All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
//April
20 04, 2013

Glow Fossil Science Kit Reviewed

By | April 20th, 2013|Educational Activities, Everything Dinosaur Products, Product Reviews|0 Comments

A Review of the Glow Fossil Science Kit

Budding young palaeontologists get the chance to build their own glow in the dark Tyrannosaurus rex skull, excavate a replica of fossilised shark’s tooth and to make casts of fossils in this well thought out and cleverly designed glow fossil science kit.

The Glow Fossil Science Kit

Ideal for budding young palaeontologists

Ideal for budding young palaeontologists.

Ideal for budding young palaeontologists

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

This fun science kit is aimed at children from 8 years and upwards, although slightly younger children who are dinosaur fans would enjoy these activities too, although they may require more adult supervision.  The kit is supplied in a sturdy box and contains everything that is needed t play like a young palaeontologist and learn some of the aspects involved with studying fossils.  For example, the skull of the T. rex is easy to assemble and comes with a handy display stand to mount it on.  The glow in the dark shark’s tooth can be found in a gypsum plaster block and the tools required to dig it out, to excavate the shark’s tooth are contained within the kit.  Once the tooth has been freed, the leather cord, that also comes with the kit, can be used to make a shark’s tooth necklace, although we would advise some adult supervision when it comes to tying the tooth to the cord.  It is a good idea to put plenty of newspaper down and to work on a flat service, once the tooth has been excavated, the plaster remains can be disposed of.  Do not be tempted to throw the remains of the plaster block down the sink, there is a risk that the plaster could block the drain.

Jam Packed with Fossil Themed Activities

contains plaster, digging tool, paints, special glow paint, fossil moulds, brush etc.

contains plaster, digging tool, paints, special glow paint, fossil moulds, brush etc.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Included in this kit, there is a plastic tray that contains the moulds used to make fossil casts.  For instance, using the plaster of paris casting powder that is provided (two packets per science kit), a replica of the fossilised shell of an Ammonite can be made.  There are also moulds for a Trilobite, a fossilised fish and a three-toed, tridactyl dinosaur footprint.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s range of dinosaur themed science kits: Dinosaur Themed Science Kits

A set of paints and a small paint brush is provided, along with some special glow paint that once applied makes the items glow in the dark.  We noted that it only took a few minutes exposure to a light source to make the fossils that we had created glow.  We advise that the paint brush be reserved for painting, it is best not to use it to brush away any pieces of plaster when excavating the various model pieces.

The moulds are very detailed and there is plenty of plaster in the kit to make several casts, this is a well-crafted junior science kit that will thrill young dinosaur fans.

19 04, 2013

The First New Dinosaur Discovery in Madagascar for a Decade

By | April 19th, 2013|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Palaeontological articles|1 Comment

“Lonely Small Bandit” Confirms Hypothesis that Abelisaurid Fossils were Awaiting Discovery

The United States, Canada and possibly Mexico may be able to lay claim as being the home of Tyrannosaurus rex but the island of Madagascar can take ownership of another short-armed Cretaceous terror, with the announcement of the discovery of a new genus of Abelisaurid.  Although, very fragmentary and consisting of a handful of vertebrae and bone fragments the fossils are distinct enough for palaeontologists to assign them to a brand new genus of Abelisaur, the first new species/genus to be described from Madagascar in almost ten years.

The fossils were found in Upper Cretaceous strata and have been dated to the Cenomanian faunal stage, approximately 90 million years ago.  They were found near to the city of Antsiranana (formerly known as Diego-Suarez), in the Diana region of northern Madagascar.  First evidence of the fossils was discovered in 2007 and a second expedition to extract more fossil material took place in 2010.  It was Dr. Joseph Sertich, curator of Vertebrate palaeontology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science who discovered the dinosaur in a collaborative venture with the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Palaeontology (California, United States).  This new Theropod has been named Dahalokely tokana (pronounced Dah-hah-loo-kah-nah), it means “lonely small bandit” in the local dialect, a reference to the size of this dinosaur relative to other known Abelisaurids from the southern hemisphere and from the fact that when this dinosaur roamed, Madagascar had separated from the landmass of Africa.

An Illustration Showing the Estimated Size of D. tokana

The bones depicted indicate the actual fossil material found.

The bones depicted indicate the actual fossil material found.

Picture Credit: Denver Museum of Nature and Science

Madagascar, is regarded by many scientists as the “world’s oldest island”, its isolation for millions of years explains the unique fauna and flora to be found, on what is today the world’s fourth largest island with a total area of more than 2.25 times the size of the United Kingdom.  The researchers have declared this discovery as providing a link between older Abelisaurid fossil material and younger fossils dated to near the end of the Cretaceous geological period.  They describe the fossils as helping to plug an important gap in knowledge regarding the evolution of the Abelisaurids.

Estimated to have measured between three and four and half metres in length, this bipedal predator may have stood something like one and a half metres high at the hips.  D. tokana is known from a handful of cervical vertebrae (neck bones), dorsal vertebrae, (back bones) and fragments of rib.   Distinct and unique features on the vertebrae led the scientists to assign the fossil material to a new species, representing the first dinosaur to be described from rocks laid down when Madagascar and India were joined together (Indo-Malagasy landmass).  Up to the discovery of D. tokana, no dinosaur fossils from between 165 million years old to around 70 million years of age could be identified and classified down to species level.  This significant gap has been reduced to 165 – 90 million years approximately.

A Student Working on the Dinosaur Excavation in 2010

University of Antananarivo student Liva Ratsimbaholison excavates Dahalokely in 2010

University of Antananarivo student Liva Ratsimbaholison excavates Dahalokely in 2010

Picture Credit: Denver Museum of Nature and Science

Something like two million years after this dinosaur existed, Madagascar split from India.  A rising plume of extremely hot, molten rock began to force its way up into the crust from the mantle under the Indo-Malagasy landmass and this began to stretch the crust forcing it to rift apart.  This rifting led to the separation of India and Madagascar.  The fact that this new species of Abelisaurid lived before the split has led to speculation that this type of dinosaur may have been ancestral to the later Abelisaurs of India, large super-predators such as Rajasaurus (R. narmadensis) and Late Cretaceous Abelisaurs from Madagascar, dinosaurs such as Majungatholus also known as Majungasaurus.  The research team hope to find more fossils of Dahalokely so that they can determine the taxonomic relationships between these different types of carnivores.

A Typical Abelisaurid Dinosaur – Illustrated by Everything Dinosaur

A typical Abelisaurid dinosaur.

A typical Abelisaurid dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Commenting on the significance of this dinosaur discovery Dr. Sertich stated:

“This dinosaur was closely related to other famous dinosaurs from the southern continents.  This just reinforces the importance of exploring new areas around the world where undiscovered dinosaur species are still waiting to be found”.

Project leader, Andrew Farke, (Augustyn Family Curator of Palaeontology at the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Palaeontology) said:

“We had always suspected that Abelisauroids were in Madagascar ninety million years ago, because they were also found in younger rocks on the island.  Dahalokely nicely confirms this hypothesis.  The fossils of Dahalokely are tantalisingly incomplete, there is so much more we want to know.  Was this dinosaur closely related to the later Abelisauroids of Madagascar, or did it die out without descendants?”

Dr. Andrew Farke at the Site of the Fossil Discovery (2007)

Dr. Andrew Farke, pointing out the first traces of the dinosaur fossil.

Dr. Andrew Farke, pointing out the first traces of the dinosaur fossil.

Picture Credit: Denver Museum of Nature and Science

As with many dinosaur discoveries, this fragmentary specimen leaves more questions unanswered than answered but it has potentially provided important evidence linking Indian Abelisaurids and Madagascan Abelisaurids to a common ancestral form.

Everything Dinosaur is grateful to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science  for their help in the compilation of this article.

18 04, 2013

Coelacanth Gets Its Genome Unravelled

By | April 18th, 2013|Animal News Stories, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Educational Activities, Teaching|0 Comments

Genome Analysis Shows that the Coelacanth May Not be Too Closely Related to Tetrapods

The genome of one of the most bizarre and enigmatic of all the vertebrates known to science, the Coelacanth, has been decoded revealing how this animal may have remained virtually unchanged as a species for millions of years.  The data collected is also helping marine biologists and palaeontologists to understand how closely related the Coelacanth group may be to the first land living animals with backbones.

Termed a “living fossil” by many lay people, two extant species are known, one from the waters around Indonesia and a second from the Indian Ocean.  The Coelacanth is a member of the Actinistian group of fishes, the first of these fleshy-finned fish with their distinctive tails with three lobes probably evolved in the Devonian geological period.  The last of the Coelacanths were believed to have become extinct at the end of the Cretaceous period, that is until one was caught by a trawler fishing off the eastern coast of South Africa in 1938.

The Coelacanth Compared to a Coelacanth Fossil
A "living fossil"

Occasionally, specimens of these deep water fish are caught, although marine biologists have expressed concern about the fate of this strange creature as overfishing and the development of industrial port facilities along the fringes of the Indian Ocean threatens their survival.

With the genome having been sequenced, scientists are able to understand a little more about how this fish relates to other more advanced Teleost fish and to also gain an insight into the evolution of land-living vertebrates, a significant moment in evolution of life on Earth as this led ultimately to the evolution of amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals and of course, our own species.

The international team of researchers including some from the Broad Institute of the MIT (Harvard, USA),  from the Uppsala University (Sweden) and Washington University (United States) were able to sequence and analyse the near 3 billion protein letter combinations from the DNA of the Coelacanth as well as examining the RNA from both the African and the Indonesian species.  They then compared this data to the genomes of twenty other species of vertebrate as well as with typical representatives of the lungfish family.  The lungfish comparison would hopefully shed light on the evolutionary origins of Tetrapods – were they more close related to Actinistians (Coelacanths) or Dipnoans (lungfishes)?

This study, published in the academic journal “Nature” suggests that the lungfish has more genes in common with Tetrapods than the Coelacanth. It can be inferred from these results that the Actinistians, assuming extant Coelacanths are representative of this group, are not that closely related to the first animals that dragged themselves up onto the land.

An Illustration of the Coelacanth (Latimeria genus)
Genome of the Coelacanth is Decoded.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The genome of the Coelacanth is also providing scientists with additional data on how gene sequences may change over time.    The study suggests that some genes may evolve very slowly, this in part would help explain this prehistoric fish’s appearance, it having remained virtually unchanged for millions of years.  Such a stable gene assembly may be attributed to the Coelacanth’s habitat and life style.  It lives in relatively deep offshore waters, usually at depths of more than 300 metres.  It may live in sea caves and it is largely nocturnal moving little during the day and then hunting at night.  The very uniform environment and an absence of other fish species competing for this particular niche in the offshore ecosystem may explain why the Coelacanth has had little need to change and evolve over vast periods of time.

The international team of scientists admit there is much more to learn about the transition of vertebrates from water onto the land.  However, the lungfish genome represents more of a challenge than that of the Coelacanth.  Although collecting specimens of lungfish is easier, after all, extant lungfish are all freshwater fishes, making them theoretically easier to collect, the lungfish genome is much larger, estimated to exceed 100 billion letters (C G A T), in length.  The more modestly sized genome of the extant Coelacanth is permitting scientists to study changes that may have helped the first Tetrapods to adapt to a terrestrial habitat.  Comparisons with Tetrapods had led the researchers to isolate chains of genes that regulate and control other portions of the sequence, these studied in conjunction with an analysis of what genes are present in the Coelacanth but absent in Tetrapods has enabled some startling insights to be made.

A number of immune-related regulatory differences have been identified between Coelacanths and land living animals.  The scientists have postulated that these changes reflect adaptations as a result to new pathogens the first Tetrapods encountered as semi-aquatic vertebrates.  Other differences in the genomes provide clues to sensory development, senses such as a lateral line in a fish is not much use to a creature that lives on land.  Genes involved in smell perception and detecting airborne odours have been identified as a result of this research.

Similarities in genetic material have also been found between the marine Coelacanth and animals that live entirely on land.  the HoxD strand of genetic material is common between Coelacanths and Tetrapods.  It is likely that this particular strand of genetic material was a prerequisite to enable the first land animals to develop hands and feet, to assist with locomotion, but as Tetrapods evolved and became more specialised, this region of genetic material played a role in the evolution of our own dexterous, tool wielding hands.

Safari Ltd have produced a model of a Coelacanth, it forms part of the company’s Wild Safari Dinos & Prehistoric Life model series.  The model measures fifteen centimetres in length approximately and is a fine example of a replica of a lobe-finned fish.  Not only has this model been popular with collectors but it has also proved to be very useful for schools and home educators who have used this model in teaching topics on evolution and life on Earth.

A Useful Teaching Aid – Coelacanth Model
Ancient fish model - Coelacanth

One of the more unusual puzzles concerning the move to a terrestrial existence was the way in which waste products from the body were excreted.  Fish excrete ammonia into the water, this gets rid of waste nitrogen.  Land animals evolved a method of converting ammonia into the less toxic urea – the urea cycle, whereby ammonia is converted to the more inert urea, or uric acid.  If ammonia is allowed to build up in cells it will prove toxic to the cell, the researchers found that the most important gene involved in the regulation and control of urea or uric acid production had been modified and was present in Tetrapods.

Commenting on the study, Chris Amemiya (Professor at the University of Washington), stated:

“This is just the beginning of many analyses on what the Coelacanth can teach us about the emergence of land vertebrates, including humans, and, combined with modern empirical approaches, can lend insights into the mechanisms that have contributed to major evolutionary innovations.”

This research project brought together a number of institutes and universities, it was a truly international effort and it is hoped that the publishing of the genome will help to raise the profile of conservation efforts to help ensure the survival of the Coelacanth.  A second team of scientists, a joint expedition from the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity and the French National Museum of Natural History set out earlier this month to explore the sea cave home of a population of Coelacanths living in the Sodwana Bay area (off the coast of South Africa).  By studying the Coelacanth in its natural habitat, the scientists hope to learn more about how these strange creatures use their fleshy fins for locomotion and how they hunt and what prey animals are their preferred food.

To read more about this expedition: Scientists Set Off in Search of the Lair of the Coelacanth

The scientists responsible for the genome research, acknowledge the importance of their work but also recognise that there is a lot more to learn when it comes to this “living fossil”.  Future studies will help to shed further light on that very significant period in the history of life on Earth when vertebrates first moved onto land.

17 04, 2013

School Children Create Their Own Dinosaur Land

By | April 17th, 2013|Dinosaur Fans, Educational Activities, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates|0 Comments

Pupils Study Dinosaurs at School

For children at a local school, this spring term has had them focusing on all things Dinosauria as studying dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals was their term topic.  Given the weather we have had in March, it might have been more appropriate to have studied the Ice Age, but at least the school children did manage to get their hands on a Woolly Mammoth tooth during a visit from one of the Everything Dinosaur team members.

The shape of fossil teeth can help scientists to understand a little more about what extinct creatures might have eaten and the eager young palaeontologists were keen to demonstrate their knowledge of herbivores and carnivores.  During a break in the teaching activities, our team member was given a quick tour of the school’s very own dinosaur land.  The wildlife area at the back of the playground had been converted into a “Jurassic Park” with brightly coloured dinosaur cut-outs adorning  this fenced in area.  There was a Diplodocus, (a herbivorous dinosaur), as we were informed by one enthusiastic pupil and propped up against the fence there was a meat-eating dinosaur plus a very fierce looking Triceratops complete with horns and sharp teeth.

 The School Triceratops

Colourful school Triceratops.

Colourful school Triceratops.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The pupils got the chance to examine some Triceratops teeth (T. horridus) and to compare them to the teeth of other dinosaurs who ate different types of food.  Imagining a dinosaur with a tongue about as tall as you are, is quite helpful when it comes to Key Stage 1 school children working out where in a food web might a Triceratops be placed.

Alongside the Triceratops, was another plant-eating dinosaur which the children were delighted to show off.  It was a Stegosaurus, complete with very striking orange plates running along its back.

The Stegosaurus Cut-Out Dinosaur

A very brightly coloured Stegosaurus.

A very brightly coloured Stegosaurus.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Perched high in a nearby tree, keeping a close eye on the proceedings was a large Pterosaur (flying reptile).  The red crest and neck of this toothless Pterosaur made the cut-out stand out against the branches.  It is very likely that Pterosaurs had excellent colour vision, perhaps this was a flying reptile depicted in its mating regalia ready to display to any passing female Pteranodons should any fly by.

The Pterosaur (Pteranodon longiceps)?

A Pterosaur with its colourful neck and head crest.

A Pterosaur with its colourful neck and head crest.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

It seems that for the duration of the spring term, this part of the school playground has been turned into the children’s own dinosaur theme park.  Such an imaginative use of odd cuts of wood and spare paint, that was greatly appreciated by the children.  We explored what we do and what we don’t know about the colour of extinct creatures during our morning visit and the school children were very eager to display their knowledge and to talk about the dinosaur themed activities that they had been doing.

It seems that this spring term topic has been a big success, the enthusiastic teaching team using the dinosaurs theme to help develop the children’s numeracy, literacy and artistic skills.  Look out Steven Spielberg, you may have some challengers when it comes to designing the prehistoric animals that are going to feature in the film “Jurassic Park IV”!

16 04, 2013

Prehistoric Times Magazine (Spring 2013) Reviewed

By | April 16th, 2013|Magazine Reviews|0 Comments

A Review of Prehistoric Times Magazine (Issue 105)

The weather has at last improved, we can say goodbye to the chilly easterly breeze and say a warm welcome to the spring edition of Prehistoric Times magazine.  Yes, spring has finally come and it is marked by the arrival of the spring edition of Prehistoric Times, a magazine that provides news and views on anything and everything to do with prehistoric animals.

The Front Cover of Prehistoric Times (Issue 105)

T. rex faces off against a Triceratops.

T. rex faces off against a Triceratops.

Picture Credit: Prehistoric Times

Issue 105 is the 20th anniversary of the first edition of this quarterly publication.  Coincidently, 2013 is also the 20th anniversary of the premier of the dinosaur film “Jurassic Park” and there are special features on both inside this issue.  Editor Mike Fredericks provides a potted history of the publication, a fascinating insight into what has become an institution for “dino-philes”.  Dotted throughout the article are contributions from other regular writers and it was interesting to read how they met Mike and started to work with him on various projects.  The feature entitled “Sketch me a Spitter”, pays homage to Jurassic Park the movie, and renowned artist Mark Hallett recalls his work on the film working as a concept artist and palaeo consultant.  There are some wonderful illustrations of the Theropod dinosaurs that appeared in the first of the Jurassic Park trilogy.  If you have always wanted to know how the venomous dinosaur that killed the character known as Dennis Nedry, came about then read this article and all will be revealed.

The first of the prehistoric animals featured in this issue is Triceratops and the magazine includes lots and lots of artwork sent in by readers. Phil Hore provides a very informative article on this famous horned dinosaur and even Tracy Lee Ford gets in on the act with a superb piece in his long running series “How to Draw Dinosaurs”.  The morphology of the skull and horns changed as Ceratopsians got older.  He kindly summarises the main points to remember when it comes to illustrating juveniles, mature adults and very old specimens of Triceratops.  There is also a rare picture of a Triceratops skull in situ, discovered by the famous palaeontologist George Sternberg in 1908.

Amongst the usual items such as correspondence from readers, collectors corner, book reviews and updates on new model introductions, Ron Lemery provides information on a technique known as photoetching, a great way to build detail into dinosaur themed model scenes.  Talking of models, Steven B. DeMarco showcases how to make and paint a fearsome Mosasaur, a marine reptile he aptly refers to as “Mosa Jaws”!

The second prehistoric animal to feature prominently in this edition of “PT” is the fearsome, highly resourceful Dire Wolf (Canis dirus).  Phil Hore writes a very entertaining piece explaining the differences between the Dire Wolf and the Grey Wolf and discusses their fossil record including the exquisitely detailed specimens that have been retrieved from the La Brea Tar pits in Los Angeles (California, USA).

To learn more about this excellent publication: Visit Prehistoric Times Website

For slightly older dinosaur fans there is a very insightful article written by Allen A. Debus on the beautiful post card illustrations of Neave Parker, a real trip down memory lane when looking at the wonderful black and white illustrations of the various prehistoric animals.

Jam packed full of dinosaur themed goodies, issue 105 of Prehistoric Times is definitely a ” must read” and on this form we can expect this publication to keep on going for at least another twenty years.

Well done to all involved.

15 04, 2013

Fossils in the Fireplace

By | April 15th, 2013|Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur Products|0 Comments

Ammonites, Trilobites and Belemnites – Thank you Mr Ward

At Everything Dinosaur we get sent lots of pictures, drawings, articles, all sorts of things to do with the Dinosauria, fossil collecting and other branches of the Earth sciences.  We do our best to respond to all that we receive and to answer questions that are sent into us.

For example, over the weekend, amongst our correspondence we received a letter from Mr Ward, a customer of Everything Dinosaur, a keen model enthusiast and fossil collector.  He is lucky enough to reside not too far away from a National Nature Reserve that has outcrops of Silurian-aged limestone.  The site is perhaps one of the most important locations for Silurian fossils in the United Kingdom.  His close proximity to the fossil bearing strata of the Silurian has influenced his fossil and model collecting and he kindly sent us a couple of photographs of his fine collection of invertebrate fossils and replicas.

A Super Collection (Fossils and Models)

A fine collection.

A fine collection.

Picture Credit: Mr M. Ward

Amongst the replicas of Belemnites, Ammonites and Nautiloids, Mr Ward has displayed some exquisite examples of various invertebrate fossils including Ammonites (polished cross sections and entire specimens) and some marvellous Trilobites.

An Excellent Display

Fossil and model collecting.

Fossil and model collecting.

Picture Credit: Mr M. Ward

There are some lovely Ammonite specimens depicted, the ones at the bottom of the picture might possibly be Asteroceras?  There is a fantastic  Belemnite calcite guard featured too, along with some splendid examples of Trilobites.

Mr Ward also collects models of buses, in a letter to our team members, in which he thanked us for the trouble we take in answering his queries, he enclosed a picture of a section of one of his model scenes.  The picture is amazing and clearly much care and attention has gone into creating this scene – we loved the miniature street lights.

The Bus Model Picture Sent into Everything Dinosaur

A finely detailed model scene.

A finely detailed model scene.

Picture Credit: Mr M. Ward

The street lights in the scene were actually working, they were lit.  At first glance we thought that this was an old colour photograph of a British town from the 1960s, it took a moment or two to realise that this was a model.

Excellent work Mr Ward, we are always keen to receive correspondence from our many thousands of customers and it just goes to show how talented some model collectors are.

14 04, 2013

A Chinese Dinosaur that Went for a Swim

By | April 14th, 2013|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories|0 Comments

Trackways Preserve Evidence of a Theropod Dinosaur Going for a Swim

A team of scientists from China supported by colleagues from the University of Alberta (Canada), have published a report on a series of dinosaur tracks, one of which indicates that a small Theropod dinosaur swam across a river, a rare incidence of dinosaur swimming behaviour preserved as a trace fossil.  The fossilised track is  just one of a series of dinosaur trackways preserved in the Lower Cretaceous strata of the Feitianshan Formation of Sichuan Province (China).  The area has been extensively quarried and unfortunately, many of the footprints have been destroyed but the international team of ichnologists (scientists who specialise in studying footprints and tracks), have been able to identify a series of Ornithopod tracks plus the large footprints of a Titanosaur (long-necked dinosaur).  It seems that the Titanosaur crossed the river at around the same time as the small, meat-eating dinosaur.  The water depth at the time has been estimated to have been about ninety centimetres deep.  For the Theropod, that meant a swim, but for the much larger Titanosaur, it was able to wade across.

The swimming trackway has been assigned to the ichnogenus Characichnos.  An ichnogenus is a scientific name given to an organism that is only known from trace fossils such as footprints.  Interestingly, similar sized, tridactyl (three-toed) prints have been found preserved on the sandstone substrate that indicate a small Theropod dinosaur also walked across the site.  The swimming and walking tracks being found in close proximity has been interpreted as the water depth fluctuating over a short time period.  Additionally, the Ornithopod tracks are made up of a series of footprints all moving in the same direction and parallel to each other.  This suggests that a herd or a family group of these plant-eating dinosaurs made their way over the sand.

Evidence of a Swimming Theropod Dinosaur

Evidence of a dinosaur going for a dip.

Evidence of a dinosaur going for a dip.

Picture Credit: Chinese Science Bulletin

The picture above shows photographs of the tridactyl claw marks with line drawings showing how these trace fossils have been interpreted by the scientific team.

The paper detailing the work on the dinosaur footprints has been published in the academic journal the “Chinese Science Bulletin”.  Unlike the footprints left by the Theropod when it walked on land, the swimming tracks just show three scratch marks and the marks left by each foot as it touched the bottom are not equidistant from each other.  This suggests that the dinosaur, estimated to be around two metres in length was swimming, occasionally touching the sandy bottom of the body of water that it was crossing, leaving claw marks where its talons dug into the sand.  Such trackways are very rare, although palaeontologists in Spain have studied a similar set of swimming tracks made by a much larger Theropod dinosaur.

To read about the Spanish dinosaur tracks: Dinosaurs Going for a Swim

University of Alberta palaeontologist Scott Persons commented that the swimming trackway was approximately fifteen metres in length, analysis of the claw marks suggested that this little dinosaur was a strong swimmer, using a “doggy paddle” type stroke to propel itself through the water.  The PhD student stated that these trace fossils suggested that this type of dinosaur was a strong swimmer capable of swimming considerable distances, although the water would have been a dangerous place to be as there was the threat of attack from predators such as prehistoric crocodiles.

An Illustration of the Ichnogenus Characichnos

Tell-tale claw marks left in a sandy substrate.

Tell-tale claw marks left in a sandy substrate.

Illustration Credit: Nathan E. Rogers

He stated:

“The dinosaur’s claw marks show it was swimming along in this river and just its tiptoes were touching bottom.”

Scott went on to comment that although there was some amazing fossil discoveries being made in China at the moment, Alberta with its extensive exposures of Upper Cretaceous strata such as the Dinosaur Provincial Park Formation, was a great place for a vertebrate palaeontologist to be.  He made the point that there was no need to travel all the way to China to study Cretaceous dinosaurs when within a couple of hours drive of his home he could be right in prime dinosaur bone finding territory.

The Chinese research team hope that with the co-operation of the quarry owners they will be able to study more of the tracks and perhaps be able to remove some of them so that they can be put on display at a local natural history museum.

13 04, 2013

Oldest Dinosaur Embryos Discovered in China

By | April 13th, 2013|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Dinosaur Nesting Site May Have Yielded Ancient Organic Material

A dinosaur nesting site that has been dated to the Early Jurassic is providing a team of international scientists with an unprecedented insight into the growth and development of baby dinosaurs.  A scientific paper, published in the academic journal “Nature” and the cover story of this publication’s latest edition, also states that the research team may have discovered traces of organic remains.  If this is the case and the fossils have not been contaminated by more recent organic material, then this discovery marks the earliest known organic remains of a terrestrial vertebrate.

New Research into Baby Dinosaurs

New research into 190 million year old baby dinosaurs.

New research into 190 million year old baby dinosaurs.

Picture Credit: D Mazierski

The fossil site was discovered by Timothy Huang of the National Chung Hsing University (China) when he was exploring an area of Lower Jurassic aged strata in Yunnan Province (south-western China).  His preliminary investigations led to the discovery of a monotaxic bone bed (an extensive amount of fossil material all assigned to the same species).  The fossils consist of the remains of dinosaur embryos at various stages of development along with the remains of dinosaur egg shell.  The strata represents a dinosaur nesting site.

Fossilised dinosaur embryos are extremely rare in the fossil record.  The oldest known until the Chinese discovery, are believed to represent the Early Jurassic Sauropodomorph of the genus Massospondylus, these fossils were discovered in South Africa, back in 1976.  The South African fossil material was kept in storage for many decades and detailed research into these embryos and their ontogeny (growth rates) was published in 2010.

To read the Massospondylus article: Cracking the Mysteries of the Dinosaur Egg

The Chinese embryos represent another type of Sauropodomorph.  The joint Canadian/Chinese scientific team have assigned these beautifully preserved fossil remains to the genus Lufengosaurus.  This Early Jurassic dinosaur, closely related to the European Plateosaurus of the earlier Triassic Period, is known from more than twenty fossils of individuals. All these fossils have been found in the same geological formation as the newly discovered nesting site (Lufeng Formation).  Lufengosaurus, was a herbivorous dinosaur which may have reached lengths in excess of eight metres.  It was probably one of the largest dinosaurs living in this part of the world in the Early Jurassic (190-197 million years ago).

An Illustration of an Adult Lufengosaurus

Early Jurassic Sauropodomorph

Early Jurassic Sauropodomorph.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The initial investigation of the bone bed by Timothy, yielded more than two hundred embryonic fossil bones.  Realising the significance of his discovery he invited Dr. Robert Reisz who had worked on the South African embryo fossils to investigate.  Dr. Reisz and his team (University of Toronto), working with Chinese colleagues quickly identified that the fossils did not represent a single nest but a number of broods of young, with many at different stages of embryonic development.  This has permitted the team to study the growth and development of a single dinosaur species in great detail.  By comparing the femurs (thigh bones) of baby dinosaurs of different ages the team were able to suggest that these dinosaurs maintained a consistent and rapid rate of growth and development.  For example, the thigh bones of these dinosaurs more than doubled in size whilst still in the egg.  The team’s findings also indicate that Sauropodomorphs  had very short incubation times – the embryos grew quickly and hatched fast.

A Stained Cross Section of Embryonic Thigh Bone with Large Pore Spaces Indicating Rapid Growth

This stained sample of a thin cross section of femur suggests rapid growth.

This stained sample of a thin cross section of femur suggests rapid growth.

Picture Credit: A. Leblanc

Chickens hatch in about three weeks, whereas crocodile eggs hatch after approximately one hundred days.  The largest living lizard today, the Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) has a much longer incubation period – over eight months.  In addition, tiny muscle scars on the miniature bones indicate that the muscles of these herbivorous dinosaurs were well developed.  This suggests that just like modern birds, baby dinosaurs moved around a lot inside their eggs.  Highly active muscles before hatching suggests that these dinosaurs were far from helpless when they hatched.  It is not known whether these Sauropodomorphs had a precocial habit, the babies being virtually independent from their parents at birth and able to fend for themselves.  Well developed muscles would have helped these young dinosaurs to escape from the nest, to avoid many potential predators and to start to find their own food.

The presence of such large numbers of fossil bones, free from the eggs in which they were formerly contained gave the researchers the opportunity to assess the growth rates of this type of dinosaur from a clade known for its gigantism.  However, the scientists also detected traces of organic remains in the fossil material, astonishing to think that such matter could have possibly survived for 190 million years or so.

Back in March, we reported on a joint Canadian and British research project which examined the fossilised remains of prehistoric camels in the High Arctic, although the bone found was extremely fragmentary and represented a tibia (lower leg bone), the research team discovered evidence of collagen present in the fossil.  By extracting a portion of the preserved organic material, scientists from Manchester University were able to prepare a “collagen fingerprint” and when this data was compared to the collagen from extant mammals it was found that the fossil specimen most closely matched the collagen found in camels.  This test helped to confirm that the 3.5 million year old tibia bone was from a prehistoric camel that once roamed high latitudes.

To read about the camel research: Camels of the Arctic

Dr. Reisz and his co-workers claim to have discovered locked deep inside the fossilised bones, evidence of collagen fibres, the main protein constituent of bone.  Organic material usually decomposes very quickly and to find potential evidence of organic material in Early Jurassic vertebrate remains is simply “astonishing” according to some commentators.

The research team hope that they may be able to collect some of this organic material.

He stated:

“We are opening a new window into the lives of dinosaurs.  This is the first time we’ve been able to track the growth of embryonic dinosaurs as they have developed.  The bones of ancient animals are transformed to rock during the fossilisation process, so to find remnants of proteins in the embryos is really remarkable.  If we can extract the collagen, then we can compare it to collagen in living organisms for further studies.  Comparisons can be very valuable in evolutionary studies.”

The potential discovery of such ancient organic material in tiny, delicate fossilised bones of embryos, especially when one considers the porosity of bone material has been described by Dr. Reisz as “mind boggling”.

The team hope that if they are able to extract a sample, other researchers such as the University of Manchester research team who analysed the collagen sample from the prehistoric camel, might be able to create a “collagen fingerprint”.  This would allow the prehistoric protein to be compared to the collagen of living vertebrates, perhaps once and for all cementing a link between the Dinosauria and Aves (birds).

The implications for this discovery may indeed be far reaching.  If the remnants of collagen can be found in such an unusual fossil sample, then it might be more common in the fossil record than previously thought.  If small bones could have preserved 190 million year old organic material then much more collagen could be lurking inside other fossil specimens.  This could revolutionise our understanding of the taxonomy of extinct species.

As Dr. Reisz commented:

“I suspect that if we start using this methodology elsewhere, we will find it [collagen] more frequently than we think.”

12 04, 2013

K-W-L Charts Helping Children to Learn About Dinosaurs

By | April 12th, 2013|Educational Activities, Teaching|0 Comments

Know – Wonder- Learn How to Kick Start a Dinosaur Teaching Topic

Dinosaurs as a term topic for primary school children is a very appealing idea.  Most children are very familiar with dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals and they have some knowledge of the subject. Indeed, teachers might find themselves with their very own dinosaur expert in the class as some children obsess on dinosaurs and express a surprising amount of knowledge about them.  Here is a simple idea to help kick start a term topic on dinosaurs, create a K-W-L chart which will help shape the subsequent scheme of work, lesson plans that result and provide a stimulus for extension activities.

K-W-L stands for know, wonder, learn, one of these charts can provide a teaching team with a template for a topic, it works for all kinds of teaching themes but with a subject like dinosaurs, commencing with this activity can help to draw out what the children know, what they think they know and provide a method of checking understanding at the end of the teaching scheme.

Creating a K-W-L chart could not be simpler.  Take a sheet of flip-chart paper and divide it into three columns, write at the top of each column the words “what we know”, “what we wonder” and “what we learned”.  So the flip-chart will have the first column with the title “what we know”, the second column with the title “what we wonder” and the final column entitled “what we learned”.  If you have a smartboard, then of course the free draw facility can be utilised to create an electronic version of a K-W-L chart, but sometimes it is best to use a flip-chart sheet, as this permits the chart to be pinned up on a classroom wall and makes it easy to refer to throughout the teaching topic.

You are then ready to start, get the class together sitting them in a group so that everyone can see the flip-chart paper.  Explain what the term topic or subject for study is going to be.  The very mention of dinosaurs usually causes quite a ripple of excitement amongst the children.  Then explain that the class are going to think about what they know about dinosaurs and this will get written onto the chart that will be produced.  Brainstorm with the children, encouraging them to tell their classmates what knowledge they have of dinosaurs and prehistoric animals.  Make sure that all the children have the chance to contribute, one way of doing this is to have a minute of quiet thinking time before the children are asked to participate in the task.

The K-W-L chart helps school children to recall prior knowledge and it will enable them to state facts about prehistoric animals that they are already aware of.  If the class has a teaching assistant, they can act as the scribe allowing the teacher to concentrate on guiding the children and helping them to sort out their statements as well as ensuring the involvement of all the pupils.

Teaching about dinosaurs at primary school level provides the teaching team with lots of potential leads into different aspects of the national curriculum’s teaching remit – maths, creative writing, drama and of course science.  However, there is a need to introduce technical subject specific technical vocabulary.  The K-W-L chart technique gives the teaching team the chance to introduce and explore technical vocabulary with the class at the beginning of a term topic.  When creating such a  chart with an exploration of all things dinosaur some of the technical vocabulary encountered can include words such as “extinct”, “fossil”, “prehistoric” and “palaeontologist”.

Some of the statements made by children as the brainstorming session continues can be turned into questions by the teacher.   Statements may be incorrect, “facts” stated by the children can be turned into questions, these go into the second column, the “what we wonder” column.  This column can often provide a rich and diverse range of questions that can be explored during the term topic.  This permits the children to challenge assumptions and existing understanding in a non-threatening way.  The teaching team can also use the “W” column as a stimulus for thinking up creative experiments and activities that will permit their charges to test their understanding.  As the term topic progresses new questions will emerge and these too can be added to the “W” column of the chart.

An Example of a K-W-L Chart (Term Topic Dinosaurs)

A chart to help kick-start a teaching topic about dinosaurs.

A chart to help kick-start a teaching topic about dinosaurs.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

At the end of the term topic, time should be allocated by the teaching team to complete the third column of the chart, the “what we learned” section of the K-W-L.  The class can be asked to reflect on the first two columns of their chart and to  help the teacher to fill in the final part.  This permits the teacher to check learning, summarise and check understanding.  The children are demonstrating knowledge and shared learning as they complete the K-W-L flip-chart sheet.

There are of course, a number of ways in which this simple method can be varied and customised to fit a particular set of teaching circumstances.  For example, pupils can be encouraged to create their very own K-W-L chart in their topic books, all the class can be split into groups so that a number of charts can be created with each group taking ownership of their chart and the teaching team working with the entire the class to make sure the breadth and depth of the areas stated are covered in the term topic.

To learn about the sorts of activities that Everything Dinosaur’s teaching team offers: Dinosaur Teaching in Schools (UK only)

K-W-L charts are an ideal way of kicking-off a term topic on the subject of dinosaurs.  Children share knowledge and are contributing to the structure of the teaching topic and scheme of work.  For the teaching team, they can quickly assess existing knowledge and use the chart as a guide for extension ideas and activities.  It also has the helpful benefit of allowing the teacher to be informed about dinosaurs and prehistoric animals, tapping into that reserve of knowledge that children passionate about all things dinosaur tend to have.

12 04, 2013

Pupils Study Dinosaurs and Create “Jurassic Park”

By | April 12th, 2013|Key Stage 1/2|Comments Off on Pupils Study Dinosaurs and Create “Jurassic Park”

Children Study Dinosaurs at School

Children at a Cheshire primary school have enjoyed studying all things dinosaur during the spring term.  So enthusiastically did the whole school embrace this term topic that the caretaker decided to help the eager, young palaeontologists create their very own dinosaur land.   Given the weather in March, it might have been more appropriate to have studied the Ice Age, but thanks to a visit from one of the experts at Everything Dinosaur, the Year 2 pupils did manage to get their hands on a selection of Woolly Mammoth teeth.

Working in co-operation with the teaching team, the caretaker made a number of wooden, prehistoric animal cut-outs.  Then, with the assistance of the children the cut-outs were painted and then positioned in the school’s wildlife garden.

Children Create their Own Dinosaur Display

Stegosaurus helps Year 2 to create their own "Dinosaur Land".

Stegosaurus helps Year 2 to create their own “Dinosaur Land”.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

 The caretaker explained that when he heard about the dinosaur teaching topic, he thought about how he could help and decided to use some spare paint and some scrap wood to build the two-dimensional dinosaur props.  During a break in the dinosaur workshop, our fossil expert was given a tour of the school’s very own “Jurassic Park”.  The brightly coloured dinosaur cut-outs made a wonderful display and the children were keen to demonstrate what they had learned by recalling information on each of the prehistoric animals.

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