All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
//June
12 06, 2010

Pelicans Have Had their Pouches for at Least 30 Million Years

By | June 12th, 2010|Animal News Stories, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

Preserved Feeding Apparatus on Palaeogene Fossils Shows Pelican Beak is Old Hat

A beautifully preserved fossil of the earliest known Pelican, a fossil dating from the Oligocene Epoch shows that Pelicans have had their unusual beaks and pouches for at least 30 million years.  It seems that as far as the Pelican is concerned, if something isn’t broken it does not need fixing, the feeding apparatus of these birds seems unchanged for 30 million years.  If an organism or a part of an organism remains unchanged for a very long period of time, scientists call this “evolutionary stasis”.  It seems that the shape of the Pelican’s beak has remained unchanged for millions of years.

The significance of this fossil was not realised at the time of its discovery in finely grained limestone deposits in a region of south-eastern France (Luberon).  It was only when a French scientist examined this specimen in a colleague’s collection that the importance of this fossil and its baring on bird evolution became clear.

Dr. Antoine Louchart of the University of Lyon, realised the significance of this fossil, when reviewing a number of fossils held by his colleague Nicolas Tourment, who is an avid collector of fossils from south-eastern France.  The fossil shows that Pelicans and their huge beaks have survived unchanged since the Oligocene epoch.  The team’s findings have been published in the scientific publication “The Journal of Ornithology”.

Mr Tourment bought the ancient Pelican years ago from another collector who found it in the area in the 1980s; but its significance only became clear when Dr Louchart looked at it closely.

Dr. Louchart commented:

“I was surprised by the completeness and quality of preservation of this fossil.  It is embedded in a very fine lacustrine limestone which preserves all the details.”

A 30 Million Year Old Bill

Picture Credit: A. Louchart

The picture shows the cervical neck vertebrae (neck bones), parts of the skull and the long beak of this prehistoric bird.  The beak measures approximately 30 cm in length and the entire specimen is around 1.2 metres long from the tip of its beak to the tip of its tail, suggesting a very small Pelican, similar in size to the smallest extant Pelicans.  However, scientists are not sure whether this is a fully grown specimen.  They are confident however, that this fossil belongs in the genus Pelecanus (Pelicans) and the fossil shows morphological and anatomical differences between it and the seven living species of Pelican around today, to make the fossil a distinctive species.

Its well preserved beak contains a special joint within that allows its two parts to be extremely distended, opening up the pouch used to collect fish.   So Pelicans had their pouches at least 30 million years ago.

Dr. Louchart stated:

“It is remarkably similar morphologically to the seven species of living Pelican, but its proportions differ slightly from all of them, so it probably represents a distinct species.”

The discovery has surprised the researchers, because it reveals just how little Pelicans have evolved over huge expanses of time.  In the early Oligocene, fish existed (teleosts)that were similar in size and shape to the modern prey of today’s Pelicans. This suggests that Pelicans quickly evolved their huge beaks and have maintained them almost unchanged since because they are optimal for fish feeding.

However, it could also be that the giant beak has not evolved in the past 30 million years because of constraints imposed by flying.

The idea is that once Pelicans evolved bodies capable of flying with such a large beak, the beak itself couldn’t evolve further without compromising the birds’ ability to fly, essentially locking in its design.

Dr. Louchart added:

“It shows an example of stasis, or no morphological change, in the skeleton, although perhaps changes in other characteristics occurred, such as plumage or behaviour.”

Evolutionary stasis in higher vertebrates is quite rare, although the limited fossil record for most back-boned animals prevents a more complete examination of this phenomenon.  Dr. Louchart concluded that few other flying animals appear to have survived unchanged for so long.  The only other good example would be bats, these animals have a body shape that appears to have survived unaltered since the early Tertiary.

11 06, 2010

Football Coming to the “Cradle of Humanity”

By | June 11th, 2010|Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page|0 Comments

South African World Cup Starts Today

Thirty-two countries competing for the football World Cup in South Africa.  This event which will last from today until the final match on Sunday July 11th, is regarded as being the biggest sporting event on the planet, even bigger than the Olympic Games.  Sixty-four games in total in what will be a footballing feast (Come on – England)!

The Rainbow Nation has come a long way in the last few years, we wish them a peaceful, happy and successful tournament.  Nobel Peace laureate and former Archbishop of Cape Town, Desmond Tutu addressed an excited crowd at an eve of kick-off celebration yesterday.  He said that he was in dreamland as his beloved South Africa prepares to host the World Cup.

Speaking at the concert, which took place in Soweto, the 78-year-old former Archbishop, the man accredited with first using the term “Rainbow Nation” welcomed all the visitors, fans, players and officials reminding them that every person on the planet, if they traced their ancestors far back enough, would discover they were actually on home soil.

He said:

“Africa is the cradle of humanity so we welcome you all, every single one of you.  We are all Africans.”

Africa is the cradle of humanity, based on the fossil evidence found to date, it does seem that hominids evolved in Africa, the ancestors of our species originated from that continent and analysis of DNA from living humans around the world shows that we all have a remarkable degree of genetic similarity.  South Africa has come a long way since apartheid, humanity has come a long way too.  The Italian philosopher, Lucilio Vanini was burned alive in 1619 for suggesting that humans originated from apes.  Darwin in his ground breaking and revolutionary book “On the Origin of Species”, dared not state what his research had led him to conclude.  He merely commentated that “light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history”.

Let us hope that the tournament lives up to expectations, may the best team win in what is the first World Cup finals to be played on the African continent – the cradle of humanity.

10 06, 2010

Young Palaeo-artists at Work

By | June 10th, 2010|Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page|0 Comments

Dinosaur Fans Show Their Drawing Skills

One of the great mysteries surrounding dinosaurs and indeed, many prehistoric animals is that scientists cannot be sure about what colour they were.  Despite in the case of the Dinosauria, over 180 years of intensive study, scientists still have very little data to work with.  It is humbling to think that since nobody has ever seen a Tyrannosaurus rex in the flesh, or observed a herd of Triceratops rumbling by, that much of what we read in books published on dinosaurs is based on speculation, assumption and educated guesswork.

What we do know, for example, is that for some of the dinosaur’s closest relatives that are living today – the birds, colour is very important.  Birds have in general excellent colour vision and a few minutes staring out of a window looking at the typical garden birds that visit a bird table soon confirms how many different colours these creatures can be.

When young dinosaur fans Alex (7) and Daniel (9) were waiting for their parcel of dinosaur goodies from Everything Dinosaur, we arranged for some of our prehistoric animal drawing materials to be emailed over so that they could get to work on telling us what colours dinosaurs were and what they think they looked like.

Being able to make a sketch of a fossil find or a pencil drawing is a very useful skill that comes in handy when studying the Earth Sciences, making a drawing means that you have to study the object very closely and this can help scientists learn more about it, in a way that simply taking a photograph does not do.

Alex and Daniel Getting Down to Some Serious Dinosaur Drawing

Picture Credit: L. Geary

We have been told that Alex and Daniel are massive dinosaur fans, it is always a pleasure to hear from the next generation of dinosaur hunters, who knows, perhaps Alex and Daniel will one day work on their very own dinosaur fossil discoveries.

These young palaeontologists have promised to send us some examples of their dinosaur illustrating skills.  We have a big noticeboard in our warehouse and we are looking forward to putting them on display so that everyone at Everything Dinosaur can admire their work.  After all, since nobody has actually seen a dinosaur, Alex and Daniel are contributing in their own way to palaeontology by telling us what they think dinosaurs looked like.

9 06, 2010

Dinosaur Biting Techniques – Something to get your Teeth Into

By | June 9th, 2010|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Theropod Dinosaurs –  A Range of Biting Styles

A new study into the biting styles and the forces that could be generated as a dinosaur bit into its prey has been published in the scientific journal “The Proceedings of the Royal Society – Biology”.  This study carried out by researchers at the University of Bristol, identifies at least four different biting techniques, it seems some dinosaurs were fast “nippers” whilst others had slower but more powerful bites.

The study focused on the bites of Theropod dinosaurs.  Theropods (Theropoda) were bipedal and mostly meat-eating although a number of forms evolved to exploit different environmental niches resulting in a non-carnivorous diet in some cases.  The research shows that following a careful analysis of tooth position, tooth size, length of the jaws and the shape and design of Theropod dinosaur skulls, four basic biting techniques were identified with a trade-off between bite strength and the speed of the bite.

The study indicates that meat-eating dinosaurs ranged from weak biters but fast biters such as the Dromaeosaurs (Velociraptor, Deinonychus etc.) and the strong, more efficient biters such as the last of the Tyrannosaurs (Tyrannosaurus rex).

The author of this new research, Manabu Sakamoto, a scientist in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol (England), examined the biting characteristics of 41 different Theropod dinosaurs, from Triassic, fleet-footed meat-eaters such as Coelophysis to the mighty Allosaurs and Tyrannosaurs.

Not surprisingly, the study shows that Tyrannosaurs and Allosaurs inflicted the most damaging, efficient bites.  These large predators probably relied on an swift ambush attack, then withdrawing to let their victim weaken through shock and blood-loss.  Tyrannosaurus rex had one of the best developed senses of smell known to science.  It could have used this superb sense of smell to track down its victim, even though the hapless animal may have wandered many miles from the scene of the attack.

The Ceratosaurs, are also revealed as being efficient strong, biters.  Again, this is not surprising, as dinosaurs from the  Ceratosaurus genus (Ceratosaurus sp.) have some of the largest teeth in proportion to the size and width of the jaws in the reptilian fossil record.  Their dagger-like teeth seem almost too big for their own mouths.  One Ceratosaurus species Ceratosaurus ingens is only known from fossils of huge teeth that have been found.  The teeth indicate that this particular species of Ceratosaurid may have been one of the biggest carnivores around during the Late Jurassic.

Ceratosaurus – Big Teeth = Fearsome Bite

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows a scale drawing of a typical Ceratosaurid.

Interestingly, the Oviraptorids come out very favourably in terms of the efficiency of their bites in this new study.  Oviraptorids were very bird-like dinosaurs, not only in their general build but also as a result of the presence of a beak.  Some scientists have suggested that this particular family of dinosaurs should not be classified as Dinosauria but as members of the Aves (birds).

Illustration of a Typical Oviraptorid

The head of Oviraptor

Picture Credit: Mike Fredericks

Scientists are uncertain as to what sort of food Oviraptorids ate.  The jaws seem to have evolved for a crushing action, perhaps these Cretaceous animals fed on nuts or hard fruit.  It has even been suggested that Oviraptorids fed on shell fish, their strong jaws would have easily cracked open clams and the shells of other molluscs.

The research from the Bristol team shows that even though some dinosaurs did not have as many teeth as others, the teeth they did possess did a very efficient job.

Manabu Sakamoto commented on the efficiency on the bites of Allosaurs and Tyrannosaurs, he stated:

“These dinosaurs have consistently high efficiency in biting along the entirety of their relatively short tooth rows.”

The bite strength of the Theropod dinosaurs studied was calculated by determining the ratio between the size of the muscles in the jaws and the biting force they could potentially generate.  This is termed “the mechanical advantage” and unlike previous studies into dinosaur bite forces, the Bristol University researchers calculated the bite strength for each tooth and biting position in the jaws.

Sakamoto discovered that the most primitive type of biting belonged to dinosaurs such as Herrerasaurus, Carcharodontosaurus, and Ceratosaurus.  Their back teeth did much of the work.

One of the most bizarre biting styles belonged to the Coelophysoid dinosaurs, animals such as Coelophysis and Syntarsus.  These fast running, relatively small, meat-eaters were widespread during the Late Triassic and Early Jurassic.  Typically, they had long necks and small skulls with narrow jaws.  Coelophysids could bite with a great deal of force at the back of their mouths, but their front teeth were limited to a really weak and fast bite.  These particular dinosaurs probably preyed on smaller, fast moving prey such as lizards and other dinosaurs, but their long necks and narrow muzzles may have permitted them to scavenge the kills from larger meat-eaters.

The final type of carnivorous dino bite belonged to what Sakamoto called “the ostrich-like dinosaurs,” such as Velociraptor (Dromaeosaurs)Typically, these dinosaurs had more teeth in their jaws when compared to the larger Allosaurs and Tyrannosaurs.

Manabu commented on the findings:

“These dinosaurs have consistently low efficient biting across their tooth rows so they have relatively weak bites.  But, in effect, this also means that they have relatively fast biting speeds.”

He added that the research into the bite force and technique of Archaeopteryx (A. lithographica), showed that this ancient bird bit in a similar style to the Velociraptors.

Another component of the study involved testing whether or not closely related dinosaurs bit in similar ways.  For the most part, this was true, providing evidence that the various biting styles were inherited, evolved behaviours.

However, there were one or two exceptions to this rule thrown up by the study.  The parrot-like Oviraptorids and the Therizinosaurs (Scythe Lizards), a bizarre type of Theropod dinosaur that adapted to a vegetarian diet and are believed to have filled a “sloth-like” niche in northern hemisphere ecosystems; did not have predictable biting styles based on their evolutionary history.  Although, relatives of these two groups of dinosaurs were weak, yet fast biters, the Oviraptosaurids and the Therizinosaurids were highly efficient, strong biters.

Commenting on this aspect of the research Manabu suggested:

“A possible explanation is that the ancestral stock of this group underwent adaptive evolution and filled an open ecological and functional niche.”

8 06, 2010

Crocodiles “Cruising” on Currents

By | June 8th, 2010|Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

Saltwater Crocodiles Ride Currents and Make Long Sea Voyages

A team of Australian scientists have discovered that Saltwater Crocodiles are able to “ride” ocean currents enabling them to travel many miles from their home ranges and this has helped them to reach distant islands in the Pacific Ocean.  As cold-blooded reptiles, these animals would be in danger of becoming too cold to remain active if they were immersed in sea water for a long period, but these ancient reptiles have learned to conserve energy by exploiting ocean currents to help them to swim long distances.

This research helps to explain how the Saltwater Crocodile, the largest living reptile today, is able to colonise an extensive area of the South Pacific.  It is also accounts for the sightings of Crocodiles many miles out to sea, some of these Crocodiles having been mistaken for sea monsters, which considering these particular animals can reach lengths in excess of 6 metres and weigh one tonne, a sea monster is an apt description.

Saltwater Crocodiles – A Cruiser of Ocean Currents

Picture Credit: Associated Press

New findings published in the scientific publication “Journal of Animal Ecology” from a team of scientist led by researchers from the University of Queensland (Australia) shows that despite these animals being relatively weak swimmers they can travel long distances by riding ocean currents, much like surfers catching waves.

The Australian researchers tagged twenty-seven adult Crocodiles with sonar transmitters and tracked their movements over the course of a year using satellite navigation equipment.  The scientists found that both male and females often travelled more than 50 kilometres (31 miles) from their river and mangrove homes to the open sea.  Steve Irwin, the Crocodile-hunting and wildlife expert was amongst the research team members.  He was killed by a stingray in 2006.

The research team found that one particular male “salty” travelled 590 kilometres (367 miles) in just 25 days, timing its journey to coincide with seasonal currents.  A second animal, measuring just under 5 metres in length, covered more than 400 kilometres (250 miles) in just 20 days using fast-moving ocean currents to reach its destination.

Dr. Hamish Campbell (University of Queensland) commented:

“The Estuarine Crocodile occurs as island populations throughout the Indian and Pacific oceans, and because they are the only species of saltwater living Crocodile to exist across this vast area, regular mixing between the island populations probably occurs.”

Dr. Campbell went onto add:

”Because these Crocodiles are poor swimmers, it is unlikely that they swim across vast tracts of ocean.  But they can survive for long periods in saltwater without eating or drinking, so by only travelling when surface currents are favourable, they would be able to move long distances by sea.”

This new study, having mapped the distances these reptiles can travel has implications for how Crocodilians traversed great distances and ending up inhabiting far flung corners of the globe.

Dr. Campbell stated:

“This not only helps to explain how Estuarine Crocodiles move between oceanic islands, but also contributes to the theory that Crocodilians have crossed major marine barriers during their evolutionary past.”

The Saltwater or Estuarine Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) is found over a vast area of the southern Pacific, stretching from Sri Lanka to the Fiji Islands and including northern Australia.

They may not be the only long-distance travellers however, as the Nile Crocodile too, may be capable of travelling long distances by sea.  The habitat of the Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) extends south of the Sahara in Africa, it has been known from Madagascar and the Seychelles.  The Seychelles are an extensive group of islands, for a Nile Crocodile to reach the nearest island to the east coast of Africa would involve a sea voyage of approximately 500 kilometres, so perhaps other Crocodile species also “surf” in the same way as their Estuarine cousins.

7 06, 2010

Digging Out “Dakota” – One Grain of Rock at a Time

By | June 7th, 2010|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Update on the Late Cretaceous Edmontosaurus Mummy

A team of dedicated researchers are carefully removing the sandstone from around the mummified remains of an Edmontosaurus dinosaur, so far the researchers estimate that they have removed about 600 kilogrammes of rock, each grain delicately chipped away from the exquisitely preserved fossil.

The fossil, a duck-billed dinosaur from the very end of the Cretaceous (Maastrichtian faunal stage), estimated to be around 66 million years old is being prepared for display in a room below North Dakota’s state museum (Bismarck, North Dakota).  When completed this part of the fossil will join the arm which is already on display alongside other prehistoric animal attractions such as Mosasaurs and the skull of a Triceratops.

Uncovering this dinosaur, nicknamed “Dakota” by the research team, has taken more than two years so far, but according to state palaeontologist John Hoganson, of the North Dakota Geological Survey, work is now about three-quarters complete.

State geologist Ed Murphy commented on the amount of rock material removed from around the fossil:

“One thousand pounds, one gramme at a time.  It’s mind-numbing and hand-numbing work.”

However, this particular Edmontosaurus should be free from the rest of its sandstone tomb and join the rest of the exhibit on display at the North Dakota state museum early next year.

An Impression of the Duck-Billed Dinosaur’s Skin

Picture Credit: Associated Press

The picture above, shows a portion of the skin of the Edmontosaurus, with one of the tools used to clear away the surrounding rock.

To read more about the discovery of this remarkable mummified dinosaur: Mummified Dinosaur Begins to Reveal its Secrets

Four preparators have spend upwards of 3,800 hours slowly chipping away at the matrix of rock that surrounds the mummified dinosaur.  Experts believe the specimen may have preserved tendons, ligaments and possibly some internal organs, making “Dakota” one of the most complete and best preserved specimens in existence.  Not too bad when you consider the fossil also contains the remains of a Crocodilian that got trapped as it fed on the dinosaur carcase.

Such is the exquisite preservation that this particular dinosaur fossil has been the subject of intensive research and has been featured in a National Geographic documentary.  The specimen was discovered by PhD palaeontology student Tyler Lyson in 1999, but excavation work on the fossil did not start until 2004.  The fossil was eventually removed from the dig site in two huge sandstone blocks, several tonnes in weight and slowly but surely the scientists have been able to extract the fossil from its rock matrix.  During the preparation scientific work has continued and Everything Dinosaur team members published information on some remarkable work carried out by Manchester University researchers who had been able to identify the preserved remains of organic molecules from the skin of this remarkable specimen.

To read more about the research work on “Dakota”: Amazing Dinosaur Mummy Yields More Secrets

Work on one section of the huge fossil, the rock containing the tail and an arm was completed earlier.  These are on display at the Bismarck based museum.

Daily progress unearthing the plant-eating beast is nearly imperceptible to most people.  It takes much skill to remove rock without damaging the skin of the dinosaur, Hoganson remarked.

He went onto add:

“It takes so long to do very little.”

This is a sentiment we can echo, as team members at Everything Dinosaur work on a number of fossils found in the United Kingdom.  Even a small Ammonite can take a while to prepare, patience is certainly a virtue amongst palaeontologists.

Amy Sakariassen, working part-time on the fossil stated that removing a coin-sized area a few millimetres thick is a good day at work.

She stated:

“Your mind can’t wander, you have to pay attention.”

Researchers use air brades and air scribes that act like miniature chisels, they remove the rock surrounding the delicate fossil grain by grain.  It is important that the researchers have their wits about them as the hardened tips of these tools can blast away the fossil just as easily as the matrix.

One fact the research team are fairly confident about is that despite being over 8 metres long and perhaps weighing as much as 4 tonnes, “Dakota” was not fully grown when it died.

“Dakota’s” remains were fossilised in a crumpled heap, with the beast effectively bent in half.  Sediment from a river channel somehow covered the creature quickly, which allowed its skin and other elements of the dinosaur to be preserved in superb detail.

The scientists are confident that this amazing dinosaur fossil will yield more secrets before the work is completed and “Dakota” can take its place as the star attraction at the North Dakota state museum.

6 06, 2010

Plesiosaurus – “A Snake Threaded Through the Shell of a Turtle”

By | June 6th, 2010|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page|0 Comments

Re-Reading old Papers on Plesiosaurus

There was a time before the naming and describing of the Dinosauria, that ancient marine reptiles were the strange and bizarre creatures that puzzled those academics and erudite clergy and gentlemen who were at the dawn of the science of palaeontology.  It is fascinating to re-visit some of the early papers and scientific reports; the language used is often very colourful and quite flowery as various  “antediluvian” (means before the Biblical flood) beasties are described.  Many of the papers written in the 18th and early 19th Centuries use modern, extant animals as comparators with the extinct animals for example, William Stuckley wrote in 1719 about a part human/part crocodile skeleton that had been unearthed.  Careful not to be accused of heresy, Stuckley described the reptilian features of this strange half human, half crocodile person but went onto add that this poor fellow drowned in the great flood that covered the Earth as stated in the Bible.  He even gave an approximate date for the demise of this person, saying that the fossil (as that was what it was); was at least 3,000 years old.

Despite William Stuckley’s great care and studious work, he was approximately 230 million years out or so in his estimate of the bizarre animal’s age.  For he was describing the partial remains of a Triassic Nothosaur, an early marine reptile, a group of animals that were amongst the first terrestrial animals to return to a life in the sea.  Some of these long-necked, fish eaters reached lengths in excess of 8 metres and it is believed by a number of scientists that these types of creature are the ancestors of the better known Plesiosaurs and Pliosaurs of the Jurassic.

To view a model of a Jurassic Plesiosaur and dinosaur toys: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Models

We have just been reading some of the old papers written about Plesiosauria – the name of the order to which animals such as the genus Plesiosaurus belongs.  Although, fossils of these marine reptiles had been found in the 16th and 17th Centuries it was not until Mary Anning unearthed a nearly complete and articulated specimen at Lyme Regis (Dorset, England), in 1821 that the genus was named.  As a woman, Mary Anning’s contribution to the academic study of these ancient creatures could not be recognised, nor could she be permitted to work alongside the principal scientists or publish work in her own name.  It was the English geologist and Dean, William Conybeare who was given the responsibility for describing and naming these strange fossilised animals.  It was William in collaboration with another English geologist Henry de la Beche, who first used the term Plesiosaurus and it was Dean Conybeare who named and described the holotype specimen of Plesiosaurus in 1824.

A Scale Drawing of Plesiosaurus (P. dolichodeirus)

Plesiosaurus

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The name Plesiosaurus is from the Greek, it means “near to lizard”.  This is in reference to Conybeare’s comparison between Plesiosaurs and the the Ichthyosaurs, that had been discovered a few years earlier.  Conybeare thought that the Plesiosaur represented a transitional form between the Ichthyosaurs and modern Crocodiles.  This is reflected in the title of his scientific paper on Plesiosaurus written in 1824 and presented to the Geological Society – “Notice on the discovery of a new fossil animal forming a link between the Ichthyosaurus and the Crocodile”.

The description and careful drawings of the fossils of Plesiosaurus led the Reverend William Buckland, the English clergyman and geologist who named and described the first Dinosaur (Megalosaurus) to remark that Plesiosaurus resembled “A snake threaded through the shell of a turtle”.   Again, wonderful Georgian language, colourful and in the case of Plesiosaurus we can see what the Reverend Buckland was on about, indeed the Plesiosaurs may be more closely related to the Squamata (snakes and lizards) than they are to the Dinosauria.

5 06, 2010

Lack of Burps from Mega Fauna Helped Cause Global Cooling

By | June 5th, 2010|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Educational Activities, Geology, Main Page|0 Comments

Calls for the Start of the Holocene to be put Back 2,000 Years due to Lack of Mammoth Belches

American Scientists have linked the extinction of mammalian mega fauna by humans to the loss of methane from the atmosphere which in turn led to a global cooling event.  In a paper published in the scientific journal “Nature Geoscience” a team of scientists from the University of New Mexico have put forward a theory that the killing off of a number of large mammal species by humans led to the removal of a substantial amount of methane from the atmosphere.  This brought on a period of substantial cooling that severely affected temperatures in the northern hemisphere.  This cooling period is known as the Younger Dryas and scientists claim that this event was brought on when the extinction of the mega fauna led to the loss of their planet warming burps.

Studies of ice cores indicate that the Younger Dryas event began about a thousand years after mass human migrations into the Americas from across the Bering Strait land bridge that linked Siberia to Alaska.  With mass human migrations into the Americas this put pressure on the populations of giant herbivores such as Mammoths, Mastodons and ancient camels as these animals were hunted by the human migrants.  With the extinction of these animals, the atmosphere would have lost the methane they contribute caused by the process of digestion of tough plant material.  The scientists postulate that the loss of these methane producing animals contributed to the cooling event known as the Younger Dryas which saw temperature drops in parts of the northern hemisphere ranging from 4 degrees to 8 degrees Celsius.

According to ice core studies, the Younger Dryas event began about a thousand years after mass human migrations into the Americas 13,400 years ago, near the end of the last ice age.  Within a thousand years of the human migrations more than 114 species of large plant-eaters became extinct and the study links the loss of the methane these animals would have produced with the cooling event.  Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, twenty times more effective than carbon dioxide when it comes to trapping heat in the Earth’s atmosphere and contributing to global warming.

As they digest plant material, large herbivores give off the gas, which, contrary to popular belief, escapes via the head in the form of burps and belches.

Could the Extinction of Mega Fauna Helped Cause Global Cooling?

Picture Credit: Schleich of Germany

Could the extinction of mega fauna such as the Woolly Mammoth (M. primigenius) have led to a change in the Earth’s climate?

To view a range of prehistoric mammal soft toys and dinosaur stuffed animals: Dinosaur Toys and Stuffed Animals

Study leader Felisa Smith of the University of New Mexico, stated that the methane was not released as these animals broke wind:

“Eighty to ninety percent of methane produced is in the form of a burp.”

At the onset of the Younger Dryas cooling event, atmospheric methane concentrations dropped two to four times faster than at any other period in our planet’s history according to the ice core studies.  The fall was caused by all those missing methane burps that would have been produced by the herbivores.

Felisa Smith added:

“We estimate that just under ten teragrams [about ten million tons] of methane would have gone missing when these animals went extinct.”

As Ice Age atmospheric methane concentrations were about one third of what they are now, the missing emissions would have had a magnified impact, accounting for at least 12 to 15 percent of the methane reduction the researchers claim.

Traditionally geologists have said humans are now living in the Holocene epoch, which began 11,500 years ago.  Smith and her team are among scientists who argue that Earth has entered a new age, characterised by widespread, human-wrought change, the Anthropocene.  Other scientists have claimed the onset of the industrial revolution in the 18th Century should mark the dawn of a new geological age, highlighting the profound effect mankind has had on the Earth’s climate.  However, if it is assumed that humans were responsible for the Ice Age die-offs, the advent of the Anthropocene should be pushed back to 13,400 years ago, into the Ice Age, the study authors say.

Felisa Smith commented:

“Any way you spin it, humans had a discernible effect on the environment prior to the beginning of the Holocene.”

4 06, 2010

Anglo/U.S. Co-operation on Gomphotheres

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

Help from the United States to Sort out Derivation of Amebelodon

As team members at Everything Dinosaur make the final preparations for the new Procon/Collecta, Papo and Carnegie Models to arrive, the fact sheets that our experts have prepared to accompany each new replica are checked and re-checked.

Amongst the twenty-five fact sheets that have been compiled, there is one for Amebelodon, a member of the elephant family (Proboscidea – animals with trunks), in preparation for the receipt of the Amebelodon model from Carnegie Safari, part of their Prehistoric Life range.

A Scale Drawing of Amebelodon (A. fricki)

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view our current range of Safari/Carnegie models and other dinosaur toys: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Models

In the course of our research on this particular member of the Gomphotheriidae, our team members became stuck when we tried to interpret the meaning of the genus Amebelodon.  The elephant family can be traced back to the Eocene epoch and they have a long and diverse lineage.  The unique shovel-like shape of the lower (mandibular) incisors has led to Amebelodonts being called “shovel-tuskers”, but this we knew was not the exact derivation of the Latin (or Greek) name.

A quick email to Mark Hallett, a palaeo-artist and writer of a recent and most informative article on the history of North American Mastodons; featured in the magazine Prehistoric Times and our problem was solved.  According to Mark, who co-incidently had been emailed by a Prehistoric Times reader on this subject just a few days earlier, the name Amebelodon is derived from the Latin/Greek for “shovel” and “dart” plus “dont” (which means tooth).  So we get the descriptive name  “shovel-dart tooth”.  The name is apt as this ancient elephant had two pairs of tusks, a dart-like pair similar to those of an extant elephant in the upper jaw, and the shovel-like tusks in the lower jaw.

Amebelodon was formerly named and described by the eminent American geologist and palaeontologist Erwin Hinckly Barbour following the discovery of lower jaw material in Nebraska.  With two pairs of tusks, one like a set of darts, the second shaped like a shovel, the name Amebelodon is particularly appropriate.

Our thanks to our friends across the Atlantic for helping us out.  Old World and New World co-operation with regards to primitive elephants is particularly appropriate.  These animals are believed to have originated in Africa (the Old World) and then over the Neogene Period to have migrated across land bridges to Europe, Asia and the New World of the Americas.

3 06, 2010

Giant Horned Ceratopsian from Mexico

By | June 3rd, 2010|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Coahuilaceratops magnacuerna – The First Horned Dinosaur from Mexico

No sooner do we write an article about the discovery of a new genus of Ceratopsian (horned dinosaur) from the western United States (Medusaceratops lokii), then the University of Utah, publishes a press release about a new genus of horned dinosaur, the first to be discovered in Mexico.

To read more about Medusaceratops lokii: Mystery Horned Dinosaur from Montana

Unlike M. lokii, there is no doubting from the fossil remains that this particular Ceratopsian is a Chasmosaurine, the huge brow horns are a dead give away, and although the scientists admit they have yet to find an entire horn they estimate that the brow horns on C. magnacuerna are some of the biggest known in the fossil record.

This discovery has given scientists fresh insights into the ancient history of western North America, according to a research team led by palaeontologists from the Utah Museum of Natural History at the University of Utah.

“We know very little about the dinosaurs of Mexico, and this find increases immeasurably our knowledge of the dinosaurs living in Mexico during the Late Cretaceous.”

Commented Mark Loewen, a palaeontologist with the museum and lead author of the study.

The 72-million-year-old rhino-sized creature – Coahuilaceratops magnacuerna – would have weighed perhaps as much as 4 tonnes.  The fossils date from the (Maastrichtian faunal stage of the Late Cretaceous).   The name Coahuilaceratops magnacuerna (pronounced Koh-WHE-lah-SARA-tops mag-NAH-KWER-na), refers to the Mexican state of Coahuila where it was found, and to the Greek word “ceratops” meaning “horned face.”  The second part of the name, or the specific name, magnacuerna, is a combination of Latin and Spanish meaning “great horn,” in reference to the huge horns above the eyes of this dinosaur (the brow horns).

An Illustration of Coahuilaceratops magnacuerna

Picture Credit: Lukas Panzarin

The illustration above shows an artist’s interpretation of the Ceratopsian skull material.  The huge and strongly re-curved brow horns are depicted.

The study, partially funded by the National Geographic Society, was conducted by Mark Loewen, Scott Sampson, Eric Lund and Mike Getty, palaeontologists at the Utah Museum of Natural History.  Also involved were Andrew Farke of the Raymond M. Alf Museum in Claremont, California.; Martha Aguillón-Martínez, Claudio de Leon and Rubén Rodríguez-de la Rosa from the Museum of the Desert in Saltillo, Mexico; and David Eberth of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Alberta, Canada.

The new species is to be announced in the book “New Perspectives on Horned Dinosaurs” to be released next week by Indiana University Press.  The lead author for this publication is Dr. Michael J. Ryan and the book will contain more information on the new Montana Ceratopsian M. lokii.

For most of the Late Cretaceous Period, from 97 million to 65 million years ago, high global sea levels resulted in flooding of the central, low-lying portion of North America. As a result, a warm, shallow sea extended from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean, splitting the continent into eastern and western landmasses.  This sea is known as the Western Interior Seaway.

The Fossil skull of this Dinosaur

Coahuilaceratops Illustration

Picture Credit: Utah Museum of Natural History, the University of Utah

Dinosaurs living on the narrow, peninsula-like western landmass – known as Laramidia – occupied only a narrow belt of plains that were sandwiched between the seaway to the east and rising mountains to the west.  Central America had not formed at the time, which made Mexico the southern tip of this island continent.

In many ways, the Late Cretaceous is the best-understood time during the Age of Dinosaurs, thanks in large part to more than 120 years of dinosaur hunting in Canada, Montana, New Mexico and the Dakotas.  Recent work has revealed new dinosaurs living at the same time in Utah, New Mexico and Texas, yet the dinosaurs from Mexico have remained virtually unknown.

Scott Sampson commented:

“As the southernmost dinosaurs on Laramidia, Mexican dinosaurs will be a critical element in unravelling the ancient mystery of this island continent.”

Loewen described the arid, desert terrain where the dinosaur was recovered as nothing like Mexico during the Late Cretaceous.  About 72 million years ago, the region was a humid estuary with lush vegetation, an area where salt water from the ocean mixed with fresh water from rivers, much like the modern Gulf Coast of the southeastern United States (ruptured oil pipelines not permitting).  Many dinosaur bones in the area are covered with fossilised snails and marine clams, indicating that the dinosaurs inhabited environments adjacent to the seashore.

The Fossil Material Superimposed on a Line Drawing of the Skull

Fearsome Ceratopsian

Picture Credit: Utah Museum of Natural History, the University of Utah

The neck crest is assumed to be fenestrated (exhibiting holes in the bone, that in life would have been covered by skin).  A pair of fenestra are believed to be present, these would have helped lighten the neck crest and the skin patches could have been flushed with blood to make vivid display patterns, perhaps a part of Chasmosaurine courtship.

The rocks in which Coahuilaceratops was found also contain large fossil deposits of jumbled duck-bill dinosaur skeletons.  These sites appear to represent mass death events, perhaps associated with storms such as hurricanes that occur in the region today.

Scott Sampson went on to add:

“Sitting near the southern tip of Laramidia, this region may have been hammered by monstrous storms.  If so, such periodic cataclysms likely devastated miles of coastline, killing off large numbers of dinosaurs.”

Until recent years, there have been few large-scale palaeontological projects in Mexico focused on the Mesozoic Era.  Indeed Coahuilaceratops is among the first dinosaurs from Mexico to be named.

Coahuilaceratops comes from a rock unit known as the Cerro del Pueblo Formation, which dates to between 71.5 million and 72.5 million years ago.  The skeletons, which de Leon discovered in 2001 near the town of Porvenir de Jalpa, approximately 40 miles west of Saltillo, were excavated in 2003.  The fossils then were prepared at the Utah Museum of Natural History, requiring two years of meticulous work by skilled volunteer preparator Jerry Golden.

Based on the bone development of the skull and skeleton, the scientists believe that this animal was an adult at the time of death.  Remains of a juvenile animal of the same species were also found at the site.

Coahuilaceratops was about 7 metres long as an adult, more than 2 metres high at the shoulder and hips, with a 1.8 metre long skull, it would have weighed more than an adult male Indian elephant.

By far the most obvious characteristic of Coahuilaceratops is its massive pair of horns, one above each eye.  While the researchers lack a complete horn, they estimate from fossils they excavated that the horns were more than one metre in length.

Although such horns are common features of Ceratopsian dinosaurs, those of Coahuilaceratops appear to be the largest known for the group, exceeding the size of eye horns even in Triceratops horridus.  Scientists are uncertain of the massive eye horns’ purpose, but the most widely accepted idea is that they were related to reproductive success, functioning to attract mates and fight with rivals of the same species, although they would have acted as a substantial deterrent against hungry Tyrannosaurs.

Mark Loewen explained that Coahuilaceratops represents the first occurrence of an identifiable species of horned dinosaur in southern Mexico.

He added:

“The horned dinosaurs are an extraordinary example of vertebrate evolution.  They evolved and diversified on Laramidia along a thin strip of land that stretched from Alaska to Mexico. Finding this horned dinosaur so far south in Mexico offers us a different picture of what the ancestors of Triceratops were like.”

In addition to Coahuilaceratops, the research team found remains of two other horned dinosaurs, which are less well understood.  The researchers are hoping to find more fossil material so that they can gain more information on these two other types of Ceratopsian.

The latest expedition also recovered remains of two duck-bill dinosaurs, as well as the remains of carnivores, including large Tyrannosaurs (smaller, older relatives of T. rex) and more diminutive Velociraptor-like predators armed with sickle-claws on their feet (Dromaeosaurs).

Together with an abundance of fossilised bones, researchers discovered the largest assemblage of dinosaur trackways known from Mexico, an extensive area crisscrossed with the tracks of different kinds of dinosaurs.  In all, the emerging picture shows a diverse group of dinosaurian herbivores and carnivores, perhaps representing a previously unknown assemblage of species.

Commenting on the rich and diverse fossil material Mark Loewen stated:

“Rather than focusing only on individual varieties of dinosaurs, we are attempting to reveal what life was like in Mexico 72 million years ago, and understand how the unique ecosystem of Mexico relates to ecosystems to the north at the time.”

Few North American dinosaurs from this time period are known outside of the Drumheller region of Alberta. David Eberth explained that researchers now have two points of comparison to examine not only different dinosaurs, but also different environments and ecologies.

As might be suspected, paleontologists are excited about the future palaeontological potential of this area, they are confident that more dinosaur discoveries will be made.

Don Brinkman, a researcher at the Royal Tyrrell Museum (Drumheller, Alberta) added:

“Dinosaurs from this particular period are important because this is a time that is relatively poorly understood.”

Don is studying non-dinosaur vertebrates found at the site, including turtles, fish, and lizards.

He went onto state:

“The locality in Mexico goes a long way to filling in a gap in our knowledge of the record of changes in dinosaur assemblages throughout the Late Cretaceous.”

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