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Dinosaur and prehistoric animal themed articles, features and stories.

26 02, 2017

Those Curious Coelurosauria

By | February 26th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page|0 Comments

Complicated “Hollow Tailed” Lizards Such as Fukuivenator

That diverse and very complicated clade of Theropod dinosaurs, the Coelurosauria can prove problematical for even the most knowledgeable dinosaur enthusiast to navigate.  This time last year, a new dinosaur from Japan was assigned to the “Hollow Tail Lizards” (that’s what the term Coelurosaur means), today, we reflect on that dinosaur’s discovery and what it means for dinosaur classification.

Tyrannosaurus rex Is a Member of the Coelurosauria

Tyrannosaurus rex head.

Tyrannosaurs are members of the Coelurosauria.

Fukuivenator paradoxus

It was in February 2016, that a group of scientists including researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Japan’s Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum, published in the journal “Scientific Reports”, a paper on a newly described Theropod dinosaur that had been assigned to the Coelurosaurian clade.  This dinosaur was named Fukuivenator paradoxus, the name translates as Fukui Prefecture hunter with surprising characteristics.

A Model of F. paradoxus on Display at the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum

Fukuivenator model.

Fukuivenator replica on display at the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum.

Picture Credit: Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum

Known from approximately 160 fossil fragments, representing around seventy percent of the skeleton of a single animal, Fukuivenator’s remains were first noticed by a field team in the summer of 2007.  They were exploring the Early Cretaceous exposures at the famous Kitadani Dinosaur Quarry, which is on the Sugiyama River in the northern part of the city of Katsuyama, Fukui, on the island of Honshu.  The remains constitute the most complete non-avian dinosaur fossil found in Japan to date and remarkably, despite having lain in the ground for something like 125 million years, all the fossils were found within a matrix block measuring just half a metre by half a metre (around 0.125 cubic metres).

A Mix of Characteristics

The Coelurosauria clade consists of all those dinosaurs that are more closely related to birds than they are to Carnosaurs such as the Allosaurs.  Essentially, the clade contains non-avian dinosaurs such as the Tyrannosaurs, Compsognathidae, Ornithomimosaurs and the Maniraptora, within which, is nested those avian dinosaurs – birds.  Fukuivenator may only have weighed around twenty-five kilos, but in palaeontology it punches way above its weight, as the fossils reveal that this fast-running two and a half metre long dinosaur, exhibits a combination of primitive and derived features seen amongst a variety of Theropod groups.  Its discovery showed palaeontologists just how diverse the Coelurosaurian Theropods could get.

A Reconstruction of the Skeleton of Fukuivenator paradoxus

Tthe skeleton of Fukuivenator paradoxus.

A reconstruction of the skeleton of Fukuivenator paradoxus.

Picture Credit: Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum

Whilst the bones of Fukuivenator show a large number of morphological features not seen in any other member of the Theropoda, it did have a combination of primitive and derived traits seen in different Theropod subgroups, notably the “raptors” (Dromaeosauridae).  Phylogenetic analysis classified, what is arguably Japan’s coolest dinosaur, as a basal member of the Maniraptora.  However, other studies indicate affinities with Ornitholestes, from the Late Jurassic of North America.

Using computed-tomography, the delicate bones of the inner ear were analysed.  The inner ear bones also showed a mixture of characteristics.  The proportions of the bones were similar to those seen in other fast-running dinosaurs, whilst on the other hand, the length of the cochlea duct suggested that Fukuivenator might have had the same auditory abilities of modern birds.  Its hearing could have been comparable to the hearing of the birds that we see today.

The researchers concluded that with the discovery of Fukuivenator, the morphological variety within Coelurosaurian dinosaurs was certainly increased.  Fukuivenator highlights the high levels of homoplasy (features shared by a group of species but not present in their common ancestor), in Coelurosaurian evolution.

In addition, examination of the teeth, which although long and pointed, lacked serrations suggested that Fukuivenator may well have been an omnivore.

Fukuivenator made the “Hollow Tails” even more complicated.

25 02, 2017

Monster Worm of the Devonian

By | February 25th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Giant Devonian Worms and Death Metal

A new species of Devonian worm, a giant with fearsome jaws looking like something from a science fiction film, has been named and described by an international team of scientists.  Researchers from Bristol University, Lund University (Sweden) and the Royal Ontario Museum (Canada), have named the beast Websteroprion armstrongi, the genus name honours Alex Webster the bassist in the Death Metal band Cannibal Corpse.

Websteroprion armstrongi – Attacking a Primitive Devonian Fish 

A monster worm from the Devonian.

Websteroprion attacking a Devonian fish.

Picture Credit: James Ormiston

Writing in the journal “Scientific Reports” the researchers identify the creature as a type of polychaete worm (Order Eunicida).  Polychaete worms, often referred to as bristle worms, have a fossil record that can be traced back to the early Cambrian.  Their soft bodies are rarely fossilised but the jaw elements, often just a millimetre or so in length, are made from hardened material (sclerotin) and they fossilise quite readily.  In contrast, the fossil jaws of this species are nearly 13 millimetres long, making it a giant amongst these types of worms.  Eunicid polychaete worms are characterised by a dorsal pair of mandibles which contain toothed, maxillary plates.  These plates are used to grasp prey, the scientists conclude that this new species of Devonian worm was also a predator, although the absence of any defined gut contents has prevented the team from making further comments with regards to this animal’s potential diet.

Although the scientists, which included lead author Mats Eriksson (Lund University), cannot be certain how big W. armstrongi was, they have estimated that it was probably over a metre in length.  It has been postulated that this worm might have fed by ambushing small fish, arthropods and cephalopods by shooting out of its burrow and grasping its victims in its hook-like jaws that were lined by rows of sharp, tooth-like structures.

The jaws are the largest known in the Class Polychaeta.

Mats Eriksson commented:

“Gigantism in animals is an alluring and ecologically important trait, usually associated with advantages and competitive dominance.  It is, however, a poorly understood phenomenon among marine worms and has never before been demonstrated in a fossil species.  The new species demonstrates a unique case of polychaete gigantism in the Palaeozoic, some 400 million years ago.”

Fossils from a Remote Location

All the fossils that led to the naming of this new species, were collected in just a few hours in June 1994, Derek K. Armstrong, a geologist with the Ontario Geological Survey had the opportunity to visit a remote and rarely exposed portion of the sedimentary rock formations that made up part of the Hudson Platform located in the Hudson Bay Basin.  The samples he collected proved to be Late Emsian-Early Eifelian (Early-Middle Devonian) age from the Kwataboahegan Formation and they were stored at the Royal Ontario Museum, until the authors decided to take a closer look at the fossil material.

Co-author Luke Parry (Bristol University) said:

“It also shows that gigantism in jaw-bearing polychaetes was restricted to one particular evolutionary clade within the Eunicida and has evolved many times in different species.”

Fossil Mandibles of Websteroprion armstrongi

Giant worm fossil jaws (Websteroprion).

Fossils showing two jaw pieces (jaw elements) of Websteroprion.

Picture Credit: Luke Parry (Bristol University)

The picture above shows specimen number ROM63122 lit so as to give the fossils a positive relief, the scale bar is 1 mm.  The fossil on the left of the photograph is a maxilla from the left side of the animal.  The fossil on the right is a maxilla from the right side.

David M. Rudkin (Dept. of Natural History at the Royal Ontario Museum), explained that there might be several, as yet not described species of Palaeozoic invertebrate, “hiding within plain sight”, amongst the museum’s extensive fossil collection.

He added:

 “This is an excellent example of the importance of looking in remote and unexplored areas for finding new exciting things, but also the importance of scrutinising museum collections for overlooked gems.”

Palaeontology Meets Death Metal

The species name honours Cannibal Corpse bassist Alex Webster, regarded as a “giant” when it comes to handling his instrument, according to the researchers.  The species (trivial), epithet pays tribute to Derek K. Armstrong, who collected the fossils.

Luke Parry added:

“This is fitting also since, beside our appetite for evolution and palaeontology, all three authors have a profound interest in music and are keen hobby musicians.”

At an estimated one metre in length, this extinct species is comparable to that of extant “giant eunicid” species colloquially referred to as “Bobbit worms”.

CT Scans Reveals the Evidence of a Giant Eunicid Worm

CT scans reveal the remains of jaws.

CT scan reveal the maxillary plates entombed in the rock.

Picture Credit: Scientific Reports

Serendipitous Discovery

The researchers conclude that the serendipitous discovery of multiple specimens from a monospecific assemblage in a limited number of fossil samples suggests that Websteroprion armstrongi was a common species at this particular part of the seabed, which went onto become strata within the Kwataboahegan Formation.  The specimens likely represent a “snap-shot assemblages”, the remains of many individuals that were suddenly and rapidly buried by sediment.

23 02, 2017

Everything Dinosaur – New Website

By | February 23rd, 2017|Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Press Releases|0 Comments

Everything Dinosaur – New Website

Today, Everything Dinosaur has launched its new website, part of a major investment programme for the UK based specialist retailer of dinosaur models and toys.  The site has been redesigned to make it much more user friendly, especially for those visitors that access Everything Dinosaur via a mobile device.  The improved layout is easier to navigate and the customer breadcrumb trails and product search functions have been made more efficient and intuitive.

The New Homepage of Everything Dinosaur

Everything Dinosaur's website

The new front page of the Everything Dinosaur website.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The site has improved security features to ensure that all customer data is held safely and in accordance with best practices for web-based retailers.  New shipping options are being offered for the company’s growing number of international customers.  For example, there are now tracked and signed options available for all countries that currently offer such postal services.  Shipping costs, especially UK postage costs continue to be subsidised and a lot of dinosaur toys and models can still be sent out for just over £3.00 GBP, which represents remarkable value considering the rise in postage elsewhere on the Internet.

To see Everything Dinosaur’s new website: Everything Dinosaur

Just like life on Earth, the new website is designed to be constantly evolving.  Customers will find it easier to sign up for the company’s newsletter and shortly, FEEFO product ratings and customer reviews will be available to view on line.  The streamlined and upgraded product categories will make shopping for dinosaur toys and games much easier and in the background, currently hidden from view and waiting to “go live”, are several new product areas, reflecting Everything Dinosaur’s expanding product range.  Collectors of prehistoric animal models are going to have even more choice than ever, all thanks to Everything Dinosaur’s growing model and replica ranges.

Improved, Clearer Images and a “Cleaner” Layout for Products

Everything Dinosaur's new website

A new website layout for Everything Dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Customer Views and Opinions Helped Shape the New Website

Customer feedback and opinions have been taken into consideration as part of the website improvement programme.  A special category has been created to highlight new arrivals.  This will help dinosaur fans to keep up to date with new products which have come into stock.  In addition, the appearance and layout of all the products has been improved, helping customers to access top quality product images and lots more information on dinosaur models and other prehistoric animal themed toys and games.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“The new website has been launched today, it has taken nearly two years of planning and hard work to get the new site up and running in the way that our customers wanted.  However, this is only the start of, what will be, a programme of continuous improvement and investment going forward.  The team members at Everything Dinosaur are really excited about all the new developments.”

Easier to Use Shopping Cart

The new website is being hosted on a new platform.  The shopping cart function has been improved and it is easier to navigate, toggling between the shop and the cart is quicker and more convenient.  Naturally, Everything Dinosaur customers can be assured that as with the previous website, security is state of the art and the three-dimensional customer protocols are all in place to ensure that sensitive customer data is protected.   The protection offered by the new website has been enhanced with new secure transactional gateways and upgraded site conduits.

Everything Dinosaur has been trading on line for a dozen years or so, but the website domain including the blog site has been owned by the company for nearly twenty years.  The launch of the new website, part of a continuous programme of customer service improvements, represents a new chapter in the history of the company dedicated to all things dinosaur.

Unlike the Woolly Rhino, the giant prehistoric fish Dunkleosteus, Pterosaurs like Quetzalcoatlus and of course the non-avian dinosaurs – Everything Dinosaur is far from extinct!  In fact, thanks to it’s enthusiastic team members and loyal customers, the company continues to thrive.

20 02, 2017

Clay Dinosaurs

By | February 20th, 2017|Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Clay Dinosaurs

Team members from Everything Dinosaur at a trade fair in Germany met up with some very talented model makers and artists.  A company called “Clay Works”, which is based in Singpore, were promoting their brand of very malleable clay, that once air dried sets solid.  In order to demonstrate what the clay could do, the company had asked a team of very clever and skilled model makers to make a prehistoric landscape.  Everything Dinosaur team members were most impressed, the entire landscape with its cast of dinosaur and prehistoric animal characters had taken more than three weeks to build.

Dinosaur Landscape Created from Clay

Clay prehistoric animals.

A prehistoric scene made from clay.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The company’s trade stand certainly looked most inviting and we were allowed to touch and handle some of the models.  The artists were happy to chat and to explain how the prehistoric landscape came about.  They were genuinely, very fond of their prehistoric creations, even cuddling some of the sea monsters that they had made.

Is That a Kronosaurus You’re Cuddling?

Clay model sea monster.

A sea monster model made from clay.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The number of different prehistoric animals on display was most impressive, the model makers had taken great care to make the models and the prehistoric scene that they had created was a sheer delight.  Well down to Clay Works, we hope you had a prosperous trade show.

“Cretaceous Clay” – A Colourful Prehistoric Landscape

Modelling clay prehistoric animals.

A wonderful prehistoric landscape created using modelling clay.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

19 02, 2017

A Review of “Giants of the Lost World”

By | February 19th, 2017|Book Reviews, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

“Giants of the Lost World” Reviewed

The fauna and flora of South America has always fascinated scientists and academics.  Animals that are around today, such as the giant otter, the bizarre peccary, anacondas and the jaguar, which pound for pound has the strongest bite of any living big cat, are mere shadows of what was once an astonishing menagerie, the likes of which were found nowhere else on Earth.  The public’s imagination has been fuelled by tales of the monsters that once roamed this continent.  American palaeontologist and author Donald Ross Prothero builds on this legacy in his new book “Giants of the Lost World” which documents and describes the incredible prehistoric animals that once dominated South America, many of which truly deserve the mantle of “monsters”!

The Front Cover of “Giants of the Lost World”

"Giants of the Lost World" front cover.

“Giants of the Lost World” by Donald R. Prothero.

Picture Credit: Smithsonian Books

A Window into a Lost World

Professor Prothero gently guides the reader through the history of research and study of the many extinct prehistoric animals of South America, but first he sets the scene.  He discusses the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who wrote the adventure story “The Lost World” in 1912.  In Conan Doyle’s tale, plucky Professor Challenger leads a party of explorers to the top of a remote and isolated plateau discovering that dinosaurs and flying reptiles had survived into the 20th Century.  This influential novel has been the basis of many films, radio programmes and television series.  Sir Arthur was very probably inspired by the accounts of his good friend Percy Harrison Fawcett, who led an expedition to the Huanchaca Plateau (Bolivia) and encountered many strange animals that live atop the rocky plateau which rises upwards of nine hundred metres above sea level.

In truth, the non-avian Dinosauria and their kin are long gone, but the fossil assemblage left behind documents a remarkable prehistoric fauna, that once helped shape the thinking of Charles Darwin.  The largest land animals known to science (Titanosaurs) and some of the huge carnivores that preyed upon them, are discussed and the author skilfully updates readers on the fascinating debate about which was the biggest land carnivore of all – look out for the section comparing mega-sized carcharodontosaurids with the equally impressive Spinosaurs.

South America was home to a whole host of unusual meat-eating dinosaurs from the stumpy-limbed Alvarezsauridae with their reduced digits, to the “raptors”, ferocious Deinonychosaurs and the truly odd, apex predators, the abelisaurids.  This book is crammed full of fascinating facts and information that will delight both dinosaur fans and the general reader.

One of South America’s Unusual Giant Theropods – Carnotaurus (C. sastrei)

The South American abelisaurid Carnotaurus (C. sastrei).

A spectacular photograph of the bizarre South American abelisaurid Carnotaurus (C. sastrei).

Picture Credit: Smithsonian Books

Beautiful Illustrations, Photographs and Full Colour Plates

“Giants of the Lost World” is jam-packed with photographs, colour plates and beautiful illustrations.  Look out in particular for the detailed images included in this most informative text by the very talented Nobumichi Tamura.  We congratulate the author, for his provision of helpful notes and explanations that accompany the images and the very straight-forward and matter-of-fact manner in which he tackles quite complex and challenging areas of current palaeontological research, such as unravelling the family tree of the Sloths and their relatives (Xenarthra).  After all, who can’t help but be intrigued with chapter titles such as “Killer Opossums”, “The Slow Folk” and “Pseudo-Elephants”!

To purchase this very well written and highly informative volume: Smithsonian Books

As a specialist in mammalian evolution, Professor Prothero is an ideal candidate to document and explain the evolutionary history of the marsupials and placentals that once thrived in South America.  Some of these strange creatures migrated northwards, when South America’s isolation ended around three million years ago.  You might be familiar with the Smilodon fossils of the La Brea tar pits of Los Angeles, but the largest of the Smilodon species was a resident of the southern portion of the Americas (S. populator), it would have dwarfed the Sabre-Toothed Cats of the United States and was one of the largest felids to have ever lived.

A Colour Plate from the Book Illustrating the Skull and Huge Canines of Smilodon

Smilodon skull fossil.

A view of the skull of a Smilodon.

Picture Credit: Smithsonian Books

The Land of Reptilian Monsters 

The dinosaurs did not hold the monopoly when it came to giant reptiles.  After the demise of the “terrible lizards”, new reptilian monsters evolved.  The immense fossilised shell of a super-sized turtle (Stupendemys), is proof that monstrous reptiles lived in South America as recently as five million years ago.  The bus-sized Titanoboa is discussed in detail and for fans of crocodiles, this book has plenty to sink your teeth into too.  You might be familiar with apex predators such as the fourteen-metre-long “super caiman” Purussaurus, known from Colombia, Brazil and Peru, but “Giants of the Lost World” contains one or two crocodilian surprises as well.  Check out the curious Mourasuchus, which matched Purussaurus in terms of size, but it may have fed in a similar way to a giant duck!

Everything Dinosaur’s Well-Thumbed Copy of “Giants of the Lost World”

Book cover "Giants of the Lost World"

Everything Dinosaur’s copy of “Giants of the Lost World”.

Picture Credit: Smithsonian Books

This highly informative and well-written book draws to a close with an epilogue that takes a sanguine tone, reflecting on the threats to the existing wildlife of South America, much of which is critically endangered.  Professor Prothero concludes that the extant animals and plants of this enigmatic continent may only be a shadow of a once mighty and monstrous assemblage, but there is still time to reverse the habitat destruction and climate change that threatens to erase the remnants of an amazing biological legacy.

This excellent book does much to raise awareness concerning the diverse and eclectic cast of prehistoric characters that once roamed South America.  Highly recommended.

The book can be purchased here: Smithsonian Books

Book Details:

Title: “Giants of the Lost World: Dinosaurs and Other Extinct Monsters of South America” by Donald R. Prothero.

Publisher: Smithsonian Books

Pages: 174 with 16 colour plates

ISBN: 9781588345738

19 02, 2017

Yehuecauhceratops – A New Dinosaur from Mexico

By | February 19th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Yehuecauhceratops mudei – Mexican Relative of Nasutoceratops

Last week, a new species of North American horned dinosaur was announced.  Named Yehuecauhceratops (Y. mudei), at three metres long, it was little more than a third the size of Triceratops, but its discovery, after a ten-year-long exploration of Upper Cretaceous strata of the State of Coahuila (northern Mexico), is still significant, as it once again demonstrates that towards the end of the Age of Dinosaurs much of the ancient land known as Laramidia was home to very distinct populations of prehistoric animals.

A Model of the Reconstructed Skull of Yehuecauhceratops

A replica of the skull of Yehuecauhceratops.

A model of the skull of Yehuecauhceratops.

Picture Credit: Museo del Desierto, Mexico (The Coahuila Desert Museum)

Scraps of Bone but a Significant Bump

Fossils found in the Coahuila Desert in 2007 and in 2011 were very fragmentary and the field team from the Coahuila Desert Museum in collaboration with scientists from Germany who had joined them on the expedition, were not sure quite what they had found.  It was assumed it was a horned dinosaur, after all, the first horned dinosaur known from Mexico, Coahuilaceratops (named in 2010), had been found in the same area.  However, a piece of the head shield showed a small, but significant bump that distinguished the fossils from the Chasmosaurine Coahuilaceratops, the frill had a definite look of a Centrosaurine.

Pieces of the Head Shield Revealed Unique Morphology – The Fossils Represented a New Species

Fragment fossils representing Yehuecauhceratops.

A small but significant bump on part of the head shield identified this dinosaur as a Centrosaurine.

Picture Credit: The Journal of South American Earth Sciences

In total, Yehuecauhceratops mudei has been described from a partial and very fragmented skull, a thigh bone, elements of the hips, a few ribs and an array of fossil bone fragments.  We at Everything Dinosaur, estimate that only about 3% of the entire skeleton is known.  However, the morphological characteristics were enough for the scientists and their lead author Héctor Rivera-Sylva (The Coahuila Desert Museum), to propose that the fossils represented a new species of dinosaur.

Yehuecauhceratops is a combination of the local Nahuatl word for “ancient” and the Greek for “horned face”, while the species epithet “mudei” honours the Museo del Desierto in Coahuila, as this museum is referred to as the MUDE.

A Model of the Newly Described Horned Dinosaur – Yehuecauhceratops mudei

Yehuecauhceratops Museum Replica

Scientists have constructed a model of the Mexican dinosaur called Yehuecauhceratops.

Picture Credit: Museo del Desierto, Mexico (The Coahuila Desert Museum)

CPC 274

Until the publication of the scientific paper describing this new type of horned dinosaur from the Campanian-aged Aguja Formation of northern Mexico, the fossil material had been referred to by their catalogue number, CPC 274.  A model of the skull has been created plus a miniature figure of the dinosaur and the researchers at the Coahuila Desert Museum hope, that one day, the fossils will be able to go on public display.

Over the last decade or so, several new kinds of horned dinosaur from North America have been described.  Yehuecauhceratops was closely related to Nasutoceratops, fossils of which were found in slightly older deposits in southern Utah.  Writing in the Journal of South American Earth Sciences, the team conclude that Mexican Ceratopsia (currently represented by a total of three species), also experienced regional diversification.

It is likely that more horned dinosaur fossils representing new species await discovery in northern Mexico.  There are probably several more Ceratopsians going to be added to the list of Mexican dinosaurs and we look forward to writing about these scientific discoveries.

18 02, 2017

Late Permian Therapsid was Probably Venomous

By | February 18th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Euchambersia mirabilis was Probably Venomous

Detailed scans of the skull of the stem-mammal Euchambersia supports a theory first proposed by the enigmatic Baron Franz Nopcsa ninety years ago, that this Late Permian creature was venomous.  Scientists at the University of Witwatersrand (South Africa), concur with the Baron’s idea that this half-metre-long therapsid reptile known from the famous Karoo Supergroup, represents the earliest known venomous terrestrial vertebrate.

An Illustration of the Late Permian Therapsid Euchambersia mirabilis

Euchambersia mirabilis.

An illustration of the Late Permian therapsid Euchambersia.

Baron Nopcsa was an Austro-Hungarian aristocrat who discovered and identified a number of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals around the world.  In 1933, during a trip to South Africa, he looked at the remains of a therapsid found a couple of years earlier by Robert Broom, the fossil was identified as a distant ancestor of today’s Mammalia.  Nopcsa stated that the fossils probably represented an animal with a deadly bite.

Nopcsa declared that this was probably the earliest venomous species ever recorded.  However, his theory couldn’t be confirmed or disproved because venom and venom glands don’t fossilise.  A study of the skull and the upper jaw (maxilla) had shown that E. mirabilis had a huge, deep maxillary fossa (a hollow), associated with a ridged canine.  To the Baron, this implied that Euchambersia possessed a specialised gland situated inside the maxillary fossa that was capable secreting venom down the ridged canine tooth into victims.

CT Scanning Technology Provides Support for Nopcsa’s Theory

A team of researchers from the Johannesburg-based university set out to scan the known fossil skulls of Euchambersia and to create detailed three-dimensional images.  It seems that Baron Nopcsa was right, the 21st Century technology supports the idea that the 255 million-year-old Euchambersia is indeed, the earliest example of a venomous terrestrial vertebrate known to science.  Some extant mammals produce venom, for example, the bizarre Australian Duck-billed platypus (a monotreme), but also amongst placentals there are venomous mammals too.  With a stem-mammal probably being venomous, it puts forward a tantalising idea that in the past, all early mammal forms may have had venom, but as the synapsid lineage that was to give rise to modern mammals evolved, so the venom producing glands were lost.

Known from Only Two Fossil Specimens

The fossils that Baron Nopcsa studied back in 1933, represent a species that is only known from one other set of fossils.  Both specimens were discovered in the same area, just a few metres apart close to the town of Colesberg (Northern Cape Province of South Africa).  The second specimen was not found until 1966.  One specimen is housed in the collection of the Natural History Museum London, the other is at the Evolutionary Studies Institute in Johannesburg.

A Closer View of One of the Euchambersia Skulls Used in the Study

Euchambersia mirabilis skull fossil.

A closer look at one of the Euchambersia mirabilis fossil skulls.

Picture Credit: University of Witwatersrand

Each specimen was CT scanned at its respective institute, and the London data was sent to the researchers at the University of Witwatersrand.  The three-dimensional models that the images were able to provide gave the scientists the opportunity to explore in great detail the internal structure of the upper jaw.

CT Scans Revealed New Details of Euchambersia Skull and Jaw Anatomy

CT scans suggest Euchambersia was first terrestrial venomous Tetrapod.

CT scans showing various views of the Euchambersia skull material.

Picture Credit: PLOS One/University Witwatersrand

Lead author of the report, published in PLOS One, Dr Julien Benoit commented:

“We found that a wide, deep and circular fossa to accommodate a venom gland was present on the upper jaw and was connected to the canine and the mouth by a fine network of bony grooves and canals.  Moreover, we discovered previously undescribed teeth hidden in the vicinity of the bones and rock, two incisors with preserved crowns and a pair of large canines, that all had a sharp ridge.   Such a ridged dentition would have helped the injection of venom inside a prey.”

Dr Julien Benoit Holding One of the Skulls that was Scanned

Holding one of the Euchambersia fossil skulls.

Dr Julien Benoit holds one of the Euchambersia fossil skulls.

Picture Credit: University of Witwatersrand

It seems that Euchambersia had anatomical adaptations which were compatible with venom production.  The confirmation of the Baron’s theory strengthens the belief that pre-mammalian therapsids were very diverse and occupied a wide range of niches within Late Permian and Early Triassic ecosystems.  These ancient creatures, distantly related to our own species, diversified as herbivores and carnivores, large and small, burrowing and ground-dwelling species.  As the earliest venomous species and a representative of this early wave of pioneering species, Euchambersia directly reflects the extraordinary adaptive capabilities of these mammalian forerunners.

The scientific paper: “Reappraisal of the Envenoming Capacity of Euchambersia mirabilis (Therapsida, Therocephalia) using μCT-scanning Techniques,” published in the on line journal PLOS One.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of the University of Witwatersrand in the compilation of this article.

17 02, 2017

An Unexpected Early Triassic Marine Ecosystem

By | February 17th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

American Fossil Site Shows Diverse Range of Marine Fauna Post Permian Extinction Event

A team of international scientists writing in the on line academic journal “Science Advances” have published details of a complex and diverse Early Triassic marine ecosystem that contradicts the commonly held view that life on Earth was slow to recover from the catastrophic End Permian mass extinction.  The fossils of around thirty different species of marine creature have been excavated from shales and limestone near to the city of Paris in Idaho (USA).  Four sites in total have been unearthed in Bear Lake County and they represent a marine ecosystem that existed just 1.3 million years after the Permian mass extinction event, the most devastating extinction event recorded in the whole of the Phanerozoic Eon (visible life).

Just 1.3 Million Years After the End Permian Extinction Event a Surprisingly Diverse Marine Ecosystem Thrived

Early Triassic marine fauna.

The Early Triassic marine fauna of the Paris Basin (Idaho).

Picture Credit: Jorge Gonzalez

A Dynamic Marine Ecosystem

Ammonite and conodont fossils have been used as biostratigraphical markers and the site has been dated to the middle Olenekian faunal stage of the Early Triassic, approximately 250.6 million years ago.  The fossils demonstrate that life, at least in some parts of the world bounced back remarkably quickly after the End Permian extinction event that is believed to have wiped out around 95% of life on the planet.

Lead author of the paper, palaeontologist Arnaud Brayard of the University of Burgundy-Franche-Comté (France) stated:

“Our discovery was totally unexpected.”

The Location of the Paris Basin Site (Modern and Mesozoic)

The Bear Lake (Paris Basin) fossil site location.

The Bear Lake fossil site location (modern and during the Early Mesozoic).

Picture Credit: Romano et al (Science Advances)

The picture above shows (A) the site of the Paris Basin in the context of the geography of the United States, (B) a close up of the location of the dig sites (Paris biota) identified by the researchers.  Picture (C) shows the approximate position of the Paris Basin during the Early Triassic.  The site was very close to the equator during the Early Triassic.

Surprising Fossil Discoveries

The diverse ecosystem consisted of ammonites and other cephalopods, sponges, brachipods and bivalves along with echinoids (sea urchins) crinoids, crustaceans and several vertebrates including marine reptiles, sharks more than two metres long and bony fish.  The Paris Basin ecosystem, included some unexpected creatures.  There was a type of sponge previously believed to have gone extinct 200 million years earlier (leptomitid sponges), and a squid-like group (gladius-bearing coleoids), previously thought not to have evolved until the Late Triassic.  In addition, the scientists report the finding of bones that could represent the earliest-known Ichthyosaur or at least a direct ancestor of an Ichthyosaur. Several other fossils display anatomical characteristics that were thought to have evolved much later (for example, echinoderms), indicating an early and rapid post-Permian/Triassic boundary diversification for these groups as well as previously unknown phylogenetical links between Palaeozoic and Mesozoic taxa.

Brayard added:

“The Early Triassic is a complex and highly disturbed Epoch, but certainly not a devastated one as commonly assumed, and this epoch has not yet yielded up all its secrets.”

Some of the Fossils Representing the Remarkable and Diverse Early Triassic Marine Fauna

Fossils from the Paris Basin (Idaho).

Examples of the multitude of fossil from the Paris Basin.

Picture Credit: A. Brayard, Université Bourgogne Franche-Comté (A to G); T. Saucède, Université Bourgogne Franche-Comté (H); and B. Thuy, Natural History Museum Luxembourg (I).

The photograph above shows a selection of fossils from the Paris Basin (A) a sponge fossil and ammonites, (B) leptomitid sponge and tiny brachiopods, (C) an ancient lobster, (D) a new genus of thylacocephalan crustacean and (E) shrimp fossil.  Picture (F) shows another shrimp fossil depicted under ultraviolet light. Whilst picture (G) shows a Gladius-bearing coleoid, a type of cephalopod that previously, had been thought to have evolved some fifty million years later.  A crinoid stem is shown in picture (H) and (I) depicts the remains of a Brittlestar.  Scale bars equal five millimetres for all the pictures, except for photograph (B) – scale bar one centimetre.

The researchers conclude that the Paris Biota highlights the key evolutionary position of Early Triassic fossil ecosystems in the transition from the Palaeozoic to the modern marine evolutionary fauna at the dawn of the Mesozoic era.

 The scientific paper: “Unexpected Early Triassic Marine Ecosystem and the Rise of the Modern Evolutionary Fauna”, published in the journal Science Advances.

16 02, 2017

Papo Prehistoric Mammals New for 2017

By | February 16th, 2017|Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur Products, Main Page, Photos of Everything Dinosaur Products|0 Comments

Papo Prehistoric Mammals 2017

Amongst the dinosaur (and one pterosaur), models being introduced by Papo this year, there are two prehistoric mammals, both members of the Order Carnivora.  The Acrocanthosaurus, Ceratosaurus and the Cryolophosaurus might be getting all the attention, but we thought we would shed some light on the intriguing Papo Sabre-Tooth Cat and Cave Bear models that are also coming into stock over the next few months or so.

New for 2017 the Papo Sabre-Tooth Cat and Cave Bear

Papo Sabre-Tooth Cat model and Cave Bear

Papo Smilodon and the Cave Bear.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Papo Smilodon (S. fatalis)

When we saw the first images of the new for 2017 Papo Smilodon, we have to say we were somewhat taken aback.  It looks very different from the Papo Smilodon model that is currently in the range, a model that was originally introduced in the second quarter of 2011.  The new figure is certainly more flamboyant than the 2011 replica, the pose is fascinating but it is the combination of a lion’s mane and those rear tiger stripes that gives this particular representation such an unusual look.  In the modern lion Panthera leo, the males have manes.  The mane is thought to have evolved under selection pressure caused as a result of this social cat needing to impress females/intimidate rivals.  The mane provides a degree of protection during intraspecific conflicts, but we at Everything Dinosaur are not sure what evidence there is, if any, for a mane being present in the sub-family Machairodontinae of which Smilodon is a member.

The Papo Smilodon Model Introduced in 2011

Papo Smilodon model.

Excellent model of a Sabre-Toothed Cat

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Cave paintings of male Cave Lions (Panthera leo spelaea) show these lions without manes.  Although, this does not mean the members of the Smilodon genus were not maned either.  They could have had manes, there is simply not enough evidence to determine this either way (as far as we know).  Many scientists have argued that the likes of Smilodon fatalis were social animals living in groups rather than solitary hunters.  A mane could have evolved, an example of convergent evolution as Smilodon species were subjected to the same selection pressure as their modern, African counterparts.

The Papo 2017 Smilodon Figure

Papo Smilodon (2017)

The Papo Sabre-Tooth Cat model (2017).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Several palaeontologists and palaeobiologists have proposed that Sabre-Tooth Cats could have possessed a ruff of thick hair around the neck.  This would have protected the neck and provided insulation against the cold.  The scientific evidence remains incomplete, but for the moment Papo offers a maned and a maneless Sabre-Tooth cat model for collectors.

As for those tiger stripes, research has shown that Smilodon was very probably an ambush predator.  Limb and locomotion studies have ruled out long pursuits of prey.  It is likely that the likes of Smilodon fatalis, S. populator et al were camouflaged, perhaps some species did possess stripes reminiscent of a tiger.

 The Papo Cave Bear (Ursus spelaeus)

The Papo Cave Bear replica is a real delight.  There have not been that many Cave Bear models made by the mainstream manufacturers, Everything Dinosaur team members remember with fondness the Schleich Cave Bear, one of a series of prehistoric mammals that were once produced by that German company.  Papo’s interpretation of this Pleistocene beast (which although classified as a Carnivoran. (the collective term for a member of the Carnivora), might actually have been almost entirely herbivorous, certainly has attitude.  The thick, powerful frame is well-depicted and the beast is almost snarling at you, as if daring you to purchase it.

New for 2017 The Papo Cave Bear Model

Cave Bear model by Papo.

Papo Cave Bear.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Looking like it has just been disturbed from its winter refuge, this Cave Bear model is very well painted and the sculpt shows lots of detail.  We congratulate Papo for introducing another prehistoric mammal into its “Les Dinosaures” model range.

A Skilfully Crafted Prehistoric Animal Model (Papo Cave Bear)

Papo Cave Bear.

The Papo Cave Bear model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The Smilodon and Cave Bear figures are scheduled to be in stock at Everything Dinosaur sometime towards the end of quarter 2 (June or early July), we will keep readers posted about new editions to the model range.

To view the current Papo model range available from Everything Dinosaur: Papo Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Models

15 02, 2017

First Live Birth Evidence in Ancient Dinosaur Relative

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

Dinocephalosaurus – The Only Known Viviparous Archosauromorph

The first ever evidence of live birth in an animal group previously thought to lay eggs exclusively has been discovered by an international team of scientists, including a palaeontologist from the University of Bristol.  Writing in the academic journal “Nature Communications”, the researchers report upon the identification of a potential embryo inside the mother, a specimen of the long-necked Archosauromorph Dinocephalosaurus (D. orientalis).  Live birth (viviparity), is known in a number of extant reptiles, especially members of the Order Squamata, wherein a number of species of snakes and lizard “hatch” inside their mother and emerge without a shelled egg.  However, this is the first time that live birth has been recorded in the Archosauromorpha, the infraclass of diapsid Tetrapods that includes birds, crocodiles and dinosaurs.

An Illustration of the Long-Necked Marine Reptile Dinocephalosaurus (Location of Embryo Shown in Drawing)

Dinocephalosaurus illustration.

Dinocephalosaurus illustration. The red circle shows the approximate location of the embryo.

Picture Credit: Dinghua Yang with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows an illustration of the marine reptile Dinocephalosaurus.  The approximate position of the embryo inside the mother is indicated by the red circle.

Egg laying is regarded by many scientists as a more primitive form of reproduction, seen at the base of reptiles, within the amphibious anamniotes and the ancestors of terrestrial vertebrates (fish).  The fossil was found in 2008, at a quarry famous for marine fossils located in Yunnan Province (southern China).  Dinocephalosaurus was a long-necked, piscivore that flourished in warm, tropical, shallow sea that once covered much of China.  Its fossils have been dated to the Middle Triassic.  Dinocephalosaurus has been classified as a member of the Tanystropheidae family of Archosauromorphs but how closely related it was to the better known Tanystropheus remains open to debate.

An Illustration of a Typical Member of the Tanystropheidae (Tanystropheus)

A drawing of Tanystropheus.

A drawing of the bizarre Triassic reptile Tanystropheus.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The Tanystropheidae family flourished during the Triassic and they were quite ecologically diverse.  Most of the genera are associated with Tethys Ocean coastline deposits, although several species are associated with strata laid down inland.  The scientists discovered the embryo inside the rib cage of the mother, and it faces forward making it less likely to have been consumed.  Swallowed animals generally face backward because the predator swallows its prey head-first to help it go down its throat.  Furthermore, the small reptile inside the mother is an example of the same species.

Lead study author, Professor Jun Liu from Hefei University of Technology (China), stated:

“We were so excited when we first saw this embryonic specimen several years ago, but we were not sure if the embryonic specimen is the last lunch of the mother or its unborn baby.  Upon further preparation and closer inspection, we realised that something unusual has been discovered.  Further evolutionary analysis reveals the first case of live birth in such a wide group containing birds, crocodilians, dinosaurs and the Pterosauria among others, and pushes back evidence of reproductive biology in the group by fifty million years.”

The Fossilised Remains Showing a Close View of the Embryo in the Rib Cage

Dinocephalosaurus illustration.

Dinocephalosaurus illustration. The red circle shows the approximate location of the embryo.

Picture Credit: Jun Lu

Implications for Other Members of the Archosauromorphs

Evolutionary analysis shows that this instance of live birth was also associated with genetic sex determination.  Co-author of the scientific paper, Professor Chris Organ, (Montana State University) commented:

“Some reptiles today, such as crocodiles, determine the sex of their offspring by the temperature inside the nest.  We identified that Dinocephalosaurus, a distant ancestor of crocodiles, determined the sex of its babies genetically, like mammals and birds.”

The researchers conclude that this specimen from Yunnan Province rewrites our understanding of the evolution of reproductive systems.  Perhaps, some distant descendants of these reptiles also retained this reproductive strategy, with other Archosauromorph members using live birth rather than external egg laying.  Maybe some dinosaurs were viviparous.

The embryo measures around fifty centimetres in length, when fully grown Dinocephalosaurus measured over three metres long (although about half of its entire body length was made up of that super-sized neck).  It is possible, that the scientists have drawn the wrong conclusion.  The animal, if it was a baby Dinocephalosaurus and not the fossil specimen’s last meal that “went down the wrong way”, may have been in an egg and the eggshell that once surrounded the embryo was not preserved during the fossilisation process.  That explanation cannot be completely ruled out, but Professor Benton explained that the embryo’s bones were very well developed, whilst all living Archosauromorphs lay eggs very early in embryonic development.

Furthermore, the team suggest that Dinocephalosaurus’s long neck and other features of its anatomy indicate it could not have manoeuvred easily out of the water, meaning a reproductive strategy like that of turtles, which lay eggs on land before returning to the water, was probably not an option.

Professor Mike Benton (School of Earth Sciences, Bristol University), another co-author of the paper said:

“The analysis of the evolutionary position of the new specimens shows there is no fundamental reason why Archosauromorphs could not have evolved live birth.  This combination of live birth and genotypic sex determination seems to have been necessary for animals such as Dinocephalosaurus to become aquatic.  It’s great to see such an important step forward in our understanding of the evolution of a major group coming from a chance fossil find in a Chinese field.”

Professor Benton added that since we now know that no fundamental biological barrier to live births exists in the Archosauromorpha, palaeontologists would be “looking very closely” at other fossils.  He suggested one target would be a group of aquatic crocodile relatives, whose mode of reproduction was not well known.

This piece of work is part of wider collaborations between palaeontologists in China, the United States, the UK and Australia.

The scientific paper: “Live birth in an Archosauromorph Reptile” by J. Liu, C. L. Organ, M. J. Benton, M. C. Brandley and J. C. Aitchison published in Nature Communications

Everything Dinosaur recognises the assistance of the University of Bristol in the compilation of this article.

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