Category: Dinosaur Fans

Stylish Styracosaurus

Styracosaurus albertensis

With the introduction of the Deluxe Styracosaurus replica by our chums at CollectA, (due out in early 2017), Everything Dinosaur has taken this opportunity to commission a new Styracosaurus illustration to be used on the company’s Styracosaurus fact sheet.  Our new illustration updates the existing drawing and gives Styracosaurus a row of bristle-like structures, running down from the hip towards the end of the tail, a feature inferred from a number of ceratopsid specimens but not confirmed (as far as we know), from the fossil record of the Styracosaurus genus.

Styracosaurus Illustrated

Styracosaurus illustrated.

A drawing of the horned dinosaur Styracosaurus.

Picture Credit: Mike Fredericks/Everything Dinosaur

Illustrating Dinosaurs – The Role of Palaeoartists

Whilst working in a school the other day, one of our dinosaur and fossil experts was approached by a member of staff and asked questions about a career in palaeontology.  Their son is very keen on dinosaurs and would like to be a palaeontologist.  Our fossil expert briefly outlined some of the numerous career paths available, including the role of illustrator.  The boy is quite keen on drawing and loves drawing prehistoric animals, perhaps one day he will be able to combine his interest in dinosaurs and art and have a career as a palaeoartist.  Scientific illustration is a very competitive area, however, as new dinosaur discoveries are made, the scientific community often relies on the skills of artists to bring the fossilised remains to life and create an illustration of the animal as it probably looked.

We hope you like the Styracosaurus (S. albertensis) illustration, it will feature on our soon to be revised Styracosaurus fact sheet that is sent out with purchases of Styracosaurus models and replicas.

On the Hunt for Troodon

Famous Canadian Palaeontologist Plans to Track Down Troodon

Professor Phil Currie (University of Alberta) is making plans for next summer, they include an expedition to hunt for a complete skeleton of the fast-running member of the dinosaur clade Deinonychosauria.  Phil Currie is hoping to hunt down Troodon.

Professor Phil Currie – Next Year Hunting for Troodon

Palaeontologist Phil Currie.

With “the best-preserved baby horned dinosaur ever found”, but will Phil Currie find a Troodon?

Picture Credit: Bruce Edwards (from a video interview)

Troodontids are a group of small Theropod dinosaurs that seem to fall somewhere in the phylogeny of the Dinosauria between the ornithomimids and the fearsome dromaeosaurids.  Troodon, may have been typical of this group, being fast-running, between two to three metres long (mostly tail), having a small skull with a long snout, large eyes and a big brain.  Relative to its body size, the species Troodon inequalis has the largest brain of any mature dinosaur yet described.  However, this genus is only known from a few specimens, and no complete skeleton of this dinosaur has ever been discovered.

An Illustration of a Troodontid (Troodon formosus)

Troodon illustrated.

An illustration of the feathered dinosaur Troodon.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A Typical Member of the Troodon Family of Dinosaurs (Scale Drawing)

Troodontidae scale drawing.

A scale drawing of a typical member of the Troodontidae dinosaur family.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Phil Currie, hopes to change all that and by doing so, help to assign with greater confidence, the various dinosaur genera associated with the Troodontidae family.  The family tree certainly needs some revision, after all the Troodon genus was originally set up on the basis of the description of a single fossil tooth (albeit a very distinctive tooth).  The famous Canadian palaeontologist, will lead a field team to the County of Grande Prairie (north-western Alberta, Canada) setting up a major dig in the Pipestone Creek area.  The rocks in this area were laid down in the Late Cretaceous and a number of bedding planes contain extensive bonebeds.  There have already been several important Theropod dinosaur discoveries made in this area, for example, earlier this year Everything Dinosaur published an article on the newly described, dog-sized, meat-eating dinosaur Boreonykus, which has been assigned to the Velociraptorinae sub-family of the Dromaeosaur family.

To read more about this new dinosaur discovery: Boreonykus certekorum A polar dinosaur related to Velociraptor

The teeth, which are relatively small, are easily identified thanks to their very large, hook-like serrations.  Isolated broken teeth are quite frequently found in the Grande Prairie area, but articulated bones and a fully intact skeleton are what the research team will be hoping to find.

Phil Currie explained:

“We find its teeth [Troodon] all the time up in the Grande Prairie region, yet in the rest of Alberta, it’s a pretty rare dinosaur.”

The Hunt for a Complete Troodon Fossil Specimen

Bones and teeth that have been assigned to the Troodontidae family have been found across North America and also in Asia, but despite the wealth of fossil material (mainly teeth), Professor Currie estimates that 90% of the bones in a Troodon skeleton remain unknown to science.

The Grande Prairie region could be just the spot to find the rest of the skeleton.  Many of the bedding planes where fossils are found represent low energy environments, which can aid the preservation of tiny bones such as those from a small, fast-running troodontid.  If lizards and mammals are preserved in these sediments then a three metre long, light and fragile Troodon might have been preserved too.

The Professor commented:

“It’s a big deal, because the more fragile skeletons tend to break apart, especially if there is a river nearby with a powerful current.  If you are an animal that’s falling apart because you’re rotten your big bones are not going to be washed very far by a river, but your small bones will be washed a long way.  Because small animals are being preserved there, we hope to find small dinosaurs as well.”

In the summer of 2017, a field team will descend on the Pipestone Creek bonebeds with the aim of identifying small fauna.  A team of Chinese palaeontologists, who have studied Asian troodontids are expected to join the researchers.

North-western Alberta in the Late Cretaceous – A Cretaceous Cross Roads

The northern part of Alberta has proved to be a happy hunting ground for vertebrate palaeontologists with a number of significant dinosaur discoveries having been made in the area.  The Upper Cretaceous rocks record important aspects of the region’s Late Cretaceous biota.  It seems that during this time in Earth’s history, North America was connected to Asia and a faunal interchange probably took place.  Several families of Asian dinosaurs have never been found in Canada, but Professor Currie is confident that one day, palaeontologists will uncover further evidence of this faunal interchange between the linked continents of Asia and North America.

Phil Currie, optimistically concluded:

“One of these days, I think we are going to find some, the potential is definitely there.”

Team members at Everything Dinosaur look forward to reporting on the research team’s progress.

JurassicCollectables Reviews the Schleich Barapasaurus

Schleich Barapasaurus Video Review by JurassicCollectables

Those talented people at JurassicCollectables have put together another dinosaur model video review.  This time, it is the Schleich Barapasaurus dinosaur model that has been given a spin on JurassicCollectable’s turntable and what a fascinating prehistoric animal replica this model is.  In this brief video (duration 4:19), the narrator talks through the finer points of this 2016 model, part of a range named by Schleich as the “First Giants”.  In the case of Barapasaurus, this is an appropriate description, it was a sizeable herbivore, one of the biggest known from the Early Jurassic.  Tentatively assigned to the Cetiosauridae family of Sauropods (whale lizards), it has been estimated that this dinosaur reached lengths of around fourteen metres.

The Schleich Barapasaurus Video Review by JurassicCollectables

Video Credit: JurassicCollectables

An Indian Dinosaur

It is great to see a model manufacturer introducing a replica of a less well-known Sauropod dinosaur, especially one whose fossils are associated with southern India, a country that is proving to be quite a “hot-bed” for dinosaur discoveries, although, most of the specimens uncovered to date herald from strata laid down in the Cretaceous.

In the video, viewers are given the opportunity to see this large model from a number of perspectives.  The narrator looks at the carefully sculpted head in detail and comments on the skill of the model makers for creating such a formidable looking dinosaur model.  As it is stated in the video review, we too would not want to meet Barapasaurus on a dark night!

The Schleich Barapasaurus Dinosaur Model

Schleich Barapasaurus dinosaur model.

A very colourful dinosaur model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Big-legged Dinosaur

The narrator comments on the size of the model, estimating it to be over twelve inches in length and various props including “off-colour Alan” are used to give viewers an idea of size and scale.  Special attention is paid to the colours used on this replica.  It certainly, is a vibrant dinosaur model with its burnished reds and turquoise spots – a long way from the ubiquitous elephantine grey used in previous Schleich Sauropods such as their “Saurus” Apatosaurus, that was introduced in 2009.

Comparing the 2016 Schleich Barapasaurus Model to the Company’s 2009 Apatosaurus Replica

Schleich Sauropod models compared.

The 2009 Schleich Apatosaurus replica compared to the 2016 Schleich Barapasaurus.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A Close Up of the Head of the Schleich Barapasaurus Dinosaur Model

The head of the Schleich Barapasaurus dinosaur model.

A close up of the head of the Schleich Barapasaurus model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

JurassicCollectables have a wonderful YouTube channel which is full of dinosaur model reviews and other very informative and interesting videos.  This YouTube channel has over 50,000 subscribers, that’s an amazing achievement, our congratulations to everyone at JurassicCollectables for such a fantastic YouTube channel.

Visit the YouTube channel of JurassicCollectables here: JurassicCollectables on YouTube , Everything Dinosaur recommends that prehistoric animal model fans subscribe to the JurassicCollectables YouTube channel.

To purchase the Schleich Barapasaurus dinosaur model and to see the full range of Schleich prehistoric animal replicas that Everything Dinosaur offers: Schleich Prehistoric Animal Models

Thanks, JurassicCollectables for your video review, Barapasaurus (B. tagorei) is one of our favourite Schleich models and it was great to see a video made for this dinosaur model.

New CollectA Models for 2017 (Part 4 of 4)

New CollectA Models for 2017 (Part 4 of 4)

Today, we reveal the last group of CollectA prehistoric animal models scheduled for release in 2017 and what an amazing group they are.  CollectA intend to introduce a Dimorphodon pterosaur model with an articulated jaw, a Deluxe Uintatherium, a giant prehistoric mammal of the Eocene Epoch.  Last but not least, CollectA are bringing out a box of mini prehistoric animal models, a wonderful set that features small replicas which we know will prove to be very popular with makers of prehistoric scenes and dioramas.

New for 2017 The CollectA Dimorphodon Model

CollectA Dimorphodon pterosaur model.

The CollectA Dimorphodon model with a movable lower jaw.

Picture Credit: CollectA

Flying into view or should that be walking into view, comes this beautiful replica of the Early Jurassic pterosaur Dimorphodon.  This flying reptile figure is depicted in terrestrial mode, after all, these creatures did come down from the skies and in the case of Dimorphodon, it probably spent much of its time either on the ground or climbing around in trees.  It is great to see a replica of this British pterosaur (not forgetting the possible second species from Mexico D. weintraubi), especially one that is shown in a quadrupedal stance, perhaps in recognition of the amount of research undertaken into pterosaur posture using Dimorphodon fossil material.

CollectA Dimorphodon Model Measurements

The official measurements for the Dimorphodon are length 37.5 centimetres and height (wing tips) just under 12.5 centimetres.  This model has been referred to as part of the “Supreme” range of models, but in other documents received from CollectA it is described as “Deluxe”.  Whatever range it is in, the CollectA Dimorphodon is certainly a wonderful figure, and like the CollectA Supreme Guidraco pterosaur and the new for 2017, CollectA Deluxe Kronosaurus, it has an articulated jaw.

Additional note:  We can now confirm that the Dimorphodon replica is part of the CollectA Supreme range.

The CollectA Deluxe Uintatherium

CollectA has already introduced an array of top quality prehistoric mammals into their Deluxe scale model range and this new for 2017 Uintatherium (pronounced “Win-tah-fear-ree-um”), continues this trend.

The CollectA Deluxe Uintatherium Model

CollectA Deluxe Uintatherium model.

The CollectA Uintatherium model.

Picture Credit: CollectA

The model depicts a powerful animal with an amazing skull.  The detail in the mouth is fantastic, especially those awesome upper canine teeth, which were bigger in the males.  These teeth may have been used to defend this rhino-sized beast from predators or perhaps they were used in intraspecific combat.  The CollectA Uintatherium has been given a short coat of fur and the talented designer behind the CollectA prehistoric animal model range, Anthony Beeson explained:

“I chose Uintatherium, which, for an amazing animal, I think has been strangely neglected by toy makers in recent decades.  I decided to give it hair as I have never really liked the hippo style appearance for many reconstructions.”

CollectA Deluxe Uintatherium Model Measurements

The information we have indicates a total length of 17 centimetres, with the height of the model around 9 centimetres.  It makes a fine companion piece to display alongside the CollectA Daeodon and the CollectA Andrewsarchus figure, which was introduced earlier this year.

The CollectA Mini Prehistoric Animal Set

Concluding the new for 2017 prehistoric animal models from CollectA is this wonderful set of twelve mini prehistoric animals representing a wide range of creatures from the Palaeozoic and the Mesozoic.  These beautifully crafted models are going to prove to be really useful for model makers and creators of prehistoric animal dioramas, just to add those finishing touches to make a prehistoric scene look authentic and to add extra detail.

The CollectA Mini Prehistoric Animal Set

CollectA mini prehistoric animal models.

The CollectA mini prehistoric animals set.

Picture Credit: CollectA

 The twelve figures, which are all marine animals, are comprised of three reptiles (Pliosaurus, Temnodontosaurus and the giant sea turtle Archelon), three fish (Leedsichthys, Dunkleosteus and the fearsome Xiphactinus) and six invertebrates.

Commenting on this model set, Anthony Beeson stated:

“These are of course, not to scale but can be used in play and dioramas along with our other models as immature animals where we have already produced models of the same species.  The new models include the giant ammonite Parapuzosia and the little trilobite Olenoides serratus and other prehistoric fish and cephalopods that I thought might be enjoyable and educational.  I always particularly liked the elegantly uncurled Australiceras after coming across fossils at Dinosaur Isle museum on the Isle of Wight.”

This is a fantastic set of prehistoric animal models and from our perspective it is great to see the likes of the Late Cretaceous straight-shelled ammonite Baculites and a replica of the giant Cameroceras, often cited as our planet’s first, monstrous super-predator, included.

As to the size of these models, they do vary, with the largest models being just under five centimetres in length.

When Will These Three New Items Be Available?

We are expecting our first stock of the Dimorphodon, Uintatherium and the set of prehistoric animals sometime around the middle of next year.

To view the CollectA Prehistoric Life including 2016 models: CollectA Prehistoric Life Collection

To view the CollectA Deluxe model range: CollectA Deluxe Scale Models

Fossil Footprints Hint at Decline of Amphibians

The Rise of Reptiles as the World Dried Up

Places like the “Jurassic Coast” of Dorset, or the beaches that surround Whitby (North Yorkshire), might be synonymous with fossil hunting, but surprisingly, even some of our great cities can lay claim to be at the centre of palaeontological research.  Take the city of Birmingham (West Midlands), for example, not the sort of place that one would immediately associate with fossils (the exception being the amazing Wren’s Nest site to the north-west of Birmingham, Britain’s first national nature reserve for geology).  However, the study of a series of sandstone slabs, excavated from a quarry a few miles to the north of the centre of Birmingham is helping palaeontologists to plot global climate change some 310 million years ago, that led to the demise of amphibians and provided ideal conditions for the evolution and radiation of reptiles.

Birmingham, Like Most of the British Isles was once Covered in a Lush Tropical Carboniferous Rainforest

A carboniferous scene.

By the Carboniferous the insects were already highly diversified and the lush forests and swamps were dominated by Temnospondyls (primitive amphibians).

Picture Credit: Richard Bizley (Bizley Art) for more of Richard Bizley’s artwork visit: Bizley Art

In 1912, schoolteacher and amateur botanist Walter Henry Hardaker presented a paper to the Geological Society of London detailing the discovery of a series of Tetrapod footprints and trackways that he had discovered in a quarry located in the village of Hamstead.  Hamstead, itself has long since been swallowed up in the urbanisation of the area as the city of Birmingham expanded.  The quarry too, has gone covered up as houses, shops and offices were built, after all, the quarry was located just a stone’s throw from Hamstead railway station.

The sandstones became part of the Lapworth Museum of Geology’s fossil collection at the University of Birmingham.  Hardaker, an alumnus of Birmingham University, probably would have been fascinated by the recent research work undertaken by third-year Palaeobiology and Palaeoenvironments MSci student Luke Meade (University of Birmingham) and colleagues as they applied 21st Century analytical techniques to reveal a glimpse of the world when reptiles were beginning to take over from the amphibians as the dominant Tetrapods.

Using funding provided by the Palaeontological Association, the students scanned the twenty or so red sandstone slabs using state-of-the-art photogrammetric technology to provide a three-dimensional analysis of each track.  Colour coding of the images permitted the research team to produce topographic maps showing the individual contours of each specimen.  These three-dimensional images were then compared to other ichnofossils (trace fossils) to identify the types of animals which produced the footprints.

The footprints and tracks provide a remarkable insight into vertebrate life during the Pennsylvanian Epoch of the Late Carboniferous.  These trace fossils were formed as animals crawled over soft mud next to river channels.  A subsequent flood event covered these tracks with sand and helped to preserve snapshots in deep time.  The red sandstone slabs preserve amazing details, not only of the footprints and tracks but also raindrops and cracks in the mud that were formed as the area dried out.

To read an article on Carboniferous fossils from North Wales: Tropical North Wales 300 Million Years Ago

The research on these trace fossils indicates that the most common tracks were formed by amphibians, ranging from just a few centimetres in length (Batrachichnus salamandroides) to more than a metre long Limnopus ichnospecies).  Other types of creature traversed the mud, leaving their tracks, animals such as large Pelycosaurs (synapsids distantly related to modern mammals).  Although the tracks are much less common, their presence indicates that monitor lizard-sized Reptiliomorphs also roamed the swamps and low lying forest that was eventually to become the West Midlands of England.  The three-dimensional models of the footprints that the team were able to recreate, led to the identification of these tracks having been made by the ichnogenus Dimetropus.  Smaller reptilian tracks were identified as having been made by sauropsid reptiles, (Dromopus lacertoides), whose descendants gave rise to the crocodiles, marine reptiles, pterosaurs, dinosaurs and birds.

Limnopus Trace Fossils Used in the Study

Limnopus trace fossils (West Midlands).

Carboniferous footprints from the West Midlands (England) indicate the rise of amniotes.

Picture Credit: University of Birmingham/PeerJ

The photograph above shows a well-defined example of Limnopus isp tracks from the Hamstead quarry.  The top photograph shows a dorsal view of the fossil material, (B) tracks rendered to show relief with an arbitrary scale, whereas, (C) shows tracks rendered to highlight areas of steep gradient, digitally isolating the outline of the tracks to aid genus recognition and cross comparison.

Scale bar = 10 cm.

This ichnofauna associated with the Hamstead trace fossils contrasts with the slightly stratigraphically older, more extensive and better-studied assemblage from Alveley (Shropshire), which is dominated by small amphibians with relatively rare Reptiliomorphs and Dromopus tracks are absent. The presence of Dromopus lacertoides at Hamstead, identified from this new study supports the theory that the world was gradually becoming more arid through the Late Carboniferous and different types of reptile were beginning to flourish.

Batrachichnus salamandroides Tracks Preserved in the Red Sandstone of Hamstead Quarry

Batrachichnus fossil trackway.

Hamstead quarry red sandstone showing trace fossils of the Carboniferous amphibian Batrachichnus.

Picture Credit: University of Birmingham/PeerJ with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

In the picture above, tracks made by the amphibian Batrachichnus salamandroides are shown, the red line indicates the direction of travel, the long thin lines are tail drag marks.

As the world become drier, so those animals that did not have such a reliance on water compared to the amphibians would have had a distinct advantage.  The synapsids and the diapsids being amniotes (they lay eggs on land or retain a fertilised egg within the female), would have had a significant evolutionary advantage over the amphibians that relied on returning to water to reproduce.

The scientific paper: A Revision of Tetrapod Footprints from the Late Carboniferous of the West Midlands, UK (PeerJ).

Bird Melanosome Stories Flocking Together

Keratin and Melanosomes Preserved in Eoconfuciusornis

A team of international scientists led by researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in collaboration with colleagues from North Carolina State University and Linyi University (Shandong, China), have reported finding the oldest fossil evidence of beta-keratin and melanosome preservation in the feathers of a 130 million-year-old primitive bird from the famous Early Cretaceous Jehol Biota of north-eastern China.

Writing in the journal “The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (United States)”, this new study extends the time frame in which evidence of original organic molecules may be preserved and has provided new data on how to distinguish melanosome structures from similarly shaped microbes.  This is the second article related to the melanosomes having been identified in ancient birds that Everything Dinosaur has published the week.  The earlier article related to a bird fossil identified as a member of the Enantiornithes clade excavated from the Lower Cretaceous strata (Jiufotang Formation), that showed evidence of iridescence in its feathers.*  It’s almost as if stories relating to melanosome structures in birds are flocking together!

The Lower Cretaceous rocks exposed in the Chinese provinces of Hebei and Liaoning have provided palaeontologists with a huge number of vertebrate fossils to study.  The fine-grained strata, laid down in a lacustrine (lake environment), surrounding by active volcanoes provided ideal body fossil preservation conditions and many specimens have revealed exquisite details.  One of the most important group of fossils associated with these deposits are the many different types of bird fossil that have been found.   This new study was carried out on the fossilised remains of one such primitive bird, a specimen of Eoconfuciusornis.

Scanning transmission microscopy was undertaken to identify structures within the fossil and the surrounding matrix, chemical analysis including the use of antibodies that react to specific proteins, helped pinpoint the identity of the structures that had been found.

The Fossilised Remains of Eoconfuciusornis Used in the Research

Eoconfuciusornis fossil bird.

The fossilised remains of a Lower Cretaceous bird from China (Eoconfuciusornis).

Picture Credit: Dr Xiaoli Wang (Linyi University)

What Sort of Bird was Eoconfuciusornis?

Eoconfuciusornis was a crow-sized member of the primitive bird group the confuciusornithids that thrived in China during the Early Cretaceous.  It was one of the first birds to possess a pygostyle (the last five tail vertebrae fused together) and to have a keratinous beak lacking teeth, features found in all modern birds (Neornithes).

Previous studies had striven to prove that tiny, round or sausage-shaped structures preserved in association with fossilised remains were melanosomes, organelles found in animal cells that contains the light-absorbing pigment melanin responsible for colour and protection from harmful rays emitted from the sun.  However, although melanosome-like structures had been discovered in a number of specimens, there was an element of doubt as to the authenticity of the research findings.  It was difficult to definitively proved that these structures were not just microbes that had become associated with the feathers during decomposition and fossilisation.

Mary Schweitzer, a leader in the field of identifying traces of organic materials from within the fossil record and a co-author of this research paper explained the problem:

“If these small bodies are melanosomes, they should be embedded in a keratinous matrix, since feathers contain beta-keratin.  If we couldn’t find the keratin, then those structures could as easily be microbes, or a mix of microbes and melanosomes, in either case, predictions of dinosaur shading would not be accurate.”

The scientists used both scanning and transmission electron microscopy to map minute details of the feather’s surface and its internal structure.  They also utilised immunogold tagging, a technique which involves gold, non-reactive particles being attached to antibodies that bind to particular proteins in order to make them visible in electron microscopy.  This helped to show that the fine filaments within the feathers were keratin.

An Illustration of a Typical Confuciusornithid Bird of the Lower Cretaceous (Confuciusornis sanctus)

Confuciusornis sanctus.

Confuciusornis sanctus a primitive bird but it had a beak.

Picture Credit: University of Manchester

Further tests were carried out, including one which involved the mapping of the presence of copper and sulphur in association with the feathers when viewed under high resolution.  Sulphur was broadly distributed, reflecting its presence in both melanin molecules and keratin.  However, the distribution of copper (only found in modern melanosomes and not part of keratin), was only observed in the fossil melanosome structures.  The data produced supports the identity of melanosomes and indicates that these structures are not the result of contamination or microbial action.

Fellow author, Yanhong Pan (Chinese Academy of Sciences) stated:

“This study is the first to demonstrate evidence for both keratin and melanosomes, using structural, chemical and molecular methods.  These methods have the potential to help us understand, on the molecular level, how and why feathers evolved in these lineages.”

If melanosomes can be positively identified within the fossil record and as the shape of melanosomes can provide an indication of animal colouration, then palaeontologists may be able to hypothesise with greater confidence the colouration of extinct animals including dinosaurs and primitive birds.

* To read Everything Dinosaur’s recently published article on the study of a member of the Enantiornithes clade that shows evidence of iridescence in preserved feathers: A Prehistoric Bird with Bling

The scientific paper: “Molecular Evidence of Keratin and Melanosomes in Feathers of the Early Cretaceous Bird Eoconfuciusornis”, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (United States of America).

Ginkgo “Living Fossil” Has Remarkable Genome Sequenced

The Genome of the Ginkgo Reveals Secret of Success

A team of international scientists writing in the open-access journal “GigaScience”, have published a paper that maps the genome of a “living fossil” – the Ginkgo tree.  The extant Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba), is the only representative of a division of the Plantae Kingdom called the Ginkgophyta.  Native to China, this slow-growing tree with its distinctive fan-shaped leaves has a fossil record that dates back to the Permian.  Also called the Maidenhair tree, Ginkgo biloba is the only living species of a once diverse and widespread group that thrived during the Mesozoic.  The evolutionary origins of the Ginkgophyta are unclear, with the huge genome of G. biloba mapped, it may be possible to trace the ancestry of this enigmatic plant.

The Genome of the “Living Fossil” Ginkgo Biloba has been Mapped

A Ginkgo biloba tree.

A small Ginkgo tree (G. biloba). The genome of Ginkgo biloba has been mapped.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

What is a Genome?

A genome is a complete set of genetic instructions required to build an organism, allow it to grow, develop and function properly.  The instructions are comprised of DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid), which itself consists of four nucleotide bases adenine, thymine, cytosine and guanine (plus other materials that make up the DNA molecule such as phosphate and sugars).  The DNA is contained in chromosomes, which are found in the nucleus of most cells. The four nucleotides are arranged in pairs, adenine binds to thymine and cytosine unites with guanine.  The gene is the unit of inheritance, sections of the DNA consisting of an arrangement of the four base pairs make up a single gene and it is this gene that provides the instructions to build and maintain the organism.

Each organism has a unique genome and the length of these genetic instructions varies.  For example, the human genome is comprised of around 3.2 billion base pairs, if the genome of H. sapiens was printed out and put into paperback books, the stack of books would be over sixty metres tall, about as high as the monument to the Great Fire of London adjacent to London Bridge.  However, the Ginkgo has a much bigger genome, consisting of approximately 10.6 billion base pairs.  If the genome of G. biloba was printed into paperback form, the stack of books would reach over 200 metres high, that’s as tall as the giant cooling towers of the Fidlers Ferry Power station that dominates the Cheshire landscape.

The Human Genome Compared to the Much Larger Genome of Ginkgo biloba

Human genome compared to the Ginkgo genome.

If the human genome and the Ginkgo genome were printed as paperbacks, the tower of books representing the Ginkgo genome would be more than three times higher.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

In the picture above, the human genome if printed out into paperback books, would make a stack some 62 metres tall.  The much larger genome of G. biloba would make a tower of books over 200 metres high.  A Brachiosaurus is shown for scale.

The Extraordinary Biology of G. biloba

The research team, which included members of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and scientists from Zhejiang University, are trying to find out why individual trees can live so long and how they overcome insect and fungi attacks.  The Ginkgo genome mapping study is part of a much larger research project studying plant defences against pathogens.  This investigation will help palaeobotanists to better understand the evolutionary history of the Ginkgophyta and how they relate (phylogeny) to other plant groups.

Professor Yunpeng Zhao (Zhejiang University), one of the authors of the scientific paper commented:

“Ginkgo represents one of the five living groups of seed plants, and has no living relatives.  Such a genome fills a major phylogenetic gap of land plants, and provides key genetic resources to address evolutionary questions like phylogenetic relationships of gymnosperm lineages, evolution of genome and genes in land plants, innovation of developmental traits, evolution of sex as well as history of demography and distribution, resistance and conservation of the Ginkgo.”

Fossilised Ginkgo Leaves (Jurassic)

The carbonised fossil leaves of a Jurassic Ginkgo tree.

Ginkgo fossil leaves.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A Very Resilient Plant

The resilience of the Ginkgo has fascinated botanists.  It has survived dramatic climate change including mini Ice Ages in its native China and Ginkgo trees in the Japanese city of Hiroshima were one of the few organisms to survive the atom bomb blast and resulting radiation, the oldest recorded individual tree germinated back in the Bronze Age.

Ginkgo trees are also able to fend off attacks from insects, bacteria and fungi.  The leaves contain an arsenal of complex chemicals that provide an effective defence.  To better understand the Ginkgo’s defensive systems, the authors analysed the repertoire of genes present in the genome that are known to play a role in the defence of the plant.  An initial analysis of the tree’s more than 40,000 predicted genes showed extensive expansion of gene families that provide for a wide range of defensive mechanisms.

Genes that enable resistance against pathogens are often duplicated.  In addition, Ginkgo trees have an extra weapon in their battle against Arthropods.  As well as having their own array of insecticides within their leaves, they also defend themselves against attack by releasing volatile organic compounds that specifically attract enemies of plant-eating insects.

The term “living fossil” is not one readily used by scientists.  It implies that a species has survived unchanged of millennia.  This is not true, the fossilised leaves preserved in Mesozoic and Cenozoic strata represent a wide variety of genera, but the tree’s basic body plan, its design has remained relatively unchanged for millions of years.

This new data, indicating that the Ginkgo has a formidable array of weaponry to keep it safe from harm, defence measures that seem to have come about as the genes were duplicated, might be linked to the plant’s remarkable resilience.  By undertaking a study of the Ginkgo and its genome, scientists may find useful pointers to assist them in helping to produce more robust crops that can resist diseases and pests.

The CollectA Ginkgo biloba Model

CollectA added a twenty-five centimetre high model of a Ginkgo tree into their “Prehistoric Life Collection” a couple of years ago.  This replica works well with the 1:20 scale range of prehistoric animal models and is very useful when creating realistic prehistoric scenes and dioramas.

The CollectA Prehistoric Life Ginkgo biloba Model

 CollectA Ginkgo biloba model.

The CollectA Ginkgo biloba tree model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view the CollectA Ginkgo biloba replica and the other scale models in this range: CollectA Scale Models and Replicas

Just When Did the Dinosaurs Dominate the Land?

Ixalerpeton polesinensis and Buriolestes schultzi Co-existed

New fossil evidence suggests that the rise of the Dinosauria was more gradual than previously thought.  Many people’s perception of the dinosaurs is that they are all super-sized monsters, dominating life on land and rapidly out competing the other, more primitive Triassic reptiles.  Scientists writing in the journal “Current Biology” challenge this view, as they describe the discovery in the same rock formation of an early dinosaur and a lagerpetid, a member of a group of animals that are recognised as precursors of dinosaurs.  This is the first time that a dinosaur and a dinosaur precursor have been found together, indicating that true members of the Dinosauria Order and their near relatives co-existed.

The Skull of the Dinosaur (Buriolestes schultzi) in Situ

Buriolestes skull at the dig site.

The skull of the sauropodomorph Buriolestes.

Picture Credit: Cabreira et al

A Sauropodomorph and a Lagerpetid

 A team of researchers including Sergio Furtado Cabreira (Museu de Ciências Naturais, Universidade Luterana do Brasil, Brazil) and Alexander Wilhelm Armin Kellner (Departamento de Geologia e Paleontologia, Museu Nacional-UFRJ, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) have described two new species of Dinosauromorpha from Upper Triassic rocks in central, eastern Brazil (the Paraná Basin).  The fossil material represents a lagerpetid, which has been named Ixalerpeton polesinensis and a new basal sauropodomorph (Buriolestes schultzi), the remains of these animals were found in the Alemoa Member of the Santa Maria Formation, specifically, within the Hyperodapedon (rhynchosaur) Assemblage Zone which dates from the Carnian faunal stage of the Upper Triassic.  Ixalerpeton has been assigned to the family Lagerpetidae which together with the Dinosauria and other closely related Archosaurs, make up the clade Dinosauromorpha.  B. schultzi has been assigned to the Sauropodomorpha, a clade of lizard-hipped dinosaurs that would evolve into the long-necked giants such as Diplodocus, Apatosaurus and Brachiosaurus.

Line Drawings and Photographs of the Fossilised Remains of the Two New Species of Dinosauromorph

Fossils and drawings of the two Dinosauromorpha.

Line drawing (A) of I. polesinensis and fossilised remains of (B-H) and line drawing (I) of B. schultzi with fossil remains (J-P).

Picture Credit: Current Biology

The lagerpetid (Ixalerpeton) has been described from skull bones including the braincase, vertebrae, one shoulder blade, the left humerus, parts of the pelvis, a thigh bone (femur) and some lower leg bones.  This biped is estimated to have measured around half a metre in length. The larger Buriolestes is estimated to have measured around 1.8 metres long and it has been described from a partial skull, which includes the premaxilla, maxilla and the dentary, a large number of vertebrae including posterior dorsal vertebrae and caudal bones, the left arm, parts of the pelvis and a nearly complete left hind leg.

Etymology

Ixalerpeton polesinensis – The genus name means “leaping reptile”, whilst the trivial name references São João do Polêsine, the town where the fossils were found.

Buriolestes schultzi – The genus name means “Buriol robber”, a reference to the family name of the land owners and recognises that this dinosaur was most likely carnivorous.  The species/trivial name honours Cesar Schultz (professor of vertebrate palaeontology at the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul).

A Timeline Showing the Relationship between B. schultzi and I. polesinensis within an Overview of Early Dinosauromorphs

A timeling showing the evolutionary relationships of early dinosauromorphs.

Phylogeny of early dinosauromorphs.

Picture Credit: Current Biology

The research team are confident that further analysis of the Ixalerpeton fossil material will add to our understanding as to how the dinosaurs evolved their anatomical characteristics.  The teeth of Buriolestes indicate that this sauropodomorph, a distant ancestor of the huge herbivorous Sauropods, was actually carnivorous.  This evidence supports the theory that the giant plant-eating dinosaurs such as Diplodocus were descended from small, bipedal, meat-eaters.

A Close View of the Teeth of Buriolestes Indicating that this Dinosaur was a Carnivore

The teeth of Buirolestes

A close view of the teeth of Buriolestes. The highly recurved and serrated teeth indicate that this sauropodomorph was a carnivore.

Picture Credit: Cabreira et al

The Dietary Preferences of Dinosauromorphs

An analysis of the fossil teeth of these newly described Archosaurs has helped scientists to assess the dietary preferences of a range of dinosauromorphs.  This research suggests that the very first dinosaurs were all meat-eaters and over time there was a move towards herbivory and an omnivorous diet within certain groups.

The Dietary Preferences of Dinosauromorphs

The diets of dinosauromorphs.

The dietary preferences of members of the Dinosauromorpha.

Picture Credit: Current Biology

The diagram above shows a cladogram of dinosauromorphs and photographs of their teeth.  The top photograph shows the teeth of the dilophosaurid Theropod Dracovenator (Neotheropoda), a carnivore.  Next comes a picture of the teeth of Buriolestes, assigned to the Sauropodomorpha but regarded as carnivorous by the researchers.  The third photograph features the teeth of Pampadromaeus, which coincidentally, was named by Sergio F. Cabreira, Cesar L. Schultz et al.  This little dinosaur has been assigned to the Sauropodomorpha too, it is also believed to be meat-eater.  The final set of teeth belong to the later sauropodomorph Plateosaurus, that lived some fifteen million years after Buriolestes and Pampadromaeus.  The teeth of Plateosaurus seem to be adapted to a plant-eating diet.

The hypothesis about feeding preferences advocated by the researchers in this paper is shown on the left of the cladogram, with alternative arrangements shown on the right.

Key

green coloured line = herbivory and/or omnivory

black coloured line = unknown or ambiguous

orange = carnivore (faunivory – feeding on other animals)

An Illustration of a Buriolestes Catching a Hyperodapedon whilst a Group of Ixalerpeton Scatter

A Buriolestes and Ixalerpeton illustrated.

A Buriolestes catches a Rhynchosaur whilst a group of Ixalerpeton hunt for lizards and grubs in the undergrowth.

Picture Credit: Oliveira Maurílio

This research lends weight to the hypothesis that dinosaurs evolved in the southern hemisphere and that the Dinosauria were carnivorous in their basal forms, it also supports the idea that lagerpetids and early dinosaurs were contemporaries since the first stages of dinosaur evolution.

The scientific paper: “A Unique Late Triassic Dinosauromorph Assemblage Reveals Dinosaur Ancestral Anatomy and Diet” published in Current Biology.

New CollectA Models for 2017 (Part 3)

CollectA Excalibosaurus and Basilosaurus

Today we reveal the next two new for 2017 prehistoric animal models to be introduced by CollectA, both are marine creatures, and predators but they are separated by some 150 million years of our planet’s history.  First up is the splendid Excalibosaurus, a wonderful replica of this Early Jurassic member of the Order Ichthyosauria.  This marine reptile had an elongated rostrum, its upper jaw was much longer than its lower jaw.  Palaeontologists have suggested that it used its bizarre jaws to slash at shoals of fish, the stunned and wounded fish would have then been easier to catch.

New for 2017 the CollectA Excalibosaurus Model

CollectA Excalibosaurus.

The CollectA Excalibosaurus model.

Picture Credit: CollectA

Known from two specimens, both found in Lower Jurassic strata exposed on the Somerset coast of England, this rare Ichthyosaur would have been an apex predator some 190 million years ago.  The holotype material is in the vertebrate collection of the Bristol Museum (England), whilst a much larger and more complete specimen is housed at the Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto, Canada).

Each prehistoric sculpture is approved by Anthony Beeson, a highly-respected expert in palaeoimagery and Anthony commented:

“Excalibosaurus is a local Somerset favourite of mine.  As the holotype is in Bristol Museum and is local to me, I have been able to spend some time studying it.  I think that both the name with its allusions to King Arthur’s magic sword and the animal’s own unusual swordfish-like upper jaw, make it a fascinating Ichthyosaur and one that is not well known amongst children.  It is certainly one of Bristol Museum’s star attractions.”

The colouration of this model reflects some of the latest research into the skin colour of marine reptiles and the new Excalibosaurus compliments the wide range of marine reptile models that have already been introduced by CollectA into their “Prehistoric Life” collection.

CollectA Excalibosaurus Measurements

The official measurements for this new for 2017 marine reptile model are: length just under 13 cm and a height (top of the dorsal fin) of just over 3 cm.

CollectA Basilosaurus Model

The second model to be announced this week is a fantastic replica of the early toothed whale Basilosaurus and what an amazing model it is.

New for 2017 the CollectA Basilosaurus Model

An early whale model - CollectA Basilosaurus

The CollectA Basilosaurus model.

Picture Credit: CollectA

We know that prehistoric animal model collectors and fans of the CollectA range have long been after such a replica and CollectA have certainly delivered with this carefully crafted figure.

Anthony explained:

“Basilosaurus is another animal that I have been intending to produce for some time.  Basilosaurus was a strange colossal early whale, with its vestigial back legs and evolving front flippers.  The colour scheme again veers away from the ubiquitous black and white of many reconstructions and towards the colouring of sperm whales, dolphins and dugongs.”

The colouration is fascinating, at the time Basilosaurus roamed the oceans (Eocene Epoch) a number of other mammal groups had taken to a marine existence, for example, the first sea cows, had evolved.  The grey patches in the picture seen behind the head and along the back are patches of barnacles.  Scientists have concluded that Basilosaurus was not capable of diving to great depths and spent most of its life swimming near to the sea surface (the Epipelagic Zone).  As this part of the sea is inhabited by barnacles it seemed logical for CollectA to give their model a few patches of barnacle infestation.

A Closer View of the Head Shows the Barnacle Patches Behind the Skull

The CollectA Basilosaurus model.

The Basilosaurus early whale model by CollectA.

Picture Credit: CollectA

The picture above shows a close up of the head of the model, several patches of barnacles can be seen on the figure.

CollectA Basilosaurus Measurements

The model measures over 35 cm long and it is approximately 3 cm high.  The very large size of a fully grown Basilosaurus has meant that, for practical reasons, CollectA were unable to make this figure to the same scale as the terrestrial models in their range.  The model is described by CollectA as “extra-large”, since it is longer than the CollectA Deluxe Feathered T. rex, this description does not do this fantastic figure justice.  As for a scale, we estimate that a male of the species could reach a length of around 18 metres, this would make the CollectA Basilosaurus to be around the 1:50 scale mark.

As for when these models will be available, we are expecting our first stock of the Excalibosaurus sometime around the end of February, or perhaps the first week of March.  The Basilosaurus replica is due out sometime in the middle of 2017, perhaps as early as June or July.

To view the CollectA Prehistoric Life range including 2016 models: CollectA Prehistoric Life Collection

To view the CollectA Deluxe model range: CollectA Deluxe Scale Models

A Video Review of the Paleo-Creatures Concavenator Replica

The Paleo-Creatures Concavenator Model Reviewed

It’s fascinating to see the interpretation of an unusual dinosaur by a talented model maker, especially a dinosaur which is synonymous with the country in which that model maker resides. That is exactly what has happened with the excellent Concavenator corcovatus designed by Jesús Toledo as part of his Paleo-Creatures prehistoric animal model series.  In this short video (just under three minutes and twenty seconds duration), the artist talks us through the inspiration behind his choice of colour scheme and provides some further information about this enigmatic Spanish dinosaur that was formally named and described just six years ago.

The Video Review of the Concavenator Replica

Video Credit: Paleo-Creatures

Concavenator corcovatus by Paleo-Creatures

Although known from just one specimen found in the Iberian Mountains of Cuenca Province, (Spain), the fossils attributed to this genus represent one of the most complete Theropod skeletons ever found in Europe.  The excellent state of preservation and the articulation of the fossils suggests that the carcase of this meat-eater was washed into a lake not long after the animal died.  Once in the lake, the corpse was rapidly buried by other sediment and these conditions permitted much of the animal’s remains to be preserved.  At around six metres in length, Concavenator would have been a formidable predator, in the video sculptor Jesús explains that he wanted to give the impression of a swift and dangerous hunter, hence the quite dynamic pose.

The Paleo-Creatures Concavenator Replica by Jesús Toledo

Paleo-Creatures Concavenator

The Paleo-Creatures Concavenator model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Concavenator has been given a set of “tiger stripes”.  Obviously, the colouration of prehistoric animal models is a speculative business but it is not hard to imagine a Concavenator using tree cover and brush to sneak up onto a herd of unsuspecting iguanodonts.  In a forest environment, such camouflage would have been very effective.  In addition, the detail on the head is nicely done and all the teeth on our hand-painted models have been painted with great care.

Quill Knobs

The ulna (one of the bones in the forearm), of Concavenator shows evidence of what may have been the connection points for a series of quills or quill knobs.  In accordance with this, the artist has added some small feathery ornamentation to the forelimb.  The video gives the viewer the opportunity to view the limbs and to see the feathers.  That distinctive hump is well-crafted too.  Quite why the eleventh and twelfth vertebrae were twice the size of the other back bones remains a mystery.  The Paleo-Creatures Concavenator replica certainly shows off this dinosaur’s hump, given that this Theropod also possessed cranial crests (also depicted in the model), it has been suggested that the hump may have played a role in visual communication, perhaps to win a mate or to deter rivals.  Other palaeontologists have suggested that the hump may have evolved to assist with thermoregulation.

The Paleo-Creatures Concavenator is described as being in approximately 1:32 scale, it forms part of a hand-crafted and hand-painted prehistoric animal model range created by Spanish artist Jesús Toledo.

To see the Paleo-Creatures Concavenator and the rest of the Paleo-Creatures model range currently available from Everything Dinosaur: The Paleo-Creatures Model Range

To read Everything Dinosaur’s 2010 article about the discovery of Concavenator: A New Theropod Dinosaur from Spain. One Lump or Two?

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