Category: Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories

Giant Sauropod Claw Discovered in France

On the Pedals of a Sauropod

An enormous fossilised claw of a giant Sauropod has been uncovered by field workers excavating material from a dig site about forty-five miles east of Limoges in the picturesque Poitou-Charente region of France.  The site located at Angeac-Charente, has yielded a number of Early Cretaceous dinosaur fossils including vertebrae from a Stegosaur and Sauropod teeth.  The claw which may have been located on the first digit of the front foot, measures an astonishing thirty-four centimetres in length.  Heavy rain in this part of France had severely hampered this summer’s field work, but ironically the rainfall had help expose this enormous fossil.

The Huge Fossilised Claw Photographed at the Dig Site

An ungual phalanx of an indeterminate Sauropod

An ungual phalanx of an indeterminate Sauropod

Picture Credit: Photo DR.

The bone is referred to as an ungual phalanx, it is the very last bone found at the end of the toe/finger (usually) and this is the bone that would have supported the claw.  The dig site has over the last six years or so, yielded in the region of 4,000 fossilised bones.  Despite the wealth of fossil material it is not possible to determine the species or indeed the genus to which this Sauropod belonged.  However, based on comparisons with other Sauropod claws, palaeontologists estimate that the individual dinosaur whose bone this is, might have reached a length in excess of forty metres.

The site has attracted the attention of a number of France’s leading vertebrate palaeontologists including Ronan Allain, (Museum of Natural History in Paris) and Jean-François Tournepiche, curator at the Museum of Angoulême.  One of the biggest Sauropod femurs ever found in the northern hemisphere was discovered at the same site four years ago.  It is not known whether this thigh bone and the new claw fossil discovery come from the same dinosaur.  At least seven different types of dinosaur roamed this part of France around 130 million years ago (Barremian faunal stage of the Early Cretaceous).

To read about the discovery of giant Sauropod tracks not far from the Swiss border: Giant Sauropod Fossilised Footprints Found in France

Sediment analysis in conjunction with fossilised plant remains suggest that this region was a large, low-lying swamp.  Sauropod dinosaurs had three prominent claws on their hind feet and a bigger single claw on the first digit of their front feet.  Scientists have speculated that this claw might have been used for defence or in combat between rivals.  We at Everything Dinosaur, don’t favour this hypothesis, preferring instead to consider this huge front digit claw as like a sort of “crampon”.  The claw would have helped these enormous dinosaurs to keep their balance and to stop them sliding in soft mud.  Bones in the feet are referred to as “pedals”, hence our caption “on the pedals of a Sauropod”.

Dinosaur Extinction – A Perfect Storm

Bad Luck and Bad Timing for the Dinosaurs

A new collaborative study looking at the dinosaur fossil record from the Upper Cretaceous of North America suggests that if the extraterrestrial impact event had occurred a few million years before or after it actually hit, life on Earth could be very different today.  Dinosaurs could well be still roaming around.  If the Dinosauria (with the exception of the birds), had not gone extinct, then it could be argued that many of the families of mammals so familiar to us today may not have evolved.  The evolution of the primates, and indeed, our own species, might not ever have happened.

Unlucky Dinosaurs Sixty-six Million Years Ago?

Cataclysmic impact event.

Cataclysmic impact event.

Picture Credit: Don Davis (commissioned by NASA)

Similar studies into the extinction event that took place approximately 66 million years ago have been carried out before, however, this new research, published in the latest edition of the academic journal “Biological Reviews” and led by the University of Edinburgh, focused on examining an updated catalogue of North American dinosaur fossils, in a bid to understand how well the Order Dinosauria was doing in terms of species diversity at around the time of the impact event.

Previous studies, examining the number of different dinosaur species and genera preserved in Upper Cretaceous strata such as the Hell Creek Formation of the western United States, have showed that the number of different types of dinosaur fossils found declines in rocks that mark the time period towards the end of the Cretaceous.  A lack of diversity in an ecosystem, or the dominance of one particular type of creature, can make such ecosystems vulnerable to sudden and dramatic changes that ultimately lead to an extinction.  The research team, drawn from a number of universities and museums, conclude that prior to the impact event, our planet was experiencing dramatic environmental upheaval.  Changing sea levels, fluctuating global temperatures and enormous amounts of volcanic activity were all happening.  Many groups of animals and plants were under stress and the devastating impact from a six-mile-wide space rock provided the final “coup de grâce” that finished off the dinosaurs.

Soon to Become Extinct

Triceratops was one of the last dinosaurs to evolve.

Triceratops was one of the last dinosaurs to evolve.

Picture Credit: Julius Csotonyi

The research team which includes scientists from Edinburgh University, Birmingham University, Imperial College (London), Oxford University, University College (London) and Baylor University (Waco, Texas) suggest that the dinosaurs’ food chain was threatened by a lack of diversity amongst large herbivorous dinosaurs.  The lack of diversity, much of North America was dominated by a handful of plant-eating types of Ornithischian dinosaur, created a “perfect storm” and the vulnerable Dinosauria was unable to recover from the extraterrestrial strike and its aftermath.

Everything Dinosaur team members have provided a number of teaching resources to schools that help to explain extinction events.  To read an article specially prepared for use in schools at Key Stage 2 and 3 about the Cretaceous mass extinction event: Dinosaur Extinction Event – Providing Teaching Resources for Schools

Environmental change, even dramatic global events such as an asteroid impact can in fact provide a stimulus to evolution.  Earlier extraterrestrial impacts which at first caused devastation may actually have acted as catalysts helping certain types of life to flourish.  It can be argued that once the dinosaurs became extinct, the Mammalia were able to rapidly diversify and exploit the niches left vacant by the demise of the Dinosauria, back in 2010, Everything Dinosaur reported on a scientific paper that suggested that earlier cataclysmic events and significantly benefited life on Earth.

To read this article: Extraterrestrial Impact Led to Palaeozoic Explosion of Life

Dr. Steve Brusatte (School of GeoSciences at Edinburgh University) commented:

“Five million years earlier dinosaur ecosystems were much stronger, they were more diverse, the base of the food chain was more robust and it was harder to knock out a lot of species.  If they had a few million years more to recover their diversity they would have had a better chance of surviving the asteroid impact.  Dinosaurs had been around for 160 million years, they had plenty of dips and troughs in their diversity but they always recovered.”

A number of mass extinction events have been identified in the fossil record.  Such mass extinctions ultimately led to a change in direction for life on Earth, permitting new types of organism to evolve.

A Table Showing the Major Extinction Events of the Phanerozoic Eon

Mass Extinction in Summary

Table Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The research team hope to extend their study by taking into account vertebrate fossil data from Upper Cretaceous sediments that have been examined in China and Spain.  This will help the scientists to formulate a global picture.  Naturally, with such academic papers, there is always speculation as to whether or not the dinosaurs would have survived until the present day.  Some speculators go further and ask the question would the dinosaurs have evolved greater intelligence, perhaps evolving into the reptilian equivalents of primates and eventually into a form of humanoid dinosaur – a dinosauroid?

Could the Earth Have Been Dominated by “Intelligent Dinosaurs”?

What intelligent life on Earth might have looked like if the dinosaurs had not become extinct.

What intelligent life on Earth might have looked like if the dinosaurs had not become extinct.

Picture Credit: Boxtree

Dr. Brusatte speculates that the Dinosauria could well have survived and that non-avian dinosaurs could make up a significant proportion of the fauna today, whilst other scientists, including a number who worked on this study remain less sure.

For example, Dr. Richard Butler (Birmingham University) stated:

“We can’t re-run the tape of life and see whether an impact at a different time would have led to total extinction.  But it [extraterrestrial impact event] did come at a particularly bad time.”

Did All Dinosaurs Have Feathers?

Kulindadromeus Discovery Gets Palaeontologists into a Flap

The embargo has been lifted and we can now talk about the amazing new fossil discovery from Siberia, details of which has just been published in the academic journal “Science”.  News of the discovery of the first ever plant-eating dinosaur with feathers as well as scales has been announced.  So what does this mean?  Feathered dinosaurs have been discovered before right?  True, but and it is a big “but“, feathers have only been associated with one group of dinosaurs up until now, the Theropods, the group of dinosaurs most closely related to birds.

The dinosaur has been named Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus and at just over a metre in length, it is not going to be breaking any size records when it comes to extinct prehistoric animals.  Indeed, if we had the technology to travel back 175 million years or so, to the area surrounding what was to become the Siberian city of Chita, this little dinosaur would have probably gone almost unnoticed.  However, the publication of this long-awaited scientific paper is very important and over the next few paragraphs we will try to put this fossil discovery into perspective.

The Order Dinosauria (the dinosaurs) can be split into two distinct groups based on the structure and position of their hip bones.  These two sub-divisions are the Ornithischia (bird-hipped dinosaurs) and the Saurischia (lizard-hipped dinosaurs).  Those Theropods many of whom were feathered, belong to the Saurischians.   The Siberian fossils show that a member of the Ornithischian group also had feathers.

Feathers Amongst the Dinosauria

Ornithischians had feathers too.

Ornithischians had feathers too.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows the dinosaurs split into two groups, on one side of the dinosaur family tree are the lizard-hipped dinosaurs, the long-necked Sauropods and the Theropods, those mainly meat-eating dinosaurs who are the closest related to birds (Aves).  The other part of the Dinosauria consists of the bird-hipped Ornithischians, an almost entirely vegetarian group consisting of the horned dinosaurs, duck-bills, armoured dinosaurs and such like.  Kulindadromeus, described as a neoornithischian dinosaur and definitely amongst the bird-hipped dinosaurs, shows that other types of dinosaurs, not just the Theropods had feathers too.

The terms “bird-hipped” and “lizard-hipped” can be a little confusing, especially when we are trying to identify the ancestors of birds.  These terms were first coined by Henry Govier Seeley in 1887.  He divided the dinosaurs into two groups, based on the fact that all the dinosaurs known at the time (and the majority of dinosaurs discovered to date for that matter), had a pelvis that followed one of two distinctive shapes.  There was a bird-like pelvis, where the pubis bone points backwards and the lizard-hipped configuration where the pubis bone points forward.  It is the lizard-hipped dinosaurs,the Theropoda, that are most closely related to the Aves and indeed one group of Theropods, the Maniraptorans that are the direct ancestors of today’s birds.

Classifying the Dinosauria

Classifying dinosaurs by the shape of their hip bones.

Classifying dinosaurs by the shape of their hip bones.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Back in 2010, a scientific team led by Sofia Sinitsa, a geologist at the Institute of Natural Resources, Ecology and Cryology from the Siberian city of Chita, explored some highly fossiliferous strata located in the nearby Kulinda valley.  The site represented a low energy depositional environment with freshwater crustaceans, insect larvae and plant fossils.  The strata was laid down by the edge of a large lake, evidence of ash in the layers of rock indicated that there were volcanoes in the neighbourhood too.  Fragmentary fossils indicating the presence of small dinosaurs were also discovered but their poor state of preservation led the scientists to focus on other fossil material.  Expeditions to the same locality found more fossils of dinosaurs over the next two summers and as a result, Pascal Godefroit, a palaeontologist at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (Brussels) was contacted along with other scientists as the implications of the discovery began to dawn on the Russian team.

Dr. Godefroit commented:

“We were completely shocked by the discoveries.”

Pictures from the Dig Site and Some of the Fossil Material Collected

A vast amount of fossil material was collected.

A vast amount of fossil material was collected.

Picture Credit: Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences

Bristle-like and brush-like structures had been identified in a number of Cretaceous species of Ornithischian dinosaur, most notably in dinosaurs such as Psittacosaurus and Tianyulong, but these quills, brushes and bristles have been described by researchers as representing the very earliest development stage of feathers, what scientists call proto-feathers.

To read an article by Everything Dinosaur on the evidence of quills and bristles in later Ornithischian dinosaurs:

Evidence of feathers in psittacosaurids: Upsetting the Apple Cart

The scientists claim that these new fossils differ from the the bristle-like structures found in much later Ornithischian dinosaurs as they have complex, multi-filamented structures typical of the feathers associated with the Theropoda.

Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus (pronounced Cul-lin-dah-dro-me-us zah-bay-cal-lik-us) had been named after the Kulinda valley locality and from the Greek “dromeus”, which means runner.  The trivial name honours the Zabaikal krai region of Siberia in which the Kulinda valley can be found.

An Illustration of Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus

Feathered dinosaur down amongst the horsetails.

Feathered dinosaur down amongst the horsetails.

Picture Credit: Andrey Atuchin

Dated to around 175 to 160 million years ago (Aalenian to Early Callovian of the Mid Jurassic), this one metre long plant-eater had filamentous structures covering most of its body, including its head, neck and chest.  The more complex feather-like structures are confined to the upper arms and upper legs, an arrangement found in a number of fossils of small Theropod dinosaurs excavated from Cretaceous strata in the famous Lioaning Province of north-eastern China.

Explaining the significance of this discovery, Dr. Godefroit stated:

“For the first time we found more complex, compound structures together with simpler hair-like structures in a plant-eating dinosaur that really resemble the proto-feathers in advanced meat-eaters”.

Multiple Filamentous Structures Associated with the Femur (Thigh Bone)

Complex feather-like structures on the thigh

Complex feather-like structures on the thigh

Picture Credit: Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences/ Dr. Pascal Godefroit

The scientists are confident that these little, fast-running creatures could not fly, so why evolve feathers then?  The answer is quite simple, feathers first evolved for other purposes and they only became adapted for flight much later.  These feathers probably helped to keep these small animals insulated and warm.  This suggests that contrary to popular opinion, most dinosaurs were endothermic (warm-blooded  like mammals and birds) and not cold-blooded like today’s reptiles.  The longer, more complex feather structures may have had some role in display and visual communication.  In total, at least six fossil skulls have been found along with a large number of fossilised bones from many individuals and lots of different growth stages have been recognised.  The abundance of fossil material will give the palaeontologists the chance to study how feathers changed as animals grew and matured.

If this neoornithischian had complex feathers then this also throws up an intriguing set of possibilities.  The common ancestor of both the Ornithischian and Saurischian dinosaurs could have been feathered, or perhaps, feathers evolved in different types of dinosaur, an example of convergent evolution.

Chinese palaeontologist Xing Xu of the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology (Beijing), someone who has intensively studied the Lioaning feathered dinosaurs commented:

“The finds are a fantastic discovery”.

However, he warns against getting too carried away, stating that the fossils are too fragmentary to be certain that the more complex feathery structures actually correspond to those found later in birds.  We suspect that further research is going to be carried out into the nature of these branched integumentary structures, before palaeontologists will agree that feather-like structures were widespread amongst the Dinosauria.

One of the co-authors of the scientific paper, Professor Danielle Dhouailly from the Université Joseph Fourier in La Tronche (France ), has been examining these ancient structures and comparing them to the down and feathers found in modern birds.  The lake sediments also preserved scales, so scientists now have evidence that both scales and feathers could be found on individual dinosaurs.  In addition, scientists now know that the leg scales found in modern birds are essentially aborted feathers.

The Ancient Lake Sediments Preserved Evidence of Scales

Fossilised bone (sandy colour) surrounded by evidence of small scales on the foot.

Fossilised bone (sandy colour) surrounded by evidence of small scales on the foot.

Picture Credit: Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences/ Dr. Pascal Godefroit

Professor Dhouailly added:

“Developmental experiments in modern chickens suggest that  avian  scales are aborted feathers, an idea that explains why birds have scaly legs.  The astonishing discovery is that the molecular mechanisms needed for this switch might have been so clearly related to the appearance of the first feathers in the earliest dinosaurs”.

There is more research to be done, but this discovery has potentially huge implications for our view of the Dinosauria.  Ironically, back in the beginning of 2014, Everything Dinosaur team members were asked to predict what news stories might occur over the year and they did predict that a discovery regarding feathered Ornithischian dinosaurs would be announced.

To read Everything Dinosaur’s full list of 2014 predictions: 2014 Palaeontology Predictions

Team members congratulate all those involved in this exciting fossil discovery and the subsequent research.

Brain of World’s First Super Predator Studied

Brain Provides Clue to the Descendants of the Cambrian Anomalocaridid Lyrarapax unguispinus

An international team of scientists, including researchers from the University of Arizona have identified and mapped the brain in an anomalocaridid that swam in the ancient seas that existed in the Cambrian geological period.  Their study of the brain of this twelve centimetre long predator provides clues as to the taxonomic relationship that this extinct group has to extant members of the Animalia Kingdom.  In addition, the remarkably well preserved fossil that is around 520 million years old, suggests that the brains of the anomalocaridids were relatively simple, the brains of their prey were, in many cases more complex.  This leads to the intriguing thought that the evolution of apex predators could have given a boost to the evolution of better senses and ultimately bigger and more sophisticated brains.

The scientific paper, published in the journal “Nature” describes for the first time, the brain of an anomalocaridid, a group of extinct, early members of the Arthropoda that evolved into the first group of animal super-predators known in the fossil record.  The largest specimens of Anomalocaris measure around a metre in length and it is now known that this group of nektonic predators survived into the Ordovician.

An Illustration of a Typical Anomalocaridid

The Terror of the Trilobites - Anomalocaris

The Terror of the Trilobites – Anomalocaris

Picture Credit:  BBC Worldwide/Framestore

An extensive analysis of the beautifully preserved fossils of a new to science, species of anomalocaridid predator discovered in Yunnan Province (China), suggests that these creatures have an affinity with the bizarre velvet worms (Onychophorans).  These strange little creatures are found in the southern hemisphere and they are classed in the taxon Panarthropoda.  Unlike true Arthropods these creatures do not have an exoskeleton and they live in the undergrowth and leaf litter feeding on smaller animals such as insects and mites.

An Illustration of a Velvet Worm (Peripatus)

Peripatus - creatures like this may have been the first to walk on land.

Peripatus – creatures like this may have been the first to walk on land.

Picture Credit: BBC

The fossil material comes from the famous Chengjiang Formation (Yunnan Province), which rivals the Burgess Shale of British Columbia in terms of the variety of Cambrian fauna that is preserved.  First explored by Chinese palaeontologists in 1984, the members that make up this part of the Chengjiang Formation have preserved in exquisite detail ancient marine creatures.  The degree of fossil preservation is so good that even internal structures such as nervous systems can be studied.

One of the Fossils of the Newly Described L. unguispinus Showing Brain Morphology

This photograph and corresponding drawing show the flattened, fossilized trace of the brain of the world's earliest known predator; the X-like structure in the head denotes the fossilised brain.

This photograph and corresponding drawing show the flattened, fossilised trace of the brain of the world’s earliest known predator; the X-like structure in the head denotes the fossilised brain.

Picture Credit: University of Arizona

The “X-shaped” structure seen clearly in the line drawing interpretation of the fossil denotes the fossilised brain.  Two dark round spots represent the optic ganglia with nerves that lead from the eye-stalks into the head.  The smaller, almond-shaped areas just in front would have supported the creature’s grasping appendage.  The main brain region is in front of the mouth, giving rise to two nerve cords leading down along the animal.

Commenting on the research, lead author of the scientific paper, professor Nicholas Strausfeld (Director of Arizona University’s Centre for Insect Research) stated:

“It turns out the top predator of the Cambrian had a brain that was much less complex than that of some of its possible prey and that it looked surprisingly similar to a modern group of rather modest worm-like animals.”

The new species has been named Lyrarapax unguispinus, this translates from the Latin to mean “spiny clawed lyre shaped predator”.  It is likely that this creature was an active predator hunting other invertebrates and perhaps preying on the recently evolved primitive, jawless vertebrates, the fore-runners of the first fish.

Lyrarapax Attacks a Shoal of Primitive Fish

Artist's impression of Lyararapax, one of the species of the world's first predators, the anomalocaridids, chasing its possible prey, primitive fishes that also existed in the Lower Cambrian

Artist’s impression of Lyrarapax, one of the species of the world’s first predators, the anomalocaridids, chasing its possible prey, primitive fishes that also existed in the Cambrian

Picture Credit: Professor Nicholas Strausfeld/University of Arizona

Professor Strausfeld and his colleagues have made some remarkable discoveries amongst the Chengjiang biota, back in the autumn of 2013, Everything Dinosaur reported on the mapping of the brain and nervous system of a Cambrian Arthropod, fossils of which had been recovered from the same location as the Lyrarapax fossil material.

To read more about this remarkable discovery: Mapping the Ancient Brains and Nervous Systems of Cambrian Arthropods

By examining in minute detail the brain morphology of this long extinct species, the scientists were able to compare the neuroanatomy with extant velvet worms (Onychophorans).  The terrestrial velvet worm, such as Peripatus, has a simple brain located at the front of the mouth and a pair of ganglia, a group of nerve cells, located in the front part of the optic nerve and at the base of long, sensory feelers.

The anomalocaridid fossil resembles the neuroanatomy of today’s Onychophorans (velvet worms) in several ways, according to Strausfeld and his collaborators. Onychophorans have a simple brain located in front of the mouth and a pair of ganglia – a collection of nerve cells – located in the front of the optic nerve and at the base of their long feelers.  Anomalocaridids do not have these feelers, but they do have a pair of grasping claws extending out from the front of their heads.

Professor Strausfeld explained:

“Surprise, surprise, that is what we also found in our fossil.  These top predators in the Cambrian are defined by just their single pair of appendages, these wicked-looking graspers, extending out from the front of their head.  These are totally different from the antennae of insects and crustaceans.  Such frontally disposed appendages are not found in any other living animals with the exception of the velvet worms.”

Study Suggests Velvet Worms are Descended from Anomalocaridids

A side-by-side comparison reveals the similarity between the brain of a living Onychophoran (green) and that of the anomalocaridid fossil Lyrarapax unguispinus (grey)

A side-by-side comparison reveals the similarity between the brain of a living Onychophoran (green) and that of the anomalocaridid fossil Lyrarapax unguispinus (grey)

Picture Credit: Professor Nicholas Strausfeld

The relatively simple brain structure of these large, apex predators may have driven the evolution of more sophisticated senses and brains in their intended prey.

Professor Strausfeld concluded:

“With the evolution of dedicated and highly efficient predators, the pressure was on other animals to be able to detect and recognize potential danger and rapidly coordinate escape movements.  These requirements may have driven the evolution of more complex brain circuitry.”

A Close up of the Head of Lyrarapax Showing a Powerful Grasping Claw

The grasping claw on this specimen can clearly be seen.

The grasping claw on this specimen can clearly be seen.

Picture Credit: Peiyun Cong

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

Record Breaking Apatosaurus Thigh Bone

Apatosaurus Femur Fossil – Biggest Apatosaurus Fossil Femur Found to Date

Reports received from Colorado state that a six foot seven inch long Sauropod femur has been safely removed from the Mygatt-Moore Quarry, a famous, highly fossiliferous site which has provided museums in the western United States with hundreds of Upper Jurassic dinosaur fossils.  The quarry has been excavated for many years but this new fossil extraction is something special.  The femur, believed to come from a species of Apatosaurus represents the largest thigh bone associated with the long-necked, plant-eating dinosaur to have been found to date.

An Illustration of Apatosaurus

Apatosaurus dinosaur model.

Apatosaurus dinosaur model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A number of Apatosaurus species have been described.  It was a member of the diplodocid clade of Sauropods and up until now the largest individuals of this species were around twenty-five metres in length.  However, this enormous femur (it measures 200.66 cm approximately), indicates that this genus could have reached lengths in excess of twenty-five metres.  Apatosaurus is one of the most popular of all the dinosaurs and it is often, still, referred to as Brontosaurus (Thunder Lizard).

For an explanation as to why the term Brontosaurus is no longer used to describe this dinosaur: Why Brontosaurus is no more

Volunteers and Scientists at the Fossil Dig Site

Giant dinosaur bone ready for lifting from fossil quarry.

Giant dinosaur bone ready for lifting from fossil quarry.

Picture Credit: Robert Gay (Museum of Western Colorado)

The excavation and extraction work was supervised by palaeontologists from the Museum of Western Colorado’s Dinosaur Journey Museum.   The fossil had been spotted back in 2010, but it has taken a number of summer expeditions to prepare the fossil for its removal.  Museum volunteers Kay Fredette and Dorothy Stewart originally spotted the fossilised thigh bone, slowly eroding out of the surrounding rock, at first, all that was exposed was a “pancake-sized” chunk of rock.

After the burlap and plaster fossil was lifted by crane onto awaiting transport, Kay Fredette commented:

“We’ve got to clean the bottom side of it and there’s so much other bone around it.  It is going to take a couple of years to finish this.”

In total, the fossil including the remaining matrix and its cradle weighed more than 1,270 kilogrammes, a spokes person from Everything Dinosaur explained that the plaster and burlap protected fossil would be transported to a laboratory and once installed inside, a team of preparators would begin the long process of cleaning the fossilised bone and extracting it from the surrounding rock.

Volunteer Kay Fredette (foreground) Next to Another Dinosaur Bone

Helping to dig up dinosaurs.

Helping to dig up dinosaurs.

Picture Credit: Robert Gay (Museum of Western Colorado)

The Everything Dinosaur spokes person stated:

“To give readers an idea of the weight of the object, the fossil bones, its matrix and surrounding cradle that had to be lifted weighed about as much as a Ford Focus motor car”.

The Mygatt-Moore Quarry is located in the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area and the scientists at the Museum of Western Colorado hope to learn more about the potential maximum size of this iconic dinosaur.

Dr. Julia McHugh, who helped supervise the fossil extraction stated:

“So after the remaining matrix is removed and the bone is repaired it is going to be used to verify its taxonomic identity.  That means what animal it belongs to as well as whether it was a fully grown, mature adult.”

New Type of “Four Winged” Flying Dinosaur – A Liaoning Surprise?

Changyuraptor yangi – Let’s Not Get into Too Much of a Flap

And so on the 15th July, the paper on a new type of airborne dinosaur was published in the journal “Nature Communications”.  The world was officially introduced to Changyuraptor yangi or to interpret the genus name, “long feathered raptor”.  At about the size of a European Herring Gull (Larus argentatus), this newest member of the microraptorines, is the largest Theropod dinosaur discovered to date with long pennaceous feathers attached to the hind limbs.  At an estimated weight of around three to four kilogrammes, it is three times heavier than the largest species of Microraptor – M. zhaoianus (if indeed the fossils discovered to date do indeed represent three different species and not a single species but with extensive intra-specific variation), and four times heavier than that extant gull we mentioned earlier.  Changyuraptor has other claims to fame.  For example, its tail feathers are extremely long, measuring nearly thirty centimetres in length.  The longest tail feather is around 30% the length of the entire skeleton.

However, for us at Everything Dinosaur, the announcement of this fossil find comes as no real surprise.  The fossil material is from north-eastern China and it forms part of the amazing Jehol Biota which represents an Early Cretaceous ecosystem which has been preserved in strata that date from around 133 million years ago to 121 million years ago or thereabouts.  All the Microraptorine fossil material comes from this part of the world and the fossilised fauna and flora portray a habitat that had distinct seasons with a temperate forest habitat interspersed with large bodies of freshwater and swamps.  The area teemed with life and with the finding of one predatory Dromaeosaurid dinosaur with aerodynamic abilities (Microraptor), finding other examples of dinosaurs filling this ecological niche was always likely.

These hunters may not have caught their prey on the wing, but they probably spent a great deal of their lives high up in the tree canopy living an arboreal existence and stomach content analysis from Microraptor specimens indicate that these dinosaurs, closely related to the likes of Velociraptor, ate small mammals, lizards and even primitive birds.  One poor unfortunate perching bird seems to have been swallowed whole.

An Illustration of Changyuraptor yangi (Silhouette of Person shows Scale)

“Four winged” terror

Picture Credit: S. Abramowicz

The international team of scientists behind the scientific paper, such as Luis M. Chiappe (Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County), Michael Habib (University of Southern California), Gang Han, Shu-An Ji, Xueling Liu and Lizhuo Han (Bohai University, Liaoning Province), in collaboration with colleagues based in New York and South Africa have described the beautifully preserved fossil material and then analysed this animal’s flight characteristics. Why, for example, did this “four-winged terror” have such long feathers on its tail?

The Holotype Fossil Material (C. yangi)

The slab (a) and the counter slab (b) of the Holotype

Picture Credit: Nature Communications

At 1.32 metres in length and weighing close to four kilogrammes, taking to the air may not have been too much of a problem for our feathered friend here.  Especially if this dinosaur launched itself from the branches of trees and glided around.  However, controlling itself in flight and coming into land may have been somewhat more difficult for such a heavy, large-bodied animal.  The international research team examined the aerial competency of Changyuraptor and concluded that the tail may have acted as a pitch control structure, reducing air speed and helping to ensure a safe landing.  Those hind limbs with their feathers too, would have assisted with gliding and with the legs rotated down and underneath the body as it descended, then the feathers could have made effective air brakes, in a similar way to the “trousers” on Archaeopteryx.

To read an article on the feathered legs of Archaeopteryx: Feathers Evolved Before Flight – Archaeopteryx Had Feathered Trousers

Dr. Michael Habib (University of Southern California) stated:

“It makes sense that the largest microraptorines had especially large tail feathers, they would have needed the additional control.”

Dr. Alan Turner of Stony Brook University (New York), a co-author of the paper added:

“Numerous features that we have long associated with birds in fact evolved in dinosaurs long before the first birds arrived on the scene.  This includes things such as hollow bones, nesting behaviour, feathers…and possibly flight.” 

Bone structure analysis undertaken concluded that this was a fully grown, mature animal that rivalled the largest Pterosaurs known from Liaoning Province in size as it glided in the sky above this ancient Chinese landscape.  The holotype material was found back in 2012 and since its discovery the notion that flight preceded the origin of Aves has been consolidated.  Birds inherited flight characteristics from their near relatives the Dinosauria.  For the time being we shall give the last word to Luis Chiappe:

“This new fossil documents that dinosaur flight was not limited to very small animals but to dinosaurs of a more substantial size.  Clearly far more evidence is needed to understand the nuances of dinosaur flight but Changyuraptor is a major leap in the right direction.”

Ancient Creepy-Crawlies Resurrected

410 Million Year Old Arachnid Walks Again

A team of international researchers have used fossils of ancient Arthropods from the London Natural History Museum to recreate the movements of some of the world’s first terrestrial predators.  Researchers from the Museum für Naturkunde (Berlin) and Manchester University have used an open source computer programme called Blender to model the walking motion of a 41o million year old ancient Arachnid.  The video shows the most likely gait that this tiny prehistoric predator could achieve as it stalked across the Devonian landscape.  The paper, which details this research has been published in a special edition of the academic publication the “Journal of Palaeontology”.

The scientists took minute slices of the fossils of these early Arachnids and once the limb segments and their joints had been identified they worked out the range of limb motion possible.  From these measurements and using comparisons with extant Arachnids, the researchers modelled the walking action using the Blender software programme.  In this way, a creature dead for over 410 million years could once again walk.

Dr. Russell Garwood, (palaeontologist at Manchester University), stated:

“When it comes to early life on land, land before our ancestors came out of the sea, these early Arachnids were top dog of the food chain.  They are now extinct, but from about 300 to 400 million years ago, they seem to have been more widespread than spiders.  Now we can use the tools of computer graphics to better understand and recreate how they might have moved – all from thin slivers of rock, showing the joints in their legs.”

Supplemental Data Video 2 – Palaeocharinus Locomotion

Video Credit: University of Manchester Press Room

The video shows the ancient Arthropod (Palaeocharinus genus) walking.  Although a formidable looking animal, this early creepy-crawly was less than half a centimetre in length.  The fossils used in this study came from the famous Lower Devonian strata at Rhynie (Aberdeenshire, Scotland).  The Rhynie chert deposit contains evidence of one of the earliest terrestrial ecosystems known to science.  More than twenty primitive plant species have been identified along with Arthropods such as mites and trigonotarbids such as Palaeocharinus that hunted amongst the miniature forest made up of Rhyniophytes (primitive plants).

Co-author of the scientific paper, Jason Dunlop (Museum für Naturkunde), added:

“These fossils,  from a rock called Rhynie chert, are unusually well-preserved.  During my PhD I could build up a pretty good idea of their appearance in life.  This new study has gone further and shows us how they probably walked.  For me, what’s really exciting is that scientists can make these animations now, without needing the technical wizardry and immense costs of a Jurassic Park-style film.”

Although not true spiders, trigonotarbids are related to modern spiders but they lack certain spider features such as silk producing spinnerets.  As a group, they first appear in the fossil record in the Late Silurian.  The oldest trigonotarbid specimen, that we at Everything Dinosaur know about, comes from the Upper Silurian deposits of Ludow , Shropshire (Ludlow epoch around 420 million years ago).  It was Jason Dunlop who was responsible for describing this discovery (1996).

A Highly Magnified Image of a trigonotarbid (Palaeocharinus)

The highly magnified section shows leg segments clearly.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The scale bar in the picture represents 2 mm.

Dr. Dunlop stated:

“When I started working on fossil Arachnids we were happy if we could manage a sketch of what they used to look like, now we can view them running across our computer screens.”

The development of sophisticated computer programmes is permitting scientists to re-create three-dimensional images of spectacular fossils.  In addition, new generation programming technology is now capable of bringing long extinct creatures back to life, at least in cyberspace.  The predatory Palaeocharinus might be quite frightening, but at half a centimetre long it would probably not even had got a second glance if you spotted on in the garden.  However, other specimens from Upper Devonian strata, as yet not fully described fossils, indicate that there were much larger creatures at home amongst the primitive plants such as the Rhyniophytes and Lycopsids (clubmosses), some fossils indicate Arthropods nearly an inch in length.  These creatures may not be trigonotarbids but perhaps represent an entirely new family of Arthropoda.

Dr. Garwood concluded:

“Using open source software means that this is something anyone could do at home, while allowing us to understand these early land animals better than ever before.”

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the help of the Faculty of Engineering and Sciences (University of Manchester) in the compilation of this article.

A Neanderthal-like Inner Ear in Ancient Chinese Skull

Let’s Hear it for the Neanderthals

A team of international scientists including palaeoanthropologists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, have been puzzling over the distinctive shape of the structures that make up part of the inner ear preserved in an ancient skull.  The 100,000 year old human skull has a similar inner ear structure to that thought to have only occurred in our near relatives the Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis).  CT scans have revealed to the researchers, something of a mystery, none of the other prehistoric human skulls dated to around 100,000 years ago and found in China show this inner ear formation.  This discovery opens up the debate between H. sapiens and Neanderthal interaction and blurs the line between these two hominin species.

The extremely detailed three-dimensional images revealed by the study, has raised important questions regarding the nature of late archaic human variation across Europe and Asia.  It also suggests, that the inner ear shape once ascribed as being diagnostic of Neanderthal skull material may be present in other types of ancient human.  This characteristic may not be a distinctive Neanderthal feature.

Researchers from the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology (IVPP – Chinese Academy of Sciences), in collaboration with Washington University (St Louis) and Bordeaux University (France), discovered the controversial evidence after a meticulous CT scan of a skull found in the Nihewan Basin of northern China.  The skull, found in the late 1970′s along with other bone fragments and human teeth is known as Xujiayao 15, it was named after the archaeological dig site where it was discovered.  The skull morphology indicates that it comes from an early non-Neanderthal form of late archaic human.  It is probably the skull of a male.

Over the last two decades or so, the evolution of our own species and our relationship with other hominins has become somewhat blurred.  For example, it was thought until very recently that Europe around 250,000 years ago was inhabited by just two species of humans, ourselves and the Neanderthals.  New fossil discoveries and research on museum specimens has revealed that there may have been four different types of human in Eurasia at this time.  As well as H. sapiens and H. neanderthalensis, evidence for the presence of Homo erectus and the enigmatic Denisovans has also been found.

To read an article that suggests the Denisovan hominins and the Neanderthals were closely related: Denisovan Cave Material Hints at Mystery Human Species

The inner ear, also known as the labyrinth is located within the skull’s temporal bone.  It contains the cochlea, which converts sound waves into electrical impulses that are transmitted by nerves to the brain.  The inner ear also contains the semicircular canals, these chambers help us to balance and to co-ordinate our actions.  These structures although small, have been found preserved in a number of mammal skulls including prehistoric human fossils.  Research published almost two decades ago, which relied on less powerful CT scans and computer technology, established the presence of a particular pattern of the semicircular canals in the temporal labyrinth as being diagnostic of Neanderthal skull material.  The same pattern of the semicircular canals is found in all known Neanderthal labyrinths.  As a result, the labyrinth has been used extensively as a marker to distinguish Neanderthal skull fossil from other hominins.

The Fossil Location with an Overlay of the Temporal Bone and CT Scan showing the Inner Ear Structure

Temporal bone found at the Xujiayao site and inner ear structure

Picture Credit: Wu Xiujie (Chinese Academy of Sciences)

The academic paper that details the international team’s research has just been published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”.   The shape of the skull and structures such as the arrangements seen in the semicircular canals could be used to help resolve the evolutionary relationships between a number of closely related human species.

Dr. Erik Trinkaus (Washington University), one of the lead authors of the scientific paper, suggests that whilst it may be tempting to speculate on potential cross-breeding between the lineage that would lead to modern humans and Neanderthals, this may be over simplifying what is in effect a very complex relationship between different populations of prehistoric humans.  The finding of a Neanderthal-shaped labyrinth in an otherwise distinctly “non-Neanderthal” sample should not be regarded as evidence of population contact (gene flow) between central and western Eurasian Neanderthals and eastern archaic humans in China.  Dr. Trinkaus and his colleagues state that the broader implications of the Xujiayao skull CT research remain unclear.

Neanderthal-like Ear Structures Found in a Non Neanderthal Skull

Determining the shape of the inner ear structures.

Picture Credit: Wu Xiujie (Chinese Academy of Sciences)

The picture above shows the temporal bone of the Xujiayao specimen (brown) and CT scans (green) with the shape and position of the temporal labyrinth outlined in purple.

Dr. Trinkaus commented:

“The study of human evolution has always been messy, and these findings just make it all the messier.  It shows that human populations in the real world don’t act in nice simple patterns.  This study shows that you can’t rely on one anatomical feature or one piece of DNA as the basis for sweeping assumptions about the migrations of hominid species from one place to another.”

It looks like the human “family tree” has a more twisting branches than previously thought.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the help of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in the compilation of this article.

World’s Largest-Ever Flying Bird – Pelagornis sandersi

A Seagull on Steroids - Pelagornis sandersi

A team of scientists from the Bruce Museum (Greenwich, Connecticut, USA), have published a paper on a new species of giant bird, believed to be the largest flying bird known to science, eclipsing the giant, prehistoric condor Argentavis magnificens.  With a wingspan estimated to be between 6.1 and 7.4 metres, this is more than twice the size of the wingspan of the largest living flying bird today, the Royal Albatross (Diomedea epomophora) and places P. sandersi alongside the biggest members of the Pterosaur family the Pteranodontia in terms of size.  Its wingspan is only exceeded by a handful of flying reptiles, most of which belong to the Azhdarchidae Pterosaur family.

In simple terms, the wingspan of this newly described Oligocene bird was easily longer than the height of the tallest giraffes living today.

A Line Drawing Showing the Size and Scale of Pelagornis sandersi

Line drawing of World’s Largest-Ever Flying Bird, Pelagornis sandersi, showing comparative wingspan. Shown left, a California Condor, shown right, a Royal Albatross.

Line drawing of World’s Largest-Ever Flying Bird, Pelagornis sandersi, showing comparative wingspan. Shown left, a California Condor, shown right, a Royal Albatross.

Image Credit: Liz Bradford

The line drawing in the picture above also reveals how much of the fossil skeleton has been found (marked in white).

The fossil material was discovered by James Malcolm, a volunteer from Charleston Museum (South Carolina), when a fossiliferous bone bed representing a marine environment was exposed during the building of a new terminal at Charleston International Airport in 1983.  The strata forms a component of the Chandler Bridge Formation dated to the Late Oligocene epoch (Chattian faunal stage).  A number of fossils of other marine birds were identified including fragmentary and badly distorted fossil elements from a smaller pelagornithid, but it is not clear whether these fossils represent a juvenile P. sandersi or a new species.

The pelagornithids were a group of strange, “pseudo-toothed” birds, whose fossils have been found in a number of Cenozoic aged fossil sites which represent marine environments.  It is likely that these creatures evolved in the Late Palaeogene and survived up until the end of the Pliocene epoch, going extinct around three million years ago.  Although, a number of species had large wingspans, these birds were very lightly built with paper thin bones, as a result of which, their fossils are extremely rare.  They were great aeronauts and were geographically very widespread with a number of specimens known from places as far apart as Chile and Australia.

To read an article about the discovery of a giant pelagornithid from South America: Giant Seabird from Chile

Article about the discovery of fossils found in South Australia: Giant Toothed Birds once Soared over Australia

The “teeth” of these birds have no enamel.  They are in effect bony projections from the jawbones, they may not be true teeth but they were sharp and would have proved very effective in grabbing the prey of this large, ocean-going flyer.  It is likely that Pelagornis sandersi caught fish and squid at the sea surface.  Scientists remain uncertain as to whether this creature was capable of diving to catch prey.

Dr. Daniel Ksepka Examines the Skull of P. sandersi

Dr. Daniel Ksepka studies the skull of Pelagornis sandersi, World’s Largest-Ever Flying Bird.

Dr. Daniel Ksepka studies the skull of Pelagornis sandersi, World’s Largest-Ever Flying Bird.

Picture Credit: Bruce Museum

Dr. Daniel Ksepka is the author of an academic paper which appears this week in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”.  This paper explores the flight capabilities of Pelagornis sandersi.  Although very large, the delicate bones suggest that this bird was very light.  Body weight estimates vary between 21 and 40 kilogrammes and the weight plus wingspan parameters have influenced the calculations of this creature’s ability to glide.  There is no doubt that this bird was an accomplished flyer, capable of travelling long distances, but the glide speed has been difficult to estimate because of the fragmentary fossil evidence.  A range of glide speeds have been stated, by Dr. Ksepka (lead author), from an impressive 10.6 metres per second to more than 17 metres per second.  To place this into context, Usain Bolt’s one hundred metres World Record of 9.58 seconds suggests an average speed over the race of around 10.4 metres per second, P. sandersi could effortlessly glide faster than Usain Bolt can sprint.  When the upper estimates are considered, Pelagornis sandersi could travel at speeds in excess of 38 miles per hour.

An Artist’s Reconstruction of the Giant Seabird Pelagornis sandersi

Giant pseudo-toothed sea bird.

Giant pseudo-toothed sea bird.

Picture Credit: Liz Bradford

Commenting on his study, Dr. Ksepka stated:

“Pelagornithids were like creatures out of a fantasy novel, there is nothing like them living today.”

It is very likely that this family of birds adapted to a long-range, marine soaring strategy just like extant albatrosses, the bigger the pelagornithid the greater distances it was able to travel.  The highly modified wing bones would have given this bird very long, slender wings, ideal for gliding.

Dr. Ksepka added:

“Pelagornis sandersi could have travelled for extreme distances whilst crossing ocean waters in search of prey”.

As well as the exceptionally well-preserved skull, bones from the right hind limb have been found.  These bones indicate that this bird would have been relatively clumsy on land.  It probably could not take off simply by leaping into the air and flapping its great wings, it probably needed to run down hill or jump off a cliff edge in order to take to the air.  Although it is difficult to ascertain the length of the primary feathers, it has been suggested that the primary feathers (the longest feathers found on the wing tips), would perhaps have measured more than a metre in length.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“This is a truly astonishing fossil.  Such delicate and fragile bones are rarely preserved in the fossil record and thanks to the work of Dr. Ksepka and his colleagues we are beginning to get a detailed insight into how these extraordinary birds lived.  The flight capabilities of this marine bird are simply astonishing.  For example, even at the lower end of the estimates for gliding speed, Pelagornis sandersi would have been capable of amazing feats of flight.  It would have been able to cross the entire Gulf of Mexico in less than a day!”

The species name honours retired Charleston Museum Curator Albert Sanders, who originally collected the fossil material.

Feathers Evolved Before Flight? Archaeopteryx had Feathered Trousers

Archaeopteryx Fossil Suggests Origins of Flight Complex

Adorning the front cover of the latest edition of the academic publication “Nature” is a beautiful colour photograph of the eleventh specimen of Archaeopteryx found.  The fossil might be in the hands of a private collector, but here is an example of wonderful co-operation between an individual and an academic institution.  For permission has been granted for this fossil, discovered in southern Germany in 2011, to be extensively researched and the first studies into this remarkable fossil have just been published.  We have a car manufacturer too, to thank for this research.

The Eleventh Archaeopteryx Specimen

Excellent feather preservation

Excellent feather preservation

Picture Credit: Helmut Tischlinger

The picture above shows the Archaeopteryx fossil that has been the subject of this research.  Although, like the majority of Archaeopteryx specimens the fossil has been crushed, the impressions of feathers on the wings, the tail and most significantly on the hind limbs can be clearly made out.  Everything Dinosaur has added labels to help readers to understand what this fossil shows.

The plumage is extremely well preserved and even under normal light, impressions of feathers can be clearly made out.  This has permitted a research team from the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (LMU) to study the feathers of this iconic creature and to compare them with feathered dinosaurs and bird fossils from China.

Palaeontologist Dr Oliver Rauhut of the Dept. of Earth and Environmental Sciences (LMU) and at the Bavarian State Collection for Palaeontology and Geology (Munich) and a co-author of the study commented:

“For the first time, it has become possible to examine the detailed structure of the feathers on the body, the tail and, above all, on the legs.”

Previous studies of this transitional fossil showed that Archaeopteryx possessed pennaceous feathers, the same sort of feathers associated with extant birds that can fly.  The feathers were asymmetrical and helped maintain an aerodynamic shape in the air of this “dino-bird”.  The presence of such pennaceous feathers on the hind legs had puzzled scientists.  Flight feathers on the hind limbs had led some palaeontologists to consider whether Archaeopteryx used its back legs in flight, it was, in effect, a four-winged glider.  Or did the feathers on the hind limbs serve another purpose, perhaps for display or for insulation, helping to keep this warm-blooded (very likely), little Theropod warm.

Specimen number eleven shows for the first time an imprint of virtually all of the plumage of Archaeopteryx including the tail feathers that measure up to 11.4 centimetres in length and those controversial feathers on the hind limbs that range in length from 4 to 4.5 centimetres.  Analysis of the feathers on the hind legs show that they were symmetrical on either side of the stem (rachis), unlike aerodynamic feathers that have one long side and one narrower side (like an asymmetrical aircraft’s wing).  It seems that the feathers on the hind limbs described as “feathered trousers” did not have a role in flight.

This finding contradicts the theory that the flapping flight of modern Aves was preceded by an intermediary stage involving four-winged gliding.

A Close up of the Feathers on the Hind Leg

Feather impression in the rock clearly visible.

Feather impression in the rock clearly visible.

Picture Credit: Helmut Tischlinger

The tail feathers, which were more than half the length of the caudal vertebrae (tail bones), were asymmetrical indicating that the tail could have been involved in flight, perhaps helping to provide lift and control.  Co-author of the study Dr. Christian Foth (LMU) along with De. Rauhut and photographer Helmut Tischlinger examined a number of feathered bird and dinosaur fossils.  They discovered that these specimens showed a great deal of variation in feathers.  Many of the feathered creatures in the study would have been incapable of flight as their arms were too short, other fossils had feathers in impractical places to permit a flight function.

The research team outline a new hypothesis that after feathers evolved, they became adapted for a range of different purposes, for display, for camouflage, to help keep animals warm and when the Dinosauria et al began to take to a more arboreal or aerial existence they evolved further to become more useful in flight and more aerodynamic in their shape.   This theory suggests that there was not one single origin of bird flight, but that it may have evolved in a number of species over a significant time period – an example of convergent evolution.

 A Model of an Archaeopteryx (Papo Archaeopteryx)

New from Papo for 2014 a model of Archaeopteryx.

New from Papo for 2014 a model of Archaeopteryx.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The Papo Archaeopteryx model introduced in 2014, depicts Archaeopteryx with “feathered trousers”.  The feathers although unlikely to have a role in powered flight, may have helped keep the legs warm or offered protection from bites from any of the prey of this carnivorous creature.  Perhaps these feathers acted like air brakes helping to increase wind resistance as the animal came into land, thus slowing Archaeopteryx down and assisting with landing.

The German based researchers conclude that their study of the pennaceous feathers on Archaeopteryx, advanced Maniraptoran dinosaurs and primitive birds indicates that these structures evolved in a functional context and not specifically for flight.  Such feathers were slowly adapted for a role in the flight function, several lineages may have followed similar evolutionary developments leading to the aerodynamic, asymmetrical flight feathers occurring in a number of species.  If this is the case, then the origin of powered flight might be a whole lot more complex than previously thought.

We have the German car manufacturer Volkswagen to thank for this research.   The detailed analysis of the fossil was made possible by financial support from the Volkswagen Foundation.

A spokes person from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“The few fossils we have of Archaeopteryx may even represent sub-species or separate species.  We could imagine a scenario whereby on the relatively isolated islands of the Solnhofen archipelago, different types of feathered, Archaeopteryx evolved.  They may have once shared a common, mainland ancestor, but as populations became separated onto different islands, these weak-flyers evolved specific forms for each island habitat, a sort of Darwin’s finches as found on the Galapagos today but in this case, evolutionary dynamics driven by flight capabilities and not beak shape or size related to food resources.”

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