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/Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories

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

7 09, 2017

National Thylacine Day

By | September 7th, 2017|Animal News Stories, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Everything Dinosaur Products, Main Page, Photos of Everything Dinosaur Products|0 Comments

National Thylacine Day

Today, marks the 81st anniversary of the death of the last known Thylacine.  The animal, nick-named Benjamin, died this day (7th September 1936), at Beaumaris Zoo (Hobart, Tasmania).  The Thylacine (sometimes referred to as the Tasmanian Tiger, probably due to its prominent stripes), was the largest carnivorous marsupial of the Holocene Epoch.  It was the last member of the once diverse and numerous Thylacinidae family, which once ranged over Australia and New Guinea.

Over the last few years, Everything Dinosaur has been able to add a couple of Thylacine models to its extensive range of prehistoric and extinct animal replicas.  In 2016, CollectA added a female Thylacine model to its hugely popular CollectA Prehistoric Life model range.  The model can be clearly identified as a female because of the very obvious pouch.  The CollectA Thylacine model measures a fraction under twelve centimetres in length and the model’s head is some five centimetres off the ground.

The CollectA Thylacine Model

The CollectA Thylacine replica.

The CollectA Thylacine model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The distended pouch suggests that this particular Thylacine is carrying young.  This impressive, hand-painted model has received excellent reviews.  For example, a recent 5-star FEEFO review stated that this CollectA model was:

“Very high-quality product.”

Thylacinus cynocephalus

Aboriginal rock art records Thylacines and numerous fossil sites are known from Western Australia.  The Tasmanian Tiger ranged extensively over Australia and Tasmania, a mummified carcass was discovered in the famous Nullarbor Cave in 1969 by a field team from the Western Australian Museum.

Mojo Fun also has a Thylacine replica in its model range (Mojo Fun Prehistoric and Extinct Animals), this replica is approximately the same size as the CollectA model and just like the CollectA replica, it is hand-painted.  Everything Dinosaur added this model range to its portfolio as part of plans to expand the company’s extensive model range.

The Mojo Fun Thylacine Model

The Mojo Fun Thylacine.

The Mojo Fun Thylacine model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The Mojo Fun Thylacine has also received excellent reviews from collectors, such as this 5-star FEEFO rating – “Well-made model, exactly as presented on your web site.”

Quality Thylacine Models

Such is the quality of these two figures, that we have supplied numerous scientists, academics and museum staff with these models.

To view the range of prehistoric and extinct animal replicas available from Everything Dinosaur: The Models Available from Everything Dinosaur

September 7th is “National Threatened Species Day” in Australia.  This day is dedicated to acknowledging the efforts of those hard-working conservationists who strive to protect Australia’s flora and fauna.  It is also a day for remembering the Thylacine, our species Homo sapiens, was responsible for the extinction of this beautiful and little understood predator.

There have been several credible sightings in recent years, and prompted by some plausible eye-witness accounts, scientists from James Cook University have set up camera traps in a remote part of northern Queensland in a bid to capture irrefutable evidence that this enigmatic marsupial still exists.  Everything Dinosaur featured the plans to hunt for Thylacines in a blog article published in the spring: Hunting for Tasmanian Tigers.  The idea that a handful of “Tigers” might be still in the outback, is a very intriguing idea, however, scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, put together a mathematical model to assess the probability of the Thylacine still existing.  Having assessed all the sightings and other evidence, the most optimistic view is that the Thylacine might have persisted to around 1950 but the chances of finding a Thylacine alive today are extremely remote.  How remote?  About 1 in 1.6 trillion according to the mathematicians.

6 09, 2017

Evidence for Communal Roosting in Oviraptorids

By | September 6th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Communal Roosting in the Dinosauria

Attendees at the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Palaeontology (SVP) in Calgary (Alberta, Canada), were treated to a presentation outlining the discovery of a trio of young oviraptorid dinosaurs that may have been preserved sleeping as a group.  This might provide the first evidence of communal roosting, a practice seen in many extant animals today, where members of the same species sleep together for mutual protection and to help keep themselves warm.  Communal roosting is seen in many species of birds, notable examples being starlings and rooks.  Communal roosting is also known amongst primates, bats and butterflies.

Although, it is easy to misinterpret fossils of this nature, oviraptorids, members of the Maniraptora clade of dinosaurs which are closely related to Aves (birds), are believed to have been social animals and a spokesperson for Everything Dinosaur stated that behaviour of this nature is within the “realms of expectation for these dinosaurs”.

The Fossilised Remains of Three Oviraptorid Dinosaurs – Is this Evidence of Communal Roosting?

Block containing three oviraptorid fossils.

The three oviraptorid fossil skeletons within the single block.

Picture Credit: Gregory F. Funston

The picture above shows the plaster-jacketed block containing the three individuals and a line drawing showing the location of each skeleton and the layout of the bones.  Greg Funston (University of Alberta), who led the fossil study explained that the three sleeping dinosaurs were probably relatives, perhaps from the same brood.  The fossil material first came to the attention of academics when Mongolian customs officials seized the specimen at an airport in 2006.  The stone block was being illegally smuggled out of the country, sadly, there is a thriving black market in illicit fossils from Mongolia and China, despite the very best attempts of the authorities to stop this trade.

Identifying the source of such illegally acquired fossils is always tricky, but a geochemical analysis of the surrounding matrix by scientists from the University of Bologna (Italy), led by Federico Fanti, suggested that the fossil came from the Bugiin Tsav area of the Gobi Desert (Upper Cretaceous sediments associated with the Nemegt Formation – Maastrichtian faunal stage).  Dr Fanti has also presented his findings at the SVP.

Sleeping Oviraptorids

Oviraptorids were extremely bird-like, feathered dinosaurs, with short skulls, beaks and deep lower jaws which were largely edentulous (lacking teeth).  Several genera have been named and these dinosaurs lived in the northern hemisphere during the Late Cretaceous.  Most of these dinosaurs were relatively small, around two-three metres in length (Gigantoraptor being an exception) and they were particularly abundant in Asia.  Fossils of their nests have been found, along with adults incubating eggs.  Most palaeontologists believe that these dinosaurs were social animals with similar behaviours to those seen in extant birds.  The diet of oviraptorids is uncertain, these bipeds could have been mainly herbivorous, but omnivory and durophagy (eating hard-shelled items like nuts, seeds and molluscs) is not ruled out.

An Oviraptor Exhibit at a Museum (Frankfurt Natural History Museum)

An Oivraptor fossil with nest.

An Oviraptor dinosaur sitting on her nest.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The three individuals are from the same species, which is new to science, these oviraptorids have yet to be formally named.  Like several other oviraptorids, a prominent, domed skull crest has been identified.  These types of dinosaurs seem to have been highly successful, the vertebrate biota of some Upper Cretaceous deposits of China are dominated by oviraptorids, for a case in point: Not Another Ganzhou Oviraptorid

Juveniles Huddling Together

Two of the dinosaurs have been preserved crouched down on their stomachs, these two specimens, which are more complete than the third, have their necks curled back towards their bodies, whilst their arms cradle their heads, this is very reminiscent of a sleeping posture adopted by many types of living bird.  The fossilised remains of allegedly sleeping dinosaurs have been found before, perhaps most notably Mei long from the Liaoning Formation of north-eastern China.  M. long was named in 2004 after a spectacular fossil showing a head tucked under an arm and a tail curled round the body was discovered.  This little troodontid was either resting or sleeping when it was smothered by a layer of volcanic ash.

An Illustration of the “Sleeping Dragon” Mei long

Mei long illustration.

Mei long – sleeping dragon.

This is the first fossil evidence to support the idea that some kinds of dinosaurs roosted together (communal roosting).  Bone histology indicates that these animals were juveniles and roughly the same age when they died, it has been speculated that this fossil represents a “teenage gang” of sub-adult dinosaurs that died in their sleep.  If the layout of the fossils reflects their true posture and the bone position has not been affected by the fossilisation process, then the position of the three dinosaurs implies they were touching each other.  The researchers think the youngsters were probably huddling for warmth.  That suggests that the animals had tried to maintain a constant body temperature, or perhaps they were frightened and huddling together for protection and comfort.  David Varricchio (Associate Professor at Montana State University), has commented that he wondered whether these dinosaurs were resting or taking shelter from harsh weather rather than sleeping.  Funston argues that modern animals that roost together don’t usually make direct contact except for warmth.  Animals that died in events such as floods are preserved in very different positions from that of the oviraptorid trio, making it unlikely that the young dinosaurs were awake when they met their demise.

An Illustration of Roosting Oviraptorids

Communal roosting in oviraptorids.

Roosting oviraptorids.

Picture Credit: Mike Skrepnick

Difficult to Interpret

The three dinosaurs do seem to have perished together, their body positions indicate that the carcasses were unlikely to have been transported far before accumulating and forming this assemblage, but interpreting the fossil is difficult.  Other researchers have expressed reservations about the communal resting hypothesis.  For example, biologist John Grady (Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania), has stated that the dinosaurs may have huddled together to hide or merely because the location was “a great place to sleep.” 

However, this fossil material is interpreted, it adds to the growing body of evidence that many types of dinosaurs, including Maniraptorans were highly social creatures and capable of exhibiting quite complex behaviours.

For a 2013 article that looks at evidence for oviraptorid courtship displays: Dinosaurs Shaking Tail Feathers and Strutting

Canadian dinosaur helps to prove dinosaurs were show-offs: Fossil Discovery Reinforces Idea of Dinosaurs Displaying

5 09, 2017

The End of the Road for Troodon formosus

By | September 5th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Troodon formosus – No Longer Valid

One of the first ever dinosaurs named from North America has officially bitten the dust in taxonomic terms as the troodontid Troodon formosus is no longer a valid genus.  This fast-running, bird-like dinosaur was first named and described in 1856 by the American palaeontologist Joseph Leidy and right from the very beginning there were problems over its description and classification.  Troodon (T. formosus), a dinosaur whose name provided the inspiration behind the erection of an entire dinosaur family, the Troodontidae (part of the Deinonychosauria clade), was described on the basis of the discovery of a fossilised tooth.  The teeth of these types of dinosaurs are recurved and have large serrations, unlike any dinosaur teeth found previously and so Leidy erected a new genus – Troodon (the name means “wounding tooth”).  This staple of dinosaur books and academic literature for the best part of 160 years had been established on fairly shaky ground to begin with.  Now thanks to some new research from University of Alberta graduate student Aaron van der Reest, T. formosus has been replaced by two taxa, one new one Latenivenatrix mcmasterae and one resurrected one.  As a result of this new study, which has led to the reclassification of North American troodontid fossil material, the species Stenonychosaurus inequalis, first described by Sternberg in 1932 and previously regarded as a junior synonym of Troodon has come back into favour.

An Illustration of the Bird-like, Sickle-toe Clawed Troodon (T. formosus)

Troodon illustrated.

An illustration of the feathered dinosaur Troodon.  A staple of dinosaur books, but Troodon is no longer valid.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Hips Brought Everything to a Head

In the early summer of 2014, van der Reest discovered an intact troodontid pelvis in Dinosaur Provincial Park Formation of southern Alberta.  This led to him conducting an in-depth analysis of previously collected troodontid fossils, including skull bones.  His research concluded that the Dinosaur Provincial Park fossil record held two genera of troodontid and not one.  For most of the 19th and 20th Centuries troodontid fossils from North America tended to be assigned to T. formosus.  Based on this, Troodon ranged from Mexico in the south to Montana and beyond Alberta in the north and existed as a species through some fifteen million years.  A contradiction indeed, when the rapid dinosaur faunal turnover of Laramidia in the Late Cretaceous is considered.

The shape of the pelvic bones, particularly the pubis led to the erection of the new species – Latenivenatrix.  It comes from the upper Dinosaur Park Formation (Late Campanian) and following the student’s reassessment of troodontid fossil material from strata representing the youngest layers of the Dinosaur Park Formation, other fossil elements including partial skulls have been assigned to this species.  Latenivenatrix (the name means “hiding hunter”), a reference to the muddle and confusion surrounding North American troodontids, was a relative giant amongst its kind.

Aaron van der Reest explained:

“This new species is the largest of the troodontids ever found anywhere in the world, standing nearly two metres at the head and close to 3.5 metres long.  It’s about fifty per cent larger than any other troodontids previously known, making it one of the largest Deinonychosaurs (raptor-like dinosaurs) we currently recognise.”

An Illustration of the Late Cretaceous Troodontid Latenivenatrix mcmasterae

Latenivenatrix illustrated.

The giant North American troodontid Latenivenatrix.

Picture Credit: Julius Csotonyi

Student van der Reest added:

“The hips we found could ultimately open the door for dozens of new species to be discovered.  Researchers with other specimens now have two new species [Latenivenatrix mcmasterae and Stenonychosaurus inequalis] for comparison, widening our ability to understand the troodontid family tree in North America.”

Confusion Amongst North American Troodontids

Troodontids are known from both Asia and North America, the most complete specimens come from Upper Jurassic Strata of China, Lower Cretaceous strata of China (western Liaoning Province) and the Cretaceous of Mongolia.  In contrast, troodontids from the western hemisphere, specifically Mexico, USA and Canada are very poorly known with a very fragmentary fossil record.   Previously unassigned fossils from the lower part of the Dinosaur Park Formation have now been assigned to the resurrected troodontid species Stenonychosaurus inequalis.

A Comparison of Maniraptoran Teeth

Maniraptora tooth morphology.

Note the large serrations on the troodontid teeth.  These serrations (denticles) were used to establish the genus Troodon (Leidy 1856).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Honouring Mum

For Aaron, being able to name a new dinosaur has been an especially emotional experience.  The species name for Latenivenatrix mcmasterae honours his late mother, Lynne (McMaster) van der Reest who did so much to encourage him to pursue a career in palaeontology.

Thanks to this new study, the story of troodontids in North America is a little clearer.  A distinct stratigraphic separation between Stenonychosaurus inequalis and the younger troodontid Latenivenatrix mcmasterae has been established.  A phylogenetic analysis indicates that Latenivenatrix is more closely related to Asian Troodonts than it is to Stenonychosaurus, this suggests that the replacement of Stenonychosaurus may have resulted from an earlier Asian migrant into North America.

For the time being Troodon formosus is no more.

The scientific paper: “Troodontids (Theropoda) from the Dinosaur Park Formation, Alberta, with a Description of a Unique New Taxon: Implications for Deinonychosaur Diversity in North America” by Aaron J. van der Reest and Philip J. Currie published in the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences.

3 09, 2017

Devonian Fish Sidesteps Current Evolutionary Theory

By | September 3rd, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Hongyu chowi – Convergent Evolution Or Did We Get It All Wrong?

The invasion of the land by vertebrates, the evolution of the first four-legged land animals (Tetrapods), in the Late Devonian is regarded as one of the most significant periods in the history of the Chordates.  Palaeontologists think that the first land animals with backbones, evolved from a type of lobe-finned fish belonging to the Class Sarcopterygii.  Numerous fossils of Sarcopterygians, including several types of transitional forms have been discovered from Eusthenopteron to Panderichthys, through to Tiktaalik and onwards to the stem Tetrapods Acanthostega and Ichthyostega scientists have been able to piece together the evolutionary development of limbs and other terrestrial adaptations… or have they?

A fossil from the Upper Devonian deposits of the Zhongning Formation in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region of central China just might have caused a few palaeontologists to take a step backwards.  The newly described Hongyu chowi shows a combination of anatomical traits, some of which are found in more basal members of the Sarcopterygii, whilst other characteristics show an affinity to that group of Sarcopterygians that are believed to have been ancestral to the Tetrapods.  This mix of anatomical features makes it difficult for scientists to place Hongyu chowi in the fishy family tree.

An Illustration of the Newly Described Late Devonian Sarcopterygian Hongyu chowi

Hongyu chowi (Devonian fish) illustration.

An illustration of Hongyu chowi. This Devonian fish is believed to have been an ambush predator.

Picture Credit: Brian Choo

The picture above shows the 1.5 metre-long Hongyu chowi ambushing a group of Placoderms (Antiarchs).  Writing in the academic journal “Nature Ecology & Evolution”, the researchers which include scientists from the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology (IVPP), and Uppsala University (Sweden), describe Hongyu as a predator.  It probably hunted in a similar way to extant Wobbegong sharks (Orectolobus maculatus).  These sharks, sometimes referred to as Carpet sharks, lie on the bottom and wait for small fish to come near them before they rapidly spring up and try to grab the startled fish in their over-sized mouths.

A Fossil Fish That Doesn’t Fit In

The fossil material dates from approximately 370 million years ago, a time when the first Tetrapods were evolving.  Hongyu chowi looks like a rhizodontid fish, a group of basal Sarcopterygians that are thought to have branched-off from the lobe-finned lineage of Sarcopterygians that led to the first land vertebrates.  However, it has the same shoulders and gill cover supports seen in the Elpistostegalia (otherwise known as the Panderichthyida), an Order of Sarcopterygians that led to the Tetrapodomorpha, fish that had limbs capable of supporting them on land.

The Fossils of Hongyu chowi

The fossilised remains of Hongyu chowi.

The block which contained the fossil material (Hongyu chowi).

Picture Credit: Nature Ecology & Evolution

The discovery of Hongyu chowi is certainly a “curve ball” when it comes to understanding the evolution of land living vertebrates.  The fossil find implies one of two things:

  1. H. chowi is a rhizodont that independently evolved the similar body characteristics to other distantly related Sarcopterygians making this fish an example of convergent evolution (unrelated animals develop in similar ways as they are exploiting similar niches or resources, such as the evolution of wings in both birds and bats).
  2. H. chowi is a rhizodont and subsequently, the Order Rhizodontida are more closely related to the Tetrapods and the Elpistostegalia (Panderichthyida) than previously thought.  If this is the case, it suggests that there was a certain amount of independent evolution of similar features, because in a phylogenetic analysis, the Rhizodontida would be nested between two groups (Tetrapods and the Elpistostegalia/Panderichthyida) which share many characteristics, which brings into sharp focus the idea that these two groups had to evolve similar features independently.

Commenting on the implications for this discovery, Neil Shubin (University of Chicago), who was not an author of the scientific paper, stated:

“The find confirms an earlier suspicion that there was independent or parallel evolution between the rhizodonts, the elpistostegids and the first four-legged animals.  It has been a recurrent theme in the field.”

1 09, 2017

Silky Dinosaur Ruffles Feathers

By | September 1st, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Serikornis sungei – Feathered but a Terrestrial Dinosaur

A team of international scientists have ruffled a few feathers amongst their fellow palaeontologists.  A new species of feathered, four-winged dinosaur from north-eastern China has been described.  Despite its heavily feathered forelimbs and legs, this forty-eight-centimetre-long Theropod may have been permanently grounded.  Writing in the journal “The Science of Nature”, the scientists, which include lead author Ulysse Lefèvre (Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels), describe a basal paravian (member of the Paraves clade of Theropods), it has been named Serikornis sungei.

Potentially a Very Down to Earth Feathered Dinosaur – Serikornis sungei

Serikornis sungei catches a spider.

Serikornis catches a spider.  An illustration of Serikornis sungei.

Picture Credit: Emily Willoughby

Puzzling Paravians and Their Kin

The single, beautifully-preserved and nearly complete fossil specimen of this dinosaur was discovered in 2014.  It comes from the Tiaojishan Formation (Late Jurassic), of Liaoning Province, China, from the same strata that previously yielded another four-winged Theropod Anchiornis (A. huxleyi), which was named and scientifically described in 2009.    These sediments, which are approximately 160 million-years-old (Oxfordian faunal stage), may also have yielded another four-winged, terrestrial Theropod – Aurornis (A. xui).  However, Aurornis poses a problem for palaeontologist as they try to unravel the evolution of feathered flight.  The holotype fossil material of Aurornis was acquired from a fossil dealer, who claimed the fossil came from the Upper Jurassic deposits of Western Liaoning.  However, Pascal Godefroit, a colleague of Ulysse Lefèvre at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, who was the lead author of the scientific paper that described Aurornis, has expressed doubts on the provenance of the original fossil material.  The holotype could have come from the much younger Yixian Formation of Liaoning Province.  Aurornis could have lived at least thirty million years after Anchiornis and Serikornis.  The lack of appropriate and validated fossil documentation is adding to the difficulties faced by scientists as they try and unravel the evolution of flight.

The Beautifully-Preserved Fossil Skeleton of Serikornis sungei

Beautifully preserved Serikornis sungei fossil showing feathers.

Serikornis sungei fossil showing the preserved plumage.

Picture Credit: Ulysse Lefèvre/Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences

“Silky Dinosaur”

The little dinosaur, nick-named “Silky”, because of the silky texture of its integument (covering of feathers), has a skeleton that suggests a terrestrial existence to the researchers.  They propose that Serikornis was a ground-dwelling dinosaur with no adaptations for flight, despite having feathers on its arms and legs.  Yet, feathery legs have been associated with the evolution of flight in the Dinosauria.  A hypothesis has been proposed that one dinosaur lineage went through a four-winged, gliding phase on the way to powered flight.  An example, of which would be the likes of Microraptor, known from Lower Cretaceous-aged deposits from Liaoning.  If a terrestrial dinosaur, such as Serikornis had long feathers on its legs, this suggests that such structures evolved in ground-dwelling dinosaurs and a flight function came secondary.  Such feathery legs might have evolved initially for a different reason, perhaps as a result of sexual selection or as a result of an evolutionary drive to produce even more elaborate and visually stunning displays.  These feathery legs were then inherited by increasingly aerodynamic and arboreal dinosaurs leading eventually to powered flight amongst the Dinosauria.

Palaeontologist Ulysse Lefèvre Examining the Serikornis Fossil Material

Examining the fossilised remains of Serikornis sungei.

Palaeontologist Ulysse Lefèvre views the fossil of Serikornis.

Picture Credit: Ulysse Lefèvre/Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences

Lefèvre and his team named the new species in honour of Sun Ge, the scientist at the Palaeontological Museum of Liaoning who made the fossil available for study, and for the presumed silky texture of its body covering. Serikos means “silk” in ancient Greek.

Contentious Fossil Interpretation

Commenting on one of the reasons for the team’s terrestrial diagnosis for Serikornis, Ulysse Lefèvre stated:

“The feathering of Serikornis shows for the first time a complete absence of barbules—that is, the microstructures that allow feathers to resist air pressure during wing beats.  The plumage is composed of four wings, as with many Theropod dinosaurs from China, but it did not allow “Silky” to take off from the ground or from a tree.”

In the phylogenetic analysis undertaken by the research team, Serikornis is classified as a basal paravian, outside the Eumaniraptora clade, the clade that includes the Deinonychosauria (troodontids and dromaeosaurids), as well as birds.  Whilst these scientists propose a terrestrial habit for Serikornis, some palaeontologists disagree.  For example, Professor Mike Benton (Bristol University), thinks that presence of hind wings would have made life difficult for this little dinosaur.

Professor Benton explained:

“The hind wings would be inconvenient for a ground-runner.  The long feathers on the thigh and calf would be like very elaborate bell-bottomed trousers, rubbing and catching as the animal walked or ran.”

Professor Benton and many other leading academics support the idea that the anatomical arrangement of four wings is a good contender as a transitional stage between gliding and the evolution of powered flight.  The professor added that in his opinion the body plan of Serikornis was:

“a model for the origin of flight, in which little dinosaurs such as Serikornis clambered into trees, perhaps chasing insects and other small tree-dwellers for food.  To escape predators or to get around, they would glide from bough to bough.”

A Close-up of the Feathers on the Hind Legs of Serikornis sungei

The feathers on the hind limbs of Serikornis sungei.

A close-up view of the feathers on the hind legs of Serikornis sungei.

Picture Credit: Ulysse Lefèvre/Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“The discovery of another Late Jurassic four-winged dinosaur helps to increase our knowledge as to the diversity of the feathered Theropods, it is very likely that feathers first evolved for other purposes, for example, as insulation, for display.   Flight was a secondary function.  However, where Serikornis sungei fits into the bigger picture regarding the evolutionary line that led to direct ancestors of today’s birds is open to debate.”

Lefèvre and his co-authors concede it may have been possible for these light, small dinosaurs to parachute from the trees to the ground.  The plumage of Serikornis could have slowed its descent, but “controlled falling” is a still a long way from flight.  Serikornis had enlarged claws that may have allowed it to climb trees, so this feathered dinosaur could have been at home in arboreal habitats.

To read Everything Dinosaur’s 2009 article on Anchiornis huxleyiOlder than Archaeopteryx! New Evidence of the Dinosaur/Aves Family Tree

To read Everything Dinosaur’s 2013 article on the discovery of Aurornis: A New Contender for the Title of “First Bird”?

31 08, 2017

Siberian Villager Finds Steppe Mammoth Remains

By | August 31st, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Drawings, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

A Mammoth in the Vegetable Patch

Everything Dinosaur has been informed about an article recently published in the “Siberian Times” reporting that a resident of the small and relatively remote village of Oy, in the Sakha Republic of north-eastern Russia, has found the fossilised remains of a Steppe Mammoth (M. trogontherii).  The local man was hoping to plant cabbage and potatoes in their vegetable patch but instead their digging uncovered the substantial tusks of a long-extinct member of the elephant family.

The newspaper reports that the tusks measure 2.7 metres in length and at their base they are around 50 centimetres in diameter.  Palaeontologists and a regional historian, Prokopiy Nagovitsyn, were called in to assess the villager’s fossil discovery.  Officials are quoted as estimating the tusks at around 400,000-years-old.

A Line Drawing of a Steppe Mammoth (Mammuthus trogontherii)

Steppe Mammoth illustration.

An illustration of a Steppe Mammoth (Mammuthus trogontherii).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Not Revealing the Exact Location of the Fossil Find

The historian (Prokopiy Nagovitsyn), explained that due to “understandable reasons”, the exact location of the fossil find was not being revealed.  If the location was known, this might attract unscrupulous ivory hunters who might attempt to steal the valuable tusks or they might be tempted to start their own excavations.

The vegetable patch discovery is described as “an extraordinary fossil find”.  Numerous Woolly Mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius), specimens are known from the Sakha Republic, the finding of the fossilised remains of a much more ancient Steppe Mammoth is a much rarer event.  Steppe Mammoths predate the Woolly Mammoth by hundreds of thousands of years.  Larger than M. primigenius, probably the largest of the Mammoth family, with adult males estimated to have weighed as much as fifteen tonnes, the Steppe Mammoth roamed Siberia from around 600,00 years ago to as recently as 370,000 years ago.

In 2015, an almost complete fossil skeleton of a Steppe Mammoth was discovered in the same region of Russia.  The Steppe Mammoth is believed to have evolved from the southern, ancestral Mammoth (Mammuthus meridionalis).

30 08, 2017

The Oldest Elasmosaurid in Town

By | August 30th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

A New Basal Elasmosaurid is Described (Lagenanectes richterae)

It has been a busy week for Sven Sachs of the Bielefeld Natural History Museum, Germany.  A few days ago, Everything Dinosaur blogged about the discovery of the largest Ichthyosaurus specimen known (I. somersetensis), Sven was a co-author of the scientific paper published in the “Acta Palaeontologica Polonica”.  Today, we feature another marine reptile discovery, this time it concerns one of the oldest-known members of the Elasmosauridae and Sven is one of the co-authors of this paper too.

An Artist’s Impression of the Newly Described Basal Elasmosaurid Lagenanectes richterae

Newly described basal elasmosaurid Lagenanectes.

A pod of Lagenanectes attack a shoal of squid.

Picture Credit: Joschua Knuppe

Early Cretaceous Elasmosaur

Writing in the “Journal of Vertebrae Paleontology”, the researchers Jahn Hornung and Benjamin Kear as well as Sachs, describe a previously unrecognised new species of Elasmosaur from Lower Cretaceous sediments at Sarstedt near Hannover (northern Germany).  The Elasmosauridae are a diverse family of Plesiosaurs that are characterised by the extraordinarily long necks, with some specimens having more than seventy cervical vertebrae.  They were predominately piscivores, preying on small fish and squid, which they swallowed whole.  Older definitions of the Elasmosauridae included many Jurassic long-necked forms, however, most palaeontologists now restrict elasmosaurids to just the Cretaceous taxa.

The fossilised bones of the marine reptile were unearthed in 1964 as workmen were excavating a clay pit near the town of Sarstedt.  The fossils consist of a partial skull (cranium and mandible), the atlas-axis complex, additional cervical vertebrae, caudal vertebrae, an ilium, and limb elements.  The material was added to the vertebrate fossil collection of the Lower Saxony State Museum (Hannover), where it remained until scientists were recently invited to make a formal examination of the specimen.

A Line Drawing of Lagenanectes richterae Showing the Known Fossil Material

Lagenanectes richterae scale drawing.

A scale drawing of Lagenanectes richterae.

Picture Credit: Joschua Knuppe

Lead author of the study, Sven Sachs stated:

“It was an honour to be asked to research the mysterious Sarstedt Plesiosaur skeleton.  It has been one of the hidden jewels of the museum and even more importantly, it has turned out to be new to science.”

“Lagena Swimmer”

This basal elasmosaurid lived around 132 million years ago (Hauterivian faunal stage of the Lower Cretaceous), it has been named Lagenanectes richterae.  The genus name is the Latinised form of the Leine River, which flows through the townscape of Sarstedt.  The species name honours Dr Annette Richter, (Chief Curator of Natural Sciences at the Lower Saxony State Museum), who facilitated documentation of the fossil.  Dr Richter also makes a handy scale reference in the drawing (above), L. richterae is estimated to have been around eight metres in length.  The skull of Lagenanectes will be displayed as a centrepiece in the “Water Worlds” exhibition at the Lower Saxony State Museum.

A Drawing of the Skull of L. richterae

Lagenanectes skull drawing.

The needle-like and forward pointing teeth are ideal for catching slippery prey.

Picture Credit: Jahn Hornung

Co-author of the paper, Dr Jahn Hornung, a palaeontologist based in Hamburg said:

“Its broad chin was expanded into a massive jutting crest, and its lower teeth stuck out sideways.  These probably served to trap small fish and squid that were then swallowed whole.”

Internal channels in the upper jaws might have housed nerves linked to pressure receptors or electroreceptors on the outside of the snout that would have helped Lagenanectes to locate its prey.  Bones at the back of the skull and the atlas show evidence of a chronic bacterial infection (osteomyelitic infection).  This pathology is clearly visible in the fossil bones and this infection could have eventually claimed the animal’s life.

Dr Benjamin Kear (Museum of Evolution, Uppsala University, Sweden), who also contributed to the study, explained the significance of this Plesiosaur specimen:

“The most important aspect of this new plesiosaur is that it is amongst the oldest of its kind.   It is one of the earliest Elasmosaurs, an extremely successful group of globally distributed Plesiosaurs that seem to have had their evolutionary origins in the seas that once inundated Western Europe.”

To read the earlier article chronicling the work of Sven Sachs in relation to the largest specimen of Ichthyosaurus described to date: Palaeontologists and the Pregnant Ichthyosaurus

29 08, 2017

New Species of African Titanosaur Described

By | August 29th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Shingopana songwensis – Hinting at a Diverse African Titanosaur Biota

A team of international scientists including Dr Eric Gorscak, a recent PhD graduate of Ohio University and now a post-doctoral researcher at the Field Museum of Natural History (Chicago, USA), have identified a new species of Cretaceous long-necked dinosaur from south-western Tanzania.  This new species of plant-eating giant has been named Shingopana songwensis and its discovery helps to demonstrate how diverse the dinosaur fauna was in southern Africa during the Cretaceous.

Writing in the Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology, the scientists, describe the new Titanosaur, one that shows anatomical affinities to South American Titanosaurs, indicating that Shingopana was more closely related to South American dinosaurs than it was to those species known from Africa.

The first fossils of this new dinosaur were found in 2002 by scientists affiliated with the Rukwa Rift Basin Project, an international effort led by Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine researchers Patrick O’Connor and Nancy Stevens.  Other elements associated with the specimen were found over the next two years.  All the fossils come from Namba Member of the Galula Formation.

An Illustration of Shingopana songwensis

Shingopana illustration.

An illustration of Shingopana songwensis.

Picture Credit: Mark Witton

In the beautiful illustration created by palaeoartist Mark Witton, (above), a herd of Shingopana can be seen in the background, whilst the foreground is dominated by the rotting carcass of S. songwensis.  A crocodylomorph is scavenging and the corpse has attracted the attention of numerous carrion beetles some of which can be clearly seen on an exposed rib bone.

The Enigmatic Galula Formation

The Galula Formation consists of a 600-3000 metre-thick sequence of amalgamated, braided fluvial deposits that were deposited across an extensive braidplain system via multiple parallel channels that had their source in the highlands of Zambia and Malawi.  Dating these mainly sandstone sediments has proved challenging.  Magnetostratigraphic studies place these deposits, split into two main members (the Namba and the geologically older Mtuka members), as being no older than mid-Late Cretaceous (Turonian-Campanian) for the Namba and constraining the Mtuka to the Middle Cretaceous (Aptian – Cenomanian).  Although most of the vertebrate fossils discovered to date are fragmentary in nature, they hint at a rich biota made up of numerous crocodyliforms, turtles, Theropods, Sauropods plus evidence of several types of small mammal.

The fossils represent around 10% of the total skeleton.  They were excavated from a single location and the fossils were disarticulated.  A comparison of the left humerus to that of the contemporaneous but not closely related Malawisaurus suggests that Shingopana might have exceeded 16 metres in length, although other media sources report that this dinosaur was under ten metres in length.  Other fossils include part of the jaw (left angular), part of the hip girdle, cervical and dorsal ribs along with neck bones (cervical vertebrae).

“Wide Neck” from the Songwe Region

The name of this new dinosaur (Shingopana songwensis), is derived from the local Swahili term “shingopana” for “wide neck”.  The neural spine of the cervical ribs show a bulbous expansion, that led the researchers to assign this new genus to the Aeolosaurini, all the dinosaurs assigned to this clade (as far as we at Everything Dinosaur know), come from South America.  The trivial name honours the location of the discovery, the Songwe region of the Great Rift Valley.  Shingopana is the first African Titanosaur that is closely related to Aeolosaurines.

Shingopana Fossil Bones Being Excavated and Prepared for Field Removal

Shingopana fossils at the dig site.

A limb bone and rib are carefully stabilised in the field prior to removal.

Picture Credit: Nancy Stevens

Commenting on the phylogeny of Shingopana, Dr Gorscak stated:

“There are anatomical features present only in Shingopana and in several South American Titanosaurs, but not in other African Titanosaurs.  Shingopana had siblings in South America, whereas other African Titanosaurs were only distant cousins.”

This discovery supports the hypothesis that the biota of southern and northern Africa were very different during the Cretaceous.  Dinosaurs from the southern part of the continent were probably more closely related to South American dinosaurs than they were to the dinosaurs that lived on the northern part of Africa.  Shingopana co-existed with another Titanosaur, Rukwatitan bisepultus, but just like Malawisaurus, Rukwatitan was not closely related to Shingopana.

To read Everything Dinosaur’s article on the discovery and naming of Rukwatitan bisepultusA Rare African Giant – Rukwatitan

Dinosaur CSI

The researchers noted that the bones had been weathered prior to fossilisation.  The fossils show extensive borings, most likely caused by the activities of carrion beetles.  The presence of these trace fossils are particularly notable on the cervical vertebrae, the humerus and the pubis.  Over 150 separate bore holes were identified on 10 different bones from the dig site.  Insect borings such as these give palaeontologists an opportunity to reconstruct the timing of death and the taphonomy (the fossilisation process), of the fossil material.

A Close-up View of Rib Bones with Trace Fossils (Insect Borings)

Damaged rib bones of Shingopana.

Rib bones show damage, the preserved bore holes of carrion beetles.

Picture Credit: Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology

A Changing Cretaceous Landscape

As the super-continent of Gondwana began to break up, so Madagascar and Antarctica split from the landmass that we now know as southern Africa. This was followed by the gradual northward “unzipping” of South America.  Northern Africa maintained a land bridge with South America, but southern Africa slowly became more isolated until the continents completely separated around 105 – 95  million years ago.  Other factors such as terrain and climate may have further isolated southern Africa.  The discovery of Shingopana highlights the different regional faunas between north Africa and southern Africa and suggests that tectonically driven separation of the landmasses may have influenced the development of progressively isolated southern African faunas throughout the Cretaceous.

28 08, 2017

Palaeontologists and the Pregnant Ichthyosaurus

By | August 28th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Largest Ichthyosaurus on Record Springs a Couple of Surprises

A team of scientists from the UK and Germany have discovered the largest Ichthyosaurus known to science, what’s more, the specimen was pregnant at the time of its demise some 200 million years ago.  In addition, the fossilised marine reptile, part of a collection at the Lower Saxony State Museum (Hannover, Germany), turned out to be a chimera.  The specimen did not represent two Ichthyosaurs (mum and the baby), but actually three!  There’s a twist in this tale.

Ichthyosaurus somersetensis Specimen in the Study

Ichthyosaurus specimen turns out to be a chimera with an embryo.

Ichthyosaurus specimen from the study.

Picture Credit: Manchester University

Largest Ichthyosaurus

The new specimen is estimated to be between three and three and a half metres long.  It is an adult female.  The Ichthyosaurus genus consists of a number of species, several of which have been named and described in the last two years, with palaeontologist Dean Lomax of Manchester University, one of the authors of this new study, playing a prominent role in the description of Ichthyosaurus anningae (2015), I. larkini and I. somersetensis (both 2016).  The very first Ichthyosaurus species to be erected was Ichthyosaurus communis, that took place way back in 1822, thanks to the fossil finding exploits of Mary Anning.  Lots of Ichthyosaurus fossils have been collected, mostly from Lower Jurassic rocks of Europe, as a result, this genus is the best known of all the Ichthyosaurs.

An Illustration of a Typical Ichthyosaur

An Ichthyosaur illustration.

An Ichthyosaur (courtesy of Robert Richardson).

Picture Credit: Robert Richardson

Not the Biggest Genus in the Ichthyosauria

Ichthyosaurus is so well known in the scientific community that the Order to which this genus belongs (Order Ichthyosauria), was named after Ichthyosaurus.  Most fossil examples of Ichthyosaurus show specimens of around two metres in length, this specimen was considerably larger, making it the largest Ichthyosaurus on record, although it would have been dwarfed by other members of the Ichthyosauria – giants such as Himalayasaurus and Shonisaurus that grew to lengths in excess of fifteen metres.

This fossil specimen was originally discovered on the Somerset coast, sometime in the mid 1990’s.  It remained unstudied until it ended up in the vertebrate fossil collection of the Lower Saxony State Museum.  Co-author of the scientific paper, published in “Acta Palaeontologica Polonica”, Sven Sachs (Bielefeld Natural History Museum, Germany), first examined the fossil in August 2016, whilst on a routine visit to Hannover.  He contacted Dean Lomax and the two scientists set about investigating just what the fossil actually represented.

The pair identified the fossil as an example of Ichthyosaurus somersetensis, a species that Dean and another colleague, Professor Judy Massare (Brockport College, New York), had named a year earlier.

Dean Lomax commented:

“It amazes me that specimens such as this [the biggest] can still be ‘rediscovered’ in museum collections.  You don’t necessarily have to go out in the field to make a new discovery.  This specimen provides new insights into the size range of the species, but also records only the third example of an Ichthyosaurus known with an embryo.  That’s special.”

Ichthyosaurus Embryo

The embryo is incomplete and preserves only a portion of the back bone (vertebrae), a forefin, ribs and a few other bones.  The preserved string of vertebrae is less than 7 centimetres in length.  The bones of the embryo are not fully ossified, indicating that the embryo was still developing, when it and its mother perished.

A Life Reconstruction of the Ichthyosaurus with Location of the Embryo

Life reconstruction of the Ichthyosaurus showing embryo location.

An illustration of the Ichthyosaurus showing the location of the embryo.

Picture Credit: Joschua Knüppe

A Close View of the Embryo Fossil Material in the Body Cavity

Ichthyosaurus embryo fossil material.

The black arrow indicates the position of the embryo fossil material.

Picture Credit: Manchester University

Not the Right Tail

Dean and his co-author Sven, also made another intriguing discovery.  The tail of this newly described specimen did not belong with the rest of the fossil skeleton.  The rear portion of another Ichthyosaur had been added, probably to make the exhibit more visually appealing.  As well as being an expectant mother this Ichthyosaurus turned out to be a chimera.

Sven added:

“It is often important to examine fossils with a very critical eye.  Sometimes, as in this instance, specimens aren’t exactly what they appear to be.  However, it was not ‘put together’ to represent a fake, but simply for a better display specimen.  But, if “fake” portions remain undetected then scientists can fall foul of this, which results in false information presented in the published record.”

To read about the discovery of I. larkini and I. somersetensisTwo New Species of British Ichthyosaurus Swim into View

Sven Sachs went onto state:

“Specimens like this provide palaeontologists with important information about when these animals lived.  Many examples of Ichthyosaurus are from historical collections and most do not have good geographical or geological records, but this specimen has it all.  It may help to date other Ichthyosaur fossils that currently have no information.”

Dean Lomax and Sven Sachs Examining the Specimen

Sven Sachs and Dean Lomax study the specimen.

Dean Lomax and Sven Sachs study the specimen.

Picture Credit: Manchester University

The scientific paper: “Lomax, D. R. and Sachs, S. 2017. On the largest Ichthyosaurus: A new specimen of Ichthyosaurus somersetensis containing an embryo published in Acta Palaeontologica Polonica.

23 08, 2017

New Long-Necked and Horned Stem Archosaur from India

By | August 23rd, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

The Weird and Wonderful Shringasaurus indicus

The Triassic had some very weird and wonderful animals.  Fantastic phytosaurs, the first pterosaurs, evolving and radiating members of the Dinosauria and joining this menagerie is the newly described Shringasaurus indicus, a large, herbivorous, horned plant-eater that superficially resembled a horned dinosaur.

An Illustration of the Newly Described Basal Archosaur S. indicus

The Triassic stem Archosaur Shringasaurus indicus.

An illustration of the newly described Triassic stem Archosaur Shringasaurus indicus.

Picture Credit: Conicet

A Pair of Large Supraorbital Horns

The most surprising feature of this reptile is the pair of large, forward pointing horns located on the top of the animal’s skull.  These horns resemble those of some Cretaceous Ceratopsian dinosaurs, famous beasties from the fossil record such as Triceratops, Torosaurus and Chasmosaurus.  The fossilised remains of Shringasaurus indicus were recovered from a red mudstone in the upper part of the Denwa Formation (north, central India).  At least seven individuals of different growth stages were excavated from an area of approximately twenty-five square metres.  Most of the specimens were disarticulated, with the exception of one partially articulated skeleton.  Back in the early Middle Triassic, when Shringasaurus roamed, India was located in the southern hemisphere, part of a super-continent called Pangaea.

The Horns of Shringasaurus are Similar to Those of a Horned Dinosaur

Shringasaurus skull material compared to a horned dinosaur.

Cranial anatomy of Shringasaurus indicus compared to a Ceratopsian.

Picture Credit: Scientific Reports

The picture above shows a line drawing (lateral view) of the skull of an adult S. indicus (a) compared to a lateral view of the skull of the Canadian, Chasmosaurine dinosaur Arrhinoceratops brachyops, (b) which was distantly related to Triceratops.  The line drawing (c) shows the skull of S. indicus in dorsal view, (looking down onto the skull).  Photographs d-g show dorsal views of several individuals at different growth stages.  To produce a complete dorsal view of the skull, missing fossils have been reconstructed by digitally mirroring their preserved counterpart.  As these reptiles grew, so the horns became larger and more prominent.  Photographs h-j show lateral views of the bony horns.  Specimens d to f and h-j possess horns and the two smallest specimens, representing the youngest individual (g and k) lack horns.

Scale bar = 4 cm for (a) and (c to k), the scale bar for the Ceratopsian skull is 20 cm (b)

Key

en = external naris

ho = horn

or = orbit

stf = supratemporal fenestra

The researchers conclude that these horns were probably used in intraspecific combats, perhaps over mates, or to decide the hierarchy of the herd.  This new study supports the idea of sexual selection pressure leading to the evolution of bizarre ornamentation within the Archosauria.

Commenting on the significance of this discovery, one of the authors of the scientific paper, Martín D. Ezcurra (CONICET–Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales, Buenos Aires, Argentina), stated:

“An animal like Shringasaurus is remarkable for its horns, a completely unexpected feature in this group of reptiles.  It shows that sexual selection led to the development of strange anatomical structures in the early evolutionary history of the Arcosauromorphs, a group that includes dinosaurs, crocodiles and birds.”

The Fossil Material Associated with Shringasaurus

Shringasaurus indicus fossil material.

Shringasaurus indicus fossils.

Picture Credit: Scientific Reports

The genus name is a combination of Greek and ancient Sanskrit, it means “horned reptile”.  This unusual reptile with its pair of horns has provided an insight to the diverse range of reptiles that occupied this part of Pangaea during the Anisian faunal stage of the Middle Triassic some 245 to 243 million years ago.

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