All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
//March
12 03, 2013

Scientists Uncover “Eggciting” Link Between Spanish and French Dinosaurs

By | March 12th, 2013|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories|0 Comments

Sauropods Nesting in the Same Location for Millions of Years

A team of palaeontologists have documented a remarkable Upper Cretaceous fossil site in Catalonia (Spain) and have discovered that this location was a nesting ground for many types of Late Cretaceous Sauropods,  At least four types of long-necked dinosaur eggs have been identified and from the study, published as an academic paper, it seems that the herbivorous megafauna of this part of Catalonia some 70 million years ago was very similar to the megafauna to be found in southern France during the Late Cretaceous.

Scientists from the Miquel Crusafont Catalan Palaeontology Institute mapped the exposed Upper Cretaceous sediments in the Coll de Nargó palaeontological site (close to the village of the same name), in the western Catalonian province of Lleida.  Up until this new study, only one type of Sauropod egg, that of a Titanosaur had been recorded in this region.  This dinosaur is known as Megaloolithus siruguei, eggs attributed to this Titanosaur species have been found in at least nine horizons in the Tremp geological formation in this part of the world.  Average number of eggs laid per nest seems to be around 25 but a number of locations have been extensively eroded and Cenozoic plate movements has distorted a number of egg fossil bearing locations so pinning down the average size of a clutch of dinosaur eggs is very difficult.

A Typical Late Cretaceous Titanosaur from Europe (Ampelosaurus)

A typical European Titanosaur from the Late Cretaceous

A typical European Titanosaur from the Late Cretaceous.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows an illustration of a typical European Titanosaurid dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous – Ampelosaurus.

After completing a detailed analysis of more than 25 different fossil bearing horizons in the Tremp Formation, the palaeontologists were able to conclude that there is evidence to support that at least four other types of Sauropod used this area as a nesting site.  Scientists have speculated that these large herbivores probably lived in herds and moved around extensively in search of food resources to satisfy their enormous appetites.  It is likely that these reptiles migrated annually to favourite nesting grounds just like many birds and turtles do today.

Lead author of this new research, Albert García Sellés (Miquel Crusafont Catalan Palaeontology Institute) stated that:

“Eggshells eggs and nests were found in abundance and they all belong to dinosaurs, Sauropods in particular.  Up until now, only one type of dinosaur egg had been documented at this location, but now we have evidence to suggest four different types of dinosaur.”

Identifying species of prehistoric animals from just remains of eggshells (and possibly embryos within the fossilised eggs), is referred to as analysing oospecies (working out the phylogenetic relationships between species – a study of ootaxa).  Scientists are attempting to set up the evolutionary relationships between the animals that produced the eggs.  Their work is complicated due to the seismic shifts in the sediments that once were deposited in a sequence of strata linking southern France and northern Spain, before the uplifting of the Pyrenees distorted the geological formations.

The additional oospecies named so far are Megaloolithus aureliensis, Megaloolithus baghensis and in the sister taxa Cairanoolithus roussetensis.

A Museum Exhibit Showing Titanosaur Eggs (Hypselosaurus)

An example of Titanosaur fossil eggs.

An example of Titanosaur fossil eggs.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The strata that make up the Tremp Formation and other adjacent fossil bearing sediments were laid down in terrestrial environments. Although the team can estimate the relative age of the various fossil bearing horizons based on their stratigraphic sequence, the lack of zone fossils, otherwise known as guide fossils, is hampering their efforts to determine the absolute age of the strata and thus, the age of the fossils deposited therein.   In marine sediments for example, small creatures with hard shells such as Gastropods, or Ammonites can act as biozone markers.  These fossils are relatively abundant, distinct in appearance and they represent relatively rapidly evolving groups – ideal for acting as characteristic zone fossils to help identify the age of rock strata.

However, it has been noted that the different types of eggs (the oospecies) are located at very specific horizons.  This has permitted the palaeontologists to develop a better understanding of the chronological age of each of the fossil bearing layers of rock.  As a result, the scientists have determined that the rocks in this region represent a period in Earth’s history from 71 million years ago to approximately 66 million years ago (Maastrichtian faunal stage).  The fossilised eggs could contain clues to environmental changes that may have had a bearing on the mass extinction event that took place around 65-66 million years ago.  This location is very significant to European palaeontologists as it provides a window into the very last days of the dinosaurs.  It also shows that the megafauna in northern Spain was very similar to that of southern France during this time in the Late Cretaceous of Europe.

In addition, the great volume of fossilised eggs and their spread across different stratigraphic horizons provides the scientists with very strong evidence to suggest that Titanosaurs used this area of Spain as a nesting site for millions of years.  The presence of various oospecies at the same horizon also suggests that different species of Titanosaur shared the same nesting area, perhaps in a similar way to many extant sea-birds sharing nesting colonies today.

Fossil strata containing evidence of dinosaur eggs and nests within the Tremp Formation were once part of a continuous low-lying basin that extended for hundreds of miles.  However, the collision of the Iberian and the European plates which began at the end of the Cretaceous and extended into the Oligocene Epoch led to extensive uplifting and the creation of the mountain range that now divides Spain and France – the Pyrenees.

11 03, 2013

The Carnegie Collectibles Triceratops Dinosaur Model Reviewed

By | March 11th, 2013|Everything Dinosaur Products, Product Reviews|0 Comments

A Short Review of the Carnegie Collectibles Triceratops Dinosaur Model

Dinosaur model collectors have been rather spoilt for choice when it comes to acquiring replicas of the horned dinosaur known as Triceratops.  Most model manufacturers have included at least one within their prehistoric animal replica ranges.  The Triceratops in the Carnegie Collectibles range, manufactured by Safari Ltd,  is one of the most colourful currently available.  This Triceratops dinosaur model is depicted charging and its bright orange and yellow frill markings make this particular Triceratops model very striking indeed.

The Carnegie Collectibles Triceratops Dinosaur Model

A very colourful Triceratops.

A very colourful Triceratops.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

This Triceratops is one of two such models in the Carnegie Collectibles model series.  It was introduced as a replacement for an older , less dramatically coloured replica.  As the model measures approximately nineteen centimetres in length the original 1:45 scaling has been retained.

Perhaps the most famous of all the horned dinosaurs, “three horned face” was named and described 125 years ago by the renowned American palaeontologist Othniel Charles Marsh.  It is certainly, one of the largest Ceratopsians known with some scientists estimating this herbivore to have weighed as much as six tonnes or more.

As well as its vivid pose, depicting this horned dinosaur charging with its huge mouth open as if it is bellowing at some nearby Tyrannosaurid predator, this model is notable for its colouration.  The top of the bony frill that adorns the back of this huge dinosaur’s skull is painted with splashes of bright orange and yellow.  The flanks also have bright orange and red patches.  Palaeontologists believe that visual signals were very important to these dinosaurs.  The bright colours on this Triceratops would have made a stunning visual display, perhaps enough to frighten away the most determined Tyrannosaurus rex.

Appreciating a Triceratops Dinosaur Model

A still from Everything Dinosaur's recent video review of this dinosaur  model.

A still from Everything Dinosaur's recent video review of this dinosaur model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Interestingly, this Triceratops model has the correct number of digits depicted on its legs.  The front legs had five digits, whereas the back legs only had four.  This detail is often overlooked in other replicas but all the models in the Carnegie scale model dinosaur collectibles range are approved by palaeontologists at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, so the replicas do reflect the very latest scientific thinking.

To view the range of Safari Ltd prehistoric animal models: Carnegie Collectibles and Wild Safari Dinos

All in all, this an attractive Triceratops dinosaur model, a popular member of the Carnegie Collectibles range.  It will continue to delight dinosaur model collectors for many years to come. We at Everything Dinosaur even provide a Triceratops fact sheet so that collectors can read all about this horned dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous.

10 03, 2013

Wind up Dinosaurs – Fun to Race

By | March 10th, 2013|Everything Dinosaur Products, Product Reviews|0 Comments

Racing Wind Up Dinosaurs

It can be difficult to entertain young children during the school holidays, especially if the weather is not particularly settled and they can’t go outside.  What a relief it was to find this racing wind up dinosaurs set with its four different dinosaurs to  make and race against each other.  For a young dinosaur fan and would-be palaeontologist who just loves dinosaurs, Mums can struggle to find creative, imaginative things for them to play with which tick all the educational boxes but also helps them to indulge their passion for all things prehistoric, especially dinosaurs.

The Wind Up Dinosaurs Race Set

Make a dinosaur race across a table top.

Make a dinosaur race across a table top.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

This set contained four wind up gears plus press out cardboard templates to make up four racing dinosaurs, along with additional card to make two small trees, these acted as the start and finish line for our table top races.  The models represent an armoured Stegosaurus, there was even a set of six, bright red cardboard plates to press out and secure along the back of this animal’s cardboard body, the second model was a very colourful (orange), long-necked dinosaur.  I was reliably informed that this was a Diplodocus and this particular replica was to be called “Dippy”.  It was also pointed out to me that running along the back and the tail of the “Dippy” dinosaur was some light speckles, contrasting nicely with the very bright orange of the rest of the model.  These were of course “Dippy’s racing stripes”.

The Dinosaur Called “Dippy” with the “Racing Stripes”

"Dippy" the Dinosaur with racing stripes

"Dippy" the Dinosaur with racing stripes.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Included in the set are all the items needed to make a purple racing Triceratops, complete with green spikes that point out from the back of the head.  Fortunately, these were already attached to the card that made up the front of this model, otherwise they would have been quite fiddly to attach.  The fourth model represents a meat-eating dinosaur.   A racing Tyrannosaurus rex, with bright green spines running down its back and short arms ending in those famous two-fingered hands.  Included within the set were four pairs of “goggle” eyes for you to attach to the faces of the models – a nice touch.  Just peel off the backing and stick them onto the models, although it would be sensible to leave this job to all the models had been built.  The double-sided foam tapes helped to secure the cardboard models together along with some round stickers so no glue was required, much to my relief as this prevents glue covered sticky fingers  The various cardboard pieces had slots that when folded could be inserted into corresponding parts of the model so making the models was relatively quick.  The wind up gears already had their wheels attached so there was no mechanical assembly required.  Sticking out of all the gear boxes there is a metal bar with a white grip handle that when turned provides the power to make the models race.

One tip when constructing the dinosaurs is to make sure that the double-sided foam sticker used to adhere the gear mechanism to the cardboard body of the dinosaur is not to close to the actual gear axle.  It is also best to check when lining up the the gear box to insert into the holes to hold the wind up handle and the wheels, that you have the gear in the right way round, otherwise when you turn the handle and let your dinosaur go it shoots backwards not forwards.  To avoid confusion, it may be a good idea to test which direction the gear turns the wheels and make a mark using a felt tip pen so that the front of the gear assembly can be identified.  Then it was simply a case of orientating the gear box properly and carefully securing it to the body of the model.

The instructions were very well laid out, with lots of handy pictures to illustrate what needed to be done to make each model and then we were set to start our races.  It would be sensible to have some adult guidance when making up these wind up racing dinosaurs, although the box says that this item is suitable for children from five years and upwards, a little bit of adult supervision over the assembly would be advised.  A course was set up using the “start” and “finish” tree cones that had come with this kit and then we were able to race the dinosaurs across the table.  These racing dinosaurs run quite well on any hard, flat surface, although the T. rex fell over once or twice when racing on the carpet was tried.

Easy to Follow Instructions with Lots of Diagrams

Simple instructions with lots of pictures.

Simple instructions with lots of pictures.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

We made a race track that was about a metre long and I got my young dinosaur races to make a league table with four points for a win, three for a second place, two for third and so on.  A little bit of maths could be introduced as the children calculated their scores and worked out their points for each race run.  We tried a set of ten races over varying distances, getting my young charges to measure the distance and make a note of how much shorter or further the models had to race each time.  Shorter races worked well, as anything over a metre and a half and the dinosaurs ran out of “puff” and come nowhere near to the finish line.  Fortunately, most times the models did run in a straight line.  To challenge the children with their maths a couple of races were made with double and then triple points scored and all of the model had to cross the line to win, this prevented the long-necked models from having a distinct advantage over their shorter-necked rivals.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s range of dinosaur themed arts and crafts: Dinosaur Themed Arts and Crafts

All in all, this is a fun table top activity, the models were simple to make and the instructions with lots of pictures were easy to understand and follow.  By racing the models a number of times, addition and subtraction exercises could be included to help these budding dinosaur experts with their numbers.  The models even ended up being used a board counters for another game we played.

As for the winner of our dinosaur racing medley – it was “Dippy” probably because of those racing stripes that were on the model!

9 03, 2013

A Review of the Carnegie Collectibles Triceratops Dinosaur Model

By | March 9th, 2013|Everything Dinosaur videos, Product Reviews|10 Comments

Triceratops Model in a Video Review

One of the most striking models of Triceratops currently available is the colourful Triceratops replica which forms part of the Carnegie Collectibles model range (Safari Ltd).  A few weeks ago team members at Everything Dinosaur asked for suggestions as to which models the company should make video reviews of.  The new Wild Dinos Brachiosaurus and the Toob of Feathered Dinosaurs (both made by Safari Ltd), were reviewed recently and now we can add a review of this Triceratops to our video selection.

In this short video (4 minutes and 45 seconds), we discuss the colouration and comment on the anatomical accuracy of this Triceratops dinosaur model.

Everything Dinosaur’s Video Review of the Carnegie Collectibles Triceratops

Video Credit: Everything Dinosaur

This is a very popular 1:45 scale dinosaur model, a replica of one of the most famous of all the Chasmosaurinae.

To see the range of Carnegie Collectibles and other prehistoric animal figures (and plants) made by Safari Ltd, click on the link below: Carnegie Prehistoric Animal Models

The very last of the Ceratopsians seem to have been the long-frilled types, this includes one of the biggest and certainly, one of the best known – Triceratops.

8 03, 2013

Celebrating International Women’s Day 2013

By | March 8th, 2013|Educational Activities, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Famous Figures, Teaching|0 Comments

Celebrating The Role of Women in Science

Today, Friday 8th of March is International Women’s Day, a day that is celebrated across the world, celebrating the achievements of women in business, the arts, politics and of course in the sciences. This is the one hundred and second International Women’s Day, in some countries this day is a national holiday.

In this brief article, we celebrate the work of women, past and present in the Earth sciences.  It was very gratifying to see that last month, the Google Doodle acknowledged and celebrated the work of Mary Leakey.  Mary was an English palaeoanthropologist who with her husband Louis made significant fossil discoveries helping scientists to understand the evolution of hominids including ultimately, our own species.  Together, this husband and wife team proved that the birth place of human evolution was centred around the eastern part of Africa and that the human branch of the evolutionary family tree was much older than had been previously realised.  The Google Doodle was put on line to mark what would have been her 100th birthday.  The Leakey family are still very much involved with Earth sciences.  For example, Mary’s daughter Dr. Meave Leakey, continues to study the origin of our species to this day and she is the co-leader of the world famous Koobi Fora Research Project in Kenya.

The Google Doodle Celebrating the Work of Mary Leakey

Celebrating the role of women in science.

Celebrating the role of women in science.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Google

In palaeontology, there are a great many female scientists, far too many to list but we pay our respects to them all and to those who championed the role of women in this particular branch of the sciences.  In 1905, Marie Stopes a palaeobotanist become the first science lecturer at Manchester University, her expertise on fossil plants earned the University a world-wide reputation for being a centre of excellence for the Earth Sciences.  Manchester University is today, the UK’s largest university and the Earth Sciences Department continues to contribute to the advancement of scientific understanding in a number of important areas.

Recently, BBC Radio 4 published a list of the top one hundred most powerful and influential women in the country.  The work of a number of notable scientists was acknowledged.  For instance, Professor Anne Glover, the first Chief Scientific Advisor to the European Commission  was included in this list. Her role is to provide expert advice to the EU policy decision makers on subject areas that include science and technology.  In the past, she has also been the Chief Scientific Advisor for Scotland.  The first female Professor in the Engineering Department at the University of Cambridge, Ann Dowling also made the top 100 women of power list.  It is always pleasing to see the work of women in science and engineering recognised in this way.

Closer to home, the first woman Vice Chancellor of the University of Manchester, Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell also made the top 100.  Times have changed since Marie Stopes and her ground breaking role at the University.  A Professor of Physiology, Dame Rothwell has had a very distinguished academic career as well as helping to run a number funding and medical research bodies.

Forensic anthropologist Professor Sue Black also made the list. She is the director  of the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification at the University of Dundee.  Her extensive knowledge has proved vital in the successful prosecution of a number of high profile criminal cases in the United Kingdom.  She has also worked abroad, perhaps most notably in Kosovo where her knowledge of forensic anthropology helped to identify the victims buried in mass graves.  Professor Black and her fellow scientists have helped to promote and encourage other women to take up a career in the scientific field.

Only a few days ago, a new scientific paper was published detailing the research into 360 million year old fossilised sea-lilies (crinoids) that had revealed evidence of organic biomarkers preserved in the fossil record. One of the authors of this research paper was Christina O’ Malley, a PhD student in Earth Sciences currently based at Ohio State University (United States).

To view the article on the research into biomarkers in crinoids: New Research Identifies Organic Biomarkers in 360 million year old fossils

Today we acknowledge the work of women in palaeontology, the study of vertebrates including dinosaurs and in all aspects of scientific endeavour.  It is important that we continue to enthuse and encourage girls to take up a career in the Earth Sciences.  Tomorrow, March 9th marks the 166th anniversary of the death of Mary Anning.  Mary was an amateur fossil collector who lived in Lyme Regis a town in Dorset, England, on what is now called the “Jurassic Coast”.  We will always remember Mary’s contribution to palaeontology and we are happy to talk about her work and her role in the study of long extinct creatures, her story is an inspiration to young women hoping to embark on a career in the sciences.

7 03, 2013

Thank you letters from School Children

By | March 7th, 2013|Educational Activities, Teaching|0 Comments

School Pupils Say Thank you for Dinosaur Teaching Session

The Everything Dinosaur mail bag was even bigger today than normal.  The postman handed us a big envelope which contained thank you letters written to us by school pupils after a recent visit from one of our dinosaur experts to carry out some prehistoric animal themed experiments.

The Year two pupils (aged 6-7 years), at Rode Heath Primary School in Cheshire have been busy studying dinosaurs this term with their teacher Mrs Woollam and Miss Moss, Miss Gater and Mrs Hulse.  The children have been doing all sorts of dinosaur themed activities, we saw some amazing artwork in their classroom and we did our best to answer all the questions from the eager young palaeontologists that we met.

A Thank you Letter from Ayshia

Ayshia shows her appreciation of Everything Dinosaur.

Ayshia shows her appreciation of Everything Dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Ayshia/Everything Dinosaur

By working on a thank you letter, the children can be encouraged to write creatively.  Learning and understanding can be checked along with sentence construction and writing ability.  It is always a good idea for a teacher to encourage her charges to write about any school visit and every letter that we receive at Everything Dinosaur is read by our team members.

Thank you Noah.

Thank you Noah.

Picture Credit: Noah/Everything Dinosaur

As a special treat, the class are going to the Great Orme, a prominent headland situated at Llandudno (North Wales).  The limestone rocks at the top of the Great Orme contain lots of fossils.  The children should be able to find fossils of Brachiopods (look like clams but Brachiopods are not closely related to shellfish) and fossils of ancient corals.  The fossils are very easy to find, there are lots of small rocks to examine around the man made limestone exposures and scree slopes.

Around 330 million years ago (Carboniferous geological period), this part of North Wales was at the bottom of a shallow tropical sea.  There were extensive coral reefs and the waters teemed with life, the fossils are the ancient remains of these reefs and they are all at least 100 million years older than the vast majority of dinosaur fossils.

Thomas Thanks Everything Dinosaur for their Visit to his School

Thomas says thanks.

Thomas says thanks.

Picture Credit: Thomas/Everything Dinosaur

We are sure that the children will have a great time and it is a lovely way to round off the teaching topic.

Our thanks to the teaching staff and the children at Rode Heath Primary for the lovely letters, examples of which we have reproduced below.

Thank you for your flying reptile drawing – Olivia the Oviraptor.  Good luck finding your own fossil on the school trip Amelie and we appreciate your comment about the dinosaur claws Ashton (A).  Aiden now knows that Spinosaurus was very probably bigger than T. rex and Ellie can draw super fossil bones and Hope can create a spotted dinosaur.  Aki was just brilliant wearing the hard hat and demonstrating some of the equipment that we use and we loved your letter Sam.

Emma drew us some dinosaur teeth and Sam (N) sent us a picture of a fearsome sea monster, whilst Jasmine told us she loved looking at the claws best.  Jonny (H) wrote that he was amazed when the size of the Ankylosaurus was revealed and Lucas sent us a picture of a big smiley face!  Lovely writing Codie and thank you for your red dinosaur it looks really good next to the Ammonite picture that Millie kindly included in her letter to us.  James chose to put a bright red, meat-eating dinosaur on the top of his letter to us whilst Lottie sent us a picture of a purple Diplodocus feeding on some leaves.

We noted that the school now has a pupil called Ashtonosaurus (thanks Ashton), along with a Leilasaurus (thanks Leila).  A very colourful letter was sent in by Poem, the border was illustrated with pink and yellow and the writing was very neat – well done!

Thomas remembered what we said about dinosaurs and their teeth, whilst Noah ended his letter by wishing that dinosaurs were not extinct.  Esmee sent us pictures of three long-necked dinosaurs with her letter and we are pleased to hear that her mummy likes dinosaurs too.  Ayshia just loved learning about dinosaurs especially Dracorex and Albie sent us a bright yellow thank you letter which included a picture of a yellow, stripped dinosaur and a fact about Giganotosaurus.

Esmee says thank you.

Esmee says thank you.

Picture Credit: Esmee/Everything Dinosaur

Encouraging school children to write a thank you letter after a school visit makes a great extension activity.  Once again our thanks to the pupils and teachers at Rode Heath Primary.

6 03, 2013

Camels of the Arctic

By | March 6th, 2013|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories|0 Comments

University of Manchester Team Helps Identify Pliocene Camel Bones from the High Arctic

They may be known as “ships of the desert” and very well adapted to extremely arid environments but the evolutionary history of camels and their close relatives may have their origins in anything but desert habitats.   A University of Manchester team has been assisting a group of Canadian scientists helping to identify a series of fossilised bone fragments found in the High Arctic region of Canada.  The pieces of bone are from a species of giant camel, one that was quite at home in a habitat that was over 79 degrees latitude north, although during the past, when this ruminant roamed, the climate was generally a little warmer than the High Arctic of today.

The fossilised remains of the camel were discovered in a Pliocene aged deposit located near Strathcona Fiord on Ellesmere Island.  The fossil site known as the Fyles Leaf Bed site has provided palaeontologists with an insight into life in this part of the world around 3.5 million years ago.  Although there may be only one type of woody tree native to Ellesmere Island today (a type of willow),  Ellesmere Island during the Piazencian faunal stage of the Pliocene, in the periods when ice sheets retreated, was a largely arboreal environment dominated by alder, birch and larches.  Sharing this woodland world with the camels were bears, beavers, badgers, rabbits, deer and rodents.

Members of the Research Team Hiking up to the Fossil Site

Team members trek up the slopes on Ellesmere Island to the fossil site.

Team members trek up the slopes on Ellesmere Island to the fossil site.

Picture Credit: University of Manchester

Camels belong to a group of mammals known as the Artiodactyls (even-toed hooves).  The first camels are believed to have evolved in the Eocene Epoch, around 55 million years ago and over one hundred fossil species have been identified and named, although the Ellesmere Island discovery represents the furthest north any camel fossils have been discovered to date.

Dr. Natalia Rybczynski Carefully Removes a Bone Fragment from the Scree Slope

Carefully removing a fragment of bone.

Carefully removing a fragment of bone.

Picture Credit: University of Manchester

Although extant camels are strongly associated with desert environments, these ruminants were much more abundant in grassland and woodland habitats.  Two groups of Artiodactyls (camels and bovoids such as cows) evolved a special way of digesting tough, fibrous plant material – rumination.  Once swallowed, food enters the first of three or four stomachs in the animal.  It is regurgitated and chewed a second time, this is known as chewing the cud.  Thus the plant material is subjected to two physical breakdown processes and these physical/mechanical processes are aided by micro-organisms that inhabit the digestive tract of the ruminant and assist in the chemical breakdown of the plant material, including the cellulose.  The micro-organisms live in a symbiotic relationship with their hosts.  Importantly, ruminants such as camels recycle urea, one of the body’s waste products, this is used to help nourish the micro-organisms living in the gut.  As a result of this urea recycling less urine is produced and less water wasted.  This adaptation has enabled animals such as camels to survive in very dry environments such as deserts.  However, as efficient processors of plant material with an ability not to waste too much water, these adaptations gave camels an ability to survive in other habitats that were arid and dry, such as those to be found a high latitudes.

Spotting the Remains of a Prehistoric Camel Can be Quite Difficult

Camel bone fragment in situ.

Camel bone fragment in situ.

Picture Credit: University of Manchester

The Canadian research team were unsure of the identity of the fossilised bone, which is believed to represent a portion of a tibia (limb bone).  They approached Dr. Mike Buckley from the Institute of Biotechnology at Manchester University for assistance as Dr. Buckley and his colleagues have developed a new way of pinning down the type of animal from bone evidence.  The technique is called “collagen fingerprinting”, minute amounts of collagen, the main protein constituent of bone had been preserved in the fossils.  By extracting a portion of the preserved collagen, the Manchester University team were able to identify unique chemical markers in the peptides (chains of amino acids) that are present in collagen.  These markers provided the researchers with the unique “fingerprint” that identified the bone pieces as being from an extinct type of camel.

Dr. Mike Buckley Carries out the Test for Peptides in the Collagen Samples

Collagen testing.

Collagen testing.

Picture Credit: University of Manchester

Once the data had been established, it was simply a case of using results on tests from extant and known extinct animals to find the closest match.  Thirty-seven extant mammal profiles were examined as well as data from the study of an extinct type of giant camel, whose fossilised remains had been found in the Yukon.  The analysis showed that the 3.5 million year old specimen closely matched the data from a modern Dromedary camel, as well as the Ice Age camel remains found in the Yukon.  Using this information, the Canadian team were able to report that the fragments of bone represented a species of giant camel that lived as far north as Ellesmere Island.  The scientists know that this is a very large species, much bigger than today’s extant Dromedaries as the bone fragments represent a tibia that is nearly a third bigger in the fossil specimen when compared to the tibia in modern-day Dromedaries.  These delicate fragments are currently being stored at the Canadian Museum of Nature’s research and collections facility in Gatineau (Quebec Province).

Dr. Natalia Rybczynski of the Department of Palaeobiology (Canadian Museum of Nature), stated that this was an important fossil discovery:

“These bones represent the first evidence of camels living in the High Arctic region.  It extends the previous range of camels in North America northward by about 1,200 kilometres, and suggests that the lineage that gave rise to modern camels may have been originally adapted to living in an Arctic forest environment.”

The University of Manchester’s Dr. Roy Wogelius (School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences) was able to conduct an analysis on the mineral content of the fossilised bone fragments.  His research suggests that it was a combination of the way in which the fossils were permineralised along with the very cold temperatures in that region that permitted the ancient organic remains to be preserved for over three million years.  This is a remarkable discovery, finding bone from the Mid Pliocene that can still yield protein data.  There has been much debate recently over the ability of organic traces to remain viable in the fossil record.  For example, recent research on extinct Moas from New Zealand provided an insight into the proposed half-life of DNA.

To read more about this research: Controversial Research Proposed Half-Life of DNA

Dr. Buckley commented that this was the first time that collagen had been extracted from such extremely old animal remains.  Exclaiming that the project had been a particularly exciting one to work on he was delighted that the type of animal had been identified from the “collagen fingerprinting” technique.

The  Fossilised Camel Bone Fragments (Tibia)

The fragments of fossilised camel bone.

The fragments of fossilised camel bone.

Picture Credit: University of Manchester

This research has implications for our understanding of the evolution of the camel clade.  Dr. Rybczynski stated that this discovery sheds new light on the evolution of extant camels, perhaps suggesting that primitive camels first evolved in North America.  Specialisations seen in today’s camels such as an ability to store fat, to survive arid conditions and their broad, two-toed feet may be adaptations for living in a dry, polar habitat.

5 03, 2013

2013 Wild Safari Dinos Brachiosaurus Dinosaur Model Reviewed

By | March 5th, 2013|Everything Dinosaur Products, Product Reviews|0 Comments

A Review of the Wild Safari Dinos Brachiosaurus Dinosaur Model

Hot on the Sauropod heels of the Carnegie Collectibles Brachiosaurus model that was introduced by Safari Ltd last year comes this new addition to the company’s Wild Safari Dinos replica range.  However, this is a very much more traditional interpretation of a Brachiosaurid with, for example, the head held high in a swan-like posture.

This model effectively replaces the re-painted  1:50 scale replica of Brachiosaurus that was introduced into the Carnegie Collectibles back in 1996.  The 1996 version itself being  a revision of an earlier Brachiosaurus model launched back in 1988.

There are some differences between this new model and older versions.  For example, the colouration is more striking with a distinct contrast between the dark green back and topside and the mottled flanks.  There is also a subtle hint of brown colouration on the chest on and the belly.  The stance is also different with the powerful legs being less bent and more elephantine in their appearance.

The Wild Safari Dinos Brachiosaurus Dinosaur Model

New for 2013 from Safari Ltd.

New from Safari Ltd.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The nostrils are more clearly depicted than on earlier versions of Brachiosaurus.  They are located at the top of the head.  This contrasts with the nostril position on the 2012 Carnegie Collectibles Brachiosaurus.  The nasal openings on the 2012 model are placed at the very tip of the snout.   With the debate amongst scientists with regards to the exact position of the nostrils this may be a case of Safari Ltd wishing to “hedge their bets” in the absence of any clear evidence either way.  Intriguingly, the domed skull is more prominent on this new Wild Safari Dinos replica when compared to the 2012 Brachiosaurus model.  The configuration of the nostrils and the shape of the domed skull is worthy of further investigation and perhaps more should be written about these subtle differences between these two dinosaur models.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s range of prehistoric animal figures (Safari Ltd): Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Models

We suspect that this new not-to-scale replacement for the massive, earlier Brachiosaurus model is a response to the need to make a traditional Brachiosaurus that will appeal to younger dinosaur fans.  After all, the earlier 35cm tall replica weighed more than a kilogramme so it was perhaps a little too cumbersome for a small child.   This new model stands a fraction under 21cm high and measures around 22cm in length.

The Wild Safari Dinos Brachiosaurus 

A colourful Brachiosaurus dinosaur model.

A colourful Brachiosaurus dinosaur model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

This is a colourful and attractive Brachiosaurus model.  One that contrasts nicely with other Sauropod models made by Safari Ltd.  It will, no doubt, prove to be a popular figure with dinosaur model collectors and it should also prove to be very popular with young dinosaur fans.

4 03, 2013

Thailand Due to Call for Crocodile Export Limits to be Lifted

By | March 4th, 2013|Animal News Stories|0 Comments

Thailand Government Calls for Siamese and Saltwater Crocodile Protection to be Downgraded

With an increasing number of Australian officials keen to permit the culling of Saltwater crocodiles in the Northern Territory in a bid to reduce the risk of fatal crocodile attacks, it seems that Crocodilians in south-east Asia are going to be threatened by a two-pronged attack.  The Fisheries Department of the Thailand Government is hoping to gain support for a proposal to ease restrictions on crocodile exports.

Officials will try to get support from members of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to downgrade the status of two species of crocodiles so that the country can continue to export goods made from crocodiles.  The Siamese crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis) grows to lengths in excess of three metres and it was once relatively widespread in south-east Asia, but now it is critically endangered with scientists estimating that there may be only a few wild Siamese crocodiles left in Thailand.  Siamese crocodiles are bred extensively in captivity and along with the Saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus), the Fisheries Department of the Thailand Government are trying to get them downgraded to Appendix II from the much more restricted Appendix I status.

At the moment, international trade in these two species of reptile is severely restricted, however, the 16th international CITES conference being held in Bangkok (Thailand) over the next two weeks will give the officials the opportunity to press their case.

There are something like 800 commercial crocodile farms in the country, the sale of crocodile skin, meat and crocodile related products can help to earn Thailand valuable export dollars to help support the economy.  For the proposal to be passed, a two-thirds majority of CITES members needs to be obtained.  However, concerns have been raised about the proposal, for example, there are very few wild crocodiles left in the country and any lifting of trade embargoes could lead to the highly vulnerable wild crocodile population being exploited, ultimately leading to their extinction.

Note

In a series of votes taken on Friday (8th March) the proposal put forward by the Fisheries Department was defeated.  Both the Saltwater and Siamese crocodiles will retain their Appendix I status.

3 03, 2013

Digging out a Dunkleosteus – Gently Does It

By | March 3rd, 2013|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories|0 Comments

North-western Pennsylvania Yields Up a Prehistoric Secret

Patience is one thing that geologists and palaeontologists need plenty of and when it comes to excavating and putting together one of the most ferocious marine predators known from the Palaeozoic fossil record, the patience of even the most dedicated scientist can be tried.

In a secret location in Erie County (north-western Pennsylvania, United States), Scott McKenzie, assistant professor of geology at Mercyhurst University (Erie County), is returning to a site where the fossilised dermal armour plating of a giant Placoderm is slowly eroding out of a stream bed gully.  The landowners are reluctant to permit a full excavation in the heavily wooded area so the assistant professor and his team have to wait for nature to do its job and slowly erode the fossilised pieces of dermal head shield from out of the sandy shale matrix.  For Scott, visiting the site at regular intervals to inspect the fossil bearing rock can be quite a depressing business.  Sometimes he finds no new fossil material.  With luck, he might be able to obtain enough material within a decade or so to make a presentable exhibit within the University’s Sincak Natural History Collection, where assistant professor McKenzie is the curator.

Placoderms were primitive jawed fish.  They are named Placoderms “plated skins” after the wide, flat bony plates that covered the head and the anterior portions of the body.  They share a number of anatomical features with sharks and rays, for example, they had a body skeleton made of cartilage.  Most forms were relatively small, growing to less than sixty centimetres in length, but others were giants and the Erie County specimen represents a specimen of one of the most ferocious of all marine animals known to science – Dunkleosteus.

Dunkleosteus was an enormous, prehistoric fish with an armoured head made up of several interlocking bony plates that covered up to thirty percent of this predator’s total length.  The Placoderms (armoured fish); evolved in the Silurian geological period from ancestors that had no true teeth.  Instead this group of fish developed a pair of sharp bony plates that hung from the top jaw, whilst the edges of the lower jaw were also bony and extremely sharp.  The jaws could be closed together like a pair of self-sharpening shears and were powerful enough to cut a two metre long, primitive shark in half.  Most specimens of Dunkleosteus (D. terrelli) come from Ohio, so the discovery of a specimen in Pennsylvania might lead to the establishment of a brand new species of this type of armoured fishy carnivore.

An Illustration of the Fearsome Devonian Predator Dunkleosteus

Fearsome marine predator of the Late Devonian.

Fearsome marine predator of the Late Devonian.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The strata from which the dermal armour of this fossilised fish is being eroded from has been estimated to be around 365 million years old (Late Devonian).   During this period in Earth’s History much of the eastern part of the United States was underwater, this marine environment would have been a dangerous place to visit with the likes of Dunkleosteus in the water, an apex predator of the Late Devonian.

With the spring thaw Scott and his team are hopeful that more pieces of the body armour will have been revealed.  It is very unlikely that elements of the cartilaginous skeleton will have been preserved, but with the jaws and armoured head potentially being the size of a small car, the specimen once prepared and assembled will make a fine addition to the University’s natural history collection.

An Artist’s Impression of the Late Devonian Predator Dunkleosteus

Ferocious Dunkleosteus comes in for a bite.

Ferocious Dunkleosteus comes in for a bite.

Picture Credit: Mercyhurst University

Scott commented that:

“Arguably, Dunkleosteus was the most terrifying creature during the Devonian, its huge jaws opened so fast they created a suction force that pulled prey into its mouth.  We’re restricted to surface collection, as the landowners do not want a significant excavation on their land and digging could actually damage the missing pieces”

Although, the Erie County specimen is not as big as some of the fossils of Dunkleosteus found in Ohio, it is no tiddler.  The geologist calculates that the fossils represent an individual between five and eight metres in length and it probably weighed more than 1,000 kilogrammes.  He remains unsure whether this fossil material represents a specimen of D. terrelli or a new species.   This does represent the largest fish of its kind found in the Erie County area and an animal that could have given the legendary beast of Lake Erie, affectionately known as “Bessie” by locals a run for its money.

A Close up of the Huge Jaws of a Dunkleosteus

Fish with a powerful bite.

Fish with a powerful bite.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows a close up a Dunkleosteus, with its dermal armour and huge jaws.  Safari Ltd have produced a superb model of a Dunkleosteus, it is part of the company’s Wild Safari Dinos and Prehistoric Life model collection.  Measuring a little under 19 centimetres in length the beautifully painted model is in approximately 1:50 scale.

The assistant professor and his team, kindly put on display at the University a number of pieces of the fossil specimen that they had already found, the bony plates although fragmented are an exciting discovery and the team are eager to see what the winter weather has managed to erode out of the matrix so that they can add to their collection.  At the moment the disarticulated and disassociated fossil pieces represent a 365 million year old jigsaw puzzle.

A true inspiration to students and other scientists, the dedication of Scott and his team as they try to piece together the county’s very own prehistoric monster is to be admired.  Fingers crossed for them, let’s hope that the wintry weather and the spring thaw provides them with yet more fossils for them to study as they continue their quest to prepare and mount their very own Dunkleosteus museum exhibit.

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