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/Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories

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

21 02, 2017

The Tully Monster Just Lost its Backbone

By | February 21st, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

“Tully Monster” Mystery Not Solved

Back in March 2016, Everything Dinosaur published an article on the enigmatic “Tully Monster” (Tullimonstrum gregarium), a bizarre creature of coastal waters and estuaries, first described in 1966, but not classified until fifty years later.  Trouble is, the proposal that this thirty-centimetre long, stalk-eyed animal was a vertebrate has been challenged.  It seems that the mystery surrounding how to classify the State fossil of Illinois (fossils have only been found in the Mazon Creek area of Illinois and nowhere else in the world), has not been solved.

The Bizarre Carboniferous Marine Animal Tullimonstrum gregarium

The Paleo-Creatures "Tully Monster" model.

The Paleo-Creatures Tullimonstrum replica.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Paleo-Creatures

Two separate recent studies had proposed that the “Tully Monster” was a soft-bodied vertebrate, one that is related to extant jawless fishes such as the very slimy Hagfish and the Lamprey (a fish, perhaps most famous for causing the demise of Henry I, the son of William the Conqueror, who died from a “surfeit of lampreys”.)

To read an article supporting the T. gregarium was a vertebrate theory: Tully Monster Riddle Solved

Vertebrate Theory Challenged

Palaeobiologists at the University of Pennsylvania have challenged the idea that Tullimonstrum was a primitive fish with a proboscis.  Writing in the academic journal “Palaeontology”, lead author Assistant Professor Lauren Sallan, (Dept. of Earth and Environmental Science) and her co-workers refute the vertebrate hypothesis.

Lauren stated:

​​​​​​​”This animal doesn’t fit easily in classification because it’s so weird.  It has these eyes that are on stalks and it has this pincer at the end of a long proboscis and there’s even disagreement about which way is up.  But the last thing that the Tully monster could be is a fish.”

Sallan and colleagues, which include Robert Sansom (University of Manchester), postdoctoral researcher John Clarke, Zerina Johnason (Natural History Museum, London), Sam Giles (Oxford University), Ivan Sansom of the University of Birmingham and Philippe Janvier of France’s Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, postulate that that the two papers which seemingly settled the Tully Monster debate are flawed, failing to definitively classify it as a vertebrate.

Junior Research Fellow Giles explained:

“It’s important to incorporate all lines of evidence when considering enigmatic fossils: anatomical, preservational and comparative.  Applying that standard to the Tully Monster argues strongly against a vertebrate identity.”

The Ancient Waters of the Mazon Creek Area 300 Million Years Ago

Life in Mazon Creek during the Late Carboniiferous.

Two “Tully Monsters” in the shallow waters of Mazon Creek.

Picture Credit: John Megahan

The Tully Monster has been known since the 1950’s, when the first fossils were found in the Mazon Creek fossil beds in central Illinois.  Since then, thousands of specimens have been identified from this locality, but they are not found anywhere else in the world.

Looking at the history of classification, Sallan explained that at first it was thought to be some sort of marine worm, then it was proposed that it was a form of mollusc, like a sea-slug.  Other palaeontologists have argued that this strange little animal has affinities with the Arthropoda, perhaps a distant relative of today’s shrimp.  Then in 2016, two research papers were published proposing that T. gregarium was actually a member of the back-boned group of animals – a vertebrate.

Evidence for the Vertebrate Theory

One study examined more than 1,200 Tullimonstrum fossils.  In some, the researchers observed a light band running down the creature’s mid-line, which they interpreted as a notochord, a kind of primitive backbone.  They also said it contained other internal organ structures, such as gill sacs, that identified it as a vertebrate, and that the animal’s teeth resembled those of a lamprey.

Assistant Professor Sallan and her colleagues noted that these conclusions are based on a misunderstanding of how fossils in Mazon Creek are preserved.  The Tully Monster samples come from what was once a muddy estuarine area and at Mazon Creek, internal soft tissues are very rarely preserved.  Lamprey fossils have been found in the Mazon Creek area and these fossils are markedly different from their supposed relative the Tully Monster.

In the other 2016 study, the researchers reported that scanning electron microscope images of the Tully Monsters’ eyes had revealed structures called melanosomes, which produce and store melanin.  That paper’s authors argued that the complex tissue structure they saw in the animals’ eyes indicated it was likely a vertebrate.  The Pennsylvania University led team counter this point by arguing that many Arthropods and Molluscs, also have complex eyes.

Sallan added:

“Eyes have evolved dozens of times.  It’s not too much of a leap to imagine Tully Monsters could have evolved an eye that resembled a vertebrate eye.”

Based on Sallan and her colleagues’ examination of Tullimonstrum eyes, these creatures in fact possess what is known as a cup eye, a relatively simpler structure that lacks a lens.

“So the problem is, if it does have cup eyes, then it can’t be a vertebrate because all vertebrates either have more complex eyes than that or they secondarily lost them.  But lots of other things have cup eyes, like primitive chordates, molluscs and certain types of worms,” the Assistant Professor stated.

In this research, not one of more than a thousand fossil specimens studied appeared to possess structures that are believed to be universal in aquatic vertebrates, namely otic capsules, components of the ear that allow animals to balance and a lateral line, a sensory structure along the flanks that enables fishes to orient themselves and to detect their surroundings.

Comparing the Anatomy of Tullimonstrum to Other Creatures

How to classify a "Tully Monster".

Comparing the “Tully Monster” to other creatures.

Picture Credit: Pennsylvania University

Lauren went onto state:

“You would expect at least a handful of the specimens to have preserved these structures.  Not only does this creature have things that should not be preserved in vertebrates, it doesn’t have things that absolutely should be preserved.”

The researchers said that an improper classification of such an unusual species has ripple effects on the larger field of evolution.

“Having this kind of misassignment really affects our understanding of vertebrate evolution and vertebrate diversity at this given time.  It makes it harder to get at how things are changing in response to an ecosystem if you have this outlier.  And though of course there are outliers in the fossil record, there are plenty of weird things and that’s great, if you’re going to make extraordinary claims, you need extraordinary evidence.”

It looks like, for the time being at least the “Tully Monster” has lost its backbone.

19 02, 2017

Yehuecauhceratops – A New Dinosaur from Mexico

By | February 19th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Yehuecauhceratops mudei – Mexican Relative of Nasutoceratops

Last week, a new species of North American horned dinosaur was announced.  Named Yehuecauhceratops (Y. mudei), at three metres long, it was little more than a third the size of Triceratops, but its discovery, after a ten-year-long exploration of Upper Cretaceous strata of the State of Coahuila (northern Mexico), is still significant, as it once again demonstrates that towards the end of the Age of Dinosaurs much of the ancient land known as Laramidia was home to very distinct populations of prehistoric animals.

A Model of the Reconstructed Skull of Yehuecauhceratops

A replica of the skull of Yehuecauhceratops.

A model of the skull of Yehuecauhceratops.

Picture Credit: Museo del Desierto, Mexico (The Coahuila Desert Museum)

Scraps of Bone but a Significant Bump

Fossils found in the Coahuila Desert in 2007 and in 2011 were very fragmentary and the field team from the Coahuila Desert Museum in collaboration with scientists from Germany who had joined them on the expedition, were not sure quite what they had found.  It was assumed it was a horned dinosaur, after all, the first horned dinosaur known from Mexico, Coahuilaceratops (named in 2010), had been found in the same area.  However, a piece of the head shield showed a small, but significant bump that distinguished the fossils from the Chasmosaurine Coahuilaceratops, the frill had a definite look of a Centrosaurine.

Pieces of the Head Shield Revealed Unique Morphology – The Fossils Represented a New Species

Fragment fossils representing Yehuecauhceratops.

A small but significant bump on part of the head shield identified this dinosaur as a Centrosaurine.

Picture Credit: The Journal of South American Earth Sciences

In total, Yehuecauhceratops mudei has been described from a partial and very fragmented skull, a thigh bone, elements of the hips, a few ribs and an array of fossil bone fragments.  We at Everything Dinosaur, estimate that only about 3% of the entire skeleton is known.  However, the morphological characteristics were enough for the scientists and their lead author Héctor Rivera-Sylva (The Coahuila Desert Museum), to propose that the fossils represented a new species of dinosaur.

Yehuecauhceratops is a combination of the local Nahuatl word for “ancient” and the Greek for “horned face”, while the species epithet “mudei” honours the Museo del Desierto in Coahuila, as this museum is referred to as the MUDE.

A Model of the Newly Described Horned Dinosaur – Yehuecauhceratops mudei

Yehuecauhceratops Museum Replica

Scientists have constructed a model of the Mexican dinosaur called Yehuecauhceratops.

Picture Credit: Museo del Desierto, Mexico (The Coahuila Desert Museum)

CPC 274

Until the publication of the scientific paper describing this new type of horned dinosaur from the Campanian-aged Aguja Formation of northern Mexico, the fossil material had been referred to by their catalogue number, CPC 274.  A model of the skull has been created plus a miniature figure of the dinosaur and the researchers at the Coahuila Desert Museum hope, that one day, the fossils will be able to go on public display.

Over the last decade or so, several new kinds of horned dinosaur from North America have been described.  Yehuecauhceratops was closely related to Nasutoceratops, fossils of which were found in slightly older deposits in southern Utah.  Writing in the Journal of South American Earth Sciences, the team conclude that Mexican Ceratopsia (currently represented by a total of three species), also experienced regional diversification.

It is likely that more horned dinosaur fossils representing new species await discovery in northern Mexico.  There are probably several more Ceratopsians going to be added to the list of Mexican dinosaurs and we look forward to writing about these scientific discoveries.

18 02, 2017

Late Permian Therapsid was Probably Venomous

By | February 18th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Euchambersia mirabilis was Probably Venomous

Detailed scans of the skull of the stem-mammal Euchambersia supports a theory first proposed by the enigmatic Baron Franz Nopcsa ninety years ago, that this Late Permian creature was venomous.  Scientists at the University of Witwatersrand (South Africa), concur with the Baron’s idea that this half-metre-long therapsid reptile known from the famous Karoo Supergroup, represents the earliest known venomous terrestrial vertebrate.

An Illustration of the Late Permian Therapsid Euchambersia mirabilis

Euchambersia mirabilis.

An illustration of the Late Permian therapsid Euchambersia.

Baron Nopcsa was an Austro-Hungarian aristocrat who discovered and identified a number of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals around the world.  In 1933, during a trip to South Africa, he looked at the remains of a therapsid found a couple of years earlier by Robert Broom, the fossil was identified as a distant ancestor of today’s Mammalia.  Nopcsa stated that the fossils probably represented an animal with a deadly bite.

Nopcsa declared that this was probably the earliest venomous species ever recorded.  However, his theory couldn’t be confirmed or disproved because venom and venom glands don’t fossilise.  A study of the skull and the upper jaw (maxilla) had shown that E. mirabilis had a huge, deep maxillary fossa (a hollow), associated with a ridged canine.  To the Baron, this implied that Euchambersia possessed a specialised gland situated inside the maxillary fossa that was capable secreting venom down the ridged canine tooth into victims.

CT Scanning Technology Provides Support for Nopcsa’s Theory

A team of researchers from the Johannesburg-based university set out to scan the known fossil skulls of Euchambersia and to create detailed three-dimensional images.  It seems that Baron Nopcsa was right, the 21st Century technology supports the idea that the 255 million-year-old Euchambersia is indeed, the earliest example of a venomous terrestrial vertebrate known to science.  Some extant mammals produce venom, for example, the bizarre Australian Duck-billed platypus (a monotreme), but also amongst placentals there are venomous mammals too.  With a stem-mammal probably being venomous, it puts forward a tantalising idea that in the past, all early mammal forms may have had venom, but as the synapsid lineage that was to give rise to modern mammals evolved, so the venom producing glands were lost.

Known from Only Two Fossil Specimens

The fossils that Baron Nopcsa studied back in 1933, represent a species that is only known from one other set of fossils.  Both specimens were discovered in the same area, just a few metres apart close to the town of Colesberg (Northern Cape Province of South Africa).  The second specimen was not found until 1966.  One specimen is housed in the collection of the Natural History Museum London, the other is at the Evolutionary Studies Institute in Johannesburg.

A Closer View of One of the Euchambersia Skulls Used in the Study

Euchambersia mirabilis skull fossil.

A closer look at one of the Euchambersia mirabilis fossil skulls.

Picture Credit: University of Witwatersrand

Each specimen was CT scanned at its respective institute, and the London data was sent to the researchers at the University of Witwatersrand.  The three-dimensional models that the images were able to provide gave the scientists the opportunity to explore in great detail the internal structure of the upper jaw.

CT Scans Revealed New Details of Euchambersia Skull and Jaw Anatomy

CT scans suggest Euchambersia was first terrestrial venomous Tetrapod.

CT scans showing various views of the Euchambersia skull material.

Picture Credit: PLOS One/University Witwatersrand

Lead author of the report, published in PLOS One, Dr Julien Benoit commented:

“We found that a wide, deep and circular fossa to accommodate a venom gland was present on the upper jaw and was connected to the canine and the mouth by a fine network of bony grooves and canals.  Moreover, we discovered previously undescribed teeth hidden in the vicinity of the bones and rock, two incisors with preserved crowns and a pair of large canines, that all had a sharp ridge.   Such a ridged dentition would have helped the injection of venom inside a prey.”

Dr Julien Benoit Holding One of the Skulls that was Scanned

Holding one of the Euchambersia fossil skulls.

Dr Julien Benoit holds one of the Euchambersia fossil skulls.

Picture Credit: University of Witwatersrand

It seems that Euchambersia had anatomical adaptations which were compatible with venom production.  The confirmation of the Baron’s theory strengthens the belief that pre-mammalian therapsids were very diverse and occupied a wide range of niches within Late Permian and Early Triassic ecosystems.  These ancient creatures, distantly related to our own species, diversified as herbivores and carnivores, large and small, burrowing and ground-dwelling species.  As the earliest venomous species and a representative of this early wave of pioneering species, Euchambersia directly reflects the extraordinary adaptive capabilities of these mammalian forerunners.

The scientific paper: “Reappraisal of the Envenoming Capacity of Euchambersia mirabilis (Therapsida, Therocephalia) using μCT-scanning Techniques,” published in the on line journal PLOS One.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of the University of Witwatersrand in the compilation of this article.

17 02, 2017

An Unexpected Early Triassic Marine Ecosystem

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

American Fossil Site Shows Diverse Range of Marine Fauna Post Permian Extinction Event

A team of international scientists writing in the on line academic journal “Science Advances” have published details of a complex and diverse Early Triassic marine ecosystem that contradicts the commonly held view that life on Earth was slow to recover from the catastrophic End Permian mass extinction.  The fossils of around thirty different species of marine creature have been excavated from shales and limestone near to the city of Paris in Idaho (USA).  Four sites in total have been unearthed in Bear Lake County and they represent a marine ecosystem that existed just 1.3 million years after the Permian mass extinction event, the most devastating extinction event recorded in the whole of the Phanerozoic Eon (visible life).

Just 1.3 Million Years After the End Permian Extinction Event a Surprisingly Diverse Marine Ecosystem Thrived

Early Triassic marine fauna.

The Early Triassic marine fauna of the Paris Basin (Idaho).

Picture Credit: Jorge Gonzalez

A Dynamic Marine Ecosystem

Ammonite and conodont fossils have been used as biostratigraphical markers and the site has been dated to the middle Olenekian faunal stage of the Early Triassic, approximately 250.6 million years ago.  The fossils demonstrate that life, at least in some parts of the world bounced back remarkably quickly after the End Permian extinction event that is believed to have wiped out around 95% of life on the planet.

Lead author of the paper, palaeontologist Arnaud Brayard of the University of Burgundy-Franche-Comté (France) stated:

“Our discovery was totally unexpected.”

The Location of the Paris Basin Site (Modern and Mesozoic)

The Bear Lake (Paris Basin) fossil site location.

The Bear Lake fossil site location (modern and during the Early Mesozoic).

Picture Credit: Romano et al (Science Advances)

The picture above shows (A) the site of the Paris Basin in the context of the geography of the United States, (B) a close up of the location of the dig sites (Paris biota) identified by the researchers.  Picture (C) shows the approximate position of the Paris Basin during the Early Triassic.  The site was very close to the equator during the Early Triassic.

Surprising Fossil Discoveries

The diverse ecosystem consisted of ammonites and other cephalopods, sponges, brachipods and bivalves along with echinoids (sea urchins) crinoids, crustaceans and several vertebrates including marine reptiles, sharks more than two metres long and bony fish.  The Paris Basin ecosystem, included some unexpected creatures.  There was a type of sponge previously believed to have gone extinct 200 million years earlier (leptomitid sponges), and a squid-like group (gladius-bearing coleoids), previously thought not to have evolved until the Late Triassic.  In addition, the scientists report the finding of bones that could represent the earliest-known Ichthyosaur or at least a direct ancestor of an Ichthyosaur. Several other fossils display anatomical characteristics that were thought to have evolved much later (for example, echinoderms), indicating an early and rapid post-Permian/Triassic boundary diversification for these groups as well as previously unknown phylogenetical links between Palaeozoic and Mesozoic taxa.

Brayard added:

“The Early Triassic is a complex and highly disturbed Epoch, but certainly not a devastated one as commonly assumed, and this epoch has not yet yielded up all its secrets.”

Some of the Fossils Representing the Remarkable and Diverse Early Triassic Marine Fauna

Fossils from the Paris Basin (Idaho).

Examples of the multitude of fossil from the Paris Basin.

Picture Credit: A. Brayard, Université Bourgogne Franche-Comté (A to G); T. Saucède, Université Bourgogne Franche-Comté (H); and B. Thuy, Natural History Museum Luxembourg (I).

The photograph above shows a selection of fossils from the Paris Basin (A) a sponge fossil and ammonites, (B) leptomitid sponge and tiny brachiopods, (C) an ancient lobster, (D) a new genus of thylacocephalan crustacean and (E) shrimp fossil.  Picture (F) shows another shrimp fossil depicted under ultraviolet light. Whilst picture (G) shows a Gladius-bearing coleoid, a type of cephalopod that previously, had been thought to have evolved some fifty million years later.  A crinoid stem is shown in picture (H) and (I) depicts the remains of a Brittlestar.  Scale bars equal five millimetres for all the pictures, except for photograph (B) – scale bar one centimetre.

The researchers conclude that the Paris Biota highlights the key evolutionary position of Early Triassic fossil ecosystems in the transition from the Palaeozoic to the modern marine evolutionary fauna at the dawn of the Mesozoic era.

 The scientific paper: “Unexpected Early Triassic Marine Ecosystem and the Rise of the Modern Evolutionary Fauna”, published in the journal Science Advances.

15 02, 2017

First Live Birth Evidence in Ancient Dinosaur Relative

By | February 15th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Dinocephalosaurus – The Only Known Viviparous Archosauromorph

The first ever evidence of live birth in an animal group previously thought to lay eggs exclusively has been discovered by an international team of scientists, including a palaeontologist from the University of Bristol.  Writing in the academic journal “Nature Communications”, the researchers report upon the identification of a potential embryo inside the mother, a specimen of the long-necked Archosauromorph Dinocephalosaurus (D. orientalis).  Live birth (viviparity), is known in a number of extant reptiles, especially members of the Order Squamata, wherein a number of species of snakes and lizard “hatch” inside their mother and emerge without a shelled egg.  However, this is the first time that live birth has been recorded in the Archosauromorpha, the infraclass of diapsid Tetrapods that includes birds, crocodiles and dinosaurs.

An Illustration of the Long-Necked Marine Reptile Dinocephalosaurus (Location of Embryo Shown in Drawing)

Dinocephalosaurus illustration.

Dinocephalosaurus illustration. The red circle shows the approximate location of the embryo.

Picture Credit: Dinghua Yang with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows an illustration of the marine reptile Dinocephalosaurus.  The approximate position of the embryo inside the mother is indicated by the red circle.

Egg laying is regarded by many scientists as a more primitive form of reproduction, seen at the base of reptiles, within the amphibious anamniotes and the ancestors of terrestrial vertebrates (fish).  The fossil was found in 2008, at a quarry famous for marine fossils located in Yunnan Province (southern China).  Dinocephalosaurus was a long-necked, piscivore that flourished in warm, tropical, shallow sea that once covered much of China.  Its fossils have been dated to the Middle Triassic.  Dinocephalosaurus has been classified as a member of the Tanystropheidae family of Archosauromorphs but how closely related it was to the better known Tanystropheus remains open to debate.

An Illustration of a Typical Member of the Tanystropheidae (Tanystropheus)

A drawing of Tanystropheus.

A drawing of the bizarre Triassic reptile Tanystropheus.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The Tanystropheidae family flourished during the Triassic and they were quite ecologically diverse.  Most of the genera are associated with Tethys Ocean coastline deposits, although several species are associated with strata laid down inland.  The scientists discovered the embryo inside the rib cage of the mother, and it faces forward making it less likely to have been consumed.  Swallowed animals generally face backward because the predator swallows its prey head-first to help it go down its throat.  Furthermore, the small reptile inside the mother is an example of the same species.

Lead study author, Professor Jun Liu from Hefei University of Technology (China), stated:

“We were so excited when we first saw this embryonic specimen several years ago, but we were not sure if the embryonic specimen is the last lunch of the mother or its unborn baby.  Upon further preparation and closer inspection, we realised that something unusual has been discovered.  Further evolutionary analysis reveals the first case of live birth in such a wide group containing birds, crocodilians, dinosaurs and the Pterosauria among others, and pushes back evidence of reproductive biology in the group by fifty million years.”

The Fossilised Remains Showing a Close View of the Embryo in the Rib Cage

Dinocephalosaurus illustration.

Dinocephalosaurus illustration. The red circle shows the approximate location of the embryo.

Picture Credit: Jun Lu

Implications for Other Members of the Archosauromorphs

Evolutionary analysis shows that this instance of live birth was also associated with genetic sex determination.  Co-author of the scientific paper, Professor Chris Organ, (Montana State University) commented:

“Some reptiles today, such as crocodiles, determine the sex of their offspring by the temperature inside the nest.  We identified that Dinocephalosaurus, a distant ancestor of crocodiles, determined the sex of its babies genetically, like mammals and birds.”

The researchers conclude that this specimen from Yunnan Province rewrites our understanding of the evolution of reproductive systems.  Perhaps, some distant descendants of these reptiles also retained this reproductive strategy, with other Archosauromorph members using live birth rather than external egg laying.  Maybe some dinosaurs were viviparous.

The embryo measures around fifty centimetres in length, when fully grown Dinocephalosaurus measured over three metres long (although about half of its entire body length was made up of that super-sized neck).  It is possible, that the scientists have drawn the wrong conclusion.  The animal, if it was a baby Dinocephalosaurus and not the fossil specimen’s last meal that “went down the wrong way”, may have been in an egg and the eggshell that once surrounded the embryo was not preserved during the fossilisation process.  That explanation cannot be completely ruled out, but Professor Benton explained that the embryo’s bones were very well developed, whilst all living Archosauromorphs lay eggs very early in embryonic development.

Furthermore, the team suggest that Dinocephalosaurus’s long neck and other features of its anatomy indicate it could not have manoeuvred easily out of the water, meaning a reproductive strategy like that of turtles, which lay eggs on land before returning to the water, was probably not an option.

Professor Mike Benton (School of Earth Sciences, Bristol University), another co-author of the paper said:

“The analysis of the evolutionary position of the new specimens shows there is no fundamental reason why Archosauromorphs could not have evolved live birth.  This combination of live birth and genotypic sex determination seems to have been necessary for animals such as Dinocephalosaurus to become aquatic.  It’s great to see such an important step forward in our understanding of the evolution of a major group coming from a chance fossil find in a Chinese field.”

Professor Benton added that since we now know that no fundamental biological barrier to live births exists in the Archosauromorpha, palaeontologists would be “looking very closely” at other fossils.  He suggested one target would be a group of aquatic crocodile relatives, whose mode of reproduction was not well known.

This piece of work is part of wider collaborations between palaeontologists in China, the United States, the UK and Australia.

The scientific paper: “Live birth in an Archosauromorph Reptile” by J. Liu, C. L. Organ, M. J. Benton, M. C. Brandley and J. C. Aitchison published in Nature Communications

Everything Dinosaur recognises the assistance of the University of Bristol in the compilation of this article.

13 02, 2017

Spiny, Armoured Slug Provides Best Evidence for the Ancestry of Molluscs

By | February 13th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Spiny but Slimy and with a Radula – Calvapilosa kroegeri

Scientists from the University of Bristol have uncovered a 480-million-year-old slug-like fossil in Morocco which sheds new light on the evolution of molluscs, a diverse group of invertebrates that includes clams, snails and cephalopods like squid and cuttlefish.

A Model of the Newly Described Calvapilosa kroegeri

Viewed from the top (left) and the bottom (right) - Calvapilosa kroegeri.

Calvapilosa kroegeri dorsal and ventral views.

Picture Credit: Dr Jakob Vinther

One of the defining characteristics of the molluscs is the possession of a radula, a kind of toothed-tongue which is used to rake up or rasp food.  The radula houses hundreds of teeth, the patterns of which can be used to determine diet and identify species.  Whilst not all molluscs have a radula, a radula cannot be found in any other group of animals.  It is a characteristic of the Mollusca Phylum.

Dr Jakob Vinther, from the Schools of Biological Sciences and Earth Sciences, is lead author of the study, which is published today in the academic journal Nature.

Dr Vinther stated:

“The molluscs are amongst the earliest animals identifiable in the fossil record, however determining what their ancestor looked like is difficult since many of the groups appear within a small window of time, making the sequence of evolutionary events difficult to piece together.”

The recent discovery of a new species of mollusc in the Anti-Atlas region in Morocco has enabled palaeontologists to revisit this problem and infer the appearance of the ancestor of all molluscs.  The new species discovered, Calvapilosa kroegeri, is part of the Fezouata Biota, a group of organisms from the early Ordovician period (485-470 million years ago), which are found in rocks in south-eastern Morocco.  The Fezouata Biota is famed for its exceptional preservation, allowing palaeontologists to identify details not preserved from any other fossil site.

Co-author of the scientific paper, Luke Parry, a PhD student at the University of Bristol, added:

“Calvapilosa kroegeri resembles a slug covered with short spines all over its upper body and with a large ‘fingernail-like shell’ over its head.  In the centre of the head of this species are two rows of teeth which we demonstrate is a radula.”

The discovery of this feeding structure firmly identifies Calvapilosa kroegeri as a mollusc.  Additionally, it suggests that similar fossil forms, such as Halkieria, a two-plated slug-like fossil, are also molluscs and possessed a radula.  Following an analysis to determine the family tree of molluscs, Calvapilosa kroegeri was revealed to be the most primitive member of the lineage leading to chitons.  Chitons can still be found today and are characterised by their possession of eight shell plates and spines around their margin, similar to what is seen covering the body of Calvapilosa.

Looking Like a Hairy Fingernail Calvapilosa kroegeri Fossil

Calvapilosa looks like a "hairy fingernail".

The fossil of Calvapilosa kroegeri, preserving the feeding apparatus (radula) and all the spines that covered the body.

Picture Credit: Peter Van Roy

Dr Vinther concluded:

“If we trace back the evolution of chitons, we can see that the number of their shells has increased with time.  It is therefore likely that the ancestor to all molluscs was single-shelled and covered in bristle-like spines, not dissimilar to Calvapilosa kroegeri.”

The Scientific Paper: “Ancestral Morphology of Crown-group Molluscs Revealed by a New Ordovician Stem Aculiferan” by J. Vinther, L. Parry, D. Briggs and P. Van Roy, published in Nature.

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

12 02, 2017

Significant Rock Fall at Stonebarrow Hill

By | February 12th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Main Page, Press Releases|0 Comments

Rock Fall Highlights the Dangers of Dorset Cliffs

Everything Dinosaur team members have received reports about a large rock fall in the area of Stonebarrow Hill, east of the popular tourist destination – Charmouth (Dorset).  With many schools due to have their half-term break in the next couple of weeks or so, the beaches in this part of Lyme Regis will soon start to get busy with eager fossil collectors looking to find fossils washed out of the cliffs during the winter storms.  However, the significant rock fall highlights the potential dangers when fossil hunting close to unstable cliffs.

Large Boulders and Debris Under Stonebarrow Hill

Rock fall at Stonebarrow Hill (Dorset).

A significant rock fall at Stonebarrow Hill (Dorset).

Picture Credit: Brandon Lennon

Local fossil expert and fossil walks tour guide, Brandon Lennon commented:

“The large fall happened after the last storm.  Huge blocks came tumbling down onto the beach.  This area, the beach to the east of Charmouth, is a particularly popular fossil hunting location, especially for ammonites as the low tide washes fossils out of the mud slips.”

Blue-Grey Lower Lias Clays

The unstable and rapidly eroding cliffs to the east of the old cement works and Charmouth visitor centre are composed of blue-grey lower lias clays.  At low tide the foreshore area is exposed and this is a popular part of the Dorset coast for fossil collecting, especially in the early Spring after winter storms.  Like much of the coast in this part of Dorset, the cliffs are extremely dangerous and rock falls are common.  The cliffs rise steeply and any debris falling from them has the momentum to travel quite a long way onto the sandy beach before coming to rest.  We urge all would-be fossil hunters to take great care when visiting this part of the Dorset coast.

Stonebarrow Hill in Relation to the Charmouth Visitor Centre

Charmouth and Stonebarrow Hill.

The view east of Lyme Regis showing Charmouth and the location of Stonebarrow Hill.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above was taken in 2015 and it shows the location of Stonebarrow Hill in relation to Charmouth.  This is the view looking eastwards from the newly constructed coastal seawall at Lyme Regis.  A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur stated:

“The fossil hunting season is nearly upon us!  Longer days and better weather (hopefully), we see popular fossil hunting places like Lyme Regis attracting large numbers of amateur fossil hunters and families keen to explore the area in the hope of finding some Jurassic-age marine fossils to take home.  However, the recent rock fall at Stonebarrow Hill highlights the potential dangers and we urge all visitors to stay away from the cliffs.”

The action of time and tide over the winter months will have exposed a lot of new material on the beaches to the east and west of the picturesque town of Lyme Regis.  There will be lots of fossils awaiting discovery and visitors do not have to stray too close to the cliffs to find them.

Eyes Down – Fossil Prospecting

Prospecting for fossils (Lyme Regis)

Looking for fossils at Lyme Regis.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The foreshore will contain plenty of fossils that have been washed down from the cliffs, this area, well clear of the cliffs, will still provide plenty of fun for families looking for ammonites, belemnite guards, crinoid stems and such like.  You might get really lucky and find an Ichthyosaur paddle bone or a vertebra.

The unstable cliffs coupled with dangerous tides can never be taken lightly.  Our best advice is to go on a guided fossil walk with a local expert.  A fossil expert, such as Brandon Lennon, with his wealth of knowledge, can show visitors to the Lyme Regis area, the best (and safest) places to find fossils.

For information on guided fossil walks: Lyme Regis Fossil Walks

6 02, 2017

Fossil Hunting at Nuremberg Airport

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

Fossil Hunting at the Airport

Waiting at an airport can be quite boring.  Once check in and the security searches have been completed, then there is not much more to do prior to boarding your flight.  However, for Everything Dinosaur team members returning from Germany, one airport provided them with the opportunity to go on an unexpected fossil hunt.  The polished limestone floors at Nuremberg Airport (southern Germany), are full of Jurassic marine invertebrate fossils.

A Fossil Spotted at the Airport (Nuremberg Airport)

The stone floors at Nuremberg airport are full of fossils.

A cephalopod fossil (ammonite) on the airport stone floor.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The Jurassic of Germany

In southern Germany, particularly the state of Bavaria, in the region from Nuremberg in the north to Munich in the south, there are many limestone exposures and limestone quarries to be found.  Formed from carbonate rich muds that once existed at the bottom of salty lagoons and shallow coastal margins, the rocks are famous for their fine-grained structure and flat cleaving.  These properties help to make this limestone ideal building material and the stone in this part of Germany (known as Plattenkalk), has been quarried for thousands of years.

Most of the limestone represents sediments laid down in the Middle and Late Jurassic and large areas are highly fossiliferous.  Travellers at Nuremberg Airport were quite surprised to see members of Everything Dinosaur on their hands and knees, examining and photographing various floor tiles.

Jurassic Invertebrate Fossils in Abundance at Nuremberg Airport

Jurassic fossils at Nuremberg Airport.

An ammonite fossil with the cross section of a belemnite guard.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

In the picture above, the cross section of a belemnite guard can be clearly seen on one tile, abutted up against it is another tile that shows the cross-sectional outline of an ammonite.  There are also numerous bivalve and brachiopod fossils preserved in the stone floor.  Thousands of people visit Nuremberg Airport every week, but we wonder how many of them actually notice what they are walking on!

 Ten years ago, Everything Dinosaur blogged about an innovative fossil hunting tour that could be undertaken by travellers at John Lennon Airport (Liverpool).  The ancient remains of long extinct sea creatures can be seen in the stone of the walls and floors of the concourse.  John Lennon Airport introduced the “JLA Fossil Mystery Tour” in collaboration with the Liverpool Geological Society.

To read more about the John Lennon Airport Fossil Hunting Tour: Why Not go on a Fossil Hunt Whilst Waiting at the Airport?

Perhaps the Nuremberg Airport authorities have missed a trick, with such a wonderful stone floor, travellers could be encouraged to have a go at finding fossils for themselves.  There are certainly many hundreds of fossils to see, perhaps if a tour could not be organised, then it might be a good idea to put up some information boards and displays.  You never know, it might encourage more tourists to visit the museums in the area such as the Naturhistorisches Museum of Nuremberg.

Ancient Traces Preserved in the Limestone Floor

Two fossils in the airport.

Fossils at Nuremberg airport.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows two more ammonite fossils, although it is difficult to identify genera, the larger specimen (bottom left), still shows its fine, straight ribs that would have adorned the outside of the shell.  The smaller ammonite cross section (right), shows some preservation of internal structure, could those be suture lines we are seeing?

What an Ammonite Actually Looked Like

A model of an Ammonite.

A great ammonite model for use in schools, museums and for model collectors.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows the excellent Wild Safari Prehistoric World ammonite model.  If you look carefully at the stone floors at Nuremberg Airport you can spot the preserved remains of Jurassic ammonites and other extinct marine creatures.

To view the range of prehistoric animal models including the Wild Safari Prehistoric World ammonite available from Everything Dinosaur: Wild Safari Prehistoric World Models

5 02, 2017

Ancient Rhino Remains on a Norfolk Beach

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

Storms Reveal Rhino Remains

The recent storms and high tides have further eroded the cliffs at the West Runton beach (Norfolk, East Anglia), revealing the beautifully preserved remains of a neck bone from an ancient rhinoceros that roamed this part of England around 700,000 years ago.  The fossilised remains of a single neck bone, the atlas (cervical 1), was spotted and local volunteers in collaboration with fossil conservation experts have carefully excavated and removed the rare find.

Spotted on West Runton Beach – A Fossil Neck Bone from a Rhino

Cervical vertebra of an ancient rhino.

The exposed elements of the Atlas (C1) of the rhinoceros found on West Runton beach.

Picture Credit: Martin Warren

West Runton Beach

The Norfolk cliffs at West Runton, just west of the town of Cromer are world-famous for their Pleistocene Epoch exposures, particularly the, peaty Upper Freshwater Bed which has produced a huge variety of vertebrate and invertebrate fossil remains.  Fossil expert and former curator at the nearby Cromer Museum, Martin Warren explained:

“There has been quite a bit of interest in scouring the Cromer cliff area for geological finds recently.  In the aftermath of storms, more people are coming to see what they can find, but the West Runton Freshwater Bed is a precious scientific resource.”

The area has SSSI status (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and hammering or digging into the cliffs is strictly forbidden.  However, time and tide is exposing this area’s ancient fauna and flora, although no formal identification of the atlas bone has been made, it is likely the fossil comes from a Stephanorhinus hundsheimensis, a rhino whose fossils are associated with the Upper Freshwater Bed locality.  A partial skull with teeth was found in January 2015, close to this new discovery.  It is not known whether the neck bone and the skull represent the same animal.

The Partial Skull and Teeth of S. hundsheimensis found in Early 2015

Stephanorhinus hundsheimensis fossils.

Stephanorhinus – Partial Skull and Teeth.

Stephanorhinus hundsheimensis

The neck bone has been dated to a warm interglacial period known as the Cromerian Interglacial.  Such is the importance of the West and East Runton beaches to geologists, that the Cromerian Interglacial was named after the nearby town of Cromer.  It was from these Norfolk beaches that geologists first identified fauna and flora indicating a period of global warming in between Ice Ages.

An Illustration of the Ancient Rhinoceros – Stephanorhinus hundsheimensis

Stephanorhinos hundsheimensis illustration.

An illustration of the prehistoric rhinoceros (Stephanorhinus hundsheimensis).

Picture Credit: C. C. Flerov, Sammlungen, Senckenberg Research Institute, Research Station of Quaternary Palaeontology,Weimar

Standing around 1.2 metres high at the shoulder Stephanorhinus hundsheimensis weighed around 750 kilogrammes and it was widespread across Europe for much of the Pleistocene Epoch.  Regarded as a generalist, living in both forest and more open habitats, this rhino, which was named from a fossil site in Austria, faced increasing competition when two, more specialised types of rhinoceros evolved.  Stephanorhinus kirchbergensis, also known as the Merck’s rhinoceros, began to displace the Hundsheim rhino in forest habitats and the Steppe rhino (Stephanorhinus hemitoechus) gradually replaced S. hundsheimensis on the grasslands.  One ancient rhino was superseded by better adapted species of rhinoceros, Stephanorhinus hundsheimensis became extinct around 580,000 years ago.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“Hopefully this new fossil will shed further light on the remarkable fauna of East Anglia during the Pleistocene Epoch.  Although we advise care, especially around the cliffs, local fossil hunters and collectors can often spot important specimens that might otherwise get washed into the sea.”

1 02, 2017

More Dinosaur Proteins Found

By | February 1st, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Evidence of Preserved Collagen in the Early Jurassic Dinosaur Lufengosaurus

Just days after writing about a scientific paper published in the academic publication “The Journal of Proteome Research”, which confirmed the presence of collagen in the fossilised bones of an 80 million-year-old duck-billed dinosaur, then a second paper comes along reporting evidence of preserved collagen in a much older dinosaur, a Lufengosaurus, a herbivore that roamed Asia back in the Early Jurassic.

Lufengosaurus – a Sauropodomorph from the Early Jurassic

The CollectA Lufengosaurus dinosaur model.

The CollectA Lufengosaurus model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Writing in the journal “Nature Communications”, researchers from the National Central University of Taiwan, the National Synchrotron Radiation Research Centre (Taiwan) and in collaboration with palaeontologist Robert Reisz (Dept. of Biology, University of Toronto Mississauga, Ontario, Canada) report on the discovery of protein preservation in a terrestrial vertebrate found inside the vascular canals of a rib of a 195-million-year-old sauropodomorph dinosaur, where blood vessels and nerves would normally have been present in the living reptile.

The Lufengosaurus Rib Bone that was Used in the Research

Lufengosaurus rib fragment.

A fragment of Lufengosaurus rib bone prior to collagen study.

Picture Credit: Nature Communications

Evidence of peptides and amino acids have been found before in dinosaur bones, even evidence of dinosaur blood and red blood cells, although a lot of this research remains controversial.  What is significant about this study, is that the vast majority of the organic traces found within the Dinosauria fossil record relate to bones of animals that lived during the Late Cretaceous.   In this new paper, the scientists report evidence of proteins that make up collagen in a fossil rib bone from a dinosaur that lived some 195 million-years-ago.

Palaeontologist Dr Robert Reisz, heralded the significance of this research, which used a synchrotron to analyse the mineral content of a cross-section of rib bone, he stated:

“We hope to be able to learn more about the biology of these animals and the more we know about their soft tissues the more we will know about them overall.  We are actually looking at the preservation of the original materials that were in the living organism rather than an impression of the soft tissues that were there.”

Blood from a Dinosaur?

The synchrotron permitted the team to examine the infrared spectroscopy of tiny fragments of the rib bone.  Signatures of proteins typical of collagen were picked up along with iron-rich proteins found within the walls of microscopic blood vessels located deep with the rib (specimen number CXPM Z4644).

A Highly-magnified Section of the Rib Showing a Vascular Canal with Potential Dinosaur Blood Remnants

Evidence of dinosaur blood?

Rib section with vascular canal associated with dark iron rich particles that probably constitute preserved elements of dinosaur blood.

Picture Credit: Dr Reisz (University of Toronto Mississauga)

The image above shows a rib section with vascular canal associated with dark iron rich particles (haematite) that probably constitute preserved elements of dinosaur blood.

To read Everything Dinosaur’s recently published article about duck-billed dinosaur collagen: Researchers Confirm Duck-billed Dinosaur Collagen

This new study may not represent the oldest traces of reptile proteins found in the fossilised remains of Mesozoic creatures.  In 2016, Everything Dinosaur reported on evidence of blood vessels and proteins having been identified within the fossilised bones of some Triassic marine reptiles, to read about this: Spectroscopic Studies on Organic Matter from Triassic Reptiles

The scientific paper detailing the Lufengosaurus research: “Evidence of preserved collagen in an Early Jurassic sauropodomorph dinosaur revealed by synchrotron FTIR microspectroscopy”, published in the journal “Nature Communications”.

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