Category: Dinosaur Fans

New Oviraptorid from the Late Cretaceous of Southern China

Huanansaurus ganzhouensis – Demonstrating the Diversity of the Oviraptorids

Some very peculiar things can turn up at railway stations, just ask anyone who works in a lost property office.  However, for one group of construction workers helping to build the new Ganzhou Railway Station in Jiangxi Province (southern China), they got rather a big surprise when they unearthed the partial remains of a new type of Theropod dinosaur.  The new dinosaur has been identified as a member of the Oviraptoridae family, an extremely bird-like group of dinosaurs, it has been named Huanansaurus ganzhouensis and it suggests that there were many different types of Oviraptorids living in the same environment but each type may have evolved a different feeding and foraging habit.

An Illustration of H. ganzhouensis (Male and Female)

A new feathered dinosaur from China.

A new feathered dinosaur from China.

Picture Credit: Chuang Zhao

Although no feather impressions have been found with the fossils, it is assumed that this lithe dinosaur was indeed feathered.  The illustrator has also assumed that the males had different colouration when compared to the females.  In this imagined scene, one of a breeding pair approaches the other which is sitting on a nest of eggs.  More than two hundred Oviraptorosaurian nests have been found in the Ganzhou area and this part of the world seems to have been a hot bed of Oviraptorid evolution with a total of five genera now known from the strata around the city of Ganzhou.

Size estimates vary, but based on skull measurements and comparisons with other Asian Oviraptors, Everything Dinosaur’s team members estimate that Huanansaurus would have measured around 1.5 metres long and stood over a metre tall, making this dinosaur about half the size of its closest relative Citipati (C. osmolskae), fossils of which come from the Gobi Desert (Djadokhta Formation), that lies some 1,800  miles to the north-east of Jiangxi Province.  It is analysis of the beautifully preserved skull material that has permitted the research team to conduct a phylogenetic analysis placing Huanansaurus close to the Citipati genus in the Oviraptoridae family.  Huanansaurus is distinct from the other four other types of Oviraptorid discovered to date from the Upper Cretaceous rocks (Nanxiong Formation),  located around Ganzhou city.

The four other types of Oviraptorosaurs found in this area are:

  • Banji long (named and described in 2010)
  • Ganzhousaurus nankangensis (named and described in 2013)
  • Jiangxisaurus ganzhouensis (also named and described in 2013)
  • Nankangia jiangxiensis (named and described in that bumper year for southern Chinese Oviraptorosaurs, 2013)

 

A Line Drawing of the Skull and Cranial Material (HGM41HIII-0443)

Left side (lateral view) of the skull and jaws.

Left side (lateral view) of the skull and jaws.

Picture Credit: Journal Science with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

Like most of the later Oviraptorosaurs, Huanansaurus lacked teeth, the shape and size of the skull along with the morphology of the jaws suggests that lots of different types of feathered Oviraptorid dinosaur were able to live in the same environment.  These little dinosaurs co-existed as they probably had different foraging and feeding strategies.  The prevalence of Oviraptorosaurs in southern China indicates that other parts of Asia may have had different types of Oviraptorid present within their biota, but these fossils may not have been found as yet.

The researchers involved in this study include scientists from Japan, South Korea, Uppsala University (Sweden), Henan Geological Museum and the Chinese Academy of Scientists.  The fossils are currently stored in the vertebrate fossil collection of the Henan Geological Museum.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur explained:

“In simple terms, the jaw shapes and sizes are different in the Jiangxi Province Oviraptors.  Although these feathered dinosaurs all lived at the same time, the very late Late Cretaceous and they shared the same environment, they probably specialised in eating different types of food.  For example, the lower jaw tip of Banji long is very strongly curved downwards, whilst the same part of the jaw found in Nankangia jiangxiensis is not.  Both Jiangxisaurus and the newly described Huanansaurus come somewhere in between these two extremes.  It is likely that each type of dinosaur occupied a different ecological niche in the Late Cretaceous palaeoenvironment.”

What did Oviraptor-like dinosaurs eat?  That remains a bit of a mystery, we suspect that they were omnivorous with perhaps each animal adapted to eating different types of seed, fruit and nuts as well as catching and eating amphibian, small mammals and insects.

Dinosaur Tracks Vandalised

Dinosaur Tracks Vandalised – Plaster Casts Attempted

We have picked up a number of reports from the United States that several dinosaur tracks have been vandalised at the Manti-La Sal National Forest, a national park managed by the United States Forestry Service.  Manti-La Sal National Forest straddles the State border between Utah and Colorado and a number of important vertebrate fossils including dinosaur bones and tracks are located within the 1.4 million acre park.  It is illegal to collect or make duplicates of any vertebrate fossils, including trace fossils from lands managed by the U.S. Forestry Service without the correct permits.  Permits are normally only issued to qualified palaeontologists and those parties involved in federally approved research.

A spokesperson from the Manti-La Sal National Forest, explained that three-toed dinosaur tracks in the Moab (Utah), area had been vandalised and a number of suspects identified.  As we at Everything Dinosaur understand the situation, no arrests have been made yet.

Tracks Filled with Plaster in an Attempt to Create Moulds

Dinosaur footprint vandalised.

Dinosaur footprint vandalised.

This part of Utah is famous for its amazing dinosaur fossils.  Sadly, Everything Dinosaur team members have reported on numerous occasions deliberate damage being caused to fossil sites, or the theft of dinosaur bones and tracks.  With private collectors prepared to pay large sums of money for dinosaur fossils, there is a big black market in illegally acquired artefacts.  Last year we reported on the theft of a dinosaur footprint from a Bureau of Land Management managed site, not too far away from this incident.  A local man (Jared Ehlers) was arrested and sentenced to six months house arrest, fined and given an additional one year probation sentence.  Mr Ehlers claimed he had stolen the footprint as he wanted to make a coffee table out of it.  The stolen footprint has not been recovered.

In this latest incident, although no footprints were actually taken, the plaster poured into the footprint impressions will have caused some damage to these important trace fossils.   The dinosaur tracks, probably made by a large, carnivore, have been preserved in hyporelief (depressions), such tracks are relatively rare and the Utah specimens are of exceptional quality, the consistency of the sediment at the time the dinosaur walked on it was just right to permit an accurate footprint impression to be created.  Palaeontologists can use these footprints to explore Theropod locomotion by calculating the way the foot moves as it contacts and leaves the sediment surface.  Although the plaster can be carefully removed and the footprints cleaned, subtle details related to the dinosaur’s locomotion will be probably obliterated.

Everything Dinosaur would like to take this opportunity to advise readers that no collection permits for any type of fossil (plants, invertebrates, vertebrates or trace fossils), are issued by the U.S. Forestry Service  for commercial purposes.  The selling, trading or bartering of any fossil material from National Forest System Lands is strictly prohibited.

Finally Getting to Look at the Face of Hallucigenia

Bizarre Hallucigenia Gets a Face

Growing up with an interest in fossils and prehistoric life, for many team members at Everything Dinosaur, meant that during their formative years, one of the most bizarre of all the animals that are known to have existed, would periodically enter their lives.  The mysterious Hallucigenia, fossils of which are found in the famous Burgess Shale deposits of British Columbia, would have a new research paper published and there would be a fresh perspective on this most peculiar looking creature.

Fossils of the Very Mysterious and Bizarre Hallucigenia

A fossil of Hallucigenia (Burgess Shale)

A fossil of Hallucigenia (Burgess Shale)

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The facial features and the mouth of this little animal have finally been revealed.  A study conducted by scientists Dr. Martin Smith (Cambridge University) and Dr. Jean-Bernard Caron (Curator of Invertebrate Palaeontology, Royal Ontario Museum, Canada), has led to some of the mysteries surrounding Hallucigenia being resolved.  For example, we know now which end was the head and which end was the tail.  In addition, electron microscopy has shown that Hallucigenia had a ring of teeth inside its mouth and a further set of teeth running down its throat.  These teeth in the throat probably served as ratchets.  Palaeontologists think that the tube like body of Hallucigenia was designed to digest food that it sucked into the opening at the front of its body, the simple mouth.  The teeth in the throat may have helped to push food particles down the gut as well as preventing food from being sucked out again as the animal pumped in mud and water as part of its feeding mechanism.  This previously unidentified feature (a throat lined with needle-like teeth), helps connect this Cambrian sea creature to extant Velvet Worms and the evolution of the Arthropods, which today make up more than 80% of all the animal life on Earth.

Commenting on the discovery of Hallucigenia’s facial features, Dr. Smith explained:

“When we put it into the electron microscope, we were delighted to see not just a tiny pair of eyes looking back at us, but also beneath them a really cheeky semi-circular smile.  It was as if the fossil was grinning at us at the secrets that it had been hiding.”

This new study into Hallucigenia, the first fossils of which were found by Charles Walcott who discovered the Burgess Shale fossil site in 1909, has also solved another mystery.  Although, specimens are relatively rare in the Burgess Shale biota, a number of fossils that have been found show a tear shaped blob preserved adjacent to the body.  For some years, this was thought to be the head, or possibly some sort of appendage of the animal.  However, the new paper, published in the journal “Nature”, identifies these strange blobs as gut contents.

Dr. Smith stated:

“What our study shows is that it [the blob] has a different composition from the animal.  And rather than representing part of its body, it actually represents decay fluid – the contents of its guts – squeezed out as the animal was buried and fossilised.”

 What was that Mysterious Blob?

A Hallucigenia specimen (Royal Ontario Museum).

A Hallucigenia specimen (Royal Ontario Museum).

Picture Credit: Royal Ontario Museum/Dr. Jean Bernard Caron with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

The arrow in the picture shows the location of the strange blob.

Compared to the bountiful fossils of other species associated with the Burgess Shale Formation, Hallucigenia fossils are rare, so much so that the first species to be formerly described in the Hallucigenia genus was named H. sparsa. It was English palaeontologist Simon Conway Morris who established the Hallucigenia genus after he reviewed the earlier Walcott study.  Walcott had thought that this little animal was some form of early bristle worm (polychaete worm), like a Lugworm, but Conway Morris decided that this creature was so unique it deserved its own genus.  He established the genus Hallucigenia, so named for its “bizarre and dream-like appearance”.   Like a number of other Burgess Shale animals, Hallucigenia was thought to be an evolutionary experiment that left no descendants.   The Cambridge University/Royal Ontario Museum team have been able to map, approximately where the alien-looking Hallucigenia fits into the Kingdom Animalia.  It seems to be a precursor to the Velvet Worms (Onychophorans), that still can be found in the tropics today.  Velvet Worms, Arthropods and Tardigrades (Water Bears), belong to a huge group of animals that all moult, these are called Ecdysozoans.  The researchers were able to establish that Hallucigenia was not the common ancestor of these moulting animals but that it was an ancestor of the extant Onychophorans.  Finding the mouth and the  pharyngeal teeth (teeth in the throat), helped the scientists to determine that Velvet Worms originally had the same configuration, but these were eventually lost.

Dr. Smith explained:

The early evolutionary history of this huge group is pretty much uncharted.  While we know that the animals in this group are united by the fact that they moult, we haven’t been able to find many physical characteristics that unite them”.

Dr. Jean-Bernard Caron added:

“It turns out that the ancestors of moulting animals were much more anatomically advanced than we ever could have imagined, ring-like, plate-bearing worms with an armoured throat and a mouth surrounded by spines.  We previously thought that neither Velvet Worms nor their ancestors had teeth.  But Hallucigenia tells us that actually, Velvet Worm ancestors had them, and living forms just lost their teeth over time.”

Team members at Everything Dinosaur have a lot of time for the Hallucigenia genus.  Most of the individuals are much smaller than people imagine.  The largest specimens are around thirty-five millimetres in length and when Conway Morris published his research in 1979, it turns out that his study depicted this animal the wrong way up and back to front.  Conway Morris illustrated Hallucigenia as walking on stiff spine-like legs, with a single row of tentacles waving around on its back.  A model was created that showed this new view of Hallucigenia.  The model can be seen at the start of the Royal Ontario Museum video featuring Dr. Caron who explains about the latest research.  Although, anatomically not correct, the model remains a curiosity that is kept at the Museum along with a large number of Burgess Shale specimens including many of the fossils collected by Charles Walcott.

The Original Simon Conway Morris Model of Hallucigenia

The very alien-looking Hallucigenia model.

The very alien-looking Hallucigenia model.

Picture Credit: Royal Ontario Museum

The bulbous head turns out to be the rear end of the creature and thanks to this new research (plus some similar types of Chinese fossils that have been extensively studied), we have a very different interpretation of this marine creature.  It looks quite graceful and delicate.  A picture of Charles Walcott can be seen in the background.

Based on the New Research The Reconstructed Hallucigenia

Scientists have been able to stare into the face of Hallucigenia for the first time.

Scientists have been able to stare into the face of Hallucigenia for the first time.

Picture Credit: Danielle Dufault

Those spines, once thought to be legs probably evolved as a number of predators shared Hallucigenia’s marine habitat.  The spines would have been an effective deterrent against attacks from nektonic Arthropods.

Hallucigenia remains one of the most remarkable animals within the Burgess Shale biota, but thanks to this new study some of the mysteries surrounding it have been solved.  It remains an enigmatic little creature and after more than a Century since its discovery it is still capable of springing a few surprises.  The story of Hallucigenia and how it has been interpreted and reinterpreted over the years provides a fascinating example of how new techniques and study methods can lead to a reinterpretation of the fossil evidence.

New Sauropodomorph Dinosaur from South Africa

Sefapanosaurus – Another Piece in the Dinosaur Jigsaw Puzzle

Yet another example of a new genus of dinosaur found lurking in a museum collection, this time from South Africa.  Team members at Everything Dinosaur often state that one of the best places to find a new dinosaur species is not out in the field but by re-examining fossil material already within a museum’s collection.  New techniques have enabled palaeontologists to gain a much better understanding of known fossils, many of which might have been excavated and prepared decades earlier.  As the number of dinosaur discoveries grows, so scientists can use new fossil finds to compare and contrast already studied specimens, this can provide fresh insight and help to place a museum specimen into a wider context within the Dinosauria.

That’s exactly what happened in the case of the newly described Sauropodomorph dinosaur named Sefapanosaurus zastronensis.   The team of South African and Argentinian palaeontologists who made this discovery, re-classified the fossils, which had been thought to represent another South African Sauropodomorph called Aardonyx (A. celestae).  Aardonyx had been named and described six years ago.

To read Everything Dinosaur’s article announcing the discovery of Aardonyx celestae: New Basal Sauropod Described

Researchers from South Africa’s University of Cape Town, the University of Witwatersrand, Museo de La Plata (Argentina) and Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio (also Argentina) have published a scientific paper about this new dinosaur in the Zoological Journal of the Linnaean Society.  It is hoped that S. zastronensis will help palaeontologists to better understand the phylogenetic relationships between basal Sauropodomorpha and their spread and diversity during the Late Triassic/Early Jurassic.

A Reconstruction of Sefapanosaurus zastronensis

The bones shaded in grey represent actual fossil material.

The bones shaded in grey represent actual fossil material.

Picture Credit: University of Witwatersrand

The fossils represent at least four individuals and consist of post cranial material (limb bones, foot bones and some vertebrae) and they were found back in the 1930′s and resided in the collection of the Evolutionary Studies Institute (University of Witwatersrand).  The Evolutionary Studies Institute houses the largest fossil collection in Africa, there are over 30,000 catalogued plant fossils and approximately 6,000 fossils from the Karoo Basin, most of the fossils originate from Africa, but there are a number of important specimens from elsewhere in the world housed at the Institute.

The Sefapanosaurus fossils were excavated from the Upper Elliot Formation (Zastron locality), the strata in this area dates from the very end of the Triassic to the beginning of the Jurassic geological period.   The fossils are estimated to be around 200 million years old and they were located more than one hundred miles south of where the Aardonyx celestae fossils were found.

One of the most distinctive features of this dinosaur are the ankle bones (astragalus), they are shaped like a cross.  This unique autapomorphy (distinct anatomical feature), accounts for this dinosaur’s name.  The genus name comes from the word “sefapano” in the local Sesotho dialect, it means “cross”.  The species name honours the small agricultural town of Zastron, which is close to where the fossils were found.

The Incomplete Left Foot (Pes) showing the Ankle Bones (Proximal View)

Holotype fossil material (386) showing ankle bones.

Holotype fossil material (386) showing ankle bones.

Picture Credit: University of Witwatersrand with additional annotation from Everything Dinosaur

One of the unique morphologies found in the fossil bones is the tall ascending process of the astragalus (ankle bone).

Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan (University of Cape Town), one of the co-authors of the scientific paper stated:

“The discovery of Sefapanosaurus shows that there were several of these transitional early Sauropodomorph dinosaurs roaming around southern Africa about 200 million years ago.”

A subsequent phylogenetic analysis of basal Sauropods from South American and southern Africa places Sefapanosaurus within the group of Sauropodomorphs more closely related to Sauropods than to the genus Massopondylus (Sauropodiformes).

Argentinian palaeontologist and lead author, Dr. Alejandro Otero, explained that Sefapanosaurus helps to fill in the gap between the earliest Sauropodomorphs and the gigantic Sauropods that are so well known, dinosaurs such as Brontosaurus, Apatosaurus, and Brachiosaurus from the Late Jurassic.

“Sefapanosaurus constitutes a member of the growing list of transitional Sauropodmorph dinosaurs from Argentina and South Africa that are increasingly telling us how they diversified.”

The discovery of Sefapanosaurus and other recent dinosaur fossil finds in the southern hemisphere reveals that the diversity of plant-eating dinosaurs in Africa and South America was remarkably high in the early Jurassic, a time when these two continents were joined together as part of a single super-continent known as Gondwana.

A picture of the Right Scapula (shoulder blade)

Scale bar =

Scale bar = 8cm

Picture Credit: University of Witwatersrand

Papo Velociraptors Claim to Fame

“Jurassic World Raptors” and the Papo Velociraptor Replica

Some of the most exciting scenes in the record breaking dinosaur movie “Jurassic World” involve the pack of “raptors” and the various chase scenes.  Velociraptors, at least over-sized ones anyway, have been a mainstay of the “Jurassic Park” franchise, ever since the first film came out way back in 1993.  Pack hunting and some form of social behaviour has been ascribed to these types of dinosaurs, which as members of the Dromaeosauridae (swift lizards) family, are closely related to modern birds.  In reality, the two species of Velociraptor described to date were much smaller than their movie counterparts, but even so, they would very probably have been aggressive animals and formidable hunters, much feared by even the largest of the herbivores that shared their Asian habitat towards the end of the Cretaceous period.

Which Dinosaur Model Most Closely Resembles the Movie Raptors?

This accolade, we think, goes to Papo for their Velociraptor replica.  The Theropod dinosaurs in “Jurassic World” have been criticised for not reflecting some of the latest thinking with regards to meat-eating dinosaurs. For example, there is an absence of feathers and many palaeontologists now think that the majority of the Theropoda were at least partially feathered.  The Papo Velociraptor dinosaur model is also not feathered.

Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and a Velociraptor

The Papo Velociraptor model closely resembles the "Jurassic World" Velociraptors.

The Papo Velociraptor model closely resembles the “Jurassic World” Velociraptors.

Picture Credit: Universal Studios with additional material from Everything Dinosaur

Papo, the French model and figure manufacturer, has built up a strong reputation for its excellent replicas.  The company’s dinosaur model range was believed to have been inspired by the first film, “Jurassic Park” that was released in 1993.  The current range consists of over thirty different prehistoric animal models.

To view the full Papo prehistoric animal model range: Papo Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animal Models

In the film, animal trailer turned dinosaur behaviourist Owen Grady, played by Chris Pratt, leads a pack of Velociraptors, describing himself as the “alpha” member of the pack, Owen is able to exercise some degree of control over the actions of his dinosaurs.  How much control..?  Well, that would be giving away details of the plot and since not all our readers have seen the film yet, we shall say no more.

Thank You for All the Dinosaur Pictures

Lots of Dinosaur Pictures Sent to Everything Dinosaur

Just time to say a very big thank you to all the dinosaur fans and budding fossil collectors that have sent in prehistoric animal pictures.  We do look at every single one that we receive and we are humbled when we get so many sent into us.  We know that a lot of schools have been teaching dinosaur themed topics during the latter part of the spring term and for the first part of the summer term, as a result, we have been very busy visiting schools and we have seen some wonderful examples of artwork as well as inspiring the next generation of palaeoartists to send in their pictures to Everything Dinosaur.

A Pink Stegosaurus (Very Colourful)

A very colourful pink plant-eating dinosaur.

A very colourful pink plant-eating dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Enan

We have posted up a large number of the illustrations on our warehouse notice boards, others have been put up on the office walls, they certainly cheer the place up.  Lots and lots of brightly coloured prehistoric animals such as this very pink Stegosaurus drawn by Enan, aged 4.  His mum says that Stegosaurus is his favourite dinosaur (for the moment), but he does tend to change quite frequently and he likes to tell his parents about his dinosaur models and to explain which ones ate plants and which ones ate meat.  Well done, Enan.

Hopefully, we will have time to post up more examples, on our social media pages and of course on the Everything Dinosaur blog.

Extreme Equatorial Climates Slowed the Rise of the Dinosaurs

Climate of the Tropics too Unstable for the Dinosaurs to Dominant in the Late Triassic

The vast majority of the reptile species found today are confined to the tropics.  However, a new study undertaken by an international team of researchers suggests that during the Late Triassic as one group of reptiles came to dominate the land, the dinosaurs, they struggled to gain a foothold in the tropics due to extreme climate fluctuations.  Dramatic swings in the equatorial climate from wet and humid to extremely hot and dry checked the evolutionary development of the Dinosauria.  Such conditions may be repeated in equatorial regions in the very near future due to increased amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as a result of global warming.  What slowed the rise of the dinosaurs, could provide our species Homo sapiens with a viable model of what lies in store for us.

The Flora and Fauna of the Late Triassic (Ghost Ranch, New Mexico)

Dramatic climate changes from very wet to very dry conditions limited the range of large, herbivorous dinosaurs.

Dramatic climate changes from very wet to very dry conditions limited the range of large, herbivorous dinosaurs.

Picture Credit: Victor Leshyk

The picture above shows a typical scene representing the flora and fauna of the Late Triassic (Ghost Ranch, New Mexico).  Thick forests of primitive ,drought resistant conifers, araucaria, redwoods and podocarps dominate the landscape.  Armoured Aetosaurs (foreground and background) would have grazed upon ferns, club mosses and horsetails, whilst Phytosaurs, which superficially resemble modern-day crocodiles, would have hunted small animals and mammal-like reptiles.  The vast majority of dinosaur fossils associated with the Ghost Ranch location (Chinle Formation), relate to small, Theropod dinosaurs.

Late Triassic Equatorial Dinosaur Puzzle

What has troubled the curiosity of palaeontologists, is why so very little evidence of larger plant-eating dinosaurs have been found in rock formations that represent deposits laid down close to the Equator?  The first dinosaurs might have evolved some 240 million years ago, perhaps slightly earlier.  Although, the fossil record is far from complete, it is likely the first dinosaurs lived in the southern hemisphere.  Over the next thirty million years or so, the Dinosauria gradually diversified and spread.  At this time in our planet’s history, most of the landmasses were joined together to form a single, super-sized land mass (Pangaea or Pangea).  Fossils of Sauropodomorphs have been found in Late Triassic strata from northerly as well as southerly latitudes but very few fossils of big, herbivorous dinosaurs have been found from locations that would have been close to the Equator.  Small-bodied, meat-eaters are found, although they do not make up a huge proportion of the total fauna, least not until the latter stages of the Triassic, but there is very little evidence to suggest the presence of large, plant-eating Sauropodomorphs.

To read about the recent discovery of a new type of meat-eating, Therpod dinosaur from the south-western United States: New Theropod Dinosaur Discovery Provides Evidence of Meat-Eating Dinosaur Diversification

A Map of the World in the Late Triassic

The position of the continents during the Late Triassic.

The position of the continents during the Late Triassic.

Picture Credit: North Arizona University with additional annotations by Everything Dinosaur

The map shows the approximate location of the Ghost Ranch site (New Mexico, USA), which during the Late Triassic lay close to the Equator.

To help understand the why certain types of dinosaur may have struggled to survive in the tropics, an international team of scientists, including researchers from the University of Southampton, have created a remarkably detailed picture of the ecology and climate of the famous Ghost Ranch fossil site (New Mexico).  The colourful rock layers preserved in this part of south-western United States represent a series of continental deposits, consisting mainly of sandstones and shales.  They date mostly from the Late Triassic (Carnian and Norian faunal stages).  The research team sampled different layers and used these samples to identify microscopic trace fossils such as plant pollen and fern spores.  This provided the researchers with some understanding of the changing plant populations over time.  This data was correlated with the work of organic geochemist Jessica Whiteside (Southampton University), who analysed carbon isotopes preserved in the rocks. Dr. Whiteside identified repeated highs and lows in the amount of “heavy” carbon-13 that was recorded, signs of major changes in the ecology of the area over time.  These peaks and troughs lined up with changes in the composition of the fossil pollen and fern spores preserved  This suggests that there were wild and dramatic climate swings leading to a flipping of floras, between a dominance of water loving species suited to a humid, warm and wet environment and those species that thrived when the climate became much more arid.

Dr. Whiteside Taking Samples for Isotope Analysis

Researchers Jessica Whiteside and Maria Dunlavey taking rock samples for analysis of the isotopic signature of organic carbon at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico. These data help reconstruct ecosystem productivity and environmental changes in the Triassic.

Researchers Jessica Whiteside and Maria Dunlavey taking rock samples for analysis of the isotopic signature of organic carbon at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico. These data help reconstruct ecosystem productivity and environmental changes in the Triassic.

Picture Credit: Randall Irmis

Commenting on the implications of this part of the study, Dr. Whiteside stated that this see-sawing between wet and dry environments occurred as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels rose from around 1,200 part per million in the oldest rocks sampled up to 2,400 parts per million in the youngest rocks included in the study.  These levels are well in excess of the current CO2 levels in our atmosphere (400 parts per million), but as global warming occurs and the amount of green house gases like carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases, then we too, are likely to experience much more extremes in world weather.

Ian Glasspool, a specialist in studying ancient plant remains, examined the layers of charcoal that could be found in those sediments associated with the drier, hotter climate.  These are the remains of trees that were caught up in forest fires that periodically swept through this part of the world in the Late Triassic.  He measured the reflectiveness of the charcoal to estimate the intensity of the wildfires that had occurred.  The suggestion is that, the greater the amount of fuel available for a fire to consume, then the greater the heat generated.  The biomass available to burn would be directly related to dry conditions, the drier the climate the greater likelihood of very hot forest fires due to the presence of so much combustible material.

The evidence from the charcoal samples support the idea of a tropical climate swinging violently from extremes.  Severe droughts and forest fires would have continually reshaped the vegetation available for plant-eating dinosaurs.  Perhaps the large bodied, Sauropodomorphs, with their much greater food demands compared to other plant-eating reptiles, were not able to cope with the changes in the flora.

 The Field Team Excavating Vertebrate Fossils

A field team excavating vertebrate fossil remains (Ghost Ranch).

A field team excavating vertebrate fossil remains (Ghost Ranch).

Picture Credit: Randall Irmis

Note the clearly defined bands of different rocks which is a hall mark of the Chinle Formation.  The layers represent different deposition environments, the red sandstones are coloured due to the amount of iron minerals that they contain.  In the published academic paper that outlines this research, the scientists conclude that extreme climate fluctuation led to ecosystem instability in the tropics, which in turn suppressed the rise of the large, plant-eating dinosaurs in these regions.

Warm-Blooded versus Cold-Blooded

This new study may go some way to explain why fossils of small Theropod dinosaurs are found amongst the vertebrate fossil assemblage, but the remains of large Sauropodomorphs are extremely rare.  Although this new research provides a fascinating insight into an prehistoric ecosystem, it throws up some intriguing but controversial ideas.  The scientists postulate that these extreme climates prevented large, active, warm-blooded herbivorous dinosaurs from becoming established in sub-tropical low latitudes until much later in the Mesozoic.  It is suggested that the higher metabolic rates of plant-eating dinosaurs which were endothermic or had a form of endothermy (warm-bloodedness), prevented them from getting a foothold.  They would have needed greater amounts of food to sustain them when compared to the other types of, presumably, cold-blooded reptile that did live in those regions.  The debate over dinosaur metabolism is not resolved and even if the majority of the Dinosauria were endothermic or even mesothermic (a combination of cold-blooded and warm-blooded features), the early long-necked dinosaurs and their descendants, the Sauropoda, may have been entirely ectothermic.

The Femur of a Small Meat-Eating Theropod Dinosaur Excavated by the Researchers

A fossilised dinosaur thigh bone (Ghost Ranch), only small dinosaurs were present close to the Equator.

A fossilised dinosaur thigh bone (Ghost Ranch), only small dinosaurs were present close to the Equator.

Picture Credit: Randall Irmis

The small scribe provides a simple scale.  The distal end of the femur is towards the left of the photograph.

To read a short article about another early meat-eating dinosaur from the Ghost Ranch site: Buck Toothed Vicious Dinosaur Daemonosaurus chauliodus

“Jurassic World” in Record Weekend

$511 Million USD in Cinema Ticket Sales in a Weekend for Jurassic World

“Jurassic World” directed by Colin Trevorrow and co-produced by Steven Spielberg has become the first film in history to take more than $500 million dollars (USD) at the box office on its opening weekend.  The film, the fourth in the Jurassic Park franchise, had been scheduled for release in the summer of 2014, but script issues and filming delays put back the release of the movie.  Any doubts the executives at Universal Studios had about “Jurassic World” were very quickly dispelled as advance ticket sales for the opening weekend had hinted that the lure of genetically engineered dinosaurs was going to result in huge financial rewards for the studio.

“Jurassic World” Opened Globally to Record Box Office Ticket Sales

Global success for dinosaur themed block-buster.

Global success for dinosaur themed block-buster.

Picture Credit: Getty Images

The film was the most popular screening in all sixty-six countries where it was released over  the weekend.  In the United States it took some $204 million dollars (USD), box office receipts in China are estimated to have exceeded $100 million (USD), whilst in the United Kingdom and Ireland ticket sales were around the $30 million (USD) mark.  According to media reports, the success of “Jurassic World” in America makes it the second highest grossing opening weekend for a film in the United States (the record is held by the 2012 release of Marvel’s “The Avengers” which took $207.4 million (USD) in its first weekend.

A Monster Hit in the Cinemas

Huge Mosasaur about to tackle "jaws".

Huge Mosasaur about to tackle “jaws”.

Picture Credit: Universal Studios

 Global box office ticket sales have been estimated at around the $511.8 million dollars mark (USD), that equates to approximately  £325 million (GBP), even the giant Masrani conglomerate, the fictitious global concern that supposedly owns the theme park where the movie is set, would be impressed with sales figures such as these.

The first “Jurassic Park” film was released in 1993.  Everything Dinosaur team members think that this first movie (for the time being), remains Universal Studio’s highest grossing film ever, with over $921 million (USD) generated at the box office worldwide.  This figure was further boosted by cinema receipts from the twentieth anniversary edition released in 2013.  To put these cinema sales into context, the top grossing film in the United States and Canada last year (box office receipts), was “Guardians of the Galaxy which took some $333.1 million (USD), “Jurassic World” achieved over sixty percent of this sales figure in just its opening weekend.  ”Guardians of the Galaxy” starred Chris Pratt, who plays Owen Grady, the Velociraptor behaviourist turned hero of “Jurassic World”.

People Just Love Dinosaurs

What does all this mean?  Put simply, people just love dinosaurs and the bigger and fiercer they are the better.  Perhaps this film will inspire the next generation of scientists, a spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“Jurassic World, was always going to be a huge success in all likelihood.  The film puts people and dinosaurs together and that is a winning combination that has been proved time and time again throughout cinema history.”

A Sequel?

The success of the film does not just mean a rekindling of our love affair with summer block-busters, it also virtually guarantees that the “Jurassic Park” franchise will continue.  Everything Dinosaur team members predict that there will be a sequel, expect announcements soon and a cinema release of maybe late 2017.

Team members try to make annual predictions about dinosaur discoveries, fossil finds and likely events related to palaeontology at the beginning of each year.  Our first prediction for 2015, was a real no-brainer, we confidently stated that “Jurassic World” was going to be a huge success!

To read Everything Dinosaur’s full list of palaeontology predictions for 2015: Everything Dinosaur’s Predictions 2015

To visit Everything Dinosaur’s website: Everything Dinosaur

Apatosaurus Illustration

A Young Apatosaurus is Sketched

To reflect the recently published scientific paper that summarised the re-evaluation of the Apatosaurinae, that sub-family of diplodocid Sauropods, that led to the re-establishment of the genus Brontosaurus, team members at Everything Dinosaur have commissioned a new illustration of one of these long-necked dinosaurs.  Brontosaurus means “thunder lizard”, an apt description for this type of dinosaur, one that could have weighed as much as twenty-five tonnes and measured as long as a tennis court (B. excelsus).  Long-necked dinosaurs are extremely popular amongst adults and youngsters and we do get asked a lot of questions about these types of prehistoric animals when we visit schools, from the teachers as well as the children.

For further information: Is Brontosaurus Back?

An Illustration of Apatosaurus, or is it Brontosaurus?

Or is it a Brontosaurus?

Or is it a Brontosaurus?

Picture Credit: Mike Fredericks/Everything Dinosaur

We will probably use this new illustration to make a scale drawing for our dinosaur fact sheets.  We research and write a fact sheet for every named prehistoric animal item that Everything Dinosaur supplies.  We have hundreds of these fact sheets and we do supply them to schools and to home education groups to help teachers and parents.  More drawings will be commissioned shortly, the majority of these will be for new model introductions.  We can’t say too much about this just yet, further information will be made available at the end of the year.  What we can say is that there are going to be some very exciting new models in 2016.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s existing model range, including Apatosaurus models: Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Models

Valley of the Whales – Basilosaurus Fossil Discovery

Scientists Study Nearly Complete Basilosaurus Fossil 

Egypt’s “Valley of the Whales” has proved to be a very happy hunting ground as a team of scientists announce the discovery of the most complete skeleton of the ancient whale known as Basilosaurus ever found.  The skeleton, believed to be around forty million years old, measures eighteen metres in length.  A second whale fossil has also been discovered in the body cavity of the leviathan, at this early stage, scientists are unsure whether these bones represent the last meal of the Basilosaurus or perhaps its unborn young.  The giant whale was the apex predator in the shallow sea, a remnant of the mighty Tethys Ocean, that once covered this part of the world during the Eocene Epoch.  Fossils of crustaceans and a number of fish species have also been discovered at the site.  In addition, the discovery of several large shark teeth indicate the Basilosaurus corpse may have been scavenged prior to its burial.

Researchers Carefully Excavating the Nearly Perfectly Articulated Basilosaurus Fossil

The remains of the skull are nearest the camera.

The remains of the skull are nearest the camera.

Picture Credit: Egyptian Ministry of the Environment

 Basilosaurus was an early type of toothed whale.  It is descended from a group of terrestrial carnivores, the Mesonychians.  Two species have been described to date and this specimen represents one of the largest found in the Fayum deposits south-west of Cairo.  The fossil material comes from one of the most important Cenozoic-aged fossil sites in the world, the Wadi Al-Hitan (Whale Valley), a region of the Western Desert of Egypt, which contains the remains of the earliest types of ancient whales (Archaeoceti), scientists are able to trace from these fossils the last stages of Cetacean limb evolution, in which the hind limbs were eventually lost.  Wadi Al-Hitan has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2005.  It provides a unique insight into an ecosystem dominated by shallow waters and mangrove swamps that existed  along the northern coast of Africa and into what is now, the Sahara Desert.

A Model of the Fearsome Marine Predator Basilosaurus

One of the ancient sea creatures featured in the Prehistoric Sealife Toob

One of the ancient sea creatures featured in the Prehistoric Sealife Toob

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Basilosaurus featured in the BBC television series “Walking with Beasts”, a follow up to the hugely successful 1999 “Walking with Dinosaurs”.  Episode Two was entitled “Whale Killer” and told the story of a female Basilosaurus as she struggles to find food and find somewhere safe to give birth.  As a result of this media exposure, Everything Dinosaur does receive requests for information about this early whale from time to time.  In terms of models, a Basilosaurus is featured in the “Prehistoric Sealife Toob” manufactured by Safari Ltd.  It is one of ten models in this model set.

To see the range of Safari Ltd models supplied by Everything Dinosaur, including the Prehistoric Sealife Toob: Carnegie Dinosaur Toys and Models

To read Everything Dinosaur’s review of the Safari Ltd Prehistoric Sealife Toob: Prehistoric Sealife Toob Reviewed

It is hoped that this new fossil discovery can help solve one of the enduring mysteries associated with Basilosaurus.  The very long and serpentine shape of Basilosaurus (the name means “King Reptile”), has presented anatomists and vertebrae palaeontologists with a bit of a puzzle.  The distal caudal vertebrae are compressed in a very similar way to those seen in animals with a tail fluke.  However, having the tail fluke at the very end of a long, sinuous tail (as in the model above), would have given this marine mammal quite an awkward and inefficient swimming action.  With a complete specimen of the tail bones to study, it is hoped that these fossils will provide more information on early Cetacean locomotion.

A Close up of the Preserved Skull and Jaws of Basilosaurus

Basilosaurus skull excavation.

Basilosaurus skull excavation.

Picture Credit: Egyptian Ministry of the Environment

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