All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
/Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories

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

9 03, 2017

Neanderthals and Aspirin

By | March 9th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

A Reappraisal of our Closest Cousin

The Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalensis) is our closest relative on the hominin family tree.  As our own genome has become better understood, geneticists and anthropologists have been able to appreciate just how closely related we are to Neanderthals.  However, since the first description of the Neanderthal (based on fossil remains from the Neander Valley in Germany), back in 1863, H. neanderthalensis has had quite a bad press.  For most of the last 150 years or so, since we have known about this hominin species, the Neanderthals have been depicted as dim-witted, brutal ape-men.  We now live in more enlightened times, our perception of the Neanderthal has changed.  There is considerable evidence to indicate that this species of human, one that died out around 28,000 years ago, just a blink in geological time, was smart, strong and had a sophisticated culture.

Many 20th Century Artists Depicted Neanderthals as “Ape-men”

Ancient hominins by Zdenek Burian.

Neanderthals depicted a quite primitive “ape-men”.

Picture Credit: Zdenek Burian

Neanderthals May Have Used Plants as Medicine

In a new study, published this week in the journal “Nature”, researchers from the University of Liverpool in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Adelaide’s Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD) and Dental School suggest that Neanderthals may have had quite a remarkable knowledge of medicine, even using penicillin, some 40,000 years before Sir Alexander Fleming.  An analysis of ancient DNA found in the dental plaque of Neanderthals has provided further evidence that this species of hominin was intelligent and resourceful, using plant-based medicines and moulds to treat a variety of complaints.

The research also reveals dietary differences between different Neanderthal populations.

Commenting on the study, lead author Dr Laura Weyrich (ACAD) stated:

“Dental plaque traps micro-organisms that lived in the mouth and pathogens found in the respiratory and gastrointestinal tract, as well as bits of food stuck in the teeth, preserving the DNA for thousands of years.  Genetic analysis of that DNA ‘locked-up’ in plaque, represents a unique window into Neanderthal lifestyle, revealing new details of what they ate, what their health was like and how the environment impacted their behaviour.”

Partial Neanderthal Skull Showing Jaw Bones

Neanderthals were smarter than we thought.

DNA from ancient dental plaque provides new insights into the Neanderthals.

Picture Credit: University of Liverpool

The scientists analysed and evaluated dental plaque samples from four Neanderthals found at the cave sites of Spy (Belgium) and El Sidrón (Spain).  The four samples range in date from 50,000 years ago to 42,000 years ago approximately.  The samples represent the oldest dental plaque to be genetically analysed.

The Spy Cave Neanderthals were found to have a largely carnivorous diet, consuming Coelodonta (Woolly Rhinoceros), wild sheep and foraged mushrooms.  In contrast, the Neanderthals from the El Sidrón Cave site, showed no evidence of meat consumption, appearing to have had a largely vegetarian diet, consisting of moss, tree bark, mushrooms and pine nuts.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“Based on this dietary information, it can be assumed that these two groups of Neanderthals had very different lifestyles.  One group seem to have been active hunters, trapping, ambushing and killing animals, whilst the other group seem to have been foragers within a forest environment.  The dental plaque analysis leads to the inference that different groups of Neanderthals had different behaviours and ultimately, different strategies for survival.”

Surprising Self-Medication

Evidence for self-medication was detected in an El Sidrón Neanderthal with a dental abscess (identified from scarring left on the jaw), this individual (most likely a male), also suffered from a chronic gastrointestinal pathogen (Enterocytozoon bieneusi).  He would have been suffering from a severe bought of diarrhoea.  The intestinal parasite was identified through studying DNA in the ancient dental plaque.  However, further analysis revealed that he had been chewing the bark of the Poplar tree, which contains the natural pain killer salicylic acid (the active ingredient in modern aspirin).  The scientists could also detect a natural antibiotic mould (Penicillium) not found in the other Neanderthals examined within this study.

From this, the team concluded that Neanderthals may have possessed a substantial knowledge of medicinal plants and their various anti-inflammatory and pain-reliving properties.

One of the researchers stated:

“Our findings contrast markedly with the rather simplistic view of our ancient relatives in popular imagination.”

The El Sidrón Neanderthal provided another intriguing insight into our Neanderthal evolutionary relationship.  It seems that we shared several disease-causing microbes, including the bacteria that cause gum disease and dental caries.  The scientists were able to identify the oldest microbial genome yet sequenced, a gum rotting bacteria called Methanobrevibacter oralis.  The microbial genome is estimated to be around 48,000 years old.

The researchers also noted how rapidly the oral microbial community has altered in recent history.  The composition of the oral bacterial population in Neanderthals and both ancient and modern humans correlated closely with the amount of meat consumed in the diet, with the Spanish Neanderthals grouping more closely with chimpanzees and our forager ancestors in Africa.  The Belgian Neanderthal bacteria, in contrast, were similar to early hunter gatherers, and quite close to modern humans and early farmers.

Dental plaque and its microbial treasures are providing an extraordinary window on the past, giving geneticists and anthropologists new ways to explore and understand our evolutionary history through the micro-organisms that lived in us.

8 03, 2017

Unravelling a Fishy Tale

By | March 8th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|1 Comment

Reassessment of Ichthyosaur Material Solves Century Old Mystery

Ichthyosaurs were a very successful group of marine reptiles. They originated during the Triassic and thrived in the seas of the Mesozoic and had a global distribution, but towards the end of the Cretaceous, these dolphin-shaped animals, that seemed so perfectly adapted to their environment, became extinct.  They were the first, large extinct reptiles brought to the attention of the scientific world.  It is difficult to avoid mention of the Ichthyosaurs when looking at information that outlines the history of palaeontology, however, despite first having been described nearly 200 years ago, (1821), there is still a lot we don’t know about these iconic “fish lizards”.

The Iconic Ichthyosaurus

An Ichthyosaur illustration.

An Ichthyosaur (courtesy of Robert Richardson).

Picture Credit: Robert Richardson

The Long History of Ichthyosaur Research

It is the long history of scientific study and research into the Ichthyosaurs that has proved to be a bit of a headache for today’s palaeontologists.   Dean Lomax, a palaeontologist and Honorary Scientist at The University of Manchester, working with Professor Judy Massare of Brockport College, New York, have studied thousands of Ichthyosaur specimens and have delved through hundreds of years of records to solve an ancient mystery, a mystery that dates back to the early 1820’2, when the English geologist William Conybeare, described the first species of Ichthyosaurus.

Many Ichthyosaur fossils were found in England during the early 19th century, but it was not until 1821 that the first Ichthyosaur species was described called Ichthyosaurus communis.  This species has become one of the most well-known and iconic of all the British fossil reptiles, after all, an Ichthyosaurus even featured on a set of specially commissioned Royal Mail stamps to celebrate 150 years of British palaeontology!

To read article about the Royal Mail commemorative stamps: Royal Mail Issues New Prehistoric Animal Stamps

In 1822, three other species of Ichthyosaurus were described, based on differences in the shape and structure of their teeth.  Two of the species were later re-identified as other types of Ichthyosaur, whereas one of these species, called Ichthyosaurus intermedius, was still considered closely related to I. communis.

In the years that followed, many eminent scientists, including Sir Richard Owen (the man who coined the word dinosaur), studied “fish lizard” fossils collected from Dorset, Somerset, Yorkshire and other locations in England.  Their studies and observations of Ichthyosaurus communis and I. intermedius resulted in confusion with the species, with many skeletons identified on unreliable grounds.

Commenting on this palaeontological puzzle, Dean Lomax stated:

“The early accounts of Ichthyosaurs were based on very scrappy, often isolated, remains.  This resulted in a very poor understanding of the differences between species and thus how to identify them.  To complicate matters further, the original specimen of Ichthyosaurus communis is lost and was never illustrated.  Similarly, the original specimen of I. intermedius is also lost, but an illustration does exist.  This has caused a big headache for palaeontologists trying to understand the differences between the species.”

Hunting for Clues to Help Solve a “Fish Lizard” Mystery

Dean Lomax and Judy Massare examining Ichthyosaur specimens.

Dean Lomax and Judy Massare examining Ichthyosaur specimens in the marine reptile gallery at the Natural History Museum (London).

Picture Credit: Dean Lomax

In the mid-1970’s, palaeontologist, Dr Chris McGowan was the first to suggest that Ichthyosaurus communis and I. intermedius may represent the same species.  He could not find reliable evidence to separate the two species.  Subsequent studies argued for and against the separation of the species.

In this new research, Dean and Judy have reviewed all of the research for and against the separation of the two species.  This is the most extensive scientific study ever published comparing the two Jurassic-aged marine reptiles.   The pair of scientists have confirmed that the species are the same and that features of Ichthyosaurus intermedius can be found in other Ichthyosaur species, including I. communis.

It seems that the fossil material ascribed to the species Ichthyosaurus intermedius lack any autapomorphies – distinctive features or derived characteristics and traits that are unique to that taxon.

Thanks to the efforts of these two researchers, a fishy tale that is over a hundred years may have been resolved.

In recent years, the duo have described three new species and have provided a reassessment of historical species.  Their work has provided a far superior understanding of the species than has ever been produced.

The research has been published in Journal of Systematic Palaeontology: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14772019.2017.1291116.

4 03, 2017

Woolly Mammoth Genome Meltdown

By | March 4th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Mammoth Mutational Meltdown As Species Headed for Extinction

Woolly Mammoths experienced a mutational meltdown in their genome prior to their extinction according to a study published this week by researchers at the University of California (Berkeley).  The Woolly Mammoth genome has been mapped (2015), scientists have been able to make comparisons between the extinct species (Mammuthus primigenius) and its closest living relative, the Indian Elephant (Elephas maximus).  A great deal of information has been gained from these genetic studies, but the mystery of why this animal which roamed across Europe, Siberia, North America and the land mass which once joined Asia to the Americas (Beringia), died out remains.  In this new research, scientists from the University of California (Berkeley) compared the genetic makeup of one of the last surviving mammoths, with the genome of a mammoth that had lived when these iconic creatures of the Pleistocene were still thriving.

Study into the Last Population of Woolly Mammoths Reveals Genetic Defects

Woolly Mammoths.

DNA clues as to why the last Mammoths became extinct.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To read an article on the mapping of the Woolly Mammoth genome: Woolly Mammoth Genome is Sequenced

Comparing the Genome of a Mammoth from 45,000 Years Ago to One of the Last Mammoths

The comparison gave researchers the rare opportunity to see what happens to the genome as a population dwindles, the conclusions drawn support existing theories of genome deterioration stemming from small population sizes.  The study also provides a stark warning to conservationists and environmentalists.  Preserving a small group of isolated animals is not sufficient to stop negative effects of inbreeding and genomic meltdown.

Corresponding author, Rebekah Rogers, who led the work as a postdoctoral scholar at Berkeley and is now an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina stated:

“There is a long history of theoretical work about how genomes might change in small populations.  Here we got a rare chance to look at snapshots of genomes “before” and “after” a population decline in a single species.  The results we found were consistent with this theory that had been discussed for decades.”

The researchers, which included Professor Monty Slatkin, looked at the genome from a Woolly Mammoth that had lived on Wrangel Island, the last known refuge of the Woolly Mammoth.  The DNA was extracted from a specimen that lived some six hundred years before the elephant species finally died out.  The genetic material from the 4,300-year-old individual was compared to the DNA from a mammoth that had lived in Siberia some 40,000 years earlier when the Woolly Mammoth population was still large and relatively robust.

Reporting in the journal “PLOS Genetics”, the researchers found a lot of mutations in the Wrangel Island specimen’s genome.  The comparative analysis with the mainland mammoth remains showed that the Wrangel Island specimen had accumulated multiple harmful mutations in its genome, which interfered with gene functions.  The animals had lost many olfactory receptors, which detect odours, as well as urinary proteins, which can impact upon social status and mate choice.  The genome also revealed that the Wrangel Island mammoth had specific mutations that likely created an unusual translucent satin coat.

Rebekah Rogers said mathematical models developed by Slatkin of how genomes change as population conditions change were key to analysing and comparing the two genomes.

She stated:

“With only two specimens to look at, these mathematical models were important to show that the differences between the two mammoths are too extreme to be explained by other factors.”

Wrangel Island – The Last Refuge of the Woolly Mammoth

Rising sea levels cut off the land that is now known as Wrangel Island around 10,000 years ago.  A population of Woolly Mammoths were then isolated from the mainland and this population persisted for several thousand years, before the last of the Mammoths became extinct around 2000 B.C.

The Location of Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean

Wrangel Island.

The last refuge of the Woolly Mammoth.

Picture Credit: Google Maps

The isolated and small population of Wrangel Island mammoths probably exhibited an accumulation of detrimental mutations consistent with genomic meltdown in response to low effective population sizes in the dwindling population.  With Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei), Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia) and the Sumatran Rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) populations at or below the assumed population of Wrangel Island mammoths (around 300 individuals), this research provides conservationists with sobering evidence which suggests attempting to preserve a small group of individuals may not be enough to stop degradation of the genetic material that the viability of the species depends on.

To read an article that suggests dwindling supplies for freshwater speeded up the demise of isolated Woolly Mammoth populations: Last of the Mammoths Died of Thirst

Genetic Studies are Helping to Solve the Riddle of the Woolly Mammoth Extinction

Mammoth vertebrae.

Genetic studies are now telling us more about Woolly Mammoths than their bones ever could.

3 03, 2017

Ancient Hominin Skulls from the Late Pleistocene of China

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

Ancient Hominins of China

Two fragmentary skulls found in eastern China (Henan Province), have shed light on the ancient hominins who inhabited that part of the world before the arrival of our own species (H. sapiens).

Palaeoanthropologists know that Europe and western Asia was the domain of the Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) before they were displaced by H. sapiens which had migrated out of Africa.  However, frustratingly, remains belonging to the equivalent human populations in eastern and central Asia have rarely been found.  The two skulls, although lacking facial bones, have provided researchers with tantalising evidence with regards to the type of human species that lived in this region around 125,000 to 105,000 years ago.

Views of the Ancient Skull (Xuchang 1)

Ancient hominin fossil skull from China.

Views of the skull called Xuchang 1 dorsal (left), posterior (right).

Picture Credit: Dr Wu Xiujie

The skulls were excavated during a series of field studies undertaken at a site in Lingjing, Xuchang County, between 2007 and 2014.  The fossils were found in association with a wealth of mammal remains including deer, horse, Coelodonta (Woolly Rhino), ancient cattle, gazelles and Megaloceros (giant elk).  The scientists which included researchers from the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology (Beijing) and the Chinese Academy of Sciences have dated the skulls to between 125,000 and 105,000 years ago.  The overlying layers of sediment date from less than 100,000 years ago.

A Mosaic of Ancient and Modern Features

The skulls show a range of morphological features with differences from and similarities to their European and western Asia contemporaries.

Co-author of the study, Professor Erik Trinkaus explained that although the skulls had some features that mirrored what has been found in Neanderthal skulls, some characteristics, like a low, broad braincase, link them to even earlier humans from the same region, who lived in the Middle Pleistocene.

The professor commented:

“There’s a certain amount of regional diversity at this time, but also there are trends in basic biology that are shared by everybody and the supposed Neanderthal characteristics show that all these populations were interconnected.”

Big Brains?

One of the skulls, the specimen referred to as Xuchang 1, is estimated to have had a very large endocranial volume.  This suggests a large brain, a brain size of around 1,800 cubic centimetres, which is at the high end for Neanderthal and early modern humans.  Indeed, within our own species, although there is considerable variation in brain volume, a endocranial volume of 1,800 cm3 would be exceptional.

Scans of Xuchang 1 Suggests a Remarkable Brain Size

Various images of the ancient Chinese skull.

Scans of Xuchang 1 indicates large brain size.

Picture Credit: Dr Wu Xiujie/Science

Corresponding author for the study, published in the journal “Science”, Dr Wu Xiujie of the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and  Palaeoanthropology stated:

“This morphological combination, particularly the presence of a mosaic not known among early Late Pleistocene humans in the western Old World, suggests a complex interaction of directional palaeobiological changes and intra and inter-regional population dynamics.  From their fossil record, eastern Asian late archaic humans have been interpreted to resemble their Neanderthal contemporaries to some degree, with considerations of whether the fragmentary remains of the former exhibit features characteristic of the latter.  Yet it is only with the discovery of two human crania (plus additional elements), that the nature of these eastern Eurasian early Late Pleistocene archaic humans is becoming clear.”

The Xuchang skulls provide palaeoanthropologists with an important window into the biology and population history of early Late Pleistocene eastern Eurasian people.  As such, they are a critical piece in our understanding of the human evolutionary background to the subsequent establishment of modern human biology across the Old World, a process that was already underway in eastern Africa and (apparently), further south in eastern Asia.

Links with the Denisovans?

How these ancient hominins are related to the enigmatic and mysterious Denisovans (if they are closely related, for that matter), remains uncertain.  The absence of any teeth restricts the comparisons between these two skulls and the Denisovan ascribed fossil material, which includes a large tooth.  Researchers hope that perhaps some ancient, uncontaminated DNA can be recovered from the site.  Finding genetic material would permit whether these skulls represent a link to the Denisovans or whether they represent a distinct hominin lineage to be tested.

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

2 03, 2017

Very Near to “Near Bird”

By | March 2nd, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Closest View Yet of Anchiornis “Near Bird”

More than 225 fossils of the Late Jurassic feathered dinosaur Anchiornis (A. huxleyi) have been found to date and this relative abundance of fossil specimens in conjunction with some very sophisticated laser technology, has enabled scientists to gain the best idea yet as to what dinosaurs actually looked like.  Anchiornis huxleyi fossils come from the Tiaojishan Formation of Liaoning (China) and the dinosaur’s name means “Huxley’s near bird”, honouring the 19th Century English scientist Thomas Henry Huxley, an early supporter of Darwin’s theory of evolution, and one of the first academics to propose a close evolutionary relationship between the birds and the Dinosauria.  How apt that the use of a relatively new technique in palaeontology, that of the production of laser-stimulated fluorescence images, has enabled palaeontologists to get closer to “near bird” than ever before.

An Illustration of the Late Jurassic Dinosaur Anchiornis (A. huxleyi) Based on the New Images

An illustration of Anchiornis huxleyi.

An illustration of Anchiornis huxleyi.

Picture Credit: Julius Csotonyi

Laser-stimulated fluorescence (LSF)

Writing in the journal “Nature Communications”, researchers from the University of Hong Kong in collaboration with scientists from Linyi University (Shandong Province), the Chinese Academy of Sciences and a number of American research institutions, report on the reconstruction of a feathered dinosaur’s body outline based on high-definition images of preserved soft tissues and their integumental covering.

The Body Plan of Anchiornis huxleyi Created from the High-Definition Images

Anchiornis reconstructed body outline.

Reconstructed body outline of the bird-like feathered dinosaur Anchiornis using laser-stimulated fluorescence images.

Picture Credit: Wang X L, Pittman M et al

The coloured areas represent different fossil specimens and the black areas are approximated reconstructions.  For the first time palaeontologists have an accurate body outline of a bird-like dinosaur.  The scale bar in the image is 1 cm and the body length of Anchiornis (head to tail) is approximately 40 cm.

Laser-stimulated fluorescence (LSF), is a revolutionary new technique using high power lasers that makes unseen soft tissues preserved alongside the bones, literally “glow in the dark” by fluorescence, until the application of this new technique, palaeontologists had to infer body plans based on the fossilised bones and evidence of muscle scars using extant animals as comparisons.  One of the corresponding authors of the scientific paper, Dr Michael Pittman (Department of Earth Sciences, the University of Hong Kong), explained how he and his co-workers reconstructed the first highly detailed body outline of a feathered dinosaur based on high-definition images of its preserved soft tissues.

A View of the Wing of Anchiornis Under Laser-stimulated Fluorescence

The wing of Anchiornis seen under laser-stimulated fluorescence.

The wing of the bird-like feathered dinosaur Anchiornis under laser-stimulated fluorescence.

Picture Credit: Wang X L, Pittman M et al

This ground-breaking research has helped palaeontologists to see just how closely, Anchiornis of the Late Jurassic, resembled modern birds.  For example, in the image above, folds of skin in front of the elbow and behind the wrist (referred to as a patagium), can be made out.  The patagium was covered in feathers, just like in modern birds.

The laser-stimulated fluorescence method was developed by collaborator Tom Kaye (Foundation for Scientific Advancement, Arizona, USA).  The technique involves scanning fossils with a violet laser in a dark room. The laser “excites” the few skin atoms left in the matrix making them glow, revealing what the shape of the dinosaur actually looked like.

Dr Michel Pittman with the Laser Scanner

Dr Pittman and the laser scanner.

Dr Pittman holding the laser scanner pictured behind is an illustration of Anchiornis.

Picture Credit: Dr M Pittman

Dr Pittman commented:

“For the last 20 years, we have been amazed by the wondrous feathered dinosaurs of north-eastern China.  However, we never thought they would preserve soft tissues so extensively.”

Over Two Hundred Specimens Examined

Dr Pittman and his colleagues examined over two hundred specimens of the feathered bird-like dinosaur Anchiornis to find the dozen or so that showed special preservation.  The quantitative reconstruction that the team developed shows the contours of the wings, legs and even perfectly preserved foot scales, providing new details that illuminate the origin of birds.  It seems that Anchiornis had “drumsticks” just like a modern bird too.

Dr Pittman at Work Checking a Specimen Using the Laser Technique

Scanning Anchiornis fossils.

Dr Pittman examines fossils using LSF in Shandong TianYu Museum of Natural History.

Picture Credit: Dr M Pittman

When first described in 2009, Anchiornis was heralded as an important transitional fossil between feathered dinosaurs and volant (flying) forms.  Using this new technique (LSF), Dr Pittman and his colleagues found that the shape of wing was in many ways similar to modern birds, but it also had some seemingly primitive characteristics like feathers arranged more evenly across the wing rather than in distinct rows.  This research suggests that Anchiornis could produce a relatively straight arm, a posture broadly found in many living gliding birds (for example, Cormorants, Albatrosses and Pelicans).  The research identifies a previously unknown aspect of arm morphology differentiation at the earliest stages of paravian evolution (at least by the Oxfordian stage of the Late Jurassic), that may even have been widespread.  These new insights provide crucial information for reconstructing how dinosaurs experimented and eventually achieved flight.

Dr Pittman Pictured with Images Created to Illustrate This New Research

Dr Pittman with a body Plan and drawing of Anchiornis.

Dr Pittman holding a drawing and a body plan of Anchiornis.

Picture Credit: Dr M Pittman

To read an article about the discovery of Anchiornis huxleyiOlder than Archaeopteryx

The scientific paper: Wang, X. et al. “Basal Paravian Functional Anatomy Illuminated by High-detail Body Outline” published in Nature Communications (Nat. Commun. 8, 14576 doi: 10.1038/ncomms14576 2017).

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

28 02, 2017

Crowdfunding Campaign Launched (Dinosaurs of China)

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

Crowdfunding Campaign Offers Dinotastic Rewards!

Just over one hundred and twenty days to wait before the opening of the “Dinosaurs of China – ground shakers to feathered flyers” exhibition in Nottinghamshire.  As the countdown continues, a crowdfunding campaign has been launched to give dinosaur fans and prehistoric animal enthusiasts the chance to meet palaeontologists and to get up close and personal to some of the best-preserved dinosaur fossils on the planet, many of which, have not been seen in Europe before.

The campaign is being run by the University of Nottingham’s Lakeside Arts centre as part of the world-exclusive “Dinosaurs of China” exhibition.  Featuring such amazing dinosaurs as the mighty Mamenchisaurus and the bizarre Gigantoraptor (G. erlianensis), standing five metres high and weighing as much as a sixty eight-year-old children, this summer event is not to be missed.

Gigantoraptor One of the Star Attraction at the Forthcoming “Dinosaurs of China” Exhibition

Gigantoraptor displays.

Feathers used for display and courtship.

Picture Credit:  BBC “Dinosaur Planet” television series

Rewards Money Can’t Buy

Supporters of the crowdfunding campaign will have the chance to earn rewards including experiences that money-can’t-buy and to gain privileged access to the exhibition.

For those who can travel to Nottingham, a pledge of £20 GBP to the crowdfunding campaign will be rewarded with entry to an exclusive lunchtime lecture at Nottingham Lakeside Arts, or £70 GBP will secure one of just thirty tickets to an intimate “Meet the Experts” reception, to learn about the exhibits in more depth with the chance to discuss the fossil finds with the team behind their discovery and excavation.

For £50 GBP, you can even be among the first in the world to get access to the exhibition, with a ticket to the VIP opening night on 30th June.

Young Dinosaur Fans Can Get Involved Too

Young explorers aren’t left out either, a pledge of £40 GBP to the crowdfunding campaign will be rewarded with a one-hour story telling workshop for a family of four, or a donation of £50 GBP you can secure a hands-on experience with some of the rare exhibits.  If you have £100 GBP to spare, young explorers can become a palaeontologist for the day, joining “Diana Saurus”, Lakeside’s very own dino-safari character as she explains about the dinosaurs from the Far-East and discovers the story of how these prehistoric animals evolved.

The Dinosaurs of China Exhibition Starts Soon

"Dinosaurs of China"

The “Dinosaurs of China” exhibition logo.

Those further afield can still support the campaign – a pledge of £25 will be rewarded with a limited-edition print; or a Twitter “roar-out” can be gained with a donation of just £5 GBP.

Coming to two locations in Nottingham this summer, Wollaton Hall and Nottingham Lakeside Arts, the Dinosaurs of China exhibition will feature twenty-six of the best-preserved dinosaur fossils in the world, with recently-discovered specimens, some as recently as 2015, which have never before been seen in the UK.  These include Mamenchisaurus, the tallest dinosaur skeleton ever seen in the UK and Yi qi, a weird bat-like flying dinosaur discovered in 2015.

The crowdfunding campaign has been set up to support the creation of a dinosaur legacy at the University of Nottingham’s Lakeside Arts centre, to inspire and teach the next generation.  The target of £3,000 will be used to build an animatronic baby dinosaur, to teach children about how one group of dinosaurs evolved into the birds that we see around us today.

For further information on the crowdfunding campaign and the rewards available visit: Crowdfunding campaign for “Dinosaurs of China” exhibition.

To find out more about the Dinosaurs of China exhibition or book tickets, visit: “Dinosaurs of China”.

26 02, 2017

Those Curious Coelurosauria

By | February 26th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page|0 Comments

Complicated “Hollow Tailed” Lizards Such as Fukuivenator

That diverse and very complicated clade of Theropod dinosaurs, the Coelurosauria can prove problematical for even the most knowledgeable dinosaur enthusiast to navigate.  This time last year, a new dinosaur from Japan was assigned to the “Hollow Tail Lizards” (that’s what the term Coelurosaur means), today, we reflect on that dinosaur’s discovery and what it means for dinosaur classification.

Tyrannosaurus rex Is a Member of the Coelurosauria

Tyrannosaurus rex head.

Tyrannosaurs are members of the Coelurosauria.

Fukuivenator paradoxus

It was in February 2016, that a group of scientists including researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Japan’s Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum, published in the journal “Scientific Reports”, a paper on a newly described Theropod dinosaur that had been assigned to the Coelurosaurian clade.  This dinosaur was named Fukuivenator paradoxus, the name translates as Fukui Prefecture hunter with surprising characteristics.

A Model of F. paradoxus on Display at the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum

Fukuivenator model.

Fukuivenator replica on display at the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum.

Picture Credit: Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum

Known from approximately 160 fossil fragments, representing around seventy percent of the skeleton of a single animal, Fukuivenator’s remains were first noticed by a field team in the summer of 2007.  They were exploring the Early Cretaceous exposures at the famous Kitadani Dinosaur Quarry, which is on the Sugiyama River in the northern part of the city of Katsuyama, Fukui, on the island of Honshu.  The remains constitute the most complete non-avian dinosaur fossil found in Japan to date and remarkably, despite having lain in the ground for something like 125 million years, all the fossils were found within a matrix block measuring just half a metre by half a metre (around 0.125 cubic metres).

A Mix of Characteristics

The Coelurosauria clade consists of all those dinosaurs that are more closely related to birds than they are to Carnosaurs such as the Allosaurs.  Essentially, the clade contains non-avian dinosaurs such as the Tyrannosaurs, Compsognathidae, Ornithomimosaurs and the Maniraptora, within which, is nested those avian dinosaurs – birds.  Fukuivenator may only have weighed around twenty-five kilos, but in palaeontology it punches way above its weight, as the fossils reveal that this fast-running two and a half metre long dinosaur, exhibits a combination of primitive and derived features seen amongst a variety of Theropod groups.  Its discovery showed palaeontologists just how diverse the Coelurosaurian Theropods could get.

A Reconstruction of the Skeleton of Fukuivenator paradoxus

Tthe skeleton of Fukuivenator paradoxus.

A reconstruction of the skeleton of Fukuivenator paradoxus.

Picture Credit: Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum

Whilst the bones of Fukuivenator show a large number of morphological features not seen in any other member of the Theropoda, it did have a combination of primitive and derived traits seen in different Theropod subgroups, notably the “raptors” (Dromaeosauridae).  Phylogenetic analysis classified, what is arguably Japan’s coolest dinosaur, as a basal member of the Maniraptora.  However, other studies indicate affinities with Ornitholestes, from the Late Jurassic of North America.

Using computed-tomography, the delicate bones of the inner ear were analysed.  The inner ear bones also showed a mixture of characteristics.  The proportions of the bones were similar to those seen in other fast-running dinosaurs, whilst on the other hand, the length of the cochlea duct suggested that Fukuivenator might have had the same auditory abilities of modern birds.  Its hearing could have been comparable to the hearing of the birds that we see today.

The researchers concluded that with the discovery of Fukuivenator, the morphological variety within Coelurosaurian dinosaurs was certainly increased.  Fukuivenator highlights the high levels of homoplasy (features shared by a group of species but not present in their common ancestor), in Coelurosaurian evolution.

In addition, examination of the teeth, which although long and pointed, lacked serrations suggested that Fukuivenator may well have been an omnivore.

Fukuivenator made the “Hollow Tails” even more complicated.

25 02, 2017

Monster Worm of the Devonian

By | February 25th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Giant Devonian Worms and Death Metal

A new species of Devonian worm, a giant with fearsome jaws looking like something from a science fiction film, has been named and described by an international team of scientists.  Researchers from Bristol University, Lund University (Sweden) and the Royal Ontario Museum (Canada), have named the beast Websteroprion armstrongi, the genus name honours Alex Webster the bassist in the Death Metal band Cannibal Corpse.

Websteroprion armstrongi – Attacking a Primitive Devonian Fish 

A monster worm from the Devonian.

Websteroprion attacking a Devonian fish.

Picture Credit: James Ormiston

Writing in the journal “Scientific Reports” the researchers identify the creature as a type of polychaete worm (Order Eunicida).  Polychaete worms, often referred to as bristle worms, have a fossil record that can be traced back to the early Cambrian.  Their soft bodies are rarely fossilised but the jaw elements, often just a millimetre or so in length, are made from hardened material (sclerotin) and they fossilise quite readily.  In contrast, the fossil jaws of this species are nearly 13 millimetres long, making it a giant amongst these types of worms.  Eunicid polychaete worms are characterised by a dorsal pair of mandibles which contain toothed, maxillary plates.  These plates are used to grasp prey, the scientists conclude that this new species of Devonian worm was also a predator, although the absence of any defined gut contents has prevented the team from making further comments with regards to this animal’s potential diet.

Although the scientists, which included lead author Mats Eriksson (Lund University), cannot be certain how big W. armstrongi was, they have estimated that it was probably over a metre in length.  It has been postulated that this worm might have fed by ambushing small fish, arthropods and cephalopods by shooting out of its burrow and grasping its victims in its hook-like jaws that were lined by rows of sharp, tooth-like structures.

The jaws are the largest known in the Class Polychaeta.

Mats Eriksson commented:

“Gigantism in animals is an alluring and ecologically important trait, usually associated with advantages and competitive dominance.  It is, however, a poorly understood phenomenon among marine worms and has never before been demonstrated in a fossil species.  The new species demonstrates a unique case of polychaete gigantism in the Palaeozoic, some 400 million years ago.”

Fossils from a Remote Location

All the fossils that led to the naming of this new species, were collected in just a few hours in June 1994, Derek K. Armstrong, a geologist with the Ontario Geological Survey had the opportunity to visit a remote and rarely exposed portion of the sedimentary rock formations that made up part of the Hudson Platform located in the Hudson Bay Basin.  The samples he collected proved to be Late Emsian-Early Eifelian (Early-Middle Devonian) age from the Kwataboahegan Formation and they were stored at the Royal Ontario Museum, until the authors decided to take a closer look at the fossil material.

Co-author Luke Parry (Bristol University) said:

“It also shows that gigantism in jaw-bearing polychaetes was restricted to one particular evolutionary clade within the Eunicida and has evolved many times in different species.”

Fossil Mandibles of Websteroprion armstrongi

Giant worm fossil jaws (Websteroprion).

Fossils showing two jaw pieces (jaw elements) of Websteroprion.

Picture Credit: Luke Parry (Bristol University)

The picture above shows specimen number ROM63122 lit so as to give the fossils a positive relief, the scale bar is 1 mm.  The fossil on the left of the photograph is a maxilla from the left side of the animal.  The fossil on the right is a maxilla from the right side.

David M. Rudkin (Dept. of Natural History at the Royal Ontario Museum), explained that there might be several, as yet not described species of Palaeozoic invertebrate, “hiding within plain sight”, amongst the museum’s extensive fossil collection.

He added:

 “This is an excellent example of the importance of looking in remote and unexplored areas for finding new exciting things, but also the importance of scrutinising museum collections for overlooked gems.”

Palaeontology Meets Death Metal

The species name honours Cannibal Corpse bassist Alex Webster, regarded as a “giant” when it comes to handling his instrument, according to the researchers.  The species (trivial), epithet pays tribute to Derek K. Armstrong, who collected the fossils.

Luke Parry added:

“This is fitting also since, beside our appetite for evolution and palaeontology, all three authors have a profound interest in music and are keen hobby musicians.”

At an estimated one metre in length, this extinct species is comparable to that of extant “giant eunicid” species colloquially referred to as “Bobbit worms”.

CT Scans Reveals the Evidence of a Giant Eunicid Worm

CT scans reveal the remains of jaws.

CT scan reveal the maxillary plates entombed in the rock.

Picture Credit: Scientific Reports

Serendipitous Discovery

The researchers conclude that the serendipitous discovery of multiple specimens from a monospecific assemblage in a limited number of fossil samples suggests that Websteroprion armstrongi was a common species at this particular part of the seabed, which went onto become strata within the Kwataboahegan Formation.  The specimens likely represent a “snap-shot assemblages”, the remains of many individuals that were suddenly and rapidly buried by sediment.

24 02, 2017

Penguins Lived Alongside Dinosaurs (Probably)

By | February 24th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Giant Prehistoric Penguin 1.5 metres Tall

Ancient leg bones, found in Palaeocene-aged deposits located on the shoreline of Pegasus Bay near the city of Christchurch (New Zealand), has led scientists to propose that dinosaurs would have been familiar with penguins.  In addition, the leg bone fossils indicate that after the dinosaurs died out, some penguins became super-sized, standing around 1.5 metres tall.  The avian fossil material was excavated from sediments along the Waipara River, close to where this river meets the sea (Pegasus Bay).  It has been estimated that this giant, primitive penguin lived in a coastal environment some 61 million years ago.

Researchers from the Senckenberg Society for Natural Research (Frankfurt, Germany), have concluded that the penguin lineage is much older than previously thought, suggesting that these marine birds very probably evolved during the Late Cretaceous and the first kinds of penguins would have been very familiar to dinosaurs that wandered the remnants of the southern continent Gondwana.

A Super-sized Palaeocene Penguin

Penguin fossil comparison.

New specimen (left) compared to W. manneringi and an extant Emperor Penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) on the right.

Picture Credit: Senckenberg Society for Natural Research

The picture above compares the fossil leg bones of the newly discovered penguin species, with that of another, smaller Palaeocene penguin found in the same area Waimanu manneringi, which was formally described in 2006.  The bones on the right are from the largest living species of penguin, the Emperor penguin (A. forsteri).   This fossil supports the theory that the ancestors of modern Aves rapidly diversified after the end Cretaceous extinction event occupying a number of niches that had previously been occupied by other types of bird and Theropod dinosaurs.

An Illustration of Waimanu manneringi

Waddling with dinosaurs.

Penguins probably waddled next to dinosaurs.

Picture Credit: Senckenberg Society for Natural Research

Although, Waimanu manneringi was a contemporary of the giant penguin, it had a different body plan, resembling a cormorant.  The two types of penguin were very different, this suggests that basal penguins probably evolved prior to the end of the Cretaceous.

Co-author of the scientific paper, Dr Paul Scofield (Canterbury Museum, New Zealand), explained:

“We believed up until this specimen was discovered that there was very little variation amongst these Palaeocene penguins.  We are now starting to understand that shortly after the extinction of the dinosaurs there were in fact two quite different groups of penguin.”

No Scientific Name as Yet

The lack of autapomorphies (distinctive features) and the fragmentary nature of the fossils has deterred the researchers from seeking to name their new prehistoric bird.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur stated:

“The fossils probably represent a new species, however, with so few fossils to go on and with a lack of distinctive characteristics in the bones, it is not possible to erect a new species at the moment.  Should more fossil material be found, especially skull material, then a new prehistoric bird species could come about.”

The Prehistoric Penguin Compared in Size with a Modern Human

New Zealand giant penguin size comparison.

South Island giant penguin compared to modern human.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The orientation of the leg bones suggests that, just like modern penguins, this ancient feathered friend probably waddled, walking in the same manner as its extant, smaller cousins.  The fossil discovery is highly significant as it will likely be used as an “anchor point” to determine how the penguin family evolved.  It is also very likely that other penguin species existed during the Palaeocene Epoch in this part of the world, but their fossilised remains have not yet been discovered.

The scientists are optimistic that the fossil site, just twenty miles north of the city of Christchurch, will yield further evidence of ancient sea birds.  Although, around twenty-five percent bigger than the largest penguin species around today (Emperor penguin), these fossils do not represent the largest penguin known to science.

To read more about one of the largest known penguin species: Picking up a Giant Prehistoric Penguin

Penguins were not the only creatures around today, that would have been familiar to the dinosaurs.  Everything Dinosaur wrote an article after research had been published back in 2008 that suggested the bizarre duck-billed platypus co-existed with duck-billed dinosaurs.

To read the article: Duck-billed Platypus and the Duck-billed Dinosaurs

22 02, 2017

The Half Tonne Rat

By | February 22nd, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Super-sized Rodent Re-Writes Family Tree

The skull and jaws from a pair of giant rodents, that represent an extinct species that could have weighed as much as half a tonne, are helping to re-shape the rodent family tree.  Study of these new fossils have led researchers to propose a formal revision of the three known species of the genus Isostylomys into just one species, Isostylomys laurillardi.

These are the best-preserved fossils to date of this extinct group, which was previously known only from skull fragments and individual teeth, the scientists report in a new study, published in the “Journal of Systematic Palaeontology”,

The new fossils of the two rodents, an adult and a juvenile, paint a more complete picture of these extinct and massive rat-like animals.  For example, the fossil discoveries raised questions about how these giant rodents were classified within their genus, and hint that several species that were thought to be related may instead be a single species.  The fossils add to our knowledge regarding giant members of the Dinomyidae family and is helping palaeontologists to reappraise the phylogeny of this once diverse and speciose group of South American mammals.

The Giant Miocene Rodent Isostylomys laurillardi (Adult and Juvenile)

Isostylomys laurdillardi a giant prehistoric rodent.

Isostylomys laurillardi (adult and juvenile).

Picture Credit: Renzo Vaira/Taylor & Francis

The fossil material comes from the exposed cliffs in the Río de la Plata coastal region of southern Uruguay.  The fossils have been dated to the Miocene Epoch (9.5 to 10 million-years-ago approximately).  The researchers, including lead author, Dr Andres Rinderknecht of the Museo Nacional de Historia Natural (Uruguay), examined the teeth and skulls of fossil specimens, comparing them to the bones and teeth of the largest living rodent the Capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris).

The research team conclude that, due to similarities in the adult’s and the juvenile’s teeth structure, previously found fossils, which were smaller and thought to belong to a different species, were in fact from the same species.

Skull and Jaw Fossils of Isostylomys laurillardi

Isostylomys laurillardi fossil material (MNHN 2187)

Skull in ventral view (A), skull and mandible in left lateral view (B), and mandible in occlusal view (C).

Picture Credit: Taylor & Francis

The picture above shows the adult skull in ventral view seen from underneath, (A), and the skull and jaw viewed from the side (B).  Picture (C) shows the jaw in occlusal view, the scale bar is five centimetres.

The authors have consequently proposed that members of the subfamily Gyriabrinae could represent juveniles belonging to other subfamilies of Dinomyidae and that three known species of the genus Isostylomys should be merged into just one species, Isostylomys laurillardi.

Commenting on the team’s conclusions, Dr Rinderknecht stated:

“Our study shows how the world’s largest fossil rodents grow and we describe fossil remains of a giant rodent baby and an adult.  Comparing them we conclude that from very young the giant rodents already were very similar to the adults which allows us to deduce that the great majority of the hypotheses before posed were wrong.  The juvenile and the adult analysed here represent some of the largest rodents known to science with some of these animals weighing almost a ton.”

The Giant Incisor of the Adult Isostylomys

Giant rodent tooth fossil (Isostylomys)

MNHN 2187 the giant lower right incisor of (Isostylomys),

Picture Credit: Taylor & Francis

The adult remains found consist of an almost complete skull with a partial jaw, while the juvenile’s remains are of a complete lower jaw and the right calcaneum (heel bone).  Almost all previous discoveries of this kind have consisted of isolated teeth, and small fragments of skulls or jaws, which make this discovery some of the best-preserved remains of giant dinomids known to science.

“Making a Giant Rodent: Cranial Anatomy and Ontogenetic Development in the genus Isostylomys (Mammalia, Hystricognathi, Dinomyidae)”.

By Andrés Rinderknecht, Enrique Bostelmann and Martin Ubilla, published by Taylor and Francis.

The scientific paper: Access the scientific paper here.

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