Category: Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories

New Armoured Dinosaur from New Mexico

Ziapelta sanjuanensis  From New Mexico but Closely Related to Canadian Ankylosaurs

For some strange reason, the Ankylosaurs don’t seem to be held in quite the same awe as the horned dinosaurs by most members of the public.  We at Everything Dinosaur have our own theory about this.  The horned dinosaurs are much easier for the lay person to recognise.  There is the spectacular spiked frill of Styracosaurus, the peculiar nasal boss of Pachyrhinosaurus, a dinosaur genus which came to greater prominence with the “Walking with Dinosaurs in 3-D” movie.  Then there is of course, the most famous horned dinosaur of all – Triceratops (three horned face).  Members of the Ankylosauridae tend to have the same basic body plan.  They have broad rumps, bony clubs on the end of their tails and of course, all that body armour.  Model makers often find it difficult to distinguish different armoured dinosaurs.  For example, the Saichania replica made by Schleich, to the uninitiated, resembles Ankylosaurus.

The Saichania Model made by Schleich

Saichania means "beautiful"

Saichania means “beautiful”

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

When it comes to films and television documentaries, the Ankylosaurs are rarely given star billing.  So today, in our own small way, we are going to champion the Late Cretaceous armoured dinosaurs by discussing the newest member of their family – Ziapelta, from the San Juan Basin of north-western New Mexico.  The fossils of Ziapelta consist of elements of the skull and incomplete neck rings of spiky bone and fragments of the famous, scaly Ankylosauria body armour (osteoderms).  The material was discovered in 2011 by Robert Sullivan, subsequently excavated by Dr. Sullivan and colleagues and then stored at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science.  Once extracted from its silt and sandstone matrix, the scientists had enough fossil evidence to assign these fossils to a new genera.  A thorough exploration of the surrounding area produced no further post-cranial material.  It seems the head and neck of this armoured dinosaur were separated from the rest of the body prior to burial.  How this came about, one can only speculate.

The fossils were collected from the De-na-zin Member of the Kirtland Formation which as been dated to around 74 to 72 million years ago.  At perhaps as much as six metres long, the herbivorous Ziapelta would have been a very formidable adversary for even the largest tyrannosaurid.

An Illustration of Ziapelta (Z. sanjuanensis)

New Armoured Dinosaur from New Mexico

New Armoured Dinosaur from New Mexico

Picture Credit: Sydney Mohr

To the lay person, the spiky-looking Ziapelta might just look like any other Ankylosauridae, so let’s explain why the skull and neck material have allowed scientists to erect a new genus of armoured dinosaur.  Firstly, elements of the skull have been found, the skull morphology (shape) and composition can be very helpful when looking to identify an animal new to science, dinosaurs included.  Co-author of the scientific paper, which is published in the on line academic journal PLOS One, Victoria Arbour commented:

“The horns on the back of the skull are thick and curve downwards and the snout has a mixture of flat and bumpy scales – an unusual feature for an ankylosaurid.”

Dr. Arbour (University of Alberta) is a renowned expert on all things Ankylosaur, she was invited to examine the fossils along with PhD student Mike Burns (University of Alberta).  The scientists concluded that unlike the armoured dinosaur Nodocephalosaurus kirtlandensis, which is also known from the San Juan Basin and is believed to be related to Asian genera of the Ankylosauridae, Saichania for example, Ziapelta was more closely related to the ankylosaurids of Canada.

The Formidable Spiky Cervical Rings of Ziapelta

Bony and spiky neck armour of Ziapelta.

Bony and spiky neck armour of Ziapelta.

Picture Credit: PLOS One

Dr. Arbour stated:

“Bob Sullivan, who discovered the specimen, showed us pictures and we were really excited by both its familiarity and its distinctiveness.  We were pretty sure right away we were dealing with a new species that was closely related to the Ankylosaurs we find in Alberta.”

Ziapelta has another unusual feature that distinguishes it from other ankylosaurids, a feature that we at Everything Dinosaur find quite endearing considering the size and fearsome nature of these reptiles.  The layout of the scales that make up the top of the skull are often very distinctive.  In the case of Ziapelta, it has a large triangular-shaped scale on the tip of its snout, in contrast to many other ankylosaurids which have a six-sided scale on their snouts

Views of the Skull Fossil of Ziapelta (Z. sanjuanensis)

Views of the skull fossil material of Ziapelta.

Views of the skull fossil material of Ziapelta.

Picture Credit: PLOS One

The photograph above shows various views of the holotype skull material, A – dorsal view (view from the top), B = ventral view (viewed from underneath), C = anterior view (view from the front), D = occipital view (viewed from the rear) and finally E – left lateral view (view of the left side of the skull).  In photograph A, we have highlighted in red the outline of that large triangular scale on the snout (referred to as mnca - median nasal caputegulum to use the formal scientific term).

Dr. Arbour put it very succinctly stating:

“There’s also a distinctive large triangular scale on the snout, where many other ankylosaurids have a hexagonal scale.”

The University of Alberta scientist has specialised in studying Ankylosaurs, especially those specimens which are known from the Late Cretaceous of North America.  Back in 2013, Everything Dinosaur reported on Dr. Arbour’s research into the Ankylosauridae which was helping to redefine this family of dinosaurs.

To read more about this research: When is a Euoplocephalus a Euoplocephalus?

Ankylosaurid fossils make up a small, but significant proportion of the Dinosauria fossil assemblage of southern Alberta, but to date, no ankylosaurid material has been found in the Horseshoe Canyon Formation (lower parts of this formation, the Strathmore and the Drumheller Members) of Alberta.  These rocks are roughly the same age as the strata in which the fossils of Ziapelta were found.  This New Mexico armoured dinosaur is helping palaeontologists to plug a gap in the record of ankylosaurid fossils known from North America.

Dr. Arbour explained:

“The rocks in New Mexico fill in this gap in time, and that’s where Ziapelta occurs.  Could Ziapelta have also lived in Alberta, in the gap where we haven’t found any Ankylosaur fossils yet?  It is possible, but in recent years there has also been increasing evidence that the dinosaurs from the southern part of North America – New Mexico, Texas and Utah, for example, are distinct from their northern neighbours in Alberta.”

There is a lot of evidence to support the idea of “dinosaur provinciality” in North America.  It seems that although the overall mix of dinosaurs was about the same in the regions, the actual genera that made up the dinosaur populations differed markedly.  How or why these distinct faunas came about remains something of a mystery.  The discovery of Ziapelta may help to add more pieces to the picture as palaeontologists strive to solve this puzzle.

New Research Suggests Multicellular Life Started Earlier

Evidence Suggests Multicellular Life 60 Million Years Earlier than Previously Thought

Researchers from the Virginia Tech College of Science in collaboration with counterparts from the Chinese Academy of Sciences have published new data on one of the most fundamental and significant changes that occurred in the history of life on our planet.  At some time during the Proterozoic Eon, multicellular life forms evolved.  These organisms evolved from single-celled entities and in a paper published in the academic journal “Nature”, the researchers propose that multicellular life forms evolved some sixty million years earlier than previously thought.

The team suggest that they have found fossil evidence of complex multicellularity in strata dating from around 600 million years ago, although microscopic fossils are known in Precambrian strata from several locations around the world (Australia, South Africa as well as China), this new research is helping to clarify some long-standing interpretations of micro-fossils.

Professor of Geobiology at the Virginia Tech College of Science, Shuhai Xiao explained the significance of this new fossil discovery:

“This opens up a new door for us to shine some light on the timing and evolutionary steps that were taken by multicellular organisms that would eventually go on to dominate the Earth in a very visible way.  Fossils similar to the ones in this study have been interpreted previously as bacteria, single-cell eukaryotes, algae and transitional forms related to modern animals such as sponges, sea anemones, or bilaterally symmetrical animals.  This paper lets us put aside some of those interpretations.”

It has long been known that simple, multicellular organisms evolved before more complex ones, such as red algae and sponges.  If a biological hierarchy existed (and most scientists believe that this is the case), then at some point in the past, single-celled organisms began to evolve into much larger, more complicated multicellular organisms.  The trouble is, with the paucity of the fossil record and the difficulties involved in interpreting Ediacaran fauna there is a lot of debate amongst biologists and palaeontologists as to when the solo living cells began to fuse into more cohesive, complex forms.

Evidence of Complex Multicellular Organisms from the Doushantuo Formation

Evidence of multicellular structures in 600 million year old rocks.

Evidence of multicellular structures in 600 million year old rocks.

Picture Credit: Virginia Tech College of Science

The researchers examined microscopic samples of phosphorite rocks from the Doushantuo Formation in Guizhou Province (south, central China).  This formation represents extensive marine sediments that were deposited from around 635 million years ago to around 550 million years ago.  They preserve a unique record of microscopic life (Metazoan life – animals) that existed during the Ediacaran geological period, the period in Earth’s history defined as immediately before the Cambrian and that marks the end of the Precambrian or the Proterozoic Eon.

What is an Eukaryote?

The scientists were able to identify a number of three-dimensional multicellular fossils that show signs of cell-to-cell adhesion, cells potentially performing different functions and programmed cell death.  These qualities are all found in complex eukaryotes, the organisms that dominate visible life on Earth to day, the fungi, animals and plants.  Eukaryotes range in size from single-celled amoebas to giant sequoias and blue whales.  We (H. sapiens) belong to the Domain Eukarya.   Eukaryote cells are complex, they have a distinct nucleus surrounded by a membrane.  The nucleus contains most of the genetic material.  The nucleus itself is a specialised area of the cell, it is referred to as an organelle.  Eukaryote cells have a number of specialised areas within them (other organelles as well as a nucleus).

Professor Xiao and his colleagues admit that these are not the first multicellular fossils found, nor are they probably the oldest, but the exceptional preservation permits the researchers to draw certain conclusions.  For example, it had been previously thought that these multicellular characteristics had started to develop much later in Earth’s history, perhaps as recently as 545 million years ago, a time shortly before the great Cambrian explosion.

What was the Cambrian Explosion?

The Cambrian explosion refers to the period in Earth’s history around 545 to 542 million years ago when there was a sudden burst of evolution as recorded by extensive fossil discoveries.  A wide variety of organisms, especially those with hard, mineralised body parts first appear.

This new research may help to shed some light on when multicellularity arose, but the reasons for this significant change remain unclear.  The complex multicellularity shown in these Chinese fossils is not consistent with that seen in simpler forms such as bacteria.  The scientists note, that whilst some earlier theories can be disregarded these three-dimensional structures can be interpreted in many ways and more research is required to construct the complete life cycle of these ancient organisms.

In summary, these fossils may show some affinity towards the stem-groups that led to the first members of the Kingdoms we know as Animalia, Fungi and Plantae, but much more data is needed to establish a more thorough phylogenetic relationship.

“Big Nose” Dinosaur – New Hadrosaur Species Described

Rhinorex condrupus – “King of the Dinosaur Noses”

A team of researchers from Brigham Young Museum of Palaeontology and North Carolina State University (North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences) have described a new type of duck-billed dinosaur, one with an enormous “conk”.    Duck-billed dinosaurs are well-known for sporting elaborate crests, even combs after recent research into the Edmontosaurus genus, but roaming the estuarine habitat of Utah around 75 million years ago was Rhinorex, a duck-billed dinosaur whose genus name translates as “Nose King”.

An Illustration of Rhinorex (R. condrupus)

"King nose" is surprised by a Cretaceous crocodilian.

“King Nose” is surprised by a Cretaceous crocodilian.

Picture Credit: Julius Csotonyi

Terry Gates, a post-doctoral researcher with North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and North Carolina State University, collaborated with Rodney Scheetz (Brigham Young), to analyse the skull of a specimen that had been excavated from the Book Cliffs area of east-central Utah in the 1990′s.  This strata forms part of the Neslen Formation which consists of a series of sedimentary layers of rock representing both marine and terrestrial environments.  The specimen had been studied as associated with the fossil skull bones, were some very well preserved skin impressions.  However, it was only when the scientists constructed the skull that they realised they had a new species on their hands.

Commenting on their findings, which are reported in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology, Terry Gates stated:

“We had almost the entire skull, which was wonderful, but the preparation was very difficult.  It took two years to dig the fossil out of the sandstone it was embedded in.  It was like digging a dinosaur skull out of a concrete driveway.”

Although the skeleton is far from complete, unique morphologies of the skull indicate that this is a new species of duck-billed dinosaur,  a member of the Hadrosauridae family.  The dinosaur has been named Rhinorex condrupus.  The name translates as “king nose buried in the cliffs”, the genus name makes reference to the unique shape of the nasal bones and premaxilla.  These bones indicate that this plant-eating dinosaur had a large, fleshy nose.  Whilst it is difficult to estimate the exact size of this dinosaur from the fossil bones that have been collected, comparisons with the closely related Gryposaurus and Kritosaurus give a maximum length of around nine metres, with a body weight in excess of three tonnes.  The sandstone sediments represent a low lying, swampy, estuarine environment and to date, Rhinorex is the only substantial Hadrosaur fossil known from this locality.

Terry Gates explained:

“We have found other Hadrosaurs from the same time period [Campanian faunal stage] but located about two hundred miles further south.  They may have been adapted to a different environment.  This discovery gives us a geographic snapshot of the Cretaceous and helps us to place contemporary species in their correct time and place.”

In essence, “King Nose” helps to fill a gap in the hadrosaurid family tree.

Many different types of duck-billed dinosaur existed during the later years of the Cretaceous, scientists have found fossils of hadrosaurids in almost all the Upper Cretaceous fossil bearing terrestrial formations in western North America.  Although the vast majority of these fossils are far from complete, they suggest that the varied Hadrosauridae family evolved as each genus occupied a relatively small geographical area.

The Reconstructed Skull of R. condrupus

The line drawing shows the reconstructed skull from the fossil bones (scale bar 5cm).

The line drawing shows the reconstructed skull from the fossil bones (scale bar 10cm).

Image Credit: Journal of Systematic Palaeontology

The line drawing (A) is labelled with the autapomorphies (unique characters or traits) that distinguish this dinosaur as a new genus, namely the hook-like structure (nap) nasal anteroventral process and the expansion of bone located posteroventrally on the premaxilla (ppd).

Why Such a Big Nose?

The large and fleshy snout remains a bit of a puzzle.  It may not be related to an enhanced sense of smell.

Post-doctoral student Terry postulated:

“The purpose of such a big nose is still a mystery.  If this dinosaur is anything like its relatives then it likely did not have a super sense of smell, but maybe the nose was used as a means of attracting mates, inter-herd recognition or perhaps it supported a large plant-smashing beak.  We are already sniffing out answers to these questions.”

It certainly would have looked a little odd with its enlarged naris.  However, when you consider the weird and wonderful Saurolophines, Parasaurolophus with its enormous, backward sweeping head crest, Edmontosaurus with a fleshy comb on its head and Tsintaosaurus which may have superficially resembled a unicorn, then we think Rhinorex would have fitted right in.

Tropical North Wales – 300 Million Years Ago

Photographs of the Brymbo Steelworks Fossils

We were emailed today by the mum of one keen young palaeontologist who wanted to know all about Petrolacosaurus (pet-ro-lak-co-saw-rus).  Our team member explained that this primitive reptile was not a dinosaur, although it was very distantly related to them.  Petrolacosaurus lived at the very end of a geological period called the Carboniferous, at a little over forty centimetres in length, most of that tail, it was not the biggest reptile known from the fossil record – but its fossils are exceedingly important.  It looked like a lizard and it scurried through the extensive tropical forests that dominated the world at that time in Earth’s history.  By the early Permian, Petrolacosaurus was extinct, it remains one of the earliest reptiles known, part of a rapidly diverging group, that unlike amphibians evolved amniotic eggs.

One of the Earliest Reptiles – Petrolacosaurus (P.kansensis)

Petrolacosaurus kansensis

Petrolacosaurus kansensis

Picture Credit: BBC

Amniotic eggs have a semi-permeable shell that protects the embryo from drying out.  A tough, internal  membrane called the amnion surrounds the growing embryo as well as the yolk, the food source.  Development of the embryo in a shelled egg meant that for the first time in history, the Tetrapods were no longer tied to water to breed.  We as mammals are amniotes, along with the birds and reptiles.

The Amniote Egg – Great Breakthrough for the Tetrapods

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

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

Fossils of the rare and exotic Petrolacosaurus come from faraway Kansas, other primitive reptiles are known from a site in Nova Scotia (more about Nova Scotia later), but did you know that in an abandoned steelworks, just north of Wrexham (North Wales), a team of dedicated researchers and volunteers are busy preserving the fossilised remains of a Carboniferous habitat?

Important Fossil Discovery

It is not all that often that we get to talk about globally significant scientific sites virtually on our doorstep, but that’s exactly what the “fossil forest” preserved at an abandoned steelworks at Brymbo is and we are delighted to hear that plans are being considered to develop this location, perhaps leading to a visitor centre to explain all about the local industry and the fossils to be found nearby.  The Brymbo steelworks site preserves a forest and swamp environment from the Late Carboniferous, a time when the first reptiles scurried around hunting for insects and from time to time becoming prey themselves.  Top predators of the Late Carboniferous included spiders the size of dinner plates and three metre long amphibians.  Although, no reptile fossils have been discovered to date, this location is just one of a handful of such sites around the world and it is likely to significantly improve our understanding of the palaeoecology of the Late Carboniferous of Europe.

 Some of the Hundreds of Plant Fossils Collected at Brymbo

Ancient fossil uncovered at North Wales steel works.

Ancient fossil uncovered at North Wales steel works.

Picture Credit: Rachel Mason

The first fossils were discovered in 2005, when coal was being extracted from part of the Brymbo site. Everything Dinosaur team members wrote an article about the discoveries in 2009, when some of the fossil finds went on display to the public:

To read the article: Fossilised Plant Remains Go on Display

The forest that existed 300 million years ago in North Wales was part of an extensive ecosystem that stretched across Europe and North America.  The vast amount of peat that was formed as the plant remains became buried was, eventually, over time, turned into coal. This coal was to fuel the Industrial Revolution, so it could be argued that the 300 million-year-old forest gave rise to the steelworks.  The forest would not have looked like any modern-day forest environment.  Giant forty metre high Lycopsids (club mosses dominated), along with huge Sphenopsids (horsetails) called Calamites.  Nowhere else in Britain have Calamites fossils been found in such quantities.   Many other types of plant are known from this site, including the now extinct seed ferns (Pteridosperms) and the true fern Syndneia, which was previously known just from one site in Canada.

Giant Lycopsid fossils found

Giant Lycopsid fossils found

Picture Credit: Rachel Mason

Plants are very rarely preserved as whole fossils, but normally occur as isolated individual parts, such as leaves, stems, cones and roots.  As these different parts of plants are found separately in the fossil record, they tend to be given their own individual binomial name.  The roots system of Lycopsids such as the huge Lepidodendron, had a branching structure and these root systems are often preserved along with the Knorria (the name for the base of the trunk).  The term Lepidodendron, although used to describe the entire plant is actually the term that refers specifically to the upper part of the plant and its branches.

More Fossils from Brymbo (we suspect Stigmaria)

Preserved elements of the roots (we think) of a Lycopsid.

Preserved elements of the roots (we think) of a Lycopsid.

Picture Credit: Rachel Mason

Now Back to Nova Scotia

We mentioned earlier primitive reptile fossils from Nova Scotia.  Important information about life on Earth around 310 million-years-ago has been gained from studies of the coal deposits and the fossils they contain from Joggins in Nova Scotia.  The fossils in theses coal measures represent an ecosystem that is probably a few million years older than the one represented by Brymbo.  The Joggins site preserves numerous tree-sized stumps just as at Brymbo.  However, the fossilised remains of many different types of vertebrate (early Tetrapods) have been found inside the sediment associated with these hollowed out tree stumps.  It has been suggested that the hollow trunks of Lepidodendron plants became natural traps for many creatures, which has preserved evidence of the vertebrate fauna associated with these ancient forests and swamps.  No terrestrial vertebrate fossils have been found to date (as far as we know), from the Brymbo site, but importantly, Brymbo is a sheltered, inland location.  Yes, it has the vagaries of the Welsh weather to contend with, however, the Coal Measures at Joggins are on the coast and this site is subjected to much harsher weather, frequent cliff falls and significant amounts of erosion.

In terms of its importance to geology and palaeontology, the Brymbo site with its plant, invertebrate and trace fossils, may turn out to be one of the most important fossil sites in the whole of Europe.

Pterosaur Named after Avatar Dragon

Ikrandraco avatar – New Species of Cretaceous Pterosaur Described

An international team of palaeontologists have described a new species of flying reptile that lived in what is now China during the Cretaceous period, about 120 millions years ago, and named it after the flying dragon-like creatures from the 2009 movie blockbuster directed by James Cameron – Avatar.  The fossils, which have both been laterally compressed, were found at two separate sites, around fifteen miles apart, although one is smaller than the other, they have both been assigned to a single new species - Ikrandraco avatar, the name translates as “Ikran dragon from Avatar”.

One of the Newly Described Pterosaur Fossils

White scale bar =

White scale bar = 5cm

Picture Credit: Scientific Reports/Xiaolin Wang et al

Both fossils come from the Jiufotang Formation of north-eastern China (Liaoning Province), although the exact stratigraphic location for both specimens has been difficult to determine.  The larger of the two specimens indicates a wingspan in excess of 2.4 metres, making this flying reptile slightly larger than a Golden Eagle.  The lower jaw had a distinct, semi-circular crest on its anterior portion, it has been suggested that a large “hook” at the back of this structure helped to support either an enlarged throat or a pouch, broadly similar to that seen in extant Pelicans.   The joint Chinese and Brazilian research team that studied the fossil material and published the scientific paper on the new discoveries, propose that this Pterosaur probably fed on small fish.  It may have flown over the water catching prey by skimming its lower jaw into the water.  Once the jaw connected with a fish, it snapped shut and the fish was stored in the throat pouch prior to swallowing.

This type of feeding, a skimming over the water surface to collect fish approach has been proposed before for members of the Pterosaur family.  To read an article written by Everything Dinosaur team members back in 2007, click on the link here: Pterosaur Feeding Habits – Could they Skim Surface Waters for Fish?

Dr. Alexander Kellner of the Federal Univervisty (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), one of the senior authors of the academic paper and an authority on Cretaceous Pterosaurs commented:

“Ikrandraco didn’t have a crest on the top of its elongated head as many Pterosaurs did.  Behind the lower jaw crest was a hook-like structure that appears to have been the anchor point for the throat pouch.”

The Jiufotang Formation is a member of the extensive Jehol Group and scientists have been able to build up an detailed picture of the environment that existed in this part of the world in the Early Cretaceous.  Although the exact age of the Jiufotang Formation is still debated, most observers now believe that the majority of the strata was laid down in the Early Cretaceous (Aptian faunal stage).

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur stated:

“It is now thought that the highly fossiliferous rocks of this part of the world were laid down around 120 million years ago.”

Ikrandraco avatar exhibits a number of anatomical characteristics that suggest it was a piscivore.  For example, the teeth in the jaw are small, sharp and pointed, ideal for grabbing and holding slippery fish.  The unusual blade-like crest on the lower jaw reminded the scientists of the crests seen on the dragon like creatures in the 2009 movie Avatar.

Creature from a Film Inspires Pterosaur Name

Note the long, orange coloured crest on the lower jaw

Note the long, orange coloured crest on the lower jaw

Picture Credit: 20th Century Fox

Most flying reptile fossils have been found in marine strata.  However, over the last twenty years or so an increasing amount of Pterosaur fossil material has been found in rocks that were laid down inland.  A number of different Pterosaur types co-existed in this part of China around 120 million years ago, intriguingly, these reptiles shared the air with a large number of primitive, enantiornithine birds.  The habitat was a tropical paradise, with verdant forests and a great many, large bodies of freshwater that teemed with fish.  Fossils found in this region include feathered dinosaurs (Saurischian as well as Ornithischian), early mammals, frogs, turtles, fish and birds.

Commenting on the habitat, Dr. Xiaolin Wang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, a co-author of the scientific paper stated:

“It [Ikrandraco] lived in a warm region teeming with life that included feathered dinosaurs, birds, mammals and frogs along with a variety of trees and other plants.”

An Artist’s Impression of Ikrandraco avatar (Early Cretaceous of North-eastern China)

A flock of Ikrandraco Pterosaurs "fishing".

A flock of Ikrandraco Pterosaurs “fishing”.

Picture Credit: Chuang Zhao

Of the 130 or so genera of Pterosaur described to date, a  number of them are known to have had skull or jaw crests.  These crests were either made of bone or formed by a combination of bone and soft tissue.  However, Ikrandraco avatar is unique in that it only had a crest on its lower jaw (mandible).  There is no evidence of a crest on the skull or upper jaw.  Up until now, blade-like crests were known exclusively in the Anhangueria family and in Cimoliopterus cuvier with such crests also noted in Ludodactylus sibbicki (although the evidence of a blade-like crest in this species is debated).

The researchers also note that Cearadactylus atrox (an ornithocheirid from Brazil), also possessed a crest, but only on the front portion of the upper jaw (the premaxilla).  The crest configuration of a crest on the skull but none on the mandible is much more common in the Pterosauria.  In essence, skull crests are far more common than crests on the jaws and a single, lower jaw crest in a species was unheard of until Ikrandraco came along.

The Second Specimen of Ikrandraco avatar

Scale bar = 5cm

Scale bar = 5cm

Picture Credit: Scientific Reports/Xiaolin Wang et al

The photograph and line drawing above shows the second referred specimen of I. avatar.  The crest on the lower jaw with its distinctive “hook” at the back (labelled dcr – dentary crest) can clearly be made out.

As the specimens were found around fifteen miles apart, it could be that these two fossils represent different, but closely related species.  However, the researchers discounted this as both specimens were preserved in a left lateral view and although flattened, the team did not record any observable anatomical differences.  Both specimens revealed evidence of a unique, hook-like structure at the back of the blade-like crest.  This could have served as an anchor point for soft tissues that made up either an extended throat or a pouch.

The presence of throat sacs (pouches) in Pterosaurs has been proposed on numerous occasions.  The suggestions have been made for Late Jurassic species from the famous Solnhofen deposits of southern Germany.  It has been suggested that both Rhamphorhynchus and Pterodactylus had pouches.  In all previously described cases, the pouch starts at the posterior ventral part of the mandible and extends until the level of the third or fourth neck bones (cervical vertebrae).   Due to the difficulties of preservation of such structures, their properties, size and shape are disputed.  Some palaeontologists have proposed that these pouches were similar to those seen in extant Pelicans, others have used the more neutral term of “loose extensible skin”.  These protagonists argue that this gullet structure might have helped them swallow larger prey items whole, as seen in modern day Ostriches, for example.

It is interesting to note that the inspiration for the scientific name came from the movie Avatar. Next year sees the release of Jurassic World, the fourth movie in the extremely successful Jurassic Park franchise.  Although a closely guarded secret, the film is very likely to include a super-sized, apex predator with a large number of teeth.  We at Everything Dinosaur confidently predict that whatever the film makers come up with, it will one day be the inspiration behind the naming of another prehistoric animal that is new to science.

Ancient Mammal Named after Mick Jagger

Jaggermeryx naida – “Jagger’s Water Nymph”

It resembled something akin to a skinny hippopotamus crossed with a long-legged pig and spent most of the time in the warm, freshwaters of tropical North Africa, but the biggest claim to fame for a newly described member of the Anthracotheres (extinct family of hoofed mammals), is that it has been named after the lead singer of the Rolling Stones.  Sir Mick Jagger is famous for his big mouth and lips and it seems these are traits he shared with Jaggermeryx naida, which roamed the ancient waterways of Egypt some 19 million years ago (Burdigalian faunal stage of the Miocene epoch).  The name means “Jagger’s water nymph” and we will avoid any references to the Rolling Stone’s front man and his age.

Views of the Jaw Fragment of J. naida

Various views of the fossil material.

Various views of the fossil material.

Picture Credit: Greg Gunnell (Duke Lemur Centre)

The picture above shows views of the jawbone fragment that led to the identification of this new species of hoofed mammal.  Picture 1 is a view of inside of the jaw (medial), picture 2 shows the same fossil but in lateral view (outside of the jaw) and picture 3 shows the same fossil viewed from the top (dorsal) view.

An international team of scientists have been carefully excavating an area of the Qattara Depression (north-western Egypt).   Although the Qattara depression forms part of the Libyan desert today and it is famous for its dunes, salt lakes and arid terrain (it was the setting of the 1958 film “Ice Cold in Alex”), back in the Miocene epoch, much of North Africa was covered in lush swamplands and a number of Anthracotheres thrived.  The paper reporting on the excavation of the Anthracothere specimens has been published this week in the academic “Journal of Paleontology”, (note the American form of spelling).

The site, known as Wadi Moghra has provided the highest diversity of Anthracothere fossils when compared to other locations of Miocene aged deposits.  A spokes person from Everything Dinosaur commented that at least six different types of these hoofed mammals are now known to have been living in this part of the world nineteen million years ago.

Associate Professor Ellen Miller, of Wake Forest University (North Carolina), one of the co-authors of the scientific paper stated:

“We imagine its lifestyle was like that of a water deer, standing in water and foraging for plants along the river bank.”

 Ellen Miller (Wake Forest University) at Work Examining Fossil Material at the Site

Often palaeontology can involve lying down on the job.

Often palaeontology can involve lying down on the job.

 Picture Credit: Wake Forest University

The “Jagger” Connection

The site has revealed a number of vertebrate fossils, not just artiodactyls (even-toed mammals), but the fossilised remains of catfish, turtles and a number of water birds have also been found.   The fossil jaw fragments showed a series of eight holes.  These have been interpreted as having been the sites of large nerves that fed information back to the brain from the lower lip and snout.  Jaggermeryx naida probably had large lips (just like the Rolling Stones singer) and a super-sensitive lower lip and snout.  These adaptations would have enabled this herbivore to forage for nutritious plants in the muddy waters of this ancient Egyptian landscape.

A sensitive lower lip and snout.

A sensitive lower lip and snout.

Picture Credit: Wake Forest University

Associate Professor Miller added that the first fossils of this animal that they have described were found back in 1918, but at the time it was not recognised that these fossils represented a new type of Anthracothere.

She commented that when the team asked fellow researchers had they seen similar looking bones elsewhere:

“When people kept telling us no, we knew we were really on to something.  They’ve [Jaggermeryx naida] have been around for nearly a Century, we just didn’t know what they were.”

Mick Jagger is not the first celebrity to have a prehistoric animal named after him.   Many famous people have been honoured in this way.  For example, last summer (June 2013), Everything Dinosaur reported on the fact that an Eocene lizard had been named after Jim Morrison (lead singer of the Doors).  Earlier in 2013, we reported on a new type of Cambrian Arthropod being named after the actor Johnny Depp.

To read about the Eocene lizard named after Jim Morrison: Rock Star Honoured

To read about the Cambrian invertebrate named in honour of Johnny Depp: Film Star Honoured by Having Arthropod Fossil Named After Him

Spinosaurus “Four Legs are Better than Two”?

Spinosaurus – Steps into the Spotlight (Once Again)

And so, the long awaited paper that re-evaluates the fossil data on the Spinosaurus genus and specifically S. aegyptiacus was published in the academic journal “Science” yesterday.  Time to open a new chapter on this, one of the most enigmatic, mysterious and bizarre of all the known Theropoda.  Since the paper’s submission in the summer, there has been a lot of debate in scientific circles with regards to what this new study will show.  The paper’s title “Semi-aquatic Adaptations in a Giant Predatory Dinosaur”, is almost an understatement, when this is contrasted with the lurid headlines we have seen from a large number of media outlets.

Re-examining What We Thought We Knew About Spinosaurus

In very brief summary, the dedicated team of international researchers have re-assessed the known fossil material on Spinosaurus.  They have been able to track down the location in Morocco from which a number of Spinosaurus bones were excavated and sold via a fossil dealer.  The team have then re-examined this site and found further material.  Their efforts has led to a considerable re-think in terms of what this animal looked like and how it moved.  This new study interprets Spinosaurus as a sixteen metre plus dinosaur, that considered itself more at home in the water than on land.  Although capable of terrestrial locomotion, unlike every other large Theropod, a new rendering sees Spinosaurus as an obligate quadruped.  Here is a meat-eating dinosaur that walked on all fours.

A Semi-Aquatic Obligate Quadruped – Spinosaurus

Very much at home in the water.

Very much at home in the water.

Picture Credit: Davide Bonnadonna, Nizar Ibrahim, Simone Maganuco

In the picture above, a web-footed Spinosaurus pursues a prehistoric swordfish, known as Onchopristis.  Earlier studies and research based on other members of the Spinosauridae suggest that fish may have made up a substantial proportion of their diet.  Instead of perching on the river bank, attempting to claw fish out of the water like some form of giant, prehistoric Grizzly bear, an ecological niche trumpeted by ourselves to the CGI team helping with the rendering of Spinosaurus for an episode of the BBC television series “Planet Dinosaur” back in 2011, this latest interpretation goes a lot further.

Beyond “Planet Dinosaur” – The Transformation of Spinosaurus aegyptiacus

From paddler to swimming the "evolving" image of Spinosaurus.

From paddler to swimming the “evolving” image of Spinosaurus.

Picture Credit: BBC

Building Up a New Picture

Having re-visited what records and remaining photographs that exist of the original Stromer material excavated from the Western desert of Egypt around a 100 years ago, the dedicated research team then set about mapping previously known Moroccan finds including jaw bone fossils that had been discovered in the mid 197o’s.  To this eclectic mix they added information obtained from the fossils from the newly “rediscovered” Moroccan site, which itself makes up what is now known as the neotype for Spinosaurus aegyptiacus.  A neotype is a specimen that is deemed to represent a species in the absence of the holotype material that has either been lost or destroyed.  Add a pinch of material not known from the Spinosaurus genus but described from related animals baryonychids, spinosaurids and so forth, combined with a soupcon of inferred parts of the anatomy as the bones are not known at all in the fossil record and you have a “composite” view of the animal.

The Latest Interpretation of Spinosaurus (S. aegyptiacus)

Life-size reconstruction and supplemental figure

Life-size reconstruction and supplemental figure

Picture Credit: Davide Bonnadonna (top) Ibrahim et al (bottom)

The illustration (top), depicts Spinosaurus as a dinosaur that walked on four legs, in this new study the centre of gravity is positioned further forward, the pelvic girdle is estimated to have been much smaller and the hind limbs with their robust but very short femur  reflect the adaptations of a paddler more than that of a bipedal walker.

The picture below, referred to by a colleague as the “Spinosaurus colour chart” is a figure from the scientific paper’s supplementary data.  The colour coded bones illustrate the composite nature of this digital reconstruction.

The “Spinosaurus Colour Chart” Key

RED = the neotype fossils (FSAC-KK 11888)

ORANGE = the original bones from Stromer’s expeditions

YELLOW = isolated fossil material ascribed to Spinosaurus spp. from the same geological Formation as the neotype (Kem Kem Formation)

GREEN = scaled up bones derived from better known spinosaurids

BLUE = additions to help complete the skeleton based on no known fossils but derived from adjacent bones in the digital restoration

We at Everything Dinosaur applaud the efforts of the international team responsible for this new reconstruction.  A revaluation of the known Spinosaurus fossil material has been long overdue and this is the first time that palaeontologists have been able to relocate the bones from a private fossil collection to the actual site where they were excavated.  We commend the team for their perseverance.

Taking a Different Perspective

However, as with all good science, a number of counterpoints have already been made.

Scott Hartman, addresses these concerns in his web log: There’s Something Fishy About Spinosaurus

Scott, with a background in anatomy, and an expert in skeletal reconstructions, makes a number of excellent points in his article.

The dinosaur referred to as Spinosaurus aegyptiacus was one of the last of the Spinosauridae.  There is a British connection to this story.  One of the spinosaurids used in the comparative study was Baryonyx (B. walkeri).  When this dinosaur, whose bones were found in a Surrey clay pit, was formally described back in 1986 it was depicted as a semi-aquatic dinosaur, fish scales found in the body cavity suggested that fish made up at least a portion of its diet.

Commenting on this new research, Dean Lomax, (Honorary Visiting Scientist: School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, The University of Manchester) and author of the recently published “Dinosaurs of the British Isles” which includes extensive information on the Baryonyx fossil finds, stated:

“The new discovery is very interesting as it potentially confirms what had been suspected for quite some time, that Spinosaurus lived a semi-aquatic lifestyle.”

For further information on the book “Dinosaurs of the British Isles” by Dean Lomax and Nobumichi Tamura, which includes some fantastic skeletal drawings by Scott Hartman visit: Siri Scientific Press

This new paper, marks a new chapter in the story of Spinosaurus, but it’s not the end of the story that’s for sure.  Ironically, although Stromer originally depicted S. aegypticacus as a biped, we recall that in the distant past (the 1970′s), Spinosaurus had previously been thought of as a dinosaur that walked on all fours.

An Illustration of Spinosaurus from 1976

Spinosaurus as a terrestrial quadruped.

Spinosaurus as a terrestrial quadruped.

Picture Credit: Giovanni Caselli (from the book “The Evolution and the Ecology of the Dinosaurs” by L. B. Halstead)

We suspect there are going to be a few more twists and turns in the Spinosaurus story.

What Happens when an Ichthyosaur Dies?

Scientists Explore the Miniature Ecosystem Created by an Ichthyosaur Carcase

It has been known for some time that when Cetaceans (whales and dolphins) die and their corpses settle on the seabed, the carcase can sustain a diverse ecosystem for many years, even decades with the largest individuals.  Palaeontologists had long suspected that the corpses of marine reptiles that patrolled the seas of the world long before the whales evolved, would have played a similar role, but until now this area of marine reptile research had not been that thoroughly investigated.  Stepping up to this challenge, scientists from the Natural History Museum (London) and the Centre for Research in Earth Sciences (Plymouth University) set about mapping the evidence preserved on the fossilised bones and surrounding matrix of an Ichthyosaur skeleton found in southern England.

The team concluded that although there was evidence for a succession of community feeding phases, phases which are very similar to those found in association with Cetacean remains deposited in shallow water, the fossilised communities differed from those associated with whale carcases deposited in deep water environments.  One phase, consisting of the establishment of a community feeding on inorganic compounds such as methane and sulphides (known as the “sulphophilic phase”) seemed to be absent according to this fossil study.

Exploring the “After Life” of an Ichthyosaur

Ichthyosaurus Model (Carnegie Collectibles)

Ichthyosaurus Model (Carnegie Collectibles)

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Safari Ltd

Ichthyosaurs were a very diverse group of marine reptiles that evolved in the Early Triassic and survived up until the Late Cretaceous (Olenikian faunal stage of the Early Triassic to Turonian faunal stage of the Late Cretaceous).  Although, Ichthyosaurs had the same basic, streamlined body plan, a number of families are now recognised and these reptiles, only distantly related to the Dinosauria are regarded by many palaeontologists as amongst the best adapted of all the reptiles to a marine existence.

The specimen studied was a highly disarticulated Ophthalmosaurus fossil, from Dorset.  The fossil represents a three-metre long individual from the upper part of the Ringstead Clay Member of the Sandsfoot Formation, Late Oxfordian faunal stage.  We estimate that this specimen is approximately 157-156 million years old (Jurassic).  The carcase came to rest on a shallow sea bed, the bones became scattered over an area of several square metres before final burial.  The break-up of the skeleton was probably caused by a combination of scavenging and the action of currents, possibly high energy water flows as a result of storm activity.

The researchers identified a wealth of trace fossil evidence indicating feeding on the carcase by scavengers as well as evidence of organisms grazing on the bones themselves.  Marks made by the teeth of fish were identified and the “star-shaped” feeding scratches from the ichnospecies Gnathichnus pentax were found.  An ichnospecies is an organism only known from trace fossil evidence. The strange five-pointed, star shapes etched over many of the fossilised reptile bones are very similar to the patterns made by living sea urchins with their five-toothed feeding apparatus.  Scientists have interpreted these star-shaped patterns on the bones as evidence of grazing by a prehistoric sea-urchin (echinoid), G. pentax. It would have been feeding on mats of algae that had formed.

Trace Fossil Evidence on the Ophthalmosaurus Bones

Rib showing sharp, narrow grooves (white arrows) probably left by the scavenging action of small fishes.

Rib showing sharp, narrow grooves (white arrows) probably left by the scavenging action of small fishes.

Picture Credit: Nature Communications

The picture above shows a close up of an Ophthalmosaurus rib bone showing signs of having been scavenged by small fish. The arrows indicate potential bite mark evidence (scale bar = 0.5cm).

Evidence of Grazing on the Fossilised Bones by Echinoids (Sea Urchins)

G. pentax ichnospecies on a fragment of fossil rib.

G. pentax ichnospecies on a fragment of fossil rib.

Picture Credit: Nature Communications

The photograph above (b) shows the tell-tale grazing pattern of the ichnospecies Gnathichnus pentax on one of the fossilised bones (scale bar = 1cm).

A Close up of the Star-Shaped Feeding Pattern

Scale bar = 0.2cm.

Scale bar = 0.2cm.

Picture Credit: Nature Communications

Commenting on the study, Richard Twitchett (Natural History Museum), one of the research paper’s co-authors stated:

“This is the first time anybody has described the ecological succession in the Mesozoic equivalent of a whale fall in detail.”

When an extant whale dies and its body sinks to the seabed,  scientists have identified a number of distinct and sometimes overlapping ecological phases.  First, scavengers remove the flesh and other soft tissues from the carcase.  Then snails and the charmingly named bone-eating, snot-flower worms (Osedax genus) feast on the blood and the fluids from the decomposing remains.  The last phase sees the hard parts such as the bones themselves being digested by microbes which feed on the fats (lipids) stored in the bones.  Tube worms live off the microbes and the likes of the bone-eating snot-flower worms persist.

When the insides of the Ophthalmosaurus’s bones were examined under powerful microscopes further evidence of feeding by scavengers was found.  A number of tiny, fossilised molluscs were discovered.  These are associated with the same ecological community phase now associated with the bone-eating, snot-flower worms.  However, there was no sign of the “sulphophilic stage”, in which oxidised inorganic compounds such as sulphides and methane, derived from microbial activity as the fats inside the bones are broken down are consumed by a chemosynthetic community.  The chemosynthetic community found on the carcases of whales in deep water (greater than two hundred metres) consists of free-living bacteria and bivalves (for example, the genus Beggiatoa).

Evidence of Microscopic Scavenging Activity within the Fossilised Bone

Close-up of the bioeroded area where microborings are perpendicular to the external bone surface

Close-up of the bioeroded area where microborings are perpendicular to the external bone surface

Picture Credit: Nature Communications

The picture above (e) shows a highly magnified section of Ichthyosaur bone (ib) and the adjacent micrite rim represents a fine-grained calcite layer formed by the action of microbes boring into the substrate.

Instead, the Ichthyosaur’s bones were colonised by mats of microbes which attracted sea urchins and other grazing invertebrates.  The bones also became the home for a number suspension feeders, such as oysters that cemented themselves to the remains of the skeleton, forming a miniature “reef phase” as described by the scientists.  The remains were eventually buried entombing the remnants of the ecosystem that had been established to exploit the last resources from the dead animal.  When large Cetaceans perish, a reef phase is less likely to occur as most carcases settle in deeper water and the ubiquitous bone-eating snot-flowers rapidly destroy the skeleton.  The researchers conclude that shallow-water Ichthyosaur falls do provide a range of ecosystem opportunities to other organisms similar to the ones seen in studies of dead whales and dolphins.  However, it seems such shallow water corpses do not support any specialised chemosynthetic communities.

New Species of Titanosaur Named – Rukwatitan bisepultus

Rukwatitan bisepultus – A Rare African Giant

Titanosaurs are a bit like buses, you wait for ages and then two of them come along together.  No sooner did we complete our synopsis on the research on the colossal Dreadnoughtus schrani, a newly described Titanosaur from south-western Patagonia, then we have the opportunity to discuss another new species, this time from Africa.  This new Titanosaur, named Rukwatitan bisepultus may not be quite as big as the newly described Dreadnoughtus but we at Everything Dinosaur estimate that fossils excavated from a hazardous cliff face in a steep quarry represent a dinosaur that was around ten metres long, or possibly much bigger.  Comparisons with the fossil bones from the Malawisaurus indicate that this Titanosaur could have exceeded sixteen metres in length.  This herbivore would have been able to survey its floodplain home from a height of approximately four metres.

An Artist’s Impression of the New Titanosaur (Rukwatitan bisepultus)

New genus of Titanosaur described from Tanzania.

New genus of Titanosaur described from Tanzania.

Picture Credit: Mark Witton

But with Titanosaurs, size isn’t everything.  Rukwatitan may not be a record breaker in terms of its body mass but its discovery is perhaps more significant than the fossils of the South American giants.  This is only the fourth genus of Titanosaur discovered in Africa* and the palaeontologists at the University of Ohio, who excavated the fossils out of the cliff over two field seasons, are confident that their find will help scientists to understand more about the global distribution and the diversity of the titanosaurids as well as helping to piece together more data on the evolution of sub-Saharan dinosaurs.

A Silhouette of Rukwatitan bisepulutus Showing Fossils Found

Scale bar = 1 metre

Scale bar = 1 metre

Picture Credit: Eric Gorscak (Ohio University)

The picture above shows a bauplan of the new Titanosaur and the position of the fossil bones that were found in relation to the body plan.

Titanosaurs are wide-bodied Sauropods that probably evolved sometime in the Late Jurassic and survived until the Cretaceous mass extinction event.  They are the only Sauropods known to have survived into the Late Cretaceous, but only in South America did these animals make up a significant proportion of the herbivorous megafauna, elsewhere, the Ornithopods dominated.  When compared to other types of Sauropoda, Titanosaurs tended to have wider bodies, due to the more robust and larger pectoral area (chest).  The limbs were strong and stocky, often the front limbs were longer than the hind limbs.  The spinal column was more flexible than in diplodocids, perhaps helping them to rear up more easily.  The heads were small, proportionately smaller than other types of Sauropod.  Titanosaurs were geologically widespread and their fossils have been found on all the continents including Antarctica.  A number of sub-families have been identified and some of the titanosaurids are amongst the largest, terrestrial vertebrates known to science.

To read about the Antarctica fossil find (2011): Titanosaurs of the Antarctic

The fossils were found in the Rukwa Rift Basin area of south-western Tanzania (hence the genus name).  Scientists from Ohio University in collaboration with several other universities have carried out a number of excavations from the Red Sandstone Group deposits, that form part of the Galula Formation.  Fossils of turtles, crocodilians and primitive mammals have also been found in the formation, as well as dinosaur remains.  The fossil bearing strata is believed to have been laid down approximately 100 million years ago (Late Albian faunal stage of the Cretaceous).

The Fossils were Excavated from a Steep Cliff Face

The fossils were excavated from a steep cliff.

The fossils were excavated from a steep cliff.

Picture Credit: Patrick O’Connnor (Ohio University)

The vertebrates associated with the Galula Formation have shown some unique anatomical features indicating that the floodplain environment which is represented by these sandstone deposits may have been separated from other parts of Gondwana, permitting a unique fauna to evolve.  Last year, scientists from Ohio University reported the discovery of a new type of crocodilian (Rukwasuchus yajabalijekundu) that was different from other crocodilians found in deposits of the same geological age but from further north.

Some of the Fossils Exposed after Excavation

Fossil material exposed.

Fossil material exposed.

Picture Credit: Ohio University

One of the authors of the scientific paper, published in the “Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology”, Patrick O’Connor (Professor of Anatomy at Ohio University) stated:

“There may have been certain environmental features, such as deserts, large waterways and/or mountain ranges that would have limited the movement of animals and promoted the evolution of regionally distinct faunas.  Only additional data on the faunas and the palaeo-environments from around the continent will let us further test such hypotheses.”

Two Caudal Vertebrae (Tail bones) from the Site

A number of caudal vertebrae including several articulated vertebrae have been found.

A number of caudal vertebrae including several articulated vertebrae have been found.

Picture Credit: Ohio University

* Team members have had a go at naming the four genera of African Titanosaurs currently described, here we go:

  1. The basal Titanosaur from Tanzania (Upper Tendaguru Formation) – Janenschia robusta (Late Jurassic)
  2. The Lithostrotian Titanosaur from Malawi (unknown formation) Malawisaurus dixeyi (Cretaceous)
  3. The basal Lithostorian Titanosaur? Rukwatitan bisepulutus (described above)
  4. The Lithostrotian Titanosaur from Egypt (Bahariya Formation) Paralititan stromeri (Late Cretaceous)

To read the acclaimed article written by Everything Dinosaur on the newly discovered Titanosaur Dreadnoughtus: New Titanosaur from South-Western Patagonia

Fossil Damaged at Dinosaur National Monument (Utah)

Dinosaur Fossil Damaged and a Piece Stolen from Dinosaur National Monument

It once was a near perfect fossil of the upper arm bone of a Sauropod dinosaur, now it is broken and damaged with a fist-sized chunk missing.  Rangers at the Dinosaur National Monument in Utah have reported the vandalism and theft of part of a humerus.  It is extremely sad to have to report on yet another theft of a dinosaur fossil, officials at the Monument are appealing to members of the public to help them trace the culprit(s).

The Damaged Portion of the Dinosaur Fossilised Bone

The damaged dinosaur bone.

The damaged dinosaur bone.

Picture Credit: National Parks Service

The picture above shows the missing section of the dinosaur bone, the bone seems to have been deliberately smashed.

The Dinosaur National Monument is well-named.  Managed by the United States Department of the Interior National Parks Service, the park covers some 85,000 hectares and overlies the border between the states of Colorado and Utah (although the main dinosaur quarry site is in Utah, close to the town of Jenson).  The Monument is world famous for its amazing collection of dinosaur and other vertebrate fossils which date from the Upper Jurassic.  At least ten different types of dinosaur genera are known from the Morrison Formation exposures.  The Utah sequence represents high energy riverine deposits and on show at the visitor centre is a sandstone “wall” that reveals some 1,500 dinosaur bones.  Dinosaurs were probably swept away and drowned during floods.  At bends in the river as the current slowed down, so debris, including the carcases of dinosaurs was deposited.  The Dinosaur National Monument preserves these “log jams” of dinosaur bones.  Genera associated with the Monument include Camarasaurus, Allosaurus, Stegosaurus, Apatosaurus, Diplodocus and Dryosaurus.

On Tuesday, September 2nd , a park ranger was leading a tour party along the Fossil Discovery Trail when the damaged bone was noticed.  The vandalism and theft probably took place sometime between the Monday guided walk along the Fossil Discovery Trial and Tuesday morning.  The Fossil Discovery Trail is a 1.2 mile trail that runs between the Quarry Visitor Centre and the Quarry Exhibit Hall where the famous sandstone “wall”of dinosaur bones that we described above, is located.  The trail is unique as it is one of the few places where visitors can hike to see and touch dinosaur fossils and fragments in situ.  It allows visitors to experience what it may have been like for palaeontologist Earl Douglass (Carnegie Museum of Natural History), when he discovered the first fossils in what is now the Monument.

A spokes person from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“This is such a shame as the Dinosaur National Monument is going to celebrate its centenary next year and to have fossils damaged and stolen is deeply upsetting.  Although the fossils along the trail are of limited scientific value they provide a wonderful opportunity for members of the public to get up close to real dinosaur fossils.”

The Sauropod Humerus (before and after) Photographs

Two photographs showing the fossil before and after the theft.

Two photographs showing the fossil before and after the theft.

Picture Credit: National Parks Service

The picture above shows two photographs, the picture of the humerus without the damage (left) and a close up showing the damaged portion (right).  Although our dinosaur experts cannot be certain, the bone portion in question looks like the distal end of a left humerus, probably part of a Camarasaurus.  Park officials are seeking help from the public and anyone with information regarding this theft are invited to contact staff on (435) 781-7715.  A reward of $750 USD has been put up by the Intermountain Natural History Association for information that leads to a conviction.

The Part of the Fossil Discovery Trail where the Bone was Situated

The arrow shows the position of the damaged dinosaur bone.

The arrow shows the position of the damaged dinosaur bone.

Picture Credit: National Parks Service

Everything Dinosaur would like to take this opportunity to stress that visitors to the Dinosaur National Monument are not allowed to collect/damage any fossils or rocks.  Under Federal law, all features, artifacts and resources are protected. No collection of park geological resources for commercial sale, private collections or for classroom educational purposes is permitted.  We advise all visitors to National State Parks of America to familiarise themselves with the various protection laws and polices that relate to that particular location.

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