Updating the Winged Dragon – Zhenyuanlong

How do we Know that Zhenyuanlong was Quite Big?

A few days ago, on July 16th, Everything Dinosaur team members published an article that featured the newly described Chinese dromaeosaurid dinosaur known as Zhenyuanlong suni.  We explained why the dinosaur called Velociraptor was used to help give this new dinosaur discovery context and outlined some of the more intriguing aspects of the fossil, that perhaps had been missed by more general media outlets.  However, we did receive an email about our article from a young dinosaur fan so we thought it best if we followed up our original article by providing some additional information about this little feathered carnivore.

To read our article (July 16th) on Z. suniThe Winged Dragon from Liaoning Province

A Newly Described Dromaeosaurid from China

Very probably a ground-dwelling predator.

Very probably a ground-dwelling predator.

Picture Credit: Zhao Chuang

Young Alex, wrote into Everything Dinosaur to ask, how do scientists know how big this dinosaur was and how big was it compared to other feathered dinosaurs found in China?  We wrote to Alex explaining in a little more detail about what the scientists who studied the fossil material concluded.

The academic paper describing this new type of “raptor” was published in the journal “Scientific Reports”.  The authors were Professor Junchang Lü (Institute of Geology, Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences, Beijing) and Dr. Stephen Brusatte (School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh).  Around 125 million years ago, the area of north-eastern China, now known as Liaoning Province was covered in a lush, temperate forest.  Large lakes featured in the environment and nearby volcanoes occasionally erupted and buried the area in fine ash, this explains the exceptional state of preservation of much of the Liaoning fossil material.  Living in the forests were a large number of different types of “raptor”, members of the Dromaeosauridae dinosaur family.  So far six genera have been described but it is very likely that more feathered dinosaur discoveries will be made in the future.

The six genera of dromaeosaurids described so far (with date described):

  1. Sinornithosaurus (named in 1999)
  2. Microraptor (named in 2000)
  3. Graciliraptor (named in 2004)
  4. Tianyuraptor (named in 2010
  5. Changyuraptor (named in 2014)
  6. Zhenyuanlong (2015)

So How Does Zhenyuanlong Compare?

The fossilised remains of Zhenyuanlong are nearly complete, but the end of the tail is missing.  The skeleton measures 126.6 cm long, when compared to the large dromaeosaurid Tianyuraptor it has been estimated that with the whole of the tail, this animal would have measured more than five feet (165 cm) in length.  It was probably not quite fully grown when it died so it might have reached a length of around 1.8 metres.

When it comes to comparing the sizes of different types of dinosaur, it is the limb bones that palaeontologists turn to.  The thigh bone (femur) for example, is often used to make comparisons between dinosaurs.  To estimate how big a dinosaur was, the length and the circumference of the femur is often measured.  In simple terms, the bigger and the more robust the femur, the bigger the dinosaur.  As all the Liaoning dromaeosaurid species discovered so far have at least one thigh bone as part of their fossil material, and as the size of the thigh bone strongly correlates to body size, measuring the length and overall size of the thigh bone is a useful way of comparing the sizes of different dinosaurs.

A Table Comparing the Femur Lengths and Overall Size of Liaoning Dromaeosaurids

Size comparisons between Liaoning dromaeosaurids.

Size comparisons between Liaoning dromaeosaurids.

Table Credit: Everything Dinosaur

* Depends on the species and the specimens measured

** Depends on the species as there are three species of Microraptor currently known.

So based on the length of the thigh bone, scientists can see that Zhenyuanlong (Z. suni) is much bigger than most of the other dromaeosaurids known from Liaoning.  It seems to be about the size of Tianyuraptor.

What Does Zhenyuanlong Mean?

Time to answer one other question about this new dinosaur, this time sent in by Sophie.  Sophie asked what does Zhenyuanlong mean?

The Holotype Specimen of Zhenyuanlong suni

 Large-bodied, short-armed Liaoning dromaeosaurid

Large-bodied, short-armed Liaoning dromaeosaurid

Picture Credit: Chinese Academy of Geological Science

Zhenyuanlong suni means “Mr Zhenyuan Sun’s dragon”.  The word “long” means dragon in Chinese (hence other dinosaur names such as Guanlong and Dilong) and the rest of the name honours Mr. Zhenyuan Sun, who was able to acquire the holotype specimen for the scientists to study.

Countdown to the New CollectA Models

New CollectA Models Due in Shortly

The majority of the new for 2015 CollectA prehistoric animals should be in stock at Everything Dinosaur very shortly.  The models, which include the 1:4 scale Guidraco Pterosaur replica and the feathered Tyrannosaurus rex are currently on the water and they should be arriving at Everything Dinosaur’s warehouse by the end of the month.  The CollectA ranges, including the “Supreme” range, to which the Guidraco scale model belongs, have earned themselves a big reputation amongst dinosaur model fans and collectors for their beautiful designs and attention to detail.  The ranges have been extended recently and new additions will include the “war pig” Daeodon as well as the huge Moropus.

The genus Moropus contains a number of species, all members of the “knuckle-walkers” group of prehistoric mammals (Chalicotherioidea).  New dinosaurs from CollectA include an eagerly awaited Acrocanthosaurus model (expect more news from Rebor on this dinosaur shortly) and more stocks of the popular 1:40 scale CollectA Carcharodontosaurus.

Coming Soon to Everything Dinosaur

New models all available from Everything Dinosaur.

New models all available from Everything Dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

As you can see from the picture above, a marine reptile is also included in these new releases.  The marine reptile is a Temnodontosaurus and it is depicted giving birth, showing that these superbly adapted marine creatures were viviparous (live birth).  Emerging from behind the head of the fearsome Daeodon is the new Smilodon replica, and what a beautiful Sabre-Tooth cat model it is too.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s range of CollectA models: CollectA models

The not to scale series now contains over a hundred prehistoric animal replicas, all of which are available from Everything Dinosaur, we have seen a number of these replicas already and they really are top quality.  The feathered T. rex and the Acrocanthosaurus (A. atokensis) are both new additions to the scale model range (both these dinosaurs are sculpted in 1:40 scale).

To view the scale model series made by CollectA: Prehistoric Animal Models – Scale Models (CollectA)

 Earlier this year, the first of the 2015 prehistoric animals from CollectA were released.  These replicas included a 1:40 scale Pliosaurus, two horned dinosaurs (Medusaceratops and Nasutoceratops), plus the Chinese tyrannosaurid Xiongguanlong and the enormous Titanosaur known as Daxiatitan.

Some of the New for 2015 Prehistoric Animal Models (CollectA)

A wide variety of prehistoric animal models.

A wide variety of prehistoric animal models.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The inclusion of one of our field rulers in the photograph above gives readers and idea of the size of these hand-painted replicas.  The picture shows just some of the new CollectA models, from left to right (as you view the photograph),  we have the green and black, long-necked Daxiatitan, the Ichthyosaur Temodontosaurus, Medusaceratops then at the back the 1:40 scale Pliosaurus model complete with Lampreys attached to its body.  The Xiongguanlong can be seen on its base in the centre of the photograph, close to the sandy coloured Moropus and the grey Nasutoceratops.  The Daeodon, prehistoric mammal figure is in the bottom right corner of the photograph.  It certainly is a very eclectic bunch of prehistoric animals.

Schleich World of History Giganotosaurus (orange) Review

A Review of the Schleich World of History Giganotosaurus (Orange)

Schleich have added another meat-eating dinosaur model to their World of History collection.  It is a Giganotosaurus (the name means Giant Southern Lizard), the most colourful of all the Giganotosaurus replicas that this German manufacturer have made.  This Schleich dinosaur model is referred to as Giganotosaurus (orange), helping to distinguish it from earlier versions of this dinosaur made by Schleich.  The name is very appropriate as it has a most striking orange colouration running down the side of the neck, the flanks and along the base of the broad, powerful tail.

The New for 2015 Schleich Giganotosaurus (orange)

Giant Southern Lizard.

Giant Southern Lizard.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows just how colourful this Schleich dinosaur model actually is.  The bright orange paintwork sets off the dark blue of the spine and the green band that runs from the top of the snout down to the end of the tail.  There is also a row of bony scales that resemble small horns running down the body.  All the models are hand-painted and when pictured using a flash, the colours really do stand out.  There might be a little variation in each model, after all, they are hand-painted but the underlying sculpt provides an excellent base with much to be admired.  Of particular note are the carefully depicted large scales on the broad feet and the detailing of the skull.  This model, like the majority of Schleich meat-eating dinosaur models has an articulated jaw.

The Schleich Giganotosaurus (orange) has an Articulated Jaw

With an articulated jaw.

With an articulated jaw.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The pose is most unusual.  The tail is bent round and provides support for the model, this permits the left hind foot to be slightly raised off the ground giving this Schleich dinosaur replica quite a unique look.  Credit to the design team at Schleich for coming up with this.

The Schleich Giganotosaurus (orange) is Beautifully Balanced

With articulated jaw and beautifully balanced.

With articulated jaw and beautifully balanced.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

One small drawback of the pose is that when you measure the model it is around twenty-four centimetres in length, but once that curved tail is taken into account its true length is nearly thirty-two centimetres, making this Schleich dinosaur model quite a sizeable beast.  Fitting really when you consider that Giganotosaurus was one of the largest and heaviest terrestrial carnivores known to science.

The head height is around seventeen centimetres allowing this dinosaur to be a match for the two Tyrannosaur models introduced by Schleich into their World of History range.  The Schleich Giganotosaurus reflects a trend from the company to introduce more colourful and bright prehistoric animal figures.  Although there is much to be admired with this latest addition, it is aimed broadly at young dinosaur fans.  Certainly, the model will stand up well to robust, creative play.

 To view the complete range of large Schleich dinosaur and prehistoric animal models: Schleich World of History Prehistoric Animal Models

With Schleich having produced three large Giganotosaurus models within the last five years, there is an interesting debate taking place as to which is people’s favourite.

Schleich Giganotosaurus – Which One is Your Favourite?

Which one is your favourite?

Which one is your favourite?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Fossilised spermatozoa preserved in Annelid Cocoon from the Eocene

Fossilised Spermatozoa from Ancient Annelid

Dinosaurs and other large vertebrates might grab all the headlines when it comes to fossil discoveries but share a thought for those parts of the Kingdom Animalia which do not readily fossilise.  Invertebrate palaeontologists working on the Annelida (segmented worms and leeches), soft bodied creatures, have very few body fossils to study.  As a result, the dedicated scientists which work on them don’t have anything like a complete fossil record of these extremely important creatures.  Trace fossils, such as preserved burrows can help, but the evolutionary history of these ancient animals remains poorly understood.

In contrast, the distinctive egg cases, often referred to as cocoons of the worms that make up the Class Clitellata, are relatively common in the fossil record.  Everything Dinosaur team members have read published papers that explore the fossilised remains of the cocoons from worms that once lived in freshwater environments back in the Triassic.  These preserved cocoons provide valuable additional information as to the diversity of micro-faunas within ancient biotas.  Unfortunately, little work has been carried out so far on the possibility of using such fossils to establish phylogenetic relationships between families and genera.

The worms that make up the Class Clitellata are distinguished from other types of segmented worm, in that they have a “collar”.  It is this “collar”, called the clitellum that gives this Class its name and it is from the Clitellum that the reproductive cocoon is formed.

A Diagram of a Common Earthworm Showing the Clitellum

The Clitellum is marked by an arrow.

The Clitellum is marked by an arrow.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A team of scientists from the University of Milan, the Swedish Natural History Museum and the Museo de la Plata (Argentina) have published a paper in the academic journal “Biology Letters” that details the discovery of fossilised spermatozoa (sperm) preserved within the secreted wall layers of a fifty million year old clitellate cocoon found in Antarctica.  This material represents the oldest fossil animal spermatozoa yet described.

The specimen was collected during a field expedition to the remote Seymour Island, one of a group of small islands at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.  The Island is extremely significant to palaeontologists as the strata exposed dates from the Late Cretaceous, the Palaeogene and into the early part of the Neogene (Eocene Epoch).  Fossils found on Seymour Island include marsupials, proving that in the past terrestrial mammals lived on Antarctica, but the rocks have proved most useful in helping scientists to plot climate change, including the global cooling during the Eocene that led to the glaciation of the Poles.

Strontium isotope dating gives an age of approximately fifty million years for the fossilised spermatozoa (Ypresian faunal stage of the Eocene), the fossil find was made by chance as a single worm fragment just 0.8 mm wide was studied using a scanning electron microscope.  A three-dimensional model was then created using sections of the fragment that had been examined under X-ray microscopy.

A Fragment of the Fossilised Worm Spermatozoa

Ancient remains - scale bar = 1 micron.

Ancient remains – scale bar = 1 micron.

Picture Credit: Swedish Museum of Natural History (Department of Palaeobiology)

When closely examined, the clitellate was found to consist of a solid inner wall, just one fortieth of a millimetre thick.  In addition, there was a spongy, outer layer of loosely interwoven cables between 100th and 200th of a millimetre in thickness.  The scientists were able to observe images of the microscopic cells embedded in the cocoon wall, including rod-shaped structures with a whip-like tail.

Modestly commenting on the discovery, Benjamin Bomfleur, a palaeobotanist at the Swedish Natural History Museum remarked:

“It was an accidental find.  We were analysing the fragments to get a better idea of the structure of the cocoon.  When we zoomed into the images, we started noticing these tiny biological structures that look like sperm.”

A Worm Mystery

Working with biologists the team were able to conclude that the fossils resemble the sperm of extant freshwater crayfish worms (Branchiobdellida), although since these worms are only found in the northern hemisphere it remains a mystery as to whether or not the Antarctic fossil specimen is closely related.  How the fossils came to form in the first place is a little bit of a puzzle too.

Diagram Illustrating the Inferred Method of Fossilisation of Microorganism (Clitellate Cocoons)

Inferred fossilisation process.

Inferred fossilisation process.

Picture Credit: Biology Letters

In the diagram above, the common medicinal leech is used to illustrate a potential theory of how the fossil preservation occurred.  Two leeches mate (a), a cocoon is secreted from the clitellum (b), then eggs and sperm are released into the cocoon before the animal retracts and eventually deposits the sealed cocoon on a suitable substrate.  Spermatozoa and microbes become encased in the solidifying inner cocoon wall (d).

The scientists anticipate that this accidental discovery will permit systematic surveys of cocoon fossils coupled with advances in non-destructive analytical techniques that will open up new opportunities to explore the evolutionary relationships of minute, soft-bodied animals that are otherwise so rarely found in the fossil record.

The New Winged Dragon from Liaoning Province

Zhenyuanlong – A Big Bird, well, Almost

This week we have seen the latest feathered and fluffy dinosaur revealed from the Lower Cretaceous deposits of Liaoning Province, north-eastern China.  Scientists from the University of Edinburgh including the very talented Dr. Steve Brusatte, in collaboration with colleagues from the Institute of Geology (Chinese Academy of Geological Science, Beijing), have published a paper in the journal “Scientific Reports”, that describes Zhenyuanlong suni, the latest in an ever growing flock of feathered dinosaurs from Liaoning.

An Illustration of Zhenyuanlong suni

Very probably a ground-dwelling predator.

Very probably a ground-dwelling predator.

Picture Credit: Zhao Chuang

We do understand why many of the media reports have focused on this Early Cretaceous dinosaur’s more famous relative – Velociraptor.  Dr Steve Brusatte of Edinburgh University’s School of GeoSciences refers to Velociraptor in interviews, although, Velociraptor and Zhenyuanlong (pronounced jen-won-long), are separated by some forty-five million years.  As Zhenyuanlong suni has been classified as member of the Dromaeosauridae family, it is indeed distantly related to the more famous Late Cretaceous “raptor”.  By discussing Velociraptor, it helps members of the public to put this new dinosaur into context.  Zhenyuanlong is most certainly not Velociraptor’s direct ancestor, but if these dinosaurs were feathered, then the point that Velociraptor, shown as a scaly-skinned reptile in dinosaur movies, is in all likelihood not being accurately depicted, is well made.  Although no evidence of feathers or any other integumental covering for that matter has been found in association with Velociraptor fossil material.  This has probably got more to do with the fossilisation process and the coarse sandstone matrix than any lack of feathers on Velociraptor’s part.

Velociraptor – Most Probably Feathered

Very probably feathered (V. mongliensis and V. osmolskae)

Very probably feathered (V. mongoliensis and V. osmolskae)

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows the new for 2015, Velociraptor dinosaur model by Safari Ltd.  The model depicts Velociraptor as a dinosaur that was covered in a coat of feathers.  To view Everything Dinosaur’s range of Safari Ltd prehistoric animal models, including feathered dinosaur models: Safari Ltd Prehistoric Animal Models

The Liaoning Dromaeosaurids – Now There are Six Genera

A total of six genera of dromaeosaurids are now known to have lived in the forests that once covered north-eastern China.  Several of these genera have more than one species associated with them and there are going to be more feathered dinosaurs described from the Yixian and Jiufotang Formations.  Everything Dinosaur team members will do their best to keep up to date with new discoveries and to write about them on this blog.

The six genera described to date:

  1. Sinornithosaurus (named in 1999)
  2. Microraptor (named in 2000)
  3. Graciliraptor (named in 2004)
  4. Tianyuraptor (named in 2010
  5. Changyuraptor (named in 2014)
  6. Zhenyuanlong (newly described)

Please don’t imagine all six of these dinosaurs roaming the forests that would have covered Liaoning Province about 125 million years ago, at the same time.  As the fossils come from different layers of strata, they are not all contemporaneous, in fact accurately dating Liaoning fossil material is known to be extremely tricky.  However, it is likely that many different types of feathered dinosaur co-existed and indeed many of them were specially adapted to a particular ecological niche.

The Holotype Fossil Material – Zhenyuanlong suni

 Large-bodied, short-armed Liaoning dromaeosaurid

Large-bodied, short-armed Liaoning dromaeosaurid

Picture Credit: Chinese Academy of Geological Science

The type specimen (pictured above), measures 126.6 cm in length, however, much of the tail is missing and this dinosaur was probably over 160 cm long.  This makes it one of the larger dromaeosaurids from Liaoning, the skull, although badly crushed reveals that this little dinosaur was carnivorous and a closer examination of the fossil revealed that it was covered in feathers, (pennaceous feathers = feathers with a central vane).  Pennaceous feathers are found in most modern birds, however, given the large body size and disproportionately small forelimbs when compared to other Liaoning domaeosaurids, it is unlikely that Zhenyuanlong was capable of powered flight.

Feathered Zhenyuanlong – Just Like a Big Bird

Our "feathered friend".

Our “feathered friend”.

Picture Credit: Chinese Academy of Geological Science

The picture above shows, the complete holotype (A) with a close up of the posterior portion of the tail showing feather impressions (B), the skull and part of the forelimb (C), the right manus (hand) with extensive feathers (D) and (E) a close up of the ulna and radius (forearm) showing evidence of pennaceous feathers on this region of the body too.  Unlike other Liaoning dromaeosaurids, Graciliraptor and Microraptor for example, there is no evidence for feathers on the hind limbs.

Zhenyuanlong and Tianyuraptor

The describing of Zhenyuanlong does not just add to the diversity of dromaeosaurids known from China, it confirms the fact that short-armed dromaeosaurids were also covered in feathers too, just like their longer-limbed cousins.  There have been two basic Dromaeosauridae body plans (bauplans) described from the Jehol Biota.  Most of the Dromaeosauridae family members known from this part of the world had small bodies, with proportionately long forelimbs and accompanying broad wings covered in pennaceous feathers.  Then there is the other body plan, a much larger dinosaur with a heavier body and short arms. Tianyuraptor (T. ostromi) was the only example known, until the discovery of Zhenyuanlong, but unlike Z. suni, the Tianyuraptor fossil specimen does not show any preserved evidence of feathers.

A Phylogenetic Analysis of Zhenyuanlong suni Amongst the Dromaeosauridae

The Liaoning dromaeosaurids nested within the Dromaeosauridae.

The Liaoning dromaeosaurids nested within the Dromaeosauridae.

Picture Credit: Chinese Academy of Geological Science with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

The “big bird” that is Zhenyuanlong although distantly related to Velociraptor (the Velociraptorinae sub-family), does suggest that more famous dinosaurs like Velociraptor were indeed probably feathered.

Let’s Hear It for Mammalian Evolution

The First Detailed Analysis of the Stapes In Triassic Cynodonts

The smallest bone in the human body and how it evolved has been the subject of a major research project conducted by scientists at the University of Witwatersrand (Johannesburg, South Africa).  That small bone is called the stapes and it forms part of the three bones of the middle ear, the malleus, incus and the stapes which together are known as the ossicles.  All modern mammals possess these three bones, which are also called the hammer, anvil and the stirrup, these names relate to their shapes, as the stapes for example, resembles a stirrup, the support for a rider’s foot.

A Diagram Showing the Shape of a Extant Mammal’s Stapes

The three middle ear bones of a modern mammal.

The three middle ear bones of a modern mammal.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A team of scientists from the University of Witwatersand’s Evolutionary Studies Institute which includes Dr. Leandro Gaetano and Professor Fernando Abdala have completed the first detailed comparative analysis of ancient ear bones of Triassic Cynodonts, ancient synapsids that are ancestral to the Mammalia.  Until this study was carried out, it had long been thought that the stapes showed no differences between species.  However, in this new research, published in the academic journal PLoS One, the researchers map variations in the morphology of this bone, even amongst animals of the same species.

Commenting on their findings, Dr. Gaetano stated:

“No one has really paid attention to this small bone before.  In studying this ear bone of Triassic Cynodonts, the forerunners of mammals, including humans, over the past two years we now start to see these differences.”

Reptiles have a different hearing mechanism when compared to mammals.  As the synapsid clade evolved and modern mammals came about, they evolved more sophisticated and sensitive hearing.  Scientists believe that the three middle ear bones gave the early mammals, which were probably nocturnal, an improved ability to detect high-frequency sounds – useful if you spent your waking hours in the dark and you relied on your hearing to detect prey as well as to sense danger.  Bones in the reptilian jaw, the articular (lower jaw) and the quadrate (upper jaw) evolved into the middle ear bones, connecting to the stapes and forming the ossicles.

Mammalian Middle Ear (Evolution)

The evolution of the mammalian middle ear.

The evolution of the mammalian middle ear.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Embryo studies and the discovery of a number of transitory fossils have provided evidence for this, however, in this study it was the stapes as found in many Triassic Cynodonts which lived between 250 and 22o million years ago, that was central to this new analysis.  The stapes is the only ear bone in mammalian ancestors, the evolution of the middle ear configuration as found in modern Mammalia had not yet occurred when the animals featured in this study were alive.

The Variation in the Shape of the Stapes of Triassic Cynodonts

Shape of the stapes bone in different Cynodonts studied.

Shape of the stapes bone in different Cynodonts studied.

Picture Credit: Witwatersrand University

The picture above shows morphological variation in the stapes of Triassic Gomphodont Cynodonts.

A, Diademodon; B, Trirachodon; C and D, Massetognathus.

Below is the ventral view of the skull of a Cynodont showing the position of the stapes.

Dr. Gaetano explained:

“Few contributions studied the stapes in Cynodonts and it has been historically regarded as a conservative element, showing no difference among species.  Surprisingly, we discovered that there are noticeable variations in the morphology of this bone, even within representatives of the same species.

This research is helping to unravel a mystery surrounding the origins of the middle ear bones and their configuration.  Professor Abdala suggests that the sound waves in Cynodonts  were transmitted to the inner ear from an eardrum at the posterior part of the lower jaw through the stapes and quadrate bones.  The research is on-going, utilising the extensive Permian and Triassic vertebrate fossil record found in South Africa (the biota of the Karoo basin).  The next stage is to try to calculate the impact on hearing ability of the differently shaped stapes bones that the team have identified.  In addition, the scientists will focus on ontogenic changes (changes in the shape of the stapes from the youngest to the oldest animal in one extinct species).

The Great Dinosaur Discoveries Reviewed

A Review of “The Great Dinosaur Discoveries” by Darren Naish

Everything Dinosaur team members were asked the other day to provide a list of what were, in their opinion, the best dinosaur books written since the turn of the Century.  One of the books listed was “The Great Dinosaur Discoveries”, written by Darren Naish and published back in 2009.  This is a book about dinosaurs, but it takes the reader on a very different journey when compared to the majority of books that discuss the rise and fall of the Dinosauria, and what a fascinating journey it is too.

The Front Cover of “The Great Dinosaur Discoveries”

A fascinating insight into the history of dinosaur discoveries.

A fascinating insight into the history of dinosaur discoveries.

A lot of dinosaur books catalogue the dinosaurs in terms of their geology, starting with the very first dinosaurs and ending with the Cretaceous mass extinction, that ended the “Age of Reptiles”, leaving us with only the avian dinosaurs to study as living animals today.  Other books on this topic take the phylogenetic approach, that is, they map out the dinosaur family tree.  Chapters are dedicated to the different sorts of dinosaur that once roamed the Earth, pages detail the evolution of the Sauropodomorpha, whilst other parts focus on Theropods, the armoured dinosaurs (Thyreophora) and the Ornithopods.

Darren’s book takes us in a different direction.  After an introductory preamble that deals with dinosaur definitions and places the Dinosauria within the geological time scale, each subsequent chapter is organised chronologically in terms of how our knowledge and understanding of these magnificent Archosaurs has changed.  It is not just a book about dinosaurs, it documents the history of dinosaur research and this is a most informative and refreshing approach.

Yes, we have to admit, this is not the first book to be produced to have done this, but what elevates “The Great Dinosaur Discoveries” above its peers are the beautiful fossil photographs, the stunning illustrations, provided by the likes of Julius Csotonyi, Luis Rey and Todd Marshall and the informative and well crafted writing of the author.

An Acrocanthosaurus Studies a Group of Sauroposeidon

Theropods make an appearance in a section devoted to Macronaria from Oklahoma.

Theropods make an appearance in a section devoted to Macronaria from Oklahoma.

Picture Credit: Julius Csotonyi

The picture above shows one of the many illustrations by renowned palaeo-artist Julius Csotonyi included in this book.  Darren combines stunning artwork with the sort of well-informed writing one would expect from such a distinguished vertebrate palaeontologist and science writer.

In our correspondence with the author, Darren admits that due to time and budgetary constraints some elements that he desperately wanted to include were omitted.  He would have loved to have added a section dedicated to the “Lost Dinosaurs of Egypt”, detailing the contribution made to the science of palaeontology by Ernst Freiherr Stromer von Reichenbach and Richard Markgraf, or to have explained in greater detail the contribution made by Louis Dollo when it comes to unravelling the family tree of the iguanodontids.  Alas, this was not to be.  However, “The Great Dinosaur Discoveries” is not diminished as a result of these omissions and although the science of vertebrate palaeontology has moved on since this book was first published (2009), it remains a thoroughly enjoyable read and serves as testament to the dedicated research that has done so much to help us understand the enigmatic Dinosauria.

Ouranosaurus Makes an Appearance – Mounted Skeleton

Amazing pictures of dinosaurs in the book.

Amazing pictures of dinosaurs in the book.

Aimed at the general reader with plenty to interest those with an academic background, this book is highly recommended.  Find it and add it to your bookshelf, you won’t be disappointed.

Naish, D. 2009. The Great Dinosaur Discoveries. University of California Press (Berkeley and Los Angeles), pp. 192. Hardback. ISBN 978-0-520-25975-1.

Dinosaur Chemical Ghosts

Manchester University Leads the Way With Mapping Elements

Studying fossils has changed radically over the last two decades.  More and more tools are being added to the palaeontologist’s armoury, many of these tools are drawn from a variety of other scientific disciplines, engineering, materials science and medicine for example.  Manchester University has been pioneering the mapping of elements including metals in fossil material.  Once an understanding of a fossil in terms of the elements preserved has been achieved, researchers can begin to piece together clues about the biology of the organism and the burial history.

Using a sophisticated piece of technology (synchrotron-based X-ray imaging), scientists can explore the composition of scales, teeth, skin and feathers from long extinct creatures.  Elements such as zinc (Zn) and Calcium (Ca) can be plotted on the fossil, providing details on features that would not be visible under normal light or ultra-violet lighting conditions.

A False Colour SRS-XRF map of an Archaeopteryx Fossil

Looking at the individual elements of a fossil specimen.

Looking at the individual elements of a fossil specimen.

Picture Credit: Manchester University

The picture above shows a close up of the skull, cervical vertebrae (neck bones) ribs and the wings of Archaeopteryx (Archaeopteryx lithographica).

Key

red = Ca (calcium, the matrix is limestone, hence, high levels of calcium surrounds the fossil)

green – Zn (zinc)

blue = Mn (manganese)

The brighter and more intense the colour the higher concentration of that element.

Blue flecks of colour on the surface of the fossil are the result or the presence of tiny precipitates of manganese minerals, which has probably been deposited by ground water.  There is some zinc associated with mineral precipitates too, but virtually all of the zinc in this image is associated with the fossil bone material.  This suggests that zinc was present in large quantities in the original bone (as found in many types of organism today).  The zinc has been locked within the bones for over 150 million years, as Archaeopteryx (A. lithographica) lived during the Late Jurassic.

 It is the application of new technologies that is opening up a whole world of new possibilities when it comes to investigating creatures that lived in the past.

Back in January, 2015 Everything Dinosaur team members made a number of predictions as to what might happen in the palaeontology over the next twelve months.  One of our “palaeontology predictions” was that there would be more research undertaken into biometals preserved as fossils, there would be more work on the metallome.  A metallome is the presence of metallic elements in relation to organic matter.  From analysis of this data, scientists will be able to learn more about the type of biological processes that once were carried out by long dead organisms.

To read more about Everything Dinosaur’s palaeontology predictions for 2015: Palaeontology and Fossil Predictions for the Next Twelve Months (2015)

For an article published in May 2014 that explains in a little more detail some of the research currently being undertaken into biometals and their presence in the fossil record: Palaeontology Enters the Metal Age

Everything Dinosaur to Prepare More Fact Sheets

Four More Prehistoric Animal Fact Sheets to Write

As Everything Dinosaur prepares for the imminent arrival of the next set of 2015 prehistoric animal models from CollectA, team members have the task of writing fact sheets to accompany these new model introductions.  For every named prehistoric animal item that we sell, whether it is a soft toy, a jigsaw puzzle or a dinosaur themed pair of socks we always send out a fact sheet on the animals featured.  The next four fact sheets to be prepared feature the Pterosaur Guidraco (a member of the enigmatic Ornithocheiridae from China), the fearsome “War Pig” Daeodon, an Ichthyosaur – Temnodontosaurus and last but not least a Moropus.

The Moropus genus is represented by a number of species.  They are members of the Chalicothere group of extinct, hoofed mammals distantly related to horses, tapirs and rhinos.  Unlike most of their modern relatives, the Chalicotheres were slow moving animals.  Their large hands were twisted inwards at right angles and this meant that they walked on their knuckles, hence the popular name for the Chalicotheres – “knuckle walkers”.  However, the large body mass of Moropus suggests that this “knuckle walker” may not have walked on its knuckles like its relatives, this can be seen in the angle and orientation of the left arm in the drawing below.

An Illustration of Moropus Prepared for the Everything Dinosaur Fact Sheet

An illustration of Moropus.

An illustration of Moropus.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

With its sideburns and flowing mane this prehistoric mammal illustration reminds of a number of rock stars from the 1970’s.  We have nicknamed our Moropus prototype model “Noddy” after Noddy Holder, the lead singer of the very successful rock band Slade.

With four fact sheets on the new CollectA models to prepare, it has been pointed out to us that none of these four fact sheets are going to feature dinosaurs.  We are going to be a little bit out our comfort zone. However, we have some very useful reference sources, for example we have some excellent notes within our database on the original work by Othniel Charles Marsh, the American palaeontologist  who named this genus back in 1877.  The genus name means “Sloth or Slow Foot”), whatever the form of locomotion, Moropus was probably a very slow moving animal, one that relied on its sheer bulk and muscle to keep out of harm’s way.

To view the range of CollectA models currently available from Everything Dinosaur: CollectA Prehistoric Animal Models

These four new fact sheets will be ready by the end of the month so that they can be sent out with the first orders of the newly arrived CollectA replicas.

New for 2015 An Array of Prehistoric Animal Models from CollectA

A wide variety of prehistoric animal models.

A wide variety of prehistoric animal models.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

In the picture above, the Moropus replica can be seen on the right and what a magnificent figure it is.  The large claws on the front feet can clearly be seen.  Scientists debate what the claws could have been used for, anatomical studies have revealed that the phalanges (finger bones) were quite flexible so the claws could be raised slightly and held off the ground as it walked.  The claws could have been used to dig up plant roots and tubers as well as acting as a deterrent to any would-be attacker, a “Bear Dog” (Amphicyonidae), for example.  After all, with 1,000 kilogrammes of muscle behind it, Moropus could pack quite a punch!

Wendiceratops pinhornensis from southern Alberta

North America’s Newest Centrosaurine is Also One of its Oldest

The Royal Ontario Museum (Canada) put on exhibit this week the horned dinosaur Wendiceratops (W. pinhornensis) and what a splendid new addition this exhibit is.  There has been lots of media coverage regarding this dinosaur, but we at Everything Dinosaur wanted to clarify three points that had been made in a number of publications, this is not a newly discovered Ceratopsian, the bone bed containing the fossils of these one tonne dinosaurs was found way back in 2010.  It has taken over five years to prepare the bones, study them and then to publish a scientific paper on this new dinosaur.

An Illustration of Wendiceratops pinhornensis

An early, very ornate Centrosaurine.

An early, very ornate Centrosaurine.

Picture Credit: Danielle Dufault

Not Closely Related to Triceratops

Secondly, this horned dinosaur that roamed southern Alberta approximately 79 million years ago (78.7 to 79.0 million, according to radiometric dating from nearby Kennedy Coulee Ecological Reserve which is believed to be of the same geological age), was not that closely related to Triceratops.  Mention a new type of horned dinosaur and Triceratops comes trotting out as a comparison.  We think this is because, since Triceratops is one of the best known of all the dinosaurs, journalists use “Trike” as a sort of “dinosaur clothes horse” upon which the story can be hung.  True, the horn configuration between Wendiceratops and Triceratops is very similar, both have large brow horns and a smaller nose horn, but in reality Wendiceratops and Triceratops are separated by at least ten million years and they are members of two different sub-families of the Ceratopsidae.

  • Wendiceratops is a member of the Centrosaurines
  • Triceratops belongs to the Chasmosaurine group

 On Display at the Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto, Canada) a Cast of Wendiceratops

A reconstruction of the dinosaur's skeleton.

A reconstruction of the dinosaur’s skeleton.

Picture Credit: Royal Ontario Museum

A reconstructed skeleton of the dinosaur called Wendiceratops pinhornensis is pictured above, the fossils in the type locality represent at least four individuals, three adults and a juvenile.  This dinosaur has been described from approximately 220 bones that were found in a single bone bed.  The scientific paper that has been published reaffirms the very high diversity of North American Ceratopsians and this supports the theory that around 80 million years ago there was a rapid evolutionary radiation of the Ceratopsidae.  Although a large and prominent, (although somewhat flattened) nose horn has been inferred, the nasal bone is only represented by fragmentary specimens and the actual shape of the nose horn is not known.  Wendiceratops can claim to provide the earliest evidence of a tall nose horn being found in the Ceratopsians.  Not only does this Centrosaurine tell scientists that by 79 million years ago, horned dinosaurs existed with large, nose horns, the research reveals that a large, cone-shaped nose horn evolved in this group at least twice in the evolutionary history of the Ceratopsidae.

Those Necks and Horns

It used to be thought that horn and neck frill configuration was a good methodology when it came to tell Centrosaurine and Chasmosaurine dinosaurs apart.  Back in the old days (pre-2000), when a lot fewer species of North American horned dinosaur had been described, a number of writers classified these types of dinosaurs based on the size, orientation and morphology of those nose horns and their accompanying neck frill.  For example, in general it was thought that Centrosaurine dinosaurs such as (Brachyceratops, Einiosaurus, Xenoceratops and Centrosaurus) had short frills (relatively), combined with a large nose horn and much smaller horns over the eyes.  In contrast, the Chasmosaurine dinosaurs such as Pentaceratops, Triceratops and Torosaurus had much more elongated neck frills, a small nose horn and much larger brow horns.  With the spate of recent discoveries these ideas have proved to be too simplified, Ceratopsidae classification has got a lot more complicated as new genera have been described.

A case in point is the recently described (June 2015) Regaliceratops, a member of the Chasmosaurine group but with characteristics of a Centrosaurine.

To read more about the research into Regaliceratops: A Right Royal Rumble

A Skeletal Drawing of Wendiceratops (W. pinhornensis)

The bones marked in blue have been found to date.

The bones marked in blue have been found to date.

Picture Credit: Danielle Dufault

Last but not Least that Trivial Name

The third point we wanted to clear up was the specific or trivial name “pinhornensis”.   The species name has nothing to do with the shape, size or orientation of any horn, it refers to the Pinhorn Provincial Grazing Reserve in southern Alberta, where the bone bed is located.

The genus name honours the remarkable Wendy Sloboda, who discovered the type locality back in 2010.

Wendy has a Dinosaur Named After Her

Naming a new dinosaur after Wendy.

Naming a new dinosaur after Wendy.

Picture Credit: Michael J. Ryan (one of the authors of the scientific paper published in the journal PLOS One)

Today we pay tribute to all those field workers, scientists and technicians that have helped prepare the Royal Ontario Museum exhibit, special mention to all those that helped remove the enormous rock overburden that permitted the bone bed to be fully explored.  Along with the fossilised remains of a Ceratopsian, the scientists found two tyrannosaurid teeth (genera not known), along with other reptilian remains, notably turtles and crocodilian.

Staypressed theme by Themocracy