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Abercrombie School and Dinosaurs

Abercrombie School Pupils Study Dinosaurs

Earlier this month, a member of the Everything Dinosaur team visited Abercrombie Primary School in Chesterfield (Derbyshire), as part of two days of science study with Year 2, 3, 4, 5 and Year 6.  Over the course of the workshops we conducted, we set a number of challenges for the classes.  One challenge was to have the children “design their very own prehistoric animal”, with a new dinosaur species being named, on average, every three weeks or so, there is plenty of scope for new dinosaurs.  Another challenge involved the children writing Everything Dinosaur a thank you letter, from our bulging mail bag on Friday, it looks like lots of the pupils at the school took up the opportunity to send in examples of their work.

A Collection of Very Colourful Prehistoric Animal Drawings

Schoolchildren send in dinosaur drawings.

Pupils from Abercrombie Primary sent in dinosaur drawings.

Picture Credit: Abercrombie Primary School/Everything Dinosaur

Our thanks to Henry, Daisy, Frasier, Sophie, Ebony, Daisy, Reuben, Lucy, Daniel, Ibrahim, Alfie, Holly, Noah and all the other children who sent in super prehistoric animal drawings, they are certainly very colourful.  The children have thought very carefully about their prehistoric animal designs, considering where the animal might live, what it might eat and how it would keep itself safe.

Joelasaurus by Henry

A dinosaur designed by a schoolchild.

A very colourful dinosaur drawing by Henry.

Picture Credit: Abercrombie Primary School/Everything Dinosaur

We enjoyed looking at all the prehistoric animal pictures that had been sent into us by the children.  Some of the dinosaur names the children had invented were very creative such as “Hungry eater steeler” from Leo and we even had a drawing of Indominus rex from the film Jurassic World.

Thank You Letters Sent to Everything Dinosaur

The hand-writing challenge involved composing a thank you letter to Everything Dinosaur and sure enough we received a set of beautiful and well written thank you letters, some of which had even been illustrated.

Thank You Letters Sent in by the Children (Abercrombie Primary School)

A set of thank you letters from a class.

Pupils sent in thank you letters to Everything Dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Abercrombie Primary School/Everything Dinosaur

Our thanks to Ali, Dexter, Oliver, Libby, Alice (yes, you are quite right fossils are usually found in sandstone and limestone), Erin and Harry (wonderful dinosaur skull drawing).

Isobel wanted to know how long have we been looking for fossils?  Everything Dinosaur team members found their first fossils when they were not much older than Georgia or Felix.  Louie wrote to say that he was sorry to have missed all the dinosaurs as he had been ill but he did send in a nice letter and even took the trouble to draw some dinosaur eggs.

Cole Sent in a Beautiful Thank You Letter

Abercrombie Primary children sent in letters to Everything Dinosaur.

A thank you letter from a pupil at Abercrombie Primary.

Picture Credit: Abercrombie Primary School/Everything Dinosaur

The question was asked, how do you get fossils?  Fossil can be found in lots of places but most fossils are found in rocks and one of the best places to find them is at the seaside.  Arthur wrote in to say that his favourite part was holding the Tyrannosaurus rex tooth and he also liked the stickers we gave him.

A special thank you to all the children at Abercrombie Primary who sent in letters and pictures.

Mexico City Mammoth Find

Digging for Drains Unearths Columbian Mammoth

Back in December 2015, a routine drain excavation taking place north of Mexico City was halted when the fossilised remains of a giant Woolly Mammoth were uncovered.  Such finds are relatively common in this part of Mexico, a number of specimens of the Columbian Mammoth (Mammuthus columbi) have been discovered in recent years as the metropolitan area of Mexico has expanded.  The Columbian Mammoth roamed much of North America during the Pleistocene Epoch, its fossils have been found over most parts of the United States and it has been recorded as far south as Costa Rica.  Scientists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia), in Mexico, have been working to excavate the fossils including an exquisitely preserved skull with two-metre long tusks.

The Skull and Tusks Wrapped in Plaster and Burlap Ready for Removal from the Dig Site

Columbian mammoth fossils found near Mexico City.

The Columbian Mammoth fossils found near Mexico City being prepared for removal from the dig site.

Picture Credit: AFP

This Mammoth is believed to have died around 14,000 years ago, when it became bogged down in mud surrounding a shallow lake.  Around fifty individuals have been found around Mexico City, it seems that these large elephants (Columbian Mammoths were considerably bigger than their more famous counterparts, the Woolly Mammoth, M. primigenius), were prone to getting stuck in mud, the site where the remains were found, near the village of Tultepec was once covered by a shallow lake, animals were attracted to this area and occasionally a Mammoth would have become stuck in the mud that surrounded the water.  Field team members working to remove the bones have suggested that the scattered remains may indicate that the carcase was butchered by humans for meat.  However, Everything Dinosaur team members have not been informed of the discovery of any tell-tale cut marks found on the bones.  The carcase could have become scattered as a result of other animals trampling the bones.

Field Team Members Work to Excavate Individual Bones

A field team member working on a Columbian Mammoth fossil.

Remains of a Columbian Mammoth found near Mexico City.

Picture Credit: Reuters

Back in 2009, Everything Dinosaur reported on the opening of a major exhibit at Waco in Texas which provided members of the public access to a Columbian Mammoth dig site where the remains of more than a dozen of these elephants had been discovered.

To read more about this: Prehistoric Mammoth Site Opens to the Public

Commenting on the discovery, archaeologist Luis Cordoba from the National Institute of Anthropology and History explained that these fossils were found some two metres below ground and they represent an animal that would have been between 20 and 25 years of age when it died.  The skeleton, although disarticulated is almost complete and it is in a remarkable state of preservation.  It is hoped that the specimen will be able to go on display to the public once it has been fully prepared.

Archaeologist Luis Cordoba (National Institute of Anthropology and History)

One of the vertebrae from a Columbian Mammoth.

Luis Cordoba holding a dorsal vertebra from a Columbian Mammoth.

Picture Credit: AFP

Ancestry of the Columbian Mammoth

It is likely that the Columbian Mammoth is descended from the Steppe Mammoth (M. trogontherii).  Mammoths crossed the Bering Straits land bridge (Beringia), entering the New World from Asia around 1.5 million years ago.  The very last of these Mammoths may have lived as recently as 11,000 years ago.  It is not known what role human hunting played in their extinction.

JurassicCollectables Reviews the Papo Feathered Velociraptor

The Papo Feathered Velociraptor Model Reviewed

The talented people at JurassicCollectables have made a video review of the new for 2016 Papo feathered Velociraptor dinosaur model, for us this was the last of the 2016 models to arrive and it is certainly a case of last but not least as this is bound to be a big hit with feathered dinosaur replica fans. In the short video, it lasts a little over nine and a half minutes, the JurassicCollectables narrator reviews this new model and compares and contrasts this “raptor” with earlier Papo models.  Papo have certainly done a great job of recreating “speedy thief”.

JurassicCollectables – Papo Feathered Velociraptor Video Review

Video Credit: JurassicCollectables

JurassicCollectables have produced video reviews of every single prehistoric animal and dinosaur replica that Papo have made, to view these videos and to subscribe to their brilliant YouTube channel: Subscribe to JurassicCollectables on YouTube

The Papo Green Velociraptor Dinosaur Model and the Feathered Velociraptor Side by Side

Two Papo Velociraptor models are compared.

Papo Velociraptor model size comparison.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Great Video Review of the Papo Feathered Velociraptor Model

In this great video, the narrator gives a detailed review of this new for 2016 sculpt.  It is compared with other Papo models and we really liked the description of that wide opening articulated jaw as a “butterfly jaw”, that’s a fantastic description.  Look out for the CollectA Mosasaur model that can be seen at the end of the video.

To see the range of Papo prehistoric animal models available from Everything Dinosaur (including the Papo Feathered Velociraptor): Papo Prehistoric Animals

The Papo Feathered Velociraptor Model (Close Up of the Head)

The Papo Feathered Dinosaur Model

A close look at the Papo feathered Velociraptor dinosaur model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows one of our studio shots of the new for 2016  Papo Feathered Velociraptor.  JurassicCollectables comment extensively about this new replica and they stress how the skull of this replica more accurately reflects the skull fossils of the Velociraptor genus.

The narrator comments:

“I think this [the Papo feathered Velociraptor model] is incredible!  Papo have excelled in terms of detail and paint job.”

The feathery coat is really well done and we too at Everything Dinosaur would like to congratulate the designers at Papo for making such a fascinating and intriguing replica.

In Everything Dinosaur’s annual survey of the most popular prehistoric animal models, Velociraptor had climbed to number two in our chart.  We suspect that this was because of the influence of the film “Jurassic World”, as Velociraptors play a significant part and perhaps have almost as much, if not more screen time than the Indominus rex.

To read an article about the top five most popular prehistoric animals in our annual survey: Everything Dinosaur’s Annual Prehistoric Animal Survey

This new feathered Velociraptor model is a welcome addition to the Papo range and it will prove popular with dinosaur fans and collectors alike.  For more information on this replica, don’t forget to check out the amazing JurassicCollectables video and to subscribe to their YouTube channel: Subscribe to JurassicCollectables and YouTube

Scientists “Root Out” Oldest Plant Root Cells

Oldest Plant Roots Identified

Scientists from Oxford University and the Departamento de Biología Molecular de Plantas, Instituto de Biotecnología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (Mexico), have identified the oldest known population of plant root cells in a 320 million-year-old fossil.  This study, published as an on line, open access article, highlights the importance of historical collections such as the Oxford University Herbaria, which as part of the University’s Plant Sciences Department, houses an extensive botany collection, with some specimens within the archive over 300 years old.

A Slide Showing Preserved Plant Remains from the Oxford University Herbaria Collection

Carboniferous root structures preserved in a thin slice (slide)

A slide made over 100 years ago preserves evidence of fossilised root structures.

Picture Credit: Oxford University Herbaria

The picture above shows a thin soil slice prepared on a slide over 100 years ago and part of the Oxford University Herbaria collection.  The fossilised soil is estimated to be around 320 million-years-old and shows the cellular anatomy of plants which were growing and decaying in the fossil soil underlying the Carboniferous coal swamp forests.

The scientists have not only revealed the oldest plant root stem cells found to date, the research also marks the first time an actively growing fossilised root has been discovered and it shows that plant root cell division in the past may have been more diverse than today.

Roots and Shoots – Getting to the Root of the Problem

The roots and shoots of plants develop from specialised groups of cells called meristems.  These self renew and produce cells that undergo differentiation.  The organisation of these cells changes when growth stops, so up until this research was published, it was impossible to compare the fossil record with the cellular structure of actively growing meristems.  Using slides from the Oxford University Herbaria that represent thin sections of fossilised soils taken from Carboniferous coal balls, researchers were able to identify the fossilised remains of an actively growing root meristem and examine in detail the stem cells and their structure.  They found that the cellular organisation of the fossilised root tip is unique.  Roots and shoots of ancient plants from the Carboniferous may have grown in a broadly similar way to modern plants such as the angiosperms (flowering plants), but the unique cellular order and structure demonstrates that the meristem growth we find today may only represent a proportion of the root and shoot growth diversity that once existed.  This research indicates that some of the biological processes and systems controlling the root development of plants have now become extinct.

A Highly Magnified Image Showing the Growing Root Apex Assigned to the Species Radix carbonica

The holotype fossil of Radix caronica (growing root).

The dark horseshoe-shaped structure is the root cap protecting the growing root apex as it pushes through the soil.

Picture Credit: Oxford University Herbaria

The structures preserved in the fossil record are similar to those found in extant species, but they are different, they represent a unique cellular arrangement not known in modern plants.

Commenting on the study, one of the authors of the paper, Oxford Plant Sciences PhD student Alexander (Sandy) Hetherington stated:

‘I was examining one of the fossilised soil slides held at the University Herbaria as part of my research into the rooting systems of ancient trees when I noticed a structure that looked like the living root tips we see in plants today.  I began to realise that I was looking at a population of 320 million-year-old plant stem cells preserved as they were growing – and that it was the first time anything like this had ever been found.  It gives us a unique window into how roots developed hundreds of millions of years ago.’

The First Global Tropical Wetland Forests

The fossil soil slides and the root structures they contain are extremely important as they provide a record of our planet’s first global tropical wetland forests.  The Carboniferous swamps and wetlands were to form the extensive coal deposits found in much of the world today, including most of the coal in the United Kingdom, exploitation of which fuelled the industrial revolution.  From a biological point of view, these huge, lycopsid (club mosses), pteridosperm (seed fern) and sphenopsid (horsetails) dominated forests represent the first time deep rooting structures evolved on Earth.  These root systems increased the rate of chemical weathering of the silicate minerals in rocks, a chemical reaction that pulled carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, leading to a period of global cooling – climate change on a worldwide scale.  Of the 139 slides studied, two root caps were identified.  The first was assigned to a known species Lyginopteris oldhamia, a seed fern (pteridosperm), the second was an unknown species, this has been named Radix carbonica, this translates as “coal root”.

Professor Liam Dolan, (Department Head of Plant Sciences, Oxford University) and lead author of the academic paper, explained:

“These fossils demonstrate how the roots of these ancient plants grew for the first time.  It is startling that something so small could have had such a dramatic effect on the Earth’s climate.  This discovery also shows the importance of collections such as the Oxford University Herbaria, they are so valuable, and we need to maintain them for future generations.”

A Highly Magnified Image Showing the Root Cellular Structure

A close up of the fossilised root structure (Radix carbonica).

Fossilised root structure preserves record of ancient root growth.

Picture Credit: Oxford University Herbaria

From examining the size and number of cells which radiate out from the tip the researchers were able to establish that the root was actively growing at the time it was fossilised.  This makes the finding the first and only discovery to date of the fossilised remains of an actively growing root meristem.

The Root Growth of Radix carbonica is Unique Compared to Living Plant Root Meristems

The schematic diagram below shows the cellular organisation of a typical member of the gymnosperm group (conifers, ginkgos and cycads).  The colours show various major tissue types within the meristem.

Mapping the Evolution of Root Systems

The origin of root evolution in the Plantae.

New study suggests different types of root growth in plants took place in the past.

Picture Credit: Current Biology with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

The diagram above shows (A and C) the meristem of a typical gymnosperm, compared with (B and D) the meristem of Radix carbonica.

Yellow = the root cap

Pink = the promeristem (yellow lines in the R. carbonica promeristem indicate the positions of anticlinal cell divisions within the promeristem)

Orange = ground tissue

Blue = epidermis

Green = procambium

A simplified cladogram showing the hypothesised origin of roots based on this new study (E).  The meristems of different types of lycopsids are compared to the evolution of ferns, gymnosperms and the path towards the flowing plants (angiosperms), that evolved later.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the help of a press release from the press team at Oxford University in the compilation of this article.

The paper “Unique Cellular Organization in the Oldest Root Meristem”  is published in Current Biology. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2016.04.072

JurassicCollectables Reviews Rebor “Sentry”

A Review of the Rebor Compsognathus “Sentry” by JurassicCollectables

Those clever people at JurassicCollectables have just published a video unboxing and review of the Rebor Compsognathus model “Sentry”.  In this informative five minute video, the Compsognathus replica and the accompanying dragonfly model (Protolindenia) are reviewed in turn and then a number of other Rebor replicas are featured demonstrating how many of the Rebor models can be customised to make intriguing dioramas.

Jurassic Collectables Reviews the 1:6 Scale Rebor Compsognathus “Sentry”

Video credit: JurassicCollectables

JurassicCollectables have produced video reviews of a number of prehistoric animal models that Rebor have made, to see these videos and to subscribe to their excellent YouTube channel: Subscribe to JurassicCollectables on YouTube

Rebor “Sentry” Compsognathus 1:6 Scale Replica

The narrator compares this 1:6 scale replica of this Jurassic dinosaur to the compsognathids that were depicted in the second of the Jurassic Park movies “The Lost World”, which came out in 1997 and was the second highest grossing movie that year behind Titanic.  In the film, the small but agile compsognathids are social animals that live in a flock and they attack a young girl before gaining even more notoriety by fatally attacking one of the InGen team members Dieter Stark, played by Peter Stormare.  It seems that in the “Lost World” even tiny dinosaurs can be extremely dangerous when they are hungry.

One of the Compsognathus Dinosaurs from the Film “The Lost World”

A young girl encounters Compsognathus

One of the compsognathid dinosaurs from “The Lost World” film (1997).

Picture Credit: Universal Pictures

The compsognathids from the film have certainly inspired the model makers at Rebor.  Their compsognathids “Sentry” and the four model set “Bad Company” due to be reviewed by JurassicCollectables shortly, are very similar to those seen in the movie.  In the video review, the narrator points out several similarities and there is much to be admired about this Rebor 1:6 scale replica.

To view the complete range of Rebor replicas including the new “Sentry” and “Bad Company” Compsognathus figures: Rebor Replicas and Figures

One of the Compsognathus 1:6 Scale Replicas from Rebor

Rebor 1:6 scale Compsognathus model

One of the amazing Compsognathus models from Rebor available from Everything Dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“We have been most impressed with the Compsognathus models made by Rebor.  It is rare to see such fine detail in a dinosaur model and they really are exquisite.  The video review from JurassicCollectables permits viewers to get a good close up view of a potential purchase, to view the model before deciding to buy.  It is great to see the dragonfly component also sharing the limelight, this is a wonderful model and it demonstrates the care and attention to detail that Rebor have instilled into their production process.”

JurassicCollectables show a number of ways in which components from “Sentry” can be combined with other replicas in the Rebor range.  Elements from “Sentry” are shown with “Melon”, the baby Stegosaurus in the Scout series as well as with the Dimorphodon pair (Punch and Judy) and the base from the “Savage” Ceratosaurus 1:35 scale model.

Both the JurassicCollectables YouTube channel and the Rebor replicas are highly recommended.

Class 1 and Class 2 Explore Dinosaurs

A Return Visit to Thorpe Hesley Primary School

A busy morning for Everything Dinosaur, as one of their team members made a return visit to Thorpe Hesley Primary (Rotherham, south Yorkshire), to work with the two classes of Year 1 children who have been spending the summer term learning all about dinosaurs.  This is a topic that the children in previous years have covered, one of the classrooms had a wonderful paper mâché Triceratops on display.

A Large Model of a Triceratops on Display in the Classroom

A big dinosaur model made by Year 1 children.

A Triceratops on display.

Picture Credit: Thorpe Hesley Primary School/Everything Dinosaur

In the tidy and well appointed classrooms, the enthusiastic teaching team had been preparing a range of very creative activities for the budding palaeontologists to try on their special dinosaur day.  Our workshops aimed to reinforce learning as well as to introduce different types of dinosaurs to the children.  Could they remember all the dinosaur facts?

Handling Fossils

The children in Class 1 and Class 2 (Key Stage 1), had the opportunity to handle fossils and their super quick reactions ensured that both classes won some dinosaur stickers.  We look forward to seeing how the pupils got on with the “design a dinosaur challenge” that we set them, can they label all the body parts including the skull?  We noted that an area of one classroom had been set aside so that a special dinosaur museum could be created, we think this would be a great place to exhibit some of the children’s prehistoric animal themed work.

Lots of Dinosaur Habitats on Show in the Classrooms

Year 1 children explore dinosaur habitats.

Exploring dinosaur habitats.

Picture Credit: Thorpe Hesley Primary School/Everything Dinosaur

Herbivores and Carnivores

We looked at herbivores and carnivores and explored how many Year 1 children could fit inside the tummy of a really big dinosaur.  In addition, the extra resources our dinosaur expert provided should help the children gain confidence with numbers as a couple of the extension exercises involve measuring and counting.  We even spotted some dinosaurs in the play area used by the Nursery.  Our dinosaur expert felt quite at home with all the dinosaurs and prehistoric animal themed displays at the school.

Spotting Dinosaurs in the Nursery Play Area

Three dinosaurs in a triangle shape.

A triangle shape filled with dinosaurs.

Picture Credit: Thorpe Hesley Primary School/Everything Dinosaur

That is a lovely group of plant-eating dinosaurs, can the children name them?

Sadly, all too soon our time was up and it was lunch.  The children had lots of questions and we did not have time to answer them all, so with the permission of the teaching team we challenged the children to write us a thank you letter and if they did, they could include a question if they wanted.  We made a “pinkie palaeontologist” promise to read them all.  As the summer term progresses, soon it will be time for sports day, we sported some equipment close by to the well-stocked resources cupboard and we wondered could the children be using dinosaur eggs for the egg and spoon race?

Could the Children Use Dinosaur Eggs for the Egg and Spoon Race?

Preparing for the dinosaur egg and spoon race

Dinosaur eggs for the egg and spoon race?

Picture Credit: Thorpe Hesley Primary School/Everything Dinosaur

Glad we were able to help the children explore prehistoric animals with a dinosaur themed workshop.

Very Big Dinosaurs Bring Very Big Problems

Museum of Palaeontology Egidio Feruglio Expansion Plans

The Museum of Palaeontology Egidio Feruglio (Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio), located in the city of Trelew in the Chubut Province of Patagonia (Argentina), has announced plans to expand.  Expansion is needed as this regional museum is going to be home to the world’s largest dinosaur, a Titanosaur whose fossilised remains featured in the BBC/National Geographic documentary “Attenborough and the Giant Dinosaur” which aired in January this year.

The museum was founded in 1990 and to begin with it operated with just three employees and a relatively small collection, however, after a number of important fossil discoveries in the area, the museum’s catalogue has increased substantially.  The 2011 discovery of the fossilised remains of seven giant, herbivorous dinosaurs at a location nick-named the “graveyard of giants”, really helped to put the city of Trelew and its museum on the map and in a press release, communications and marketing director Florencia Gigena explained that the cohort of scientists would increase to sixty-five by 2020.

Filming the Fossil Dig for the Documentary Programme

The giant Titanosaur dig site.

Filming the documentary “Attenborough and the Giant Dinosaur”.

Picture Credit: Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio

A Giant Hall for a Giant Dinosaur

The museum intends to greatly enlarge its current exhibition space and to build an adjoining university campus that will accommodate up to twenty students.  This will help with preparation work and provide a ready source of willing volunteers for field work as well as giving the students the opportunity to work in close association with a commercial museum.  In addition, a giant hall will be constructed to house the Titanosaur exhibit.  The American Museum of Natural History (New York), already has an enormous replica of the largest Titanosaur from the fossil quarry.  This exhibit measures thirty-seven metres in length.  It is so large that part of the head and neck of the American mount sticks out of the main gallery.

Behind the Scenes at the Museum of Palaeontology Egidio Feruglio

Sir David Attenborough prepares for the next take.

Behind the scenes during the Titanosaur filming.

Picture Credit: Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio

The picture above shows, presenter Sir David Attenborough and the film crew preparing to film the giant 2.4 metre long thigh bone (femur) of the giant Titanosaur.  With so many Titanosaur fossil bones to study, (over two hundred), the Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio had to expand, the existing facilities were simply not large enough to house the fossils of a dinosaur that could have weighed as much as a dozen African elephants.

To read more about the Titanosaur fossil discovery: Biggest Dinosaur of All – A New South American Contender!

To learn more about the Titanosaur documentary: Attenborough and the Giant Dinosaur

Giant Titanosaur Needs a Name

The giant Titanosaur has yet to be formally described and no genus name has been erected yet.  A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur explained that a scientific paper on this remarkable fossil find was likely to be published soon and that the name of this new dinosaur would probably reflect the local area in which the fossils were found.  As part of the company’s outreach work in schools, Everything Dinosaur sets a challenge to school children to try and work out a name for this massive, plant-eating Cretaceous reptile.

To view an article about our work with schools and this giant Titanosaur: Biggest Dinosaur Needs a Name

Everything Dinosaur staff have been lucky enough to visit the Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio, it is a splendid regional museum and it houses more than giant titanosaurid fossils.  For example, the museum sets out to tell the story of life on Earth and as well as a very diverse collection of dinosaur fossils from Patagonia, the museum is also home to a range of Palaeozoic specimens including ancient insects.  The Cenozoic is well represented too, with a number of excellent examples of Pleistocene mammals on display.

Everything Dinosaur is delighted to hear of the Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio expansion and we wish this wonderful museum every success.

Did Dinosaurs Make Good Fathers?

Doting Dinosaur Dads?

Today, Sunday 19th June, is Father’s Day in the United Kingdom, a day to celebrate dads and fatherhood.  This led team members at Everything Dinosaur to discuss whether there was any evidence to suggest that male dinosaurs made good parents.  We suspect fishing trips and long walks down by the river were not part of being a father for the Dinosauria (although one could excuse us the thought that some baryonchids, as fish-eaters, might have indulged in this), but is there any evidence in the fossil record to support the hypothesis that males helped raise their young?  Has palaeontology shed some light on whether or not male dinosaurs assisted in raising a family?  Surprisingly, a number of research papers have been published that explore the evidence to see if male dinosaurs were doting dads.

Did Dinosaurs Make Good Dads?

Dinosaur Nest Found in Patagonia

Did dinosaur males play an active role in looking after the nest?

Picture Credit: Gabriel Lio

Modern Birds Can Provide a Clue

By looking at the parental behaviours of modern birds, scientists can perhaps get an insight into the parental behaviours of members of the Dinosauria.  For example, in extant birds (neornithes), the male parent sits on the nest and incubates the eggs in around 90% of species.  Scientists from Montana State University examined the fossilised bones of three different types of Cretaceous Theropod dinosaurs, fossils of which had been found in association with nests of their own kind.  The dinosaurs in question, the troodontid Troodon formosus along with two oviraptorids Oviraptor philoceratops and Citipati osmolskae showed no evidence of medullary bone in the fossils.  In order to produce eggshells, females need a source of phosphorous and calcium.  These minerals are sourced from their own bones.  Specialised tissue is formed inside the bones during female ovulation.  This bone (called medullary bone), provides the minerals for the eggshells.  Once egg laying has finished then this tissue is reabsorbed but it leaves clearly identifiable cavities in the bone for some time.  If these cavities are detected in fossil bone, then this is a strong indication that the bones you are studying are from a girl.

Medullary Bone Identified in a Tyrannosaurus rex

Medullary bone identified in Tyrannosaurus rex femur.

Medullary bone identified in Tyrannosaurus rex femur.

Picture Credit: Scientific Reports

The Montana State University team looked at the Theropod dinosaur bones in a bid to find the tell-tale medullary cavities, they found none and concluded that the fossil bones associated with the dinosaur nests were probably male.  It could be assumed that close association with the nest and eggs indicated some role in the brooding process, parental behaviour from a daddy dinosaur.

Commenting on the conclusions drawn from this 2008 study, one of the researchers Dr. David Varricchio explained:

“Paternal care in both troodontids and oviraptorids indicates that this care system evolved before the emergence of birds and represents birds’ ancestral condition”.

Difficult to Infer Behaviour from the Fossil Record

A number of scientists have challenged the conclusions drawn from this research.  It is difficult to infer behaviour from, what is a highly fragmentary fossil record.  For example, other papers have assessed the size of dinosaur egg clutches and compared them to living birds to see if further clues about parental responsibilities amongst the dinosaurs could be inferred.  How dependent hatchlings were from birth is also a factor to be considered.  A study from the University of Lincoln undertaken in 2013, suggested that most Theropods exhibited precociality (hatchlings are born relatively mature and exhibit a high degree of independence from their parents).

To read more about the University of Lincoln research: Doting dinosaur dads might not be the case

Were the Very First Snakes Marine Animals?

New Research on Ancestral Snake Suggests Marine Origins

Scientists from the University of Alberta (Canada), in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Toronto Mississauga, as well as with researchers from a number of academic institutions in Australia, have published a new paper on the primordial fossil snake Tetrapodophis (Tetrapodophis amplectus).  This twenty centimetre long, Lower Cretaceous snake from Brazil has attracted much controversy, but when described last year, it was thought that this animal was a burrower.  However, in this new study published in the journal “Cretaceous Research”, an aquatic lifestyle is proposed.  This suggests that snakes evolved their limbless, eel-like bodies for swimming not for burrowing.

Tetrapodophis Fossil Material (left) Compared with the Marine Animal Illustration (right)

The fossil and an illustration of Tetrapodophis.

The exquisite fossil (left) and an illustration of Tetrapodophis as an aquatic animal (right).

Picture Credit: University of Alberta and illustration credit to Alessandro Palci and Michael Lee (Flinders University & South Australian Museum)

Controversial Fossil Find

The tiny snake fossil is preserved in articulation and it has small, but clearly defined limbs, indicating that Tetrapodophis was descended from lizards but was, most likely, a transitional form towards true snakes.  Dubbed the “Archaeopteryx of snakes”, after the famous Solnhofen fossils, the specimen has attracted a great deal of controversy ever since it was spotted by Dr. David Martill (University of Portsmouth), whilst taking a party of year three students on a tour of the world-renowned Bürgermeister-Müller-Museum (Solnhofen), to view the Upper Jurassic fossils including Archaeopteryx specimens.

To read about the discovery of Tetrapodophis: First Fossil Snake with Four Limbs Described

The Australian/Canadian team included Michael Lee and Alessandro Palci (Flinders University and South Australian Museum) along with Michael Caldwell (University of Alberta) and Robert Reisz (University of Toronto Mississauga), looked again at the body shape and four limbs of the primitive snake fossil, which probably originated from the Crato Formation of north-eastern Brazil.  They agreed with the earlier research, that the limbs were probably too small to be used for locomotion, but they have challenged the idea that Tetrapodophis was a worm-like burrower and that the first true snakes evolved underground.  This new study suggests that Tetrapodophis had the wrong body shape for digging, the tail is too long and the legs too delicate.  The scientists list a series of adaptations that suggest an aquatic animal, adaptations such as wrist and ankle elements made of cartilage rather than bone and poorly developed limb joints, anatomical features that suggest living in water where buoyancy would help to support the animal.  Similar adaptations are found in extant marine animals such as seals, sea snakes and sea turtles as well as within the fossil record of the Mosasauridae (members of the Order Squamata that were aquatic).

In addition, the researchers conclude that the hands and feet were surprisingly flipper-like, with a robust and thickened first digit strengthening the leading edge of the limb, like the leading edge of an aeroplane wing or the flipper of a turtle.

Tetrapodophis Fossil Material with a Focus on the Limbs

Tetrapodophis marine adaptations.

Close up of the limb fossils with the illustration that suggests adaptations for swimming.

Picture Credit: Alessandro Palci and Michael Lee (Flinders University & South Australian Museum with fossil material images supplied by Science Journal and additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows the Flinders University & South Australian Museum illustration of T. amplectus as an aquatic animal.  The fossil bones represent the pes (foot) and the manus (hand), the limbs of the illustration have been enlarged to show that this new scientific paper suggests marine adaptations including limbs that were paddle-like.

Professor Caldwell (University of Alberta) explained:

“The specimen is of a very small animal, slim, slender, certainly not a burrowing animal, that shows clear features shared with non-snake aquatic lizards from the Upper Cretaceous.  Tetrapodophis might well be a member of a group closely related to snakes amongst lizards, but it is not a snake proper.”

Known only from this one specimen, Tetrapodophis remains controversial.  The fossil most probably represents a juvenile, ontogenic changes as the animal grew might cloud any interpretations of the fossil material.  In addition, ownership of the fossil is unclear, it had been loaned from a private collection for display in Germany, but it has been illegal to export such fossils from Brazil for many years, and the specimen may be repatriated to the Brazilian Government.  The current status of the fossil may hamper access, so that further research is restricted.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the help of the University of Alberta in the compiling of this article, the scientific paper is:

“Aquatic adaptations in the four limbs of the snake-like reptile Tetrapodophis from the Lower Cretaceous of Brazil”

 

New Scout Series Models by Rebor

Rebor “Breeze” and Rebor “Stan”

Newly arrived at the Everything Dinosaur warehouse are “Breeze” and “Stan”, two new dinosaur replicas in the Rebor Scout model series.  In one delivery we have doubled the Scout series range as there are now four baby dinosaur models to collect.

Available from Everything Dinosaur – The Rebor Utahraptor “Breeze”

The Rebor baby Utahraptor "Breeze"

The Rebor “Breeze” dinosaur model in the Scout series.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

In the United Kingdom, we have the saying “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”.  This phrase was brought to mind when we photographed “Breeze” the baby Utahraptor perched in the hand of one of our team members.  This beautifully painted, museum quality, 1:35 scale replica comes complete with a little rock for this baby dinosaur to sit on.  The Rebor baby Utahraptor might look quite cute but it will grow up to be a six and half metre long super-predator that might have weighed as much as a tonne!

The Rebor Baby Utahraptor – “Breeze”

The Rebor baby Utahraptor replica shows typical anatomical traits of a baby.  The relatively large head, the big eye and the long limbs.  The grasping three-fingered hands are well presented and that killing claw, the sickle-like claw on the second toe, is clearly visible.  Baby Utahraptors were probably quite independent from their parents once they had hatched (precocial), they were probably quite mobile and capable of catching their own food, which would have consisted of small lizards, insects and other small animals.

The Rebor Utahraptor “Breeze”

Rebor "Breeze" Utahraptor baby.

REBOR 1:35 baby Utahraptor museum class replica nicknamed “Breeze”.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

“Stan” the Velociraptor Dinosaur Model

Joining “Breeze” is another “raptor” replica, this time a model of a Velociraptor.  Rebor have added “Stan” a model of a baby Velociraptor to their Scout series range.

The Rebor “Stan” Velociraptor Dinosaur Model

"Stan" the baby Velociraptor dinosaur model by Rebor.

The Rebor “Stan” baby Velociraptor dinosaur model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows the baby Velociraptor “Stan” perched in a team member’s hand.  Note the black claws on the toes, in contrast to the greyish white claws of the baby Utahraptor – a nice touch from Rebor.  The baby Velociraptor certainly looks quite cute, with its large head and oversized limbs (indicating a concept called distal growth).  It might look cute, but when fully grown and part of a pack, this dinosaur would have been one best avoided.  The cute head will have a jaw lined with some eighty very sharp teeth and if this dinosaur did hunt in packs it would have been a very formidable hunter.

To view the full range of Rebor replicas available from Everything Dinosaur: Rebor Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animal Models

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