Category: Dinosaur Fans

My First Toy Dinosaurs Model Set

My First Toy Dinosaurs Model Set (6 Rubber Dinosaurs)

Great for imaginative, creative play, a set of six rubber dinosaurs from Everything Dinosaur.  An ideal gift for the young dinosaur fan in your family or as a play set for use in schools.  The set of six dinosaur models includes a Tyrannosaurus rex, a long-necked Brachiosaurus, the plated dinosaur Stegosaurus, along with a bright and colourful duck-billed dinosaur, a Parasaurolophus.  The set also includes a horned dinosaur (Triceratops) and a wonderful armoured dinosaur, an Ankylosaurus.  This set of soft rubber dinosaurs makes an ideal my first dinosaurs model set as these prehistoric animals are suitable for children from three years and upwards.

My First Toy Dinosaurs Model Set (6 Rubber Dinosaurs)

A set of six rubber dinosaurs, great for tactile play.

A set of six rubber dinosaurs, great for tactile play.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The teaching team at Everything Dinosaur have specially chosen this toy dinosaurs set as the models represent typical examples of dinosaurs and show the variety of these ancient reptiles that once roamed our planet.  The models are made from soft rubber and they are great for imaginative, tactile play.

To view the range of educational dinosaur toys available from Everything Dinosaur: Dinosaur Toys including Rubber Dinosaur Toys

This really is a super set of soft and squeezy rubber dinosaurs.  The set makes an ideal, my first dinosaur model set for any young dinosaur fan.  They are a great way for young minds to explore materials and discover the world of dinosaurs.

One of our customers wrote this review:

“Loved the colourful models, six different ones that my little boy just loves.  A great first dinosaur  model set.  Soft and squeezy rubber dinosaurs, very well made.”

Thanks for your review Mrs Jacobs.

Everything Dinosaur supplies a set of useful dinosaur fact sheets about the animals featured in this set.  This is a great dinosaur themed resource for schools.

Everything Dinosaur Publishes Blog Article Number 3,000

Everything Dinosaur Writes 3,000 Blog Articles

It feels like we started this blog sometime back in the Pleistocene Epoch, but that’s not quite the case, the first articles were published in May 2007 and now some eight years later, today, we publish article number 3,000!  Team members at Everything Dinosaur try to put up an article every day, this can be quite a tough ask but given the speed of developments in palaeontology, the wealth of new fossil finds plus of course, our own adventures, there has never been a shortage of things to write about.  A big thank you to the millions of viewers and all those who have re-pinned, shared and tweeted our content, this really means a lot to us.

Celebrating Article Number 3,000 on the Everything Dinosaur Blog

Celebrating our 3,000th blog post.

Celebrating our 3,000th blog post.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The aims of our humble web log have not changed since we started.  We try to write articles using non-technical language that inform readers about the latest dinosaur and prehistoric animal research.  In addition, we act as a source of information for new fossil finds and updates on fossil hunting expeditions.  Our blog has proved to be a useful resource for dinosaur fans and model collectors as we have published quite a lot of information about new products and ranges coming to the market.  From the feedback we receive, we are also aware of the number of teachers, teaching assistants and home educationalists who regular visit our blog site and use the information we provide for lesson plans and other educational activities.  With this blog and our sister site (Dinosaurs for Schools), Everything Dinosaur has built up quite a following from primary and secondary school teachers.

The Everything Dinosaur blog is getting to be quite a sizeable beast, for example, much bigger than a Dreadnoughtus, a huge, long-necked dinosaur from Argentina, that we discussed on this web log back in September 2014.  If you were to print out all our articles out onto A4-sized paper and lay them end to end, then this paper chain would stretch for approximately 750 metres.  Or to put it another way, in terminology that dinosaur fans might appreciate, our printed out blog would stretch the length of twenty-seven Diplodocus dinosaurs.

To read the article on Dreadnoughtus: A Little Detail on a Great Big Dreadnoughthus

If we were to try to print out our entire blog, even on our biggest, fastest printer, we estimate that to produce all the articles, it would take over two days.  That’s a lot of time standing around the printer!

Given the amount of correspondence we receive from collectors, schoolchildren and delighted parents, we could quite easily post up pictures, drawings, photographs of fossils and such like several times a day, but for the time being, we shall have to limit ourselves to the single post.  However, please be assured, we respond to all those correspondents who require a reply, just as we read all the blog comments from our readers on this site.

On behalf of everyone at “Everything” we would like to say a really big thank you to all our readers.

Would a Dinosaur Make a Good Pet?

Year 2 at St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School Consider a Pet Dinosaur

Children in Year 2 at St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School (Matlock, Derbyshire), have been tackling the tricky question of would dinosaurs make good pets?  This poser is one of the questions being explored as part of a series of themes for the summer term.  So far the children have learned about dinosaur eggs and taken part in some outdoor measuring activities under the guidance of their enthusiastic teacher Miss Sutcliffe.  It’s a good job the school has a large playground, especially when it comes to working out how tall a Brachiosaurus was.

Brachiosaurus was one of the largest of the dinosaurs, a huge plant-eater, fossils of which have been found in Upper Jurassic rocks.  The children estimated that a twelve metre tall Brachiosaurus would be the same height as nineteen Year 2 children.  This is a super exercise and certainly helps children gain an appreciation of the size and scale of some of the biggest dinosaurs.

One of the Biggest Dinosaurs of the Late Jurassic

A typical Brachiosaur.

A typical Brachiosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Trouble is, Brachiosaurus (the name means “Arm Lizard” as the forelimbs were larger than the back legs), was not the tallest of the Dinosauria.  As more fossils have been found so different contenders for the “tallest dinosaur “accolade are proposed.  One contender, known from four neck bones and a handful of other fossil specimens found in rocks dating from the Early Cretaceous of the United States, is Sauroposeidon (the name means “Earthquake Lizard”).  Sauroposeidon is pronounced sore-oh-poh-sigh-don.  One of the neck bones measures 1.4 metres long, that is taller than most of the Year 2 children at the school.

Size estimates for Sauroposeidon do vary.  With so few fossils to study, it is difficult to work out just how tall, or indeed just how long or how heavy this dinosaur was.  Palaeontologists are not even sure if Sauroposeidon had the same basic body shape of Brachiosaurus.  However, if it did, then it could have been around 18-20 metres tall.

Sauroposeidon Compared to Brachiosaurus

Scaling up Sauroposeidon and comparing it to Brachiosaurus and an extant African elephant.

Scaling up Sauroposeidon and comparing it to Brachiosaurus and an extant African elephant.

If nineteen Year 2 children are as tall as a twelve metre high Brachiosaurus, then can the class work out how many of them would be needed to be the same height as a twenty metre tall Sauroposeidon?

Miss Sutcliffe and her teaching assistant have certainly developed a challenging and engaging scheme of work for the class.  The dinosaur workshop we conducted certainly helped as we were able to answer the children’s questions and some of those questions were quite challenging.  For example, we were asked how did dinosaurs chew bones?  Fortunately, some of the fossils we had with us were useful in demonstrating how some types of dinosaur ate.

The spacious and well-organised classroom had lots of dinosaur themed displays.  We were informed that after our visit the children would be designing a habitat for their dinosaurs.  This links nicely into the English national curriculum as this enables the children to learn about living creatures and what they need to survive.  Perhaps the children can compare the world of the dinosaurs with habitats seen today and the types of animals that exist in those habitats.   It was pleasing to note that Year 2 had a good grasp of the terminology related to ecosystems and food chains.  For example, the children were able to explain all about omnivores.  Our cast of the lower jaw of a Pachycephalosaur (Dracorex hogwartsia), proved useful when it came to explaining about animals that ate both meat and plants.  Dracorex might make a good pet dinosaur, it would have helped keep the school’s vegetable garden pest free, but a downside might be that it would be tempted to eat all the flowers!

A Colourful Dinosaur Themed Display in the Classroom

St Joseph's Catholic Primary School (Year 2) dinosaur display.

St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School (Year 2) dinosaur display.

Picture Credit: Year 2/Everything Dinosaur

We set the class a number of challenges as part of the extension ideas and activities we discussed with Miss Sutcliffe and we look forward to hearing how the children get on as they explore all things dinosaur for their summer term topic.

The Growth Spurts of Indominus rex

The Prehistoric Animals of “Jurassic World” – The Rapid Growth of Indominus rex

There are only another twenty-three days to wait before the movie “Jurassic World” opens at cinemas.  To say that this film has been eagerly awaited is a bit of an understatement, we expect things to reach fever pitch over the next three weeks or so.  In this febrile atmosphere, team members wanted to comment on an aspect of the movie, the fourth in the “Jurassic Park” franchise, that has not been discussed to any great degree.  Now we know this is pure science fiction, the extraction of ancient DNA from amber (or copal, the pre-cursor to amber for that matter), is extremely controversial but if we take all this with a pinch of salt, what gets us is the phenomenal growth rate of the genetically engineered dinosaurs.

Take for example, the new hybrid dinosaur developed by those scientists formerly of InGen and now working for the Masrani Corporation (the fictional conglomerate which owns and runs “Jurassic World”).

Fearsome “super-beast” Indominus rex

The hybrid dinosaur.

The hybrid dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Universal Studios

The growth rate for this hybrid dinosaur, which seems to be made up of a variety of Theropod dinosaurs as well as genetic material from a number of extant creatures, is phenomenal.  In trailers released to promote “Jurassic World”, Dr. Wu the leading geneticist behind the development of this new type of prehistoric animal, states that this dinosaur was designed to be “bigger than a T. rex.“.  In the film, it is believed to be around twelve metres long, a fraction smaller than an adult female Tyrannosaurus rex.

If the project to develop a genetically modified dinosaur was only given the go ahead sometime in 2012, this new species exhibits an accelerated growth rate.  It seems to have grown much more rapidly than any other large Theropod.  It was Masrani’s Chief Executive Officer, Simon Masrani, who announced that the company had been able to successfully engineer a new species, but that was only last year, so within twelve months the subject of this project has developed into a very big animal indeed!

At Everything Dinosaur, we have attempted to map the growth rate of Indominus rex against that of Tyrannosaurus rex.  This work is highly speculative, but we have tried to postulate the growth rates based on the timeline stated by Masrani Corporation and plotted this against the postulated growth rate for a large tyrannosaurid based on the current research.  At least in terms of growth rate, this is a no contest, I. rex wins hands down (or should that be claws down)?

Comparing the Growth Rates of Indominus rex and Tyrannosaurus rex

I. rex versus T. rex growth rates.

I. rex versus T. rex growth rates.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Quite a bit of research has been conducted on the ontogeny (growth) of dinosaurs, such as Late Cretaceous Theropods, an example being Tyrannosaurus rex.  It has been suggested that T. rex did not reach adult size until it got to its twenties.  It may even have had a growth spurt in its teenage years just like us humans.  Compare this to the genetic dinosaur hybrid Indominus rex, it reaches twelve metres in length in the summer of 2015, that means in three years or so it has had a spectacular growth spurt.

How we love the movies!  Of course, this is a science fiction film, the writers and film makers can do what they want, after all, it’s only CGI.  If they want a phenomenally quick growing dinosaur, then that is their prerogative.  When did science actually get in the way of a good film?

We suspect that I. rex will meet its demise at the end of the picture.  Not that we know anything, but just like the “raptors” in the first “Jurassic Park” film (1993),who were about to attack Dr. Grant and company, when a bigger predator intervened,  we suspect that another dinosaur might be responsible for the extinction of Indominus rex.

We shall have to wait and see…

As for certification, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), has given “Jurassic World” a 13 certificate for it contains “intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril.”   We are not sure about the UK certification (British Board of Film Classification), but we would expect this film to have a 12A certificate.

Rise and Shine with Dinosaurs

Dinosaur Alarm Clock from Everything Dinosaur

Do you have trouble getting your little monsters out of bed?   Here’s a handy solution from Everything Dinosaur that is bound to get dinosaur fans roaring with excitement, a colourful dinosaur themed alarm clock.  The large, easy to see hands make telling the time a doddle even if your dinosaur brain is the size of a walnut.  The face of the clock measures around ten centimetres in diameter and it features three very colourful prehistoric animals.  Can you spot the Triceratops?

No Need to Get Alarmed – A Dinosaur Alarm Clock

Dinosaur alarm clock.

Dinosaur alarm clock.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The numbers on the dial are very clear and the alarm lever is a different colour from the hands of the clock so that it can be easily spotted.  This dinosaur alarm clock has child-friendly time settings and controls.  It requires 1 x AA battery (not supplied).

To view the dinosaur alarm clock at Everything Dinosaur: Dinosaur Bedding Accessories

Help your little monsters to raise and shine with this super dinosaur themed alarm clock.  An ideal accessory for a dinosaur fan’s bedroom.

The Dinosaur Alarm Clock

Rise and shine with dinosaurs.

Rise and shine with dinosaurs.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Kronosaurus – Down on the Farm

Queensland Farmer Discovers Kronosaurus Jaw Fossil

A Queensland farmer, out spraying weeds on his farm near Nelia in the north-western part of the State, has unearthed the fossilised remains of the lower jaw of a huge marine reptile known as a Kronosaurus.  Although the jaw measures 1.6 metres long, it came from a sub-adult, most of the teeth may be missing, but this is one of the best preserved Pliosaur jaws found anywhere in the world.

Robert Hacon of Euroba Station, was taking advantage of the recent rains that have occurred in this drought hit part of Australia to spray some prickly Acacia plants when he noticed some shiny objects in amongst the weeds.  At first, he dismissed them thinking that they were fossilised mussel shells, which are relatively common in this part of the world, evidence to support the idea that much of the land mass we call Australia was part of a warm, tropical, shallow sea back in the Early Cretaceous.  However, curious to find out exactly what the objects were, he returned to the spot a few minutes later and discovered that the recent downpour had exposed a near complete lower jaw bone of a huge marine reptile.

Dr. Timothy Holland (Kronosaurus Korner) Poses Next to the Fossil Jaw

Dr. Timothy Holland provides a scale next to the massive Kronosaurus jaw.

Dr. Timothy Holland provides a scale next to the massive Kronosaurus jaw.

Picture Credit: Patricia Woodgate

 The first fossils of this apex, marine predator were discovered in Queensland in 1889.  At the time, the fragmentary remains were identified as a type of Ichthyosaur, but in 1924 they were reassigned to the short-necked Sub-Order  of the Plesiosauria, the Pliosauroidea.  Most of the fossil material related to the two species of Kronosaurus so far described, have been crushed, severely weathered and distorted, but pliosaurid specialist, Dr. Timothy Holland of Kronosaurus Korner, a museum that exhibits a number of marine reptile fossils found in Queensland, stated that this specimen was one of the best found to date.

An Illustration of Kronosaurus (K. queenslandicus)

A fantastic replica of the huge marine reptile Kronosaurus.

A fantastic replica of the huge marine reptile Kronosaurus.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows a superb model of the marine reptile Kronosaurus (Safari Ltd).  This replica is part of the now retired Carnegie Collectibles model series.

To see more prehistoric animals in the Carnegie Collectibles model range: Prehistoric Animal Models including Marine Creatures

The fossilised jawbones have been donated to the Kronosaurus Korner museum, they will shortly be put on display to the public.

Commenting on the fossil find, Dr. Holland stated:

“The scary thing is that this creature wasn’t even an adult when it died, it still had a lot of growing to do.  We are thrilled to display the specimen, it’s a timely reminder of Australia’s rich geoheritage and I marvel to think what else lies waiting to be found.”

The skull of this ancient marine reptile made up about a quarter of the animal’s entire body length, a spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented on the excellent state of preservation and estimated that the total length of the animal would have been approximately seven metres.

A Close up of the Beautifully Preserved Jaw Bones

Some teeth can still be seen in the rounded sockets.

Some teeth can still be seen in the rounded sockets.

Picture Credit: Patricia Woodgate

Posterior parts of the jaw are up to eighteen centimetres thick, indicating that this powerful predator had very strong jaws.  It was most likely the top predator in the marine environment, eating fish, cephalopods and other reptiles.

Over the last few years, Everything Dinosaur has reported on a number of marine reptile fossil finds from Queensland, Australia.  Some of these fossils turn up in very unexpected places, such as the case of Ichthyosaur fossil bones being found in the vegetable patch of a school.

To read more about this amazing discovery: Marine Reptile Fossils Found at School

In Everything Dinosaur’s fossil and palaeontology predictions for 2015, we predicted that there would be some exciting new dinosaur discoveries reported from Australia.  This is certainly an exciting fossil find, but Kronosaurus was not a member of the Dinosauria.  Still, more than half of the year to go so we have plenty of time left to be proved right (just for once).

To see the full list of Everything Dinosaur’s predictions: Everything Dinosaur’s Palaeontology and Fossil Predictions for 2015

The Prehistoric Animals of Jurassic World – Indominus rex

The Making of Indominus rex – “Fierce or Untameable King”

The back story to the forthcoming film “Jurassic World” goes something like this.  With the death of Dr. John Hammond the founder of InGen in 1997, (according to the film franchise timeline), the corporate giant Masrani began negotiations to acquire the company and within twelve months InGen was part of the Masrani conglomerate.  A plan to develop and reopen the “Jurassic Park” attraction was put forward shortly afterwards and in around 2000, the go ahead was given to create a dinosaur led attraction on the island of Isla Nublar.  The attraction, known as “Jurassic World” was built between the years 2002 and 2004, construction materials alone are estimated to have been around $1.2 billion USD.  To give readers an appreciation of the costs of developing the new attraction, the construction of the new Wembley stadium (London), completed in 2007, cost around $2 billion USD in total.  The development of “Jurassic World” was a huge and ambitious undertaking for Masrani, the decision to go ahead with the project coincided with Masrani Global Corporation’s NASDAQ market debut (2000), the theme park was seen as a “flagship” enterprise for the organisation.  With many new shareholders to impress, the park had to be a success and when it opened in June 2005, it proved to be a huge hit, attracting 98,120 visitors in the first month alone.

Masrani – Ten Years of Making Dinosaurs

A decade of dinosaurs.

A decade of dinosaurs.

Picture Credit: Masrani

The Need to Build Bigger and Better Attractions

Anyone who has ever played the video game “Theme Park”, (which was originally released in 1994, just a year after the original Jurassic Park movie hit cinema screens), knows that the rides and the park itself needs to be constantly refreshed and updated to keep visitor numbers up.  With visitor numbers at “Jurassic World” beginning to fall or at best plateau, in the last two to three years, investors began to grow concerned.  Revenue from ticket sales, merchandise and other income streams were not growing as strongly as they once were, this prompted Masrani’s Chief Operations Officer, Richard Wiesner, to describe the 2013 results for “Jurassic World” as merely acceptable, despite profits from the theme park exceeding 20 million USD that financial year.

Richard Wiesner stated:

“The world has seen what we have to offer, but they aren’t in awe as they once used to be.  We need to change that.  You can’t expect the world’s greatest theme park to merely rely on the same attractions.  We need to be proactive, thinking of bigger and better things.”

Putting things in perspective, EuroDisney (Paris) over the same period posted a loss of 78 million Euros, but apparently Masrani wanted bigger and better…

Dr. Henry Wu’s Contribution

The chief scientist at InGen, Dr. Henry Wu, one of the world’s leading geneticists, had successfully combined the DNA of a number of plant species to create the “Wu flower” (Karacosis wutansis) back in 1997.  As one of the architects of the prehistoric animals in the failed “Jurassic Park” experiment, Wu was installed as one of the lead scientists to genetically engineer a whole new generation of dinosaurs for the new attraction “Jurassic World”.  InGen remained a separate company within the Masrani portfolio and one can only speculate on where their genetic research took them, but in response to the call to create bigger and more exciting attractions, it was Dr. Wu and his team who were given the task of developing a hybridised dinosaur.  The project to create a genetically engineered, hybridised dinosaur is believed to have started in late 2012.  This was to be an entirely new species, one that had genetic traits from a variety of Theropod dinosaurs combined with other extant (living species) – the Indominus rex project was begun.

Indominus rex – New Dinosaur on the Block

The Group’s Chief Executive Officer Simon Masrani announced in 2014, that the company had been able to successfully engineer a new type of dinosaur.  Once the news story broke, on line ticket sales to the park “skyrocketed”, it looks like 2015 is going to be a very big year for “Jurassic World”.  The dinosaur has been named Indominus rex (fierce or untameable king), note, we at Everything Dinosaur prefer to spell untameable with an extra “e”.  The new dinosaur attraction is due to open this summer and we all know that this is going to end very badly.

As Owen Grady (played by Chris Pratt) states:

“You just went and made a new dinosaur, probably not a good idea”

New Dinosaur on the Block – Indominus rex

The dinosaur instructs some Pterosaurs!

Classified as a genetically modified hybrid.

Picture Credit: Universal Studios

If Dr. Wu’s brief had been to create a bigger, more dangerous, fiercer and more intelligent dinosaur, then the project does seem to have achieved its goal.  We at Everything Dinosaur don’t know quite how the genome for this new theme park attraction was put together, originally there were two creatures, but one was eaten by the other.  I. rex does indeed look to be a mix of different meat-eating dinosaurs, with osteoderms resembling those seen on Abelisaurids (Carnotaurus, Majungasaurus and Rugops are mentioned)  and the Late Jurassic Ceratosaurus, three-fingered hands of an Allosaurid, but with much larger and more highly recurved claws, there is probably a bit of T. rex and a pinch of dromaeosaurid in there too.

Indominus rex – Dinosaur Attraction Due to Open in Summer 2015

A forthcoming attraction.

A forthcoming attraction.

Picture Credit: Universal Studios

In the pre-launch publicity for the attraction, it is stated that this new hybrid can run up to speeds of 30mph (48kmh), within the confines of its enclosure and that I. rex can roar as loudly as 140-160db, the sound created when a Boeing 747 jet takes off.  At around twelve metres, that is a phenomenal growth rate, much faster than the estimated growth rate for any other large Theropod.  Amongst all that dinosaur DNA, to obtain such a rapid growth rate, we speculate that some song-bird genes much have been thrown into the mixer, after all, blackbirds for example, can reach almost adult size in just a few weeks.  Although the growth rate of various members of the Theropoda are not that well understood, ontogenic studies have suggested it was actually prey such as Ornithopods that grew much more quickly.

To read about a study into dinosaur growth rates: Duck-billed Dinosaurs Grew Up Fast to Avoid Tyrannosaurs

Just how big this dinosaur could grow can only be speculated.  We suspect that in the forthcoming film this dinosaur will meet its demise, how this happens is one of the most closely guarded secrets in the history of the film franchise.  Could Indominus rex fight Tyrannosaurus rex?  Would a Spinosaurus (the big villain in Jurassic Park III), become involved somehow?  Like millions of dinosaur fans around the world we shall have to wait until the second week of June to find out.

Retracing the Beak of Birds to the Snout of Dinosaurs

Reverse Genetic Engineering to Produce a Dinosaur Snout

A team of scientists based in the United States have tweaked the developmental processes that take place in chicken embryos to re-engineer the snouts of their dinosaur ancestors.  The research team led by University of Yale palaeontologist, Bhart-Anjan S. Bhullar and developmental biologist Arhat Abzhanov (Harvard University), have produced the first bird embryos that possess a snout similar to a dinosaur’s nose rather than a beak.  The chicken embryos developed palatial bones and a jaw configuration that resembles that seen in the fossil record, specifically in the Dromaeosauridae, a group of dinosaurs that are closely related to modern Aves.  The Dromaeosaurs, sometimes referred to as the “raptors” belong to the Sub-order Theropoda.  They are part of a clade of agile dinosaurs that reduced their tails, lost their teeth and evolved into Aves (birds).  Typical dromaeosaurids are Velociraptor, Deinonychus and the recently named Saurornitholestes sullivani.

To read an article about the newly described Saurornitholestes sullivaniSniffing Out a New Dinosaur Species

As the Yale University press release states: “Just don’t call them Dino-chickens!”

Tweaking the Beak from Dromaeosaurs to Modern Birds

From the Dinosauria (left) to the beaks of modern Aves (right).

From the Dinosauria (left) to the beaks of modern Aves (right).

Picture Credit: John Conway

The scientists were not in the business of trying to create a living dinosaur.  Manipulation of chicken embryos has taken place for several years, all part of research to help the understanding of how molecular processes affect the development of organisms.

Commenting on this research, which has just been published in the journal “Evolution”, lead author Dr. Bhart-Anjan S. Bhullar (Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Yale) stated:

“Our goal here was to understand the molecular underpinnings of an important evolutionary transition, not to create a “dino-chicken” simply for the sake of it.”

For the young doctor, this is all part of his on-going research into cranial development in very young animals.  It is not part of a concerted effort to bring back the Dinosauria, a sort of “Jurassic Park from the embryo upwards”, as explained by a spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur.

There are a huge variety of bird beaks, from the curved, tearing and cutting beaks of eagles, to the sophisticated sieves of flamingos.  The beak is an essential component of avian anatomy and the researchers are trying to unravel how the beak evolved from its reptilian ancestry.  A quantitative analysis of fossils closely associated with the origins of birds was undertaken along with a study of extant animals including lizards, crocodiles and birds.  This examination allowed the scientists to develop a hypothesis as to how the bird beak may have evolved from the Dinosauria and the developmental stages that were involved.

The team identified that both major living lineages of birds, the abundant Neognathae (which includes virtually all species of extant birds) and the much rarer  Palaeognathae (which comprises the Tinamou family of birds from South and Central America plus the flightless ratites – cassowary, ostrich, kiwi, rhea, for example), differ from reptiles that are not closely related to birds and from mammals in that they have a unique, median gene expression zone of two different facial development genes early in embryonic development.  This median gene expression had previously only been identified in chicken embryos.

Turning Back the Evolutionary Clock

In order to have an embryo revert to its ancestral state, before the beak as it were, the gene expression for beak formation in the young chicken had to be turned off.  Microscopic beads coated in a molecule inhibiting substance were used to inhibit the activity of the proteins produced by the bird specific, median signalling zone in the chicken embryos.  This led the embryo to revert back to its reptilian ancestry with a more dinosaur-like snout forming and surprisingly, the palatine bone in the root of the mouth was also altered.

Changing the Faces of Embryos (Modified Chicken Embryo with Snout)

Normal chick (left), modified chicken embryo (centre), alligator embryo (right)

Normal chick (left), modified chicken embryo (centre), alligator embryo (right)

Picture Credit: Evolution

Dr. Bhullar was surprised by the additional changes seen in the palatine bone, he stated:

“This was unexpected and demonstrates the way in which a single, simple developmental mechanism can have wide-ranging and unexpected effects.”

Commenting on the research, Professor Michael Benton (Bristol University), someone who knows a great deal about bird evolution, explained that this new study shows that the beak of birds develops very different from the snouts, noses and jaws of reptiles.  A different set of genes are involved.

He stated:

“That’s what proves the beak is a real adaptation or “thing”, not just a slightly different nose shape”

Why Beaks?

Intriguingly, although the fossil record for bird evolution is far from complete, the fantastically well preserved bird fossils of Lower Cretaceous deposits from China, specimens of Confuciusornis for instance, show that by around 125 million years ago the toothless beak had evolved.  Why the beak came about remains a point of significant debate, however, one of the most often cited reasons for a lighter, toothless structure is that as birds became more efficient fliers and spent more time in the air, the loss of a heavy, bony jaw lined with teeth was just one of a number of anatomical adaptations that occurred to help improve powered flight.

The “Early Bird” Confuciusornis sanctus from China

Confuciusornis sanctus a primitive bird but it had a beak.

Confuciusornis sanctus a primitive bird but it had a beak.

The American based researchers are confident that their work has important implications for other geneticists and for palaeontologists.  For example, if a single molecular mechanism was responsible for this transformation, there should be a corresponding, linked transformation in the fossil record.  The flightless, man-sized Hesperornis, a genus of prehistoric bird known from the Late Cretaceous of North America could demonstrate that link.

An Illustration of Hesperornis (Traditional View)

Hesperornis catching a fish.

Hesperornis catching a fish.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Brooke Bond

Dr. Bhullar said:

“This is borne out by the fact that Hesperornis, discovered by Othniel Charles Marsh of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, which is a near relative of modern birds that still retains teeth and the most primitive stem avian with a modern-looking beak in the form of a fused, elongate premaxillae, also possesses a modern bird palatine bone.”

The premaxillae are the bones that form the tip of the upper jaw (anterior portion) of most animals, but are enlarged and fused to form the beak of birds.

Moving forward, the quantitative analysis to establish a proposed hypothetical developmental path of a lineage of animals which could be tested by inhibiting the behaviour of proteins in embryos can be probably be used to investigate a wide range of underlying developmental mechanisms in organisms.

The dinosaur/bird link is now well established, a theory once proposed by the likes of Henry Govier Seeley back in the 1880′s is widely accepted.  Back in 2013, Everything Dinosaur reported on research from an international team of scientists, including researchers from the Royal Veterinary College (London), that looked at how the posture of birds was derived from the gait of small, cursorial dinosaurs.

To read more about this study: The Birds Have the Dinosaurs to Thank for their Crouching Gait

Everything Dinosaur notes the support of Yale University in the compilation of this article.

Sniffing Out a New Dinosaur Species

Saurornitholestes sullivani – Don’t Turn Your Nose Up When It Comes To The Dromaeosaurids

Steven Jasinski, a PhD student at the University of Pennsylvania (Department of Earth and Environmental Science), has identified a new species of North American Dromaeosaur, one that may have had a very keen sense of smell.  Saurornitholestes sullivani was not the largest predator known from that ecosystem, but with its sharp senses, grasping arms, turn of speed, large claws and jaws full of dagger-like teeth it was very probably a formidable hunter.

Steven made the discovery whilst studying cranial elements (skull fossils) that had been assigned to the genus Saurornitholestes but to another species, (S. langstoni).  Up until now, Saurornitholestes langstoni was the only species assigned to this genus, now there are two.  This is yet another example of a new dinosaur species being erected from a reassessment of previously described fossil remains.  The Saurornitholestes genus was established in 1978, following the description of a partial skeleton discovered in Alberta (Canada).  Although, no complete or near complete fossil specimen has been found to date, fossil material from both the Judith River Formation (Montana) and the Dinosaur Provincial Park Formation (Alberta) have been assigned to this genus.  The huge number of broken teeth found, indicate that this dinosaur was probably one of the most common predators in this part of North America approximately 75 million years ago (Campanian faunal stage).

An Illustration of a Pair of S. sullivani Attacking a Juvenile Parasaurolophus

Fearsome predator of the Late Cretaceous.

Fearsome predator of the Late Cretaceous.

Picture Credit: Mary P. Williams

 The picture above depicts a pair of feathered dinosaurs attacking a juvenile duck-billed dinosaur.  Although no evidence of feathers have been found preserved alongside fossil material assigned to this genus, it is likely, that this small, agile dinosaur was feathered.  A report on Saurornitholestes sullivani has been published in the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science bulletin.

The fossil material was originally found by American palaeontologist Robert Sullivan in 1999, when a field team was exploring the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness in northern New Mexico.  The fossils were initially described as Saurornitholestes langstoni and represented the southernmost location for this species.  However, Steven Jasinski conducted a comparative analysis of these fossils with those of S. langstoni from Montana and Alberta and he observed a number of differences in skull anatomy.  When the brain shape and volume was calculated, the student noted that the proportion of the brain dedicated to interpreting and analysing smells was unusually large.  The enlarged olfactory bulb indicates that this two metre long dinosaur had a powerful sense of smell.

Jasinski commented:

“This feature [enlarged olfactory bulb] means that Saurornitholestes sullivani had a relatively better sense of smell than other dromaeosaurid dinosaurs including Velociraptor, Dromaeosaurus and Bambiraptor.  This keen olfaction may have made S. sullivani an intimidating predator as well.”

 Steven Jasinski Holding a Replica of the Skull and Upper Jaw of S. sullivani

Student Steven Jasinski.

Student Steven Jasinski.

Picture Credit: University of Pennsylvania

The picture above shows Steven holding a replica of the fossil material, the large eye socket (orbit) also suggests that this little hunter had keen eyesight.

At the time S. sullivani lived, North America was split into several parts separated by an inland sea (the Western Interior Seaway).  This dinosaur lived on the landmass known as Laramidia.  S. sullivani represents the only named Dromaeosaur from the Late Cretaceous of southern Laramida, but the wealth of micro-fossil evidence, consisting of broken teeth suggests that there may have been several different species of Dromaeosaur inhabiting the floodplains on the eastern shores of Laramidia.

Although a distinct species, Saurornitholestes sullivani was very closely related to S. langstoni.  Finding two distinct species of this genus hundreds of miles apart supports the hypothesis that distinct but closely related megafaunal communities existed on Laramida (supporting the concept of ethnicity within the Dinosauria of Late Cretaceous North America).

Approximate Location of Saurornitholestes Fossil Material from Laramidia

Saurornitholestes fossil material mapped.

Saurornitholestes fossil material mapped.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Having an exceptional sense of smell would have helped this agile dinosaur to sniff out potential prey.  Although, in the illustration above Saurornitholestes is depicted attacking a duck-billed dinosaur, it may not have hunted large prey.  The sense of smell could have helped this dinosaur, that probably measured around one metre high at the hips, to sniff out mammals living in burrows or to find lizards and other small creatures in the undergrowth.  In addition, an acute sense of smell could have helped Saurornitholestes find carrion that it could then scavenge.

Jurassic World Dinosaurs are not Accurate – So What!

Jurassic World = “Dumb Monster Movie”

A number of news stories have appeared in the media over the last few days criticising how the dinosaurs are depicted in the forthcoming film “Jurassic World”, which is the fourth film in the hugely successful “Jurassic Park” franchise.  Articles with headlines such as “Jurassic World branded “dumb monster movie” with unrealistic T. Rex without feathers” from the Scottish Daily Record and “New Jurassic World film slammed as “dumb monster movie” because dinosaurs were covered in fluffy feathers in real life” from the Mail Online, are typical of the adverse publicity.

Knocking a movie before it has been released is not new, prior to the release of the first three Jurassic Park films there were criticisms.  In this article, we want to address the balance a little bit and to put some of the statements made into context with regards to the idea of extracting genetic material from amber in the first place.  The fluffy dinosaur debate will come later.

“Jurassic World” Gets Criticism

A "feat" of genetic engineering?

A “feat” of genetic engineering but are the dinosaurs accurate?

Picture Credit: Universal Studios

Getting the Terminology Right – What’s in a Bionomial Name?

First of all, let’s get out of the way one inaccuracy from the headlines.  The dinosaur name “T. Rex” should never be written with the species name – rex given a capital letter.  There are rules and conventions as to how the taxonomic hierarchy is expressed, rules that we, at Everything Dinosaur do try to stick to.  Formally, the names of all genera in this case Tyrannosaurus, should always begin with a capital letter.  The species or trivial name however, should always begin with a lower case letter.  The “King of the Tyrant Lizards”, should be written as T. rex or Tyrannosaurus rex, note also that the names of genera and species are always printed in italics.  We at Everything Dinosaur do try to adhere to these conventions whenever we can, but we do admit, whilst we try to put the binomial name into italics, when stating the genus, we don’t normally revert to the italicised form.

Despite claims that dinosaur fans could end up being extremely disappointed when this film finally gets released (June 12th), it is just a film, it’s entertainment and from what we have seen from the trailers “Jurassic World” is going to be very entertaining.

The extremely talented and eloquent vertebrate palaeontologist Darren Naish, is quoted in a number of articles (Sunday Times, Business Standard, Daily Mirror to name but a few), he states:

“The original film [Jurassic Park released in 1993], showed dinosaurs that were not simply roaring, scaly monsters but were active, social, bird-like animals with dynamic bodies.  Now, Jurassic World is simply a dumb monster movie and there has been a deliberate effort to make its animals look different from the way we think they should.”

Let’s try and put some of these “headlines” seen in the media into context.

The Amber Effect

The idea that genetic material can be extracted from the bodies of blood sucking insects that have been preserved in amber, the basis for the entire franchise, simply, is not true.  In fact, whilst we at Everything Dinosaur try not to say “never” as advances in science will change circumstances, it is highly improbable that DNA, that forms the basis of a “de-extinction” of a species, will ever by successfully recovered from amber.  The author of the book “Jurassic Park”, Michael Crichton, admitted that experiments to extract insect DNA from fossilised tree resin did influence his writing.  Not long after the book was first published, a number of academic institutes published papers, reporting sequencing DNA from a variety of ancient insect species that had been preserved in amber. There was even one report of DNA being extracted from a weevil that had lived in the Early Cretaceous.  Fascinating stuff, but much of the claims made in these papers have now been retracted.  It was just too good to be true.

Michael Crichton – The Author of “Jurassic Park”

Wrote the original book at a time when breakthroughs in DNA extraction from amber were being reported.

Wrote the original book at a time when breakthroughs in DNA extraction from amber were being reported.

Picture Credit: EPA

Back in 1997, roughly around the time when the sequel to “Jurassic Park” was in cinemas “The Lost World”, a team of scientists from the Natural History Museum (London), tried to repeat the experiments in order to validate the earlier results.  They used amber and copal (the pre-cursor to amber), but they failed.  The team were unable to recover and authenticate ancient insect DNA.  They did find insect DNA, even when they used pieces of amber and copal that actually contained no insect remains.  The sophisticated “DNA detectors” used were picking up ambient, contaminating genetic material from our modern ecosystem, not the distant genetic echoes of ancient life from millions of years ago.

Truth is, the properties of amber make it a very unlikely safe haven for any ancient DNA, insect or dinosaur DNA for that matter.  Amber is light, it can float on salt water.  It is permeable to gases and even some liquids.  Any biological material such as genes are not entirely isolated from the outside world.  The expression “entombed in amber” might be quite commonplace, a term we have used ourselves, but DNA trapped inside amber is not sealed off.  A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur explained:

“Any genetic material trapped within amber or copal is not cut-off.  Imagine a prison cell full of tiny microscopic doors, the delicate DNA is going to be exposed to forces that degrade and destroy it over time.  In addition, as copal changes to amber and whilst the amber remains in the strata, it will, in all likelihood, be subjected to pressure and tremendous heat that will obliterate any DNA.”

It always surprises us that the media picks up comments about the CGI dinosaurs and is happy to produce articles centred around the “accurate dinosaurs debate”, but they nearly always seem to miss the fundamental point that a genetically engineered dinosaur theme park is very much in the realm of science fiction and as such the idea of not having “accurately depicted dinosaurs” is something of a mute point.  This is a sci-fi movie and ultimately, the characters and creatures depicted within it don’t have to reflect the latest scientific thinking.

Non-fluffy Dinosaurs

Darren, is quite right in the comments that he makes, there are certainly many scientific inaccuracies, that is, if the trailers are anything to go by.  In the twenty-two years since the first film, there have been huge advances in our knowledge of the Dinosauria.  One of the main criticisms made by experts, dinosaur film fans and prehistoric animal fans generally, is the lack of feathers on the Theropod dinosaurs, that’s the Velociraptors, Tyrannosaurus rex, and so forth.

Naked Dinosaurs – Beware of our Feathered (or Unfeathered) Friends

Not feathered!

Not feathered!

Picture Credit: Universal Studios

The picture above shows a pair of “naked” Velociraptors as depicted in the forthcoming movie.  Although, no actual feather fossils are associated with Velociraptor mongoliensis, it is widely thought that these members of the Dromaeosauridae were feathered.

The original movie, when it was released in 1993, received some praise, but it too was also criticised.  Advances in CGI enabled film makers to depict dinosaurs as much more dynamic, active animals.   A nod was given to those scientists who had portrayed the Dinosauria as social animals living in herds with very bird-like characteristics, hence one of the most famous lines in the film when the ornithomimids run towards Dr. Alan Grant’s party “they’re flocking this way.”  This is exactly, one of the points that we think Darren was making, however, in the original “Jurassic Park”, the Tyrannosaurus rex was depicted as being somewhat akin to a reptilian Usain Bolt.  The character John Hammond, portrayed by the late Sir Richard Attenborough, excitedly exclaims “we clocked the T. rex at 32 miles an hour”.  Bio-mechanical studies and other evidence strongly refutes the idea of a speedy T. rex, one that in the film, nearly catches up with a Jeep.  If truth be told, based on what is known about large Tyrannosaurs, the “King of the Tyrant Lizards”, would have been lucky to have caught up with the fleeing scientists if they had been riding in a golf buggy.

Problems with the Pterosaurs and Mosasaurs

Let’s not just focus on the dinosaurs in the film, many of the other prehistoric animals depicted show considerable discrepancies from the fossil record and published research.  An oversized, shark eating Mosasaur for example, the shiny skinned flying reptiles several of which, just like the marine reptile, seem to have been subjected to a film makers “growth ray”.  Scientists like the highly respected Darren Naish are quite right to make such points.

Snack Time at the Mosasaurus Feeding Show

Come and see the "oversized" Mosasaur.

Come and see the “oversized” Mosasaur.

Picture Credit: Universal Studios

Feathered or naked, scaly dinosaurs.  Pumped up members of the Pterosauria or mammoth Mosasaurs are choices made by the Director.  It is simply a film, one that will be enjoyed by a great many people including palaeontologists and other scientists who are quite happy to suspend belief, at least for a couple of hours, roughly the running time of the movie –  (124 minutes with credits according to Colin Trevorrow, the Director).

The “Jurassic World” Legacy

We think that this film is going to inspire millions of young people to learn more about dinosaurs and animals that lived long ago.  Many of those young people in the cinema audience marvelling at the monsters, will go on to pursue academic careers of their own.  Perhaps, there might even be, amongst the millions of people who see this film, a girl or boy that will become an evolutionary biologist and contribute to the research on the genomes of extinct creatures.  Actually, this is quite likely, given the predictions regarding the box office potential of “Jurassic World”.

Those young people will want to quench their thirst for all things dinosaur!  The very fact that there are no “fluffy dinosaurs” in this film, will probably inspire young minds to find out more.  A very good place to start is to seek out the many books, papers and articles authored by the likes of Darren Naish and his counterparts in the scientific community.

“Jurassic World” is just a film, it is science fiction, it is entertainment.  The science behind the study of the Dinosauria and other prehistoric creatures has moved on dramatically since the very first “Jurassic Park”.  Research will continue long after films like “Jurassic World” have faded from the memory, and that research, will in all likelihood, reveal even more astonishing information about these fascinating creatures.

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