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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.

1 02, 2018

Rare Ichthyosaur Specimen Only the Second to be Described

By | February 1st, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Second Specimen of Wahlisaurus massarae to be Described

A rare 200 million-year-old specimen of a “fish lizard” has been discovered in a private collection twenty-two years after it was originally found.  The fossil is only the second example of Wahlisaurus massarae, a species of Ichthyosaur, to have been described.  The new species was established in 2016, by University of Manchester palaeontologist, Dean Lomax following his detailed assessment of a fossil specimen that had been found in Nottinghamshire many decades ago.

An Illustration of Wahlisaurus massarae

Wahlisaurus massarae illustrated

An illustration of the Ichthyosaur known as Wahlisaurus massarae.

Picture Credit: James McKay

To read Everything Dinosaur’s 2016 article on the discovery of W. massaraeNew Species of British Marine Reptile Surfaces

This second example of Wahlisaurus was originally found in 1996.  It has now been donated to the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, an institution that houses several examples of marine reptiles, including a specimen of Excalibosaurus, which, until the naming of Wahlisaurus two years ago had been the most recent species of Ichthyosaur from the British Isles to have been scientifically described.

Ichthyosaurs in the Limelight

The Ichthyosauria clade has been much in the news of late.  For example, earlier this month the discovery of a large Ichthyosaur fossil in the cliffs close to Lyme Regis in Dorset, was the subject of a BBC television documentary, narrated by Sir David Attenborough.

To read Everything Dinosaur’s article on “Attenborough and the Sea Dragon”: Attenborough and the Sea Dragon (BBC)

Dean Lomax named W. massarae in honour of two vertebrate palaeontologists who had spent much of their lives studying marine reptiles (Professor Judy Massare and Bill Wahl).

Dean commented:

“When Wahlisaurus was announced, I was a little nervous about what other palaeontologists would make of it, considering the new species was known only from a single specimen.  As a scientist you learn to question almost everything and be as critical as you can be.  My analysis suggested it was something new, but some palaeontologists questioned this and said it was just variation of an existing species.”

Clues in the Shape of the Coracoid Bone

In this new research, Dean teamed up with Dr Mark Evans, palaeontologist and curator at the New Walk Museum, Leicester, and fossil collector, Simon Carpenter from Somerset.  The study focused on a specimen Dean identified in Simon’s personal collection, which is an almost complete coracoid bone (part of the shoulder girdle, otherwise referred to as the pectoral girdle).  This bone had exactly the same unique features of the equivalent bone in the holotype of Wahlisaurus described in 2016.  Simon’s fossil specimen was originally collected twenty years ago, from a quarry in northern Somerset.  Once the specimen’s rarity was realised, Simon immediately donated it to Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

Dean Lomax, Simon Carpenter and Deborah Hutchinson with the Coracoid Specimen

Dean Lomax with Simon Carpenter and Deborah Hutchinson pose with the M. massarae coracoid.

Dean Lomax, (left), Simon Carpenter (centre) and Deborah Hutchinson from the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery (right) with the coracoid specimen.

Picture Credit: Manchester University

Dean added:

“You can only imagine my sheer excitement to find a specimen of Wahlisaurus in Simon’s collection.  It was such a wonderful moment.  When you have just one specimen, “variation” can be called upon, but when you double the number of specimens you have it gives even more credibility to your research.”

The new discovery is from a time known as the Triassic-Jurassic boundary, right after a world-wide mass extinction.  For these reasons, the team have been unable to determine exactly whether the Ichthyosaur was Late Triassic or Early Jurassic in age, although it is roughly 200 million-years-old.

A Better Understanding of the Skull Structure

As part of the research, Dr Evans cleaned the bones and removed additional rock from the first specimen.  This assisted in a detailed re-examination of the original skull, which led to the discovery of additional bones helping scientists to better understand the morphology of the skull of this British marine reptile.

Finding evidence to help confirm the validity of a genus within a private fossil collection helps to demonstrate the important contribution that can be made to science by dedicated and responsible fossil collectors.

The scientific paper: “An Ichthyosaur from the UK Triassic–Jurassic boundary: A second specimen of the Leptonectid Ichthyosaur Wahlisaurus massarae Lomax 2016” by Lomax, D. R., Evans, M. and Carpenter S., published in the Geological Journal.

31 01, 2018

Mansourasaurus shahinae the Rosetta Stone of the Dinosauria

By | January 31st, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Mansourasaurus shahinae the Rosetta Stone of the Dinosauria

The Rosetta Stone, with its three different languages carved into the rock, provided the breakthrough for archaeologists, enabling them to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphic writing.  A new dinosaur discovery, which just like the Rosetta Stone heralds from Egypt, is helping palaeontologists to decipher the relationship between Late Cretaceous African dinosaurs and their counterparts elsewhere in the world.  The dinosaur has been named Mansourasaurus shahinae and up until now, no reasonably complete dinosaur skeleton from Upper Cretaceous strata in continental Africa had ever been found.

An Illustration of the Newly Described Titanosaur Mansourasaurus shahinae

An illustration of the newly described dinosaur Mansourasaurus.

Mansourasaurus illustrated.  Note the bony scales (osteoderms on the body).

Picture Credit: Andrew Mcafee (Carnegie Museum of Natural History)

Helping to Characterise the Late Cretaceous Dinosaur Fauna of Africa

As Titanosaurs go, Mansourasaurus is not a ground-shaker in terms of its size, it was approximately ten metres in length and was perhaps as heavy as Africa’s largest land animal today, an African elephant (Loxodonta).  It was not fully grown (bones not entirely fused), but it would not have reached the size of leviathans such as Paralititan (P. stromeri), which roamed North Africa some fifteen million years earlier.  However, its discovery is seismic as it permits palaeontologists to better understand the evolution of Late Cretaceous African dinosaurs and their taxonomic relationship to other dinosaurs that lived elsewhere in the world during the last few million years of the Mesozoic.

The Fossilised Jawbone of M. shahinae Photographed at the Dig Site

Mansourasaurus jawbone fossil.

Mansourasaurus jawbone in situ.

Picture Credit: Mansoura University

Conflicting Theories – Conflicting Ideas

Very few Late Cretaceous African dinosaurs have been described.  Fossil finds from Upper Cretaceous strata in this part of the world are very rare, what fossils have been found are extremely fragmentary and don’t reveal much information about the sort of dinosaurs that these seldom found bones represent.  Did the dinosaurs living on the African continent in the Late Cretaceous evolve into a distinct biota or were they closely related to other types of dinosaur living on other landmasses?

In addition, if the Late Cretaceous African dinosaurs were closely related to other dinosaurs living elsewhere, were they more closely related to those dinosaurs known from South America, Europe, Asia or even Madagascar?

A remarkable fossil discovery from strata estimated to be around 80 million-years-old (Campanian faunal stage of the Late Cretaceous), will help scientists to answer some of these questions.  Just like the famous Rosetta Stone, these petrified dinosaur bones will help scientists to decipher, at least in part, the evolutionary relationships of African Titanosaurs.  Field work at the Dakhla Oasis of the Egyptian Sahara, led by Dr Hesham Sallam (Mansoura University), in 2013, led to the discovery of the partial remains of a Sauropod dinosaur, one that was identified as a member of the Titanosauria clade – a group of long-necked, herbivorous dinosaurs that were geographically widespread during the Cretaceous.  By studying these bones, palaeontologists were able to work out which other Titanosaurs were closely related to Mansourasaurus.  The phylogenetic assessment published along with the rest of the paper in the journal Nature, Ecology & Evolution, indicates that M. shahinae is related to Titanosaurs from southern Europe and eastern Asia.

A Reconstruction of the Skeleton of Mansourasaurus

Mansourasaurus shahinae skeleton reconstruction.

A skeletal reconstruction of the newly described Titanosaur Mansourasaurus shahinae.

Picture Credit: Andrew Mcafee (Carnegie Museum of Natural History)

The Dinosaurian  Palaeobiogeography of Gondwanan Landmasses

The fossils come from rocks that make up the Quseir Formation, these sediments were laid down in a warm, humid, tropical environment.  A low-lying, verdant floodplain that was criss-crossed by large rivers and numerous lakes.  The picture (above) reveals how much of the skeleton has been excavated since the initial fossil discovery around five years ago.  Fragments of the skull and the lower jawbone have been recovered along with cervical vertebrae (neck bones), ribs, elements from the front limbs and a portion of the hind foot.  Numerous bony scales are associated with these bones, this suggests that Mansaurasaurus, like many other Titanosaurs, was covered in osteoderms.

Members of the Field Team from Mansoura University Pose Next to the Jacketed Fossil Bones

Mansoura University field team members pose next to the plaster-jacketed remains of Mansourasaurus.

The all-Egyptian field team from Mansoura University (Egypt) pose with the plaster-jacketed remains of Mansourasaurus.

Picture Credit: Mansoura University

Piecing Together the Geographical and Faunal Links Between Late Cretaceous Africa and Other Landmasses

The discovery of Mansourasaurus will help scientists to piece together the geographical and biological links between the Late Cretaceous of Africa and other continents.  The fossil bones can be used just like the Rosetta Stone, to compare and contrast with known fossil finds and future titanosaurid fossil discoveries.  The research team conclude that as Mansourasaurus was closely related to Eurasian Titanosaurs, this indicates that these dinosaurs spread between Europe, Asia and north Africa after the tectonic separation of Africa from the landmass that was to form the continent of South America.  In essence, Mansourasaurus hints at a north African dinosaur assemblage that mirrors the sort of dinosaur fauna known from the Late Cretaceous of Europe and Asia.  The team’s findings support the idea that land bridges existed between Africa and other parts of the world, allowing this faunal interchange.  The theory that the African mainland was completely isolated in the latter years of the Cretaceous has been undermined.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur stated:

“This is a very significant fossil discovery.  It marks a new chapter in our understanding of the evolution and spread of Late Cretaceous Titanosaurs, it might even herald a new chapter in the history of vertebrate palaeontology in northern Africa, as we are confident that more dinosaur specimens are still out there in the Egyptian Western Desert awaiting discovery.”

The scientific paper: “New Egyptian Sauropod Reveals Late Cretaceous Dinosaur Dispersal between Europe and Africa” by Hesham M. Sallam, Eric Gorscak, Patrick M. O’Connor, Iman A. El-Dawoudi, Sanaa El-Sayed, Sara Saber, Mahmoud A. Kora, Joseph J. W. Sertich, Erik R. Seiffert & Matthew C. Lamanna published in the journal Nature, Ecology & Evolution.

23 01, 2018

Moroccan Authorities Investigate Mexican Dinosaur Auction

By | January 23rd, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Culture Ministry Investigates Sale of Atlasaurus Caudal Vertebrae

Moroccan authorities are investigating the sale of a dinosaur’s tail that was sold by the Mexican auction house Morton, to an anonymous buyer for around $97,000 USD ($1.8 million Mexican pesos).  The auction, which took place last Tuesday, was held in Mexico City.  It helped to raise funds for the reconstruction of schools damaged by earthquakes that occurred in Mexico during the autumn.  Any sum over the reserve price was to be donated to the earthquake relief fund.

The Dinosaur Tail (Atlasaurus imelakei) on Display Prior to the Auction

Atlasaurus Caudal Vertebrae (auction exhibit).

The Atlasaurus tail on display in the foyer of the BBVA Bancomer Tower (Mexico City).

Picture Credit: Reuters/Daniel Becerril

Atlasaurus imelakei

The four-metre long specimen, weighs around 180 kilograms and represents a partial tail of a Sauropod dinosaur from Morocco called Atlasaurus (A. imelakei).  Regarded as a member of the Macronarian group of Sauropods, Atlasaurus was distantly related to Brachiosaurus and Giraffatitan.  It lived in North Africa during the Middle Jurassic (Bathonian faunal stage) and it is known from numerous isolated bones and articulated specimens.  Atlasaurus had very long limbs, proportionately longer than most other members of the Sauropoda.   Its neck was relatively short compared to later Macronarians.  Palaeontologists have speculated that the proportionately longer legs evolved to help this herbivorous dinosaur reach food, that other plant-eating dinosaurs could not obtain.  The long legs of Atlasaurus are regarded as an example of an evolutionary adaptation to achieve niche partitioning within North African dinosaurs.

Culture Ministry Becomes Involved

The auction of the fossilised tail bones has come to the attention of the Moroccan Ministry of Culture, which has launched an investigation to find out the origin and provenance of the fossil material.  The fossil was sold as part of a specialist auction, managed by the Morton Auction House.  A percentage of the sale proceeds being reportedly donated to the Bancomer Foundation to help support reconstruction efforts in those parts of Mexico affected by the recent earthquakes.  Media reports suggest that around $21,500 USD ($400,000 Mexican pesos), was to be donated from the sale of the fossil.

The fossil very likely originated from the Azilal region of Morocco.  The specimen has been restored, around 70% of the material is actual fossil bone.  Steps are being taken to determine how the specimen ended up in the auction.  This is not the first time Moroccan authorities have intervened in a case like this.  In April 2017, a Late Cretaceous Plesiosaur fossil exhibit was removed from a Paris auction after an agreement was reached with the Binoche and Giquello auction company.

Specialist Auction Houses Do Sell Lots of Fossils

An auction organised by Morton Auction House.

Moroccan authorities investigate the sale of dinosaur fossils by the Morton Auction House.

Picture Credit: Brinkwire

Tracing the Tale of a Tail

Several sources have stated that the Atlasaurus tail bones were acquired by the Morton Auction House from the Petra Gallery, which specialises in the sale of fossils and minerals.  The acquisition by the Morton Auction House from the Petra Gallery has been confirmed by Morton’s Press and Public Relations representative Kristina Velfu.

Ernesto Durán, the director of the Petra Gallery has stated that the fossil was bought legally in the United States and both a receipt and legal import document are available to prove the purchase as legitimate.

In Mexico, the selling of fossils found within the country is illegal, as they are considered part of the country’s heritage.  However, the law in Mexico does not prohibit the sale of fossils found outside its borders.  The Atlasaurus specimen very probably originated in Morocco, the authorities are interesting in tracing how the fossil came to be in the United States, where it was excavated from and what documentation (if any), exists with regards to its movement out of the country.

We at Everything Dinosaur, will watch how this story unfolds.

16 01, 2018

A New Fast Running Ornithopod from Down Under

By | January 16th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Diluvicursor pickeringi – Turkey to Rhea-sized Herbivore from the Early Cretaceous

Analysis of the fossilised remains of a little Ornithopod have led to the establishment of a new species of dinosaur, one that roamed the Australian-Antarctic rift valley approximately 113 million years ago.  Described from an almost complete tail and a partial right hind limb including foot bones, the dinosaur has been named Diluvicursor pickeringi (pronounced di-loovy-cursor pickering-i).  The species name honours David Pickering, (formerly Museums Victoria’s Vertebrate Palaeontology Collections Manager), a scientist who played a key role in the study of Early Cretaceous vertebrate fossils from the Otway and Gippsland Basins of the Australian State of Victoria.  David sadly passed away following complications after a serious car accident whilst the fossil material was being prepared and studied.

An Illustration of a Pair of Diluvicursor pickeringi Feeding Near a Fast-flowing River

Diluvicursor pickeringi illustrated.

A pair of Diluvicursor dinosaurs feeding next to a fast running river in the Antarctica/Australia rift valley 113 million years ago.

Picture Credit: P. Trusler

A Fossil Discovery in 2005

The fossils of this dinosaur described as being about the size of a turkey or a rhea (estimated maximum total body length, including tail at around 2.3 metres), were found on five slabs of rock that form part of a deposit representing a log jam event created in a high-energy (fast-flowing) river.  Writing in the academic journal “Peer J”, the authors of the scientific paper state that this newly described herbivorous dinosaur will help to shed new light on the phylogenetic relationships and the diversity of Ornithopoda of the southern hemisphere.

Dr Matt Herne (University of Queensland) and the corresponding author for the paper explained the significance of the fossils, which were excavated from a sea platform near Cape Otway.

He stated:

“Diluvicursor shows for the first time that there were at least two distinct body-types among closely related Ornithopods , small, two-legged plant-eating dinosaurs in this part of Australia.  One called Leaellynasaura was lightly built with an extraordinarily long tail, while the other, Diluvicursor, was more solidly built, with a far shorter tail.”

The Holotype Fossil Material of Diluvicursor pickeringi

The holotype of Diluvicursor and a schematic drawing

The five blocks (B1 to B5) of the holotype fossil of Diluvicursor (NMV P221080) note scale bar 10 cm. A schematic diagram of the fossil material is shown below (scale bar 10 cm).

Picture Credit: Peer J

A Fast Running Dinosaur

Analysis of the leg bones suggest that Diluvicursor was a fast running dinosaur.  The corpse of this dinosaur, representing a juvenile animal, came to rest mixed up with other debris deposited by a fast-flowing river.  The genus name reflects these two conclusions, Diluvicursor translates as “flood runner”.

The Proposed Body Shape of Diluvicursor with the Known Fossil Bones in Skeletal Position

Diluvicursor illustration showing known bones (scale bar = 10 cm).

Diluvicursor schematic restoration in left lateral view, showing preserved bones (light shading) and incomplete caudal vertebrae (outlined).

Picture Credit: Peer J

Volunteer prospector George Caspar discovered the fossil material in 2005 whilst exploring a coastal shore platform which forms part of the Eumeralla Formation of south-eastern Australia.   It is likely the carcass became trapped and buried along with flood-transported tree stumps, logs and branches in deep scours at the base of what was once a powerful river.

Dr Herne added:

“The Diluvicursor skeleton was discovered in 2005, but it’s taken this long to fully understand the geology of the area where it was found, and also Diluvicursor’s relationships.  Much of the fossil vertebrate material from this site has yet to be described, so we hope to discover further dinosaur species, specimens and other exciting animals there.”

An Injured Foot

A close examination of the right foot of the Diluvicursor specimen suggest that this dinosaur may have injured its foot some time before it perished.  Some of the bones are not aligned correctly and although this could be as a result of taphonomy, preserved roughened bone surfaces, suggest some form of trauma or disease.  The scientists conclude that the affected joint in the foot could have been immobilised.  The researchers are hopeful that further examination including a scan of the foot using synchrotron radiation X-rays will produce more data.

The Pathology on the Right Foot of the Diluvicursor Specimen

Diluvicursor pathology of the right foot.

A close up view of the second toe. Dotted line in B indicates rugose bone on the proximal margin of pedal digit IV-1. Dashed arrows in A–B indicate areas of osteophytosis (bone spurs around the damaged joint).

Picture Credit: Peer J

There are plans to display the post cranial fossil material at Melbourne Museum and the aim is to build up a much more complete picture of the palaeoenvironment of this part of Gondwana during the Albian faunal stage of the Cretaceous.  Other scientists involved in this study include Dr Steven Salisbury, PhD student Jay Nair and Dr Vera Weisbecker (University of Queensland), along with colleagues from Monash University.

The scientific paper: “A New Small-bodied Ornithopod (Dinosauria, Ornithischia) from a Deep, High-energy Early Cretaceous River of the Australian–Antarctic Rift System” by Matthew C. Herne​, Alan M. Tait, Vera Weisbecker, Michael Hall, Jay P. Nair, Michael Cleeland and Steven W. Salisbury published in Peer J.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the help of the University of Queensland in the compilation of this article.

15 01, 2018

Rainbow Feathered Jurassic Dinosaur

By | January 15th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Caihong juji – A Very Flashy Dinosaur

A team of scientists, writing in the journal “Nature Communications”, have described a new species of feathered dinosaur from Jurassic-aged rocks in China.  The dinosaur has been named Caihong juji, which means “rainbow with the big crest” in Mandarin.  This duck-sized dinosaur sported a bony crest on the top of its snout and its neck feathers may have been iridescent, as brightly coloured as feathers seen on humming birds today.

An Illustration of the Newly Described Feathered Dinosaur Caihong juji

Caihong juji illustrated.

An illustration of the Jurassic feathered dinosaur Caihong juji.

Picture Credit: Velizar Simeonovski

Bird-like Dinosaur

Caihong has been assigned a basal position in the Deinonychosauria, a clade of Theropod dinosaurs that includes the dromaeosaurids and the troodontids and it roamed the forests of northern China some 161 million years ago (Oxfordian faunal stage of the Jurassic).  Although it was very bird-like, it was very different from its contemporary Anchiornis (A. huxleyi), as it lacked the bird-like triangular skull, however, it did possess proportionately long forearms.  C. juji had a long, narrow skull, superficially similar to the skulls of the much later Velociraptorinae.

The Fossilised Skull of the Newly Described Basal Deinonychosaur Caihong juji

Skull of the newly described Caihong juji (left lateral view).

The skull of the newly described Caihong juji.  White scale bar = 1 cm.

Picture Credit: Hu et al 

A Shaggy Ruff of Rainbow Feathers

Lead author of the study, Professor Dongyu Hu (Shenyang Normal University), in collaboration with scientists from the University of Ghent, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Geosciences (Beijing), subjected the fossil specimen to scanning electron microscope analysis to characterise 2,460 structures associated with the feathers.  Cross-sectional focused ion beam imaging revealed the presence of melanosomes, which are responsible for pigmentation and colouration.  When these fossil structures were compared to extant birds, the scientists were able to determine that Caihong had a shaggy ruff of iridescent, brightly-coloured feathers.

Platelet-like Nanostructures Indicate Iridescent Feathers (Caihong juji)

Nanostructures in Caihong juji compared to melanosomes in living birds.

Comparing melanosomes found in the fossil material to extant Aves.  All scale bars = 1,000 nm.

Picture Credit: Nature Communications/Chao P.C.

The scanning electron microscope images above show platelet-like nanostructures on the fossilised feathers of C. juji (a-d).  These structures are then compared with melanosomes found in living birds, (e) Anna’s humming bird (Calypte anna), (f) a white tailed starfrontlet (Coeligena phalerata), a black-tailed trainbearer (Lesbia victoriae) and a moustached treeswift (Hemiprocne mystacea), picture (h).

Commenting on the significance of the discovery, Professor Julia Clarke (University of Texas at Austin) stated:

“Iridescent colouration is well known to be linked to sexual selection and signalling and we report its earliest evidence in dinosaurs.  The dinosaur may have a cute nickname in English, Rainbow, but it has serious scientific implications.”

A Combination of Ancient and More Modern Features

The fossil material, consisting of a slab and its counter slab was discovered by a farmer in 2014 at Gangou, Qinglong, (northern Hebei Province).  The rocks in this area are associated with the Tiaojishan Formation and exposures are also found in the neighbouring province of Liaoning.  Numerous feathered Theropods have been found in the compressed volcanic ash layers and other sedimentary rocks associated with this region of northern China.  Caihong possessed a bony crest, a feature associated with earlier Theropods from the Triassic and the Early Jurassic, the crest may have played a role in display or perhaps helping to distinguish males from females.  The bony crest could have evolved as a result of sexual selection pressure.  This ancient Theropod feature contrasts with the identification of feathers with iridescence, this is the first time that such a feature has been identified in a non-avian dinosaur.

Caihong juji Fossil Material

Caihong juji holotype.

The crushed and flattened remains of Caihong juji (holotype specimen). The bones are coloured brown, whilst the feather impressions are black.

Picture Credit: Nature Communications

Asymmetrical Feathers

Caihong is also the earliest known dinosaur to have had asymmetrical feathers, similar in shape and structure to those feathers found on the wings of modern birds that help to control flight.  However, unlike extant birds, Caihong’s asymmetrical feathers were on its tail, not its short forelimbs, a discovery that suggests that early birds may have used their tails to help steer or to assist with lift.

Co-author of the research, Xing Xu (Chinese Academy of Sciences) explained:

“The tail feathers are asymmetrical but wing feathers are not, a bizarre feature previously unknown among dinosaurs including birds.  This suggests that controlling [flight] might have first evolved with tail feathers during some kind of aerial locomotion.”

Professor Clarke added:

“This combination of traits is unusual.  It has a rather Velociraptor-looking low and long skull with this fully feathered, shaggy kind of plumage and a big fan tail.  It is really cool… or maybe creepy looking depending on your perspective.”

An examination of the tail feathers associated with the 40 centimetre-long Caihong specimen suggests that the tail feathers would have provided a larger surface area than the famous Archaeopteryx, a Theropod capable of powered flight, that lived a few million years later.  A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur explained, that although Caihong could have been arboreal and it may have hopped from branch to branch, it was probably not volant (capable of powered flight).

Evidence of Mosaic Evolution

The combination of ancient and more modern anatomical traits in this basal Deinonychosaur is an example of mosaic evolution, whereby, several different traits evolve independently.  The team hope to continue their research in a bid to understand how Caihong juji fits into the story of the evolution of flight in the Dinosauria.

The scientific paper: “A Bony-crested Jurassic Dinosaur with Evidence of Iridescent Plumage Highlights Complexity in Early Paravian Evolution” by Dongyu Hu, Julia A. Clarke, Chad M. Eliason, Rui Qiu, Quanguo Li, Matthew D. Shawkey, Cuilin Zhao, Liliana D’Alba, Jinkai Jiang and Xing Xu published in the journal “Nature Communications.”

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a press release from the University of Texas at Austin in the compilation of this article.

13 01, 2018

Downsizing DNA Brings Success to Flowering Plants

By | January 13th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

Angiosperms Downsized Their Genomes

Recently, Everything Dinosaur published an article on the remarkable discovery of Lepidoptera wing scales in Upper Triassic/Early Jurassic drill cores from Germany.  This fossil evidence suggested that butterflies and moths were around some 200 million years ago.  This raised the question, what did the adult insects feed on?  Butterflies and moths are closely associated with feeding on the nectar produced by flowering plants (Angiosperms), this led to speculation that, as some scientists have already suggested, flowering plants evolved much earlier than previously thought.

A Water Lily in Flower (Angiosperm)

A water lily in flower.

From the time of the dinosaurs – a water lily, an Angiosperm (flowering plant).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Whenever the flowering plants (Angiosperms) evolved, they seem to have out-competed other types of plants such as Gymnosperms, Pteridosperms and the very ancient Lycopodiophyta, for example.  How did they do this?  After all, they are the most diverse of all the land plants with something like 300,000 species.  Scientists from San Francisco State University and Yale, writing in the academic journal PLoS – Biology, propose that a downsizing in the plant’s genome is the key to their success.

Thinking Smaller

Current thinking is that the Angiosperms, radiated and diversified very rapidly, becoming the dominant terrestrial vegetation by the Late Cretaceous.  Flowering plants took over the world, leading to the astonishing variety of plants we find today.  The scientists conclude that at a critical point in the evolution of the Angiosperms, they downsized their genomes.  Flowering plants reduced the amount of DNA held within the nucleus of each cell, this permitted these plants to make smaller cells and to build leaves with more sophisticated and complicated structures, of great assistance when it comes to improving the efficiency of photosynthesis, along with the use of energy and the management of each cell body.  This reduction in the genome, is likely to have given Angiosperms a competitive advantage over other types of plants.

Co-author of the study, Assistant Professor of Biology (San Francisco State University), Kevin Simonin explained:

“Flowering plants are the most important group of plants on Earth, and now we finally know why they’ve been so successful.”

The Rise of Flowers Puzzles Darwin

Prior to the evolution of the Angiosperms, terrestrial vegetation was dominated by ferns, horsetails, clubmosses, cycads and their relatives along with conifers.  Flowering plants took over and make up more than 90 percent of all the land plant species around today.  Even Charles Darwin was perplexed by the success of the Angiosperms and scientists ever since have been offering potential reasons for it, ranging from the influence of pollinators (such as those ancient butterflies and moths referred to earlier), to a reshuffling of genes.  What has been missing is an explanation of just how flowering plants became so successful in the first place.

Flowering Plants in the Cretaceous

Artwork illustrates new book on fossil insects.

A mayfly rests on a primitive flowering plant – a Cretaceous scene.

Picture Credit: Richard Bizley

Working in collaboration with Adam Roddy (Yale University), Assistant Professor Simonin, undertook a review of the current literature and demonstrated that flowering plants went through a dramatic genome downsizing as they evolved.  In comparison, the genomes of other plants, competing with flowers remain relatively unchanged.  Smaller genomes means the option to make smaller cells, with those smaller building blocks, the team showed, flowering plants can construct more complicated networks of veins to keep their cells hydrated and more pores (stomata) in their leaves to draw in the carbon dioxide they need to make food.  More stomata, permitted more efficient gaseous exchange, both oxygen and CO2.

Finer Genomes Make Finer Flowers

The researchers mapped the genome downsizing patterns they had identified and applied a phylogenetic assessment to their data.  They discovered that flowering plants began to downsize their genomes at around the time they were beginning to dominate terrestrial flora.  According to this study, having a greater variety of cellular building blocks apparently gave flowering plants an edge over conifers and other types of plant.  It is not only the flowering plants that have benefited, pollinators have also become more successful and much of the food that we consume and that we feed to domestic animals comes from Angiosperms.

The idea to investigate the size of the genome of flowering plants, came indirectly from one of Assistant Professor Simonin’s students.  During a lecture, the student enquired whether whales had big genomes?  Simonin began to think more about the size of cellular genetic material and its impact on plant physiology.

An Illustration of Prehistoric Flowers – Archaefructus

Archaefructus prehistoric flowers.

Prehistoric Flowers (Archaefructus).

Picture Credit: Associated Press

He explained:

“It sent me down this whole path of genome-size research.  It reinvented the research in my lab in many ways.”

On-going Research

Research is continuing in this field of botany.  San Francisco State University scientists in conjunction with colleagues from other academic bodies are currently exploring some groups of flowering plants that don’t seem to have reduced their genomes.  In certain environments, perhaps where photosynthesis is more difficult, there might not be a competitive advantage to be gained.  There might be no evolutionary pressure for plants to create smaller cells.  This new study, has shed some much needed light on a puzzle that Charles Darwin referred to as “an abominable mystery”

To read about the research into Late Triassic/Early Jurassic Lepidoptera: Ancient Butterflies Flutter By

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the help of the San Francisco State University in the compilation of this article.

11 01, 2018

Ancient Butterflies, Flutter By

By | January 11th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Fossilised Wing Scales Provide Evidence of Triassic Moths and Butterflies

Butterflies and moths might be regarded as delicate creatures, what with the diaphanous wings and light-weight bodies, but a new study published in the journal “Science Advances” suggests that the Lepidoptera have been around for many millions of years longer than previously thought.  The new fossil discoveries, made by an international team of scientists led by Timo van Eldijk and Bas van de Schootbrugge (Utrecht University), have also challenged the presumed co-evolution between flowering plants (Angiosperms) and pollinating insects.

Fossil Evidence for Ancient Moths and Butterflies

Fossil scales of moths and butterflies.

Fossil scales of moths and butterflies as found in the drill cores from Schandelah, Lower Saxony (Germany).

Picture Credit: University of Utrecht

A core drilled into sediments in Schandelah, Lower Saxony (northern Germany), revealed microscopic wing scales some 70 million years older than the oldest, confirmed fossils of flowering plants.  The team’s findings suggest that wing and body scales found in rocks some 201 million years old, provide evidence that the Lepidoptera survived the end-Triassic mass extinction event.  Indeed, like the Dinosauria, moths and butterflies may have benefited from the extinction event, being able to exploit environmental niches vacated by extinct species.

Drilling into Ancient Rocks Triassic/Jurassic Strata

Drill cores reveal evidence of prehistoric moths and butterflies.

Drilling to produce the cores (northern Germany).

Picture Credit: University of Utrecht/Dr Bas van de Schootbrugge

Commenting on the significance of the core drill study, Utrecht University student Timo van Eldijk explained:

“The mass extinction event occurred at the end of the Triassic and was associated with massive volcanism as the super continent Pangaea started to break apart.  As a result, biodiversity on land and in the oceans suffered a setback with many key Triassic species going extinct, including many primitive reptiles.  However, one major group of insects, the Lepidoptera, moths and butterflies, appeared unaffected.  Instead, this group diversified during a period of ecological turnover.”

The Moth and Butterfly “Tongue”

Extant butterflies and moths have a well-known association with flowering plants.  As they feed on the nectar with their long proboscis (an elongated, sucking mouthpart), they pick up pollen and therefore play an important role in Angiosperm reproduction.

Dr Bas van de Schootbrugge (Department of Earth Sciences, Utrecht University) stated:

“The fossil remains contain distinctive hollow scales and provide clear evidence for a group of moths with sucking mouthparts, which is related to the vast majority of living moths and butterflies.”

A Scanning Electron Microscope Image of the Wing Scales on an Extant Moth Species

A scanning electron microscope image of Glossata wing scales.

A scanning electron microscope image showing the wing scales on a modern-day Glossata moth.

Picture Credit: University of Utrecht

What Did the Triassic Lepidoptera Feed On?

If there were moths and butterflies about some 201 million years ago, some 70 million years before the first flowering plants, then what were the adult animal’s feeding on?  The researchers conclude that the first Lepidopterans were feeding on non-flowering seed plants (Gymnosperms), one of the most successful plant groups of the early Mesozoic.  The earliest proboscid moths (Glossata), likely used their long, sucking mouthparts to feast on the sugary pollination beads secreted by several groups of Gymnosperms.

There is another tantalising and very controversial aspect that is worth considering.  What if the flowering plants evolved much earlier than previously thought?

In 2013, Everything Dinosaur published an article providing information on some intriguing research that suggested flowering plants originated more than 240 million years ago, in the Early Triassic.  If flowering plants were around over 100 million years earlier than previously thought than a symbiotic relationship between early Lepidoptera and early Angiosperms could have already been in place.

To read the article about evidence for Lower Triassic flowering plant fossils: Saying it with Flowers 100 Million Years Before Anyone Expected

On the basis of the fossilised wing and body scales recovered from Upper Triassic and Lower Jurassic sediments, the scientists have provided the earliest evidence to date for moths and butterflies.  The diversity of the scales found confirm a Late Triassic radiation of lepidopteran forms, including the divergence of the Glossata, a clade that consists of the living butterflies and moths with a sucking proboscis.   The team conclude that the early evolution of the Lepidoptera was probably not severely interrupted by the end-Triassic mass extinction event.

Providing an Insight into Today’s Climate Change

MSc student Timo Van Eldijk stated:

“This evidence has transformed our understanding of the evolutionary history of moths and butterflies as well as their resilience to extinction.  By studying how insects and their evolution was affected by dramatic greenhouse warming at the start of the Jurassic, we hope to provide insight into how insects might respond to the human-induced climate change challenges we face today.”

An Example of an Extant Member of the Glossata Clade

A living member of the Glossata clade.

An extant Glossata moth with similar wing scales to those found in the Upper Triassic/Lower Jurassic drill cores.

Picture Credit: Hossein Rajaei/Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde Stuttgart (Stuttgart, Germany)

The scientific paper: “A Triassic-Jurassic Window into the Evolution of Lepidoptera” by Timo van Eldijk, Torsten Wappler, Paul Strother, Carolien van der Weijst, Hossein Rajaei, Henk Visscher and Bas van de Schootbrugge, published in the journal “Science Advances”.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a press release from the University of Utrecht in the compilation of this article.

9 01, 2018

On the Trail of Megalodon Ancestors

By | January 9th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Scientists in Alabama Solve Forty-Year Shark Puzzle

A team of scientists from the University of Alabama and the McWane Science Centre (Birmingham, Alabama), have solved a four-decade-long prehistoric shark mystery, naming a new species of Late Cretaceous marine predator, one that might possibly have been an ancestor of the mighty Megalodon (Carcharocles megalodon), the largest carnivorous shark known to science.  The new species of shark has been named Cretalamna bryanti, the species name honours the Bryant family, committed supporters of the University of Alabama, the McWane Science Centre and the Alabama Museum of Natural History, institutions that have all been directly involved in the study and subsequent paper publication in the academic journal PeerJ.

Views of the Holotype Tooth Helping to Define a New Species

Cretalamna fossil tooth.

Views of one of the fossil shark teeth helping to define a new Cretaceous shark species.

Picture Credit: PeerJ

The picture shows the holotype fossil tooth (MSC 2984.1) in two views (A) labial view – a view of the tooth showing the side which would have faced the lips (if the fish had them), the side of the tooth facing the outside of the mouth and (B), mesial view, (directed to the middle of the body).  The scientists were able to establish a new species of a Cretalamna shark based on precise measurements of the features of the teeth within the study.

Key

(CH) = crown height.

(CT) = crown thickness.

(CW) = main cusp width.

(TH) = total height.

(TW) = total width

Thirty-Three Teeth Collected

The shark has been described based on thirty-three teeth collected from four locations within Alabama over the best part of forty years.  The teeth all between two and two and three-quarters centimetres high, represent a shark known as an otodontid or “mega-tooth” shark.  As the skeletons of sharks are made from cartilage, they rarely fossilise but their teeth do survive the fossilisation process and as an individual shark may have hundreds or even thousands of teeth in its life, shark tooth fossils are relatively common.

Previously, the teeth had been assigned to the Cretalamna species C. appendiculatai, but these teeth are mostly associated with much older Cretaceous deposits found in Europe.  The Alabama shark teeth were collected from rocks representing two geological formations, the Tombigbee Sand Member and the slightly younger Lower Mooreville Chalk.  The fossils have been dated to 84 million to 82 million years ago, a time when this part of south-eastern America was covered by a shallow sea known as the Late Cretaceous Mississippi Embayment (part of the Western Interior Seaway).

Some of the Individual Teeth Examined in the Study

Cretalamna bryanti shark fossil teeth.

Cretalamna bryanti fossil teeth.

Picture Credit: PeerJ

Explaining the postulated ancestry of the Megalodon sharks, lead author of the research Jun Ebersole (McWane Science Centre), stated:

“Over time, the sharks in the Megalodon line acquire [tooth] serrations, lose their cusplets (the little “fangs” on the sides of the main cusp) and grow to enormous sizes.   The newly described shark is an early member of this family, so its teeth are small and unserrated, with up to two pairs of cusplets.”

The establishment of this new species adds to the database regarding megafauna and hypercarnivores within the Western Interior Seaway.   This new otodontid would have co-existed with other large predatory sharks, along with elasmosaurids, huge meat-eating fish and members of the Mosasauridae.  Such was the number of large carnivores, that the Western Interior Seaway has been nicknamed “Hell’s Aquarium”!

Marine Life in the Western Interior Seaway (Late Cretaceous North America)

Western Interior Seaway.

Typical Western Interior Seaway marine life.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

2 01, 2018

Palaeontology Predictions for 2017 – How did we do?

By | January 2nd, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page|0 Comments

Palaeontology Predictions for 2017 – How did we do?

Back in early January 2017, Everything Dinosaur team members had a go at predicting the news stories that our blog site would cover in the next twelve months or so.  After our crystal ball gazing we made a total of seven predictions:

1).  A New Epoch – Arise the Anthropocene!

2).  More Mini Dinos – The “Microsaurs” are Coming!

3).  “Enormosaurus” to Get a Formal Scientific Name

4).  The Impact of the Dinosaurs of China Exhibition in the UK

5).  Everything Dinosaur’s New Website

6).  Fossil Sites and Vandalism

7).  Dinosaur Fossilised Eggs Discovery

Arise the Anthropocene!

The impact of our own species on the planet was never far from the news channels last year, a trend that will be continued long into the future.  In the early 2017 blog article, we specifically highlighted the problem of non-biodegradable plastics and their impact on the ecology of the ocean.  This huge problem was brought into sharp focus with the excellent “Blue Planet II” television series broadcast by the BBC.

The Impact of Plastics in our Oceans was Highlighted in Early 2017 by Everything Dinosaur

Plastic pollution, the impact of mankind on the environment

Non-biodegradable plastics and other debris on a beach.

As yet, the Anthropocene has not been formally adopted as a distinct unit of geological time.  The body tasked with defining the start of this new Epoch and also defining the end of the current Epoch (the Holocene), the Anthropocene Working Group, has not reported back to the International Commission on Stratigraphy.  The idea to mark the impact on the environment by our own species, with the establishment of a new unit of geological time has been accepted, it is now a case of agreeing when in history our influence started to become profound.

Mini Dinosaur Discoveries

With the Dinosauria, it is often the big fossil specimens that grab the headlines. Everything Dinosaur predicted that a number of new species of small Theropod dinosaur would be named and described.  Sure enough, a number of “little critters” had scientific papers written about them, for example, in March, scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences announced the discovery of a new species of Early Cretaceous dromaeosaurid.  Zhongjianosaurus yangi was about eighty centimetres long (most of that was tail), it has been described as “Microraptor on stilts”.

Newly Described Chinese Dinosaur Z. yangi

The holotype fossil material of Zhongjianosaurus yangi.

The holotype of Zhongjianosaurus yangi.   A new “Microsaur” described in 2017.

Picture Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

“Enormosaurus” Gets Formal Scientific Name

The huge Titanosaur dubbed “Enormosaurus”, which had been featured in the television documentary “Attenborough and the Giant Dinosaur” was finally named and described, just as we predicted.  A scientific paper published in the “Proceedings of the Royal Society B (Biology)” in August announced Patagotitan mayorum to the world.  Attenborough’s giant, sixty-nine tonne dinosaur finally had a scientific name.

An Illustration Showing the Size of Patagotitan mayorum

Patagotitan size comparison.

Patagotitan mayorum size comparison with an adult African elephant and a human for scale.

Picture Credit: G. Lio/Everything Dinosaur

To read the article about the naming of P. mayorumGiant Dinosaur Gets a Name

The Dinosaurs of China Exhibition Proves to be a Big Hit

In the summer and autumn of 2017, visitors to Nottingham were given the opportunity to view some amazing Chinese dinosaur fossils close up.  The “Ground Shakers to Feathered Flyers” exhibition show-cased some of the astonishing dinosaurs from north-eastern China that demonstrate the evolutionary link between Theropod dinosaurs and birds.  As we predicted, the exhibition proved to be a big commercial success with hundreds of thousands of visitors “flocking” to the East Midlands.

A Huge Gigantoraptor Towers Over the Exhibition

Dinosaurs of China 2017.

Giant dinosaurs featured in the exhibition.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Everything Dinosaur is already working on a number of dinosaur, monster and prehistoric animal themed events for 2018…

The New Everything Dinosaur Website

Just as we said, our new website went live in the early Spring of 2018.  It is mobile device friendly, has lots more interactivity and permits us to make purchasing dinosaur toys and models so much easier than ever before.  Tens of thousands of orders processed and FEEFO 5-star ratings across the board provide testimony with regards to the site’s success.

Visit Everything Dinosaur: Everything Dinosaur

Fossil Sites and Vandalism

Sadly, our prediction about more deliberate damage to fossil sites came true, all too frequently.  Over the course of the last twelve months we have reported upon the apprehension of a Chinese dinosaur egg fossil thief (March 2017) and last month, we reported the sad news that a three-toed dinosaur foot print fossil in Australia had been deliberately vandalised.

To read the story: Dinosaur Footprint Vandalised

Dinosaur Fossil Eggs

For such a geographically widespread group, with a huge temporal range, dinosaur eggs are relatively rare.  However, our last prediction concerned the discovery of dinosaur fossil eggs and sure enough, on December 25th (blogged about on December 27th), we picked up reports that Chinese construction workers had discovered more than twenty dinosaur egg fossils during the construction of a school in Jiangxi Province (south-eastern China).

Dinosaur Egg Fossil Discovery

Chinese dinosaur egg fossils.

Local scientists examine the dinosaur egg fossils.

Picture Credit: Ming Kangping/China News Service

We wonder what amazing dinosaur news stories and fossil discoveries we will cover in this blog over the next twelve months or so…

31 12, 2017

Gigantism in Penguins

By | December 31st, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Giant Prehistoric Penguins Not Just Once But Several Times

A team of scientists writing in the academic journal “Nature Communications” have identified a new species of giant, prehistoric penguin.  This new species, named Kumimanu biceae is not closely related to previously described giant penguins and this suggests that gigantism in penguins evolved several times in the evolution of these birds.  K. biceae was described based on a partial skeleton excavated from the Palaeocene Moeraki Formation at Hampden Beach in the Otago region in New Zealand’s South Island.  An accurate size is difficult to establish based on the fragmentary fossil remains, but when swimming with its long beak and flippers extended, this bird could have measured more than two metres in length.  When on the shore, it would have stood around 1.7 metres tall.   The new fossil is one of the oldest giant penguins found so far and is clearly outside a clade including the giant Eocene and Oligocene Sphenisciformes, substantiating multiple origins of gigantism in fossil penguins.

Kumimanu biceae Size Comparison

Kumimanu biceae size comparison.

Kumimanu biceae stood around 1.7 metres tall and weighed over 100 kilos.

Fragmentary Fossil Material

The partial skeleton represents a single individual and the fossil material consists of a fragment of a left scapula, an incomplete right coracoid, a portion of the sternum, a partial left humerus, incomplete proximal end of left ulna, a right femur, a right tibiotarsus lacking proximal end, a partial synsacrum, three vertebrae and various bone fragments. The giant penguin’s name comes from Maori myth, kumi was a large, mythical monster and manu means bird.  The species or trivial epithet honours Beatrice (Bice) A. Tennyson, the mother of one of the paper’s authors, Alan Tennyson of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.  It was Alan’s mother who first inspired  him to take an interest in natural history.  The fossil material is believed to be somewhere between 59.5 and 55.5 million years old.

Comparing Kumimanu biceae with other penguins.

Kumimanu biceae fossils compared to other penguins.

Picture Credit: Nature Communications

The picture above shows the wing and pectoral girdle bones of the new giant penguin.  (a) shows the partially prepared concretion with bones in situ, whilst (b) shows the partial right coracoid, the dotted lines indicate the reconstructed outline of the bone.  The left coracoid of the prehistoric penguin species Waimanu tuatahi (c) is shown for a size comparison.  Pictures (d-f) show the fragmentary end of the left ulna of K. biceae in various views, whilst pictures (g-h) depict a left ulna of an as yet, undescribed new species of penguin from the Waipara Greensand.  A CT image of the surface of the partial left humerus of K. biceae is shown in (i) whilst (j) shows the exposed surface of the bone.  Pictures (k-l) show the humerus with minimum (k) and maximum (l) size estimates for the bone based on the partial fossil material.  The left humerus of the Palaeocene penguin Crossvallia unienwillia is shown (m).  C. unienwillia was one of the largest known prehistoric penguins.  The left humerus of another giant penguin, Pachydyptes ponderous from the late Eocene of New Zealand (n) is provided for further comparison.  The scale bars in the picture above equate to 5 cm.

The research team conclude that based on the fragmentary fossils, Kumimanu biceae is amongst the largest of the fossil penguins reported so far and since it seems more basal to the family than other giant forms, this suggests that gigantism evolved several times over the long history of penguin evolution.

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