All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
//April
10 04, 2010

Fossil Turtle had Super-Thick Shell to Defend itself against Super-sized Predators

By | April 10th, 2010|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|2 Comments

Fossil Turtle Shell as Thick as a 400 page Book

A paper published in the scientific publication “The Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology” provides new information on the unique fauna that existed in South American rain-forests as animals evolved to exploit the niches left vacant by the dinosaurs following the mass extinction event of 65 million years ago.

Scientists from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the Florida Museum of Natural History report their discoveries, including the finding of new species of ancient turtle, with one particular Chelonian sporting a shell as thick as a phone directory.  Speculating on why a turtle would need such a strong and thick carapace, the researchers point out that as well as predatory crocodiles, this turtle lived in the same habitat as Titanoboa (Titanoboa cerrejonensis) the largest snake known from the fossil record.

Following the major extinctions at the end of the Cretaceous new forms of life emerged.  The Palaeogene and the later Neogene periods may be referred to as the “Age of Mammals” as mammals rapidly diversified and became the dominant mega-fauna in most habitats.  However, in the early part of the Palaeogene, known as the Palaeocene there was considerable global warming.  Average world temperatures on land climbed to a staggering 28 degrees Celsius and much of the Earth became covered in tropical rain forests.  Under these conditions reptiles flourished and many types grew to enormous sizes and assumed the mantle of being “top of the food chain”.  Animals like the monstrous Titanoboa were formidable predators, and this perhaps explains why turtles developed super-thick shells.

The sixty million year old fossilised shell has come from the Cerrejón coal mine in Columbia.  The mine contains fossil rich strata that is helping to show scientists the fauna and flora of prehistoric South America.  The turtle shell is almost 4cm thick and nearly a metre in diameter.  This fossil is one of a number of fossil turtle remains that have been discovered at the site.

The Fossil Turtle Shell

Picture Credit: Site Team

The scientists have named this new species Cerejonemys wayuunaiki – after the mining area and the Wayuu, the name of the local people, from this part of Columbia.  With a huge snake, a constrictor such as Titanoboa on the prowl, the extra thick shell could have provided some protection.  Palaeontologists have estimated that this snake may have reached lengths in excess of 16 metres long, much larger than any extant species of snake.

To read more about Titanoboa: Titanoboa – Huge Snake of the Palaeocene Epoch

Comparison of Vertebrae – Titanoboa cerrejonensis and an Extant Anaconda

Picture Credit: Nature

Commenting on the importance of the American based team’s work, Carlos Jarmillo, staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute stated:

“The fossils from Cerrejón provide a snapshot of the first modern rain-forest in South America — after the big Cretaceous extinctions and before the Andes rose, modern river basins formed and the Panama land bridge connected North and South America.”

A number of other turtle species have been discovered at the site, the hard shells of turtles having a particularly high chance of being preserved under the prevailing rain- forest conditions, especially if they were deposited close to water sources.  The scientists are currently working on their finds and expect to name and describe a number of new species in the near future.

9 04, 2010

Excavate a Dinosaur Skull Kit

By | April 9th, 2010|Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Everything Dinosaur Products, Main Page, Press Releases|0 Comments

Excavate a Dinosaur Skull Kit – Build your own Museum in your Bedroom

Everything Dinosaur announces a new addition to its Young Scientist range of science based educational products – the excavate your own dinosaur skull kit.  Each kit contains a gypsum block inside of which there are pieces of a dinosaur’s skull for young palaeontologists to carefully excavate.  The kit contains the tools required to do the job, digging tools and a brush just like a real palaeontologist’s tools when they are digging around fossil bone.  There is even glue and a display stand so that budding dinosaur excavators can display they finds.

The Dinosaur Skull Excavation Kit from Everything Dinosaur

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view the Everything Dinosaur range of dinosaur excavation kits and other dinosaur craft gift ideas: Dinosaur Crafts for Kids

Turn your bedroom into a miniature museum with this range of dinosaur skulls for you to excavate and mount.  There are three in the series to collect and this product is suitable for children as young as 4 years (with a little supervision from Mums and Dads).

Dinosaur skulls are perhaps the most important component of the dinosaur fossilised skeleton.  Differences in skull shape and size helps scientists determine whether or not the fossil may represent a new species.  Skulls and jaws can tell palaeontologists a great deal about the animal.  For example, what it ate, how it looked and it can even provide information on how important some of its senses like sight and smell might have been.

Can you build the skull and create your own dinosaur museum?

8 04, 2010

Evidence of Velociraptor Feeding Behaviour – Scavenging the Carcase of a Protoceratops

By | April 8th, 2010|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|1 Comment

Fossil Find Shows Evidence of a Velociraptor Feeding upon Another Dinosaur

Velociraptor that speedy late Cretaceous predator with its sickle-shaped “killing claw” on the second toe of each foot, plus a jaw lined with more teeth than a T. rex has a deserved reputation for being vicious amongst dinosaur fans and scientists.  However, with the exception of one amazing fossil find made in 1971, palaeontologists had little evidence of what this turkey-sized animal fed on, but now that has changed thanks to a remarkable discovery made in China.

A Fight to the Death

Picture Credit: Polish Academy of Sciences

The picture above shows the partial excavation of one of the most famous dinosaur fossils discovered to date.  A Polish expedition exploring late Cretaceous strata at a site called Toogreeg in the Gobi desert of Mongolia, uncovered evidence of a fight to the death between two dinosaurs.  A predatory Velociraptor (seen on the right of the picture) has been preserved alongside a Protoceratops (herbivore).  The tangled fossil shows that the Velociraptor had grasped the plant-eater’s head and was delivering vicious kicks to the underbelly of the Protoceratops, whilst the Protoceratops gripped the attacker’s arm in its strong beak.  It is likely that this duel led to both animals being mortally wounded, their remains being engulfed in sand and preserved.  This remarkable fossil is known as “the fighting dinosaurs” and is one of very few specimens that show fighting behaviour in Dinosauria.

However, a team of researchers have found fossil fragments of Velociraptor teeth alongside the scattered bones of a sub-adult Protoceratops and from the scratches on the bones, it seems that evidence of Velociraptor feeding behaviour has been found.  The teeth marks on the herbivore’s bones suggest that a Velociraptor scavenged the Protoceratops carcase.

Despite the “smoking gun” evidence of the 1971  discovery, scientists were unsure how often Velociraptor predated upon and fed upon other dinosaurs such as Protoceratops.  Velociraptor, with their misleading over-sized depiction in the Jurassic Park trilogy, were actually quite small Theropods.  A fully grown Velociraptor (V. mongoliensis) could weigh as much as 15 kilogrammes and perhaps stood a little over a metre tall.  Protoceratops, despite being much slower than Velociraptor would have had size and strength on its side.  Adult Protoceratops would have reached lengths in excess of six feet and their squat, powerful bodies could have weighed as much as 400 kilogrammes.  Scientists have speculated that dinosaurs such as Velociraptor may have fed mainly on smaller animals such as lizards, baby dinosaurs and birds, although if they hunted in a pack they would have been capable of bringing down much larger quarry.

Protoceratops fossils in this particular rock strata are the commonest large vertebrate fossils found.  Fossils of Velociraptor, especially their teeth have been found in this strata also, this may indicate that the predatory Velociraptor interacted frequently with the relatively common herbivore Protoceratops.

This new discovery, a paper of which is due to be published shortly in the scientific journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, suggests that Velociraptors may have regularly fed on Protoceratops.  The finding of Velociraptor teeth in association with Protoceratops bones that show scratches made from feeding dinosaurs indicates that Velociraptor may have regularly dined on Protoceratops, either by hunting or scavenging from the bodies of those animals that had already perished.

Dr. David Hone of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Beijing) made the new discovery in Upper Cretaceous deposits at Bayan Mandahu, in Inner Mongolia, China.   His colleague Dr. Jonah Choiniere found a mass of badly eroded Protoceratops bones, amongst them lay two Velociraptorine-like teeth.  The scientists were keen to analyse the dinosaur bones to see if any signs of feeding behaviour had been preserved.  Dr. Hone and colleagues Dr. Mike Pittman and Dr. Corwin Sullivan were able to identify a number of bite marks and scratches that indicated that the carcase had been scavenged by a Velociraptor-like dinosaur, the teeth were broken and shed as it fed.

Broken Velociraptorine Teeth find at the Site

Broken “Raptor” Teeth

Picture Credit: Dr. David Hone

The picture shows the shed teeth found in association with the the Protoceratops fossils.  These tiny teeth are broken at the tip and indicate that they were lost when the Velociraptor-like animal bit into the hard bones of the dead dinosaur.  Finding evidence such as this is extremely difficult, the teeth of these Dromaeosaurs are extremely small and fragmentary remains of teeth are notoriously hard to spot, even when using fine screening sieves to help recover the fossils.

Bite Marks on the Protoceratops Fossil Bone

Bite Marks

Picture Credit: Dr. David Hone

The three white arrows in the picture show the strong scratches in the fossilised bone, indications that the Velociraptor scavenged the carcase.  The bite marks match the sort of impressions that Velociraptor teeth would have made.  As the Protoceratops was quite large (nearly fully grown) and since the bite marks were found on the jaw bones, it is likely that this fossil evidence represents scavenging behaviour and not hunting behaviour.

Dr. Hone commented:

“The marks were on and around bits of the jaw.  Protoceratops probably weighed many times what a Velociraptor did, with lots of muscle to eat.  Why scrape away at the jaws, where there’s not much muscle, so heavily that you scratch the bone and lose teeth unless there was not much else there?”

This data suggests that a Velociraptor-like animal discovered the carcase, perhaps scenting the rotting flesh from many miles away and then it fed on what meat remained on the animal.

An Artists Impression of the Feeding Velociraptorine

Feeding Velociraptor

Picture Credit: Brett Booth

Dr. Hone stated:

“In short, this looks like scavenging as the animal would be feeding on the haunches and guts first, not the cheeks”.

Protoceratops did have powerful jaws, it is perhaps possible that the cheeks of this animal were quite fleshy and one of the choicest cuts of meat.  Flesh from the cheeks of animals such as cows is seen as a delicacy and revered by many butchers who regard this part of the carcase as a most flavoursome and tasty cut.  We know of many local butchers who remove the cheeks from a cow whilst butchering the rest of the carcase, taking home their prize.  Could the cheeks of a Protoceratops have been a choice cut for a Velociraptor?

Such feeding behaviour is not common in extent animals, most small scavengers attempt to grab what they can from where they can, after all, if they have been attracted to the carcase then some other larger beastie may be on its way to gate crash events.

Commenting on the 1971 Polish discovery Dr. Hone said:

“The fighting dinosaurs suggests predation.  Combine the two and we have good evidence for both behaviours.  Animals like Velociraptor were probably feeding on animals like Protoceratops regularly, probably including both predation and scavenging.”

No doubt this new evidence will add spice to the perennial argument surrounding the feeding habits of Theropods, particularly the larger ones such as the late Tyrannosauridae.  Did these animals scavenge most of their meals or were they active hunters?  Almost all living carnivores do a bit of both, hunting but not being averse to free lunch should they find a corpse upon which they can feed.

Discussing this point Dr. Hone stated:

“It is a question of degree.  Lions mostly predate, whilst jackals mostly scavenge.”

This new fossil discovery helps confirm what many researchers have long suspected about how carnivorous dinosaurs interacted with their plant-eating counterparts.

Dr. Hone concluded:

“Even the most dedicated predator won’t turn down a free meal if they chance across a dead animal with a few bits of meat still attached, and this looks like the case here.”

7 04, 2010

If you go down to the woods today – discover a new species of Monitor Lizard

By | April 7th, 2010|Animal News Stories, Educational Activities, Main Page|0 Comments

Beware of a new Dragon in the Woods – Varanus bitatawa  a New Species

Finding a new species of vertebrate is a rare event.  Finding a new, large species, an animal that would be described as a member of the “mega fauna” is exceptional, but a new 2 metre long species of Monitor Lizard (genus Varanus) has just been brought to the attention of western scientists.

The giant lizard resides in the Philippines, in the northern forests of Luzon island.  Luzon island is the largest island that makes up the Philippines and despite having parts of it densely populated (it is one of the most populated islands on Earth), it still has plenty of natural wonders awaiting discovery.

The genus Varanus (Monitor Lizards) contains nearly 30 species, all of which live in the Old World, with species found in Africa, southern Asia, the Philippines and Australia.  The largest lizard in the world today is a Monitor Lizard – the Komodo dragon (V. komodoensis), it too has revealed some surprising discoveries recently, with confirmed evidence that this lizard that can grow up to 3 metres long and weigh 90 kilogrammes has a venomous bite.

Recently, a scientific paper was published suggesting that a genus of dinosaur called Sinornithosaurus may also have been venomous.

To read more about this: Sinornithosaurus – A Dinosaur with Venom

This new species of monitor, although longer than a man, is actually very lightly built with the largest specimens so far weighing a little more than 10 kilogrammes.  Half the body length of this new species, named Varanus bitatawa is made up of tail.  The animal poses no threat to humans as it appears to be entirely herbivorous.  It has remained undescribed for so long as it is extremely secretive and spends a great deal of time living in trees, where it finds fruit to eat.  This new Monitor Lizard, described by the scientists who found it as “spectacular”, is a very striking animal indeed with bright yellow, blue and green skin.

The New Species of Monitor Lizard V. bitatawa

Picture Credit: Joseph Brown

This lizard may be completely new to western science, but to the local tribes people of the forests of northern Luzon, the animal is very well known.  For centuries the locals have hunted it for food, it is reputed to taste extremely pleasant and such animals provide a valuable source of protein for the indigenous people.  We suppose it would be kind of like a version of “corn fed chicken”.  The secretive nature of this lizard may well be a result of hunting pressure with only the most reclusive and shy animals avoiding the attention of the local hunters.  At the same time, this Monitor remained unknown to scientists in the west.

The US, Dutch and Philippines based research team had found plenty of evidence of a large, arboreal lizard.  Many trees had claw marks on the trunk and the native people had talked about a lizard that was good to eat, but until now no documentary proof of this lizard’s existence had been collected.

One of the authors of the paper on this new species, Dr. Rafe Brown stated:

“It is an incredible animal”.

The paper has been published in the scientific journal “Biology Letters”.  In the journal, the researchers describe how rare it is to find such a large terrestrial animal new to science.

The new species, which is called Varanus bitatawa, is thought to live almost entirely on fruit, making it one of just three species of fruit-eating Monitor Lizards in the world.  Living as it does in the tree canopy, this large lizard has remained undetected to the eyes of western scientists, despite a number of scientific expeditions to this part of the Philippines to map the diversity of the fauna and flora.

The new species of monitor lives at least 150km away from its nearest relative, another lizard called V. olivaceus, which also lives in trees and eats fruit.

6 04, 2010

Gondwanaland Cretaceous Amber gives Insight into Flower Power

By | April 6th, 2010|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Geology, Main Page|0 Comments

Cretaceous Amber from East Africa sheds Light on Cretaceous Ecosystem

The discovery of a deposit of amber (fossilised tree resin) in Ethiopia is providing scientists with the opportunity to learn more about the evolution of flowering plants.  This exceptionally rare discovery, no other strata containing amber dating from the Cretaceous is known in the southern hemisphere, is allowing researchers to learn more about insects, fungi and even bacteria that shared the environment with dinosaurs.

Amber is fossilised sap that has been produced by certain types of trees.  The resin seeps out of cuts or other parts of the damaged tree and helps to prevent infection and disease.  Organisms such as insects, pollen grains and even small lizards and frogs can be caught in the sticky substance and preserved in exquisite detail.  The tree sap that hardens and is preserved is usually produced by conifers (gymnosperms), but certain types of angiosperms (flowering trees) can produce amber.  Most amber known is from deposits that are less than seventy million years old.  The Ethiopian amber has been dated to approximately 95 million years ago ( Cenomanian faunal stage).

In a paper published in the scientific journal “The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”, a description is provided of the new types of insects, other arthropods, nematodes, fungi and bacteria that have been discovered entombed in the hardened tree sap.  The research team hopes that the analysis of these nodules will provide further information on the development and the diversification of flowering plants.

A Nodule of Ethiopian Amber dating from the Cretaceous

Picture Credit: PNAS/Matthias Svojtka

One of the authors of the paper, Paul Nascimbene of the Division of Invertebrate Zoology at the American Museum of Natural History (New York) commented:

Until now, we had discovered virtually no Cretaceous amber sites from the southern hemisphere’s Gondwanan supercontinent.  Significant Cretaceous amber deposits had been found primarily in North America and Eurasia.”

The date of the amber deposit could be very significant as it was during this part of the Cretaceous that flowering plants (angiosperms) began to diversify and become the dominant form of plant life.  Alexander Schmidt, of the University of Göttingen in Germany, another author of the report, stated:

“The first angiosperms, or flowering plants, appeared and diversified in the Cretaceous.  Their rise to dominance drastically changed terrestrial ecosystems, and the Ethiopian amber deposit sheds light on this time of change.”

Some of the research team worked on the geological setting and the fossils entombed within the amber, whilst Nascimbene, along with Kenneth Anderson from Southern Illinois University, studied the amber nodules.  They found that the resin that seeped from these Cretaceous Gondwanan trees is similar chemically to more recent ambers from flowering plants in Miocene deposits found in Mexico and the Dominican Republic.  The amber’s chemical designation is Class Ic, and it is the only Ic fossil resin discovered thus far from the Cretaceous.  All other documented Cretaceous ambers are definitively from non-flowering plants, (gymnosperms).

Paul Nascimbene went onto add:

“The tree that produced the sap is still unknown, but the amber’s chemistry is surprisingly very much like that of a group of more recent New World angiosperms called Hymenaea.”

The Hymenaea are a family of trees and shrubs native to the tropics of the Americas.  They are mostly evergreen and a number of genera are still living today.  The researchers state that the amber could be from an early angiosperm or a previously unknown conifer that was quite distinct from the other known Cretaceous amber producing gymnosperms.

Research team members have discovered to date thirty arthropods, trapped in the amber from at least thirteen families of insects and spiders.  These fossils represent some of the earliest African fossil records for a variety of arthropods, including wasps, barklice, moths, beetles, a primitive ant, a rare insect called a zorapteran, and a sheet-web weaving spider. Parasitic fungi that lived on the resin-bearing trees were also found, as well as filaments of bacteria and the remains of flowering plants and ferns.

5 04, 2010

New Feature Available on Everything Dinoaur Website – Sharing Wishlists

By | April 5th, 2010|Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page, Press Releases|0 Comments

New Everything Dinosaur Web Feature – Sharing Wishlists

The Everything Dinosaur website: Everything Dinosaur website has a number of very useful, customer friendly features.  For example, for those visitors that create their own personal space on our website and open an account, they can put items from our shop into their very own “wishlist”.  A wishlist is quite a common feature on websites that have a shopping function.  It enables customers to designate products that they wish to purchase at a later date.

When a customer clicks on the link “add to wishlist” for a product, they will be directed to their very own personal wishlist page (if not logged in, they will be prompted to do so, or register first to access this feature).

The wishlist page shows all the items that a customer has listed.  Next to a picture of each product listed, is a box for customers to make personal notes for each item on their list.  There is plenty of room to make notes and to type in comments (see example below).

The Everything Dinosaur Wishlist for Customers

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture shows what a typical customer wishlist looks like.  In the example above, two products can be seen in this particular wishlist, the dinosaur excavation game and a dinosaur wooden puzzle cube.  The field for personal comments can clearly be seen, and adjacent to this is the date when these items were added (4th April).  Customers can transfer items directly to a shopping cart (add to cart), or simply remove an item (remove).  To save the comments and/or the changes made to a wishlist, simply scroll down the page and click the button marked “update wishlist”.  Once this has been done, any changes made are safely stored on the customer’s personal wishlist.

Wouldn’t it be a good idea if you could share your wishlist with other people?  Perhaps you are putting together some gift ideas for your child’s birthday and you want to be able to share this list with other relatives.  Well so long as those relatives have an email address – now you can.

The Everything Dinosaur technical team have set up an RSS feature for the wishlist.  RSS stands for “really simply syndication”, it allows customers to distribute information in a standardised format, sending a wishlist of dinosaur gift ideas to relatives and friends; for example.

Sharing the Everything Dinosaur Wishlist

Sharing product gifts is easy – use Wishlist

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

At any time the information in a wishlist can be shared with others, simply scroll to the bottom of the page and click the “share wishlist” icon.

Once the “share wishlist” icon has been clicked, customers are invited to list the email addresses that they want to send this information to.  Each email can be typed into the box (each address separated by a comma (,)) and there is an opportunity to include a message to the recipients of the information if required.  By pressing the “share wishlist” icon at the bottom this information will be sent to the designated email addresses.

On this page there is a checkbox marked “check this checkbox if you want to add a link to an RSS feed to your wishlist”.  If a customer ticks this box, the share wishlist email will include a link within it so that a customer’s friends and relatives can subscribe to feeds from that customer.  This will enable them to keep up to date with gift ideas and any changes.

This is yet another feature for the benefit of customers that has been added to the Everything Dinosaur website.  Shopping and sharing ideas and suggestions with friends and family could not be simpler.

4 04, 2010

From Full Stops to Commas – update on the Frog Blog 2010

By | April 4th, 2010|Animal News Stories, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page|0 Comments

Tadpoles are Developing – Frog Blog 2010

Not exactly the most wonderful spring weather at the moment, at least we have been able to avoid the heavy snow falls that affected parts of Scotland earlier this week.  The patches of frogspawn in the pond are showing signs of development, well at least those clutches of eggs that are in the sunny shallows.  Although, these clumps of spawn (we are not sure what the collective noun for frogspawn is), were some of the last to be laid, several days after the first frogspawn, they are developing more quickly.

The spawn that was laid first was moved out of the shallow water into slightly deeper water, this was as a result of all the frantic activity of the frogs.  Two clumps of spawn have ended up in about 2 feet of water.  The frogspawn can still be seen and as far as we can tell it is not developing as quickly as the frogspawn produced later but laid in the warmer, sunlit shallows.

Tadpoles Developing in the Frogspawn

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The first frogspawn was laid around 20th March, this particular clump of spawn has been pushed into deeper water, whereas, the spawn laid towards the end of the mating period has remained in shallows and seems to be developing quicker.  The picture above shows a clump of frogspawn in the shallows.  Note that the black dots of the embryos are turning from a round “full stop” into a “comma” shape with a distinctive head and a tail.  Movement can be detected in the clump of spawn as the tadpoles move inside their eggs.  No signs of development can be seen in the spawn in the deeper part of the pond.  We have suspected for sometime that egg development was related to water temperature.  Those eggs exposed to direct sunlight in shallows will be warmed and therefore hatch quicker than their counterparts deeper in the pond.  It is really a question of balance, perhaps the clump of spawn in the deeper water is protected from drying out and is less likely to predated upon by terrestrial based predators.  The price paid for this is a slow start to the hatching process.

3 04, 2010

Sir David Attenborough Comments on the Restrictions placed on Children to Learn about Nature

By | April 3rd, 2010|Animal News Stories, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Educational Activities, Main Page|0 Comments

Sir David Attenborough wants Children to Gain a “Foundation Stone” of Science

The natural curiosity of children with their desire to collect and understand the world around them is being suppressed as the are too many restrictions and laws today.  That is the view expressed by veteran natural history broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough, who believes that young people are being denied the chance to learn about the world around them because of restrictions on collecting items from the countryside.

Sir David spoke about his concerns at the launch of a new organisation aiming to promote the teaching of biological sciences – The Society of Biology.  He considers that much of the legislation brought into the UK to protect threatened species and environments has resulted in declining opportunities for young people to collect other non-protected species and so learn about the natural world around them.  Sir David commented on the many restrictions imposed on fossil collectors, those locations where people can freely collect fossils in the UK are becoming fewer and fewer.  The lack of access was stifling the enquiring minds of the next generation of scientists he claimed.

Sir David’s comments are particularly pertinent, what with the granting of the first two injunctions against professional fossil collectors extracting fossils from Dorset cliffs.

To read more about these injunctions: Rogue Fossil Collectors on England’s Jurassic Coast Face Ban

He stated:

“Children become interested in natural history because they are natural collectors.  It is a pity that it is not possible to allow them to go out and collect any more.  Not to be able to collect a wild flower or fossils is sad.”

Whilst we at Everything Dinosaur accept that the loss of many fossil hunting sites is a great shame, we are also aware of the great damage done to many locations by professional fossil collectors who literally smash up locations in their search for specimens that they can sell.

The Joy and Excitement of Finding that Special Fossil

Picture Credit: Brandon Lennon

When asked about the decline in the public’s ability to identify species of animals in the world around them, Sir David stated that:

“Taxonomy is the foundation stone of the biological sciences.”

He went onto bemoan the lack of opportunities children have to collect and classify insects, animals and other objects saying that:

“It is a great loss to our children that they are prevented legally from collecting animals.”

By allowing children to collect and classify insects, animals and other objects they found around them helped them to learn the skills needed for taxonomy, the science of classifying species.  It is certainly true, that many great scientists such as Napier and Darwin were fascinated from an early age with the natural world and in Victorian England there was a huge fashion for collecting, whether it was ferns and plants or even butterflies and birds eggs.  Putting together vast collections was seen as an appropriate hobby for Victorian gentle folk to indulge in.  Sadly, legislation became increasingly necessary as these natural resources were rapidly exploited and species became endangered.

Today there are a number of laws and voluntary codes in place.  These are designed to protect our natural world, although these restrictions do inhibit the opportunities children may have to learn more about subjects such as botany and biology.

Commenting on the current legislation, Sir David Attenborough said:

“I hope we might be able to shift legislation in a more intelligent and generalised way that will not be so specific.”

We remember the joys of pond dipping, collecting frogspawn and observing the tadpoles metamorphosize into frogs, catching butterflies and watching caterpillars pupate.  Teachers and teaching assistants have a role to play in helping to fire the imaginations of children.  The National Curriculum does empower teachers to develop creative and thoughtful ways of meeting the requirements of the syllabus.  Indeed, teachers and teaching staff along with parents can have a huge influence on the development of an interest in the sciences amongst children.

Sadly, when it comes to fossil collecting there are fewer and fewer opportunities to take groups out these days.  We have helped to overcome this problem to some extent by building trays that we fill with sand, gravel and fossils – bringing the joy of fossil hunting to children in those areas where they may not be able to go and experience it for real.

One of the Everything Dinosaur Portable Fossil Beaches in Action

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A spokesperson for Defra (The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) said that the legislation was not intended to stop children from exploring or learning about the natural world.

She stated:

 “It is important to protect plants, birds and animals from damage and disruption and to help preserve an important part of our heritage so that we can enjoy the benefits for years to come.  The legislation does not prevent children and adults from exploring and learning about the natural world and we encourage them to enjoy the beauty of the countryside.”

2 04, 2010

Baby Dinosaurs had Different Facial Features than Adult Dinosaurs

By | April 2nd, 2010|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Baby Faced Dinosaurs

Those animators at Disney who draw cartoon dinosaurs for various films and animated features with cute looking, large eyes may have been nearer the truth than they thought.  A new study comparing the skull of a juvenile Diplodocus to those of adult animals suggests that the babies had different shaped heads than those of their parents.  The American scientists who carried out the research, conclude that as the animals grew, their skulls changed dramatically, possibly indicating that young animals did not feed in the same way or on the same food as mature Diplodocids.

Juveniles possessing differently proportioned features to adults is a relatively common trait, particularly in higher animals such as mammals.  However, very little is known about how the skulls and faces of Sauropod dinosaurs changed as these animals grew and matured, unfortunately Sauropod skull material (whether adult or baby) is extremely rare in the fossil record.

Sauropods, were the giant, long-necked dinosaurs.  Some of these creatures were the largest animals ever to roam the Earth.  Unfortunately, despite many very famous dinosaurs belonging to this sub-order of Dinosauria, animals such as Brachiosaurus, Apatosaurus and Diplodocus itself; very little is known about the skulls of these animals.  When a Sauropod died, as the carcase rotted, the proportionately small head often fell off the neck and was lost, particularly if the carcase was transported any distance, as in being carried away by a flash flood or some other such natural occurrence.  Fossils of baby and juvenile Sauropods in particular are exceptionally rare in the fossil record.  Any such carcase, if not buried quickly would soon have been torn apart by many scavengers.

Diplodocus is perhaps one of the best known of all the dinosaurs.  Several species have been ascribed to this genus.  It is one of the longest type of Sauropods known, with some species believed to have attained lengths in excess of 30 metres.  The first Diplodocus bones were found in Colorado (western USA) by a famous American fossil hunter, Samuel Williston.  Although, far from complete it was clear that these large bones represented a new type of long-necked dinosaur.  Othniel Marsh formerly named and described Diplodocus in 1878.

An Illustration of Diplodocus

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view a model of Diplodocus: Dinosaur Models for Girls and Boys

However, new research on the skull of a juvenile Diplodocus suggests that these dinosaurs had proportionally larger eyes and smaller faces when they were youngsters.

Young Diplodocids had Smaller, more Pointed Faces than Adult Diplodocids

Ontogeny in Diplodocids

Picture Credit: Mark A Klinger/ Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Jeffrey Wilson, assistant professor at the University of Michigan’s Geological Sciences department, along with palaeontologist colleague John Whitlock and Matthew Lamanna from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History (Pittsburgh, USA) have published their study of Diplodocid skulls in the scientific publication “The Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology”.  The team conclude that young Diplodocids had radically different shaped skulls when compared to mature animals of the same species.

The discovery of the very well preserved skull of a juvenile Diplodocus in the Carnegie Museum’s storage vaults was the catalyst for this new research work.  It is not uncommon for rare and precious fossils to be “re-discovered” in the back office draws and storage rooms of a museum.  Often specimens from past excavations could have been wrongly described or labelled, or an artefact could simply have been lost as vast collections were catalogued.

Indeed, every now and then a brand new species is discovered after a re-examination of a long kept piece of fossil bone.  This is exactly what happened at the Natural History Museum in London, when a PhD student discovered a new species of Sauropod, by looking again at some fossils that had been held in the collection for many years.

To read more about this discovery: If you want to find a new dinosaur – try looking in the museum’s vaults

Up until recently, very little was known about the shape and facial proportions of Diplodocid skulls, however, the discovery of some very well preserved adult skull material has enabled scientists to piece together (literally), a picture of the facial features of these huge animals.  Scientists now know that the snout of Diplodocus was quite long and the jaws were square shaped and relatively broad.  It had been assumed that young Diplodocids had the same sort of faces, but that has changed in the light of the new data.

Assistant professor Wilson commenting on the broad, square jaws of an adult Diplodocus:

“Up until now, we assumed juveniles did too.”

Instead, this new research shows that the juvenile’s skull was shaped very differently from an adults.  The snout was much more pointed, the eyes larger in proportion to the rest of the face and the jaws were much less square.

When asked to explain the significance of the discovery of the skull of the juvenile Diplodocus, John Whitlock stated:

“Although this skull is plainly that of a juvenile Diplodocus, in many ways it is quite different from those of the adults.  What was unexpected was the shape of the snout – it appears to have been quite pointed, rather than square like the adults.”

This new research indicates that young Diplodocids were “baby faced” and suggest that as the animal grew and matured major changes would have occurred in the skull morphology.

The American researchers believe that the changes in skull shape might have been tied to feeding behaviour, with adults and juveniles eating different foods to avoid competition.  In the ground-breaking television documentary series “Walking with Dinosaurs”, one of the episodes (Time of the Titans), portrayed the life of a Diplodocus based on the then current scientific thinking.

It is thought that large Sauropods, laid nests of eggs close to the edge of forests and other areas of extensive cover.  These were no more than scrapes in the ground with the eggs carefully covered over again and then like most lizards, snakes and chelonians the nest was simply abandoned to its fate.  Hatch-lings, already up to 80cm long would then emerge together, perhaps under the cover of darkness and scurry off into the forests finding cover amongst the ferns and small plants of the forest floor.

This new paper, supports the storyline depicted in the television programme, the young animals would have lived in a forest environment feeding on a different range of plants, whilst adult and larger offspring could wander the fern plains in herds.  The narrower jaws of the young Diplodocus may also indicate that it was a fussier eater, perhaps selecting only the youngest, most nutritious leaves as their stomachs and digestive systems could not cope with the coarser plant material consumed by adults.

Studying how dinosaurs grew and changed as they got older has yielded many surprising facts about these amazing animals.  Recently, a number of research teams have studied the ontogeny (growth) of several dinosaur species, including members of the Diplodocidae.

To read more about the ontogeny of Dinosauria: The Joys of Working with Baby Dinosaurs

1 04, 2010

“Beep-Beep” – Its a Dinosaur Road Runner (Xixianykus)

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

New Fast Running Dinosaur Discovered in China (Xixianykus zhangi)

Heralded as a sort of dinosaur equivalent of the cartoon bird roadrunner, scientists have announced the discovery of a new type of fast running Theropod dinosaur.  This tiny creature with short thigh bones and long lower leg bones seems to have been built for speed.  Being agile and able to run fast would have been extremely handy for this 50 cm long dinosaur, despite not having to worry about “Wile E Coyote” there would have been plenty of predators wanting to put Xixianykus on the menu.

Remains of this new species were found in the spring of 2009 by a local farmer in China’s Henan Province (eastern China) an area already famous for its Cretaceous dinosaur fossils.  The strata from which the incomplete fossil of this new dinosaur was found dates from approximately 85 million years ago (Santonian faunal stage).  A paper on this new dinosaur, believed to be an Alvarezsaurid has been published in the scientific journal “Zootaxa”.

Alvarezsaurids are a bizarre group of Theropod dinosaurs, known from fossils found in China and south America.  Typically small, with even the largest specimens known such as Alvarezsaurus (from which the group gets its name) and Patagonykus being less than 2 metres long (and most of this length is tail), this is a very enigmatic branch of the Dinosauria.  However, classifying Alvarezsaurids as dinosaurs is not that straight forward.  They have many bird-like features, such as specialised forelimbs, breast bones, fused ankles and narrow skulls.  Most likely feathered, to help insulate them and keep these small, active animals warm (no evidence of Alvarezsaurids evolving the ability to fly), it is believed these animals inhabited forests and open plains.  The short thighs, long shins and feet are indicative of a cursorial lifestyle and suggest that these creatures were very fast runners indeed.  This new partial specimen, now formerly named Xixianykus zhangi, although just over half a metre long, had proportionately very long lower legs, indicating that it was a very fast runner.  With legs measuring 25 cm long these were extreme, even for the lightly built fast running Alvarezsauridae.

An Illustration of the new Alvarezsaurid (Xixianykus zhangi)

Picture Credit: Matt Van Rooijen

Commenting on the ratio of the upper leg bones to the lower leg bones, palaeontologist David Hone of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Beijing), one of the scientists responsible for the study of this new dinosaur said:

“These proportions imply it could put great long strides in and move fast.”

Although the forelimbs have been lost it is likely that it had short, stubby arms with a single digit on each hand.  The digit had a massive claw on it, this and the arms are adaptations to a very specialised lifestyle.  Scientists believe that the forelimbs were adapted to digging, perhaps these little dinosaurs were specialist insectivores, breaking into termite mounds and feeding on the insects contained within.

Features of the vertebrae and the pelvic area support the idea of Xixianykus being a dinosaur adapted for digging.

David Hone stated:

“The front of the body is adapted not to twist, which saves energy when running and provides a brace for digging actions”.

X. zhangi was most likely an endurance runner, using minimal energy to cover long distances in its search for food.  It may have lived in flocks, although there is no fossil evidence as yet to support this hypothesis.

With its long, slender legs it would have had the ability to run away from trouble should any Cretaceous predator decide to try to catch it.

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