All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
12 03, 2011

Miocene Tarsier Fossils from Thailand

By | March 12th, 2011|Animal News Stories, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Educational Activities, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Fossils from a Coal Mine in Thailand Reveal New Species of Primate

The Tarsiers are small, tree-dwelling prosimians found in Asia.  These small creatures are mainly nocturnal and voracious hunters of insects, tiny lizards, mammals and nestling birds.  They may not be very conspicuous up in the tree-tops but to anthropologists and palaeontologists they are extremely important in helping to decipher our own origins.

A number of fossilised jawbones found in a coalmine in Thailand have enabled scientists to identify a new species of Tarsier, one that may have been mainly herbivorous.  But first, why are Tarsiers so important when it comes to working out our own fossil lineage?

It is all to do with noses.  The Tarsier’s nostrils , which project sideways, are rounded.  Fur grows almost to the edge of them and surrounds them, separating them from the upper lip.  The nostrils of other prosimians, lemurs and pottos for example, in contrast are shaped like commas, permanently moist and linked to the upper lip by a strip of naked skin.  To a Tarsier the sense of smell is very much less important than to a lemur or another member of the prosimian group.  The only other tree-dwellers that have noses like the Tarsier’s are the true monkeys.  This suggests that the Tarsiers are ancestral to the monkeys, if this is the case, then as apes and ourselves are related to monkeys, the Tarsier may be a branch on that part of the tree of life that led to our own species H. sapiens.

Rubbing Noses with our Simian Ancestor

Picture Credit: BBC/Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows a Tarsier from South-east Asia on the left compared to a Potto from West Africa on the right.  Although very similar, note the “comma” shaped nostrils of the Potto, whilst the nostrils of the Tarsier suggest that creatures such as these were the ancestors of true monkeys, and ultimately ourselves.

The new species, formally named as Tarsius sirindhornae, lived during the mid Miocene Epoch, approximately 13 million years ago.  Based on the size of the fossilised jawbones, this Tarsier species would have been a giant amongst its kind.  However, it probably weighed less than 200 grammes, about the weight of grapefruit.

Research leader, Yaowalak Chaimanee, a geologist with Thailand’s Department of Mineral Resources, stated that this Tarsier was the largest discovered to date and a total of eighteen jawbone fossils from the new species were found in deposits at disused coalmine in Lampang Province.  Each tiny jaw holds one to four teeth.

She stated:

“Tarsiers were, and still are pretty rare, so you can imagine to have eighteen jaws is marvellous.”

Like modern Tarsiers, the extinct species probably have had large eyes, would have been a great jumper and would have had the ability to rotate its neck 180 degrees.  But the fossils show that at least one trait makes the new species different from its modern cousins.

Chaimanee said:

“We know living Tarsiers eat insects or small mammals.  They have very sharp teeth.  Our fossils have very rounded teeth, every tooth has been worn.  We expect it ate something different.”

The large jaws and dentition suggest that this animal may well have been a vegetarian, perhaps feeding on leaves.  Plant material is much more difficult to digest and the teeth may have evolved to permit these prosimians to grind food up in their mouths efficiently to allow their digestive systems to extract nutrients effectively.  Being a vegetarian often leads to evolving a larger gut, perhaps this explains why this extinct Tarsier species grew to be a relative giant amongst its carnivorous relatives.

In a bid to explain why the jawbones were found in close proximity, Chaimanee and her colleagues have speculated that the area around the coalmine was dense, tropical jungle and the jawbones represent the regurgitated remains after these Tarsiers were predated upon by birds of prey.

She suggested:

“The predator made waste pellets, and then these pellets would wash out into the region that became the coal mine.  This would explain why our team found so many jaws together.”

To find the fossils of such an arboreal Miocene animal as a herbivorous Tarsier is rare, to find eighteen jawbones is truly remarkable.  The team hope to return to the coalmine site in the near future to explore the deposits in greater detail, perhaps revealing more evidence of ancient Tarsiers and of the other animals, may be even the predatory bird that shared their ancient jungle home.

11 03, 2011

A Video Review of the new “Terror Bird” Model – Kelenken

By | March 11th, 2011|Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Everything Dinosaur Products, Everything Dinosaur videos, Main Page|0 Comments

Ferocious Kelenken – A Video Review of the New “Terror Bird”

The fragmentary fossils of a huge Phorusrhacid were discovered in Argentina in 2006.  The fossil material included a huge 46 centimetre long rostrum (part of the beak).  This rostrum is the largest found to date and when these fossils were formally described in 2007, the “Terror Bird” called Kelenken came into being.

Regarded, as perhaps the tallest of all the South American Phorusrhacids, Kelenken was a formidable predator with a viciously curved beak.  Here is a video review made by Everything Dinosaur team members of the Collecta model of this amazing prehistoric bird from the Miocene.

A Video Review of the “Terror Bird” Kelenken (Kelenken Collecta Deluxe)

Video credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view Everything Dinosaur’s range of Collecta models such as the Collecta Deluxe Kelenken and dinosaur models: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Models

10 03, 2011

Huge Haul of Prehistoric Animal Fossils from a Car Park in Los Angeles

By | March 10th, 2011|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

Scientists Marvel at Insight into Ancient Los Angeles

The tar pits located at Rancho La Brea, Los Angeles (California) are world famous for their Late Pleistocene fossils, revealing almost an entire ecosystem that existed between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago.  For the last five years, scientists from the Page Museum (located at La Brea), have been working on the site of a nearby car park, helping to uncover a treasure trove of fossil material, including an almost complete skeleton of a giant Columbian Mammoth, the most complete fossil Mammoth of this species to be found in the area to date.

The word “Brea” is Spanish for tar, an apt description as this area was pock-marked with natural pools of asphalt that had bubbled up from the ground.  Rain water would have settled on these pools of black, sticky liquid and creatures coming to drink would have become trapped and eventually preserved as fossils as they sank into the mire.

For the past few years, a team of scientists, fieldworkers and volunteers have been carefully chipping away at blocks of hardened tar to reveal a huge amount of fossil material dating from the Late Pleistocene.  The site is going to be an underground car park but as it is adjacent to the La Brea tar pits it was always highly likely that a lot of fossil material would be found once the construction programme started.

Karin Rice, an excavator with the Page Museum commented:

“You’re opening up this ancient world and getting to look back in time.”

Field workers first, crated large chunks of the asphalt before they were transported back to the preparation area of the museum so that excavators could remove the fossilised bones.  Care is being taken to ensure micro-fossils and plant remains are also excavated alongside large mammal bones.  The data from these fossils will help scientist to build up a more complete picture of the environment and the Pleistocene eco-system.

Scientist have unearthed 23 boxed deposits, removing some 16,000 fossil bones – horses, camels, dire wolves, ground sloths, a giant jaguar and mammoths.  Among the finds, partial skull material and the lower jaws of a number of sabre-toothed cat kittens, all found within a square metre of each other.

A Field Worker Preparing the Skull of a Columbian Mammoth

Picture Credit: Associated Press

The picture shows a museum member of staff working on the skull of the Columbian mammoth, nicknamed “Zed” (Mammuthus columbi).  The strange pair of objects looking the heels of trainers in the middle of the fossil are the giant molars of this huge herbivore.

Papo of France has recently introduced a new scale model of a Pleistocene Sabre-Toothed Cat (Smilodon), although we cannot be certain, we think that this model is based on Smilodon fatalis.  As far as we can remember, the majority of the Smilodon material from the La Brea site is ascribed to S. californicus. 

An Image of the Papo Smilodon Model

Smilodon Model available from Everything Dinosaur

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view Everything Dinosaur’s range of prehistoric animal models including Mammoth and Sabre-Tooth Cats as well as other dinosaur models: Dinosaur Toys for Girls and Boys – Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Models

The Smilodon genus had four species; there is conjecture whether Smilodon floridus and Smilodon californicus are true species or sub-species of Smilodon fatalis.

9 03, 2011

Taking Issue with David Attenborough

By | March 9th, 2011|Book Reviews, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page|0 Comments

First Life – Some Factual Errors

Just finished reading the book that accompanies the BBC television series “First Life”.  First Life updates readers on the remarkable advances in our knowledge of how life first began on planet Earth.  Over the last fifty years or so, new research techniques and fossil discoveries have enabled scientists to gain a better understanding of how first evolved.  The book takes readers on a journey back in time to the key moments in the development of life on Earth, from the first single celled organisms through to the conquest of the land and the dominance of the Arthropods in early terrestrial habitats.

The book is generally well written and provides an entertaining and informative read.

To see Everything Dinosaur’s review of this book: Book Review – “First Life”

However, there are one or two interesting inaccuracies and anomalies that we have found in the text.  These sections of the book have led to more debate amongst our team members than any other part of what is, in general an excellent publication.

Firstly, in chapter 10, entitled “Landfall: The Worm that Walks”, part of the book dedicated to the conquest of the land by the first land living invertebrates, on pages 252-253 there is a computer generated image of an ancient marine ecosystem.  This seems somewhat out of place when considering the context of the chapter.  The scene shows a number of primitive marine organisms including Opabinia and Wiwaxia, creatures associated more with the Cambrian than with the geological time period when Arthropods were first venturing out onto dry land.  At least the fossil evidence does not suggest land fall as early as the Cambrian Period.

Secondly, when discussing the success of the Insecta, the book states that insects have adapted to a whole range of different habitats. We don’t doubt the validity of this particular statement, but the narrative specifically refers to insects in marine environments.  In essence, despite their tremendous diversity very few insect genera have been able to adapt themselves to a truly marine, pelagic way of life (pelagic – living above the sea floor).  This lack of insects in truly, entirely marine environments is a puzzle for scientists.

In addition, in the final chapter – “Taking Wing: End to an Era”, there is a section that contrasts the internal skeleton of vertebrates with the exoskeletons of invertebrates. A rhinoceros is compared to a rhinoceros beetle.  Admitably, some important points are made over the advantages and disadvantages of each type of support structure for an animal. However, when concluding this segment the writer states:

“The rhino, however, has an internal skeleton to give it strength and structure.  This skeleton grows with the rhino and is constantly replenished and strengthened throughout the rhino’s lifetime.  The rhino will never need to shed its skin, and so it is able to grow to an enormous size.  At full size, it grows to become the largest terrestrial creature on Earth, a feat that the beetles could never achieve.”

This is a surprising statement, although the several species of rhinoceros alive today are very large, the biggest, heaviest terrestrial vertebrate in our opinion would be the African elephant.  It seems strange that such a well researched and carefully compiled publication would include a number of mistakes.    Although we noted these occurrences it did not stop us enjoying what is an excellent book to accompany the BBC television series.

8 03, 2011

Celebrating International Women’s Day

By | March 8th, 2011|Educational Activities, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page|0 Comments

March 8th – International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day is a global celebration of the economic, political and social achievements of women past and present.  In some countries this day is marked by a national holiday.

This is the one-hundredth anniversary of International Women’s Day, the first official commemorations took place in some European countries (Denmark, Austria, Germany and Switzerland) in 1911, a time of great social change when the rights and roles of women in Europe and the United States were becoming more prominent in the political debates of the age.

There have been many great female scientists, within the field palaeontology the role of the likes of Mary Anning is now widely recognised, however when Mary was alive her contribution to the nascent science of palaeontology was played down by her male peers.  Indeed, many of the thoughts, descriptions and explanations that Mary proposed relating to the fossil discoveries on the Dorset coast (southern England) were accredited to other (male) scientists rather than to Mary herself.

As a working class woman, she was shunned by the academics and scientists of her day.  For example, she was not permitted to join the Geological Society of London.  She spent most of her life in financial difficulties and it was only in her final years that she was awarded a pension by the British Association for the Advancement of Science, in recognition of her pioneering work.

In 2010, the Royal Society published a list of the ten women who had most influenced science in the United Kingdom – Mary Anning was one of them.

We have visited Lyme Regis on numerous occasions and when there we often take time out to visit St. Michael’s church and to spend a few moments of reflection besides Mary and her brother Joseph’s grave.  Her contribution may have been overlooked during her lifetime, but we at Everything Dinosaur, continue to use the inspirational story of Mary and other female scientists working in the Earth sciences to help motivate and encourage girls to take more of an interest in these sciences.

The Grave of Mary Anning at Lyme Regis

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

7 03, 2011

A Video Review of the new Papo Smilodon Prehistoric Animal Model

By | March 7th, 2011|Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Everything Dinosaur videos, Main Page, Product Reviews|3 Comments

A Video Review of the New Papo Sabre-Tooth Cat Model

Papo introduced a hand-painted model of a Smilodon into their “Dinosaures” range a few weeks ago.  Our team members at Everything Dinosaur, have already written a number of reviews and articles concerning this new replica from the French figure manufacturer.  As part of our product review, we have produced this short video that shows this new model and comments on the use of Smilodon fossil material to help re-create this predator from the Pleistocene.

A Video Review of the Papo Smilodon Prehistoric Animal Model

Video Credit: Everything Dinosaur

These extinct predators seem to hold a fascination for many people, and no Ice Age tale such as 10,000 BC or indeed the trilogy Ice Age animated films can do without its resident Smilodons or Sabre-Tooth Cats amongst the cast of characters.

There are a number of Smilodon models available, the fine detail on the coat and the attention to anatomical accuracy puts this new Papo Smilodon up there with the best replicas.

6 03, 2011

Everything Dinosaur Authors Earn “Expert” Status

By | March 6th, 2011|Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page, Press Releases|0 Comments

Everything Dinosaur’s Articles are Recognised for their Excellence

A major e-zine publisher, an online resource for articles and information has recognised the efforts of our team members by granting them “expert” status on the strength of their article submissions to the e-zine website.

Everything Dinosaur’s staff include qualified teachers and dinosaur experts and between them they have produced a wide variety of articles ranging from information on the latest interpretation of fossil finds to model reviews and commentary related to dinosaur teaching resources in schools.

These articles (and this web log) have also been used by teachers in international language schools to help students who do not have English as a first language with their studies.

Everything Dinosaur’s E-zine Articles Awarded Expert Status

As Featured On EzineArticles

We are very honoured to receive accolade and we would like to pass on our thanks to all the people who helped with our various writing projects.

5 03, 2011

Giant Crocodile Skull to Visit Schools

By | March 5th, 2011|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

Deinosuchus Skull to Tour Utah Schools

Students at a number of schools in the U.S. state of Utah are being given the opportunity to get up close to one of the state’s ancient predators as the Bureau of Land Management has arranged for the skull of a giant, extinct crocodile to visit schools as part of a touring science outreach programme.

The cast of the giant, Late Cretaceous crocodilian Deinosuchus is due to visit a number of schools in Utah, as the fossil from which this replica was cast was found at the nearby Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  This site is world famous for its excellent dinosaur body and trace fossils.  The skull, representing a 12-metre plus crocodile that lived alongside duck-billed dinosaurs and the Tyrannosaurs, indicates that Deinosuchus lurked in the swamps, rivers and lakes that once covered this part of the western United States.

The skull is part of a travelling exhibit assembled by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, showcasing some of the amazing fossil discoveries found around the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  The skull of this “predator of predators” will tour a number of schools before taking up permanent residency at the new Utah Museum of Natural History (Salt Lake City).

Commenting on the skull, Bureau of Land Management palaeontologist Alan Titus, stated:

“It [Deinosuchus] was the biggest and baddest predator of its day.”

He went onto add, that thanks to the presence of volcanic ash in the rock deposit associated with the skull material scientists were able to estimate the age of the fossil – around 75 million years old (Campanian faunal stage).

To read more about the giant crocodile Deinosuchus and how a study of coprolite (fossil poo) is helping scientists to learn more about the diet of this large predator: Ancient Crocodile Poo Provides Evidence of Deinosuchus Diet

Everything Dinosaur team members also take fossils and other artefacts to schools, either as part of a dinosaur workshop or as part of other outreach science activities such as teaching about fossils in primary schools.

4 03, 2011

Pteranodon Fossils Found In Texas

By | March 4th, 2011|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

New Pterosaur perhaps the Oldest Known Pteranodontidae from Texas

Texas, the second biggest state in the United States is a part of the world where things can be found on a very large scale.  From amazing sporting arenas such as the Dallas Cowboys stadium to huge portions of fries served up at some of their highway restaurants and from our perspective, some spectacular dinosaur body and trace fossils.

In terms of Pterosauria, the huge Azhdarchid Pterosaur, arguably the largest known to science, Quetzalcoatlus (Q. northropi) heralds from that part of the world, but thanks to the hard work of one American amateur scientist an important new Pterosaur discovery can be added to the fossil record of the lone star state.  It is not the size of this Pterosaur that is important, although only  a portion of the entire skeleton was found, it has been estimated that this flying reptile had a wingspan of around 4 metres, it is the age.

This new specimen, most probably representing a new species of Pteranodon was found in marine strata dating from approximately 89 million years ago (Turonian faunal stage).  This would make it the oldest known specimen of a Pteranodon ever found in North America.

Pterosaurs are an extinct group of flying reptiles, with no close living relatives.  Their wings were formed by a stretched membrane of skin that was supported by an elongated fourth digit.  The wings extended along the arms and down the body and these creatures dominated the skies for much of the Mesozoic and in some cases evolved into giant forms, the largest flying animals ever.

The fossilised bones were discovered by amateur palaeontologist Gary Byrd as a new culvert drain was being excavated north of Dallas.  It appears that this poor unfortunate creature, was flying over the Western Interior Seaway, when for some reason it crashed into the sea.  It probably drowned and the corpse sank to the bottom where over time it was covered with sediment and preserved as a fossil.

Commenting on his discovery, Gary stated:

“I found a couple of parts from a fish, and then when I saw these [Pterosaur bones] my initial thought was that they were not fish.  I knew it was something different, a bird-like thing.  It is very rare to find those long, thin bones.”

He donated his discovery to Southern Methodist University’s Museum of Palaeontology and scientists at the museum identified the bones as belonging to the left wing of a member of the Pteranodon genus.

Evidence of the Oldest Pteranodon Fossil in North America?

Picture credit: Southern Methodist University

In a statement issued by the University, one of the palaeontologists responsible for the analysis of the fossil material said:

“It it wasn’t crushed so badly, it would be possible to determine if it really is a Pteranodon.  These bones are easily flattened.  They are hollow inside, because they have to be lightweight to allow a Pterosaur to fly, so they compress like a pancake as they are embedded in layers of rock.”

Certain structures on the bone suggest this was indeed a member of the Pteranodon genus.  It had, for example, a “prominent warped deltopectoral crest” characteristic of members of the Pteranodontidae family.

Before this discovery, these type of Pterosaurs were known from other parts of the United States, most notably Kansas, but this specimen pre-dates the oldest found in the USA by at least 1.5 million years.  If this specimen is proved to be a true member of the Pteranodon genus then it is in the running to be the oldest known example of this genus in the world.

If this Texas fossils proves to be an actual Pteranodon, it will be the oldest example of the species in the world.

This new specimen also lived at an important time of transition for pterosaurs.  During this time, around 80-90 million years ago, the winged reptiles were diversifying from toothed forms to toothless varieties like the Pteranodons and the Azhdarchidae.

A spokesperson commented:

“This new specimen adds a lot more information about Pterosaurs in North America.  It helps constrain the timing of the transition from toothed to toothless because there’s only a few million years separating this specimen and Aetodactylus.”.

Aetodactylus was a toothed Pterosaur (Aetodactylus halli).  Its fossils have been found in north-eastern Texas and the strata from which the fossils were excavated has been estimated to be around 95 million years old (Cenomanian faunal stage).

3 03, 2011

A Video Review of the New Papo Dinosaur Model Styracosaurus

By | March 3rd, 2011|Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Everything Dinosaur videos, Main Page, Product Reviews|0 Comments

Video Review of the Papo Styracosaurus Dinosaur Model

A welcome addition to the Papo “Dinosaures” model collection, a wonderful, hand-painted replica of that Late Cretaceous Centrosaurine with the mean looking spikes on its neck frill – Styracosaurus.

Papo, the figure and model manufacturers based in France are fast becoming firm favourites amongst professionals and model collectors when it comes to turning out authentic prehistoric animal replicas.  This sixteen centimetre model is a lovely example of a horned dinosaur and a credit to Papo’s designers and model makers.

Everything Dinosaur’s Video Review of the Papo Styracosaurus Model (Papo Dinosaurs)

Video Credit: Everything Dinosaur

In this short video, we showcase this new Styracosaurus model.  Staff at Everything Dinosaur discuss the relevance of this new model to the fossil material and highlight one or two features of note on this dinosaur replica.

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