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

28 07, 2017

Yet Another Ganzhou Oviraptorid

By | July 28th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Corythoraptor jacobsi – Built Like an Ostrich with the Crest of a Cassowary

Yet another new species of oviraptorid has been named from fossils found in Ganzhou, Jiangxi Province (southern China).  This new dinosaur, which was probably feathered, had a longer neck than its oviraptorid contemporaries making it resemble an ostrich.  It also possessed a crest on top of its skull, called a casque, which was very similar to that seen in the extant, Australian flightless bird, the Cassowary.  This could be a case of convergent evolution between a dinosaur and a non-avian dinosaur.

This new dinosaur has been named Corythoraptor jacobsi, the genus name translates as “helmet speedy thief”, whilst the trivial name honours Professor Louis L. Jacobs of the Southern Methodist University, (Dallas, Texas, USA), who acted as a mentor to three of the authors of the scientific paper, published in the journal “Scientific Reports”.

An Illustration of the Newly Described Oviraptorid from Southern China (Corythoraptor jacobsi)

A flock of crested Corythoraptors.

Corythoraptor jacobsi illustration.

Picture Credit: Zhao Chuang

The Magnificent Seven

The naming of Corythoraptor brings the total of Late Cretaceous oviraptorids known from this part of China to seven.  All seven oviraptorids come from the Nanxiong Formation which relates to the Late Campanian/Early Maastrichtian faunal stages of the Late Cretaceous, around 73 – 71 million years ago.  Palaeontologists are uncertain as to why this part of China seems to have been a “hot spot” for Oviraptorosaurs, the palaeoenvironment might have favoured these cursorial Theropods, which are believed to have been omnivorous, or this type of dinosaur may simply be under represented in other Upper Cretaceous deposits elsewhere in the world.

Intriguingly, of the seven oviraptorid dinosaurs named to date some are known to have been crested and different shaped crests have been identified.  All these dinosaurs are approximately the same size, around two metres in length and all of them were probably feathered.  The long neck (twice as long as the dorsal vertebral column), of Corythoraptor might have evolved to permit this dinosaur to exploit a food source that its contemporaries could not, in the same way that many modern-day antelopes on the African savannah have different neck lengths to help them browse on different plants – an example of niche partitioning.

The Crest of Corythoraptor

The crest of Corythoraptor jacobsi.

The cranial casque of Corythoraptor. Fossil material (a), line drawing (b) and colour restoration (c).

Picture Credit: Scientific Reports

The Seven Oviraptorids from the Nanxiong Formation (so far) – green text indicates information on crests (casques)

  • Banji long (named and described in 2010) small, flat crest.
  • Ganzhousaurus nankangensis (named and described in 2013) with a potentially, slightly raised crest.
  • Jiangxisaurus ganzhouensis (named and described in 2013) potentially crested – small crest.
  • Nankangia jiangxiensis (named and described in 2013) insufficient fossil material to establish a crest being present.
  • Huanansaurus ganzhouensis (named and described in 2015), potentially crested (top part of the skull is missing, but in a phylogenetic analysis carried out by the authors, Huanansaurus was found to be the sister taxon to the newly described Corythoraptor jacobsi.  H. ganzhouensis skull material is insufficient to conclusively prove the presence of a crest although the thickened naris and parietal indicate that a crest is likely.
  • Tongtianlong limosus (named and described in 2016), it possessed a small crest.

To read a previous article on the discovery of an oviraptorid Huanansaurus (Huanansaurus ganzhouensis), which is believed to be very closely related to Corythoraptor: 2015 – New Oviraptorid Dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous of Southern China

A Close View of the Skull and Jaws with a Line Drawing of Corythoraptor

Corythoraptor skull and line drawing of the dinosaur.

A close up of the skull, jaws and the head crest of Corythoraptor with a line drawing showing body plan.

Picture Credit: Scientific Reports

The picture above shows a close-up of the skull, crest and jaws of the holotype material, accompanied by a line drawing showing the estimated size and Corythoraptor and what it probably looked like.  The scale bar in (c) is 8 centimetres and the scale bar in (d) is 1 metre.   Note that the shape of the crest is inferred, as the actual portion of the skull that represents the majority of the proposed crest is not present, only the lower portion of the bony core of the casque (crest) is preserved.  The preserved portion of the nasals exhibits highly pneumatised bone structure.  The suture between the parietal and frontal is not clear, but it seems the bones project dorsally and formed a distinct crest together with the nasals, very reminiscent of the crest shape seen in living, non-avian dinosaurs, the Cassowaries.

What were the Crests (Casques) used for?

Lead author of the study,  Junchang Lü (Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences), proposes studying the living Cassowary to help shed light on the functional role played by the casque.  This could represent an example of convergent evolution, where a similar physical character has evolved independently in two, unrelated species.  A study of the fossilised bones suggest that this specimen represents an immature individual, a sub-adult Corythoraptor that may have been around eight years of age when it met its demise.  The casque may not have been fully formed when it died, but its function remains a mystery.  However, such a prominent casque could have served a multitude of purposes, just like the crest of the Cassowary.

Crest (Casque) Function

  • With lots of different oviraptorids living in the same habitat, the crest could have played a role in species recognition (interspecific recognition).
  • The crest could have been used in visual communication, in displays to determine social hierarchy or perhaps in ritualised displays over mate selection (intraspecific combat).
  • Crest shape could have indicated maturity, with crest shape changing as the animal became older.
  • The crest (or casque) could have indicated fitness for breeding during the mating season.
  • This structure could have played a role in helping to differentiate between males and females (sexual dimorphism).
  • The crest (or casque) shape in oviraptorids could represent the evolution of character as part of sexual selection.

A Cassowary – Note the Shape of the Casque

For an article describing the discovery of T. limosusStuck in the Mud Dinosaur and Oviraptorosaur Diversity

Links to the Dinosaurs of China Exhibition at Wollaton Hall (Nottinghamshire)

Readers in the UK, have the opportunity to get up close to a number of Chinese feathered dinosaurs including a specimen of Oviraptor (O. philoceratops) and a giant relation of the oviraptorids, the giraffe-sized Gigantoraptor, at the Dinosaurs of China exhibition in Nottingham.  In addition, the superb illustrations found throughout this exhibition and seen at the nearby Nottingham Lakeside Arts Centre, were created by Zhao Chuang, who was responsible for illustrating Corythoraptor in the scientific paper (illustration is seen at the top of this article).

For further information on the Dinosaurs of China exhibition: Dinosaurs of China

26 07, 2017

Unravelling the Mysteries of Complex Life

By | July 26th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

First Non-Destructive Internal Images of Rangea

Travel back in time far enough and the distinction between what is a plant and what is an animal becomes blurred.  For a palaeontologist, unravelling the mysteries of the origins of multi-cellular life is daunting.  Firstly, when examining the few fossils of multi-cellular organisms known from rocks laid down in the Proterozoic Eon, what strikes you is the paucity of the fossil record, in essence there is very little fossil evidence to study. Secondly, some of the lifeforms represented are so bizarre that there is nothing alive today that can begin to provide scientists with any hints as to structure, form, lifestyle or behaviour.

However, an international team of scientists, writing in the journal of “Precambian Research”, have conducted a remarkable assessment on three-dimensionally preserved Ediacaran fossils and they have shed light on the evolution of complex life.  The organism in question is Rangea, a bizarre fern-like animal/plant/? that did not possess bilateral symmetry like us, or indeed radial symmetry like starfish and sea urchins, but a fractal structure, like nothing alive today.

The Fossil and Internal/External Scans of a Three-dimensionally Preserved Rangea Specimen

Fossil and scans of bizarre Precambrian life form.

The fossil (a), an external scan (b) and an internal scan (c) of the Ediacaran organism Rangea.

Picture Credit: Precambrian Research

The picture above shows the fossil (a), a computer-generated model of the external structure (b) and a computer-generated model of the internal structure of Rangea (c).

High Resolution X-ray Micro-computed Tomography

At Everything Dinosaur, we suspect that the fossil specimens come from rocks laid down in shallow, marine sediments that make up the Nama Group in southern Namibia.  Rangea is known from this location and has also been reported from other Ediacaran-aged sites in Australia and Russia.  The Namibian material is remarkable as the fossils are typically moulds and casts of the fern-like structures, preserved in ironstone nodules, which despite representing lifeforms that existed somewhere between 540 and 580 million years ago, have not been squished and deformed to a huge extent as a result of the fossilisation process and the enormous time these fossils have existed in the strata.

The scientists used high resolution X-ray micro-computed tomography (microCT) to investigate the 3-D internal morphology of these exceptional fossils.  This is the first non-destructive internal imaging of Rangea.  Ranging from a few centimetres to tens of centimetres in length, the soft-bodied Rangeomorphs (a natural taxon, established to help classify these frond-like, fractal organisms), are perhaps best known to fossil fans in the UK as organisms similar in structure to Charnia, named and described from a single fossil specimen found in Charnwood Forest, Leicestershire by a school boy in 1957.

A Specimen of a Fern-like, Soft-bodied Charnia

Charnia fossils.

Ancient Precambrian fossils – Charnia.

Picture Credit: British Geological Survey

Analysing the Results

Lead author of the study, Dr Alana Sharp (School of Science and Technology, University of New England, New South Wales, Australia) and her colleagues think that all six fronds may have been inflated like long balloons, they may have touched each other creating a large surface area for the passive absorption of nutrients which sustained the organism.  It had been thought that these fronds, regarded as some form of feeding structure, were flat.

Dr Sharp commented:

“Our work supports a lifestyle of absorption of nutrients through membranes inflated to the maximum, increasing the surface area across which these organisms seemed to feed.”

Soft Bodies but Stone Hearts

The CT scans also revealed something else about Rangea.  It had a cone-shaped channel running vertically up its central trunk.  The lower part of this channel seems to have been filled with sediment that has a different composition from that seen in the rest of the fossil.  The researchers have concluded that this was probably present in the organism when it was alive, helping to prevent it from buckling or being compressed.  The sediment acted like internal scaffolding for Rangea, a sort of primitive skeleton.  These findings support the idea that Rangea was benthic (lived on the sea floor) and that it was probably sessile (attached to the sea floor and immobile).

Despite these remarkable computer-generated images, one big mystery remains, as Dr Sharp explains.

“They may or may not be animals, we can’t say from this study.  But they are the first of the truly large, multi-cellular organisms that radiated broadly before the first true animals evolved.”

The Scientific Paper: “First non-destructive Internal Imaging of Rangea, an Icon of Complex Ediacaran Life” by Alana C. Sharp, Alistair R. Evans, Siobhan A. Wilson and Patricia Vickers-Rich, published in the journal “Precambrian Research”.

25 07, 2017

Eureka! We Have a Fossil Spider

By | July 25th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Maevia eureka – Miocene Spider

Researchers have described a new fossil species of jumping spider found embedded in a piece of amber that dates from the early-mid Miocene.  The beautifully preserved specimen was collected from lignite-sandstone sediments that date from between 23 and 15 million years ago.  The little spider has been assigned to the Salticidae (jumping spiders) and it close resembles living species of jumping spider such as Maevia poultoni which is also found in the New World.

The Newly Described Miocene Spider M. eureka Preserved in Amber

M. eureka preserved in amber.

Maevia eureka preserved in amber.

Picture Credit: PeerJ

The First Jumping Spider Species Described from Chiapas Amber

The specimen was found near to the town of Totolapa in Chiapas, south-western Mexico.  Writing in the academic, peer-reviewed journal “PeerJ”, the authors Francisco Riquelme​, (Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Morelos, Jojutla, Morelos, Mexico) and Miguel Menéndez-Acuña (Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Morelos, Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico), conclude that this fossil represents the first jumping spider species to be described from Chiapas amber.

Dorsal and Ventral Views of Maevia eureka

Maevia eureka fossil.

Preserved in amber M. eureka.

Picture Credit: PeerJ

The picture above shows two views of the fossil spider (A) dorsal view, seen from the top down and (B) ventral view, seen from underneath.  The scale bar equals 1 mm.  The fossil marks the southernmost record of the Maevia genus in North America.  The story of its discovery explains the trivial name “eureka”.  The amber piece containing the fossil was found by chance as field team members were digging a latrine.

21 06, 2017

Tyrannosaur Skull from British Columbia

By | June 21st, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Hiker Finds Part of a Tyrannosaur Skull Near Tumbler Ridge

Fossil hunter Rick Lambert was hiking in the Tumbler Ridge area of British Columbia when he spotted an unusual object partially exposed in a large rock.  It turns out the eagle-eyed chiropractor from Vancouver Island had found the maxilla bone from a Tyrannosaur skull.    The maxilla is part of the upper jaw, this fossil and the teeth/teeth sockets that it contains, can help palaeontologists to identify the type of dinosaur down to genus level.  This is the first dinosaur skull fossil material to have been found in this area and although the one-hundred-kilogram rock containing the fossil is not part of the local strata, it was probably moved to the site as part of a landscaping project, it’s discovery could help scientists to better understand the geographic distribution of a genus of Tyrannosaur from the Late Cretaceous.

The Tumbler Ridge Tyrannosaur Skull Fossil (Maxilla)

Tumbler Ridge Tyrannosaur upper jaw fossil.

A view of the Tumbler Ridge Tyrannosaur jaw fossil.

Picture Credit: The Canadian Pres/HO/Richard McCrea

A Significant Tyrannosaur Fossil Find

Large Theropod footprints have been found in the Tumbler Ridge area in the past, indeed, this location has provided the palaeontologists based at the Peace Region Palaeontology Research Centre, which was established back in 2003 to study the fossils, with hundreds of dinosaur teeth, fragmentary bones as well as the remarkable trace fossils, but this upper jaw bone could be a real game changer for the region.

The director of the Peace Region Palaeontology Research Centre, Richard McCrea commented:

“We are in a frontier in British Columbia because there’s been no research in this area.  This is quite a jump for us.”

Having studied and worked in geology, Rick Lambert knew he had found something significant, but he had no idea how important his fossil find could prove to be.  Rick was used to finding fossils in the area, but he wasn’t expecting to find a bone from the skull of a Theropod dinosaur, a skull that would have measured more than a metre in length.

Rick explained:

“I never expected to find something like that.  It’s not anything I actually kept my eye out for.  I thought at least they would have four or five of those in a drawer somewhere.”

An Illustration of a Typical Tyrannosaur Skull Showing the Location of the Maxilla Bone

Outline of skull showing location of maxilla.

A diagram of a typical Tyrannosaur showing the location of the maxilla.

Picture Credit: The Peace Region Palaeontology Research Centre

McCrea said finding this specific piece of bone is significant because it can be used to determine the type of Tyrannosaur it originated from.  Elements from the skull can be very helpful when it comes to identifying dinosaurs, however, the sandstone rock in which the fossil was found rules out a Tyrannosaurus rex.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur explained:

“The Cretaceous-aged exposures in this area, mostly date from the Upper Cretaceous but they are nowhere near young enough to permit the preservation of a T. rex or any close relative of that iconic dinosaur.  The sandstone block containing the fossil material is very similar in composition to nearby deposits that are around 74-75 million years old, many millions of  years younger than the Cenomanian/Turonian strata from this locality.  The sandstone dates from the Campanian, so the maxilla very probably comes from a member of the Tyrannosauridae family that lived during that time – something like an Albertosaurus or perhaps a large Gorgosaurus.”

From a Large Tyrannosaur

Roughly shaped like a reversed capital “C”, the fossil measures between 30 to 40 centimetres in length and is around 25 centimetres wide.  It is a sizeable bone, indicating that this belonged to a very large Tyrannosaur, something in excess of eight metres in length.  Local palaeontologists calculate that the entire skull of this Theropod, if it could be found, would measure over a metre.

The curator and collections manager at the Peace Region Palaeontology Research Centre, Dr Lisa Buckley commented:

“The exposed maxilla and teeth are eroded, but their shape is perfectly preserved, including fine details of the delicate serrations that form the cutting edge of the teeth. The specimen has twelve teeth evident, with the potential to expose more.  The tooth count and tooth shape make it likely that this is part of the skull of a tyrannosaurid like Albertosaurus, and is probably around 75 million years old.  We aim to establish the point of origin of this rock.”

A View of One of the Teeth Associated with the Jaw Fossil

Tumbler Ridge Tyrannosaur fossil tooth.

A close up of a Tyrannosaur tooth found in association with the maxilla bone at Tumbler Ridge (British Columbia).  The tooth serrations can be clearly seen.

Picture Credit: The Peace Region Palaeontology Research Centre

The forested terrain, steep gullies and lack of roads in this part of British Columbia makes prospecting for fossils quite challenging, however, field team members and volunteers can study the sandstone formation from which the block came from in the hope of finding more elements from the skull.

An Illustration of a Typical Tyrannosaurid (Albertosaurus)

Albertosaurus illustrated.

An illustration of Albertosaurus sarcophagus.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To read an article about Theropod dinosaur prints found in the Tumbler Ridge area: Dinosaur Footprint Discovered in British Columbia

15 06, 2017

Curious African Cynodont Turns up in Brazil

By | June 15th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Aleodon from Africa Present in Brazilian Triassic Rocks

A team of international researchers have reported the discovery of fossils attributed to the African cynodont Aleodon in Middle-early Late Triassic rocks from several locations in the state of Rio Grande do Sul (southern Brazil).  Prior to these fossil finds, this protomammal (a member of the Probainognathidae family), a distant ancestor of modern mammals, was only known from Africa.

A Scale Drawing of the Skeleton of Aleodon (A. cromptoni)

Aleodon scale drawing.

The known bones of Aleodon are shown in yellow.

Picture Credit: PLOS ONE

In the picture above the known bones attributed to Aleodon (A. cromptoni) are shown in yellow and a cat provides a scale comparison.

Living Alongside Dinosaur Precursors

Writing in the on-line academic journal “PLOS ONE”, the researchers, which include Agustín Martinelli (Universidade Federal of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil), conclude that fossils previously thought to represent another cynodont – Chiniquodon actually are Aleodon specimens, as such they are the first of this genus to be found outside of Africa.  The carnivorous Aleodon lived alongside basal members of the Dinosauria and other types of archosaur, as well as numerous mammal-like reptiles, including the giant herbivore Dinodontosaurus.  The fossils of Dinodontosaurus are so numerous that they are used to date the relative age of the strata in this part of southern Brazil.  All the fossils ascribed to Aleodon, including cranial material and teeth come from the Dinodontosaurus Assemblage Zone.

Aleodon Skull Material and Line Drawing (Aleodon cromptoni)

Aleodon skull and line drawing.

Skull in left lateral view with accompanying line drawing. Scale bar = 50 mm.

Picture Credit: PLOS ONE

Namibian and Tanzanian Fossils

The Aleodon genus was first erected based on fossil material discovered in Tanzania and Namibia.  The South American material was compared to the African specimens and a new species of Aleodon, a sister taxon to the African species was named.  The new Aleodon species honours Dr Alfred “Fuzz” Crompton, who established the genus in 1955 with the naming of A. brachyrhamphus.

In a reassessment of the African fossil material, a specimen form Namibia which was thought to represent a member of the related family, the Chiniquodontidae or possibly a member of the Traversodontidae may actually be an Aleodon.  The scientists also identified as Aleodon a total of seven specimens from the Rio Grande do Sul region.  Phylogenetic analysis indicated that Aleodon cromptoni may be, as suspected, a species in the Chiniquodontidae family.

Whilst the research work was hampered due to the incomplete and partial specimens, the authors note that the identification of these Late Triassic Aleodon fossils in Brazil strengthens the correlation between probainognathians from this epoch in South America and in Africa.

Part of the Upper Jaw of A. cromptoni with Line Drawing

Upper jaw fossil material (Aleodon cromptoni).

Photographs and accompanying drawings of right maxilla MPDC-501-117 in lateral (A), ventral (B), and medial views (C). Scale bar equals 10 mm

Picture Credit: PLOS ONE

11 06, 2017

How Did the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry Get Its Name?

By | June 11th, 2017|Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

How Did the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry Get Its Name?

After having published an article on a new theory explaining the mass death dinosaur assemblage preserved at the Cleveland-Lloyd fossil site in the Morrison Formation (Brushy Basin Member), we were sent an email asking how the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry got its name if the site is a long way from Cleveland, Ohio?

Students Excavate the Bones of an Allosaurus from the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry (Utah)

Working at Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry.

Students excavate the bones of an Allosaurus (Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry).

Picture Credit: Joe Peterson

The picture above shows Indiana University of Pennsylvania students Alex Patch, Heather Furlong and Josh Colastante working on the jumbled fossil bones of an Allosaurus at the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry.

It is true, the fossil site, which represents the greatest concentration of Jurassic dinosaur fossils known to science, is a very long way from the city of Cleveland, but it is near the small town of Cleveland, Emery County, in Utah.  This famous fossil site was named in part, as it was close to the town of Cleveland.  The second part of the hyphenated name “Lloyd” is all to do with funding,

Map Showing Sites, Stratigraphic Section Line, and Regional Stratigraphy in Context of the San Rafael Swell

Location of the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry.

Map showing sites, stratigraphic section line, and regional stratigraphy in context of the San Rafael Swell.

Picture Credit: PeerJ

In the picture above CLDQ marks the location of the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry and JONS indicates the location of the nearby Johnsonville fossil site in Utah.  The inset map shows the location of the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry in relation to the rest of the state of Utah.

To read the article: The Mystery of the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry

Where Did the Lloyd Part of the Name Come From?

The site was first discovered in 1927, the first extensive excavations commenced in 1929, (University of Utah).  The siltstones were deposited in the Late Jurassic and the strata makes up part of the Brushy Basin Member at the northern end of the San Rafael Swell.  For the next decade, regular expeditions to the site were undertaken and these were funded, in the most part, by a lawyer from Philadelphia called Malcolm Lloyd.  This is how the famous dinosaur dig site came to be named.

The quarry is world-famous for its very high concentration of dinosaur bones.  The scattered remains of over seventy dinosaurs are believed to be present, representing nine dinosaur genera.  However, around two-thirds of all the bones are attributable to a single dinosaur taxon Allosaurus fragilis.  Most of the other bonebeds associated with the Morrison Formation contain a higher proportion of herbivorous dinosaurs. Furthermore, when the A. fragilis material is assessed over 85% of the fossils represent juveniles or sub-adults of the species.

Further exploration of this extremely fossil rich location is planned.

So, the site with the greatest concentration of Jurassic dinosaur bones known to science was named after a lawyer from Philadelphia and the nearest township.

Stegosaurus Fossil Material is Known from the Cleveland Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry

A skull of a Stegosaurus.

A Stegosaurus skull (Los Angeles Museum)

Picture Credit: Los Angeles Museum

30 05, 2017

Digging It Up in the City

By | May 30th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Dinosaur Excavation Work Starts in Yanji City

Palaeontologists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), are used to working in all sorts of environments as they strive to excavate the wealth of dinosaur fossils to be found at key locations in China.  This week, a field team will be starting work at a new dig site, one with all the conveniences of a modern city, as the excavation work will be taking place in Yanji City, (Jilin Province, north-eastern China), with an approximate population of 400,000 people, the scientists will not be short of company.

Field Team Members Begin Exploring the Cretaceous Strata

Yanji City dinosaur excavations.

Field team workers exploring the Cretaceous sediments in Yanji City.

Picture Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

In a press release from the CAS, it is stated that the dinosaur fossil excavation will cover an area of approximately ten square kilometres and this is the first excavation of its kind to be carried out in a modern urban area.  Although the strata in the Yanji Basin is known for its substantial plant fossil remains, including flowering plants (angiosperms), this is the first time that dinosaur fossils have been discovered in Yanji City.  Experts state that the different coloured bands of strata represent non-marine sediments that were laid down when this area was experiencing climate change.

Zhang Lizhao, a researcher at the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology (IVPP) commented:

“We can see that the geological layers show different colours including red, purplish red and light colours.  The geological layer with the colour of purplish red means that, when the layer was formed, the dinosaurs lived in a hot and humid climate.  The layers with the light colours were formed during periods with dry and cold weather. We are basically sure that the geologic body here was formed between the late Early Cretaceous and the very early Late Cretaceous.”

Dinosaur Fossil Discoveries

The rocks being explored are around 100 million years of age, they represent sediments laid down between the Albian faunal stage (the last faunal stage of the Lower Cretaceous) and the Cenomanian stage, the first faunal stage of the Upper Cretaceous, a time when global sea levels were extremely high and many terrestrial animal populations were consequently isolated.  Dinosaur fossils from the Lower Cretaceous to the Upper Cretaceous transition are relatively rare and these excavations could perhaps provide new information on the evolution of different types of dinosaur especially the Titanosauriformes, Ceratopsia and Theropods.

The Very Distinct and Striking Bands of Strata at the Dig Site

Rock formations of Yanji City (north-eastern China).

Yanji City rock formations.

Picture Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

The picture above shows the clearly defined bands of strata.  Observers can see a defined fault line in the photograph.  Jilin Province is prone to earthquakes and other seismic activity.

A Large Dinosaur Dorsal Vertebra (right) Partial view of Articulated Caudal Vertebrae (left)

Yanji City dinosaur fossils (vertebrae).

Isolated dorsal vertebra (potential titanosauriform) right with partial view of two articulated caudal vertebrae on the left.

Picture Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

The picture above shows some of the fossil found, the centrum of the dorsal vertebra has been labelled for identification purposes.  Everything Dinosaur team members have identified these bones as from probable titanosauriforms.

Fossil Material Uncovered at the Dig Site

Partial dinosaur limb bone.

Dinosaur limb bone (partial).

Picture Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

Six Different Types of Dinosaur

Researchers have commented that at least six different types of dinosaur may have inhabited this part of China around 100 million years ago. They are confident that much more fossil material will be found helping palaeontologists to better understand the biota of this part of the world during a time of climate change.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“The fossils found at this extensive site in Yanji City, will add to our knowledge of terrestrial faunas during the Albian to Cenomanian transition.  It is likely that a number of new dinosaur species will be identified.”

17 05, 2017

“Winged Serpent” Found in Ancient Sinkhole

By | May 17th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Zilantophis schuberti –  A New Species of Snake from the Gray Fossil Site

A newly described species of prehistoric snake is helping herpetologists to better understand the evolution of modern snakes.  The new species, named Zilantophis schuberti is described in a scientific paper published this week in the “Journal of Herpetology”, it lived approximately five million years ago, a time when our planet’s global average temperature was rising.  Scientists hope that this new discovery will provide helpful information so that they can better understand the ways in which today’s fauna will adapt with the onset of global warming.

An Illustration of the Newly Described Snake – Zilantophis schuberti

Zilantophisi Illustration.

A speculative drawing of the tiny snake – Zilantophis.

Picture Credit: Steven Jasinski (University of Pennsylvania)

Co-author of the paper, Steven Jasinski (PhD student at the University of Pennsylvania), explained that the fossils come from the famous Gray Fossil Site, close to East Tennessee State University, Jasinski and fellow author David Moscato (State Museum of Pennsylvania), report the discovery of highly modified, snake vertebrae, with wing-like struts, most probably to anchor strong back muscles.  The morphology (shape) of these bones do not match any living species of snake, it has been speculated that these snakes developed specialised vertebrae to help them push through compacted leaf litter as they hunted for insects and other small prey.  The specialised vertebrae may also have been an adaptation for digging or possibly swimming.  The idea that Zilantophis was aquatic is difficult to rule out.

Photograph and Line Drawing of a Highly-Modified Vertebra

Zilantophis schuberti vertebra (A) and line drawing (B).

The arrow notes the location of wing-like projections that gave the species its name (Zilantophis schuberti).

Picture Credit: Steven Jasinski (University of Pennsylvania)

PhD student Steven commented:

“Snakes don’t have arms or legs,but they have high numbers of vertebrae.  These are often the bones that palaeontologists use to identify fossil snakes.”

*Snakes and lizards belong to the Order Squamata, snakes evolved from limbed reptiles and recently Everything Dinosaur reported on the chance discovery of a 115-million-year-old fossil that provides evidence of the transition from reptiles with limbs to the serpentine form.

To read the article: First Fossil Snake with Four Limbs Described

Named After a Mythical Creature

The genus name is derived from Zilant, a winged serpent from Tatar mythology.  The trivial name honours Blaine Schubert, the executive director of East Tennessee State’s Don Sundquist Centre of Excellence in Palaeontology, who acted as mentor and adviser to the authors whilst they studied there.  The ancient snake’s name translates as “Schubert’s winged snake”.

At only a few centimetres in length, Zilantophis was no monster, the tiny vertebrae had to be meticulously separated from the dark clay sediment of the Gray Fossil Site.  The researchers conclude that this Late Miocene/Early Pliocene snake is most closely related to rat snakes (Pantherophis) and kingsnakes (Lampropeltis), both of which are relatively common in North America today.  In total, the field team found evidence of seven different snake genera at the dig site, the descendants of which can still be found in east Tennessee today.

Field Team Members Working at the Sinkhole Dig Site

Field team staff exploring the Gray Fossil Site.

Field team members excavating the sinkhole (Gray Fossil Site).

Picture Credit: Steven Jasinski (University of Pennsylvania)

Snake genera identified include:

  • Garter snakes (Thamnophis)
  • Rat snakes (Pantherophis)
  • Pine snakes (Pituophis)
  • Whip snakes (Masticophis)
  • Water snakes (Nerodia)

Zilantophis schuberti and all the snakes listed above, are members of the Colubridae snake family, the largest and most specious group of extant snakes.  The authors comment that the Late Miocene was seeing a transition in snake fauna.  Boas had dominated the serpentine fauna of North America, but gradually the boas went into decline and they were replaced by the colubrids, which are typically much smaller and more mobile than boas.  This faunal change coincided with extensive climate change, with forests being replaced by open prairies as a result of a drying climate.

Steven Jasinski explained:

“Zilantophis was part of this period of change.  It shows that colubrids were diversifying at this time, including forms that did not make it to the present day.”

The Importance of the Gray Fossil Site

The Gray Fossil Site, located close to the town of Gray in Washington County (Tennessee), represents deposits from a sinkhole that accumulated in the Late Miocene to the very Early Pliocene Epochs.  As the clay deposits straddle the Miocene/Pliocene boundary, the strata and the fossils contained therein have provided researchers with an opportunity to study changing biodiversity at a time when the Earth’s climate was undergoing rapid change.  Discovered seventeen years ago, during the construction of a road, the site represents the accumulated debris from the bottom of a large pond, that occasionally dried out.  A wide variety of vertebrate fossils have been excavated from the site, including several large mammals, transitional forms of the American alligator, turtles, snakes and amphibians.

Excavating the Skull of a Tapir from the Dig Site

The skull of a Tapir (Gray Fossil Site).

A tapir skull from the Gray Fossil Site (eastern Tennessee).

Picture Credit: University of Pennsylvania

The Gray Fossil Site, has yet to be fully explored but it has already provided a hugely important window into the changing environment of North America between 7 million years ago and 4.5 million years ago (approximately).  This new research represents the first formal survey of snake fossils at the location, the discovery of Zilantophis, which dates from the Hemphillian stage of the North American Land Mammal Ages (NALMA), is helping scientists to understand evolutionary change at a crucial time in the history of the fauna of North America, a time when modern animals and plants were becoming established.

15 05, 2017

Pennaceous Feathers in New Troodontid from China

By | May 15th, 2017|Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Jianianhualong tengi – Feathered Troodontid Shows Mosaic Evolution

A turkey-sized, feathered dinosaur that once roamed the forests of north-eastern China some 125 million years ago, is helping palaeontologists to piece together the evolution of characteristics that led to the true birds.  In addition, the new dinosaur named Jianianhualong tengi (pronounced: jay-any-an-who-long ten-gee) provides direct evidence for the presence of pennaceous feathers in an unquestionable troodontid Theropod.  J. tengi is also the earliest known troodontid discovered to date.

Feathered Like a Modern Bird but Flightless Jianianhualong tengi

Jianianhualong tengi illustrated.

A life reconstruction of the early troodontid Jianianhualong tengi.

Picture Credit: Julius T. Csotonyi

Asymmetrical Pennaceous Feathers

The Mesozoic-aged strata of Liaoning Province (China) has yielded a myriad of spectacular Theropod dinosaur fossils, providing palaeontologists with a unique insight into the forest dwelling fauna and flora.  Liaoning is famous for its spectacular fossils of maniraptoran dinosaurs, the clade of Theropod dinosaurs that includes the birds (Aves) and their nearest dinosaur relatives.

However, fossils of the very closest types of dinosaur to the Aves, those in the clade Eumaniraptora (also known as the Paraves) – dromaeosaurids and troodontids, have had scientists in a bit of a flap.  The discovery of Jianianhualong tengi from the Yixian Formation of Baicai Gou in Yixian County, Liaoning, will help palaeontologists to better understand the development of anatomical features as well as feathers, that led to the evolution of birds.

Definitely a member of the Troodontidae

Previously, the troodontid species described from China had caused extensive debate amongst scientists.  Their exact position in the dinosaur family tree was controversial.  Jianianhualong tengi is unquestionably a troodontid and by definition, very closely related to birds.  It had large, prominent arm and leg feathers as well as a frond-like integumentary covering on the tail.  This distribution pattern of feathers and their asymmetrical shape is similar to that seen in other basal members of the Paraves, such as the dromaeosaurid Microraptor, but this is the first time that such definitive bird-like features have been identified in what is undoubtedly, a member of the Troodontidae.

Photograph and Line Drawing of Holotype Specimen (J. tengi)

Line drawing (right) and photograph (left) of J. tengi fossil specimen.

Photograph (left) and line drawing (right) of J. tengi holotype.

Picture Credit: Nature Communications

Demonstrating Mosaic Evolution

Jianianhualong tengi demonstrates mosaic evolution, the process where parts of an animal’s skeleton changes without simultaneously affecting other portions.  For example, Jianianhualong has anatomical features that are transitional between long-armed basal troodontids and derived short-armed ones, shedding new light on troodontid character evolution.  The feathers are similar to those seen in Archaeopteryx and Anchiornis and this confirms that asymmetrical, pennaceous feathers were probably ancestral to the Paraves.

Evidence of Asymmetrical Plumage in Jianianhualong tengi

 Jianianhualong tengi plumage.

Plumage of J. tengi.

Picture Credit: Nature Communications

The picture above shows (a) feathers over dorsals, (b) feathers attached to anterior caudals, the base of the tail (c) an asymmetrical tail feather, (d) a line drawing of an asymmetrical tail feather, (e) tail frond and (f) negative LSF (laser-stimulated fluorescence) image of tail frond.  All scale bars equal two centimetres.

The researchers, which include Professor Phil Currie (University of Alberta), report their findings in the academic journal “Nature Communications”

The new scientific paper on Jianianhualong helps palaeontologists to comprehend how these types of dinosaurs and their close avian relatives evolved, but there is another question to answer. Why would dinosaurs like Jianianhualong evolve asymmetrical flight feathers if they were not used for flight?

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur speculated:

“Perhaps asymmetrical feathers helped this 1.2-metre-long dinosaur to run quicker through the forest.  There is no evidence to suggest that Jianianhualong or that it was arboreal.”

Professor Currie commented:

“As the closest relatives to birds, troodontids are certainly one of the most interesting groups of dinosaurs, and any time you find a feathered dinosaur and discover a new species is pretty cool. With mosaic features, we’re looking for the answer as to why there’s a combination of primitive and advanced features.”

Its discovery is highly significant in reconstructing both the skeletal and integumentary evolution of troodontids, and the more inclusive paravians, whereas, with other reported troodontids from the Jehol Biota such as Sinovenator (S. changii), Mei long and Sinusonasus magnodens their assignment to the Troodontidae remains uncertain.

What’s in a Name?

The genus name honours Jianianhua, he Chinese company that helped fund this research and the word “long” is the Chinese Pinyin for “dragon”.  The trivial name honours Ms Fangfang Teng, who secured the specimen for study.

13 05, 2017

Zuul – The Destroyer of Shins

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

 Zuul crurivastator – A New Ankylosaurid from the Judith River Formation of Montana

Another day and another new dinosaur, this time an armoured dinosaur from the Coal Ridge Member of the Judith River Formation (Montana).  Researchers from the Royal Ontario Museum, describe Zuul crurivastator, pronounced Zoo-ul cruh-uh-vass-tate-or, in a paper published this week in the journal of the Royal Society.  The genus name honours a fictional monster from the 1984 movie “Ghostbusters”.  The research team, that includes Victoria Arbour and David Evans, were reminded of the monster “Zuul the Gatekeeper of Gozer”, when studying the dinosaur’s prominent horns and ridges on the exquisitely preserved skull.

A Life Restoration of the Newly Described Late Cretaceous Ankylosaurid Zuul crurivastator

An ankylosaurid - Zuul crurivastator.

Life restoration of Zuul crurivastator (Danielle Dufault).

Picture Credit: Danielle Dufault

The species name crurivastator means “destroyer of shins”, after the bony tail club, which on this specimen, was fifty-two centimetres long.  The club could inflict severe damage to the legs of any Theropod dinosaur aiming to make a meal out of Zuul.  The club may also have been used during intraspecific combat, with ankylosaurids fighting over territory or mates.

An Illustration of the Head of Z. crurivastator Compared to the Fictional Movie Character

Ghostbuster Zuul compared to the dinosaur.

Zuul compared to the Ghostbuster figure (Zuul).

Picture Credit: Danielle Dufault and CBS

Most Complete Ankylosaurid Specimen Found in North America

Entire, or very nearly entire fossilised skeletons are exceptionally rare.  This is the first ankylosaurid specimen with an almost full set of skull bones to be found, it also has a virtually intact tail club.  Z. crurivastator represents the most complete ankylosaurid found to date in the whole of North America.  The fossil material (ROM 75860) was discovered by chance during the removal of overburden as a field team excavated the remains of a tyrannosaurid.  This six-metre-long armoured dinosaur is believed to lived between 76.2 and 75.2 million years ago (Campanian faunal stage of the Late Cretaceous.

The Posterior Portion of the Specimen with Members of the Research Team

Zuul crurivastator fossil material.

From left to right Ian Morrison (palaeontology technician, Marianne Mader (Director, Centre for Earth & Space/Fossils and Evolution), Victoria Arbour (NSERC postdoctoral fellow), Danielle Dufault (scientific illustrator) and David Evans (Temerty Chair in Vertebrate Palaeontology.

Picture Credit: Brian Boyle/Royal Ontario Museum

Lots of Taxa within the Sandstone Block

The majority of the skeleton was preserved in a sandstone concretion.  The tail, pelvis and dorsal vertebrae were articulated, whilst elements of the anterior of the specimen including the skull were disarticulated but in relative close association to their position in the skeleton when this dinosaur was alive.  Assigned to the tribe Ankylosaurini, a phylogenetic analysis nests Zuul crurivastator closer to Scolosaurus cutleri and Dyoplosaurus acutosquameus than to either Euplocephalus and Ankylosaurus.

The dinosaur was found upside down and was excavated in two large blocks, the largest of which, containing the torso, weighed more than 15 tonnes and is still undergoing preparation.  The dig site also produced the remains of numerous other Late Cretaceous animals and plants, including Theropods, hadrosaurids, turtles, crocodilyforms as well as invertebrates and fossils of some of the vegetation that the armoured dinosaur might have fed upon.

The presence of abundant soft tissue preservation across the skeleton, including in situ osteoderms, skin impressions and dark films that probably represent preserved keratin, make this exceptional skeleton an important reference for understanding the evolution of dermal and epidermal structures within the Ankylosaurinae clade.

A Close View of Preserved Soft Tissue on a Bony Spike on the Tail of Zuul.

Soft tissue preservation (Zuul).

Preserved soft tissue sheath of a bony spike on the tail of Zuul.

Picture Credit: Brian Boyle/Royal Ontario Museum

Skull and Jaws

The skull and jaws represent some of the best preserved ankylosaurid material ever found.  Once the skull had been prepared, the scientists were amazed at the detail that was revealed.  It led to comments that the skull and the jaws looked like that they had sculpted just a few days earlier, rather than representing the remains of an animal that roamed the United States at least 75 million years ago.

The Beautifully Preserved Skull and Jaws of Zuul crurivastator

Zuul crurivastator skull and lower jaw.

The skull and jaws of Zuul.

Picture Credit: Brian Boyle/Royal Ontario Museum

The newest member of the ankylosaurids had four large horns on its head.  One directly behind each eye (squamosal horn) and another horn that stuck out sideways from just underneath and slightly behind each eye-socket (quadratojugal horn).  It is these horns and the arrangement of the bony scales on the snout that enable palaeontologists to identify different types of Ankylosaur.

Co-author of the scientific paper, David Evans (Curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology at the Royal Ontario Museum), stated:

“The preservation of Zuul is truly remarkable.  Not only is the skeleton almost completely intact, but large parts of the bony armour in the skin are still in its natural position.  Most excitingly, soft tissues such as scales and the horny sheaths of spikes are preserved, which will be a focus of our future research.”

Royal Ontario Museum Palaeontologists Victoria Arbour and David Evans Study the Fossil

David Evans and Victoria Arbour study the bony club tail.

Victoria Arbour and David Evans study the bony club tail.

Picture Credit: Brian Boyle/Royal Ontario Museum

The scientific paper: “A new Ankylosaurine Dinosaur from the Judith River Formation of Montana, USA, Based on an Exceptional Skeleton with Soft Tissue Preservation” by Victoria M. Arbour and David C. Evans.

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