All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
22 05, 2011

Everything Dinosaur Notches up 350 Online Reviews

By | May 22nd, 2011|Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page, Press Releases|0 Comments

Everything Dinosaur’s 350th Product Review

With its 5 star reviews on Google’s shopping network, the team members at Everything Dinosaur,  must be doing something right when it comes to customer service.  In recognition of the company’s excellent service record the 350th customer comment has just been put up on the company’s dinosaur toy website: Everything Dinosaur

Customers are encouraged to leave product reviews, comments and feedback about the company’s service.  The dedicated staff take great care to deal with all the product enquiries and provide advice on anything and everything to do with dinosaurs.  The support and care shown has led to a total of 350 reviews being put online by customers who feel satisfied enough with the way Everything Dinosaur has looked after them to put their views up for public viewing.

All this has been achieved in little over twelve months, since the review and feedback module went live on the Everything Dinosaur website.  A special thanks to everyone who has posted up Everything Dinosaur customer reviews.

Examples, of some of the now hundreds of reviews include:

Angie: posted up with regards to a bendable Diplodocus soft toy purchased at Everything Dinosaur:

“I WAS AMAZED AT THE SERVICE, SPEED AND EFFICIENCY OF THIS COMPANY,  PRODUCT EXCEEDED  EXPECTATIONS  FABULOUS.”

Here’s one from Steven, the first one we received after Christmas, he is referring to the Safari Feathered Dinosaur tube of models that we sell:

Steven: “This is a lovely set, covering a wide range of raptors & therezinosaurs, however, confused as to why there is an apatosaurus, either way though, my 4 yo loved the variety and has played with them daily since Christmas.”

Here is one of the first reviews we logged under our new review system, it is from a J. Shebden:

“Great choice of products, thought your delivery time was excellent – really fast.”

A spokesperson for Everything Dinosaur commented:

“It is always a pleasure to hear from our customers and we genuinely try our very best to find top quality products that represent good value for money and then we do all we can to pack and despatch them as fast as we can – it is this attention to detail that helps our company stand out”.

Although, only a recent convert to Facebook the company has already attracted 155 “likes” on the firm’s website wall on this medium.  With the staff continuing to work as hard as they can to keep dinosaur fans and enthusiasts happy it is likely that many more “likes” and favourable reviews will come their way.

Our thanks to all those people who have taken the time and trouble to contact us, to put product reviews online and such like – we are eternally grateful.

21 05, 2011

The Big Brains of Mammals – Nothing to Sniff At

By | May 21st, 2011|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Brain Development in Early Mammals Linked to Development of Sense of Smell

Whilst the Dinosauria came to prominence around 215 million years ago, primitive shrew-like creatures, the ancestors of today’s modern mammals were sniffing out a survival strategy that would lead to the development of larger brains.   In a study carried out on the fossilised skulls of some ancient ancestors of true mammals, natural selection for a keener sense of smell may have been the evolutionary driver leading to bigger brains.

It is not the size of the brain that makes one animal more intelligent than another, more it is a case of how the various compartments of the brain responsible for certain functions compare and the overall ratio of brain volume and capacity to body size – known as the Encephalisation Quotient or EQ.

The Encephalisation Quotient is a very simple way of  measuring the intelligence of an animal.  It is a ratio of the brain weight of the animal being studied compared to the brain weight of a control animal of the same body mass.  This method for measuring intelligence relies on the assumption that smarter animals have larger brains to body ratios than less intelligent ones.  This helps determine the relative intelligence of extinct animals, if the brain volume using CAT scans and other technology can be applied to fossil material.  In general, warm-blooded animals (like mammals) have a higher EQ than cold-blooded ones (like reptiles such as snakes and crocodiles).  Birds and mammals have brains that are about 10 times bigger than those of bony fish, amphibians, and reptiles of the same body size, that are around today.  The Dinosauria, such a diverse Order, show a huge variation in Encephalisation Quotient.  For example, Apatosaurus (A. ajax), a Sauropod from the Late Jurassic had a body length in excess of 20 metres and weighed perhaps as much as 30 Tonnes but its brain was tiny, smaller than a cricket ball.  Even the “most intelligent” of all the known Dinosaurs – Troodontids would have been about as “smart” as an Emu – a flightless bird from Australia not known for its intellect.

However, researchers have puzzled over the fact that mammals have such large brains, relative to other land vertebrates such as reptiles.  A new study co-authored by Zhe-Xi Luo, a palaeontologist at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), suggests that it was the need to develop a super effective sense of smell that led to the evolution of larger brain size.

The palaeontologist stated:

“Mammals didn’t get our larger brains for thinking.  We got it for a more urgent and more basis need – our sense of smell was far more important.”

Some researchers have speculated that the early, nocturnal mammals evolved larger brains to boost their hearing, as vision was less important at night.  It is assumed that these small creatures such as the Triconodont Morganucodon that was analysed in this study, were nocturnal creatures.  Choosing to live in the twilight world for fear of being eaten by the dinosaurs which were much more active during the day.  Other scientists have suggested that mammal’s brains are proportionately larger because as many early mammals evolved smaller bodies their brains failed to shrink to scale.

As an aside, the concept of having the dinosaurs roam during the day, and once dusk fell having the Dinosauria hand over to a night shift that included a number of ancestral mammals is quite an outdated concept.  True, many small mammals alive today are nocturnal, so it is likely small mammalian ancestors in the Mesozoic were also probably creatures of the night.  But many scientists now believe that there were plenty of hunters around at night, quite capable of snatching up an unwary, furry Multituberculate or two.

Indeed, a recent study into the orbits (eye sockets) of some dinosaur fossil skulls, concluded that some members of the Theropoda may have been night-hunters, or at least hunters in low light levels.  The predation threat from Dinosaurs may have led to the evolutionary “spur” that favoured small, mammalian ancestors with better senses and hence larger brains.

The research team reconstructed the oldest known skulls of proto-mammals, the 10cm, shrew-like Morganucodon and Hadrocodium.  Luo and colleagues found clues to how the mammalian brain may have begun to grow bigger.  Using CAT scanning technology the researchers created three-dimensional images of the brain endocasts,  based on the fossilised impressions of brain tissue and spaces left on the inside of the preserved fossil skulls.  This gave the team a detailed view of the surface of the brain and the nasal cavities.

An Illustration of Morganucodon

The team then compared these endocasts with those for seven fossils of early Cynodonts – Synapsids just like mammals but primitive reptiles that were abundant during the early Triassic.  It is the Cynodonts, that scientists believe, are the ancestors of mammals.  The team also examined the endocasts of twenty-seven other primitive mammals from the Mesozoic and compared their results with an analysis of the brains of 2 two hundred and seventy living mammal species.

They found that the size of the mammalian brain evolved in three major stages. First, by the time Morganucodon was alive 190 million years ago, the brain was almost 50% larger than in Cynodonts, and areas that process smell, such as the olfactory bulb, were distinctly larger. Then, a short time later in Hadrocodium, the closest known relative of living mammals, the brain had expanded another 50%, with parts involved in smell accounting for most of the increase.  Thirdly, by 65 million years ago when modern types of “crown” mammals arose, regions of the brain that control neuromuscular coordination by integrating different senses had enlarged.

Computer Generated Endocast showing Brain size and Composition in Proto-Mammals

Brain size images

Picture Credit: M. Colbert (University of Austin – Texas)

The image above shows the computer generated image of the brain (pink) and the swollen front section of the brain equating to the olfactory bulbs (part of brain attributed to detection and analysis of sense of smell.

Biologist R. Glenn Northcutt of the University of California (UC), stated:

“The paper provides the first evidence of the relative size of the brains and which parts were initially enlarging during critical stages in the evolution of modern mammalian brains.  Until now, we could only speculate what changes were occurring and at what rate. Now we have data and can infer what selective pressures were driving brain evolution in the radiation that led to mammals.”

Biological anthropologist Terrence Deacon of UC Berkeley also praises the descriptive work that shows the olfactory bulb was “unambiguously enlarged” compared with the structure in reptiles.  But he warns that just because it was larger when the brain began to expand doesn’t mean that the sense of smell drove the size increase, it could just correlate with enlargement caused by another adaptation.

Deacon commented that regardless of the trigger, though the fossils show that a:

“Mammalian pattern of brain organisation is apparent at this very early stage of proto-mammalian evolution.”

20 05, 2011

Back Dating the Crocodile Family Tree

By | May 20th, 2011|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Crocodile/Bird Split Pushed Back in Time due to New Study

A re-examination of a early Triassic vertebrate fossil found in China during the 1970s originally thought to be an ancestor of both crocodiles and Aves (birds)  has led to scientists concluding that this fossil represents an ancestor of crocodiles only.  This suggests that the crocodile/bird evolutionary split took place earlier than previously thought – perhaps as far back as in the Palaeozoic more than 250 million years ago.

The only known specimen of Xilousuchus sapingensis has been re-examined by a Washington University based researcher and it has been re-classified as a member of the Archosauria, characterised by skulls with long, narrow snouts and teeth set in sockets.  After the Permian mass extinction event, it was the Archosaurs that quickly diversified to become one of the dominant types of land vertebrate on the planet.  The Archosaurs gave rise to the crocodiles, birds and to the dinosaurs.

The new examination dates the fossil of . sapingensis to the very early Triassic period (247 million to 252 million years) commented Sterling Nesbitt, the University of Washington postdoctoral researcher responsible for this new study.  The new study places this particular reptile on the crocodile side of the Archosaur family tree.

An Illustration of the Remains of Xilousuchus sapingensis

Picture Credit: Sterling Nesbitt

The drawing shows the skull and neck vertebrae from the fossil Archosaur. The areas coloured “white” in the diagram show the portions of the illustration that represent actual fossils.  The extended neural spines from the neck vertebrae numbers six onwards, suggest a sail-like structure on the back, similar in form and function to the sail on a Pelycosaur such as Dimetrodon.

The researcher Nesbitt stated:

“We are marching closer and closer to the Permian-Triassic boundary with the origin of the Archosaurs, and today the Archosaurs are still the dominant land vertebrate, when you look at the diversity of birds.”

This new study could sharpen the debate amongst palaeontologists as to the origins of the Archosauria.  Did they exist before the Permian mass extinction, surviving the extinction event or were only Archosaur precursors around in the Late Permian geological period?

Nesbitt added:

“Archosaurs might have survived the extinction or they might have been a product of the recovery from the extinction.”

The research is published this week in the online journal “Earth and Environmental Science Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Co-authors are Jun Liu of the American Museum of Natural History (New York) and Chun Li of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Palaeoanthropology (Beijing, China). Nesbitt did most of his work on the project while a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Texas at Austin.

The X. sapingensisspecimen consisting of a skull and ten vertebrae, was found in the Heshanggou Formation in northern China, an area with deposits that date from the early and mid-Triassic period, from 252 million to 230 million years ago, and further back, before the mass extinction event that brought the Permian geological period to an end.

The fossil was originally classified as an Archosauriform, a “cousin” of Archosaurs, rather than a true Archosaur, but that was before the discovery of more complete early Archosaur specimens from other parts of the Triassic period. The researchers examined bones from the specimen in detail, comparing them to those from the closest relatives of Archosaurs, and discovered that X. sapingensis differed from virtually every Archosauriform.

Among their findings was that bones at the tip of the jaw that bear the teeth likely were not down-turned as much as originally thought when the specimen was first described in the 1980s. They also found that neural spines of the neck formed the forward part of a sail similar to that found on another ancient Archosaur called Arizonasaurus, a very close relative of Xilousuchus found in Arizona.

An Picture of Arizonasaurus

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The family trees of birds and crocodiles meet somewhere in the early Triassic and Archosauriforms are the closest cousin to those Archosaurs, Nesbitt said. But the new research places X. sapingensis firmly within the Archosaur family tree, providing evidence that the early members of the crocodile and bird family trees evolved earlier than previously thought.

Commenting on the appearance of this ancestral crocodile, Sterling said:

“This animal is closer to a crocodile, but it’s not a crocodile. If you saw it today you wouldn’t think it was a crocodile, especially not with a sail on its back.”

19 05, 2011

Facultative Bipedalism in Sauropods

By | May 19th, 2011|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Apatosaurus ajax – Speedy Sauropods

Every once in a while we come across a really well-written, concise summary of a scientific paper accompanied by a stunning image, illustrating the particular aspect of palaeontology under investigation.  An example, of this can be seen below in a beautiful drawing interpreting a trace fossil found at the famous Morrison Formation site.  We congratulate Matthew Mossbrucker (Director and Chief Curator at the Morrison Natural History Museum) and artist Fabio Pastori for their work.

If science is the search for truth, then truth itself is of little use unless it can be communicated effectively.  The example reproduced below regarding the analysis of trace fossils found at Quarry five in Morrison, Colorado (United States), demonstrates how to communicate studies in  palaeontology to a wider audience.

The Beautiful Illustration by Fabio Pastori

Picture Credit: Fabio Pastori

The summation produced by Matthew Mossbrucker is reproduced below:

“Speedy” the sauropod Apatosaurus ajax

A ajax running babies illustration by Fabio Pastori with scientific supervision and text by Matthew Mossbrucker.

This painting depicts a historic Morrison Formation site, Quarry 5 in Morrison, Colorado.  Discovered by Arthur Lakes in the spring of 1877, this site is most significant because it produced the holotype of Stegosaurus armatus, Yale Peabody Museum specimen 1850.  Sauropod remains have been documented at this site as well.  Recent investigations at Quarry 5 yielded trace fossils on the top of the beds that contain the body fossils, including tracks likely made by juvenile and adult Apatosaurus ajax. On a single ex situ boulder, juvenile sauropod trackways demonstrate two distinct footfall cadences – a near heel-toe hind track pattern, and a trackway that shows twice the amount of space (as compared to the aforementioned tracks) between footfalls in tracks the same size.  This indicates that the two trackways represent distinct locomotion pattern: the closer footfalls a walking speed with the wider footfalls representing a low-speed ‘run.’  While the trackway of close footfalls does demonstrate relatively shallow, lunate manual tracks, the wider footfalls have no features representing manual tracks (either overstepped or not).  This suggests the possibility that young Apatosaurus had the capability of moving short distances bipedally.

Patient work at Quarry 5 is ongoing – hampered by very hard, silicic sandstone.

Congratulations to all involved in this fine marriage of scientific study and scientific illustration.

18 05, 2011

Zooming into an Ancient Spider

By | May 18th, 2011|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Advanced Technology Clears up Blurry Amber Revealing Treasures Within

Researchers at the University of Manchester (England), have used advanced computer imaging techniques combined with three-dimensional X-ray scanning technology to reveal the face and details of a spider that lived during the Palaeogene Period, some forty-nine million years ago.

The spider, known as a Huntsman Spider (Sparassidae), was preserved in tree resin that solidified and formed amber, trapping this little Arthropod and enabling scientists nearly fifty million years later to study it in fine detail.  Amber is a sticky, resin produced by certain trees, especially conifers.  Insects and other organisms become trapped in this resin and fossilised when it hardens into amber.  Unfortunately, over time in the presence of oxygen the amber can become opaque, thus obscuring the tiny creatures that it might contain.  The use of sophisticated X-ray computer tomography enables scientists to lift the veil on the hidden treasures that amber might contain, enabling them to build up amazingly detailed pictures of pollen, plant debris and small creatures that were trapped and preserved.

This is not the first time that spider fossils have been revealed by close examination of amber.  Back in 2009 we reported on the discovery of the remains of spider’s silk threads being preserved in a lump of amber found in the UK that dated from the Cretaceous Period.

To read this article: World’s Oldest Spider’s Web Discovered

Scientists from Manchester University, working with their colleagues from the Berlin Natural History Museum explored the amber nodule to reveal the facial features of this ancient spider.  Their work is being reported in the scientific journal “Naturwissenschaften”.  This team have demonstrated how opaque amber nodules can yield important scientific data, when X-ray computer tomography and other sophisticated research techniques are applied.

Commenting on the study, Dr. David Penney, of Manchester University’s Faculty of Life Sciences stated:

“More than 1,000 species of fossil spider have been described, many of them from amber.  The best-known source is Baltic amber, which is about 49 million years old and that has been actively studied for more than 150 years.”

He went onto add:

“Indeed, some of the first fossil spiders to be described back in 1854 were from the historically significant collection of Georg Karl Berendt, which is held in the Berlin Natural History museum.  A problem here is that these old, historical amber pieces have reacted with oxygen over time and are now often dark or cracked, making it hard to see the animal specimens inside.”

The Manchester University team were surprised to find the oldest example known of a Huntsman spider preserved in amber.  These strong and quick spiders would have been unlikely candidates to get caught in slow moving tree resin – but apparently on spider forty-nine million years ago may have been unlucky enough to have been caught.  To test the theory that the spider’s remains were indeed that of a Huntsman, an international team of experts in the fields of fossils and living spiders, and in modern techniques of computer analysis decided to re-study Georg Berendt’s original specimen to determine what it was.

The Face of the Forty-Nine Million Year Old Huntsman

Picture Credit: Manchester University

Dr. Penny said:

“The results were surprising.  Computed tomography produced three-dimensional images and movies of astounding quality, which allowed us to compare the finest details of the amber fossil with similar-looking living spiders.  We were able to show that the fossil is unquestionably a Huntsman spider and belongs to a genus called Eusparassus, which lives in the tropics and also arid regions of southern Europe today, but evidently lived in central Europe fifty million years ago.”

Professor Philip Withers of  Manchester University concluded:

“Normally such fossils are really hard to detect because the contrast against the amber is low but with phase contrast imaging the spiders really jump out at you in three-dimensions.  Usually you have to go to a synchrotron X-ray facility to get good phase contrast, but we can get excellent phase contrast in the lab.  This is really exciting because it opens up the embedded fossil archive not just in ambers.”

17 05, 2011

New Genus of Primate Discovered – Deep in the Heart of Texas

By | May 17th, 2011|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

New Primate Genus Provides Evidence of Land Bridges between Old World and New

Texas, that vast state in the southern part of the United States may be synonymous with westerns, cattle and stetsons but forty-three million years ago the area was a tropical paradise, one of the last places in North America to suffer from global cooling as the world got drier and colder.  Flourishing in this verdant, tree covered world was a primate, an animal similar to a small, modern lemur in appearance.

The fossil evidence was found in the Devil’s Graveyard area of the Badlands of western Texas, although not complete, remains of the jaw bone have been discovered providing an insight into the animal’s facial characteristics and diet.  The animal has been formally named Mescalerolemur horneri.

M. horneri lived during the Eocene Epoch about 43 million years ago.  It is a member of an extinct primate group –- the Adapiforms, that were found throughout the Northern Hemisphere in the Eocene.  However, just like Mahgarita stevensi, a younger fossil primate found in the same area in 1973, Mescalerolemur is more closely related to Eurasian and African Adapiforms than those from North America.

Chris Kirk, Associate Professor in the Dept. of Anthropology at the University of Texas commented:

“These Texas primates are unlike any other Eocene primate community that has ever been found in terms of the species that are represented.  The presence of both Mescalerolemur and Mahgarita, which are only found in the Big Bend region of Texas, comes after the more common Adapiforms from the Eocene of North America had already become extinct.  This is significant because it provides further evidence of faunal interchange between North America and East Asia during the Middle Eocene.”

By the end of the Eocene, primates and other tropically adapted species had all but disappeared from North America due to climatic cooling, so Kirk is sampling the last burst of diversity in North American primates.  With its lower latitudes and more equable climate, West Texas offered warm-adapted species a greater chance of survival after the cooling began, a sort of safe haven against the rigours of climate change.

Associate Professor Kirk stated that Marie Butcher, a then undergraduate who graduated with degrees in anthropology and biology from The University of Texas at Austin, found the first isolated tooth of Mescalerolemur in 2005.  Since that time, many more primate fossils have been recovered by Kirk and his team at a locality called “Purple Bench.”  This fossil locality is three to four million years older than the Devil’s Graveyard sediments that had previously produced Mahgarita stevensi.

Kirk stated:
“I initially thought that we had found a new, smaller species of Mahgarita.”

However, as more specimens were prepared at the Texas Memorial Museum’s Vertebrate Paleontology Lab, Kirk realised he had discovered not just a new species, but a new genus that was previously unknown to science.

Fossils of Mescalerolemur reveal it was a small primate, weighing only about 370 grams, less than an IPad. This body weight is similar to that of the living greater dwarf lemur.  Mescalerolemur’s dental anatomy reveals a close evolutionary relationship with Adapiform primates from Eurasia and Africa, including Darwinius masillae, a German fossil primate previously claimed (in a controversial paper) to be a human ancestor.

To read more about Darwinius: Debate over “Ida” Rumbles On

However, the discovery of Mescalerolemur provides further evidence that Adapiform primates like Darwinius are more closely related to living lemurs and bush babies than they are to humans.

For example, the right and left halves of Mescalerolemur’s lower jaws were two separate bones with a joint along the mid-line, a common trait for lemurs and bush babies.  Mahgarita stevensi, the closest fossil relative of Mescalerolemur, had a completely fused jaw joint like that of humans.

The Fossil Jaws of Mescalerolemur horneri

Picture Credit: University of Texas at Austin (USA)

The picture shows Mescalerolemur horneri’s partial upper jaw (in two pieces, at left) and partial lower jaw (at right) (scales = 2 mm). Explaining the significance of the difference in jawbones, Kirk said:

“Because Mescalerolemur and Mahgarita are close relatives, fusion of the lower jaws in Mahgarita must have occurred independently from that observed in humans and their relatives, the monkeys and apes.”

The new genus is named after the Mescalero Apache, native Indians, who inhabited the Big Bend region of Texas from about 1700-1880.  The species name, horneri, honours Norman Horner, an entomologist and professor emeritus at Midwestern State University (MSU) in Wichita Falls, Texas.  Horner helped to establish MSU’s Dalquest Desert Research Site, where the new primate fossils were found.  The taxonomic relationship between the various types of Old World and New World Adapiforms suggest that faunal exchange was taking place over much of the Eocene Epoch, perhaps land bridges existed that permitted this exchange of genera.

16 05, 2011

Research Teams Ready to Return to the Ice Age

By | May 16th, 2011|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

Museum Staff in Race Against Time to Recover Fossils

A team of scientists from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science are embarking on a seven-week long expedition to recover the fossilised remains of American mega fauna discovered by chance last autumn at a construction site for an extension to the Ziegler reservoir near Snowmass village (Colorado).

The researchers have less than fifty days to recover the fossilised bones of animals such as ancient bison, Mastodons and Mammoths before the construction team have to move in to complete their work on extending the reservoir.  Ironically, the excavation work last year, revealed that the reservoir sat on the remains of an ancient Ice Age lake bed, one that had preserved as fossils evidence of the exotic life that once roamed this part of the United States.

In February, team members at Everything Dinosaur, reported on an agreement being reached between all parties to continue the research work: Scientists reach agreement over Ice Age dig site.

The team, in excess of thirty researchers intend to apply a methodical approach to surveying the site, last year, they had to work alongside the reservoir construction teams with their big diggers and machinery as the prehistoric animal remains were revealed.

Dr. Ian Miller, the museums curator of palaeontology stated:

“Last year, we were working in the same hole. It was a little more of a salvage operation.”

This time, there will be one backhoe, employed by the museum, to move the muck out of the way after it has been combed for fossils.  A small crew working on expansion of the reservoir will also be on hand, but off to the side of the fossil dig, not involved in it.

Predicting what will happen, Dr. Miller added:

“We will have thirty people shovelling this time, it’s going to be a little bit different than last year”.

Scientists and field workers, really put the town of Snowmass on the map when they  managed to collect some 600 bones and bone fragments last autumn, before snowfalls stopped their work.  The team found a treasure trove of ancient mammal remains including 15 elephant tusks.  The team found evidence eight to ten American Mastodons, four Columbian mammoths, two Ice Age deer, four Ice Age bison and one Jefferson’s ground sloth (the first ever found in Colorado).

Although limited by the need to complete the reservoir extension project, the Denver museum staff have it organised like a military operation with every contingency considered.  Over the summer, their numbers will swell as more volunteers and museum staff join the excavations.  In all, 36 scientists from 15 institutions and four countries will help analyse the Ice Age ecosystem preserved in the reservoir sediment.  For example, there will be a fossil pollen expert who takes sediment samples at every five centimetres of depth.  A sample the size of a sugar cube can contain 10,000 grains of pollen, this will give the scientists an ideal about the climate and how it changed as well as providing excellent data on the distribution and types of flora that were to be found at the site.

Remains of a Prehistoric Bison Found at the Reservoir

Picture Credit: Denver Museum of Nature and Science

Dr. Miller added:

“It really gives us a picture of that whole ecosystem.”

A much larger core sample, nearly one hundred kilogrammes of sediment, will be screened to search for evidence of microvertebrates, things like mice teeth and the vertebrae of tiny fish.

The researchers believe that Ziegler Reservoir dates from 150,000 years ago at its deepest layers, to about 50,000 years at the shallowest layers, a 100,000-year snapshot of the Ice Age as an ancient lake slowly filled in.

Because carbon dating can only date material out to about 45,000 years, other methods will be employed this year to date the various levels of the site, sophisticated techniques such as optically stimulated luminescence and cosmogenic exposure dating.

A skeleton museum crew will remain at Ziegler when dam construction begins, from July 2nd, just in case of new finds, but with the newly enlarged reservoir expected to be filled with water sometime this autumn, the next seven weeks will be crucial to recovering whatever secrets the site might yet yield.

The Denver museum is the repository for the specimens collected at Ziegler, and its preparation lab has been busy all winter preserving and cataloguing last year’s finds.  The laboratory will be closed during this year’s dig, though, as most of its staff will be in and out of the Snowmass site.

Most of the fossils found last year have been carefully dried; some are still in that process, according to a spokesperson for the project.  The horns and skull of an Ice Age bison have been assembled for display in the lab window, so some of the animals found are already being prepared for museum display.

The young, female mammoth known as “Snowy”, the first find at Ziegler, was lifted out of the earth last autumn, bone and matrix together, as winter closed in.  That fossil, each piece now carefully labelled, is about 60 to 70 percent complete, and this year’s dig will include efforts to find more of her remains, Dr. Miller stated.

The museum will create a cast of one of the fossils and turn it over to the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District, owner of the reservoir, for display. At some point, long after Ziegler is again a reservoir, an extensive exhibit of the fossils found  is likely, although it may not be a permanent feature of the museum.  It may even form part of a travelling exhibition so that more Americans can see the amazing fossils.

15 05, 2011

Pangea Did Have Boundaries – Speciation Prevailed

By | May 15th, 2011|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Drawings, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

New Study Suggest Mammals Liked some Parts, Reptiles Others

One of the conundrums in the science of palaeontology, is why given the uniformity of Pangea during the Triassic was there such a huge increase in the diversity of vertebrate life?.  For speciation to occur, (new species to evolve), so the theory of evolution goes, a group of one species of animals needs to become separately from another group of animals from the same species.

For example, if you have a species of leaf-eating lizard living on the coast and in a freak storm a number of individuals are washed out to sea, perhaps floating on broken branches that have become detached from trees during the storm.  These lizards, would be able to survive a long period afloat as they need little food or water being cold-blooded.  After several weeks, the tides and currents takes this floating raft of storm debris towards a small island many hundreds of miles from the mainland where these lizards used to live.  The branches and the lizards that they contain that have have survived get washed ashore and these little mariners find themselves in a new environment.  The habitat may be different, the plant life strange and even the food chains which the lizards are introduced to as interlopers may be different.  If this population remains isolated from the mainland leaf-eating population then there is every chance that over time, the lizards will evolve and adapt to their new homes – perhaps becoming over many generations so different from the mainland lizards that they can no longer breed with them and thus, these island lizards would be classified as a separate species.  With a different diet of leaves, perhaps due to the limited number of trees on the island, the lizards may well evolve into animals with a more omnivorous diet.  Their dentition could change, the size of the jaw muscles, the anatomy of the gut and so on.

More than 200 million years ago, mammals and reptiles lived in their own separate worlds on the super-continent Pangaea, despite little geographical incentive to do so. Mammals lived in areas of twice-yearly seasonal rainfall; reptiles stayed in areas where rains came just once a year. Mammals lose more water when they excrete, and thus need water-rich environments to survive. Results are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

With the super-continent of Pangea covering much of one hemisphere and being made up of North America, Europe, North Asia, Africa, South America, scientists have puzzled over why the rise and spread of so many vertebrates such as the Dinosaurs, when the opportunity for a “gene pool” of a species to become isolated would have been so limited.  There were few geographical boundaries to the physical movement of animal populations, no great, continuous mountain chains, no impassable deserts, ice fields and such like.  If animals roamed freely across Pangea, gene pools would have remained very readily accessible from animals of that species moving into any area and the opportunities for extensive speciation would have been lost.  However, mammals and reptiles did keep to their own areas, each type preferring a particular climate (mammals liking hot and wet, reptiles being more successful in the drier areas.

In a paper published in the scientific journal “The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”,  a team of researchers have concluded that more than 200 million years ago, mammals and reptiles lived in their own separate worlds on the super-continent Pangea.  Despite little geographical incentive to do so.  Mammals lived in areas of twice-yearly seasonal rainfall; reptiles stayed in areas where rains came just once a year.  Mammals lose more water when they excrete, compared to reptiles and birds and thus need water-rich environments to survive.

Studying a transect of Pangea stretching from about three degrees south to 26 degrees north (a long swath in the centre of the continent covering tropical and semi-arid, temperate zones), a team of scientists led by Jessica Whiteside at Brown University (Rhode Island, USA) has determined that reptiles, represented by a group called Procolophonids, lived in one area, while mammals, represented by a precursor species called traversodont Cynodonts, lived in another.  Though similar in many ways, their paths evidently did not cross.

Assistant Professor Whiteside commented:

“We’re answering a question that goes back to Darwin’s time.  What controls where organisms live?  The two main constraints are geography and climate.”

Turning to climate, the frequency of rainfall along lines of latitude directly influenced where animals lived, the scientists conclude. In the tropical zone where the mammal-relative traversodont Cynodonts lived, monsoon-like rains fell twice a year.  But farther north on Pangea, in the temperate regions where the Procolophonids predominated, major rains occurred only once a year.  It was the difference in the precipitation, the researchers conclude, that sorted the mammals’ range from that of the reptiles.

On Pangea, the mammals needed a water-rich area, so the availability of water played a decisive role in determining where they lived.

Assistant Professor Whiteside added:

“It’s interesting that something as basic as how the body deals with waste can restrict the movement of an entire group.”

In water-limited areas, “the reptiles had a competitive advantage over mammals,” Whiteside commented.  She thinks the reptiles didn’t migrate into the equatorial regions because they already had found their niche.

The researchers compiled a climate record for Pangea during the late Triassic period, from 234 million years ago to 209 million years ago, using samples collected from lakes and ancient rift basins stretching from modern-day Georgia to Nova Scotia.  Pangea was a hothouse then; temperatures were about 20 degrees Celsius hotter in the summer, and atmospheric carbon dioxide was five to 20 times greater than today.  Yet there were regional differences, including rainfall amounts.

The researchers base the rainfall gap on variations in Earth’s precession, or the wobble on its axis, coupled with the eccentricity cycle, based on Earth’s orbital position to the sun.  Together, these Milankovitch cycles influence how much sunlight, or energy, reaches different areas of the planet.  During the late Triassic, the equatorial regions received more sunlight, thus more energy to generate more frequent rainfall.  The higher latitudes, with less total sunlight, experienced less rain.

The research is important because climate change projections for our own time on planet Earth, show areas that would receive less precipitation, which could put mammals there under stress.

Relating the Pangea evidence to today’s problem with climate change, research graduate Danielle Grogan, part of Associate Professor’s Whiteside research Group stated:

“There is evidence that climate change over the last 100 years has already changed the distribution of mammal species.  Our study can help us predict negative climate effects on mammals in the future.”

14 05, 2011

Fun with Photoshop CS5

By | May 14th, 2011|Adobe CS5, Main Page|0 Comments

Applying Photoshop to Pterosaurs

They say that practice makes perfect when it comes to using Photoshop CS5, well if that is the case, team members at Everything Dinosaur are going to need a lot of practice before they become anything like proficient.  However, through a combination of trial and error they are getting a little more used to some of the tools in this powerful software programme.

For example, regular practice with the pen tool (short cut control P or an PC) is helping the team to gain confidence and although you wouldn’t call the latest attempts brilliant there are signs of improvement.  Today’s work involved cutting out various images of Pterosaurs (flying reptiles) and creating layers and then trying to put them onto a single picture.  The background image was that of a rocky seashore on the northern cost of Anglesey, visited recently by Everything Dinosaur team members on a fossil hunt.

Various models were cut out and a vector mask was applied to one layer (layer three showing the Brazilian Pterosaur Anhanguera), this allowed the gap between the Pterosaur’s foot and its wing to be filled with an image of the background image, so this “huge whole” in our artwork would not show to much.  How we created the vector mask, and painted it is a bit of a mystery – but we got there, that’s the main thing.  We do seem to be heading in the right direction – although very slowly.

Everything Dinosaur’s Pterosaur Cliffs Picture

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

We do have a long way to go, but a journey of a thousand miles…

13 05, 2011

Trilobite Hunt is On

By | May 13th, 2011|Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page|0 Comments

Everything Dinosaur Team members Prepare for the Ordovician

The Everything Dinosaur Trilobite hunt is definitely going ahead.  Plans have been made and everything is organised in preparation for tomorrow’s trip into deepest Wales in search of Trilobites.  Trilobites are an extinct group of super-abundant Palaeozoic marine Arthropods with distinct three-fold division of their bodies.  The exoskeletons of these animals, just like spiders and crabs, had to be shed to let the occupants grow.  They readily fossilise providiing an excellent record of Trilobites in all their shapes and forms.

The Ordovician Period lasted from approximately 495 million years ago to around 443 million years ago.  Life was still very much concentrated in marine environments where the Arthropods dominated but the first animals with true backbones had begun to evolve. Most life was small, less than one centimetre in size, but an exception to this were the Trilobites that had already evolved into many hundreds of different species, some of which were much, much bigger than other animals that shared their marine environments.  Many vertebrate palaeontologists have a soft-spot for Trilobites, the global distribution of Trilobite fossils has helped scientists reconstruct the position of the Earth’s tectonic plates as well as to aid in dating the stratigraphic column (rock strata).

An Illustration of a Trilobite (Trilobite Fossils)

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

This geological period was named after the Romano-British hill tribe the Ordovices by schoolmaster and part-time geologist Charles Lapworth.

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