All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
22 01, 2013

Mini Dinosaurs Stegosaurus Dinosaur Book Reviewed

By | January 22nd, 2013|Book Reviews, Educational Activities, Product Reviews|0 Comments

A Review of the Mini Dinosaurs Stegosaurus Dinosaur Book

It is often quite a task to find a suitable dinosaur book for kids, when looking for something to help them with their reading.  Many parents try to encourage young children to develop a love of books by encouraging them to read books about subjects that they have a natural affinity for.  Many children under three years of age develop an interest in and a fascination for dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals, so finding a book about dinosaurs aimed especially at their age group can be a real boon for parents.  The Mini Dinosaurs Stegosaurus book is a delightful little hardback that ticks all the boxes as far as parents and very young dinosaur fans are concerned.  After all, a book that features a purple Stegosaurus is bound to be well received by very young palaeontologists.

The Mini Dinosaurs Stegosaurus Book

A book featuring a purple Stegosaurus

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

This book is part of a set of dinosaur inspired books all aimed at children from approximately three years of age and upwards.   As the pages are turned a question about the dinosaur Stegosaurus is presented.  The text is printed in a very clear, large, black font so very young children can easily make out the words and work out what the sentence is.  Parents and grandparents can read through the book with their young charges, turning the pages to discover what questions are being posed about this particular armoured dinosaur from the Late Jurassic.  The answers can be found by lifting a flap, part of the animal’s body such as the plate covered back, the legs or the famous tail with its set of spikes on its end.    The adult can read through the book with the child, lifting the flap to reveal the answer to the question posed on that page about Stegosaurus.  For instance, one of the questions presented is why did Stegosaurus have big feet?  By lifting up the front leg of the picture of the Stegosaurus on that page, the answer is revealed.  There is even a little more information to be found on the inside face of each answer flap, this helps the grown-up to explain the answer to the child and provides some facts about Stegosaurus to support the information given.

The bright purple, friendly Stegosaurus certainly appeals to very young children, and the tough hardback cover means that the book can be wiped clean should any sticky hands touch it.  The spine of the book is quite thick and this makes it easy to grip, especially helpful when young children try to use the book on their own.  Best of all, in the final section of this book there is a large, purple Stegosaurus cut-out for the children to unfold.  By pulling the middle portion of the Stegosaurus drawing towards them and unfurling the tail a large stand-up drawing of a Stegosaurus is revealed.

Lift and Fold to Reveal the Cut-Out Stegosaurus

The fold out Stegosaurus model featured in the book.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The book has been carefully thought about by the design team and the publishers and it makes an ideal “my first dinosaur book” for a budding dinosaur enthusiast.  The simple layout and easy to read text will encourage children with their reading and word recognition and the fun questions and answers are based on what scientists think they know about this long extinct member of the Dinosauria.  Recommended for children from three years plus, a very suitable dinosaur book for kids.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s range of dinosaur books: Dinosaur Books for Kids

21 01, 2013

Gigantopithecus the Inspiration behind King Kong

By | January 21st, 2013|Dinosaur Fans, Educational Activities|0 Comments

The Science Behind King Kong

The giant ape of the cinema screen known as King Kong, an ape that ruled Skull Island and then went onto to terrorise New York before meeting its end at the top of Empire State building, may be one of the most famous movie monsters of all time.  However, the science surrounding giant apes is just as fascinating as anything penned by a Hollywood script writer.

The first King Kong film was released in 1933, the stop-motion prehistoric animals that shared Skull Island with Kong, the giant ape, amazed cinema goers.  The film, a parody of the fairy tale “beauty and the beast” was remade in 1976 and more recently Peter Jackson directed the CGI version which was released in 2005.  Depending on which film you watch and which parts of which film you watch (as the 1933 King Kong was approximately 25 feet tall for the jungle scenes and then it grew to nearly 5o feet high for the scenes on the Empire State building), King Kong’s actual size is difficult to ascertain.  Although it is almost certain that no gigantic hominid or simian creatures remotely near to King Kong’s size ever existed.

The fossil record for primates and early human ancestors is very incomplete although there is no evidence to suggest that giant gorillas roamed the planet in pre-history.

However, sometimes real life can reflect a fictional story depicted in a film.  Just two years after the 1933 movie was released a German palaeoanthropologist called Ralph von Koenigswald purchased a very large molar (back tooth) from a Hong Kong pharmacy, whilst on a visit to China and the Far East.   Fossils of all sorts were used in Chinese medicine, often described as “dragons teeth” or “dragons bone”.  Koenigswald new differently and he correctly identified that the tooth belonged to a new, very large primate species.  He went onto name the animal Gigantopithecus blacki.

An Illustration of G. blacki

A scale drawing of the giant ape.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Fossils of Gigantopithecus blacki (the name means gigantic ape), have been found in China and Vietnam.  It lived during the Pliocene and Pleistocene epochs and males may have reached heights in excess of 3.2 metres tall (more than 10 feet high).  A fully grown male might have weighed as much as five hundred kilogrammes, females were much smaller.  This giant ape, the largest known in the fossil record to date, was a peaceful herbivore having a very similar diet to the extant gorillas of Africa today.  The genus Gigantopithecus is known from a number of fossilised teeth and jawbones, very little of the post cranial skeleton material has been found.  It is likely that this large ape was encountered by hominids, early humans such as Homo erectus.  Although best avoided, scientists have no evidence to suggest how aggressive or passive these animals were, but if extant great apes such as gorillas and orangutans provide a template, it is likely that this ape was secretive and was not very aggressive.  Palaeoanthropologists believe that G. blacki was more closely related to Orangutans than to gorillas (a member of the sub-family for primates called the Ponginae).

20 01, 2013

Imaginative Dinosaur Themed Teaching Activities

By | January 20th, 2013|Educational Activities, Teaching|1 Comment

Primary School Children Have Fun with Dinosaur Eggs

With the advent of a more creative curriculum in the United Kingdom, teachers and teaching assistants have more freedom in how they deliver lessons which dove tail into the teaching objectives and expected outcomes as provided in the framework of the national curriculum.  For children aged between five and seven years of age (primary school children in years 1 and 2), a suitable topic for the spring term might be “Dinosaurs”.  With the spring term ending at Easter, the addition of an imaginative series of lesson activities designed around looking at dinosaur eggs would help to tie in the term topic with the holiday period that comes immediately at the end of this term.

A dinosaur egg can be made very simply using a balloon and paper mache to create the desired effect.  A single, large egg can be created by the teacher and the teaching assistants or if school resources allow, the children themselves can have a go at making and painting their own paper mache dinosaur eggs.  Often the eggs that are made and represent a dinosaur egg are quite large, many people think that the dinosaurs hatched from huge eggs, this is not the case.  Although a number of dinosaur genera are known to have laid large eggs, most dinosaurs laid very much smaller eggs than most people imagine.  Egg size in egg-laying, terrestrial vertebrates is limited by a number of factors.  For example, the egg has to be strong enough to hold the volume of liquid that each one contains, but the egg shell cannot be too thick otherwise the baby inside would not be strong enough to break out of the egg (to hatch).  The largest dinosaur eggs known to science have been ascribed to a genus of Titanosaurs (long-necked dinosaurs), which may have measured more than fifteen metres in length.  Even so the eggs of these prehistoric animals are about the same size as a football.

To read an article about the size of dinosaur eggs: The Big Eggs of a Dinosaur – Hypselosaurus

When the egg has been made and painted, simply create a little nest for it, using leaves, twigs and such like.  If the class has a pet hamster or guinea pig, using some hay or straw that is normally reserved for this class pet also works well.   Then over the course of the spring team the children can observe their egg and record any differences in how it looks.  For example, once the egg has been put in the nest, take a picture of it and post it up on the class notice board.  Then after a week or so, turn the egg round in the nest and get the children to compare what they see with the earlier photograph.  A teacher can use this simple exercise to get children to think about what differences can they see and why might the differences have occurred?  What does it mean when the egg has moved, what may be going on inside the egg?

Over the next two weeks, the egg can be given a crack and the children made ready for the “hatching of their own dinosaur), again the change in the state of the egg can be used to encourage the children with a creative writing exercise as they compose short letters to their “baby dinosaur”.

A Typical Dinosaur Nest (Fossils)

A typical Theropod nest (Oviraptoridae)

Finally, the school day dawns (towards the end of the term topic) when the baby dinosaur hatches.  However, rather than have to go to the trouble of creating a baby dinosaur for the class, here is a simple tip for any teacher or teaching assistant, allow your dinosaur to escape.  To show the escape, simply break the egg open using a sharp pair of scissors before the children come in and ask the caretaker to move one of the ceiling tiles on the suspended ceiling (a feature of most classrooms).  The children can learn of their dinosaur’s escape into the roof space and the moved tile in the ceiling would be proof to them of the escape of their pet dinosaur.  The teacher can easily leave a trail of three-toed (tridactyl) dinosaur prints from the nest area to the floor immediately below the ceiling tile, creating a trail for the young pupils to follow.

Then it is simply a question of developing plenty of extension activities around the school’s pet dinosaur project.  For example, the children can be encouraged to draw what they think the dinosaur may have looked like, what name should it have been called and why?  In addition, the children can be asked to think up stories that they might want to read to the dinosaur, or to imagine the adventures that their escaped dinosaur might be having.

Such imaginative and creative ideas can help teachers and teaching assistants to develop interesting lesson plans that challenge pupils to observe, explore and ask questions about living things.   Reference materials can be used to find out what palaeontologists know about the fossilised eggs of dinosaurs.   As well as covering aspects of the science element of the national curriculum, cross curricula activities such as creative writing and grammar usage which relates to the objectives of the English element of teaching can be incorporated.

To learn more about Everything Dinosaur’s teaching activities in schools: Everything Dinosaur’s School Workshops

Having your own dinosaur egg and watching the egg change and eventually hatch provides an excellent basis for the development of many enriching and challenging lesson ideas with key stage one children.

19 01, 2013

A Review of Prehistoric Times Magazine (Winter 2013)

By | January 19th, 2013|Magazine Reviews, Prehistoric Times|0 Comments

Prehistoric Times Issue 104 Reviewed

The winter edition of Prehistoric Times is certainly a treat for prehistoric animal model collectors and general enthusiasts for all things prehistoric. On the front cover there is a fantastic illustration of Leviathan melvillei, a huge, prehistoric whale which was an apex predator of Miocene seas, preying on other smaller cetaceans.  This was the “whale that ate other whales”  and the artwork that adorns the front cover shows this sea monster attacking a baleen whale.  As the genus name Leviathan has already been assigned to another type of animal (Mastodon), the name Leviathan melvillei has been changed to Livyatan melvillei, the original hebrew spelling of the word.

Issue 104 of Prehistoric Times (Winter 2013)

Meet a “Leviathan”!

Picture Credit: Mike Fredericks/Everything Dinosaur

Inside the magazine there is a very detailed article by Phil Hore on prehistoric whales, their evolution from land living mammals and their radiation into the many types of large, extant cetacean seen today.  The second prehistoric animal to be featured in this publication is Troodon, the Dromaeosaur dinosaur which is regarded by many palaeontologists as being one of the most intelligent of all the known members of the Dinosauria.  Readers are asked to send in their artwork and other illustrations of the prehistoric creatures featured in the magazine.  The editor remarks in his editorial column that much to his surprise a lot more artwork featuring prehistoric whales was sent in than for the Troodontids.  This might be because this is the first time in all one hundred plus editions of the magazine that prehistoric whales have been featured.  The pictures sent in, both of the Troodontids and the prehistoric whales are really good and some noteworthy illustrations include those by Simon Zoppe (Dorudon) and Wade Carmen (Janjucetus), plus a superb Troodon, full colour print by Raul Martin.

To subscribe to Prehistoric Times Magazine: Prehistoric Times Magazine

Tracy Lee Ford contributes with the second part of his excellent piece on how to draw dinosaurs with a focus on pathology found in Ceratopsian dinosaurs.  In this article, the author discusses the work of Happ et al (published 2008) who describe a Triceratops skull that is  missing about thirty percent of its left brow horn.  There are deep gouges on the skull in the area surrounding the horn and on the remaining horn core material.  It has been suggested that the horn was bitten off by an attacking Tyrannosaurus rex.  To find out more about what such injuries can reveal about the behaviour of dinosaurs, the rest of Tracy’s excellent article is well worth reading.

Allen A. Debus provides a fascinating article on the early illustrations of Megalosaurus, the very first genus of dinosaur to be scientifically named and described.  This feature evidently took a lot of researching as some of the illustrations shown date from more than 120 years ago.  There is also a section on what new prehistoric animal models are due to be launched this  year plus a review of the big news stories in palaeontology over the last few months or so.

Model maker Steve DeMarco lets us into a few secrets about how to create paint effects like a professional when painting dinosaur models and there is a review of a European dinosaur theme park, plus book reviews and an in depth interview with the highly talented artist Terry McKee.

All in all a highly informative and educational publication which caters for the discerning prehistoric animal model collector.

18 01, 2013

Award Winning Megacerops Reviewed

By | January 18th, 2013|Everything Dinosaur Products, Product Reviews|1 Comment

A Review of the Collecta Megacerops (Thunder Beast Reviewed)

One of the more unusual additions to the Collecta range of prehistoric animal models was the introduction in 2012 of the model of the “Thunder Beast” known as Megacerops (M. coloradensis).  Figures of prehistoric mammals only make up a small proportion of most figure and model manufacturer’s model ranges, dinosaur models are far more common, but the addition of this extinct, hoofed giant which resembled a rhinoceros but was actually more closely related to a zebra was most welcome.

The Collecta Megacerops Model

"Thunder Beast" from Collecta

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Megacerops was a member of a group of extinct mammals known as Brontotheres (the name means “thunder beasts”).  They first evolved during the Eocene Epoch and were mainly forest dwelling herbivores, the largest of which was about the size of an Alsation dog, although most species of these Perissodactyl mammals (odd number of toes on each foot), were no bigger than a Coyote.  As the world became drier and extensive grasslands began to form on the landmasses that made up the continents of the northern hemisphere, so these creatures diversified and radiated, spreading throughout Asia and North America.

Megacerops was one of the last of the Brontotheres to evolve.  Fossils of this creature have been found in the western United States, the fossils are so abundant that most of the regional museums in the area have Megacerops fossils within their natural history collections.

The Collecta Megacerops model measures a fraction under twenty centimetres in length.  It is a male, and if this hand painted replica does indeed represent M. coloradensis, then an approximate scale for this model can be calculated.  If the length of large males are estimated to be around 4.5 metres, then a twenty centimetre model would represent a 1:22.5 scale figure.

The painting is excellent on this particular prehistoric animal model, the texture of the coat can be easily seen and the designers have opted to give their model a darker head with the rear of the animal painted a lighter tan colour.  The ears are facing forward and the animal is depicted as if it were charging, perhaps chasing off some predatory Hyaenodonts.  Even the tail with its little tuft of hair at the end has been very finely modelled.  The two “V-shaped” horns that are positioned just above the nostrils have been painted a light grey colour.  The horns of Brontotheres were very probably covered with skin when the animal was alive.  The model has a prominent hump between the shoulders, fossils suggest that many species of Brontotheres did indeed have such a hump, it was probably a store of fat to help the animals survive  leaner times.

The Award Winning Collecta Megacerops Model

The "rear of the year for a Brontothere"

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

It is a very beautiful model, such a treat to have a relatively little-known Brontothere added to a mainstream model maker’s range, but a warning to mums and dads, this model is anatomically accurate.  The Collecta Megacerops was awarded the accolade of the best, new prehistoric animal model of 2012 as voted for by readers of a popular model collectors magazine.  This Megacerops has redefined the standard of prehistoric mammal models and set the benchmark very high for other manufacturers.  A very desirable and collectible prehistoric animal model.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s range of prehistoric animal models: Prehistoric Animal Models

17 01, 2013

Ichthyostega Gets a Re-Think

By | January 17th, 2013|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Palaeontological articles|1 Comment

New Research Suggests Earlier Reconstructions had the Backbones “Back to Front”

The fossils of the early Tetrapod Ichthyostega, the first Devonian Tetrapod to be discovered, have always puzzled scientists. This one and a half metres long transitional creature between a fish and a land-dwelling amphibian has always courted controversy and a new study suggests previous attempts to model the vertebrae may have been inaccurate.  In effect, the backbone in skeletal reconstructions of this creature may have formerly been “back to front.”

Tetrapods (the name means “four feet”), are in essence, the limb-bearing vertebrates with four limbs and distinct digits.  Human beings (H.sapiens), are members of the Tetrapod group.  Scientists agree that the Tetrapods evolved from fish and the first of these creatures evolved during the Devonian geological period but exactly what group of fishes gave rise to the Tetrapods and when remains open to some debate.

Ichthyostega had four limbs, in earlier models this animal was pictured as being well suited to life on land with its robust limbs holding the front portion of the body clear of the ground.  It is now thought that the first Tetrapods were not so well adapted to a life out of the water and it is likely that if these animals did venture out onto land they would not have been capable of lifting their body weight up, most probably just dragging their bodies along rather than lifting them clear of the land surface.

An Early Interpretation of Ichthyostega

An older interpretation of Ichthyostega

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Professor Jenny Clack (University of Cambridge), a world-authority on early Tetrapods in conjunction with her colleague Dr. Stephanie Pierce (Royal Veterinary College (London), has published new evidence that provides a fresh insight into the Ichthyostega genus.  These distinguished scientists reaffirm that these animals may not have been that well adapted to terrestrial life after all.  It is known that Ichthyostega and its near relative Acanthostega had large teeth and that they were predators, what is unclear however, is whether these animals hunted on land or in the water.

The European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble (France) was employed by the researchers to bombard three fossil specimens of Ichthyostega with very powerful X-rays.  These X-rays once interpreted by sophisticated computer software were able to reveal more details regarding the structure of this Tetrapod’s skeleton.  The three-dimensional images of the fossil material the research team was able to produce revealed something very surprising.  It had been thought that the back bones of early Tetrapods were comprised of four separate bones arranged with one at the front, one just behind the first one and a pair towards the rear of each element of the vertebrae.  The images, that the team produced showed that in the case of the Ichthyostega fossils, the bones at the back had become fused to the one at the front.  This discovery revealed that the first “anterior ” bone at the front of the four bone series was actually the posterior one (at the back).  The change in the orientation and the relationship between the bones in the spine would change the way in which this early Tetrapod could move

Writing in the academic journal “Nature”, Dr. Pierce explained:

 “Ichthyostega made us open our minds, stand back and reassess the anatomy of other early Tetrapod fossils.  When we did this, it was obvious that the bones of their spines were also in the reverse order than what had previously been described.”

In addition, the application of new research techniques has enabled the scientists to spot evidence of a primitive sternum in this Devonian animal.  The sternum consists of a series of bones that are aligned together and run down the centre of Ichthyostega’s chest.  This suggests that the animal’s body weight was supported by the sternum and that the limbs did not hold the body clear of the ground as shown in much earlier illustrations of Ichthyostega, but instead this animal probably moved on land by dragging its body along by moving its front limbs.  This method of locomotion is seen today with the Mudskippers (fish from the family Gobiidae).  These Gobies are able to haul themselves around on land using their sturdy pectoral fins as simple, efficient forelimbs.

The Latest Interpretation of Ichthyostega

Ichthyostega interpreted dragging its body across the ground

Picture Credit: Julia Molner

The research team hope to be able to analyse the vertebrae of other Devonian Tetrapods using the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility so that a more detailed understanding of the evolution of terrestrial locomotion can be obtained.

16 01, 2013

Willow Green Academy – Waiting for their Dinosaur Egg to Hatch

By | January 16th, 2013|Educational Activities|0 Comments

School Pupils Waiting for Dinosaur to Hatch

Pupils at Willow Green Academy are getting “egg-cited” over the prospect of having their very own dinosaur egg hatch,all part of the term topic of dinosaurs which is currently being run with some classes for the next few weeks.

Rainbow fish class, the children who make up year 1, have been studying dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals and learning all about them with their teacher Miss Walker.  A team member from Everything Dinosaur visited the budding young palaeontologists yesterday as part of the school’s scheme of work for this term.  Lots of fossil handling and dinosaur exercises ensued and as a special treat some of the children took their visitor to show off the school’s very own dinosaur nest with a single, large, pink dinosaur egg, sitting snugly on a bed of hay.

There had been much excitement earlier in the week when the pupils discovered that the egg had cracked, so the dinosaur inside might be getting ready to hatch.

Willow Green Academy’s Dinosaur Egg

"egg-citing" times ahead for Rainbow Fish Class

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture shows the large dinosaur egg, sitting securely in one of the school’s raised beds.  It was decided not to get too close to the egg and to take a photograph of the nest through the window.  After all, as one of the year 1 pupils pointed out, it was not a good idea to get too near just in case the nest was disturbed.

Imaginative lesson activities such as this can help to motivate and enthuse young children and tap into all sorts of areas related to key objectives of the national curriculum.  For example, Miss Walker supported by the class’s teaching assistant Mrs Greenwood can encourage the children’s creative writing by getting them to compose letters to the baby dinosaur.  The young pupils can design their own dinosaurs and have a go at coming up with their very own scientific names for their creations.  Such activities will encourage the children to make observations, consider simple associations and patterns as well as to develop all important literacy skills.

Having been given one or two pointers about how dinosaurs moved by the visiting Everything Dinosaur expert, the Willow Green pupils could participate in a number drama based activities as they imagine what it would be like to be a dinosaur.

At Everything Dinosaur, we have conducted a number of similar schemes of work with primary school children.  Lots of extension topic related activities can been devised, team members have been discussing the time when their baby dinosaur “hatched” promptly escaped and then sent the class various emails and pictures telling the children all about where in the world the dinosaur had travelled to.  Using a world map, some pictures of famous land marks such as the leaning tower of Piza, the Pyramids of Giza and Victoria Falls all downloaded from the Internet, the dinosaur’s travels  were plotted and this helped the pupils learn about famous landmarks and places in different countries.

As far as we know all members of the Dinosauria laid eggs but different types of dinosaur adopted different strategies when it came to looking after the nest and the newly hatched babies.  For example, at one extreme some dinosaurs may have produced precocial offspring.  Precocial offspring are born or hatched as relatively well-developed creatures that are able to move around very soon after birth and show a high degree of independence.  Animals alive today that show this precocial behaviour include many birds such as ducks and geese plus mammals such as a number of hoofed animals. A young wildebeest for instance, can stand up and indeed run within a few minutes of being born.  Many palaeontologists believe that the large, Sauropods (long-necked dinosaurs such as Diplodocus), may have adopted this strategy, essentially abandoning the nest of eggs once they had been laid.

However, other dinosaurs such as the Ornithopod known as Maiasaura, whose fossils have been found in Cretaceous aged strata from Montana (United States), seem likely to have looked after their young.  These dinosaurs nested in large colonies, just like many birds do today.  Studies of fossilised, young Maiasaura hind limbs indicate that the leg bones were not fully formed (ossified) when these dinosaurs hatched.  These hatchlings were not able to leave the nest. Youngsters were not able to walk and so depended on the adults to bring them food.  This research, coupled with the large amount of crushed eggshell associated with the site in Montana, indicates that the young Maiasaura stayed in the nest for some time – looked after by parents.  This is an example of altricial behaviour, where adults dedicate a great deal of time and effort to looking after babies and juveniles.  Animals alive today that demonstrate this behaviour include cats, dogs, our own species, marsupials and most garden birds.

An Illustration of Maiasaura next to her Nest

The person in the picture provides a scale so the size of this dinosaur can be estimated.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The name Maisaura means “Good Mother Lizard”.  It is very likely that members of the Dinosauria exhibited altricial and precocial behaviour, with a number of genera showing intermediate behaviours between these two extremes.

15 01, 2013

Jurassic Park 4 – June 2014?

By | January 15th, 2013|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates|2 Comments

Speilberg to Produce New Jurassic Park Movie

With the 20th anniversary special edition of the original Jurassic Park movie due to hit our cinema screens in April of this year, there had been rumours that the “JP” franchise was going to have a fourth instalment if the re-release of the original film in 3-D format proved to be a big success.

Word has reached us from the United States that Jurassic Park 4 is scheduled for release in the summer of 2014, aiming at the big screen holiday, blockbuster market.  Filming should start any time now and we know of several “scripts” that have been doing the rounds, all of which feature lots of CGI dinosaurs and pterosaurs.  Steven Speilberg is not going to direct the new film, but rather he is to have a producer or executive producer role.

Expect Jurassic Park fever to start all over again…

14 01, 2013

Isle of Wight the “Dinosaur Capital” of the British Isles

By | January 14th, 2013|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories|2 Comments

Isle of Wight Where Dinosaurs Roamed

With the release of a map showing dinosaur discoveries made in the United Kingdom, the Isle of Wight, an island off Britain’s south coast has been declared the “dinosaur capital of Great Britain”.  It is true that there have been some remarkable dinosaur fossil discoveries made on this island which is separated from the English mainland by a stretch of water called the Solent. The island has long since been known as “Dinosaur Isle” amongst palaeontologists and geologists who happen to frequent the southern part of the island exploring the Purbeck and Wealden strata of what is termed the Wessex Basin.

Iguanodontids, Hypsilophodonts, Sauropods, Armoured dinosaurs and Theropod meat-eating dinosaur fossils have all been found on the Isle of Wight.  There are also numerous dinosaur footprints and tracks that can be seen on the foreshore at Chilton Chine and other parts of the coastline.  Much has been made of the discovery of the fierce, meat-eating dinosaur known as Neovenator (Neovenator salerii).  This Theropod dinosaur is known from a single specimen discovered nearly thirty-five years ago.  Neovenator means “New Hunter” and this dinosaur, tentatively assigned to the Carcharodontosauridae, may have measured more than 8 metres in length.  It would have been dwarfed by some of the Sauropods that shared its Early Cretaceous environment.  Fossil discoveries made on the Isle of Wight indicate that there were Brachiosaurids present and some of these long-necked herbivores could have weighed in excess of fifty tonnes.

A Model of the Fearsome Neovenator Dinosaur

"New Hunter" from the Isle of Wight

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The Cretaceous strata that makes up the southern part of the Isle of Wight is indeed important.  It is not just dinosaur fossils that make this a significant location, palaeontologists have been able to painstakingly build up a picture of an palaeo-environment.  In 2009 Doctor Steven Sweetman of the University of Portsmouth published a new, scientific paper outlining nearly fifty newly identified prehistoric vertebrates, whose fossils had been found eroding out of cliffs on the island.  Amongst the new genera erected there were six new mammals, eight dinosaurs, including large, predatory Dromaeosaurs (raptors) and fifteen new members of the Order Squamata (lizards and snakes).

During the Early Cretaceous (135 million years to 130 million years ago), the land we now know as the Isle of Wight formed part of an extensive flood plain that linked the continents of the Americas, Africa and Europe.  More fossils are being found each year and palaeontologists are able to build up quite a detailed picture of the Cretaceous fauna and flora.

Not wishing to diminish the importance of the Isle of Wight, it is also worth remembering that a number of significant dinosaur finds have been made elsewhere in the British Isles.  A considerable amount of Jurassic-aged dinosaur fossils have been found in North Yorkshire, the Isle of Skye has some amazing dinosaur tracks and fragmentary dinosaur bones, then there is the county of Surrey with its Baryonyx fossil discovery and our own personal favourite, the city of Bristol, with its Thecodontosaurus.  The first fossils of Thecodontosaurus were found at a site just to the north of the city’s bustling centre, these fossils were found in 1834.

To read an article about Bristol honouring its very own dinosaur: Bristol Remembers its Very Own Triassic Dinosaur

Then there are the Megalosaurs and other dinosaurs from Oxfordshire, the Dorset Scelidosaurus, Iguanodonts from the Wealden Formation outcrops of Kent and Sussex.   In fact, there are a number of important locations in the UK in terms of the dinosaur fossils found at these sites.  After all, the first dinosaurs to be ascribed to the newly erected Order Dinosauria were all species, whose fossils had been found in southern England.

The Dinosaur Map of Britain

Dinosaur "Hot Spots" as we at Everything Dinosaur call them.

The research compiled by palaeontologists at the London Natural History Museum who tracked dinosaur fossil finds recorded over the last 336 years, was carried out as part of the publicity material for the television series “Primeval New World”, a spin-off from the earlier ITV programmes about a team of adventurers battling against worm holes that keep bringing prehistoric creatures back to the present day.

13 01, 2013

Thalattoarchon saurophagis – Apex Predator of the Mid Triassic

By | January 13th, 2013|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories|0 Comments

Lizard-Eating Sovereign of the Sea – Thalattoarchon saurophagis

Discovered back in the late 1990s and finally collected in 2010 but with a scientific description just published; the Ichthyosaur family of marine reptiles has a new member.  It might have been appropriate to describe a number of Ichthyosaur genera as dolphin-like but this newly erected genus has a closer affinity to the likes of the Orca (Killer Whale) in terms of where it would have been placed on the food chain.  The newly described Thalattoarchon saurophagis (the name means lizard eating sovereign of the sea), would have been an apex predator in the tropical Mid Triassic sea that this prehistoric monster swam in.

The fossils were found in Triassic aged deposits (approximately 244 million years old) from the Favret Canyon region in the arid Augusta Mountains in the state of Nevada (western United States).  Much of Nevada today may be covered by dry scrub and desert but back in the Early Triassic this part of North America formed the eastern part of the vast Panthallassic ocean that covered most of the western hemisphere.  Within just eight million years or so of the Permian mass extinction event that may have wiped out as much as ninety-five percent of all life in the seas, it seems that marine environments and ecosystems had recovered sufficiently to permit the evolution of what is termed a “macro-predator”, a predator of other large creatures.  The discovery of these Ichthyosaur fossils not only has important implications for the understanding of Ichthyosaur evolution but perhaps more importantly, it suggests that marine ecosystems may have recovered more quickly from the Permian mass extinction than terrestrial ecosystems.

Fearsome Triassic Predator Thalattoarchon saurophagis

Sea Monster of the Mid Triassic

Picture Credit: Raul Martin/National Geographic

The fossils representing one individual specimen have been found to date, amongst strata that is rich in vertebrate fossil remains including several types of Ichthyosaur.  The fossils of this predatory reptile include part of the back of the skull and the rear most portion of the jaws, much of the vertebrae, many of which were in articulation with each other, parts of the hips and some of the bones from the rear fins.  Using this material and comparisons with other better-known Triassic Ichthyosaurs, the research team have estimated that this Ichthyosaur may have reached over eight and a half metres in length.  Interestingly, living alongside Thalattoarchon was another, perhaps even bigger Ichthyosaur – Cymbospondylus which may have reached lengths of ten metres or more.

Fossils of  T. saurophagis (Top predator)

The Formidable skull and jaws of T. saurophagis

Picture Credit:  Fröbisch et al

The picture above shows the top of the skull (dorsal view) with a side view of the fossil material (lateral view).

The teeth of Cymbospondylus are typical of many other Ichthyosaurs, the are conical and pointed, ideal for grabbing slippery prey such as cephalopds and fish.  In contrast, the teeth of T. saurophagis are very different.  The teeth are proportionately larger, some are up to 7 centimetres in length and they are  wider with anterior and posterior cutting edges.  The teeth are very blade like, and resemble the teeth of terrestrial Theropod predators such as the Allosaurids, although they do lack any serrations along the cutting edges (denticles).  These teeth are those of a macro-predator, an animal that specialised in catching, killing and eating other marine reptiles.  Along with Cymbospondylus, the shallow sea that would have covered much of the western United States was home to a genus of much smaller Ichthyosaur known as Phalarodon.  It has been speculated that T. saurophagis hunted these smaller Ichthyosaurs.

Blade-like Teeth of this Frightening Ichthyosaur

The Teeth of an Apex Predator.

Picture Credit: Fröbisch et al

Thalattoarchon may have resembled Cymbospondylus in having a long, streamlined body ending in a flexible tail with a rudimentary caudal fin but the head is much bigger when compared to the body proportions of the known fossil material of Cymbospondylus.  The head of Thalattoarchon is approximately twice the size of the head of Cymbospondylus in relation to the rest of the animal’s body.  The scientists responsible for the study including Dr Nadia Fröbisch of the Museum für Naturkunde (Berlin, Germany), have been able to create a model of the food chain that existed in this part of the Panthallassic ocean, placing Thalattoarchon in the apex position, at the top of the food chain.

A Model of the Mid Triassic Marine Ecosystem (Food Chain)

A Triassic marine food chain.

Picture Credit: PNAS

The paper detailing the research carried out on these Ichthyosaur fossils and the scientific description has been published in the academic journal “The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”.

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