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

14 11, 2017

Evidence of Placental Mammals – Early Cretaceous Purbeck

By | November 14th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Durlstotherium newmani and Durlstodon ensomi

Finally got round to reading the paper on the discovery of evidence of Eutherian (placental) mammals in Early Cretaceous deposits on, ironically, “the Jurassic Coast”.  The two teeth found during sieving of material collected on the Dorset coast by University of Portsmouth undergraduate student Grant Smith, has led to the erection of two new mammal species.  These fossils represent the earliest, undisputed fossils of mammals that belong to that same group of mammals – the placentals, as we do.  It is wonderful to think that the Dorset coast can still provide amazing fossil discoveries and secondly, it is great that such an important discovery can be made by a relative newcomer to the science of palaeontology.  When done to all involved in the research and the writing of the academic paper, published in the journal “Acta Palaeontologica Polonica”.

It also gives us an excuse to include the amazing image created by Dr Mark Witton that illustrates the Purbeck palaeoenvironment around the beginning of the Cretaceous.

Dorset Around 145 Million Years Ago

Purbeck Lagoon 145 mya as darkness falls Durlstodon (top left) looks on whilst two Durlstotherium scurry through the undergrowth. In the centre a Durlstotherium has been caught by Nuthetes destructor.

Picture Credit: Mark Witton

The two teeth, found at Durlston Bay near Swanage, represent two rat-like Eutherian mammals.  These creatures have been named Durlstotherium newmani and Durlstodon ensomi.  In Dr Witton’s remarkable illustration (above), a scene at dusk is depicted.  It is most likely that these early placentals were nocturnal, even so, as darkness fell there were still plenty of dangers lurking.  The Sauropods in the background might not pose much of a threat to our distant ancestors but in the centre of the image, a Durlstotherium has been caught by a two-metre-long Theropod dinosaur Nuthetes destructor.  This dinosaur is mainly known from isolated teeth and based on such fragmentary evidence it is difficult to place Nuthetes within the dinosaur family tree, however, it has been suggested that it was a dromaeosaurid.  Thus, the Purbeck area of southern England during the Early Cretaceous was not only home to placental mammals but, potentially, also the residence of the earliest known member of the Dromaeosauridae.

One of the authors of the paper on the two new mammals, Dr Steve Sweetman (Research Fellow at the University of Portsmouth), concluded that the fossilised teeth and jaw fragment ascribed to N. destructor indicate a taxonomic affinity with the Velociraptor branch of the Dromaeosauridae family.

Various Views of the Two Fossil Teeth (Durlstotherium and Durlstodon)

Purbeck Mesozoic mammal teeth.

Two fossil teeth of the Purbeck Mesozoic mammals, Durlstotherium (A1-4) and Durlstodon (B1-4) , named after Durlston Bay in Dorset.

Picture Credit: Portsmouth University

Dr Sweetman, an expert in the dentition of small vertebrates explained how Grant Smith discovered the fossil teeth:

“Grant was sifting through small samples of earliest Cretaceous rocks collected on the coast of Dorset as part of his undergraduate dissertation project in the hope of finding some interesting remains.  Quite unexpectedly he found not one but two quite remarkable teeth of a type never before seen from rocks of this age.  I was asked to look at them and give an opinion and even at first glance my jaw dropped!”

With Mammal Fossils It’s All About the Teeth

While these Dorset fossils may seem a little underwhelming, comprising only two molar teeth with no roots, that measure just a few millimetres across, the unique specialisations of mammal teeth for processing food result in complex tooth shapes.  These shapes evolve in patterns that allow palaeontologists to identify what group a mammal belongs to, meaning that even a single tooth can permit palaeontologists to gather a great deal of information.

The wonderful thing about mammal teeth is that they are very distinctive.  Every type of mammal has a different set of teeth.  The teeth vary in shape from the back to the front of the jaw and you can tell from a single tooth fossil exactly where in the jaw it was located, whether it came from the upper or lower jaw, whether it was on the right side of the skull of the left side.  The pattern on the crowns of the teeth (molars and premolars) provides information on the type of diet the animal had.  These fossil teeth from the Early Cretaceous of Dorset, might be extremely small, but they can tell us a great deal about the animals which had the teeth and provide information on the evolutionary relationship between these animals and other members of the Mammalia.

Dr Sweetman added:

“The teeth are of a type so highly evolved that I realised straight away I was looking at remains of Early Cretaceous mammals that more closely resembled those that lived during the latest Cretaceous, some 60 million years later in geological history.  In the world of palaeontology, there has been a lot of debate around a specimen found in China*, which is approximately 160 million years old.  This was originally said to be of the same type as ours but recent studies have ruled this out.  That being the case, our 145 million year old teeth are undoubtedly the earliest yet known from the line of mammals that lead to our own species.”

* The fossil from China that Dr Sweetman is referring to Juramaia sinensis a tiny, shrew-like mammal, fossils of which come from 160 million-year-old deposits from the Tiaojishan Formation of Liaoning Province.  Juramaia was named in 2011, it has been controversially described as a basal Eutherian mammal and it suggests that the very earliest placentals were probably arboreal.

To read Everything Dinosaur’s article about this fossil discovery: The “Mother” of all Placental Mammals

If Juramaia is proved to be an Eutherian, then this indicates that placental mammals had their origins in Asia in the Jurassic and that they had spread across Asia to Europe (Laurasia) by the Early Cretaceous.

Scanning Electron Microscope Images of the Tiny Purbeck Teeth

Early Cretaceous mammal teeth from Swanage (Dorset).

Purbeck Mesozoic mammal teeth under the electron microscope.

Picture Credit: Portsmouth University

Very Worn Molars

The crowns of the teeth are very worn, this suggests that despite the threat of being eaten by predatory dinosaurs, both mammals lived a long time.

Professor David Martill, who supervised the research project and is a co-author of the scientific paper stated:

“What I’m most pleased about is that a student [David Grant] who is a complete beginner, was able to make a remarkable scientific discovery in palaeontology and see his discovery and his name published in a scientific paper.  The Jurassic Coast is always unveiling fresh secrets and I’d like to think that similar discoveries will continue to be made right on our doorstep.”

One of the new species has been named Durlstotherium newmani, honouring Charlie Newman, a keen, amateur fossil hunter and the landlord of the Square and Compass pub in the village of Worth Matravers, near to where the fossils were discovered.  The trivial name of the second species, Durlstodon ensomi honours Paul Ensom, a palaeontologist who did much to improve our understanding of the palaeoenvironments represented by the geology of Dorset.

12 11, 2017

Giant Otter with a Bite Like No Other Otter

By | November 12th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

The Very Powerful Bite of Siamogale melilutra

Back in January, Everything Dinosaur reported upon the scientific description of a new species of giant otter from the Late Miocene of south-west China.  At around fifty kilogrammes in weight, the new species Siamogale melilutra, is a much more heavy-set and robust animal compared to extant otter species.  At the time, the scientists responsible for studying the fossil material, which included an almost complete but crushed cranium, speculated on what this super-sized member of the weasel family would have fed on.  Writing in the journal “Scientific Reports”, some of the scientists involved in the original description have followed up this research by publishing a new paper on the feeding capabilities of such a powerful carnivore.

This wolf-sized, aquatic predator had a surprisingly strong bite that might have made S. melilutra an apex predator.

A Digitally Reconstructed View of the Skull and Jaws of Siamogale melilutra

Digitally restored cranium of S. melilutra right lateral view.

A digitally reconstructed cranium of S. melilutra .

Picture Credit: Scientific Reports

Comparing Otter Skulls and Jaws

The researchers digitally recreated jaw models of extinct otters as well as ten extant species (living species of otters) and then subjected these models to engineering stress tests.  The researchers discovered that the jaw of Siamogale melilutra was six times stronger than expected.  Although, the teeth morphology and biting efficiency was found to be very similar to living otters, these very strong jaws open up the possibility that Siamogale melilutra fed on a range of animals that its modern-day contemporaries could not.  Sea Otters (Enhydra lutris) and the African Cape Clawless Otter (Aonyx capensis), specialise in feeding upon shellfish and have a durophagous diet.  Even accounting for the size difference between the Miocene giant Siamogale melilutra and these living otter species, the jaws of S. melilutra are much stronger.

Comparing the Stress on Jaws on Living and Extinct Species of Otter

Calculating the bite of Siamogale melilutra.

Stress during biting (otter jaw comparison).

Picture Credit: Scientific Reports

The picture above shows the results of computer modelling to indicate potential bite force stresses in a number of otter species.  Warmer colours depict high levels of bite stress, whilst cooler colours depict areas of lower stress.

(a) Pteronura brasiliensis (Giant South-American Otter)

(b) Lontra canadensis (North American River Otter)

(c) Lontra longicaudis (Neotropical Otter of Central America)

(d) Lontra felina (South American Marine Otter)

(e) Enhydra lutris (Sea or Marine Otter)

(f) Hydrictis maculicollis (Spotted-necked Otter)

(g) Siamogale melilutra – extinct Miocene species

(h) Lutra lutra (European Otter)

(I) Aonyx capensis (African Cape Clawless Otter)

(j) Aonyx cinerea (Asian Small-clawed Otter)

(k) Lutrogale perspicillata (Indian Smooth-coated Otter)

The research team conclude that S. melilutra has no living analog.  Its huge size and powerful jaws could have enabled this otter to exploit an environmental niche not found in living otter species.  It might even have been an apex predator.

To read Everything Dinosaur’s article on the scientific description of Siamogale melilutraSuper-sized Otter as Big as a Wolf

The scientific paper: “Feeding Capability in the Extinct Giant Siamogale melilutra and Comparative Mandibular Biomechanics of Living Lutrinae” by Z. Jack Tseng, Denise F. Su, Xiaoming Wang, Stuart C. White and Xueping Ji published in the journal “Scientific Reports”.

2 11, 2017

Favourite Prehistoric Plants

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Frankfurt Natural History Museum Display Carboniferous Treasures

If the fossils are too large to display inside your museum, put them on display outside the museum.  That seems to be the philosophy adopted by the dedicated team behind the Frankfurt Natural History Museum (Senckenberg Naturmuseum, Frankfurt), in Germany.  Amongst the many outdoor exhibits, our team members spotted a magnificent reminder of the giant plant life of the Carboniferous.

Prehistoric Plants on Display Outside the Museum (Frankfurt)

Giant prehistoric plant fossils.

Prehistoric plant fossils outside the Frankfurt Natural History Museum.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Other Carboniferous giants on show include a life-size Sigillaria which, along with the other exhibits forms the “Senckenberganlage”.  A series of open-air displays that encourages visitors to explore the diverse history of life on our planet.

A Giant Replica of a Carboniferous Lycopsid (Sigillaria)

Sigillaria model tree.

Sigillaria model (lycopsid) in Frankfurt.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

These huge horsetails and giant lycopsids are a welcome site for a visiting Earth science fan and amateur fossil collector.

1 11, 2017

“Big Foot” from the Early Jurassic of Africa

By | November 1st, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Kayentapus ambrokholohali – Taking Giant Dinosaurs in our Stride

A team of international scientists, including researchers from Manchester University, have published a paper in the academic journal PLOS One that reports on the discovery of giant, three-toed dinosaur tracks in the Maseru district of Lesotho, southern Africa.  These tracks, some of which measure 57 centimetres long, are the first evidence of the existence of huge, apex Theropods in the Early Jurassic of southern Gondwana.  The prints have been assigned to the ichnogenus Kayentapus and a new species – Kayentapus ambrokholohali has been erected.

University of Manchester Senior Research Fellow Dr Fabien Knoll Reclines Next to the Giant Dinosaur Tracks

Dr Fabien Knoll provides a scale for the dinosaur footprints.

Dr Fabien Knoll (Manchester University) poses next to the dinosaur trace fossils.

Picture Credit: Manchester University

The Largest Known Theropod Tracks in Africa

The tracks were found in fine-grained sandstone, that was laid down some 200 million years ago, the surface (palaeosurface), shows current-ripple marks and desiccation marks indicating that the surface represents an environment close to a river or lake (fluvio-lacustrine environment).  The tracks indicate that a large, three-toed dinosaur with a pace length in excess of 1.3 metres walked across the wet sand, perhaps it had come to the area to get a drink or perhaps to find prey.  The scientists which include Dr Fabien Knoll (Manchester University) and Dr Lara Sciscio, (postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Cape Town), state that the trace fossils come from deposits representing the Upper Elliot Formation, a formation that is synonymous with abundant vertebrate trackways but very few body fossils.  The tracks are the largest Theropod dinosaur footprints to have been described from African rocks to date.

An Apex Predator

The tracks suggest an apex predator (Megatheropod), a dinosaur which would have been around 8-9 metres in length, much larger than many of the contemporary Theropods known from the Early Jurassic.  The prints don’t give any idea of the dinosaur’s age, unlike histological analysis of fossil bone, this giant, might not have been fully grown!  The dinosaur has been named Kayentapus ambrokholohali as the long-toed prints resemble those from the ichnogenus Kayentapus, a widely distributed ichnogenus with a substantial chronological and geological time span.

A Scale Drawing of the Theropod Dinosaur (Track Maker)

A scale drawing showing the estimated size of the Lesotho dinosaur.

A scale drawing based on the Lesotho tridactyl dinosaur prints.

Picture Credit: University of Manchester/Press Association

Dr Sciscio commented:

“This discovery marks the first occurrence of very large carnivorous dinosaurs in the Early Jurassic of Gondwana, the prehistoric continent which would later break up and become Africa and other landmasses.  This makes it a significant find.  Globally, these large tracks are very rare.  There is only one other known site similar in age and sized tracks, which is in Poland”.

Comparative Line Drawings of Lower Jurassic Track D1 from Lesotho and Other Large Theropod Tracks from the Jurassic and Cretaceous

Analysing Dinosaur Footprints.

Comparative dinosaur tracks (line drawings).

Picture Credit: PLOS One

A comparative analysis of three-toed dinosaur tracks from various locations (Jurassic and Cretaceous trackways).

The line drawings above show (A) Kayentapus hopii, Kayenta Formation (Early Jurassic), (B) a 35 cm long Eubrontes isp.  (C) a 39 cm long Kayentapus minor print, whilst (D–E) represent Megalosauripus and a large Polish Theropod track from the Sołtyków site, Poland.  Drawings (F–G) represent Eubrontes cf., from the Middle Jurassic of Australia and (H) has been tentatively assigned to the ichnogenus Eubrontes glenrosensis, from the Lower Cretaceous Glen Rose Formation (United States). (I) represents Irenesauripus whilst (J) is a line drawing of  Irenesauripus mclearni.  Drawing (K)  is Irenesauripus acutus, I, J and K are all from within the Albian Gething Formation of Canada.  Track (L) in red, is print reference D1 (Kayentapus ambrokholohali) from the newly described Lesotho tracks.  All images have been redrawn and scaled to 15 cm.

Dr Knoll added:

“In South Africa, Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Namibia, there is good record of Theropod footprints from the Late Triassic and Early Jurassic epochs.  In fact, there are numerous palaeosurfaces where footprints and even tail and body impressions of these, and other animals, can be found.  But now we have evidence this region of Africa was also home to a mega-carnivore.”

The scientific paper: “The First Megatheropod Tracks from the Lower Jurassic Upper Elliot Formation, Karoo Basin, Lesotho” by L. Sciscio , E. M. Bordy, M. Abrahams, F. Knoll, B. W. McPhee and published in the journal PLOS One.

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

12 10, 2017

Reaffirming Protoichthyosaurus as a Valid Genus

By | October 12th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

The Muddy Water Surrounding Protoichthyosaurus and Ichthyosaurus Just Got a Little Clearer

A type of British Ichthyosaur, first identified nearly forty years ago, but then dismissed as a distinct genus, has been re-examined and found to be a new type of marine reptile after all.  British palaeontologist Dr Robert Appleby, in 1979, conducted a review of Ichthyosaur fossil material found around the UK and announced a news species which he named Protoichthyosaurus.  Two separate species were assigned to this genus P. prostaxalis and P. prosostealis.  Erecting this genus with its two component species proved controversial and a number of other scientists have dismissed this assessment, reassigning the fossil material to the Ichthyosaurus genus.

One of the Fossil Specimens from the 1979 Marine Reptile Study

Protoichthyosaurus fossil material.

One of the original skeletons of Protoichthyosaurus described by Robert Appleby in 1979.

Picture Credit: National Museum of Wales/Dean Lomax

A detailed study which involved making comparisons between Protoichthyosaurus and Ichthyosaurus by Dean Lomax, (Manchester University), Rashmi Mistry (University of Reading) and Professor Judy Massare (State University of New York), published in the “Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology” has established Protoichthyosaurus as a separate genus once again.

The researchers found major differences in the number of bones in the front fin, or forefin, of both species.  The team posit that this fundamental difference in anatomy probably reflects the way both species used their forefins to manoeuvre whilst swimming.  Differences were also found in the skulls.

Scientists Studying the Fossil Material

A Protoichthyosaurus fossil is studied by palaeontologists.

Bill Wahl, Prof. Judy Massare, Dr David Large and Dean Lomax study the fossil.

Picture Credit: University of Nottingham

Fin Grabs Attention

During this research, another discovery about the fins was made, palaeontologist Dean Lomax explained:

“This unusual forefin structure was originally identified by Robert Appleby in 1979, but some of the historic specimens he examined had been ‘faked’, and this fakery had been missed until now.  In some instances, an isolated fin of an Ichthyosaurus had been added to a Protoichthyosaurus skeleton to make it appear more complete, which led to the genuine differences being missed.  This has been a major problem because it stopped science from progressing.  We also found some pathological fins, including Ichthyosaurus fins with pathologies that mimic the Protoichthyosaurus forefin structure”.

Dean and Judy teamed up with former undergraduate student Rashmi Mistry, who had been studying an unusual Ichthyosaur in the collections of the Cole Museum of Zoology, (University of Reading), as she prepared her undergraduate dissertation.

Rashmi added:

“Whilst doing my dissertation in 2016, I studied several Ichthyosaurs in the collections, including a very small skeleton.  It had an unusual forefin that matched Protoichthyosaurus, which I understood to be a widely unrecognised genus.  However, when I contacted Dean, he was very excited.  He told me that this little skeleton is the only known small juvenile Protoichthyosaurus.”

The Juvenile Protoichthyosaurus Specimen

Protoichthyosaurus (juvenile).

The juvenile Protoichthyosaurus fossil.

Picture Credit: University of Reading

More Than Twenty Specimens of Protoichthyosaurus Identified

As a result of this extensive study, more than twenty specimens of Protoichthyosaurus have been identified.  This is highly significant as each specimen (with a forefin) has the same structure.  The specimens all date from the early Jurassic geological period (200-190 million years ago) and they are geographically dispersed with specimens reported from Dorset, Somerset, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Warwickshire and Glamorgan (Wales)

Links with the Dinosaurs of China Exhibition

As part of his research, Dean examined a nearly complete skeleton which is part of the vertebrate collection at the museum of Nottingham.  This specimen turned out to be different from all the other known examples of Protoichthyosaurus (autapomorphies concerning the cranium and the shape of the humeri).  A new species of Protoichthyosaurus has been erected, it has been named  Protoichthyosaurus applebyi, in honour of Dr Appleby and in recognition of his work some forty years ago that established the Protoichthyosaurus genus in the first place.

The Protoichthyosaurus applebyi Specimen

Protoichthyosaurus applebyi fossil specimen.

Protoichthyosaurus applebyi fossil.

The fossil specimen is currently on display at the Nottingham Lakeside Arts centre, as part of the “Dinosaurs of China” exhibition.  If you want to catch this marine reptile and take in all the beautiful feathered dinosaurs in this exhibition, you had better hurry, “Dinosaurs of China” closes at the end of the month.

Everything Dinosaur Team Members Viewed the Specimen at the “Dinosaurs of China” Exhibition

Protoichthyosaurus applebyi

The Nottingham Ichthyosaur (P. applebyi).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The scientific paper: “The Taxonomic Utility of Forefin Morphology in Lower Jurassic Ichthyosaurs: Protoichthyosaurus and Ichthyosaurus” by Lomax, D. R., Massare, J. A. and Mistry, R.  Published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

10 10, 2017

Fused Bones in Primitive Birds Earlier than Previously Thought

By | October 10th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

The Evolution of the Light but Strong Skeleton for Powered Flight

It is widely accepted that birds evolved from dinosaurs.  The Order Dinosauria is now classified into two parts, the non-avian dinosaurs, which are extinct and the avian dinosaurs (the birds), which are very much still with us.  However, the evolution of the specialised anatomy that enables powered flight is not well understood.  Birds have several skeletal modifications that greatly assist them when it comes to their aerial abilities.  Any aeronautical engineer will expound the virtues of a light but strong frame for an aircraft, birds have a light but strong skeleton with many elements fused for greater rigidity.  A team of scientists writing in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”, have provided new evidence to help explain how these remarkable anatomical modifications came about.  This evolutionary story is likely to be much more complicated than previously thought.

Some Theropod Dinosaurs Evolved into Birds Skeletal Similarities and Differences

Bird skeleton compared to ground dwelling dinosaur skeleton

A skeleton of the Theropod dinosaur compared with a simplified skeleton of a modern bird.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows the skeleton of the recently described oviraptorid Corythoraptor jacobsi compared to that of a modern bird.  The bird skeleton shows a number of adaptations for powered flight, such as fused hand and foot bones and an enlarged sternum but the ground-dwelling Oviraptor possesses number of anatomical characteristics which show its affinity to modern birds.  Both Aves and the Oviraptoridae are included together in the clade Maniraptora which consists of modern birds and their closest extinct relatives from the Coelurosaurian Theropods.

Pterygornis dapingfangensis – Fused Bones

A second, beautifully-preserved specimen of the Early Cretaceous Enantiornithine bird Pterygornis dapingfangensis has fully fused hands (carpometacarpus bones) as well as a fused pelvic girdle.  Dating from around 120 million years ago, this specimen is the oldest known bird fossil which shows these modifications for powered flight.  The fossil comes from the Jiufotang Formation of Liaoning Province (north-eastern China).  This sparrow-sized creature is one of several genera known from these Lower Cretaceous deposits, only the Solnhofen deposits of Germany are older in terms of the bird fossils they contain.  The exquisite specimen shows that the carpometacarpus and the pelvis are completely fused, it had been thought that these traits did not appear in Aves until the Late Cretaceous.   The fossil record had shown that all bird fossils associated with Upper Cretaceous deposits have a completely fused hand and pelvis.  Thanks to this newly published scientific paper, the historical origin of these avian bone fusions has been pushed back some forty million years.

The Second Specimen of Pterygornis dapingfangensis

Pterygornis dapingfangensi helps scientists to better understand bird evolution.

Pterygornis dapingfangensis fossil.

Picture Credit: W. GAO (Chinese Academy of Sciences)

Great Fossils but Squashed Flat!

Named in 2015 from a single, disarticulated specimen, discovered near the town of Dapingfang, Chaoyang County in Liaoning Province, Pterygornis shows a number of unique autapomorphies that distinguishes it from other Enantiornithines and the second fossil has shown that the body plan for a rigid, fused skeleton was present in at least one species of bird from the Early Cretaceous.

Dr Steve Brusatte (University of Edinburgh), who reviewed the scientific paper, commented:

“These [fused bones] are fundamental features of the modern bird blueprint, and are integral to giving birds the strength and rigidity needed to fly.  There seems to have been a lot of experimentation among early birds, with different species trying out different ways of making their skeletons stronger and better able to withstand the rigours of flight.”

Sadly, many of the fossils from the Jiufotang Formation have been compressed and distorted as a result of the fossilisation process.  However, despite the taphonomy that ends with a lot of the fossils from these rocks being squashed flat, the researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences were able to identify that the fused bones in the second known specimen of Pterygornis were not a result of pathology or the fossilisation process.

The Disarticulated Holotype Specimen of Pterygornis dapingfangensis

Pterygornis dapingfangensi holotype material.

The scattered and disarticulated fossil remains of Pterygornis dapingfangensis.

Picture Credit: Wang Min

The lack of transitional fossils has hindered the process of identifying the evolutionary process towards the modern bird skeleton.  However, in this research paper the authors outline how the fusion of pelvic bones and those in the hands and feet may have evolved independently in non-avian dinosaurs, primitive and more advanced birds.  The scientists speculate that varying degrees of bone fusion were likely to have evolved in basal birds, perhaps as a result of environmental pressures or related to a refinement of flight capability.  It seems that the developmental pathway from ground-dwelling dinosaur to the skeletal shape of living birds has a few more surprises to spring before it is more fully understood.

6 10, 2017

New Prehistoric Crocodile with a Tough Skull

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

Ieldraan melkshamensis – The Monster of Melksham

A new species of prehistoric marine crocodile has been described after an amazing effort by the preparators at the Natural History Museum (London), to separate this crocodile’s partial skull and fragmentary jaw bones from an extremely hard concretion, in which the fossils were entombed.  Although in very poor condition, the research team from the University of Edinburgh as well as the Natural History Museum, were able to identify enough unique anatomical traits (autapomorphies), to allow a new species to be erected.  The new marine crocodile (metriorhynchid) has been named Ieldraan melkshamensis, the species name honouring the town of Melksham in Wiltshire where the fossil material was unearthed.

Ieldraan melkshamensis – One Tough Crocodylomorph with a Very Tough Skull

Ieldraan melkshamensis fossil material.

Ieldraan melkshamensis fossil with the inset showing a large, conical tooth in detail.

Picture Credit: University of Edinburgh/Davide Foffa

The specimen was acquired by the Natural History Museum in 1875, but because of its poor condition it did not attract a lot of scientific attention.  The fossil being entombed within an extremely hard concretion (septarian concretion), meant any form of scientific study was extremely limited.

Mark Graham, Senior Fossil Preparator at the Natural History Museum explained the problem:

“The specimen was completely enclosed in a super-hard rock nodule with veins of calcite running through, which had formed around it during the process of fossilisation.  The work took many hours over a period of weeks, and great care had to be taken to avoid damaging the skull and teeth as they became exposed.”

Newest member of the Metriorhynchidae

Measuring more than three metres in length, Ieldraan melkshamensis was one of the most powerful and dangerous marine predators in the warm, shallow seas of western Europe some 163 million years ago (Callovian faunal stage of the late Middle Jurassic).  The teeth with their distinctive striations (series of ridges running down the length of the teeth) indicate that this large crocodylomorph, which was very distantly related to today’s crocodilians, fed on large prey items.  It might have hunted other marine reptiles as well as preying on squid and fish.  It has been classified as member of the Metriorhynchidae family, specifically assigned to the sub-family Geosaurinae and a phylogenetic analysis places Ieldraan as the sister taxon of Geosaurus, perhaps the best-known of all the metriorhynchids, having been named and described over 100 years ago.

A Model of a Typical Metriorhynchid Crocodylomorph (Plesiosuchus)

Plesiosuchus marine crocodile model.

Available from Everything Dinosaur a Plesiosuchus model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The Plesiosuchus model shown above is part of the Wild Safari Prehistoric World model collection, replicas of marine crocodiles are quite rare, to learn more about this model series and to view the range at Everything Dinosaur: Safari Ltd: Wild Safari Prehistoric World”

The authors of the scientific paper, published in the “Journal of Systematic Palaeontology” conclude that if this new species is a sister taxon to Geosaurus, this places it in the Geosaurini clade and this data suggests that the major Geosaurini lineages originated millions of years earlier than previously thought.

Lead author Davide Foffa (School of GeoSciences at the University of Edinburgh), stated:

“It’s not the prettiest fossil in the world, but the Melksham Monster tells us a very important story about the evolution of these ancient crocodiles and how they became the apex predators in their ecosystem.  Without the amazing preparation work done by our collaborators at the Natural History Museum, it would not have been possible to work out the anatomy of this challenging specimen.”

Prehistoric Marine Crocodile on Patrol – Plesiosuchus manselii

Marine crocodile (Plesiosuchus).

Plesiosuchus manselii illustrated.  A typical metriorhynchid.

Picture Credit: Fabio Manucci/University of Edinburgh

5 10, 2017

Thailand’s Biggest Dinosaur Discovery Reported

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

Fossils of Biggest Dinosaur Found to Date in Thailand Reported

Everything Dinosaur has received reports that news sources are stating that fossils of a very big dinosaur, a Sauropod, have been found in Thailand.  The first dinosaur bone from Thailand was discovered back in 1976, since then, as the country’s geology has been mapped and explored, a number of exciting dinosaur fossil discoveries have been made, mostly by employees of the Department for Mineral Resources, which is part of the Ministry for Natural Resources and the Environment.  Thailand has quite extensive Mesozoic-aged exposures from both marine and non-marine environments.  To date, team members think that the largest dinosaur known from Thailand would be Phuwiangosaurus (P. sirindhornae), which is estimated to have reached a length of about twenty metres and weighed as much as seventeen tonnes.

The First Every Dinosaur Fossil from Thailand

Partial Sauropod femur (Thailand)

The distal end of a Sauropod femur.

Picture Credit: Department of Mineral Resources (Thailand)

The photograph above shows the first dinosaur fossil to have come to the attention of science found in Thailand.  The distal end (the part furthest away from the body) of a femur was found eroding out of a stream bed in 1976.  Since then, a number of dinosaur genera have been named and described including an Iguanodont (Sirindhorna khoratensis) and two sizeable Theropods (Siamotyrannus isanensis and Siamosaurus suteethorni).

A senior government official (Niwat Maneekut, deputy director-general of the Department of Mineral Resources), is reported to have said that the fossils come from the north-east of the country.  A single fossilised bone was found by a villager in the Nong Bua Raheo district of  Chaiyaphum province, around two hundred miles north-east of the capital Bangkok, last year, but more recent excavations led by palaeontologists from the Department of Mineral Resources had recovered a further twenty pieces of bone.

Information remains patchy, but the fossils are estimated to be around 100 million years old and scientists are conducting more research.

Phuwiangosaurus is Believed to be a Member of the Euhelopodidae and Therefore Similar to Euhelopus

Scale drawing - Euhelopus.

Euhelopus scale drawing.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

3 10, 2017

Squid the Last Meal of a Baby Ichthyosaurus

By | October 3rd, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|1 Comment

Baby Ichthyosaurus communis Dined on Squid

A team of UK-based scientists have identified the youngest and therefore the smallest specimen of Ichthyosaurus communis known to science and, just for good measure, they have found what could have been the marine reptile’s last meal.  Inside the body cavity of the seventy-centimetre-long fossil, the researchers found tiny “hook-like” structures, these are the less digestible parts of squid and therefore, the scientists were able to deduce that this young Ichthyosaurus had recently fed on cephalopods.

A Young Ichthyosaurus communis Attacking a Prehistoric Squid

A neonate Ichthyosaurus communis feeding on a squid.

A neonate Ichthyosaurus attacks a squid.

Picture Credit: Julian Kiely

The artist Julien Kiely has kindly reconstructed the new-born in this fantastic scene, which depicts the moment a newly born Ichthyosaurus communis attacks a squid.

Commenting on the significance of this discovery, one of the authors of the scientific paper, published today in the journal “Historical Biology – The International Journal of Paleobiology”, Dean Lomax stated:

“It is amazing to think we know what a creature that is nearly 200 million years old ate for its last meal.  We found many tiny hook-like structures preserved between the ribs.  These are from the arms of prehistoric squid.  So, we know this animal’s last meal before it died was squid.”

From the Biggest to the Smallest

University of Manchester palaeontologist Dean Lomax, in collaboration with German colleagues, had recently published a paper describing the largest specimen of Ichthyosaurus communis, a female that turned out to be pregnant when she died.  Everything Dinosaur wrote an article about the research in August*, as well as having described the biggest I. communis, just a few weeks later, this new paper, describes the smallest.

Palaeontologist Dean Lomax Holds the Neonate Ichthyosaurus communis Specimen

Dean Lomax holding the neonate Ichthyosaurus fossil.

Palaeontologist Dean Lomax holding the baby Ichthyosaurus fossil.

Picture Credit: University of Manchester/University of Birmingham

*To read the article about the largest Ichthyosaurus communis specimen: Palaeontologists and the Pregnant Ichthyosaurus

Ichthyosaurus communis

Several species of Ichthyosaurus have been identified, but Ichthyosaurus communis was the first, being named and described in 1822 from fossil material discovered by Mary Anning.  These reptiles were viviparous and a number of specimens showing embryos preserved inside their mothers are known.  However, this Ichthyosaurus is one of only a handful of fossils that represent very young animals.  As it was not preserved in association with a larger specimen (the mother) and as there are stomach contents present, it is likely that this fossil represents an independent, recently born animal, the first neonate Ichthyosaurus communis skeleton to be described.

The Ichthyosaurus Fossil on Display at the Lapworth Museum of Geology, University of Birmingham

The neonate Ichthyosaurus communis fossil specimen.

The neonate I. communis specimen.

Picture Credit: University of Manchester/University of Birmingham

The fossil is definitely a new born and not a dwarf species of Ichthyosaur as the scientists noted the large ring of sclerotic bone relative to the eye socket and the poorly ossified (highly cancellous) bones of the skull and other parts of the skeleton, these signs all indicate that these are the fossilised remains of a very young marine reptile.

Niche Partitioning in the Ichthyosauria

The new specimen is from the collections of the Lapworth Museum of Geology, (University of Birmingham).  Palaeontologist Nigel Larkin, a research associate at Cambridge University, cleaned and studied the specimen in 2016,  as he prepared the fossil, he became aware of its potential significance.  Nigel has recently been involved in an extensive restoration project at Biddulph Grange in Staffordshire.  He has been helping to restore the Victorian Geological Gallery at this National Trust property to its former glory.  As one of the most highly respected fossil preparators in the UK, Nigel was able to reveal the fossil’s secrets as he cleaned and helped to preserve the delicate marine reptile skeleton.

To read an article about the Geological Gallery preservation project at Biddulph Grange: Fossil Hunting at Biddulph Grange

The discovery of squid remnants in the gut area suggests these types of Ichthyosaur specialised in hunting cephalopods.  Commenting on the implications of this fossil, Dean Lomax explained:

“This is interesting because a study by other researchers on a different type of Ichthyosaur, called Stenopterygius, which is from a geologically younger age, found that the small – and therefore young – examples of that species fed exclusively on fish.  This shows a difference in prey-preference in new-born Ichthyosaurs.” 

This could hint at niche partitioning, whereby similar species use different resources within an environment to reduce direct competition and to help them co-exist.

Dean Lomax and Nigel Larkin in Front of the Jurassic Seas Exhibit (Lapworth Museum of Geology)

The neonate Ichthyosaurus fossil on display.

Dean Lomax (left) and Nigel Larkin (right) in front of the Lapworth Geological Museum exhibit.

Picture Credit: University of Manchester/University of Birmingham

How Old is the Fossil?

The specimen, part of the vertebrate fossil collection of the Lapworth Museum of Geology, (University of Birmingham), has no provenance data associated with it.  Unfortunately, there were no collection notes or other details to help the palaeontologists to identify where the fossil came from.  However, permission was granted for Nigel to remove a small portion of the matrix surrounding the fossil.  He passed this on to Ian Boomer (University of Birmingham) and Philip Copestake (Merlin Energy, Resources Ltd), so that they could analyse the rock for microscopic fossils.  Based on the types of microfossil preserved, the scientists were able to identify that this Ichthyosaur was around 199-196 million years old, (uppermost Hettangian faunal stage to lowermost Sinemurian of the Early Jurassic).

Nigel outlined the difficulties the team faced:

“Many historic Ichthyosaur specimens in museums lack any geographic or geological details and are therefore undated.  This process of looking for microfossils in their host rock might be the key to unlocking the mystery of many specimens.  Thus, this will provide researchers with lots of new information that otherwise is lost.  Of course, this requires some extensive research, but it is worth the effort.”

In addition, establishing a microfossil signature for a fossil may also help in those cases where theft of fossil material is suspected.

As part of the study, the skeleton was Micro CT-scanned and a three-dimensional digital model was created by Steve Dey of ThinkSee3D Ltd.  Using medical imaging software, Steve converted the three sets of CT cross-sectional images (from scans of the tail, middle section and head) into a single digital three-dimensional model of the whole animal.  This non-destructive technique provided further key information helping to identify the species and potentially, helping to provide new data on Ichthyosaur ontogeny.

The beautiful new-born Ichthyosaurus is on display in the recently refurbished Lapworth Museum of Geology, University of Birmingham, which was nominated for the 2017 Art Fund Museum of the Year.

The scientific paper: “The First Known Neonate Ichthyosaurus communis Skeleton: A Rediscovered Specimen from the Lower Jurassic, UK” by Lomax, D. R., Larkin, N. R., Boomer, S., Dey, S. and Copestake, published in “Historical Biology”.

1 10, 2017

Pterosaur Study Sheds New Light on Jidapterus

By | October 1st, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Jidapterus edentus Gets Grounded

A team of researchers, writing in the on-line, academic, open access journal PLOS One, have published a reassessment of the Early Cretaceous Pterosaur Jidapterus (J. edentus).  This flying reptile, with a wingspan estimated to be between 1.6 and 1.7 metres, is one of a number of flying reptiles known from the Lower Cretaceous deposits of the Jiufotang and Yixian Formations, which between them have helped palaeontologists to build up a detailed picture about life in northern China some 125 million years ago (Jehol Biota).  In this new study, Jidapterus is identified as a valid genus (there had been some doubts raised over whether or not the single fossil specimen known represented another closely related Pterosaur species – Chaoyangopterus zhangi).  In addition, the authors postulate that Jidapterus might have been a ground dwelling forager, Everything Dinosaur team members have speculated that Jidapterus only took to the trees to evade predators or perhaps to roost.

The Only Known Specimen of Jidapterus edentus with an Accompanying Line Drawing

Line drawing and holotype of Jidapterus edentus.

The holotype fossil of Jidapterus edentus and accompanying line drawing.

Picture Credit: PLOS One

Tricky Pterosaur

Named in 2003, Jidapterus is known from a single, partially articulated and nearly complete specimen (holotype RCPS-030366CY).  It is a member of an enigmatic family of Pterosaurs called the Chaoyangopteridae (pronounced Chow-yang-op-tery-rid-aye).  Several species have been named, from Brazil (Lacusovagus) and from Lebanon (Microtuban), to read more about the Lebanese Pterosaur, the first flying reptile to be described from this part of the world: Pterosaur Fossil Flies Home.  Most of what palaeontologists know, about this family of flying reptiles, distantly related to the giant azhdarchid Pterosaurs, comes from studying the fossilised remains of chaoyangopterids from northern China.  Trouble is, these delicate flying reptile specimens associated with Liaoning Province are squashed as flat as a pancake.  The researchers identify a number of anatomical traits (autapomorphies) that reinforce the idea that Jidapterus should be considered as a distinct genus.

In addition, the scientists examined the feet and claws of Jidapterus and concluded that this flying reptile, once thought to have been a piscivore, was probably omnivorous, foraging on the forest floor for seeds and other plant material, as well as snatching up invertebrates and small creatures.  Whether or not the narrow, pointed beak (labelled in the diagram above) was entirely toothless remains open to debate.

The scientific paper: “The Toothless Pterosaur Jidapterus edentus (Pterodactyloidea: Azhdarchoidea) from the Early Cretaceous Jehol Biota and its Paleoecological Implications” by Wen-Hao Wu, Chang-Fu Zhou and Brian Andres published in PLOS One.

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