete each other to extinction, then there had to be different strategies going on.”

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of Kansas University and Robert DePalma in the compilation of this article.

Happy Halloween from Everything Dinosaur

Happy Halloween from Everything Dinosaur – Gargoyleosaurus

This time of year children go out “trick or treating” an American custom that seems to have taken hold this side of the Atlantic.  In palaeontology, the United Kingdom does not always follow where America leads.  For example, the spelling of palaeontologist, the Americanised paleontologist is a “bone” of contention with Everything Dinosaur office staff, but we content ourselves with the thought that a number of dinosaur families were first identified from fossil remains discovered in the British Isles.  The United States may have iconic dinosaurs such as Tyrannosaurus rex and Brontosaurus, but the United Kingdom had named and described its first meat-eating dinosaur and what was eventually to become known as a Sauropod many years before the likes of T. rex and Brontosaurus were discovered.

With Halloween, we turn our attention to Gargoyleosaurus (G. parkpinorum), whose fossilised remains come from Albany County, Wyoming (United States).  It seems appropriate to discuss “Gargoyle lizard” at this time of year.  This four metre long armoured dinosaur which once roamed the western United States some 150 million years ago, has been classified as member of the Ankylosauria clade.  It is one of the earliest examples known of an Ankylosaur.

The Late Jurassic Armoured Dinosaur Gargoyleosaurus parkpinorum

An early member of the Ankylosauria clade.

An early member of the Ankylosauria clade.

Specifically, cladistic analysis (Thompson et al 2012 and Chen et al 2013) have assigned the Gargoyleosaurus genus to the polacanthids.  The first member of the Polacanthidae family was named and described back in 1865 (Polacanthus foxii) from fossils found on the Isle of Wight.  Gargoyleosaurus was first named and described back in 1998, (Ken Carpenter, Clifford Miles and Karen Cloward), some 133 years after the first member of the polacanthid family was established.

When the subsequent paper describing a well-preserved skull and post cranial elements was first published (in the journal Nature), this dinosaur was named Gargoyleosaurus parkpini.  The holotype material had been found by J. Parker and Tyler Pinegar and the species name honoured them.  However, the specific (trivial) name had to be changed as it broke the rules for binomial classification under ICZN (International Code of Zoological Nomenclature) guidelines.  The singular Latin suffix “i” is not allowed to be used if it honours a number of people.  As a result the trivial name of this dinosaur was changed in 2001 to G. parkpinorum.

Gargoyleosaurus (pronounced gar-goy-lee-oh-sore-us) and other members of the Polacanthidae are discussed in depth in a newly published book by the very talented William T. Blows entitled “British Polacanthid Dinosaurs”

British Polacanthid Dinosaurs by William T. Blows

Written by William T. Blows.

Written by William T. Blows.

Picture Credit: Siri Scientific Press

To order a copy and for further details on “British Polacanthid Dinosaurs” visit: Siri Scientific Press

In a Flap over an “Ostrich Mimics” Feathers

A Densely Feathered Ornithomimid from Dinosaur Provincial Park

Published in the scientific journal “Cretaceous Research”, why is everybody so excited about the discovery of yet another fossil of a Theropod that shows feathers (at least integumental structures which include feathers)?  Lots of media coverage on this fossil discovery, so why such a flap?

The answer is fairly straight forward, the fossil (UALVP 52531), represents an Ornithomimus, a type of Theropod dinosaur which had a small head perched on top of a long, slender neck, long legs and a very long tail.  Think of Ornithomimus and its kin, the Ornithomimidae, as being very similar to a modern Ostrich (Struthio camelus), but with a tail of course.  It is only the third Ornithomimus fossil to indicate that these Late Cretaceous dinosaurs had feathers and the first ornithomimid specimen to preserve a tail which shows extensive plumes, feathers which are longer than those present on the remainder of the body.

To read about the discovery of the first feathered ornithomimid dinosaur to be found in the Western Hemisphere, an article published by Everything Dinosaur in 2012: Canadian Researchers Find Evidence of Feathers in Ornithomimus

The Fossil Material (UALVP 52531)

The feathered fossil.

The feathered fossil.

Picture Credit: University of Alberta/”Cretaceous Research”

The specimen, pictured above had been collected during a 2009 expedition to the Dinosaur Provincial Park Formation of Alberta (Canada).  It had been identified as an Ornithomimus, but as the head and forelimbs were missing it had largely been ignored.  Aaron van der Reest, a palaeontology student at the University of Alberta was given the task of preparing the specimen, carefully removing the matrix to reveal more of the leg bones which can be seen in the lower portion of the photograph.

Within twenty minutes of working on the tail section, he came across some blackened impressions, these turned out to be feathers.  What started out as an undergraduate project has catapulted Mr van der Reest into the world of published academia.

After two years of careful preparation, this specimen has shed new light on the integumentary coverings of ornithomimids.  It will help scientists to understand more about the different types of feathers and feathery structures that existed amongst the Dinosauria.

Commenting on the seventy-five million year old specimen (Campanian faunal stage of the Late Cretaceous), David Evans, curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology at the Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto) stated:

“It’s drop-dead gorgeous.  It is the most complete feathered dinosaur specimen found in North America to date.”

The partial, articulated specimen is the first ornithomimid to preserve a tail with extensive feathers.  These tail feathers are slightly longer than those present on the rest of the body.  Intriguingly, the underside of the tail and the hind limb distal to the middle of the femur appear to have no feathers at all.  This plumage pattern mapped out on the preserved Ornithomimus is very similar to that seen in an extant Ostrich (Struthio camelus).  The configuration of body feathers in Ostriches and other Palaeognaths (the Cassowary, Emu, Rhea and so forth), aids thermoregulation.  The feather pattern seen in this Ornithomimus specimen probably served the same function, further evidence that this Theropod dinosaur was endothermic (warm-blooded).

An Illustration of a Feathered Ornithomimus

Feathered Ornithomimus illustration.

Feathered Ornithomimus illustration.

Picture Credit: Julius Csotonyi

The fossil also shows the body outline around the legs, including skin patches in front of the femur, the authors of the scientific paper on this specimen suggest that the resting position of the femur was positioned more anteroventrally in ornithomimids than in most other Theropoda, and as a result may have been transitional to the situation in extant birds.   The research team conclude that whilst UALVP 52531 is not the first feathered ornithomimid dinosaur known from North America, the quality and extent of the feather and skin preservation is without equal.  It is from this specimen that much more can be learned about the likely function of the integumentary covering in Ornithomimus and non-avian Theropods in general.

So, that’s why there has been such a flap.

New 2016 Prehistoric Animal Models from Safari Ltd

New Prehistoric Animal Models (Safari Ltd) 2016

With the news that Safari Ltd had ended its twenty-eight year partnership with the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, which broke in the spring, model collectors and dinosaur fans alike have been eagerly awaiting developments.  What prehistoric animal replicas would come out in 2016?  Everything Dinosaur can now reveal that information, the wait is over and enthusiasts of all things Dinosauria et al are not going to be disappointed.

Here are the new prehistoric animals:

  • Plesiosuchus
  • Iguanodon
  • Masiakasaurus
  • Shunosaurus
  • Carcharodontosaurus
  • Plus re-issues of previous Safari Ltd models, the baby Woolly Mammoth, the Megatherium (giant ground sloth), Amebelodon and the glyptodont Doedicurus.

Everything Dinosaur intends to stock all these items, we will do all we can to keep our customers and fellow prehistoric animal fans informed about deliveries into our warehouse.

There are a total of five new replicas, this is the same total as last year, the 1:10 scale Carnegie Collectibles Velociraptor, plus four not to scale models under the Wild Safari brand that has now become the flagship brand for prehistoric animal replicas the Florida-based company makes.

Let’s take a look at the new models in turn, firstly the Plesiosuchus model (marine crocodile).  This Late Jurassic carnivore was one of the super predators of the shallow seas that covered much of Europe.  It is estimated to have been around seven metres in length, approximately the size of the largest Saltwater crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) found today.  Plesiosuchus means “near crocodile” and is pronounced Plee-see-oh-sook-us.  It was a member of the Metriorhynchoidea (pronounced Met-ri-oh-rink-oi-deer [A super family of the Crocodylomorpha]).  It is great to see a model of a metriorhynchid from Safari Ltd.

New for 2016 the Wild Safari Dinos Plesiosuchus

Available soon from Everything Dinosaur.

Available soon from Everything Dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Safari Ltd/Everything Dinosaur

The Plesiosuchus replica measures a fraction over seventeen centimetres and is around four and half centimetres tall (it’s the tail).

Now the Iguanodon model comes into focus.  It is great to see another Ornithopod in the Safari Ltd Prehistoric Life model collection.

New for 2016 the Wild Safari Dinos Iguanodon

Some very striking colours on this new replica.

Some very striking colours on this new replica.

Picture Credit: Safari Ltd/Everything Dinosaur

Over the years, there have been a number of iguanodont models made, with the retirement of the Carnegie Collectibles Iguanodon replica, it is great to see this introduction.  Iguanodon is brought bang up to date, the bipedal pose of the earlier model, launched in 2007 and effectively a re-paint of an even earlier Carnegie replica, has been replaced by a walking on all four limbs approach.  The body proportions seem much more accurate and we love the thickened base of the tail.  These Ornithopods were powerful animals and indeed the base of the tail and pelvis were very robust.  The model has been given a striped colour scheme and we adore the flashes of purple, not a colour associated very often with dinosaur models.  It is a nice touch.  The model measures 18.5 cm by 7 cm.

New for 2016 – Shunosaurus

Available soon from Everything Dinosaur - Shunosaurus.

Available soon from Everything Dinosaur – Shunosaurus.

Picture Credit: Safari Ltd/Everything Dinosaur

The “Sauropod crossed with a Llama”, as an Everything Dinosaur member of staff termed this replica when trying to decipher the double page advert that showed a glimpse of this figure, turns out to be a Shunosaurus.  The colourful figure measures 16.5 cm in length and that detailed head stands around 7 cm high.  One of the best known of all the Chinese Dinosauria, certainly the best known Sauropod, thanks to the huge fossil assemblage excavated from the Dashanpu Quarry site (Sichuan Province).  This looks like an excellent interpretation of the extensive fossil material.  Well done Safari Ltd for bringing out such an interesting replica.

“Vicious Lizard” – Masiakasaurus

Available from Everything Dinosaur.

Available from Everything Dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Safari Ltd/Everything Dinosaur

A new fact sheet will be required for the fourth new prehistoric animal figure we are featuring here – Masiakasaurus, (the name means vicious lizard).  An agile Theropod that lived on the island of Madagascar in the Late Cretaceous.  The forward pointing teeth have been very well depicted in this new for 2016 replica.  We suspect that this is the first dinosaur model made by Safari Ltd, whose scientific name was inspired by a band member of Dire Straits.  The formal, binomial name for this two metre long terror is Masiakasaurus knopfleri.  It was the music of Dire Straits’s front man Mark Knopfler that inspired the field team behind this particular dinosaur fossil discovery.

The design team at Safari Ltd have taken into careful consideration details of this dinosaur’s known skeleton (about two-thirds of all the bones in the skeleton have been described to date).  Note the position of the hands and digits, although an abelisaurid, Masiakasaurus had proportionately much longer front limbs than other members of this Theropod dinosaur family.  It is an attractively painted model, the stripes and green markings are a good choice, it is likely that this dinosaur, required camouflage to help it avoid being spotted by larger meat-eaters that shared its floodplain environment.

The new Safari Ltd Masiakasaurus is around 18.5 cm in length and stands an impressive 8.25 cm tall.

New for 2016 – Carcharodontosaurus

Say hello to "shark-toothed lizard".

Say hello to “shark-toothed lizard”.

Picture Credit: Safari Ltd/Everything Dinosaur

One of the largest Theropods known, Carcharodontosaurus is a firm favourite amongst dinosaur fans and model collectors alike.  It is great to see this interpretation by Safari Ltd.  We had thought that the large, meat-eating dinosaur was going to be a Megalosaur, we got wrong but we are delighted to see this North African monster join the Safari Ltd “Prehistoric Life” fold.  At an impressive 22.75 cm long and standing 10.25 cm tall this is the biggest model dinosaur that Safari Ltd are bringing out next year.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s existing range of prehistoric animals from Safari Ltd: Safari Ltd Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Models

Look out for announcements on Everything Dinosaur’s Facebook page, Twitter feed and on this blog site.  More information including when they will be in stock will be posted up soon.

Check out Everything Dinosaur’s Facebook page for pics of the prehistoric mammal models that are being re-introduced by Safari Ltd.

Find Everything Dinosaur on Facebook: Everything Dinosaur on Facebook

Las Hoyas Provides Scientists with a “Furry Friend”

Cute Ancient Mammal Lived in Tough Cretaceous Times

A superbly preserved fossil of an early type of mammal found in sediments that date from 125 million years ago (Early Cretaceous), demonstrates that mammals had effectively evolved the same type of fur seen in extant mammals today.  Many of these mammals may have been very small, but their fur provided them with a defence against attack from dinosaurs and other predators.  However, not everything was rosy in the Cretaceous garden for this little furry critter, in between dodging hungry dinosaurs and crocodiles it seems that it suffered from a fungal disease that attacked the hairs that made up its coat.

The fossil was excavated from the limestone lake bed sediments at Las Hoyas in the Iberian mountains of Cuenca Province (central Spain).  It was discovered back in 2012, when a field team under the direction of Angela Buscalioni (a palaeontologist at the University of Madrid), was exploring the finely grained sediments in a bid to find more specimens of early birds, fossils of which, have made the Las Hoyas site one of the most important Lagerstätten sites in the world for vertebrate fossils dating from the Barremian faunal stage of the Cretaceous.  The almost intact fossil was brought to the University of Bonn and a paper detailing the discovery has just been published in the journal “Nature”.

The animal which was around 22 cm long, has been identified as a member of the Eutriconodonta, a diverse Order of primitive mammals which probably evolved in the Jurassic.  The phylogenetic relationship between eutriconodonts and modern mammals remains unclear, but many academics argue that these animals are closely to today’s mammals (monotremes, placentals and marsupials) than the Multituberculata.  Everything Dinosaur, earlier this month reported on the discovery of a multituberculate mammal from New Mexico, an animal that lived just a few hundred thousand years after the extinction of the non-avian dinosaurs.

To read about this Cenozoic multituberculate: Mammals Quick off the Mark after Dinosaur Extinction

This new species has been named Spinolestes xenarthrosus.  The name roughly translates as “spiny, strange jointed one” and is derived from the spiny, defensive hairs found on the back, whilst the species name refers to the strengthened joints of the vertebrae, a similar anatomical feature is seen in extant members of the Xenarthra such as anteaters, armadillos and sloths, as well as in a small shrew from the Congo Basin.

The Prepared Fossil Specimen (Spinolestes xenarthrosus)

The prepared holotype specimen - S. x

The prepared holotype specimen – S. xenarthrosus.

Picture Credit: Georg Oleschinski with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows the prepared holotype specimen that has been set in resin.  The skull, seen towards the right of the photograph is viewed from below.  An arrow (top right) points to a patch of preserved skin that shows dermal hairs which acted as defensive spines.

An Illustration of Spinolestes xenarthrosus

Described as "cute" by scientists.

Described as “cute” by scientists.

Picture Credit: Oscar Sanisidro

As well as the defensive spines which probably broke off if a predator bit the back of this fast running mammal, letting Spinolestes escape but leaving the attacker with a mouthful of spines for their trouble, the rump of Spinolestes was partially covered in horny scutes.  Commenting on these points, lead author Professor Thomas Martin (Steinmann Institute of Geology, Mineralogy and Palaeontology of the University of Bonn), stated:

“We are familiar with these characteristics in modern spiny mice from Africa and Asia Minor.  If a predator grabs them by the back, the spines detach from the skin.  The mouse can escape and the attacker is left with nothing more than a mouthful of spines. It is possible that these structures served a similar purpose in the case of Spinolestes.”

Best Preserved Mesozoic Mammal

The fossil may well represent the best preserved mammal known from the Mesozoic and although described as mouse-like in some media reports, Spinolestes was only distantly related to modern mice (rodents).

Professor Martin explained:

“We are not able to classify the finding in any of the groups of mammals alive today.  It displays characteristics which we also find in today’s mammals.  However, these are not signs of relatedness but rather they developed independently – throughout the course of evolution, they have been ‘invented’ many times.”

This is an example of convergent evolution.

A Magnified Area of the Fossil Showing Guard Hairs (Proto Spines)

SC = area showing dermal scutes on the skin.

SC = area showing dermal scutes on the skin.

Picture Credit: University of Bonn

It is likely that Spinolestes had a similar lifestyle to that of a mouse or a rat, scurrying through the undergrowth and using its keen senses to keep out of trouble.  It may also have been nocturnal, the Las Hoyas deposits may lack dinosaurs (only a handful of different dinosaurs are known from the site), but there were plenty of other predators around capable of making a meal out of this particular eutriconodont.

Strong Back

Convergent evolution also accounts for the anatomical features seen in the vertebrae.  Individual bones in the back have supporting appendages that interlock the vertebrae together.  The back is incredibly strong, much stronger than the backs of other similar sized animals.  This feature is also found in the Hero Shrew (Scutisorex somereni) which comes from Central Africa.  The Hero Shrew uses its strong back to help force itself under logs as it looks for insects to eat.  It could be speculated that Spinolestes evolved a strong back for a similar purpose.

Signs of a Fungal Disease on the Fur

Such is the exquisite preservation of the fossil, that individual hairs of the fur can be studied.  The state of some of the tiny fossilised hairs suggests that this animal was suffering from a fungal disease of the fur.  This suggests that early mammals may have suffered from similar diseases as their modern counterparts.  This fossil may help scientists to assess the taxonomic position of the Eutriconodonta in relation to extant mammals.

Summarising the team’s research, Professor Martin stated:

“One hundred twenty-five million years ago, Spinolestes was very well adapted to its ecological niche – through horny scutes and spines on its back as well as through its reinforced spine.  We have to revise our thinking, mammals were indeed very small during the time of the dinosaurs.  But they were certainly not primitive.”

To read an article on a carnivorous dinosaur, whose fossils have been found at Las Hoyas: One Lump or Two for a Dinosaur

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