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

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

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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.

11 05, 2017

“Baby Louie” Dinosaur Fossil Identified as New Species

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

A New Species of Giant Oviraptorosaur – Beibeilong sinensis

The mystery of the world’s largest dinosaur eggs has been solved, and an infamous baby dinosaur fossil once the property of the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, now has a family.  In 1993, a fossilised clutch of giant dinosaur eggs and an associated embryo dinosaur skeleton was discovered east of the small village of Zhaoying, close to the township of Yangcheng, Xixia County, in western Henan Province.  Like many thousands of dinosaur egg fossils found in this part of central China, the specimen was illegally sold overseas to a buyer in America.  The fossil was then sold to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum in 2001.  Subsequently, the partial nest with the small, articulated dinosaur skeleton, nick-named “Baby Louie”, was repatriated to China and it is currently housed in the Henan Geological Museum.

In a paper this week in “Nature Communications”, researchers which include Darla Zelenitsky (University of Calgary) and Professor Phil Currie (University of Alberta), have identified a new species of giant Oviraptorosaur – “Baby Louie” represents potentially one of the largest feathered creatures known to science.

The dinosaur has been named Beibeilong sinensis, the name means “baby dragon from China”.

Photographs of the Holotype Fossil Material (Beibeilong sinensis)

Beibeilong sinensis egg fossils with impression of egg size and position overlaid.

Right image shows schematic overlay of approximate locations of individual eggs. Eggs 1 through 4 are in an upper layer just beneath the skeleton, whereas egg 5 is in a lower layer of the block. Scale bar is in centimetres.

Picture Credit: Nature Communications/Darla Zelenitsky

The picture above shows two images of the holotype nest fossil from which the new species of dinosaur, B. sinensis was described.  The picture on the left shows the fossil material with the embryo fossil located just below the scale bar.  On the second photograph, the location of five of the eggs making up the clutch have been superimposed on the fossil to give an indication of their position.

Giant Dinosaur Eggs

The eggs were given their own oogenus, Macroelongatoolithus (the name means “large elongate stone eggs”).  These are the largest-known type of dinosaur eggs with some fossils measuring around sixty centimetres in length.  The eggs associated with the Beibeilong embryo measure about forty-five centimetres long.   That’s about three times as long as a typical Ostrich egg (Struthio camelus), although Ostrich eggs are more ovoid in shape.  The research team suggest that the dinosaurs which laid these eggs, giant caenagnathid Oviraptorosaurs, created nests that may have been around three metres in diameter.

An Artist’s Illustration of the Giant Oviraptorosaur Beibeilong sinensis

Beibeilong nesting scene.

A breeding pair of Beibeilong dinosaurs and their nest of giant dinosaur eggs.

 Picture Credit: Zhao Chuang

The Gigantoraptor Effect

The discovery of the giant fragmentary fossils of a strange Theropod (Gigantoraptor erlianensis) in 2005 changed views on the Oviraptorosauria clade forever.  When formally described in 2007, Gigantoraptor was at least five times bigger than any other known oviraptorid.  Palaeontologists had proof that giant, beaked dinosaurs existed.

To read about the discovery of Gigantoraptor: New Giant Member of the Oviraptorosauria – Gigantoraptor

Beibeilong becomes the second genus of giant members of the Oviraptorosauria.  If “Baby Louie” had lived, then this dinosaur might have reached a length of eight metres or more and it would have easily weighed more than a tonne.  Beibeilong has been assigned to the Caenagnathidae, an enigmatic group of beaked Theropods closely related to the Oviraptoridae and nested with them into the Oviraptorosauria clade.

A Scale Drawing of a Giant Caenagnathid Oviraptorosaur (G. erlianensis)

Gigantoraptor scale drawing.

The largest feathered animals known to science.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Originally, the Caenagnathidae family was erected to describe, what was thought at the time, a lineage of extinct birds.  Over the last thirty years or so, more fossil discoveries have been made in North America and Asia.  When first described Gigantoraptor was thought to be a member of the Oviraptoridae, however, Gigantoraptor is now joined in the Caenagnathidae by perhaps, the equally large Beibeilong.

An Abundance of Giant Dinosaur Egg Fossils

The Beibeilong material was excavated from strata from the Gaogou Formation (Upper Cretaceous, Cenomanian to Turonian faunal stages).  The research team suggest that Beibeilong roamed central China some ninety million years ago, twenty million years earlier than Gigantoraptor.  An abundance of Macroelongatoolithus eggs reported from Asia and North America is in stark contrast to the very few bones found of giant caenagnathids.  Thanks to the association between “Baby Louie” and the giant eggs, the first known association between skeletal remains and eggs of caenagnathids, palaeontologists are confident that these giant, beaked dinosaurs may have been relatively common throughout the northern hemisphere during the Late Cretaceous.

A View of the Dinosaur Embryo Skeleton (Beibeilong sinensis) and Accompanying Line Drawing

Beibeilong fossil and line drawing.

“Baby Louie” fossil (Beibeilong sinensis) and line drawing – scale bar = 5 cm.

Picture Credit: Nature Communications/Darla Zelenitsky

The picture above shows a close view of the embryo skeleton (left) and a simplified line drawing highlighting important bones.


fr = frontal bone (skull), or = orbit (skull), lj = lower jaw, d = dentary, fi = fibula, ti – tibia, il= ilium, f = femur.

10 05, 2017

Amazing Ammonite “Tool Mark” Fossil

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

Ammonite Fossil Captures Brief Moment in Deep Time

Every once in a while, a fossil is found that provides a remarkable insight into life in the past.  An example of this is an Ammonite fossil that dates from the Late Jurassic.  The shell of the dead Ammonite was rolled along the floor of a shallow lagoon, before it finally came to rest on the finely grained sediment.  An event that lasted for perhaps just a few seconds has been preserved within the fossil record, it has persisted for over 150 million years.

An Artist’s Illustration of the Ammonite Shell Drag

Ammonite shell drag.

Capturing a moment in the Late Jurassic (Cephalopod shell trackway).

Picture Credit: Manchester University

The Solnhofen Plattenkalk (Solnhofen limestone)

Located in the southern German State of Bavaria, the world-famous limestone beds that form the Solnhofen Lagerstätte, preserve, in exquisite detail, a remarkable fossil record of animals and plants including soft-bodied creatures such as jelly fish and delicate insects such as dragonflies.  Many vertebrate fossils have also been excavated, perhaps the most famous of which are the fossils of the Theropod Archaeopteryx, referred to as “Urvogel”, German for “first bird”.

The international team of scientists, which includes palaeontologist Dean Lomax (Manchester University), have been studying the 8.5-metre-long trackway a fossil of an Ammonite shell as it was rolled along the soft, carbonate mud by the lagoonal currents.  At the end of the track, the cricket ball-sized Ammonite (Subplanites rueppellianus) came to rest.

The Team of Scientists Mapped the Progress of the Ammonite Shell Across the Bed of the Lagoon

Ammonite body and trace fossil.

Mapping the path of the Ammonite shell across the floor of the lagoon.

Picture Credit: Manchester University

The picture above shows the track of the Ammonite (left to right), with line drawings of each element of the highlighted “tool mark” fossil shown below.  The Ammonite itself can be found at the end of the track (extreme right).  The Ammonite, a specimen of S. rueppellianus was already dead when the track was made, although fossils such as this have been found before, it is an extremely rare find.  Technically, although the shell left a drag mark in the sediment and the body fossil is preserved, the track itself can’t really be regarded as a trace fossil.  Trace fossils such as trails, footprints, burrows and borings preserve evidence of the activity of animals.  As the Ammonite was dead when the track was created, it should not really be referred to as a trace fossil.  A more accurate term might be “tool mark” to describe the fossilised movement of the shell across the lagoon floor.

Dean, lead author of the scientific paper published in the on-line academic journal PLOS One, commented:

“With fossils, we usually find body fossils, such as bones, teeth or shells, or trace fossils, such as tracks and burrows.  However, the drag mark has not been made by the Ammonite in life and does not reflect behaviour.  Instead, the drag mark was created by the lake’s current moving the Ammonite shell.  It is easy to understand why such fossils have been misinterpreted as the traces of living organisms.”

A Spectacular Record of a Late Jurassic Ecosystem

During the Late Jurassic, much of western Europe was covered by a warm, tropical sea.  There were islands and these were home to an array of dinosaurs and other exotic creatures.  The landscape included stagnant lagoons that had limited access to the open sea.  These shallow bodies of water were extremely saline and very few organisms could tolerate the harsh conditions.  As a result, if animal or plant remains were washed into the lagoon from the land, or if, in this case, an Ammonite was washed into the lagoon from the sea, there were very few scavengers or micro-organisms around to ingest the organic material.  The still waters, devoid of life, helped the preservation of these animal and plant remains. Slowly, they would have become buried in the soft, finely grained mud at the bottom of the lagoon, or in this case a rare current had disturbed the rotting Ammonite and rolled the shell along the lagoonal floor, before the shell finally fell over and came to rest.

Subplanites rueppellianus Fossil Preserved at the End of the Trackway

Subplanites rueppellianus fossil.

Subplanites rueppellianus preserved at the end of the track.

Picture Credit: Manchester University

How exactly did the fossil move after it had already died?  Ammonites had gas chambers, which they used to control their buoyancy and movement, similar to a submarine.  However, the shell of the Ammonite was probably empty and the authors of the study speculate that some of the gas remained present in the shell.  This meant the Ammonite did not sink straight to the bottom and fall over.  Instead, the S. rueppellianus shell was dragged along the bottom of the tropical lagoon by what must have been a calm and steady current.

Dean Lomax Provides a Scale for the 8.5-metre-long Fossil Drag Mark

Examining the Ammonite trace fossil.

Dean Lomax (University of Manchester) examines the drag mark fossil.

Picture Credit: Manchester University

The start of the drag mark is not preserved, so the shell may have been rolling for much longer.  The mark was created by contact of the Ammonites’ ribs (ridges on the shell), with the lagoon floor.  The mark begins with just two lines, suggesting only two of the Ammonite’s ribs were in contact with the bottom of the lagoon.  The number of ribs increases along the drag marks length.

Dean Lomax added:

“Fossils such as this are super rare and provide a snapshot of an unusual moment in deep time.”

Revolutionising the Way Palaeontologists Can Showcase Fossil Material

Intricate digital photogrammetry and three-dimensional modelling was used by the research team to create a detailed video of the fossil, showing the progression of the Ammonite until its final resting place.

Dean Lomax Carefully Maps the Final Movements of the Ammonite Shell

Mapping an Ammonite trace fossil.

Analysing the final movements of the Ammonite shell.

Picture Credit: Manchester University

Palaeontologist Peter Falkingham, (Liverpool John Moores University) and one of the co-authors of the study explained:

“We created a virtual model of the fossil by compiling over 600 photographs of the specimen.  We then created a video, which shows the drag mark and the preserved Ammonite.  Such modern techniques, like the photogrammetry method we used, have really revolutionised the way palaeontologists can study fossils.”

To see a remarkable video of this shell drag and body fossil: PLOS ONE Ammonite Drag Fossil

Video Credit: PLOS ONE

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the help of the University of Manchester Press Team for their help in the compilation of this article.

28 04, 2017

Fossil with “Can-opener” Claws – Tokummia katalepsis

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

The Origins of the Mandibulate Body Plan

Scientists at the University of Toronto in collaboration with colleagues at the Royal Ontario Museum, have published this week a scientific paper describing Tokummia katalepsis, a predator from the Cambrian, one that has provided palaeontologists with a better understanding of the evolution of one of the most numerous and diverse group of animals on Earth.  The fossils, collected during extensive field work exploring 508 million-year-old sedimentary rocks near Marble Canyon in Kootenay National Park, (British Columbia), shed light on the origin of a group of arthropods collectively known as the Mandibulata.  The Mandibulata is a clade of the phylum Arthropoda that consists of millipedes, centipedes, the crustacea and insects.  Mandibulates are united by having a pair of specialised jaws “mandibles”, which can be used for a variety of purposes such as hunting, biting, cutting food into smaller pieces, digging, carrying items and constructing nests.

A Computer-Generated Image of Tokummia katalepsis

Tokummia katalepsis computer generated image.

A three-dimensional computer generated image of Tokummia katalepsis showing serrated pincers and the pair of mandibles.

Picture Credit: Royal Ontario Museum

The mandibulates constitute the largest, most speciose and most varied clade within the Arthropoda, but their evolutionary origins are poorly understood.  The discovery of several well-preserved specimens of T. katalepsis documents, for the first time, the anatomy of an early member of the Mandibulata.

Commenting on the significance of this research, Cédric Aria (University of Toronto) and lead author of the paper published in the journal “Nature” stated:

“In spite of their colossal diversity today, the origin of mandibulates had largely remained a mystery.  Before now we’ve had only sparse hints at what the first arthropods with mandibles could have looked like and no idea of what could have been other key characteristics that triggered the unrivalled diversification of that group.”

One of the T. katalepsis Fossils Used in the Study

Tokummia fossil material.

The flattened fossil of Tokummia showing numerous legs, the dorsal carapace and the specialised pincers.

Picture Credit: Jean-Bernard Caron (Royal Ontario Museum)

The photograph above shows one of the beautifully preserved fossils found in 2014.  This specimen of Tokummia katalepsis shows a number of strong legs on the left partially protruding from the body, the shape of the bivalved carapace and dozens of small paddle-like limbs below the trunk at the lower right.

A Cross Between a Crab, a Centipede and a Can-opener

Described by some observers as looking like a cross between a crab, a centipede and a can-opener, Tokummia lived in a tropical sea that teemed with early marine life-forms including the ancestors of vertebrates.  At around ten centimetres in length, T. katalepsis was one of the largest predators in the ecosystem.  It had large pincers which the researchers thought would have been too delicate to tackle shelled animals like brachiopods and bivalves.  The research team postulate that Tokummia was primarily benthic (living on the sea floor), where it scuttled about digging into the sediment to catch soft bodied creatures such as worms.  The claws reminded the scientists of a can-opener, once grasped, any unfortunate prey would have been cut up into more easily digestible pieces by those revolutionary, broad, serrated mandibles.

The genus name honours Tokumm Creek, a small river that runs through Marble Canyon, the location of the fossil finds.  The species or trivial name is derived from the ancient Greek for “grasping”.

A Computer-Generated Image from a Video that Demonstrates Tokummia Locomotion

Tokummia katalepsis - computer generated image.

A computer animated image showing the basic body plan of Tokummia katalepsis.

Picture Credit: Royal Ontario Museum

Co-author of the scientific paper and an expert on the Burgess Shale biota, Jean-Bernard Caron (Royal Ontario Museum and an Associate Professor at the University of Toronto), stated:

“This spectacular new predator, one of the largest and best preserved soft-bodied arthropods from Marble Canyon, joins the ranks of the many unusual marine creatures that lived during the Cambrian Explosion, a period of rapid evolutionary charge starting about half a billion years ago when most major animal groups first emerged in the fossil record.”

Numerous Fossil Specimens Studied

Careful mechanical preparation of the numerous specimens coupled with photographic work carried out under differing wavelengths of light, revealed the details of the Tokummia body plan.  The segmented trunk of Tokummia consisted of fifty small segments covered by a wide, two-piece carapace.  The delicate fossils show evidence of the pair of broad, notched mandibles as well as the large but quite delicate-looking front claws (maxillipeds), which are typical features of extant mandibulates.

Importantly, the animal bears subdivided limb bases with tiny projections called endites, which can be found in the larvae of certain crustaceans alive today and are now thought to have been critical innovations for the evolution of the various legs of mandibulates, and even for the mandibles themselves.

Fossils Providing an Insight into the Evolution of the Mandibulata

Tokummia katalepsis fossil.

Dorsal/ventral view of Tokummia katalepsis fossil material.

Picture Credit: Royal Ontario Museum

Graduate student Cédric Aria added that the many segments that make up the body are very reminiscent of living Myriapoda, the sub-phylum of Arthropoda that includes centipedes, millipedes and their relatives.

He went onto state:

“Tokummia also lacks the typical second antenna found in crustaceans, which illustrates a very surprising convergence with such terrestrial mandibulates.”

The study also resolves the affinities of other emblematic fossils excavated from Canada’s famous Burgess Shale deposits, more than a hundred years after their initial discovery.  Burgess Shale fossils such as Branchiocaris, Canadaspis and Odaraia form with Tokummia, a group of crustacean-like arthropods that can now be placed at the base of all mandibulates, they can be regarded as basal members of the Mandibulata.

The scientific paper: “Burgess Shale Fossils Illustrate the Origin of the Mandibulate Body Plan”: by Cédric Aria and Jean-Bernard Caron, published in the journal “Nature”.

26 04, 2017

Headless Duck-Billed Dinosaur Reunited with Skull

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

Corythosaurus Fossil Gets its Head Back

Scientists from the University of Alberta have been able to reunite the fossilised body of a Corythosaurus to its head, nearly one hundred years after the skull fossil was removed from the dig site.

Researchers have matched the headless skeleton to a Corythosaurus skull (C. excavatus) from the university’s Palaeontology Museum that had been collected in 1920 by the eminent George Sternberg during field work in what is now called the Dinosaur Provincial Park (southern Alberta).

Graduate Katherine Bramble, a co-author of the scientific paper that appears in the latest issue of “Cretaceous Research” commented:

“Based on our results, we believed there was potential that the skull and this specimen belonged together.”

The Corythosaurus (C. excavatus) Skull Collected by George Sternberg in 1920

Corythosaurus fossil skull.

The Corythosaurus skull collected by George Sternberg in 1920.

Picture Credit: The University of Alberta

Trophy Hunting When It Came to Dinosaur Fossils

The Corythosaurus skull shown in lateral view (above) was collected in 1920 and designated the holotype fossil for a new hadrosaurid (Corythosaurus excavatus) by C. W. Gilmore in 1923.  The skull, (UALVP 13) became part of the University’s vertebrate fossil collection.  In 1992, a previously uncovered, weathered, Corythosaurus skeleton was found.  A field team from the University of Alberta collected the specimen in 2012 and research undertaken by Darren Tanke (a technician at the Royal Tyrrell Museum), a co-author of the paper indicated that the body remains could be associated with the already known skull material.

In the 19th and early 20th Century, palaeontologists in North America were almost faced with an embarrassment of riches when it came to dinosaur fossils.  The extensive fossil deposits in Utah, Montana and southern Alberta led to many field teams simply “cherry picking” and only collecting the most spectacular of fossils, items such as claws, skulls, dermal armour, horns and teeth.  It is relatively common for a field team working in the Dinosaur Provincial Park to come across specimens missing skull material.

A Close-Up View of a Corythosaurus Dinosaur Model

CollectA Corythosaurus dinosaur model.

A close-up of the head of Corythosaurus.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Lower Jaw (Dentary) Found

In addition, an isolated Hadrosaur dentary (lower jaw bone), found in 1992, close to the articulated, postcranial skeleton may be one of the missing jaw fossils from the holotype skull.  The idea that this postcranial material be the skeleton of the holotype of Corythosaurus excavatus was tested using anatomical information and statistical analyses.  Statistical comparisons suggest that it is possible that the skull and dentary belong to the same individual.  Furthermore, the researchers postulate that the postcranial material could belong to the UALVP 13 skull.

Katherine Bramble explained:

“Using anatomical measurements of the skull and the skeleton, we conducted a statistical analysis.  Based on these results, we believed there was potential that the skull and this specimen belonged together.”

Matching Disparate Fossils to Individual Dinosaurs

This discovery highlights a growing field of study in palaeontology, wherein, scientists try to develop new ways of determining whether various parts of a skeleton, often located in different museum collections, belong to the same individual.  For this paper, the team used anatomical measurements, but there are several other ways of matching up fossil bones, such as conducting a chemical analysis on the surrounding matrix to identify the rocks from which the fossils were found.

The scientific paper, “Reuniting the ‘head hunted’ Corythosaurus excavatus (Dinosauria: Hadrosauridae) holotype skull with its dentary and postcranium,” published in the journal of “Cretaceous Research.”

21 04, 2017

New Species of Hyaenodont from Egypt Described

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Masrasector nananubis – From the Late Eocene of Egypt

If people are asked to name a meat-eating mammal, you can expect to get answers such as tiger, bear or lion.  Those of us with more of a domestic outlook on life might mention cats and dogs, but for a significant portion of the Cenozoic, sometimes referred to as the “Age of Mammals”, the Carnivora, the Order to which bears, cats and dogs belong, did not get a look in.  Prior to the evolution of many types of recognisable carnivorous mammal alive today, other types of mammals filled the role of hypercarnivores*.

One such group was the Hyaenodonta.  A diverse clade of carnivorous mammals that filled a variety of roles in terrestrial ecosystems in both the New and the Old World.  Writing in the on-line academic journal PLOS One, scientists from Ohio University and the University of Southern California have published details of a new species of Yorkshire terrier-sized hyaenodont, the beautifully preserved skull and jaws are helping palaeontologists to understand more about the evolution and phylogeny of this extinct group, a group that has no close relatives alive today.

The Skull and Jaws of a Newly Identified Species of Hyaenodont

Skull and jaws of Masrasector nananubis.

Computer generated image showing the skull and jaws of Masrasector nananubis (right lateral view).

Picture Credit: PLOS One

Masrasector nananubis – Named after a God of Ancient Egypt

The Late Eocene deposits of the Fayum Depression (Egypt), have provided scientists with a substantial number of mammal fossils, including a number of hyaenodonts, the latest to be added to this list is Masrasector nananubis.  It has been classified as member of the Hyaenodontidae, specifically part of the Teratodontine clade, a poorly known group which are distinguished from other hyaenodonts by subtle differences in the shape of their skulls, jaws and teeth.  Masrasector translates as “the Egyptian slicer”, a reference to the large molars (carnassials).  The species or trivial name honours Anubis, the jackal-faced Egyptian god of mummification.  The premolars and molars of Masrasector have larger grinding surfaces when compared to other hyaenodonts.  The researchers have speculated that Masrasector nananubis may have supplemented its diet of small mammals, amphibians, reptiles and insects by feeding on fruit and nuts.  This suggests that, like other members of the Teratodontinae clade, it may not have relied on meat consumption as much as other hyaenodonts that were hypercarnivorous.  It has been suggested that M. nananubis may have been mesocarnivorous*.

Views of the Skull of Masrasector nananubis

Cranium material of Masrasector.

Views of the skull of Masrasector (Hyaenodont).

Picture Credit: PLOS One

It may be true that hyaenodont fossils are known from Africa, North America, Asia and Europe and that the genus Hyaenodon survived for around twenty-six million years, the longest temporal spam known for a fossil mammal, but the discovery of these Masrasector fossils is still very significant.  The fossils comprise largely complete skulls, jaws, and parts of the skeleton, making them one of the most complete known African hyaenodonts from the Paleogene found to date.  Previously, researchers only had isolated bones and teeth fragments to work with, frustrating palaeontologists as they attempt to piece together the family tree representing the Hyaenodontidae.

The fossils come from a dig site (locality 41) in the Fayum Depression, the well-consolidated clays have been dated to the Late Priabonian of the Eocene (approximately 34 million years ago).  The Masrasector material represents some of the oldest fossils known for this type of hyaenodont.

Commenting on the importance of the fossils, corresponding author for the study, Matthew R. Borths (Department of Biomedical Sciences, Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, Ohio University), stated:

“These fossils might be the oldest and most complete ever discovered, but there is still much that remains to be discovered as the fossils of other members of this group are fragmentary.  Masrasector can be used as a cornerstone of character development for exploring the evolution and diversity of other hyaenodontids.”


An Illustration of the Giant Hyaenodont (H. gigas)

Hyaenodon gigas scale drawing.

A scale drawing of the giant Hyaenodon gigas.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Matthew went onto add:

“Hyaenodonts were the top predators in Africa after the extinction of the dinosaurs.  This new species is associated with a dozen specimens, including skulls and arm bones, which means we can explore what it ate, how it moved, and consider why these carnivorous mammals died off as the relatives of dogs, cats, and hyenas moved into Africa.”

Hypercarnivore* an animal which has at least 70% of its diet made up of meat.

Mesocarnivore* an animal which has around 50% to 70% of its diet made up of meat.

The scientific paper: “Craniodental and Humeral Morphology of a New Species of Masrasector (Teratodontinae, Hyaenodonta, Placentalia) from the Late Eocene of Egypt and Locomotor Diversity in Hyaenodonts” by Matthew R. Borths and Erik R Seiffert published in PLOS One.

18 04, 2017

New Species of Arowana Fish from the Eocene of China

By | April 18th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

The Origins of the Dragon Fish (Scleropages)

Scientists from the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology (IVPP) have published details of the discovery of beautifully preserved fish fossils from China that have helped map the origins of one of the most valuable and sought after aquarium fishes in the world.  Scleropages formosus, the Asian Arowana, otherwise known as the Dragon Fish from south-eastern Asia, quite rare in the wild these days, but it is highly regarded amongst freshwater aquarium owners, who can splash out thousands of dollars to acquire particularly colourful specimens.

In a scientific paper published in the journal “Vertebrata PalAsiatica”, Dr Zhang Jiangyong (IVPP) in collaboration with Dr Mark Wilson (University of Alberta), report on the discovery of a new species of osteoglossid fish from the Early Eocene Xiwanpu Formation in Hunan and the Yangxi Formation in Hubei, (China).  The prehistoric fish is remarkable similar to the extant species and it has been named Scleropages sinensis (the name translates as “hard scaled leaves from China”, a reference to the robust tough body scales that characterises these fish).

The Holotype Fossil Material of Scleropages sinensis

The holotype fossil material of S. sinensis.

Holotype of Scleropages sinensis.

Picture Credit: Zhang Jiangyong (IVPP)

The picture above shows the beautifully preserved holotype specimen of S. sinensis.  The fins are labelled (df) = dorsal fin, (cf) = caudal fin, (af) = anal fin, (pf and pec f) = pectoral fins, scale bar 1 centimetre.

This is the first time a nearly complete body fossil of this genus has been described.  Previously, the fossil record only consisted of individual scales, otoliths (calcified structures from the inner ear) and isolated fragmentary bones.  The discovery of Scleropages sinensis dates the divergence of Scleropages from the closely related Osteoglossum to at least as far back as the Early Eocene.  The fish fossils represent a number of different ontogenetic (growth stages). The largest specimens are 17.5 centimetres in length, the smallest under 8 centimetres long.

Fossil Scleropages are known from the Maastrichtian of India, the Maastrichtian/Late Palaeocene of Africa, the Palaeocene of Europe, the Eocene of Sumatra, and the Oligocene of Australia.   All of these earlier records are scales, otoliths and isolated bone fragments. Therefore, these newly described Chinese fossils are the first skeletons of fossil Scleropages ever unearthed in the world.

Views of the Scleropages Fossil Material

Views of Scleropages sinensis fossil material.

Scleropages sinensis fossil material (various views).

Picture Credit: Zhang Jiangyong (IVPP)

Dr Zhang stated:

“This new fish resembles Scleropages in skull bones, caudal skeleton, the shape and position of fins, and reticulate scales.  Therefore, it must belong to the genus.”

The extant species of Scleropages inhabits lakes, swamps and flooded forests as well as slowly meandering rivers. It is a carnivorous fish preying on insects, worms, small amphibians, other fish, small mammals and even birds.  The fish is renowned for its jumping, the researchers propose that Scleropages sinensis may have filled a similar niche in the Eocene ecosystem, but being smaller it probably had a more restricted diet than its extant relative.  Analysis of the fossil material suggests that sexual dimorphism may have existed in S. sinensis.

Comparing the Extinct Species with Living Species

Living species of Scleropages compared to the fossil material.

Comparison between Scleropages sinensis (A) and the living species S. formosus (B), S. leichardti.

Picture Credit: Zhang Jiangyong (IVPP)

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