Little “Scarface” Late Permian Predator May Have Been Venomous

Ichibengops munyamadziensis – A Nasty Little “Critter”

Researchers at the Field Museum (Chicago, Illinois) in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Utah, The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture (Seattle) and the University of Washington have published a scientific paper detailing the discovery of a new genus of mammal-like animals that thrived prior to the Permian mass extinction event.  This little synapsid is the first endemic Zambian member of the Therocephalia to be described in detail.  The fossils, which include a partial skull and upper jaw were discovered in a field expedition back in 2009, to the Madumabisa Mudstone Formation in the Luangwa Basin (north-eastern Zambia), at the time the field team were not aware that they had discovered a new species of mammal-like reptile.  A bizarre groove found on the animal’s upper jaw suggests that this little carnivore could have been venomous.  Potential venom glands and tooth grooves to permit the passage of venom into wounds of prey that had been bitten, have been proposed for some other members of the Therocephalia before, but this interpretation of the fossil evidence remains controversial.

A Picture of the Holotype Skull and Jaw Material (Ichibengops munyamadziensis)

Fossils date from around 252 million years ago (Late Permian).

Fossils date from around 255 million years ago (Late Permian).

Picture Credit: Adam Huttenlocker

Described as a “little critter” by Everything Dinosaur team members, the fossils are believed to be around 255 million years old (Wuchiapingian faunal stage of Permian).  Ichibengops, (pronounced itc-chee-ben-gops) comes from the local Bemba dialect for scar and the Greek suffix for face, hence this “little critter” has been nick-named “scarface”.

A paper on the 2009 discovery has just been published in the academic publication the “Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology”.  The Therocephalia, believed to be closely related to the Cynodonts are referred to as “beast heads”, on account of their robust skulls.  As a group, they survived the End Permian extinction, but were greatly reduced with only a few Families persisting into the Early Triassic.  This group died out at around the time of the very first dinosaurs, but it is unlikely that the rise of the Dinosauria had anything to do with the extinction of the Therocephalia.

Commenting on the research, one of the authors of the scientific paper, Dr. Kenneth Angielczyk (Field Museum) stated:

“Discoveries of new species of animals like Ichibengops are particularly exciting because they help us to better understand the group of animals that gave rise to mammals.  One interesting feature about this species in particular is the presence of grooves above its teeth, which may have been used to transmit venom.”

Being venomous is rare in today’s Mammalia, only a few extant species produce venom.  For example, the duck-billed platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) a monotreme, is now known to be venomous as are a number of species of shrews.  If this little animal was able to deliver a debilitating bite then this might have proved advantageous, helping to despatch victims quickly as well as providing a formidable defence against attack from larger predators.

An Illustration of Ichibengops munyamadziensis

A Late Permian predator.

A Late Permian predator.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Second Tetrapod Zoology Convention – Date Set

TetZooCon 2015 (14th November 2015)

We are very lucky in this country to have such a vibrant group of like-minded academics, writers, scientists and artists who are passionate about the living world and life in the past in all its myriad forms.   However, the opportunities to bring such dedicated and well informed people together remain few and far between.  It’s great to hear that the date for a second Tetrapod Zoology Convention has been set, what with the runaway success of the inaugural conference, organisers, renowned science-writer and all round top chap Dr. Darren Naish (University of Southampton), aided and abetted by talented palaeoartist John Conway are already finalising the impressive list of speakers for the convention scheduled for Saturday 14th November at the London Wetland Centre.

Tickets cost just £40.00 for the day, highlights of which will include short talks on all manner of zoologically-themed subjects, which as we go to press, cover topic areas as varied and diverse as marine reptiles, urban birding, the Pterosauria and crypto-mammals with a focus on pygmy elephants!  There will be time for a little bit of animal watching at the London Wetland Centre as well as a pub trip and a pub-themed social event to round off the event.

TetZooCon 2015 – Bookings Now Being Taken

Click on the logo to visit the Paypal booking service.

Click on the logo to visit the Paypal booking service.

Image Credit: Darren Naish

To book tickets via Paypal: Tickets Can Be Booked Here

The London Wetland Centre is located in Barnes, London (postcode for satnav purposes: SW13 9WT), coffee and tea will be provided and lunch can be procured from the nearby Water’s Edge Cafe.

Palaeoart Workshop – A Highlight

Building upon the highly successful palaeoart workshop that took place last year, this convention will also give delegates the opportunity to gain an insight into this fascinating area of scientific illustration with the likes of Bob Nicholls, Mark Witton and of course, John Conway leading the way.  There might even be one or two signed prints available to purchase.  So, book the date of Saturday November 14th into your diary.  The London Wetland Centre will once more be the venue for the second celebration of all things zoological and palaeontological.

For information, updates and to access the super weblog written by Dr. Naish: Tetrapod Zoology

And that booking information once again, (tickets £40.00): Book Tickets Here via Paypal

Rebor Hatching Velociraptors Video Review

Rebor Club Selection Hatching Velociraptors Video Review

The second replica in the highly sought after Rebor Club Selection series is this excellent set of hatching Velociraptors.  The little Theropods have been nick-named Lock, Stock and Barrel and in this ten minute video review, Everything Dinosaur looks at this 1:1 scale replica in detail and provides helpful, scientific insight into the layout and design of this particular collector’s piece.

Everything Dinosaur’s Video Review of the Rebor Club Selection Hatching Velociraptors

Video Credit: Everything Dinosaur

We suspect that the sculpt is based on the first species of Velociraptor to be scientifically named and described (Velociraptor mongoliensis), fossils of which were discovered by an American Museum of Natural History expedition to Mongolia in 1924.  Ironically, the expedition did not set out to intentionally find new dinosaurs, the primary objective was to discover the ancestry of modern humans.

Rebor are to be praised for introducing such a well thought out and fascinating replica.  In this short, (10:13) video, we comment on the shape of the eggs, explain a little about the sandy substrate that the three models rest upon and discuss ways in which this centre piece could be presented.  In addition, we look at the science behind the sculpt.  For example, although the dinosaurs are presented as scaly reptiles, rather than fuzzy bird-like Theropods, we look at the implications for producing model baby dinosaurs that are so well developed.  One glance at those teeth and sharp claws on display would convince you that these young Velociraptors are capable of looking after themselves almost as soon as they have hatched.  What is the science behind Rebor’s thinking?  We try to present some evidence to support Rebor’s interpretation and highlight a couple of aspects of this model such as the vertical pupils in the eyes which might have been over looked by other reviewers.

The Velociraptor Hatchings Have Vertical Slits for Pupils

Why the vertical slit for pupil and not a rounded one?

Why the vertical slit for pupil and not a rounded one?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows a close up of the hatching Velociraptor nick-named “Stock”.  In our video review, we try to pick up on one or two points and highlight aspects of this replica that might not have been covered by other reviewers.

To see the range of Rebor replicas including the limited edition Club Selection Hatching Velociraptors: Rebor Models including Club Selection Replicas

Saying it with Flowers – but Underwater

Montsechia – Ancient, Aquatic Angiosperm

The origin of, arguably, the most successful of group of plants, the flowering plants (angiosperms), remains something of a mystery.  The fossil record for plants in general is particularly sparse, however, a team of international scientists have identified an Early Cretaceous aquatic plant called Montsechia vidalii as a candidate for one of the earliest flowering plants known.  This research, which involved examining more than a thousand fossil specimens, has implications for the way in which palaeontologists think how flowering plants first evolved and which were the first habitats that they established themselves in.

Indiana University palaeobotanist David Dilcher, appropriately based at the Bloomington campus, is one of the authors of the scientific study which has just been published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”  The fossils in question, come from fine-grained, lithographic limestone formations of the Pyrenees (Montsec Range) on the Spanish side of the border between France and Spain.  The delicate plant fossils have been studied for over one hundred years but it is only very recently that their potential significance and the implications for the evolution of flowering plants has begun to be realised.

A Beautifully Preserved Specimen of Montsechia vidalii

Early Cretaceous flowering water plant.

Early Cretaceous flowering water plant.

Picture Credit: Bernard Gomez

Using the fossilised remains of freshwater, microscopic algae (Charophytes) the plant fossils have been dated to the Barremian faunal stage of the Early Cretaceous, making these water plants something like 130 to 124 million years old.  This is an example of fossils being used to estimate the relative age of different rock strata (biostratigraphy).

Emeritus Professor David Dilcher explained the significance of identifying M. vidalii as an angiosperm. He stated:

“This discovery raises significant questions about the early evolutionary history of flowering plants, as well as the role of these plants in the evolution of other plant and animal life.”

As to exactly when the first flowering plants evolved the debate remains, for example, back in 2013, Everything Dinosaur team members wrote an article about a study undertaken by the Geological Consulting & Services of Ober-Ramstadt (Germany) and the University of Zurich which proposed that the first angiosperms could have evolved more than 24o million years ago.

To read this article: Saying it with Flowers 100 Million Years Early

The scientists who studied the Spanish fossils included researchers from the Universities of Barcelona and Lyon as well as personnel from the Leibniz Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity Science, (Berlin).  They make M. vidalii contemporaneous with the ancient water plant known as Archaefructus, fossils of which come from north-eastern China.

Emeritus Professor David Dilcher a Leading Authority on Ancient Flowering Plants

A leading researcher into the origins of flowering plants.

A leading researcher into the origins of flowering plants.

Picture Credit: University of Indiana

In order to reveal the minute details of the plant’s structures, vital in assigning Montsechia vidalii to the flowering plant Order, the researchers applied tiny drops of hydrochloric acid to dissolve away the limestone matrix.  The plant’s cuticles, the protective film covering the leaves that reveals their shape was carefully bleached away in a separate process using a mixture of nitric acid and potassium chlorate.

A Magnified View of the Plant Structures

A close up view of some of the plant fossils.

A close up view of some of the plant fossils.

Picture Credit: Bernard Gomez/Everything Dinosaur

This careful examination was particularly important to Montsechia since most modern observers might not even recognize the fossil as a flowering plant.  David, who completed his doctorate at Yale University in 1964, has dedicated much of his research into unravelling the history of ancient plant-life went on to add:

“Montsechia possesses no obvious “flower parts”, such as petals or nectar-producing structures for attracting insects, and lives out its entire life cycle under water.  The fruit contains a single seed – the defining characteristic of an angiosperm.”

Identifying the defining characteristics of an angiosperm is notoriously a tricky business.  Several botanical features common in the angiosperms are also found in many other sub-branches (no pun intended), of the Plantae Kingdom.  The lack of fossils hampers scientists in their bid to help unravel the evolutionary relationship between flowering plants and older types of plant.  For example, a number of palaeobotanists have proposed that some Pteridosperms (seed ferns) are ancestral to the angiosperms.  Pteridosperms are regarded as gymnosperms, this term means “naked seed”, as these plants are characterised by not enclosing their seeds in a protective outer covering (the carpel).  However, since the carpel, is designed to protect the unfertilised seeds within it, it tends to be tough and it is these carpel remains that have helped researchers to slowly piece together a fragmentary picture of the origins of flowering plants – a vitally important plant group to us humans as most of the plants we consume are angiosperms.

When the visual appearance of Montsechia is considered, David Dilcher stated that it resembles its most modern descendent, identified in the study as Ceratophyllum, commonly known as “hornworts”. Ceratophyllum is a dark green aquatic plant which is often planted in ponds and aquaria as it provides shelter to wildlife as well as oxygenating the water.

An Illustration of Montsechia vidalii Including Seed Diagrams

A hardy Early Cretaceous water plant.

A hardy Early Cretaceous water plant.

Picture Credit: Oscar Sanisidro with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

Despite the great difficulties in exposing the fine structures of the plants, the researchers are determined to press on with their studies.  Their next targets are to explore in more detail the phylogenetic relationship between Montsechia and its modern counterparts and to develop a better understanding of precisely when other species of angiosperms branched off from their ancestral forms.

Stressing the importance of this research, the Emeritus Professor concluded:

“There’s still much to be discovered about how a few early species of seed-bearing plants eventually gave rise to the enormous, and beautiful, variety of flowers that now populate nearly every environment on Earth.”

Pulanesaura – A Case of “Four Legs Good Two Legs Bad”

South African Basal Sauropod Sheds Light on Niche Partitioning in Early Jurassic Herbivores

What does a quotation from George Orwell’s famous novella “Animal Farm” that satirises the Soviet system have in common with a newly described South African dinosaur?  Not a lot, you might think, but the slogan “Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad” coined by the animals in the book can be aptly applied to the fossilised remains of a newly described Early Jurassic long-necked dinosaur.  The fossils of Pulanesaura eocollum suggest that this plant-eater spent all its life as a quadruped, that is, it had become adapted to walking around on four legs and feeding on low growing plants, as opposed to the Sauropodomorphs that shared its world, dinosaurs like Massospondylus, which were either semi-bipedal for full bipeds.

This four-legged stance would have given this eight metre long, five tonne herbivore a very efficient feeding platform, perhaps, providing it  with a distinct advantage over the other dinosaurs that it shared its habitat with.

A Diagram Showing Suggested Body Shape and Some of the Fossilised Bones of P. eocollum

About 7% of the total skeleton is known.

About 7% of the total skeleton is known.

Picture Credit: Witwatersrand University

The picture above shows representative fossil bones of the new Sauropod.  The fossils were excavated from a small quarry measuring a little over ten square metres in size from a farm in the Spion Kop locality (Senekel District of the Free State, South Africa).  The close proximity of the fossils and the depositional environment which represents a low energy deposit dominated by poorly bedded sandstones and silts, suggests this site relates to a cut-off channel.  Fossils collected indicate the presence of two sub-adult to adult sized specimens.  Analysis of the almond-shaped teeth found in association with the bones along with the robust forelimbs suggest that Pulanesaura fed close to the ground, whilst its contemporaries, dinosaurs like Massospondylus and Arcusaurus (fossils of which were found at the edge of the same quarry), used their arms to help gather food from across a broad range of the forest canopy.

Head Down Browsers

The dinosaur, described by University of Witwatersrand PhD student Blair McPhee and colleagues in the journal “Scientific Reports” provides evidence of niche partitioning in Early Jurassic Sauropods. Niche partitioning is defined as the process by which natural selection drives competing species into different patterns of resource use or different niches.  Niche partitioning in this way permits a number of similar animals to co-exist in an environment as each species does not directly compete with the other.  In simple terms, the stocky, heavy-set Pulanesaura may have specialised in grazing upon low growing plants such as ferns and horsetails, a “head down” approach to finding its dinner as described by one member of the Everything Dinosaur team.  In contrast, Sauropodomorphs which could behave as facultative quadrupeds (mostly adopting a bipedal stance but able to go down on all fours if they desired), would feed on taller plants and trees, a “heads up” feeding strategy.

This concept of niche partitioning in the Sauropoda has been applied before, notably when the extensive Late Jurassic Sauropod fossil material from the Morrison Formation of the western United States is considered.  In the Late Jurassic, brachiosaurids and diplodocids lived side by side, along with camarasaurids.  Different dinosaur body shapes and neck lengths permitted each type of plant-eater to specialise on feeding on particular parts of the available flora.

Niche Partitioning in Late Jurassic Sauropods

Long necks for different feeding envelopes.

Long necks for different feeding envelopes.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Other authors of the paper include Dr Matthew Bonnan (Stockton University), Dr Jonah Choiniere (Evolutionary Studies Institute at Witwatersrand University), Dr Adam Yates (Scientist at the Museum of Central Australia) and Dr Johann Neveling (Geologist from the Council of Geoscience).  The scientists conclude that Pulanesaura was an early member of the long-necked Sauropod lineage of dinosaurs, distantly related to the super-sized Sauropoda that evolved later in the Jurassic and an early exponent of the “four legs good” lineage of plant-eating dinosaurs that were to dominant terrestrial habitats for much of the Jurassic.

Commenting on the significance of this dinosaur discovery, student Blair McPhee stated:

“This dinosaur showcases the unexpected diversity of locomotion and feeding strategies present in South Africa 200 million years ago.  This has serious implications for how dinosaurs were carving up their ecosystems.”

The exact date of the strata from which the fossils come from is difficult to determine.  The rocks containing the Pulanesaura material are associated with the Upper Elliot Formation, precise dating remains controversial with broad estimates of the age of these rocks ranging from 200 million years to around 180 million years old.

Dr. Jonah Choiniere added:

“We used to think that only two species of Sauropodomorph dinosaur were present in South Africa.  Now we know that the picture was much more complicated, with lots of species present. But Pulanesaura is still special because it was doing something that all these newly discovered species were not.”

The Teeth of the Plant-Eating Dinosaur

Scale bar = 1cm

Scale bar = 1cm

Picture Credit: University of Witwatersrand

There are two broken teeth associated with the fossil bones.  They are very similar to the teeth found in most basal Sauropods.  The dinosaur’s name Pulanesaura eocollum is derived from the local language “Pulane” meaning rain-maker/bringer, a reference to the very wet conditions that the field team encountered when excavating the fossils.  The species name means “dawn neck”, a direct reference to the anatomical modifications in the neck identified by the scientists which probably meant that this dinosaur did not have to move its body around too much in order to feed.  Less movement equates to less energy being expended to gather food, an efficient method of feeding that was to be taken to extreme lengths by the gigantic Sauropods that evolved later.

Stockton University’s Dr. Matthew Bonnan summed up the importance of this fossil discovery by explaining:

“The traditional picture of Sauropod evolution is that when they came onto the scene, the other Sauropodomorphs were pushed aside.  Pulanesaura turns this notion on its head.  Sauropod evolution was occurring alongside and influenced by competition with their Sauropodomorph brethren.”  

Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Drawings

Pictures of Prehistoric Animals

As part of Everything Dinosaur’s outreach activities supporting summer schools we challenged one group of Key Stage Two children to have a go at designing their very own dinosaur.  We explained how diverse the Dinosauria were and the various ecological niches occupied by this group of ancient reptiles then we set the children to work.  We wanted to help encourage their creativity as well as to get them considering such aspects as adaptation, diet and habitat.  We received some very colourful and indeed, very creative illustrations.

Children Design Their Own Prehistoric Animals

Colourful and carefully thought out dinosaur designs.

Colourful and carefully thought out dinosaur designs.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

This assignment was part of a wider project which Everything Dinosaur team members were involved in.  The focus was on literacy and coming up with imaginative and fun ways in which we could help the children with their writing.  The dinosaur topic and related scheme of work certainly proved very popular with the children.  The teaching team and volunteers were extremely enthusiastic too.

Lots of Different Prehistoric Animals were Created

We explained the link between dinosaurs and birds.

We explained the link between dinosaurs and birds.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

With our dinosaur expert having explained the link between birds and dinosaurs and shown examples of feathered dinosaurs such as Microraptor, Beipiaosaurus, Therizinosaurus and Caudipteryx, naturally we got a lot of feathers in the children’s dinosaur designs.

Meat-eating dinosaur creations proved the most popular, especially with the boys, but there were also plenty of plant-eating dinosaurs created as well.  Lots of long-necked dinosaurs, dinosaurs with horns, even armoured ones.  It certainly was a very creative exercise.

To request further information about Everything Dinosaur’s work in schools: Contact Everything Dinosaur/Request a Quotation

Commenting on the work undertaken by company, a teacher praised Everything Dinosaur for the provision of some inspiring resources.

A spokesperson for Everything Dinosaur stated:

“It has been fun to examine the wonderful and very imaginative dinosaur creations and we were really impressed with the amount of labelling that had also been going on.  Lots of colourful dinosaurs on display along with numerous adjectives.”

Schleich Giganotosaurus (orange) Reviewed

A Review of the Schleich Giganotosaurus (orange)

Carefully crafted with robust, creative play in mind, Schleich have produced another very attractive dinosaur model.  The figure in question is the recently introduced Schleich Giganotosaurus (orange) dinosaur model, one of two new models added to the company’s “World of History” model range this summer.  For prehistoric animal figure collectors it might be a case of “déjà vu” as this is the third Giganotosaurus model introduced by the German company in the last five years.  Of the three, it is certainly the most colourful.

The Schleich Giganotosaurus (orange) Dinosaur Model

Giant Southern Lizard.

“Giant Southern Lizard.”

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Giganotosaurus has grown in popularity since its formal naming and description by Argentinean palaeontologist Rodolfo Coria  back in 1995.  Each year, Everything Dinosaur produces a list of the most popular prehistoric animals and in 2014’s survey “Giant Southern Lizard” remained at number eight for the second year running.

To view the Everything Dinosaur 2014 survey: Everything Dinosaur’s Top Ten Prehistoric Animals 2014

This model will do a lot to retain the popularity of this Cretaceous meat-eating dinosaur.  It is very sturdy, the model weighs close to half a kilogramme and it is very well sculpted.  The weight of the replica gives it a real feel of quality.  The feeling of quality is enhanced when the fine details of the skin texture including traces of skin folds are considered.  Unlike many inferior replicas, the detailing is continued on the underside of the model.

The Underside of the Schleich Giganotosaurus Dinosaur Model (Giganotosaurus orange)

Skin folds and texture on the underside of the model.

Skin folds and texture on the underside of the model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The model is beautifully painted with a striking bright orange down the flanks (it is this colour that gives this dinosaur model its name and helps it to distinguish it from the other two, earlier Schleich Giganotosaurus replicas).  The orange colouration is off-set by a light green band that runs down the body and a stripe of cobalt blue that starts as a small line on the tip of nose and runs down the top of the skull, down the back to the tip of the tail where it broadens out to give this model a dark tail colour.

When inspecting the underside of this model, it is sensible to check the CE mark and manufacturer authentication which can be found on the belly.  We expect there will be a lot “Chinasaur” replicas being made so we advise collectors to purchase from an authorised Schleich distributor such as Everything Dinosaur.

Authentic Models Should Have the Manufacturer Details on the Underside

Look for the manufacturer's marks.

Look for the manufacturer’s marks.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The feet are a little oversized but these help with the bipedal stance of this replica and like all the other large Theropod dinosaur models currently made by Schleich, this replica features an articulated jaw.  The excellent paint work continues inside the mouth, even the palate area, the roof of the mouth, has been sculpted and painted with care.  No soft tissue preservation from the skull area is known for Giganotosaurus (G. carolinii), but we appreciate the work of the design team at Schleich to include these details on their dinosaur model.

To view the range of large prehistoric animal models available (World of History): Schleich World of History Prehistoric Animal Models

The Schleich Giganotosaurus Model (orange) Even Shows Details of the Roof of the Mouth

Details of the mouth of the Schleich Giganotosaurus (orange).

Details of the mouth of the Schleich Giganotosaurus (orange).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

On the Everything Dinosaur website, we give this model’s length as approximately twenty-four centimetres, but as the tail curls round on itself and the neck is slightly bent to the right, it is difficult to provide an extremely accurate measurement of this replica’s size.  When measured with one of Everything Dinosaur’s field tape measures, the model comes out at around thirty-three centimetres in length, but in our video review of this dinosaur model, to be published shortly, we retain the more conservative measurement and calculate a 1:58 scale size for this Giganotosaurus.

A Close up of the Head of the Schleich Giganotosaurus (orange)

Well painted model has an articulated lower jaw.

Well painted model has an articulated lower jaw.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The row of horns running along the length of the body and along the top of the snout may not exactly match the known fossil record, and the fenestrae in the skull are a slightly unusual shape (but at least the sculptors have indicated the skull of this dinosaur had large holes behind and in front of the eye socket).  All in all, this is an excellent model, one that we recommend for young dinosaur fans and collectors alike.

Somerset Reveals Its Diverse Triassic Fauna

Ancient Triassic Seas of South West England Teemed with Life

An ancient coastal landscape has been brought to life thanks to the dedicated research of an undergraduate from Bristol University.  Klara Nordén has explored the diversity of animal life that inhabited the shorelines of south-western England 200 million years ago (Late Triassic), using fossils collected by Gloucester-based geologist Mike Curtis back in the 1980’s.

The student from the School of Earth Sciences (Bristol University) examined material from Late Triassic sediments at the Marston Road Quarry, near the town of Nunney in Somerset.  This site is well known for its microfossils and many types of fossil teeth.  Although Mike Curtis collected the material back in the 1980’s the fossils have not been formally studied until now.

The paper published in the “Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association” highlights the diverse fauna that once existed in this part of south-western England.  The palaeoenvironment consisted of a shallow, tropical sea with many small islands close by.  It was on these islands that Bristol’s very own dinosaur the Thecodontosaurus roamed.  Thecodontosaurus was the fourth dinosaur to be officially described (actually it was described before the term Dinosauria had been erected).  Although a number of specimens were lost when Bristol City Museum was bombed in World War II, enough fossil material has been collected to make this little Sauropodomorpha one of Britain’s best known early Mesozoic dinosaurs.

To read an article about Thecodontosaurus: Bristol Remembers Thecodontosaurus

The study revealed a total of six species of bony fish and a further six species of shark, as well as the presence of a Placodont, a type of marine reptile believed to be distantly related to the Plesiosaurs and a member of the Sauropterygia.  The Placodont has been identified as Psephoderma alpinum.  Described as being lizard-like with an armoured shell, this reptile fed on shellfish and other invertebrates found in the sediment on the seabed.

An Artist’s Drawing of the Placodont Psephoderma alpinum

An illustration of the Triassic Placodont Psephoderma.

An illustration of the Triassic Placodont Psephoderma.

Picture Credit: James O’Shea

In addition, the study revealed the presence of a number of predatory marine reptiles including a crocodile-like animal in the shallow coastal waters (Pachystropheus rhaeticus), a semi-aquatic reptile first described in 1935, nearly one hundred years after the fossils of Thecodontosaurus were scientifically studied.

Commenting upon her research into this ancient Somerset archipelago, student Klara stated:

“We were excited to find teeth from a Placodont, which are rare in British sediments.  The presence of Placodonts indicates that the area was once a coastal environment, with shallow waters and abundant invertebrate prey.  Placodonts were in decline in the Late Triassic and the Placodont teeth from Marston Road mush come from some of the last of these reptiles to exist on Earth.”

The strata in this part of the world associated with the Upper Triassic (Rhaetian faunal stage), is well-known for its bone beds containing abundant remains of fish and reptiles.  It is not just marine fauna that has been preserved, fluvial processes have resulted in the long distance transport of the remains of land animals around at the time becoming deposited into the shallow marine strata being laid down.  The study also revealed the presence of Sphenodontians that would have co-existed on the tropical islands alongside the dinosaurs.

Sphenodontians inhabited the islands in the archipelago, which they shared with Thecodontosaurus, the famous ‘Bristol dinosaur’.  These small animals resemble lizards but they are not members of the Order Squamata.  They represent a very ancient reptilian lineage that probably originated in the Early Triassic.  Like lizards and snakes, they are diapsids  and the Sphenodontians are classified along with snakes and lizards in the SuperOrder Lepidosauria but on a distinct branch from the Squamata, (the Rhynchocephalia – meaning “beak heads”).  This study documents the first time that Sphenodontian fossils have been recorded in British marine sediments.

Although once diverse, there is only one genus of Sphenodontian living today, the remarkable Tuatara that can be found on a few New Zealand islands (there are attempts being made to introduce this little reptile back to the New Zealand mainland).

A Picture of a Tuatara

Only two species of this once very diverse group of reptiles still survive today.

Only two species of this once very diverse group of reptiles still survive today.

Picture Credit: New Zealand Tuatara Conservation Team

To read an article about a genetic study into these ancient reptiles: The Tuatara Has a Surprise in its Genes

Klara’s supervisor is Professor Michael Benton (School of Earth Sciences), he explained that the fossils reveal the details of a coastal landscape that existed some 200 million years ago and they paint a very different picture from today, after all, the Bristol Channel can hardly be regarded as a tropical sea.

The Professor stated:

“It’s really unusual to find remains of land-living animals mixed in with the marine fishes and sharks.  They must have been washed off the land into the shallow sea and this provides evidence to match the age of the marine and terrestrial deposits in the area.”

Co-author of the report, published in the “Proceedings of the Geologist’s Association”, Dr. Chris Duffin added:

“I began working on these fossils from the Bristol area forty years ago and it’s great to see such wonderful work by a Bristol undergraduate.”

Hypselospinus On Show at Bexhill Museum

Dinosaur Fossils Go on Display at Local Museum

Iconic locations such as the Badlands of Montana, the Hell Creek Formation and the exotic sounding Tendaguru Beds are the sort of places that most people would associate with spectacular dinosaur discoveries, but residents of East Sussex (southern England), don’t have to travel too far to explore life in the past.  The fossilised remains of a large, plant-eating dinosaur have just gone on display at Bexhill Museum.  The bones not only represent a dinosaur, but one of the most successful kinds of dinosaur, or indeed, any land vertebrate that has ever existed.  Say hello to Hypselospinus (Hypselospinus fittoni), a member of the Iguanodon-like group of dinosaurs, (Iguanodontia clade), fossils of which have been found all over the world.  Plant-eating dinosaurs such as the iguanodontids existed on our planet from the Middle Jurassic right up to the end of the Cretaceous, that’s a time span of some ninety million years or so.

Putting things into context, the Bexhill Museum specimen represents a type of herbivorous dinosaur the like of which roamed Earth over a period of time some four hundred times longer than our own species has existed.  Hypselospinus was a medium sized iguanodontid, it may not have been the largest of its kind, but with an estimated length of six metres and a body mass perhaps around the two tonnes mark, Hypselospinus was a sizeable beast!

Fossils on Display at the Museum

140 million year old dinosaur bones on display

140 million year old dinosaur bones on display

Picture Credit: Bexhill-on-Sea Observer

Hypselospinus (H. fittoni) is known from a variety of post cranial fossil material, all of it (we think), found in East Sussex.  The Hypselospinus fossils on display at Bexhill Museum consist of a number of limb bones and other material such as a beautifully preserved caudal vertebra (tail bone).  Local palaeontologists Peter and Joyce Austen are credited with the discovery, but it was David Brockhurst, an amateur fossil hunter, perhaps most famous for his work on Europe’s smallest known dinosaur, the curious “Ashdown Maniraptoran” who was responsible for the excavation.

The independent, voluntarily-run museum located in Egerton road, just an Argentinosaurus length away from the picturesque sea front, has a number of important fossils found in the local area on display.  It might be difficult for residents of Bexhill-on-Sea to believe, but back in the Early Cretaceous this part of England was home to a variety of dinosaurs and also flying reptiles (Pterosaurs).

Hypselospinus was typical of an iguanodontid. It had a rectangular shaped skull, which ended in a broad muzzle with a beak that was well suited to cropping vegetation.  It spent most of its life ambling around on all fours, but it could, if it so wished, rear up onto its powerful back legs and adopt a bipedal stance.  Large neural spines associated with the dorsal vertebrae (back bones) suggest that Hypselospinus had a steeply arching back, this feature distinguishes this dinosaur from other iguanodontids associated with southern England.

A Model of a Typical Iguanodontid (Iguanodon)

A typical Iguanodontid dinosaur.

A typical Iguanodontid dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The Bexhill Hypselospinus fossils are being written up by Dr. David Norman (Cambridge University), a palaeontologist who has studied a number of iguanodontid species and even has a plant-eating dinosaur, possibly another type of iguanodontid, but this time one that roamed China a few million years after Hypselospinus existed, named after him (Equijubus normani).  We look forward to reading Dr. Norman’s appraisal of the Bexhill material.

Bexhill Museum curator, Julian Porter commented:

“We have got most of the parts, including the arms and legs.  One thing which is missing, however is the “thumb spike”.  Either we have not looked in the right place or it may be that this particular species didn’t have the thumb spike like other Iguanodonts.”

Perhaps, Everything Dinosaur can help to clear up the “thumb spike” issue, the Natural History Museum (London), has within its extensive Ornithischian dinosaur collection a partial right forearm with an thumb spike measuring around eight centimetres in length.  This specimen (NHMUK R1832) has been assigned to Hypselospinus fittoni.

It’s a good job we had our “Dinosaurs of the British Isles” book (Dean Lomax and Nobumichi Tamura), handy to cross reference our notes on Hypselospinus fossil material.

If this is correct, than just like the more famous Iguanodon, Hypselospinus had a thumb spike, this spike probably served as a defensive weapon, very helpful, as large meat-eating dinosaurs also roamed around this part of East Sussex during the Early Cretaceous.

To learn more about Bexhill Museum: Bexhill Museum

To read more about the “Ashdown Maniraptoran”, the cervical vertebra of which is on display at the museum: Europe’s Smallest Dinosaur

New Rebor Replicas Due in Stock

Latest Rebor Replicas Due in Stock at Everything Dinosaur

The latest editions to the ever-growing range of Rebor replicas are due to arrive at Everything Dinosaur’s warehouse tomorrow (Friday, 14th August).  We are expecting the new, limited edition hatching Velociraptors replica along with the two dinosaur nest dioramas (Sauropod and Theropod nest).  These items have already cleared European customs and the most up to date information we have is that they have now begun their onward journey with an expected arrival time in the UK later this evening.  If all goes to plan, stock should be in our warehouse sometime on Friday and team members are going to be on standby to make sure that once product has arrived and been checked over it can be on line at Everything Dinosaur within minutes.

The Limited Edition Hatching Velociraptors Replica

Introducing "Lock, Stock, and Barrel".

Introducing “Lock, Stock, and Barrel”.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Only 1,000 Velociraptor Hatching replicas are being made, this is the second introduction into the “Rebor Club Selection” range and the sculpting team have decided to give their trio of Theropods a retro feel with scaly skins rather than feathers.  It is certainly a most interesting figure.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s existing range of Rebor replicas: Rebor Replicas

The other two additions to the Rebor range are the Sauropod dinosaur nest diorama and the Theropod dinosaur nest diorama.  These sets contain twelve removable dinosaur eggs and show that different types of dinosaur created different types of nest and laid differently shaped eggs.

Both Rebor Dinosaur Nest Dioramas will be available From Everything Dinosaur

Beautifully crafted figures.

Beautifully crafted figures.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

These dinosaur nest replicas would be great for creating prehistoric scenes or dinosaur themed dioramas.

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