All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
20 04, 2014

Ancient Shark Fossil Provides Insight into Jaw Evolution in Vertebrates

By | April 20th, 2014|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

325 Million Year Old Fossil Suggests Sharks are Not “Primitive”

Often described as a group of animals that have remained virtually unchanged for millions of years, extant shark species (and there are something like 470 known species) are actually more highly evolved than previously thought.  The discovery of a remarkably well-preserved specimen of an ancient shark-like creature that once swam in a marine ecosystem more than 325 million years ago (Pennsylvanian Epoch of the Carboniferous), has provided palaeontologists with evidence to suggest that early cartilaginous and bony fishes have more to tell us about the evolution of jaws.

A study published in the academic journal “Nature”, vividly demonstrates how new fossil discoveries can dramatically alter our understanding of the evolution of vertebrates.  The fossil, a three-dimensional concretion, shows a combination of primitive and more advanced anatomical features in a cartilaginous fish, evidence of a sophisticated jaw has been identified along with a complete gill section.  Importantly, the fossil shows the arrangement of the jaw and the gills “in situ”, the fossil has preserved these delicate organs in their natural, life position.  The layout of these anatomical features are very similar to that found in bony fishes as well as cartilaginous fish.  This suggests that this specimen might represent a common ancestor of these extremely important vertebrates.

The Concretion that Represents the Fossilised Jaws and Gill Structures of a Palaeozoic Fish

Scale bar = 10 millimetres

Scale bar = 10 millimetres

Picture Credit: American Museum of Natural Hisotory/Pradel

The picture shows two lateral views (views from sideways on) of the fossil material that was later scanned at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility to reveal its internal structures.

The first fish are believed to have evolved from Chordate animals (animals that possess a stiff rod that runs along or part-way along their body length for at least a portion of their life cycle).  The evolutionary links remain poorly known but fossils found in China indicate that the first jawless fish, (Agnathans) may have evolved more than 530  million years ago.  It is believed that sometime during the Silurian geological period, a crucial development in the history of life on Earth occurred, the first vertebrates with true jaws (Gnathostomes) evolved.  Although, this fossil, part of an enormous fossil collection donated to the American Museum of Natural History by Ohio University, may not represent the earliest jawed fish, its state of preservation has provided scientists with an insight into the evolution of jaws from modified gill arches.

The Evolution of Jaws in Fish (Agnathan compared to a Gnathostome)

How jaws may have evolved.

How jaws may have evolved.

In jawless fish (Agnathans), the first and second gill arches (branchial arches) support the first gill slit.  In jawed vertebrates, the first gill arch has become a pair of jaws and the first gill slit a spiracle to let water pass over the remaining gills.

Lead author of the research paper, post-doctoral researcher at the New York based museum, Alan Pradel stated:

“Sharks are traditionally thought to be one of the most primitive surviving jawed vertebrates.  Most textbooks in schools today say that the internal jaw structures of modern sharks should look very similar to those in primitive shark-like fishes, but we’ve found that’s not the case.  The modern shark condition is very specialised, very derived and not primitive.”

The story of this significant breakthrough, starts with Ohio University professors Royal and Gene Mapes and their students, who over the years amassed in excess of half a million Palaeozoic fossils from Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas.  The fossils represent marine ecosystems and consist of invertebrates such as Trilobites, Ammonites, Brachiopods and Gastropods, as well as a number of fossils of primitive fish.  The fossilised skull of the new species named Ozarcus mapesae  is so well preserved it allowed scientists to create a three-dimensional model to show the organisation of the jaw in relation to the gill arches.  The trivial name for this new species honours the Ohio University professors.

Fish heads, including cartilaginous fish such as sharks and rays, are segmented into the jaws and a series of arches that support both the jaw and the gills.  However, as the fossils of most early Gnathostomes (jawed fish) are poorly preserved and usually distorted and flattened, this is the oldest known specimen found to date that shows the jaw/gill arch relationship in such clarity.

A Computer Generated Image that shows the Internal Structures of the Fossil

3-D image of fossil produced.

3-D image of fossil produced.

Picture Credit: American Museum of Natural History/Pradel

The picture above shows one of the three-dimensional images created after the fossil material had been bombarded with X-rays to produce the computer model.  The brain case can be seen at the top (shaded a tan colour), the structure of the jaws are shaded red, the jaws having evolved from the first gill arch.  The second gill arch, known as the hyoid arch is shown in blue.  The remaining gill arches are shaded yellow.

Commenting on the importance of this donated specimen, one of the study authors, John Maisey (American Museum of Natural History) added:

This beautiful fossil offers one of the first complete looks at all of the gill arches and associated structures in an early shark.  There are other shark fossils like this in existence, but this is the oldest one in which you can see everything.   There is enough depth in this fossil to allow us to scan it and digitally dissect out the cartilage skeleton.”

In order to study the three-dimensional concretion so the layout and the orientation of the delicate branchial arches (gill arches) could be mapped, the scientists took the specimen to the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), located at Grenoble in France so that high-resolution X-rays could bombard the specimen and produce a detailed, computer generated image of the fossil in three-dimensions.  The team discovered that the arrangement of gill arches is not like that seen in modern, extant sharks.  Instead the gill layout is fundamentally similar to that seen in bony fishes (Osteichthyans).

The authors state that it is not unexpected that sharks, because of their long evolutionary history, would undergo evolution of these anatomical structures, but bony fish may have more to tell us about the first jawed ancestors of land-living vertebrates such as ourselves than living sharks.  Bony fish are the most successful group of Gnathostomes.  All Tetrapods (that includes us) are descended from bony fish.

Sharks – A very Diverse and Geographically Widespread Group

Sharks - a diverse group with over 470 extant species.

Sharks – a diverse group with over 470 extant species.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

19 04, 2014

A Review of the Xenoceratops Dinosaur Model from Collecta

By | April 19th, 2014|Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur Products, Product Reviews|0 Comments

Everything Dinosaur Reviews the Collecta Xenoceratops

The prehistoric animal model manufacturer called Collecta have produced a number of horned dinosaur models over recent years and in 2014 they have introduced a replica of the bizarre Xenoceratops, a horned dinosaur that is distantly related to the better known Styracosaurus and Pachyrhinosaurus.

This dinosaur is known only from fragmentary skull material representing at least 3 individual animals found in Upper Cretaceous strata in south-western Alberta, the rest of the animal has been modelled on more complete fossil material.  Collecta have chosen to give their replica a very striking paint job, with a black body contrasting with a lighter coloured underside and white strips on the head crest standing out against flashes of blood red located on the nasal bone and on the top of the neck frill.

The Collecta Xenoceratops Dinosaur Model

The dinosaur with "alien" headgear

The dinosaur with “alien” headgear

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Note that Xenoceratops has been give a line of bristle-like protrusions running along the top of the hips to the base of the tail.  Palaeontologists have uncovered evidence to suggest that some Late Cretaceous horned dinosaurs may have had bristles or quills on their rumps.  If they had such structures,  then there purpose remains unclear, perhaps they were brightly coloured and used in visual communication between members of the herd.  If viewed from the side, the bristles may have made this herbivore look bigger than it actually was, a deterrent to an attacking Tyrannosaur.  Or indeed, it has even been suggested that the structures were made up of sharp spines that could protect the hip area from attack, it has even been proposed that these spines were tipped with poison.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s range of Collecta models including the new 2014 releases: Collecta Prehistoric Animal Models

The model measures approximately thirteen and a half centimetres long  and the tip of those impressive, white horns on the top of the frill are about seven centimetres off the ground.  Although it is difficult to conclusively gauge the size of this dinosaur based on the fossil record, we estimate that this model is in approximately 1:44 scale based on an adult Xenoceratops being around six metres in length.

The bizarre horns and neck shield of this dinosaur are very well recreated by Collecta.  It did have a spectacular frill with two huge horns sticking out of the top of the neck frill and two large, sideways pointing horns positioned over the eyes.  Analysis of a partial, right nasal bone suggests that this dinosaur may also have possessed another horn on the tip of its nose, this is not shown in the model but the base, the boss, is painted a bright red colour.

One area of a dinosaur model, often overlooked is the cloaca or vent, the posterior opening of the animal.  Collecta have made sure that their Xenoceratops has a very obvious vent and the model shows lots of nice detail on the underside.  Note the correct number of fingers and toes, again Collecta taking the time and trouble to make sure that the replica is anatomically correct.

View of the Underside of the Collecta Xenoceratops Dinosaur Model

Excellent detail on the underside of the dinosaur model.

Excellent detail on the underside of the dinosaur model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

This is an excellent addition to the Collecta range of prehistoric animal models, this is, after all, a replica of a dinosaur that itself was only named and described less than two years ago.

To read an article published by Everything Dinosaur announcing the discovery of this horned dinosaur: Horned Dinosaur with “Alien Headgear”

18 04, 2014

Extracting an Ichthyosaur Fossil

By | April 18th, 2014|Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Everything Dinosaur videos, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Newly Discovered Ichthyosaur Fossil Removed from Beach

After the exhilaration of finding a fossil specimen such as a near complete Ichthyosaur, comes the hard work of extracting the specimen.  This has to be done with great care and planning, as the aim is to remove the material as intact as possible without damaging any of the actual fossils.  For Ben and his dad Dave, they also had to cope with the threat of an incoming tide as Ben found his Ichthyosaur on the eastern beach of Lyme Regis (Dorset, England) and although the specimen was exposed at low tide, once the tide starts to turn, it comes in really quickly, so there is added pressure.  The specimen, representing a young Ichthyosaur was found by Ben a couple of days ago.  He and his father then set about working most of that day and into the evening trying to prepare the fossil for that all important lift, the first time that the Ichthyosaur would have been moved for 180 million years or so.

Our chum Brandon, a local fossil expert himself, was on hand to record the moment when the fossil was ready for extraction.

Carefully Extracting an Ichthyosaur Specimen from the Beach at Lyme Regis

Video Credit: Brandon Lennon

The specimen was quite fragile, so glue was used to help secure the fossil and keep it intact.  Once this had been done,  it was time to prepare the block of Blue lias in which the fossil was located for lifting.  Chisels were then hammered into key points underneath the block to allow it to be freed from the bed.  Once this process had been completed it was time to get ready to lift the specimen and remove it.  This in itself is a tricky process, in the video you can see just how much water was seeping into the dig site and Ben and Dave were aware of the oncoming tide.  With skill and care the two intrepid fossil hunters were able to lift out the fossil.  The tail section broke, if you look carefully on the video you can see that there is a natural fault on the block and as a result the end piece broke off.  However, we can report that the rest of the specimen was removed safe and sound.  The two pieces of rock will now be prepared so that the skeleton can be fully exposed.

Lyme Regis is a great place to visit and fossil hunting on the beach is a lot of fun, however, we at Everything Dinosaur suggest that visitors take advantage of a guided fossil walk led by a local expert.

To read more about guided fossil walks: Lyme Regis Fossil Walks

Congratulations to Ben and Dave, glad all their hard work paid off.

17 04, 2014

Ichthyosaur Fossil Discovered at Lyme Regis

By | April 17th, 2014|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur videos, Geology|0 Comments

New Ichthyosaur Fossil Discovery at Lyme Regis

Yesterday, team members at Everything Dinosaur received news that a beautifully preserved Ichthyosaur specimen had been discovered at Lyme Regis.  Our chum Brandon, a local fossil expert from Dorset, sent us some pictures and a video which illustrate the exciting discovery.   The specimen was discovered on the beach to the east of the town of Lyme Regis, near to where the council have been working to strengthen the cliff area and to improve the town’s coastal defences.

Video Footage of the Ichthyosaur Discovery

Video Credit: Brandon Lennon

 The video shows the block which contains the fossil specimen, vertebrae can be clearly seen along with some of the rib bones, the skull is only partially exposed.  The dig team will cut the block away from the surrounding material and carefully transport the specimen away so that it can be prepared and examined in detail.  From the video, the bones don’t look too compressed or deformed and although some of the distal elements of the skeleton are probably missing, this particular Ichthyosaur looks relatively complete.  It is a little difficult to get our bearings just from the video and the photographs that we have received but we think the specimen was discovered in the Blue Lias of the Church Cliffs section of beach, immediately east of Lyme Regis.

The Location of the Fossil Discovery

The location of the fossil find.

The location of the fossil find.

Picture Credit: Brandon Lennon

Water is carefully removed from around the fossil matrix, sand bags will be put in position to help keep the fossil material protected and then the dig team will map the exposed bones and work out the best way to cut and remove the stone block.

The Fossil Material is Carefully Examined

Icthyosaur fossil find April 2014.

Ichthyosaur fossil find April 2014.

Picture Credit: Brandon Lennon

Carefully the specimen is exposed and then the layout and orientation of the fossil material is studied.  Consideration needs to be given to the tide times as the specimen will be covered once the tide turns.

A Close up of the Ichthyosaur Fossil

The vertebrae can be clearly made out.

The vertebrae can be clearly made out.

Picture Credit: Brandon Lennon

The hand in the photograph helps to provide scale.  The Ichthyosaur is lying with its head facing towards the bottom right and the tail up towards the top left of the photograph.  The vertebrae can be clearly seen in the picture.  It is certainly a member of the Ichthyosauria Order, but it is very difficult to assign a species name to the specimen at this stage just having the short video and the photographs to study.  As a guess, it might be an example of Ichthyosaurus breviceps, however, it is best to wait until the fossil material has been more thoroughly prepared before any precise identification can be made.

The Ichthyosauria were an Order of fast-swimming, nektonic and (as far as we know entirely marine), predatory marine reptiles with dolphin-shaped bodies.  As a group, these highly specialised reptiles evolved in the Early Triassic and thrived throughout the Jurassic and for much of the Cretaceous, before finally becoming extinct around 80 million years ago.

An Illustration of a Typical Jurassic Ichthyosaur

Dolphin-like prehistoric animals.

Dolphin-like prehistoric animals.

Lyme Regis is an amazing place to visit and a fossil hunting trip to the beach is highly recommended, although we at Everything Dinosaur would advise that you take advantage of the local knowledge of a fossil hunting expert so that you can get the most from your visit.

To read more about guided fossil walks: Guided Fossil Walks (Lyme Regis)

We look forward to hearing more about this exciting fossil find and no doubt there will be more marine reptile discoveries made over the next few months.

16 04, 2014

A Review of the Collecta Xenoceratops Dinosaur Model

By | April 16th, 2014|Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur Products, Everything Dinosaur videos, Product Reviews|0 Comments

Collecta Xenoceratops Dinosaur Model Reviewed

Although this dinosaur was named and formally described less than two years ago, Collecta have been quick to introduce a model of this strange horned dinosaur, whose fossil remains have been found in Alberta, Canada.  In this brief video review, (4.42),  team members at Everything Dinosaur discuss the model and relate this replica to the known fossil material.  Since only cranial material has been found, the shape of the body is based on other Centrosaurine members of the Ceratopsidae such as Pachyrhinosaurus, Centrosaurus and Styracosaurus.

The Video Review of the Collecta Xenoceratops

Video Credit: Everything Dinosaur

This video looks at the colouration chosen for the model, comments on how the horns and neck frill have been depicted and we even talk about posterior vents!

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

Measuring around six metres in length, Xenoceratops (Xenoceratops foremostensis) was a sizeable beast.  In a number of on line articles, it has been stated that this dinosaur was named because with its many horns it looked alien.  Xenoceratops does mean “alien horned face”, but this Ornithischian dinosaur was named not because of its “alien looking” appearance but due to the rarity of Ceratopsian fossil material known from the Foremost Formation of south-western Alberta.

15 04, 2014

Prehistoric Times Magazine Issue 109 Reviewed

By | April 15th, 2014|Magazine Reviews, Prehistoric Times|0 Comments

A Review of Prehistoric Times Magazine (Spring 2014)

Another bursting at the seams edition of Prehistoric Times with its front cover of a Chasmosaurus (model by Shane Foulkes) highlighting the fact that “Chasm Lizard” is one of the prehistoric animals featured in issue 109.  Phil Hore does an excellent job on summarising the rather convoluted history of this genus and his article has some super Chasmosaurus inspired artwork sent in by readers.  Not to be undone, Tracy Lee Ford chips in with a detailed explanation of the various species assigned to Chasmosaurus and does a splendid job in sorting out which of the former members of the Chasmosaurus genus have been reassigned elsewhere and why.  In addition, he even manages to insert a little bit of the work of Charles Dickens and we though Dicken’s only wrote about Megalosaurs (Bleak House).

Prehistoric Times (Issue 109)

Beautiful Chasmosaurus on the front cover.

Beautiful Chasmosaurus on the front cover.

Picture Credit: Prehistoric Times/Everything Dinosaur

In the news section, there is information on Nanuqsaurus hoglundi, whose fossils were find well inside the Arctic Circle.  It’s name means “polar bear lizard” which is very appropriate.  News stories featured include Anzu wyliei from North Dakota and possibly the largest Theropod dinosaur known from our side of the Atlantic, Torvosaurus gurneyi.  T. gurneyi fossils have been found in Portugal, this is a specimen that we at Everything Dinosaur know quite well, what with the amount of new discoveries being reported to us by our friends on the Iberian peninsula.

To read more about Torvosaurus gurneyi: Meet “Savage Lizard” – Europe’s Largest Meat-Eating Dinosaur Described to Date?

Allen Debus takes us back to the 1930’s a time when Chicago was host to the Worlds Fair which featured an exhibition of life-size prehistoric animals.  Part two of this highly informative article will be in the next edition.

To read more about Prehistoric Times/subscribe: Prehistoric Times Magazine

Lots of model news and reviews, plus a super section dedicated to giant prehistoric birds, with a focus on the Ratites.  Once again, the article is accompanied by some excellent reader artwork and imagery.  Sculptor and artist John Gurche is interviewed and there is a special feature on how John was tasked with creating fifteen hominin sculptures for the Smithsonian Institute and its “Hall of Human Origins”.  Some of the models he has produced are simply breathtaking, the Smithsonian will shortly become the  museum for all other palaeoanthropologists to look up to.  John’s book “Shaping Humanity: How Science, Art and Imagination Help Us to Understand Our Origins” is reviewed in the excellent Mesozoic Media section and the book is already on our Christmas shopping list along with ironically, another book reviewed, “At the Top of the Grand Staircase”, which documents the fauna and flora from the Upper Cretaceous deposits to be found in this part of southern Utah.

All in all, an excellent magazine jam packed with lots and lots to keep dinosaur fans entertained and informed.

14 04, 2014

Make Your Own Dinosaur Chocolate Nests

By | April 14th, 2014|Dinosaur Fans, Educational Activities, Main Page, Press Releases|0 Comments

A Spring Holiday Activity Idea – Making Dinosaur Chocolate Nests

Here’s a simple and fun recipe aimed at young dinosaur fans, a recipe to make dinosaur chocolate nests.  This is a great activity for the Easter or spring holidays.

Dinosaur Chocolate Nests – What you Need

Ingredients – (makes a batch of about 8 to 10 dinosaur  nests)

  • Plain or Milk cooking Chocolate 225 grammes (8oz)
  • Packet of Breakfast Cereal Cornflakes or Shredded Wheat variety
  • Packet of Sugar Coated Mini-chocolate Eggs
  • Pack of Small Cake Cases
A recipe to make dinosaur chocolate nests.

Make your own dinosaur chocolate nests.

How to Make the Dinosaur Chocolate Nests

1.  Take the cooking chocolate out of its wrapper and snap it into small pieces into a heat-proof bowl.  Then melt the chocolate over a pan of hot water (simmering).  Putting the bowl in a microwave for 30 seconds (full power), will help to melt the chocolate if you are in a hurry and need to get the chocolate to melt more quickly.

2.  Once melted remove from the heat (turn off the heat source) and give the chocolate a quick stir to ensure all the chocolate pieces have melted.

3.  Put in the chosen breakfast cereal, a little at first then gradually add more until the chocolate/cereal mix takes on the appearance of twigs or wood in a nest.

4.  Spoon enough of the chocolate/cereal mix into each of the cake cases, a table spoon is usually sufficient.  Make a little indentation in the centre of each chocolate dinosaur next, this hollow is where the eggs will be placed.

5.  Put two mini-chocolate eggs into the hollow formed at the centre of each nest.  The chocolate being sticky, will ensure that the eggs stay in place.  A pair of eggs per nest is all that is needed.  Palaeontologists know that dinosaurs laid their eggs in twos (dinosaurs unlike birds had two ovipositors) – the egg laying apparatus of a dinosaur has been described as being like a “double barrelled shot-gun”.

6.  Then leave the nests to harden and set, they should be ready to eat in under 2 hours.

Great for a Dinosaur Party – Dinosaur Chocolate Nests

Super dinosaur chocolate nests which are fun and easy to make.

Super dinosaur chocolate nests which are fun and easy to make.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view Everything Dinosaur’s huge range of dinosaur themed party items: Dinosaur Party Supplies

Some Facts about dinosaur eggs (for all young, budding palaeontologists)

A).  Dinosaur eggs were not as large as many people think, the largest dinosaur eggs known to science are about the size of a soccer ball.  Some of the biggest dinosaur eggs have been ascribed to a genus of huge, long-necked dinosaur (Titanosaur), whose fossils have been found in France.  This dinosaur is called Hypselosaurus (the name means “high ridged lizard”.  Hypselosaurus was named and described back in 1869, from fossils found in Provence, however, scientists are unsure as to whether the genus name can be established based on such fragmentary fossil evidence.  The genus is now termed a nomen dubium, palaeontologists have doubts about its validity.

B).  Dinosaur eggs were lots of different shapes, some were very round, some oval shaped, some even quite pointy at one end.  The shape of the egg tells scientists a little about the dinosaur that laid them.  Something like forty different types of dinosaur egg have now been identified by scientists.

C).  The classification of fossil eggs is referred to as ootaxa, dinosaur eggs are classified in virtually the same way as other organisms are classified using the classical Linnaean method (after the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus 1707-1778), there are oofamilies, oogenera and oospecies.

D).  Some dinosaurs were very attentive parents, incubating the eggs and protecting the nest.  When the eggs hatched the parents brought food to the nest for the baby dinosaurs.

E).  The oldest dinosaur eggs that contain the fossils of baby dinosaurs inside them were found in China and a report published on them in 2013.  These eggs are around 190 million years old.

Dinosaur Fossilised Eggs (Hypselosaurus)

Fossilised Dinosaur Eggs but who laid them?

Fossilised Dinosaur Eggs but who laid them?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Articles on dinosaur egg discoveries published by Everything Dinosaur:

X).  Not the World’s Biggest Dinosaur Eggs!

Y).  Treasure Trove of Dinosaur Eggs Discovered in India

Z).  School Children Make Dinosaur Egg Discovery

13 04, 2014

The Weird and the Wonderful – Chinese Triassic Marine Reptiles

By | April 13th, 2014|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Parahupehsuchus longus – Armoured Marine Reptile with a “Corset”

As life on Earth recovered from the devastating End Permian mass extinction event which took place some 250 million years ago, it seems that a myriad of strange and bizarre vertebrates evolved to take advantage of vacant niches in ecosystems that had arisen due to the extinction of so many different types of organism.  One of the strangest marine creatures known to science has just been described in the on line scientific journal PLOS One.  It seems that as environments and ecosystems recovered in the Early Triassic, so marine Tetrapods evolving the capability to eat other marine Tetrapods came about in earnest and the first Tetrapod apex predators of the sea appeared.  This led to the evolution of body armour and other forms of protection in smaller marine Tetrapods that were now the potential prey.  Step forward the bizarre Parahupehsuchus longus, around a metre long, marine reptile that evolved a bony tube that completely surrounded its body wall, like a sort of armoured corset.  Just like a corset, breathing movements and body movements may have been restricted, but the primary role for this unusual pseudo carapace was probably protection against attacks from a much larger predatory marine reptile that shared P. longus’s watery world.

Back in 2011, scientists from the Wuhan Centre of China Geological Survey undertook a field excavation in Yuan’an County, Hubei Province, (east central China), to find Early Triassic marine reptile fossils.  The strata in this part of China represents exposures of marine sediments laid down in a shallow tropical sea around 248 million years ago (Jialingjiang Formation).  The area had been mapped and studied since the late 1950’s and a number of marine reptile genera unique to this part of the world had already been named and described.  However, when Chinese scientists first studied these fossil rich deposits, the strata was believed to be younger, dated to the Anisian faunal stage of the Middle Triassic.  The rocks at this location were thought to be roughly the same age as Triassic marine strata found in the provinces of Yunnan and Guizhou (south-western China).  More recent studies have assigned the sediments exposed around Yuan’an County to be up to three million years older than most of the sedimentary rocks bearing marine reptile fossils in Yunnan and Guizhou.  The rocks which entombed Parahupehsuchus longus date to around 248 million years ago (Olenikian faunal stage of the Lower Triassic).  This is significant because the vertebrate fossils found in Yuan’an County are much closer to the End Permian extinction event than those from south-western China, the ecosystem represented is one that is at an earlier stage of recovery from the most devastating extinction event known.

Parahupehsuchus longus (Holotype Material WGSC 26005)

Scale bar = 10cm

Scale bar = 10cm

Picture Credit: PLOS One

In the diagram above the strange bony carapace-like structure surrounding the body of this new species of marine reptile can be clearly made out.  The labels in red have been added by Everything Dinosaur to help readers gain a better understanding as to the layout of the fossil as the skull and much of the tail is missing.

The research team identified more than ten marine reptile specimens, one partially complete fossil represents this new genus.  Most of the marine reptile specimens discovered represented animals of around a metre in length, but one fossil suggests a marine reptile of around 4 metres in length.  Although not formally described yet, the skull is robust and the teeth that of a meat-eater.  It has been suggested that this reptile was the apex predator.  Parahupehsuchus evolved its corset-like body to resist attacks from this much larger marine reptile.  Surprisingly, very few fish fossils have been found in the strata that contains the marine reptile fossils.  This might be a reflection of fossil preservation bias, but if there were few fish species present and this may not be that surprising as something like 57% of all marine families died out at the end of the Permian, it seems that marine reptiles evolved to attack and hunt other marine reptiles.  The corset of Parahupehsuchus may have evolved as a response to the predatory pressure.

Parahupehsuchus has been assigned to the Hupehsuchia Order of marine reptiles.  This Order currently consists of just three genera, all of which are found in the Lower Triassic sediments of Hubei Province.  The first named and described was Nanchangosaurus, then in 1972 a near complete specimen of a new type of marine reptile that had been discovered was named this was Hupehsuchus.  Palaeontologists consider that Parahupehsuchus was closely related to Hupehsuchus.

Parahupehsuchus pronounced “par-rah-hoop-pay-sook-cus” means beside Hupehsuchus which refers to the taxonomic relationship between these two genera.  The term Hupehsuchus is derived from Hupeh, an alternative spelling for Hubei Province and the Greek word for crocodile.

Hupehsuchus nanchangensis  Fossil Material (specimen number WGSC 26004)

Scale bar = 10cm

Scale bar = 10cm

 Picture Credit: PLOS One

The more complete specimen (diagram B) above, provides scientists with clues to how Parahupehsuchus might have looked.  It may have had a long narrow, toothless snout like its close relative Hupehsuchus.  It was probably capable of moving around on land as well as being adapted to a marine environment and although the tail is missing in the holotype specimen it is likely that the tail was quite powerful and Parahupehsuchus propelled itself through the water with sideways movements of its tail, in a similar to modern Crocodilians today.

If indeed Parahupehsuchus had a toothless jaw, then it may have eaten soft-bodied creatures such as squid.  This bizarre marine reptile remains unique amongst vertebrates for the strange configuration of its trunk.  Its body is completely surrounded by a bony tube, around fifty centimetres long and nearly seven centimetres deep.  The tube is made up of overlapping ribs and gastralia (belly ribs).  This tube and the presence of dermal armour on the dorsal surface of the skeleton (back) have been interpreted as defensive features to withstand the bites of larger marine reptiles.  This is evidence that by the Early Triassic, ecosystems had recovered enough from the End Permian extinction event to permit the establishment of complex marine Tetrapod food chains dominated by large apex vertebrate predators.

The Front Dorsal Region of Parahupehsuchus longus

White scale bar shown on actual fossil material = 1cm

White scale bar shown on actual fossil material = 1cm

Picture Credit: PLOS One

The unique corset-like body protection is made up of a combination of fused true ribs, belly ribs (gastralia) and neural spines.


red = dermal armour, scales and ossicles (da)

dark brown = first segment of neural spine (ns1)

dark green = second segment of neural spine (ns2)

grey = ribs (ri)

orange = lateral gastralia (lg)

white = median gastralia (mg)

green = bones of the left forelimb

arf (pink) = anterior rib facet extending from the parapophysis, dia (light brown) = diapophysis of the neural arch, para (yellow) = parapophysis main facet.

Note that ribs and gastralia overlap in a complex manner and the double rib articulation prevents rib motion.  This would have made chest movements difficult for breathing and restricted the body movements to aid swimming and locomotion on land.

Although, the ribs are expanded in a similar way to that of a turtle’s shell, Parahupehsuchus is not closely related to the Chelonia (turtles, tortoises and terrapins).  This might be an example of convergent evolution.

Scientists hope to find more fossils of this strange marine reptile in rocks that make up the Jialingjiang Formation and with further research they intend to build up a more detailed picture of the food chain that is represented by this Lower Triassic fossil material.

12 04, 2014

“Ovi the Oviraptor” Finds a New Home

By | April 12th, 2014|Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Everything Dinosaur Products, Press Releases|0 Comments

Ovi the Oviraptor – Competition Entrants

The Everything Dinosaur win “Ovi the Oviraptor” soft toy competition has now closed.   Our winning entry in the find a surname for “Ovi” has been announced and the prize, an Oviraptor soft toy, has already been despatched.  The very cute and cuddly dinosaur soft toy should be with the lucky winner in few days or so.

We had lots of competition entries in the three weeks or so that we ran the competition.  Team members at Everything Dinosaur adopted a soft toy in the office, the dinosaur soft toy represented Oviraptor with its big eyes and feather covered wings, trouble is, we could not agree on a surname for “Ovi” and so the idea for a competition came about.

A Very Cute and Cuddly Oviraptor Dinosaur Soft Toy

A very cute and cuddly dinosaur soft toy!

A very cute and cuddly dinosaur soft toy!

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

With “Ovi” looking for a new name and a new home we launched the competition in the run up to the Easter break.  After all, Oviraptor means “egg thief” and although this Mongolian feathered dinosaur has been much maligned, as Easter is associated with eggs, we thought a contest involving the “egg thief dinosaur” was appropriate.

What a fantastic amount of entries we had, there are just far too many to give everyone a mention but we will list a few of the competition entrants here so that readers can get an idea of all the clever names that were put forward.

Tony – Ovi – the heart thief, Flossy – Ovi Osborn (we had quite a few Ovi Osborn suggestions),  Ovi Philips from Spencer, Pjotr suggested Ovi Eggsy, Ovi James – thanks Nicole, Tyler sent us two names Ovi Eggward and Ovi Dinozawr (dinosaur in Russian as we are reliably informed).  Then we had Ovi Ovoid from Jane, Ovi Orzo from Skye, Ovi Kenovi from Lynne, Ovi Parity from Joe.  Sam proposed Ovi Kenobi (we had a lot of these), then there was Ovi Buddy from Jason, Kyle gave us Ovi Raptor, Rosemary sent Ovi Gorgeous, we had so many clever competition entries.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s huge range of soft toy dinosaurs and prehistoric animals: Dinosaur Soft Toys

The winning entry, the one that was pulled out of one of our hard hats we use when working on fossil locations, was “Ovi Roy”.  Why “Ovi Roy you might ask?   The person responsible for leading the expedition to Mongolia which led to the discovery of the first Oviraptor fossils to be formally described was the famous American adventurer and naturalist Roy Chapman Andrews.

Roy Chapman Andrews 1884 -1960

Adventurer and explorer Roy Chapman Andrews.

Adventurer and explorer Roy Chapman Andrews.

Far too many to list here but a big thank you to everyone who entered.  We will come up with more competitions and free downloads in the future, in the meantime, here’s to Ovi Roy in his new home.

11 04, 2014

Huge Extraterrestrial Impact that Shaped Our World

By | April 11th, 2014|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Geology, Main Page|0 Comments

Impact Earth 3.26 Billion Years Ago

Scientists have discovered tell-tale signs in the geology of Earth which reveal a catastrophic ancient impact event that would have dwarfed the dinosaur killing asteroid of sixty-five million years ago.  Approximately, 3.26 billion years ago, the region we now know as South Africa was hit by a colossal rock from space, a rock that would have been at least three times the size of the space rock responsible for the Cretaceous impact event.  Such was the magnitude of the impact that the Earth’s crust shifted, giving rise to some of the tectonic features that are still found today.

The study, published in the academic journal “Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems” focuses on the geological formation called the Barberton greenstone belt in South Africa.  This formation can be found in the north-east of South Africa and it partially borders the sovereign state of Swaziland.  The rocks are mainly continental and consist of some of the oldest continental crust rocks known.  The research team examined the seismology of the region and they estimate that between 3.47 billion and 3.23 billion years ago the area was the site of a massive impact from outer space.

Huge Extraterrestrial Object Crashes into Earth Around 3.26 Billion Years Ago

Cataclysmic impact event.

Cataclysmic impact event.

Picture Credit: Don Davis commissioned by NASA

During that time in the formation of the Earth and the solar system, our planet had cooled sufficiently for oceans to form and primitive bacterial thrived, although at the time there was very little oxygen, the most significant gases in the atmosphere were nitrogen and carbon dioxide.  The impact event occurred after the “Late Heavy Bombardment – LHB” which was a period of several hundred million years ending around 3.7 billion years ago when the inner rocky planets and satellites of the solar system was bombarded by space debris, left over from the creation of the planets and other bodies that make up our solar system.  The space rock, perhaps an asteroid or even a comet from further out in the solar system crashed into Earth. The object measured between 37 and 58 kilometres across and smashed into the region of southern Africa at a speed of more than 20 kilometres a second (a speed of around 43,000 miles an hour).  The crater caused would have measured over five hundred kilometres in diameter (300 miles), although this has been eroded away.  The resulting impact sent seismic waves through the entire planet and it is likely that these seismic waves exceeded the amplitudes of typical earthquake waves. The duration of extreme shaking was also far longer, probably hundreds of seconds, than that from strong earthquakes.  Debris thrown up into the atmosphere would have sufficient momentum to leave the Earth’s orbit, firestorms would have ravaged the planet and tsunamis hundreds of metres high would have smashed into the nascent continents.  Indeed, water at the surface of the oceans would have been boiled away.  Such was the force generated that subduction might have occurred as a result, helping to shape the continents.

Geologist, Donald Lowe of Stanford University and a co-author of the scientific study explained:

“We can’t go to the impact sites.  In order to better understand how big it was and its effect we need studies like this. We knew it [the impact event] was big, but we didn’t know how big.”

The Earth and the primitive life upon it would have been devastated, wiping out whole genera of bacteria, but just like the extinction event that marks the end of the Cretaceous, other organisms would have evolved to replace those that had died out, just as the Mammalia rose to prominence with the extinction of the Dinosauria.  The shock of the impact could also have moved the tectonic systems around the Earth’s crust into a higher gear, making the planet more tectonically active.  The impact of this event, so long ago, is still being felt by the Earth today the researchers speculate.  Identified by the presence of spherule beds in the Barberton greenstone belt, this Archean impact event has shaped the way the Earth’s continents and oceans came about.

The Size and Scale of the Impact

Impact event in the Barberton greenstone belt of South Africa.

Impact event in the Barberton greenstone belt of South Africa.

Picture Credit: American Geophysical Union

The illustration above compares the extraterrestrial object responsible for the Chicxulub impact that may have helped wipe out the dinosaurs, with the Archaen impact event and the world’s highest mountain, Mount Everest.  The impact craters illustrated are compared with the island of Hawaii for scale.  The estimated crater formed by the collision around 3.26 billion years ago may have been as much as five hundred kilometres across.

Commenting on the research, geologist Frank Kyte of the UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) stated:

“This is providing significant support for the idea that the impact may have been responsible for this major shift in tectonics.”

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