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19 07, 2018

How Much Food Did Sauropods Eat?

By | July 19th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

New Research Examines the Diets of Giant Dinosaurs

How many plants would a ten tonne Diplodocus need to eat to keep it happy and healthy?  For that matter, what about one of its larger cousins such as the Macronarian Camarasaurus that tipped the scales at an estimated twenty tonnes?  If you had a pet Dreadnoughtus  (D. schrani), a long-necked, herbivorous dinosaur that was heavier than a dozen African elephants, how much food would you need to feed it each day?

Super-sized Sauropods and Their Super-sized Digestive Tracts

Paleaontologist Dean Lomax explores a Ceitiosaurus.

A belly up view of “Whale Lizard”.  Palaeontologist Dean Lomax tackling the tummy of Cetiosaurus.  How much food did “Whale Lizard” eat?

Picture Credit: Dean Lomax

Palaeontologists have puzzled over the dietary requirements of these super-sized animals for many years.  One of the theories put forward to explain the huge size of Sauropods is that they needed to grow big so that they could carry around their vast digestive tracts that were needed to process the huge volumes of plant matter required to provide them with enough energy to do what dinosaurs needed to do.

Sauropoda body mass becomes a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.  You grow up fast and grow big to avoid predation, so you require a lot food to sustain your body, the bigger you get the more food you need to keep you going, the larger the stomach, especially as your teeth don’t play any role in helping to break up tough stems and foliage.

A Novel Approach

A team of scientists, including researchers from Leeds University, Nottingham University and the University of Göttingen (Germany), have conducted a novel piece of research so that the dietary needs of the largest terrestrial vertebrates can be better understood.  The team grew their own dinosaur food in atmospheric conditions that replicated the environment of the Late Jurassic.  Writing in the journal “Palaeontology”, the research team report on an experiment in which they grew typical plants that would have played a role in the diet of giant, herbivorous dinosaurs, ferns, horsetails, monkey puzzle trees and ginkgos.

The Ancient Ginkgo (Maidenhair) Tree – Dinosaur Food Assessed in this Plant Growth Experiment

A Ginkgo biloba tree.

A small Ginkgo tree (G. biloba).  Typical of the canopy plants that would have been fed upon by Sauropods.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Plants of the Jurassic Had a Low Nutritional Value

It had been thought that plants growing in an atmosphere with a high amounts of carbon dioxide had low nutritional value.  As a result, herbivorous dinosaurs had to consume vast quantities of plant material in order to obtain enough energy to sustain themselves.  A new experimental approach led by Dr Fiona Gill (School of Earth & Environment, Leeds University), has demonstrated that this may not be the case.  To explore the nutrition of a typical Sauropod’s diet, a range of plants were chosen.  Plants representing the understory community, such as a fern (Polypodium vulgare), a type of horsetail (Equisetum hyemale) as well as Ranunculus acris, a member of the buttercup family to represent an early Cretaceous angiosperm (flowering plant), were selected.  Plants representing the forest canopy included the Ginkgo (G. biloba), Araucaria araucana, the monkey puzzle tree and a type of redwood conifer (Metasequoia glyptostroboides).

The atmosphere was controlled as the plants were grown in walk-in growth chambers and the carbon dioxide concentrations were selected to represent a range of recent estimated CO2 values for the Mesozoic.  Although we are seeing a rise in atmospheric amounts of carbon dioxide today, it has been estimated that during the Age of Dinosaurs there was considerably more CO2 in the atmosphere.  By simulating prehistoric atmospheres, the research team could then cut leaves from the plants and test their nutritional value.  The understory plants were exposed to a Mesozoic climate for three months, the slower growing plants representing the canopy were give six months in the Mesozoic atmospheric conditions.

The Researchers Set Out to Create a Growing Room Atmosphere that Replicated the Conditions of the Mesozoic

A Jurassic scene

Turning walk-in growing rooms into the Jurassic!

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

An Artificial Sauropod Stomach

An artificial fermentation system was used to simulate digestion of the plant leaves in the Sauropods’ enormous stomachs.  This permitted the research team to calculate the leaves’ nutritional value.  The results showed many of the plants had significantly higher energy and nutrient levels than previously believed.  The scientists concluded that these megaherbivores would have needed to consume much less plant material per day than previously thought.  Dinosaur numbers may not have been as constrained by the amount of plant food available.  Ecosystems could have potentially supported a much bigger dinosaur population density.  This might go some way to helping to explain the presence of lots of megaherbivores, including several different genera of Sauropod present in the Upper Jurassic Morrison Formation of the United States.

Lead author Dr Gill, explained:

“The climate was very different in the Mesozoic Era, when the huge Brachiosaurus and Diplodocus lived with possibly much higher carbon dioxide levels.  There has been the assumption that as plants grow faster and/or bigger under higher CO2 levels, their nutritional value decreases.  Our results show this isn’t the case for all plant species.”

Having modelled the effect of different food metabolisable energy (ME), contents in digested plants and plotted this against estimated energy requirements for different sized Sauropods, the scientists concluded that instead of having to consume over a hundred kilograms of plants per day much smaller quantities would be required.  For example, a 10 tonne Diplodocus with an assumed energy requirement of 280 kJ of metabolisable energy per kilogram of body weight per day, feeding exclusively on ferns would need to eat 33.2 kg per day.  If it dined exclusively on horsetails it would need to eat 23.8 kilograms per day.  An elephant, although smaller, as an endothermic mammal has a much greater energy requirement and would need to consume around 40 kilograms of plant material to sustain it.

An African Elephant Compared to a Diplodocid

Comparing the food requirements of megaherbivores.

The nutritional requirements of dinosaurs have been compared to those of megaherbivores today.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Dr Gill stated:

“The large body size of Sauropods at that time would suggest they needed huge quantities of energy to sustain them.  When the available food source has higher nutrient and energy levels it means less food needs to be consumed to provide sufficient energy, which in turn can affect population size and density.  Our research doesn’t give the whole picture of dinosaur diet or cover the breadth of the plants that existed at this time, but a clearer understanding of how the dinosaurs ate can help scientists understand how they lived.”

This research is not limited to the Dinosauria, the same methodology can be utilised to model the atmospheric conditions at other points in geological deep time, to assess the nutritional requirements and feeding habits of long extinct, Miocene and Oligocene mammals for example.

The scientific paper: “Diets of Giants: the Nutritional Value of Sauropod Diet during the Mesozoic” by Fiona L. Gill, Jürgen Hummel, A. Reza Sharifi, Alexandra P. Lee, and Barry H. Lomax published in Palaeontology, the journal of the Palaeontological Association.

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18 07, 2018

The Dinosaur Park and Hell Creek Formations

By | July 18th, 2018|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Geology, Main Page|0 Comments

The Dinosaur Park Formation (DPF) and the Hell Creek Formation (HCF)

We have been asked to give a brief explanation of the different dinosaurs associated with two famous North America rock formations.  A comment on the different dinosaur faunas associated with the Dinosaur Park Formation (DPF) of southern Alberta and the Hell Creek Formation (HCF), which is mostly associated with the state of Montana but also outcrops in North and South Dakota as well as Wyoming.

The Badlands of the Dinosaur Park Formation (DPF) – Hunting for Dinosaur Fossils

Looking for Late Cretaceous dinosaur fossils.

A typical view of the “Badlands” of the Dinosaur Park Formation.  The red arrow in the picture highlights the layer in which the fossils of a new type of horned dinosaur were discovered.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The Badlands

Both the Hell Creek Formation and the Dinosaur Park Formation are referred to as “Badlands”, this term is derived from the French phrase “les mauvaises terres” and dates back to the early years of exploration of these vast tracts of land.  The term describes an area largely devoid of vegetation that is subjected to rapid erosion caused by wind, rain and running water.  The DPF is older, the strata were laid down between 76.5 and 75 million years ago in the Late Cretaceous (Campanian faunal stage).  In contrast, the Hell Creek Formation is younger.  The rocks were formed at the very end of the Cretaceous (Maastrichtian faunal stage) and the strata records the transition from the end of the Cretaceous into the Palaeocene, the first Epoch of the Cenozoic.  The HCF spans approximately 66.8 to 66 million years ago and documents evidence of an extra-terrestrial impact event preserved as a thin clay layer that contains large quantities of the rare Earth element iridium, marking the Cretaceous-Palaeogene boundary, representing an extinction event denoting the end of the age of the dinosaurs and the start of the Cenozoic.

Looking for Fossils – Hell Creek Formation

Looking for fossils - Hell Creek Formation.

Prospecting for fossils – Hell Creek Formation (Montana).

Picture Credit: University of California Museum of Palaeontology

The Ancient Environments

The strata that forms the DPF represents a coastal plan environment, crossed by numerous large rivers.  The majority of the rocks are sandstones and mudstones, although there are layers of volcanic ash (bentonite), which resulted from the sporadic eruptions of volcanoes in the region. In the upper part of the DPF, coal deposits can be found (Lethbridge coal zone), representing deposition in a swampy environment.  The sea gradually encroached onto this coastal plain and the area was eventually flooded, resulting in the deposition of the marine shales that represent the Bearpaw Formation that overlies the DPF.

The Hell Creek Formation was created under similar circumstances.  It too represents clays, mudstones and sandstones deposited on a delta, a low-lying flood plain crossed by many rivers.  The HCF also has peaty, coal-like deposits (lignite), representing deposition in coastal swampy environments.

The Palaeoenvironment of the Dinosaur Park Formation

The fauna and flora of Alberta 75 million years ago

Alberta around 75 million years ago (Dinosaur Park Formation).

Picture Credit: Julius Csotonyi

A Chasmosaurus and a Lambeosaurus feeding during the late evening, a typical scene representing the biota associated with the DPF.

The Palaeoenvironment of the Hell Creek Formation

Triceratops dinosaur illustration.

Triceratops was one of the last dinosaurs to evolve.  A resident of the Hell Creek Formation.

Picture Credit: Julius Csotonyi

A Triceratops grazes next to a palm tree on the coastal plain that is represented by deposits that help to make up the Hell Creek Formation of Montana.

Different Time Periods – Different Dinosaurs

Both the HCF and the DPF are famous for extensive dinosaur fossils.  It is worth remembering that numerous other kinds of animal (and plants) are represented in the fossil record of these two formations.  Although, the dinosaur fauna is similar between the DPF and the HCF, for example the terrestrial large herbivores are dominated by duck-billed dinosaurs and Ceratopsians, the genera represented are very different.

In simple terms, the stage scenery might be similar and the cast of characters reminiscent but the actors on the stage are different.

Typical Dinosaurs from the Dinosaur Park Formation (Campanian Faunal Stage of the Cretaceous)

Dinosaur Park Formation dinosaurs.

Typical dinosaur fauna of the Dinosaur Park Formation (Alberta, Canada).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Typical Dinosaurs from the Hell Creek Formation (Maastrichtian Faunal Stage of the Cretaceous)

Dinosaurs of the Hell Creek Formation.

Typical dinosaurs of the Hell Creek Formation.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

We are looking forward to our visit to the Beacon Museum at Whitehaven (Cumbria).  Everything Dinosaur will be taking visitors on a fossil hunt and we hope to be able to give away real dinosaur bones.

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17 07, 2018

Sad “tail” of a Spanish Plesiosaur

By | July 17th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Fossil Discovery Hints at Spanish Elasmosaurid

Recently printed in the academic journal “Cretaceous Research”, a trio of scientists have published details about a new Plesiosaur specimen discovered in Late Cretaceous sediments in Guadalajara Province in central Spain.  Plesiosaur specimens are exceptionally rare from the Late Cretaceous of Europe and although the fossil material is indistinct in terms of any autapomorphies (unique features), that would permit the establishment of a new species, the fragmentary fossils, including a single tail bone, represent an important discovery nonetheless.

An Illustration of a Typical Member of the Plesiosauridae

Attenborosaurus conybeari.

Plesiosaurs swam in the Cenomanian seas of Europe.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The First Plesiosauria from Algora

The fossils consist of elements from a pelvic girdle and a caudal vertebra (tail bone).  They are the first evidence of a Plesiosaur in the coastal marine outcrops of Algora (Castilla-La-Mancha), Spain.  It is one of only a handful of such specimens reported from the Cretaceous of Spain.

The Pelvic Girdle Fossil Bones with an Accompanying Line Drawing

Late Cretaceous Plesiosaur fossils from Spain.

The fossils making up part of the pelvic girdle with a line drawing (right).

Picture Credit: N. Bardet, M. Segura and A. Pérez-García/Cretaceous Research

An Elasmosaurid

The fossils probably represent a single individual, as such, it is the only Plesiosaur specimen from central Spain that is known from several bones.  The researchers conclude that the material represents an indeterminate member of the Elasmosauridae.  Elasmosaurids were a type of Plesiosaur that had a wide geographical range during the Late Cretaceous and one that persisted to the end of the Maastrichtian faunal stage.

Views of the Caudal Vertebra (Indeterminate Elasmosaurid)

Photographs (various views) of a Plesiosaur caudal vertebra.

Images of a caudal vertebra (Late Cretaceous Plesiosaur).

Picture Credit: N. Bardet, M. Segura and A. Pérez-García/Cretaceous Research

The authors of the scientific paper include a researcher from the Natural History Museum of Paris (Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle), as well as two researchers based in Spain.  They suggest that the fossils represent an individual that either died further out to sea and was washed into a bay (thanatocoenosis), or the remains of an animal that lived in a near-shore environment (biocoenosis).

The scientific paper: “A Plesiosaur (Reptilia, Sauropterygia) from the Cenomanian (Late Cretaceous) of Algora (Guadalajara Province, Central Spain)” by N. Bardet, M. Segura and A. Pérez-García published in Cretaceous Research.

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16 07, 2018

Does the Fossil Record Represent True Diversity?

By | July 16th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

How Helpful is the Fossil Record When it Comes to Extinct Animal Diversity?

When it comes to understanding biodiversity in ancient palaeoenvironments, scientists have to rely on the fossil record for their information. Ghost lineages can be inferred, the likelihood of related genera can be proposed using cladistics and phylogeny, but ultimately it is the fossils that form the basis of our understanding about how diverse life was in the past.  This reliance on fossil material has numerous drawbacks.  The fossil record is very incomplete and there is a large preservation bias between different organisms and different environments.  For example, a snail with its hard shell, living on the muddy bottom of a shallow sea has got more chance of becoming a fossil than a soft-bodied mushroom living in a temperate forest.

Palaeontologists have to ask themselves: can the fossil record can be trusted to provide information about biodiversity?

Tyrannosaurus rex Might Be Popular with Museum Visitors but Other Meat-eating Dinosaurs Have a Much Less Complete Fossil Record

T. rex skeleton at the Frankfurt Natural History Museum

T. rex might be very popular with museum visitors, but in reality most of the Tyrannosauroidae are very poorly known.

Mosasaurs Help to Provide Some Insight

Species are often named and described on the flimsiest of evidence, take for example famous dinosaurs such as Trachodon and Troodon, dinosaurs that were first named based on the finding of isolated teeth.  Fortunately, these days ,there is a higher bar set when it comes to establishing that a fossil represents an animal new to science, although some new species are still named based on very fragmentary fossils.

Could it be that our understanding of past biodiversity is simply related to the quality of fossil material in different geological rock formations through time?  This question relates to a fundamental debate within palaeontology about the quality and trustworthiness of the fossil record.

Researchers from Bristol University and Leeds University set out to explore the relationship between the number and quality of fossils and their relationship with past diversity.  Writing in the journal “Palaeontology”, the scientists focused on the Mosasauridae, that family of marine reptiles closely related to today’s snakes and lizards that thrived in the Late Cretaceous before meeting their demise at the same time as the dinosaurs.

Using Mosasaur Fossils to Examine the Diversity of Extinct Animals

A Mosasaur exhibit on display.

Apex predator of the Late Cretaceous – looking at Mosasaur fossils to understand the diversity of extinct groups of animals

Picture Credit: Bonhams

Mosasaurs evolved into a number of different forms during the Cretaceous, some were giants, measuring more than thirteen metres in length and were the apex predators of marine ecosystems.  Other species were much smaller such as the five-metre-long Platecarpus that fed on fish, squid and ammonites.  Scientists have even identified a possible freshwater species of Mosasaur (Pannoniasaurus inexpectatus).

The Fossil Record Indicates Diversity Amongst the Mosasauridae

Illustrating the diversity of the Mosasaurs.

Fossils illustrate the diversity of the Mosasauridae.

Picture Credit: Tom Stubbs and Dan Driscoll

The picture (above), illustrates some of the diversity found in the Mosasauridae.  Some species are known from very fragmentary remains such as isolated bones and teeth, other species have been named based on far more complete skeletons.  The partial lower jaw (top picture), shows the rounded teeth, almost ball-like teeth of a member of the Globidensini tribe of Mosasaurs.   A group of Mosasaurs that evolved specialised teeth to cope with hard-shelled prey such as ammonites and crustaceans (durophagous diet).  The photograph (far right), shows a single Mosasaur tooth.  It is very large and the crown is robust and pointed, typical dentition associated with predatory behaviour, attacking and consuming other large vertebrates.  The picture (bottom), shows a complete, restored skull of a Mosasaur with a jaw containing small, recurved teeth indicative of a diet of fish or other small slippery creatures such as squid.

Dr Dan Driscoll (Bristol University), the lead author of the research stated:

“Mosasaurs have one of the richest vertebrate fossil records and have attracted study for over two centuries.  The first Mosasaur described was in 1808!  Often, studies of fossil record quality have focused simply on the numbers of fossil species, however, it is important to consider the completeness of individual fossil specimens, and whether this distorts our view of diversity.  To do this, robust statistical analysis is required.”

Using Mathematical Models to Test the Completeness of the Mosasaur Fossil Record

The researchers documented over four thousand and eighty Mosasaur specimens and scored them for their degree of completeness.  This is the largest quantitative analysis of its kind undertaken to date.  By using mathematical modelling, the scientists were able to demonstrate that fossil completeness does not bias the fossil record of Mosasaurs and that the rich fossil record of the Mosasauridae does provide an accurate illustration of the diversity and evolutionary history of these marine reptiles.

The Diverse Mosasauridae Family Occupied a Number of Niches within Marine Ecosystems

Tylosaurus attacks.

Fearsome marine reptiles such as Tylosaurus were apex predators.

Picture Credit: BBC Worldwide

Bristol University’s Dr Tom Stubbs, a co-author of the study explained:

“Mosasaurs were key players in Late Cretaceous marine ecosystems.  Our study confirms that Mosasaurs were a successful group of animals that continued to diversify through their evolutionary history, before being abruptly wiped out by the extinction event that also impacted dinosaurs and many other groups.”

The conclusions provided by this new research reveals new insights into the evolution of the Mosasauridae, and highlights that, although the fossil record is most definitely incomplete, variable fossil completeness does not appear to bias large scale evolutionary and ecological patterns.

Co-author, Dr Alex Dunhill, (School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds), added:

“Palaeontologists often presume that the vertebrate fossil record is heavily biased by sampling.  This may be so but, here we show that variation in the completeness of fossil specimens does not appear to bias large scale evolutionary patterns.”

The scientific paper: “The Mosasaur Fossil Record Through the Lens of Fossil Completeness” by D. Driscoll, A. Dunhill, T. Stubbs and M. Benton published in Palaeontology.

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15 07, 2018

Carboniferous Fossils on a Welsh Hillside

By | July 15th, 2018|Geology, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Mynydd Marian Nature Reserve and Fossils

Overlooking the Welsh coast between Llandudno and Rhyl is the beautiful but quite compact nature reserve of Mynydd Marian.  It forms part of a range of low limestone hills that can be found along this part of the coast of North Wales.  The location, a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest), is popular with walkers keen to spot the myriad of different insects and the orchids that thrive on the limestone soils.  The exposed cliffs that were once quarried for their limestone, attract local climbing groups.  However, there is plenty to see for fossil hunters too.  The strata were laid down over 320 million years ago (Carboniferous), it was formed from the compressed shells of countless marine invertebrates that thrived in a warm, shallow sea.  If the numerous stone walls are examined carefully, then lots of fossils of brachiopods and the button-like segments of marine crinoids can be spotted.

A Crinoid Segment Spotted in a Dry-stone Wall (Mynydd Marian)

Spotting a piece of a Carboniferous crinoid.

A crinoid stem exposed in a stone wall at Mynydd Marian nature reserve.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

There is little scree to be found and we would not advise climbing the steep faces of the quarry but if the rocks that comprise the stone walls are examined, then many fossils can be seen.

Spotting Fossils at Mynydd Marian Nature Reserve

Spotting fossils at Mynydd Marian

A crinoid segment (red arrow) and a mould revealing the impression of a brachiopod shell (green arrow) on the surrounding rock.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture (above), shows two fossils preserved in the rocks of a dry-stone wall.  The red arrow is pointing to a crinoid segment, whilst the green arrow indicates a mould left in the surrounding matrix by a brachiopod shell.  There is no need to disturb the rocks in the wall, careful observation is all that is required and you will soon start to discern the different types of fossil.

An Impression of the Shell of a Brachiopod preserved in the Limestone

A view of a lost world, an impression of the shell of a brachiopod preserved in the limestone rock.

A glimpse into a lost world, an impression of the shell of a brachiopod preserved in the limestone.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

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14 07, 2018

Rare Gomphotherium Skull from France

By | July 14th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Local Farmer Gives Up His Gomphotherium Skull Secret

Sacré bleu!  A French farmer working on his land using a large excavator uncovered the fossilised remains of a prehistoric elephant.  However, rather than notify the authorities, it was decided to keep quiet about the fossil find, complete with tusks and large molars, some of which measured more than ten centimetres in length.  The discovery was made in the summer of 2014 by an inhabitant of the village of L’Isle-en-Dodon, about forty-five miles south-west of Toulouse in southern France.  However, the accidental unearthing of a large elephant skull, must have weighed heavy on the person’s conscience, as three years later, scientists from the Musee d’Histoire Naturelle de Toulouse (Natural History Museum of Toulouse), were informed and a field team was despatched to excavate the site and to remove the prehistoric elephant skull so that this important discovery could be properly prepared and studied.

The Gomphotherium Skull at the Natural History Museum of Toulouse

A fossil Gomphotherium skull from south-west France.

The Gomphotherium fossil skull from south-west France.

Picture Credit: Musee d’Histoire Naturelle de Toulouse

Gomphotherium – A Rare Fossil Skull

Gomphotheres (Gomphotheriidae), were a large and very diverse group of prehistoric elephants that had a wide temporal and geographical distribution.  Fossils of these elephants, only distantly related to today’s elephants, have been found in Asia, Africa, North and Central America as well as Europe and a number of species have been named and described.  The first scientific descriptions of these members of the Order Proboscidea was made by the French naturalist Georges Cuvier in the early part of the nineteenth century.  Ironically, much of Cuvier’s research was based on elephant fossils discovered in south-western France, the same part of France, where this fossil skull was uncovered.  Cuvier recognised that the fossils (mostly molars), represented elephants and he erected the species name Mastodon angustidens.  It was the German zoologist Karl Hermann Konrad Burmeister, who revised Cuvier’s work, distinguishing these elephants from the Mastodonts and erected their own taxonomic family – the Gomphotheres.

A Scale Drawing of a Typical Gomphothere (G. angustidens)

Gomphotherium scale drawing.

A scale drawing of a Gomphotherium.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Concerned About Amateur Fossil Hunters

The farmer, who remains anonymous, wished to avoid the attentions of amateur fossil hunters.  It was feared that if news of the fossil discovery had got out, the farm might have been inundated by fossil collectors keen to find more prehistoric animal remains.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“The unwanted attention that such an important fossil find could have generated would have proved very disruptive for the farm, so it is understandable that the farmer did not want to attract too much publicity.  However, it is pleasing to note that the appropriate authorities have been informed and that this important specimen can be studied properly.”

A Still from a Video Shows the Gomphotherium Skull being Examined

Discussing the French Gomphotherium fossil skull.

Examining the Gomphotherium fossil skull.

Picture Credit: France TV/Musee d’Histoire Naturelle de Toulouse

The model manufacturer CollectA has recently introduced a 1:20 scale Gomphotherium replica into their Deluxe Prehistoric Life model range.  A picture of this new CollectA Gomphotherium replica can be seen below.

The New for 2018 CollectA Gomphotherium Model

CollectA Gomphotherium.

The CollectA 1:20 scale Gomphotherium model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view the CollectA Deluxe range of prehistoric animal models including the recently introduced Gomphotherium: CollectA Deluxe Prehistoric Animal Models

The fossil skull will take about six to nine months to prepare, the researchers at the Natural History Museum of Toulouse hope to learn more about southern European Gomphotheres from this specimen, it is likely that this significant fossil discovery will be put on public display at the museum, providing an opportunity for visitors to learn more about the areas prehistoric past.

A View of the Upper Tusks Protruding from the Gomphotherium Skull

One of two pairs of tusks associated with Gomphotherium skull material.

A close view of the upper tusks of the Gomphotherium skull fossil.

Picture Credit: France TV/Musee d’Histoire Naturelle de Toulouse

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13 07, 2018

Young Palaeontologist Asks Questions About Dinosaurs

By | July 13th, 2018|Educational Activities, Main Page, Teaching|0 Comments

Ethan Asks About Dinosaurs

Budding young palaeontologist Ethan and his friends at Longmoor Community Primary School in Liverpool (north-west England), have been learning all about dinosaurs and life in the past this term, aided and supported by their Reception class teachers.  Whilst on a visit to the school to work with class 1 and class 2 to deliver a dinosaur and fossil themed workshop, our dinosaur expert was presented with a list of questions that Ethan had prepared.

Ethan’s Questions About Dinosaurs

Asking questions about dinosaurs.

Ethan presented Everything Dinosaur with some questions.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Longmoor Community Primary School

Questions About Dinosaurs Prepared at Home

Ethan’s teacher informed us that many of the children had thought of questions about prehistoric animals as they progressed through their term topic.  These questions had been pinned up onto the classroom display board and the eager fossil hunters in the Reception classes had set about researching the answers as they enthusiastically learned about dinosaurs.  Ethan had prepared his questions at home, he had set his own homework.  The classroom was filled with lots of examples of the children’s work, including super writing, “cotton bud skeletons” and dinosaur fact sheets that the children had made.  The classes had even built their own dinosaur museum!

Drawings of Dinosaurs Produced by Reception Class

Dinosaur drawings from Reception.

Class 2 produced some wonderful dinosaur drawings.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Longmoor Community Primary School

Ethan’s Questions

Ethan wanted to know did Tyrannosaurus rex eat meat?

T. rex was definitely a meat-eater (carnivore).  Palaeontologists can get a good idea about what an extinct animal ate by studying their fossil teeth.  Tyrannosaurus rex is regarded as a hypercarnivore, this means that it got at least 70% of its food from eating other animals.  Cats are also regarded as hypercarnivores, which means, if you have a pet cat, it probably loves eating meat as much as T. rex did!

Ethan asked does a Spinosaurus eat fish?

The jaws of Spinosaurus were very long and they were filled with up to two hundred, sharp and very pointed teeth.  These teeth would have been ideal for catching and holding slippery fish.  Palaeontologists know that when Spinosaurus roamed North Africa about 100 million years ago, there were lots of large lakes and rivers that teemed with fish.  Fossils of this large, dinosaur are usually found near ancient sources of water.  In 1975, part of a fossilised jaw of a Spinosaurus was found and it had a bone from a huge sawfish called Onchopristis (Onk-coe-pris-tis) stuck in it.  Palaeontologists also believe that Spinosaurus spent a lot of its time in water, so it is very likely that Spinosaurus did eat fish.  An animal that eats fish is called a piscivore (pie-see-vore).

A Picture of a Spinosaurus Going for a Swim

Spinosaurus swimming.

Spinosaurus – very much at home in the water.  An Onchopristis (sawfish) is trying to avoid being eaten.

Picture Credit: Davide Bonnadonna, Nizar Ibrahim, Simone Maganuco

Pelicans, otters and penguins are also piscivores, can you name any other animals that also eat fish?

Ethan and his friends in the Reception classes at Longmoor Community Primary have had great fun learning all about dinosaurs this term.

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12 07, 2018

In the Pink! Life’s First Colour

By | July 12th, 2018|Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Scientists Identify the World’s Oldest Biological Colours

A team of international scientists including researchers from the University of Liège, Florida State University and the Australian National University, in collaboration with a colleague based in Japan have discovered the oldest colours preserved in the fossil record.  An analysis of the remains of microscopic, 1.1 billion-year-old cyanobacteria suggest that life back in the Proterozoic was “in the pink”.  Pink coloured pigments have been extracted from ancient marine shales that form part of the Taoudeni Basin of Mauritania (north-western Africa).

When Held Up in the Light the Pink Colouration can be Seen

A vial of pink pigments porphyrins - representing the oldest intact pigments in the world.

The oldest colours found to date.

Picture Credit: Australian National University

One of the authors of the scientific paper, published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA”, Dr Nur Gueneli (Australian National University), explained that the pigments taken from the marine black shales were more than six hundred million years older than previous pigment discoveries.

Dr Gueneli commented:

“The bright pink pigments are the molecular fossils of chlorophyll that were produced by ancient photosynthetic organisms inhabiting an ancient ocean that has long since vanished.”

Samples of the shales laid down during the Stenian, the last geological period of the Mesoproterozoic Era, were ground into fine powder before the ancient molecules of long extinct cyanobacteria could be extracted and analysed.  The fossils reveal a range of colours from a blood red to a deep purple in their concentrated form, but when diluted, it is the colour pink that dominates.

Dr Gueneli, who undertook this research whilst studying for a PhD added:

“The precise analysis of the ancient pigments confirmed that tiny cyanobacteria dominated the base of the food chain in the oceans a billion years ago, which helps to explain why animals did not exist at the time.”

Lack of Things for Higher Organisms to Eat

Complicated animal life was not able to evolve, according to one hypothesis, as it was restrained by the lack of food in the ocean.  In essence, life on Earth could not pick up the evolutionary pace as food webs were constrained by the amount of primary producers in the ecosystem.  Through the team’s discovery of molecular fossils of the photopigment chlorophyll in 1.1-billion-year-old marine sedimentary rocks, they were able to quantify the abundance of different organisms that uses the sun’s energy to produce food (phototrophs).  Nitrogen isotopic values of the fossil pigments revealed that the Pan-African Ocean was dominated by cyanobacteria, while larger planktonic algae were very scarce.  These findings support the hypothesis that small cells at the base of the food chain limited the flow of energy to higher trophic levels, potentially retarding the emergence of large and complex life.

Associate Professor Jochen Brooks, of the Research School of Earth Sciences (Australian National University), one of the authors of the scientific paper, stated that the emergence of more complex life forms was likely to have been restricted by the limited supply of larger food particles, such as algae.

Associate Professor Brooks explained:

“Algae, although still microscopic, are a thousand times larger in volume than cyanobacteria, and are a much richer food source.  The cyanobacterial oceans started to vanish about 650 million years ago, when algae began to rapidly spread to provide the burst of energy needed for the evolution of complex ecosystems, where large animals, including humans, could thrive on Earth.”

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11 07, 2018

The Selenopeltis Slab (Trilobites Galore)

By | July 11th, 2018|Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

The Selenopeltis Slab (Trilobites Galore)

In a far corner on the ground floor of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, there can be found an amazing trilobite fossil exhibit.  This piece of sandstone preserves the remains of three different genera of trilobites, a death assemblage that attests to the diversity and success of these marine arthropods.  The fossil, which was acquired by the museum in 2005, is known as “the Selenopeltis Slab”.

Fantastic Fossils – The Selenopeltis Slab

Trilobite fossils - the Selenopeltis slab.

Trilobites galore – the Selenopeltis slab.  Can you identify three different types of trilobite?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

From the Ordovician Period

A slab of sandstone from the Mecissi-Alnif area of Morocco preserves the fossilised remains of three genera of trilobite.  The sandstone was deposited some 450 million years ago (Ordovician), a time when invertebrates dominated oceanic biotas.  The trilobite Selenopeltis is the most common fossil arthropod on the slab, it is characterised by the presence of long spines on both flanks of the body.  The second genus Calymenella, is a large, elongate trilobite with an evenly rounded outline. The third type of trilobite represented in this mass death assemblage is Dalmanitina, a smaller animal with a long spine extending backwards from the posterior end of the pygidium (tail piece).

The sandstone slab also contains the fossilised remains of numerous brittle stars, a type of echinoderm related to starfish, (look for the small, disc-like bodies with five, slender, tapering arms).

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10 07, 2018

Bullyland Ammonite at the Museum

By | July 10th, 2018|Educational Activities, Everything Dinosaur Products, Main Page, Photos of Everything Dinosaur Products|0 Comments

Bullyland Ammonite on Display

We spotted an old friend whilst on a visit to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History (Oxford, England).  In a display case showing fossils of ammonites we noted that a Bullyland ammonite replica had been placed inside the display case to give visitors an idea of what an ammonite actually looked like.  Ammonite fossil shells may be relatively common, but it is surprising how few people understand that living inside the shell was an animal with tentacles, a creature related to today’s squid, cuttlefish and octopus.

 Spotted in a Museum Display Case – the Bullyland Ammonite Replica

We spotted a Bullyland ammonite model being used to help illustrate a display of ammonite fossils.

A Bullyland ammonite model is used to help illustrate a display of ammonite fossils.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A Robust Ammonite Replica

The ammonite model from Bullyland is a robust replica of this iconic mollusc primarily known from the fossil record of the Mesozoic.  It is a super addition to any fossil fan’s collection.  Ideal for creative play, school or home study and for use in museums as the display case at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History testifies.  It is wonderful to see a Bullyland figure used in such a way, helping to educate and inform.

To view the Bullyland ammonite model and the rest of the figures in the Bullyland range available from Everything Dinosaur: Bullyland Models and Figures

The Bullyland Ammonite Figure as it Appears on the Everything Dinosaur Website

Bullyland ammonite model.

The Bullyland ammonite replica.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Helping Out at Many Museums we Suspect

Lots of museums have fossils of ammonites within their invertebrate fossil collections, we suspect that many curators and exhibition managers have taken advantage of this excellent replica and used it to help illustrate what these enigmatic cephalopods looked like.  After all, when our team members visit schools to conduct dinosaur and fossil themed workshops, we use this same Bullyland ammonite to explain to children which bit of an animal is likely to become a fossil and which bits are not likely to fossilise.

At a little under eighteen centimetres in length and with a shell diameter of around nine centimetres, this model was certainly at home amongst the Jurassic ammonite fossils on display.  Seeing the Bullyland ammonite replica being used in a museum got us thinking, are there any other examples of prehistoric animal models and figures being incorporated into a scientific exhibition or display?

It was a pleasure to peruse part of the extensive fossil collection at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and to discover an old friend.

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