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British Polacanthid Dinosaurs – Book Review

A Review of the Book “British Polacanthid Dinosaurs”

There is a group of enigmatic armoured dinosaurs that are not likely to appear in the second instalment of “Jurassic World” scheduled to arrive in cinemas in two years time, Sir David Attenborough will not be dedicating a television documentary to them any time soon, these prehistoric animals are not well known by the general public, but to anyone with an interest in palaeontology and dinosaurs in particular, the polacanthids are perhaps some of the most fascinating and mysterious vertebrates ever to evolve.  These plant-eating dinosaurs are the subject of a new book written by Dr. William T. Blows and published by Siri Scientific Press and it brings research on the Polacanthidae right up to date.

British Polacanthid Dinosaurs – 150 Years of Armoured Dinosaur History and Research

Written by William T. Blows.

Written by William T. Blows.

Picture Credit: Siri Scientific Press

To order a copy of this excellent book: British Polacanthid Dinosaurs Available from Siri Scientific Press

 The fossils of polacanthid dinosaurs have been found in Lower Cretaceous strata from the UK, Germany and Spain, as well as Upper Jurassic and Lower Cretaceous aged strata from the USA.  A number of different genera have been identified, but apart from a couple of notable exceptions (Gargoyleosaurus and Gastonia from the United States), fossil material associated with these reptiles is relatively incomplete.  Dr. Blows takes the reader on a journey of exploration starting with a thoughtfully written general overview of the armoured dinosaurs and where the polacanthids fit in to the dinosaur family tree, before moving on to provide a history of armoured dinosaur discoveries from England.

Dean Lomax and Nobumichi Tamura did much to raise the profile of British dinosaurs in the excellent “Dinosaurs of the British Isles” (which is also available from Siri Scientific Press), but it still might take the general reader by surprise to discover that 130 million years ago, large, spiky behemoths roamed around what was to become Sussex and the Isle of Wight.  With a nod in the direction towards the more complete polacanthid remains from the likes of the mysteriously named Yellow Cat Member of the Lower Cedar Mountain Formation (eastern Utah), this group of dinosaurs are very much associated with Britain and specifically southern England.

An Illustration of a Typical Polacanthid Dinosaur

A drawing of the heavily armoured polacanthid Gastonia.

A drawing of the heavily armoured polacanthid Gastonia.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A Well-Crafted Dinosaur Book

From the very first page through to the comprehensive reference and index section, this book has obviously been a labour of love.  Dr. Blows imparts a tremendous amount of information, but his writing style enables the general reader to follow and to appreciate the significance of the points being made.  Having provided an overview of the history of armoured dinosaur discovery in England, and it is 150 years since the genus Polacanthus was erected, the author then dedicates individual chapters to documenting the fossil evidence for different parts of the body of polacanthids.  Starting with the skull, Dr. Blows documents the evidence helping the reader to gain an insight into how our knowledge regarding these quadrupeds has changed.  The longest chapter in this section of the book is dedicated to the dermal bones, that amour that unites all the Thyreophoran dinosaurs (Stegosaurs, Ankylosaurs, Nodosaurs and of course the Polacanthidae).  These dinosaurs literally bristled with amour, spikes, scutes, osteoderms, bony extrusions and of course, that bizarre structure – the sacral shield.  The pelvis and lower back of Polacanthus was protected by a bony shield, that in the best preserved specimen is over ten millimetres thick and more than one metre square in size.  This anatomical feature is unique to the polacanthids and along with the ferocious spikes that even ran down to the tip of the tail, they would have acted as a formidable deterrent against attack from a meat-eating dinosaur.

The Amazing Sacral Shield of Polacanthus (P. foxii)

Dorsal view (top down) of the sacral shield of Polacanthus.

Dorsal view (top down) of the sacral shield of Polacanthus.

Picture Credit: Natural History Museum with annotation by Everything Dinosaur

Worldwide Polacanthidae

Later chapters are dedicated to polacanthid fossil finds from outside the British Isles and tie in with the evolutionary origins of these dinosaurs (sometime in the Jurassic).  This provides an opportunity to view some excellent pictures of mounted specimens, dinosaurs such as Mymoorapelta and Gastonia.  The final chapter brings the reader right up to date and proposes a new taxon for the dinosaur previously known as Polacanthus rudgwickensis.  Dr. Blows carefully lays out the evidence and proposes a revision of the fossil material collected from a brickworks close to the village of Rudgwick, Sussex.  The fossils represent an individual, one that was almost a third as big again as Polacanthus foxii.  In addition, the bones represent a much more robust and stocky animal, this has led to the establishment of a new taxon, the town of Horsham, close to the original fossil finds, has its very own dinosaur – Horshamosaurus.  These Polacanthus fossils were originally studied by Dr. Blows, he concludes his book by taking the reader through the steps that led to a revision of the evidence and the establishment of the newest genus to be added to the Polacanthidae.

Nearly 200 Tables, Diagrams and Beautiful Full Colour Pictures in the Book

The book features lots of colour plates showing Polacanthus fossil material.

The book features lots of colour plates showing Polacanthus fossil material.

Picture Credit: Sir Scientific Press

All in all this is an excellent book, ideal as a Christmas gift for the anyone with an interest in fossils, especially those from the British Isles.

Highly recommended.

To order a copy and for further details on “British Polacanthid Dinosaurs” visit: Siri Scientific Press

Great British Regional Museums

We are fortunate in this country to have some amazing regional museums.  The residents of Bexhill in East Sussex might be quite surprised to learn that some spines, osteoderms and other elements representing dermal armour from a Polacanthus were found close to their town.  Photographs of these fossils are included in the book.  These form part of the Bexhill Museum dinosaur fossil collection.  We are so lucky to have such wonderful local museums run by dedicated and enthusiastic staff, we would recommend a visit to Bexhill Museum (Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex).

For further information on Bexhill Museum: Visit Bexhill Museum

To read more about Horshamosaurus: A New British Dinosaur is Announced

New Species of Rat Discovered in Sulawesi

The Magical Rodent Infested Forests of Sulawesi – Hyorhinomys stuempkei

The small island of Sulawesi can be found in the central part of the range of islands that form Indonesia.  The fauna of this heavily forested island has fascinated scientists for a very long time.  It is located approximately half-way from Australia and Papua New Guinea to the east and Malaysia/south-east Asia to the west.  The Philippines lie to the north.  Researchers have studied the Sulawesi ecosystem in order to gain an understanding of how organisms have migrated across land bridges that once existed in the past.  Think of Sulawesi and this part of the world as a crossroads, where the fauna of Australasia and the rest of Asia mixes.

The Magnificent and Remote Mountainous Forests of Sulawesi

A magical place with a unique fauna.  The remote forests of Sulawesi.

A magical place with a unique fauna. The remote forests of Sulawesi.

Picture Credit: Dr. Kevin Rowe/Museum Victoria

The great scientist and naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, who co-authored the 1858 paper on the theory of evolution by natural selection with Charles Darwin, spent many years exploring the jungles and forests.  It was because of his travels in this part of the world that he formulated many of his ideas on the natural world.  Wallace’s in-depth exploration of the Indonesian islands allowed him to develop a theory related to the geographical spread of organisms.  He noted that the world’s animals could be divided up into zoogeographical regions, the Mammalian fauna of Indonesia illustrate this idea nicely.  Sulawesi lines to the east of an imaginary line drawn through the archipelago (the Wallace Line).  Many Asian animal types have their eastern most distribution on Sulawesi and conversely many Australian lineages have their most westerly distribution on Sulawesi.  This has led to evolution of a very unique fauna on the island, most of the human inhabitants (about twenty million) live on the coast, some parts of the island remain relatively unexplored.  The island is also very big, it is the eleventh largest island in the world, and its landmass is roughly equivalent to the size of England, Wales and Northern Island combined.

The Approximate Position of the Wallace Line

Marking the barrier between Asian and Australasian faunas.

Marking the barrier between Asian and Australasian faunas.

Picture Credit: Google Map/Everything Dinosaur

Over the last few years, scientists from Museum Victoria, in collaboration with Indonesian colleagues and researchers from the United States have been trapping rodents in the forests found in the more mountainous and difficult to access parts of the island.  They have recorded a unique and very varied rodent assemblage, including the latest addition, the newly discovered Hyorhinomys stuempkei (hog-nosed rat).

This rat with its proportionately large ears, flat claws and bizarre hog-like nose is so genetically different from other species that it has been assigned its own genus.   A paper on the research team’s study will be published this month in the “Journal of Mammalogy”.

Hyorhinomys stuempkei (hog-nosed rat) of Sulawesi

The Hog-nosed rat - Hyorhinomys stuempkei

The Hog-nosed rat – Hyorhinomys stuempkei

Picture Credit:

H. stuempkei is not the first new rodent species to be discovered by Dr. Kevin Rowe (Museum Victoria) and his colleagues.  Sulawesi seems to be home to a whole host of unique rodents.  For example, Dr. Rowe was involved in the discovery and description of a very curious rat – Paucidentomys vermidax, a rodent like no other known to science.  It is almost toothless and unable to gnaw or chew.  It hunts worms and other soft-bodied creatures on the forest floor.  It’s discovery provided evidence to scientists that, under certain conditions, even highly successful traits such as gnawing teeth, a defining characteristic of the Rodent Order, can be lost.

The Almost Tooth-less, Worm Eating Paucidentomys vermidax

Paucidentomys vermidax - a bizarre newly discovered rodent from Sulawesi.

Paucidentomys vermidax – a bizarre newly discovered rodent from Sulawesi.

Picture Credit: Museum Victoria

In the case of the hog-nosed rat  Hyorhinomys stuempkei, the striking feature of this rodent is its large, pink and very flat nose with forward facing nostrils.  It also lacks a coronoid process on the lower jaw, an attachment site for muscles involved in chewing that is present in almost all other mammals including our own species.   Hyorhinomys stuempkei is very probably entirely carnivorous feeding on invertebrates, possibly bounding or hopping after its prey as its back legs are unusually long.  It has a disproportionately small mouth, but long incisors, which are bright white (strange for a rat as the incisors are usually orange coloured in most other rodents).  Take note of this, could companies with an interest in selling tooth-whitening products be making a bee-line for the remote forests of Indonesia?

Commenting on the new rodent discovery, Dr. Rowe stated:

“The Hog-nosed Rat is exciting for us because it extends the diversity of an already amazing group of rodents that are only found on the island of Sulawesi.  Even though there are only eight species in this endemic group, they exhibit a huge eco-morphological range including small grey rats, a nearly toothless vermivore, an amphibious rat, and now a long-limbed, hog-nosed rat.  There are millions of species on this Earth that are yet to be discovered and described, but I am still amazed that we can walk into a forest and a find a new species of mammal that is so obviously different from any species, or even genus, that has ever been documented by science.”

It’s worth noting that almost all of the mammals native to Sulawesi are endemic to this island and the genus name Hyorhinomys translates from the Greek as hog (hyo), nose (rhino) and rat (mys).

Discovered by an international team comprising Dr. Kevin Rowe (Museum Victoria); Heru Handika (Museum Victoria); Anang Achmadi (Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense); and Dr. Jacob Esselstyn (Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science) this new discovery is the third new genus described by this international collaboration since 2012.

The Hands and Feet of Homo naledi

Two New Papers Published on Homo naledi

Two new papers on the latest hominin to be added to the human family tree have just been published in the academic journal “Nature Communications”.  Less than one month has passed since Everything Dinosaur blogged about the amazing fossil finds in the Rising Star Cavern, part of a cave system located in an area known as the Cradle of Human Kind close to Johannesburg.   Researchers from the Evolutionary Studies Institute (University of Witwatersrand), in association with National Geographic, the Department of Science and Technology and the National Research Foundation of South Africa announced the discovery of a new species of hominin – Homo naledi.  These papers focus on the anatomy of the hands and feet respectively, but why the fascination with the fingers and toes of this South African species?  The explanation is simple, the hands and feet can provide scientists with valuable information as to how human H. naledi may actually have been.

The Hand and Foot of Homo naledi

The hand and the foot of Homo naledi.

The hand and the foot of Homo naledi.

Picture Credit: Peter Schmid and William Harcourt-Smith, Wits University

Good at Climbing but also Adapted for Bipedal Walking

The papers reflect just how remarkable the discovery of Homo naledi was.  The first point to make is that palaeoanthropologists do have a lot of bones to study.  In total, some 1,550 numbered fossil elements have been retrieved from the difficult to access cave.  Taken together these two papers indicate that this human-like creature, was uniquely adapted to both an arboreal existence (tree climbing) and walking on the ground.  In addition, the structure of the bones in the hand suggest that these hominins were capable of intricate hand movements and precise manual manipulation.

The titles of the two papers, state precisely what they are about, full marks to the research team for their brevity.  No long-winded titles here, these papers do “exactly what it says on the tin.”

  1. The foot of Homo naledi
  2. The hand of Homo naledi

The research were conducted by a team of international scientists associated with the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, home of the Rising Star Expedition team that made the 2013-discovery at the Cradle of Human Kind.  According to the researchers, when considered together, these papers indicate a decoupling of upper and lower limb function in H. naledi, and provide an important insight into the skeletal form and function that may have characterised early members of the Homo genus.  An evolutionary tree that eventually led to our own species Homo sapiens.

The foot of Homo naledi

Lead author, of the paper published on the pes (foot), William Harcourt-Smith and his colleagues describe the H. naledi foot based on 107 foot bones recovered from the floor of the Denaldi Chamber (Rising Star), including a well preserved adult right foot.  They show the H. naledi foot shares many features with a modern human foot, indicating it is well-adapted for standing and walking on two feet (bipedalism).  However, there are differences from the bones found in the foot of a Neanderthal, or our own feet for that matter.  For example, the authors note that the Homo naledi foot differs in having more curved toe bones (proximal phalanges) and the arch of the foot is not so pronounced.

The hand of Homo naledi

Lead author, of the paper that describes the hand, Tracy Kivell (University of Kent) and her colleagues describe the hand of Homo naledi based on an assessment of approximately 150 hand bones from the cave.  One of the key finds was a nearly complete adult right hand (manus), it was missing one small bone in the wrist.  This is an exceptionally rare find in the human fossil record.  As the tiny toe and finger bones were found in a number of cases in almost perfect articulation, this rules out the possibility of water having run through the cave at some point after the bodies came to be at that location.  Running water would have scattered the bones but the scientists found this not to be the case.  It is likely that the bodies have remained undisturbed, this suggests that the corpses may have been deliberately placed in this part of the cave system.  For such a small-brained hominin to show care for the deceased is very unexpected and more research is required to date the fossils and to try to understand how the remains of at least fifteen individuals came to be in the cavern.

The Delicate Finger Bones Preserved in Articulation in the Cavern

The hand of Homo naledi

The hand of Homo naledi

Picture Credit: Marina Elliott

The H. naledi hand reveals a unique combination of anatomy that has not been found in any other fossil human before.  The wrist bones and thumb show anatomical features that are shared with Neanderthals and humans and suggest powerful grasping and the ability to use stone tools.  The thumb is particularly robust, this is a trait only found in recent hominins.

However, the finger bones are more curved than most early fossil human species, such as Lucy’s species Australopithecus afarensis, suggesting that H. naledi still used their hands for climbing in the trees.  This mix of human-like features in combination with more primitive features demonstrates that the H. naledi hand was both specialised for complex tool-use activities, but still used for climbing locomotion.

Commenting on the significance of the Homo naledi hand, Dr. Kivell stated:

“The tool-using features of the H. naledi hand in combination with its small brain size has interesting implications for what cognitive requirements might be needed to make and use tools, and, depending on the age of these fossils, who might have made the stone tools that we find in South Africa.”

Age is the Key

More research will be carried out into this remarkable South African fossil discovery.  The key question is determining the age of the fossils.  Obtaining an accurate date for Homo naledi would help palaeoanthropologists place this species within the human lineage.  For example, this could be a tool-using, human-like creature that lived some three million years ago, or perhaps a more recent member of the hominin family, a human-like creature that retained some ancient Australopithecine traits that survived until much more recently.  This latter scenario is not that far-fetched, discoveries on the Indonesian island of Flores stunned the world of anthropology when it was revealed that a dwarf species of human (Homo floresiensis) had lived on the heavily forested island until, perhaps, as recently as 12,000 years ago.

The paper on the hand, opens up a debate amongst scientists.  The hand looks capable of intricate manipulation, indicating tool usage, but the brain of Homo naledi is estimated to have been not much bigger than a chimps.  If the hypothesis is correct, that the use of tools changed the shape of the bones in the hand, then the implication is that a small-brained hominin was making and using complex tools.  Comparing the hand anatomy to our own species and to that of the Neanderthal (H. neanderthalensis), Dr. Kivell commented

“They [Neanderthals and humans] make tools, complex tools, and use them all the time, enough so that it’s actually changed their morphology.  Perhaps naledi was using tools that were made out of different materials or doing some other forceful, precision-grip manipulations, but the most straight-forward explanation is that naledi is making and using tools.”

This may be the most straight forward explanation but there may be other reasons why those hands are so human-like.  Analysis of the teeth will provide a detailed picture of the diet of these creatures.  If, as has already been proposed that they were largely vegetarian, then the hands could have evolved grasping and manipulation traits to help them search for seeds, to pluck fruits and to hold small items of food.  Clearly, the Rising Star fossils will provide scientists with a unique opportunity to learn more about hominin evolution.  Now, if we can only get an accurate date…

To read about the cave discovery: Homo naledi A New Species of Hominin from South Africa

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the help and assistance of the media team at the University of Witwatersrand in the compilation of this article.

Mammals Quick off the Mark after Dinosaur Extinction

Kimbetopsalis simmonsae – Shedding Light on Ancient Mammals

A newly described species of ancient mammal, one that existed around half a million years or so after the Cretaceous mass extinction event that saw the demise of the dinosaurs, is helping scientists to understand more about how the Mammalia Order radiated and diversified.  The discovery from New Mexico (Nacimiento Formation), has been named Kimbetopsalis simmonsae, it seems that mammals were quick to take advantage of the vacuum left in terrestrial habitats by the dinosaurs.

An Illustration of What Kimbetopsalis simmonsae Might Have Looked Like

An illustration of Kimbetopsalis simmonsae.

An illustration of Kimbetopsalis simmonsae.

Picture Credit: Sarah Shelley

Lucky Find for Student

The fossils, which consist of the back of the jaws, part of the brain case and incisors from the front of the mouth were found during an exhibition to the San Juan Basin of New Mexico last year.  Remarkably, the first evidence, the back of the jaws was found by University of Nebraska-Lincoln student Carissa Raymond, this was her first fossil hunting field trip.  The field team consisted of two other students, recruited by University of Nebraska-Lincoln palaeontologist Ross Secord and Steve Brusatte (University of Edinburgh).  Thomas Williamson, curator of palaeontology at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, based in Albuquerque and a specialist in Late Cretaceous/Early Palaeocene fauna was also part of the group.

The paper describing this new species of prehistoric animal has just been published in the journal of the Linnean Society.  K. simmonsae was a member of the multituberculates, a group of mammals that first evolved in the Jurassic.  They thrived during the age of dinosaurs, but were mostly small and many described species are thought to have been nocturnal.  Although, building up a more complete picture is difficult as most genera are known from only a few isolated teeth.  This beaver-sized mammal represents a relatively large example of this sub-order of mammals, the animal was named after the Kimbeto Wash area of the New Mexico Badlands, where the fossils were found.

Dr Stephen Brusatte, lead researcher on the study, explained:

“We realised pretty quickly that this was a totally new type of mammal that no-one has seen before, the other part of the name – psalis, means “cutting shears” and is in reference to the blade-like teeth [incisors].”

The Fossils of Kimbetopsalis simmonsae Note the Peculiar Cusps on the Molars and Premolars

Remarkable fossil find from New Mexico - Kimbetopsalis simmonsae.

Remarkable fossil find from New Mexico – Kimbetopsalis simmonsae.

Picture Credit: Dr. Steve Brusatte University of Edinburgh

The Multituberculata Mammals

The multituberculate mammals are generally regarded as the earliest plant-eating mammals to have existed.  The teeth of K. simmonsae are typical of this group, the long chisel-like front teeth and the back teeth, the chewing teeth, with their parallel rows of cusps.  It is these back teeth with their distinctive cusps arranged in either two or three rows that gives the Multituberculata group their name.  This discovery is the first new multituberculate to be found in the San Juan Basin in more than a Century.

Members of the Field Team Pose for a Photograph

left to right

left to right Sarah Shelley, Eric Davidson, Carissa Raymond, Steve Brusatte and Ross Secord

Picture Credit: Thomas Williamson/Reuters

Fossils of another multituberculate from the genus Taeniolabis are known from this area, however, the newly described Kimbetopsalis simmonsae come from a geologically much older stratigraphic layer. Taeniolabis species represent some of the largest Multituberculata so far described, with some specimens estimated to about as big as an Alsatian dog and one species Taeniolabis taoensis possibly exceeding 100 kilogrammes in weight, although they were probably entirely herbivorous.  It has been proposed that Kimbetopsalis simmonsae may have been an ancestor of the Taeniolabis genus, part of a trend towards larger and larger mammals as the Mammalia radiated out and new species evolved to take advantage of the extinction of the dinosaurs.  It seems that the mammals may have been quick off the mark to exploit the niches left after the dinosaur extinction.

Extinction of the Multituberculates

This type of mammal was soon destined to go the same way as the dinosaurs.  By the Late Eocene, these creatures were becoming increasingly rare and by the Early Oligocene Epoch (around 32-30 million years ago), the Multituberculata were extinct.  Why these mammals died out, remains an area of debate amongst palaeontologists.  This group left no living descendants and a number of reasons why they became extinct have been proposed, one of the more plausible and popular explanations is increased competition from placental mammals, particularly rodents.  Rodents are the most diverse and most specious of all the types of mammal living today.  Perhaps it was the evolution and rapid spread of the rodents that finally led to the demise of the Multituberculata, a group that had outlived the Dinosauria.

To read an earlier article that traces the origins of the Multituberculata: Tracing the Origins of the Multituberculates

Commenting on the significance of this fossil discovery, Dr. Thomas Williamson said:

“Finding this new mammal was a pleasant surprise.  It helps fill an important gap in the record of this group of mammals.  It’s interesting that this odd, now extinct group, was among the few to survive the mass extinction and thrive in the aftermath.  It may be because they were among the few mammals that were already well-suited to eating plants when the extinction came.  This new species helps to show just how fast they were evolving to take advantage of conditions in the post-extinction world.”

“Bent Fence Post” Turns out to be Woolly Mammoth Fossils

Farmer Finds Partial Woolly Mammoth Fossil in Field

Farmers in certain parts of the south-west of England can occasionally turn up pieces of Ammonite fossil as they plough their fields, but a farmer from Michigan came up with an elephant-sized surprise when he and a neighbour were digging in their soya bean field.  They have unearthed the partial skeleton of a male Woolly Mammoth, one that is believed to be between 10,000 and 15,000 years old.

James Bristle a resident of Washtenaw County (west of Detroit), thought he had uncovered something a little more prosaic, when he excavated a “wood-like” object, he explained:

“We thought it was a bent fence post.  It was covered in mud.”

However, upon closer inspection the strange object, started to look more like bone.  It turned out to be a rib bone from the extinct elephant.  The grandson came over to take a look and he was speechless, quite a feat when you consider just how noisy most five-year olds are.  Mammoths and Mastodons roamed North America until the latter stages of the Pleistocene Epoch, this specimen may represent one of the last Woolly Mammoths to have lived in this part of this world.  Just a few thousand years, perhaps in this animal’s case, just a few hundred years later, all the prehistoric elephant species of North America had become extinct.

A Model of a Woolly Mammoth

Woolly Mammoth Model without the usual brown coat

Woolly Mammoth model, typical of this type of prehistoric elephant.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Confirmed by Palaeontologists

University of Michigan Professor Dan Fisher has been leading the excavation, to remove the animal’s remains before exposure to the air invites further decay of the bones and teeth.  The partial skeleton consists of the skull, pelvis, two, huge curved tusks, the shoulder blades and numerous vertebrae and rib fragments.  About thirty Woolly Mammoth fossilised skeletons have been reported from the State of Michigan.

The Mammoth Remains Having Been Partially Excavated (in situ)

Down in the hole the skull and tusks emerge.

Down in the hole the skull and tusks emerge.

Picture Credit: ITN

Examination of the teeth indicates that the animal was adult and about forty years of age when it died.  Speculating on how the body came to be under a soya bean field, palaeontologists have explained that the surrounding matrix suggests a still body of water.  This animal could have been hunted by humans, butchered and then placed in a pond to help preserve the meat.  Placing a carcase in water to help preserve it, is believed to have been a relatively common practice amongst the human inhabitants of North America.  The water would perhaps have iced over quite soon after the kill and the cold water and ice would have kept the meat relatively fresh.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“Consider the site of this discovery as an early example of a freezer.  Storing resources for use at a future date, planning ahead, is one of the traits associated with our species.  This sizeable beast would have provided a huge amount of food to a group of nomadic hunters”

According to Professor Fisher, the soya bean field discovery represents one of the most complete Woolly Mammoth skeletons ever found in the State.  Once all the bones have been removed, they will be carefully examined and a detailed analysis undertaken.  The scientists will hope to find tell-tale marks in the bone to indicate human butchery.

The Skull with its Partial Tusks Intact is Removed from the Hole

On the surface a ventral view of the skull.

On the surface, a ventral view of the skull.

Picture Credit: ITN

The Professor stated:

“Study of the bones may shed light on when humans arrived in the Americas, a topic of debate amongst archaeologists.”

To read an article about the latest research into Mammoths: Woolly Mammoth Genome is Sequenced

Last Recommended Posting Dates for Christmas

Christmas Posting Dates 2015 – Information

After the lovely warm weather enjoyed by much of the United Kingdom over the last few days, it may seem surprising but there are only eighty-five days left before Christmas day.  Palaeontologists may have to work in “deep time”, but these next few weeks are going to fly by, so Everything Dinosaur is urging all its customers to start thinking about Christmas and Christmas shopping.  As a mail order company which ships dinosaur toys and games all over the world we try to help our customers by publishing information on the last recommended posting dates to ensure items arrive in time for the big day.

We do try and help everybody as much as we can, the warehouse team will once again be working long hours, seven days a week and we will begin packing and despatching orders on Saturdays to help speed up deliveries.  We will also soon begin packing orders on Sundays to help customers.

Royal Mail has produced a guide about the last safe posting dates for Christmas for parcels and other mail sent around the UK and abroad.  A table reproduced below sums up the recommended posting dates by geographical region.  Our best advice is, as always, to post early.

A Table Illustrating the Last Safe Posting Dates for Christmas (2015)

Recommended last posting dates for Christmas.

Recommended last posting dates for Christmas.

Credit: Everything Dinosaur and Royal Mail

Please note:

The last recommended delivery dates for International Surface Mail to a number of countries have already passed.

Staff at Everything Dinosaur will, once again do all they can to help customers and below is a list of helpful tips and hints about the Christmas post.  It must be noted, the dates given in the table in this article are guidelines only, they represent the last recommended posting dates. Bad weather could lead to delays along with other factors such as increased security concerns, industrial action and so forth, so please, please do post early.  Give us time to help you.

Seven Tips for a Happy Mailing Christmas

1).  Remember to include the house number or house name with the delivery address information.

2).  Check postcode/zip code details carefully.

3).  Check delivery address details on orders to Everything Dinosaur, try checking twice.

4). Remember, with PayPal and our own website’s ordering process, customers can include a message to us in the order message box.  You can write in confirmation of delivery address or any specific, relevant information required to help ensure a speedy delivery.

5).  If you want to specify a different delivery address to your billing address, our website allows you to do this easily and without fuss.

6).  If you want to send an item to your work address, please ensure that you include the company name in the delivery address information.  Make sure that the work reception team are informed and try for a delivery during the working week, especially if  on Saturday/Sunday your premises are shut.

7). Take note of the recommended last posting dates for Christmas, and please, please, please post early.

If you have a query about Christmas deliveries, or indeed any aspect of Everything Dinosaur’s delivery service please feel free to contact us: Email Everything Dinosaur

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Mapping the Lives of a Population of Dinosaurs

Maiasaura peeblesorum – The Maiasaura Life History Project

Years of excavation at the quarries identified as nesting sites for the Hadrosaur known as Maiasaura (M. peeblesorum) has yielded an immense amount of data.  However, a team of scientists from Montana State University, Oklahoma State, and the Indiana Purdue University have taken the field research in a different direction and used an immense fossil deposit covering over two thousand square metres to report on the largest dinosaur population growth study ever undertaken.

The team’s findings make quite sombre reading for any would-be duck-billed dinosaur (not that they could read, we know).  Mortality rates for animals under twelve months of age were nearly 90%, whilst if you got passed your eighth birthday, the odds were beginning to stack up against you for living much longer.  These dinosaurs lived in tough times.  The numbers might sound frightening but mortality rates in extant antelope and other herbivores on the African savannah, are in some cases very similar.  Predatory dinosaurs probably did not fare any better.

Maiasaura peeblesorum – Model by Safari Ltd

Model of "Good Mother Lizard"

Model of “Good Mother Lizard”

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Maiasaura peeblesorum

Maiasaura was a large, flat-headed, duck-billed dinosaur that inhabited North America during the Late Cretaceous.  The first fossils of Maiasaura were found in the Badlands of western Montana in 1978, by a team of American scientists led by the famous palaeontologist Jack Horner.  The site the team discovered consisted of a number of nests, eggs, baby Maiasaura, juveniles as well as adult specimens.  The area was renamed “Egg Mountain”.  Approximately, 200 individual specimens have been excavated, providing evidence of the nesting behaviour of dinosaurs.  Published papers on these fossils were amongst the first to put forward the hypothesis that some types of baby dinosaurs were altricial, that is, heavily dependent on their parents for food and protection.  Here was evidence of dinosaurs being raised in nests.

This new research published this week in the journal “Paleobiology” provides the most detailed life history of any dinosaur and has created a framework to which all other dinosaurs can be compared.

The Badlands of Montana – Once Home to Thousands of Dinosaurs

The Badlands of Montana.

The Badlands of Montana.

Picture Credit: Holly Woodward Ballard/Karen Chin

Commenting on the significance of the research, Jack Horner, curator of the Museum of the Rockies and a man synonymous with all things Maiasaura stated:

“This is one of the most important pieces of palaeontology involving MSU [Montana State University] in the past twenty years.  This is a dramatic step forward from studying fossilised creatures as single individuals to understanding their life cycle.  We are moving away from the novelty of a single instance to looking at a population of dinosaurs in the same way we look at populations of animals today.”

The research was led by Holly Woodward Ballard, Assistant Professor of Anatomy at Oklahoma State University, who prior to her appointment to this post, undertook her PhD at Montana State University.  Holly specialises in studying osteohistology (growth patterns of animals preserved in bone tissue) to map population growth dynamics in extinct vertebrates.  This data can then be used to create a model for palaeohistologic inferences, examining how individuals vary within a population, growth rates and survival rates.

To complete the research, the team analysed the fossil bone micro-structure (histology) of fifty Maiasaura tibiae (lower leg bones).  The bone histology reveals aspects of growth that cannot be ascertained by observation of the external structure and shape of the bone.  The histology reveals information such as growth rate, metabolism, age of maturity, and the age at death.

Assistant Professor Woodward Ballard explained:

“Histology is the key to understanding the growth dynamics of extinct animals.  You can only learn so much from a bone by looking at its shape, but the entire growth history of the animal is recorded within the bone.”

To a statistician a sample of just fifty may not sound like much, but to a vertebrate palaeontologist where a species can be known from a single bone or even a single tooth the Maiasaura fossil assemblage from the Badlands of Montana represents an absolute treasure trove of dinosaur fossil material.

The published paper provides an insight into how quickly Maiasaura babies grew up.  It had bird-level growth rates throughout most of its life, its bone tissue most closely resembles that of a modern warm-blooded (endothermic) mammal such as an elk.

The speed of growth might have something to do with the fact that the bigger you got the less chance of you ending up as a meat-eater’s lunch.  Everything Dinosaur has reported previously on a study into the histology of another Hadrosaur, called Hypacrosaurus that showed that these herbivores grew faster than the carnivorous dinosaurs that co-existed with them.

To read more about this study: Duck-Billed Dinosaurs Grew Fast to Avoid Tyrannosaurs

The bone histology also recorded major events in the life of individuals such as the different ages when animals died.

Elizabeth Freedman Fowler, curator of palaeontology at the Great Plains Dinosaur Museum in Malta (Montana), conducted the statistical analysis of the research data, she commented:

“By studying the clues in the bone histology, and looking at patterns in the death assemblage, we found multiple pieces of evidence all supporting the same timing of sexual and skeletal maturity.”

With these dinosaurs, they probably were mature enough to breed within the third year of life and had an average adult body weight of 2,300 kilogrammes in eight years.  Life was tough for these herbivorous dinosaurs, especially the very young or the very old.  The average mortality rate for those less than twelve months of age was 89.9%, for individuals eight years and older it was 44.4%.  These figures sound alarming but most of the garden birds hatched this spring will not survive their first winter.

If a Maiasaura made it through two years, they enjoyed a six-year window of peak physical and reproductive fitness, when the average mortality rate was just 12.7%.

Assistant Professor Woodward Ballard added:

“By looking within the bones and by synthesizing what previous studies revealed, we now know more about the lift history of Maiasaura than any other dinosaur and have the sample size to back up or conclusions.  Our study makes Maiasaura a model organism to which other dinosaur population biology studies will be compared.”

Study Shows Considerable Variation with an Extinct Animal Population

The research also highlighted the extent of individual size variation within an extinct population of animals.  Earlier studies had linked age to the size of dinosaur limb bones, this method may not be that accurate based on this new data.  Histology studies examining a subset of dinosaur bones (such as femora or tibiae) had been carried out before with an assumed age for an animal calculated on the length of these key bones.  The length of the bone may be misleading, it is only by exploring the micro-structure of the bone that age details can be revealed.

Holly outlined how their research challenged the findings of earlier studies:

“Our results suggest you can’t just measure the length of a dinosaur bone and assume it represents an animal of a certain age. Within our sample, there is a lot of variability in the length of the tibia in each age group.  It would be like trying to assign an age to a person based on their height because you know the height and age of someone else.  Histology is the only way to quantify age in dinosaurs.”

Assistant Professor Holly Woodward Ballard at the Maiasaura Dig Site

At the Maiasaura bonebed.

At the Maiasaura bonebed.

Picture Credit: Holly Woodward Ballard/Karen Chin

The Maiasaura Life History Project

The Maiasaura research does not end with the publication of this paper.  This is only one of a series of proposed study areas.  Assistant Professor Woodward Ballard intends to lead a number of annual summer excavations up into the Badlands of Montana to collect more specimens.  The scientists want to keep working on the extensive bonebeds and build up a much more complete picture of the daily lives and struggles of these dinosaurs.

Clearly excited about the opportunity the huge bonebed presents, Holly stated:

“Our study kicks off The Maiasaura Life History Project, which seeks to learn as much as possible about Maiasaura and its environment seventy-six million years ago by continuing to collect and histologically examine fossils from the bonebed, adding statistical strength to the sample.  We plan to examine other skeletal elements and make a histological “map” of Maiasaura, seeing if the different bones in its body grew at different rates, which would allow us to study more aspects of its biology and behaviour.  We also want to better understand the environment in which the Maiasaura lived, including the life histories of other animals in the ecosystem.”

We at Everything Dinosaur wish all those involved in The Maiasaura Life History Project every success and we look forward to reporting on further research in the near future.

Why Did Dinosaurs Have Small Eyes?

Small-eyed Dinosaurs Let’s Keep Things in Proportion

Telephone calls and emails into the “dino den” otherwise known as the office at Everything Dinosaur last night, when the popular Radio 2 early evening show, Simon Mayo Drivetime, provided a prehistoric themed poser as part of a regular slot helping out with listener’s homework.  One of the two questions sent in involved the Dinosauria, why did dinosaurs have such small eyes?

Does Everything Dinosaur Have A View on Question B?

Any views on question two?

Any views on question two?

Picture Credit: Simon May Drivetime Facebook

Small-eyed Dinosaurs?

In short, dinosaurs did not have small eyes, in fact, the eyes of some dinosaurs were quite large in proportion to the rest of their body and the word “proportion” is the key here, but more about that later.  You see, (no pun intended), it all depends on the type of dinosaur you look at.  Not all dinosaurs were the bus-sized, meat-eaters so popular with little boys and girls, as shown in the picture above.  That fearsome dinosaur looks like Carcharodontosaurus saharicus (Car-car-oh-dont-toe-sore-us, sa-har-ri-kus) as depicted in the BBC television series “Planet Dinosaur” which was first aired in the autumn of 2011.  The grey, long-necked dinosaurs in the background would have dwarfed even the largest carnivore.  They look like Paralititan stromeri, colossal animals that could have reached lengths in excess of thirty metres or more and perhaps weighed seventy tonnes.

Take a look at a skull of a much smaller dinosaur, a member of the Velociraptor family for example, and you will see that the orbit (the eye socket) is relatively large when the dimensions of the rest of the skull are taken into consideration.

Dromaeosauridae (Family) and Typical Dromaeosaurids such as the Velociraptorinae did not have Small Eyes

Getting into a Flap over Velociraptors

No small eyes here on a Velociraptor

Dinosaurs such as Velociraptor are very closely related to modern birds.  Birds have very large eyes in proportion to their body size.  After all, if you are going to fly, having large eyes coupled with excellent eyesight makes a lot of sense.  Members of the bird Order (Aves), have the biggest eyes relative to their body mass amongst the vertebrates, some species have eyes so large that eye movement is limited within the orbit of the skull, when some birds want to have a good look around they have to turn their heads, the eyes cannot move independently in their sockets.

Turning Your Head to Have a Look Round

Turning your head to look, (a large beak doesn't help).

Turning your head to look, (a large beak doesn’t help).

What about those Really Big Dinosaurs?

This is all very well, some dinosaurs had proportionately big eyes, but what about those really big dinosaurs, animals like  Carcharodontosaurus and the monstrous  Paralititan mentioned earlier?  It’s that word again “proportion”.  In proportion to their bodies, large dinosaurs did have relatively small eyes, this phenomenon is observed in large mammals today, elephants, rhinos and the largest animals of all the Cetaceans (whales and dolphins).  Really big animals tend to have eyes that look small. The actual diameter of the eye might be much bigger than our own, but since the skull is so big compared to ours, then the eye seems much smaller in comparison.

Newly hatched dinosaurs had big eyes in proportion to their body size.  As the animal grew so its body proportions changed and gradually the eye became much smaller when compared to the rest of the body.

Baby Dinosaurs Had Bigger Eyes when Compared to the Adults

Ontogeny in Diplodocids

As dinosaurs grew, their eyes become proportionately smaller.

Picture Credit: Mark A Klinger/ Carnegie Museum of Natural History

It’s worth remembering that despite a common public misunderstanding, dinosaurs were perfectly adapted to their environments and way of life.  As a clade, the Dinosauria has been around for some 800 times longer than our own species.  From what we know of the closest living relatives of the dinosaurs, the birds, these reptiles probably had excellent colour vision and in many cases their visual acuity, ability to see movement and their colour vision spectrum were much better than ours.

Think of it this way, studies of the internal structure of the skull of Tyrannosaurus rex indicate that this ferocious predator had a optic nerve about as thick as an adult man’s thumb.  That’s a lot of data going into that part of the brain dedicated to processing information from the eyes (occipital centre).  The orbits (eye sockets), in the skull of “Sue”, the largest mounted T. rex skeleton, measure nearly 10.5 cm across, this suggests that this dinosaur had eyeballs around 8 cm in size, that’s bigger than a tennis ball.  These eyes were held aloft some four metres in the air, an excellent viewing platform.  In addition, the position of the eyes in the skull gave this Theropod a degree of binocular (stereoscopic vision), probably greater depth perception than ours.  Ideal if you are an ambush predator.

Forward Facing Eyes of an Apex Predator

A three-dimensional reconstruction of a T. rex skull.

A three-dimensional reconstruction of a T. rex skull.

Research into the eyesight of Tyrannosaurus rex, published in 2006 by the University of Oregon concluded that big, Late Cretaceous meat-eaters like the “King of the Tyrant Lizards” may have had eyesight that was at least ten times* better than our own.  Vision may not have been the primary sense of T. rex, but those proportionately small eyes could have very probably spotted you before you had seen it and that’s quite a sobering thought.

Comparing the Orbits of Two Types of Tyrannosauroids

The orbit of a Tyrannosaurus rex is compared to the eye socket of a Raptorex

The orbit of a Tyrannosaurus rex is compared to the eye socket of a Raptorex kriegsteini


Picture Credit: Paul Sereno

Stevens, K.A. 2006 Binocular vision in Theropod dinosaurs. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 26(2):321-330. *visual acuity up to thirteen times was stated in the paper.

For dinosaur themed toys, models and games: Visit Everything Dinosaur

Snippets of Dinosaur Information

Digging for Nuggets of Dinosaur Data

The book entitled “The Great Dinosaur Discoveries”, written by Darren Naish, may have come out in 2009, but it remains a firm favourite amongst Everything Dinosaur team members.  The illustrations may be a little out of date, if we recall correctly, the author himself points this out.  However, they do not undermine what is in essence a terrific read.  One of the great things about this book is that Darren throws in little snippets of dinosaur information every now and then that other writers would simply overlook or indeed not be aware of in the first place.  If you want to know exactly, why the name of the armoured dinosaur Scelidosaurus (S. harrisonii) means “limb lizard”?  Read this book as Darren provides the answer.

An Excellent Book about Dinosaurs

Aimed at young readers as well as older, general readers.

Aimed at young readers as well as older, general readers.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

For an insight into the hand function of Deinocheirus (D. mirificus), turn to page ninety-nine.  An intriguing paragraph explaining the viewpoints put forward in the early 20th Century concerning those huge arms and hands of this Asian Theropod.

For the latest interpretation: Deinocheirus Done and Dusted For Now at Least

At the beginning of each chapter, as Darren charts the history of dinosaur discoveries, there is a handy timeline that shows the major fossil finds and scientific descriptions .  In addition, a world map is provided identifying the location of where the fossilised bones and trace fossils were found.

As you would expect, all the major dinosaur groups are featured, as are a number of the more obscure ones such as the Alvarezsauridae and the Scansoriopterygidae.  If you want to gain an understanding of why the idea of Sauropods being aquatic animals took hold and remained prevalent until quite recently, then turn to page thirty-one.

This really is an excellent read.  It is a  is a super book full of amazing dinosaur facts. Highly recommended.

One Step Closer to Determining the Colour of Dinosaurs

Bat Study Helps to Confirm Melanosome Detection in Fossils

Melanin is a very widespread, natural pigment found in the animal kingdom.  Different forms of melanin are responsible for the colour of organisms, the black and the brown/reddish hues, for example.  Over the last few years, studies have attempted to identify evidence of melanosomes (the specialised part of the animal cell which synthesises, stores and transports the pigment), within the fossil record, but why is the search for an understanding about the colour of long dead creatures so important?

Colour Holds the Key to Behaviour

In living animals today, colour patterns are closely linked to behaviours and colouration provides information on how these creatures interact with their environments.  From the ornate and beautiful peacock to the striking pigmentation of an okapi, knowledge of the colour of an organism provides scientists with a host of information.  If only we had such insights for long extinct animals, well we do, but the identification of preserved melanosomes in the fossil record has proved controversial.  The interpretation of the structures found has led to some very colourful debates.  Are scientists able to infer pigmentation from these preserved remains?

Shapes of Structures Seen Under Very High Magnification Can Provide a Clue to Original Colour

Interpretation of melanosomes.

Interpretation of melanosomes.

Even the Dinosauria has been dragged into the discussion, back in 2010, Everything Dinosaur reported on research led by Bristol University that attempted to identify the colour of feathers preserved in the fossils of a little Chinese Theropod dinosaur Sinosauropteryx.

To read more about this research: A Ginger Dinosaur

Now a new paper produced by scientists from the University of Bristol in collaboration with colleagues from Virginia Tech and a number of other American academic institutes, backs the earlier research suggesting that the chemical preservation of melanin is possible within the fossil record.  The scientists studied a range of exceptionally well-preserved vertebrate fossils including specimens dating back to the Carboniferous and much more recent fossil material, the bats from the Early Tertiary shales of Messel in Germany, for example, along with some even more recent Miocene fossils.  The team were able to show that melanin is preserved in a number of soft-bodied fossils, but its burial under high pressure and temperature, all part of the fossilisation process does alter its original chemistry.  Other scientists had proposed that the structures thought to be melanosomes preserved in the fossil record, were actually bacteria that had become part of the fossil structure as they preserved the bacterial action of the original organic remains decomposition.  The research team concludes that the relatively widespread occurrence of melanin found allows them to dismiss the suggestion that these structures are microbial in origin.

Dr. Jakob Vinther (Bristol University), one of the authors of the paper published in the PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – America), replicated the conditions under which fossils form and then subjected the samples to analysis using extremely sensitive ion mass spectroscopy (TOF-SIMS – time-of-flight ion mass spectroscopy), the scientists were able to map how the melanin chemical composition would change over time and then compared their results to what was found in a chemical analysis of the fossil record.

Dr. Vinther stated:

“This is a great leap forward in our understanding of how fossils are preserved.  We now know how melanin is preserved and we have the methods to confidently detect it.”

In short, if scientists now know how the pigment behaves during fossilisation and what its chemical signature should be after the fossilisation process has occurred, then they should be able to identify melanin in fossils by looking for this tell-tale signature.

Two Distinct Types of Melanin

There are two distinct types of melanin, eumelanin is responsible for the colour black and these structures resemble tiny sausage shapes when examined under high magnification.  The second type, responsible for the reddish/brown hues is phaeomelanin and its structures look much more circular when viewed under a microscope.  Importantly, structures which resemble these shapes have been spotted in the fossil record, as they have different chemical signatures, a chemical analysis can be used to back up observations regarding observed melanin structures.

Prehistoric Bats Under the Spotlight

Take for example, those prehistoric bat fossils from the Messel shales which date from the Eocene Epoch.  Two species were studied and microscopic analysis of the beautifully preserved fur showed shapes that looked like the more circular structures associated with phaeomelanin (reds and browns).  The time-of-flight ion mass spectroscopy confirmed this interpretation.  Chemical signatures found support the idea that those circular structures would have meant that when these bats lived some fifty million years ago, the bats would have been reddish-brown in colour.  By using the morphological analysis backed up by the chemical signature study, the team could conclude with a high degree of certainly that these two species of bat were effectively brunettes.

A Fossil Bat – Palaeochiropteryx (Messel, Germany) from the Study

Reddish/brown bats of the Eocene.

Reddish/brown bats of the Eocene.

Picture Credit: Dr. Jakob Vinther

Also involved in this study were scientists from the University of Texas at Austin (Texas), along with Caitlin Colleary, who had done his Masters Degree at Bristol University but was now a PhD student at Virginia Tech.

Outlining the extent of their study, Caitlin said:

“We have now studied tissues from fish, frogs, and tadpoles, hair from mammals, feathers from birds, and ink from octopus and squids.  They all preserve melanin, so it’s safe to say that melanin is all over the place.  Now we can confidently fill in some of the original colour patterns of these ancient animals.”

This area of research is likely to remain controversial for a while longer.  So much depends on how we interpret the morphology of these tiny structures.  This research does provide a chemical method of helping to back up findings, however, we suspect that the debate amongst scientists will rumble on.  After all, in scientific research of this nature, hardly anything is as clear as black and white.

More research into the colour of dinosaurs (August 2015): The Colour of Dinosaurs

Dinosaurs may have laid coloured eggs (May 2015): Did Dinosaurs Lay Coloured Eggs?

Working out the colour of dinosaurs may have become a little more complicated: Working out the Colour of Dinosaurs Just Got Harder

The colour of marine reptiles: Marine Reptiles and their “Little Black Numbers”

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the help of Bristol University in the compilation of this article.

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