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/Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories

Fossil finds, new dinosaur discoveries, news and views from the world of palaeontology and other Earth sciences.

14 07, 2018

Rare Gomphotherium Skull from France

By | July 14th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Local Farmer Gives Up His Gomphotherium Skull Secret

Sacré bleu!  A French farmer working on his land using a large excavator uncovered the fossilised remains of a prehistoric elephant.  However, rather than notify the authorities, it was decided to keep quiet about the fossil find, complete with tusks and large molars, some of which measured more than ten centimetres in length.  The discovery was made in the summer of 2014 by an inhabitant of the village of L’Isle-en-Dodon, about forty-five miles south-west of Toulouse in southern France.  However, the accidental unearthing of a large elephant skull, must have weighed heavy on the person’s conscience, as three years later, scientists from the Musee d’Histoire Naturelle de Toulouse (Natural History Museum of Toulouse), were informed and a field team was despatched to excavate the site and to remove the prehistoric elephant skull so that this important discovery could be properly prepared and studied.

The Gomphotherium Skull at the Natural History Museum of Toulouse

A fossil Gomphotherium skull from south-west France.

The Gomphotherium fossil skull from south-west France.

Picture Credit: Musee d’Histoire Naturelle de Toulouse

Gomphotherium – A Rare Fossil Skull

Gomphotheres (Gomphotheriidae), were a large and very diverse group of prehistoric elephants that had a wide temporal and geographical distribution.  Fossils of these elephants, only distantly related to today’s elephants, have been found in Asia, Africa, North and Central America as well as Europe and a number of species have been named and described.  The first scientific descriptions of these members of the Order Proboscidea was made by the French naturalist Georges Cuvier in the early part of the nineteenth century.  Ironically, much of Cuvier’s research was based on elephant fossils discovered in south-western France, the same part of France, where this fossil skull was uncovered.  Cuvier recognised that the fossils (mostly molars), represented elephants and he erected the species name Mastodon angustidens.  It was the German zoologist Karl Hermann Konrad Burmeister, who revised Cuvier’s work, distinguishing these elephants from the Mastodonts and erected their own taxonomic family – the Gomphotheres.

A Scale Drawing of a Typical Gomphothere (G. angustidens)

Gomphotherium scale drawing.

A scale drawing of a Gomphotherium.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Concerned About Amateur Fossil Hunters

The farmer, who remains anonymous, wished to avoid the attentions of amateur fossil hunters.  It was feared that if news of the fossil discovery had got out, the farm might have been inundated by fossil collectors keen to find more prehistoric animal remains.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“The unwanted attention that such an important fossil find could have generated would have proved very disruptive for the farm, so it is understandable that the farmer did not want to attract too much publicity.  However, it is pleasing to note that the appropriate authorities have been informed and that this important specimen can be studied properly.”

A Still from a Video Shows the Gomphotherium Skull being Examined

Discussing the French Gomphotherium fossil skull.

Examining the Gomphotherium fossil skull.

Picture Credit: France TV/Musee d’Histoire Naturelle de Toulouse

The model manufacturer CollectA has recently introduced a 1:20 scale Gomphotherium replica into their Deluxe Prehistoric Life model range.  A picture of this new CollectA Gomphotherium replica can be seen below.

The New for 2018 CollectA Gomphotherium Model

CollectA Gomphotherium.

The CollectA 1:20 scale Gomphotherium model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view the CollectA Deluxe range of prehistoric animal models including the recently introduced Gomphotherium: CollectA Deluxe Prehistoric Animal Models

The fossil skull will take about six to nine months to prepare, the researchers at the Natural History Museum of Toulouse hope to learn more about southern European Gomphotheres from this specimen, it is likely that this significant fossil discovery will be put on public display at the museum, providing an opportunity for visitors to learn more about the areas prehistoric past.

A View of the Upper Tusks Protruding from the Gomphotherium Skull

One of two pairs of tusks associated with Gomphotherium skull material.

A close view of the upper tusks of the Gomphotherium skull fossil.

Picture Credit: France TV/Musee d’Histoire Naturelle de Toulouse

9 07, 2018

Triassic Dinosaurs Just Got a Lot Bigger!

By | July 9th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Ingentia prima – Giant Late Triassic Sauropodomorph from Argentina

Argentina might have been home to huge, plant-eating dinosaurs associated with Cretaceous-aged strata, after all, one of the biggest terrestrial vertebrates known to science is the Titanosaur called Argentinosaurus (A. huinculensis), just one of a number of super-sized leviathans from this part of the world.  However, a team of scientists, writing in the academic journal “Nature Ecology & Evolution” have announced the discovery of yet another giant, South American dinosaur, but this time one that roamed northern Argentina around 210 million years ago, in the Late Triassic.

The dinosaur, classified as a member of the Sauropodomorpha, has been named Ingentia prima and it was certainly very big for a Late Triassic animal, with an estimated body weight of around ten tonnes and a length of approximately ten metres.  To provide a comparison, the Sauropodomorph Plateosaurus (P. engelhardti), from the Late Triassic of western Europe, that would have been a contemporary of Ingentia prima, is estimated to have reached a length of about eight metres with a body mass of around four tonnes.  The later Sauropodomorph Lufengosaurus (L. huenei), from the Early Jurassic of China, might have been around six metres long and is estimated to have weighed more than 1.5 tonnes, Ingentia is much, much bigger.

Sauropodomorpha Size Comparison

Sauropodamorpha size comparison.

Sauropodomorpha size comparison Plateosaurus, Lufengosaurus and Ingentia prima compared.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur with I. prima illustration by Jorge A. González

First Giant

The discovery of Ingentia prima does rather upset the dinosaurian apple cart.  It had been thought that gigantism in the Sauropodomorphs evolved in the Early Jurassic, however, here was a ten-tonne giant, comparable in size to those Early Jurassic Sauropods that roamed some thirty-five million years later.  The evolution of giant, plant-eating, long-necked dinosaurs came about as a result of the development of numerous anatomical characteristics but I. prima displays many features of the body plan of basal, small Sauropodomorphs and lacks most of the anatomical traits previously regarded as adaptations to gigantism.

The Fossilised Material in the Field (Partial Exposure)

Ingentia prima fossils.

The fossil material representing a single, large individual dinosaur is partially exposed.

Picture Credit: Cecilia Apaldetti

Lead author of the scientific paper, Dr Cecilia Apaldetti (Universidad Nacional de San Juan, San Juan, Argentina), commented:

“It [Ingentia] was enormous.  It was at least twice as large as the other herbivores of the time and until now it was believed the first giants to inhabit the Earth originated in the Jurassic, about 180  million years ago.”

The dinosaur’s scientific name pays tribute to its size, the name translates from the Latin to “first giant”.  It had been thought, that if the first dinosaurs appeared around 230 million years ago, it took fifty million years for the first giants to evolve, the discovery of a partial skeleton in San Juan Province (north-western Argentina), has changed all that.

Quebrada del Barro Formation

The fossil material consisting of shoulder blades, cervical vertebrae (neck bones) and elements from the forelimbs, heralds from the Quebrada del Barro Formation.  The Ingentia fossil material was found adjacent to the fossilised remains of three individuals belonging to the already known and closely related species Lessemsaurus sauropoides, which had been named and scientifically described back in 1999.

The researchers, in addition to describing I. prima formally for the first time, were able to examine the three new specimens of Lessemsaurus sauropoides.  Ingentia has been placed in a newly erected family of long-necked dinosaurs, the Lessemsauridae, a branch of the Sauropoda that evolved gigantic forms like the later Eusauropods (true Sauropods).  The Eusauropoda includes those famous Jurassic giants such as Diplodocus, Brontosaurus and Brachiosaurus, as well as the later Titanosaurs such as the mighty Argentinosaurus, which roamed Argentina some 115 million years after Ingentia became extinct.

Circular Saws were used to Help Extract the Large Fossil Bones

Extracting the fossils of Ingentia prima.

Circular saws were used to remove the larger blocks of fossils after they had been jacketed.

Picture Credit: Cecilia Apaldetti

Why so Big?

Early Sauropodomorphs were small, agile bipeds, but the ancestors of Ingentia adopted a different evolutionary strategy.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“Developing a larger gut would allow more effective processing of tough vegetation, enabling these types of dinosaurs to extract more nutrients from the plants that they consumed.  Furthermore, by becoming big, these dinosaurs would have had less to fear from the predators that shared their environment, including Theropod dinosaurs.  If you are very large, a meat-eating dinosaur might avoid you and look for an easier meal elsewhere.  Becoming a giant is an evolutionary strategy found in a number of herbivorous animals”.

The Remarkable Skeleton of Ingentia prima

The lessemsaurids (Ingentia, Lessemsaurus and a third Early Jurassic dinosaur from South Africa named Antetonitrus), may have lacked the extremely long necks found in later Eusauropods, but their bones reveal some remarkable adaptations nonetheless.  Pneumatic structures have been identified in the vertebrae (air sacs), this indicates that these dinosaurs had a sophisticated and extremely efficient bird-like respiratory system.  These air sacs will have also helped to prevent these animals from overheating, a problem with large creatures, (surface area to volume ratio – hence one of the reasons why African elephants have large ears).  This kind of respiratory system implies the presence of cavities in their bones – a pneumatised skeleton that would have helped to lighten the animal and make locomotion more efficient.

Although Ingentia shows these adaptations to gigantism, it lacks many of the features associated with the later Sauropods.  For example, its legs were more bent and not the huge, weight-bearing columns associated with the Diplodocidae and the Macronaria.

The Remarkable Bones and Respiratory System of Ingentia prima

The sophisticated respiratory system of Ingentia prima.

The air sacs of Ingentia (green) the lungs shown in brown.

Picture Credit: Jorge A. González

A Dinosaur Ahead of Its Time

The quality of bone preservation permitted the research team to examine the histology of the dinosaur’s bones.  The scientists compared the bone growth in the new fossils with those of an earlier, bipedal Sauropodomorph as well as a later Eusauropod.  The histology of the earlier Sauropodomorph revealed a cyclical growth pattern, the animal growing in spurts, whereas, the Eusauropod bones, when examined in cross-section, revealed another pattern of growth.  This dinosaur grew acyclically, growing throughout its long life.  Members of the newly erected Lessemsauridae family grew differently.  Their bones show evidence of growth spurts, a trait found in their ancestors but when they grew, they really put on a spurt.  The researchers identified a growth rate of around two to three times faster than the already impressive rate of the later Eusauropods.

Ingentia demonstrates that the first wave of colossal giant dinosaurs evolved some thirty-five million years earlier than previously thought.  In addition, with an accelerated growth rate, unique limb adaptations and a bird-like respiratory system, the Lessemsauridae got big but they did it in a different way when compared to the later long-necked dinosaurs.

When it comes to the “LESSemsauridae” – Less may actually mean more…

The scientific paper: “An Early Trend Towards Gigantism in Triassic Sauropodomorph Dinosaurs” by Cecilia Apaldetti, Ricardo N. Martínez, Ignacio A. Cerda, Diego Pol & Oscar Alcober published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

5 07, 2018

Scientists Turn to Fossil Plants to Determine Tibetan Plateau Uplift

By | July 5th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Geology, Main Page|0 Comments

Plant Fossils Pinpoint the Timing of the Uplift of South-eastern Tibet

The immense Tibetan Plateau which borders the Himalayas, is sometimes referred to as the “roof of the world”.   This foreboding landscape rises thousands of metres above sea level, it harbours a unique ecosystem and is the source of some of the most economically significant rivers in the world.  However, when this plateau was formed and the geological mechanisms that led to this part of Asian being uplifted to form this elevated plain, are poorly understood.

Fossilised plants may help determine when the uplift occurred.  This may seem unlikely, when studying tectonic forces, but by looking at living flora, scientists can determine information about the climate and habitat that the plants are living in from their shape, leaf size and structure.  These same pointers can be identified in fossil plants too.

Plant Fossils Helping to Unlock the Geology of South-eastern Asia

Plant fossils from south-eastern Tibet.

Plant fossils associated with different layers in the Markan Basin provide an indication of climate change and geological uplift.

Picture Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

Plants Interact with Their Environment

Plants live at the Earth’s surface and have to constantly interact with the atmosphere, their leaves are very good at recording their surroundings, including properties of the atmosphere that are related to altitude.

Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), more specifically from the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden (XTBG), have been examining plant fossils from the Lawula Formation in the Markan Basin, south-eastern Tibet.  They have used plant fossil evidence to assess the date of the uplift of south-east Tibet.  The mountain range building may have been accelerated when the Tibetan Plateau was already around three kilometres above sea level and rising to its present-day height.

Fortunately, the strata with plant fossils were found between volcanic ash layers that allowed them to be precisely dated using argon isotope degradation analysis.  It turned out that the fossil assemblages were much older than their relatively modern appearance would suggest.  Several thousand fossil leaves were examined from four different layers of sediment.  Two fossiliferous layers proved to be the most important for this study.  The lower level (MK3), was dated using the isotope analysis to around 34.6 million years ago, whilst the upper layer (MK1), was dated to 33.4 million years ago.  As such, these deposits span the Eocene-Oligocene Epoch Transition (around 33.9 million years ago), a time when there was dramatic climate change.

One of the Fossil Sites (Kajun Village, Markan Basin)

The Markan Basin (south-eastern Tibet).

A view of one of the fossil sites (Kajun Village) currently at around 3,900 metres above sea level.

Picture Credit: Science China Press

Intriguingly, the older layer MK3 is dominated by leaves of the ring-cupped oak and members of the birch family, whereas MK1 consists almost exclusively of alpine taxa with small leaves.  The plant fossils suggest that the habitat changed from a relatively temperate evergreen and deciduous broad-leaved plant dominated flora to alpine scrub.

The CAS research team concluded that during the Eocene-Oligocene Transition, south-eastern Tibet was around three kilometres high and actively rising, close to its present-day height.  The team’s results demonstrate that the onset of geological uplift took place earlier, some ten million years earlier than previously suggested.

The results show that the elevation of south-eastern Tibet took place largely in the Eocene, which has major implications for uplift mechanisms, landscape development and the evolution of the flora and fauna of this region.

The argon isotope analysis of the volcanic ash layers helping to date the Markan Basin fossils, adds to a growing list of Palaeogene sites in this part of Asia, which are actually far older than biostratigraphic and lithostratigraphic data indicate.  The researchers postulate that their study supports the growing body of scientific opinion that the evolution of the highly diverse Asian biota is s Palaeogene, not a Neogene phenomenon and took place before the end of the Eocene.  The evolution of modern-day ecosystems may be deeply-rooted in the Palaeogene and this may have been driven by the changing and complex Tibetan topography and resultant climate change.

The scientists from the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden are continuing to collect plant fossils from different parts of Tibet.  They hope to build a model framework which permits a much better understanding of the uplift and the forces involved over deep time.

3 07, 2018

Eggshells and Eggs Provide a Unique Insight

By | July 3rd, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Cracking the Code – What Eggs and Eggshells Can Tell Us

A researcher based at the University of Edinburgh has produced a “cracking” assessment on the use of eggs and eggshells of living and extinct Archosaurs to obtain information about ancient environments, the behaviour and biology of vertebrates that may have lived many millions of years ago.

Writing in the open access Royal Society Open Science, Shaena Montanari (School of GeoSciences, Edinburgh University), has reviewed how the use of eggshells in the modern and fossil record allow an interpretation of a variety different Archosaurs and other amniotes across deep time, providing a unique record of ancient environments and ecosystems.

A Nest of Large Dinosaur Eggs

Titanosaur dinosaur eggs.

An example of Titanosaur fossil eggs.  Fossil eggs and eggshell can provide valuable insights into egg-layers and environments.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Overlooked Body Fossils

Biologists studying living vertebrates and palaeontologists studying extinct animals can look at the skeleton (fossil bones) and make deductions.  Other materials in both modern and ancient environments can be overlooked.  Take for example, the shelled eggs of Archosaurs, the Squamata and potentially monotremes, these, if they are preserved in the fossil or archaeological record, can provide a wealth of information to help support other areas of research.  Palaeontologists know that dinosaur eggs were not that much different from the eggs of living birds.  Eggs provide another biogenically created material that can be used to reveal specific information about the egg-layers and the environments they live in when assessed with different types of geochemical, morphological and molecular techniques.   The matrix surrounding the holotype fossil material of the dromaeosaurid Deinonychus (D. antirrhopus), contained fragments of fossil eggshell, later assigned (in all probability due to the low energy depositional environment and taphonomy of the fossil material), to Deinonychus.   This was the first record of a dromaeosaurid egg, however, this material was either overlooked or perhaps ignored when the dinosaur bones were first found back in the 1930’s.

Examples of Fossil Eggshell

Examples of fossil eggshell.

Three examples of fossil eggshell.

Picture Credit: Royal Society Open Science

The photograph (above) shows three examples of dinosaur eggshell fragments from the Gobi Desert.  Such items may be overlooked in the quest for more substantial body fossils but different eggshell types possess varied forms of ornamentation and can help to establish more information about the fossil biota.  The three pieces in the photograph, probably represent different types of dinosaur (from left to right Titanosaur, oviraptorid and potentially troodontid).  Microscopic analysis of the shell structure, along with pore density and isotope data can provide information about the ancient environment and inferred nesting behaviour of long extinct creatures.  Isotope analysis from eggshell can even provide information on the diet of the animal that laid the egg.

Post-doctoral researcher Shaena, explains in the paper that archaeologists can learn a remarkable amount about early human settlements by examining ostrich eggshells.  Ostrich eggshell is found in association with human food waste dumps, as bead decorations, sometimes associated with ritual burial or as containers for water.  Archaeological sites as far apart as China, India and north Africa have yielded Ostrich egg remnants.  These pieces of shell could be used to provide direct evidence of environments where early communities settled.

A Selection of Whole or Virtually Complete Dinosaur Eggs

Examples of fossil Archosaur eggs.

Examples of whole or partial fossilised eggs.

Picture Credit: Royal Society Open Science

The photograph shows a variety of fossil Archosaur eggs from Mongolia (a) three bird eggs from the Gobi Desert, (b) a pair of unidentified Theropod dinosaur eggs from the Cretaceous of Mongolia (AMNH FR 6513).  Photograph (c) shows an oviraptorid egg (Cretaceous of Mongolia -AMNH FR6508) and (d) is a probable Ornithopoda egg, again from the Cretaceous of Mongolia (AMNH field number 707)

Clumping Isotopes – Learning About Body Temperature

Researchers have developed a technique in which the body temperature of the dinosaur laying the egg can be calculated by plotting the presence of two rare isotopes found in calcium carbonate a key element in the formation of eggshell and a material that has a high preservation potential.  From an analysis of the way in which these two isotopes clump together in the same molecule, scientists are able to infer data about the body temperature of the mother.  As the eggs are formed within the oviduct(s) of egg-laying animals, the temperature of mineral formation should reflect the body temperature of the ovulating female.  In this way, such studies can inform the debate about endothermy or otherwise within the Dinosauria.

The scientific paper: “Cracking the Egg: The Use of Modern and Fossil Eggs for Ecological, Environmental and Biological Interpretation” by Shaena Montanari and published in the Royal Society Open Science.

2 07, 2018

A Placoderm “Platypus” Fish from Australia (Where Else)?

By | July 2nd, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Brindabellaspis – Placoderm Resident on Australia’s First Reef

The Queensland coast (Australia), might be famous for its Great Barrier reef today, but this was not Australia’s original reef, some 400 million years ago, there was a reef, located in what is now New South Wales, mostly built by entirely different types of organisms, that was a natural wonder of the Early Devonian.  Living on the bottom of the shallow sea in which this ancient reef formed was a strange-looking fish, with a sensitive beak, oddly reminiscent of another, not quite so ancient resident of  “Down Under” – a duck-billed platypus.

New Research Suggests that Brindabellaspis stensioi had a Sensitive “Beak” Like A Duck-billed Platypus

Brindabellaspis life reconstruction.

Brindabellaspis stensioi illustration.

Picture Credit: Jason art Shenzhen

The Placoderm, named Brindabellaspis stensioi was originally scientifically described in 1980.  However, new fossil specimens, revealed by carefully removing the rock matrix using dilute acids, have shed new light on the evolution of jaws and provided palaeontologists with evidence that the earliest fish dominated ecosystems supported a myriad of forms.

Limestone beds exposed on the shores of Lake Burrinjuck in New South Wales have preserved an extensive reef fauna.  Over seventy species of fish have been identified to date, of these, it is the Placoderms that dominate, with around 45 species named and described so far.  Palaeontologists from Flinders University (South Australia) and the Australian National University (Australian Capital Territory), have reconstructed two of the ancient fossils and discovered that Brindabellaspis had a long bill (rostrum), extending out in front of its eyes.

The Picturesque Limestone Beds of Lake Burrinjuck

400 million-year-old limestone beds of Lake Burrinjuck.

Lake Burrinjuck in New South Wales (Australia).

Picture Credit: Flinders University

One of the authors of the study, published in “Royal Society Open Science” Benedict King, a Flinders University graduate stated:

“This was one strange looking fish.  The eyes were on top of the head and the nostrils came out of the eye sockets.  There is this long snout at the front, and the jaws were positioned very far forward.”

Unique Sensory System

Following a comprehensive evaluation of the skull including the anterior portion (revealed for the first time with these new specimens), the researchers discovered an exceptionally long premedian bone forming an elongated rostrum, supported by a thin extension of the postethmo-occipital unit of the braincase.  This seems to be a modified form of pressure sensor, perhaps used to detect prey in the muddy/sandy bottom of the seafloor.

Professor John Young (Flinders University), a world authority on ancient fish and a co-author of the paper added:

“We suspect that this animal was a bottom-dweller.  We imagine it used the bill to search for prey, somewhat like a platypus, while the eyes on top of the head looked out for danger from above.”

Adding the Missing Pieces – Thirty-Eight Years Later

For Dr Gavin Young (Flinders University), the discovery of the front portions of the skull and that remarkable, sensitive rostrum helps to “flesh out” his original research on Brindabellaspis stensioi.  Dr Young has spent more than five decades studying the fossil fish from the Lake Burrinjuck limestone beds, Dr Young was responsible for naming and describing this Placoderm in 1980, now thanks to these new fossils and high-resolution X-ray tomography, this 400 million-year-old fish has a face, albeit a very peculiar one, but one that may demonstrate convergent evolution with the egg-laying monotreme (platypus – Ornithorhynchus anatinus).

New Specimens of  Brindabellaspis stensioi  Included in this Study

Brindabellaspis fossils and a line drawing.

The rostrum and one of the new skull fossils with a line drawing.  Note scale bar (left) equals 1 centimetre.

Picture Credit: Royal Society Open Science

Dr Young explained:

“When we saw the dense sensory tubes on another broken snout, we immediately thought of the local platypus.  I am very gratified there is finally an accurate reconstruction of this strange skull.”

Specialists and Not Generalists

The scientists conclude that as Brindabellaspis was clearly such a specialist, then the ancient reef was a thriving and very diverse ecosystem with very probably, a range of specialist organisms making a living on the reef and in the surrounding shallow waters.

Professor Long commented:

“Despite this being one of the earliest well-known ecosystems including many species of fish, the inhabitants of this ancient reef were clearly not in any way primitive.  The new findings show that they were highly adapted and specialised in their own right.”

The Elongated Premedian Plate (Rostrum) of Brindabellaspis stensioi

Brindabellaspis elongated premedian plate.

The elongate premedian plate of Brindabellaspis. ANU V3247 in dorsal (a) and ventral (b) views. (c,d).  Interpretative drawings of a and b.  Scale bars represent 10 mm.

Picture Credit: Royal Society Open Science

The scientific paper: “New Information on Brindabellaspis stensioi Young, 1980, Highlights Morphological Disparity in Early Devonian Placoderms” by Benedict King, Gavin C. Young and John A. Long published in by Royal Society Open Science.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a press release from Flinders University in the preparation of this article.

27 06, 2018

Rare Dinosaur Fossil from Japan

By | June 27th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Researchers Report the Discovery of a Partial Femur from a Hadrosaur

Dinosaur fossils are exceptionally rare in Japan, so when one is discovered, it makes quite a story.  Japanese media have reported upon a paper delivered at last weekend’s meeting of the Palaeontological Society of Japan, which provided details of partial hadrosaurid femur that had been found on Kamikoshikijima Island, at the southernmost tip of the land of the rising sun.

The fossil was discovered two years ago (July 2016), its discovery was announced at the meeting by a team from Kumamoto University and the National Museum of Nature and Science (Tokyo).

The Partial Dinosaur Femur at the Dig Site

Fossil partial Hadrosaur femur (Japan).

The fossilised remains of the partial Hadrosaur femur in situ (tape measure provides scale).

Picture Credit: Satsuma-sendai City Government

Identifying the Fossil as a Duck-billed Dinosaur (Hadrosaur)

Whilst it may not be possible to assign a genus to this fossil, the single bone does at least permit scientists to assign it to the Hadrosauridae family.  The femur is similar in shape when compared to the thigh bones of better known hadrosaurids.  It lacks the pneumatic texture as seen within the bones of Theropod dinosaurs and the position of the fourth trochanter, a flange of bone on the femur associated with muscle attachment, is within the scope of placement associated with duck-billed dinosaurs.

The sediments in which the femur was found date from the Maastrichtian faunal stage of the Late Cretaceous, indicating that this herbivorous dinosaur roamed this part of the world some 70 million years ago.

Commenting on the importance of the fossil find, researcher Yuka Miyake, who made the initial discovery stated:

“It is a clue that may enable us to grasp the extent of the diversity of dinosaurs that flourished in Asia.”

The bone measures about 70 centimetres long, if it had been complete it would have measured around 1.2 metres in length.  The scientists estimate that the dinosaur would have measured in excess of ten metres.

An Illustration of Late Cretaceous Hadrosaurs

A typical Late Cretaceous hadrosaurid.

Typical Late Cretaceous (Maastrichtian faunal stage) hadrosaurids.

Picture Credit: Mike Fredericks

This is the tenth reported Hadrosauridae discovery from Japan.  However, this is the first time a dinosaur fossil has been found on Kamikoshikijima.  Sensibly, the researchers have refused to state the exact location of the fossil find, this will help to protect the fossil site.  The bone will go on public display at the city government’s Kashima branch office in Shimokoshikijima from the middle of next month.

To read other blog articles published by Everything Dinosaur about dinosaur fossil discoveries from Japan:

Tyrannosaurus Roamed Late Cretaceous Japan

Japan’s Most Complete Dinosaur Discovery

Fragments of Fossilised Teeth Hint at Late Cretaceous Japanese Theropod

Japanese Schoolboy Finds Dinosaur Toe Bone

26 06, 2018

Watching the Birdie – Head for the Southern Hemisphere

By | June 26th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Fossil Bird Challenges Perceptions About Avian Evolution

Researchers from the Swedish Museum of Natural History and the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath, have re-examined the fossilised remains of an ancient bird from Wyoming, which casts doubt on the generally held perception that the ancestor of all modern birds originated in the southern hemisphere.  The fossil bird, named Foro panarium, was originally described and named back in 1992, but where this 52 million-year-old bird would perch on the avian family tree has been the subject of much debate.

Dr Daniel Field (Milner Centre for Evolution), in collaboration with Alison Hsiang (Swedish Museum of Natural History), have produced a scientific paper that supports the idea that this robust but poor flyer with relatively long legs from the famous Eocene-aged Green River Formation, is the earliest known example of a group of birds called Turacos or “banana eaters”.

Comparing the Skeleton of F. panarium to the Extant Ross’s Turaco (M. rossae)

Holotype of Foro panarium compared to living Turaco species.

The holotype specimen of F. panarium compared to a living species of Turaco.

Picture Credit: BMC Evolutionary Biology

The picture (above) shows a stylised image of the holotype specimen of Foro panarium (a, c, d, e) compared to (b) 3-dimensional CT rendering of the pectoral region of Ross’s Turaco (Musophaga rossae).  Note scale bar is 10 centimetres.

Birds – the Most Specious of all the Terrestrial Vertebrates

Some commentators might state that we are living in “the age of mammals”, it is true that many of  the apex predators, large herbivores and hyper-carnivores around today are mammalian, but in terms of the number of species, there are more species of birds (estimated at 11,000), than there are species of mammals, or amphibians and reptiles for that matter.  In addition, there are far more bird species in the southern hemisphere than in the northern hemisphere.  Charles Darwin during his voyage on the Beagle, marvelled at the great diversity of bird species he encountered on his travels through South America, the Galapagos and islands of the Pacific Ocean.  Naturalists are very aware of the dramatically uneven global distribution of today’s Aves.  Not only are species numbers higher south of the Equator, but many major groups of birds are entirely restricted to Africa, Australasia and South America which were all, once upon a time, part of the great southern super-continent of Gondwana.

Turaco Birds are Known for their Beautiful Plumage

 Guinea Turaco (T. persa).

A beautiful Turaco bird.  A Guinea Turaco (T. persa)

Picture Credit: Dr Daniel Field

Dr Field and Dr Hsiang set out to examine the avian fossil record to see if they could help to explain the uneven geographic distribution of modern-day birds.  Did, as many scientists believe, the ancestor of all modern birds (Neornithes), originate in the southern hemisphere, or are there more complex issues in play restricting the distribution of birds through deep time?

Turning to the Fossil Record for Answers

In order to map the evolutionary history of our feathered friends – the avian dinosaurs, the scientists turned to the fossil record for answers.  Writing in the academic journal “BMC Evolutionary Biology”, the scientists report their study of the 52-million-year-old fossil bird named Foro panarium.  The taxonomic placement of this species has been controversial, as the fossil shows a mixture of anatomical characteristics.  However, using updated information relating to other Eocene and Palaeocene bird species, the researchers concluded that the specimen represents the earliest known relative of the “banana eaters”, the Turacos (Musophagidae family).  Turacos today are entirely restricted to sub-Saharan Africa.  This enigmatic family of birds are renowned for their bright, gaudy plumage, elaborate head crests and some species have very loud alarm calls (hence their nick-name in parts of Africa, “go away birds”).  The feathers of several species contain unique pigments that generate bright green and magenta tones.

If the American fossil bird F. panarium is indeed a basal member of the Musophagidae, then it suggests that these birds had a much wider, global distribution in the distant past.  If this is the case, then why are extant Musophagidae  members restricted to Africa?

Biogeographical  and Bayesian Statistical Phylogenetic Analysis

Furthermore, an examination of the fossil record of Aves, suggests that Foro panarium is not the only example of a fossil bird being discovered outside the modern geographical distribution for that kind of bird.  For example, the Trogoniformes (Trogons and Quetzal birds), which are restricted to the southern hemisphere today, have basal members preserved in fossils from the Messel Shales of Germany.

The Beautifully Preserved Remains of a Bird from the Messel Shales of Germany

Bird Fossil - Messel shale.

A bird fossil from the Messel shale of southern Germany.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The scientists confirm the complex historical biogeography of crown birds across geological timescales.  The geographical distribution of ancient species and their subsequent radiation and restriction is likely to be much more complicated than previously thought.  The idea that the common ancestor of all living birds (Neornithes), arose in the southern hemisphere is not discounted, but this paper suggests that this assertion may not be as strongly supported by the evidence as previously thought.

Commenting on the significance of this study, Dr Field stated:

“Our picture of bird evolutionary history will continue to grow sharper as each new bird fossil gets unearthed.”

Shedding Light on the Turaco Lineage

It is likely that the birds went through a rapid phase of evolution after the End-Cretaceous extinction event that saw the demise of many ancient avian groups as well as the non-avian dinosaurs.  A seed-eating diet, may have helped numerous lineages to persist as the world’s ecosystems recovered.

To read a recent article about this: Seed Eating May Have Helped Some Types of Bird to Survive the Cretaceous Extinction Event

For the F. panarium fossil specimen itself, it may provide vital clues as to the age of the Musophagidae.  Turacos must have diverged from their closest living relatives by at least 52 million years ago, (by the middle of the Ypresian faunal stage), thus supporting the idea of a rapid diversification of the Aves during the Palaeocene Epoch.  The fossil also provides some intriguing insights into the evolution of modern Turaco biology.  Living Turacos have short hindlimbs and hind feet claw adaptations to help them to perch in trees.  In contrast, the fossilised hindlimbs of Foro panarium are quite long, suggesting that this bird was more of a ground-dweller than its modern descendants.

The scientific paper: “A North American Stem Turaco, and the Complex Biogeographical History of Modern Birds” by Daniel J, Field and Allison Y. Hsiang published in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology

23 06, 2018

Stem Mammal Skull Re-shapes Ancient Landmasses

By | June 23rd, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Cifelliodon wahkarmoosuch – Pangaea Split Later Than Thought

A fossilised skull of a stem mammal dating back to the Lower Cretaceous suggests that the super-continent Pangaea split up more recently than previously thought.  The skull, identified as a new species, comes from Utah and it indicates that there were still land links between North America and other landmasses making up Pangaea, as this is the first evidence of a member of the Hahnodontidae to have been described from North American fossil material.

Linking Super-continents Cifelliodon wahkarmoosuch

Cifelliodon wahkarmoosuch life reconstruction.

A life reconstruction of the stem mammal C. wahkarmoosuch.  The fossilised skull of this small stem mammal suggests that Pangaea broke up later than previously thought.

Picture Credit: Jorge A. Gonzalez

Scientists, including researchers from the University of Chicago and the Utah Geological Survey writing in the journal “Nature”, have named the new stem mammal Cifelliodon wahkarmoosuch.

Lead author of the study Zhe-Xi Luo (University of Chicago), explained that palaeontologists had thought that the primitive precursors to today’s mammals – the monotremes, marsupials and placental mammals, were anatomically similar and ecological generalists.  However, recent fossil discoveries suggest that many stem mammals were very specialised.

Zhe-Xi Luo stated:

“Now we know mammal precursors developed capacities to climb trees, to glide, to burrow into the ground for subterranean life, and to swim.  With this new study, we also know that they dispersed across from Asia and Europe, into North America, and farther onto major southern continents.”

Honouring Richard Cifelli

The genus name honours American palaeontologist Richard Cifelli, at Oklahoma University.  Professor Cifelli is regarded as one of America’s leading experts in North American Cretaceous mammals.  The species name “wahkarmoosuch”, means “Yellow Cat” in the local native American language for that part of Utah.  The fossil comes from the Yellow Cat Member of the Cedar Mountain Formation.  Sophisticated high-resolution computerised tomography (CT), was used to create a detailed, three-dimensional model of the skull.

James Kirkland, co-author of the paper and a Utah State palaeontologist commented:

“The skull of Cifelliodon is an extremely rare find in a vast fossil-bearing region of the Western Interior, where the more than 150 species of mammals and reptile-like mammal precursors are represented mostly by isolated teeth and jaws.”

The Fossilised Skull of C. wahkarmoosuch and a Computer -generated Image of the Fossil Material

The skull and scan of C. Dorsal view of the fossil skull (left) and the computer generated image (right) C. wahkarmoosuch.

Dorsal view of the fossil skull (left) and the computer-generated image (right) of  C. wahkarmoosuch.

Picture Credit: Huttenlocker et al

Nocturnal Predator

Cifelliodon wahkarmoosuch was small, weighing around two kilograms, it was probably about the size of a terrier.  This might be tiny compared to some extant North American mammals around today such as the moose, wolf and bison, but back in the Early Cretaceous, some 130 million years ago, it was a relative giant amongst its Cretaceous contemporaries.  Analysis of the teeth and preserved teeth sockets suggest that it had teeth were similar to fruit-eating bats and it could bite, shear and crush.  It may have been omnivorous, eating small animals but also incorporating plants into its diet.

The skull reveals that this newly described species had a relatively small brain and giant olfactory bulbs to process smell.  The small orbits (eye-sockets), suggest that C. wahkarmoosuch probably relied on its sense of smell to find food.  It probably did not have good eyesight or colour vision and Cifelliodon may have been nocturnal.

Super-Continent and Land Bridges

The research team have assigned Cifelliodon to the clade Haramiyida, a group of mammaliaform cynodonts that have a long temporal range in the fossil record.  Most of these animals are known from fragments of jawbone or fossil teeth.  The teeth, which are by far the most common fossil remains of these animals, resemble those of another ancient type of mammal the Multituberculata (Multituberculates).  With the discovery of a North American Haramiyidan, scientists are going to have to re-examine fossil teeth from this area that had previously been assigned to the Multituberculata, these teeth might represent members of the Haramiyida.

The fossil discovery emphasises that Haramiyidans and some other vertebrate groups existed globally during the Jurassic-Cretaceous transition, meaning the corridors for migration via landmasses forming the super-continent Pangaea remained intact into the Early Cretaceous.  There must have been land bridges permitting the migration of these small animals for longer than previously thought.

Most of the Jurassic and Cretaceous fossils of Haramiyidans are from the Triassic and Jurassic of Europe, Greenland and Asia.  Hahnodontidae was previously known only from the Cretaceous of northern Africa.  The Utah fossil discovery provides evidence of migration routes between the continents that are now separated in northern and southern hemispheres.

Commenting on the implications for the break-up of Pangaea, Adam Huttenlocker (University of Southern California), a co-author of the study said:

“But it’s not just this group of Haramiyidans.  The connection we discovered mirrors others recognised as recently as this year based on similar Cretaceous dinosaur fossils found in Africa and Europe.”

The researchers conclude that hahnodontid mammaliaforms had a much wider, possibly Pangaean distribution during the Jurassic–Cretaceous transition.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the help of a press release from the University of Chicago in the compilation of this article.

The scientific paper: “Late-surviving Stem Mammal Links the Lowermost Cretaceous of North America and Gondwana” by Adam K. Huttenlocker, David M. Grossnickle, James I. Kirkland, Julia A. Schultz and Zhe-Xi Luo published in the journal Nature.

22 06, 2018

Tongue-tied Dinosaurs

By | June 22nd, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Most Dinosaur Tongues Rooted to the Bottom of their Mouths

New research undertaken by the University of Texas at Austin in conjunction with the Chinese Academy of Sciences suggests a link between the origin of flight within the Archosauria and an increase in tongue diversity and mobility.  It seems that Theropod dinosaurs had tongues very similar to those of extant crocodiles, these tongues are immobile and firmly attached to the floor of the mouth.  In contrast, Ornithischian (bird-hipped) dinosaurs, pterosaurs and birds may have had more mobile tongues, in the case of the volant animals, the tongue could have become adapted to serve as a device to compensate for a loss of dexterity as hands evolved into wings.  For the Ornithischians, their plant-eating needs could have resulted in a more mobile and dextrous tongue to assist with the processing of large quantities of coarse vegetation in the mouth, after all, most derived Ornithischians unlike their Sauropodomorpha and Theropod cousins chewed their food to some extent.

A Tongue-tied Dinosaur – Most Theropods Had Tongues Like Extant Crocodilians

A tongue-tied dinosaur.

Most Theropod dinosaurs such as this Deinonychus had immobile tongues.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Comparing Hyoid Bones

The University of Texas at Austin and Chinese Academy of Sciences researchers compared the hyoid bones of living and extinct Archosaurs.  The hyoid bones support and ground the tongue.  In addition, to challenging how dinosaur tongues are depicted in movies such as “Jurassic Park”, the study proposes a connection between the origins of powered flight and an increase in tongue diversity and mobility.

Lead author of the research. Zhiheng Li, of the Chinese Academy of Sciences commented:

“Tongues are often overlooked but, they offer key insights into the lifestyles of extinct animals.”

Associate professor Zhiheng Li conducted the research whilst working towards his PhD at the UT Jackson School of Geosciences.

The study involved comparing the hyoid bones of extinct dinosaurs and pterosaurs with the hyoid bones of living Archosaurs.  The research team looked at the hyoid bones and associated muscles of alligators and modern birds.  The hyoid bones act as anchors for the tongue in most animals, but in Aves (birds), these bones can extend to the tip.  Comparing anatomical traits across these groups can help scientists understand the similarities and differences in tongue anatomy and how traits evolved through time and across different lineages.

The Research Team Examined Extant and Extinct Archosaurs Plus Other Groups Such as Sphenodonts

Working out the tongue function in extinct Archosaurs.

Muscular, fleshy, bone or cartilage elements of the tongue in extant archosaurs and outgroups.

Picture Credit: PLOS One

Fifteen Modern Specimens Compared to Extinct Archosaurs

High-resolution images of hyoid bones and muscles were made from fifteen modern specimens.  The bird species examined included ducks and ostriches.  The X-Ray Computed Tomography Facility at the Jackson School of Geosciences was used to create the images.  Most of the fossil specimens used in the study came from north-eastern China (Liaoning Province), the exquisite preservation of these fossils gave the researchers the best opportunity to examine in detail images of the delicate tongue bones.  The iconic Late Cretaceous dinosaur Tyrannosaurus rex was also included in this research.

The results indicate that the hyoid bones of most members of the Dinosauria, were reminiscent of extant crocodilians, the hyoid bones of dinosaurs were short, simple and connected to a tongue that was relatively immobile.  Co-author of the scientific paper, published in the on-line journal PLOS One, Julia Clarke (Jackson School of Geosciences), explained that the dramatic reconstruction of dinosaurs with their tongues stretching out from between their jaws as seen in many movies, was just wrong and inaccurate.

Julia Clarke stated:

“They have been reconstructed the wrong way for a long time.  In most extinct dinosaurs their tongue bones are very short and in crocodilians with similarly short hyoid bones, the tongue is totally fixed to the floor of the mouth.”

Overturning Common Misconceptions About Dinosaurs

Professor Clarke is accustomed to overturning common misconceptions when it comes to dinosaurs.  In 2016, Julia was one of the co-authors of a study into a Late Cretaceous bird (Vegavis iaai), the research team concluded that dinosaurs probably did not roar but may have made booming noises in a similar way to the vocalisation found in ostriches.

To read about this study: Ancient Bird Voice Box Sheds Light on the Voices of Dinosaurs

In contrast to the short hyoid bones of crocodiles, the scientists found that pterosaurs, bird-like dinosaurs, and living birds have a great diversity in hyoid bone shapes.  They think the range of shapes could be related to flight ability, or in the case of flightless birds such as ostriches and emus, evolved from an ancestor that could fly.  The researchers propose that taking to the skies could have led to new ways of feeding that could be tied to diversity and mobility in tongues.

Examples of Fossilised Hyoid Bones in the Archosauria

Fossil bones in extinct Archosaurs.

Archosauria and fossilised hyoid bones.

Picture Credit: PLOS One

The picture above shows a number of fossilised hyoid bones associated with extinct members of the Archosauria.

Key

(A) Alligator prenasalis, pterosaurs (B) Liaoxipterus brachycephalus and (C) Ludodactylus sibbicki, (D) basal Ornithischian Jeholosaurus shangyuanensis, (E) Tyrannosaur Yutyrannus huali (F) Sinosauropteryx prima.

Professor Clarke added:

“Birds, in general, elaborate their tongue structure in remarkable ways, they are shocking.”

Co-author of the study, Zhiheng Li (Chinese Academy of Sciences), stated that the elaboration of the tongue could be related to the loss of dexterity that accompanied the evolution of flight.  The tongue could have compensated for the transformation of hands into wings.

Li stated:

“If you can’t use a hand to manipulate prey, the tongue may become much more important to manipulate food.  That is one of the hypotheses that we put forward.”

Volant Dinosaurs And Fossil Birds (Hyoid Study in Paravians)

Fossil hyoid bones in flying dinosaurs and extinct birds.

Hyoid remains in Paravians.

Picture Credit: PLOS One

Key

(A) Microraptor zhaoianus, (B) Confuciusornis sp., (C) Enantiornithine sp., (D) Hongshanornis longicresta.  The blue arrow indicates the ossified basihyal in Confuciusornis and Hongshanornis; it was also observed in one specimen of Microraptor.  The green arrow indicates the phylogenetically earliest epibranchial.

An Exception – The Ornithischia

The scientists did identify one exceptional group amongst the Dinosauria, the Ornithischian dinosaurs.  Derived members of this group chewed their plant food and had hyoid bones that were highly complex and more mobile, although they were structurally different from those of volant dinosaurs and pterosaurs.

Triceratops Had a Mobile and Dextrous Tongue

New colour Mojo Fun large Triceratops (2018).

Mojo Fun large Triceratops (new colour 2018). We will be looking carefully at the tongue.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The team propose that more work needs to be done to understand the anatomical changes that occurred with shifts in tongue function.  Professor Clarke commented upon how changes in the tongues of living birds are associated with changes in the position of the opening of the windpipe.  These changes could in turn affect how birds vocalise and breathe.

The scientific paper: “Convergent Evolution of a Mobile Bony Tongue in Flighted Dinosaurs and Pterosaurs” by Zhiheng Li, Zhonghe Zhou and Julia A. Clarke published in PLOS One.

21 06, 2018

Researchers Identify New Species of Ancient Marine Lizard

By | June 21st, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Primitivus manduriensis – New Semi-Aquatic Lizard Honours Red Wine Grape

The discovery of an articulated fossilised skeleton with exceptional soft tissue preservation indicates that the enigmatic Dolichosaurs were around at least fifteen million years later than previously thought.  Researchers, including scientists from the University of Alberta (Canada), have described a new species of Dolichosaur, naming it Primitivus manduriensis.  The fossil specimen was found near Nardò (Lecce, Puglia), a small town located in the Salento Peninsula (southern Italy).   The animal was probably semi-aquatic, hunting for small fish in shallow waters whilst also venturing out onto land from time to time.  The specimen, although crushed flat, is so well-preserved that muscle, skin and scales can be observed under ultra violet light.  Even the small bones of its fish prey have been preserved in the gut.

The reptile, which was approximately one metre in length has been named after the local Manduria variety of red wine grape primitivo.

A Life Reconstruction of Primitivus manduriensis

Primitivus life reconstruction.

A life reconstruction of the newly described marine lizard Primitivus from southern Italy.

Picture Credit: Fabio Manucci

Found in Rocks Dating from the Late Campanian to the Early Maastrichtian

The fossil was discovered in what was once a shallow water environment, perhaps an embayment.  After it died, this member of the Squamata (it was related to lizards, snakes and Mosasaurs), sank to the bottom and was covered in sediment, safe from any currents that would otherwise have scattered its remains and away from scavengers.

Lead author of the paper, published in Royal Society Open Science, University of Alberta student Ilaria Paparella commented:

“The marine lizards are essentially small, long-bodied animals that look like regular lizards with longer necks and tails.  They have paddle-like hands and feet for swimming but could also move on land.”

Dorsal View of the Holotype Primitivus manduriensis Fossil Material

Views of the holotype of P. manduriensis.

Top – the holotype fossil material of P. manduriensis and (bottom) under UV light.

Picture Credit: Royal Society Open Science

The photographs (above), show the holotype of Primitivus manduriensis (MPUR NS 161) in natural (a) and UV light (b) as exposed from the matrix in dorsal view.  The imaging under UV radiations is a composite of two pictures, finalised with Adobe Photoshop CC 17 (2013 release).   Note scale bars equal 5 centimetres.

At around 70 million years old, this specimen is significantly younger than other existing specimens from the Dolichosaur group, extending the temporal range of their existence by about fifteen million years.  The fossil also represents the first evidence of the presence of Dolichosaurs in the southern Italian Carbonate Platform, filling a palaeogeographic gap in the Mediterranean Tethys.

Soft Tissue Preservation

For PhD student Paparella, one of the most fascinating things about the specimen was the ability to study the soft tissues, including scales, muscle and skin.  The Department of Biological Sciences student conducted the research as part of her PhD with University of Alberta palaeontologist Michael Caldwell, helping to write the paper.

Ilaria explained:

“There need to be very special conditions for soft tissue to be preserved on a fossil.  The location where the Primitivus manduriensis was found has a great deal of potential.  We hope to get permits from the Italian authorities to conduct further fieldwork.”

“This was the first time I’ve ever had the opportunity to look at the complete picture of a beautifully preserved specimen, right down to the scales.  For living species, scientists use scale patterns and skin for identification.   It was unique to be using these techniques to look at a specimen that died 70 million years ago.

When the area of the gut was studied, the researchers identified several tiny, rod-like fragments of bones visible under ultra violet light.  Although their identity could not be clearly assessed, this evidence suggests that Primitivus was feeding on small vertebrates (e.g. fish).

A View of the Crushed Skull of the Holotype (P. manduriensis)

Close-up view of the skull of P. manduriensis and the same fossil material under UV light.

Views of the skull of the holotype fossil of Primitivus manduriensis.

Picture Credit: Royal Society Open Science

The two photographs (above), show imaging of the skull of Primitivus manduriensis MPUR NS 161 under (a) natural light and (b) UV light.  The skull of the holotype is heavily crushed (a) and part of the elements are only preserved as impressions on the matrix, as observed under UV light (b), where the bone material still preserved is bright white.  Note scale bar equals 1 cm.

The new specimen may represent local persistence of a relict Dolichosaur population until almost the end of the Cretaceous in the Mediterranean Tethys, and demonstrates the incompleteness of our knowledge of Dolichosaur temporal and spatial distributions

The scientific paper: “A New Fossil Marine Lizard With Soft Tissues From the Late Cretaceous of Southern Italy” by Ilaria Paparella, Alessandro Palci, Umberto Nicosia, Michael W. Caldwell and published in Royal Society Open Science.

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