Category: Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories

Zombie Worms and Plesiosaurs

Bone-Eating Worms Consumed Marine Reptile Carcases

A type of bone-eating marine worm that had been thought to have evolved to exploit the food potential of cetacean carcases lying on the seabed also fed on the remains of giant marine reptiles, according to new research published in the academic journal “Biology Letters”.  The worm, the genus is known as Osedax, was only discovered in 2002 (formally described in 2004), has been found at depths of more than 4,000 metres.  It feeds on the bones of vertebrates that lie on the seabed.  As the bizarre worms were discovered in association with the carcases of whales, it had been suggested that these scavengers had co-evolved with whales and dolphins in the Cenozoic.  However, analysis of microscopic bore holes found in the limb bones of a Plesiosaur and the remains of an ancient turtle, indicate that Osedax worms existed much earlier than whales.  Their origins have been traced back at least 100 million years.

Osedax Worms Helped Breakdown the Corpses of Marine Reptiles

Fossil traces of Osedax worms found in marine reptile bones.

Fossil traces of Osedax worms found in marine reptile bones.

Picture Credit: Plymouth University/Dr. Nicholas Higgs

A number of species have now been identified and this genus seems to be widely distributed in the world’s seas and oceans.  The great geographic range of the worms had been a bit of a mystery for marine biologists, especially for those who believed that these worms, some females of which can grow up to fifty millimetres in length, solely fed on the bones of cetaceans, as corpses of whales and dolphins are extremely rare when the size of the marine environment is considered.  This new study suggests that the zombie bone-eating worms might be more generalist feeders, happy to bore into a variety of different types of carcase.  The Osedax genus has been classified as a member of the Siboglinidae (sigh-bog-lin-ee-day) family of worms.  The adults lack a mouth and any form of digestive system.  They feed by boring into bones by secreting acid through their root-like tendrils.  The worms rely on a symbiotic relationship with bacteria inside their bodies.  The bacteria converts the bone collagen and lipids that are absorbed into food for the host worm.

The research team, including Dr. Nicholas Higgs from the Marine Institute (Plymouth University), examined the fossilised bones of a Plesiosaur as well as the remains of a prehistoric turtle which were part of the marine reptile fossil collection at the University of Cambridge Museum.  Detailed CAT scans were taken, using the CAT scanner at the Natural History Museum in London. These scans and the subsequent computer models created from them, revealed that two bore holes in the bones from a Plesiosaurs’s flipper and four bore holes from the turtle bones, were remarkably similar to the bore holes made by Osedax in the bones of modern cetaceans.  These trace fossils suggest that before the whales evolved, these types of worm were already present in the marine ecosystem scavenging on the bones of dead marine reptiles.

The Bones of Plesiosaurs could have been Colonised by Osedax Worms

An Illustration of a Plesiosaurus.

An Illustration of a Plesiosaurus.

Commenting on the research, Dr. Higgs stated:

“Our discovery shows that these bone-eating worms did not co-evolve with whales, but that they also devoured the skeletons of large marine reptiles that dominated oceans in the age of the dinosaurs.”

Dr. Nicholas and co-author Silvia Danise (Plymouth University/University of Georgia), reported that the trace fossils suggest that marine reptile carcases, before whales, played a crucial role in the evolution and dispersal of Osedax and this study supports the idea that these worms are generalised scavengers of vertebrate remains.  The generalist ability to colonise different vertebrate corpses, such as fish, marine birds and reptiles would seem to be an ancestral trait.  The trace fossils suggest that the Siboglinidae evolved much earlier than previously suggested by phylogenetic estimates.

CAT Scans Showed Signature Bore Holes Made by Osedax spp.

Computer models from CAT scan data revealed the shape of the bore holes.

Computer models from CAT scan data revealed the shape of the bore holes.

Picture Credit: S. Danise/N. Higgs/Biology Letters

The scientists examined the bore holes and found that they resembled those caused by Osedax in the bones of extant whales.  Whilst scientists cannot be certain how many more marine reptile fossils might have been preserved without the likes of Osedax feeding on the bones and destroying them before they could be buried and potentially fossilised, it does seem likely that our fossil record for marine vertebrates is poorer as a result of at least 100 millions of feeding.

Back in 2014, Everything Dinosaur team members reported on the microscopic analysis of the bones of an Ichthyosaur which also showed signs of having been consumed by the action of a number of scavengers, including Osedax worms.

To read more about this research: What happens when an Ichthyosaur Dies?

The University of Plymouth team conclude that although the vast majority of marine reptiles died out at the end of the Cretaceous (Mosasaurs, Plesiosaurs) and the Ichthyosaurs died out a few million  years earlier, these worms survived on the carcases of turtles and other creatures in the twenty million years or so before the first whales evolved.

The Achievosaurs – Reinforcing Positive Learning Behaviours

Soft Toy Dinosaurs Helping Young Children to Learn Life Skills (Achievosaurs)

Using a range of soft toy dinosaurs to help encourage young children to learn life skills and to reinforce positive values in schools is something Everything Dinosaur team members are very familiar with.  Now that the three inch plus dinosaur range known as the Itsy Bitsies are back in production, our team members set out to examine how one teaching concept, the “Achievosaurs,” came into being.

We were contacted by retired Bristol school teacher Lori Mitchell who explained to us how her idea for using dinosaur soft toys took shape.

Ms Mitchell explained:

“The idea for the Achievosaurs came after a South Gloucestershire Early Years course “Providing Challenge, Improving Outcomes” in October 2010.  During the day, we were asked to consider how we encourage our children to reflect on their learning, rather than just talk about their activities, and how we can help them develop the skills needed to become life-long learners.  We discussed the learning-focused qualities we wanted to encourage in our children and a colleague shared the “Curious Cat” she used with her class.  One of the Early Years advisors then said something like “you know, dinosaurs would be another could have a Thinkasaurus”…and that was it…I went home after the course and devised the Achievosaurs!”

The Achievosaurs (Dinosaur Soft Toys) in 2015

Helping to reinforce life-long learning skills.

Helping to reinforce life-long learning skills.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view the dinosaur soft toys: Dinosaur Soft Toys and Achievosaurs

With the rigours of a new curriculum being rolled out across England, there is a great deal of emphasis placed upon preparing pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life.  For example, the idea of introducing scientific working and the scientific method underpins a lot of Everything Dinosaur’s teaching activities in schools.  It is essential for those children at the Early Years Foundation Stage to acquire appropriate social skills as well as developing positive behaviours to help them make good progress.

We asked Lori, how the names of the first Achievosaurs came about and she explained that she based her prehistoric animal names on the specific learning qualities that she wanted to encourage in her Reception class (FS2).  For the last seven years of her working career, before taking early retirement, Lori was a teacher at Cadbury Heath Primary School, Warmley, near Bristol, South Gloucestershire (south-west England).  Using her experience, Lori devised a series of dinosaurs (plus one flying reptile), which she could use as props to help reinforce desired behaviours.

The names of Lori’s Achievosaurs were:

  • Exploring ideas and resources: Explorasor
  • Sticking to a task: Stickasaurus
  • Sharing ideas and resources: Shareadactyl
  • Trying their best: Tryatops
  • Asking questions: Askaraptor
  • Working to solve problems: Solveosaurus rex
  • Thinking carefully about tasks: Thinkadon

Over the years we have come across a number of variants, with something like 1,200 different dinosaur genera described to date and a new one being named on average every 20-30 days or so, educationalists certainly have plenty of scope.

When asked about how she came up with her Achievosaur names, Lori said:

“When I first drafted the idea, all the names ended in “asaurus,” but when I found the wonderful collection of Itsy Bitsy dinosaurs at Everything Dinosaur, my 20 year-old son got involved (dinosaurs really are any age child friendly), and selected the dinosaurs and adapted their name to “fit,” so, for example, we took Velociraptor to make “Askaraptor”.

Lori was invited to share her idea with a team of South Gloucestershire assessment co-ordinators and this simple, but very effective teaching aid has been taken up by a number of primary schools and other educational establishments.

Team members at Everything Dinosaur dedicate a lot of time to supporting teaching teams and many EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage) and Key Stage 1 teachers incorporate a dinosaur themed topic into their scheme of work.  A spokesperson from the Cheshire based company stated that a topic based on prehistoric animals dove-tailed into desired learning outcomes across the curriculum, whether it was using the size and scale of dinosaurs to help build confidence with numbers or having a class imagine what it would be like to have a pet Triceratops in order to lay the foundations for some creative writing.

Dinosaurs as a Term Topic Can Encourage and Motivate Young Learners

Pupils learn about the shapes and sizes of different prehistoric animals.

Pupils learn about the shapes and sizes of different prehistoric animals.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

For further information on Everything Dinosaur’s teaching work in schools: Contact the Teaching Team at Everything Dinosaur

When asked why the likes of Tyrannosaurus rex and Stegosaurus are so popular with young learners Lori suggested:

“One reason I think is their wonderful names.  They sound fascinating, and what child doesn’t like to impress an adult by knowing long words and being able to pronounce them?  Another is that, although huge and terrifying when they lived, dinosaurs are not around anymore so they can’t get us!”

Dinosaurs enduring popularity with children (quite a few adults as well), is an area that has been explored frequently.  Team member, “Dinosaur Mike”, part of the company’s teaching team was interviewed by the BBC on this subject and he hypothesised:

“Dinosaurs are never really out of the media, so children are exposed to prehistoric animals such as Diplodocus and Tyrannosaurus rex from an early age.  When talking to Mums and Dads we know how proud they are when their son or daughter explains all about their favourite dinosaur.  With so many facts and figures associated with these prehistoric reptiles, they do help sow the seeds for an appreciation of life- long learning.”

Her Reception class loved the idea of Achievosaurs right from the start, but we wanted to know which was Lori’s own favourite.  Lori declared that she was very fond of them all as the encouragement these soft toys had given to her charges, getting them to think about learning skills and to develop positive behaviours, was of real benefit.

“It has been fantastic to hear the children identifying what they need to do in order to move their learning on, for example, suggesting they need to be a “Stickasaurus,” which concentrates, in order to learn their letters or a “Solveosaurus rex,” which makes links between ideas, when faced with a problem.  However, if I had to pick one favourite Achievosaur, I think it would be Tryatops”.

Lori explained:

“There is sometimes a perception that learning is just for “clever” children, and I think Tryatops helps to teach children that no matter what the activity or skill level, we can ALL try our best, never give up and in consequence, achieve.”

Tryatops – Based on the Horned Dinosaur Triceratops

An excellent replica of a Triceratops.

An excellent replica of a Triceratops.

Picture Credit: Safari Ltd/Everything Dinosaur

Not being discouraged, even when experimental results don’t quite turn out as expected, is an important aspect of scientific working.  Lessons learned early in life will help pupils face future challenges with more confidence.

In conclusion, we asked Lori if she could design her very own dinosaur what would it be like?

“The Achievosaurs were my first design attempt, with specific characteristics and names, to tie in with the Early Years Characteristics of Effective Learning.  I had a lot of fun inventing and writing about them and I couldn’t be more delighted that other Early Years professionals and schools have found the concept useful.  However, I’ve recently been thinking about the PSE side of things [personal, social and emotional development]: could an Achievosaur help children to take account of one another’s ideas (an Early Learning Goal) or be thoughtful/helpful?  What about a Respectadocus?  Now that the toys are back in production, anything is possible! “

At Everything Dinosaur we have had the privilege of working with a number of dedicated teaching professionals who have adopted and adapted dinosaur soft toys to assist them with their own learning objectives.  As a result, we have come across a large number of different Achievosaurs all aimed at reinforcing appropriate behaviours and encouraging the development of life-long learning.

Thank you Lori for being a wonderful “Shareosaurus” and sharing your story with us.

Calling Calamosaurus!

Isle of Wight Fossil Find – British Compsognathidae?

It may not look like much, it is a dinosaur fossil but highly eroded and with a great deal of the original bone material missing but this could just be one of the most important fossil finds on the Isle of Wight for a decade.  Amateur fossil collector  Dave Badman found the 4 cm long dinosaur bone at Chilton Chine.  It has been identified as a neck bone (cervical vertebrae) from a small meat-eating dinosaur, that roamed the area that was to become the Isle of Wight around 130 million years ago.  This is the first fossil find associated with this species for nearly 140 years.

Calling Calamosaurus – Significant Fossil Find

A rare fossil find indeed - the first of its kind for nearly 140 years.

A rare fossil find indeed – the first of its kind for nearly 140 years.

Picture Credit: Isle of Wight Council

 The photograph above shows the fossil being held in David’s hand, this provides a “handy” scale, like we stated earlier, it may not look like much but this fossil discovery could prove to be very significant.

What’s All the Fuss?

Whizz back in time to 1882 or thereabouts, two articulated cervical vertebrae were purchased by the then British Museum (now the Natural History Museum, London).  These bones were part of a collection being sold by the estate of the Reverend William Fox (1813-1881) who had been an avid collector of vertebrate fossils on the Isle of Wight, whilst the curate of Brighstone Church.  These two bones were stored with fossils of turtles but the “Keeper of the Fossils” at the British Museum, Richard Lydekker, noticed how similar these bones were to that of a dinosaur – Coelurus, a small Theropod.  Lydekker erected the genus Calamospondylus in 1889, however, this had to be changed two years later to Calamosaurus as the name Calamospondylus had already been used back in 1866 to name another Theropod dinosaur from the Isle of Wight.  The way these neck bones fitted together suggested that the dinosaur had a curved neck, their size indicated that the dinosaur was relatively small, no more than three metres in length.  It was postulated that this was further evidence that compsognathids roamed what was to become the British Isles.

Dinosaurs of the Family Compsognathidae are small, some of the smallest dinosaurs known.  They were fast-running, long-necked hunters with light bodies, small heads, graceful legs and lengthy tails.

An Illustration of a Typical Compsognathid Dinosaur

Small, agile dinosaur.

Small, agile dinosaur.

No other fossils related to this genus had been found since, that was until sharp-eyed Dave spotted one on a beach at Chilton Chine.

Mr Badman’s discovery helps to reaffirm the belief that the original two fossils were from the Wealden Group Beds exposed at the coast just a few miles from the village of Brighstone, where the Reverend Fox lived.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“The Reverend Fox was an amateur fossil collector so it is very appropriate for another amateur fossil collector to find the next material to be associated with this elusive dinosaur.  Although, very little is known about Calamosaurus (C. foxii), there were probably a number of small Theropods, scurrying around the undergrowth in this part of the world during the Early Cretaceous.  Perhaps more fossil material will come to light, hopefully we won’t have to wait another 14o years or so before it does.”

The fossil has been donated to the Dinosaur Isle Museum.

Councillor Shirley Smart, (Executive Member for Economy and Tourism) on the island stated:

 ”This find has once again shown the Isle of Wight is one of the world’s best sites for dinosaur fossil discoveries and there is a real community spirit.  I want to thank Dave for bringing the specimen to the museum and allowing it to go on display so that it can be enjoyed by visitors for years to come.”

Dastardly Daspletosaurus a Cannibal?

Tyrannosaurid Bite Marks on the Remains of Daspletosaurus

Palaeontologists have been aware for some time of a growing body of evidence to suggest that a number of different types of Theropod dinosaur engaged in intraspecific combat, that is, one member of a species fights with another member of the same species.  Pathology preserved on skull and jaw bones has been found in a number of different types of meat-eating dinosaur to suggest that activities such as facial biting could have been common place.  These face bites could have been part of some form of ritual combat, perhaps over pack status or perhaps the bites resulted due to competition over mates (or they may have even been inflicted during mating).  A research paper published in the on line academic journal PeerJ, provides further evidence of facial injury, this time the evidence suggests that some of the wounds were premortem, they occurred whilst this dinosaur lived, the other wounds indicate that a large meat-eating dinosaur scavenged the carcase.

The fossils of a Daspletosaurus recovered from the Dinosaur Provincial Park (Alberta, Canada) reveal a rather gruesome story.  This dinosaur suffered from a serious of facial bites whilst it was alive, when it was dead its body was fed upon by another dinosaur. Could this be evidence of cannibalism in the Dinosauria?

Daspletosaurus was a large tyrannosaurid, whose fossils have been found in Alberta and the western United States.  It lived several million years before its more famous relative Tyrannosaurus rex.  Established as a distinct genus in 1970, this stocky, robust carnivore, may have reached lengths in excess of nine metres and weighed as much as an Indian elephant.

A Model of the Fearsome Predator – Daspletosaurus

The fearsome tyrannosaurid Daspletosaurus.

The fearsome tyrannosaurid Daspletosaurus.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A number of specimens of Daspletosaurus have been associated with facial injuries.  This particular specimen that consists of a mostly complete but disarticulated skull, vertebrae, ribs including gastralia (belly ribs) and some wonderfully well-preserved tail bones, was discovered in 1994.  The corpse seems to have been transported in a slow moving river system (low energy environment).  Other parts of the skeleton may have originally been present but these probably were eroded away prior to excavation.  A partial femur was also recovered but this has been crushed and distorted.  The authors of the scientific paper Dr. David Hone (School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, University of London) and Darren Tanke, an expert in vertebrate fossil preparation at the Royal Tyrrell Museum (Drumheller, Alberta, Canada), consider the thigh bone to have been crushed not long after the animal died, i.e. the damage occurred in the Late Cretaceous.  They conclude this as much more delicate and thinner skull bones show no damage at all.

An Illustration of Face Biting Amongst Two Daspletosaurs

The skull and mandible of the dinosaur shows facial injuries.

The skull and mandible of the dinosaur shows facial injuries.

Picture Credit: Luis Rey

Note the illustrator, the very talented Luis Rey, has chosen to represent Daspletosaurus as a feathered dinosaur.

Based on an analysis of other Daspletosaurus material, the researchers estimate that this dinosaur was not fully grown when it died.  It was probably around ten years of age, measured 5.8 metres and weighed more than half a tonne.  This dinosaur suffered a number of injuries, one dorsal rib shows evidence of a fracture but this was well healed by the time the animal died.  It is the skull and the jaws that show most signs of pathology.   Not all the injuries to the skull came from bites, but there is plenty of evidence preserved on the bones to indicate that this dinosaur lived a tough life and that it had its face bitten on numerous occasions.  Many of the bite marks do match the tell-tale shape of puncture wounds from Tyrannosaur teeth, including one particularly savage bite that left a considerable tooth-shaped hole in the back of the skull.

Pathology on the Skull and Upper Jaw Bones of the Daspletosaurus Specimen

Evidence of premortem injury.

Evidence of premortem injury (left lateral view).

Picture Credit: PeerJ

The picture above shows a digital image of the premaxilla, maxilla and other skull bones with the arrows indicating different injuries that were sustained.

A. = A bite to the tip of the snout leaving a sub-circular depression with a diameter of 13 mm and a depth of 6 mm.

B. = A lesion in the bone that resembles a tyrannosaurid bite and drag mark.  Lesion is 22 mm long and at its widest 8 mm, maximum depth 1.5 mm.

C. = Comma shaped potential bite and drag mark on the maxilla which is 22.5 mm long and about 6.5 mm wide at its maximum width.

E. = A puncture wound on the left nasal bone approximately 9 mm radius and 2 mm deep.  Most likely caused by a bite.

All these lesions show signs of healing so they are regarded as premortem.

2. = The base of the  left maxilla is broken and these breaks can be aligned with the left lacrimal bone.  This damage could have been caused either when this animal was alive or as a result of feeding postmortem, or perhaps by trampling or transport by water to the final resting place of the carcase.  This damage is treated conservatively by the authors and regarded as indeterminate, not being classed either as premortem or postmortem damage.

The right surangular bone (rear most portion of the jaw that abuts the dentary and sits above the angular bone), also shows signs of premortem damage.  There are a number of lesions and patches of osteomyeltic bone (bone which shows signs of infection).  This pathology also supports the hypothesis that the Daspletosaurus suffered a series of facial injuries when the animal was alive.

A Close up of the Right Surangular Bone Showing Evidence of Lesion

Scale bar = 20 mm

Scale bar = 20 mm

Picture Credit: PeerJ

The red arrow in the picture shows the roughened bone area that indicates a lesion.  Below this lesion a lighter (light grey) area can be seen, this is almost circular in shape.  This is damage to the fossil that was probably caused by the excavation process.

The scientists also point out evidence of postmortem damage to the specimen.  This damage is defined based on the lack of any indications of healing (swelling, reactive bone).  There are a series of tooth marks with one set of bite-marks found on the medial side of the right dentary (inside of the bone facing the tongue).  A number of other elements have been noted that show possible signs of biting which indicate feeding on the carcase.  The spaces between the tooth marks suggest that a large Theropod made these marks, probably scavenging on the carcase prior to its burial.

Evidence of Postmortem Damage – Tyrannosaur Feeding

Evidence of scavenging on the carcase.

Evidence of scavenging on the carcase.

Picture Credit: Peer J

The picture above shows the rear part of the dentary, the medial side of the lower jaw bone (side facing the inside of the mouth).   The white arrow indicates a near vertical break in the bone, whilst the black arrows highlight damage to the surface of the bone caused by teeth from a large dinosaur.  Other predators were present in the Dinosaur Provincial Park ecosystem, indeed alongside the Daspletosaurus remains, the scientists uncovered a couple of bones (tibia and phalanx) from a small Theropod, along with teeth from crocodilians and a tooth from Champsosaur (long-snouted, reptile that probably ate fish).  The tooth marks are quite widely spaced up to two centimetres apart.  This spacing rules out a crocodile scavenging on the carcase as the crocodilian fauna associated with the Dinosaur Park Formation are all relatively small.  The research team conclude that only a large Tyrannosaur could have left such trace fossils in the specimen.

Daspletosaurus Cannibalism?

Commenting on the animal’s injuries, Dr. David Hone stated:

“This animal clearly had a tough life, suffering numerous injuries across the head including some that must have been quite nasty.  The most likely candidate to have done this is another member of the same species, suggesting some serious fights between these animals during their lives.”

But does the evidence of feeding on the carcase indicate a case of cannibalism?  The authors are careful to state that this probably is not a case of one large Tyrannosaur hunting and killing a smaller Tyrannosaur – a predator/prey relationship.  Instead, the term “late stage carcase consumption” is used.  It is unusual for feeding evidence to be found on the skull and jaws, these areas would not have had a lot of flesh on them.  It can be speculated that much of the carcase had already been buried when a carnivore found the skull and jaw bones and fed upon them.  This unfortunate sub-adult Daspletosaurus could have been scavenged by a member of its own species.  However, another potential scavenger also co-existed with the Daspletosaurs.  A second type of Tyrannosaur, Gorgosaurus, lived at the same as Daspletosaurus and as this predator reached lengths of around nine metres or so, it would have been more than capable of chomping the bones of the fallen Daspletosaurus.

It is not possible to determine whether a passing Gorgosaurus fed on the corpse or whether this is a case of Daspletosaurus cannibalism.

There have been a number of papers published on the face biting phenomenon in Theropod dinosaurs.  Everything Dinosaur team members recently reviewed data published on Monolophosaurus from the Middle Jurassic of China, a Megalosaur, which also shows evidence of intraspecific combat (face biting).

To read the article on evidence of facial biting found on the fossilised remains of a juvenile Tyrannosaurus rexEvidence of Facial Biting in tyrannosaurids

CollectA have made a super Daspletosaurus dinosaur model, no evidence of face biting, but none the less a fantastic dinosaur replica.

To see the CollectA range of not to scale prehistoric animal models: CollectA Prehistoric Animal Models

The Return of Brontosaurus?

Is Brontosaurus Back?

There have been lots of comments about the paper published yesterday in the academic, on line, open access portal PeerJ as the resurrection of the genus Brontosaurus has been proposed.  Could “thunder lizard” be back?  We thought it would be a good idea to summarise the research and provide a brief explanation as to what the paper actually means.  So with apologies to the three authors Dr. Emanuel Tschopp​, Professor Octávio Mateus, (both associated with the Museu da Lourinhã, Portugal),  Dr. Roger Benson (Oxford University) and to their academic editor Dr. Andrew Farke (Raymond M. Alf, Museum of Palaeontology, Claremont, California, USA) here are our thoughts on the research.

Brontosaurus Resurrected

Brontosaurus Resurrected

The Problem with Brontosaurus 

Let’s start at the very beginning, why was the dinosaur name Brontosaurus dropped in the first place?

It was the famous American palaeontologist O. C. Marsh who described and named the genus Apatosaurus back in 1877.  He placed two species in this genus Apatosaurus ajax and Apatosaurus grandis.  Both these two dinosaurs come from the famous Morrison Formation (more about this later), A. ajax from Gunnison County, Colorado and A. grandis from Albany County, Como Bluff (Wyoming).  Two years later, more bones of a large, long-necked, plant-eating dinosaur were found by an expedition led by Marsh, close to the Albany County quarry where the fossils of Apatosaurus grandis had come from.  Marsh named this new dinosaur Brontosaurus (Brontosaurus excelsus), the name translates as “Noble Thunder Lizard”.

So we have Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus….

But, during the late 1870′s and the 1880′s Marsh was in competition to find dinosaur bones in the western United States with his great rival Edward Drinker Cope.  The personal feud between these two men has become known as the “Bone Wars”.  A consequence of their rivalry was a need to outdo each other when it came to publishing details of new dinosaur discoveries.  As a result, a number of new species of long-necked dinosaurs from the Morrison Formation came to be erected, some within the Apatosaurus genus, some within Brontosaurus, plus several others as well.  In essence, a number of questionable genera were established.

By the beginning of the 20th Century both Marsh and Cope had passed away and a new generation of palaeontologists were continuing to explore the strata of the Morrison Formation in the quest for dinosaur fossils.  One such scientist was Elmer Samuel Riggs. Riggs discovered an Apatosaurus specimen in 1900 near the town of Fruita, Mesa County, (Colorado).  He went on to review and examine the then known, Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus material and concluded that B. excelsus was so similar to ascribed Apatosaurus fossil material  that it should be considered part of the Apatosaurus genus.  Thus in 1903, in a paper entitled  “Structure and relationships of opisthocoelian dinosaurs, part I” (part II dealt with his newly discovered Brachiosaurus), Riggs successfully argued that the genus Brontosaurus should be dropped in favour of the genus Apatosaurus.  Brontosaurus was no more, instead it was regarded as a junior synonym of Apatosaurus.  Time to erase Brontosaurus out of the literature….

Synonyms and More Synonyms

What on Earth does the term “Brontosaurus is now a junior synonym of Apatosaurus” mean?

Taxonomy is the science of classifying organisms.  In scientific classification there are certain rules.  Most of these rules were laid out by the great Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus in his publication classifying flowers in 1735.  It was Linnaeus who first set out the ground rules for defining genera and species as part of a hierarchy or ranking system that is termed Linnaean classification.  A synonym is simply another name used for an object.  One of the rules in taxonomy, is that the earlier a name is used the more senior it is to other names used for the same organism.  Apatosaurus was named in 1877, Brontosaurus in 1879, therefore when Riggs proposed that Brontosaurus was so similar to known Apatosaurus fossil material, the Apatosaurus name, which had been used first, took precedence and Brontosaurus became a junior synonym of Apatosaurus.

An Illustration of Brontosaurus

Old fashioned illustration but the name is correct after all.

Old fashioned illustration but the name is correct after all.

Picture Credit: Leutscher and Cox (1971)

Over the last hundred years or so, there have been several reassessments of the dinosaurs included in the Diplodocidae Family.  We are not aware of anyone disputing that both Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus should be included in this family of long-necked dinosaurs.  Indeed, the fossil specimens referred to as Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus are placed in the same sub-group of diplodocids, the Apatosaurinae (as opposed to the other sub-group in this family which includes the likes Barosaurus and Diplodocus).  This new research has gone further, it undertook a comprehensive revision of the diplodocids not at a genus level, or indeed by looking at the combined characteristics of several specimens that represent a single species, but by looking at individual specimens – lots and lots and lots of individual specimens.  The researchers conducted the most complete review of the fossil material that has ever been done.  It has taken five years and we think it is the largest scale study of this kind ever carried out.

So Why do this Research?

The scientists did not set out to establish the dinosaur name Brontosaurus once again.  They are not (as far as we know), part of some secret, shadowy organisation devoted to supporting all those lazy movie makers, and toy manufacturers who churned out films, models, dinosaur toys and other merchandise associated with the Brontosaurus moniker.   The resurrection of Brontosaurus as a valid genus is just one consequence of an amazingly detailed analysis which set out to review how the Diplodocus Family of dinosaurs was classified from a taxonomic perspective.  Something like fifty-five percent of all the diplodocid species known were named and described in the 19th or early part of the 20th Century, often from fragmentary specimens, from dig sites that had been poorly mapped.  Approximately, three-quarters of the all the diplodocid genera named to date come from the Morrison Formation of the western United States (see, we said we would mention the Morrison again), and no one had yet gone through all the available fossil material with a fine-toothed comb at the individual specimen level and tried to work out how closely related each type of diplodocid was to the other Diplodocidae.

How do you Decide a Species?

When it comes to extinct animals it’s a lot more complicated.  There is not a lot of Diplodocidae DNA knocking about for a start.  Palaeontologists look at the bones that they have, try to find bones from the same part of the body, cranial material (skull) or vertebrae for example, can be particularly helpful when assessing the long-necked dinosaurs, these are then compared to find similarities and differences.   It helps if mature, fully grown individuals can be compared, for example, we think that the first Apatosaurus species named A. ajax back in 1877 might be made up of the bones from several individual dinosaurs and some of them probably represent sub-adults.  This form of analysis relies on the concept that all the Diplodocidae shared a common ancestor and evolutionary relationships can be established by looking at all the anatomical features and seeing which species share the same derived characteristics.  The more derived characteristics in common between two species the closer they are on the family tree, in other words, these two species are closely related and would sit close together on a diagram showing the Diplodocidae family tree.

In total, the scientists identified 477 different characteristics with which to classify this part of the Sauropoda.  They built up a massive data set and then used computer algorithms to examine it all and work out the best “pattern of fit” for the information, what evolutionary tree diagram best matched.  When this was done, the statistical analysis revealed that those specimens assigned to Apatosaurus excelsus, were so different morphologically to other specimens assigned to the Apatosaurus genus that they belonged outside Apatosaurus in a distinct genus.  Time to resurrect Brontosaurus then and to bring back B. excelsus.

A Model of Apatosaurus (Wild Safari Dinos Series)

Apatosaurus with an identity crisis perhaps?

Apatosaurus with an identity crisis perhaps?

Picture Credit: Safari Ltd/Everything Dinosaur

Three Species of Brontosaurus

What’s more, this extremely detailed study has thrown up a number of other important points.  The Apatosaurinae deck of cards has been well and truly shuffled!  A species of long-necked dinosaur that had been named Apatosaurus yahnahpin  in 1994 was re-named by Bob Bakker, after a revision in 1998, as Eobrontosaurus.  Eobrontosaurus means “dawn thunder lizard”, because it was thought to be more primitive than Apatosaurus.  When the eminent Dr. Bakker erected the genus Eobrontosaurus , it permitted the name Brontosaurus, at least in part, to be associated once again with a super-sized, Late Jurassic herbivore from the Morrison Formation.  However, under this new more complete interpretation of the Diplodocidae, Eobrontosaurus has gone, along with A. yahnahpin.  It turns out that this particular dinosaur shares more derived characteristics with Brontosaurus and as a result, it has been resigned to the Brontosaurus genus and has adopted the name B. yahnahpin to comply with binomial classification rules.

Then there is the case of Elosaurus (E. parvus).  This Sauropod dinosaur was named and described in 1902 (before the Riggs revision).  The specimen was excavated from Albany County (Wyoming), not too far from where the first fossils of Apatosaurus grandis (1877) and Brontosaurus excelsus had been discovered.  It was formerly believed not to be too closely related to either Apatosaurus or Brontosaurus, but under this new research, Elosaurus has been “nested” inside the Brontosaurus genus.  The fossils ascribed once upon a time to Elosaurus are now Brontosaurus parvus.

So we have three species of Brontosaurus in the Brontosaurus genus:

  1. Brontosaurus excelsus (1879)
  2. Brontosaurus parvus (1902)
  3. Brontosaurus yahnahpin (1994)

It really is a case of “Bully for Brontosaurus”!

This comprehensive study, a truly Sauropod-sized undertaking has provided a fresh perspective.  We applaud the efforts of the scientists behind this research.  To trawl through the thousands of specimens, to cope with a fragmentary fossil record, as well as one that has been, in part, poorly recorded and mapped – this is an astonishing academic feat.  To be able to determine morphological characteristics for the analysis, whilst contending with ontogenic considerations as well as issues related to distortion, crushing and inappropriate curating of specimens, this is amazing.

Some of the conclusions made will no doubt, lead to further debate, other revisions have been made by the team behind this research to the Diplodocidae and more will follow as further fossil finds add to the database.  But perhaps the most important lesson here has nothing to do with Brontosaurus at all.  This research has demonstrated how individual specimen-based analysis can be used to help evaluate the Sauropoda.  This approach can be applied to other parts of the Dinosauria and indeed to other sections of the fossil record, potentially revealing fresh, new evolutionary relationships in our study of taxa.

Scientists Set Out to Explore Chicxulub Impact Crater

Impact Crater from Dinosaur Extinction Event to be Explored

Plans are in place for a team of international researchers to drill into the seabed off the Yucatan peninsula (Mexico), so that they can explore the composition and structure of the Chicxulub impact crater, the site where around 66 million years ago, a huge rock from space crashed into our planet.  The impact was so immense that the devastation and climate change events that this collision caused may well have resulted in (or at least assisted with), the extinction of the dinosaurs.  The scientists intend to drill into the crater, which is buried under sediments over fifteen hundred metres thick and study the elevated sections called the “peak ring”.  These rocks were forced up by the impact and form the boundary of the impact site, these topographically elevated rings are present in nearly all extraterrestrial impacts and the scientists hope to learn more about the Chicxulub impact itself as well as gaining a better understanding of such impact events and their effect on our our rocky planet.

An International Research Team Plan to Explore the Chicxulub Impact Crater

The end of the Age of Dinosaurs.

The end of the Age of Dinosaurs.

The Cretaceous mass extinction event is one of the most researched areas of science.  Improving our knowledge of how the climate change affected life in the past is helping to shape current policies as our planet experiences a period of exceptional warming.  Whether or not the extraterrestrial impact was the cause of the extinction of about 70% of terrestrial life, marking the end of the Age of Dinosaurs, is still debated.  Recent research from Glasgow University dates the impact at approximately 66,038,000 years ago +/- 11,000 years (margin of error).  This date according to many scientists is about 300,000 years before the Dinosauria extinction.  Whether the impact is the single cause, or whether it contributed to the mass extinction which occurred as a result of a number of factors remains when one of the hottest topics in palaeontology.

It was father and son team Luis and Walter Alvarez, who in 1980, publicised the discovery of a layer of clay with high levels of the rare Earth element iridium which mark the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary (the K-T boundary).  They argued that the iridium was deposited as a result of an impact event where a meteorite or some other rocky body crashed into our planet.  The discovery of the Chicxulub crater that dated from the end of the Cretaceous provided “the smoking gun” evidence that just such an event had occurred.

The scientists involved in this new research project gathered in the city of Merida (Mexico) last week.  Merida, is within the 125 mile wide impact site that marks the Chicxulub event.  Scientists have estimated that the extraterrestrial object, perhaps an asteroid or even a comet, was at least six miles wide and it was travelling about eight times faster than a bullet when it hit the Earth.  About £6 million GBP has been set aside for funding, approved by the European Consortium of Ocean Research Drilling (ECORD).  Sean Gulick, who holds many academic posts including Associate Professor at the UT Jackson School of Geosciences, is part of the research team and has spent many years studying the geology of the Yucatan peninsula.  He hopes to acquire samples from the crater in a bid to learn more about the impact and its consequences.

Explaining the purpose behind the planned expedition, which is due to start next year, Sean stated:

“What are the peaks made of?  What can they tell us about the fundamental processes of these impacts, which is this dominant planetary resurfacing phenomena?”

The Associate Professor and long-time co-worker, Professor Joanna Morgan (Imperial College, London) have collaborated on a number of research projects exploring the Chicxulub impact crater, to read more about their research and earlier explorations of the geology of the Yucatan peninsula, click the link below:

To read more about this earlier research by the University of Texas: Getting to the Bottom of the Chicxulub Crater

A Geophysical Map Outlining the Impact Crater and the Crater Peaks

A geophysical map of the impact crater.

A geophysical map of the impact crater.

Picture Credit: NASA

The picture above shows a colour coded geophysical gravity map of the Yucatan peninsula.  The white dots represent “Cenotes”, these are sink holes which were formed as a result of the impact event.

The international research team are keen to explore the traces of microscopic life that may have lived inside the peak rocks of the crater.  The geophysical maps of the region indicate that these rocks are porous and they may have acted as miniature environments for types of extremophiles to thrive in the hot, chemically enriched area surrounding the crater.  In addition, core samples should provide evidence of the earliest recovery of marine life after the extraterrestrial impact, providing scientists with an idea about how life on Earth bounces back from such cataclysmic events.

Commenting on the search for evidence of life, Associate Professor Gulick stated:

“The sediments that filled in the crater should have the record for organisms living on the sea floor and in the water that were there for the first after the mass extinction event.  The hope is, we can watch life come back.”

Working from an offshore platform, the expedition is likely to last eight weeks and the cores taken will be the first to be extracted from the impact site.  The first papers on the analysis of these core samples are expected at the end of next year, we at Everything Dinosaur, look forward to this analysis of the “Alvarez smoking gun”.

“Savage” The Ceratosaurus Countdown – Two Weeks!

Rebor Ceratosaurus “Savage” Available Around Mid April

The next edition in the highly acclaimed Rebor replica series will be arriving at Everything Dinosaur shortly.  A spokesperson for the company stated that the shipment of 1:35 scale Ceratosaurus replicas could be at the company’s warehouse as early as the middle of April.  The Ceratosaurus is the fourth replica in the Rebor Collection to be introduced, it is also the fourth Theropod dinosaur ( it joins Yutyrannus, Tyrannosaurus rex and Utahraptor).   Unlike the other meat-eating dinosaurs in this very collectible series, the genus Ceratosaurus actually consists of a number of species.  At least six different species have been assigned although a number are regarded as nomen dubium, this contrasts with the other carnivorous dinosaurs so far depicted by Rebor which only have one species within their genus.  It could be argued that there is a second species within Tyrannosaurus (T. bataar), but at Everything Dinosaur we tend to support the hypothesis that although North American tyrannosaurids are descended from Asian Tyrannosaurs, the distinct genus for Tarbosaurus remains valid.

New Rebor Replica on the Block –  1:35 Scale Ceratosaurus

Available from Everything Dinosaur from Mid April.

Available from Everything Dinosaur from Mid April.

Picture Credit: Rebor/Everything Dinosaur

The Ceratosaurus has been nick-named “Savage” and it is a representation of one of the largest of the Ceratosaurus species named so far (C. dentisulcatus).  This species was erected in 2000 A.D. after a re-assessment of a particularly large specimen found in the famous Cleveland-Lloyd quarry in Utah (Morrison Formation).  Although believed to represent a single dinosaur, the bones that were used to establish this new, larger species of Ceratosaurus were found over a period of many years and from a number of locations (but within the same horizon), within the dig site.  It has been estimated that Ceratosaurus dentisulcatus could have reached a length around 8.5 metres, one third longer than the first species of Ceratosaurus named by Othniel Charles Marsh back in the mid 1880′s.  Like all the Ceratosaurs, it had a relatively long tail compared to the rest of its body.  Marsh commented on the resemblance of the tail to a crocodile’s when he studied the bones that would be assigned to C. nasicornis, the first species to be named.  He suggested that this dinosaur would have been very much at home in the swampy regions of the Morrison and the tail would have helped this dinosaur to swim very effectively across the many large rivers and lakes that existed in this part of the United States back in the Late Jurassic.

The Skilfully Constructed Base Reflects the Swampy Home of Ceratosaurus

Skilfully hand-painted base

Skilfully hand-painted base

Picture Credit: Rebor/Ceratosaurus

The hand-painted base boasts realistic plants, logs, mud effect and even a puddle that’s made of transparent resin to create the impression of real water.  Although, Ceratosaurus dentisulcatus is known from a collection of bones thought to represent a single animal, all the material ascribed to this species come from the Brushy Basin Member of the Morrison Formation.  This is the youngest member of the Morrison, with strata dating from around 148 million years ago.  At this time, this part of the world was more humid and wetter than previously, desert areas had given way to lush, verdant habitats.  It seems likely that Ceratosaurus dentisulcatus was a dinosaur that lived in a wetland environment.  The details on the replica’s base reflect this and Rebor must be credited for the care and attention they have lavished on the development of an accurate base for their replica.

Intriguingly, although some cranial material has been ascribed to C. dentisulcatus, it is not known for sure whether this dinosaur actually possessed that signature nasal horn that gives this genus its name.  These bones have not been found, as far as we at Everything Dinosaur are aware.

Why Ceratosaurus dentisulcatus?

We asked our chums at Rebor why this particular species rather than the better known Ceratosaurus nasicornis?  C. nasicornis is the species that we at Everything Dinosaur based our own Ceratosaurus fact sheet upon and the first species to be identified within the genus.

A spokesperson for Rebor stated that there were several reasons behind their choice.  Firstly, C. dentisulcatus was a more massive and robust animal when compared to what is known about C. nasicornis.  The tibia (shinbones) for example are six centimetres longer and other direct comparisons indicate that Ceratosaurus dentisulcatus was a bigger and more formidable carnivore.  Rebor are aware that the fossil material first used to describe Ceratosaurus nasicornis very probably represents a sub-adult and that C. nasicornis could well have been much bigger and heavier than stated.  However, when you take into account those more recurved and substantially bigger teeth associated with C. dentisulcatus when compared to other Ceratosaurus species, you can understand the appeal of this particular Ceratosaurus species to a model manufacturer.  Incidentally, it is the larger and strongly recurved teeth in the premaxilla (upper jaw) and the front three teeth of the dentary (lower jaw) with their very visible parallel grooves running down their medial surface (inside facing) that give this species its name.  We speculate that these grooves helped inflict maximum damage with bites and that the grooves could have helped blood flow from wounds thus hastening the demise of victims – very nasty, the Dinosauria equivalent of “dum-dum” bullets!

A Comparison of Ceratosaurus magnicornis skull material with Ceratosaurus dentisulcatus

Although not to same scale the more strongly recurved teeth of C. dentisulcatus can be seen.

Although not to same scale the more strongly recurved teeth of C. dentisulcatus can be seen.

Picture Credit: Utah Geological Survey/Everything Dinosaur

In the diagram above, the left lateral views of skull material from C. magnicornis and C. dentisulcatus are compared.  Although the skull of C. magnicornis is more compressed and these diagrams are not to scale, the proportionately bigger and more curved teeth of Ceratosaurus dentisulcatus can be made out.  Ceratosaurus magnicornis, which is known from the lower part of the Brushy Basin Member of the Morrison Formation, but this time from exposures located in Colorado (Fruita, Colorado), was very probably larger than Ceratosaurus nasicornis, but perhaps not as big as C. dentisulcatus.  Direct size comparisons are difficult, as the holotype material associated with C.  magnicornis, just like C. nasicornis may represent a not fully grown animal.  What is interesting is that the nose horn on C. magnicornis is bigger, so it has been concluded that if Ceratosaurus dentisulcatus is larger still, then its nose horn was probably big too.  A large nose horn can be clearly seen on the Rebor replica.

A Dorsal View of the Rebor Ceratosaurus Model

The characteristic bony armour (ossicles and osteoderms) can be clearly made out.

The characteristic bony armour (ossicles and osteoderms) can be clearly made out.

Picture Credit: Rebor/Everything Dinosaur

“Savage”, the 1:35 scale Rebor Ceratosaurus replica is going to be available from Everything Dinosaur around mid April.  Could Ceratosaurus finally be stepping out into the limelight and join Allosaurus and Ceratosaurus in being regarded as an apex predator?

To view Everything Dinosaur’s Rebor range of models: Rebor Prehistoric Animal Replicas

Shaking Those Tail Feathers – How to Distinguish Boy Dinosaurs from Girl Dinosaurs

Evidence to Support an Oviraptoridae Hypothesis – A Tale of Dinosaur Tails

Being able to tell the girl dinosaurs from the boys is one of the challenges facing palaeontology today.  The fossilised bones of long extinct creatures rarely provide clues as to whether an individual was male or female.  However, a team of scientists at the University of Alberta have published a paper in the academic journal “Scientific Reports” that provides evidence of sexual dimorphism in the tails of two oviraptorids.

Oviraptorids (Family Oviraptoridae), are a group of very bird-like Theropod dinosaurs, whose fossils are known from Late Cretaceous strata of the northern hemisphere, most notably Asia.  In many ways, these dinosaurs were anatomically very similar to modern Aves (birds) and it is very likely that these light, agile dinosaurs were covered in a down of insulating feathers.

A Typical Member of the Oviraptoridae (Caudipteryx zoui)

Was the tail plume combined with a short tail used for display?

Was the tail plume combined with a short tail used for display?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

 Other kinds of feathers are associated with these types of dinosaurs.  For example, long, symmetrical feathers on the forearms and on the end of the tail.  In an earlier paper reported upon by Everything Dinosaur in 2013, one of the University of Alberta scientists, proposed that fossils from a type of oviraptorid known as Khaan mckennai might show evidence of fused tail bones, a sort of dinosaur equivalent of a bird’s pygostyle (five fused caudal vertebrae at the very end of the tail).  The scientist who conducted this study, Scott Persons, hypothesised that these types of dinosaurs may have had plumes and tufts (as depicted in the Caudipteryx picture above), these appendages could have formed a display function, just like the fan of feathers found in extant peacocks for example.

To read more about this research: Shaking their Tails and Strutting Their Stuff

In addition, the young researcher, who conducted this study for his Masters thesis, postulated that one day dinosaur fossils might be found that show different types of tail structure and this might help palaeontologists to work out which fossils represent males and which ones females.  Funny he might have thought that…

That’s exactly the conclusion reached by the research team, having examined the near complete fossilised remains of two oviraptorids found fossilised together.  The fossils represent two specimens of Khaan mckennai, one of which is the holotype for this species. The remains of these two dinosaurs were found within twenty centimetres of each other, they both represent adult animals and as a result they were nicknamed “Romeo and Juliet”, the star-crossed lovers from Shakespeare.   They were also named “Sid and Nancy” after the punk rock singer and his girlfriend.   These two little dinosaurs died together when a sand dune, destabilised by heavy rain collapsed and buried them both.  The fossils came from the Djadokhta Formation of the Gobi desert (Mongolia) and although one specimen is missing elements from the middle and posterior part of the tail, the Canadian based researchers have identified differences in the shape, size and structure of chevron bones associated with the end of the tail.  One specimen has longer tail bone chevrons and these end in a broad tip.

The Fossilised Tail Bones of the Oviraptorids Compared

Differences in the shape, size and structure of the tail bones could provide a clue.

Differences in the shape, size and structure of the tail bones could provide a clue.

Picture Credit: University of Alberta/Scientific Reports

Commenting on the research Scott Persons stated:

“We discovered that, although both Oviraptors were roughly the same size [femur lengths of 19.5cm and 19cm respectively], the same age and otherwise identical in all anatomical regards “Romeo” had larger and specially shaped tail bones.  This indicates that it had a greater capacity for courtship displays and was likely a male.  By comparison the second specimen “Juliet” had shorter and simpler tail bones, suggesting a lesser capacity for peacocking, and has been interpreted as a female.”

Far be it for scientists to speculate, but this could be the preserved remains of a mated pair, a couple of dinosaurs who lived together and died together some seventy-five million years ago.  The fossils are part of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences palaeontological collection, fossil reference MPC-D 100/1127 is the holotype material for Khaan mckennai and believed to be a female by the University of Alberta scientists.  Whilst, fossil specimen MPC-D 100/1002 with its larger and differently shaped tail chevrons is regarded as a male.

Diagrams Showing the Morphology of the Two Specimens and Comparisons with Other Oviraptorids

Comparing the caudal vertebrae and chevrons of oviraptorids.

Comparing the caudal vertebrae and chevrons of oviraptorids.

Picture Credit: University of Alberta/Scientific Reports

The differences in the tail bones can’t be explained by individual variation between animals of the same species and it is not thought the differences are due to trauma such as an injury, the dissimilarity could be due to sexual dimorphism and therefore if the tail bones of oviraptorids are present, this could be a method whereby scientists can distinguish between males and females, certainly amongst the Oviraptoridae anyway.  Further analysis of the known fossil record for this large family of dinosaurs along with more fossil discoveries will be needed to help support this hypothesis.

Scientists Might Be Able to Distinguish between Male and Female Gigantoraptors

Feathers used for display and courtship.

Feathers used for display and courtship.

Picture Credit: BBC (Planet Dinosaur Television Series)

“Sibirosaurus” Strides In

Potential New Titanosaur Genus from Siberia – “Sibirosaurus”

Scientists at Tomsk State University (Russia) are busy compiling a technical paper and completing further studies that could affirm fossilised remains found in 2008 are those of a giant titanosaurid dinosaur, very probably a new genus as well.  Although titanosaurids are known from most continents, even Antarctica, this, as far as we at Everything Dinosaur are aware, is the first case of a potential Titanosauriform being scientifically described from Russia.  The animal lived in the Late Cretaceous, around 100 million years ago (later part of the Albian faunal stage) and its remains which include cervical vertebrae, a partial scapula (shoulder blade) and elements from the sacrum have been painstakingly extracted from sandstone, which much to the chagrin of the research team is from a band of rock that is as hard as concrete.

The dinosaur’s bones were discovered in strata, that forms part of an eroded cliff on the banks of the Kiya River, close to the small village of Shestakovo in the Kemerovo region of southern Siberia, around ninety miles south-east of the city of Tomsk.

The Excavation Site – Kiya River Location

Palaeontologists need a head for heights.

Palaeontologists need a head for heights.

Picture Credit: Tomsk State University

The fossil bearing strata is located half way up a ten metre high bank and it is only really accessible during the late spring and summer months.  This part of Russia is subject to extremely cold temperatures and a lot of snowfall in the late autumn through to the spring.  From the months of October through to March the average daytime temperature rarely rises above freezing.  However, August temperatures can exceed thirty degrees Celsius.  It is the changing temperatures (freeze/thaw) that lead to erosion of the banks exposing dinosaur fossils.

A Scientist Explores the Fossil Bearing Sediment

A scientist carefully works away at the rock face.

A scientist carefully works away at the rock face.

Picture Credit: Tomsk State University

The fossils were originally discovered back in 2008, they had been preserved inside sandstone concretions and although in some cases the fossils were compressed and they represent just a fraction of the skeleton, their location and size indicate that these fossils consist of the remains of a long-necked dinosaur that would be new to science.

The rocks around the village of Shestakovo have already yielded a number of dinosaur fossil specimens.  Last year, Everything Dinosaur team members reported upon the naming of a new species of Psittacosaurus from fossils found in this locality by scientists working for the Kemerovo regional museum.

To read more about the new species of Psittacosaurus: Russian Scientists Name New Psittacosaurus Species

Commenting on the research, Dr. Stepan Ivantsov (scientific researcher in the Laboratory of Mesozoic and Cenozoic Continental Ecosystems), stated:

“When we discovered this finding, it was only clear that the remains belonged to a very large, herbivorous dinosaur from the Sauropods group.  It was the first scientifically described dinosaur from this group in Russia.  Now after work on the excavation of all the remnants and the restoration [of the bones] is almost completed, we can confidently say that we have found a new species and maybe even a new genus.”

This part of Russia is famous in palaeontological circles for the preserved remains of another large, prehistoric herbivore but one that is geologically hundreds of times younger than any Late Cretaceous dinosaur.  Many fossils of Woolly Mammoths are found in this region, including shed teeth and intact tusks.

A Close up of Some of the Titanosaur Fossil Material

Some of the fragmentary fossils.

Some of the fragmentary fossils.

Picture Credit: Tomsk State University

The fossils in the picture look like elements from the cervical vertebrae (neck bones).  In the background on the right, the posterior end of a large Woolly Mammoth tusk can be seen.  The scientists will continue their studies and a scientific paper on this new dinosaur should be published in the near future, as for where the fossils might end up, the researchers have expressed a wish that they should remain within the palaeontological collection of the University, but stress that they could be put on display for members of the public, as well as students to see.

As fossil material is being constantly eroded out rocks at this site, the scientists hope to find more fossils of Titanosaurs.  In 1995, bones believed to come from the foot of a Titanosaur were also discovered in the same area.  At this stage, the researchers cannot say for certain whether these foot bones are from the same animal whose fossils were found in 2008, they can’t even be sure whether or not the foot bones and the 2008 material come from the same genus.  Still, it is very likely that more dinosaur fossils are awaiting discovery.  The dinosaur has been nick-named Sibirosaurus (lizard from Siberia), but a more formal nomenclature is expected.

A Close Up View of One of the Fossil Specimens

A close up of one of the fossilised bones.

A close up of one of the fossilised bones.

Picture Credit: Tomsk State University

The picture above shows a close up of one of the fossil remains. Although, it is difficult to make out for certain, this fossil might represent a fragment from the sacrum (fused sacral vertebrae).  The sandstone rock is extremely hard and this limits the amount of fossil material that can be removed.  Use of explosives to bring down large portions of the bank have been ruled out as the force from such an explosion would very likely damage any adjacent fossil material.  For the scientists, it is simply a question of allowing natural erosion to do its work, aided and abetted by careful manual excavation whilst hanging onto a rope ladder which dangles several metres down the near vertical bank.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“It is very likely that more dinosaur fossil remains will come from the Shestakovo locality, however, they are likely to remain highly fragmentary making species level identification very difficult.  However, this fossil material adds to our understanding about the globally distributed Titanosaurs, some of which were the largest terrestrial animals known to science.”

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the role of the Siberian Times in the compilation of this article.

Woolly Mammoth Genes Inserted into Asian Elephant Skin Cells

Potentially One Step Closer to Woolly Mammoth Resurrection

Researchers at Harvard Medical School led by genetics professor George Church have combined laboratory grown elephant cells with genetic material retrieved from the frozen remains of Siberian Woolly Mammoths.  The genetic material, a total of fourteen genes, was spliced into the skin cells of an Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), the closest living relative to the extinct Woolly Mammoth.  The results are promising with the altered skin cells functioning properly in their petri dish environment, but the scientists stress that cloning a viable Woolly Mammoth is still a very long way off.

Investigating the Possibility of a Return for the Woolly Mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius)

Will the Woolly Mammoth return?

Will the Woolly Mammoth return?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

 Scientists from Harvard Medical School are working on a number of genetic projects, including research into the Woolly Mammoth genome.  They are however, competing against a number of other institutes including South Korea’s Sooam Biotech Research Foundation in a bid to extract viable DNA from a long dead animal with a view of investigating the possibility of cloning.

The ancient genetic material was inserted into the cells using a complicated cut and splicing technique, an analogy would be to think of a film editor cutting and stitching snippets of film together so as to make a coherent movie.  The system used was CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat).  Although this work has yet to be peer reviewed and no paper has been published describing the research in detail, preliminary findings suggest that the mutated cells are functioning normally.  If this is the case, then this is the first time that Woolly Mammoth genetic material has functioned since the very last of these Ice Age creatures became extinct the best part of 4,000 years ago.  Having a established a thorough understanding of the Mammoth genome, the team focused on identifying and then adding to the elephant skin cells those genes which are responsible for the Mammoth’s adaptations to a cold climate, genes such as those for small ears, long body hair and thick layers of subcutaneous fat.

Professor Church pointed out that they were a long way off from “Mammoth de-extinction”, despite some remarkable finds in recent years, including one amazingly well-preserved female Woolly Mammoth carcase, nick-named Buttercup, that was the subject of a number of cloning documentaries that aired recently.

To read more about the Woolly Mammoth called “Buttercup”: To Clone or Not to Clone a Woolly Mammoth

The genetics laboratory is the largest research facility at Harvard University and the researchers have been responsible for a number of important genome studies in recent years.  Much of the team’s work involves studying the human genome as well as working on how to manipulate the genes of mosquitoes to help fight the spread of malaria and other diseases such as dengue fever.

Professor Church commenting on their success with the combining of elephant cells and Woolly Mammoth genes stated:

“We won’t be seeing Woolly Mammoths prancing around any time soon, because there is more work to do.  But we plan to do so.”

Splicing the DNA into the skin cells of Asian elephants is only the first step in, what will be a very long process.  The next hurdle is to find a way of turning the hybrid cells into specialised tissues, to see if they produce the correct traits and characteristics.  For example, will the genes for small ears, actually produce ears that are small and able to lose less heat.  With animal rights groups preventing the use of elephants as surrogate mothers, hybrid cells will have to be adapt to being grown in an artificial womb.  If a viable embryo is created, then it is a case of being able to bring that embryo to term and to produce a viable offspring.

Preserved Remains Like This are  Providing Woolly Mammoth Genetic Material

Mammoth steaks anyone?

Mammoth steaks anyone?

Picture Credit: Semyon Grigoriev/Mammoth Museum

If all this goes to plan and cold-adapted, hybrid elephants are produced then more and more Mammoth DNA can be introduced into subsequent generations to drive out the Asian elephant traits.  The Harvard team hope to genetically engineer an elephant that can survive in inhospitable, sparsely populated habitats, where such creatures would face fewer threats from humans.  A long term aim would be to develop herds of Woolly Mammoths, once more roaming the steppes of the northern hemisphere.

Team members at Everything Dinosaur wait to read more about this research and to see the peer reviewed comments, although we have made a wager that by 2045, a viable Woolly Mammoth will be produced somewhere in the world.  Just thirty years to go then.

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