Category: Dinosaur Fans

Downsizing Dinosaurs – The Key to Survival

Sustained Miniaturisation in the Dinosauria the Key to their Survival as Birds

A new study led by the University of Adelaide but involving scientists from a number of universities including Bristol University and the University of Southampton has mapped the evolution of meat-eating dinosaurs and identified how these large creatures gave rise to the birds (Aves).  The Theropoda, or at least parts of this meat-eating dinosaur group kept shrinking in size for at least fifty million years before the evolution of Archaeopteryx.

Archaeopteryx may not have been the first bird, but the dozen or so fossils of this enigmatic dino-bird, all of which come from Germany, provide evidence of a transitional creature that shows anatomical features of both dinosaurs and birds.  Most scientists now accept that birds are descended from the dinosaurs, one particular group of meat-eating dinosaurs called the Maniraptora.  Dinosaurs in the family Dromaeosauridae, fearsome, aggressive predators such as Velociraptor (V. mongoliensis) are members of the Maniraptora clade, but over what time period did the evolutionary changes take place to result in a small bird from larger Dinosaurian ancestors?

 Shrinking Dinosaurs over Fifty Million Years Gave Rise to the Birds

Sustained miniaturisation gave rise to the birds.

Sustained miniaturisation gave rise to the birds.

Picture Credit: Davide Bonnadonna

The international research team, led by Associate Professor Michael Lee (School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Adelaide University), including Gareth Dyke and Darren Naish (both from the University of Southampton) and Andrea Cau (from the University of Bologna and Museo Geologico Giovanni Capellini), have published their work in the latest edition of the academic journal “Science”.  Professor Michael Benton (Bristol University) provides an adjunct to this research “How Birds Became Birds”.

In professor Benton’s perspective he explains the importance of this new study by placing it into the context of existing research into Theropoda evolution.  Professor Benton states that although it is now widely accepted that the birds evolved from a particular branch of the dinosaur family tree, it is not certain how quickly this evolutionary transition took place.  One of the first birds known from the fossil record (A. lithographica) from the Upper Jurassic of Germany, was thought to have evolved its wings, feathers and the ability to fly within just ten million years or so.  However, over the last two decades, scientists have been able to trace the thirty or so characteristics that distinguished the small, Archaeopteryx with its aerial abilities from its larger, ground-dwelling dinosaur ancestors back through the Theropoda.  This new study reinforces the thinking that the anatomical changes needed to convert a terrestrial predator into an agile, creature capable of powered flight began to emerge much earlier in this group of meat-eating dinosaurs.

Mathematical Models to Trace the Evolution of Archaeopteryx

New from Papo for 2014 a model of Archaeopteryx.

New from Papo for 2014 a model of Archaeopteryx.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

How much earlier?  This new work suggests that changes began to take place in the Theropoda at least fifty million years before Archaeopteryx.  This means that as far back as 200 million years ago, at the beginning of the Jurassic, evolutionary changes in meat-eating dinosaurs were beginning to occur that would eventually lead to today’s birds.

The team used a complex mathematical modelling technique more associated with the study of the geographical spread and evolution of viruses to assess the changes in the skeletons of Theropod dinosaurs.  In total 1549 skeletal, anatomical characteristics were mapped from over 120 specimens of Theropod dinosaurs and birds.  Two main drivers leading to the transition of dinosaurs into birds were identified.  The group of Theropod dinosaurs directly related to the birds undergoes sustained miniaturisation across fifty million years.  Average body weights are gradually reduced from around 160 kilogrammes in Early Jurassic direct Theropod ancestors to the very light Archaeopteryx, estimated to have weighed less than one kilogramme.  Secondly, this particular group of dinosaurs seems to have been evolving skeletal adaptations such as feathers and wishbones up to four times faster than other types of dinosaur.

A spokes person from Everything Dinosaur stated:

“This highly informative new research, has applied a sophisticated mathematical model to help unravel the evolutionary relationship between the birds and their dinosaur ancestors.  Instead of thinking about dinosaur/bird evolution as a quick leap into the air derived from a relatively small component of the Dinosauria, it seems like dinosaur/bird evolution is more akin to a long runway leading to an eventual take off”.

The distinct and prolonged miniaturisation of the Theropod/bird stem across tens of millions of years would have facilitated the evolution of many unique characteristics associated with smaller body size.  This would have permitted these dinosaurs to exploit a variety of different ecological niches which their larger cousins could not.  Small size also infers a more agile lifestyle, faster reactions, sharper senses – steps towards the evolution of enhanced balance, large eyes and more sophisticated brains that could eventually manage the complex body movements required to coordinate powered flight.

New Study Examines the Dinosaur to Bird Evolutionary Pathway

Maniraptora evolving faster than other types of dinosaur.

Maniraptora evolving faster than other types of dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Associate Professor Michael Lee, the lead author on the mapping of this part of the Dinosauria family tree commented that the branch of the Theropoda that gave rise to the Aves was the only group of dinosaurs that kept getting smaller.

He explained:

“Birds evolved through a unique phase of sustained miniaturisation in dinosaurs.  Being smaller and lighter in a land of giants, with rapidly evolving anatomical adaptations, provided these bird ancestors with new ecological opportunities, such as the ability to climb trees, glide and to fly.”

It can be argued that these evolutionary characteristics, miniaturisation and more rapid anatomical adaptations were the reasons for the survival of the birds at the end of the Cretaceous.

The University of Adelaide staff member added:

“Ultimately, this evolutionary flexibility helped birds survive the deadly meteorite impact that killed off all their Dinosaurian cousins.”

So why were a group of Theropod dinosaurs able to evolve quicker than other types of dinosaurs.  We may have to look at bird-hipped dinosaurs for an answer.  As far as we know, the lizard-hipped Theropod dinosaurs were the only meat-eating dinosaur group.  The bird-hipped members of the Dinosauria (Ornithischians) were all plant-eaters.  Their hips evolved in a different direction (literally) to the Saurischians (lizard-hipped forms).  The pubis bone got pushed backwards, purportedly to accommodate a larger gut to help digest all that tough plant material.  A big gut meant a bigger body, so part of the Theropoda, the allosaurids for example, evolved bigger and bigger forms so that they could hunt and kill the herbivores which themselves were getting bigger and bigger.

The Dinosauria Classified as Two Distinct Sub-Groups

Classifying dinosaurs by the shape of their hip bones.

Classifying dinosaurs by the shape of their hip bones.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

As Associate Professor Lee points out, the Theropod dinosaurs were the only group to continually push the envelope when it came to size of their skeletons.  It is possible that the herbivorous dinosaurs simply could not shrink, since a plant-based diet requires a larger gut for digestion.  In the meantime, the Theropoda could explore alternate resources, habitats and even prey.  All of these new activities, such as chasing insects, climbing trees and gliding would in turn, have led to other novel anatomical adaptations.

“So as the dinosaurs shrank, their other features evolved more quickly, which led to faster shrinking to take advantage of these new abilities and so on.”

There is one further, rather intriguing point to be made when the consequences of this research are considered.  If miniaturisation in a branch of the Theropod dinosaurs began as far back as the Early Jurassic around 200 million years ago, could the ultimate driver for these changes have been the Triassic/Jurassic extinction event that marked the demise of a very large number of terrestrial Archosaur groups?

Fossil Insects – Book Review

The Bugs that Plagued the Dinosaurs

Palaeoentomology, this term may not trip off the tongue but bear with us, for thanks to an amazing new book published at the end of this month, a window into an as yet little explored prehistoric world has just been opened.

Fossil Insects – Exploring Ancient Prehistoric Arthropods

Small is beautiful.

Small is beautiful.

Picture Credit: Manchester University Press Office

Palaeoentomology, is really two words combined into one, firstly, there is “palaeo” from the Greek meaning ancient and then we have “entomology”, which relates to the study insects.  Put it together and you have the study of ancient insects and this new publication “Fossil Insects, An Introduction to Palaeoentomology”, combines two essential elements of science into one excellent volume.  Firstly, there is the scientific study and analysis, in this case provided by authors Dr. David Penney and James E. Jepson and secondly, there is the ability to illustrate long extinct creatures and to resurrect them so that the reader can gain an appreciation of the living animal.  The artwork for this book has been provided by Richard Bizley, a British-based artist and scientific illustrator and what a visual treat Richard provides.

Mayflies Mixing with Dinosaurs

A mayfly rests on a primitive flowering plant - a Cretaceous scene.

A mayfly rests on a primitive flowering plant – a Cretaceous scene.

Picture Credit: Richard Bizley Bizley Art

Over the last three decades or so, scientists have begun to learn so much more about ancient insect life.  These small (and not so small), terrestrial Arthropods that scuttled, climbed, burrowed and flew formed an integral component of some of the first complex ecosystems to evolve on land.  New research methods and techniques have been applied, revealing details of the lives and behaviours of insects, assisting palaeontologists as they reconstruct the habitats and climates of pre-history.

It might be surprising to some, especially when how delicate insects seem to be, but insect fossils are relatively common and yet there is so much to learn and discover.  Dr. David Penney from the University of Manchester has drawn on his knowledge of both entomology and palaeontology to provide a guide to the fossil record and this book both informs and educates.

“Fossil Insects” Provides Plenty of Colour Photographs of Stunning Fossils

The first animals to take to the air.

The first animals to take to the air.

Picture Credit: Manchester University Press Release

From a vertebrate palaeontology perspective, insects have a huge advantage when it comes to the fossil record.  As Dr. Penney points out, the Insecta is the most diverse Class in the Kingdom Animalia but more importantly, fossils preserve insect behaviour and activity as well as the insects themselves.  Fossils showing feeding damage on leaves and wood, fecal pellets, parasitic relationships, even evidence of nests have all been preserved, providing palaeoentomologists with a rich catalogue of fossil material to explore.  Dinosaur trace fossils are rather limited in comparison.

Dr. David Penney (Manchester University)

Exploring fossilised insects.

Exploring fossilised insects.

Picture Credit: Manchester University Press Office

Dr. Penney explains:

“Insects are the most diverse group of creatures on the planet today.  Many of them were around even before the time of the dinosaurs.  Bringing together entomology and palaeontology through the study of insect fossils has great potential for revolutionising what we know about both subjects.”

Many insect fossils can be found as inclusions in amber, often as virtually perfect three-dimensional forms.  Amber is fossil tree resin.  Insects and other organisms can become entombed in the sticky resin and fossilised when it hardens into amber.  This book features plenty of stunning photographs that illustrate these miniature time capsules.

Mosquito Preserved in Dominican Amber

A window into an ancient world.

A window into an ancient world.

Picture Credit: Manchester University Press Release

These amazing prehistoric insects have been brought to life in the book through the exquisite illustrations of Richard Bizley.  He depicts long vanished Arthropods in a unique collaboration with the authors.  Team members at Everything Dinosaur had the very great pleasure of meeting up with Richard in his Dorset studio and viewing some of the artwork that was being prepared for inclusion in this book.  Richard’s astonishing eye for detail and scientific accuracy has enabled him to reconstruct prehistoric scenes from seven of the major geological periods, starting with the rise of the insects during the Devonian and continuing through until the Tertiary.

Carboniferous Creepy-Crawlies

By the Carboniferous the insects were already highly diversified.

By the Carboniferous the insects were already highly diversified.

Picture Credit: Richard Bizley Bizley Art

To make the animals in his beautiful paintings look realistic, Richard created models using scientific drawings and pictures of fossil material.  He then carefully photographed them to see how light behaved on his subjects.

Commenting on his role in helping to bring to life prehistoric environments, the artist stated:

“When reconstructing fossil insect species, special attention needs to be paid to important diagnostic features, such as the wing venation patterns and the relative lengths of appendage segments.  The fact that many fossil insect species are known only from isolated wings posed additional problems.  This is where collaboration with experts became very useful and I worked closely with Dr. Penney to produce an accurate reconstruction based on the comparative study of both fossil and living insects.”

This book is recommended for the general reader, those interested in palaeontology as well as entomology.  The term palaeoentomology (pay-lee-oh-en-toe-mol-oh-gee) may not trip of the tongue but “Insect Fossils, An Introduction to Palaeoentomology” does give the general reader a “taste” for this exciting area of scientific research.

“Fossil Insects, An Introduction to Palaeoentomology” by Dr. David Penney and James E. Jepson is published on July 31st 2014 by Siri Scientific Press.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the help of the University of Manchester Press Office in the compilation of this article.

Dinosaur Extinction – A Perfect Storm

Bad Luck and Bad Timing for the Dinosaurs

A new collaborative study looking at the dinosaur fossil record from the Upper Cretaceous of North America suggests that if the extraterrestrial impact event had occurred a few million years before or after it actually hit, life on Earth could be very different today.  Dinosaurs could well be still roaming around.  If the Dinosauria (with the exception of the birds), had not gone extinct, then it could be argued that many of the families of mammals so familiar to us today may not have evolved.  The evolution of the primates, and indeed, our own species, might not ever have happened.

Unlucky Dinosaurs Sixty-six Million Years Ago?

Cataclysmic impact event.

Cataclysmic impact event.

Picture Credit: Don Davis (commissioned by NASA)

Similar studies into the extinction event that took place approximately 66 million years ago have been carried out before, however, this new research, published in the latest edition of the academic journal “Biological Reviews” and led by the University of Edinburgh, focused on examining an updated catalogue of North American dinosaur fossils, in a bid to understand how well the Order Dinosauria was doing in terms of species diversity at around the time of the impact event.

Previous studies, examining the number of different dinosaur species and genera preserved in Upper Cretaceous strata such as the Hell Creek Formation of the western United States, have showed that the number of different types of dinosaur fossils found declines in rocks that mark the time period towards the end of the Cretaceous.  A lack of diversity in an ecosystem, or the dominance of one particular type of creature, can make such ecosystems vulnerable to sudden and dramatic changes that ultimately lead to an extinction.  The research team, drawn from a number of universities and museums, conclude that prior to the impact event, our planet was experiencing dramatic environmental upheaval.  Changing sea levels, fluctuating global temperatures and enormous amounts of volcanic activity were all happening.  Many groups of animals and plants were under stress and the devastating impact from a six-mile-wide space rock provided the final “coup de grâce” that finished off the dinosaurs.

Soon to Become Extinct

Triceratops was one of the last dinosaurs to evolve.

Triceratops was one of the last dinosaurs to evolve.

Picture Credit: Julius Csotonyi

The research team which includes scientists from Edinburgh University, Birmingham University, Imperial College (London), Oxford University, University College (London) and Baylor University (Waco, Texas) suggest that the dinosaurs’ food chain was threatened by a lack of diversity amongst large herbivorous dinosaurs.  The lack of diversity, much of North America was dominated by a handful of plant-eating types of Ornithischian dinosaur, created a “perfect storm” and the vulnerable Dinosauria was unable to recover from the extraterrestrial strike and its aftermath.

Everything Dinosaur team members have provided a number of teaching resources to schools that help to explain extinction events.  To read an article specially prepared for use in schools at Key Stage 2 and 3 about the Cretaceous mass extinction event: Dinosaur Extinction Event – Providing Teaching Resources for Schools

Environmental change, even dramatic global events such as an asteroid impact can in fact provide a stimulus to evolution.  Earlier extraterrestrial impacts which at first caused devastation may actually have acted as catalysts helping certain types of life to flourish.  It can be argued that once the dinosaurs became extinct, the Mammalia were able to rapidly diversify and exploit the niches left vacant by the demise of the Dinosauria, back in 2010, Everything Dinosaur reported on a scientific paper that suggested that earlier cataclysmic events and significantly benefited life on Earth.

To read this article: Extraterrestrial Impact Led to Palaeozoic Explosion of Life

Dr. Steve Brusatte (School of GeoSciences at Edinburgh University) commented:

“Five million years earlier dinosaur ecosystems were much stronger, they were more diverse, the base of the food chain was more robust and it was harder to knock out a lot of species.  If they had a few million years more to recover their diversity they would have had a better chance of surviving the asteroid impact.  Dinosaurs had been around for 160 million years, they had plenty of dips and troughs in their diversity but they always recovered.”

A number of mass extinction events have been identified in the fossil record.  Such mass extinctions ultimately led to a change in direction for life on Earth, permitting new types of organism to evolve.

A Table Showing the Major Extinction Events of the Phanerozoic Eon

Mass Extinction in Summary

Table Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The research team hope to extend their study by taking into account vertebrate fossil data from Upper Cretaceous sediments that have been examined in China and Spain.  This will help the scientists to formulate a global picture.  Naturally, with such academic papers, there is always speculation as to whether or not the dinosaurs would have survived until the present day.  Some speculators go further and ask the question would the dinosaurs have evolved greater intelligence, perhaps evolving into the reptilian equivalents of primates and eventually into a form of humanoid dinosaur – a dinosauroid?

Could the Earth Have Been Dominated by “Intelligent Dinosaurs”?

What intelligent life on Earth might have looked like if the dinosaurs had not become extinct.

What intelligent life on Earth might have looked like if the dinosaurs had not become extinct.

Picture Credit: Boxtree

Dr. Brusatte speculates that the Dinosauria could well have survived and that non-avian dinosaurs could make up a significant proportion of the fauna today, whilst other scientists, including a number who worked on this study remain less sure.

For example, Dr. Richard Butler (Birmingham University) stated:

“We can’t re-run the tape of life and see whether an impact at a different time would have led to total extinction.  But it [extraterrestrial impact event] did come at a particularly bad time.”

Prehistoric Times Issue 110 Reviewed

A Review of the Summer 2014 Edition of Prehistoric Times Magazine

Featured on the front cover of issue 110 is a fantastic sculpture of an Giganotosaurus by the highly talented prehistoric animal sculptor Galileo Hernandez Nunez and inside the magazine, editor Mike Fredericks conducts an in depth interview with the Mexican artist and some of his amazing work is showcased.  Nice to hear that señor Hernandez loves the English language, his English is obviously much better than our Spanish.  During the interview, what inspires him is discussed as well as his influences and he makes some very interesting points about the future of palaeo-sculpture with the advent of affordable three-dimensional printers.  The theme of 3-D printing is taken up by Mike Eischen in a special feature on digital dinosaurs.

The Front Cover of Prehistoric Times Magazine (110)

Giganotosaurus on the front cover.

Giganotosaurus on the front cover.

Picture Credit: Mike Fredericks

Fans of prehistoric snakes will be delighted to hear that Titanoboa (T. cerrejonensis) and other massive serpents are featured in the magazine.

The description of this enormous snake certainly captured imaginations when it was first described over five years ago now.  Phil Hore does a splendid job writing about the multitude of “twenty footers plus” that have left traces of their existence preserved in the fossil record.  Our article on the discovery of Titanoboa remains one of the most popular news stories that we have covered on this blog site.

To read an article on the discovery of Titanoboa: Huge Prehistoric Snake from Columbia

Phil is also responsible for producing the article on the early representative of the Centrosaurine horned dinosaurs “Devil Horned Face” – Diabloceratops and once again the article is very informative and accompanied with lots of reader submitted artwork.  Reports on visits to a number of dinosaur exhibits, museums and attractions are provided including an article about the Der Sauiermuseum in Switzerland, an establishment that we at Everything Dinosaur know very well.

The magazine is also packed full of information for model makers, book reviews and news stories, we especially like the feature by Robert Telleria on dinosaur calendars and the hints and tips on prehistoric dioramas written by Fred M. Snyder.

Once again a very well written and produced magazine for the dinosaur enthusiast.

To learn more about Prehistoric Times and to subscribe: Prehistoric Times Magazine

To conclude this brief review, we ought to give a special mention to Tracy Lee Ford, who tackles the eye-opening topic of palpebral bones in Ornithischian dinosaurs.  The palpebral is a small bone found in the region of the eye socket in certain groups of animals such as monitor lizards and eagles (Everything Dinosaur team members think crocodilians have them too).  It is also found in the fossil record in marine reptiles and Ornithischian dinosaurs but not as far as we are aware in the Saurischia.  The function of this bone remains a bit of a mystery.  It can be pointed, prong-like or curved and Tracy Lee Ford covers how this anatomical feature would alter the appearance of a dinosaur such as an iguanodontid.  Dinosaurs with scowls and fierce looking expressions indeed.

A Video Review of the Collecta Arsinoitherium Model

Collecta 1:20 Scale Deluxe Arsinoitherium Reviewed

Another day and another video review to post up onto the Everything Dinosaur blog, this time a video review of the Collecta Deluxe 1:20 scale model of Arsinoitherium.  One of the most bizarre-looking mammals that ever existed, if team members at Everything Dinosaur were asked to sum up this huge, plant-eater in one sentence, something like “here was a distant relative of elephants, that looked a bit like a rhinoceros and probably lived a bit like a hippopotamus”, would probably be appropriate.

The Collecta Arsinoitherium Model Reviewed

Video Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The video runs for seven minutes and in the video we review this model, assign a species name to it and discuss what the fossil record tells us about these ancient creatures that roamed what was to become Egypt around thirty million years ago.  We even suggest some uses for those enormous horns that grew out of the skull.  The Arsinoitheres died out during the Mid Oligocene epoch and there is not a single species of animal alive today that is directly descended from this group, which is a shame.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s range of Collecta Deluxe models, including Arsinoitherium: Collecta Deluxe Models

Did All Dinosaurs Have Feathers?

Kulindadromeus Discovery Gets Palaeontologists into a Flap

The embargo has been lifted and we can now talk about the amazing new fossil discovery from Siberia, details of which has just been published in the academic journal “Science”.  News of the discovery of the first ever plant-eating dinosaur with feathers as well as scales has been announced.  So what does this mean?  Feathered dinosaurs have been discovered before right?  True, but and it is a big “but“, feathers have only been associated with one group of dinosaurs up until now, the Theropods, the group of dinosaurs most closely related to birds.

The dinosaur has been named Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus and at just over a metre in length, it is not going to be breaking any size records when it comes to extinct prehistoric animals.  Indeed, if we had the technology to travel back 175 million years or so, to the area surrounding what was to become the Siberian city of Chita, this little dinosaur would have probably gone almost unnoticed.  However, the publication of this long-awaited scientific paper is very important and over the next few paragraphs we will try to put this fossil discovery into perspective.

The Order Dinosauria (the dinosaurs) can be split into two distinct groups based on the structure and position of their hip bones.  These two sub-divisions are the Ornithischia (bird-hipped dinosaurs) and the Saurischia (lizard-hipped dinosaurs).  Those Theropods many of whom were feathered, belong to the Saurischians.   The Siberian fossils show that a member of the Ornithischian group also had feathers.

Feathers Amongst the Dinosauria

Ornithischians had feathers too.

Ornithischians had feathers too.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows the dinosaurs split into two groups, on one side of the dinosaur family tree are the lizard-hipped dinosaurs, the long-necked Sauropods and the Theropods, those mainly meat-eating dinosaurs who are the closest related to birds (Aves).  The other part of the Dinosauria consists of the bird-hipped Ornithischians, an almost entirely vegetarian group consisting of the horned dinosaurs, duck-bills, armoured dinosaurs and such like.  Kulindadromeus, described as a neoornithischian dinosaur and definitely amongst the bird-hipped dinosaurs, shows that other types of dinosaurs, not just the Theropods had feathers too.

The terms “bird-hipped” and “lizard-hipped” can be a little confusing, especially when we are trying to identify the ancestors of birds.  These terms were first coined by Henry Govier Seeley in 1887.  He divided the dinosaurs into two groups, based on the fact that all the dinosaurs known at the time (and the majority of dinosaurs discovered to date for that matter), had a pelvis that followed one of two distinctive shapes.  There was a bird-like pelvis, where the pubis bone points backwards and the lizard-hipped configuration where the pubis bone points forward.  It is the lizard-hipped dinosaurs,the Theropoda, that are most closely related to the Aves and indeed one group of Theropods, the Maniraptorans that are the direct ancestors of today’s birds.

Classifying the Dinosauria

Classifying dinosaurs by the shape of their hip bones.

Classifying dinosaurs by the shape of their hip bones.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Back in 2010, a scientific team led by Sofia Sinitsa, a geologist at the Institute of Natural Resources, Ecology and Cryology from the Siberian city of Chita, explored some highly fossiliferous strata located in the nearby Kulinda valley.  The site represented a low energy depositional environment with freshwater crustaceans, insect larvae and plant fossils.  The strata was laid down by the edge of a large lake, evidence of ash in the layers of rock indicated that there were volcanoes in the neighbourhood too.  Fragmentary fossils indicating the presence of small dinosaurs were also discovered but their poor state of preservation led the scientists to focus on other fossil material.  Expeditions to the same locality found more fossils of dinosaurs over the next two summers and as a result, Pascal Godefroit, a palaeontologist at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (Brussels) was contacted along with other scientists as the implications of the discovery began to dawn on the Russian team.

Dr. Godefroit commented:

“We were completely shocked by the discoveries.”

Pictures from the Dig Site and Some of the Fossil Material Collected

A vast amount of fossil material was collected.

A vast amount of fossil material was collected.

Picture Credit: Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences

Bristle-like and brush-like structures had been identified in a number of Cretaceous species of Ornithischian dinosaur, most notably in dinosaurs such as Psittacosaurus and Tianyulong, but these quills, brushes and bristles have been described by researchers as representing the very earliest development stage of feathers, what scientists call proto-feathers.

To read an article by Everything Dinosaur on the evidence of quills and bristles in later Ornithischian dinosaurs:

Evidence of feathers in psittacosaurids: Upsetting the Apple Cart

The scientists claim that these new fossils differ from the the bristle-like structures found in much later Ornithischian dinosaurs as they have complex, multi-filamented structures typical of the feathers associated with the Theropoda.

Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus (pronounced Cul-lin-dah-dro-me-us zah-bay-cal-lik-us) had been named after the Kulinda valley locality and from the Greek “dromeus”, which means runner.  The trivial name honours the Zabaikal krai region of Siberia in which the Kulinda valley can be found.

An Illustration of Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus

Feathered dinosaur down amongst the horsetails.

Feathered dinosaur down amongst the horsetails.

Picture Credit: Andrey Atuchin

Dated to around 175 to 160 million years ago (Aalenian to Early Callovian of the Mid Jurassic), this one metre long plant-eater had filamentous structures covering most of its body, including its head, neck and chest.  The more complex feather-like structures are confined to the upper arms and upper legs, an arrangement found in a number of fossils of small Theropod dinosaurs excavated from Cretaceous strata in the famous Lioaning Province of north-eastern China.

Explaining the significance of this discovery, Dr. Godefroit stated:

“For the first time we found more complex, compound structures together with simpler hair-like structures in a plant-eating dinosaur that really resemble the proto-feathers in advanced meat-eaters”.

Multiple Filamentous Structures Associated with the Femur (Thigh Bone)

Complex feather-like structures on the thigh

Complex feather-like structures on the thigh

Picture Credit: Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences/ Dr. Pascal Godefroit

The scientists are confident that these little, fast-running creatures could not fly, so why evolve feathers then?  The answer is quite simple, feathers first evolved for other purposes and they only became adapted for flight much later.  These feathers probably helped to keep these small animals insulated and warm.  This suggests that contrary to popular opinion, most dinosaurs were endothermic (warm-blooded  like mammals and birds) and not cold-blooded like today’s reptiles.  The longer, more complex feather structures may have had some role in display and visual communication.  In total, at least six fossil skulls have been found along with a large number of fossilised bones from many individuals and lots of different growth stages have been recognised.  The abundance of fossil material will give the palaeontologists the chance to study how feathers changed as animals grew and matured.

If this neoornithischian had complex feathers then this also throws up an intriguing set of possibilities.  The common ancestor of both the Ornithischian and Saurischian dinosaurs could have been feathered, or perhaps, feathers evolved in different types of dinosaur, an example of convergent evolution.

Chinese palaeontologist Xing Xu of the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology (Beijing), someone who has intensively studied the Lioaning feathered dinosaurs commented:

“The finds are a fantastic discovery”.

However, he warns against getting too carried away, stating that the fossils are too fragmentary to be certain that the more complex feathery structures actually correspond to those found later in birds.  We suspect that further research is going to be carried out into the nature of these branched integumentary structures, before palaeontologists will agree that feather-like structures were widespread amongst the Dinosauria.

One of the co-authors of the scientific paper, Professor Danielle Dhouailly from the Université Joseph Fourier in La Tronche (France ), has been examining these ancient structures and comparing them to the down and feathers found in modern birds.  The lake sediments also preserved scales, so scientists now have evidence that both scales and feathers could be found on individual dinosaurs.  In addition, scientists now know that the leg scales found in modern birds are essentially aborted feathers.

The Ancient Lake Sediments Preserved Evidence of Scales

Fossilised bone (sandy colour) surrounded by evidence of small scales on the foot.

Fossilised bone (sandy colour) surrounded by evidence of small scales on the foot.

Picture Credit: Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences/ Dr. Pascal Godefroit

Professor Dhouailly added:

“Developmental experiments in modern chickens suggest that  avian  scales are aborted feathers, an idea that explains why birds have scaly legs.  The astonishing discovery is that the molecular mechanisms needed for this switch might have been so clearly related to the appearance of the first feathers in the earliest dinosaurs”.

There is more research to be done, but this discovery has potentially huge implications for our view of the Dinosauria.  Ironically, back in the beginning of 2014, Everything Dinosaur team members were asked to predict what news stories might occur over the year and they did predict that a discovery regarding feathered Ornithischian dinosaurs would be announced.

To read Everything Dinosaur’s full list of 2014 predictions: 2014 Palaeontology Predictions

Team members congratulate all those involved in this exciting fossil discovery and the subsequent research.

Young Palaeontologists Design Dinosaur T-shirts

Competition Winners Receive Their Dinosaur T-Shirts

A very big thank you to the many clever, creative fans of all things Cretaceous who entered Everything Dinosaur’s design your own dinosaur themed T-shirt competition.  We had no idea how powerful social media could be and thanks to all our friends on Facebook, Twitter followers and such like we were inundated with entries.

Our idea was simple, if Everything Dinosaur team members having put down their geological hammers and magnifying glasses, were working on some ideas for a range of children’s tees with a prehistoric animal theme, why not, just for a bit of fun, give budding young palaeontologists a go too.  So we posted up on our Facebook page, Blog, Twitter etc. information about the competition and offered as a prize the winning design being made up into a T-shirt – a sort of “dinosaur designer label” that would be unique to our contest winner.

We had freakish flying reptiles, cute baby dinosaurs, marauding marine monsters, Triassic terrors – all sorts of amazing drawings and pictures sent into us from all over the world.  Fortunately, those clever primates from Shirt Monkey, the direct to garment T-shirt design specialists with whom Everything Dinosaur has been working with on this project, were able to help out and after much deliberation a winning design was chosen.

One of the Many Dinosaur Themed T-Shirt Designs Received

Great  volcano design - thanks Mariread

Great volcano design – thanks Mairead (age 10)

Picture Credit: Mairead (thanks Carol [mum])

The competition was won by 12 year-old Holly who lives in France.  The winning design showed a huge dinosaur foot crushing a tea cup with the caption “T (tea) Wrecks”.  Holly’s mum contacted Everything Dinosaur and asked whether two “unique” tees could be made up as Harri, Holly’s younger sister, wanted one as well.

Holly and Harri Show Off their Winning T-Shirts

"Tea wrecks T-shirts"

“Tea wrecks T-shirts”

Sue Judd from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“This is the first time that we have involved our social media following in a new product range launch such as this.  We had competition entries from all over the world and in addition, we got some amazing feedback as we posted up some of our own T-shirt designs and ideas.  It’s been a real consultation process and we are grateful for all the advice and feedback received.”

Holly’s Winning T-Shirt Design Coming off the Production Line

The winning design comes off the production line.

The winning design comes off the production line.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Shirt Monkey

Holly wants to be a palaeontologist when she is older, with a new dinosaur species being named every 20-30 days or so there are going to be a lot of new dinosaurs for Holly to study.

The Completed T-Shirt “Tea Wrecks” Ready for Shipping

A giant T. rex foot about to wreck an enormous tea cup.

A giant T. rex foot about to wreck an enormous tea cup.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Shirt Monkey

The first three dinosaur themed T-shirts from Everything Dinosaur are going into production next week, and should be up on line at Dinosaur Themed Clothing very shortly.

A Trio of Dinosaur Themed Tees

The first of the dinosaur themed T-shirts from Everything Dinosaur.

The first of the dinosaur themed T-shirts from Everything Dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Shirt Monkey

The 100% cotton T-shirts will be available in size ranges from 3-4 years up to age 9 to 11 and at each stage of the design process Everything Dinosaur consulted with its Facebook fans and social media followers to seek advice and approval for the work being done.  The use of social media has provided the company with yet more channels to build up two-way communication with its customers and fans.

To visit those clever T-shirt specialists at Shirt Monkey: Direct to Garment Specialists Shirt Monkey

Evolution and Extinction of the African Carcharodontosauridae

“Shark Toothed Lizard” – The Rise and Fall of Carcharodontosaurus

The Carcharodontosaurus genus currently consists of two species, the first of which Carcharodontosaurus saharicus  (originally called Megalosaurus saharicus), is known from fossil material found in North Africa.  The second species, named and described in 2007, was erected following fossil finds, including skull material from the Echkar Formation of Niger, this species is known as C. iguidensis.  Although both species are known from fragmentary material and a few isolated teeth, differences in the shape of the upper jaw and the structure of the brain case enabled scientists to confidently establish Carcharodontosaurus iguidensis as a second, distinct species.

An Illustration of a Typical Carcharodontosaurid Dinosaur

Fearsome "Shark Lizard"

Fearsome “Shark Lizard”

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Carcharodontosaurus means “shark-toothed lizard”,  a reference to the fact that the teeth of this huge carnivore, reminded scientists of the teeth of sharks belonging to the Carcharodon genus of sharks, such as the teeth of the Great White Shark (C. carcharias).  It is ironic that this terrestrial predator should be named after a marine carnivore, as changing sea levels very probably influenced the evolution of these dinosaurs and may have ultimately led to their extinction, at least from Africa.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s range of Collecta dinosaur models including a 1:40 scale Deluxe Carcharodontosaurus: Collecta Scale Dinosaur Models

Pronounced - Car-car-oh-dont-toe-sore-us, the oldest dinosaur currently assigned to the Carcharodontosauridae family is Veterupristisaurus (Vet-ter-roo-pris-tee-sore-us).  This dinosaur was named and described in 2011, although the fossil material was discovered over seventy-five years ago.   The fossils come from the famous Tendaguru Formation of Tanzania, it lived during the Late Jurassic and the trivial name V. milneri honours the now retired Angela Milner who worked at the Natural History Museum (London).

Carcharodontosaurus lived during the Cretaceous (Late Albian to mid Cenomanian faunal stages).  During this time, the great, southern super-continent called Gondwanaland continued to break up and as sea levels rose, so populations of dinosaurs became separated by the inflow of sea water.

Rising Sea Levels Influence Dinosaur Evolution

Rising sea levels but off dinosaur populations.

Rising sea levels cut off dinosaur populations.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Communities became isolated and this may have provided a boost to the evolution of new species.  The map shows the approximate location of fossil material associated with C. saharicus and C. iguidensis.  Populations of carcharodontosaurids may have become cut-off from each other and this gave rise to new species of Carcharodontosaurus.  This may help to explain the abundance of super-sized predators that lived in this part of the world during the Cretaceous.  Both species of Carcharodontosaurus shared a common ancestor, but their separation led to the evolution of two, distinct species.  This natural process is called allopatric speciation.

Sadly for the mega fauna that inhabited the coastal swamps and verdant flood plains of North Africa, rising sea levels in the later stages of the Cenomanian led to the destruction of much of this habitat.  The loss of habitat probably led to the demise of the ecosystem and the vulnerable apex predators such as the carcharodontosaurids and the spinosaurids became extinct.

To read an article on the discovery of C. iguidensisNew Giant Meat-Eating Dinosaur from Africa

A Video Review of the Collecta Saurophaganax Dinosaur Model

Collecta Saurophaganax – A Video Review

Everything Dinosaur team members have been busy writing scripts for video reviews on the latest batch of Collecta prehistoric animal models to be received into our warehouse.  The first of these model reviews features Saurophaganax, arguably one of the biggest meat-eating dinosaurs known to science.  In this short (six minutes, thirteen seconds) video, we look at the Collecta Saurophaganax in more detail, explain why there is still confusion over this genus and reflect on how a 145 million year old dinosaur is still capable of harming people today.

Everything Dinosaur’s Review of the Collecta Saurophaganax Dinosaur Model

Video Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view Everything Dinosaur’s range of Collecta prehistoric animals: Collecta Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Models

Collecta have made a number of allosaurid models, they certainly have expanded their model range in recent years and this Collecta Saurophaganax dinosaur model is a super addition to the company’s not-to-scale model series.

Collecta Dead Stegosaurus Dinosaur Model Reviewed

Stegosaurus Corpse from Collecta in the Spotlight

The model making company called Collecta have recently added a replica of a dead Stegosaurus to their prehistoric animals model range.  This is the second dinosaur corpse introduced by Collecta, the Stegosaurus following the Triceratops carcase that was added in 2012.

The Collecta Stegosaurus Corpse Dinosaur Model

Attacked by an Allosaurus?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Stegosaurus is one of the easiest to recognise dinosaurs with its rows of plates running along its back and the spikes on its tail.  The Stegosauria is actually represented by a large number of different genera, these  herbivorous dinosaurs probably first appeared in Asia, and then migrated to North America, Africa and into Europe.  The type of Stegosaur that most people are familiar with has the plate layout and spikes seen in this Collecta replica, representing a Stegosaurus from the Late Jurassic of the western United States.

Most model collectors and young dinosaur fans have several Stegosaurus models in their collections, however, the introduction of a Stegosaur corpse will help model makers to create an authentic scene reflecting life in the Late Jurassic.  This Stegosaurus has been attacked and killed by a large meat-eating dinosaur, potentially something like an Allosaurus or possibly another member of the allosaurid family called a Saurophaganax.  Coincidently, both an Allosaurus and a Saurophaganax model are made by Collecta and available from Everything Dinosaur.

Collecta Stegosaurus Corpse and the Collecta Saurophaganax Dinosaur Model

Food for a dinosaur?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The Stegosaurus corpse measures 18 centimetres in length and although it is not part of a scale model series,  it is designed to fit approximately to the scale of a number of Late Jurassic dinosaur models made by Collecta in the same figure range.  The model is very well sculpted with lots of detail, we particularly appreciate the fine wrinkles and folds depicted as part of the skin texture.

If we focus on the topside of the model, for the moment, we can see that the body cavity has been opened exposing the ribs and parts of the intestinal tract.   A nice touch from the artists at Collecta are the rivulets of partially congealed blood that can be seen on the lower portion of the belly.

Lots of Detail on the Stegosaurus Figure

Some gory details on this Collecta Stegosaurus.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

There are deep wounds visible in the upper arm/shoulder area and also at the back of the thigh.  These wounds are probably post-mortem, that is they occurred as the carcase was fed upon and they were not the result of any injuries from combat.  The thigh bone along with the humerus and the scapula, the shoulder blades, supported large muscles and it is these fleshy areas along with organs such as the liver that were likely to have been consumed first by any predator.

To view the Collecta range of prehistoric animal models available from Everything Dinosaur: Collecta Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animal Models

If we consider the underside of the model, we can see evidence of a bite on one of those famous back plates and there is a small bite mark on the tail.  The most obvious flesh wound is a large wound  at the top of the neck.  The design team at Collecta probably wanted to indicate that this was the fatal injury that brought this large herbivore down.  Clearly from what we can see in this replica, the model makers have taken great care to depict the Stegosaurus corpse and to reflect the pathology seen in the model, to what may very probably have happened in a fight to the death between a Stegosaur and a large, meat-eating Theropod dinosaur.

A corpse such as this would have provided a large carnivore, an Allosaurus for example, with enough food to keep the animal going for several weeks.  Without a better understanding of dinosaur metabolism, how long a single Stegosaur corpse could have sustained a big meat-eater is open to speculation.  However, the carcase would have attracted a lot of scavengers and if this skeleton had been preserved as part of the fossil record, palaeontologists would probably have found gouge marks on the bones and evidence of feeding by smaller dinosaurs, perhaps even broken teeth in association with the Stegosaur remains.

The model is beautifully painted. The Stegosaur has a bluey/green body with a lighter underside and the plates and tail spikes are painted a combination of orange and brown.  It is a skilfully crafted dinosaur replica.

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