All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
21 01, 2014

Thank You Letter from Class RJ (Reception)

By | January 21st, 2014|Educational Activities, Teaching|3 Comments

Reception Class Sends in Thank You Note To Everything Dinosaur after Dinosaur Workshop

Everything Dinosaur team members are busy visiting schools all over the UK at the moment.  We need to become as fast as a speedy Struthiomimus in order to keep up with all our other duties at this time of year.  However, we do try and respond to every email, letter, drawing sent in and such like, especially from young dinosaur fans and budding palaeontologists.

After a school visit to work with some children in reception classes (aged 4-5) years, we received a thank you letter from class RJ.

Class RJ Say Thanks for the Dinosaur Workshop

Class RJ's letter

Class RJ’s letter

Picture Credit: Class RJ

Miss Jones, (the teacher) emailed to say how much the children enjoyed learning about dinosaurs.  She went onto add that the children came up with the letter and helped to write the words.  Always a pleasure to hear from school children and we encourage such imaginative writing in reception classes, they can really help young children with their sentence construction and appreciation of grammar.  Naturally, we took time out of busy schedule to compose a reply and to email it over to the school.

Saying Thank You for the Thank You

Thank you for your kind letter.

Thank you for your kind letter.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The children under the expert guidance of their teachers and the support staff had prepared lots of questions in time for our visit to the school.  A number of classes had thought about the sort of questions they would like answered and then these were written down with the help of the teacher, we did our best to answer them all.

School Children Prepare Lots of Questions

Lots of questions prepared by school children.

Lots of questions prepared by school children.

So many questions, the children were very enthusiastic and we were really impressed with their knowledge about prehistoric animals.  We were so pleased that these budding scientists enjoyed looking at the dinosaur bones.

When conducting dinosaur workshops for reception, it is important to consider extension activities that can take place once the visit is over to help reinforce learning and to check understanding.  In this way, Everything Dinosaur team members can further support the work of the teachers in the school.

20 01, 2014

A New Troodontid Dinosaur Described – Gobivenator

By | January 20th, 2014|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories|0 Comments

Gobivenator mongoliensis – A New Troodontid from the Central Gobi Desert

A new scientific paper has just been published by an international team of scientists including researchers from Tokyo University that details the discovery of a Troodontid dinosaur.  Troodonts are a group of small Theropod dinosaurs that seem to lie somewhere between those speedy, long-legged Ornithomimids such as Gallimimus and the fearsome Dromaeosaurids such as Velociraptor.  Fossils of these little dinosaurs (most of them were around two metres in length, most of that being tail), have been found in Upper Cretaceous deposits of North America and Asia.  From the several near complete specimens of this family known, palaeontologists have identified that their skeletons were very bird like and that these animals in proportion to the rest of their bodies, had relatively large brains for a member of the Dinosauria.

The newest member of the Troodontidae has been named Gobivenator mongoliensis (the name means “Gobi desert hunter from Mongolia”).  The almost complete specimen, including a very well preserved skull which was just missing the tip of the snout was excavated from deposits in the Djadokhta Formation of the central Gobi desert region.  Post cranial material includes virtually the rest of the skeleton with just some smaller bones and a neck vertebra (cervical vertebrae) missing.  A number of important Late Cretaceous fossils representing Oviraptorids, Dromaeosaurids, Tyrannosaurs, as well as Ornithischian dinosaurs, mammals, lizards and crocodiles have been found in the strata that makes up the Djadokhta Formation.  Perhaps the most famous part of the Formation is the famous “Flaming Cliffs” , named for the reddish colour of the sandstones, as explored by the American Museum of Natural History expeditions led by Dr. Roy Chapman Andrews.

The sandstone deposits of the Djadokhta Formation preserve evidence of a semi-arid, desert environment that had a number of oasis spread across it.  The fossils of Gobivenator have been dated to around 72 million years ago, although the exact date range of the entire Formation remains debated.  Most of the strata does date from the Early Maastrichtian/Campanian, but there is some evidence to suggest that the earliest deposits, representing a slightly more humid and wet environment date from the Santonian faunal stage.

Measuring around 1.6 metres in length (half of the body length being made up of the long tail) and most probably feathered, Gobivenator was probably a hunter of small, lizards, baby dinosaurs and mammals.  It may have lived in social packs.

An Illustration of Gobivenator mongoliensis

An illustration of G. mongoliensis. Scale bar = 1 metre.

An illustration of G. mongoliensis.
Scale bar = 1 metre.

Picture Credit: Danny Cicchetti

The near complete skeleton and the very well preserved and undistorted skull has provided the joint Japanese/Mongolian scientists with a unique opportunity to explore the phylogenetic relationship between members of the Troodontidae and also between Troodonts and Aves (birds).  The shape and structure of the palate has been determined, showing close affinities with Dromaeosaurids such as Velociraptor and primitive birds.  Although the skull of Gobivenator is strongly fused (akinetic – limited movement between bones), it already shows preconditions for the later evolution of a more flexible skull as seen in many types of modern bird (cranial kinesis).  Preconditions identified by the research team include reduced contact between the small bones that make up the palate and the absence of a slender epipterygoid bone.

Cranial kinesis is effectively the ability of skull bones to flex against each other.  This adaptation is most closely allied to the need to cope with awkward or difficult to swallow prey items.  A number of bird families show a degree of cranial kinesis, most notably Prokinesis (flexing of the front facing portions of the skull).  In modern Aves, it is the Psittacine (parrots) family that show the most pronounced form of cranial kinesis.  It is thought that the skull flexing in members of the parrot family evolved to help them feed on large, robust nuts and fruit.

The scientific paper detailing this research has been published in the academic journal “Naturwissenschaften” – the science of nature.

19 01, 2014

Baby Chasmosaurus and Edmontosaurus with Evidence of a Soft Crest to go on Display

By | January 19th, 2014|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories|0 Comments

University of Alberta to Display Important Dinosaur Discoveries

The almost complete fossilised skeleton of a baby horned dinosaur and the preserved skull from an adult duck-billed dinosaur that shows evidence of a soft crest on top of its head are to go on display to the public in the Canadian city of Edmonton.  From February 6th until March 8th, visitors to the University of Alberta Museum’s galleries at Enterprise square will be able to view the fossilised remains of a baby Chasmosaurus along with the rooster-like comb on the skull of an Edmontosaurus (E. regalis).   These dinosaur fossils were amongst the most significant discoveries reported upon by Everything Dinosaur team members last year.  It is rare to find a baby dinosaur, these carcases decompose more rapidly than larger adult specimens and most baby dinosaur remains would have been snapped up by a passing meat-eater.  To have an almost perfectly preserved example of a young horned dinosaur is a great boost for the palaeontologists working in the Dinosaur Provincial Park Formation.

The Chasmosaurus skeleton is nearly complete, only the front limbs are missing, which are believed to have disappeared down a sink hole in the past.  The dinosaur has been affectionately called “baby” and if visitors look carefully, they will be able to make out 72 million year old preserved skin impressions on the specimen over the ribs of the 1.5 metre long specimen.

Phil Currie (Canada Research Chair in Dinosaur Palaeobiology at the University of Alberta) Shows Off the Fossil Find

"The best preserved baby horned dinosaur ever found".

“The best preserved baby horned dinosaur ever found”.

Picture Credit: Bruce Edwards (from a video interview)

To read more about the baby Chasmosaurus fossil: Baby Chasmosaurus Fossil Unearthed in Alberta

Clearly excited about the prospect of putting this fossil, which was discovered in 2010, on public display, Phil Currie stated:

“It’s my pride and joy.  It is the best preserved baby horned dinosaur known anywhere in the world.  It is an unbelievable specimen!”

Joining “baby” on display will be skull material from an adult duck-billed dinosaur (Saurolophinae), called Edmontosaurus.  This specimen, Edmontosaurus regalis revealed for the first time evidence that these large, herbivores may have had soft-tissue crests on their heads, rather like the combs on cockerels.

Everything Dinosaur reported on this discovery, when the scientific paper was published in “Current Biology” just five weeks ago.  To read more about this study: Dinosaur with a Comb Like a Rooster’s

The Edmontosaurus Material Going on Display

Arrows indicate preserved impression of skin, the presence of a crest and skull bones.

Arrows indicate preserved impression of skin, the presence of a crest and skull bones.

Picture Credit: Frederico Fanti et al/Current Biology

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“The fact that these recently described specimens are going on display to the public so quickly is fantastic news.   We applaud the staff at the University of Alberta for all their hard work.  These two fossil discoveries are very significant and they demonstrate to the public at large that we still have so much to learn about the Dinosauria.”

18 01, 2014

Prehistoric Times (Winter 2014) Reviewed

By | January 18th, 2014|Magazine Reviews|0 Comments

Prehistoric Times Winter 2014

With team members at Everything Dinosaur  undertaking a lot of work in schools over the next few weeks, any members of staff staying away from the office will have plenty to read as the new edition of Prehistoric Times (issue 104) has arrived.  Editor, Mike Fredericks proudly states that this latest edition of the quarterly magazine for fans of prehistoric animal models and everything to do with dinosaurs is “really special” and we are not going to disagree, as it is packed from cover to cover with lots of amazing prehistoric animal artwork, model and book reviews, articles and updates on the world of palaeontology.

Let’s start by singing the praises of the front cover.  Issue 108 (winter 2014) is adorned by a brilliantly evocative piece of art by that very talented artist and illustrator Fabio Pastori.  Fabio depicts a feathered Allosaurus battling a Stegosaurus, whilst Late Jurassic birds flap their wings in earnest to escape the mayhem.

Prehistoric Times (Issue 108)

Everything Dinosaur reviews Prehistoric Times (winter 2014)

Everything Dinosaur reviews Prehistoric Times (winter 2014)

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Prehistoric Times

Super artwork Fabio, one of our favourite covers was your Dilophosaurus illustration on the front cover of issue 88, now we might just have to change our minds having seen the wonderful artwork on the latest edition of Prehistoric Times.

One of the great things about this magazine is the regular feature “How to Draw Dinosaurs”, written by Tracy Lee Ford.  His contribution deals with recent developments in the study of Hadrosaurs (Saurolophinae), updating readers on changes in how these Ornithopods may be illustrated with the discovery of a soft crest on the skull of a specimen of Edmontosaurus regalis discovered near the city of Grande Prairie in Canada.  Everything Dinosaur wrote a short article about this amazing fossil find, one that could change the way that duck-billed dinosaurs are depicted in the future, when the academic paper was published in “Current Biology”.

To read Everything Dinosaur’s article: Duck-Billed Dinosaur with a Comb like a Rooster

The article contains lots of interesting insights into Saurolophinae skull morphology, with some handy line drawings to help get the main points across.

The two prehistoric animals featured in this issue are Australovenator and the enormous ancient ape Gigantopithecus.  Phil Hore goes over the finer details of these very diverse members of the fossil record and there are lots of amazing reader’s artwork included too.    A big opposable thumbs up to Phil, especially for his highly informative and well-written article on Gigantopithecus.

Amongst all the updates on dinosaur collectibles and new model releases, there is an interview with artist David Krentz and his involvement in the 3-D “Walking with Dinosaurs” movie that is currently on release, plus the latest news concerning the Canadian-produced spin-off to the British television series “Primeval”.  Look out for the book reviews and the highly informative overview of 2013 from a palaeontologist’s perspective written by the well-travelled Steve Brusatte.  Now residing north of the border, Steve’s passion for palaeontology has taken him to Scotland to take up a post as a research fellow for the University of Edinburgh.

Prehistoric animals on stamps are a theme for the winter edition, with an article by James Gurney that details the work behind the production of a set of postage stamps commissioned by Australia Post showcasing the diversity of Mesozoic fauna from down under.  British prehistoric animals get a look in too, as there is a feature on the twelve first class stamps illustrated by John Sibbick for Royal Mail.  The stamps, originally commissioned to celebrate the centenary of the book “The Lost World” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were delayed by Team GB’s success at the 2012 Olympics but were released in October of last year.

To read more about the stamps from Royal Mail: Royal Mail Issues New Prehistoric Animal Stamps

John Sibbick’s artwork is superb and in Prehistoric Times he talks through how he went about depicting prehistoric fauna strongly associated with the British Isles.  The stamps were released to celebrate over 150 years of the study of palaeontology in the United Kingdom, Everything Dinosaur got involved with this project when they were asked to write the cover notes and information on the extinct creatures featured in the set.  It was fun!

There’s a lot packed into the latest edition, look out for the review of a visit to the famous Natural History Museum of Berlin, as well as interviews with dinosaur sculptors Allen Debus and Bob Morales, Everything Dinosaur even gets a mention in the editorial.

We asked our chum, Mike to give our Facebook page a plug, we are on a mission to get “likes” for our boss “Tyrannosaurus Sue”.

Hit the Facebook Logo to Visit Everything Dinosaur on Facebook

Click the logo to visit our Facebook page and to give our page a "like".

Click the logo to visit our Facebook page and to give our page a “like”.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

All in all, thoroughly recommended, a definite inclusion in our travel bags and overnight gear as team members spend the next few weeks on their adventures.

To learn more about Prehistoric Times visit the website: Prehistoric Times Magazine

Congratulations to Safari Ltd, as their Gryposaurus dinosaur model was voted “Best New Toy” by Prehistoric Times readers.

17 01, 2014

Gryposaurus Dinosaur Model Wins Award

By | January 17th, 2014|Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur Products|0 Comments

Gryposaurus Dinosaur Model – “Best New Toy” 2013

The Gryposaurus dinosaur model which was introduced last year into the Wild Safari Dinos & Prehistoric Life model range (Safari Ltd) has been voted “Best New Toy” for 2013 by readers of Prehistoric Times magazine.  The Gryposaurus, a replica of the duck-billed dinosaur whose fossils have been found in Alberta, Canada (Gryposaurus notabilis) was one of six new model introductions into this particular range by Safari Ltd in 2013.  It must have been a close call, as Everything Dinosaur team members have been singing the praises of all the new model introductions. For example, the newly introduced Elasmosaurus replica was a very accurate model and the Gastornis (Terror Bird) was beautifully painted.  However, against such stiff competition the Gryposaurus replica came out on top.

“Best New Toy” for 2013 – Gryposaurus

"Best New Toy" for 2013

“Best New Toy” for 2013

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Safari Ltd

Everyone at Everything Dinosaur would like to add their congratulations to the design team and staff at Safari Ltd – well done to you all.

To read a review about the Gryposaurus replica: Wild Safari Gryposaurus Dinosaur Model Reviewed

The review above was written back in September of last year, when Everything Dinosaur got its first stocks of this wonderfully painted dinosaur model.  The detail on the replica is superb, although we think those lovely blue eyes on the dinosaur played a big part in this particular replica winning this accolade.

To see Everything Dinosaur’s range of Safari Ltd prehistoric animal models: Wild Safari Dinos and Carnegie Collectibles

16 01, 2014

Dinosaur Names Help Young Children with their Phonics

By | January 16th, 2014|Educational Activities, Press Releases, Teaching|0 Comments

Dinosaur Names Just Trip off the Tongue – Especially when you are Three

Why is it that your three year old, thinks nothing of stating the names of several dinosaurs when at times they struggle to come to terms with the correct pronunciation of their own name?  What is it about dinosaurs and their long names that seem to have a universal appeal to children?

That is one of the questions put recently to one of our dinosaur experts who writes lesson plans for children at the Foundation Stage level in primary schools.  This phenomena has been observed and commented on by many parents and grandparents, it seems that “Diplodocus” is not a problem whilst “Da-Da” can be quite a challenge to a budding palaeontologist.

Our dinosaur expert was not aware of any research being undertaken to look at this specific element of children’s phonics and their grasp of speech.  However, it is known, that most  young children up to the age of seven years have an extraordinary ability to pick up speech and expand their vocabulary.  Perhaps the sound of the words themselves have a frisson of excitement about them, the longest genus name we know for a member of the Dinosauria, weighs in at twenty-three letters long – Micropachycephalosaurus (mike-cro-pack-ee-sep-hal-oh-sore-us).  Could dinosaur name pronunciation leave a tingle on the lips?  Certainly, most young children learning about dinosaurs seem to relish and enjoy such tasks.

Once said, there might be a strong sense of achievement of being able to pronounce such a long word.  The child could be picking up cues from the parent or grandparent present who no doubt, would be expressing a sense of pride of being able to trip Tyrannosaurus rex off the tongue.  We know of a number of parents and home educators who have exploited a child’s fascination with dinosaurs to help them with their reading, writing and sentence construction.  If the young pupil loves Stegosaurus, then using this Late Jurassic herbivorous dinosaur in a fun activity to look at how to pronounce words and to get to grips with writing is a bit like pushing at an open door.

Stegosaurus Bubble Speech Diagram

A typical teaching resource provided by Everything Dinosaur.

A typical teaching resource provided by Everything Dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Everything Dinosaur have developed a number of teaching aids to help parents, teachers and home educators to teach basic word recognition and reading skills to their young charges.  For example, a speech bubble placed onto a picture of a dinosaur can help the child to consider what the dinosaur might be saying or thinking.  This can also help the child to consider what third parties might be feeling, thinking or saying.  A number of teachers have helped children learn to read using phonics, with dinosaurs and their long names as part of the teaching text.  Many children’s books about dinosaurs contain a handy pronunciation guide or readers are welcome to contact Everything Dinosaur by leaving a comment on one of our many blog posts and we will do our best to help when it comes to those tongue-twisting dinosaur names.

When delivering dinosaur workshops in schools, especially when working with Foundation Stage children, it seems that dinosaur names are tackled and pronounced with relative ease.  Perhaps like most things to do with the Dinosauria, to a three year old, even the animal’s names are exciting.

15 01, 2014

Jurassic India – Scientists Find Prehistoric Tracks in Rajasthan

By | January 15th, 2014|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories|0 Comments

Trace Fossils Including Pterosaur Trackways Discovered in Rajasthan

The north-western province of Rajasthan in India has some spectacular limestone formations that represent sediments laid down in the Middle Jurassic.  A number of expeditions have been mounted to this part of India by institutions such as the University of Rajasthan to help map the geology and assess the many different types of marine invertebrate fossils that are associated with some parts of this strata.  The specimens of Ammonites are very useful in helping scientists to accurately date the age of these formations (biostratification) and for comparing the fauna found in these deposits with other sedimentary rock formations found elsewhere on the sub-continent.  Although, the area’s close proximity to the Pakistan border has led to difficulties over accessing some parts of the region, a number of geological surveys have been carried out exploring for reserves of natural gas and oil.  The limestone represent deposition in a marine environment, however, Jurassic sandstones that are also to be found in Rajasthan, most notably in Jaisalmer district, represent material deposited in a fluvial (river) environment.  These outcrops and the fossils contained therein are providing scientists with a fascinating glimpse into life in the Early to Middle Jurassic.

Palaeontologists and geologists visiting this part of India as part of their participation in the ninth annual International Congress on the Jurassic System, organised by the Geology department of Rajasthan University, have been taking the opportunity to explore the area and to look for fossils.  An outcrop of exposed Jurassic aged sediments on the Jodhpur-Jaisalmer highway, close to the village of Thaiat has yielded a number of trace fossils including Pterosaur and three-toed dinosaur footprints.

The thirty-four strong party, including researchers from France and Germany have been staying in this area, with a view to mapping the formations and recording evidence of Jurassic vertebrates.  Little is known about the evolution of the Dinosauria and the Pterosauria (flying reptiles) in this part of the world during the Early Jurassic.  The footprint fossils may potentially belong to species that are new to science.  Dr. Jan Schlogl of Slovakia working in collaboration with Professor Gregory Pienkowski (Poland), identified the footprints, preserved in finely grained, sandstone sediments as those belonging to a Pterosaur (flying reptile).  Something like over 120 different Pterosaur species are now known, mostly via fragmentary fossil remains.  Finding Pterosaur tracks in these sediments, believed to date from around 180 million years ago, will help scientists to understand better the evolution and radiation of these vertebrates.

Amongst the footprints representing Jurassic dinosaurs at least two kinds have been identified.  Firstly, there are the small three-toed prints of a little Theropod dinosaur known as Grallator.  The name Grallator is an ichnogenus, a name given to a genus of animal that is only known from trace fossils.  Some of the prints, representing the hind feet of this biped are five centimetres in length.  It is likely that this little dinosaur was about the size of a chicken.

Larger three-toed prints have also been identified.  These tridactyl (three-toed) prints measure approximately thirty centimetres long and must have been made by a much larger creature.  It is difficult to speculate what sort of dinosaur made such prints, but similar prints found in European strata of roughly the same geological age have been assigned to Tetanurae Theropods such as Megalosaurs, whereas, it is possible that these prints could represent another type of Theropod such as a member of the Neoceratosauria or a Coelophysid.  During the Early Jurassic the Theropoda group of meat-eating dinosaurs rapidly evolved and a number of  new families evolved.  If body fossils of meat-eating dinosaurs can be found in these sediments then this would add greatly to our knowledge of Theropod dinosaurs from the southern super-continent of Gondwana.

Large Three-Toed Dinosaur Footprints Discovered

Evidence of Jurassic dinosaurs from India.

Evidence of Jurassic dinosaurs from India.

Picture Credit: University of Rajasthan

The larger, tridactyl prints have been assigned to the ichnogenus Eurontes (Eurontes giganteus).

Associate Professor P. K. Pandey (Geology department of the University of Rajasthan), has studied a number of Jurassic aged fossils from these sandstone deposits.  He has already recorded the presence of small Pterosaurs after finding fragmentary fossilised bones in these deposits.   A source close to Everything Dinosaur commented that these discoveries of dinosaur footprints and Pterosaur footprints were very significant.

14 01, 2014

Scientists Get to Grips with Tiktaalik’s Rear End

By | January 14th, 2014|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories|0 Comments

Larger and More Developed Pelvic Girdle in Tiktaalik

A team of scientists based in the United States have published research on the pelvic girdle of a transitional Sarcopterygian known as Tiktaalik (Tiktaalik roseae).  The research team have determined that, much to their surprise, the pelvic girdle of this Late Devonian creature, although primitive, is much more robust than expected.  A big, robust pelvis suggests that the hind limbs/fins of this 375 million year old animal were much bigger than previously surmised, this has significant implications for the evolution of Tetrapod locomotion.

Fossil material, collected from Canada’s Ellesmere Island in 2004 led to the naming and describing of Tiktaalik in 2006.  The fossil specimens are highly significant as they represent a transitional form from a fully aquatic fish to a terrestrial animal (Tetrapod).  At approaching three metres long, Tiktaalik was a sizeable animal.  It had a twenty centimetre long skull, which consisted of a long snout and relatively short rear portion of the skull.  The shoulder girdle was not joined directly to the back of the skull as seen in contemporaneous fossil material (Panderichthys et al), giving this animal a neck.  The front limbs were robust and had a wrist-like structure and the finger-like bones contained within the lobe of a fin.  These bones were strong and the wrist-like joint capable of a wide degree of movement suggesting that this half-fish/half amphibian could propel itself along the bottom of a body of water by “walking on its fins”.  Analysis of the first fossils also indicated that Tiktaalik had ribs.  These ribs could have helped to support the animal as it clambered around on land.

Tiktaalik (Late Devonian) A Transitional Fossil

Titaalik Fossil Material (Late Devonian)

Tiktaalik Fossil Material (Late Devonian)

Picture Credit: University of Chicago/Harvard/Academy of Natural Sciences

Intriguingly, although Tiktaalik was named and described nearly eight years ago, the genus was erected based on a study of the front portion of the animal.  The first fossils studied consisted of just the front portions, now the research team behind the first scientific descriptions have examined other material excavated from the same location on Ellesmere Island back in 2004 and these fossils have provided them with evidence as to what the rear end of this iconic animal looked like.

In a paper published in the scientific journal “The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”, the research team that included the late Professor Farish Jenkins (Harvard University), one of the last papers that this esteemed professor of vertebrate palaeontology contributed to, outline evidence to suggest that that Tiktaalik had a large pelvis and strong tail fin.  This suggests that this animal was able to propel itself around using its four proto-limbs.  Such a form of locomotion, often referred to as “four-wheel drive” was thought to have evolved only in later, true Tetrapods.

The authors of this paper, include Dr. Neil Shubin (University of Chicago) and Dr. Edward Daeschler (Drexel University, Philadelphia), these scientists along with Professor Jenkins, were responsible for the scientific description of Tiktaalik back in 2006.  Only now, once other specimens have been fully prepared can the team describe the rear end of this important transitional vertebrate.  The fossils show that Tiktaalik had a thick, powerful rear fin, but the real surprise came when the scientists took a look at the pelvic area.  The pelvis area, indicated by impressions preserved in the ancient fossilised sediments and several fossilised bones from the hind portions indicate that the rear fins were comparable in size to the front fins.  The shape and size of the hip socket also suggest that the rear fins were capable of a wide range of movement.  The rear fins could have been used to help support the animal’s weight as well as help it to swim through water.  Although, the overall structure of the pelvis is substantially more developed than that seen in other types of Devonian fish, it is still very primitive when compared to the early Tetrapods like Acanthostega and Ichthyostega.  The pelvis is still more-fish like, it consists of just one bone, whereas, the pelvis of Tetrapods (even ours for example consists of three bones – the ilium, the pubis, and the ischium).

Unfortunately, no evidence of a femur (thigh-bone) has been found but it is very likely that Tiktaalik had a pair of femurs.  Tiktaalik is termed a Tetrapodomorph – a transitional form between an aquatic creature and one capable of living on land.

Commenting on this latest research, Dr. Daeschler stated:

“The pelvis is as large as the shoulder girdle, and that’s not what we would have expected in this finned stage in the fin-to-limb transition. We would have expected the pelvic fins to be smaller.”

Based on this research, the team conclude that the basic, quadrupedal locomotion once thought to have evolved with the first true Tetrapods seems to be present in anatomies of fishes like Tiktaalik.

Dr. Daeschler added:

“Tiktaalik probably had the ability to use those fins as props to move along, using them to push along the shallow bottom, to work its way through plants and, who know, maybe it got out of the water briefly if it needed to move over to another watercourse.  But in no way was it specialised for getting out of the water.  It may have had some ability to do that, but everything about its reproduction, its sensory system, its hunting and breathing – all these things tied it to the water.

Recently, Sir David Attenborough presented a two-part BBC television programme “Rise of the Animals: Triumph of the Vertebrates”.  This programme documented the evolution of animals with backbones from the earliest forms that swam in Cambrian seas to the evolution of mammals, primates and ultimately ourselves.  Tiktaalik featured prominently in the first part of the documentary, some wonderful animation showed how vertebrate palaeontologists imagined Tiktaalik used its appendages to get itself about.  Interestingly, in the clip the rear limbs are featured, but they do not play any part in the locomotion of the animal.  This new research suggests that Tiktaalik used its four proto-limbs in a quadrupedal motion.

Tiktaalik (T. roseae) A Life Reconstruction

Tiktaalik roseae life reconstruction.

A life reconstruction of Tiktaalik roseae.

Picture Credit: Kalliopi Monoyios, (University of Chicago).
13 01, 2014

Marine Reptiles – Dressed in “Little Black Numbers”

By | January 13th, 2014|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories|0 Comments

Study Suggests Some Marine Reptiles May Have Been Black in Colour

Although, technically “black” is an absence of colour, a study into the organic signatures of the hides of ancient marine reptiles indicates that these creatures may have been coloured black, or at least dark-skinned.  The inability to detect evidence of other pigments does not necessarily mean that the likes of Mosasaurs, Ichthyosaurs and ancient marine turtles were all coloured black, but an intriguing report published in the scientific journal “Nature” sheds light on the possibility that extinct marine monsters could have been black or at least partially black.

Recent research by vertebrate palaeontologists has provided an insight into the potential colouration of a number of extinct animals.  Perhaps most notably members of the Dinosauria.  Such research conducted by institutions such as Bristol University has opened up the possibility of pigments in preserved impressions of dinosaur skin being analysed (melanosome analysis) and some measure of colouration determined.

To read more about identifying the colour of dinosaurs: Ginger Dinosaurs?

The team of scientists from Lund University (Sweden) set out to investigate the potential colouration of marine reptiles, by examining fossils of a marine turtle, related to today’s extant Leatherback turtle along with the fossilised remains of a species of Mosasaur (Tylosaurus nepaeolicus) and an Ichthyosaurus.  Although these reptiles are only distantly related, they all represent organisms that evolved from terrestrial ancestors, at least according to most researchers, although the evolution of the Chelonia (tortoises, turtles and so forth) and how many times various branches of this particular reptilian family tree took to life in a marine environment remains open to speculation.

Under the guidance of one of the paper’s lead authors, Johan Lindgren (Lund University), the research team studied an early Jurassic Ichthyosaur fossil (specimen number YORYM 993.338) dating from around 196 million years ago, along with the fossils of a Late Cretaceous Mosasaur (Tylosaurus spp.) from around 86 million years ago (Santonian faunal stage) and the preserved remains of a distant relative of today’s Leatherback turtle (Eosphargis breineri) which dates from the Palaeogene – 56 million years ago.

Could Ancient Ichthyosaur Fossils Yield Further Data on Animal Pigmentation?
Ichthyosaur Fossils

Ichthyosaur Fossils Hiding Colour Secrets?

Picture Credit: CGC

Scientists know that adaptive colouration (the colour of organisms) plays many critical roles, from providing camouflage, to a visual display to attract a mate or to settle disputes amongst rivals, as well as to ward off potential attackers, or to indicate to any predator that they are poisonous or unpleasant to eat and so on.  One of the most common pigments found in the animal kingdom is melanin.  It too serves a multitude of functions including permitting dark colouration that helps cold-blooded animals regulate their body temperatures.

Black tends to absorb heat from the sun, much more efficiently than lighter colours which can reflect heat away.  The higher absorption rate can help dark-skinned reptiles to warm up more quickly at the start of the day and retain heat for longer when the sun sets.  For example, marine iguanas feed by diving into the cold sea that surrounds their Galapagos Islands home.  Their black skins with large amounts of the biochrome (biochrome is another term for a natural pigment), melanin present help them to absorb heat quickly from the sun.

In the study, the scientists used a scanning electron microscope to identify minute, traces of the shape of biochromes preserved within the fossil material.  These “organic signatures” were then analysed using a highly sensitive spectrometer to assess the likely composition of the individual molecules preserved in the specimens.

Commenting on the findings of their research, Lindgren stated:

“The most sensational aspect of the study is that it can now be established that the analysed ancient marine reptiles were, at least partially, dark-coloured in life.”

Being dark in colour offers marine animals a number of advantages, especially if they are cold-blooded.  Leatherback turtles can be found in relatively cold waters, certainly outside of the tropics.  For example, these turtles, the largest turtle species in the world, have been sighted off the coast of Cornwall and further North up the Irish Sea in the height of summer.  These turtles with their dark backs are known to bask at the surface, absorbing heat from the sun.  Their colouration helps them to warm up quicker and to reach a higher body temperature.  Such colouration might help these creatures exploit food sources in otherwise inaccessible habitats, they can extend their habitable range.  The research team was able to demonstrate that dark traces of soft tissue preserved in the fossil material had large amounts of the degraded remains of eumelanin present, in intimate association with the fossilised melanosomes.  The eumelanin, which is a naturally occurring,  common form of melanin refracts light in such a way that objects appear dark brown or black.  Based on this data, the scientists concluded that at least part of the turtle, the Mosasaur and the Ichthyosaur were coloured black.

In addition, in contrast to counter shading seen in many pelagic animals (pelagic – refers to an organism living above the sea floor), such as Great White Sharks, where the top part of the animal is dark contrasting with a lighter underside some types of Ichthyosaurs may have been black all over.

Typical Example of Counter Shading Seen in a Marine Animal
Counter shading - light undersides contrasts with the darker "top side".

Counter shading – light undersides contrasts with the darker “top side”.

Picture Credit: Safari Ltd

The model above is from the 2014 releases by Safari Ltd.  It represents a C. megalodon, an enormous, extinct shark.  Scientists believe that this fish was an active hunter of the open sea and therefore the design team at Safari Ltd have given their replica classical counter shading of a nektonic (actively swimming) marine predator.

The detection method used failed to identify any notable amounts of other biochromes, notably ones responsible for yellow and red colours.  This does not mean to say that scientists can rule out the possibility of yellow Mosasaurs for example.  These biochromes are perhaps less likely to survive the fossilisation process, they may also be present but not able to be detected given our current technology.  All that can be suggested from this study is that there is evidence to suggest that some types of Ichthyosaur may have been dark coloured, whilst the Mosasaur and the fossil Leatherback turtle provide evidence of these animals being dark coloured on the top parts of their bodies with perhaps lighter shading underneath (as seen in extant Leatherback turtles).

Evolutionary, behavioural ecologist Ted Stankowich (California State University) commented:

“While the presence of other undetected pigments cannot be ruled out, particularly dark pigmentation in these fossils suggests that they might have been able to live in more extreme environments or have used pigmentation patterns as camouflage in dark waters.”

Looking at extant Leatherback turtles, with their dark backs, the scientists suggest that dark pigmentation evolved separately amongst these ancient species which are not closely related.  This could be a case of convergent evolution with different organisms evolving the same adaptive solutions to help them survive.  That is why the streamlined bodies of Ichthyosaurs, superficially resemble modern-day dolphins.  Ichthyosaurs and dolphins are not closely related but they have developed similar features.   The dark pigmentation in these marine reptiles could have evolved to help regulate internal body temperatures, as protection against sunburn and camouflage.

Lindgren added that the ancient Leatherback turtle studied probably had a similar colour and lifestyle to extant Leatherbacks.  Similarly, Mosasaurs and Ichthyosaurs may have benefited from their dark skins helping them to warm up between dives and to camouflage them in the darker depths of surface waters.

Other scientists are more cautious, asserting that care needs to be taken before jumping to conclusions based on limited sampling of the fossil record.  Indeed, more needs to be learned about the benefits of dark colouration for extant marine organisms before too much can be inferred with regards to the inhabitants of ancient marine ecosystems.

A spokes person from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“This study extends our understanding of pigmentation preserved in the fossil record, beyond that of analyses related to proto-feathers and other examples of integumentation.  However, if we take the Order Ichthyosauria (Ichthyosaurs), this is a very diverse assemblage of marine animals.  These highly successful reptiles evolved into a number of different forms, with different sizes, body shapes and methods of feeding.  Although a uniform, dark colouration might be supported from the evidence of this study, this does not mean that all types of Ichthyosaur were coloured black.”

Some Ichthyosaurs May have Been Dark Coloured
Dark coloured Ichthyosaurs according to new study.

Dark coloured Ichthyosaurs according to new study.

Picture Credit: Safari Ltd

The Ichthyosaurus pictured above from the Carnegie scale model collectibles range made by Safari Ltd.  The design responsible for creating this 1:10 scale model of a “fish lizard” have intuitively given their replica a dark back. A team of researchers have postulated that a number of marine reptiles, including Ichthyosaurs may well have been dark coloured.

Knowing a little about the potential colour of an animal can give palaeontologists the opportunity to obtain information on how an animal might have lived, what particular ecological niche it was adapted to.  These three disparate lineages of marine reptile (turtles, Mosasaurs and Ichthyosaurs), provide evidence of convergent evolution in the form of increased melanism.  Based on extant examples, such as Leatherback turtles today, this study suggests that this colouration evolved to assist with thermoregulation and/or to help these creatures adapt to living in more extreme climate conditions such as much colder waters.

Marine reptiles sporting “little black numbers” as one of our colleagues referred to this study.

12 01, 2014

In Praise of David Attenborough’s Life on Earth

By | January 12th, 2014|Animal News Stories, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Press Releases|0 Comments

BBC Television Series “Life on Earth” Still Impresses

The BBC are repeating on Saturday morning (BBC 2), the ground breaking television series “Life on Earth”.  This thirteen part television series was first broadcast in 1979, the first episode entitled “The Infinite Variety” was first aired in the United Kingdom on the 16th January 1979.  In essence, this television series, voted one of the best television programmes of all time by British viewers, is celebrating its 35th birthday this week.

“Life on Earth: A Natural History”, narrated by David Attenborough may have reached middle age but the amazing imagery, fantastic photography and superb commentary makes it as fresh today as it was all those years ago.  It was the first in a long-line of natural history programmes made by the BBC and narrated by Sir David.  The format is very simple, the programmes, designed to fit into a typical quarter-year for a scheduler (hence thirteen episodes), traces the history of life on our planet with each programme telling the story of a major group of organisms or major evolutionary development.

Life on Earth Celebrates Its 35th Birthday This Week

Life on Earth first shown in 1979.

Life on Earth first shown in 1979.

Picture Credit: BBC

The series sees, Sir David travelling the world and it was made in conjunction with Warner Bros. and Reiner Moritz Productions.  The soundtrack music, which itself was highly regarded, was composed by Edward Williams.  For team members at Everything Dinosaur, this television series remains right up there with some of the best programmes that the BBC has ever made.  Some of us can recall watching this programme when it first was shown back in 1979.  It helped fuel our interest in the natural world and evolution.  Although, some of the information and imagery used in this television series has now been made redundant as our understanding of evolution and fossils has progressed somewhat, it is still compulsive viewing.

“Life on Earth” won the Broadcasting Press Guild Award for Best Documentary Series, it was also nominated for four BAFTA television awards in the following categories:

  • Best Television Factual Series (lost to Circuit 11 Miami)
  • Television Craft/Film Cameraman (lost to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy)
  • Television Craft/Film Editor (we are not sure who won the BAFTA in 1980)
  • Television Craft/Film Sound (lost to Speed King)

We are pleased that the dedicated team behind this series received recognition for their superb work, we think Sir David Attenborough was granted Fellowship of the BAFTA academy in 1980.  However, for us this television series is still a great pleasure to watch and it does bring back happy memories of when we first saw these programmes more than thirty years ago.

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