Top Ten Dinosaur and Fossil News Stories of 2008

It is the time of year for looking back over the last 12 months and also to look forward to all the exciting times ahead.  Some of our team members have been compiling a list of predictions for palaeontology in 2009, trying to guess what news stories and events will take place in the fascinating world of fossils.  At the same time, a couple of us have been asked to look back over the many news stories and articles about discoveries we have written in 2008 and to select the most popular.  So putting aside our projects to develop new dinosaur toys and games for the moment, we have set about the task of calculating the top ten most popular dinosaur and fossil articles of 2008.

Choosing ten from the dozens and dozens of articles we have published over the year has not been easy, however, we have managed to compile a list using data from our back office statistical package regarding which articles have been viewed and read most.  The range of stories featured in our countdown is quite staggering, stories from all over the world, providing information on all kinds of amazing creatures from giant flying reptiles to giant flying geese, fishy tales to dinosaur dads, it is quite a collection.

So here are the top ten dinosaur and fossil news stories of 2008:

10).  Dinosaur Dads were Dedicated Fathers

Making our top ten is an article published just over a fortnight ago by a team led by scientists from Montana.  Their research indicates that the male dinosaurs may have done most of the incubating of eggs, a study of three Theropod species has led the team to conclude that it was the male that did most of the work when it came to looking after the nest and brooding.

Article in full: Doting Fathers – A Dinosaur Trait passed onto Modern Birds

9).  Giant Mother Goose

From Fathers we switch focus on to the Mothers with the discovery of the “Mother of all Mother Geese”.  A team of German and British scientists published a paper in the scientific journal “Palaeontology” back in September on the fossil remains of a huge bird.  Fragments of a giant beak had been found on the Isle of Sheppey off the Kent coast and from this and other evidence the team were able to deduce that this bird had a wingspan in excess of 5 metres.  The bird named Darsornis, is believed to be an ancestor of modern ducks and geese, but probably had a lifestyle similar to the Wandering Albatross.

An Ancient Bird (Darsornis)

Picture Credit: Times Online

To read the article: Huge “Mother Goose” of the Palaeogene

8).  Epidexipteryx – Little Feathered Monster of the Jurassic

From giant feathered birds to little feathered dinosaurs with an article published on the Everything Dinosaur blog site at the end of October on the bizarre, pigeon-sized dinosaur named Epidexipteryx.  The discovery of a feathered dinosaur dating from the mid Jurassic in China could change our understanding of the evolution of birds.

Epidexipteryx – An Illustration of a Feathered Dinosaur from the Jurassic

Picture Credit: Zhao Chuang, Xing Lida/Nature

To read the article: Is it a bird, is it a plane? No it’s Epidexipteryx

7).  Fishy Tales from the English South Coast

Something fishy going on in the garden?  For Kent resident Peter Parvin his enthusiasm for putting unusual stones into his rockery has led to the discovery of a beautifully preserved prehistoric fish, dating from the late Cretaceous.

The stone shaped fish head was spotted by Peter and his wife whilst they beach-combed on a caravan holiday to Pevensey in East Sussex in 1993.  Found amongst the pebbles as the tide was going out, Mr Parvin thought nothing of his find, simply placing it amongst the other curiosities he had collected in this rockery.  However, a chance conversation with a volunteer from Maidstone museum in a pub, led to him bringing this rare, ancient relic to the museum for closer examination.  Once the 15 cm long specimen had been studied by the experts, this curiosity was identified as the head of an 80 million year old fish that had been preserved in flint.

The Ancient Fossilised Fish

Picture Credit: Kent News Online

You just never know what you will find whilst out beach-combing.

To read the article: Something Fishy on the Rockery?

6).  Cambrian Trace Fossils Cause a Stir

Some of the smallest and most ancient of all organisms make our top ten most popular dinosaur and fossil news story list, with an amazing story about the formation of trace fossils.

New research into a little known, distant relative of microscopic amoebas called Gromia sphaerica has proved that these little organisms travel across the sea floor and as they do, they leave trackways behind.  These tracks are very similar to the fossilised tracks found in Precambrian rocks.  It has been suggested that the Precambrian trace fossils may not be evidence of complex organisms but the preserved trails of an ancient type of Gromia.

A team of researchers from the University of Texas at Austin made this exciting discovery and published their findings in November.

A Potential Trace Fossil in the Making?

A Trace Fossil in the Making

Picture Credit: Matz/NOAA/Harbour Branch Oceanographic Institute

The red arrow in the picture is pointing to the trail left by a Gromia.

This new research could have tremendous implications on how scientists interpret trace fossils from the Precambrian and Cambrian periods and may open once again debate and discussion regarding the diversity of life prior to the Cambrian explosion.

To read the article in full: Cambrian Trace Fossils – it was the single-celled life forms that made them

5).  Dinosaur Growth Rates – Dinosaurs Grew Quickly and Most Died Young

Entering our chart and making the top five, is an article first published back in January.  A new study by scientists from the University of California provided fresh insight into the growth rates of dinosaurs.  It seems that dinosaurs may have grown throughout their lives, but just like us, they would have experienced rapid growth spurts.  The study also concluded that just like medium to large sized mammals, including humans, dinosaurs were able to reproduce before they reached their full adult size.

The team’s findings suggests that dinosaurs were born precocious and suffered high adult mortality, making early reproductive maturity necessary for survival.   It seems that all those monster movies were right when the dinosaurs in the picture end up deceased, with the chances of few dinosaurs living into old age, having the ability to raise a family early makes a lot of evolutionary sense.

To read the article: Research Shows Dinosaurs Grew Quickly and Died Young

4).  Speedy Dromaeosaurs – Evidence of Raptor Speeds from Fossil Trackways

The tell-tale, two-toed tracks of Dromaeosaurs found in South Korea, provided scientists with an insight into how fast these little dinosaurs could move.  In an article first published on our web log on June 25th, we reported on the analysis of fossil trackways from the Haman Formation of South Korea, an area that has yielded a number of dinosaur discoveries over the last few years.  These particular trace fossils, a trackway indicating where these small Theropods ran along a lake shoreline; have provided information on the velocity of these little dinosaurs.  Although, the prints indicate a Dromaeosaur (only two toe marks by each hind foot as the first digit with the large sickle-like claw was held off the ground), the exact genus cannot be determined.

What the scientists were able to work out from the six inch long footprints is that these little dinosaurs were trotting along at 17kph at the time, a fair speed covering over 4 metres a second.  This is faster than most children can run.

To view the article: Speedy Dromaeosaurs – Trotting along at 17 kph

3).  Tiny Pterosaur Fossil Found in China

We stay in the Far East for number three on our countdown of the ten most popular dinosaur and fossil news stories of 2008.  Back in mid February we published an article about a new species of Pterosaur that had been discovered in China.

A joint team of Brazilian and Chinese scientists have announced their findings on the study of a tiny Pterosaur fossil, believed to be the smallest Pterosaur fossil known to date.  With a wingspan no bigger than a robin’s this tiny flying reptile lived in a forest environment and dates from the Cretaceous.

Although some of the later Pterosaurs evolved into huge animals – Pteranodon and Quetzalcoatlus for example, scientists had speculated that there were many thousands of other species of smaller Pterosaurs that filled other ecological niches.  Since they lived in arboreal habitats, the chances of fossil preservation was extremely poor so there is very little evidence to be gained by studying the current fossil record.

The animal has been named Nemicolopterus crypticus, the fossil shows a number of adaptations for a life amongst the tress. For example, the eye sockets are quite large, indicating that this Pterosaur could have coped well with low light levels in the understorey of a dense primeval forest.  The four-toed hind feet had sharp claws, which could possibly have been able to grasp branches, giving this tiny flying reptile a good purchase amongst the tree tops.

Nemicolopterus crypticus – A Tiny Pterosaur

Picture Credit: Lewis Smith

To read the article: New Species of Tiny Pterosaur Discovered in China

Who knows what may be revealed as the enormous fossil deposits in China are explored and mapped.

2).  The Frog from Hell – Beelzebufo

The stuff of nightmares makes up our number two position in the top ten countdown.  The discovery of the fossilised remains of a giant frog on the island of Madagascar.  A frog so big that it would have been about the size of a partially deflated beach ball and quite capable of swallowing baby dinosaurs should they venture too close to its huge jaws.

Researchers from New York’s Stony Brook University aided by a team from University College, London headed up by vertebrate morphologist and palaeontologist Susan Evans; have published their findings on this new species of Madagascan giant frog in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  This frog, dating from the late Cretaceous is the largest frog species known to date.  It would have weighed as much as 4 kilogrammes.  The new genus named Beelzebufo may provide an insight into the break up of Gondwanaland, as it is believed to have been an ancestor of the horned frogs which are found in modern South America.

The Frog from Hell – Beelzebufo ampinga

 

Picture Credit: Associated Press

The diagram above shows an artist’s impression of Beelzebufo, with a modern frog and a pencil for scale.  Although only partial elements of the skeleton have been recovered the research team have estimated that this animal was 40 cm long and would have weighed more than newborn human baby.

To read the article: The Frog from Hell – Beelzebufo ampinga – the Frog that could Hop across Continents

1).  Stalked by a Flock of Quetzalcoatlus (Most Popular Article of 2008)

An article on flying reptiles, in particular on Quetzalcoatlus takes pride of place in our top ten most popular articles list of 2008.  Trouble is, the term flying reptile may have to be dropped if the conclusions drawn from a new study into the Azhdarchid Pterosaurs are proved to be valid.

A study published in May by Mark Witton and Dr Darren Naish reviewed the current data and published fossil material on the Azhdarchids.  They came to the conclusion that these animals may have been the prehistoric equivalent of ground-feeding birds such as the ground hornbills and some types of modern stork.

The study of Azhdarchid anatomy, footprints attributed to these Pterosaurs and the distribution of their fossils by the research team shows that the coastal glider, fish-eater stereotype of large Pterosaurs does not necessarily apply to this particular family of flying reptiles.  Their review provides evidence that some types of Azhdarchids were strongly adapted for terrestrial life.  According to the review of the fossil bones of Azhdarchids the scientists concluded that they were better adapted for walking than other types of flying reptile because they had long limbs in proportion to their bodies.  Their light, skulls ending in a sharp, pointed but toothless beak would have been well suited for picking up small animals and other food from the ground.  They would then have manipulated their food in the huge beak before swallowing it whole (probably head first like many species of ground hunting birds do today).

The site of a flock of these huge, 3-metre tall monsters slowly moving across the plains of the late Cretaceous of the USA would have been awesome.

Full article: Stalked by a flock of Quetzalcoatlus

A Flock of Quetzalcoatlus on the Move

Picture Credit: Mark Witton

So there you have it, our own top ten most popular dinosaur and fossil news stories of the last year.  We have travelled back in time to the Cambrian and end with an article about a flying reptile from the very end of the Age of Dinosaurs.  We have visited America, China, Madagascar and the English county of Kent.  Our top ten is certainly eclectic, reflecting the wide range of subjects covered on the Everything Dinosaur web log.

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