New Schleich Dinosaurs for 2017 (Part 1)

Everything Dinosaur Reveals the First of the New for 2017 Schleich Dinosaurs

After the successful introduction of the Schleich Dunkleosteus, the Herrerasaurus and the marvellous Barapasaurus models this spring, Schleich have been preparing new prehistoric animal replicas to introduce into their model range for 2017.  The first models of the new for 2017 Schleich prehistoric range are all dinosaurs and there is a strong Late Jurassic theme as three of the four large dinosaurs to be introduced early next year are associated with Upper Jurassic strata.

New for 2017 The Schleich Brachiosaurus

Schleich 2017 Brachiosaurus.

Schleich Brachiosaurus model (2017).

Picture Credit: Schleich/Everything Dinosaur

This model measures around thirty centimetres in length and the head height is a fraction over eighteen centimetres.  It is a decent size but nowhere near the size of the Schleich “Saurus” replicas which measured around forty-eight centimetres long and were approximately 1:40 scale.  There is an existing Brachiosaurus replica in Schleich’s “World of History” range and the new for 2017 replica is roughly the same size, but we at Everything Dinosaur can confirm that the new for 2017 Brachiosaurus model is a new sculpt, it is not a repaint of an existing replica.  Sources close to Everything Dinosaur have commented that this replica might be available January 2017, but realistically it would probably be available from mid February onwards.  Check out Everything Dinosaur’s Facebook page and this blog for more updates.

New for 2017 Schleich Stegosaurus

Schleich (2017) Stegosaurus dinosaur model.

New for 2017 the Schleich Stegosaurus.

Picture Credit: Schleich/Everything Dinosaur

Having retired the World of History Stegosaurus this year, Schleich have been keen to re-introduce this popular armoured dinosaur into their larger model range. If we are not mistaken, this Stegosaurus featured in the Schleich Volcano play set that was introduced earlier this year.  The Stegosaurus replica measures fifteen centimetres long and those fearsome tail spikes are raised over eleven centimetres into the air.   As for when this model will be available, expect it quarter one of 2017.

Schleich New for 2017 Allosaurus

Schleich Allosaurus dinosaur model (2017)

Coming in 2017 a Schleich Allosaurus dinosaur model.

Picture Credit: Schleich/Everything Dinosaur

The third of the Jurassic dinosaurs is the predator Allosaurus.  Schleich have made a number of Allosaurus models in the past, they currently have an Allosaurus replica in their model range but we can confirm that the 2017 Schleich Allosaurus will be a new sculpt.  The new model measures a fraction over twenty-five centimetres in length and that nicely detailed head (with articulated lower jaw), stands around twelve and a half centimetres high, making the 2017 model larger than the existing Allosaurus replica.  Once again, dinosaur fans can expect this new model in quarter one of 2017.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s existing range of larger Schleich prehistoric animal models: Schleich Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animal Models

New from Schleich for 2017 a Feathered Utahraptor Dinosaur Model

Feathered Utahraptor (Schleich 2017)

The colourful feathered Utahraptor from Schleich

Picture Credit: Schleich/Everything Dinosaur

The fourth of the new introductions for the first part of 2017 is this colourful, feathered Utahraptor dinosaur model.  It has moveable forelimbs and an articulated lower jaw and although we at Everything Dinosaur could take issue with one or two anatomical discrepancies, it is pleasing to see a feathered dinosaur like Utahraptor enter the Schleich range.  The new for 2017 Schleich Utahraptor measures twenty-one centimetres long and that impressive head stands a little under nine and half centimetres high.

New Dinosaurs Logo From Schleich

Hot on the heels of some further print-led marketing of the Schleich prehistoric animal model range, the German company has introduced a new logo for its “dinosaurs” sub-brand.  This logo effectively covers all the prehistoric animals in the company’s portfolio, even if models don’t actually represent a dinosaur (Dimetrodon, Dunkleosteus, Quetzalcoatlus etc).

Schleich’s “Dinosaur” Logo 

Schleich logo - Dinosaurs

Schleich dinosaurs logo.

Picture Credit: Schleich

We are not sure what these new introductions will mean for some of the existing replicas within the Schleich model range but a spokesperson for Everything Dinosaur stated that collectors could expect some model retirements next year as well as further introductions to the Schleich prehistoric animal model portfolio later in 2017.  On that note, check out part two of our Schleich new for 2017 update coming out tomorrow.

Chinese Fossil Primates Unravel Evolutionary Puzzle

Ancient Asian Primates Decimated by Climate Change

The lineage of primates that led to the monkeys, the apes and eventually the hominins (that’s us), originated in Asia.  Palaeoanthropologists and palaeontologists tend to agree on this as the known fossil record suggests a Far Eastern evolutionary heritage for our distant ancestors.  However, there is a conundrum, if the anthropoids (those flat-faced monkeys that led to the apes and ourselves), evolved in Asia, then why didn’t this evolutionary line continue and lead to higher apes and hominins from Asia?

The fossil record indicates that the earliest anthropoid fossils date from 45 million years ago (Asian fossil discoveries).  In African strata some seven or eight million years younger, the first fossils of African anthropoids are found.  We can conclude from this fossil evidence that the anthropoids first evolved in Asia, only making their way to Africa around 38 million years ago, with the hominins evolving something like 33 million years later, but only in Africa, so what caused the Asian anthropoids to stall?

Thanks to some remarkable fossil finds from China, scientists have solved this primate puzzle, it seems that dramatic climate change some 34 million years ago, nearly wiped out Asian primates, decimated populations and rendered much of that continent as “no go” areas for our distant cousins.

Ancient Teeth and Bones Provide an Important Breakthrough in Our Understanding of Primate Evolution

Fossil jaws and teeth of ancient Chinese primates.

Different types of ancient primate from southern China identified from their fossilised jaws and teeth.

Picture Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

The picture above shows the different types of fossil teeth and jawbone used by the scientists to identify new species of Asian Oligocene primates.

In a study published in the journal “Science”, researchers from the University of Kansas in collaboration with colleagues from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, report on the identification of six new species of primates from a site in southern China.  Described as a “mother lode”, these extremely rare and precious fossils shed light on how some Asian primates survived the global cooling event that marked the end of the Eocene Epoch.

Eocene to Oligocene Transition (EOT)

The end of the Eocene Epoch is marked by a significant extinction event.  It may not have been as devastating as the end Cretaceous extinction that led to the demise of something like 70% of all large terrestrial animals, but nonetheless, there was a considerable amount of faunal turnover with many long-established genera (such as the early whales), becoming extinct.  Some 34 million years ago, the Earth cooled dramatically.  Global temperatures fell from an average of around 21 degrees Celsius to around 16 degrees Celsius.  Scientists remain uncertain as to the cause of the cooling, although there was considerable tectonic plate activity, volcanism and a number of extraterrestrial impacts during the Late Eocene.  Some studies have indicated a fall in atmospheric carbon dioxide at this time.  This “greenhouse gas”, so feared today, because of its affect on global warming, may have been reduced in the atmosphere to such an extent that the Earth entered a phase of dramatic cooling.  It is at this time that Antarctica began to change into the frozen wasteland we know today.

As the Earth grew colder so the tropical forests shrank and the available habitat for Asian primates was greatly reduced, the six newly described species were part of an ecosystem that clung on in southern China, an area where a tropical climate still persisted.

Commenting on the significance of this decade long study, co-author of the scientific paper, K. Christopher Beard, (senior curator at the University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute) stated:

“Primates like it warm and wet, so they faced hard times around the world — to the extent that they went extinct in North America and Europe.  Of course, primates somehow survived in Africa and southern Asia, because we’re still around to talk about it.”

The Key to Understanding the Evolution of Primates

As anthropoid primates first appeared in Asia, these new fossil discoveries help scientists to understand the fate of primates on that continent, which is fundamental to understanding early primate and ultimately ape evolution.

Senior curator Beard added:

“This has always been an enigma.  We had a lot of evidence previously that the earliest anthropoids originated in Asia.  At some point, later in the Eocene, these Asian anthropoids got to Africa and started to diversify there.  At some point, the geographic focal point of anthropoid evolution — monkeys, apes and humans — shifted from Asia to Africa.  But we never understood when and why.  Now, we know.  The Eocene-Oligocene climate crisis virtually wiped out Asian anthropoids, so the only place they could evolve to become later monkeys, apes and humans was Africa.”

Working with colleagues from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology), specifically Xijun Ni, Qiang Li and Lüzhou Li, the researchers were able to shift through the 34 million-year-old sediments to find teeth and jaw fragments that enabled them to erect six new species.  The fossils were recovered from the upper part of the Caijiachong Formation, Yuezhou Basin, Yunnan Province, through a combination of careful site mapping and scree washing.  It seems that whilst much of Asia became inhospitable for primates, this part of China retained tropical forest so a number of species ended up being crowded into a limited space.

A List of the Six New Species of Primate Named

  1. Yunnanadapis folivorus (pronounced You-nan-ah-dap-is) a member of the Strepsirrhini (lemurs).  In the fossil teeth photograph above Y. folivorus is A.
  2. Yunnanadapis imperator (pronounced You-nan-ah-dap-is) a member of the Strepsirrhini (lemurs).  In the fossil teeth photograph above Y.  imperator is B.
  3. Laomaki yunnanensis (pronounced Lay-oh-ma-key) a lemur-like primate (Strepsirrhini).  In the photograph of the fossil teeth above L. yunnanensis is C.
  4. Gatanthropus micros (pronounced Gat-anthro-pos) another lemur-like primate.  In the fossil teeth picture above G. micros is D.
  5. Oligotarsius rarus (pronounced Olee-go-tar-see-us) the only member of the Tarsiidae (Tarsiers) described from this location.  O. rarus is represented by E in the fossil teeth picture above.
  6. Bahinia banyueae (pronounced Ba-hin-nee-ah), the only anthropoid identified, superficially similar to today’s marmosets, represented by F in the fossil teeth photograph above.

Differences in Oligocene Primate Faunas

The team’s research suggests that the Eocene-Oligocene transition (EOT) led to completely different primate faunas in Asia compared to Africa and the Near East.  In Africa, the anthropoid primates radiated, diversified and became dominant.  However, in Asia, it was the lemur-like primates the Strepsirrhini that seem to have dominated.  The EOT acted as an evolutionary filter dramatically altering the evolution of primates around the world.

The EOT Acted as an Evolutionary Filter Changing Primate Evolution

Global cooling changed primate evolution.

Changing Primate Faunas due to Eocene to Oligocene transition.

Picture Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

The EOT changed the evolutionary history of the primates, acting as a filter.  When the composition of early Oligocene primate faunas of Asia and Afro-Arabia are compared, we see that in Asia it was the lemur-like primates (Strepsirrhini) that rose to dominance, whereas in Afro-Arabia, the lemurs became much rarer and it was the anthropoid apes that diversified and became prominent.

The Rare Oligotarsius

Tarsier fossils are incredibly rare in the fossil record, and very little is known about the evolution of the Tarsiidae, the trivial name of O. rarus recognises this.  The teeth of Oligotarsius are very similar to modern tarsiers found today in Indonesia and the Philippines.  This suggests that extant tarsiers are little changed from their ancient ancestors.

Tarsiers – A “Living Fossil”

An extant tarsier.

A photograph of a modern tarsier, described as a “living fossil”.

Picture Credit: University of Kansas/Andrew Cunningham

Dr. Beard explained:

“If you look back at the fossil record, we know that tarsiers once lived on mainland Asia, as far north as central China.  The fossil teeth described in this paper are nearly identical to those of modern tarsiers.  Research shows that modern tarsiers are pretty much living fossils, those things have been doing what they do ever since time immemorial, as far as we can tell.”

A Vulnerability of All Primates?

This new study underscores a vulnerability of perhaps, all primates, that is how they cope when there is dramatic climate change.  The global cooling of the EOT altered primate evolution and transformed the primate faunal mixes of both Asia and Africa.  The EOT is an opposite climate effect to what we are experiencing today.  Thirty-four million years ago the world cooled, today people are very concerned about global warming, the key point is this, whether the climate warms or grows cold, primates seem to be more sensitive to a changing world than other mammals.  This could mean very bad news for our own species.

Food for Thought

It is a sobering thought, but what if the Eocene-Oligocene cooling had not taken place?  Asian anthropoids would have continued to evolve and diversify, potentially with far-reaching consequences for all primates, including hominins and our own species.  Homo sapiens (that’s us), evolved in Africa some 220,000 years ago, however, had this ancient cooling not occurred, the outcome in terms of anthropoid and ultimately human evolution could have been very different.

For an article on potentially the oldest primate: The Oldest Primate To Date?

To read about Miocene Tarsiers from Thailand: Miocene Tarsier Fossils from Thailand

“Meg” The Megalodon Movie

Prehistoric Shark Thriller Movie to Feature Megalodon

It may be more than forty years since “Jaws” hit our cinemas screens, but sharks still fascinate and terrify, although statistically you are more likely to be killed by a cow than by a shark.  Sharks may have a reputation for being cold-blooded, merciless killers but in reality, there are on average, about half a dozen or so reported fatalities each year from shark attacks.  Cows tend to be more dangerous.  Cows with young can be very protective and have been known to charge and trample unwary people who venture too close.  According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) some seventy-four people have been fatally attacked by cows in the UK since the year 2000.  Globally, cows present a much greater risk than any shark.  Within the shark group (Elasmobranchii), there are around 480 extant species, but only three of these, the Bull shark, Tiger and Great White, represent a significant threat to beach goers.  However, expect a spike in the number of people claiming to have Selachophobia (a morbid fear of sharks), as filming of a new shark-inspired movie gets into full swing.

C. Megalodon to Feature in a New Horror Film

Based on the series of “Meg” novels by the talented American science-fiction writer Steve Alten, filming is getting underway on the Warner Bros production and a tentative release date of March 2nd 2018 has been proposed.  This is a full three months before Universal Pictures intend to release their Jurassic World sequel, which currently has the working title “Jurassic World II – Ancient Futures”.

Jason Statham (Transporter, The Expendables, Snatch) has been confirmed as the lead actor, he has been joined on the cast list by Jessica McNamee.  Statham plays formal U.S. Navy diver Jonas Taylor who is given the chance to redeem his reputation by leading a rescue mission to save a team of Chinese scientists who have encountered a Megalodon (giant prehistoric shark) in a deep ocean trench.

The Front Cover of the Book “Meg” by Steve Alten

"Meg" front cover image.

Exciting and thrilling adventure story based on Megalodon.

Directed by Jon Turtletaub (National Treasure: Book of Secrets), the film is likely to be a watery gore-fest, although we at Everything Dinosaur doubt whether this feature will have quite the impact of Steven Spielberg’s 1975 film about a killing spree from a Great White.

Of course it’s all hokum, the likelihood of a giant, apex predator shark lurking in the deepest recesses of the ocean is extremely remote.  There are undoubtedly a vast number of marine organisms new to science awaiting discovery.  After all, we know more about the surface of the moon than we do about the deep sea, but there is simply not enough food in the Hadalpelagic Zone (that part of the ocean that comprises the deepest trenches and underwater canyons), to sustain such a large fish, even a single sixty foot long specimen.  Still when did science ever get in the way of a good movie script?

The Huge Jaws of a Megalodon Shark (C. megalodon)

Megalodon jaws.

Reconstructed jaws of a Megalodon shark (human gives scale).

Picture Credit: Rex Features

Safari Ltd produced an excellent replica of the giant prehistoric shark C. megalodonWild Safari Dinos Megalodon Shark Model

The Wild Safari Dinos Megalodon Shark Model

The Wild Safari Dinosaurs Megalodon shark model.

Rows and rows of teeth inside the mouth.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

It looks like Megalodon (C. megalodon) is going to join that ever-growing list of prehistoric creatures that have featured in movies.

Giants of Ancient South America

South American Themed Dinosaur Diorama

Dinosaur model enthusiast and collector Robert Townsend very kindly sent into Everything Dinosaur some further pictures of his prehistoric landscape.  This time he has focused on dinosaurs that roamed the southern hemisphere during the Mesozoic.  In his diorama entitled “South American Giants”, Robert highlights the diversity of Sauropods that once roamed the landmass of Gondwana, he has also added some large Theropod models to highlight the apex predators which once called South America home.

When the Sauropoda Dominated the Mega-fauna of Gondwana

South American giant dinosaurs.

An Amargasaurus (foreground), Saltasaurus (background).

Picture Credit: Robert Townsend

The picture above shows a Safari Ltd (Wild Safari Dinos) Amargasaurus in the foreground, in the background, a pair of long-necked dinosaurs (Saltasaurus) walk by.  This is a well composed photograph.   The position of the models provides perspective and depth perception, the animals moving in opposite directions provides contrast and draws the eye into the photograph, allowing the clever and careful use of foliage to be appreciated.

A Close View of the CollectA Agustinia Dinosaur Model

Agustinia dinosaur model.

The CollectA Deluxe Agustinia dinosaur model.

Picture Credit: Robert Townsend

A number of Sauropods feature in Robert’s South American themed diorama.  The picture above shows a close up of an Agustinia (pronounced Ah-gus-tin-nee-ah), a bizarre, herbivorous dinosaur whose fossils were first discovered around twenty years ago.  From the limited number of fossils found, palaeontologists remain uncertain as to the phylogeny of this particular dinosaur.  It could be a member of the titanosaurids, or perhaps it was more closely related to Diplodocus (diplodocid dinosaurs).  Until more fossil material is found and studied, the family classification of this particular South American dinosaur remains uncertain.

Carnivorous Dinosaurs of South America

Giant meat-eating dinosaurs roamed South America.

Mapusaurus and Giganotosaurus feast on a long-necked dinosaur.

A number of super-sized Theropods are known from South America.  Robert depicts different types of meat-eating dinosaur in his diorama.  Amongst the abelisaurids, Robert has included a number of different types of predator, including Mapusaurus and Giganotosaurus which are greedily feeding on the remains of a Sauropod in the photograph above.

A Lifelong Dream.

When asked how he got interested in collecting dinosaur models and making dioramas, Robert explained:

“When I was about eleven or twelve years old I saw the film “Valley of The Gwangi” which was about some cowboys in the old wild west who discover a lost world of living dinosaurs inside a secret and hidden canyon.  I was so impressed with the realism of the animation of the creatures that I wanted to make my own lost world of dinosaur models in a prehistoric world.”

In his childhood, Robert constructed a number of dinosaur model kits and he started building landscapes from a young age, but not always with the results he desired.  When it came to creating prehistoric scenes, Robert admits his early efforts were a case of trial and error.

“What materials did one use?  I didn’t have a clue.  My dad suggested that I make the landscape out of a large piece of white card he obtained from somewhere.  It was rolled up, and when unrolled and flattened out it was about four feet square.  On the dining room table I used a felt tip pen to draw where the rocks and the rivers were meant to go.  To make prehistoric type plants I rolled up pieces of white paper, coloured them in with green and brown felt tip pens and then cut one end to spread out the fronds at the top.  They were stuck on the card with sellotape.  After an afternoon of trying this, the whole thing looked such a mess and so totally unconvincing that I was disappointed with my clumsy efforts.  I threw the whole lot away in the bin.  I thought it was best to wait until a time when I learnt what materials to use and how to build properly with them.  Well, now that time has come and you can see some of the results above.”

A Juvenile Argentinosaurus Roams Across the Diorama

The CollectA Argentinosaurus.

A juvenile Argentinosaurus.

Picture Credit: Robert Townsend

Thank you Robert for sending your photographs to Everything Dinosaur, they are greatly appreciated.  The next project for Robert is to build “Jurassic Park III later in the summer.  His plans are well advanced, the landscape will have a water hole surrounded by prehistoric trees and plants, some plastic aquarium plants and rocks from a garden centre, even some model plants that Robert will have made himself.

The CollectA Williamsonia Helps to Bring Prehistoric Scenes to Life

The CollectA Williamsonia plant.

The CollectA Williamsonia prehistoric plant, a great addition to dinosaur dioramas.

For extra realism, Robert is keen to get hold of some of the prehistoric plants and other materials from Everything Dinosaur, sounds like a good plan.

The Williamsonia and other prehistoric trees and plants can be found here: CollectA Scale Models

World’s First Mass Extinction Engineered by Animals

Ediacaran Faunal Out Competed by Newly Evolved Animals

A remote fossil site in Namibia has helped strengthen the theory that the fauna of the Ediacaran was unable to survive the radical “re-engineering of marine ecosystems” that resulted with the evolution of more advanced biological organisms.  Newly evolved metazoans (animals that have three types of tissue layer in the embryo and are multi-cellular), altered the marine environment so much that most of the older, largely immobile, species that had dominated the Ediacaran geological period died out.

A Late Precambrian (Ediacaran) Marine Environment

Ediacaran marine life.

Life in the Ediacaran.

Picture Credit: John Sibbick

The Ediacaran geological period is defined as the last geological period of the Proterozoic (early life), it lasted from around 635 million years ago to 542 million years ago and this geological period saw the emergence of a diverse variety of soft-bodied multi-cellular creatures, most of which have no living descendants today.  The ecosystems that existed were very simple with short food chains, multi-cellular life was bizarre with many organisms shaped like discs, tubes or fronds.

Towards the end the Ediacaran more advanced and crucially mobile organisms began to evolve.  Food chains became more complicated with the evolution of active predation amongst organisms.  These new species were “ecological engineers” who changed the environment in ways that made it more and more difficult for Ediacaran organisms to survive.  That is the conclusion of the research team which studied the Namibian fossil remains.

Assistant Professor Simon Darroch Searching the Namibian Site for Fossils

Fossil hunting (Namibia)

Searching for fossils dating from the Ediacaran (southern Namibia).

Picture Credit: Sarah Tweedt, Smithsonian Institution

Writing in the journal “Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology”, the scientists, which include Simon Darroch (Assistant Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Vanderbilt University located at Nashville Tennessee), report that they have found one of the best-preserved examples of a mixed community of Ediacaran and metazoan organisms preserved in strata from the Zaris sub-basin of southern Namibia.

The Biota Replacement Model

Palaeontologists had predicted that evidence would be found in the fossil record to indicate ecosystems dominated by Ediacaran organisms being replaced by ecosystems dominated by organisms whose fossil record persist into the Cambrian and beyond.  The Namibian fossils provide the best evidence yet of a close ecological association between these distinct types of life-form.

Assistant Professor Darroch explained:

“Until this, the evidence for an overlapping ecological association between metazoans and soft-bodied Ediacaran organisms was limited.  Here, we describe new fossil localities from southern Namibia that preserve soft-bodied Ediacara biota, enigmatic tubular organisms thought to represent metazoans and vertically oriented metazoan trace fossils.  Although the precise identity of the trace makers remains elusive, the structures bear several striking similarities with a cone-shaped organism called Conichnus that has been found in the Cambrian period.”

Conichnus Trace Fossils from Namibia – Evidence of Biota Replacement

Conichnus trace fossils (Namibia).

Conichnus burrows are trace fossils. The surface bumps represent vertical tubes that were originally occupied by anemone-like animals that may have fed on Ediacaran larvae

Picture Credit: Vanderbilt University/Darroch

Conichnus is an ichnogenus (known only from trace fossils), that may have been some form of anemone that fed on Ediacaran larvae.  The scientists also report that they have found strands of Ediacaran frond-like organisms with animal fossils preserved in place coiled around their holdfasts.  The Namibian fossil material provides a snapshot of a transitional ecosystem prior to the Cambrian explosion which led to the evolution of much more modern looking food chains.

Assistant Professor Darroch stated:

“Both animal burrows – ‘trace fossils’ – and the remains of animals themselves sharing the same communities, lets us speculate about how these two very different groups of organisms interacted.”

Lessons for Today

Although the research team are studying the remains of organisms preserved in rocks that were laid down more than 540 million years ago, the biota replacement model that these fossils seem to confirm has relevance for our planet today.  Some of the fossil strata shows the preserved body fossils of a bizarre metazoan called Shaanxilithes, these fossils are coiled found the anchoring, trace fossil (a holdfast) of a frond-like organism),

Shaanxilithes Fossils (Ediacaran Strata – Namibia)

Signs of Late Ediacaran biota replacement.

Shaanxilithes are odd, annulated and ribbon-like fossils that start showing up near the end of the Ediacaran period. In this fossil they are wrapped around Aspidella holdfasts.

Picture Credit: Vanderbilt University/Darroch

Simon explained:

“There is a powerful analogy between the Earth’s first mass extinction and what is happening today.  The end-Ediacaran extinction shows that the evolution of new behaviours can fundamentally change the entire planet, and today we humans are the most powerful ‘ecosystems engineers’ ever known.”

This research entitled: “A mixed Ediacaran-metazoan assemblage from the Zaris sub-basin, Namibia”, builds on an earlier scientific paper published last year that examined a large number of animal burrows preserved in the Namibia rocks that were interpreted as representing the fossil record of a community under stress.

The Disc-Like Structures Represent the Holdfasts of Ediacaran Organisms

Trace fossils (Aspidella).

The disc-like fossils are the preserved remains of holdfast structures used by the Ediacaran species Aspidella that went extinct about a million years after these individuals died and were preserved.

Picture Credit: Vanderbilt University/Darroch

The picture above shows the preserved remains of several disc-like fossils in the Namibian strata.  These have been interpreted as the holdfast, anchoring structures of the fern-like Aspidella.  Once thought to be an ancestral jellyfish, at the time it was first studied, it was the first Precambrian body fossil to have been formally scientifically described.  These disc shapes are now interpreted as trace fossils, examples of the benthic, immobile fauna of the Ediacaran, that was being replaced by more complex and mobile metazoans.

Stirring up Sediments

Hunting and eating the Ediacaran fauna might not have been the only destructive behaviour of the more complex mobile organisms that represented emerging fauna that would dominate the Cambrian.  The researchers also point out that mobile Cambrian animals would have stirred up nutrients leaving them in suspension above the sea floor, far away from the reach of the benthic Ediacaran life-forms.  In essence, the microbial mats and more complex but ultimately, confined to the sea floor Ediacaran fauna, would have found that nutrients that once always fell to the seabed were now suspended in a new marine ecosystem, effectively placing these nutrients out of reach.

The Origin of High Frequency Hearing In Whales

Ancient “Echo Hunter” Provides Insight into Whale Evolution

Scientists from the College of Osteopathic Medicine, New York Institute of Technology (New York), in collaboration with colleagues from a number of other institutions including the Museum of Natural History (Paris), have published a paper on a newly described species of toothed whale, one that suggests that echolocation abilities started early in the Cetaceans.

Writing in the journal “Current Biology” the researchers report that they have found evidence of ultrasonic hearing and the use of echolocation as a probable navigation aid in the beautifully preserved inner ear of a 27 million-year-old toothed whale.

An Illustration of Echovenator (E. sandersi) A Newly Described Genus of Toothed Whale

Echovenator sandersi.

A small, early toothed whale (Echovenator sandersi).

Picture Credit: A. Gennari

Known from a skull, jaws and an atlas bone (bone from the neck), which are believed to represent a single individual, Echovenator sandersi had features in its inner ear that suggest that this marine mammal could hear a greater range of high-pitched sounds when compared to most other mammals.  Believed to be a basal member of the Odontocetes (toothed whales),  this fossil suggests that sophisticated echolocation evolved very early on in this whale lineage.

From a Ditch in South Carolina

The fossil remains were discovered during work on a drainage ditch in Berkeley County, South Carolina fifteen years ago.  The bones and fossil teeth are associated with a basal bed of the Chandler Bridge Formation (Upper Oligocene).  The rocks of this formation were laid down in a marine environment, close to the shore (nearshore marine or possibly an embayment).

Commenting on the conclusions of the research, lead author Morgan Churchill (New York Institute of Technology), stated:

“We can tell a lot about how well this animal fits within whale evolution based on the cranial features and we can use that cranial anatomy to determine whether or not it could echolcate.”

Dr. Churchill, a postdoctoral Fellow at the College of Osteopathic Medicine added:

“The fossil specimen shows several features that we would see in a modern whale with echolocation.”

The Prepared Fossil Skull of the Early Toothed Whale (E. sandersi)

The skull of Echovenator sandersi

The prepared skull of the prehistoric toothed whale Echovenator.

Picture Credit: M. Churchill/Journal of Current Biology

A Well-Travelled Whale

In order to assess the morphology and likely capabilities of the inner ear of this early whale, a number of X-ray scans were taken of the skull fossils.  The skull was carefully X-rayed at the Nikon Metrology X-ray facilities in Tring, (Buckinghamshire, England) and these results were compared to X-ray studies of living and extinct whales skulls undertaken at the University of Texas Austin and the National Museum of Natural History in Paris

By examining Echo Hunter’s inner ear, the researchers found evidence of its ability to receive ultrasonic frequencies.  A soft tissue structure called the basilar membrane, while not present in the fossil itself, was indicated by other parts of the ear to be of a size and thickness consistent with high-frequency hearing.  Another part of the inner ear, a thin, bony structure within the cochlea, provided further evidence of a likely echolocation ability.  Echolocation is the use of vocalisations to navigate and to find prey underwater, other studies have proposed that the ability to produce very high frequency sounds occurred early on in the evolution of the Cetacea, this new research suggests echolocation evolved in basal members of the toothed whale group.

Jonathan Geisler, a co-author of the study and a professor at the New York Institute of Technology commented:

“We had suspicions that they were echolocating but to really get down to a rough estimate of frequency, you really had to look in the inner ear in more detail and that’s where this project comes in.”

Echovenator sandersi

About the size of a small dolphin, Echovenator hunted fish and other small, nektonic creatures close to the shore.  It used its echolocation to help it forage in the murky, sediment-filled coastal waters.  The genus name is Latin which means “echo hunter”, the species name honours Albert Sanders, a former curator of The Charleston Museum, in recognition of his contribution to the scientific study of Cenozoic whales.  Mark D. Uhen, a professor at George Mason University, who in 2008 erected a new family of ancient whales, the Xenorophidae, the oldest and most primitive of the toothed whales, the whale family to which Echovenator has been ascribed, explained that previous research had suggested that the earliest toothed whales could echolocate, but that the new paper provided a clearer picture.

The Evolution of High Frequency Hearing and Echolocation in Whales

The evolution of echolocation and ultrasonic hearing in whales.

Plotting the evolution of ultrasonic hearing and echolocation in early whales.

Picture Credit: College of Charleston

Dr. Uhen, who was not involved in this study, said that the development of high-frequency hearing in whales was a nice illustration of natural selection.

Professor Uhen commented:

“I think the way evolution mostly works is that animals adopt a behaviour, and then natural selection changes generation after generation so that they get better and better and better at that behaviour.  Whales started feeding in the water so their feeding apparatus and their ears changed early.”

Heard the one about the origins of echolocation?: The Origins of Echolocation in Dolphins (related article)

To read an article about a potential terrestrial ancestor of whales: Deer-like Fossil Confuses Early Cetacean Evolution

To read an article about a huge, Pliocene toothed whale that swam in the waters around Australia: Giant Aussie Whale a Terror of the Pliocene Seas

First Case of Septic Arthritis Diagnosed in a Dinosaur

Hadrosaur Had Septic Arthritis

Scientists writing in the Royal Society Open Science journal have identified the first diagnosed case of septic arthritis in a dinosaur.  The unfortunate animal was a type of duck-billed dinosaur that roamed New Jersey (USA), some seventy million years ago.  Identifying disease and injuries preserved in the fossil record (pathologies) permits scientists to gain valuable insights into the lives of long extinct creatures.  The indeterminate duck-billed dinosaur may have suffered for many years with a debilitating injury.

A Typical Hadrosaurid Hadrosaur

Gryposaurus - Hadrosaur Model available from Everything Dinosaur.

Duck-billed Dinosaur model

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Severely Damaged Elbow

The fossilised lower arm bones (ulna and radius) of a plant-eating, duck-billed dinosaur were excavated from sediments that form a component of the Upper Cretaceous exposures of the Navesink Formation (New Jersey).  Both bones show malformation and deformed bone-growth, the result of some form of pathology.  However, it was only when the team subjected the diseased part of the bones to an examination by a non-invasive technique, X-ray microtomography, could the research team, that included palaeopathologist Jennifer Anné, (University of Manchester), make a diagnosis.

The Diseased Ulna of the Indeterminate Hadrosaurid

The diseased ulna of a hadrosaurid.

The pathology of a Hadrosaur ulna showing a large amount of reactive bone growth.

Picture Credit: Royal Society Open Science

The photograph above shows the pathological ulna from an indeterminate species of duck-billed dinosaur.  A substantial amount of bone re-growth can be seen on the end of the bone, the portion that is in articulation with the surface of the radius (PRU).  The researchers describe the diseased bone as having a “cauliflower-like” appearance.  The olecranon process that forms the elbow joint is very misshapen and damaged with large, prominent lesions (circled red).  The red box in the diagram shows the portion of the ulna that was subjected to X-ray microtomography.

The research team conclude that this dinosaur would have been in pain and as a facultative biped it would have found movement difficult.  However, bone re-growth suggests that this dinosaur lived for some time with this injury.

New Jersey and Dinosaurs

Although dinosaur fossils from the eastern coast of the United States are much rarer than those from the western USA, New Jersey is regarded by many scientists as the birthplace of American palaeontology.  The very first, scientifically described dinosaur discovery took place close to the town of Haddonfield in New Jersey.  The bones of a large animal were excavated from a quarry and the eminent American scientist Dr. Joseph Leidy (University of Pennsylvania), was given the task of studying them.  He defined them as belonging to a member of the Order Dinosauria and erected the genus Hadrosaurus (H. foulkii).

A statue of “Haddy” the Hadrosaur can be seen in Haddonfield, commemorating the discovery of “America’s first dinosaur.”

To read more about “Haddy” the Hadrosaur: A Hidden Gem (Dinosaur Statue)

Septic Arthritis

Having analysed the bones, the most likely explanation for the damaged bone is a form of osteoarthritis, a condition affecting movable joints by deterioration of articular cartilage, bone spur formation and this leads to considerable bone re-growth and remodelling.  Such conditions are usually localised in extant reptiles, whereas in humans, these conditions can spread throughout the body.  It is worth noting that osteoarthritis in extant birds and reptiles is usually associated with other, contributory factors such as trauma, disease or infection.  Based on the images generated by the X-ray scans, the researchers began to eliminate the possible causes such as osteomyelitis (the bone itself is infected) and finally concluded that the pathology probably represents septic arthritis (infected cartilage affecting the surrounding bone tissue).

What Caused the Injury?

If the septic arthritis was brought on by an injury then this begs the question, what caused the injury in the first place?  Sadly, the seventy million-year-old dinosaur arm bones don’t provide any clues.

Jennifer Anné commented:

“It could have started out that it did have arthritis.  It could have gotten a cut, or broken that joint, and then had an infection.  It’s a hard-knock life for any wild animal.”

X-ray Microtomography Scans (Longitudinal and Transverse Scans) Showing Disease Presence in the Ulna

Probably septic arthritis in a dinosaur.

Signs of injury and disease in the bones of a dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Royal Society Open Science

The picture above shows the scans of the hadrosaurid ulna in various views (a-d).  The area scanned is shown on the picture on the white background in the lower left portion of the image.  Locations for the transverse sections (a-d) are indicated by red lines on the longitudinal section.  Reactive bone growth can be identified and is circled in pictures c and d.  Abnormal bony projections at the attachment sites for ligaments (enthesiophytes) can be seen in a and c (indicated by red arrows).  These abnormal bony growths are a sign of stress.  Dead bone (necrosis) can be seen along the proximal articulation surface and is highlighted by a red circle in picture b.  Scale bar for all images ten mm.

Dr. Anné stated that the use of non destructive and non-invasive techniques such as X-ray microtomography is having a big effect on palaeopathology.

She added:

“As a result, how we’re approaching diagnosing is changing, it’s letting us look at more individuals, so we have a higher chance of finding things.”

JurassicCollectables Reviews Rebor “Breeze”

A Cute and Adorable Baby Utahraptor (Rebor Breeze)

JurassicCollectables have produced another video review, this time it is a brief review of the Rebor Scout series Utahraptor “Breeze” and it provides dinosaur fans with an opportunity to see for themselves how the Rebor Scout series is evolving.  The 1:35 scale Utahraptor figure has been introduced alongside “Stan” the 1:18 scale baby Velociraptor model by Rebor.  Some breaking news for fans of Rebor models, expect Everything Dinosaur to have in stock the limited edition Bronze-look raptors and the new Velociraptor figure “Winston” very shortly.

Although, this video review focuses on “Breeze”, the adult Utahraptor – “Wind Hunter” figure by Rebor also features.  Also, look out for a regular appearance by “off-colour Alan”.

The Unboxing Video Review by Jurassic Collectables – “Breeze”

Video Credit: Jurassic Collectables

In the brief video, (it lasts a fraction under four minutes), the narrator guides the viewer through the details that can be seen on this carefully sculpted replica.  Described as “adorable”, the baby Utahraptor makes a fine addition to any dinosaur figure collection.  The paint job is described as “quite defined” and the wet, glossy look that the eyes have is highlighted.

JurassicCollectables have a wonderful YouTube channel packed full of dinosaur model reviews and other very informative videos.  They have just achieved 50, 000 subscribers, that’s a fantastic achievement, our congratulations to everyone at JurassicCollectables.

Visit the YouTube channel of JurassicCollectables here: JurassicCollectables on YouTube , Everything Dinosaur recommends that dinosaur fans subscribe to the JurassicCollectables channel.

The Rebor Baby Utahraptor Model “Breeze” – Scout Series

The Rebor baby Utahraptor "Breeze"

The Rebor “Breeze” dinosaur model in the Scout series.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

“Breeze” ties in with the wind motif of the Utahraptor range from Rebor, the adult replica is called “Wind Hunter”, a reflection on the fact that these predators were probably very fast runners.  How fast is difficult to determine, but speeds in excess of forty kilometres an hour have been suggested by some palaeontologists.

To see “Breeze” the Rebor Scout baby Utahraptor dinosaur model and the rest of the Rebor range at Everything Dinosaur: Rebor Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animal Models

 In the JurassicCollectables video, the narrator explains the colour scheme on the figure and highlights the fine detail of the feathery coat.  Naturally, these “raptors” could not fly but the feathers probably had a dual role.  In youngsters such as “Breeze” the feathery coat provided insulation, mature adults (such as the Rebor “Wind Hunter”), probably used their feathers, especially the tail feathers and any long quills on the arms, for display and signalling.

Our thanks to JurassicCollectables for this super video review and we look forward to hearing about their 100,000th subscriber!

To read Everything Dinosaur’s article that includes the excellent video review by JurassicCollectables of “Stan” the Rebor baby Velociraptor, click the link below:

The video review: JurassicCollectables Reviews the Scout Series Velociraptor Model by Rebor

To read an article about the discovery of a new type of large-clawed, South American “raptor”, although not closely related to dromaeosaurids like Velociraptor and Utahraptor: Murusraptor – Getting Our Claws into the Megaraptora

Thirsty Woolly Mammoths of St. Paul Island

St. Paul’s and Wrangel Island Woolly Mammoth Populations

This week has seen the publication of research undertaken by an international team of scientists led by academics from the University of Pennsylvania, that explains the demise of one of the last populations of Woolly Mammoths to have lived on Earth.  Mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius) survived on the remote Alaskan island of St. Paul until around 5,600 years ago (+/- 100 years or so), whilst their mainland cousins were extinct by about 10,500 years ago.  Writing in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” (United States), the researchers conclude that a warming climate which led to rising sea levels caused the amount of freshwater available to fall dramatically, in essence the Woolly Mammoths died of thirst.

Study Suggests Some of the Last of the Woolly Mammoths were Unable to Quench Their Thirst

Mammoths died of thirst on St. Paul Island.

Lack of freshwater is suspected to have led to the demise of the Woolly Mammoth population on St. Paul Island.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The Island of St. Paul in Relation to Wrangel Island

Readers of this blog will probably know that the very last population of Woolly Mammoths to have existed, survived on Wrangel Island until about 4,300 years ago (although an extinction date of as recently as about 1,700 B.C. has been proposed).  Both St. Paul Island and Wrangel are remote locations deep within the Arctic circle, however, there are considerable differences between these two islands and whilst scientists such as Professor Russell Graham (University of Pennsylvania) and lead author of the St. Paul Island study, propose that a lack of drinking water led to the St. Paul’s Island Mammoth population dying out, debate remains as to the probable cause of the Wrangel Island extinction.  In both cases the presence of humans impacting on the population of Mammoths can be ruled out, these hairy elephants were long gone before the first humans visited these isolated, desolate places (once sea levels rose).

The Location of St. Paul Island in Relation to Wrangel Island

The location of the last of the Woolly Mammoths (St. Paul Island and Wrangel Island).

The dark grey areas represent today’s landmass, the light grey areas show the extent of the Bering Land Bridge (Beringia).

Picture Credit: PNAS with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows the approximate position of the Bering Land Bridge (Beringia) in light grey compared to the landmasses of Siberia and Alaska today (dark grey).  At its maximum during the Quaternary glacial intervals, the land joining Asia to North America would have been over six hundred miles wide, over the last 20,000 years rising sea levels led to the eventual loss of a land link between the continents of North America and Asia.

St. Paul Island was part of the southern portion of Beringia. Today, it is located in the Bering Sea.  In contrast, the much larger Wrangel Island is found in what was the northern portion of Beringia and it is located today in the Arctic Ocean.  Wrangel Island is over seventy times bigger than St. Paul Island, in the past both these islands were considerably bigger but with a warming climate in the latter stages of the Pleistocene and into the Holocene Epoch, sea levels rose and St. Paul Island in particular began to shrink.  The island is presently, around forty square miles in size, the researchers used a variety of techniques to plot the ingress of sea water and the decline of freshwater on the island over the last fifteen thousand years.

The Reduction of St. Paul Island from the Late Pleistocene to the Present Day

St. Paul Island 15,000 years ago to the present day.

The shrinking of St. Paul Island over the last fifteen thousand years.

Picture Credit: PNAS

The picture above shows a palaeogeographical map compiled by the research team that plots the reduction in the size of St. Paul Island over the last 15,000 years or so.  The red dot in the centre of the island (present size is outlined in brown), represents Lake Hill, a small, freshwater lake from which a series of sediment cores were extracted so that the scientists could trace the history of the location and how changes in climate affected the fauna and flora of the island.

The sediment cores (taken in 2013), built on data generated from core samples taken back in the 1960’s and they have provided a number of independent indicators to suggest that the Mammoth population survived until around 5,600 years ago.  The flora of St. Paul Island remained relatively unchanged, however, the scientists were able to deduce that St. Paul Island shrank rapidly due to rising sea levels until about 9,000 years ago.  It continued to shrink, albeit more slowly until around 6,000 years ago but declining freshwater sources and a generally drier climate with reduced precipitation from around 7,850 years ago to the time of the Mammoth’s extinction was probably the cause of the demise of this elephant population.

Independent Indicators of Mammoth Extinction

  • Analysis of sedimentary ancient DNA (sedaDNA) to provide an understanding of the ancient flora of the environment and how a drying climate and rising sea levels impacted upon it.
  • The level of fungal spores that are associated with animal dung (coprophilous fungal spore types).  Three types of fungal spore were studied, this fungi would have thrived on Mammoth dung, the sudden elimination of the fungal spores from the core samples indicate a mega fauna extinction.
  • Micro fossils such as those of water fleas (indicating freshwater) and pollen grains along with diatoms (different types of algae some of which are associated with sea water).
  • Magnetic susceptibility, in arbitrary units (AU) of Lake Hill sediments from the cores, this data looks at the differences between different types of sediment and from this an understanding of changes in the palaeoenvironment over time can be mapped.
  • Radiocarbon dating, isotope degradation analysis and analysis of protein remnants from St. Paul Island Mammoth remains.

Given the variety of information sources, the “best fit” for the Mammoth extinction is approximately 5,600 years ago (+/- 100 years).

The Mammoths Contributed to Their Own Downfall

As sources of freshwater dwindled, so the Mammoths would have congregated around the remaining waterholes.  More intensive, localised Woolly Mammoth activity would have accelerated the fall in water levels.  Vegetation would have been consumed therefore exposing sediments that would have been washed into the lakes and ponds thus degrading the water quality, reducing water levels further and exacerbating the already acute water shortage.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“Extant Indian elephants can consume as much as two hundred litres a day, sometimes more if it is a lactating female.  We suspect Mammoths too, had a high demand for drinking water.  A concentration of mega fauna around remaining sources of drinking water on St. Paul Island would have probably accelerated the extinction.  It is also likely, that with large animals having to survive on an ever diminishing landmass, the elephant population was already probably under considerable environmental stress.”

Lead author of the PNAS paper, Professor Russell Graham explained a likely extinction scenario:

“They [the Mammoths] were milling around, which would destroy the vegetation, we see this with modern elephants.  This allows for the erosion of sediments to go into the lake, which is creating less and less fresh water.  The Mammoths were contributing to their own demise.”

The scientific paper: “Timing and causes of mid-Holocene Mammoth extinction on St. Paul Island, Alaska”.

New Dinosaur Themed Novel from Michael Crichton

“Dragon Teeth” Set for Bookshelves Next Year

Author and screen play writer Michael Crichton, whose work includes “Jurassic Park” and “The Lost World” sadly passed away in 2008, but his dinosaur novel legacy is set to get a new lease of life next year as Harper Collins have announced they will be publishing “Dragon Teeth” in May 2017.

Perhaps Michael Crichton’s Most Famous Novel “Jurassic Park” Published in 1990

The front cover of Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton.

The first edition of Jurassic Park.

Michael Crichton’s “Dragon Teeth”

The plot line of “Dragon Teeth” revolves around the bitter rivalry between American palaeontologists Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope in the 19th Century.  The rivalry between these two eminent scientists has been christened “the bone wars”.  The story is told through the eyes of a fictional character called William Johnson, who works first with one and then with the other.  Michael Crichton was meticulous in his research and the story unfolds across the American West in 1878, cataloguing spectacular dinosaur fossil finds as well as the heated, hostile competition between two of America’s most famous scientists.

To read Everything Dinosaur’s tribute to Michael Crichton: The Death of Author Michael Crichton is Announced

Michael Crichton’s widow Sherri has been working hard to honour her late husband through the establishment of a series of archives that bear his name, Sherri explained how she found “Dragon Teeth”:

“When I came across the “Dragon Teeth” manuscript in the files, I was immediately captivated.  It was Michael’s voice, his love of history, research and science all dynamically woven into an epic tale.”

The book seems to have been inspired by Michael’s correspondence with Professor Edwin H. Colbert, (Curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology at the American Museum of Natural History, New York).  Professor Colbert is, sadly, no longer with us, he passed away in 2001.  This new dinosaur inspired novel, set for publication in May 2017 sounds like a fitting tribute to both men who excelled in their chosen fields.

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