All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
20 11, 2012

Everything Dinosaur Presents Update on Tyrannosaurid Research

By | November 20th, 2012|Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Press Releases|0 Comments

T. rex Bites Back!

A busy day today, one of our team members was asked to speak at the regular, monthly meeting of the Herbert Illuminations, a group that meets at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum to hear talks on various topics related to exhibitions and displays going on at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum (Coventry, West Midlands).  The talk, entitled “T. rex Bites Back” covered the research into the Tyrannosaur family of Theropods, focusing on the most famous of all the dinosaurs Tyrannosaurus rex. 

A Slide from Everything Dinosaur’s Presentation

Osborn's reconstruction of T. rex.

Starting with the cervical vertebrae fossils named by Cope in 1892 as Manospondylus gigas, the hour long talk went onto discuss the fossil discoveries of Barnum Brown, the scientific description by Osborn and some of the puzzles and mysteries surrounding this most iconic of all the Dinosauria.  For example, the evidence for feathers in Tyrannosaurs was reviewed and the question of the length of Tyrannosaur arms was discussed.  The presentation compared Tyrannosaurs to other large Theropods and compared the Abelisaurids and Tyrannosaurids and asked the question – Why these two groups of unrelated apex predators at the end of the Cretaceous and not the Allosaurids etc?

The talk took place in studio 2, the site of an interactive exhibition which links the real world to cyberspace. This is an exhibit at the museum that enables real people to interact with avatars who may be located all over the world.  The exhibition is in 3-D, so all the audience at the talk, actually in the room, were asked to wear the 3-D glasses so that they could see the avatars more clearly.  The talk by the Everything Dinosaur team member was heard and seen by a number of avatars that were logged on.  After the presentation, the audience (including the avatars), were able to ask questions.  The Everything Dinosaur expert fielded the questions, which ranged from asking about the teeth of Tyrannosaurs, where fossils of T. rex had been found to whether or not in the fossil record there was evidence of animals like today’s hyenas.

 Part of the Audience for Everything Dinosaur’s Talk

Part of the audience for the dinosaur talk.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The background shows the avatars, they were sitting on a big couch and chairs in their virtual world.  The presentation concluded by explaining how children’s fascination for dinosaurs can be used to help motivate and inspire them to learn more about science in school.

19 11, 2012

Toothy Tyrannosaur – Alioramus

By | November 19th, 2012|Dinosaur Fans|0 Comments

Primitive Tyrannosaur from Asia – Alioramus remotus

Known only from a few fragmentary remains, Alioramus (A. remotus) is perhaps one of the more unusual of the Late Cretaceous Tyrannosaurs.  Palaeontologists have suggested that this dinosaur may have been a particularly fast runner when compared to other Tyrannosaurids of the Maastrichtian faunal stage (70-65 million years ago).  It might have specialised in hunting other types of prey when compared to the larger and more heavily built Tarbosaurus (T. bataar).

Alioramus is known from only fragmentary remains, discovered by a joint Soviet/Mongolian expedition to a remote part of Mongolia in the early 1970s.  Parts of the skull including the lower jaw and a portion of the upper jaw were discovered along with some toe bones (metatarsals).  It is believed that the fossil material represents a sub-adult.  The long snout had a series of five small bumps running along it in a line from the nostrils, ending just in front of the large eyes, these were possibly small horns or bony crests. Perhaps this ridge became more prominent as the dinosaur matured.  Alioramus may have weighed more than one thousand kilogrammes and perhaps exceeded six metres in length, but since no fossilised remains of a fully grown, mature animal have been found, the size of this particular carnivorous is open to speculation.   Alioramus was formally named and scientifically described by Sergei Kurzanov of the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1976.

A Scale Drawing of Alioramus (A. remotus)

A very toothy Tyrannosaurid.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

This dinosaur had relatively long jaws when compared to the dimensions of its skull.  The jaws had more teeth in them than any other known Late Cretaceous Tyrannnosaurid.  There were eighteen teeth in the front of each lower jaw, many more than found in the front of dentary bones (lower jaw bones) of other Tyrannosaurs.  The maxilla (upper jaw) had sixteen possibly seventeen teeth.

Recently Collecta, the model and figure manufacturer introduced a model of Alioramus into their not-to-scale dinosaur model range, to view this model and the other replicas available in this series: Collecta Dinosaur Models

The first specimen of Alioramus was found in strata known as the Nogoon Tsav Beds of the Ingenii Hoovor valley of Mongolia.  A second slightly more complete specimen of Alioramus was found during an expedition to another part of Mongolia (Nemegt Formation).  This fossil material also represented a juvenile and for the time being it has been described as a separate species of Alioramus being formally named and described in 2009.  However, some scientists speculate that this too could be an example of Alioramus remotus. 

Dinosaur fossils, especially those of meat-eaters such as Tyrannosaurs are highly prized by practitioners of Chinese medicine who use the teeth in various potions (dragon’s teeth), this and demand for fossils from private collectors has led to a thriving black market in the smuggling of fossils and other artefacts from this part of Asia.

18 11, 2012

Helping Out at the Recent Mary Anning Celebration Weekend

By | November 18th, 2012|Dinosaur Fans, Educational Activities, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates|0 Comments

Brandon Gets Busy with His Ammonites

Fossil experts and enthusiasts got together over the last weekend of September  to celebrate the contribution to palaeontology and the Earth sciences in general of Mary Anning.  Our chum Brandon Lennon was busy showcasing his fossil preparation skills at the Lyme Regis Museum over the weekend.

Young fossil hunters got the chance to prepare and polish their very own ammonite fossil under the supervision and guidance of Brandon, he kindly sent us in a press cutting from a local paper that reported on the weekend’s events.   Titled “Fossil Fish and Sharks”, the weekend’s festivities celebrated the role of Mary Anning with a series of family orientated activities, fossil displays, talks and lectures.

There were a number of rare fossil fish that had been discovered in and around the Lyme Regis area on display at the Lyme Regis Museum, which sits on the site of Mary Anning’s former home.

Brandon has found numerous vertebrate fossil remains including fish whilst on his regular fossil finding walks out onto the beaches that surround the picturesque Cob at Lyme Regis.

To learn more about Brandon’s fossil hunting walks: Brandon Lennon’s Guided Fossil Walks

 Brandon Helping with the Ammonite Polishing

Helping young palaeontologists - Ammonite polishing at the museum.

Picture Credit: Local newspaper/Brandon Lennon

We love the way Brandon has inserted his name in biro into the newspaper’s headline…cheeky.

Commenting on the work of the staff involved, a spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur stated:

It is important to remember the contribution made to palaeontology by people such as Mary Anning and her friend Elizabeth Philpot.  Hopefully, events such as this one will do a lot to encourage and motivate the next generation of scientists.”

The town of Lyme Regis also holds a fossil festival, one of the biggest events along the “Jurassic coast” of southern England, sources in the town have reported to Everything Dinosaur that the next festival is likely to take place in late May 2014.  With Brandon and his friends likely to play a big role, it is worth putting a note in your diary.

17 11, 2012

Deposits Magazine Issue 32 Reviewed

By | November 17th, 2012|Magazine Reviews|0 Comments

A Review of Deposits Magazine (Issue 32)

Deposits magazine is a quarterly publication dedicated to fossil collecting and geology.  Published in the UK, this colourful magazine covers a wide variety of topics in each edition, and issue thirty-two which arrived at our offices yesterday is no exception.

This issue is dedicated to the memory of Dr. David Mayhew who sadly passed away in October, after a short illness.  The first article in this edition, provides information on the discovery of a Mid Jurassic trace fossil showing crocodilian footprints and a possible Chelonia (member of the tortoise family) track as well.  The fossil was found in Scalby Bay, north of the seaside resort of Scarborough on the North Yorkshire coast.  This part of the English coastline is famous for its Jurassic fossils.

Moving to slightly warmer climes, although we acknowledge that Yorkshire was a tropical fluvial delta 160 million years ago, there is an article continuing a series of presentations mapping the geology of Jamaica, there is also the second part of a feature explaining the geology of the Giants’ Causeway in Northern Ireland.

The Front Cover of Deposits (Issue 32)

A magazine for rock fans.

Image Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Pictures taken of reader’s fossil finds over the summer months are also included, with a number of successful fossil hunting trips from locations around the British Isles and overseas  being highlighted.  This dovetails nicely with a feature written by one contributor which discusses the invertebrate fossils to be found in the Lower Muschelkalk Formation of the Netherlands.  Brachiopods, Bivalves, Gastropods and Arthropods are all represented by the fossil specimens.  It is hard to believe that around 240 million years ago (Early Triassic), that Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Denmark and north-eastern France was covered by warm, shallow tropical sea that teamed with ancient life.  Some of these prehistoric creatures have left a fossil record to be explored.

Under the title “The Strangest of the Graptolites” there is a highly informative description of  retiolite graptolites with amazing, high magnification electronic microscope images of the structure of these bizarre colonial creatures that lived in marine environments during the Palaeozoic Era.

Packed with news stories concerning fossil finds, the latest research and events this magazine provides an excellent read for anyone with a passing interest in geology, rocks and the fossils that can be found in some of them.  There is even an article highlighting the controversial research into understanding whether or not significant amounts of DNA could survive the fossilisation process.  Any magazine that includes a piece entitled “Could you Receive a Blood Transfusion from a Neanderthal”, gets a big thumbs up from us.

16 11, 2012

Collecta Reveal Pictures of 2013 Models

By | November 16th, 2012|Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Press Releases|0 Comments

Pachycephalosaurus, Daspletosaurus and the New Version of the Deluxe Ankylosaurus Available in 2013

Collecta have released images of the final set of prehistoric animal models due to be introduced next year.  The pictures show the new version of the 1:40 scale Ankylosaurus which has received a makeover and the not-to-scale models of Pachycephalosaurus and the Tyrannosaur Daspletosaurus.

Ready for 2013 – 1:40 Scale Ankylosaurus

Armoured dinosaur gets a paint job.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The face has been re-painted and there is now a distinctive white patch on the tail club.  The bony armour, osteoderms et al are highlighted as they have been painted black.  Perhaps one could represent a male whilst the other could be the female of the species.  If we take Aves as the basis for this concept then the more colourful one could represent the male of the species.

The Original Ankylosaurus Deluxe Model from Collecta

The original Ankylosaurus from Collecta

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Adding to the company’s range of Tyrannosaurid models comes Daspletosaurus, a real bruiser of a North American Tyrannosaur when compared to its contemporaries Albertosaurus and Gorgosaurus.  Such an interesting and unusual pose, a resting Tyrannosaurid.

Daspletosaurus torosus – in a Relaxed Mood

Tyrannosaurus takes a break with the introduction of Daspletosaurus

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The Pachycephalosaurus is portrayed as a lithe and agile animal.  Gone is the pot belly seen in other models of Pachycephalosaurs.  As the feet of this animal were quite small, it has proved impossible to stabilise the figure, so it has been mounted on a base.  The base is designed to fit together with the Hypsilophodon family set, a sort of coming together of Early and Late Cretaceous Ornithopods.  The Pachycephalosaurus base also fits with the prehistoric flora models available from Collecta, the Monathesia and Cycads and of the Williamsonia model.

To view the Collecta model range available from Everything Dinosaur: To view Everything Dinosaur’s range of dinosaur themed crafts and art sets: Procon/Collecta Prehistoric Animal Models

Model Pachycephalosaurus – the Base for your Collection?

A lithe Pachycephalosaurus dinosaur model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Although there are only going to be a few new models from Collecta next year the standard remains very high.

15 11, 2012

Getting our Teeth into the Origins of the Great White Shark

By | November 15th, 2012|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories|2 Comments

Trying to Unravel the Carcharodon Family Tree

The ancestry of the famous shark that starred in “Jaws” is better understood after the publication of a scientific paper by American researchers that provides details of a transitional fossil between prehistoric Mako sharks and extant Great Whites.

Carcharodon carcharias (Great White Shark), was believed by many scientists to be a direct descendant of the huge Megalodon shark (Carcharodon megalodon), one of the largest fish to have existed in the last twenty million years or so.    Fossil teeth of the Megalodon have been found in Europe, Asia, the Americas and in Australasia, this large predatory shark that could have reached lengths in excess of sixteen metres seems to have been very widely distributed.  However, scientists were uncertain as to the exact phylogenetic relationship between this giant shark that became extinct approximately 1.6 million years ago and extant species such as the Great White.

The problem with Lamniformes, the Order to which sharks belong is that they have skeletons made of cartilage.  This is rarely preserved in the fossil record, so there are few body fossils (other than the teeth) for palaeontologists to study.  However, the discovery of a remarkably well-preserved set of jaws, some articulated bones and numerous teeth, a number still “in situ” with the jaws, from a remote location in Peru has provided scientists with an important clue as to the origins of today’s Great Whites.  This fossil suggests that Great Whites, although having a similar body plan and lifestyle to the Megalodon, probably did not evolve from the same shark lineage.  It seems that Great White Sharks may share a common ancestor with the nektonic Mako shark.

The phylogenetic relationship between those shark species that make up the Carcharodon genus remains somewhat muddled.  Megalodon itself, may turn out to be more closely related to Tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier) than to today’s Great Whites.

It is true that modern-day Great White Sharks have similar teeth to the extinct Megalodon.  The shape of the serrations along the teeth edge are very similar, but when examined under a microscope it can be seen that the denticles (the scientific term for these serrations) are very different.  Extinct Megalodon teeth show very fine serrations whilst the denticles on Great Whites are very coarse and much larger in comparison.

Professor Dana Ehret, of Monmouth University (New Jersey, United States), the lead author of the research paper suggested that one of the reasons why Megalodon was believed to be the ancestor of Carcharodon carcharias was that Great Whites were used by anatomists and palaeontologists to make mounted exhibits of Megalodon for museums and other institutions.  If a modern shark had been used as the basis to put together Megalodon then it is not surprising that reconstructions of Megalodon resemble a Great White.

Professor Dana Ehret Examines the Shark Specimen

Fossil provides insight into the ancestry of Great White Sharks.

Since both Carcharodon carcharias and Carcharodon megalodon have serrations (denticles) on the cutting edge of their teeth, this was thought to be an indication that these species were very closely related.  However, when examined under a microscope differences can be seen.  Today’s Great Whites have very coarse serrations whilst those on the extinct Megalodon are much finer.

Serrations on the cutting edge of shark teeth can be found in many species of extant and extinct shark.  Some indeed, do indicate phylogenetic relationships, whilst other examples are probably as a result of convergent evolution.  Convergent evolution occurs when two organisms, not necessarily closely related evolve in similar ways as they adapt to particular circumstances and environmental pressures.  For instance, both bats and most birds can fly, both have evolved wings but the structure of these wings is very different; birds and bats are not closely related.

The newly described species, known as Carcharodon hubbelli has been named from a beautifully preserved shark specimen that was found at a fossil dig site, part of the Pisco Formation of south-western Peru.  The very dry atmosphere has enabled fossils to be preserved in exceptional condition even when eroded out of the sedimentary rock.  Carcharodon hubbelli material consisted of the jaws, teeth, some of which were still in situ in the jaws and other elements of the fossil including part of the backbone of the animal.  The Pisco Formation has already provided scientists with some amazing fossils that give an insight into Pliocene marine fauna with the discovery of a gigantic predatory whale (Leviathan melvillei), that probably fed on Megalodons.

To read more about L. melvilleiNightmare Whale from Prehistory

The new shark species provides evidence that Great Whites are descended from ancient Mako (mackerel) sharks.  Described as a “transitional species”, C. hubbelli, named after Gordon Hubbell, the scientist who first found the fossil, suggests that Great Whites are not the descendants of Carcharodon megalodon.

The blend of Mako and Great White anatomical characteristics include the curving outwards of the third anterior tooth in the jaws of the Peruvian specimen.  This is very similar to the dentition seen in modern Mako sharks today.  Initially, the fossil had been dated to around five million years ago, but this presented a problem to the palaeontologists who suspected that this specimen represented an ancestor of today’s Great Whites.  Five million years ago, the Great White lineage was already around so how could C. hubbelli be ancestral to this part of the Carcharodon family?

A biostratigraphical study of invertebrate fossils found in the strata established that this fossil was actually much older, around 6.5 million years old, making it more likely that this specimen does represent an ancestral or intermediate from of Great White.

The American based research team have concluded that “Jaws” is essentially a highly modified Mako shark (Isurus genus).  Mako sharks are predators of open water and very streamlined.  They are primarily fish-eaters (piscivores), but they have been known to become aggressive and attack people.  The Great White lineage adapted to eating larger prey such as dolphins, turtles and seals.  Mako sharks are occasionally caught by fishermen off the coast of Cornwall.  These sharks having followed the Gulf Stream eastwards, but Makos are more normally associated with warmer water.

14 11, 2012

Colour and Go Dinosaur Colouring Set Reviewed

By | November 14th, 2012|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Drawings, Everything Dinosaur Products, Product Reviews|1 Comment

Clever Colouring Set for Young Dinosaur Fans on the Go

With the daunting prospect of having to visit relatives over the forthcoming holidays and the subsequent long journey with the family that this entails, getting the chance to review any product that might just keep little ones travelling with you entertained was an opportunity to good to miss.  The Colour and Go Dinosaur Travel Colouring Book is a thoughtfully designed colouring set that can be used to keep young dinosaur fans occupied when travelling.

The Colour and Go Colouring Set from Everything Dinosaur

A great little travel set featuring prehistoric animals to colour in.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The set consists of eighteen tear away prehistoric animal themed drawings all bound together in a pad which is spiral bound by a funky red spiral.  This pad fits into a study pocket book that can be flipped over so that the drawing materials can be accessed.  Fitting snugly along the side of the drawing pad are a set of ten washable marker pens, so in essence this is a self contained colouring set.  The marker pens have bright white lids so if one is dropped whilst in the car or on a train they can easily be found.  The pens themselves are of excellent quality and fit into a handy cardboard storage box which is glued to the carry case thus ensuring that the marker pens are always on hand when it is time to draw.

The pad measures a pocket-sized seventeen centimetres by fourteen centimetres and the actual illustrations are sixteen centimetres by twelve centimetres in size.

One of the Eighteen Illustrations Featured in the Set

Swishing his tail with excitement, waiting to be coloured in.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The drawings feature a range of prehistoric animals.  There is of course a Tyrannosaurus rex but alongside the Triceratops, Stegosaurus and long-necked dinosaur, it was pleasing to see flying reptiles, Dimetrodon (not a dinosaur but a pelycosaur from the Late Permian geological period), and even a Parasaurolophus included.

The drawings have lots of detail for the young palaeontologists to colour in.  For example, there is a bright sun with a face in one picture, a volcano is shown in an illustration and a nest of dinosaur eggs in another.  The young artists who helped with the testing of this product by colouring in the drawings, all agreed that their favourite drawing was the one that featured a T. rex guarding his pile of bones.

If the illustrations are photocopied or scanned then they can be blown up to make larger drawing materials and us grown-ups can have for themselves a ready source of cute dinosaur images to help keep our charges amused during a rainy day.  Each drawing once completed can be carefully torn off the pad and pinned up as a mini poster.  It was best if the drawings stayed on the pad until they were safely at home, this is why there is a spiral binder for the drawing pad, as children can easily flip through the set to choose a drawing that they have not completed yet.

One of the Completed Illustrations

Great travel art set.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The Colour and Go Dinosaur Travel Colouring Book, is light and easy for a child to carry around.  It fitted nicely into a rucksack pocket and the hidden magnet built into the side of the carry case flap ensured that everything stayed safe and secure.

What to do with the completed dinosaur drawings?  A number of ideas were explored.  Yes, the young palaeontologists can carefully tear out their drawings from the pad (each page is perforated to assist with this), then they can be put on display perhaps on the fridge or in the child’s bedroom.  However, another suggestion was to use these postcard-sized drawings as postcards, simply put a stamp on the front and write on the back – a great idea if this set is used to entertain children when going away on holidays.

Another suggestion was to use these drawings as clever party invitations.  Date, time, the place and so on can be printed on the back whilst the young invitee has a dinosaur illustration to colour in as well as a party to look forward to.  The illustrations are on quite thick card, so all these ideas are extremely practical.

An enterprising Mum of a keen dinosaur fan, took some of the drawings that her daughter had done and got them laminated.  She was then able to have a unique, bespoke drinks coaster for her daughter – very clever indeed.

It was great to see a drawing of a young explorer, equipped with a tent included in the set.  The children could imagine themselves visiting their own dinosaur land.  We loved the wooden sign that was deliberately left blank in one of the drawings, this gave the young artists the chance to create their own name for the dinosaur spotting expedition.

Designed for children from 3 years and upwards, this little, inexpensive colouring set kept our testers quiet for a long time, each drawing took in some cases more than an hour of concentrated colouring in to complete.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s range of dinosaur themed crafts and art sets: Dinosaur Painting and Dinosaur Crafts

A big hit and an entertaining diversion on long journeys.

13 11, 2012

Alamosaurus – Giant Titanosaur from North America

By | November 13th, 2012|Dinosaur Fans|1 Comment

Alamosaurus – Largest Dinosaur Known from the United States?

During the Late Cretaceous a land bridge between what was to become North and South America allowed the migration northwards of Titanosaurs, long-necked dinosaurs.  This was the first time in perhaps as much as thirty-five million years that these huge animals had been present in the region we now know as the United States.

Alamosaurus is known from several partial skeletons and numerous individual bones that have been found in Mexico and throughout the south-western United States from Texas, New Mexico and Utah.  It was one of the last Sauropods to live in North America and these types of dinosaur may have been limited to the more southerly part of that continent as the climate may have been too cold for them further north.  Intriguingly, strata from Alaska, the same age as those rock formations that have yielded fossils of Alamosaurus have provided no evidence of Titanosaurs living in the northern most parts of the continent.  It has been suggested that the distribution of Titanosaurs may have been limited by the cooler  climate.

Alamosaurus was named and described by the American palaeontologist Charles Whitney Gilmore in 1922.  Although, described as a large animal with an estimated size of twenty metres or more, recent fossil finds have suggested that individual animals could be very much bigger, perhaps rivalling some of the super-sized Titanosaurs known from South America in terms of their body length and total weight.

An Illustration of Alamosaurus

Scale Drawing of Alamosaurus.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Contrary to popular belief this dinosaur was not named after the Alamo mission, the site of a famous battle near to San Antonio in Texas that took place in 1836.  The genus name derives from the Ojo Alamo Formation, the name of the geological formation where the fossils of this dinosaur were first discovered.  The word “alamo” is the local Spanish term for a species of cottonwood tree that is common in this area.

It seems that in the Late Cretaceous, the fauna of the southern United States was dominated by Ornithischian dinosaurs, primarily duck-billed dinosaurs and Ceratopsians (horned dinosaurs such as Torosaurus), although there were Sauropods present.  Ornithomimid fossils (bird-mimic) dinosaurs have been found in Upper Cretaceous strata from this part of the world and the main predators were Tyrannosaurs and the much smaller, agile Dromaeosaurs.  With forests of maple, horse chestnuts, sycamores and birch the flora would have looked very familiar to us.  Dinosaurs such as Alamosaurus would have looked quite incongruous in such familiar woodland surroundings.

Collecta introduced a not-to-scale model of Alamosaurus a few months ago.  This model is well crafted and is a fine depiction of a Titanosaur.

The Alamosaurus Dinosaur Model from Collecta

Alamosaurus dinosaur model (Collecta).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Collecta introduced a few months ago a model of this Titanosaur.  It is part of their not-to-scale prehistoric animal model range, to view Everything Dinosaur’s model range: Procon/Collecta Prehistoric Animal Models

12 11, 2012

Xenoceratops – Alien Headgear on a Dinosaur

By | November 12th, 2012|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans|0 Comments

Adding to Alberta’s Ceratopsian Diversity – Xenoceratops

When the Ceratopsians (horned dinosaurs) are considered one point (or should that be a series of points) that comes to mind is the amazing bony neck frills of these Ornithischians.  Whether its the centrosaurines or the Chasmosaurinae (two main clades of Ceratopsian), there seems to be no end to the strange crests, ornamentations and horns that these animals possessed.  Some of these dinosaurs do indeed look almost alien in appearance.  This brings us nicely to Canada’s newest centrosaurine dinosaur – Xenoceratops, as the name actually means “alien horned face”.

Fossils found in south-western Alberta, close to the little community of Foremost just forty miles or so from the border with the United States, have proved to belong to a new species of horned dinosaur.  The fossils were originally collected from the Foremost Formation of early Campanian aged sediments back in 1958 by an American palaeontologist called Dr. Wann Langston Junior.  These specimens remained in storage at the Canadian Museum of Nature’s research and collections facility in Gatineau, Quebec.  Scientists Dr. Michael Ryan (Curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History) and Dr. David Evans of the Royal Ontario Museum came across the fossil material over a decade ago and after examining the fragments they concluded that these were the remains of a new type of horned dinosaur.  Dr. Evans went onto locate a fifty-year old burlap and plaster wrapped parcel that had been collected from the same site at the same time.  These fossils were in storage at the Canadian Museum of Nature.  Examining the old plaster field jacket more skull bones from the same fossil locality were identified and from the resulting study a new genus of horned dinosaur came to be named.

An Artists Illustration of Xenoceratops in Late Cretaceous Alberta

“Alien” dinosaur with bizarre head gear.

Picture Credit: Julius Csotonyi

Xenoceratops foremostensis (pronounced zee-no-sera-tops for-mose-ten-sis) was up to six metres long and would have weighed over 1,500 kilogrammes.  This newly identified herbivorous dinosaur represents the oldest known large, Ceratopsian dinosaur found in Canada to date.  The academic paper that describes this discovery has just been published in the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences.  Authors Ryan and Evans go onto highlight the importance of this dinosaur discovery.  Compared to other Late Cretaceous formations of Alberta (such as Dinosaur Provincial Park for example), the Foremost Formation has offered very little vertebrate fossil material.  Microfossils and isolated teeth have been found but very few dinosaurs are known from this strata.  The discovery of Xenoceratops marks a “high water mark” in terms of dinosaur discoveries from the south-western part of the province.

Some of the Fossilised Bone Fragments being Pieced Together

Piecing together skull material.

Picture Credit: Canadian Museum of Natural History
 The Foremost Formation is dated to around 80 million years ago, it is much older than the likes of the main fossil bearing sites of the Dinosaur Provincial Park, fossils found in the Foremost Formation can help palaeontologists to understand how groups of dinosaurs such as Ceratopsians radiated and became more diverse.
Dr. Michael Ryan commented:

“Starting 80 million years ago, the large-bodied horned dinosaurs in North America underwent an evolutionary explosion.  Xenoceratops shows us that even the geologically oldest Ceratopsids had massive spikes on their head shields and that their cranial ornamentation would only become more elaborate as new species evolved.”

The bizarre pattern of horns on this dinosaur’s head certainly make it look like a concept from a sci-fi illustrator.  A large, bony frill protruded from the back of the skull and this had two substantial horns sticking upwards.  There were horns over each eye and perhaps a small nose horn as well.

An Artistic Rendering of the Face of Xenoceratops

Formidable dinosaur from Late Cretaceous Alberta.

Picture Credit: Mark Schultz

Dr. David Evans went onto add:

“Xenoceratops provides new information on the early evolution of Ceratopsids, the group of large-bodied horned dinosaurs that includes Triceratops.  The early fossil record of Ceratopsids remains scant, and this discovery highlights just how much more there is to learn about the origin of this diverse group.”

This dinosaur is just the latest in a series of new finds being made by Ryan and Evans as part of their Southern Alberta Dinosaur Project, which is designed to fill in gaps in our knowledge of Late Cretaceous dinosaurs and how such diverse dinosaurs evolved.  This project focuses on the palaeontology of some of the oldest dinosaur-bearing rocks in Alberta, which is less intensely studied than that of the famous badlands of Dinosaur Provincial Park and Drumheller.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the contribution of the Canadian Museum of Nature (Ottowa) in the compilation of this article.

11 11, 2012

Flight Dynamics of Giant Pterosaurs Explained

By | November 11th, 2012|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Palaeontological articles|1 Comment

Researchers Propose that Quetzalcoatlus Used Cretaceous Runways to Take Off and Land

Scientists from the Museum of Texas Tech University have used computer modelling to assess how the last of the Pterosaurs (flying reptiles) took to the air.  Pterosaurs, evolved during the Triassic and they went onto dominate the skies for much of the Mesozoic, until the emergence of the Aves (birds).  The very last types of flying reptile were giants, creatures like Hatzegopteryx thambema from Europe and Quetzalcoatlus northropi whose fossils have been found in the Big Bend National Park of Texas.  These Pterosaurs were members of the Azhdarchidae and some of these animals were the largest flying creatures known to science with wingspans in excess of ten metres reported.  Quetzalcoatlus, for example, had a wingspan greater than that of an American F-16 jet fighter.  Seeing this huge animal, many times bigger than the largest birds today, soaring overhead would have been a truly memorable sight.  However, how such large and heavy creatures took to the air has puzzled palaeontologists ever since the first fossils of these giant Pterosaurs were discovered.

An Illustration of the Giant Texan Pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus (Q. northropi)

Taking to the air in Texas 65 million years ago.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

One University of  Texas academic, Sankar Chatterjee (Horn Professor of Geosciences and Curator of the Palaeontology Department at the University’s Museum), has suggested that these enormous creatures needed down-sloping runways to enable them to take off.    The scientist presented a paper detailing his work on the aerodynamics of Azhdarchidae Pterosaurs at the recent annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Charlotte (North Carolina).

After a careful, three-dimensional study of Azhdarchid fossils, Professor Chatterjee and his colleagues developed a computer simulation that showed how such an ungainly looking animal would have used a run up in order to gain momentum before finally being able to achieve lift off.  Landing would also have been very tricky for these animals, which some palaeontologists estimate may have weighed more than two hundred kilogrammes.  When coming into land, the large wings would have acted like giant air brakes, and the Pterosaur would effectively “stall” before touchdown with its hind legs contacting the ground first and then the front of the body and the large head would pitch forward and a quadrupedal stance would be adopted as the flying reptile came to a halt.

Quetzalcoatlus Compared to Modern Birds and a F-16 Jet Fighter

Wingspan bigger than a jet fighter, but likely to be less noisy.

Picture Credit: Museum of Texas Tech University

Commenting on his research, Professor Chatterjee stated:

“This animal probably flew like an albatross or a frigate bird in that it could soar and glide very well.  It spent most of its time in the air.  But when it comes to take off and landing, they’re so awkward that they had to run.  If it were taking off from a cliff, then it was OK.  But if Quetzalcoatlus were on the ground, it probably had to find a sloping area like a river bank, and then run quickly on four feet, then two to pick up enough power to get into the air.  It needed an area to taxi.”

In 2010, a study published in the open access and on line journal “Public Library of Science” proposed that the largest of the Pterosaurs launched themselves into the air by using their strong leg and arm muscles to “vault” upwards.  This work was conducted by researchers based at the University of Portsmouth (England).  Professor Chatterjee and his colleagues do not agree with these earlier findings.  They postulate that such a method of taking to the air may be proven in small bats, but when it comes to a two hundred kilogramme Pterosaur with a wingspan in excess of ten metres; this method of becoming airborne is simply not viable.

The Texas based team report that once animals got to a certain size they would not have had the strength and power required to vault into the air.  They contend that the only way these large flying reptiles could get airborne would be by taking a long run up, preferably into the wind along a downward sloping bank or similar stretch of ground.  Starting on all fours, the animal would quickly switch to a bipedal stance and build up running speed, then just like a modern-day hang glider, it would launch itself into the air, pick up a thermal and rapidly gain height.

The computer model suggests that these animals could not beat their wings very rapidly.  With a high-aspect-ratio wing, similar to that observed today with modern petrels and albatrosses, the Azhdarchid Pterosaurs would rely on thermals and air currents to keep them aloft with the minimum of effort.  The animals would have been vulnerable and ungainly on the ground but once in the air they could soar for hours.  Professor Chatterjee and his team have suggested that such creatures could attain air speeds in excess of 36 mph (58 kmh).

These enormous creatures, some of which stood taller than a giraffe, were aerial masters, the very last of their kind.  Pterosaurs died out at the end of the Cretaceous some sixty-five million years ago.  All we have now are their amazing fossils that can be studied so that we can understand how these creatures were able to fly.

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