All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
21 07, 2011

A Deep-Snouted Prehistoric Crocodile that could Gallop like a Horse

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

Seventy-Million-Year-Old Prehistoric Crocodile

Researchers at McGill University (Montreal) and the University of São Paulo (Brazil) have described a new species of terrestrial crocodile that stalked the Late Cretaceous plains of Brazil.  This bizarre, deep-snouted crocodile had fang-like teeth and long legs indicating that this was a crocodile which, unlike its extant cousins was very comfortable out of the water.

To McGill palaeontology professor Hans Larsson, one of his graduate students Felipe Montefeltro and Professor Max Langer of the University of São Paulo, a recently discovered crocodile skull looks a little like the skull of a dog with its deep, broad features and its large teeth.  However, to the casual observer this is one creature that you would not like to come across, after all it could probably run quicker than your average person.

Named Pissarrachampsa sera, the fossil was discovered by a municipal worker in 70-million-year-old Cretaceous sediments in a small town in Minas Gerais, Brazil.  Sent to check it out by the Society of Palaeontology in Brazil, Langer and Montefeltro realised they had something very special.  The three researchers have documented their observations in the July edition of PLoS One (the public library of science).

Familiar with Hans Larsson’s work on crocodiles and dinosaurs, Montefeltro got a study grant from the Brazilian government and brought the fossil to Larsson’s lab at McGill’s Redpath Museum, where they have been studying the head and finding that this remarkable terrestrial crocodile reveals almost as much as it conceals.

Professor Larsson stated:

“Whereas modern-day amphibious crocodiles have low and flat heads, this new find gives us one of the first detailed insights into the head anatomy of this weird group of extinct crocs called Baurusuchia that feature tall, dog-like skulls with enlarged canines, and long-limbed body proportions.”

Their ecology was probably similar to that of wild dogs living today.  Given the number and size of their teeth, the researchers believe these carnivorous crocodilians fed on animals about as big as they were, in the 5 metre plus range.  So dinosaurs and other reptiles would have been on the menu.  Whether these crocs. formed packs like hunting dogs is unknown.  They would have used relatively stereoscopic vision to track prey and, rather than scramble like the crocs we see today, they galloped along on elongated limbs.

A sketch by Larsson imagines how this newly discovered species would have appeared in predatory motion.  Though the body might seem more dinosaur in shape than today’s crocodile, the fossil head carries the definitive characteristics of crocodiles from that era, including a well-developed secondary palate, socketed teeth, advanced cranial air spaces, roughened bone surfaces, plated armour, and massive attachments for jaw closing muscles.

Left Ventral View of the Skull of P. sera

Picture Credit: McGill University

Recent CT scans are offering more fascinating aspects of the fossil, such as its brain size and shape and hearing abilities.  Baurusuchian crocodiles are characterised by a significant number of unique anatomical features such as low tooth counts, tall, thin skulls, forward facing nostrils, and derived jaw-closing muscle attachments.  After comparing the new species to other Baurusuchids and their relatives, the researchers noticed large gaps on either side of the fossil’s morphology.

Montefeltro commented:

“We are dealing with an exceptionally divergent lineage of extinct crocodile diversity.  There are many fossils that still need to be found to link this crocodile to those who came before and after.”

Montefeltro explained that the name of this new member of the croc family pays homage to the location of the fossil’s discovery.  Piçarra is a regional word for sandstone and Champsa is a Latinisation of the Greek word for crocodile. Sera, is Latin for late – which refers to both the circumstances in which the fossil was found, that is, it was almost left behind in a 2008 expedition because of a tight schedule and, the Minas Gerais state flag that quotes Virgil “Libertas Quæ Sera Tamen” meaning “Freedom, Albeit Late.”  One thing that is for sure, if these animals were around today, then a any unwary tourist to its Brazilian homeland could very well end up “late and lamented”.

The Sketch of P. sera by Professor Larsson

Galloping Crocodile

Picture Credit: Hans Larsson

Though their importance for Crocodyliform evolution is widely recognised, there are still a lot of questions about the internal relationships of the group not yet studied, but which all three researchers plan to explore.  A digital reconstruction of the fossil’s brain cavity is a work in progress and will be presented later this fall at the Society of Vertebrate Palaeontology’s annual meeting.

Recently, Safari introduced a model of Late Cretaceous terrestrial crocodile called Kaprosuchus.  To view the Safari model range and dinosaur models: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls

Reproduced with kind permission: The McGill Reporter  who helped Everything Dinosaur compile this news story about a prehistoric crocodile from Brazil.

20 07, 2011

Yes, There are Cycads Around Today

By | July 20th, 2011|Educational Activities, Main Page|4 Comments

Cycads Survivors from the Palaeozoic

Cycads, those exotic, tree-like ferns originated sometime in the Palaeozoic probably during the Permian Period, although some scientists have suggested that they date back to the Carboniferous.  The trouble with plants is that they tend not to fossilise very well and as a result the fossil record for plant remains is very sparse.  To add to the problems encountered by palaeobotanists, plants tend not to fossilise as a whole, individual leaves, cones, pollen, roots and trunks are preserved.  As these different parts are found separately in the rock record, and are discovered at different times, each piece tends to get a different scientific name.  The tree-sized clubmoss (Lycopsid) Lepidodrendron has about ten binomial names associated with it.  For example, the fossilised roots are referred to as Stimaria and the base of the trunk is known as Knorria.

All very confusing, but as we were reminded yesterday, prehistoric plants are all around us.  Sphenopsids (horsetails) originated perhaps as far back as the Devonian, but the Equiseteum, of which there are about twenty species are still around today.  You can purchase Japanese horsetails at most garden centres and very nice they look to planted close to water.  Cycads, we think a number of genera are still around today.  These palm-like seed plants with massive, thick stems and their crown of fern-like fronds were some of the most common types of plants to be found during the Jurassic and Cretaceous.  Cycads produced by means of seeds, mostly borne on modified fronds grouped together to form a cone.  The only living exception is the most primitive living example, Cycas, where modified fronds bearing seeds are separate from one another.  Modern Cycads are relatively squat compared so some of their extinct relatives that could reach twenty metres tall or more.  They are found in frost free regions of the world and a number of genera can be found on several continents indicating a much wider distribution in the past.

Modern Cycads (Inset Everything Dinosaur Drawing of a Prehistoric Cycad)

Picture Credit: OU/Everything Dinosaur

There were even Cycads growing at the South Pole in Cretaceous times, although these types of Cycads shed their leaves as winter commenced.

Visitors to Kew Gardens can see a giant Eastern Cape Cycad, believed to be the world’s oldest pot plant.  This plant was brought to England in 1775.

19 07, 2011

A Review of Prehistoric Times Issue 98

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

Prehistoric Times Summer Edition – A Review

The countdown to issue 100 of the quarterly magazine Prehistoric Times is well underway and to whet our appetites somewhat issue 98 (summer 2011) arrived yesterday.  The front cover features superb artwork from Mark Hallett, in an illustration he calls “The Inheritors” he depicts two contrasting types of mammals that roamed Wyoming 33 million years ago – a prehistoric rabbit (Paleolagus haydeni) and the huge Brontops robustus.  Brontotherium in all their bizarre shapes and forms are depicted inside the magazine with an article written by Phil Hore and illustrated by readers artwork.  The featured dinosaur is Tenontosaurus an Ornithopod forever associated with the meat-eater Deinonychus, but there is much more to this dinosaur than that and an article “fleshes” out what we know about this highly successful genera.

Tracy Lee Ford’s contribution is a continuation into his assessment of the stance of Sauropods.  Were they capable of bipedalism or indeed adopting a tripodal stance?  The evidence and arguments are thoughtfully presented along with helpful and informative anatomical drawings.  Of particular interest was the preamble on the early scientific studies regarding Sauropod stance, this helps to put the current theories into their proper context and it is always a pleasure to be reminded of those theories (that persisted until the 1970s) that these long-necked herbivores were mainly aquatic.

The Front Cover Illustration of Prehistoric Times (Issue 98)

Picture Credit: Mike Fredericks

Paul McFarland reviews Dinosaur theme parks in the Czech Republic and Slovakia and there is the usual update on model releases and new kits plus part two of the interview with palaeo-artist Ricardo Delgado.  All-in-all this issue of Prehistoric Times is jam-packed with information, artwork and articles – well worth the subscription.

Prehistoric Times website: Prehistoric Times

18 07, 2011

Monsters from Manitoba

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

Major Fossil Excavation Site Continues in Manitoba

A very significant fossil excavation is continuing in Manitoba province (Canada), with researchers and field workers from the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre working on strata deposited during the Late Cretaceous.

In 2010, the Centre served notice that a massive Xiphactinus fish and Mosasaur skeleton were being unearthed at one of its palaeontological dig sites.  The excavation of these skeletons continues with great success and has lead to a number of other significant fossil discoveries in 2011, providing an intriguing insight into marine environments in the Late Mesozoic.

Museum curator Anita Janzic explained:

“This dig site continues to be extremely productive, with the appearance of even more fossils than anticipated.  Our excavation of the Xiphactinus and Mosasaur skeletons from 2010 has allowed us to find another Mosasaur, a Squid and some Ichthyornis (bird) fossils.  We are finding layer upon layer of exciting fossil discoveries.  It is amazing how one small dig site is producing such an abundance of diverse fossils.”

The scientific information being generated from this dig site could have far reaching global impact for the palaeontological community.  The dig site is providing a high quality and isolated look into the detailed passage of time during the late Cretaceous period.

Assistant curator of the Centre, Joseph Hatcher stated:

“This dig site is showcasing the most exciting five inches of rock that I’ve ever witnessed.  This small layer of rocks is suggesting a rapid change in the palaeoecology and environment of prehistoric Manitoba.  There is great science emerging from this dig site that has our team very excited!”

The rock units at this dig site are also of increasing interest to the Manitoba Geological Survey, with the appearance of a previously unseen rock layer for southern Manitoba.

A Museum Mounted Specimen of Xiphactinus

Picture Credit: Robyn Beck/AFP

The ironic element of this dig site is that the most provoking skeleton, the Xiphactinus fish, might be the last set of fossils to be removed from the site.  This excavation continues to unearth other new & exciting fossil discoveries, in the rock layers above the fish skeleton, which must be properly processed first.  Xiphactinus grew to lengths of up to 6 metres and has been nicknamed the “Bulldog fish” due to its ugly appearance.

The new discoveries include another Mosasaur, two unidentified fossils, squid fossils and bird fossils.  The two unidentified fossils are of great interest to the palaeontologists on staff at the Centre and we look forward to hearing more about these discoveries in the future.

17 07, 2011

Countdown to Sea Monster Exhibition

By | July 17th, 2011|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Educational Activities, Main Page|0 Comments

Sea Monster Exhibition Opens at the Bournemouth International Centre

The Purbeck Hall at the Bournemouth International Centre (BIC) is playing host to a whole new cast of prehistoric characters as the countdown to the opening of the BBC Sea Monsters Exhibition continues.  With just under a week to go; the enthusiastic staff are busy settling in their new charges – amazing creatures such as Anomalocaris the world’s first super-predator, giant sharks and fearsome marine reptiles, one time residents of Dorset.

The Sea Monsters Exhibition gives visitors the chance to come face to face with some of the largest predators that hunt the sea today, including the iconic great white shark and giant squid, whilst witnessing some of the strangest creatures and latest scientific discoveries from our most recent explorations of the deep in the fantastic deep sea submarine simulator.

Take a trip through the history of the World’s oceans and learn more about these incredible sea monsters, from the ancestors of all back-boned animals to the one of the largest known Pliosaurs – Liopleurodon; who was named and described from just a single, huge tooth found across the channel.  Learn all about what is most likely the biggest fish to have ever lived – Leedsichthys, a fish with a mouth so big it could have served as a car park.  Explore the technology used to make these amazing creatures ‘swim again’ – bringing back leviathans from the deep.

Meet Anomalocaris – It Ate Your Ancestors!

Picture Credit: BBC Worldwide/Framestore

Scientists used to think that creatures like Anomalocaris lived during the Cambrian Period, but a recent discovery of giant fossils in Morocco suggest that this fearsome, distant relative of spiders survived well into the Ordovician Period.

To read more about this discovery: Anomalocaris Discovery

 In “Sea Monsters : A Walking with Dinosaurs Trilogy”, the BBC used the same production team and technologies behind the highly acclaimed “Walking with Dinosaurs” and “Walking with Beasts” series to bring a number of these marine creatures “back to life”.

A spokes person for Everything Dinosaur commented:

“As far as we know life began in the sea and with three-quarters of our planet covered in water, there is still a lot to learn and discover.  However, animals in a marine environment generally have a better chance of becoming fossils than creatures that live far away from water and the fossil record is full of incredible evidence providing scientists with an insight into some of the bizarre and amazing creatures that once lived in the sea.  The Sea Monsters exhibition at the BIC is a great place to get acquainted with some of them.”

The BBC Sea Monsters exhibition runs from July 23rd until September 11th at the BIC (Bournemouth), for ticket enquiries and other information regarding Sea Monsters check out the Everything Dinosaur blog.

16 07, 2011

Palaeontology Meets CSI – Rotten Dinosaur Egg Reveals Ancient Scavengers

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

Titanosaurid Egg Containing Cocoons of Wasps Discovered

In a scenario not out of place in a television detective series, scientists have carefully examined the fossilised remains of insects preserved inside a seventy million year old dinosaur egg, to try to piece together the story of how this egg was broken and what it can tell them about the role of insects in dinosaur dominated food chains.  The fossil forensics have been conducted upon the egg of a huge, long-necked Cretaceous plant-eater known as a Titanosaur.  These creatures were some of the largest land-living animals of all time, but their eggs are surprisingly small given the fact that these animals could grown to upwards of thirty metres in length and weigh perhaps as much as ten elephants.

Exceptionally preserved fossils of insect cocoons have allowed researchers in Argentina to describe how wasps played an important role in food webs devoted to consuming rotting dinosaur eggs. The research is published in the scientific journal Palaeontology.

The approximately 70 million year old eggs, from gigantic Titanosaur Sauropod dinosaurs were discovered in 1989 in the Patagonia region of Argentina, well known for yielding fossils of Sauropod dinosaur eggs and even embryonic dinosaurs.  Only recently it was discovered that one of the broken eggs contained tiny sausage-shaped structures, 2-3cm long and 1cm wide.  The structures closely resembled fossilised insect cocoons, and were most similar in size and shape to the cocoons of some species of modern wasp.

The Ancient Fossil Crime Scene – Titanosaurid Egg with Insect Cocoons Clearly Visible

Picture Credit: Dr. Jorge Genise

The picture shows the bottom half of the broken Sauropod egg, the cocoons of wasps can be made out and the coin provides scale.  Each wasp cocoon is approximately 2cm long.

There are many records of fossilised dinosaur eggs, and even several records of fossil cocoons, but, as author Dr Jorge Genise of the Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales stated:

“This is the first time that these cocoons are found closely associated with an egg.”

This fossils provides a rare insight into the role played by insects and how they interacted with the Dinosauria.

Dr. Genise went onto state the results of their forensic examination indicate that:

“Wasps probably participated in the food web, mostly composed of scavenging insects, which developed on the rotten egg.”

Such creatures make-up of carrion communities – spiders, beetles and other creatures populating rotting organic matter, today modern forensic police scientists use insect and other scavenger evidence to try to date corpses, as any viewer of the CSI franchise would know.  The work done by the researchers on the dinosaur egg is more familiar to us from the screens of crime scene investigation documentaries.

The numbers and different types of creatures indicate the length of deposition and the time since death.  In this particular CSI, it appears that the dinosaur egg was broken by force, and subsequent fractures in the egg shell allowed scavenging creatures to feed upon the contents.  At egg sizes of around 20cm, this represents a sizeable amount of yolk!  Other creatures later appeared to feed not upon the egg contents, but on the initial scavengers themselves.  The wasps represent the top of the food web, and could have been feeding on insects or spiders gorging on rotting egg contents.

These scavengers also played an important role in cleaning up nest sites.  Palaeontologists believe that some dinosaurs revisited nest sites year after year to lay new clutches of eggs.  Carrion communities were essential to removing decaying material in advance of new nesting seasons.  This new discovery gives us an insight into the murky world of insect communities that thrived at the feet of gigantic dinosaurs.

15 07, 2011

Young Archaeologists Club Give Everything Dinosaur the Thumbs Up

By | July 15th, 2011|Educational Activities, Teaching|0 Comments

Young Archaeologists Give Everything Dinosaur’s Teachers Top Marks

Budding archaeologists at a museum in Cumbria enjoyed a visit from Everything Dinosaur team members to teach about dinosaurs in school.  Over the course of the two hour session the school children studied dinosaurs and dinosaur fossils.

Young Archaeologists Club Give Everything Dinosaur the Thumbs Up

Thumbs up for Everything Dinosaur

Everything Dinosaur and the Beacon Museum

The company’s dinosaur workshops in school got a big thumbs up from the keen, enthusiastic budding archaeologists.

15 07, 2011

How did the Chelonia Survive the Cretaceous Mass Extinction?

By | July 15th, 2011|Animal News Stories, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Being Slow, Small and Aquatic may have Saved the Turtles

The Chelonia, that Order of reptiles that includes tortoises, turtles and terrapins may have had the advantage over the Dinosauria when it came to surviving global catastrophes.  These ancient reptiles, that first evolved sometime in the Triassic with their slow metabolisms, cold-blooded energy needs and the ability to hibernate or at least enter into prolonged periods of suspended animation may be one of Natures great survivors.

These tough creatures managed to survive the Cretaceous mass extinction event that saw the demise of the Pterosaurs, Dinosaurs and marine reptiles, in fact something like 65% of all life on Earth died out, because turtles and tortoises have slow metabolisms and a lot of them live in water all huge benefits according to new American research.

Palaeontologist Tyler Lyson of Yale University, who has been studying one particular part of the Chelonia family tree that seem to have remained unchanged from 85 million years ago, through to the mass extinction event and beyond into the Cenozoic commented:

“Turtles are very tough animals, if times get tough they can go into a state of animation.  Animals that were living in the water were kind of protected against whatever killed the land plants and the dinosaurs.”

Essentially, since their bodily processes were so slow, needing very little energy, they could survive on sparse resources during and after the wipe out of dinosaurs.  Being able to burrow and to hide out underground would also have been a major advantage for these small reptiles, something that a six tonne Triceratops, an Ankylosaurus or indeed T. rex could never have done.

The research team’s conclusion is based on a newly discovered turtle fossil from North Dakota, known as Boremys which dates back to between 60 million and 65 million years ago (Palaeocene Epoch).  The specimen belongs to a turtle species thought to have survived the global extinction, Lyson said, because fossils of the same species have been found in rocks deposited up to 75 million years ago indicating that these particular reptiles survived relatively unchanged through the end of the Mesozoic and into the Cenozoic.

Surviving the Extinction Event – Boremys rests on the Skull of a Triceratops

Picture Credit: Yale Peabody Museum/Brian T. Roach

The global extinction event that killed the dinosaurs, called the K-T boundary due to its special signature in rock layers, was most likely set off by a meteorite strike, though the true sequence of events is hotly debated.  We at Everything Dinosaur wrote an article earlier this week on the discovery of a Ceratopsian horn very close to the K-T boundary, which marks the end of the Age of Dinosaurs.

To read more about this discovery: The Last Dinosaur Standing

Some researchers believe a set of world-shattering volcanic eruptions darkened the sky, which may or may not have been caused by an extraterrestrial impact. The turtles, along with other burrowing and water-living animals, survived the dinosaur-killing whole-Earth extinction event, which extinguished the vast majority of the animal and plant species living on land, including land-living turtles.  Crocodiles too, as they are mainly aquatic and cold-blooded also survived but the Dinosauria, a group of reptiles that had ruled the land for some 150 million years, did not make it through into the Palaeocene (let’s not include Aves for the moment).

Crocodiles can enter into a period of summer-sleep (estivation), Nile crocodiles excavate large borrows or occupy underground caves formed by the erosion of soil from tree roots alongside river banks.  Here safely entombed in their cool, sleeping chambers these animals effectively shut down, slowing their metabolic rates and this enables them to survive long, hot, dry seasons or other difficult climatic conditions.  An ability to estivate would have come in handy around sixty-five million years ago.

Lyson added:

“If you only looked at turtles across this boundary you wouldn’t think there was an extinction.  Small animals that have a slow metabolism and live in the water do very well across the K-T boundary.”

These turtles lived in lakes and streams in North America, where they ate soft plants and crustaceans.  They would have resembled the painted or cooter turtles of today, Lyson said, though they aren’t closely related to any living turtle species.  They were part of a very large group of species called the Baenid turtles, at least eight of which survived the extinction event only to vanish later by some other means.

After the land-based wipe out, the remaining small mammals populating the Earth spread in what’s called “adaptive radiation,” where a limited number of species fans out and diversifies in empty habitats.  The living mammals underwent rapid evolution and spread into the niches vacated by other animals, including the dinosaurs.

Even though turtles had the metabolic upper hand to survive the extinction event, it was the agile, fast-breeding mammals that gained the advantage when it came to exploiting all those vacated niches.

Lyson concluded:

“In the water, before and after the boundary, it was business as usual.  A lot of these smaller species are around right after the impact. Not a whole lot changed.  Mammals just have more of a rapid turnover, so they are able to more quickly adapt to their environment and their changing surroundings.”

However, even the hardy Baenid turtles cannot be guaranteed survival forever.  This particular family of the Order Chelonia finally became extinct around 40 million years ago, towards the end of the Eocene Epoch when North America experienced climate change and became much drier.

Scientists have long speculated on the serendipity of mass extinctions.  Some types of animal can survive relatively unchanged, whilst in other cases entire Orders can become extinct.  At the end of the Cretaceous, being small, having low energy needs and a fondness for water may have cushioned such creatures against the very worst of the global climate change.

14 07, 2011

Young Archaeologists at the Beacon Museum Explore Dinosaurs

By | July 14th, 2011|Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page|0 Comments

Young Archaeologists Become Palaeontologists for the Day

Members of the Beacon Museum’s Young Archaeologists Club (Whitehaven, Cumbria) got the chance to put their archaeology skills to the test when team members from Everything Dinosaur led a special session exploring dinosaur fossils.

The club, known as the YAC meets on the last Saturday of every month, to take part in activities with the Beacon Museum’s trained staff who can utilise the large collection of objects and artefacts within the Beacon’s impressive collection.  However, with the museum showing the Walking with Dinosaurs exhibition for the summer, special dispensation was arranged to bring forward the August meeting so that club members could get to grips with being a palaeontologist for the afternoon.

Team members at Everything Dinosaur, led the session and gave the YAC members the chance to cast their very own museum replica fossils including Velociraptor claws, teeth from a giant shark, duck-billed dinosaur toe bones and part of the nose horn from a Late Cretaceous horned dinosaur.

Young Archaeologists handling an Ammonite Fossil

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture shows Alan Gillon, the Learing Officer at the Beacon museum examining a 180 million year old Jurassic ammonite fossil with two, enthusiastic YAC members.

When asked to explain the difference between archaeology and palaeontology, Mike Walley of Everything Dinosaur said:

“Put simply, archaeologists get the dirt and we get the rocks.  Archaeologists are mainly concerned with the study of human history and prehistory through the excavation of sites related to human settlements, palaeontologists on the other hand are interested in the study of ancient life and our excavations are concerned with finding traces of ancient creatures and plants that lived many millions of years ago.”

The Whitehaven branch of the Young Archaeologists’ Club usually meets on the last Saturday of each month from 2-4pm.  The club provides archaeology and history based activities for 8-14 year olds.  Members go on trips and take part in hands-on workshops, exploring all aspects of archaeology and history, both ancient and modern.  They even get the chance to take part in dinosaur workshops in schools.

To learn more about the Beacon museum and its Young Archaeologists Club: The Beacon Museum

YAC Members at the Beacon Museum with the Right Dentary of a Tyrannosaurus rex

Young Archaeologists meeting with Everything Dinosaur

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Team members at Everything Dinosaur will be paying one last visit to the Beacon Museum’s Walking with Dinosaurs event, over the weekend of August the 13th and 14th.  If you want to get the chance to handle some cool fossils or indeed to ask the experts any questions relating to dinosaurs – here’s your chance, after all, not everyone gets the chance to take part in a dinosaur workshop.

13 07, 2011

The Last Dinosaur Standing – Triceratops Horn Close to the KT Boundary

By | July 13th, 2011|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

Scientists Find Evidence of the “Last of the Dinosaurs”

It may be relatively small when one considers the huge fossil remains of certain dinosaurs, but the fossilised piece of a Ceratopsian’s horn could help scientists understand more about the mass extinction event that occurred at the end of the Cretaceous.

Although, it is very difficult to determine the actual species that the horn belonged to, the fossil was found in the Hell Creek Formation of south-eastern Montana, an area known as the badlands and these Late Cretaceous aged rocks (Masstrichtian faunal stage) have yielded a number of Triceratops fossils – so the horn could well represent a brow horn from “three horned face”.

As the fossil was found just 13 centimetres below the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary, otherwise known as the K-T boundary which marks the end of the age of dinosaurs, some scientists are suggesting that this is evidence that the Dinosauria were wiped out by an extraterrestrial impact.  If fossils are being found close to the impact layer, then it can be summised that large herbivores such as Triceratops were still around at the very end of the Cretaceous, indicating a strong ecosystem.  This constrasts with other theories put forward by palaeontologists that suggest that mega fauna such as the dinosaurs were already under threat of extinction before the meteor/asteroid impact.

Based on this fossil evidence, it can be proposed that dinosaurs were around right up to the time all traces of their existence vanished, to put it another way, they disappeared suddenly, as the result of an abrupt global disaster rather than a slow, drawn out extinction.

The Skull of a Triceratops

Picture Credit: Frames/rc

Although it is now accepted that a cosmic impact took place at that time, most likely in the Yucatan peninsula resulting in the Chicxulub crater; very few dinosaur fossils have been found in the rock layers immediately below the K-T boundary.  Indeed, surveys undertaken by American scientists studying the Hell Creek Formation have shown a remarkable decline in the diversity of dinosaur genera leading up to the end of the Cretaceous.  The paucity of fossils from layers of rock just below the K-T boundary and the lack of many different genera, has been put forward as evidence to indicate that the dinosaurs were already under severe extinction pressure before the global catastrophe of the impact from outer space.

In some parts of the western United States, the gap between dinosaur fossils and the beginning of the Cenozoic is as much as three metres, marking a huge amount of geological time.  This zone barren of dinosaur fossils has led experts to claim that this was evidence that dinosaurs might have died well before any impact.

Now, researchers have found a fossil in this zone – a dinosaur horn no more than five inches below the impact layer, making it the specimen closest to the end of the Age of Dinosaurs found yet.

Tyler Lyson, a young vertebrate palaeontologist from Yale University, who has already made an “impact” on the science of palaeontology with the remarkable discovery of a beautifully preserved duck-billed dinosaur fossil in South Dakota stated:

“Just because we have one dinosaur in the gap doesn’t necessarily falsify the idea that dinosaurs were gradually declining in numbers.  However, this find indicates that at least some dinosaurs were doing fine right up to the K-T boundary.”

He went on to add:

“We need to do more field work to find more dinosaurs within the three metre gap,  I am confident that with more field work, we will find more dinosaurs within this interval.”

The new findings were published in the journal Biology Letters.

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