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

23 08, 2017

New Long-Necked and Horned Stem Archosaur from India

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

The Weird and Wonderful Shringasaurus indicus

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

An Illustration of the Newly Described Basal Archosaur S. indicus

The Triassic stem Archosaur Shringasaurus indicus.

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

Picture Credit: Conicet

A Pair of Large Supraorbital Horns

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

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

Shringasaurus skull material compared to a horned dinosaur.

Cranial anatomy of Shringasaurus indicus compared to a Ceratopsian.

Picture Credit: Scientific Reports

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

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

Key

en = external naris

ho = horn

or = orbit

stf = supratemporal fenestra

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

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

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

The Fossil Material Associated with Shringasaurus

Shringasaurus indicus fossil material.

Shringasaurus indicus fossils.

Picture Credit: Scientific Reports

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

18 08, 2017

How the Chloroplast Got Started

By | August 18th, 2017|Adobe CS5, Animal News Stories, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

The Origin of the Chloroplast

At the centre of most of our planet’s ecosystems are plants and algae that utilise sunlight and transform carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates and release oxygen.  These very specialised organisms can make their own food, by using light energy combined with CO2 and H2O.  As part of this process, the water molecule is split and oxygen is produced as a by-product.  This process takes place in specialised subunits within a cell called a chloroplast.

Plants and Algae are Fundamental to Most Food Chains on the Planet

Tropical ferns in the forest.

Plants and algae form the basis for most of Earth’s biota.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The theory as to how algae and plants evolved goes something like this – an ancient single-celled eukaryote absorbed a photosynthesising bacterium (blue-green algae otherwise known as photosynthesising cyanobacteria).  Such an event would normally have been disastrous for both parties, but for some reason, both the eukaryote and the cyanobacteria survived and this led to the development of a symbiotic association.  Whilst it is accepted that the cyanobacteria are the ancestors of the chloroplast, it is not clear which of the myriad of cyanobacteria are the closest relations of the chloroplast and when this association began, or indeed where on our planet this fortuitous event took place.

The Evolution of More Complex Life Via the Symbiotic Fusing of Different Kinds of Bacteria

The origins of complex life.

Complex eukaryote cells evolved by the symbiotic fusing of different kinds of bacteria.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The diagram above shows one theory of how more complex lifeforms evolved.  Four different types of bacteria, each with their own specific adaptations and biological characteristics may have merged to create the three main forms of multi-cellular life – animals, plants and fungi.

  • Merger 1 – Bacteria with the ability to produce food via fermentation merged with a swimming bacterium.
  • Merger 2 – An oxygen utilising bacterium invaded this first host and formed the cell mitochondria.
  • Merger 3 – Algae fused with photosynthesising cyanobacteria, which then became the cell chloroplast – the subject of the newly published study.

A team of scientists, including researchers from Bristol University, may have found the answers to these questions.  Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they postulate that the chloroplast lineage split from their closet cyanobacterial ancestor more than 2.1 billion years ago and this took place in low salinity environments.  The team conclude that it took another 200 million years for the chloroplast and the eukaryotic host to be fully united into a symbiotic relationship.  Marine algae groups diversified much later, at around 800 to 750 million years ago, sometime in the Neoproterozoic Era.

Lead author of the study, Dr Patricia Sanchez-Baracaldo (University of Bristol’s School of Geographical Sciences), commented:

“The results of this study imply that complex organisms such as algae first evolved in freshwater environments, and later colonised marine environments – these results also have huge implications to understanding the carbon cycle.  Genomic data and sophisticated evolutionary methods can now be used to draw a more complete picture of early life on land; complementing what has been previously inferred from the fossil record.”

Co-author, Professor Davide Pisani (Bristol University) added:

“Our planet is a beautiful place and it exists in such a sharp contrast with the rest of the solar system.  Think about those beautiful satellite pictures where you see the green of the forests and the blue/green tone of the water.  Well, Earth was not like that before photosynthesis.  Before photosynthesis it was an alien place, uninhabitable by humans.  Here we made some big steps to clarify how Earth become the planet we know today, and I think that that is just wonderful.”

The team used a combination of phylogenomic and Bayesian analytical methods to conclude that the chloroplast lineage branched deep within the cyanobacterial tree of life, around 2.1 billion years ago, and ancestral trait reconstruction places this event in low-salinity environments.  The chloroplast took another 200 million years to become established, with most extant (modern groups living today), forms originating much later.

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

17 08, 2017

Chilesaurus – Shaking the Dinosaur Tree

By | August 17th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Chilesaurus diegosuarezi Transitional Fossil – Root and Branch Reform of the Dinosaur Family Tree

A bizarre Late Jurassic dinosaur called Chilesaurus diegosuarezi had been described as a member of the Theropoda group, but this strange little dinosaur that seemed to possess anatomical characteristics reminiscent of Sauropods, Ornithischian dinosaurs as well as meat-eating Theropods, has been re-described, this time as a “missing link” between the Theropods and the bird-hipped, Ornithischians.  The re-think has to do with the use of datasets to assess the taxonomic relationships between different types of dinosaur.  Chilesaurus may be the first dinosaur to be reassessed in the light of a new way of looking at the dinosaur family tree, chances are, it won’t be the last.

An Illustration of the Bizarre Late Jurassic Dinosaur from Southern Chile C. diegosuarezi

Chilesaurus illustration.

An illustration of Chilesaurus, once classified as a Theropod now regarded as a transitional fossil towards the Ornithischia.

Picture Credit: Nobumichi Tamura

Chilesaurus diegosuarezi Discovery and Description

The first fossils of this three-metre long dinosaur were found by a pair of geologists who were hiking in the remote Aysén region of southern Chile.  Scientists have mapped and explored these deposits (the Toqui Formation – Upper Jurassic) and a description of this dinosaur was published in the journal “Nature” in 2015.

To read Everything Dinosaur’s article written in 2015 reporting the discovery of Chilesaurus: Chilesaurus – a Dinosaur Designed by a Committee

The dinosaur had some strange features that set it apart from other dinosaurs.  Some of these features, such as the over-sized claw which could be extended outwards, on the first digit on the hands of Chilesaurus were reminiscent of the large claws found on the first digits of the front limbs of primitive Sauropods.  However, it had a skull similar to that seen in Theropods, but the jaws were lined with spoon-shaped teeth that pointed outwards at a slight angle.  These teeth were unique in the Theropoda and suggested a plant-eating diet.  In addition, the pubic bone in the pelvis was pointing backwards not forwards as in the Theropods, this pelvic arrangement was typical of a bird-hipped dinosaur, an Ornithischian.  These and other anatomical features made Chilesaurus into a bit of a conundrum for the palaeontologists studying it.  This dinosaur was difficult to place on the Dinosauria family tree, because of its combination of characteristics.  In the original 2015 paper, Chilesaurus was described as a Tetanuran Theropod, a member of the “stiff-tailed” group of bipedal, mainly carnivorous dinosaurs, meaning that it was distantly related to Megalosaurus, the ornithomimids and the Tyrannosaurs.

The Teeth in the Lower Jaw of Chilesaurus were Unlike Any Other Teeth of a Theropod

The fossilised jaw of Chilesaurus.

Teeth adapted for cropping plants.

Picture Credit: Dr Fernando Novas (Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

New Dataset – New Classification

Researchers Matthew Baron (Cambridge University) and Paul Barrett (Natural History Museum), writing in the Royal Society journal “Biology Letters” describe how they applied a different dataset to assess the phylogenetic relationship between Chilesaurus and other dinosaurs.  When C. diegosuarezi was first described, back in 2015 the researchers used several datasets to test the interrelationships within the Dinosauria, but crucially, the focus of this analysis was on looking at the relationships within the Saurischia.  In March of this year, Matthew and his co-researchers proposed re-drawing the dinosaur family tree, in essence, resurrecting work undertaken by Thomas Huxley in the late 19th Century, that unites the Saurischia and the Ornithischia together into a new clade called the Ornithoscelida.

Theropods Grouped with Ornithopods

Under this revision, the Theropoda, which are closely related to extant birds and classified as Saurischian dinosaurs (lizard-hipped), were united with the bird-hipped dinosaurs, the Ornithopods, Thyreophora, Ceratopsian, Hadrosaurs etc.

When Chilesaurus was examined again, using the taxonomic relationships proposed by the newly drawn dinosaur cladogram, Chilesaurus was placed in a new position.  The idea that it was a Tetanuran Theropod based on this dataset could be discounted.  Instead, Chilesaurus is placed at a point in the dinosaur family tree where the Ornithischia diverged from their close relatives.  The basal position of Chilesaurus within the clade and its suite of anatomical characters suggest that it might represent a “transitional taxon”, bridging the morphological gap between the Theropoda and the Ornithischia.

Chilesaurus “Missing Link” on the Road to the Ornithischia

Chilesaurus consensus tree.

In this new Chilesaurus study, the consensus tree formed via the phylogenetic analysis indicates this dinosaur was a basal Ornithischian.

Picture Credit: Royal Society Biology Letters

In the diagram above, the Chilesaurus (red star) is seen as a potential link between the Saurischian Theropoda and the Ornithischian dinosaurs.  Chilesaurus may therefore provide an insight into the evolutionary origins of the bird-hipped dinosaurs.  It may also have an extensive ghost lineage (thin black line), going back to the Middle Triassic.

To read the Everything Dinosaur article, published in March 2017, about the redefinition of the Dinosauria: Root and Branch Reform in the Dinosaur Family Tree

Co-author of the research, Professor Paul Barrett (Natural History Museum) explained the significance of this new paper:

“Chilesaurus is one of the most puzzling and intriguing dinosaurs ever discovered.  Its weird mix of features places it in a key position in dinosaur evolution and helps to show how some of the really big splits between the major groups might have come about.”

Finding a Better Fit within the Dinosauria – Chilesaurus diegosuarezi 

The bizarre Chilesaurus.

An illustration of Chilesaurus that shows a suite of dinosaur traits.

Picture Credit: Gabriel Lio

16 08, 2017

Damselfly Honours Sir David Attenborough

By | August 16th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Mesosticta davidattenboroughi – Sir David’s Cretaceous Damselfly

Broadcaster, naturalist and all-round good guy, Sir David Attenborough has been honoured yet again by having a newly described species named after him.  This time, it is a new species of Cretaceous damselfly discovered in a piece of Burmese amber (burmite).  Fossils of insects are extremely rare and the fossil record for this extremely important Class of Arthropods has been significantly enriched thanks to the preserved insect remains found in fossilised tree resin.

A Picture of the Holotype Specimen – Mesosticta davidattenboroughi

Mesosticta davidattenboroughi Cretaceous damselfly in amber.

Mesosticta davidattenboroughi sp. nov., holotype, NIGP164541, photograph of specimen.

Picture Credit: Journal of Systematic Palaeontology

The remains of this winged insect were discovered in the Hukawng Valley of Kachin Province, northern Myanmar, an area famed for its amber deposits.  Details of some remarkable fossils have recently been published, for example, back in 2016 Everything Dinosaur blogged about the discovery of a partial tail from a feathered dinosaur in burmite.  As recently as June (June 2017), we wrote about the finding of the remains of a primitive bird, a hatchling that had become entombed and preserved.

To read the article about the discovery of the dinosaur tail: The Tale of a Dinosaur Tail

For the article on the baby bird fossil: Watch the Birdie! Enantiornithine in Amber

The full, binomial scientific name for the new species, belonging to a group more commonly known as shadowdamsels, is Mesosticta davidattenboroughi.  The researchers decided to name the new species after David Attenborough because of his long-standing appreciation of dragonflies, and to celebrate his recent 90th birthday, which he celebrated in May 2016.

Co-author of the scientific paper, Professor Edmund A. Jarzembowski commented:

“Dragonflies in amber are extremely rare and the recent discoveries by my Chinese colleagues are a new window on the past.  It is tradition in taxonomy [the naming of a new species] to contact the person concerned.  Sir David was delighted because he is not only interested in the story of amber, but also a president of the British Dragonfly Society.”

The fossil itself is extremely well preserved as it is encased in yellow transparent amber and includes a complete set of wings.  With the aid of photo technology, the scientists were able to digitally enhance and build a clear three-dimensional image of the new species, showing that it differed from previously described fossils, Mesosticta had quite stubby, short wings when compared to other Mesozoic species.

Images of the Forewings of Mesosticta davidattenboroughi

Mesosticta davidattenboroughi forewing images.

Mesosticta davidattenboroughi sp. nov., holotype, NIGP164541. A, photograph of left forewing; B, photograph of right forewing.

Picture Credit: Journal of Systematic Palaeontology

Lead author of the scientific paper, Daran Zheng (Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology, Chinese Academy of Sciences), stated:

“Mesosticta davidattenboroughi is quite unique because we have uncovered a new species and it confirms the previous attribution of Mesosticta to the Platystictidae.  It is the first fossil group of modern platystictid damselflies and documents the appearance of Platystictidae as early as middle Cretaceous.”

Finding insect remains in amber is not unusual, however, this family of damselflies are very poorly recorded in the fossil record and as a result this discovery from northern Myanmar is especially significant.

Mesosticta davidattenboroughi is just the latest in a long line of animals which have been named in honour of Sir David Attenborough:

Silurian Arthropod honours Sir David Attenborough: Fossil Named after Sir David Attenborough

Kitten-sized marsupial lion named after Sir David Attenborough: Attenborough’s New Kitty

The scientific paper: “Mesostictinae subfam. nov., an archaic group of platystictid damselflies (Odonata: Zygoptera) from mid-Cretaceous Burmese amber” by Daran Zheng, Bo Wang, André Nel, Edmund A. Jarzembowski, Haichun Zhang & Su-Chin Chang published in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology.

Read the full article online: Scientific Paper

12 08, 2017

Giant Dinosaur Gets a Name

By | August 12th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Patagotitan mayorum – 69 Tonnes of Titanosaur

This week has seen the long-awaited publication of a scientific paper on the super-sized Titanosaur fossils that Everything Dinosaur blogged about in May 2014.  Writing in the “Proceedings of the Royal Society B (Biology)”, the researchers, which included José L. Carballido and Diego Pol (Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio, Trelew, Argentina), have described this new dinosaur and given it a formal scientific name.  Patagotitan mayorum translates as “the Mayo family Patagonian Titan”.  It may already be familiar to readers, as this fossil discovery was documented in a BBC television programme narrated by Sir David Attenborough back in 2016.  Indeed, a life-size cast of this dinosaur has been on display at the American Museum of Natural History (New York) for nearly eighteen months.

The Life-size Mounted Exhibit of the Newly Named Titanosaur (Patagotitan mayorum)

Patagotitan mayorum cast.

A cast of the giant Titanosaur Patagotitan mayorum.

Picture Credit: BBC TV

Size Isn’t Everything

Most of the media sources that have covered this announcement have focused on the estimated weight of Patagotitan.  When first studied, the body weight estimate of this beast, (represented by the fossilised remains of at least seven individuals) was put at 77 tonnes.  The researchers have down-sized Patagotitan somewhat in the scientific paper, but at a reported 69 tonnes, this is still an immensely heavy beast, potentially close to the theoretical limit for a body weight of a terrestrial animal.

Patagotitan mayorum – A Size Comparison

Patagotitan size comparison.

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

Picture Credit: G. Lio/Everything Dinosaur

With an estimated body length of 37 metres and a weight of 69 tonnes, Patagotitan can lay claim to the title of the largest land living animal to be described to date based on substantially complete fossil remains.

To read an article on the initial excavation of the Titanosaur fossil bones: Biggest Dinosaur of all – a New South American Contender

For an article providing information on the BBC documentary: Attenborough and the Giant Dinosaur

An Unprecedented Quantity of Titanosaur Fossil Material

The species’ scientific name was inspired by the region where this new species was discovered, Argentina’s Patagonia (Patago); by its strength and huge size (titan), and by the Mayo family, on whose ranch the fossils of this new Sauropod species were discovered.  The substantial amount of fossil material including a celebrated 2.4-metre-long femur was discovered in three distinct layers, representing flood plain deposits.  The researchers have concluded that these large herbivores must have been regular visitors to this area, perhaps this was on a migration route.  The water flow was unable to dislodge most of the fossil bones, their sheer bulk allowing the remains to be preserved relatively “in situ”, although in a disarticulated state.

The Life-size Cast of Patagotitan mayorum at the American Museum of Natural History (New York)

Patagotitan mayorum at the American Museum of Natural History (New York).

Titanosaur exhibit (Patagotitan mayorum).

Picture Credit: The American Museum of Natural History/D. Finnin

Estimating the Body Weight of Giant Titanosaurs

The Titanosauria clade represents the most disparate group, in terms of body size of all known Sauropods.  Some of the smallest members of the Sauropodmorpha are represented by Titanosaurs such as the five-metre long Magyarosaurus from Romania, whilst this clade also contains giant animals like Argentinosaurus, Alamosaurus, Dreadnoughtus and the newly described Patagotitan.  Calculating the body weight of an extinct animal, even one with numerous fossil bones to study, is a challenging task, body weight has to be inferred using a variety of methods.

Dr José Luis Carballido (Museum of Paleontology Egidio Feruglio) explained:

“We compared the remains of Patagotitan mayorum with all the species that could be related to it, not only in terms of size, but also those that lived at the same time or had certain features in common.  Among them we included species such as Argentinosaurus, Puertasaurus and Futalognkosaurus, which are other giant species of dinosaurs from Argentina.”

The researchers undertook a phylogenetic study and concluded that the majority of the giant Titanosaurs of Patagonia belong to a single lineage.  This suggests that gigantism within the Titanosauria evolved only once and not multiple times.  The scientists conclude that all the truly huge dinosaurs were related to each other and form a natural group – the Lognkosauria.

Dr Diego Pol added:

“This group of giants probably emerged by the end of the Lower Cretaceous (Patagotitan mayorum would be the oldest) and had survived until the middle Late Cretaceous between 100 and 85 million years ago.”

Patagonia – A Titanosaur Paradise

Titanosaurs diversified and radiated around Gondwana during the middle Early Cretaceous and as a group they survived right up to the end of the Cretaceous, but in Patagonia during the early Cenomanian faunal stage some species obtained enormous sizes the reasons for an evolutionary pressure to grow so big are unclear.

Dr Pol commented:

“About 100 million years ago, a subgroup of Titanosaurs really went crazy in body size.  There must be something in the environment, in how much resources and food was available, in the climate, something must have allowed this fantastic size.  All these contenders for the heavyweight championship of dinosaurs, they all lived in same place, in the same time…understanding why and how these animals evolved into such a fantastic size is the million-dollar question.”

When Excavating Giant Titanosaurs Limb Bones Make Excellent Seats

The giant Titanosaur dig site (Patagotitan mayorum).

Filming the documentary “Attenborough and the Giant Dinosaur”.

Picture Credit: Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio

Links to the Rinconsauria

In addition, the scientists consider this super-sized lineage of Titanosaurs a sister group to the Rinconsauria, a clade of Titanosaurs also known from Argentina which are regarded as basal to the group, or at least retaining primitive traits.  The Rinconsauria, which includes Rinconsaurus caudamirus and Aeolosaurus were not giants themselves, in fact, this clade includes some of the smallest South American Titanosaurs described to date.

For the time being the moniker used to describe this huge dinosaur when it was being excavated – “enormosaurus” is redundant, that is until the next huge Sauropod fossil find!

The scientific paper: “A New Giant Titanosaur Sheds Light on Body Mass Evolution Among Sauropod Dinosaurs” by José L. Carballido, Diego Pol, Alejandro Otero, Ignacio A. Cerda, Leonardo Salgado, Alberto C. Garrido, Jahandar Ramezani, Néstor R. Cúneo, Javier M. Krause published in “The Proceedings of the Royal Society B”.

10 08, 2017

Monster Jurassic Crocodile Honours Motorhead’s Frontman

By | August 10th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Lemmysuchus obtusidens – Named after Lemmy from Motorhead

On December 28th 2015, the English heavy-metal musician, Lemmy, the founder of Motörhead and doyen of the metal-music genre passed away.  Since that day, many scientists who were fans of Lemmy’s music have sought out ways to honour him*.  It seems that tracks such as “Bomber”, “Overkill”, “Louie Louie” and the iconic “Ace of Spades” are very popular with academics and scientists from a number of disciplines and this week, hard-drinking, hard-living Lemmy, was honoured by having a particularly nasty Jurassic teleosaurid crocodile named after him.  Say hello to Lemmysuchus obtusidens, the newest member of the Teleosauridae, the name means “Lemmy’s blunt-toothed crocodile”.

Dorsal View of the Skull of Lemmysuchus obtusidens

Skull fossil and line drawing.

Skull fossil and accompanying line drawing of Lemmysuchus.  Scale bar = 10 cm.

Picture Credit: Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

From a Clay Pit Near Peterborough

The fossil material now assigned to this new genus was excavated in 1909 from a clay pit near the town of Peterborough (Cambridgeshire), several specimens were collected from the Middle Jurassic strata (Callovian faunal stage).  It was incorrectly catalogued and assigned to a different species, several cladistic and anatomical reviews later and the blunt-snouted, blunt-toothed teleosaurids have undergone a significant revision and fossil material formerly assigned to Steneosaurus obtusidens has ended up in need of a new taxa hence the establishment of Lemmysuchus within the academic literature.

One of the authors of the scientific paper, which has just been published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, Michela Johnson (University of Edinburgh), described Lemmysuchus:

With a metre-long skull and a total length of 5.8 metres, it would have been one of the biggest coastal predators of its time.”

A Close View of the Jaw Showing the Robust Teeth

The jaw of Lemmysuchus.

Part of the jaw of Lemmysuchus showing the robust teeth.

Picture Credit: Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

Durophagous or Macrophagous Diet

In contrast to several other Middle Jurassic teleosaurids, Lemmysuchus had a broad snout and large, robust teeth, this suggests that this substantial crocodylomorph had a different diet to its relatives.  Most teleosaurids were fish-eaters and their jaws, teeth and skulls show adaptations to a piscivorous diet.  The jaws of Lemmysuchus indicate that this reptile might have dined on turtles or other hard-shelled creatures such as ammonites.  It could have made short work of any small marine reptile carcass that it found, it could even have been an active predator of other marine reptiles.

A Nasty Crocodile from the Middle Jurassic of England

A illustration of the Jurassic teleosaurid Lemmysuchus.

Lemmysuchus obtusidens illustration.

Picture Credit: Mark Witton

Paleoartist Dr Mark Witton has recreated the terrifying world of Lemmysuchus obtusidens.  The beautiful reconstruction shows a large Lemmysuchus feeding on a plesiosaur, whilst Rhamphorhynchoid pterosaurs scavenge the remains of an Ichthyosaur that has been washed ashore.

Subtle Nods to Lemmy and to John Martin

The atmospheric image created by Mark Witton, includes a subtle hint towards one of the pieces of artwork associated with Motörhead.  The pattern on top of the crocodylomorph’s skull is a homage to the “snaggletooth” logo that adorned a number of album covers.  In addition, this stunning artwork, depicting a European shoreline some 164 million years ago, pays tribute to one of the earliest depictions of ancient marine reptiles, an illustration by John Martin for the seminal publication “Great Sea Dragons”, by Thomas Hawkins, which was first printed back in 1840.

John Martin depicted a savage, violent seascape dominated by great serpent-like creatures.  Having noted the serpentine archway in Dr Witton’s illustration, Everything Dinosaur contacted Mark and enquired how this archway came to be included.

Mark explained:

“The archway in the background is a nod to the serpentine creature in the background of John Martin’s classic 1840 illustration “The Sea-Dragons as They Lived”.  Much of the right side of the image is a tribute to this work, as is the fact that virtually all the animals in my painting are savage and predatory.  We know that the Jurassic didn’t have any serpentine creatures like those imagined by Martin, so I had to improvise a little by changing his animal to a rock feature and landmass (the adjacent island is where the second ‘hump’ of his creature would be).  I decided to homage his work because, in a lot of ways, 19th century palaeoart is not dissimilar to iconography associated with the harder side of rock music, to which Lemmysuchus has an obvious connection.  Both are a bit silly in how dark and aggressive they are so, though stemming from very different cultures, they’re actually artistic bedfellows.”

“Great Sea Dragons” Illustration by John Martin circa 1840

"Great Sea Dragons" illustration by John Martin

The 1840 illustration of marine reptiles and pterosaurs by John Martin.

Talented paleoartist Mark has recently published a new work, highlighting his illustrations and providing an insight into the process or imagining and then recreating prehistoric scenes.  The book is entitled “Recreating an Age of Reptiles”, it is highly recommended.

To read a review of “Recreating an Age of Reptiles”“Recreating An Age of Reptiles” by Dr Mark Witton

Dr Witton added:

“It was quite fun bringing three very different influences together for this painting: the science of the animal itself; the aggressive, dark imagery associated with Motörhead and the influence of old school palaeoart.”

Lemmy from Motörhead (Ian Fraser Kilmister)

Motörhead frontman Lemmy

Lemmy (birth name Ian Fraser Kilmister).

Co-author Lorna Steel, (Dept. of Earth Sciences, Natural History Museum), proposed that the fearsome crocodylomorph should be named after her late musical hero.

Dr Steel stated:

“Although Lemmy passed away at the end of 2015, we’d like to think that he would have raised a glass to Lemmysuchus, one of the nastiest sea creatures to have ever inhabited the Earth.”

*In early 2016, a petition was organised to get the discoverers of the recently named, super-heavy element 115 Ununpentium, to change its name to Lemmium.  Despite attracting a reported 100,000 signatures the bid to place the heavy metal music pioneer onto the Periodic Table failed.  Still it’s not every day that you get a bone-crushing, Jurassic marine crocodile named after you.

8 08, 2017

Customised CollectA Deluxe Dimorphodon

By | August 8th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur Products, Main Page, Photos of Everything Dinosaur Products|0 Comments

Customised CollectA Deluxe Dimorphodon

At Everything Dinosaur, it is always a pleasure to hear from our customers.  We get sent lots of photographs of customised models, collectors having taken a model and given it a unique paint job.  Sometimes subtle changes are made to the body plan as well.  Take for example, Elizabeth who is a long-time collector of prehistoric animal replicas.  When CollectA introduced a large replica of the flying reptile Dimorphodon, Elizabeth jumped at the chance of acquiring it and then commissioned talented model maker Martin Garratt to re-paint the Pterosaur, providing her with a marvellous centrepiece for her model collection.

The Repainted CollectA 1:40 Scale Dimorphodon Model

CollectA Deluxe Dimorphodon repainted.

A repainted CollectA deluxe Dimorphodon replica.

Picture Credit: Marilyn (UMF models)

Exquisite Dimorphodon Figure

Dimorphodon is known from the Early Jurassic of England (fossils found at Lyme Regis by Mary Anning) and a second species has been described from Mexico.  It was a member of the Rhamphorhynchoid “Ram-for-rink-oid” Pterosaurs, a sub-order of the Pterosauria characterised by their long tails, with most genera having teeth but lacking a bony crest.  The term Rhamphorhynchoid helps to distinguish early Pterosaurs from later forms (Pterodactyloidea), although the term is beginning to fall out of favour with palaeontologists due to the difficulties of defining newly described Jurassic species using this grouping.

With a wingspan of around 1.4 metres and weighing approximately 1.5 kilogrammes, this Pterosaur was no giant and many early illustrations of this flying reptile placed it in a coastal environment, however, a number of scientists including the eminent Pterosaur expert Dr Mark Witton, have suggested that this strong-legged, big-headed fellow was probably more at home in forests away from sea.

A Closer View of the Wonderful Paintwork by Martin Garratt

CollectA Deluxe Dimorphodon repainted.

A closer view of the beautifully painted snout.

Picture Credit: Marilyn (UMF Models)

The CollectA Deluxe Dimorphodon Replica

CollectA Dimorphodon pterosaur model.

The CollectA Dimorphodon model with a movable lower jaw.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The CollectA Deluxe Dimorphodon Replica

Measuring a fraction under thirty-eight centimetres in length the CollectA Supreme Deluxe Dimorphodon (part of the CollectA Deluxe Prehistoric Life Collection), is a strong candidate for customisation.  The model even has an articulated lower jaw, making access to the inside of the mouth easier for painting.  The sands and browns of the original paint scheme have been replaced by much more dynamic and vibrant palate in Martin’s interpretation.  The “leopard spots” have been replaced by “tiger stripes” and the finished repainted model is superb.

Commenting on her commission, CollectA model fan Elizabeth stated:

“I have always been a great admirer of John Sibbick’s work (and several of his original paintings hang on my walls).  I have a soft spot for John’s painting of Dimorphodon that adorns pages 70-71 of Wellnhofer’s book “The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Pterosaurs” (1991) and I asked Martin if he would do something along those lines.”

We at Everything Dinosaur are also great fans of John Sibbick’s amazing artwork.  Team members were asked to write the press releases that accompanied the Royal Mail British prehistoric animal stamps that John was commissioned to paint.  The Dimorphodon illustration has been reproduced on numerous occasions, to illustrate both Dimorphodon macronyx and the sub-order of Pterosaurs as a whole.  For example, the Dimorphodon painting that inspired the colour scheme on the CollectA Dimorphodon can be found on page 172 of “The Concise Dinosaur Encyclopedia” published in 2004 by Kingfisher.

The Illustration by John Sibbick that Inspired the CollectA Dimorphodon Repaint

Dimorphodon illustration (John Sibbick).

Dimorphodon male and female by John Sibbick.

Picture Credit: John Sibbick

The picture above shows the John Sibbick artwork, the Dimorphodon on the right of the image is probably a male, the repainted CollectA model has been inspired by such illustrations and the resulting figure after Martin Garratt’s makeover is a truly unique and stunning model.

The Repainted CollectA Deluxe Dimorphodon

A repainted CollectA Dimorphodon model.

The repainted CollectA Dimorphodon replica.

Picture Credit: Marilyn (UMF Models)

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

” We always enjoy seeing how the models and replicas that we supply are customised by their owners.  We have known Martin and Marilyn at UMF Models for a number of years and we do get asked by our customers to send purchases direct to them for modification and personalisation.  Elizabeth’s Dimorphodon figure is fantastic and it just goes to show what can be achieved when a good, anatomically accurate production figure is repainted by a top-quality model maker and artist.”

See more of UMF Models on their Facebook page: Martin Garratt/UMF Models on Facebook

To view the CollectA Deluxe Dimorphodon and the other figures in the CollectA Deluxe range: CollectA Deluxe Prehistoric Life Model Range

7 08, 2017

The “Jaws” of the Early Triassic

By | August 7th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Birgeria americana – Big Mouthed Fish of the Early Triassic

The end Permian mass extinction event is widely regarded as the most devastating extinction known from the Phanerozoic Eon.  An estimated 57% of all marine families died out, virtually all the corals became extinct and ecosystems were effectively destroyed.  Notable casualties were the Trilobita, sea-scorpions (eurypterids) and many kinds of fish.  Life on land did not fare any better with many groups of amphibians and reptiles perishing.

Recently, some evidence has emerged that ecosystems bounced back remarkably quickly after this catastrophic event.  Further evidence of a speedy recovery comes in the form of a large fossilised skull from a new species of predatory marine fish discovered by palaeontologists from the University of Zurich during field work in Nevada.

Birgeria americana –A Top Marine Predator of the Early Triassic

Birgeria americana illustration.

A reconstruction of Birgeria americana with the fossil skull (bottom right).

Picture Credit: Nadine Bösch

The new species has been named Birgeria americana, a member of the ray-finned fishes (Actinopterygii) and fossils of this genus are mostly associated with Middle Triassic, much younger rocks, but the lineage can be traced back into the Late Permian.  Intriguingly, most species are much smaller, less than a metre in length, Birgeria americana in contrast, was a relatively giant, measuring around 1.72 to 1.85 metres long.

The “Jaws” of the Early Triassic

Recovered from rocks that have been dated to less than one million years after the end Permian extinction event, the discovery of such a large, voracious predator came as something of a surprise to the researchers.

Lead author of the study, recently published in the “Journal of Paleontology”, Dr Carlo Romano (Palaeontological Institute and Museum, University of Zurich) stated:

“The surprising find from Elko County in north-eastern Nevada is one of the most completely preserved vertebrate remains from this time period ever discovered in the United States.”

The new species has been described on the basis of a twenty-six-centimetre-long partial skull and jaws.  The jaws contain three parallel rows of robust, sharp teeth, the largest of which were up to two centimetres long.  This formidable dentition was further reinforced by several small teeth inside the mouth.

The Fossil Skull of B. americana

Birgeria americana fossilised skull and jaws.

The fossilised skull of Birgeria americana.

Picture Credit: University of Zurich

Hunting Like a Great White Shark

The research team postulate that this species of super-sized Birgeria hunted in a similar fashion to the extant Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias).  Prey fish were pursued and then bitten, resulting in massive blood loss for the victim.  The unfortunate prey was then swallowed whole.  The partial skull, preserved in a limestone nodule, was excavated from Lower Triassic beds close to Winecup  Ranch in Elko County (Nevada).  The area is famous for its Triassic vertebrate fossils including early Ichthyosaurs.

Prior to this discovery, researchers had assumed that ancient equatorial regions were too hot for vertebrates to survive during the Early Triassic (Nevada was close to the equator during the Early Triassic), the discovery of such a large, obvious predator suggests a rich and diverse food chain existed even at low latitudes.  Finds such as the newly discovered Birgeria species and the fossils of other vertebrates now show that marine hypercarnivores existed shortly after the end Permian mass extinction.  The existence of bony fish close to the equator, where Nevada was located some 250 million years ago, indicates that the temperature of the sea was a maximum of 36°C.  The eggs of today’s bony fish cannot develop normally at constant temperatures above 36°Celsius.

Dr Romano added:

“The vertebrates from Nevada show that previous interpretations of past biotic crises and associated global changes were too simplistic.  Despite the severity of the extinctions of that time and intense climatic changes, the food webs were able to redevelop faster than previously assumed.”

For an article on fossil finds from China, providing further evidence of marine biota recovery following the end Permian mass extinction: Window into an Ancient Marine Ecosystem

The scientific paper: “Marine Early Triassic Actinopterygii from Elko County (Nevada, USA): Implications for the Smithian Equatorial Vertebrate Eclipse” by Carlo Romano, James F. Jenks, Romain Jattiot, Torsten M. Scheyer, Kevin G. Bylund, and Hugo Bucher published in the Journal of Paleontology.

6 08, 2017

The Armour of Borealopelta markmitchelli

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

The Armour of Borealopelta markmitchelli

With the publishing of the formal description of the nodosaurid Borealopelta markmitchelli in the academic journal “Current Biology” this week, Everything Dinosaur has received a number of emails concerning this amazing fossil discovery.  The specimen, was lovingly prepared by museum technician Mark Mitchell who worked on the fossil for five and a half years, a total of something like 7,000 hours, as the dinosaur was exposed from its matrix one grain at a time.

The holotype (TMP 2011.033.0001), is currently on display at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, part of an exhibition entitled “Grounds for Discovery”.  This exhibition highlights the personal stories and amazing fossils that have been discovered as a result of the Museum’s collaboration with numerous industries such as road construction, house building, mining, and oil and gas extraction.

The emails we received concerned aspects such as the animal’s size (5.5 metres long and weighing around 1.3 tonnes) and from which part of Alberta did the fossil come from (north-eastern Alberta).  However, most of the emails were enquiring about the preservation of the armour.

The diagram below should help.

A Schematic Drawing of the Borealopelta markmitchelli Holotype Specimen

Dermal armour of Borealopelta.

Schematic line drawing of the dermal armour of Borealopelta.

Picture Credit: Current Biology

The picture above shows a schematic drawing of Borealopelta (A), with line drawings (B) and (C) showing the skull in dorsal and lateral views.  The different colours illustrate the preservation of different tissue types and the photographs (D to G) with accompanying line drawings show the range of dermal armour including osteoderms and scutes.  A close-up view of the neck (D), shows alternating cervical osteoderm bands (and preserved keratinous sheaths) and polygonal scales.

Photograph (E) shows a close-up view of the flank illustrating lateral thoracic osteoderms (with keratinous coverings) and polygonal scutes (scales).  A close view of the sacral shield area (F) showing more elements that make up the dermal armour and (G) shows a view of the forearm of Borealopelta (antebrachium) showing the amour (osteoderms and scales).

Note

Scale bar = 1 metre (A) and scale bar = 10 cm (B to G).

Body Armour in Life Position

The wonderful thing about this particular armoured dinosaur is that the osteoderms and scales that make up the body armour have been preserved in the position they were in when this dinosaur roamed Alberta during the Early Cretaceous.  The three-dimensional nature of the fossil has really helped the research team to understand how the mosaic of scutes, scales and osteoderms combined to provide the dermal armour.  The remains of the keratin sheaths and overlying skin was also preserved in some areas, melanosomes identified provide evidence of this dinosaur’s colouration.

To read an article about Borealopelta markmitchelliAmazing Armoured Dinosaur Fossil Reveals Countershading

5 08, 2017

Cambrian Worm with a Big Bite

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

New Species of Fossil Worm – the Jaws of the Cambrian

Despite the Burgess Shale fossil deposits having been studied for more than a hundred years, these ancient shales can still spring a few surprises.  For example, this week saw the publication of a description of a new fossil species of arrow worm, one that at ten centimetres long, is a relative giant compared to other members of its phylum, living or extinct.

A New Species of Fossil Marine Arrow Worm Described from Burgess Shale Deposits

Capinatator praetermissus illustrated.

An illustration of the Cambrian chaetognath Capinatator praetermissus.

Picture Credit: Marianne Collins

Capinatator praetermissus – Big-mouthed Predatory Marine Worm

The mysterious Chaetognatha, the bristle-jawed worms, often referred to as arrow worms, probably originated in the very Early Cambrian, but their soft bodies are rarely preserved in the fossil record.  However, a team of scientists, including Burgess Shale expert Jean-Bernard Caron (Royal Ontario Museum), have identified a new fossil species, based on around fifty specimens preserved in fine sediments in strata that make up part of the Middle Cambrian Burgess Shales (British Columbia).  The feeding apparatus comprises of up to twenty-five spines around each half of the simple mouth, nearly double the maximum number found in extant chaetognaths.  the large body size and formidable-looking mouth parts suggest that these acorn worms were important predators in the Cambrian marine environment.  This is one predator that could claim to be the “Jaws of the Cambrian”!

A Close-up View of the Fossilised Mouth Parts of C. praetermissus

Capinatator fossil.

Capinatator head showing the bristle-like feeding structures.

Picture Credit: JB Caron/Royal Ontario Museum

The picture above shows a fossil specimen from the collection site – the Walcott Quarry, Burgess Shale (Yoho National Park, British Columbia, Canada).  Capinatator praetermissus translates as “a swimming and grasping animal which remained overlooked for a long time”, in reference to the animal’s suggested ecological niche and the fact that despite decades of research centred around the Walcott Quarry, these fossil worms had been overlooked.

Writing in the academic journal “Current Biology”, the researchers examined numerous specimens that had soft tissue preservation.  It is likely that these animals swam near the seabed and that a population was buried rapidly by a mud flow.  The bristles of these worms have a relatively high fossil preservation potential.  For many years, these tough bristles were reported as conodont elements (conodonts are an extinct Class of small, jawless, marine vertebrates with pairs of robust tooth-bars that may have been used as filter-feeding apparatus), however, this research suggests that these marine worms occupied a different range of ecological niches compared to their living descendants today.  Most living members of the Chaetognatha are very small and make up a major component of marine zooplankton, but this newly named fossil species, Capinatator praetermissus was probably an active, pelagic (living above the sea floor), predator.  It has also been proposed that this animal could have been benthic, living on the sea floor.

An Illustration of the Body Plan of Capinatator praetermissus

The morphology of Capinatator.

Illustration of Capinatator showing body morphology along different angles.

Picture Credit: Marianne Collins

Primitive arrow worms were much larger and had evolved a greater number of spines around their mouths compared to their modern-day counterparts.  Capinatator represents one of the oldest species of arrow worm known from the fossil record.  The discovery of Capinatator suggests that miniaturisation and evolving into free floating zoo plankton may have been secondary, these animals becoming smaller and changing their roles in the marine biota as other predators such as the Arthropods became larger.

For an article about another Burgess Shale fossil worm discovery: Cambrian Suspension Feeder Provides Clue to Common Ancestor

To read an article about a monster marine worm from the Devonian: Monster Worm of the Devonian

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the help of the Royal Ontario Museum in the compilation of this article.

The scientific paper: “A Large Cambrian Chaetognath with Supernumeracy Grasping Spines” by Derek E.G. Briggs and Jean-Bernard Caron published in the journal “Current Biology”.

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