School Lesson Plan – How do Fossils Form? (Key Stage 1/2)

Celery Experiment Helping to Demonstrate How Fossils are Formed

With rocks and fossils now part of the National Curriculum for science at Key Stage 2 and with many schools running a term topic focused on dinosaurs as part of their scheme of work with Reception and Year 1, our team members have received lots of requests from teachers to help them explain how fossils are formed.  We do cover this subject area in our dinosaur workshops but here is a simple experiment that the children can conduct that demonstrates an important principle in fossilisation.

The vascular system of plants can be used to suggest how open spaces in a living organism can become filled with minerals that crystallise out of water seeping through the sediment that the remains have been covered by.  The filling up of the pores and open spaces is known as permineralisation.  This process helps to explain how some types of fossil can be formed.  By studying the movement of coloured water in a stalk of celery the children can observe how liquid is moved around a plant.  An experiment such as this demonstrates that plants have spaces inside them, which allow permineralisation (and replacement for that matter), it also leads in very nicely to the work in the English national curriculum about the structure of plants.

National Curriculum Links (England)

  1. Plants (Year 1, 2, 3)
  2. Living Things and their Habitats (Year 2, 4, 5, 6)
  3. Rocks (Year 3)
  4. Animals including Humans (Year 1-6)

Preliminary

Ask the class what are fossils?  Explore ideas about how fossils form.  Stress that fossils can be formed over very long periods of time and some fossils are formed when the spaces inside an animal or plant that has died gets filled with minerals and slowly over time the remains of the plant or animal turn to stone (petrification).  It is this process, that explains in part how fossils are made.

This experiment will permit the children to see that living matter has spaces inside, it is these spaces that can be filled with minerals as part of the fossilisation process.

What You Will Need – Teaching Resources

How Fossils Form (Celery Experiment) Resources

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Resources = plant material (celery recommended), magnifying glass, water, glass, food colouring, chopping utensil, chopping board or surface and a ruler

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Resources = celery stalks, glass or clear plastic beaker, a few drops of food colouring (we found red or blue works best), magnifying glasses, a simple chopping tool, a chopping board, ruler and some tap water.

How Fossils Form – The Experiment (Part 1)

  1. Divide the class up into small groups, provide each group with their own set of resources as outlined above.
  2. Have the children carefully chop the top and bottom of their chosen celery stalk(s), if resources allow have them choose stalks with and without leaves.
  3. Using the magnifying glasses, have each group observe what they can see when they study the stalk ends.  The bottom part of the celery stalk should show very clearly evidence of a vascular system.  Record this information.

Examining and Recording What Can Be Observed

Tubes and other structures can be made out (evidence of a vascular system).

Tubes and other structures can be made out (evidence of a vascular system).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

How Fossils Form – The Experiment (Part 2)

  1. The length of each stalk can be measured (remember to include the length of the leaves on any stalks), these measurements can be recorded.
  2. A quantity of water can then be put into the beaker or glass.  A precise measurement is not needed but it is important to make sure that the bases of all the stalks will be covered.
  3. Carefully, each group puts a couple of drops of the food colouring into the glass or beaker.  Only two to three drops will be needed.  A cap full of food colouring will be sufficient.  The water can be given a quick stir.

Adding the Food Colouring to the Beaker/Glass

Add a couple of drops of food colouring to each beaker/glass.

Add a couple of drops of food colouring to each beaker/glass.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Place the celery to be tested in the beaker/glass, record the time when this was done.

Time to Leave Your Fossil Experiment

Record the time when the celery was placed in the solution.

Record the time when the celery was placed in the solution.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

It may take several hours, but slowly capillary action will permit the coloured water to move up the plant tissues.  This experiment not only highlights the water transportation system in plants (xylem) but also demonstrates that spaces in living organisms have the potential to be filled by minerals such as calcium carbonate or phosphate that are dissolved in water.   This experiment is demonstrating how living things can become filled with minerals dissolved in water which can lead to petrifaction (means turning to stone), the fossilisation process.

How Fossils Form – The Experiment (Part 3)

  1. Examine the celery leaves and stalks after 4 hours (later on in the school day).  What changes can the children see?   Can they record how far the coloured water has travelled?  What differences can be seen between stalks?

Examine the Celery Stalks after about Four Hours

If a camera or Ipad is handy a visual record of the change can be made.

If a camera or Ipad is handy a visual record of the change can be made.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

What differences can the children observe with their fossil formation experiments after a day, two days, a week?  Can the children measure the amount of red colouration they see after each time interval?

After One Day the Fossil Formation Experiment Will Show A Distinctive Colour Change

The food colouring in the water will have been transported up the plant.

The food colouring in the water will have been transported up the plant.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Hard biological materials such as bones, shells and wood contain tiny pores and other spaces (such as the Haversian canals in bones – see close up picture of dinosaur fossil bone provided below).  When buried in sediment, these pores and spaces can be filled up with minerals that crystallise out of the water seeping thorough the layers of sediment.  These extra minerals are permineralising the organism, the start of the process of turning a once living thing into stone has begun.

A Close up View of Fossilised Dinosaur Bone Showing Internal Structure

The internal structure of the dinosaur bone can be seen.

The internal structure of the dinosaur bone can be seen.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows the internal structure of a dinosaur tail bone.  Bones just like teeth, shells and even wood contain pores, it is these open spaces that can become permineralised as part of the process of fossilisation.

Extension Ideas

  1. Why was it easier to see the movement of water when the leaves were examined (links to the role of different parts of the plant)?
  2. If the hard parts of organisms like bones and teeth can permineralise and become fossils, what happens to the soft parts such as gums, skin, muscle?
  3. What examples of fossils formed from the soft parts of animals and plants can the children find?  How were these fossils formed?
  4. What other types of fossils can be found?  Think moulds, casts and trace fossils like burrows and footprints.
  5. Record and photograph this experiment and utilise it again when exploring plants, plant transport systems and photosynthesis with older year groups

Extra Notes – Capillary Action

Capillary action, the movement of liquid through tubes takes place because water molecules stay close together (cohesion forces) and because water molecules are attracted to and stick to other substances (adhesion forces).  The adhesion of water to the walls of a narrow vessel such as xylem in a plant stem will cause an upward force on the liquid at the edges where the water and the surface of the tube interact.  This will result in the meniscus turning upward.  Surface tension acts to hold this water at the surface of the tube (the front of the water column) intact.  Capillary action will occur when the adhesion to the walls of the tube is stronger than the cohesive forces between the water molecules.  It is through this capillary action that water is transported around plants.

If you need to speed up the experiment, some change in colouration can be seen after two hours or so, especially if a wilted piece of celery with leaves is chosen.

For information on Everything Dinosaur’s fossil and dinosaur themed workshops in schools: Contact Everything Dinosaur

Giant Kangaroos Made for Walking

Giant Sthenurine Kangaroos Probably Walked Rather Than Hopped

The Pleistocene prehistoric fauna of Australia may not quite be as embedded into the public’s consciousness as the Woolly Mammoths, Cave Bears and Sabre-Toothed Cats that represent examples of European Pleistocene prehistoric animals, but if anything, ancient “Aussies” were even more amazing than the shaggy coated examples typical of the fauna of the western hemisphere.  In a new study, published in the on line academic journal PLOS One (Public Library of Science), a team of researchers propose that ancient, giant Australian Kangaroos were walkers rather than hoppers, making up part of a prehistoric fauna that was truly astonishing.

The Kangaroos in question are the heavy-weight members of the Sthenurinae (the short-faced kangaroos).  A sub-family of the Macropodidae (means “big feet”), the family to which all Kangaroos belong.  Following a rigorous comparative analysis, the research team conclude that these large animals, some of which stood over two metres tall, did not hop but were adapted to a pedestrian lifestyle, these animals were walkers.  Sadly, like most of Australia’s mega fauna these herbivores became extinct and did not make it into the Holocene.  The last of the Sthenurinae died out about 30,000 years ago, shortly before the last of the Neanderthals in western Europe.

A Comparison Between an Extant Sthenurinae Kangaroo (Sthenurus stirlingi) and a Large Extant Species

Both these types of Kangaroo can stand up to two metres tall.

Both these types of Kangaroo can stand up to two metres tall.

Picture Credit: Wells and Tedford, 1995.  Original artist Lorraine Meeker, American Museum of Natural History, with additional annotation from Everything Dinosaur

As for reasons for their extinction, that question remains to be answered, however, it is thought that the presence of man on the continent from around 60,000 years ago had a severe impact on the fauna of Australia.  Giant Short-faced Kangaroos such as Simosthenurus occidentalis (short-faced, strong tail, western Kangaroo), known from fossils found in south-western Australia, probably could not move very quickly and could be caught by human hunters.  The use of fire could also have devastated their forest habitats leaving these browsers with little food.

The research team was led by Professor Christine Janis, (Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Brown University, Rhode Island, USA).  Over one hundred comparative measurements were made, comparing the skeletons of living and extinct Kangaroo and Wallaby types.  For Professor Janis, her eureka moment occurred in 2005.  She was examining the bones of a mounted skeleton of a Sthenurine Kangaroo in a Sydney museum when she noticed how inflexible the spine looked when compared to a modern-day counterpart.  The professor began to wander whether these Pleistocene roos moved in the same way as extant Kangaroos.

Working in collaboration with the papers co-authors, Borja Figuerido of the University of Malaga (Spain) and Karalyn Kuchenbecker, a former undergraduate at Brown University, the Professor spent several years examining the fossilised remains of extinct Kangaroos to determine their method of locomotion.  In the published account of their studies, the team hypothesise that in their motion the extinct Sthenurines were very different from large Kangaroos found today.  The scientific paper is intriguing entitled: “Locomotion in Extinct Giant Kangaroos: Were the Sthenurines Hop-Less Monsters?”.

Extant Kangaroos can hop very quickly and utilise this unique form of motion to cover vast distances very efficiently.  They can also move about on all fours as their front limbs are capable of helping to support bodyweight, an anatomical characteristic absent in the larger members of the Sthenurinae.  The tail of many  members of the Macropodidae is also able to bear weight, providing additional support for many Kangaroos and Wallabies.  The use of the tail as a fifth limb has been referred to as a “pentapedal” stance.  Extinct Kangaroos such as Sthenurus stirlingi seem to lack the flexible spine need to make leaps and bounds.  Their anatomy seems best suited to putting one foot in front of the other – a walking Kangaroo!

Sthenurines had proportionally bigger hip and knee joints.  The shape of the pelvic area differs significantly as well (see diagram above).  The Sthenurines had a broad and flared pelvis that would have allowed for proportionally much larger gluteal muscles than other Kangaroos.  Those muscles would have allowed them to balance weight over just one leg at a time, as do the large gluteals of humans during walking.  Unlike modern Kangaroos with their four-toed feet, the extinct Sthenurines had just one, massive toe on the end of each foot.  The research team conclude that when the anatomy of all the Macropodidae is considered, the “weird” ones are the extant species that hop.  They are very lightly built for their size and their preferred method of locomotion may not be typical for the group as a whole.  A bit like using the Cheetah as a template for all Felidae motion.

Commenting on the research Professor Janis stated:

“If it is not possible in terms of biomechanics to hop at very slow speeds, particularly if you are a big animal and you cannot easily do pentapedal locomotion, then what do you have left?  You have to move somehow.”

An over reliance on walking, which is not as efficient as hopping, might explain the demise of these Kangaroos about 30,000 years ago.  These animals might have been easier to catch so humans took a toll on the population.  Or as the climate became more arid, these walking Kangaroos were not able to migrate far enough to find new sources of food.

An Artist’s Impression of a Short-Faced Kangaroo

Short-faced Kangaroo a pedestrian.

Short-faced Kangaroo a pedestrian.

Picture Credit: Brian Regal

The research team admit that more evidence is required to back up their anatomical study.  Ideally, if a set of “walking Kangaroo” tracks could be discovered, that would add considerable weight to their hypothesis.

New Schleich Prehistoric Animal Models for 2015

New Additions to the Schleich Model Range

Team members at Everything Dinosaur had been informed about the pending changes to Schleich’s prehistoric animal portfolio and now we can share with readers the first pictures of the exciting new replicas Schleich intend to launch next year.

First item of news, the “dinosaurs” range, a set of small prehistoric animal models made by Schleich, are going to be retired.  We suspect that the retirement will be formally announced at the end of this year.  This range, which at one stage grew to consist of twelve prehistoric animal replicas, has been gradually reduced in number and by the end of the year it will no longer be available.  The replacement model series will consist of eight figures.  There will be seven dinosaurs plus one Pterosaur (Quetzalcoatlus).

New for 2015 – The New Range of Prehistoric Animal Figures from Schleich

Available from Everything Dinosaur in 2015.

Available from Everything Dinosaur in 2015.

Picture Credit: Schleich/Everything Dinosaur

It is certainly a colourful range and it will include lots of favourite dinosaurs (Stegosaurus, Triceratops, Spinosaurus, T. rex etc).  We are particularly looking forward to pairing up the Pentaceratops in this new range with the larger “World of History” Pentaceratops that came out this year.

Pentaceratops Dinosaur Model from Schleich

Schleich Pentaceratops available from Everything Dinosaur.

Schleich Pentaceratops available from Everything Dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Due to be Retired – The Schleich “Dinosaurs” Range

Going, Going Gone- Schleich Dinosaurs models series

Going, Going Gone- Schleich Dinosaurs models series

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view Everything Dinosaur’s existing Schleich replica range including the last of the soon to be retired “dinosaurs”: Schleich Dinosaurs

Our advice is to get these models whilst stocks last.  Sadly, once they are retired, the price of these replicas will soar as collectors strive to acquire them for their collections.

In addition, Everything Dinosaur team members believe that Schleich intends to add a further two models to its “World of History” replica range.  The two new additions for 2015 are Kentrosaurus and that toothsome member of the Pterosauria – Anhanguera.

New for 2015 – Schleich Kentrosaurus

Available from Everything Dinosaur in 2015

Available from Everything Dinosaur in 2015

Picture Credit: Schleich

Everything Dinosaur does not recall Schleich making a Kentrosaurus dinosaur model before, we don’t think they have made any Stegosaur replica before, except of course the ubiquitous Stegosaurus.

Last but not least, let’s take a look at the Anhanguera replica.

The Schleich Anhanguera (Pterosaur Replica)

Available from Everything Dinosaur in 2015.

Available from Everything Dinosaur in 2015.

Picture Credit: Schleich

This is certainly a much bigger and much more colourful model of an Anhanguera than the one featured for a few years in the “dinosaurs” model range from Schleich.  The skull of this flying reptile was almost half the length of its total length.  2015 will mark the 30th anniversary of the naming and describing of this Brazilian Pterosaur.

To view the existing “World of History” replicas available from Everything Dinosaur: World of History Prehistoric Animal Models (Schleich)

Exciting times ahead for Schleich and Everything Dinosaur.

Writing Notes on the Most Famous Dinosaur of All

Notes About Tyrannosaurus rex

Everything Dinosaur team members have been sent some notes from a model manufacturer all about that most famous dinosaur of all T. rex.  Our dinosaur experts have been asked to proof read this information and to suggest any ways in which this data can be improved upon as it is to be used in a product information sheet to be supplied with the dinosaur model.

Here is the information that we have been asked to look at:

Tyrannosaurus rex:

[Tyrannosaurus (meaning "tyrant lizard") is a genus of coelurosaurian theropod dinosaur, the most well-known species Tyrannosaurus rex , also commonly abbreviated to T. rex (rex means “king”in Latin), lived during the the upper Cretaceous Period, 67 to 66 million years ago in what is now western North America. Tyrannosaurus rex is not only one of the largest land carnivores, but also one of the largest known land predators of all time.  The most complete specimen measures up to 12.3 metres in length, 4 metres tall at the hips, the estimated weight is around 7 tons.  It is suggested that the bite force of Tyrannosaurus rex could have been the strongest of any terrestrial animal that has ever lived.]

Our team members will address this matter shortly, but first thing we have done is to put the species name into italics.

Preparing Notes on Tyrannosaurus rex for a Model Manufacturer

The Business End of a Tyrannosaur

The Business End of a Tyrannosaur

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Most of the information that we have been sent is right, more or less, we just have to polish the phrasing a little and perhaps change the order of the sentences.  It should not take us too long, after all, we do supply a lot of dinosaur toys and dinosaur models, all with our own prehistoric animal fact sheets included.

Writing Notes for a Model Manufacturer

Helping a Manufacturer Get to Grips with Yutyrannus

Everything Dinosaur’s team members get asked to do a lot of work for various companies, we undertake such work usually free of charge as our objective is to try and help the organisation with educational matters, such as getting information correct about a particular dinosaur, perhaps information for a museum exhibition, a product leaflet or even literature aimed at the school’s market.  One example of such work undertaken is our current research into the basal tyrannosauroid from north-eastern China Yutyrannus huali.  We have our own fact sheet and scale drawings of this particular member of the Tyrannosaur family.  This information has proved to be very useful as we prepare notes to assist with a data card all about this Theropod dinosaur.

Yutyrannus huali

Yutyrannus huali meaning “beautiful feathered tyrant” and sometimes referred to as being a relative of the more famous carnivorous dinosaurs of Late Cretaceous North America, as this dinosaur has been classified as belonging to the same superfamily of Theropod dinosaurs as the iconic T. rex, was scientifically described in 2012.   It roamed north-eastern China during the Early Cretaceous.  The scientific description was based on three, nearly complete fossil specimens excavated from strata associated with Liaoning Province.  The holotype fossils, representing the largest of three individuals indicate that adult animals may have reached a length of around 9 metres and weighed approximately 1,400 kg.

Everything Dinosaur’s Drawing of Yutyrannus (Y.  huali)

Dinosaur drawing (Yutyrannus)

Dinosaur drawing (Yutyrannus)

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Evidence of plumage (feathers) is preserved on parts of all three known specimens.  Whilst there is a lot of evidence to indicate that many small Theropod dinosaurs had feathers, Yutyrannus huali  fossils suggest that some giant carnivorous dinosaurs may also have been feathered.  It has been speculated that feathers may have helped insulate and keep these dinosaurs warm as this part of China during the Early Cretaceous had a decidedly chilly climate, with average annual temperatures roughly equivalent to what they are today in north-eastern China.

Isotope studies using the wonderfully well-preserved teeth of this dinosaur indicate that the average annual temperature in north-eastern China during the time when Yutyrannus roamed was about 10 degrees Celsius.  To put this in perspective, this is approximately the same annual average temperature of Manchester in England or Washington D.C. in the United States.  If Yutyrannus was alive to day it would have been perfectly at home in northern England or indeed on the eastern seaboard of the United States.

It’s all part of Everything Dinosaur’s customer service.

Two New Model Additions to Everything Dinosaur’s Range

Wild Safari Dinos Triceratops and Wild Safari Dinos Smilodon Added

The Wild Safari Dinos model series made by Safari Ltd has been highly praised by model collectors and dinosaur fans alike.  Everything Dinosaur team members are already looking forward to receiving stock of the new for 2015 Wild Safari Dinos models (Gastonia, Yutyrannus, Nasutoceratops and a replica of Archaeopteryx, but in the meantime, the company keeps adding more Safari Ltd models to its inventory.

For example, the Wild Safari Dinos Triceratops and Smilodon models were added this week.

The Wild Safari Dinos Triceratops Model

An excellent replica of a Triceratops.

An excellent replica of a Triceratops.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Safari Ltd

A spokesperson for the UK based dinosaur model retailer stated:

“This Triceratops figure has been in a lot of our personal collections, we really like the quality of the finish on this particular replica, especially the scaly texture and the folds of skin.  Safari Ltd have really worked hard to provide a top quality Triceratops.”

The Triceratops Model at Everything Dinosaur

One of our favourite Triceratops dinosaur models.

One of our favourite Triceratops dinosaur models.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

This horned dinosaur replica certainly has plenty of detail and it is bound to prove very popular amongst our discerning customers.

Joining the Triceratops is the Wild Safari Dinos Smilodon model, a replica of a Sabre-Toothed Cat.  Many of our team members have had the opportunity to visit California to see the excellent Smilodon fossil specimens on display in a number of museums.  We have even got our hands dirty at the famous tar pits of Los Angeles (La Brea), we were delighted to be able to add this model to our range.

The Wild Safari Dinos Smilodon Model

Smilodon fatalis?

Smilodon fatalis?

Picture Credit: Safari Ltd

The Smilodon joins the Wild Safari Dinos Mammoth replica and the larger scale model of a Woolly Mammoth (Carnegie Collectibles range) that Everything Dinosaur also stocks.  Perhaps Safari Ltd will add other mammal species to its model portfolio, a Dire Wolf (Canis dirus) or maybe even a prehistoric camel (Camelops hesternus) fossils of both these animals are associated with the Los Angeles fossil site.

To view the range of Safari Ltd models available: Safari Ltd Prehistoric Animal Models

To read an article and to see pictures of the new for 2015 models being introduced by Safari Ltd: New for 2015 Models

How Did Huge Sauropods Manage to Get Along Together?

Dietary Niche Partitioning Amongst the Sauropoda

A team of British scientists have been tackling one of the biggest puzzles in palaeontology and a sophisticated analysis of dinosaur skull bones might just have helped them solve a mystery of gigantic proportions.  Sauropods, that group of long-necked dinosaurs that include such famous creatures as Diplodocus, Brachiosaurus and Apatosaurus (formerly known as Brontosaurus), ate vast quantities of plant material.  These huge animals with many individuals exceeding twenty metres in length and weighing many times more than a bull African elephant, would have been capable of stripping an area of vegetation, but the fossil record shows that in many parts of the world, lots of different species of Sauropod seem to have co-existed.  The scientists, a joint research team from Bristol University and the Natural History Museum (London), propose that Late Jurassic Sauropod skulls became specially adapted to help them feed on different types of plant material.  In this way, the skull morphology helped the long-necked dinosaurs divide up the available food resources between them, therefore limiting the amount of direct competition.

Previous studies had shown that in areas where lots of different species of Sauropods co-existed their body shapes and ability to angle their necks may have allowed the development of different feeding strategies with each species preferring to feed on a particular part of the flora that was available.

Proposed Sauropod Feeding Strategies

Long necks for different feeding envelopes.

Long necks for different feeding envelopes.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

In the picture above, models made by Safari Ltd help to illustrate current thinking about the feeding adaptations of members of the Sauropoda.  Diplodocids such as Diplodocus and Apatosaurus with their very long necks and relatively horizontal feeding platforms probably specialised in feeding on ferns, cycads and plants that made up the vegetative understorey.  Whilst in the middle, dinosaurs such as camarasaurids a member of a different family of Sauropods called the Macronaria could feed on a wider range of plant material, cycads and seed ferns as well as being able to strip leaves off small trees.  The dinosaur in the bottom of the picture is a member of the Brachiosauridae (Brachiosaurus).  These dinosaurs had much longer forelimbs than hindlimbs and as a result, their heads were held much higher.  These dinosaurs probably specialised in feeding from the very tops of the tallest trees, parts of the vegetative canopy not available to other plant-eating dinosaurs (unless they knocked the trees down).  The tree in the picture is an Agathis conifer, a model also made by Safari Ltd.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s range of prehistoric plant models and dinosaurs (Safari Ltd): Carnegie Collectibles and Wild Safari Dinos Models

A Detailed Model of the Skull of Camarasaurus

Camarasaurus was probably the most common Sauropod living in the western United States during the Late Jurassic.

Camarasaurus was probably the most common Sauropod living in the western United States during the Late Jurassic.

Picture Credit: David Button

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“Based on counts of the fossilised bones, Camarasaurus seems to have been the most common of all the different types of Sauropod known from the Morrison Formation.  Perhaps this dinosaur was more of a “generalist” when it came to diet.  A half-way house between the long-necked diplodocids and the giraffe-like brachiosaurids.  An ability to feed on a wide variety of plants, including the tougher plants not available to the likes of Diplodocus and Apatosaurus, could have led to this particular genus of long-necked dinosaur being one of the most successful in the Late Jurassic of the western North America, to the south of the Sundance Sea.”

Building on previous studies, the British team looked specifically at the Sauropod fauna associated with the Upper Jurassic Morrison Formation of the western United States.  At least ten different species of Sauropod are known from this formation, one of the most intensely studied fossiliferous formations in the Americas.  Although the Morrison Formation deposits represent a number of habitats, some of the most famous fossil beds such as those making up the Salt Wash Member indicate that some parts of the Morrison Formation represent deposits laid down in harsh, semi-arid environments, not the sort of place where one might expect vast numbers of different types of Sauropod.  Despite the harsh conditions, the fossil record shows that lots of different Sauropods co-existed.  When the diverse faunas of modern day Africa are considered, these habitats only support one truly huge, extant species – the elephant.  So how did the Sauropods get along with each other?

Bristol University’s PhD student David Button worked in collaboration with the Natural History Museum to examine how the skulls of different long-necked dinosaurs may have been adapted to help them feed on different types of plant.  Digital reconstructions were made of the skulls of Camarasaurus and Diplodocus using data compiled from Computerised tomography (CT scans).  From this data, a biomechanical model of the Camarasaurus skull was created and then this skull was compared to an existing digital model of the Diplodocus.  Finite Element Analysis (FEA), was used to assess the stresses that each skull could take.  FEA analysis is used in engineering to calculate loads and stress bearings in complex shapes, this research showed that the box-like skull of Camarasaurus gave this dinosaur a stronger bite.  Camarasaurus could have coped with tougher vegetation than Diplodocus.  The weaker bite and more delicate skull of Diplodocus would have restricted this animal to softer plant material such as ferns.  Diplodocus could have compensated for this to some extent by using its strong neck muscles to help detach plant material through movements of the head.

David Button concluded:

“Our results show that although neither could chew, the skulls of both dinosaurs were sophisticated cropping tools.  This study indicates that differences in diet between these two dinosaurs would have allowed them to co-exist.”

The research team used a number of biomechanical measurements from other Morrison Formation Sauropods to calculate the different types of feeding adaptations, providing evidence for different diets and overall a conclusion that dietary niche partitioning did occur in the Sauropoda.

Comparing the Skulls of a Typical Camarasaurid and Diplodocid

Analysis of fossil bone helped the researchers determine the size and location of jaw muscles.

Analysis of fossil bone helped the researchers determine the size and location of jaw muscles.

Picture Credit: David Button

In the picture above, the box-like skull of Camarasaurus is shown left (a) with a typical skull of a Diplodocus (b).

Co-author of the scientific paper, which has been published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society Biology, Professor Emily Rayfield (Bristol University) stated:

“In modern animal communities differences in diet such as this, termed dietary niche partitioning, allow multiple species to co-exist by reducing competition for food.  Although, dietary niche partitioning has been suspected between Morrison Formation Sauropods based on their structural features and patterns of tooth-wear, this is the first study to provide strong, numerical, biomechanical evidence for its presence in a fossil community.”

This new research may help palaeontologists to understand more about how the Sauropoda evolved.  Sauropods from the Dashanpu Quarry region of China dating from the Middle Jurassic may also show similar adaptations over skull morphology and bite strength as reflected in the research done on the slightly later Sauropods from the Morrison Formation.

In addition, this analysis may help scientists to unravel the mechanisms responsible for supporting the high diversities of mega-herbivores found in other Mesozoic and Cenozoic animal populations, particularly those in resource limited environments.

For related articles on Sauropod feeding strategies:

Ostrich Necks Provide Clues to Sauropod Neck Flexibility

Diplodocus Feeding – a biter or a comber?

Evidence for Seasonal Migrations Amongst Camarasaurids

A Review of the Collecta Bistahieversor Model

The Collecta Bistahieversor Model Reviewed

New for 2014 from Collecta in their not-to-scale prehistoric animal model series is this replica of Bistahieversor (pronounced Bis-tar-hee-eh-ver-sore), a member of the Tyrannosaur family  from New Mexico and distantly related to the much more famous T. rex  this is Everything Dinosaur’s review of this dinosaur replica.

The Collecta Bistahieversor Dinosaur Model

New for Summer 2014

New for Summer 2014

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

During the Late Cretaceous much of North America was covered by a huge sea.  This was called the Western Interior Seaway and it stretched from what is now the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Gulf of Mexico in the south.  The landmasses that bordered this inland sea were dominated by dinosaurs and what scientists are now recognising is that despite the mix of dinosaurs in the north and the south being very similar – Ceratopsians, Lambeosaurines, ankylosaurids, tyrannosaurids and so forth, the genera and species making up those faunas differed markedly across North America.  What you have is distinct regional ecosystems.  What we term “provinciality” and you can explore lots of articles about this on the Everything Dinosaur web log.

To read an article about the regional diversity of horned dinosaurs in North America: A Surge in Mountain Building May Have Led to Dinosaur Diversification

Bistahieversor fossils come from the oldest part of the Kirtland Formation, exposed in New Mexico, strata dating to around 74.5 million years ago.  Isolated teeth very typical of a large Tyrannosaur had been found for many years and these were thought to represent types of Tyrannosaur known from fossilised bones found in Montana and Alberta (Canada) in the north.  A partial skull found in 1990 was associated with Tyrannosaur fossil material from Montana, (potentially Daspletosaurus), but gradually as more body fossils were discovered in this part of the San Juan Basin, it was realised that these fossils represented the remains of a distinct southern genus of tyrannosaurid.  Following a review in 2010, the genus Bistahieversor (B. sealeyi) was established.

The name means “Bistahi Destroyer”, the genus honours the local Navajo indian population, the word “Bisti” means “place of the adobe formations” in the local dialect.  The trivial name honours museum volunteer Paul Sealey, who found the fossils of an adult animal in 1997.

The Collecta model stands on a base, it is the second , large Tyrannosaur model in the not-to-scale series to be placed on a base, the first being the modified T. rex with prey replica.  It is a very striking pose, the skin texture has been finished to give the impression of a shaggy, feathery coat.  Here is a model of a feathered Tyrannosaur reflecting the very latest in Theropd interpretation and part of a trend for more feathered dinosaur models, which we know is going to continue into 2015 and beyond.

The body proportions are based on what is known from the fossil material, particularly the adult specimen discovered in 1997, by Paul Sealey.  The skull sports a distinctive cranial crest and this has been further augmented by the model makers with the addition of a tuft of shaggy, black and white proto-feathers.  The crest on the skull may have been synonymous with a mature adult animal as no evidence for a crest was found on the fossilised skull of a juvenile which was discovered two years earlier (1995).

Like all the Collecta replicas, this is a beautiful model with a well-crafted paint regime consisting of tawny, black and white stripes which contrast nicely with the cream coloured belly.  Even the base has lots of detail, the feet seem to sink into the base to give the impression of a heavy animal walking across soft sand.

A Model of a Tyrannosaur Named in 2010

One of our field rulers provides scale.

One of our field rulers provides scale.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

This model measures around 13cm in length.  Based on an adult animal being around 8.5 metres we estimate that this replica is in approximately 1:65 scale.  The powerful animal with its strong tail and robust skull probably weighed around 2.5 tonnes and it was very likely the apex predator in the coastal plain habitat found to the south of the Western Interior Seaway.

This is a beautifully crafted, hand-painted replica of  Bistahieversor, a dinosaur that was only named and scientifically described back in 2010.  It is an exciting addition to the Collecta range of prehistoric animal models and it is great to see more tyrannosaurids represented, especially feathered ones.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s range of Collecta prehistoric animal models: Collecta Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Models

Indonesian Cave Paintings Change Ideas About the Origin of Art

Oldest Prehistoric Cave Art in the World Perhaps – An Indonesian Cave Art Exhibition

The human ability to think in abstract terms is often cited as one of the key differences between our species and those in the rest of the animal kingdom.  Our love of art and visual depiction can be traced back to the Late Palaeolithic but the thought that since cave paintings are confined to France and Spain, therefore art began in Europe, has been challenged thanks to an amazing discovery on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

A joint Australian and Indonesian team of anthropologists have uncovered a series of ancient human hand stencils and paintings of animals in seven cave sites in the southern portion of Sulawesi island.  Although a rural location, these caves (Karst Maros) had been visited by a number of tourists and backpackers, but until now nobody knew just how old some of the paintings were.

A Number of Ancient Human Hand Stencils were Part of the Study

Ancient human "handy" work.

Ancient human “handy” work.

Picture Credit: Maxime Aubert

Archaeologists and palaeoanthropologists had long been puzzled by the appearance in southern Europe around 40-35 thousand years ago of a rich and varied range of artwork, including rock paintings and carved figures, but the absence or scarcity of similar art found elsewhere in the world.  Homo sapiens migrated into southern Asia and the Far East but little evidence of any form of culture in terms of works of art has been left behind on these migration routes.

Using a dating method that is based on the radioactive decay of uranium to thorium in small mineral growths that had formed on the paintings, the scientists were able to determine the minimum age of the paintings.  One hand stencil has been dated to circa 39,900 years ago, making it the oldest human hand print known to science.  A painting of a wild pig, an animal probably hunted by these ancient humans, has been dated to at least 35,400 years ago.  The artwork and images had been created by using red ochre, the materials and painting techniques used seem to be very similar to those found in caves of a similar age in western Europe.

Commenting on the significance of this study, Maxine Aubert of Griffith University (Queensland), one of the researchers stated:

“It was previously thought that Western Europe was the centre piece of a symbolic explosion in early human artistic activity such as cave painting and other forms of image making, including figurative art, around 40,000 years ago.”

This new research suggests that the rock art traditions seen on Sulawesi are at least as old as the oldest known European art.   One of the implications of this new study is that it has now been demonstrated that humans were producing very similar types of rock art by 40,000 years ago but at opposite ends of the Pleistocene Eurasian world.

The Oldest Human Hand Stencil and the Animal Drawing

Cave paintings at least 35,400 years old with hand stencils at least 39,900 years old.

Cave paintings at least 35,400 years old with hand stencils at least 39,900 years old.

Picture Credit: Maxime Aubert (green highlighting circles added by Everything Dinosaur)

The artwork is very faded in the above photograph, so we have circled in green the rock art that was studied.  It is feared, that just like the cave art in some European caves, modern pollution could damage these ancient Indonesian drawings.

To read an article about the damage being done to cave paintings in Europe due to rising levels of fungi: Cave Paintings Might Be Lost Forever

The scientists hope to use this radioactive dating technique to accurately date other rock art sites in Asia and Australia.  By doing this they hope to better understand human migration and the movement of abstract ideas through the ancient population as it migrated eastwards.

Venezuela’s Second Dinosaur – Tachiraptor

Tachiraptor admirabilis – Tracing the Origins of the Big Theropods

Venezuelan dinosaurs must be a bit like buses, you wait for years for one to come along and then two arrive almost simultaneously.  Back in August of this year, we reported on the discovery of Venezuela’s first ever dinosaur, a small, plant-eater from the very Early Jurassic.  This dinosaur was named Laquintasaura venezuelae and it was the first dinosaur named from the north of South America.  Two months later and a second paper about a new Venezuelan dinosaur, this time a meat-eater, is about to be published.  Say hello to Tachiraptor, a bipedal, fast-running carnivore that may very well have been a predator Laquintasaura.

An Artists Impression of Tachiraptor Attacking Laquintasaura

A carnivorous Tachiraptor attacks a flock of Laquintasaura dinosaurs.

A carnivorous Tachiraptor attacks a flock of Laquintasaura dinosaurs.

Picture Credit: Maurílio Oliveira

The illustration above shows the fearsome, newly described Theropod Tachiraptor attacking a small flock of primitive, Ornithopod dinosaurs (Laquintasaura), whilst a couple of alarmed Rhamphorhynchid Pterosaurs take flight.

To read more about Laquintasaura: Laquintasaura – What Does it All Mean?

The artist has chosen to illustrate both the dinosaurs in the picture as feathered creatures.  During the Early Jurassic, around 200 million years ago, approximately the time that both Tachiraptor and Laquintasaura lived, Venezuela was close to the equator.  The sandstone deposits in which the fossils were found indicate a flood plain environment.  This flood plain was surrounded by harsh, inhospitable deserts that probably did not support much vertebrate life.  Day temperatures would have been high, but just like many desert areas close to the equator today, at night, temperatures would have plummeted.  Relatively small animals like Tachiraptor and the even smaller Laquintasaura may have sported a coat of insulating feathers to help keep them warm.  A recent dinosaur discovery from Siberia (Kulindadromeus), suggests that many early types of dinosaur may have been feathered, although no fossil evidence for feathers in both Laquintasaura and Tachiraptor has been found (as far as we at Everything Dinosaur know), it seems reasonable at this point to depict these Early Jurassic members of the Dinosauria as feathered.

To read more about the discovery of Kulindadromeus: Information on Early Feathered Dinosaurs

If Laquintasaura has been described as being about the size of a red fox (Vulpes vulpes), then to keep the canine motif, the predatory Tachiraptor may have been around the size of a grey wolf (Canis lupis), with a total length of 1.5 metres.  The size estimate is based on the two fossil bones ascribed to this genus discovered so far.  The fossils represent lower leg bones from two individuals, the research team responsible for the excavation and study of this new Theropod (Universidade de São Paulo), Brazil found the bones back in 2013 in the same cutting between the towns of La Grita and Seboruco where the fossils of Laquintasaura had been found.  Tachiraptor admirabilis honours the Venezuelan state of Táchira, the species name is in commemoration of the 1813 campaign led by Simón Bolívar to form a republic (known in Spanish as the Campaña Admirable – admirable campaign).

Tachiraptor – The Name Means “Robber of Táchira”

An agile, lithe predatory dinosaur.

An agile, lithe predatory dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Dr. Max Cardoso Langer, of the palaeontology department of São Paulo University, one of the scientists involved with this study, explained that the fossil material consisted of a tibia and a second lower leg bone that was fragmented.  However, the locality and morphology of these scrappy fossils gave the research team the confidence to assign a new genus.  Although the exact taxonomic affinity within the Theropoda could not be established as the fossils date from the Hettangian faunal stage, it was most likely a basal Theropod.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur stated:

“Very little is known about the dinosaurs that lived in the very Early Jurassic.  When Tachiraptor and Laquintasaura roamed Venezuela some 200 million years ago, the world was recovering from a mass extinction event.  The fossils of these two dinosaurs will help palaeontologists to understand better the implications for the Dinosauria after the Triassic/Jurassic mass extinction.”

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