Category: Photos/Pictures of Fossils

Ancient Creepy-Crawlies Resurrected

410 Million Year Old Arachnid Walks Again

A team of international researchers have used fossils of ancient Arthropods from the London Natural History Museum to recreate the movements of some of the world’s first terrestrial predators.  Researchers from the Museum für Naturkunde (Berlin) and Manchester University have used an open source computer programme called Blender to model the walking motion of a 41o million year old ancient Arachnid.  The video shows the most likely gait that this tiny prehistoric predator could achieve as it stalked across the Devonian landscape.  The paper, which details this research has been published in a special edition of the academic publication the “Journal of Palaeontology”.

The scientists took minute slices of the fossils of these early Arachnids and once the limb segments and their joints had been identified they worked out the range of limb motion possible.  From these measurements and using comparisons with extant Arachnids, the researchers modelled the walking action using the Blender software programme.  In this way, a creature dead for over 410 million years could once again walk.

Dr. Russell Garwood, (palaeontologist at Manchester University), stated:

“When it comes to early life on land, land before our ancestors came out of the sea, these early Arachnids were top dog of the food chain.  They are now extinct, but from about 300 to 400 million years ago, they seem to have been more widespread than spiders.  Now we can use the tools of computer graphics to better understand and recreate how they might have moved – all from thin slivers of rock, showing the joints in their legs.”

Supplemental Data Video 2 – Palaeocharinus Locomotion

Video Credit: University of Manchester Press Room

The video shows the ancient Arthropod (Palaeocharinus genus) walking.  Although a formidable looking animal, this early creepy-crawly was less than half a centimetre in length.  The fossils used in this study came from the famous Lower Devonian strata at Rhynie (Aberdeenshire, Scotland).  The Rhynie chert deposit contains evidence of one of the earliest terrestrial ecosystems known to science.  More than twenty primitive plant species have been identified along with Arthropods such as mites and trigonotarbids such as Palaeocharinus that hunted amongst the miniature forest made up of Rhyniophytes (primitive plants).

Co-author of the scientific paper, Jason Dunlop (Museum für Naturkunde), added:

“These fossils,  from a rock called Rhynie chert, are unusually well-preserved.  During my PhD I could build up a pretty good idea of their appearance in life.  This new study has gone further and shows us how they probably walked.  For me, what’s really exciting is that scientists can make these animations now, without needing the technical wizardry and immense costs of a Jurassic Park-style film.”

Although not true spiders, trigonotarbids are related to modern spiders but they lack certain spider features such as silk producing spinnerets.  As a group, they first appear in the fossil record in the Late Silurian.  The oldest trigonotarbid specimen, that we at Everything Dinosaur know about, comes from the Upper Silurian deposits of Ludow , Shropshire (Ludlow epoch around 420 million years ago).  It was Jason Dunlop who was responsible for describing this discovery (1996).

A Highly Magnified Image of a trigonotarbid (Palaeocharinus)

The highly magnified section shows leg segments clearly.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The scale bar in the picture represents 2 mm.

Dr. Dunlop stated:

“When I started working on fossil Arachnids we were happy if we could manage a sketch of what they used to look like, now we can view them running across our computer screens.”

The development of sophisticated computer programmes is permitting scientists to re-create three-dimensional images of spectacular fossils.  In addition, new generation programming technology is now capable of bringing long extinct creatures back to life, at least in cyberspace.  The predatory Palaeocharinus might be quite frightening, but at half a centimetre long it would probably not even had got a second glance if you spotted on in the garden.  However, other specimens from Upper Devonian strata, as yet not fully described fossils, indicate that there were much larger creatures at home amongst the primitive plants such as the Rhyniophytes and Lycopsids (clubmosses), some fossils indicate Arthropods nearly an inch in length.  These creatures may not be trigonotarbids but perhaps represent an entirely new family of Arthropoda.

Dr. Garwood concluded:

“Using open source software means that this is something anyone could do at home, while allowing us to understand these early land animals better than ever before.”

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the help of the Faculty of Engineering and Sciences (University of Manchester) in the compilation of this article.

Seeing Fossils Everywhere

Spotting Objects that Resemble Fossils

One of the drawbacks of working with so much fossil material is that after a while team members at Everything Dinosaur tend to see examples of fossils in everyday objects.  We tend to call these “pseudofossils”.  The term pseudofossil is used to describe an object that resembles a body or trace fossil when it is not.  These misleading structures can be found throughout nature.  For example, Everything Dinosaur staff are often shown photographs of paving blocks which the owner claims show a fossil, but these strange patterns in stone are produced by crystals of manganese oxide coming out of solution as water passes through cracks in the rock.  The crystals align themselves in the direction of water flow and often resemble a plant fossil, such as fern in appearance.

We do our best not to leave the bearer of the photograph too dejected, after all, we do point out that the arrangement of the crystals in the stone is unique and there is not another one like it in the whole of the world.

Whilst visiting a trade show, one of the Everything Dinosaur team spotted a delightful tea-light, the fern like appearance of this wall mounted fitting reminded us of the Late Precambrian marine organism Charnia (Charnia masoni)

Tea-Light that Resembles Precambrian Charnia

Every day objects remind Everything Dinosaur staff of fossils.

Every day objects remind Everything Dinosaur staff of fossils.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Charnia was a deep-sea, organism whose fossils have been found in Late Precambrian strata in Leicestershire, Australia, Canada and Russia. The first fossil of this strange type of primitive animal, perhaps a colonial animal, was identified from a specimen found by a school boy called Roger Mason in Charnwood Forest (Leicestershire).  Scientists remain uncertain as to what type of organism the this animal was.  It was certainly an animal, as it grew at depths of more than two hundred metres deep, well beyond the depth at which sunlight could penetrate so no photosynthesising plants could exist.  Charnia has bilateral symmetry and is composed of a series of branching, feather-like fronds.  It seems to have been benthic (living on the sea floor), held in place by a disc-like, holdfast mechanism. It has been suggested that this animal may have been ancestral to modern sea pens, but the exact phylogenetic relationship between this 550 million year old organism and modern Phylum remains hotly debated.

One thing that is now known and agreed upon by most palaeontologists, Charnia-like organisms may have been relatively common in the deep-water environments of Late Precambrian seas.

To read an article, related to Sir David Attenborough and the relative abundance of Charnia specimens now being revealed: Spotlight on Fossil Discoveries from Leicestershire (Happy Birthday Sir David)

Seeing the shape and colouration of the tea-light reminded us of the story of Charnia and of how much we have to learn about the origins of life on Earth.

Back into the Fold – Fossils Found

Retrieving Ammonite Fossils

Lost but then they were found.  We have been sent two Ammonite fossils (Dactylioceras spp.) that were part of our extensive collection of fossils from Lower Jurassic strata of North Yorkshire.  Although these Jurassic fossils of Cephalopod Molluscs are common and we do have lots of Ammonite fossils in our collection it was great to see these two specimens again.

Ammonite Fossils Back in Everything Dinosaur’s Collection

Back into the Fold

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Such fossils have become part of ancient folklore, they are referred to as “snakestones”.    The snakestone term is believed to have come from the Whitby area (North Yorkshire), although there are references to such stones from Somerset as well.  The Whitby connection is that the Saxon Abbess St Hilda, on finding an area of land infested with snakes, turned all the reptiles into stones so that an abbey could be built.  As locals wondered why no heads of the snakes had been preserved, only the coiled bodies, heads were often carved onto specimens to make them look more authentic.  Some holotype specimens making up important museum collections have a snake carving on them, we think the holotype for the Ammonite species Dactylioceras commune may be such an example.

There were no snake heads preserved as these fossils are the chambered, coiled shells of Cephalopods related to cuttlefish and squid.

Ichthyosaurus Coprolite

A Picture of Coprolite from a Marine Reptile

At the request of several blog site readers, Everything Dinosaur has posted up a picture of the coprolite (poo) of an Ichthyosaur.

The Picture of the Coprolite

Marine reptile poo.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

We at Everything Dinosaur obviously aim to please our readers.

A Picture of a Fossilised Fish

A Picture of a Fossilised Fish

A Picture of a Fossilised Fish

Preserved fossil fish, found in a core drilling sample.

Picture Credit:University of Alberta

The picture above is of the Cretaceous teleost that was found in an oil drill core sample.

Silurian Fossils (Ludlow, Shropshire)

Everything Dinosaur Fossil Hunting Trip to Shropshire

Everything Dinosaur team members went on a special fossil hunting trip to a quiet location in the heart of the Shropshire countryside.  We found lots of fossils as the picture below shows:

A Successful Fossil Hunting Trip with Everything Dinosaur

Silurian Fossils from Shropshire

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Some Brachiopod fossils (Ludlow Series, Much Wenlock Formation), an example of the fossils found on a recent visit to the Mortimer Forest (south Shropshire, England), by Everything Dinosaur team members.

Cast of a Tyrannnosaurus rex Tooth For Sale

Cast of T. rex Tooth for Sale

A picture of the cast of the Tyrannosaurus rex which is a replica of real fossil material, available for sale from Everything Dinosaur.  A cast of a T. rex dinosaur tooth available to buy from Everything Dinosaur.

The Tyrannosaurus rex Tooth Cast

Wonderful Dinosaur Tooth

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A photograph of a Tyrannosaurus rex tooth along with the accompanying Everything Dinosaur T. rex fact sheet as written and researched by our very own dinosaur experts.  A very good quality replica of a Theropod tooth.  The classic profile and the “D-shaped” cross section of a typical Tyrannosaur tooth can clearly be seen in this museum quality replica.

 

Petrified Wood Fossil – Future Fossil Material

Future Fossilised Wood?

At Everything Dinosaur we work on lots of fossils of vertebrates (and one or two fossils of invertebrates for the matter too), however, for the moment we are working on some very fine samples of fossilised (petrified) wood that have been sent into our offices.  The wood dates from various geological periods of the Mesozoic Era.

Potentially a Future Fossil?

Future Fossil Material?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Team members at Everything Dinosaur were working on some fossilised wood sent to us from the western United States.  We discussed how the fossilisation of wood takes place, the various ways fossils of plant material can occur – carbonisation, petrification etc.

A Successful Fossil Hunt from Lyme Regis

Fossil Hunting with Everything Dinosaur at Lyme Regis

Team members at Everything Dinosaur enjoyed a successful day of fossil hunting along Dorset’s coast.  For a challenge, each team member was given just five minutes to find as many fossils as they could.

Some of the Fossils Collected

Lyme Regis full of fossils

 Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A handful of fossils found on a quick visit to Monmouth beach to the west of Lyme Regis (Lower Jurassic Beds), Ammonites, Belemnites plus a small piece of fossilised bone, a fragment of an Ichthyosaur perhaps?  We had great fun fossil hunting on the beach and this is what one of our experts uncovered in just five minutes of fossil hunting.

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