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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.

18 04, 2017

New Species of Arowana Fish from the Eocene of China

By | April 18th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

The Origins of the Dragon Fish (Scleropages)

Scientists from the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology (IVPP) have published details of the discovery of beautifully preserved fish fossils from China that have helped map the origins of one of the most valuable and sought after aquarium fishes in the world.  Scleropages formosus, the Asian Arowana, otherwise known as the Dragon Fish from south-eastern Asia, quite rare in the wild these days, but it is highly regarded amongst freshwater aquarium owners, who can splash out thousands of dollars to acquire particularly colourful specimens.

In a scientific paper published in the journal “Vertebrata PalAsiatica”, Dr Zhang Jiangyong (IVPP) in collaboration with Dr Mark Wilson (University of Alberta), report on the discovery of a new species of osteoglossid fish from the Early Eocene Xiwanpu Formation in Hunan and the Yangxi Formation in Hubei, (China).  The prehistoric fish is remarkable similar to the extant species and it has been named Scleropages sinensis (the name translates as “hard scaled leaves from China”, a reference to the robust tough body scales that characterises these fish).

The Holotype Fossil Material of Scleropages sinensis

The holotype fossil material of S. sinensis.

Holotype of Scleropages sinensis.

Picture Credit: Zhang Jiangyong (IVPP)

The picture above shows the beautifully preserved holotype specimen of S. sinensis.  The fins are labelled (df) = dorsal fin, (cf) = caudal fin, (af) = anal fin, (pf and pec f) = pectoral fins, scale bar 1 centimetre.

This is the first time a nearly complete body fossil of this genus has been described.  Previously, the fossil record only consisted of individual scales, otoliths (calcified structures from the inner ear) and isolated fragmentary bones.  The discovery of Scleropages sinensis dates the divergence of Scleropages from the closely related Osteoglossum to at least as far back as the Early Eocene.  The fish fossils represent a number of different ontogenetic (growth stages). The largest specimens are 17.5 centimetres in length, the smallest under 8 centimetres long.

Fossil Scleropages are known from the Maastrichtian of India, the Maastrichtian/Late Palaeocene of Africa, the Palaeocene of Europe, the Eocene of Sumatra, and the Oligocene of Australia.   All of these earlier records are scales, otoliths and isolated bone fragments. Therefore, these newly described Chinese fossils are the first skeletons of fossil Scleropages ever unearthed in the world.

Views of the Scleropages Fossil Material

Views of Scleropages sinensis fossil material.

Scleropages sinensis fossil material (various views).

Picture Credit: Zhang Jiangyong (IVPP)

Dr Zhang stated:

“This new fish resembles Scleropages in skull bones, caudal skeleton, the shape and position of fins, and reticulate scales.  Therefore, it must belong to the genus.”

The extant species of Scleropages inhabits lakes, swamps and flooded forests as well as slowly meandering rivers. It is a carnivorous fish preying on insects, worms, small amphibians, other fish, small mammals and even birds.  The fish is renowned for its jumping, the researchers propose that Scleropages sinensis may have filled a similar niche in the Eocene ecosystem, but being smaller it probably had a more restricted diet than its extant relative.  Analysis of the fossil material suggests that sexual dimorphism may have existed in S. sinensis.

Comparing the Extinct Species with Living Species

Living species of Scleropages compared to the fossil material.

Comparison between Scleropages sinensis (A) and the living species S. formosus (B), S. leichardti.

Picture Credit: Zhang Jiangyong (IVPP)

16 04, 2017

Elk Hunter Stumbles Across Elasmosaurid

By | April 16th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|5 Comments

Nakonanectes bradti – Shortest Neck and Youngest Elasmosaur from the Western Interior Seaway

A new genus of elasmosaurid has been added to the list of marine reptiles associated with the Western Interior Seaway.  Named Nakonanectes bradti, this fish-eating monster lived around 70 million-years ago.  A paper detailing the discovery has been published this week in the “Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology”, Nakonanectes is the youngest elasmosaurid, stratigraphically speaking from the Western Interior Seaway, it also had a very short neck, short at least, when compared to other Late Cretaceous elasmosaurids.

A New Genus of Short-Necked Elasmosaurid from Montana

Nakonanectes illustrated.

An illustration of the newly described elasmosaurid Nakonanectes bradti.

Picture Credit: James Havens

Marine Reptile Discovered by an Elk Hunter

David Bradt in 2010, stumbled across fossils of the marine reptile whilst out hunting for elk in Montana’s Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge.  He noticed a series of articulated bones in a stream bed and thinking that the fossils might represent a dinosaur, David alerted the authorities.  When a field team visited the remote site, they followed the trail of bone fragments uphill and discovered more fossils including the remains of an exquisitely preserved skull.  The Late Cretaceous reptile has been named after the native Nakona people of Montana and the trivial name honours David Bradt.

Field Team Members Working at the Excavation Site

Excavating the elasmosaurid fossil bones.

The location of the elasmosaurid bones.

Picture Credit: Erin Clark/Associated Press

One of the authors of the scientific paper, Pat Druckenmiller (University of Alaska Museum of the North), commented:

“This group [elasmosaurids] is famous for having ridiculously long necks, I mean necks that have as many as seventy-six vertebrae [Albertonectes].  What absolutely shocked us when we dug it out, it only had somewhere around forty vertebrae.”

Nakonanectes bradti Compared to Albertonectes vanderveldei

The Bearpaw Shale Formation has provided scientists with a number of intriguing Cretaceous vertebrate fossils, including Albertonectes (A. vanderveldei).  It is regarded as the longest Plesiosaur known (estimated to have been more than twelve metres long).  Albertonectes also has the longest neck of any Plesiosaur described to date.  The neck is estimated to have been around seven metres long.  The single specimen (holotype) of Albertonectes comes from the Bearpaw Shale Formation, however, these fossils were found in Alberta (near Lethbridge) and as such, come from exposures some two hundred miles north-west of the stream bed in Montana where the remains of Nakonanectes were found.

Nakonanectes bradti is believed to have had around 39-42 neck bones (cervical vertebrate).  In comparison, Albertonectes had a body length twice as long and its neck was two-and-a-half times the length of N. bradti.

Comparing the Size of Nakonanectes to Albertonectes

Elasmosaurid neck size comparison.

Elasmosaurid size comparisons (Bearpaw Shale Formation).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The palaeontologists conclude that the neck of Nakonanectes was about 2.3 metres long.  It is difficult to accurately date the strata that makes up the Bearpaw Shale Formation.  These two very different elasmosaurids may not have co-existed, but the discovery of Nakonanectes indicates that there was considerable variety in the neck length of members of the Elasmosauridae.  It also suggests that as the Cretaceous period progressed so at least one lineage of Elasmosaurs evolved shorter necks.

David Bradt Next to the Fossils (2010)

David Bradt with his fossil find.

Hunter David Bradt photographed in the stream bed with the fossils.

Picture Credit: David Bradt

The scientific paper: “A New Elasmosaurid (Sauropterygia, Plesiosauria) from the Bearpaw Shale (Late Cretaceous, Maastrichtian) of Montana Demonstrates Multiple Evolutionary Reductions of Neck Length within Elasmosauridae”, by Serratos, D. J., P. Druckenmiller, and R. B. J. Benson published in the Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology.

15 04, 2017

New Tiny Dromaeosaurid from the Jehol Biota

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

Zhongjianosaurus yangi from the Early Cretaceous of China

Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences have published information on-line about the discovery of another dromaeosaurid from the Lower Cretaceous Yixian Formation of Liaoning Province (north-eastern China).  The little, long-legged “raptor”, that measured around eighty centimetres in length has been described as looking like “Microraptor on silts”.  The dinosaur has been named Zhongjianosaurus yangi, in honour of Yang Zhongjian regarded as the founder of vertebrate palaeontology in China.  The forelimbs are nearly as robust as the back legs which is a little unusual.  In addition, the ulna (bone in the lower arm), is longer than the humerus (upper arm bone), an anatomical feature that this dinosaur shares with many volant (capable of flight), birds.  The forelimb anatomy of Z. yangi contrasts with the anatomy of most non-avian Theropods, where the ulna is almost always much shorter than the humerus.

A Skeletal Drawing and an Illustration of Zhongjianosaurus yangi

Skeletal drawing and illustration.

Zhongjianosaurus fossil material (in white) shown in a skeletal drawing with a scientific illustration below.

Picture Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

In the skeletal drawing (above) the fossil material assigned to Z. yangi is shown in white.  Note the skull has not been found (scale bar equals five centimetres).

Eight Dromaeosaurid Species from the Jehol Group – Niche Partitioning 

The dromaeosaurids, which are a group of maniraptoran Theropods, are globally distributed and they have left a relatively extensive fossil record, but the earliest representatives of the Dromaeosauridae family come from the Lower Cretaceous Jehol Group of western Liaoning Province.  So far, a total of eight dromaeosaurid species have been reported from the Jehol Group, they are remarkably diverse and show numerous differences in their body plans which indicate that each type of dromaeosaurid was adapted to a different habitat or niche in the ecosystem.  This newly described dinosaur, Zhongjianosaurus yangi, classified from a single slab of fossilised bones continues this trend for Dromaeosaur diversity.  It is many times lighter than the largest dromaeosaurid (Tianyuraptor ostromi), known from this locality.  With an estimated 0.31 kilogramme mass, the Z. yangi holotype representing an adult individual, confirms that some Jehol dromaeosaurids are among the smallest known non-avialan Theropods described to date.

The Holotype Fossil Material (Post-cranial Material) of Z. yangi

The holotype fossil material of Zhongjianosaurus yangi.

The holotype of Zhongjianosaurus yangi.

Picture Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

Zhongjianosaurus yangi has been assigned to the Microraptorinae sub-family and the single fossil specimen was excavated from strata representing lake deposits in Sihedang, Lingyuan County, (western Liaoning).  The ninth dromaeosaurid of the Jehol Biota is difficult to date accurately, as Sihedang strata lacks biostratigraphical markers.  Z. yangi has been tentatively dated to the Aptian faunal stage of the Early Cretaceous (125 million-years-ago approximately).   Many of the other Dromaeosaur fossils have been retrieved from private collections and they subsequently lack stratigraphical context.  However, even if all nine different types of dromaeosaurid did not live at the same geological time they certainly represent a very disparate group and this suggests that these little dinosaurs adapted to different habitats and perhaps sources of food (niche partitioning).

Galapagos Finches

As reported in the advanced on-line publication, the researchers, Xing Xu and Zi-Chuan Qin propose that this collection of dromaeosaurids demonstrates niche partitioning and they compare the Jehol Dromaeosaurs to Darwin’s Galapagos finches.  Darwin noted that although the finches on the various islands that make up the Galapagos shared a common ancestor, they showed remarkable diversity in beak form and function.

In the absence of cranial material, it is not possible to identify what the tiny Zhongjianosaurus ate, but it is postulated that it could have been an insectivore, perhaps living high up in the tree canopy to escape the fast-running, larger hypercarnivores (other Dromaeosaurs), that roamed the forest floor.  Zhongjianosaurus was very probably feathered and those robust forelimbs could have supported wings that helped it to glide or flap its way from branch to branch.

The scientific paper: “A New Tiny Dromaeosaurid Dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous Jehol Group of Western Liaoning and Niche Differentiation Among the Jehol Dromaeosaurids”, by Xing Xu and Zi-Chuan Qin (Chinese Academy of Sciences).

14 04, 2017

Moabosaurus of the Aptian of North America

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Moabosaurus utahensis – Adding to the Early Cretaceous Dinosaur Fauna of North America

Researchers from Brigham Young University writing in the University of Michigan’s Contributions from the Museum of Palaeontology, have published details of Utah’s latest dinosaur discovery, an Early Cretaceous Sauropod that roamed the western United States some 125 million-years-ago.  At a little under ten metres in length, Moabosaurus may not be the largest member of the Sauropodomorpha, but it remains a very significant dinosaur discovery nonetheless.  Compared to the earlier Morrison Formation fauna, not that much is known about the dinosaurs that roamed this part of the United States during the (Aptian faunal stage).  Moabosaurus, shared its lush, flood plain world, that was prone to prolonged droughts with dinosaurs such as Cedarosaurus (Sauropod) and Gastonia (armoured dinosaur), as well as a variety of Theropods.

The Mounted Skeleton (Composite) Ready for Display

Moabosaurus ready for display.

Brooks Britt, Brigham Young University geology professor, poses in front of Moabosaurus.

Picture Credit: Jaren Wilkey/Brigham Young University

Observant readers will note that the skull on this composite mount is actually a cast of a Camarasaurus skull.

The picture above shows Brigham Young University professor and lead author of the scientific paper, Brooks Britt, posing in front of the mounted exhibit of Moabosaurus (M. utahensis).  The fossils assigned to this new dinosaur genus, were all excavated from the Dalton Wells Quarry, some twelve miles north-west of the town of Moab (Utah).  Around 5,500 fragmentary bones were found entombed in the mudstone, the majority of which represents Moabosaurus, although the fossils were badly damaged, in part due to being trampled by other dinosaurs and from insect damage (probably beetle larvae), that fed on the bones when they had been initially buried.  Based on braincase sampling and other fossil finds, the researchers have suggested that at least eighteen individuals are represented.  The bones were also transported a short distance by water and buried in sediments reworked from the much older Morrison Formation.

Dalton Wells Quarry – Yellow Cat Member of the Cedar Mountain Formation

The preparation of a shattered femur which measures around 1.3 metres in length indicates that this dinosaur grew to about 9.75 metres in size.  Everything Dinosaur team members estimate that this herbivore might have weighed as much as an African elephant.  Palaeontologists tend to agree that, based on the current evidence, there was a substantial decline of Sauropod diversity in North America from the Late Jurassic and into the Early Cretaceous.

As to where Moabosaurus fits into the Sauropod family tree, that remains open to debate.  The researchers, which included Brigham Young University Museum of Palaeontology Curator Rod Scheetz and biology professor Michael Whiting plus a co-worker from Auburn University (Alabama), carried out four different taxonomic assessments using three different data sets.  Moabosaurus has been identified as a Neosauropod, two studies indicate that this dinosaur has affinities with the Macronaria, as such, it is regarded as a basal Titanosauriform.   It has been proposed that Moabosaurus was closely related to Turiasaurus (T. riodevensis) of the Early Cretaceous of Spain and Tendaguria (T. tanzaniensis) from the Late Jurassic of Tanzania.  Further phylogenetic studies will help to define the exact position of Moabosaurus in the Sauropod family tree.

A View of the Mounted Exhibit of Moabosaurus

A view of Moabosaurus.

Professor Brooks Britt poses in the body cavity of Moabosaurus.

Picture Credit: Jaren Wilkey/Brigham Young University

If Moabosaurus is closely related to Turiasaurus and Tendaguria then it suggests that land bridges may have existed between Gondwana and Laurasia to permit the mixing of faunas for longer into the Cretaceous than previously thought.  Analysis of zircon crystals, remnants of volcanic activity, indicate that Moabosaurus lived during the very earliest part of the Aptian faunal stage.  The phylogeny of Moabosaurus remains contentious.  In the scientific paper, “Moabosaurus utahensis – A New Sauropod from the Early Cretaceous of North America”, there is some discussion as to whether Nemegtosaurus and Quaesitosaurus (both from the Late Cretaceous of Mongolia), are sister taxa.

Examining the Sturdy Ribs of Moabosaurus

Moabosaurus being examined.

Moabosaurus and Geology Professor Brooks Britt.

Picture Credit: Jaren Wilkey/Brigham Young University

Perished in a Severe Drought

A previous study indicated that a large number of Moabosaurus and other dinosaurs died in a severe drought.  Survivors trampled their fallen companions’ bodies, smashing and crushing their bones.  After the drought ended, streams eroded the land, and transported the bones a short distance, where they were again trampled.  Meanwhile, insects in the soils fed on the bones, leaving behind tell-tale burrow marks.

Professor Britt stated:

“We’re lucky to get anything out of this site.  Most bones we find are fragmentary, so only a small percentage of them are usable and that’s why it took so long to get this animal put together.  We had to collect huge numbers of bones in order to get enough that were complete.”

13 04, 2017

The Dinosaurian Body Plan Alan Charig Remembered

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

Teleocrater rhadinus and Dr Alan Charig

There’s a book on our office shelves, its dust jacket is faded and torn and the pages are yellowed with age, not surprising really as it was printed in 1973.  Although many of the passages, diagrams and ideas contained within it, have long since been superseded, it is treated with great reverence as it is one of the first dinosaur books I ever owned.  Entitled “Before the Ark” it accompanied a ten-part television series on vertebrate palaeontology produced by the BBC.  Written by Alan Charig and Brenda Horsfield, (Dr Charig wrote and presented the television series too), it remains a treasured possession and today, with the publication of a scientific paper in the journal “Nature”, we remember Dr Charig, a man who is still having an influence on science, even though he passed away some twenty years ago.

“Before the Ark” and Teleocrater – Tribute to Dr Alan Charig

"Before the Ark" and Teleocrater.

“Before the Ark” and Teleocrater (before the dinosaurs).

Picture Credit: BBC with T. rhadinus artwork by Gabriel Lio (Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales)

Early Dinosaur Cousin with “Crocodile-like Appearance”

Writing in the journal “Nature”, the researchers which include Sterling Nesbitt, assistant professor of geosciences at Virginia Tech, Roger Smith (University of Witwatersrand) and Paul Barrett of the Natural History Museum (London), describe more complete fossil material relating to Teleocrater rhadinus and formally establish this genus which helps to fill a critical gap in the fossil record leading to the evolution of the dinosaurs.

Teleocrater (the name means “slender complete basin” in reference to the reptile’s light build and the fully closed hip socket), was first proposed by Alan Charig back in the 1950’s.  He was a PhD student at Cambridge University writing a doctoral thesis on Triassic reptiles of Tanganyika (now Tanzania).  Alan was being supervised by Francis Rex Parrington, a vertebrate palaeontologist who had uncovered the very first fossils of what we now refer to as Teleocrater rhadinus, during fieldwork in Tanganyika in 1933.

Fieldwork undertaken in 2015, led to the discovery of more fossil material and crucially limb elements and ankle bones which have helped determine where amongst the Archosaurs Teleocrater should be placed.

Fieldwork in Tanzania (2015)

Excavating the fossils of Teleocrater and other Triassic animals.

Excavating the remains of Teleocrater rhadinus and other animals in southern Tanzania in 2015.

Picture Credit: Roger Smith

The photograph above shows authors Christian Sidor (left), Sterling Nesbitt, Kenneth Angielczyk (in the purple top and white floppy hat), along with Michelle Stocker (right), looking for Triassic vertebrates in exposures of the Manda Beds (Anisian faunal stage of the Middle Triassic) of southern Tanzania.

All Fossil Material from the Manda Beds

Francis R. Parrington collected the first fossil specimens from the Manda Beds in the Ruhuhu Basin of southern Tanzania.  These fossils were studied by Alan Charig for his doctorate, but much of Alan’s work on Teleocrater was never published.  Dr Charig went to Tanzania to search for more fossils in 1963, but it was not until the expedition of 2015, that the crucially important limb and ankle bones were recovered that demonstrated where on the Archosauria family tree Teleocrater should sit.

The ankle bones and other skeletal elements demonstrate that Teleocrater is more closely related to dinosaurs and birds than it is to crocodiles. It sits on the family tree of the Archosaurs at the base of the Avemetatarsalian branch, the “bird-line Archosaurs”, sometimes also referred to as the Ornithodira.  The researchers conclude that Teleocrater and its near relatives split off from other Avemetatarsalians before the evolutionary split between the Pterosauria (flying reptiles) and the dinosaurs.

Establishing T. rhadinus on the Archosauria Family Tree

The phylogeny of Teleocrater.

Teleocrater is more closely related to the Pterosauria and the Dinosauria (including Aves) than to crocodilians.

Picture Credit: Sterling Nesbitt of Virginia Tech with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

The Big Two Branches of the Archosauria

The Archosauria clade consists of birds and crocodiles plus an array of extinct creatures which include the dinosaurs, silesaurids and the flying reptiles (pterosaurs).  This huge group of reptiles can be generally divided up into two distinct branches, based on the anatomy of the ankle bones.  On one branch, we have the crocodiles and their relatives (Crurotarsi), which tend to have a sprawling gait, whilst on the other branch we have the Avemetatarsalia, otherwise referred to as the Ornithodirans, which tend to have their limbs directly under their hips and have a more upright gait, similar to mammals.

Dr Charig never got the opportunity to study fossils of the ankle bone, he passed away in 1997, without being able to complete his assessment of this reptile.  The researchers have honoured the contribution made by Alan Charig by naming him as an author on the 2017 paper and formally recognising the name Teleocrater, that he was the first to use.

Excavating the Fossils of Teleocrater

Excavating the fossils of Teleocrater and other Triassic animals.

Sterling Nesbitt (left) and Christian Sidor (right) working on some fossil bones.

Picture Credit: Roger Smith

Uniting the Aphanosauria Clade – Dinosaur Ancestors on All Fours

Teleocrater helps to cement the establishment of the Aphanosauria clade, a group of long-necked, slender-limbed, carnivores that lived in the Middle Triassic and were geographically widespread across Pangaea.  The Crurotarsi Archosaurs, those crocodile-like creatures were thought to be highly diversified and geographically widespread across the super-continent Pangaea.  It now seems that the other branch of the Archosauria, the Avemetatarsalia, may have been equally as diverse and as widespread as their crocodile-like cousins.

Previously, palaeontologists have postulated that the earliest dinosaur relatives were chicken-sized and bipedal.  Thanks to the 2015 fossil discoveries and the work first undertaken by F. R. Parrington and Alan Charig, scientists have a different body plan to consider.  T. rhadinus which roamed the area that was to become Tanzania some 245 million-years-ago, was much larger at around three metres long and it was a quadruped.

An Illustration of the Early Avemetatarsalian Teleocrater rhadinus

T. rhadinus illustration.

A life reconstruction of Teleocrater rhadinus.

Picture Credit:  Gabriel Lio (Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales)

Alan Charig studied the fossils of what we now know as Teleocrater rhadinus.  Twenty years after his death, scientists can place this enigmatic reptile and its relatives within the Avemetatarsalian branch of the Archosauria, Teleocrater represents one of the earliest members of this sub-branch, a lineage that eventually led to the dinosaurs and the birds.

In addition, with a more complete picture of Teleocrater, palaeontologists have another puzzle to ponder.  If the early branch members of the Avemetatarsalia were more species-rich and more widely geographically distributed than previously thought, then several early Dinosauromorphs used to help scientists to understand how the body plan of the Dinosauria evolved, may represent specialised forms rather than the typical ancestral Avemetatarsalian body plan.

Today, we reflect on the work of Dr Alan Charig and his mentor Francis Rex Parrington.  The researchers writing in the journal “Nature” have helped to put flesh onto those bones first examined all those years ago.  For my part, my thanks to Alan Charig for helping to write such a beautiful book and for inspiring a generation of science writers and enthusiasts.

The scientific paper: “The Earliest Bird-line Archosaurs and he Assembly of the Dinosaur Body Plan” by Sterling J. Nesbitt, Richard J. Butler, Martín D. Ezcurra, Paul M. Barrett, Michelle R. Stocker, Kenneth D. Angielczyk, Roger M. H. Smith, Christian A. Sidor, Grzegorz Niedźwiedzki, Andrey G. Sennikov & Alan J. Charig published in the journal “Nature”.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the help of Virginia Tech in the compilation of this article.

12 04, 2017

Chinese Fossil Sites Under Threat

By | April 12th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Mining Operations Damage Famous Fossil Site

An article in the South China Morning Post highlights the growing concern expressed by the scientific community over damage to a globally important fossil site in Guizhou Province (south-western China).  Phosphorous mining operations are wiping away fossil evidence of some of the earliest organisms classified as animals known to science.  The tiny micro-fossils preserved in strata exposed in Weng’an county, represent the remains of multi-cellular organisms, marine sponges that once thrived in an ancient sea some 600 million years ago.

A False Colour Image Showing One of the Sponge-Like Micro-fossils (Doushantuo Formation)

Sponge-like Ediacaran micro-fossil.

A scanning electron microscope image of the 600 million-year-old sponge-like animal fossil (false colour image).

Picture Credit: NIGPAS (Chinese Academy of Sciences)

Professor Zhu Maoyan and his colleagues at the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology have called for urgent measures to be taken to help protect the Weng’an biota.  The world-renowned fossil site, one of the few places that preserves traces of Ediacaran fauna, is threatened as hundreds of mining trucks are transporting rocks from the area every day.  Weng’an county has one of Asia’s largest phosphorus reserves.  The mining business contributes more than sixty per cent of the county government’s annual tax income.  Intensive mining in the area has led to cases of massive subsidence.

The professor, who has led a number of field teams to explore the fossiliferous sediments, that first came to the attention of palaeontologists less than twenty years ago, stated:

“Six hundred million years of life’s evolutionary history is being traded to help produce a bowl of rice.”

The demand for phosphorous to make fertiliser is increasing, unfortunately, the rocks that form the Doushantuo Formation of Guizhou Province are a rich source of this important element.  However, local officials in Weng’an county have promised action after a fossil site covering about three square kilometres was nearly destroyed and buried under huge heaps of debris caused by subsidence.

The micro-fossils preserved in the phosphorite rocks of the Doushantuo Formation, preserve the remains of 600 million-year-old, sponge-like organisms.  Professor Zhu commented that the Weng’an biota was remarkable because of the abundance of fossils and their fine state of preservation, with details shown down to a cellular level.

The professor added:

“There may not be another place like it in the whole world.”

Features of the Fossils are Similar to Extant Sponge Anatomy

Precambrian sponge-like fossils.

Views of the sponge-like fossils from south-western China.

Picture Credit: NIGPAS (Chinese Academy of Sciences)

The picture above shows various views of micro-fossils from the Weng’an county location including highly magnified views of what be a holdfast structure (c, d, e, f, g and h).

Professor Zhu stressed that both local government and the public had failed to realise that the exposures in Weng’an county are unique and very valuable to science.  It was suggested that a “core area” be chosen and then this site given protection.

To read an article featuring research by Virginia Tech College of Science and the Chinese Academy of Sciences which looks at the fossil evidence from the Doushantuo Formation: New Research Suggests Multicellular Life Started Earlier Than Previously Thought

11 04, 2017

Getting our Heads Around Edmontosaurus Skulls

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New Paper Published on Edmontosaurus

Scientists from the Canadian Museum of Nature in collaboration with colleagues from the Beijing Museum of Natural History have published a paper in the on-line academic journal PLOS One that provides a fresh analysis of the iconic North American dinosaur Edmontosaurus.  The researchers effectively develop the ideas put forward when this duck-billed dinosaur was first described a hundred years ago and help to highlight the differences between the two species currently assigned to the Edmontosaurus genus.  In addition, they cast doubt over the recently named and described Alaskan Hadrosaur Ugrunaaluk kuukpikensis (named and described in 2015), instead they suggest that these fossils belong to a species of Edmontosaurus.

The “Lizard from Edmonton” Named in 1917

Edmontosaurus dinosaur.

Edmontosaurus a member of the Hadrosaurine group of duck-billed dinosaurs.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Cranial Anatomy of Edmontosaurus regalis

The scientists, which included Dr Jordan Mallon (Canadian Museum of Nature), who recently published a new paper casting doubt on how to tell female from male dinosaurs: No Visual Difference Between Boy Dinosaurs and Girl Dinosaurs looked again at the E. regalis holotype and the paratype material which come from the Horseshoe Canyon Formation (southern Alberta, Canada).

It was the pioneering Canadian palaeontologist Lawrence Lambe who first named and described Edmontosaurus back in 1917.  The holotype (CMN 2288), the fossil specimen on which the original description of Edmontosaurus (E. regalis) is based, consists of an incomplete skull and partial skeleton.  The paratype (CMN 2289), the specimen that has proved to be most beneficial in the clarification Edmontosaurus as it shows features not seen on, or are more distinct that those found in the holotype, consists of an incomplete but partially articulated skull in addition to significant elements from the rest of the skeleton.  The researchers were able to identify a number of unique anatomical characteristics that help to distinguish E. regalis from E. annectens.

A Scale Drawing of Edmontosaurus regalis

A scale drawing of E. regalis.

A scale drawing of Edmontosaurus regalis.  Note the colourful red comb on the top of the skull.

Picture Credit: PLOS One

In the picture above, the scale drawing of Edmontosaurus is shown sporting a “soft, fleshy comb” on top of the skull.  Recent research suggests that E. regalis did indeed have a comb, a bit like a giant rooster.

Edmontosaurus with a soft tissue crest.

Soft-tissue crests in members of the Dinosauria.

To read an article published in 2013 that suggests members of the Hadrosaurinae had soft-tissue crests: Duck-billed Dinosaur with a Comb Like a Rooster

With a better understanding of the differences between the two species of Edmontosaurus, the team could then develop their ideas, applying them to related duck-billed dinosaurs such as the giant Shantungosaurus from the Late Cretaceous of China, enabling them to revise this part of the Hadrosaurinae family tree.

Edmontosaurus regalis Compared to Edmontosaurus annectens

Corresponding author for the paper, Dr Hai Xing has published previously, describing differences between Edmontosaurus and Shantungosaurus.  Analysis of the skull bones of Edmontosaurus enabled Dr Xing and his colleagues to add a further three distinguishing characteristics to help tell the difference between E. regalis and E. annectens, (adult specimens).  In addition, the researchers identified a unique feature of the jugal (a bone in the cheek area linking the maxilla to the eye-socket),

Views of the Holotype E. regalis Material

A unique feature of E. regalis (jugal bone).

Close-ups of the jugal anterior process of CMN 2288 in lateral (E) and posterolateral (F) views.

Picture Credit: PLOS One

Key

  • en =external naris
  • n =nasal bone
  • j = jugal bone
  • pm = premaxilla (front of the top jaw)
  • m = maxilla (part of the top jaw)
  • p = palatine (bone related to the palate)
  • pt = pterygoid bone

The red arrow (E and F), points to the sharp, posterodorsally tilted ridge of bone that pushes into the eye-socket area.  This feature is unique to Edmontosaurus regalis.

Ugrunaaluk kuukpikensis – Nomen dubium

In 2015, a new type of flat-skulled Hadrosaur was described (U. kuukpikensis), based mostly on fossils excavated from the Liscomb bonebed in the Price Creek Formation of northern Alaska.  This new dinosaur, was thought to be quite closely related to Edmontosaurus, it was assigned to the Edmontosaurini tribe, but Xing et al argue that as the description was based on fossils of juveniles and as their study sheds new light on the anatomy of Edmontosaurus, Ugrunaaluk kuukpikensis may not be a valid genus.  Instead, they suggest that the Liscomb bonebed material represents a northern occurrence of Edmontosaurus (E. regalis).  Whilst the team are quick to praise the meticulous approach of Mori, Druckenmiller and Erickson they suggest that given the relatively small size of the Ugrunaaluk fossils and the lack of overlap between these specimens and known Edmontosaurus fossils it is not credible to assert a new genus based on the evidence to date.  U. kuukpikensis becomes a Nomen dubium (dubious name).

To read about the discovery of the Alaskan duck-billed dinosaur fossils: Duck-billed Dinosaur from Alaska

Views of the Holotype Skull Material (CMN 2288)

Edmontosaurus skull material (holotype - E. regalis).

CMN 2288 the holotype skull fossil of E. regalis (left lateral view and dorsal view, with accompanying line drawings).

Picture Credit: PLOS One

The scientific paper: “Supplementary Cranial Description of the Types of Edmontosaurus regalis (Ornithischia: Hadrosauridae), with Comments on the Phylogenetics and Biogeography of Hadrosaurinae” by Hai Xing, Jordan C. Mallon, Margaret L. Currie published in PLOS One.

9 04, 2017

Chicxulub Impact Event Not Responsible for Dinosaur Extinction

By | April 9th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Mexican Tracksites Indicate Decline of Dinosaurs Prior to Impact Event

A team of scientists based in Germany and Mexico have published a paper that challenges the commonly held belief that the extraterrestrial impact event marked by the Chicxulub crater resulted in the extinction of the dinosaurs and their flying cousins the pterosaurs.  In addition, studies of marine sediments indicate that at least one species of ammonite Sphenodiscus pleurisepta may have survived into the Palaeogene.

Chicxulub Extraterrestrial Impact Not the Cause of Global Mass Extinctions

Chicxulub impact event.

Did the extraterrestrial impact event wipe out the dinosaurs and pterosaurs?

Exploring the Fossil Assemblage of the Cretaceous/Palaeogene Boundary

Writing in the journal of the “Geological Society of America Bulletin”, the researchers which include lead author Professor Wolfgang Stinnesbeck of Heidelberg University, Professor Eberhard Frey (State Museum of Natural History, Karlsruhe) and scientists from the Museo del Desierto, Coahuila, (Mexico), postulate that the dinosaurs and the flying reptiles were in long-term decline before the Chicxulub impact and the global mass extinction that marked the end of the Mesozoic.  The scientists also postulate that Aves (birds), had spread and diversified at the same time as the Dinosauria was in decline.  Furthermore, based on fossil evidence, the team contend that at least one type of ammonite, Sphenodiscus pleurisepta persisted into the Cenozoic.

These conclusions were drawn from a comprehensive study of upper Cretaceous sedimentary sandstone rocks, laid down at the very end of the “Age of Dinosaurs”.  The tracks and body fossils found at two localities in the Mexican state of Coahuila, depict life on the shore and the surrounding waters of a shrinking inland sea.  Both sites represent sandstones within the Las Encinas Formation of north-eastern Mexico.

Remote Fossil Site in North-eastern Mexico (Las Encinas Formation)

Fossil site in north-eastern Mexico

One of the remote and isolated sites where the fossils were found.

Picture Credit: Professor Stinnesbeck/Heidelberg University

The trackway assemblages at Amargos and Rancho San Francisco respectively, were produced by at least six different types of birds, while trackways of azhdarchoid pterosaurs are rare.  Only a single footprint made by a dinosaur (Theropod) was recorded.

Professor Stinnesbeck commented:

“Dinosaur tracks, however, are rare.  Only a single footprint comes from a predatory dinosaur.”

Lack of Pterosaur Fossil Evidence

The scarcity of Pterosaur fossils was also noted.  The scientists state that azhdarchoid pterosaur fossils are rare.  Azhdarchids include some of the most famous and largest pterosaurs of all – Quetzalcoatlus Hatzegopteryx and Arambourgiania.  Most of the Pterosauria had become extinct by the Maastrichtian faunal stage of the Late Cretaceous.  From their heyday in the Early Cretaceous when at least ten pterosaur families existed, by the very end of the Cretaceous only two families of pterosaur are known in the fossil record.

Pterosaur Fossils Such as These Tracks are Very Rare

Pterosaur fossil tracks.

Pterosaur fossil tracks (north-eastern Mexico).

Picture Credit: Professor Stinnesbeck/Heidelberg University

The photograph above shows prints of Azhdharchidea pterosaurs in a sandstone of the Upper Cretaceous, location – Rancho San Francisco near Paredon, north-eastern Mexico.

Research into the two locations Amargos and Rancho San Francisco, indicate a gradual decline of the dinosaurs with a simultaneous increase in the diversity of birds even before the end of the Cretaceous.

Professor Stinnesbeck added:

“Until now, it was generally assumed that the dinosaurs died out first and bird species diversified afterwards.  Our data, however, substantiate the theory that birds ascended before dinosaurs became extinct.”

The team postulate that the extraterrestrial impact event was not the cause of the dinosaur and pterosaur extinction, these reptiles were already on their way out, long before that event took place.  This idea of only a few dinosaur species persisting until the very end of the Mesozoic has been proposed before.  A count of dinosaur fossils found in the famous Hell Creek Formation of Montana supported the theory that the Dinosauria were already in decline by the end of the Cretaceous, the fossil assemblage in the very youngest rocks was dominated by just a handful of species.

Ammonites Survived into the Cenozoic

In the scientific paper, the researchers comment that the ammonites were not wiped out by the asteroid/comet/meteor strike.  Professor Stinnesbeck and his colleagues suggest that the species Sphenodiscus pleurisepta, a type of ammonite known from the United States and Mexico, survived, albeit in a declining state into the Palaeogene.

The geology professor stated:

“The effects of the Chicxulub impact were therefore not the cause of a global mass extinction, which probably came about considerably less catastrophically than previously assumed.”

The power of the extraterrestrial impact is evidenced by the abundance of crystalline clay minerals that are rounded in shape (smectite spherules), within a two-and-a-half metre-thick layer of strata.

The Last Ammonite (Sphenodiscus pleurisepta)?

Sphenodiscus pleurisepta fossil ammonite.

Sphenodiscus pleurisepta ammonite fossil.

Picture Credit: Conrad

The picture above shows a typical fossil of S. pleurisepta (picture of the holotype fossil), scale bar equals 1 cm.

The fifty million year decline of the Dinosauria: Bayesian Analysis Sheds New Light on Dinosaur Decline

To read about other ammonites that may have persisted into the Cenozoic: Unravelling an Ammonite Mystery

7 04, 2017

California to get a State Dinosaur?

By | April 7th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

One Step Closer to a State Dinosaur for California

California is one step closer to joining a select group of American States that have their own State dinosaur.  A vote in the “Golden State’s” legislative assembly was passed and the duck-billed dinosaur Augustynolophus morrisi is nearer to becoming the official dinosaur of the most populous State in the Union.  California already has a substantial number of State symbols, including the Leatherback Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), the State marine reptile and the artichoke (Cynara cardunculus), California’s State vegetable.

The Hadrosaur Augustynolophus morrisi Could Become the State Dinosaur for California

Augustynolophus image.

Augustynolophus could become California’s State dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Augustynolophus Twitter Account

Augustynolophus morrisi

Assembly member, Richard Bloom, the representative for Santa Monica, introduced a bill at the beginning of the year to make this Late Cretaceous, duck-billed dinosaur a state symbol.  The vote yesterday moved Augustynolophus nearer to becoming adopted.  Augustynolophus (pronounced August-steen-ah-pho-lus mor-riss-eye) fossils, including a fragmentary skull, have been found in the Moreno Formation, the fossils represent the most complete dinosaur discovered in California.  In fact, despite California’s size, it is the third largest State in the United States, very few dinosaurs are associated with this part of America.  We at Everything Dinosaur, think that just one other dinosaur genus Saurolophus is associated with California and these fossils, also from the Moreno Formation, may have been reassigned to Augustynolophus.

The reason why lawmakers in California are keen to adopt a dinosaur as a symbol is that they hope that the dinosaur will promote learning and support educational opportunities.  California already has an official state fossil, Smilodon californicus – a sub-species of Sabre-Toothed Cat known from the famous La Brea Tar Pits close to the centre of Los Angeles.

Augustynolophus has its own Twitter account (@augustynolophus), you can follow the progress of the legislation on Twitter.  The Californian Senate have to vote and if the outcome is favourable then the Governor will have the final say.

Only seven of the fifty States that make up the USA have official State dinosaurs:

  • Wyoming – Triceratops
  • Texas – Paluxysaurus jonesi (Sauroposeidon)
  • Oklahoma – Acrocanthosaurus atokensis
  • New Jersey – Hadrosaurus foulkii
  • Missouri – Hypsibema missouriensis
  • Maryland – Astrodon johnstoni
  • Colorado – Stegosaurus armatus

To read an article about British Columbia debating whether to introduce an official fossil for the Canadian Province: Four Contenders for the Official Fossil for Canadian Province

5 04, 2017

Hunting for Tasmanian Tigers

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

Scientists Prepare to Set Camera Traps in Hunt for Thylacine

Ever since the last known Thylacine died in Hobart zoo back in 1936, there have been numerous “sightings” both in Tasmania and on the Australian mainland of this marsupial, frequently referred to as the “Tasmanian Tiger”.  Most of these reports have been dismissed either as hoaxes, or as observers mistaking foxes or feral dogs for the largest carnivorous marsupial known to have co-existed with modern man during the Holocene Epoch.

Grainy photographs and blurred film footage have come to prominence from time to time, helping to fuel the debate as to whether Thylacines (Thylacinus cynocephalus), which were believed to have been hunted to extinction, might just have survived, with a few scattered populations holding on.

A Picture of the Last Known Thylacine

A photograph of a Thylacine.

A picture of “Benjamin” the last known Thylacine to live in captivity.  This animal died in Hobart zoo (Tasmania) in 1936.

Picture Credit: David Fleay

Scientific Expedition to a Remote Location in Northern Queensland

A field team will be dispatched to the remote Cape York Peninsula (northern Queensland), in a bid to search for evidence of the existence of a surviving Thylacine population.  The team, led by Professor Bill Laurance of James Cook University (Queensland), hope to set fifty camera traps in the area so that photographic proof can be established.  The Cape York Peninsula has been chosen as a number of credible witness accounts of possible sightings, including one from a tourism operator and former park ranger, have occurred in the locality.

Professor Laurance commented:

“All observations of putative Thylacines to date have been at night, and in one case four animals were observed at close range, about 20 feet away, with a spotlight.  We have cross-checked the descriptions we received of eye shine colour, body size and shape, animal behaviour, and other attributes, and these are inconsistent with known attributes of other large-bodied species in north Queensland such as dingoes, wild dogs or feral pigs.”

The exact destination of the field team is being kept a closely guarded secret.  Nearly four thousand reported sightings have been recorded on the Australian mainland, it is the reports from qualified rangers, Aboriginal communities and the many credible witnesses that offer the tantalising prospect of a live population being identified.

Ranger Patrick Shears, explained that local Aboriginals call the beast the “moonlight tiger” and that many observers claim that these marsupials approach quite close, before turning their long, stiff tails and trotting away into the darkness.

A Reward Offered

Tasmanian tour operator Stuart Malcolm has offered an $1.75 million AUD (£1 million GBP), reward for proof that the Thylacine has survived to the present day.  Professor Laurance and his team are not interested in any reward money, after all, it was a bounty placed on each dead Thylacine recorded, that helped devastate the species in Tasmania.  The Professor is not particularly sanguine when it comes to the chances of the expedition being a success.  He has stated that it is very unlikely that the Thylacine has survived on the Australian mainland.   However, with a number of credible reports to guide them, it seems that if the Tasmanian Tiger has survived anywhere on the mainland of Australia, the Cape York Peninsula is a good place to start looking.

CollectA introduced a finely detailed model of a female Thylacine into their model range last year.  This model is quite hard to find, but not as difficult as a live Thylacine to track down.  Everything Dinosaur stocks this model, for the CollectA Thylacine and other rare CollectA models: CollectA Prehistoric Life Models

The CollectA Prehistoric Life Thylacine Model

The CollectA Thylacine replica.

The CollectA Thylacine model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Everything Dinosaur intends to add a second Thylacine model to its already, extensive range later in the year.   Check this blog for more details about the model and also for updates on the Queensland expedition.

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