All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
/Photos/Pictures of Fossils

Pictures of fossils, fossil hunting trips, fossil sites and photographs relating to fossil hunting and fossil finds.

11 01, 2018

Ancient Butterflies, Flutter By

By | January 11th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Fossilised Wing Scales Provide Evidence of Triassic Moths and Butterflies

Butterflies and moths might be regarded as delicate creatures, what with the diaphanous wings and light-weight bodies, but a new study published in the journal “Science Advances” suggests that the Lepidoptera have been around for many millions of years longer than previously thought.  The new fossil discoveries, made by an international team of scientists led by Timo van Eldijk and Bas van de Schootbrugge (Utrecht University), have also challenged the presumed co-evolution between flowering plants (Angiosperms) and pollinating insects.

Fossil Evidence for Ancient Moths and Butterflies

Fossil scales of moths and butterflies.

Fossil scales of moths and butterflies as found in the drill cores from Schandelah, Lower Saxony (Germany).

Picture Credit: University of Utrecht

A core drilled into sediments in Schandelah, Lower Saxony (northern Germany), revealed microscopic wing scales some 70 million years older than the oldest, confirmed fossils of flowering plants.  The team’s findings suggest that wing and body scales found in rocks some 201 million years old, provide evidence that the Lepidoptera survived the end-Triassic mass extinction event.  Indeed, like the Dinosauria, moths and butterflies may have benefited from the extinction event, being able to exploit environmental niches vacated by extinct species.

Drilling into Ancient Rocks Triassic/Jurassic Strata

Drill cores reveal evidence of prehistoric moths and butterflies.

Drilling to produce the cores (northern Germany).

Picture Credit: University of Utrecht/Dr Bas van de Schootbrugge

Commenting on the significance of the core drill study, Utrecht University student Timo van Eldijk explained:

“The mass extinction event occurred at the end of the Triassic and was associated with massive volcanism as the super continent Pangaea started to break apart.  As a result, biodiversity on land and in the oceans suffered a setback with many key Triassic species going extinct, including many primitive reptiles.  However, one major group of insects, the Lepidoptera, moths and butterflies, appeared unaffected.  Instead, this group diversified during a period of ecological turnover.”

The Moth and Butterfly “Tongue”

Extant butterflies and moths have a well-known association with flowering plants.  As they feed on the nectar with their long proboscis (an elongated, sucking mouthpart), they pick up pollen and therefore play an important role in Angiosperm reproduction.

Dr Bas van de Schootbrugge (Department of Earth Sciences, Utrecht University) stated:

“The fossil remains contain distinctive hollow scales and provide clear evidence for a group of moths with sucking mouthparts, which is related to the vast majority of living moths and butterflies.”

A Scanning Electron Microscope Image of the Wing Scales on an Extant Moth Species

A scanning electron microscope image of Glossata wing scales.

A scanning electron microscope image showing the wing scales on a modern-day Glossata moth.

Picture Credit: University of Utrecht

What Did the Triassic Lepidoptera Feed On?

If there were moths and butterflies about some 201 million years ago, some 70 million years before the first flowering plants, then what were the adult animal’s feeding on?  The researchers conclude that the first Lepidopterans were feeding on non-flowering seed plants (Gymnosperms), one of the most successful plant groups of the early Mesozoic.  The earliest proboscid moths (Glossata), likely used their long, sucking mouthparts to feast on the sugary pollination beads secreted by several groups of Gymnosperms.

There is another tantalising and very controversial aspect that is worth considering.  What if the flowering plants evolved much earlier than previously thought?

In 2013, Everything Dinosaur published an article providing information on some intriguing research that suggested flowering plants originated more than 240 million years ago, in the Early Triassic.  If flowering plants were around over 100 million years earlier than previously thought than a symbiotic relationship between early Lepidoptera and early Angiosperms could have already been in place.

To read the article about evidence for Lower Triassic flowering plant fossils: Saying it with Flowers 100 Million Years Before Anyone Expected

On the basis of the fossilised wing and body scales recovered from Upper Triassic and Lower Jurassic sediments, the scientists have provided the earliest evidence to date for moths and butterflies.  The diversity of the scales found confirm a Late Triassic radiation of lepidopteran forms, including the divergence of the Glossata, a clade that consists of the living butterflies and moths with a sucking proboscis.   The team conclude that the early evolution of the Lepidoptera was probably not severely interrupted by the end-Triassic mass extinction event.

Providing an Insight into Today’s Climate Change

MSc student Timo Van Eldijk stated:

“This evidence has transformed our understanding of the evolutionary history of moths and butterflies as well as their resilience to extinction.  By studying how insects and their evolution was affected by dramatic greenhouse warming at the start of the Jurassic, we hope to provide insight into how insects might respond to the human-induced climate change challenges we face today.”

An Example of an Extant Member of the Glossata Clade

A living member of the Glossata clade.

An extant Glossata moth with similar wing scales to those found in the Upper Triassic/Lower Jurassic drill cores.

Picture Credit: Hossein Rajaei/Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde Stuttgart (Stuttgart, Germany)

The scientific paper: “A Triassic-Jurassic Window into the Evolution of Lepidoptera” by Timo van Eldijk, Torsten Wappler, Paul Strother, Carolien van der Weijst, Hossein Rajaei, Henk Visscher and Bas van de Schootbrugge, published in the journal “Science Advances”.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a press release from the University of Utrecht in the compilation of this article.

10 01, 2018

Fossils of Folkestone, Kent by Philip Hadland

By | January 10th, 2018|Book Reviews, Dinosaur Fans, Educational Activities, Geology, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils, Press Releases|0 Comments

A Review of the Fossils of Folkestone, Kent

Fossil collecting is a popular hobby and there are a number of excellent general guide books available.  However, the newly published “Fossils of Folkestone, Kent” by geologist and museum curator Philip Hadland, takes a slightly different perspective.  Instead of focusing on lots of fossil collecting locations, Philip provides a comprehensive overview of just one area of the Kent coast, the beaches and cliffs surrounding the port of Folkestone.  Here is a book that delivers what its title implies, if you want to explore the Gault Clay, Lower Greensand and Chalks around Folkestone then this is the book for you.

The Fossils of Folkestone, Kent by Philip Hadland – A Comprehensive Guide

Fossil collecting guide to the Folkestone area.

Fossils of Folkestone, Kent by Philip Hadland and published by Siri Scientific Press and priced at £12.99 plus postage.

Picture Credit: Siri Scientific Press

A Comprehensive Overview of the Geology and the Palaeoenvironment of the Folkestone Area

The author clearly has a tremendous affection for this part of the Kent coast.  His enthusiasm is infectious and the reader is soon dipping into the various chapters, dedicated to the rock formations exposed along the cliffs and the fossil delights to be found within them.  Folkestone is probably most famous for its beautiful Gault Clay ammonites, the clay being deposited around 100 million years ago and a wide variety of these cephalopods can be found preserved in the rocks.  The book contains more than 100 full colour plates, so even the beginner fossil hunter can have a go at identifying their fossil discoveries.

Clear Colour Photographs Help with Fossil Identification

Ammonite fossils from Folkestone (Anahoplites praecox).

Anahoplites praecox fossil from Folkestone.

Picture Credit: Siri Scientific Press

Surprises on the Shoreline

The book begins by explaining some of the pleasures of fossil hunting, before briefly outlining a history of fossil collecting in the Folkestone area and introducing some of the colourful characters who were prominent fossil collectors in their day.  The geology of the area is explored using terminology that the general reader can understand and follow, but academics too, will no doubt gain a lot from this publication.  Intriguingly, the Cretaceous-aged sediments were thought to have been deposited in a marine environment, however, the Lower Greensand beds have produced evidence of dinosaur footprints.  The palaeoenvironment seems to have been somewhat more complex than previously thought, the Lower Greensand preserving evidence of inter-tidal mudflats, that were once crossed by dinosaurs.  Isolated dinosaur bones have also been found in the area and the book contains some fantastic photographs of these exceptionally rare fossil discoveries.

Helping to Identify Fossil Finds

Folkestone fossils - ammonites.

Folkestone fossils – ammonites.

Picture Credit: Siri Scientific Press

Prehistoric Mammals

To help with identification, the colour plates and accompanying text are organised by main animal groups.  There are detailed sections on bivalves, brachiopods, corals, crustaceans, gastropods, belemnites and ammonites.  There are plenty of photographs of vertebrate fossils too and not just fish and reptiles associated with the Mesozoic.  Pleistocene-aged deposits are found in this area and these preserve the remains of numerous exotic prehistoric animals that once called this part of Kent home.

Fossil Teeth from a Hippopotamus Which Lived in the Folkestone Area During a Warmer Inter-glacial Period

Folkestone fossils - Teeth from a Hippopotamus.

Pleistocene mammal fossils from Folkestone (Hippopotamus upper canine and molar).

Picture Credit: Siri Scientific Press

The author comments that the presence of hippos, along with other large mammals such as elephants as proved by fossil finds, demonstrates how very different Folkestone was just 120,000 years ago.  It is likely that humans were present in the area, evidence of hominins have been found elsewhere in England and in nearby France, but as yet, no indications of human activity or a human presence in this area have been found.  Perhaps, an enthusiastic fossil hunter armed with this guide, will one day discover the fossils or archaeology that demonstrates that people were living in the area and exploiting the abundant food resources that existed.

A Partial Femur from a Large Hippopotamus Provides Testament to the Exotic Pleistocene Fauna

Folkestone fossils - partial femur from a Hippopotamus.

A partial femur (thigh bone) from a Hippopotamus.

Picture Credit: Siri Scientific Press

With a foreword by renowned palaeontologist Dean Lomax, “Fossils of Folkestone, Kent” is an essential read for anyone with aspirations regarding collecting fossils on this part of the English coast.  The book, with its weather-proof cover, fits snugly into a backpack and the excellent photographs and text make fossil identification in the field really easy.

If your New Year’s resolution is to get out more to enjoy the wonders of the British countryside, to start fossil hunting, or to visit more fossil collecting locations, then the “Fossils of Folkestone, Kent” by Philip Hadland would be a worthy addition to your book collection.

For further information on this book and to order a copy: Siri Scientific Press On-line

9 01, 2018

On the Trail of Megalodon Ancestors

By | January 9th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Scientists in Alabama Solve Forty-Year Shark Puzzle

A team of scientists from the University of Alabama and the McWane Science Centre (Birmingham, Alabama), have solved a four-decade-long prehistoric shark mystery, naming a new species of Late Cretaceous marine predator, one that might possibly have been an ancestor of the mighty Megalodon (Carcharocles megalodon), the largest carnivorous shark known to science.  The new species of shark has been named Cretalamna bryanti, the species name honours the Bryant family, committed supporters of the University of Alabama, the McWane Science Centre and the Alabama Museum of Natural History, institutions that have all been directly involved in the study and subsequent paper publication in the academic journal PeerJ.

Views of the Holotype Tooth Helping to Define a New Species

Cretalamna fossil tooth.

Views of one of the fossil shark teeth helping to define a new Cretaceous shark species.

Picture Credit: PeerJ

The picture shows the holotype fossil tooth (MSC 2984.1) in two views (A) labial view – a view of the tooth showing the side which would have faced the lips (if the fish had them), the side of the tooth facing the outside of the mouth and (B), mesial view, (directed to the middle of the body).  The scientists were able to establish a new species of a Cretalamna shark based on precise measurements of the features of the teeth within the study.

Key

(CH) = crown height.

(CT) = crown thickness.

(CW) = main cusp width.

(TH) = total height.

(TW) = total width

Thirty-Three Teeth Collected

The shark has been described based on thirty-three teeth collected from four locations within Alabama over the best part of forty years.  The teeth all between two and two and three-quarters centimetres high, represent a shark known as an otodontid or “mega-tooth” shark.  As the skeletons of sharks are made from cartilage, they rarely fossilise but their teeth do survive the fossilisation process and as an individual shark may have hundreds or even thousands of teeth in its life, shark tooth fossils are relatively common.

Previously, the teeth had been assigned to the Cretalamna species C. appendiculatai, but these teeth are mostly associated with much older Cretaceous deposits found in Europe.  The Alabama shark teeth were collected from rocks representing two geological formations, the Tombigbee Sand Member and the slightly younger Lower Mooreville Chalk.  The fossils have been dated to 84 million to 82 million years ago, a time when this part of south-eastern America was covered by a shallow sea known as the Late Cretaceous Mississippi Embayment (part of the Western Interior Seaway).

Some of the Individual Teeth Examined in the Study

Cretalamna bryanti shark fossil teeth.

Cretalamna bryanti fossil teeth.

Picture Credit: PeerJ

Explaining the postulated ancestry of the Megalodon sharks, lead author of the research Jun Ebersole (McWane Science Centre), stated:

“Over time, the sharks in the Megalodon line acquire [tooth] serrations, lose their cusplets (the little “fangs” on the sides of the main cusp) and grow to enormous sizes.   The newly described shark is an early member of this family, so its teeth are small and unserrated, with up to two pairs of cusplets.”

The establishment of this new species adds to the database regarding megafauna and hypercarnivores within the Western Interior Seaway.   This new otodontid would have co-existed with other large predatory sharks, along with elasmosaurids, huge meat-eating fish and members of the Mosasauridae.  Such was the number of large carnivores, that the Western Interior Seaway has been nicknamed “Hell’s Aquarium”!

Marine Life in the Western Interior Seaway (Late Cretaceous North America)

Western Interior Seaway.

Typical Western Interior Seaway marine life.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

31 12, 2017

Gigantism in Penguins

By | December 31st, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Giant Prehistoric Penguins Not Just Once But Several Times

A team of scientists writing in the academic journal “Nature Communications” have identified a new species of giant, prehistoric penguin.  This new species, named Kumimanu biceae is not closely related to previously described giant penguins and this suggests that gigantism in penguins evolved several times in the evolution of these birds.  K. biceae was described based on a partial skeleton excavated from the Palaeocene Moeraki Formation at Hampden Beach in the Otago region in New Zealand’s South Island.  An accurate size is difficult to establish based on the fragmentary fossil remains, but when swimming with its long beak and flippers extended, this bird could have measured more than two metres in length.  When on the shore, it would have stood around 1.7 metres tall.   The new fossil is one of the oldest giant penguins found so far and is clearly outside a clade including the giant Eocene and Oligocene Sphenisciformes, substantiating multiple origins of gigantism in fossil penguins.

Kumimanu biceae Size Comparison

Kumimanu biceae size comparison.

Kumimanu biceae stood around 1.7 metres tall and weighed over 100 kilos.

Fragmentary Fossil Material

The partial skeleton represents a single individual and the fossil material consists of a fragment of a left scapula, an incomplete right coracoid, a portion of the sternum, a partial left humerus, incomplete proximal end of left ulna, a right femur, a right tibiotarsus lacking proximal end, a partial synsacrum, three vertebrae and various bone fragments. The giant penguin’s name comes from Maori myth, kumi was a large, mythical monster and manu means bird.  The species or trivial epithet honours Beatrice (Bice) A. Tennyson, the mother of one of the paper’s authors, Alan Tennyson of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.  It was Alan’s mother who first inspired  him to take an interest in natural history.  The fossil material is believed to be somewhere between 59.5 and 55.5 million years old.

Comparing Kumimanu biceae with other penguins.

Kumimanu biceae fossils compared to other penguins.

Picture Credit: Nature Communications

The picture above shows the wing and pectoral girdle bones of the new giant penguin.  (a) shows the partially prepared concretion with bones in situ, whilst (b) shows the partial right coracoid, the dotted lines indicate the reconstructed outline of the bone.  The left coracoid of the prehistoric penguin species Waimanu tuatahi (c) is shown for a size comparison.  Pictures (d-f) show the fragmentary end of the left ulna of K. biceae in various views, whilst pictures (g-h) depict a left ulna of an as yet, undescribed new species of penguin from the Waipara Greensand.  A CT image of the surface of the partial left humerus of K. biceae is shown in (i) whilst (j) shows the exposed surface of the bone.  Pictures (k-l) show the humerus with minimum (k) and maximum (l) size estimates for the bone based on the partial fossil material.  The left humerus of the Palaeocene penguin Crossvallia unienwillia is shown (m).  C. unienwillia was one of the largest known prehistoric penguins.  The left humerus of another giant penguin, Pachydyptes ponderous from the late Eocene of New Zealand (n) is provided for further comparison.  The scale bars in the picture above equate to 5 cm.

The research team conclude that based on the fragmentary fossils, Kumimanu biceae is amongst the largest of the fossil penguins reported so far and since it seems more basal to the family than other giant forms, this suggests that gigantism evolved several times over the long history of penguin evolution.

27 12, 2017

Christmas Present for Chinese Palaeontologists

By | December 27th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Clutch of Chinese Dinosaur Eggs for Christmas

News agencies from China are reporting that Chinese palaeontologists have been given a special Christmas present with the discovery of the fossilised remains of a clutch of dinosaur eggs that date from the Early Cretaceous.  Construction workers were examining large boulders that had been blasted away as part of the preparations for a building project in Dayu County (Jiangxi Province, south-eastern China), when they noticed the series of white, semi-circular marks in the sandstone rocks, along with a number of almost complete oval-shaped eggs.

A Close View of One of the Better Preserved Chinese Dinosaur Egg Fossils

A fossilised dinosaur egg.

A close view of one of the fossilised dinosaur eggs from the Dayu County construction site (Jiangxi Province).

Picture Credit: Ming Kangping/China News Service

December 25th Discovery

The clutch of eggs was found on December 25th.  Excavation work in the immediate vicinity was suspended and the area cordoned off to prevent any further damage to the fossil find.  The fossils were inspected by local scientists under the supervision of the authorities with strict security in order to deter any would-be egg fossil thieves.

Scientists Examine the Fossil Finds in the Company of Officials

The site of the dinosaur egg discovery (Dayu County).

Officials look on whilst local scientists examine the dinosaur eggs.

Picture Credit: Ming Kangping/China News Service

Despite the removal and sale of such ancient artefacts having been made illegal in China, unfortunately, there is still a thriving black market in fossils, especially fossils of dinosaurs.  Everything Dinosaur has reported on several fossil theft cases from China.  For example, earlier this year, Everything Dinosaur reported on the arrest of a Chinese man from Zhejiang Province over the alleged theft of more than eighty dinosaur egg fossils.

To read the story: Dinosaur Egg Thief Suspect Arrested in China

Examining the Fossil Material

Chinese dinosaur egg fossils.

Local scientists examine the dinosaur egg fossils.

Picture Credit: Ming Kangping/China News Service

The Remains of at Least Twenty Dinosaur Eggs

The fossils of more than twenty dinosaur eggs have been taken away to a local museum for further study and preparation.  The site, which is a construction project for a new school, will be inspected closely before further building work takes place in case more fossils are at this location.  A spokesperson for the local museum stated that the fossils are around 130 million years old (Early Cretaceous).

17 12, 2017

New Troodontid Dinosaur Described

By | December 17th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|2 Comments

Almas ukhaa – Named after the Legendary Asian Bigfoot

A team of international scientists, including Dr Mark Norell (Curator of Palaeontology at the American Museum of Natural History, New York) and Professor Xing Xu (Chinese Academy of Sciences), have announced the discovery of a new species of Late Cretaceous troodontid from Mongolia.  This small, carnivorous dinosaur (it was probably less than a metre long), has been named Almas ukhaa, after the mythical Bigfoot-type ape that, according to some cryptozoologists, is believed to roam the more remote parts of Central Asia.

An Illustration of the New Troodontid Dinosaur A. ukhaa

Almas ukhaa illustrated.

An illustration of the newly described (2017) troodontid Almas ukhaa.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

From the Famous Djadokhta Formation

The fossil material which consists of an almost complete and articulated skull with an associated lower jaw and a substantial part of the postcranial skeleton, comes from the Ukhaa Tolgod region of the Gobi Desert, an area regarded as one of the richest concentrations of Cretaceous fossil vertebrates known to science.   Since this location was first mapped in 1993, numerous dinosaur skeletons have been found, including a nesting Oviraptor as well as several examples of Late Cretaceous mammals.  The rocks in this area form part of the Djadokhta Formation.

The Skull and Jaws of the Newly Described Late Cretaceous Troodontid Almas ukhaa

Almas ukhaa fossil skull and jaws.

Almas ukhaa cranial material (right lateral view).

Picture Credit: The American Museum of Natural History

Compared to other troodontids from Asia and North America, A. ukhaa had a relatively short snout.  The orbit is quite large, and these fossils could represent a juvenile, but if this turns out to be the remains of an adult animal, then this large eye-socket could indicate an adaptation to hunting in low light, perhaps Almas ukhaa was an elusive animal rarely seen in daylight, similar to the legendary Alma after which, this dinosaur is named.

Ukhaa Tolgod Sandstone Deposits

The sandstone deposits of Ukhaa Tolgod date from approximately 80 million years ago, (Campanian faunal stage of the Late Cretaceous).  The highly fossiliferous site was discovered by a joint American/Mongolian expedition in 1993.  Almas ukhaa (pronounced Al-mass ook-uh) is unlikely to be the last dinosaur found in this area.  The fossils show a number of autapomorphies (unique characteristics), that distinguish this southern Mongolian troodontid from other Asian members of the Troodontidae.  For example, the ischium (part of the hip girdle), has a distinct spike-like process and unlike other troodontids, the front part of the lower jaw lacks a lateral groove.

The scientific paper: “Osteology of a New Late Cretaceous Troodontid Specimen from Ukhaa Tolgod, Ömnögovi Aimag, Mongolia.”

13 12, 2017

The First Triassic Plesiosaur

By | December 13th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

The Oldest Plesiosaur in Town – Rhaeticosaurus mertensi

Following the end-Permian mass extinction event, the world’s ecosystems took several million years to recover.  In marine environments, just as on land, the mass extinction event led to devastating losses, it has been estimated that 57% of marine families died out.  However, as the Triassic progressed, a number of terrestrial reptiles adapted to marine habitats and new, diverse ecosystems evolved.  It had long been suspected that the Plesiosauria (the long-necked Plesiosaurs and the big-headed Pliosaurs), the most diverse and longest-lived of all the extinct marine reptile groups, had their origins in the Triassic, but the fossil evidence for basal Plesiosaurs was somewhat lacking.  However, the discovery of a partially articulated fossil in a clay pit, close to the village of Bonenburg in North Rhine-Westphalia (Germany), has helped to plug a gap in the fossil record.

The Fossilised Remains of the World’s Oldest Plesiosaur

Rhaeticosaurus fossil (A) with line drawing below (B).

Rhaeticosaurus fossil (A) with line drawing (B).

Picture Credit: Georg Oleschinski

The fossil discovery marks the first Plesiosaur specimen to be recovered from Triassic-aged rocks.  It is the oldest Plesiosaur to be found to date, the only one which dates from the Triassic Period.

Intriguingly, a study of cross-sections of some of the larger fossilised bones in the 2.37-metre-long skeleton, support previous research that suggests these marine reptiles grew rapidly and were (most likely), warm-blooded.  The new species has been named Rhaeticosaurus mertensi, (ree-ti-co-sore-us mur-ten-see), the genus name comes from the last faunal stage of the Triassic (the Rhaetian), the trivial name honours  private collector Michael Mertens, who made the initial fossil discovery.

201 Million-Year-Old Fossil

Michael Mertens discovered the specimen in 2013, some of the neck bones had been lost but the majority of the skeleton was in situ.  The resulting excavation, study and publication in the academic journal “Science Advances”, is a credit to the parties involved, namely Herr Mertens, the natural heritage protection agency, the Münster museum, and scientists from various institutes including Bonn University, the Osaka Museum of Natural History, the University of Tokyo and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, amongst others.

Co-author of the Scientific Paper Tanja Wintrich with the Fossil Finder Michael Mertens

Rhaeticosaurus fossil discovery.

PhD student Tanja Wintrich with Michael Mertens show where the fossil was found.

Picture Credit: Professor Martin Sander (University of Bonn)

The Long-lived and Diverse Plesiosauria

In a press release from Bonn University, Plesiosaurs are described as especially effective swimmers.  They evolved a unique, four-limbed propulsion using broad flippers, in essence, “flying underwater”.

One of the authors of the scientific paper Professor Martin Sander explained:

“Instead of laboriously pushing the water out of the way with their paddles, Plesiosaurs were gliding elegantly along with limbs modified to underwater wings.  Their small head was placed on a long, streamlined neck.  The stout body contained strong muscles keeping those wings in motion.  Compared to the other marine reptiles, the tail was short because it was only used for steering.  This evolutionary design was very successful, but curiously it did not evolve again after the extinction of the Plesiosaurs.”

An Illustration of a Typical Long-necked Plesiosaur

Plesiosaurus.

An illustration of a Plesiosaurus.

Bone Histology Suggests Rapid Growth and Potential Endothermy

The Triassic Plesiosaur already has the typical long-necked Plesiosaur bauplan and it was, like most of its descendants, a pelagic piscivore (an active swimmer, hunting fish).  Analysis of the bone structure indicates that the specimen represents a juvenile, one that was growing rapidly.  Thin cross-sections of fossil bone were compared to Jurassic and Cretaceous specimens and the team’s findings support the hypothesis that to grow this quickly, these reptiles needed to be warm-blooded.

Professor Sander stated:

“Plesiosaurs apparently grew extremely fast before reaching maturity.  Since Plesiosaurs spread quickly all over the world, they must have been able to regulate their body temperature to be able to invade cooler parts of the ocean.”

The Hind Leg Bones of Rhaeticosaurus mertensi

Hind leg bones of Rhaeticosaurus.

Left femur (f), tibia (ti) and fibula (fi). The proximal femur is a cast because the original was sectioned for histology (scale bar = 1 cm).

Picture Credit: Science Advances

In the photograph (above), the part of the femur (f) is a cast as this bone was cross-sectioned as part of the bone study.

Filling a Gap in the Fossil Record

The evolution of the Plesiosauria is poorly understood.  They are probably descended from a group of long-necked, marine reptiles known as Pistosaurs, fossils of which are associated with Middle to Late Triassic deposits.  An example of a Pistosaur is Bobosaurus (B. forojuliensis) from the Rio del Lago Formation of Italy (Carnian faunal stage of the Triassic).  However, Bobosaurus lived some thirty million years before Rhaeticosaurus evolved.  This German fossil discovery helps to fill in a little of the temporal gap in the fossil record of this successful lineage.  Rhaeticosaurus has been assigned to a basal position within the Pliosauridae family and its discovery reveals that the diversification of the Plesiosauria was a Triassic event and a number of genera survived the end Triassic extinction into the Jurassic.  The researchers conclude that the bone histology of this Late Triassic marine reptile suggests that the evolution of fast growth and an elevated metabolic rate were adaptations to an active, pelagic life-style foraging in open water.

Articulated Cervical Vertebrae (C) and Elements from the Left Front Limb (D)

Neck bones (c) and forearm, hand bones of Rhaeticosaurus.

Cervical vertebrae (C) and the left radius (ra), a phalanx (ph) and a (cr) carpal element (D).

Picture Credit: Science Advances

The new specimen corroborates the hypothesis that the open ocean life of Plesiosaurians facilitated their survival of the end-Triassic extinction.

The scientific paper: “A Triassic Plesiosaurian Skeleton and Bone Histology Inform on Evolution of a Unique Body Plan” by Tanja Wintrich, Shoji Hayashi, Alexandra Houssaye, Yasuhisa Nakajima and P. Martin Sander published in the journal “Science Advances”.

11 12, 2017

Looking at the World’s Oldest Eye

By | December 11th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Insight into Evolution of the Compound Eye

A team of international scientists including researchers from Cologne University, Estonia and the University of Edinburgh have been looking into the evolution of the first eyes by studying the remarkably well-preserved remains of an eye from a trilobite that lived in the sea more than half a billion years ago.  The trilobite to which it belongs (Schmidtiellus reetae), comes from a fossiliferous zone where the first complete, large organisms appear in the fossil record.  As a consequence of this, it is probably the oldest record of an ophthalmic system likely to be discovered.

Unlike modern compound eyes, the eye of this trilobite had no lens.  The fossil is estimated to be around 530 million years old.

The Trilobite Fossil Providing an Insight into the Evolution of Eyesight

Schmidtiellus reetae fossil.

Schmidtiellus reetae fossil showing details of the eyes.

Picture Credit: G. Baranov (University of Cologne)

Schmidtiellus reetae – Fossil from Estonia

The research team, which included Dr Brigitte Schoenemann (University of Cologne) and her colleagues Helje Pärnaste (Tallinn, Estonia) and Euan Clarkson (Edinburgh University), examined the specimen (S. reetae) and examined the cellular structure of the compound eye.  This remarkable fossil shows how the eye was constructed and from this the team could infer what level of vision the Arthropod had.  As well as looking at similarities with extant Arthropods, the researchers were keen to see how the trilobite eye differed in structure and complexity.  The results show that modern compound eyes work in ways strikingly similar to those of half a billion years ago.  They are very conservative in their structure – and quite successfully so.

Dr Schoenemann commented:

“The principle of the modern compound eye most likely goes back to before the times of our first fossil records.  Half a billion years ago, it was in the early stage of its development, and with our work we have succeeded in uncovering the first visible steps of this extremely successful visual principle”.

Trilobite from Estonia

The fossil comes from Lower Cambrian sediments located in Estonia.  The bedding planes at this location reveal some of the very first fossils of complex animals with an exoskeleton.  The right eye of the trilobite is slightly abraded, allowing for a view into its interior.  It is a typical compound eye consisting of approximately 100 sub-units placed relatively far apart compared to modern forms of compound eyes.  The authors were able to show that each of these sub-units (ommatidia) consists of about eight sensory cells, just like modern compound eyes, grouped around a central rhabdom, a light-guiding receptive structure.  The rhabdom contains the visual pigments and conveys the brightness of the surrounding environment to the animal’s central nervous system.

The Right Eye of Schmidtiellus reetae from the Study

A view of the trilobite eye.

A lateral view of the right eye of the trilobite.

Picture Credit: G. Baranov (University of Cologne)

Dr Schoenemann explained:

“In contrast to the modern compound eyes of bees, dragonflies, and many crabs, this very old compound eye does not have a lens.  This is likely due to the fact that these rather soft-shelled Arthropods lacked the necessary layer in their shell responsible for lens formation.”

What Could the Trilobite See?

The physical features of the central rhabdom ensures that each element of the compound eye has a limited field of vision and that the animal’s overall visual impression already has the mosaic-like character of a modern compound eye.  The precision of such an eye can be determined by the number of its elements, just like the number of pixels determines the precision and detail within a computer image.  The eye was capable of detecting movement and it could roughly discern the distribution of light in its environment to help it avoid obstacles in its path.

The University of Cologne biologist and her team were also able to show that only a few million years after Schmidtiellus lived, new and improved compound eyes with higher resolution developed in another trilobite from the Baltic region called Holmia kjerulfi.  The performance of this species’ eyes even approximated to that seen in modern dragonflies.  A physical analysis of the compound eyes of both trilobites showed that the organism inhabited bright waters, most likely coastal shelf regions.

Looking at the evolution of the Arthropod brain: Arthropod Brain and Nervous System Studied

6 12, 2017

Thornton Triceratops is Actually Torosaurus

By | December 6th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Triceratops Skeleton Turns Out to be Torosaurus

A partial, horned dinosaur skeleton, initially thought to represent a young adult Triceratops has been reassessed following a month of preparation and cleaning and identified as a Torosaurus (T. latus).  It was back in September that Everything Dinosaur first reported on the dinosaur fossil discovery in Thornton, Colorado (USA).  Sadly, the highly respected Denver Museum of Nature and Science palaeontologist, Mike Getty was taken ill at the dig site and passed away shortly afterwards.

Turns out, what was initially identified as a Triceratops has proved incorrect.  As the Denver Museum of Nature and Science preparators have worked on the fossil bones, they have uncovered enough material to confidently ascribe the fossils to the closely related, but much rarer Torosaurus latus.

An Illustration of the Horned Dinosaur Torosaurus latus

Torosaurus illustrated.

An illustration of Torosaurus latus (Sergey Krasovskiy).

Picture Credit: Sergey Krasovskiy

Triceratops and Torosaurus

Analysis of the large head shield that projects backwards from the skull has shown the frill of bone to be quite thin, with two distinct large holes (fenestrae), anatomical traits that are associated with Torosaurus and not Triceratops.  The new diagnosis was made after a careful comparative study using Triceratops specimens already within the Museum’s vertebrate fossil collection.  Torosaurus fossils are exceptionally scarce.  There are several thousand Triceratops (T. horridus and T. prorsus) fossils, representing something like 2,000 individuals.  In contrast, there are approximately 7 partial skulls of Torosaurus known.

A Skeletal Drawing Showing the Extent of the Fossil Material Found at the Thornton Site

Thornton Triceratops turns out to be a Torosaurus.

The yellow parts of the skeleton represent those elements of the Torosaurus found.

Picture Credit: Denver Museum of Nature and Science

A spokesperson for Everything Dinosaur commented:

“The fossil find at Thornton is highly significant.  The majority of the front-end of the individual has been excavated including an almost complete skull.  This specimen may provide palaeontologists with valuable information on how Torosaurus changed as it grew up.  In addition, these fossils could help to identify other Torosaurus specimens in museums that have been misidentified and labelled as Triceratops.”

Is Torosaurus Just a Very Old Triceratops?

The lack of Torosaurus fossil material compared to other horned dinosaurs from North America, led to speculation that Torosaurus was not a valid genus, that the fossil material ascribed to Torosaurus actually represented very old, very mature examples of Triceratops.  The Thornton specimen seems to represent a young adult animal, this may help to clarify the Torosaurus versus Triceratops debate.

To read an article published in 2010, that details an American study that suggested that Torosaurus fossils were actually Triceratops: The Extinction of Torosaurus – Second Time Around

Fossilised Bones Being Exposed at the Thornton Dig Site

The fossils of Torosaurus (T. latus).

Parts of the skeleton are exposed (Torosaurus latus).

Picture Credit: Denver Museum of Nature and Science

Joe Sertich (Curator of Dinosaurs at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science), stated:

“Not only is the fossil more complete and better preserved than I imagined, but it has also revealed itself to be something extremely rare.  The Thornton beast is by far the most complete, and best preserved, ever found.”

Nicknamed “Tiny”

The specimen has been nicknamed “Tiny”, but the work of preparing and studying these fossils is no small task.  The material was unearthed at a Saunders Construction site for a new Public Safety Facility.  Cleaning efforts have also revealed several more skull bones and a complete tibia (lower leg bone).  An estimated 95 percent of the skull and at least 20 percent of the skeleton have now been identified, making this the most complete Cretaceous-aged fossil discovered in Colorado.

Visitors to the Museum can observe the fossil preparation process in the Fossil Prep Laboratory, cleaning and preparing is estimated to take several more months.

Joe Sertich at the Dig Site Working on “Tiny” the Torosaurus

Excavating an Torosaurus.

Joe Sertich, curator of dinosaurs, (Denver Museum of Nature and Science) at the dig site (Thornton, Colorado).

Picture Credit: Denver Museum of Nature and Science

We wonder what Mike Getty would have made of it all?

To read more about the sad death of renowned scientist Mike Getty: Highly Respected Palaeontologist Dies at Dig Site

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of the press team at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science in the compilation of this article.

5 12, 2017

The Archaeopteryx That Wasn’t

By | December 5th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Ostromia crassipes – The First European Member of the Anchiornithidae

The first fossil of Archaeopteryx to have been discovered, turns out not to represent the “Urvogel” at all.  In a reassessment of the fossil, known as the Haarlem specimen, as it is part of the vertebrate collection housed at the Teylers Museum in Haarlem (Holland), it has been re-described as a small predatory dinosaur belonging to the anchiornithid family.  The dinosaur has been named Ostromia crassipes, the genus name honours the late John Ostrom, who identified the Haarlem specimen as a Theropod and was instrumental in the work that led to the definition of dinosaurs as dynamic, active reptiles.

The Haarlem Specimen – the Holotype of Ostromia crassipes

Ostromia crassipes holotype fossil.

The holotype fossil of Ostromia crassipes, previously thought to represent Archaeopteryx.

Picture Credit: Oliver Rauhut/Ludwig-Maximilians-University (Munich, Germany)

The fossil studied, actually consists of two parts, the counterslab TM 6929 (left) and the main slab (right) TM 6928.

Archaeopteryx was named in 1861, however, the Haarlem specimen was found four years earlier.  To date, around a dozen specimens have been assigned to the Archaeopteryx genus, including a single, fossilised feather.  The discovery of Archaeopteryx supported the theory of natural selection proposed by Darwin and Wallace as it represented a transitional form between reptiles and birds.  Archaeopteryx fossils support the idea that modern birds are descendants of carnivorous dinosaurs.

Writing in the academic journal “BMC Evolutionary Biology”, palaeontologists Oliver Rauhut and Christian Foth from the Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde in Stuttgart have re-examined the Haarlem specimen.  They conclude that this fossil differs in several important respects from the other known representatives of the genus Archaeopteryx.  The researchers conclude that the fossil is not an Archaeopteryx at all, but a representative of the very bird-like maniraptoran dinosaurs known as anchiornithids.

These crow-sized, predatory dinosaurs possessed feathers on all four limbs, and they predate the appearance of Archaeopteryx by several million years.

Commenting on their study, Dr Oliver Rauhut stated:

“The Haarlem fossil is the first member of this group found outside China and together with Archaeopteryx, it is only the second species of bird-like dinosaur from the Jurassic discovered outside eastern Asia.  This makes it [the Haarlem specimen] even more of a rarity than the true specimens of Archaeopteryx.”

Subtle Anatomical Differences and Bone Osteology

The scientists looked at the relative proportions of limb, toe and finger bones and noted that the Haarlem material (TM 6929 and TM 6928), was different from other Archaeopteryx specimens.  In addition, it had affinities with the fossilised remains of Anchiornis from China.  Furthermore, differences in bone osteology were observed.  For example, the Haarlem fossil specimen has a regular, well-developed longitudinal furrow on the exposed medial side of the preserved manual phalanx, this furrow is not present on any of the finger bones ascribed to Archaeopteryx.

Comparing the Finger Bones (Manual Phalanges) of Various Theropods

Theropod manual phalanges comparison.

Comparison of Theropod finger bones in highly compacted sediments.  Scale bar in mm.

Picture Credit: BMC Evolutionary Biology

The photograph (above) shows close-up views of the finger bones (manual phalanges) of several Theropods, analysis of the shape of the bones, their features and their proportions led the researchers to conclude that the Haarlem specimen was not Archaeopteryx.

(a).  the right manus (hand) of the Thermopolis specimen of Archaeopteryx

(b). the right manus of the Solnhofen specimen of Archaeopteryx

(c). the left manus of the juvenile Theropod from Germany Sciurumimus albersdoerferi (image resolved under UV light)

(d). the second finger of the small Late Jurassic Theropod Compsognathus longipes

(e).  the impression from the first finger of the anchiornithid Anchiornis huxleyi

(f). the first finger of Caudipteryx, a feathered Theropod from the Early Cretaceous of China

Learning About Fauna of the Solnhofen Archipelago

Discovered in 1857, the Haarlem fossil specimen was found about 6 miles (10 kilometres), to the north-east of the closest Archaeopteryx locality known (Schamhaupten) which is near the town of Altmannstein in southern Bavaria.  The Jurassic-aged rocks in this area were laid down in a shallow sea, in which were scattered numerous small islands, an archipelago, that provided an environment, superficially similar to that of the Caribbean today.  These islands that once covered southern Bavaria, are known as the Solnhofen archipelago, the region from which all known specimens of the genus Archaeopteryx come from.  The taxonomic reassignment of the Haarlem specimen to the feathered Anchiornithidae has provided a fresh insight into the evolution of the Avialae and indicates that the first bird-like dinosaurs originated in Asia.  During the Middle to the Late Jurassic these creatures migrated westwards, reaching the Solnhofen archipelago of Western Europe some 150 million years ago.

The Haarlem fossil was originally recovered from what was then the eastern end of the archipelago, quite close to the mainland.  Unlike Archaeopteryx, anchiornithids were (most likely), unable to fly, and might not have been able to reach the more remote islands offshore.   All true fossils of Archaeopteryx found to date were recovered from the lithographic limestone strata further to the west, closer to the open sea.  This implies that dinosaurs like Ostromia may have been limited in their distribution, compared to the volant Archaeopteryx.

Faunal Distribution in the Solnhofen Archipelago (Late Jurassic)

The Solnhofen archipelago and Ostromia/Archaeopteryx distribution.

The researchers speculate that the flightless Ostromia could not have reached the islands furthermost from the mainland whilst Archaeopteryx with its powered flight capability was able to reach outlying islands.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

In the diagram above, Ostromia may have been unable to reach the more remote parts of the island chain whilst Archaeopteryx, which was capable of powered flight (its aerial abilities are still debated), would have been more able to “island hop”.

Based on these new findings, the researchers postulate that other known Archaeopteryx fossils may need reassessment.

Dr Rauhut suggests:

“Not every bird-like fossil that turns up in the fine-grained limestones around Solnhofen need necessarily be a specimen of Archaeopteryx,”

The scientific paper: “Re-evaluation of the Haarlem Archaeopteryx and the Radiation of Maniraptoran Theropod Dinosaurs” by Christian Foth and Oliver W. M. Rauhut published in BMC Evolutionary Biology.

An article on Archaeopteryx research: Archaeopteryx Had Feathered “Trousers”

The oldest Archaeopteryx fossil: The Oldest Archaeopteryx in Town?

Load More Posts