All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
//February
8 02, 2010

Eagerly Awaiting the Release of the Schleich Saurus Giganotosaurus

By | February 8th, 2010|Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page, Press Releases|0 Comments

New Schleich Saurus – Release Date September 2010

The Saurus range of prehistoric animals from Schleich is only having one new addition this year.  This German manufacturer is producing a scale model of a Giganotosaurus (Giganotosaurus carolini) to go with its large Theropod collection of T. rex, Spinosaurus and the late Jurassic Allosaurus.

The New Schleich Giganotosaurus Model – Release Date Sept. 2010

Picture Credit: Schleich/Everything Dinosaur

We have been lucky enough to see this model up close, as part of our preview work with the manufacturer.  This Giganotosaurus, continues this German company’s tradition of producing very stocky and robust looking Theropods.  This model contrasts nicely with the long awaited Giganotosaurus from Bullyland (Germany).  Bullyland have chosen a very different look for their version of this large South American predator from the Neuquen Province of Argentina.  The red head on the Bullyland model is most striking, a reflection on the large Theropod hypothesis put forward by Dr. Bob Bakker et al.  More on this later no doubt when our first shipments come in; but in the meantime, it is exciting looking forward to the release of the Schleich interpretation.  The detailing on this model is very good, the expression of the fenestra in front of the orbit (eye) is vividly demonstrated.  This Giganotosaurus is clearly depicted as a ponderous, heavy, carnivore, quite capable of tackling a Titanosaur if it wanted.

To view the Schleich Saurus range: Dinosaur Toys and Dinosaur Models

7 02, 2010

Melanosomes Provide Further Proof of Feathered Dinosaurs

By | February 7th, 2010|Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Sinosauropteryx – a Ginger Dinosaur

A team of scientists from China and the United Kingdom have published a paper indicating that some small Theropod dinosaurs were red heads, in fact, sort of ginger coloured all over.

The article published in the scientific journal “Nature” highlights the work done on the fine bristle-like structures found surrounding parts of the fossilised skeleton of a turkey-sized, 125 million-year-old dinosaur called Sinosauropteryx.  Scanning electron microscopes have shown melanosomes to be present, indicating that these strange features were not the remains of collagen or connective tissue, but most probably feathers.  This is further evidence that many dinosaurs were covered in downy feathers, perhaps to keep them warm but also for display.  The melanosomes contain the pigment melanin and from the ratio of different shaped melanosome structures found in the fossilised feathers the scientists have concluded that this particular Sinosauropteryx was ginger coloured.

The scientists have also discovered that this diminutive carnivore had a “Mohican” of feathers running along its head and back and a striped tail.

An Artist’s Impression of Sinosauropteryx

Picture Credit: J. Robbins

Sinosauropteryx caused a sensation when its discovery was announced in 1996.   The fossil of this one metre long dinosaur, was found in the Cretaceous deposits of the Liaoning Province in China.  The fossil showed a perfectly preserved small, Theropod dinosaur with a covering of an enigmatic fuzz (“protofeathers”), some of these feathery filaments were up to 4cm long.

The joint Chinese and British team first scanned the fossils of a Cretaceous bird – Confuciusornis.  Confuciusornis is a primitive bird that bridges the morphological and anatomical gap between creatures like Archaeopteryx and modern birds.  It is the most common bird fossil find in the Jehol deposits of Liaoning.

Using an electron microscope to look inside the feathers, researchers were able to see microscopic structures called melanosomes, which, in life, contain the pigment melanin.

Professor Mike Benton, of the University of Bristol, (UK), the leader of this research project commented:

“Melanin is what gives colour to human hair and animal fur.  They are also the most common way that colours are [produced] in feathers.”

Professor Benton explained that differently shaped melanosomes produced different colours, with blacks or greys produced by “sausage-shaped” melanosomes, and reddish or “russet” shades found in spherical ones.

“A ginger-haired person would have more spherical melanosomes, and a black-haired or grey-haired person would have more of the sausage-shaped structures,” said Professor Benton.

Having found both types of melanosomes in the fossils of the bird Confuciusornis, the team decided to turn their attention to Sinosauropteryx in a bid to understand more about he nature and structure of its own feathered coat.

A Close Up of the Head of a Sinosauropteryx

Picture Credit: Gavin Rymill

The close up picture of the head, shows the line of feathers running down the head and the neck, described by the scientific team as a “Mohican”.

The electron microscope study focused on the bands of dark and light that could be seen along the tail of the fossil Sinosauropteryx.  This close examination has shown that the dinosaur’s “Mohican” was russet or ginger-coloured, and that these bands were in fact ginger and white stripes.

“This is the first time anyone has ever had evidence of original colour of feathers in dinosaurs,” said Professor Benton.

Professor went on to add, that this study confirmed that the bristles on this “rather primitive flesh-eating dinosaur… really were feathers”.

This gives more weight to a very well-supported theory that modern birds evolved from Theropods, the group of small carnivorous dinosaurs to which Sinosauropteryx belonged.

“Critics have said that these visible spiny structures could be shredded connective tissue,” Professor Benton explained. “But the discovery of melanosomes within the bristles finally proves that some early dinosaurs were indeed feathered.”

The findings also help to resolve a long-standing debate about the evolution and original function of feathers.

“We now know that feathers did not originate as flight structures,” said Professor Benton.

It seems feather-like structures evolved for insulation and display.

Dr Richard Butler, a palaeontologist at the Bavarian State Collection for Palaeontology, in Munich, Germany, said this was a “fascinating and exciting discovery with important implications for understanding dinosaur evolution and biology.  This discovery suggests that with more work we may be able to accurately reconstruct colour patterns in some dinosaur species, and begin to understand how those colour patterns may have functioned for camouflage or display.”

6 02, 2010

Iguanodon or Iguanosaurus?

By | February 6th, 2010|Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

The Problem with Iguanodon

Team members at Everything Dinosaur have been asked to explain to a local church group in Lewes, East Sussex about the difficulties regarding the taxonomic relationships of Iguanodontids.  Lewes, was the birth place and home of Dr. Gideon Mantell, the scientist who was responsible for formerly naming and describing the dinosaur known as Iguanodon.

Mantell figured and named Iguanodon based on the discovery of some fossilised teeth, he published his work in the journal the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in 1825.  Incidentally, he only gave a generic name for this material, opting not to refer to a specific or species name.  These days such a generic name would be regarded as invalid, however, in the Georgian era, with the nascent study of fossils, this practice was permitted and Iguanodon gained acceptance.  It was another scientist (Holl), who four years later ascribed a species name to the Mantell material.  The first species of Iguanodon was name I. anglicum (Holl, 1829), the specific name has been changed to I. anglicus to reflect the masculine Latinised version of the name, after all, the genus Iguanodon is in the masculine form of Latin.  Mantell, had struggled to find a name for the animal whose teeth he had studied.  By chance he had been shown a preserved specimen of a Caribbean iguana at the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons and from the similarities in the teeth he came upon the idea of naming his new reptile after an iguana.  He originally wanted to name his new genus Iguanosaurus (iguana lizard), but the name Iguanodon (iguana tooth) was chosen after it was suggested by another scientist (Conybeare).

All this took place many years before Sir Richard Owen coined the phrase Dinosauria to describe this group of strange “Saurian Reptiles”.

We now know that the Iguanodontids were advanced Ornithopods and they were a very successful group of dinosaurs, with a number of early Cretaceous genera ascribed to this group.  They were more heavily built than other Ornithopods, with stout legs and deep, muscular tails that became slim and pointed at their distal end.

An Illustration of a Typical Iguanodontid

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Although this most English of dinosaurs is still very much associated with the Wealden Formation and other UK locations such as the Isle of Wight, scientifically the term Iguanodon has become a “taxon waste basket” and much sorting out of individual genera has taken place, so much so that the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature was petitioned to change the type genus from Mantell’s teeth to the more complete skeletons found in Belgium (Bernissart).  There may be several million years separating Mantell’s first Iguanodontid I. anglicus and those Iguanodontidae described by Dollo after the discovery in 1878 of a number of near complete specimens – Iguanodon bernissartensis, but this and the revision of Iguanodon material into genera such as Dollodon and the American Dakotadon means that this once very “British” dinosaur is not that closely related to the United Kingdom anymore.

However, one light, gracile Iguanodontid has been named Mantellisaurus to honour the doctor from Lewes who was responsible for naming and describing the Iguandontids in the first place.

5 02, 2010

The Largest of the Dromaeosauridae – Utahraptor

By | February 5th, 2010|Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Utahraptor – Early Dromaeosaurs were Bigger?

The city of Moab, in eastern Utah (United States) straddles highway 191 and is a popular destination for hikers and bikers and outdoors folk, visiting the area to enjoy the spectacular walks and scenery.  However, if you had been around this particular part of the western United States approximately 120 million years ago, it would have been safer to not wander around on your own.

This was the home range of one of the earliest Dromaeosaurs (swift lizards), also one of the largest known in the fossil record – Utahraptor ostrummaysorum.

Discovered, during excavations at the Dalton Wells quarry in 1991, Utahraptor was named after the famous palaeontologist and professor of geology John Ostrom, who did much to establish the theory that many dinosaurs were warm-blooded and highly active animals.

An Scale Illustration of Utahraptor

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

With an estimated length of 6-7 metres and with its head at over 2.5 metres in the air, this large predator would have been a formidable hunter, especially if they hunted in packs.  The sickle-shaped claw on the second toe (pes II) measured an estimated 38cm long.

To view a Utahraptor soft toy: Dinosaur Stuffed Animals

4 02, 2010

Darwin on the “Imperfection of the Geological Record”

By | February 4th, 2010|Famous Figures, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Darwin’s Comments on the Geological Record

For Darwin, at the time of writing his ground-breaking study into evolution – “The Origin of Species”, palaeontology and geology were relatively new sciences.  Amongst the educated elite of Great Britain in the Georgian era, there were to our modern minds some very peculiar ideas.  For example, it was widely believed that Europeans were a separate species to those natives of places such as North America and the Pacific.  Women were considered intellectually inferior to men and they were not permitted to hold certain positions in society or to study at certain universities, or indeed enter a number of academic professions.  These ideas persisted into the Victorian era (indeed, some may say that they have persisted for much longer).

It is against this background and a backdrop of a general lack of understanding concerning natural selection and evolution that Darwin attempted to argue his case for a tree of life and an all embracing single theory that could explain the great diversity of life on Earth.

Aware of the difficulties that he would encounter when attempting to convince his readers about the merits of his theory, Darwin, naturally provides extensive evidence in support of his point of view in his book.  However, he also sets out to counter the arguments that he anticipated would be put forward against his hypothesis.  Darwin was aware that his theory centred around the belief that specific forms are distinct from each other but descended from a common ancestor.  Between two specific organisms that share a common ancestor there must have been innumerable transitional links that eventually resulted in the species seen in his day.  He put forward a number of proposals as to why extant transitional forms were extremely rare, the very fact that that subsequent generations would out compete and eradicate their parent generations was one of his main points here.  However, he knew that the lack of transitional extinct forms found in the fossil record would also be used as an argument to counter the thrust of his theory.

Darwin dedicates two of the fourteen chapters in his third edition to explaining why transitional forms are not found in plentiful numbers in the fossil record, some sixty pages in total.  Palaeontology and geology were very much nascent sciences, Darwin comments on the intermittent nature of the geological record and refers to the paucity of the fossil record.  He puts forward a number of points to explain why fossils are so rare and comments on the need for certain geological conditions to be present before fossilisation can occur.  To him the imperfections found in the then known geological record were no barrier to his theory on natural selection.

The “Origin of Species”, or to give this book its full title; “The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life”, was first published in 1859.  The first complete fossilised skeleton of Archaeopteryx was found in 1861.  A perceived weakness in Darwin’s theory was the lack of intermediate creatures preserved in the fossil record.  If animals and plants had been changing from one form to another over vast amounts of time, the process of evolution, then some evidence should be found in palaeontological collections.  Here was a bird with Dinosaurian features, Darwin had predicted that such forms would be found and this was seen by evolutionists as clear support from the geological record for Darwin’s point of view.

3 02, 2010

Happy Birthday to Gideon Mantell

By | February 3rd, 2010|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Educational Activities, Famous Figures, Main Page|0 Comments

Happy Birthday Dr. Mantell

Today, marks the birthday of Gideon Algernon Mantell, a English doctor, avid fossil collector and amateur geologist who made a considerable contribution to the early science of palaeontology.  Gideon Mantell was born on the 3rd of February in 1790, he was responsible for naming and describing two of the three dinosaurs that made up the Order Dinosauria as proposed by Sir Richard Owen.  These dinosaurs were Iguanodon and Hylaeosaurus.  The naming of Iguanodon (Iguana Tooth) has a stroke of luck about it.  Having studied the very worn, teeth, of a large, herbivorous reptile, as described by the French scientist Cuvier, Mantell was fortunate to see a freshly prepared skeleton of an Iguana  from the Caribbean.  He visited the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons and was shown the newly prepared Iguana skeleton.  Noticing that the teeth of this lizard resembled the fossilised teeth of his as yet unnamed prehistoric reptile, he began to speculate on a formal scientific name for his extinct reptile.  The actual name of Iguanodon was suggested to Mantell by the Reverend William Conybeare.

Hence the genus Iguanodon came about, the second dinosaur to be formerly named and described.

2 02, 2010

Homer’s Odyssey – Injured Loggerhead Turtle finds a New Home

By | February 2nd, 2010|Animal News Stories, Main Page|1 Comment

Injured Turtle Heading for Newquay Aquarium

A male Loggerhead turtle, that had been blinded is leaving Greece for a new home at the Blue Reef Aquarium in Newquay, (Cornwall, England).  This rare animal, the Loggerhead turtle is officially classified as “Endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, was deliberately blinded, probably by a Greek fisherman wishing to protect his fishing nets, has been named Homer.

Homer, thought to be aged about forty, was found floating off the Greek mainland, unable to feed or look after itself, three years ago.  It is suspected that this turtle was blinded after a sharp hook was stuck into both of its eyes, it had also been wounded by a boat’s propeller.  A number of turtles are attacked by fisherman in the Mediterranean each year, fearful that these large reptiles may damage their valuable fishing nets or compete with them by preying on the fish they are trying to catch.

Fortunately, a turtle rescue centre in Greece was able to take Homer in and over the next few years, this gentle animal was nursed back to health.  Loggerhead turtles are so called as sailors who first encountered this marine animal thought the head was disproportionately large for the body.  Reaching lengths of up to 1 metre long Loggerhead turtles are distributed worldwide, being found in both tropical and sub-tropic regions.  There are two sub-species of Loggerheads, the first, is resident in the Indian and Pacific oceans, the second sub-species, Caretta caretta caretta is to be found in the Atlantic and Mediterranean.

The Loggerhead “Homer” on his Way to his New Home

Picture credit: Adam Gerrard/SWNS

A permanent home for Homer was found at the Blue Reef Aquarium in Newquay, Cornwall.  This particular aquarium already has had a number of Loggerheads in its collection, mainly the result of Loggerhead turtles being washed up on Cornish beaches.  Turtles are rare sights in British coastal waters but a number of species including the largest extant, the Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), are sometimes sited off the coasts of Britain and Ireland in the Summer months.  These ancient marine reptiles visit these coastal areas following the blooms of jellyfish, as jellyfish is a staple diet of such creatures.

Homer left Athens, travelling by British Airways in a specially constructed crate, touching down 1,500 miles later at Heathrow.  He was then lovingly transported by car to his new home in Newquay, where he could live for another six decades or so.

Commenting on how Homer came to be blind, Pavlos Tsaros of the Greek turtle rescue centre stated, that some local fishermen deliberately blind turtles to protect their fishing nets, he said:

“Turtles can destroy fishing gear.  It is a big cost so some fishermen do it [blind turtles] deliberately.  It took a while to get him eating by himself and now he can smell the food and use his flippers to feed.  He will be very happy to have a big tank and hopefully he will have a happy life.”

David Waines of the Blue Reef Aquarium said:

“It is great to be able to provide Homer with a long-term home after the ordeal he has been through.  As he was unable to hunt or feed due to the severity of his injuries the decision was taken that he could not be released back into the wild.”

Homer was flown into the UK in a heated container and is spending his first few days in quarantine.  He will then be released into the aquarium’s 250,000-litre main ocean tank with fish and sharks.  It may take him a while to get used to his habitat but with time he will adjust to his new existence and perhaps play a role in helping to inform and educate visitors about the plight of marine turtles in the world’s oceans.

1 02, 2010

Haplocheirus – Is it a bird? No, it is a Dinosaur

By | February 1st, 2010|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Haplocheirus – Ancient Alvarezsaurid from China

The Alvarezsaurids, a bizarre and little known group of swift, cursorial (running) dinosaurs have puzzled scientists since fossils of these unusual creatures came to light in the 1990’s.  Are they birds, or are they dinosaurs?  These animals show features of each, for example, bird-like features include a deep keel in the chest and specialised forelimbs, fused ankles and a narrow skull.  These animals were presumably covered in downy feathers and with their long beaks and long legs they would have resembled storks.  However, they possessed a long tail, presumably to balance them as they ran and a bizarre, huge, single claw on the end of each hand.

Originally, known from Cretaceous strata from South America, it was thought these animals were an off-shoot of the Aves (Birds).  They could not fly but seem to have evolved to be fast running insectivores, perhaps using their short, but strong arms and powerful claw to break into termite nests.

Whether they were birds or members of the Dinosauria is debated, however, the discovery of the fossils of a Alvarezsaurid from the mid Jurassic has swung the debate in favour of declaring Alvarezsaurids as true dinosaurs.

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