All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
//July
23 07, 2007

Invasion of the Crocodiles

By | July 23rd, 2007|Animal News Stories, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

Invasion of the Crocodiles

The increasing number of Estaurine (otherwise known as Saltwater) crocodiles on the North-east coast of Australia is causing concern amongst local residents and the surfing community.

The Estaurine crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) can be found over a large area of South-east Asia.  It ranges from Sri Lanka to the Fiji islands, with a resurgent population in northern Australia as hunting them has been banned.  These animals can grow up to 9 metres in length (27 feet) although many stories abound about even larger specimens being seen.  It is capable of living in a number of habitats but prefers the mouths of rivers and other tidal areas.  Estaurine crocodiles are quite happy swimming out to sea and many have been spotted tens of miles off shore.  This may explain why they are so widely spread in Southeastern Asia.

Unfortunately, their numbers in Northern Australia have grown substantially over the last twenty years and many crocodiles are beginning to be seen on popular surfing beaches and basking close to areas frequented by swimmers.

There are even been reports of crocodiles being spotted close to Cairns and Townsville the main centres of population in the region.  A recent study by local rangers and Aboriginal guides have estimated numbers to be around 500 – 1,000.  The rise in population has been attributed to the ban on hunting crocs and the decline in natural predators of crocodile eggs such as dingoes and other wild dogs.

These crocodiles are very capable hunters and once above 8 feet in length would be classified as man-eaters.  The larger specimens are mainly ambush predators preying on animals as they come to the rivers to drink.

A call for a cull has been made and many locals are already lobbying to be able to carry guns.  However, the local Environmental Protection Agency is reluctant to support a cull as if open season was declared on the Saltwater crocodiles the population may be devastated in just a few years.  Despite their fearsome reputation crocodile attacks are relatively rare with only 17 attacks being recorded since 1985 with only five fatalities.

The Crocodilian order is very ancient with crocodiles of various types thriving throughout the Mesozoic.  The first modern crocodiles evolved around 90 million years ago, all crocodiles and alligators belong to a Crocodilian group called the Eusuchians, these became widespread during the Late Cretaceous and survived the mass extinction that ended the reign of their cousins the dinosaurs.  Although the Estaurine is the largest reptile living today, it was dwarfed by many of the crocodiles that lived in the past.

Giants like Sarcosuchus (means “flesh crocodile”) and Deinosuchus (means “terrible crocodile”)  from the Cretaceous are believed to exceeded 12 metres (40 feet in length).

Crocodile Models: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Models

Scientists still debate which was the largest crocodile known, as often only fragments of the skeleton are fossilised.  Perhaps the biggest of all was Purussaurus from South America.  This animal inhabited rivers and lacks of the late Miocene (8 mya), estimates of its length vary but it may have reached over 17 metres (55 feet).

22 07, 2007

Diving for Dinosaurs

By | July 22nd, 2007|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Diving for Dinosaurs

As far as we know dinosaurs were purely terrestrial animals, they lived on land, with no species adapting to a fully marine lifestyle.  However, there are dinosaurs to be found at the bottom of the Atlantic, not just those specimens that remain encased in sediments out of our reach but also there are a number of duck-billed dinosaurs to be found about 400 miles North west of the Azores.

Before the USA was drawn into the First World War, dinosaur expeditions were still being funded and there were many excavations taking place in the Western USA and Canada.  British scientists looked on enviously, especially as many UK based museums had received a number of high quality fossils in the early part of the 20th Century.

The American fossil hunter Charles H Sternberg had collected a huge number of Cretaceous animal fossils in the area of Alberta now known as Dinosaur Provincial Park.  The haul included a number of Hadrosaur fossils, rare turtles and Champosaurs (a type of crocodile).  Many of these finds were destined for England as it had been agreed that they would be put on display in London.

The fossils were loaded onto the steamship Mount Temple.  The year was 1916 and the Great War in Europe had been waging for two years.  Whilst on its way to England, the Mount Temple was intercepted by a German ship, the SMS Oldenberg. After firing on the Mount Temple and forcing it to stop the German crew boarded the Canadian merchantman and planted explosives on the hull. The ship was scuttled and its precious 75-million-year-old cargo was sent to the bottom of the sea.

There it remains to this day.  Ironically, there is some debate as to what was in the cargo destined for London.  A number of Hadrosaur (duck-billed dinosaurs) remains including a complete skull and some fossilised skin impressions are believed to have been on board.  It has been suggested that they belonged to Corythosaurus, although some of the remains may also have been of another hollow-crested Hadrosaur called Parasaurolophus.

So dinosaurs were also victims of the First World War.  Ambitious plans were drawn up in 2005 to dive the wreck of the Mount Temple, but nothing came of this as the initial cost estimates (£ millions), put off investors.   However, check out our range of prehistoric animal models for slightly more accessible dinosaur models.

Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Models: Dinosaur Models for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Toys

21 07, 2007

New Ghost Ranch Fossil Sheds Light on Dinosaur Ancestors

By | July 21st, 2007|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

Ghost Ranch Reveals Dinosaur Ancestor

Much is still unknown about the evolution of dinosaurs and how they came to dominate life on Earth as the mega fauna for around 160 million years.  However, the findings of young palaeontologists from the University of California may shed some new light on the rise of the dinosaurs and the type of animals that shared the late Triassic with them.

These palaeontologists working on specimens from the famous Ghost Ranch area of New Mexico have unearthed an ancestor of the dinosaur – an animal commonly referred to as a “basal dinosauromorph”.  Working on sediments aged between 220 – 210 million years old, the graduates have uncovered fossils of a wide range of animals that give an insight to the type of animals that co-existed with the first dinosaurs.  Remains of dinosaurs, amphibians, fish and ancient crocodiles have been recovered, surprisingly a number of animals thought to be precursors of the dinosaurs have also been found.  It had been thought that these ancestral forms had died out around 230 million years ago, paving the way for the true dinosaurs to take over.  However, it looks like some of these ancient reptiles survived into the late Triassic and shared the world with the early dinos.

Most of the animals around during this time were relatively small (at least compared to their later Jurassic and Cretaceous counterparts).  Dinosaurs such as Coelophysis were no more than 3 metres long.   One dinosaur ancestor found at the quarry, named Dromomeron romeri, ( pronounced Dro-mo-mer-on Ro-mer-eye) was only half this size and like Coelophysis it may have been a fleet footed, meat-eater chasing after prey by running on its long hind-legs.

Some of the late Triassic Inhabitants (Dinos and Non-Dinos)

Artists Rendition from the Journal Science

Background typical early Coelurosaur dinosaurs.  Foreground dinosaur precursors including Dromomeron (extreme left).

Previously, scientists had thought that the dinosaurs rose to prominence quickly and animals like Coelophysis out competed the dinosaur precursors quickly driving them to extinction.  However, based on this evidence from New Mexico it looks like ancestral dinosauromorphs hung around longer than we thought.

There is still very little material from the middle and late Triassic period to study, there are very few fossil sites dating from this time in our planet’s history.  The evidence for the evolution and ascent of the dinosaurs is still very patchy to say the least.

These small dinosaurs and basal dinosauromorphs were not on top of the food-chain, the dominant predators at the time were other Archosaurs such as Postosuchus and Arizonasaurus – the fierce dinosaur hunter with a sail.

To see a picture of Arizonasaurus  and other prehistoric animal models; click here: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Models

In truth after the massive extinction event at the end of the Permian the world’s ecosystems were thrown into chaos.  It may have taken as long as 100 million years for animal and plant species to diversify to the extent seen before the Permian extinction. 

Strangely, some individual genera (similar or closely related species) survived for millions of years well into the Triassic. Often these were the only representatives from what were once very successful and diverse families.  The scientist David Jablonski coined the phrase “Dead Clades Walking”, a description of an organism that may have survived a mass extinction but was unable to recover sufficiently to survive for much longer afterwards.

A typical example of a “Dead Clade Walking” is the Lystrosaurs which survived for some 30 million years before finally going extinct towards the end of the Triassic.  David Jablonski was inspired by the films “Dead Man Walking” that starred Susan Sarandon and “The Green Mile” with Tom Hanks.  Dead Man Walking is American prison guard slang for a condemned prisoner.

20 07, 2007

Dinosaurs and Harry Potter

By | July 20th, 2007|Dinosaur Fans, Educational Activities, Main Page|0 Comments

Dinosaurs and Harry Potter

Tonight sees the launch of the last book in the Harry Potter series.  We checked round the office and none of us have ever read a book, or gone to the cinema to see a movie.  In fact, no one admitted to actually sitting through an entire film when it has been shown on TV.  We must be immune to “Harry Potter fever”.

However, JK Rowling’s Hogwarts saga has had an impact on palaeontology.  In May of last year a new species of Pachycephalosaur was named in honour of JK Rowling’s creation.

The animal was named Dracorex hogwartsia (means dragon king of Hogwarts), Hogwarts is the fictional school of witchcraft and wizardry from the Harry Potter series.  So far only a skull and some neck vertebrae have been found.  Many types of Pachycephalosaurs are known only from their skulls, they are very robust and their thick bone aids preservation.  Many of the skulls are badly eroded prior to fossilisation.  Palaeontologists speculate that the weathering is due to the skulls being carried along way in water before finally coming to rest and becoming buried in sediments.  This may indicate that many of these animals lived in mountainous areas, with those few animals that died near rivers having their bodies broken up and washed downstream before finally coming to rest.

To view dinosaur models, including Dracorex: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Models

The Dracorex specimen was found in the Hell Creek formation, it dates from 66 million years ago (Late Cretaceous).  The animal is estimated to be 3 – 4 metres long.  It lacked the thick domed skull, typical of the Pachycephalosaur group.  Instead the skull was flat and covered in spiky horns and many bumps.

A Reconstruction of the Dracorex hogwartsia

Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Children’s Museum

Dracorex was herbivorous, it has been reconstructed based on another Pachycephalosaur called Stygimoloch, scientists speculate that it may have lived in small groups browsing on shrubs and flowering plants.

19 07, 2007

Leedsichthys – the Biggest Fish of all Time

By | July 19th, 2007|Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Leedsichthys – Perhaps the Biggest Fish of all Time

Continuing the fishy theme from yesterdays post about the Coelacanth catch off the coast of Tanzania:-

Coelacanth article here: Coelacanth caught off Zanzibar

I thought I would write about another amazing fish, Leedsichthys, which was perhaps the biggest fish of all time.  The first remains of this huge animal were unearthed by the English farmer /country gent/ amateur palaeontologist and geologist, Alfred Leeds in 1887 as he explored some Jurassic sediments near Oxford, England.  He only found a few isolated fragments but other scientists on examining the preserved gill rakers of this animal estimated that it was a huge fish over 30 feet long.  The lack of fossilised skeleton parts including the spine (which palaeontologist think was made of cartilage and this does not fossilise well), and the incomplete remains meant that accurate estimates for this animal’s size could not be made.

The lack of fossils to study led scientists to name the animal Leedsichthys problematicus “problematical Leeds fish”.

An Illustration of Leedsichthys

Artwork © Ray Troll 1994

Further partial specimens of this giant Jurassic filter feeder came to light and up until recently the best Leedsichthys specimen was stored at Glasgow University’s Hunterian museum.  The most complete fossil was named “big Meg” and was donated to museum by Alfred Leeds in memory of his Scottish wife in 1915.  However, this animal, although reasonably well preserved was very fragmentary.  It had to be stored in 20 museum draws, so no really accurate measurements as to this animal’s true size could be made.

The drawing above was made by Ray Troll an American artist and illustrator who produces really cool pictures of fish and other creatures inspired by his studio in Alaska.

In the late 1980’s the existing fossils of Leedsichthys were once again re-examined.  The remains were compared to the a close relative of Leedsichthys called Asthenocormus. Using this technique of comparative anatomy new estimates of body size were made.  This publishes work indicated that Leedsichthys may well have reached lengths in excess of 30 metres (100 feet).  Doubts have been cast over the accuracy of these results.

A new much more complete Leedsichthys was found in a brick clay pit near Peterborough, Cambridgeshire (England) in 2001.  A team from Glasgow university were given the task of excavating the delicate remains.  It took a very long time, as there were lots and lots of fragments to recover from the Oxford Clay.  For example, it is estimated that Leedsichthys had something like 40,000 bristle like teeth in its huge mouth.

Despite the back bone not being preserved, scientists have estimated the animal’s size and put it at between 20 to 30 metres (65 – 100 feet) in length.  Bigger than today’s Whale Shark.  This makes Leedsichthys the biggest fish known to date.

It is thought that this animal cruised the shallow seas of the mid Jurassic, hoovering up small crustaceans, plankton and algae as it slowly swam.  It may have lived in shoals or swam around singly, only meeting up with others of its kind to find a mate.  Close examination of the remains of the 2001 specimen show growth rings on the bones.  It is believed that this animal was over 100 years old when it died and sank to the bottom of the sea.

As a genus the Leedsichthys were not around for very long, their remains have so far been found in sediments between 165 mya to 155 mya, from the Callovian to the late Kimmeridgian.  It is not known what caused the demise of these huge leviathans, perhaps they were not able to compete with the more advanced teleost fish that started to become more abundant at the end of the Jurassic.  Perhaps as the sea levels rose so Leedsichthys lost its shallow sea habitats – an early victim of global warming?

18 07, 2007

Coelacanth caught of the island of Zanzibar

By | July 18th, 2007|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

Coelacanth caught of the island of Zanzibar

Reports from African news agencies state that fishermen in northern Zanzibar have caught a Coelacanth.  Zanzibar is the largest of a small group of islands of the coast of Tanzania.  Coelacanths are caught occasionally in the nets of fishermen in African waters and a catch of this living fossil usually attracts the attention of the local media.

Apart from the six species of lungfish, the Coelacanth is the only other survivor of the fleshy-finned fish group of fishes that first evolved in the Devonian (410 – 355 mya).  Coelacanths were thought to have died out at the end of the Cretaceous period with their fossil record disappearing around 70 – 65 mya, however, a trawler working off the coast of South Africa in 1938 was to turn scientific thinking on its head.

Trawling off the Chalumna river estuary, Hendrik Goosen captain of the trawler Nerine, and his crew noticed a bizarre looking fish amongst their haul in what had been just another day fishing in the Indian Ocean.  As the trawler landed its catch word spread about this strange creature and on the 22nd December 1938, Marjorie Courtney-Latimer, the curator of the East London museum in South Africa was notified.

The fish was 5 feet long (1.5 metres) and weighed 127 pounds (58 kgs) and whilst it was still alive it was ferocious enough to attack anyone and anything that came within its reach.  The strange three-pronged tail and the lobe shaped fins which were on fleshy stalks led Miss Courtney Latimer to conclude that this was a Coelacanth, identical to ones found in the fossil record but believed extinct.

Miss Courtney-Latimer with the first Coelacanth

Image from Sciencecases.org

This genus of coelacanth was named Latimeria chalumnae in honour of Miss Courtney-Latimer and the location where it was first found.

For prehistoric animal models including models of Coelacanths and other amazing creatures: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Models

Since that fateful day a number of coelacanths have been caught (the average is about a dozen per year).  Most of  the catches are from the Comoro island off Madagascar, the locals use the coarse-scaled skin as sand paper, roughening the inner tubes of their bicycle tyres when they want to mend a puncture.

Despite having been known to science for the best part of 70 years we still know very little about these fishes.  They live on rocky reefs and caves between 500 – 2300 feet (150 – 700 metres) deep, are sluggish and nocturnal.  It is believed they can grow to over 6 feet in length (2 metres) and are a metallic blue with white spots when seen in their natural environment.

In 1998, the Coelacanth once again shocked the scientific world.  A marine biologist, Mark Erdman, on honeymoon on the Indonesian island of Menadtua discovered a Coelacanth on sale at the local fish market.  Tests have revealed that the Coelacanths off Indonesia are genetically different from the African Coelacanths and that these fish split from the African population some 6 million years ago.  How a group of them ended up off the islands of Indonesia is still unknown, what is more no one knows where else in the world Coelacanths may lurk.  Hopefully, there are some more colonies out there as estimates from the Coelacanth Rescue Mission (an organisation dedicated to study and conservation of these animals), estimates that there are less than 1,000 left.   There are more Black Rhinos in the world than Coelacanths, this is why this living fossil has been afforded protection under CITES (Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).

17 07, 2007

Paper Mache Dinosaurs

By | July 17th, 2007|Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page|0 Comments

Paper Mache Dinosaurs

On July 15th it was Saint Swithun’s day.  Saint Swithun was an early English Bishop, his diocese was Winchester.  Folklore says that whatever the weather on Saint Swithun’s day, over the next 40 days England will have the same weather.  So if it is fine on July 15th expect it to be a decent Summer, however, if it is wet expect rain over the next 40 days.

Many farmers and country folk still use many of these traditional folklores to predict the weather, we have no records of how accurate this has proved in previous years, but since July 15th was wet I guess we can expect the miserable British summer to continue.

Rain can have a serious impact on fossil excavation sites, once whilst in the Dinosaur Provincial Park area of Alberta, Canada a sudden downpour made the mudstone strata we were working on extremely slippy.  The whole site turned into an ice rink and it was dangerous just to try walking on the slopes, let alone trying some serious excavation work.

On rainy days it can be difficult to find things for young dinosaur fans to do.  One exercise that we have done with our focus groups and various groups of school children is to make paper mache dinosaurs.  We have a number of what we call “Table Top” activities and making a paper mache dinosaur is a fun way to spend a couple of wet afternoons.

To make the framework for the paper mache dinosaur we used some of our woodencraft kits, the wooden parts can be fitted together and this provides the idea skeleton framework for adding the paper mache “flesh”.  These items are relatively cheap to purchase and there are eleven different animals in our series so there are lots and lots to choose from.

A Woodencraft Kit we use for the Paper Mache Framework

To see Woodencraft items and dinosaur toys click here: Dinosaur Crafts for Kids

You need plenty of old newspapers, we tend to tear ours up into strips of about two inches long, although for the smaller more delicate parts of the sculpture like the horns of the Triceratops we used tiny pieces of newspaper.  Then using wallpaper paste we started to build up our dinosaurs using the Woodencraft skeleton to guide us.  We discovered the trick was to dip the paper strips in the paste but then to squeeze them through your fingers to remove excess glue.  This made the strips pliable but not too soggy.  When putting on the strips make sure that you smooth them out and remove any air bubbles, children with their little fingers are best at this.  Once the first layer had been added we let the models dry thoroughly, best to leave them overnight if you can.

A second layer is added the following day, and then once this has dried the models can be painted and put on display.

Finished Paper Mache Dinosaurs

Paper-Mache Dinosaurs

Photo courtesy of Peter Rowe

Remember, good palaeontologists always tidy up after themselves, so part of the exercise is to tidy up afterwards.  There have been a few messy palaeontological expeditions in the past but these days the object of a tidy up on a site is to make sure that area is returned to its natural state as much as possible – minus any dinosaurs that may have been removed of course.

16 07, 2007

A Reminder about the Loch Ness Monster

By | July 16th, 2007|Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

A Reminder about Nessie

As we travel around visiting schools, play groups and the like we get bombarded with questions about dinosaurs and prehistoric animals from all the young dinosaur fans in the room.  When we ask them what they would like to be when they grow up we get a resounding cry of Palaeontologist!  If they all maintain their enthusiasm for the subject I think we are going to have a lot more palaeontologists in the future.

One question we do get asked a lot is about the Loch Ness Monster.  The question usually goes something like this:

“Is the Loch Ness Monster real and if it exists what sort of Dinosaur is it”?

As you can probably imagine, this sort of question takes a bit of tackling, as for all we know; out there in the vast depths of the ocean there may well be some large unknown sea creatures that have yet to reveal themselves to modern science.

We tackle this question in two parts.  Firstly, we point out that Dinosaurs were terrestrial creatures, (land lubbers).  Their advanced ankle joints and backbone/hip structures such as the sacrum made them extremely good at walking around on land, so to the best of our knowledge no dinosaurs ever adopted a fully marine existence.

We do know they could swim, check out our recent article on swimming dinosaurs for further details:

Swimming Dinosaurs here: Article on Swimming Dinosaurs here

Secondly, we explain a little about the story of the Loch Ness Monster.  It is alleged to be a Plesiosaur, a long-necked marine lizard.  The Plesiosaurs first evolved in the Late Triassic, this group lasted right through the remainder of the Mesozoic and went extinct at the same time as the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.  During this time, the group evolved into two distinct forms the Pliosaurs, which included such huge carnivores as Liopleurodon and Kronosaurus and the true Plesiosaurs with the long necks and small heads.

We use a model of an Elasmosaurus (one of the last Plesiosaurs to evolve) to demonstrate what many people think Nessie looks like:

Sea Monster models and such like: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls

There have been lots of sightings and photographs of strange things in the loch.  Even video images have been produced, supposedly showing something strange moving on the surface of the dark, deep waters.  Certainly, Loch Ness can be an awesome place to visit, once the weather closes in and the wind gets up you could easily imagine that this big, deep body of water was home to a colony of large marine reptiles.

If Nessie is a Plesiosaur, we should be rather relieved, all long-necked Plesiosaurs as far as we know were specialist hunters of small prey such as fish and squid.  They could not tackle a person, their small heads are not suited to eating something as large as us.  Still if a 15 metre reptile reared its head out of the water in front of you, I suspect you would still be frightened.

We have looked at a number of studies of the ecosystems in the loch, personally I doubt there is enough fish to sustain a group of large animals.  Still there may be some extremely large eels or the occasional sturgeon and these might be mistaken for Nessie.

Loch Ness is not the only part of the world with reports of lake monsters.  There is a sort of northern latitude “belt” of lake monsters covering Scandinavia, Russia, Japan, China, Canada and the USA.  Hence the likes of the monsters “Champ” and Ogopogo.

Who knows there may be something in it.  However, I am reminded of the comment made by the great Arthur C Clarke casting doubts over the authenticity of lake monster sightings when he said he could well believe in a strange animal lurking in the darkest depths of the Amazon but would have difficulty believing in the existence of a large, unknown animal in Kew Gardens.

Like many enthusiasts we would love for someone to find a real living Plesiosaur or another marine reptile which was believed to be extinct.  These living fossils do emerge from time to time, the Coelacanth being perhaps the best example.

15 07, 2007

Dinosaurs for Girls

By | July 15th, 2007|Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page|0 Comments

Dinosaurs for Girls

Palaeontology is often seen as the domain of the boys, we at Everything Dinosaur are very proactive towards encouraging girls to take a more positive approach to the Earth Sciences.  Girls have played their part in shaping this palaeontology too.  Some of the most important and influential contributors have been women.  For example, Mary Anning (1799-1847) was one of the pioneers of fossil collecting and study.  She scoured the cliffs and beaches of Lyme Regis, Dorset (England) and discovered many important palaeontological specimens including Ichthyosaurs, the first Pleisiosaur and the first Pterodactyl to be unearthed in the UK.

Prehistoric animals continue to be a source of fascination for boys and girls alike, there is so much that we still do not know about these amazing creatures.  It is always a pleasure to know that children continue to find these animals so wonderful.  It is great to see such an amazing range of dinosaur toys for girls.

Take 8-year old Kimberley for example.  Her parents have told us that she is captivated by prehistoric animals and knows a great deal about them.  She seems to have built up quite a collection, almost enough to open her very own prehistoric safari park!

We really like your arrangement, the Diplodocus herd and the Pteranodon perched up high surveying all the other animals below.

Kimberley with some of her Prehistoric Animals

Photo: Courtesy of Kimberley’s Mum and Dad (Thank you)

It looks like Kimberley is well on her way to becoming a famous palaeontologist, perhaps discovering her very own dinosaur – how about a Kimberleysaurus.

14 07, 2007

Humboldt Brachiosaurus gets a Face Lift

By | July 14th, 2007|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|1 Comment

Humboldt Museum’s Brachiosaurus gets a Face Lift

The giant Brachiosaurus skeleton on display at the Humboldt Museum in Berlin has been given a bit of a face lift and a general spruce up as part of a museum investment programme.

Over the last two years the Museum has been going through a period of buildings work and restoration thanks to European Union and state funding.  The museum, more appropriately titled the museum of Natural History – Berlin (but called the Humboldt museum as it is actually still owned by the city’s Humboldt University), has one of the most important collections of animal specimens and fossils in the world.  The dinosaurs remain the centre piece of the museum displays and the fully mounted Brachiosaurus skeleton which was first erected in 1937 takes pride of place in the whole collection.

One of the biggest of all dinosaurs, Brachiosaurus bones were first discovered in the Grand River Valley of Colorado, USA in 1900.  Although the massive skeleton was incomplete it was clear that this was a new type of dinosaur.  Brachiosaurus was described and named by the eminent palaeontologist Elmer Riggs in 1903.  The race was on to find more remains of this enormous animal and it was the German palaeontologist Werner Janensch who found many specimens in his expeditions to Tanzania between 1909 and 1912.    The Brachiosaurus in the museum was made up from Brachiosaur bones collected by Werner during this period

It is claimed to be the tallest mounted dinosaur skeleton in the world.  As part of the refurbishment, the Brachiosaurus has had all the armature framework that supported the extremely heavy fossils replaced with a new high tech system that permits individual bones to be removed for study if required.

The Brachiosaurus has also been re-positioned, the tail has been lifted clear of the ground and the front legs (which always bowed out at a funny angle) have been set much more directly under the body.

The Humboldt Museum Brachiosaurus before the Restoration

Photo: W. D. Heinal (University of Bonn)

This reconstruction reflects the latest research on sauropod posture.  Ironically, this massive fossil has got even more impressive as a result of the make over.  The skeleton is still 22 metres long but now stands over a metre taller.  It used to be about 11.7 metres high, but the repositioned legs give it a height of just under 13 metres.  It looks like it is going to burst through the glass panelled roof in the central hall.

The Humboldt Museum Brachiosaurus after the Restoration

Photo: Spiegel Online International

The Humboldt museum will continue the restoration programme eventually re-building the damaged East Wing (bombed during World War II – an American raid in February 1945).  It is hoped the refurbishment will be completed by 2009.  In the meantime, a new exhibition has just opened under the theme “Evolution in Action”.  A fitting title when you consider that their 70 year old resident Brachiosaurus has just been set into a new pose, based on our evolving ideas on how these amazing creatures roamed the Earth.

Brachiosaurids (and their close relatives the Camarasaurids) remain one of our particular dinosaur favourites.  These animals have gone through an incredible journey, once having been seen as swamp dwelling, bottom feeding giants barely capable of moving their great bodies around on land.  Scientist now see them as rather more graceful animals grazing on the tops of conifers and araucarias.

Scale models of these giants are available, we have worked on a small Brachiosaurus model for the Dinosaur Collection series.  This animal is not to scale, thankfully as we could not afford to mould such a big model.  We live the bigger models to the other manufacturers such as the Museum Line series of Germany.

You can compare Brachiosaurs and Brachiosaurus dinosaur models by clicking the links below:

Dinosaur Models: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls

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