“Mega-Trove” of Dinosaur Footprints from Burgos Province (Spain)

Spanish Site – Provides Palaeontologists with the Opportunity to Follow in the Footsteps of Dinosaurs

A site some twenty kilometres south-east of the town of Burgos in northern Spain has provided a team of palaeontologists with an opportunity to study an exceptionally well-preserved collection of fossilised dinosaur footprints.  The site, known as Las Sereas part of the Quitanilla de las Viñas trace fossil beds is believed to date from the Early Cretaceous and the location, which covers some five kilometres, preserves the trace fossils from a number of different types of dinosaur – Stegosaurs, Sauropods and a variety of Theropods.  In a media briefing, the scientific director of the Las Sereas site, Fidel Torcida, heralded the huge number of footprints and regarded it as a “mega-trove” of ichnites (the term used to describe a fossil footprint).

Research Director Dr. Torcida Discusses the Fossilised Footprints

Important trace fossil site from northern Spain.

Important trace fossil site from northern Spain.

Dr. Torcida, who is also the research director at the nearby Dinosaur Museum (Salas de los Infantes), commented that some of the fossilised prints show Sauropod prints with four toes on the front feet and not five.  He stated that the four toes are not curved, unlike all the others that have been documented around the world.  In 2011, Dr. Torcida was a member of a team of researchers who described a new species of long-necked dinosaur Demandasaurus darwini.  Demandasaurus (named from the Sierra de la Demanda mountains).  It was classified as a Diplodocoid and as such it was the first to be formally described from the Iberian peninsula of Spain.

D.darwini is known from a fragmentary skeleton, including elements of the skull, jaws and vertebrae.  It has been placed in the Rebbachisauridae family of Sauropods, a bizarre family, only established in 1997 but the family now contains more than a dozen genera including species from Africa and South America.  Demandasaurus is believed to have measured around ten metres in length and perhaps weighed more than five tonnes.

An Illustration of a Rebbachisaurid (Nigersaurus taqueti)

The "Lawn Mower" Sauropod

The “Lawn Mower” Sauropod

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The site has been studied for several years, but the full extent of the trace fossil material is only beginning to be realised.  Last year, a large footprint from a Sauropod was discovered, but recent excavations revealed a trail some seventeen metres long , consisting of forty-five Sauropod prints.  Many of the individual prints are over fifty-five centimetres long and record a time some 144 million years ago when a large Sauropod made its may across a mud flat.  In total, something like eight hundred individual footprints had been identified so far, but it was reported that there was probably more than a thousand or so trace fossils in total.  The tracks of at least three different sized Theropod (meat-eating) dinosaurs had also been identified.

Over the last decade, there have been some remarkable dinosaur discoveries made in Spain.  Back in 2007, Everything Dinosaur reported on the discovery of an extensive bone bed containing the preserved remains of several Late Cretaceous dinosaurs from a site near to the city of Cuenca in western Spain.

To read more about this discovery: Dinosaur Bone bed from Spain

Collecta Mosasaurus Model Video Review

The Collecta Mosasaurus Model Video Review

The first account of a Mosasaur fossil was written in 1764, so 2014 marks the 250th anniversary of the publication of this information.  The fossil was found in Holland, near the town of Maastricht and here Everything Dinosaur team members contribute to the Mosasaur database by publishing our video review of the excellent Mosasaurus model made by Collecta.

Everything Dinosaurs Video Review of the Collecta Mosasaurus

Video Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Collecta made a not-to-scale replica of the Mosasaur known as Tylosaurus a few years ago now, this new, larger replica brings the Mosasauridae right up to date with pterygoid teeth depicted on the roof of the mouth and a spectacular tail fluke.  In this short video, (six minutes, forty-eight seconds), we point out these details and explain how this model reflects some of the latest scientific research on these amazing marine reptiles.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s range of Collecta figures: Collecta Prehistoric Animal Models

To read an article which reports on the study of a Mosasaur fossil specimen that provides evidence of a tail fluke: Mosasaurs – A Shark’s Tale

In the video, we also touch upon the chosen colour scheme of this model.  It does remind us of the markings on the extant Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus), the biggest fish alive today.  The largest members of the Mosasaurus genus would have grown to around the same length of a Whale Shark, perhaps fourteen metres or more, but the Whale Shark would have been many times heavier.  Whale Sharks may be gentle, slow-swimming plankton feeders but the Mosasaurs were fast-swimming, predators with the likes of Mosasaurus hoffmanni, whose fossils have been found in Holland, preying on other large marine vertebrates such as Plesiosaurs, large fish and turtles.

Super Colouration on this Mosasaurus Model

Fearsome marine predator from Collecta due in 2014.

Fearsome marine predator from Collecta.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

These reptiles were believed to have been predators of the surface waters.  Many palaeontologists think that these animals had relatively poor, stereoscopic vision so they would have most likely avoided the darker, deeper water, preferring to hunt in the relative shallows.  Whale Sharks tend to swim in the top 100 metres or so of the sea as they collect food with their huge, cavernous mouths, this might explain the colouration chosen for the Mosasaurus replica.

To read an article about the study of organic material found by Swedish scientists as they examined a Mosasaur specimen: Soft Tissue in a Mosasaur Fossil?

Recently, palaeontologists identified a species of Mosasaur that lived in freshwater, to read about this discovery: Freshwater Mosasaur from Hungary

Laquintasaura – What Does it all Mean?

Notes on the Newly Described Dinosaur – Laquintasaura

Over the last day or so, the popular science media has carried a vast array of articles detailing the discovery of a new type of dinosaur from the continent of South America.  There have been radio interviews with some of the scientists behind the academic paper, news reports and of course, a number of video news stories too.   The great majority of the press outpourings have been excellent.  The naming of a new dinosaur is a big story, the general public seems to have an ever-lasting fascination with these ancient animals.  Palaeontologists and science editors far cleverer than ourselves have provided a comprehensive overview of Laquintasaura venezuelae, so rather than dwell on describing this animal, we at Everything Dinosaur will try to place this dinosaur discovery in context and cover some of the issues raised in the scientific paper that were not necessarily picked up by the general media.

The Illustration of the Newly Named Dinosaur L. venezuelae

Small, Early Jurassic, bird-hipped dinosaur

Small, Early Jurassic, bird-hipped dinosaur

Picture Credit: Mark Witton/Natural History Museum

Why Saura and Not Saurus?

First of all, let’s deal with the name Laquintasaura venezuelae.  The fossil material (and there is lots of it), comes from a single bone bed located at a dig site which is effectively a road cutting between the two small towns of Seboruco and La Grita in  Táchira State, western Venezuela, just a few miles from the border with Columbia.   The horizon from which the fossils were excavated form part of the La Quinta Formation, which outcrops in western Venezuela and eastern Columbia.  So the  name is pronounced La-quin-tah-sore-rah  ven-ee-zway-lay and it translates as “Venezuela’s lizard from the La Quinta”, but note the ending of the genus, it is “saura” and not the much more common “saurus”, what’s going on here?

Saura is the female form of the Greek word saurus, it still means lizard and a number of dinosaurs have been given genus names which take the female form of saurus, examples are the likes of Maiasaura (means “good mother lizard”), or the small Cretaceous Ornithopod Leallynasaura which was named after the daughter of the discoverer.  There is nothing particularly feminine about Laquintasaura, it is very likely that the bone bed represents the remains of both males and females, in this case, we think the name has come about as the rock formation “La Quinta” has a female root.

Early Jurassic – So What?

The majority of the rocks that make up the La Quinta Formation are sandstones, accurately dating these rocks is made all the more difficult due to the lack of marine deposits and the more abundant zonal fossils that help to date them.  However, the scientists involved in this study have been able to date the age of the fossils with a very high degree of confidence.  Zircon crystals found very close to the fossilised bones permitted highly accurate radiometric dating techniques to be applied.  Essentially, these crystals are abraded by acids, cooked at very high temperatures and then the proportion of uranium isotopes is measured.  Radioactive elements such as uranium begin to decay from the moment they are formed.  They decay and form “daughter” isotopes by shedding electrons at a consistent, regular rate.  By measuring the proportion of isotopes in these minute zircon crystals the rock formation can be accurately dated.  The fossils of Laquintasaura are 200.91 million years old, plus or minus half a million years or so.

Very few dinosaur fossils have been found that can be dated so accurately to this period in Earth’s history.  The vast majority of the dinosaur fossils that have been dated to around 200 million years or so, are lizard-hipped dinosaurs (Saurischians), Laquintasaura is a member of that other group of dinosaurs, the bird-hipped dinosaurs (Ornithischia).

Photographs of Some of the Fossil Material and Outline Body Shape

Abundant fossil finds.

Abundant fossil finds.

Picture Credit: Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

What’s so Special about Laquintasaura?

The picture above shows an outline of the body shape of Laquintasaura.  It was estimated to be about a metre long, but half of its body length was made up of the tail.  It was lightly built and probably a fast runner, roughly the size of a common Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes).  The drawing also indicates the sort of fossil material that has been found.  Most of the fossils are isolated teeth, or represent bones from the hip area or fragments of rib.  However, other fossils representing parts of the skull, the limb bones and vertebrae have also been found but these elements are much rarer.  The fossils represent the remains of at least four individuals, but probably many more.

Key to the Picture

  • (a) Triangular cheek tooth
  • (b) Neck bones
  • (c) Dorsal vertebrae
  • (d) Left shoulder blade
  • (e) Part of the ankle bone
  • (f) Left ischium (bone from the hip)
  • (g and h) Views of the femur

This is the first early Ornithischian bone bed containing the bones of a number of individual dinosaurs found anywhere in the world.  Studies of the bones suggest that the fossils represent a group of animals that ranged from about three years to twelve years of age.

Although the bones are jumbled up, they do not show any obvious signs of having been transported a long distance perhaps by a river in spate.  Palaeontologists interpreting this fossil deposit have suggested that this bone bed was not formed over a long period, where single dinosaur carcases were deposited in the same location as a result of seasonal, violent floods.   The fossils seem to have been transported and deposited in a low-energy water environment, perhaps a slow moving river and it has been suggested that this group of dinosaurs died in a single catastrophe.  It is unclear whether they all died as a result of becoming stuck in the water, or whether the water transport occurred after death.   This suggests that this was a social group, a small herd or a flock if you prefer.

Most palaeontologists are confident that later Ornithischians, the likes of the Iguanodonts, duck-billed dinosaurs and the horned dinosaurs lived in herds.  If Laquintasaura is a social, bird-hipped dinosaur, then these fossils have provided the earliest known evidence for the evolution of complex social groups in the Ornithischia.  This social behaviour in Ornithischian dinosaurs is being seen around fifty million years earlier than previously thought.

Weird Teeth

The teeth are unlike any other teeth associated with Ornithischian dinosaurs.  They are quite prominent, and although triangular in shape, the edges are curved and slightly concave in appearance.  The edges of the crown (the tooth that sticks out of the gum) are coarsely serrated.  This suggests that this little dinosaur was most probably a herbivore eating tough ferns and horsetails.  It probably also grabbed at passing insects or small reptiles from time to time, hence the bug eating Laquintasaura depicted in Mark Witton’s excellent illustration (see above).

A Close up of One of the Teeth of Laquintasaura (various views)

Strange teeth indicate herbivorous habit.

Strange teeth indicate herbivorous habit.

Picture Credit: Barrett et al, Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Venezuela’s First Dinosaur – Dinosaurs Thrived Around the Equator

Much has been made of the fact that this is the first dinosaur ever to be discovered in Venezuela.  Indeed, this is the first dinosaur to be named and described from the northern portion of South America.  Two hundred million years ago, Venezuela formed part of the central portion of the giant super-continent Pangaea.  Laquintasaura seems to have thrived in a habitat close to the equator in the centre of this huge land mass.  Very few dinosaur fossils have been found in what is termed the palaeoequatorial region.  It had been thought that much of this part of the world in the Late Triassic/Early Jurassic was too hot and dry to support extensive, complex ecosystems.  Much of this area was thought to have been covered by vast, inhospitable deserts.  However, the finding of the fossils of Laquintasaura suggests that dinosaurs and most likely other types of vertebrate did live in these regions.

The Location of the Laquintasaura Fossils (Palaeoequatorial Environment)

Spatial distribution of early bird-hipped dinosaurs.

Spatial distribution of early bird-hipped dinosaurs.

Picture Credit: Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The diagram (b) shows the location of dinosaur fossil finds mapped onto a picture of the world from the Late Triassic.  The yellow line indicates the position of the equator.  Diagram (c) shows the position of dinosaur fossil finds known from the very Early Jurassic.  Arrows indicate Ornithischian dinosaur finds.  Note the scarcity of palaeoequatorial dinosaur finds and the very limited palaeobiogeographical distribution of Ornithischians in the Late Triassic and their subsequent spread in the Early Jurassic.  The red dot in diagram (c) indicates the site of the Laquintasaura fossils.  As these dinosaurs were small, around one metre in length, it is highly unlikely that these dinosaurs could have migrated long distances, this and the fact that the fossil bones show little sign of long distance transport indicates that Laquintasaura lived close to the equator.

The discovery of Laquintasaura suggests that there were Ornithischian dinosaurs living close to the equator around 200 million years ago.  Their presence (and the discovery of two Theropod teeth at the same site), indicates that western Venezuela supported a diverse and flourishing ecosystem.

What Does it Mean for Dinosaur Evolution?

The fossils of Laquintasaura come from just a few hundred thousand years after the end Triassic extinction event.  The period of deep time marked by the end of the Triassic experienced a mass extinction event.  The type and diversity of terrestrial vertebrates altered dramatically with many kinds of reptile and amphibian becoming extinct.

Palaeontologist Dr. Paul Barrett of the Natural History Museum (London) and one of the lead authors of the scientific paper commented:

“Laquintasaura lived very soon after the major extinction at the end of the Triassic Period, 201 million years ago, showing dinosaurs bounced back quickly after this event.  It is fascinating and unexpected to see they lived in herds, something we have little evidence of so far in dinosaurs from this time.”

Either the dinosaurs did recover quickly after this extinction event or they were not too badly affected when compared to other vertebrates.

In addition, scientists are aware that by the Middle Jurassic, the bird-hipped dinosaurs had begun to diversify into a range of body types.  There were the likes of the ancestors of the Camptosaurs, heterodontids and the first of the armoured dinosaurs.

This research carried out by the University of Zurich and the Natural History Museum is helping to piece together the origins and the subsequent diversification of this group of the Dinosauria that led them to become the dominant terrestrial herbivores of the Mesozoic.

Getting Ready for “Back to School”

Dinosaurs for School

The first week of August is nearly over and team members at Everything Dinosaur are busy finalising their teaching plans and activities for the next school term.  It feels like only yesterday we were completing our last round of dinosaur themed workshops in school at the start of the summer holidays, and now we are busy preparing for 2015 and beyond.  Roll on the next school year.

When it comes to equipping young palaeontologists in readiness  for school, Everything Dinosaur has just about everything any dinosaur fan might need.  From pencils, pens, art materials, books, school sets, soft and cuddly school back packs and even school lunch boxes (all with a dinosaur theme of course), Everything Dinosaur is a one stop shop for back to school products and stationery.

Back to School 2014/15 with Everything Dinosaur

Get ready to "roar" back to school.

Get ready to “roar” back to school.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To visit Everything Dinosaur’s website: Dinosaur Themed School Products

The picture shows the new banner which has in the centre of it the soft and cuddly Tyrannosaurus rex back pack that we supply.  Naturally, our dedicated dinosaur experts ensure that a T. rex fact sheet is sent out with sales of this popular dinosaur themed school back pack as well, it is our way of helping to inform and educate the next generation of scientists.

Our new schools website is ready for launch, packed with lots of helpful advice, lesson plans and free downloads for teachers, learning support providers and for those who home school.  For further information on Everything Dinosaur’s work in school visit: Dinosaur and Fossil Workshops for School, our team members have been very busy putting together new schemes of work to help support the new teaching curriculum.

So it’s full steam ahead, now where did we put our exercise books?

Duck-Billed Dinosaurs Lived in Herds like Elephants

Dinosaur Tracks from Alaska Reveals Herd Structure of Edmontosaurs

Thousands of dinosaur footprints discovered in Alaska have provided palaeontologists with the first definitive guide to the herd structure of Late Cretaceous duck-billed dinosaurs.  The fossil site location is within the boundaries of Denali National Park and it represents one of the greatest concentrations of dinosaur tracks ever discovered.  The site provides evidence that at least four different sizes of the same species lived together in a herd and it supports the theory that dinosaurs lived at high latitudes all year round.

The tracksite was discovered back in the summer of 2007 by a field team led by a trio of palaeontologists, Dr. Anthony Fiorillo (Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Dallas), Dr. Yoshitsugu Kobayashi (Hokkaido University Museum, Japan) and Dr. Stephen Hasiotis (University of Kansas), an academic paper detailing the discovery has just been published in the journal “Geology”.  The actual fossil site is being kept a closely guarded secret but the strata is part of the Upper Cretaceous Cantwell Formation.

Commenting on the discovery, lead author of the scientific paper, Dr. Fiorillo stated:

“Without question, Denali is one of the best dinosaur footprint localities in the world, but what we found was incredible, so many tracks, so big and so well preserved.  Many had skin impression so we could even see what the bottom of their feet looked like.  And there were lots of invertebrate traces, the tracks of bugs, worms, larvae and more, which were important to us because they showed an ecosystem existed during the warm parts of the year.”

An Illustration Depicting the Late Cretaceous of Alaska

Different sized prints indicate herd members of different sizes.

Different sized prints indicate herd members of different sizes.

Picture Credit: Karen Carr

 The picture above depicts an imagined summer scene in the Late Cretaceous of Alaska.  A herd of Edmontosaurus (duck-billed dinosaurs) wade across a body of water, whilst a Tyrannosaur ambushes a group of these herbivores, on the left of the scene, a giant Therizinosaur looks on.  A flock of Azhdarchid Pterosaurs soars overhead.

Dr. Fiorillo and his colleagues from the Perot Museum of Nature and Science have been at the fore front of studies into Alaskan dinosaurs.  As well as exploring the fossilised trackways, the Dallas based scientists have helped with the documentation of a new species of Alaskan Pachyrhinosaur and provided footprint evidence to suggest that Therizinosaurs roamed this far north.

To read an article about the discovery of a fossilised footprint from a potential Therizinosaur: Is this Evidence for an Alaskan Therizinosaur?

The fossil site, was believed to represent as many as five exposed bedding planes when it was initially examined but a number of summer expeditions were able to map the area and identify this location as a single bedding plane preserving the footprints made by several types of dinosaur as they wandered close to a large body of water, either a slow moving river or possibly a large lake.  The vast majority of the footprints are those made by duck-billed dinosaurs, as fossilised remains of Edmontosaurus have been found in this part of the world, it has been assumed that the tracks were made by a herd of Edmontosaurus dinosaurs.

 A Close Up of One of the Fossilised Plant-Eating Dinosaur Footprints

Large, tridactyl prints from an Hadrosaur.

Large, tridactyl prints from an Hadrosaur.

Picture Credit: Perot Museum of Nature and Science

The picture shows B an in situ photograph of a single footprint with its associated line drawing (B1).

Aerial Photographs and Pictures that Provide an Overview of the Fossil Site

Various views of the location.

Various views of the location.

Picture Credit: Perot Museum of Nature and Science

The picture above shows various black and white views of the location.  The large photograph in the centre is a view of the Denali National Park tracksite from the air.  Picture B shows the left side of the trackway with each dimple in the shot representing a single footprint.  Picture C shows a typical Hadrosaur track at the site, whilst D shows Hadrosaur footprints from the right side of the fossil site.  Other types of dinosaur also walked over the muddy surface, preserving their footprint impressions as trace fossils, picture E records the tracks of two, small Theropod dinosaurs.

An Illustration of an Edmontosaurus (Hadrosaur)

Edmontosaurus Dinosaur

Edmontosaurus Dinosaur

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

As this part of Alaska is subject to occasional Earthquakes, steps have been taken to preserve as much data about the site as possible.  Over the last few years, the tracks have been carefully measured, photographed and recorded.  In addition, many casts of individual prints have been made and these are now safely in storage at the Dallas museum.  Some of these casts are on display, permitting members of the public to gain in insight into the ongoing research on polar dinosaurs.

Trace fossils such as surface trails and shallow burrows from insects and other invertebrates found amongst the dinosaur footprints led the scientists to conclude that this site represents a single event, one that was produced in the warmer months of the year – the polar summer.  Seasonal distribution of modern, extant, equivalent invertebrates suggest that the tracksite was formed in the warmest months of the year during the Late Cretaceous.  How warm was it?  Palaeoenvironmental studies indicate that this part of the world had a much milder climate than it does today.  Summer temperatures could have averaged 12-14 degrees Celsius, whilst the darkest winter months would have led to freezing temperatures with perhaps occasional highs of 4 -5 degrees Celsius.

Duck-billed dinosaur footprints (the ichnogenus Hadrosauropodus, but believed to represent Edmontosaurus), in the 180 metre by 60 metre site were then measured (length v width measurements) and a scatter-plot graph generated.  The scientists discovered that four different sized prints of duck-bills were present at the site.  This suggests that adult animals roamed in herds that also contained sub-adults, juveniles and very young animals.

Scientists Identified Different Sized Duck-billed Dinosaur Prints

Large prints, medium sized prints and tracks made by very young animals were identified.

Large prints, medium sized prints and tracks made by very young animals were identified.

Picture Credit: Perot Museum of Nature and Science

The picture shows photographs and corresponding scale drawings of three differently sized dinosaur prints found at the site.  So well preserved were the prints from these Hadrosaurs that something like fifty percent of the tracks preserved traces of the skin impressions from the underside of the dinosaur’s foot (D).  These tracks suggest that this group of dinosaurs formed a herd structure similar to extant Elephants. Elephants live in extended families with many different age groups represented in the herd.  The fossilised footprints, estimated to be around 70 million years old, indicate that at least some types of plant-eating dinosaur may have lived in similar social groups.

In addition, the scientists looked at the frequency of the different sized prints across the site.  The two largest classes of print made up 84% of all the footprints found.  The smallest prints made up 13% but the second smallest footprints only represented 3% of all the tracks.  The researchers have suggested that this frequency pattern reinforces the histological studies of dinosaur bones carried out by other palaeontologists that indicate duck-billed dinosaurs experienced a rapid growth spurt.

Scatter Graph of the Footprint Data Linked to Projected Hadrosaur Growth Chart

Four sizes of Hadrosaur print identified.

Four sizes of Hadrosaur print identified.

Picture Credit: Perot Museum for Nature and Science

Different size classes are consistent with extant populations that breed seasonally (A), the bar graph (B) shows the relative frequencies of each growth stage with figure C plotting frequency against proposed Hadrosaur growth stages.  The tracks support earlier studies of duck-billed dinosaur bones that showed that these reptiles underwent a rapid growth spurt as relatively young animals.  Presumably, this strategy had evolved as an adaptation against predation.

To read an article about Hadrosaur growth rates: Duck-billed Dinosaurs Grew Fast to Avoid Tyrannosaurs

The research team also suggest that since small Hadrosaurs were members of the herd, then it was unlikely that these dinosaurs migrated northwards to take advantage of the long daylight hours before returning to the south to avoid the worst of the polar winter.  The young Hadrosaurs were probably not capable of making long migrations and this implies that these dinosaurs were year-round residents of the polar regions.

Unravelling an Ammonite Mystery

Why did the Ammonites go Extinct but the Nautilus Survive?

A team of international researchers led by scientists from the American Museum of Natural History (New York), have been trying to unravel one of the great mysteries of invertebrate palaeontology.  Why did the Ammonites go extinct but their relative the Nautilus survive the Cretaceous extinction event?  Building on previous research, lead author of the scientific paper, published this week in the journal “Geology”, Dr. Neil Landman believes that over specialisation and limited geographic distribution led to the downfall of this particular group of chambered shelled molluscs.

 A Nautilus Compared to an Extinct Ammonite

Similar creatures but only the Nautilus is around today.

Similar creatures but only the Nautilus is around today.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Safari Ltd

 Ammonites belong to the Class Cephalopoda and they seem to have been entirely marine, pelagic animals (living above the sea floor).  Although more closely related to today’s cuttlefish, Ammonites and their living relative the Nautilus both had coiled, chambered shells.  The first Nautiloids can be traced back to the Late Cambrian, whilst the Ammonites are believed to have originated in the Devonian geological period.  There are two extant genera of Nautilus alive today.  These animals tend to be found in deep water (up to seven hundred metres, although more usually around three to four hundred metres) and they inhabit the deeper slopes of coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific.  They are believed to be scavengers feeding on a variety of dead animal matter.

In this new study, the researchers including scientists from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Saint Petersburg State University, Polska Akademia Nauk (Warsaw), Bowling Green State University (Ohio) and the Natural History Museum of Maastricht (Holland) as well as Dr. Landman, mapped all the locations of Ammonite fossil finds in the last half a million years or so of the Cretaceous (Maastrichtian faunal stage).  They then compared this data with the occurrences of the Nautiloid genus Eutrephoceras over the same period.  The scientists also included information from a recently published study that looked at Ammonite genera that appear to have briefly survived beyond the Cretaceous into the Palaeogene.

What? Evidence of Ammonites surviving beyond the Cretaceous extinction event we hear you ask!  There is some evidence to suggest that a few types of Ammonite did indeed survive into the Age of Mammals.  Perhaps the very last of this great group of marine invertebrates lived for a hundred thousand years or so before they too finally became extinct.  In a few, very special locations the sequence of strata that was led down at the end of the Cretaceous (Maastrichtian faunal stage) and the first deposits of the Palaeogene (Palaeocene epoch, Danian faunal stage) can be identified.  One such location is the cliffs at Stevns Klint on the Danish island of Sjaelland.  Fragmentary fossils representing two different genera of Ammonite have been identified from the strata immediately above the thin, dark line that marks the end of the Cretaceous.  Dr. Landman has been at the forefront of these studies and he believes as many as six species may have lingered, sort of “dead clades swimming”.

Fragmentary Fossils of Ammonites from Stevns Klint

Fragmentary fossils indicate survival of some species into the Palaeocene Epoch.

Fragmentary fossils indicate survival of some species into the Palaeocene Epoch.

Picture Credit: PLOS One

 The picture above shows Ammonite fossilised remains found in the Palaeocene aged strata at Stevns Klint and surrounding area.  Pictures A, B and D-H are fossils of the Ammonite Baculites vertebralis whereas picture C represents the species Hoploscaphites constrictus.  The white arrows in pictures A and C indicate voids left after the dissolution of the original aragonite shell.

To read more about Stevns Klint being granted UNESCO World Heritage status: Famous KT Boundary Gets UNESCO World Heritage Status

The research team plotted the fossil data against two criteria, firstly they looked at all the occurrences of each genus and secondly they looked at the maximum distance between occurrences for each genus, an examination of geographical distribution based on an assessment of world geography at the end of the Mesozoic.  The scientists discovered that most of the Ammonite genera at the very end of the Maastrichtian were restricted in their geographic distribution.  This may have made the Ammonites more susceptible to an extinction event.  This idea is reinforced when the geographical spread of those genera that may have briefly survived into the Palaeocene is examined.  These genera have a significantly greater geographical spread when compared to non-surviving Ammonite genera.  The research team suggest that those types of Ammonite that were more broadly distributed had a greater chance of survival, at least for a little while longer.  This pattern is further emphasised when the distribution of the Nautiloid  Eutrephoceras is considered.  The scientists found that the distribution of Eutrephoceras was as broad as that of the most widely distributed Ammonites at the end of the Cretaceous.  However, even the most geographically dispersed Ammonites became extinct in the Palaeocene, whereas Eutrephoceras survived.  This new paper proposes that a broad geographical distribution may have initially protected some Ammonites against dying out, but it was no guarantee of their ultimate survival.

Ammonite Fossils are Popular with Fossil Collectors

Examples of fossil Ammonites.

Examples of fossil Ammonites.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The restricted distribution of Ammonites may have contributed to their extinction.  Other studies have also helped shed light on the reasons for the demise of the Ammonoidea, Dr. Landman and his colleagues at the American Museum of Natural History have been at the forefront of many of these research projects.  Many scientists now agree that Ammonite numbers and the range of species was in decline before the end of the Cretaceous and this Sub-Class of Cephalopods would have been devastated by the aftermath of the extraterrestrial impact event.  Large amounts of acid rain falling into the sea would have significantly altered the pH balance of marine environments, this would have had a major impact on Ammonite numbers.

Dr Landman stated:

“The Ammonites petered out due to more than one disastrous change caused by the impact.  Ocean acidification likely dissolved the shells of their microscopic young, which floated on the ocean’s surface early in their life-cycle.  Fossil records also show the impact event devastated plankton species, the primary food source for adult Ammonites.  These effects may have only lasted a hundred years or so, but that would have effectively starved some of the Ammonites.”

To read a related report by Everything Dinosaur into studies of the prey of Ammonites: The Last Supper of an Ammonite

In contrast, the deeper living Nautiloids may have been less affected by changes at the ocean’s surface and as they are less reliant on plankton as a staple source of food they could have ridden out the cataclysmic events.  This may explain why there are two genera of Nautiloids around today but as far as anyone knows, not one species of Ammonite remains.

Everything Dinosaur’s Review of the Recently Introduced Wild Safari Ammonite Model

Video Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view Everything Dinosaur’s range of Safari Ltd prehistoric animal models:  Wild Safari Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animal Models

“Dinosaurs of the British Isles” Book Review

Book Review – “Dinosaurs of the British Isles” by Dean Lomax and Nobumichi Tamura

Barely a week seems to go by without the announcement of some new dinosaur discovery.  We seem to have become accustomed to media reports highlighting some exciting aspect of the Dinosauria, often from faraway places and remote parts of the world.  Whilst it is always intriguing to hear reports of fossil finds relating to prehistoric animals that once lived in the Arctic Circle or indeed, to see pictures of the newest type of feathered dinosaur identified from north-eastern China, it is worth remembering that dinosaurs, lots of them for that matter, once roamed the British Isles.

Whilst it is highly unlikely that the first dinosaurs evolved in the area of land we now term the United Kingdom (evidence suggests that the very first dinosaurs evolved in the southern hemisphere), the formal scientific study of the fossilised remains of these ancient reptiles was begun in England and the contribution of British scientists to the nascent sciences of geology and palaeontology was immense.   This beautifully illustrated, new publication, sets out to catalogue the dinosaurs of Britain.  Authors Dean Lomax and Nobumichi Tamura provide a comprehensive account of the dinosaurs of the British Isles.  So, if you want to read about meat-eating dinosaurs from Swindon, Stegosaurs from Peterborough and Tyrannosaurs from the Isle of Wight then this book is for you.

Dinosaurs of the British Isles (Front Cover)

A comprehensive guide to British dinosaurs over 400 pages.

A comprehensive guide to British dinosaurs over 400 pages.

Picture Credit: Siri Scientific Press

For further details and to purchase: Siri Scientific Press

This book has been painstakingly researched and prepared.  It has taken something like three years to write and it has been produced with a diverse audience in mind.  Academics and researchers will no doubt find this book an excellent reference.  The general reader with an interest in fossils and history will appreciate the clearly labelled diagrams and concise writing style.  The skilfully created prehistoric scenes by Nobumichi Tamura and James McKay will help to inspire young dinosaur fans eager to learn more about palaeontology.

Vivid Reconstructions Bring British Dinosaurs Back to Life

Many small meat-eating dinosaurs once roamed the British Isles

Many small, meat-eating dinosaurs once roamed the British Isles

Picture Credit: Nobumichi Tamura

Many hundreds of fossil photographs are included, the accompanying notes and labels help to explain the importance of individual specimens and one of the joys of this book, is that it features a large number of fossils that are not on display to the general public.

Author Dean Lomax Preparing to Photograph a Sauropod

Rarely viewed British dinosaur fossils are photographed

Rarely viewed British dinosaur fossils are photographed

Picture Credit: Dean Lomax

A lot of the fossils featured in this book are usually hidden away from view as part of museum collections.  In the picture above, author Dean Lomax can be seen photographing the skeleton of the British Sauropod dinosaur, Cetiosauriscus stewarti at the Natural History Museum, London.

Following a brief foreword from Dr. Paul Barrett and the authors, “Dinosaurs of the British Isles” defines the Dinosauria Order, explains how dinosaurs are classified and summarises the history of research before moving on to discuss how fossils are formed.  Having placed British dinosaurs into context, the rest of the book is dedicated to a chronological cataloguing of the dinosaur fossil finds, taking the reader through the Triassic, Jurassic and culminating in the Late Cretaceous.

Huge Plant-Eating Dinosaurs Once Roamed the British Isles

Helpful tables provide further information and alongside life restorations, scientifically accurate skeletal drawings have been provided.

Helpful tables provide further information and alongside life restorations, scientifically accurate skeletal drawings have been included.

Picture Credit: Nobumichi Tamura and Jamie A. Headden

The book extends to over 400 pages and provides a truly comprehensive account of those members of the Dinosauria whose fossils have been found in the British Isles.  There is even a section on “dinosaur hotspots” and a useful glossary to help explain some of the scientific terms encountered in this book.

Highly recommended.

This book is published by Siri Scientific Press and is available from the website below (worldwide shipping)

For further details and to purchase visit: Dinosaurs of the British Isles

Miocene Baleen Whale Fossil Rescued from Hillside

Californian Search and Rescue Team have a “Whale” of a Time

A search and rescue team at Los Angeles Sheriffs department are reflecting on a job well done as yesterday (Friday), they were called in to conduct a very unusual rescue.  Normally, the volunteers are involved in helping the authorities to save lives, but on this occasion the subject of the rescue had passed on sometime before the crew arrived – around sixteen million years earlier or thereabouts.  The volunteers had been called in to help extract a huge boulder that contains part of the fossilised jaw of a long extinct Baleen whale.  The fossil was located in a ravine close to Chadwick School in the Rancho Palos Verdes area of Los Angeles.  Although this suburb overlooks Long Beach to the east and is somewhere around three miles from the Pacific Ocean, back in the Miocene, the area was covered by a shallow sea.  This area teemed with life and several different types of whale fossil have been found, including the fossilised skull of a toothed whale that was removed from Chadwick School in January.  This new fossil discovery, just a hefty stones throw from the school, represents the partial jaw of a filter feeding Baleen whale (Order Mysticeti).  It might represent a new species.

Researchers at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County heard about the whale fossil earlier this year when, in all the surrounding publicity of the Chadwick School discovery, local resident Gary Johnson informed the museum about the fossil he had found when as a teenager he explored a ravine behind the family home.

The Boulder Containing the Whale Fossil Material

Huge boulder containing the whale fossil material.

Huge boulder containing the whale fossil material.

Picture Credit: Staff Photographer

Howell Thomas, from the palaeontology department at the Museum explained that the boulder was a shale deposit and that had been laid down at the bottom of the shallow Miocene sea.  Over millions of years, the land had been uplifted to form the hillside and a number of large fossils of ancient Cetaceans had been discovered in this part of southern California.  Howell, was keen to point out how rare Baleen whale fossils are, according to the Museum, this new discovery represents one of only twenty known Miocene Baleen specimens in the world.

Back in March, Everything Dinosaur reported on the excavation of a large number of Miocene whale fossils but this time from the Atacama desert of Chile.  It seems that these fossils represented a form of mass stranding of Cetaceans and scientists were interested in trying to understand the cause of the stranding as well as in the extraction and preservation of the fossil material.

To read this article: Algal Bloom the Probable Cause of Miocene Mass Strandings.

The rock containing the fossil, a partial jawbone, a section of the baleen plate and elements of the skull weighed an estimated five hundred kilogrammes and the rescue team used a special three-legged frame and lifting winch called an Arizona Vortex Multipod to lift the specimen so that it could be lowered onto a special crate in readiness for hauling over an improvised track way.  The tracks led to a waiting truck that could then take the fossil to the Museum, where the specimen will hopefully be put on display.

The Lifting Platform Supports the Weight of the Fossil

The whale fossil is lifted carefully up.

The whale fossil is lifted carefully up.

Picture Credit: Staff Photographer

Commenting on the significance of the discovery, Thomas stated:

“It is a very rare fossil and something that we actually go out looking for.  We find lots of whale fossils in Palos Verdes, so any backyard could house a fossil.   However, the fossil in this particular case is very, very rare.  It is very significant.”

The search and rescue team chief, Mike Leum, commented that his volunteers were more used to rescuing hikers stuck on the hillside, although the techniques the team employed to remove the specimen were typical of what they do, this mission was a little out of the ordinary.

Mike explained:

“For us, we are usually moving people, so this is our oldest victim in history.  The good news is, she is not complaining at all and we don’t have to get her to the emergency room.”

Mr Leum, then stated that the exercise had been useful training for the team and officials from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County outlined the plans that they had for the specimen.  Once the fossil had been catalogued and placed in the Museum’s research collection, researchers will set about the painstaking process of cleaning and preparing the fossil.  Vertebrate palaeontologists will then be able to compare this material with other Miocene whalebone specimens to see if these fossils do indeed represent a new species of Baleen whale.

Downsizing Dinosaurs – The Key to Survival

Sustained Miniaturisation in the Dinosauria the Key to their Survival as Birds

A new study led by the University of Adelaide but involving scientists from a number of universities including Bristol University and the University of Southampton has mapped the evolution of meat-eating dinosaurs and identified how these large creatures gave rise to the birds (Aves).  The Theropoda, or at least parts of this meat-eating dinosaur group kept shrinking in size for at least fifty million years before the evolution of Archaeopteryx.

Archaeopteryx may not have been the first bird, but the dozen or so fossils of this enigmatic dino-bird, all of which come from Germany, provide evidence of a transitional creature that shows anatomical features of both dinosaurs and birds.  Most scientists now accept that birds are descended from the dinosaurs, one particular group of meat-eating dinosaurs called the Maniraptora.  Dinosaurs in the family Dromaeosauridae, fearsome, aggressive predators such as Velociraptor (V. mongoliensis) are members of the Maniraptora clade, but over what time period did the evolutionary changes take place to result in a small bird from larger Dinosaurian ancestors?

 Shrinking Dinosaurs over Fifty Million Years Gave Rise to the Birds

Sustained miniaturisation gave rise to the birds.

Sustained miniaturisation gave rise to the birds.

Picture Credit: Davide Bonnadonna

The international research team, led by Associate Professor Michael Lee (School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Adelaide University), including Gareth Dyke and Darren Naish (both from the University of Southampton) and Andrea Cau (from the University of Bologna and Museo Geologico Giovanni Capellini), have published their work in the latest edition of the academic journal “Science”.  Professor Michael Benton (Bristol University) provides an adjunct to this research “How Birds Became Birds”.

In professor Benton’s perspective he explains the importance of this new study by placing it into the context of existing research into Theropoda evolution.  Professor Benton states that although it is now widely accepted that the birds evolved from a particular branch of the dinosaur family tree, it is not certain how quickly this evolutionary transition took place.  One of the first birds known from the fossil record (A. lithographica) from the Upper Jurassic of Germany, was thought to have evolved its wings, feathers and the ability to fly within just ten million years or so.  However, over the last two decades, scientists have been able to trace the thirty or so characteristics that distinguished the small, Archaeopteryx with its aerial abilities from its larger, ground-dwelling dinosaur ancestors back through the Theropoda.  This new study reinforces the thinking that the anatomical changes needed to convert a terrestrial predator into an agile, creature capable of powered flight began to emerge much earlier in this group of meat-eating dinosaurs.

Mathematical Models to Trace the Evolution of Archaeopteryx

New from Papo for 2014 a model of Archaeopteryx.

New from Papo for 2014 a model of Archaeopteryx.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

How much earlier?  This new work suggests that changes began to take place in the Theropoda at least fifty million years before Archaeopteryx.  This means that as far back as 200 million years ago, at the beginning of the Jurassic, evolutionary changes in meat-eating dinosaurs were beginning to occur that would eventually lead to today’s birds.

The team used a complex mathematical modelling technique more associated with the study of the geographical spread and evolution of viruses to assess the changes in the skeletons of Theropod dinosaurs.  In total 1549 skeletal, anatomical characteristics were mapped from over 120 specimens of Theropod dinosaurs and birds.  Two main drivers leading to the transition of dinosaurs into birds were identified.  The group of Theropod dinosaurs directly related to the birds undergoes sustained miniaturisation across fifty million years.  Average body weights are gradually reduced from around 160 kilogrammes in Early Jurassic direct Theropod ancestors to the very light Archaeopteryx, estimated to have weighed less than one kilogramme.  Secondly, this particular group of dinosaurs seems to have been evolving skeletal adaptations such as feathers and wishbones up to four times faster than other types of dinosaur.

A spokes person from Everything Dinosaur stated:

“This highly informative new research, has applied a sophisticated mathematical model to help unravel the evolutionary relationship between the birds and their dinosaur ancestors.  Instead of thinking about dinosaur/bird evolution as a quick leap into the air derived from a relatively small component of the Dinosauria, it seems like dinosaur/bird evolution is more akin to a long runway leading to an eventual take off”.

The distinct and prolonged miniaturisation of the Theropod/bird stem across tens of millions of years would have facilitated the evolution of many unique characteristics associated with smaller body size.  This would have permitted these dinosaurs to exploit a variety of different ecological niches which their larger cousins could not.  Small size also infers a more agile lifestyle, faster reactions, sharper senses – steps towards the evolution of enhanced balance, large eyes and more sophisticated brains that could eventually manage the complex body movements required to coordinate powered flight.

New Study Examines the Dinosaur to Bird Evolutionary Pathway

Maniraptora evolving faster than other types of dinosaur.

Maniraptora evolving faster than other types of dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Associate Professor Michael Lee, the lead author on the mapping of this part of the Dinosauria family tree commented that the branch of the Theropoda that gave rise to the Aves was the only group of dinosaurs that kept getting smaller.

He explained:

“Birds evolved through a unique phase of sustained miniaturisation in dinosaurs.  Being smaller and lighter in a land of giants, with rapidly evolving anatomical adaptations, provided these bird ancestors with new ecological opportunities, such as the ability to climb trees, glide and to fly.”

It can be argued that these evolutionary characteristics, miniaturisation and more rapid anatomical adaptations were the reasons for the survival of the birds at the end of the Cretaceous.

The University of Adelaide staff member added:

“Ultimately, this evolutionary flexibility helped birds survive the deadly meteorite impact that killed off all their Dinosaurian cousins.”

So why were a group of Theropod dinosaurs able to evolve quicker than other types of dinosaurs.  We may have to look at bird-hipped dinosaurs for an answer.  As far as we know, the lizard-hipped Theropod dinosaurs were the only meat-eating dinosaur group.  The bird-hipped members of the Dinosauria (Ornithischians) were all plant-eaters.  Their hips evolved in a different direction (literally) to the Saurischians (lizard-hipped forms).  The pubis bone got pushed backwards, purportedly to accommodate a larger gut to help digest all that tough plant material.  A big gut meant a bigger body, so part of the Theropoda, the allosaurids for example, evolved bigger and bigger forms so that they could hunt and kill the herbivores which themselves were getting bigger and bigger.

The Dinosauria Classified as Two Distinct Sub-Groups

Classifying dinosaurs by the shape of their hip bones.

Classifying dinosaurs by the shape of their hip bones.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

As Associate Professor Lee points out, the Theropod dinosaurs were the only group to continually push the envelope when it came to size of their skeletons.  It is possible that the herbivorous dinosaurs simply could not shrink, since a plant-based diet requires a larger gut for digestion.  In the meantime, the Theropoda could explore alternate resources, habitats and even prey.  All of these new activities, such as chasing insects, climbing trees and gliding would in turn, have led to other novel anatomical adaptations.

“So as the dinosaurs shrank, their other features evolved more quickly, which led to faster shrinking to take advantage of these new abilities and so on.”

There is one further, rather intriguing point to be made when the consequences of this research are considered.  If miniaturisation in a branch of the Theropod dinosaurs began as far back as the Early Jurassic around 200 million years ago, could the ultimate driver for these changes have been the Triassic/Jurassic extinction event that marked the demise of a very large number of terrestrial Archosaur groups?

A Helping Hand for Teachers

Providing Keys for Teachers and Teaching Assistants

Everything Dinosaur supplies a number of dinosaur and prehistoric themed items to schools, universities and colleges and with the changing curriculum in the UK, our sets of model dinosaur skulls and packs of imitation fossils are proving to be very popular.  However, we have received a number of requests from teachers and teaching assistants to help them further by providing a key to each of these items.

The Set of Dinosaur Model Skulls (Safari Ltd)

The set features 11 different types of dinosaur skull.

The set features 11 different types of dinosaur skull.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

These detailed models feature carnivores, herbivores and omnivores and they are useful when studying dinosaurs, food chains, variation and other teaching topics.  In response to teaching requests, our team members have provided a handy key that identifies the dinosaur skulls.

The Identification Chart for the Dinosaur Skull Set

Finely crafted models of dinosaur skulls.

Finely crafted models of dinosaur skulls.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

We can supply further information about these eleven different members of the Dinosauria, just email Everything Dinosaur for further assistance: Contact Us

The set of imitation fossils is also very popular with schools, especially with teachers focusing on Key Stage 2.  This set includes examples of different types of creature and how they are fossilised.  We have an Ammonite shell, the tooth of a meat-eating dinosaur, fossil crabs, trilobites and so forth.

The Collection of Fossil Models from Everything Dinosaur (Safari Ltd)

Helping teachers at Key Stage 2.

Helping teachers at Key Stage 2.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The ten typical fossils can be used in a number of teaching projects from craft sessions to providing a stimulus for independent research.  These robust models can even be used to help create plasticine copies of fossils or even charcoal rubbings.  Our helpful guide is already proving very useful, happy to help teachers and learning support providers as they get prepared for the start of the new curriculum.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s range of dinosaur skull sets and ancient fossils: Prehistoric Animals and Teaching Resources

A spokes person for Everything Dinosaur commented:

We appreciate that a number of teaching teams across the country are working on exciting new ideas to help them develop schemes of work in accordance with the new curriculum.  It is great to see rocks, fossils and dinosaurs as part of the national curriculum.  Studying the likes of Mary Anning will help encourage girls in particular to consider becoming more involved with science subjects later on in their school career.”

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