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Peruvian Paradise for Prehistoric Crocodiles

A Miocene Crocodile Community – from Prehistoric Peru

It’s not just Paddington Bear that heralds from Peru, a team of international scientists writing in the academic journal the “Proceedings of the Royal Society B” have published a paper that describes a rich and diverse wetland ecosystem that thrived thirteen million years ago, jam packed with co-existing Crocodylians.  North-eastern Peru was covered in an extensive tropical wetland during the Middle Miocene Epoch (Serravallion faunal stage), at least seven different species of ancient crocodile lived in this habitat, three of which are entirely new to science.   The crocodile fossils have been excavated from two highly fossiliferous bone beds that document life in South America prior to the formation of the Amazon basin and its rainforest.

As much of north-eastern Peru is now covered in tropical, lowland forest, exposed outcrops of sedimentary rocks are rare, however, a team of researchers from the University of Montpellier, Toulouse University, the American Museum of Natural History, the Naturalis Biodiversity Centre (Holland) and the Department for Vertebrate Palaeontology at the Natural History Museum in Lima have spent more than a decade piecing together information about this ancient ecosystem, one in which a number of specialised Crocodylians co-habited.

 A Mid Miocene Hyperdiverse Crocodylian Community

Hyperdiverse Crocodylian community of Mid Miocene Peru.

Hyperdiverse Crocodylian community of Mid Miocene Peru.

Picture Credit: Javier Herbozo

The picture above illustrates the proto-Amazonian swampland of north-eastern Peru from around thirteen million years ago and three of the Crocodylians that lived in this habitat.  Kuttanacaiman iquitosensis (left), Caiman wannlangstoni (right) and feeding on clams on the lake floor is the short-snouted Gnatusuchus pebasensis.

The research team conclude that with the fossilised remains of at least seven different species present, this ecosystem represents the greatest concentration of crocodile species co-existing in one place at any time in Earth’s history, as recorded in the fossil record.  In comparison, the Amazon rainforest today, is home to just six species of Caiman, but only three species are known to co-exist in the same habitats.  The scientists suggest that the huge range of different Molluscs, creatures such as land and pond snails as well as several types of clams enabled these different types of freshwater crocodile to specialise in feeding on a particular group.  Although vertebrate fossils are rare in the exposed Peruvian Miocene strata, a vast assemblage of Mollusc fossils have been preserved.

Commenting on how this research has helped to fill in the gaps in our knowledge regarding the origins of the Amazon’s rich biodiversity, John Flynn, Frick Curator of Fossil Mammals at the American Museum of Natural History and a co-author on the scientific paper stated:

“The modern Amazon River basin contains the world’s richest biota, but the origins of this extraordinary diversity are really poorly understood.”

It seems that whilst today’s South American Crocodylians are generalists eating a range of prey items, in the Mid Miocene a group of durophagous “shell-crunching” crocodiles evolved, to exploit the huge range of different types of Mollusc.  Clams and snails now only make up a small portion of most Caiman’s diets.

John Flynn went onto add:

“Because it’s a vast rainforest today, our exposure to rocks and therefore, also to the fossils those rocks may preserve, is extremely limited.  So anytime you get a special window like these fossilised “mega-wetland” deposits, with so many new and peculiar species, it can provide novel insights into ancient ecosystems.  What we  have found isn’t necessarily what you would expect.”

Other types of crocodiles known to have lived in this habitat include the bizarre Mourasuchus, a large reptile, that probably fed by filtering zooplankton and other small animals out of the water.  The dangerous Purussaurus also inhabited the waterways.  Attaining lengths in excess of eight metres, this was an apex predator that probably preyed on a range of animals including other types of crocodile.

With three of the species new to science, it demonstrates the diversity of the Order Crocodylia.  One of the most peculiar of all the new crocodile discoveries is Gnatusuchus pebasensis.  This was a short-snouted Caiman with rounded teeth and it is thought that it used its snout to dig in the mud at the bottom of lakes and swampy areas to extract clams and other shelled creatures.  The shells would have been smashed to pieces in the strong jaws with their specialised teeth, designed for crushing.

A Model of the New Prehistoric Caiman Species G. pebasensis

New species of ancient Peruvian crocodile.

New species of ancient Peruvian crocodile.

Picture Credit: Aldo Benites-Palomino

The model in the photograph above was made by Kevin Montalbán-Rivera.

South America remained an island continent until around three million years ago.  Isolated from the rest of the world, a unique fauna and flora evolved, including so it would seem a diverse group of Crocodylians.  The Amazon basin itself did not form with its extensive network of rivers until the Late Miocene, around 10.5 million years ago.  Today, the mighty Amazon drains eastwards into the Atlantic ocean, however, in the Mid Miocene, the lakes, wetlands and swamps drained to the north, through what is now Columbia and Venezuela.  As the Amazon system slowly evolved, so it seems that the large numbers of molluscs and other shelled creatures began to decline, this led to the extinction of many of the different types of crocodile that relied on these creatures for food.

As well as the specialised clam feeders, the research team also discovered the first unambiguous fossil evidence of an ancestor of extant Caimans. This Caiman, named Pebas palaeosuchus (ancient crocodile of the Pebas Formation), had a longer snout better adapted for catching a variety of prey.  It is this evolutionary design that triumphed over the broad but short-snouted Crocodylians, giving rise to modern Caimans.

Rodolfo Salas-Gismondi, lead author of the paper and a graduate student of the University of Montpellier (France), explained:

“We uncovered this special moment in time when the ancient mega-wetland ecosystem reached its peak in size and complexity, just before its demise and the start of the modern Amazon River system.  At this moment, most known Caiman groups co-existed, ancient lineages bearing unusual blunt snouts and globular teeth along with those more generalised feeders representing the beginning of what was to come.”

Fossil Evidence Indicates a Rich Hyperdiversity of Crocodylians

A hyperdiversity of Crocodylians.

A hyperdiversity of Crocodylians.

Picture Credit: Rodolfo Salas-Gismondi

Since 2002, the research team have built up a detailed picture of the various different types of crocodiles that inhabited the ecosystem, as preserved in bone beds associated with the Mid Miocene-aged Pebas Formation.  The skull and jaws, depicted above show the specialist adaptations of the different species.

Key

  1. Gnatusuchus pebasensis – probably fed on molluscs
  2. Kuttanacaiman iquitosensis – probably fed on molluscs
  3. Caiman wannlangstoni – probably fed on molluscs
  4. Purussaurus neivensis – large, apex predator feeding on other vertebrates
  5. Mourasuchus atopus – filter feeder
  6. Pebas palaeosuchus – a generalist, more typical of extant Caiman
  7. Pebas gavialoid – probably fed on fish

Reconstructions by Javier Herbozo.

All these different types of Crocodylians, but alas, it seems, the scientists have not identified a species that could have fed on Paddington Bear’s ancestors, or even marmalade sandwiches for that matter.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of the American Museum of Natural History in the compilation of this article.

Answering Questions from Young Dinosaur Fans

Answering Questions about Dinosaurs

At Everything Dinosaur we get lots of questions sent into us about dinosaurs and prehistoric animals.  We try to answer as many as we can, especially those sent in by budding, young palaeontologists.  Here are some of the questions that we have received recently.

1). Who was more powerful Allosaurus or Suchomimus?

We get a lot of questions about comparing different types of dinosaur.  There are a number of Allosaurus species known, one of the largest Allosaurus fragilis, comes from the Western United States (Morrison Formation).  This Theropod dinosaur was one of the biggest predators around during the Late Jurassic.  Suchomimus lived much later than most of the allosaurid dinosaurs.  Its fossils have been found in Cretaceous aged deposits in Niger (Africa). Both dinosaurs were more than eleven metres in length and differing body mass estimates for Suchomimus make it rather difficult to answer this question.  One thing that is known, the shape of the skulls were very different.  These dinosaurs probably preyed on different animals.  Allosaurus was a predator of other dinosaurs, whilst Suchomimus might well have attacked other dinosaurs but it may have been primarily a fish-eater.  Tests carried out on the skull of a sub-adult Allosaurus indicated that this large dinosaur had a surprisingly weak bite.  The research suggested that this Allosaurus could generate a bite force of just 200 kilogrammes on the tips of its teeth.  This is the equivalent of a the bite of a modern leopard and a much weaker bite than found in crocodiles and alligators.

Work undertaken in 2013 compared the resistance to bending and distortion of Spinosaur skulls to those of modern crocodiles.  When the skull size differences were taken into account, the skull of Baryonyx, a dinosaur believed to be closely related to Suchomimus, turned out to be remarkably strong.  The scientists concluded that based on these results, Spinosaurs may not have been specialised fish-eaters, but their diets may have changed as the animals grew and became stronger.

A Model of the African Spinosaurid Called Suchomimus

Suchomimus Dinosaur Model.

Suchomimus Dinosaur Model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

2).  Was Ichthyovenator a Strong Dinosaur?

Ichthyovenator was formally named and described in 2012. It was the first spinosaurid dinosaur to be described from Asia. It is only known from fragmentary remains and although teeth have been ascribed to this genus, no skull material has yet to be discovered.  Most illustrations of Ichthyovenator are based on reconstructions of better known spinosaurids.  It is believed to have been closely related to Suchomimus.  Size estimates vary for this dinosaur, but it could have reached lengths of around nine metres and weighed as much as 1.5 tonnes.  Although the fossilised remains of just one animal have been found and these fossils represent less than 15% of the entire skeleton, measurements of the hip bones indicate that this animal did have strong, powerful back legs.  The size of the arms is unknown.

3). How Long was Mapusaurus?

Named in 2006, this dinosaur’s fossils come from Argentina.  The remains of several individuals have been found, from juveniles to mature adults.  The largest specimens have been estimated to have been around 12 to 12.2 metres in total length.

A Museum Display  of the Fearsome Carnivore – Mapusaurus

Museum display of Mapusaurus.

Museum display of Mapusaurus.

4).  How Big and How Long was Tarbosaurus?

Tarbosaurus (T. bataar) is sometimes referred to as the Asian T. rex.  It was a Late Cretaceous tyrannosaurid whose fossils have been found in Mongolia and China.  It is also referred to as Tyrannosaurus bataar as a number of palaeontologists have proposed in the past that the fossil material represents an Asian species of Tyrannosaurus.  A number of fossil specimens which are more than fifty percent complete are known.  Due to the number of Tarbosaurus skull fossils that have been found, scientists have been able to study how the heads of these dinosaurs changed as the animals grew.  Size estimates do vary, but most scientists place this dinosaur at around 9.5 to 12 metres long with a body weight of about 4 to 5 tonnes.  It was an apex predator in its environment.

A Skull of Tarbosaurus (T. bataar)

Tarbosaurus specimen.

Tarbosaurus specimen.

For Theodore and Martin

Evolution Favours Getting Big

Stanford University Study Tests “Cope’s Law”

Evolution, at least in marine organisms, tends to favour the emergence of bigger animals according to new research published by Stanford University of California.  A trend for “bigness” – a term coined by a Year 3 pupil we overheard the other day during a dinosaur workshop we were conducting at a school, seems to have been present in the oceans of the world, at least since the Cambrian, a time when the first hard-bodied creatures evolved.  This suggests that the path followed by natural selection can be predicted, it indicates that evolution may follow certain rules, at least for one important biological trait – body mass.

It was the American naturalist and palaeontologist Edward Drinker Cope (1840-1897) who proposed a natural law, now referred to as “Cope’s Law” that the ancient ancestors of extant animals were usually much smaller than their modern counterparts.  Building on the research from some of Cope’s rivals, such as the work on the evolution of equines (horses) by Othniel Marsh (1831-1899), Cope postulated that evolution had a tendency to produce larger animals.  The first horses such as Propalaeotherium, known from the famous Messel shales near Frankfurt (Germany), were only sixty centimetres high at the shoulder.  Dinosaurs too, seem to follow this rule, with the very first members of the Dinosauria being just a fraction the size of later types of dinosaur such as the enormous Sauropods Diplodocus, Barosaurus and Apatosaurus from the Late Jurassic.

Getting Bigger Over Time – the Dinosauria

Dinosaurs tended to get bigger over time.

Dinosaurs tended to get bigger over time.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

This pattern is not consistent across the Kingdom Animalia.  For example, Aves (birds) do not show this trend, very probably as there is a need to reduce weight in order to become more efficient fliers.  Insects too, do not follow this trend, although in the case of the Insecta there are body mass limits probably related to atmospheric oxygen concentrations and the constraints of having an exoskeleton.

However, in one of the most comprehensive research programmes ever undertaken, scientists from the Stanford School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences conducted a review of over 17,000 extinct and extant marine genera.  The study incorporates data from over sixty percent of all the animal types that have ever existed.  The amount of work that had to be done was simply colossal.  Members of the Department enlisted the help of University colleagues, undergraduates and even high school interns to search through the scientific record for measurement data on marine life forms from the Cambrian geological period to today.

 The study published this week in the journal “Science” concludes that over the last 542 million years the mean size of marine animals has increased by 150 fold.  The Stanford research team also discovered that the increase in body size that has occurred since animals first appeared in the fossil record is not due to all animal lineages steadily growing bigger, but rather to the diversification of groups of organisms that were already larger than other groups early in the history of animal evolution.

An Evolutionary Trend for “Bigness” Indicated by Statistical Analysis

Over time there has been a tendency for marine animals to get bigger..

Over time there has been a tendency for marine animals to get bigger..

Picture Credit: Open University

The picture above depicts a typical scene in a shallow Silurian sea about 428 million years ago (Wenlock Epoch).  Analysis of the fossil record indicates that the explosion of different life forms in the Palaeozoic eventually skewed decisively towards larger, bulkier animals.  Measured by volume, today’s smallest marine animals (microscopic crustaceans) are less than ten times smaller than their Cambrian counterparts.  However, at the other end of the scale, perhaps the largest animal known from the Cambrian is Anomalocaris canadensis, which at nearly a metre in length, was huge compared to the other Cambrian fauna it preyed upon, but Anomalocaris at perhaps two to three kilogrammes in weight (estimate), was many thousands of times lighter than today’s largest sea creature the Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus).  Body weights of Blue Whales have been calculated at over 190,000 kilogrammes.

The research team also set about trying to work out whether the favouring of bigger sea creatures over time was really driven by evolutionary advantage, or was this trend just a case of serendipity?   Neutral drift is the term used to describe changes in an organism that seem to infer no evolutionary advantage or disadvantage.   A computer model was created and size data from the oldest animals included in the study was incorporated into it.  From this data set a series of simulations were run to see how life in marine environments might have evolved.  Each species used in this part of the research, could either die out, stay unchanged or get bigger or reduce in size.  In the various scenarios that were tested, the version that best matched the fossil evidence was one where there was a genuine size advantage inferred.

One of the lead authors of the research, post-doctoral researcher Dr. Noel Heim commented:

“The degrees of increase in both mean and maximum body size just aren’t well explained by neutral drift.  It appears that you actually need some active evolutionary process that promotes larger sizes.”

As for what those benefits of being big might be, the research team cannot be certain, but larger species may have been able to take greater advantage of resources by being able to swim faster, burrow deeper or to eat larger and more varied types of prey.  Dr. Heim also suggested that the increase in oxygen may also have played a significant role in the evolution of larger animals.

Anomalocaris – Big for the Cambrian but Dwarfed by Today’s Larger Marine Animals

The Terror of the Trilobites - Anomalocaris

The Terror of the Trilobites – Anomalocaris

Picture Credit: BBC Worldwide/Framestore

New Ichthyosaurus Species Honours Mary Anning

Dorset to Doncaster – New Species of Ichthyosaurus Described

It might be one of the best known of all the genera of Mesozoic marine reptiles, but the Ichthyosaurus genus has been becalmed in terms of new additions to the species list.  That is, until a remarkable discovery in the fossil collection of the Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery led to the naming of a new species.  Ichthyosaurus anningae, the first “new” Ichthyosaurus for 127 years.  A paper describing this new species is due to be published in the prestigious academic publication “The Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology” and it is great to see that the trivial name honours Dorset fossil collector Mary Anning, it was Mary along with her brother Joseph, who found the first Ichthyosaurus fossils to be scientifically studied (1811).

The First New Species of Ichthyosaurus to be Described Since the 19th Century

Dolphin-like prehistoric animals.

Dolphin-like prehistoric marine reptiles.

The fossil, representing a sub-adult specimen, had resided in the collection of the Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery since it had been acquired sometime in the early 1980′s.   It was excavated from Lower Jurassic strata of West Dorset, but we at Everything Dinosaur, are unable to provide further information as to who exactly discovered it.  The fossil is believed to have come from the Lower Pliensbachian Stonebarrow Marl Member (Charmouth Mudstone Formation), which forms part of the geology of southern England’s famous “Jurassic Coast”.  The specimen, which measures around 1.5 metres in length is nearly complete, there is a beautifully preserved skull, much of the front portion of the body including ribs and preserved stomach contents.  The assigned holotype (DONMG:1983.98) had been mislabelled as a plaster cast replica.  Team members at Everything Dinosaur recall seeing the image of the fossil used to help promote children’s holiday activities at the Museum, it emphasises the importance of regional museums and their collections.  There are probably a significant number of new species awaiting discovery, not in the cliffs of Monmouth Beach, Lyme Regis, but in the draws and cabinets of museums.

Newest Ichthyosaurus on the Block (I. anningae)

A new species of Ichthyosaurus.

A new species of Ichthyosaurus.

Picture Credit: Dean Lomax and Judy Massare

This is not the first time that a new Mesozoic species has been identified from a museum collection.  Back in 2007, Everything Dinosaur wrote about the discovery made by then PhD student Mike Taylor at the Natural History Museum (London), which led to the naming of a new species of Sauropod dinosaur.

To read the article: How to Find a New Dinosaur – Look in a Museum

Dean Lomax, Honorary Scientist at The University of Manchester, examined the specimen in 2008.  He noticed a number of anatomical differences between this specimen and other types of Ichthyosaur.  Working with Professor Judy Massare (Brockport College, New York), Dean spent over five  years comparing and contrasting the Doncaster Ichthyosaur that had been nicknamed “Fizzy” with other museum specimens from around the world.  Unusual features in the humerus and femur (upper limb bones) along with the humerus length to femur ratio led him to believe that the Doncaster fossil represented something not seen before.  Over 1,000 other Ichthyosaurus fossils were examined during the course of the research, a further four fossils (three most likely of juveniles), were identified as having the same anatomical features as “Fizzy”.

Dean commented:

“After examining the specimen extensively, both Professor Massare and I identified several unusual features of the limb bones that were completely different to any other Ichthyosaur known.  That became very exciting.  After examining over a thousand specimens we found four others with the same features as the Doncaster fossil.”

Professor Massare has worked on a number of Ichthyosaur specimens, most notably a remarkable fossil found in Wyoming.  She used her knowledge of Ichthyosaur anatomy and locomotion to compare and contrast the fossil material.  The strata from which this fossil was extracted dates from the Early Jurassic (Lower Jurassic - Hettangian/Sinemurian–Pliensbachian).  It has been estimated that this fossil material is around 189 million years old. (Pliensbachian faunal stage).  Most Ichthyosaur fossils that date from this stage of the Jurassic are fragmentary, very few articulated specimens with cranial material are known.  The Doncaster fossil is the most complete Ichthyosaur fossil that dates from this time interval.

The upper arm bone (humerus) is short and robust.  The femur (thigh bone), in comparison is very much smaller.  The morphology of the fossil specimens ascribed to this new species, suggest that there were differences in the limb bones of males and females.  Such differences have not been identified before in Ichthyosaurs.  The species name pays tribute to Mary Anning (1799-1847), it was Mary along with other family members who found the fossils of the first scientifically described “fish lizard”.  The very first formal, academic paper describing an Ichthyosaur was published in 1814, the study being based on fossil material found in the Lyme Regis area by the Anning family.  Last year, Everything Dinosaur wrote a short article commemorating the 200th anniversary of this event.

To view this article: Two Hundred Years of Ichthyosaurs

Dean explained:

“Mary worked tirelessly to bring Ichthyosaurs, among other fossils, to the attention of the scientific world.  It is an honour to name a new species, but to name it after somebody who is intertwined with such an important role in helping to sculpt the science of palaeontology, especially in Britain, it is something that I’m very proud of.  In fact, one of the specimens in our study was even found by Mary herself!  Science is awesome.”

It has been a very busy couple of years for Dean, as well as helping to increase our understanding of British marine reptiles, in 2014, his book “Dinosaurs of the British Isles”, co-authored with Nobumichi Tamura was published.  This book provides a comprehensive account of the dinosaur fossils associated with the British Isles and we at Everything Dinosaur strongly recommend it to anyone with an interest in dinosaurs.

“Dinosaurs of the British Isles” – A First, Comprehensive Account of British Dinosauria

A comprehensive guide to British dinosaurs over 400 pages.

A comprehensive guide to British dinosaurs over 400 pages.

Picture Credit: Siri Scientific Press

For more details about the book and to order a copy: Dinosaurs of the British Isles Available Here

This new specimen, helps palaeontologists to understand in greater detail the evolution and radiation of the Ichthyosauria.  I. anningae adds to the number of Ichthyosaurus known from the Pliensbachian faunal stage.  There has now been recorded at least three species (possibly as many as five species) from this time interval.  This is significant, as the discovery of this new species falls between two of the three known major radiations of Ichthyosaur genera.  The numbers and types of Ichthyosaur seemed to have increased around 200 million years ago (Triassic/Jurassic boundary) – Neoichthyosaurian radiation.  A second major radiation occurred around 175 million years ago (Aalenian faunal stage), the Ophthalomosaurid radiation, when many new kinds of “fish lizard” also evolved.

Exploring Dinosaurs at Hadfield Infant School

Foundation Stage/Year 1/Year 2 Study Dinosaurs and Fossils

Children at Hadfield Infant School have had a busy day learning all about dinosaurs, fossils and life in the past.  The children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 have started a term topic all about prehistoric animals.  Some of the children found a “dinosaur egg” in their classroom, what type of dinosaur could have laid such a big egg?

The egg had started to hatch and sure enough, the children had a baby dinosaur to look after.  We hope that they will learn all about dinosaur plant-eaters and meat-eaters so that they can work out what to feed it!

The Dinosaur Egg in One of the Classrooms

Schoolchildren discover dinosaur egg.

Schoolchildren discover dinosaur egg.

Picture Credit: Hadfield Infant School/Everything Dinosaur

What would happen if the baby dinosaur escaped one evening?  Where would the dinosaur go?  Can the children follow the dinosaur’s travels around the world?

Our dinosaur expert felt very much at home at the school today.  On the wall in the hall where he had been working was a big picture with lots of bones in it.  The children learned that scientists look at the fossilised bones of dinosaurs so that they can work out what they looked like and how they lived.

A Great Backdrop for a Dinosaur Workshop

Learning all about fossil bones of dinosaurs.

Learning all about fossil bones of dinosaurs.

Picture Credit: Hadfield Infant School/Everything Dinosaur

With the enthusiastic support of the teaching team the children will have a wonderful and engaging topic to study up to the end of the spring term.  There were so many amazing questions asked during the day, questions such as what was the biggest crocodile of all time?  How big were the plates on the back of Stegosaurus?  Good job the children had been working on their phonics to help them work out the difference between big, bigger and biggest.

We sent over some extension resources to help the teaching team answer some of the questions that we did  not get round to in our dinosaur workshop.  We think this term topic is going to be a “roaring success”!

The Rebor Replica Utahraptor (Assembly Instructions)

Rebor 1:35 Scale Replica of Utahraptor (Wind Hunter)

The new Rebor 1:35 scale replica of Utahraptor (U. ostrommaysorum) has an articulated jaw and moveable, feathered arms.  It really is a most beautiful model.  However, a little bit of assembly is required, here is Everything Dinosaur’s quick guide to assembling your Utahraptor.

The Rebor 1:35 Scale Utahraptor Replica (Wind Hunter)

Depicting an agile, active dinosaur.

Depicting an agile, active dinosaur.

This model is packed into a sturdy padded box (plenty of foam for protection).  Carefully, unpack your parcel’s contents and locate the base.  You should have a small plastic bag stored in a separate foam compartment that contains the two detachable arms and that all important pin to secure the model to its base.

The Rebor Replica Utahraptor “Wings” and the Securing Pin

Check that you have a pin in with the detachable arms.

Check that you have a pin in with the detachable arms.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Carefully, secure the arms in place, you can leave them as moveable arms or if you are happy with a particular pose, you can glue the arms in place  if you want to.  Perhaps, professional model makers could use a little filler and re-touching paint to completely obliterate any sign of an articulation/join.

Carefully Push the Arms into Their Respective Sockets

Carefully attach the arms.

Carefully attach the arms.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Then it might be a good idea to remove the clear, plastic band that secured the articulated jaw in place before placing your model into position on its base.  Put the pin into the hole, look for the footprint mark if you struggle to spot it, (a hole is already made for the pin in the base).  Then carefully lower the hind foot onto the pin.  The hind foot has a hole in it and it is this that allows the model to be posed in such a dynamic one-footed stance.

Securing the Replica onto the Base

Pinning a Rebor Utahraptor in place.

Pinning a Rebor Utahraptor in place.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Really that’s all there is to it, time to relax and enjoy your 1:35 scale Rebor Utahraptor replica, the fearsome “Wind Hunter”.

To view the range of Rebor replicas available at Everything Dinosaur: Rebor Prehistoric Animal Replicas

Widespread Ecological Diversity Amongst Early Mammals

Tree-dwellers and Burrowers – Early Mammals More Diverse than Previously Thought

Fossils of two mouse-sized, mammals from China, indicate that some of the earliest known mammaliaforms (extinct relatives of modern mammals), had already diversified and become highly adapted to different ecological niches.  A joint Chinese/U.S. scientific team reporting in the academic journal “Science” discuss the implications for mammalian evolution and describe two new early mammals, one that was arboreal (tree dwelling) and fed on insects and tree sap, the other, a mole-like creature that probably spent much of its life underground.

The tree dweller, named Agilodocodon scansorius lived around 165 million years ago, the subterranean creature called Docofossor brachydactylus was discovered preserved in slightly younger strata, it burrowed underground whilst dinosaurs roamed overhead some 160 million years ago.  Both these creatures are Middle Jurassic Docodonts, an extinct Order of early proto-mammals.

The discovery of these two very different fur covered animals further supports the theory that just like modern-day mammals, Jurassic forms were highly adaptable and early mammals diversified to take advantage of a large range of ecological habitats.

Agilodocodon scansorius – Artists Impression and Skeleton Reconstruction

Early arboreal mammal from north-eastern China.

Early arboreal mammal from north-eastern China.

Picture Credit: University of Chicago (illustration by April Neander)

Commenting on the significance of these fossil finds, Dr. Zhe-Xi Luo (University of Chicago’s Department of Organism Biology and Anatomy), who co-authored the scientific papers stated:

“Before the turn of this century, it was generally thought that Mesozoic mammals could not diversify much in the dinosaur dominated ecosystem.  But fossil discoveries in recent years have built up a different picture.  In the last ten to fifteen years palaeontologists have found many Mesozoic mammals with very interesting functional and ecological specialisations.”

The research team that studied these fossils, was made up of scientists from the Beijing Museum of Natural History and the University of Chicago.  They conclude that Docodonts adapted to a very broad range of environments such as arboreal and subterranean habitats, despite competition from the Dinosauria, other reptiles and early birds.  Agilodocodon was a small, swift  animal with limb and finger bone dimensions that are comparable to modern tree dwelling mammals.  Study co-author David Grossnickle, a graduate student at Chicago University emphasised that it was amazing to see arboreal adaptations occurring so early in the evolutionary history of mammals.  He reflected that this research suggests that some extinct mammalian relatives exploited evolutionarily significant niches, long before true mammals.

An Artists Impression  and Skeleton Reconstruction of Docofossor brachydactylus

Ancient mole-like animal.

Ancient mole-like animal.

Picture Credit: University of Chicago (illustration by April Neander)

The Agilodocodon fossil material came from the Ningcheng County of Inner Mongolia, whilst the Docofossor material came from Hebei Province of China, to the south-east.  Docofossor lived around 160 million years ago. It lived in burrows on shores of  lakes and fed on worms and insects in the soil.  This small creature had reduced bone segments in its fingers, leading to shortened but wide digits, perfect adaptations for digging.  African Golden Moles possess almost the exact same adaptation.  This characteristic is due to the fusing of bone joints during embryonic development.  With African Golden Moles, the development of the digits is influenced by the genes GDF-5 and BMP.  As the extinct Docofossor has a very similar anatomy, the research team conclude that this genetic mechanism may have played a comparable role in early mammal evolution.

Mammals from the Middle Jurassic were once thought to have a very limited ecological footprint, only occupying a few niches in the food web.  However, these two new fossil discoveries along with early finds studied by the Chinese team, fossils such as Castorocauda, a fish-eating, swimming Docodont described back in 2006, provide strong evidence that early mammals adapted to a very wide range of environments.

The Phylogenetic Relationship Between Docodonts, Early Mammals and Extant Mammalia

Examining the phylogeny of early mammaliaforms.

Examining the phylogeny of early mammaliaforms.

Picture Credit: University of Chicago (illustration by April Neander)

Although not closely related to modern placental mammals such as our own species, the Docodonts are revealing themselves to have been a highly successful and very adaptable group of warm-blooded creatures.  It is the mammalian trait of being very adaptable that many scientists believe was key to them becoming the dominant megafauna after the demise of the Dinosauria, Pterosauria and marine reptiles.  It seems this adaptability runs deep in the mammal family tree.

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

To read another article that explores the diverse fauna of the Middle Jurassic strata of China: The Amazing and Diverse Daohugou Biota

Exporting to the United Arab Emirates

Dinosaurs Fly out to the UAE as Everything Dinosaur Helps Support Washing Powder Promotion

For Sue Judd, Finance Director at Everything Dinosaur each day seems to bring new and remarkable challenges.  Working in such a niche market, after all, there are not many businesses that sells dinosaurs, Sue never knows what the next incoming call or email might lead to.

A  leading sports and entertainment company based in Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates), got in touch and asked could we supply them with assorted dinosaur model kits, prehistoric animal skeleton models and Triceratops themed arts and crafts to help support a big promotion for one of the Persian Gulf’s leading washing powder brands.  No worries, it’s all in day’s work and reassured by the fact that Everything Dinosaur have the advice and support of the International Trade team at South Cheshire Chamber of Commerce, before you could say “Tyrannosaurus rex” it was all sorted out and the prehistoric animals were on their way to the UAE.

Sue Helps to Load Up the “Dino Van” with the Export Order

Off to the airport, Everything Dinosaur exports to the UAE.

Off to the airport, Everything Dinosaur exports to the UAE.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Commenting on this latest export success for the dinosaur toys and models company, Sue stated:

“We seem to be building a reputation as the “go to” company when it comes to sourcing various items for use in dinosaur themed promotions.   As a retailer, we are used to sending out parcels to customers all over the world, but it helps to know when we are dealing with exports that we have the Chamber of Commerce on board to help us out”.

It seems that dinosaur toys and games really do have world-wide appeal.

Dinosaur Fan Makes Everything Dinosaur Unboxing Video

Matthew the Dinosaur King – Unboxing Video

At Everything Dinosaur we get the chance to view all the amazing pictures and videos sent into us or posted up on line by our customers.  We are really impressed by all the hard work involved, for example, we noticed that Matthew, a keen fan of prehistoric animal models had posted up a video of him unboxing the new Safari Ltd models and two of the new for 2015 replicas from Schleich.  In this short, (5 minute) video, Matthew unpacks the Carnegie Collectibles Velociraptor along  with the four new Wild Safari Dinos prehistoric animals – Nasutoceratops, Sauropelta, Archaeopteryx and the amazing Yutyrannus.  We were really impressed with the comments Matthew makes about these new dinosaur models.

Dinosaur Fan Makes Everything Dinosaur Unboxing Video

Picture Credit: Matthew the Dinosaur King

In addition, to the new Safari Ltd models, Matthew discusses the first of the new for 2015 Schleich World of History replicas, namely the beautiful Kentrosaurus and the colourful Anhanguera Pterosaur, complete with articulated lower jaw.  We know just how eager model collectors are when it comes to getting their hands on new prehistoric animal models, over the next few weeks or so our warehouse is going to be very busy with all the new stock deliveries.  We are excited too.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s range of Safari Ltd replicas: Safari Ltd Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals

A spokesperson from the UK based company commented:

“It is always a pleasure to view unboxing videos and to hear from our customers in general.  We know how keenly model collectors anticipate new additions to ranges, so we work as hard as we can to get them into stock as quickly as possible.”

Our congratulations to Matthew and we look forward to viewing his individual model reviews (as hinted in the video).  One thing for sure, viewers can see how well packaged our parcels are, lots of bubble wrap on show and a strong box for sending out the items. We have been busy on a number of other projects this week, including sorting out the new Schleich replicas and models that are due out in the summer of 2015, we think that Matthew will probably want to make another unboxing video when the second batch of Schleich replicas become available later this year.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s current Schleich models: Schleich World of History Prehistoric Animals

We know that Matthew and many of our other customers around the world have posted up videos and reviews, we do try and catch up with them all, give a “like”, provide a positive comment, give a Google thumbs up and so on.  Everything Dinosaur is always delighted to see such reviews and videos posted up by our customers.

Well done Matthew.

Fossil Hunting Down Under

Local Fossil Hunters Get the Chance to Work with Professionals

On Sunday 22nd February amateur fossil hunters will get the chance to visit one of the state of Victoria’s most important fossil sites and get advice from leading palaeontologists.  Museum Victoria is holding a special event at the historic Beaumaris Bay fossil site.  The sandstone cliffs preserve evidence of marine fauna from Australia’s prehistoric past.  Many types of shark teeth have been discovered along with the fossilised bones of a number of marine vertebrates.

The day will involve talks from professional fossil hunters Dr Erich Fitzgerald (Museum Victoria), Professor Tim Flannery and Professor John Buckeridge of RMIT University (Melbourne).  Local amateur fossil hunters will also have the chance to have their finds identified by these experts.

Local Fossil Collectors and Professional Scientists Working Together in Beaumaris Bay

Fossil site has open day.

Fossil site has open day.

Picture Credit: David Hastie/Museum Victoria

Commenting on the special, interactive day dedicated to fossil collecting, Dr Erich Fitzgerald (Senior Curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology, Museum Victoria) stated:

“There is simply no better place to find fossils in Melbourne than Beaumaris.  They have helped us paint a rich portrait of what Victoria was like millions of years ago.  The abundance of fossils of large marine animals, especially sharks and whales, suggests that between 6 and 5 million years ago the coastal waters of Victoria were far richer in nutrients than they are today.”

But fossil hunting is not just for professional scientists, as most professional scientists are happy to admit.  Fossils are being eroded out of the sandstone cliffs all the time and if it was not for the dedicated community of local fossil hunters, many potentially significant finds could be severely abraided by wave action or lost all together before a professional palaeontologist got the chance to explore the area.

Dr. Fitzgerald added:

“In Museum Victoria’s collection there are thousands of stunning fossils from Beaumaris, many collected by enthusiastic members of the public with a keen interest in palaeontology.  The public can provide an extremely valuable insight from their fossil discoveries, which would potentially not have been uncovered otherwise.”

Back in 2012, Everything Dinosaur reported on the discovery of a fossilised leg bone found in the Beaumaris Bay area that was identified as belonging to a new genus of “toothed” marine bird.

To read more about this discovery: Giant “Toothed” Birds Once Soared over Southern Australia

With such a huge country to explore, Everything Dinosaur has predicted on numerous occasions that this continent will provide palaeontologists with a number of new fossil discoveries, even new types of dinosaur.  Members of the public who participate in sensible, careful fossil hunting and who are sensitive to the environment and wish to work within the fossil hunting code can make a huge contribution to the Earth sciences.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the support of Museum Victoria in the preparation of this article.

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