All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
3 07, 2011

New Jersey Mine Could Provide Vital Evidence Regarding Dinosaur Extinction

By | July 3rd, 2011|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

New Jersey Mine Could Show Exact Moment of Cretaceous Mass Extinction Event

A team of researchers are busily exploring a fifteen metre deep hole in New Jersey in a bid to find the exact moment when the Mesozoic ended and the Cenozoic began.  The site, part of a greensand mine is one of the last locations on the eastern seaboard of the United States where Cretaceous strata can be studied,  The scientists are in a race against time as the site is due to be developed and to disappear under concrete as new houses are built.

Palaeontologist Kenneth Lacovara is one of the research team members looking deep into the mine with a view to pinpointing for the exact moment, 65 million years ago, when all dinosaurs, marine reptiles and Pterosaurs perished. That secret could be harder to uncover if the fossil material at this location can no longer be unearthed after a housing and retail development is built on this open cast pit.

Lacovara, an associate professor of biology at Drexel University in Philadelphia, looks at this 40-foot plus deep hole at the end of a dirt road and sees a line in the sand where the Cretaceous period ends. Below that line are dinosaurs, above it, not a single fossil bone belonging to a dinosaur can be found.

He thinks that the creatures his team has been uncovering here all died en masse when an extraterrestrial body struck the Earth and changed the course of the history of life on our planet. If his theory proves correct, it would be the only burial ground of its kind and provide scientists with a living laboratory to study how the dinosaurs and their cousins the marine reptiles and Pterosaurs became extinct.

New Jersey as a state has a special place in the hearts of American palaeontologists.  The first nearly complete dinosaur skeleton ever discovered was a Hadrosaurus (H foulkii) found in Haddonfield (New Jersey) in 1858.   This dinosaur was named and described by the famous American anatomist Joseph Leidy.  But over the years, the numerous silt mines that made for great dinosaur digging were replaced with housing developments and shopping malls.

Today, this site in a southwestern corner of the state is the only remaining mine for greensand, a silt used for fertiliser and water softener.  It’s also the only access to the late Cretaceous Period on the entire eastern seaboard of the United States.

Commenting on the importance of this fossil location Lacovara stated:

“This site is the last existing window into the ancient Cretaceous period in the eastern half of the United States. It’s extraordinary.”

But the township of Mantua, a community of 15,000 people, has other plans for the site.  Township officials would like to see the mine closed and a retail and lower cost housing development built in its place.  A developer has drawn up plans that include shops and affordable housing.  The fate of this location will be decided at a municipal meeting scheduled for July 15th

Inversand, the mine’s owner, has been operating the site since 1926, digging greensand.  For years, the company has had a close relationship with palaeontologists, alerting them when they came across large fossils.

Inversand President Alan Davies commented:

“If we find something beyond the routine shark tooth or clam, we call them up.”

The biggest find he recalls happened in the 1960s, when workers came across the skull of a Mosasaurus, a giant marine reptile, that now resides at the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton.  Mining for greensand is no longer economically viable for Inversand and the company would like to end operations.  If the mine were to shut down and the pump that continuously clears groundwater out of the area were to turn off, the hole would completely fill with water in a matter of weeks, transforming it into a lake. Davis says the mine could shut within three years.

Facing a looming deadline, Lacovara and his team have stepped up their efforts to dig, applying for grants and enlisting students and amateur paleontologists to shovel the grey, muddy sand for pieces of natural history.

The scientists worry that without this pit, they’ll lose a historic treasure trove.  We at Everything Dinosaur, hope that a solution can be found and at least some part of the site can be kept as open access to palaeontologists to allow them to continue their studies.

2 07, 2011

Welsh Scientists Helping to Tame Real Life Dragons

By | July 2nd, 2011|Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page|0 Comments

Cardiff University Researchers Tagging Salt Water Crocodiles in Bid to Reduce Attacks

Researchers from Cardiff University, working in a field centre in Malaysia are attempting to track male Salt Water crocodiles in a bid to reduce attacks on plantation workers.  Since a summit was held last year, a symposium exploring the reasons for the dramatic increase in such incidents, steps have been taken to reduce the threat to people from these large reptiles.  The Salt Water Crocodile, otherwise known as the Estuarine Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) is the largest extant reptile on the planet, with males reaching lengths in excess of six metres and weighing over a tonne.  They range over S.E. Asia from Sri Lanka to northern Australia and these animals have a deserved reputation for man-eating.

A Salt Water Crocodile (C. porosus)

Picture Credit: Frame/src

Now scientists and researchers from Cardiff University (Wales) have the opportunity to work with real life dragons as they seek to understand more about the movements of these large crocodiles.

Dr Benoit Goossens, School of Biosciences and Director of the Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC), stated:

“The use of land for plantations here has considerably decreased the amounts of prey available for crocodiles.  This makes for a far more dangerous environment and attack rates on humans near plantations are extremely high compared to those in forested areas.”

The loss of game plus the increased numbers of people working in and around rivers is likely to result in even more crocodile attacks, unless measures are taken to control the crocodile population and to determine how to reduce the likelihood of crocodile/human encounters.

Dr. Goossens added:

“By tagging large crocodiles, especially males which are potentially man-eaters, in plantation areas and forested areas, we will try to understand the movements of these large predators.”

The work marks the beginning of a long-term research and conservation programme, initiated following last year’s Human-Crocodile Conflict Symposium in Kota Kinabalu.

Dr Goossens, who is also leader of the Kinabatangan Crocodile Programme, said: the aim was to reduce fatal attacks by using the results from the tracking programme.  These would provide a set of guidelines for plantation workers so they could avoid areas where large crocodiles congregate.  The survey work will also benefit the crocodiles as it will lead to improved conservation methods as well as perhaps leading to a growth in “crocodile tourism”, with visitors keen to see one of the largest predators to be found in South East Asia.

Danau Girang Field Centre is a collaborative research and training facility managed by Cardiff University and Sabah Wildlife Department.  Funding from Cardiff allowed the establishment of a research laboratory, a computer room, a library, the acquisition of research equipment and the employment of a Director.

Researchers haul a recently trapped 4-metre long male Salt Water Crocodile out of the water so that a tracking device can be fitted to the animal.  The crocodile nick-named “Girang” after the Field Centre was released shortly afterwards so that the scientists could begin to follow the creatures movements.

It is situated in the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary in Sabah, Malaysia and is surrounded by a mixture of lowland dipterocarp forest types, ranging from primary forest to disturbed secondary forest, in a matrix landscape with significant human impact including villages, small scale agriculture and oil palm plantations.

A team from the Danau Girang Field Centre, in collaboration with the Sabah Wildlife Department, recently fitted a four-metre-long male crocodile with a satellite tag so that its movements can be monitored.

1 07, 2011

Taking the Bio-Synthetic Pathway – On the Road to Identifying the Colour or Extinct Animals

By | July 1st, 2011|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Manchester University Leads the Way in Determining the Colouration of Extinct Animals

Powerful X-rays are helping scientists to determine trace element composition of fossils, these in turn are helping researchers to work out what colour long extinct creatures were.  The technique applied to an early Cretaceous bird as well as fossil fish and invertebrates in this study, has implications for all fossilised animals including dinosaurs.  Determining what colours T. rex and Triceratops were may not be long away.  We might be close to working out the colour of dinosaurs.

Publishing their findings in Science, the researchers have been able to show a remarkable relationship between copper and pigment within exceptionally preserved feathers and other soft tissues.

Results include important species such as the oldest beaked bird yet found, the 120 million year old Confuciusornis sanctus, and also the 110 million year old Gansus yumenensis, which looks similar to the modern Grebe and represents the oldest example of modern birds.

Pigment is a critical component of colour.  The team can map the presence of pigments over whole fossils, revealing original patterns.  The team’s findings indicate that pigment chemistry holds the future key to the ultimate goal of discovering the colour palette of past life, from dodos to dinosaurs and beyond.

Colour has played a key role in the processes of evolution by natural selection that have steered all life on Earth for hundreds of millions of years.  This unique scientific breakthrough can allow palaeontologists to reconstruct colour patterns in extinct animals, as well as provide an understanding of the way in which biological compounds are preserved in specific environments over deep time.

This could give them a far greater understanding of the feeding habits and environments occupied by extinct creatures, as well as shedding light on the evolution of colour pigments in modern species.

Confuciusornis sanctus Synchrontron Imaging Reveals its Colouration

Picture Credit: University of Manchester

The imaging technology has revealed that ancient birds like C. sanctus had dark heads and necks with paler feathers on the wings.

The X-ray team, led by Dr Roy Wogelius, Dr Phil Manning and Dr Uwe Bergmann, took the unique approach of using the synchrotron to analyse the soft tissue regions of fossil organisms.  The application of X-ray physics to palaeontology has shed new light on the tangled tale of prehistoric pigments in deep time and how to recognise its chemistry in fossils that are hundreds of millions years old.

Dr Wogelius, lead author on the paper and University of Manchester geochemist, said:

“Every once in a while we are lucky enough to discover something new, something that nobody has ever seen before.   For me, learning that copper can be mapped to reveal astonishing details about colour in animals that are over 100 million years old is simply amazing.  But even more amazing is to realise that such biological pigments, which we still manufacture within our own bodies, can now be studied throughout the fossil record, probably back much further than the 120 million years we show in this publication.”

To unlock the stunning colour patterns, the Manchester researchers teamed up with scientists at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory (USA) and used the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource to bathe fossils in intense synchrotron X-rays.   The interaction of these X-rays with the chemistry of each fossil allowed the team to recognise the chemistry of eumelanin, the molecule that provides the dark coloured pigmentation, in feathers from some of the most pivotal species of dino-birds and even pigment from within the eye of a 50 million year old fish.

The key to their work was identifying and imaging trace metals incorporated by ancient and living organisms into their soft tissues, in the same way that all living species do today, including humans.

Without essential trace metals, key biological processes in life would fail and animals either become sick or die.  It is these essential trace metals that the team has pinned down for the first time.

Dr Phil Manning, a senior author on the paper and University of Manchester palaeontologist, added:

”The fossils we excavate have vast potential to unlock many secrets on the original organism’s life, death and subsequent events impacting its preservation before and after burial.  To unpick the complicated chemical archive that fossils represent requires a multidisciplinary team that can bring in to focus many areas of science.  In doing this, we unlock much more than just palaeontological information, we now have a chemical roadmap to track similar pigments in all life.”

Results show that chemical remnants of pigments may survive even after the melanosome (biological paint pots) containing pigment has been destroyed.  Some of the samples they publish clearly preserve a chemical fossil, where almost all structure has been lost in the sands of time.  The chemical residue can be mapped to reveal details of the distribution of dark pigment (eumelanin), probably the most important pigment in the animal kingdom.

This pigment gives dark shading to human hair, reptile skin, and bird feathers.  Using rapid scan X-ray fluorescence imaging, a technique recently developed at SLAC, the team was able to map the residue of dark pigment over the entire surface of a large fossil, for the first time giving clear information about fundamental colour patterning in extinct animals.  It turns out that the presence of copper and other metals derived from the original pigment gives a non-biodegradeable record of colour that can last over deep geological time.

Dr Uwe Bergmann, SLAC physicist and co-author on the paper stated:

“Synchrotron radiation has been successfully applied for many years to many problems.  It is very exciting to see that it is now starting to have an impact in palaeontology, in a way that may have important implications in many other disciplines.  To work in a team of such diverse experts is a privilege and incredibly stimulating.  This is what science is all about.”

Using this novel method to accurately and non-destructively measure the accumulation of trace metals in soft tissues and bone, the team also studied the chemistry of living species, including birds.

Dr Wogelius added:

“This advance in chemical mapping will help us to understand modern animals as well as fossils.  We may also be able to use this research to improve our ability to sequester toxic materials such as radioactive waste and to devise new strategies for stabilising man-made organic compounds”.

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