All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
//April
10 04, 2014

Bizarre New Triassic Marine Reptile Described

By | April 10th, 2014|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Atopodentatus unicus from Yunnan Province

The fossils of a bizarre marine reptile with a unique mouth have been discovered in south-western China.  Although its body resembles other types of marine reptile, the skull and the mouth are extremely unusual and nothing like them has been seen before in the fossil record.   A number of scientists have speculated about this strange anatomical arrangement, the upper jaw resembles a vertical slit with fine teeth arranged to form sieve-like structure.  A prehistoric animal that has a “zipper” for an upper jaw.   These adaptations indicate that this three-metre long sea creature evolved to fit a very specialist niche in the marine ecosystem of 245 million years ago.

The animal has been named Atopodentatus unicus, the name translates from the Latin to mean “peculiar teeth of unique shape” and one glance at an illustration of this particular beastie shows why the nomenclature is so appropriate.

An Illustration of A. unicus

Strange Triassic marine reptile.

Strange Triassic marine reptile.

Picture Credit: Nobu Tamura 2014

This is one of those occasions when the interpretation of the fossil material and a resulting illustration needs to proceed any further discussion so that the reader can gain an impression of just how weird this animal was.

The land that makes up the border between the south-western Chinese provinces of Guizhou and Yunnan is very important to palaeontologists as they try to reconstruct how life on Earth bounced back following the End Permian mass extinction.  The rocks laid down in this region represent Early and Middle Triassic marine faunas, the fine sediments that were deposited at the bottom of a shallow, tropical sea have preserved a wealth of marine reptile fossils, along with fishes and a vast array of invertebrates.  By recording the diversity of life preserved within this series, scientists can see how life on Earth recovered from the mass extinction event that marked the end of the Permian geological period.  The Atopodentatus fossil material was found in  Luoping County (Yunnan Province), the strata in this area has been dated to around 245 million years ago (Anisian faunal stage of the Middle Triassic), a little over five million years since the extinction event that saw an estimated 95% of life on the planet wiped out.  At this time in the Triassic, a number of different types of marine reptile had evolved, all of which were descended from terrestrial ancestors.

A large number of Ichthyosaur specimens have been discovered, some Ichthyosaurs co-existed with Atopodentatus but in younger Triassic rocks (Ladinian to Carnian faunal stages 230 to 225 million years ago), it seems that Ichthyosaurs had established themselves as the largest and most important marine reptile group.  The other types of marine reptile that lived alongside Atopodentatus are almost as bizarre.  There are primitive Sauropterygians, such as Nothosaurs and animals that are ancestors of the much more familiar Plesiosaurs and Pliosaurs, Protorosaurs, partially marine reptiles that were to give rise to the long-necked Tanystropheus and other peculiar Archosauriforms.  It seems that this part of the world was a “melting pot” for marine reptile evolution with some groups, surviving into the Jurassic, with other types completely dying out within a few million years.

A Specimen of the Sauropterygian Nothosaur called Keichousaurus

Keichousaur Fossil

 These rocks have been explored and mapped for more than ten years, by an international team of scientists. The report on the strange Atopodentatus has been published in the academic journal “Naturwissenschaften”, the study into A. unicus was conducted by scientists from the Canadian Museum of Nature, the Wuhan Institute of Geology and Mineral Resources as well as the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Dr Xiao-Chun Wu (Canadian Museum of Nature) and his colleagues named the new prehistoric creature Atopodentatus unicus and suggest it belonged to a Superorder of reptiles called the Sauropterygians.  Staff from Everything Dinosaur, having reviewed the fossil bones have suggested it might be a type of Nothosaur, but one with a very specialised feeding method.  The body of the animal was quite long, the neck short and the skull much deeper than other similar sized Triassic marine creatures.  Most Nothosaurs were fish-eaters, but the dentition and the morphology of the jaws suggest that this newly discovered reptile had a weak bite and teeth unsuitable for tackling struggling prey.

On each side of the mouth, A. unicus had around 35 small, pointed teeth in the front of the upper jaw.  There were around 140 similarly shaped teeth in the rest of the upper jaw, with at least 100 located in the horizontal portion with the remainder located in the vertical, zipper-like portion of the top jaw.  There were nearly 200 teeth located in the lower jaw, over half of which were in the horizontal portion with the remainder located in the shovel-headed front part.  All the teeth were covered in enamel, indicating even wear across all parts of the crown of the tooth, but the teeth do not look very worn, perhaps this hints at the sort of prey this animal specialised in catching.  Whatever it was eating, it probably had this food resource all to itself amongst the vertebrates as no other creature found to date has anything approaching the jaw anatomy of this marine reptile.

The Prepared Fossils (Atopodentatus unicus)

Bizarre Triassic marine reptile.

Bizarre Triassic marine reptile.

Picture Credit: Long Cheng/Wuhan Institute of Geology and Mineral Resources

The picture shows the long, serpentine body of the reptile with the deep, shovel-shaped skull shown as an inset.  Note the well developed limbs, particularly the large humerus.  This prehistoric animal was probably only partially marine, still capable of venturing out onto land, although the broad wrist bones and elongated fingers and toes enabled the limbs to be used to help the animal swim.

As to what this animal actually ate, no one knows for sure, there is nothing similar living today that seems to have anything remotely like its specialised feeding apparatus, or is there?  The Bowhead Whale (Balaena mysticetus), has plates of baleen made from keratin in its mouth which it uses to sieve out planktonic organisms as it swims through Arctic waters.  The mouth of Atopodentatus may have been adapted for sieving out small creatures but not from open water like the huge-mouthed Bowhead, but from soft mud on the sea floor.  Dr. Wu and his colleagues, suggest that the broad, shovel-like head of this marine reptile may have ploughed through soft sediments with its teeth sieving out soft-bodied creatures such as marine worms.

The doctor added:

“It is obvious that such delicate teeth are not strong enough to catch prey, but were probably used as a barrier to filter micro-organisms or benthic invertebrates such as sea worms.  These were collected by the specialised jaws, which may have functioned as a shovel or push-dozer and a grasper or scratcher.”

At the moment, the actual function of the jaws remain a mystery.  Perhaps a specimen will be found with stomach contents preserved or perhaps some trace fossils will be discovered the reveal a ploughed up seabed.  One of the few certainties surrounding this bizarre creature is that like a number of the strange marine reptiles that existed in the Mid Triassic seas of China, within a few million years this particular branch of the marine family tree had become extinct.

9 04, 2014

Volcanoes at Yorkshire School

By | April 9th, 2014|Educational Activities, Geology, Teaching|0 Comments

Year 4 Pupils Make Volcanoes

Whilst on a school visit to teach about dinosaurs and fossils one of our teaching team was given the chance to view an excellent display of volcanoes made by Year 4 pupils as they studied rocks and the formation of the Earth. There was some amazing artwork on display and under the teacher’s tutelage, some children had even made models.  Some of the models spouted lava flows made from coloured tissue paper, other volcano models had been prepared for use later on in the day, where with the addition of vinegar and bicarbonate of soda, they were going to “erupt”.  Carbon dioxide produced in the plastic drinks bottle that helps to form the cone shape will force out the liquid lava as the gas pressure builds.  It is a good idea to put plenty of newspaper down to keep mess to a minimum and we like to add a few drops of washing up liquid to help the lava bubble.  Food colouring can be used to create, red, orange and even blue lava  – whatever colour takes your fancy!

Children’s  Models of Volcanoes on Display

Lava erupting from the cone shaped volcanoes

Lava erupting from the cone shaped volcanoes

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Hoylandswaine

 We discussed the extinction of the dinosaurs as part of our dinosaur workshop and we looked at other theories about the Cretaceous mass extinction, including volcanic activity leading to dramatic climate change.

To read more about alternative theories to the asteroid impact theory: Dinosaur Extinction Theory – Blame the Deccan Traps

It certainly was a most enjoyable day, one that delighted our geologist colleagues when the saw the pictures of the children’s work.

To read more about Everything Dinosaur’s work in schools: Dinosaur Workshops in Schools

8 04, 2014

High Risk of Landslides on the Dorset Coast

By | April 8th, 2014|Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Geology|0 Comments

Beware of Landslides – Lyme Regis Cliffs

Many schools have broken up for the spring holidays and families might be tempted to take a day trip to visit the Jurassic Coast in search of fossils.  A visit to the beautiful coast of Dorset and to towns such as Lyme Regis is highly recommended, but we urge caution when on the beach searching for fossils as the cliffs in the area remain particularly unstable and rock falls are very common.

Just how dangerous the cliffs can be was brought home to us when local fossil expert Brandon Lennon sent us a video which captures one of the very many landslides that have occurred in the area over recent weeks.  In this short video (0:49), taken on Monmouth beach to the west of Lyme Regis heading towards the county of Devon, rocks and debris can be seen tumbling onto the beach within just a few yards of bystanders.

Landslide at Monmouth Beach (Lyme Regis)

Video Credit: Brandon Lennon

We are grateful to Brandon for sending Everything Dinosaur this video and we recommend staying away from the cliffs along the Dorset coast.  When it comes to fossil collecting, we advise that visitors to the Lyme Regis area look for fossils on a falling tide and to search around the tide line where the sea will have washed off mud and clay from rocks exposing a lot of potential fossil material.

Take advantage of a the help and advice of a professional fossil collector by going on an organised fossil collecting walk for further information: Lyme Regis Fossil Walks

In addition, here are some hints and tips to help fossil hunters keep safe whilst out fossil collecting on the beaches around Lyme Regis and Charmouth.

  • Always stay away from the cliffs
  • Do not climb on the cliffs or any recent landslips/mudflows
  • Tell a responsible person where you are going and when you are expected back
  • Have a mobile phone handy in case of emergencies
  • Beware of the threat of landslides, especially during or just after bad weather
  • Note the tide times particularly high tide and take the advice of the local coastguard etc.
  • Aim to collect fossils on a falling tide, be aware of the incoming tide especially around headlands where you could easily get cut off
  • In rough weather, be aware of strong winds and high waves and the fact that the footing underneath might be treacherous
  • Wear suitable clothing and shoes
7 04, 2014

Win “Ovi” the Oviraptor with Everything Dinosaur

By | April 7th, 2014|Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Everything Dinosaur Products|0 Comments

Last Chance to Enter the “Ovi” the Oviraptor Competition

Just a few days to go before we close our “Ovi” the Oviraptor competition, the closing date for entries for this free to enter competition is noon (BST) on Friday April 11th.  One lucky dinosaur fan will be able to adopt their very own cute and very cuddly Oviraptor soft toy, just in time for Easter.

Win “Ovi” the Oviraptor Soft Toy with Everything Dinosaur

Visit Everything Dinosaur's Facebook Page, give our page a "like", leave a comment suggesting a surname for "Ovi".

Visit Everything Dinosaur’s Facebook Page, give our page a “like”, leave a comment suggesting a surname for “Ovi”.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

For your chance to win a super, soft and very cute “Ovi” the  Oviraptor just visit Everything Dinosaur’s Facebook page (click the Facebook logo below or click on the picture of “Ovi” and his Easter eggs above) “like” the Everything Dinosaur page and scroll down to the “Ovi” picture and suggest a surname for our cuddly dinosaur.

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”.

We have had lots of amazing entries already, for your chance to win, “like” our Facebook name and leave a comment with a suggested surname.  Don’t forget the closing date for entries is midday on Friday April 11th.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s range of prehistoric animal soft toys: Soft Toy Dinosaurs

Best of luck!

This competition has now closed.

6 04, 2014

Call for more Work to be Done on Western Australia’s Dinosaur Trails

By | April 6th, 2014|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Research being Carried out on the Dampier Peninsula Dinosaur Tracks

Usually when team members at Everything Dinosaur are asked to write about Australian dinosaur research, the focus is on sites in Queensland or indeed Victoria, however, a series of extensive dinosaur tracks located in Western Australia, along the Dampier peninsula north of the small town of Broome, are rapidly coming to prominence.  In the Early Cretaceous, around 130 million years ago (Barremian faunal stage), Australia was much further south than it is today, it was not a separate continent but attached to the landmass that would become Antarctica.  Coal deposits and plant fossils indicate that the climate at this southerly latitude was much warmer than it is today, there was probably no permanent ice at the poles and the land that was to become Western Australia was a huge flood plain, crossed by large, slow moving rivers.  Dinosaurs flourished in this environment and evidence of the diversity of the dinosaurs has been preserved in a multitude of dinosaur tracks.  The trackways can be found all along the coast north of Broome, where the Lower Cretaceous Broome sandstone is exposed.  The lengths of the tracks are very significant, some of the trackways can be correlated over a tens of metres, they are regarded as “mega track sites”, otherwise known colloquially as “dinosaur freeways”.

Tridactyl Theropod Tracks from the Broome Area

Three-toed dinosaur tracks.

Three-toed dinosaur tracks.

Picture Credit: Government of Western Australia (Dept. of State Development)

In a survey undertaken in 2011 a number of dinosaur trackways were classified and assessed, something in the region of fifteen different types of dinosaur have been identified including Sauropods, Ornithopods, Theropods and armoured dinosaurs (Thyreophora).

Dr. Steve Salisbury (University of Queensland), one of the researchers who carried out the study in 2011 is keen to see further research work undertaken and is enthusiastic about making the dinosaur tracks and trails better known to the public.  However, it is important that any studies are undertaken with the utmost respect for the feelings of the local indigenous people as the tracks and footprints play an important role in local aboriginal art and culture.  Dr. Salisbury commented on the importance of these Cretaceous dinosaur footprints:

“There are some really important ones, scientifically and culturally, that we don’t really want to let everyone know where they are.  But there are plenty of tracks that it would be fantastic to share them with people… Broome should embrace what it’s got on its doorsteps because it’s really special.”

In addition, care should be taken when it comes to publicising the location of some of the tracks, thefts of dinosaur footprints have occurred and in 1996 prints made by an armoured dinosaur were stolen from the Crab Creek area on the north coast of Roebuck Bay.  The theft of dinosaur fossils, even trace fossils such as footprints is an all too often occurrence, to read an article about the theft of a dinosaur footprint from Jurassic aged strata near to the town of Moab in Utah: Dinosaur Footprint Stolen in Utah.

Some of the Sauropod prints (long-necked dinosaurs) are huge.  Individual prints have been measured at over 1.7 metres long.  Although ichnologists (the term used to describe a person who studies trace fossils), are not able to assign a genus to the footprints, it has been estimated that some of the Sauropod dinosaurs that made the tracks were in excess of thirty metres in length.

Giant Sauropod Trackways from Western Australia

Dinosaur tracks from the Broome area of Western Australia.

Dinosaur tracks from the Broome area of Western Australia.

Picture Credit: Government of Western Australia (Dept. of State Development)

The enormous, rounded prints of a Sauropod dinosaur can be clearly seen in this picture taken in the Red Cliffs area.

The scientists hope that their studies will help shed more light on the ecology of this part of the world in the Early Cretaceous.  The large number of different dinosaur species that the tracks potentially represent gives the palaeontologists the opportunity to learn a little more about the behaviour and interactions of the Dinosauria.  The team intend to digitally map the locations using technology similar to that used recently to recreate the famous Sauropod/Theropod tracks preserved in the Paluxy River of Texas.

To read more about the Paluxy River trace fossils: Digitally Mapping a Famous Set of Dinosaur Tracks

Dr. Salisbury explained what the dinosaur footprints and tracks showed:

“Some of them look like they’re on a mission; they’re definitely heading somewhere.  Other ones look like they’re lost, and they’re wandering around in circles… We’ve got a record of what they were doing and it’s a hundred and thirty million years old, so it’s pretty special.  If you could go back in time and look at the Broome area, you would have seen all these different types of dinosaurs wandering around; it would have been really special. It’s your own Cretaceous Park, on your doorstep.”

The tracks are sacred to the local indigenous people.  The Aborigine tribes in the area believe that the tracks help explain their creation story and the scientists are keen to record the fossils, take latex rubber copies of the prints but to leave all the tracks in situ.  The first recorded description of a print made by non-indigenous people dates back to the 1930’s but the entire region has not been fully studied to date.  The survey undertaken in 2011 highlighted the importance and the significance of the location, now scientists are hoping to learn more by walking in the footsteps of dinosaurs.

5 04, 2014

Earliest Cardiovascular System Described from Chinese Cambrian Arthropod

By | April 5th, 2014|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Oldest Known Cardiovascular System Identified – Fuxianhuia protensa

The fossil of an Arthropod found in rocks laid down around 520 million years ago with an exquisitely preserved cardiovascular system has been described by a team of scientists led by researchers from the Natural History Museum in London.  The specimen represents the oldest known fossil showing a rudimentary heart and blood vessels known to science.  Thanks to remarkable fossil sites such as the Burgess Shale deposits in British Columbia and beautifully preserved remains of Cambrian creatures from highly fossiliferous strata from south-western China, palaeontologists have built up an astonishing amount of data on life in the seas and oceans of the world around 520 to 500 million years ago, a period in the geological history of planet Earth known as the Cambrian explosion due to the range and diversity of organisms that had evolved at that time.

The exquisitely preserved specimen represents Fuxianhuia protensa from the Middle Cambrian aged strata of the Chengjiang Formation (the Moatianshan shales of Yunnan Province, south-west China).  Fossils of this shrimp-like creature are very common in these marine shales, sixteen different phyla that have been identified from the Chengjiang Formation, a location that rivals the Burgess Shales in terms of the rich fossil record that has been preserved, although the material from the Chengjiang Formation is slightly older than the fossils from the Walcott Quarry section of the Burgess Shale deposits.  Until this particular specimen had been studied, it has been assumed that most of the internal organs of early Arthropods would not survive the fossilisation process.  Some fossils had been found that indicated the presence of a digestive tract and back in October 2013, Everything Dinosaur reported the discovery of an Arthropod (Alalcomenaeus spp.) from the same region of Yunnan Province that showed signs of a brain and the soft tissue preservation of a nervous system, here we report on the discovery and mapping of a complete cardiovascular system in a 520 million year old Arthropod.

To read more about this earlier discovery: Ancient Arthropod Brain and Nervous System Studied

Although many fossils of F. protensa are known, its taxonomic position with the Arthropoda remains unclear, it is thought to be a basal member of this phyla, which today is the largest phylum of animals and includes crustaceans, insects, spiders, mites, scorpions, centipedes, king crabs millipedes and a number of extinct Orders such as the Trilobita.  The external skeleton is most commonly preserved, either as parts shed as the animal grew or as complete specimens that represent animals that died, however, due to the exquisite degree of preservation in some specimens from the Chengjiang Formation, scientists now have a much better understanding of the internal anatomy of early Arthropods.  What is remarkable, is that sophisticated cardiovascular and nervous systems seem to have evolved in the Arthropoda at an early stage in the history of life on Earth.

Fuxianhuia Fossils that have been used in the Study

Cardiovascular system in 520 million year old Arthropod preserved.

Cardiovascular system in 520 million year old Arthropod preserved.

Picture Credit: Journal of Nature Communications

The photograph shows examples of the F. protensa fossil material used in the study.  Diagram (a) is a view of specimen YKLP 11336 from above (dorsal view), the location of the digestive tract running down the centre of the body is indicated by the black arrows.

Illustration (b) shows the head and the front of the animal (anterior view), specimen number YKLP 11337, the white arrows indicate the mouth of the creature.  Part (c) shows the filled gut within the abdominal segments, the gut has been preserved as carbon in this specimen (YKLP 11338).  Diagram (d) shows empty gut area marked by arrows in abdominal segments Ab9 to Ab14.

Diagram (e) shows the preserved outline of the cardiovascular system (YKLP 11335), A1 in the photograph marks the position of the left antenna and ey marks the position of the right eye.  The black triangles towards the top of the picture indicate the position of the bottom portion of the animal’s headshield.  The white outlined triangles towards the bottom of photograph (e) show the end of the thorax portion of the animal’s body.

Scale Bars

Most complete specimens of F. protensa are around 30 mm in length, the scale bars in the photographs are:

(a) = 5 mm

(b, c and d) = 1 mm

(e) = 4 mm

Commenting on the significance of this fossil discovery, palaeontologist Xiaoya Ma (Natural History Museum, London), one of the authors of the scientific paper published in the journal “Nature Communications” stated:

“It is an extremely rare and unusual case that such a delicate organ system can be preserved in one of the oldest fossils and in exquisite detail.  However, under very exceptional circumstances, soft tissue and anatomical organ systems can be preserved as fossils.”

Scientists now have an excellent understanding of the internal organisation of the anatomy of this Arthropod.  Usually, soft tissue decays rapidly after death and fossils typically only preserve the hard parts of an organism, such as the exoskeleton in the case of the Arthropoda.  With Fuxianhuia protensa the fossils show a tubular heart in the middle of the body with a complex system of blood vessels leading to the creature’s antennae, eyes, brain and limbs.  The cardiovascular system consists of the heart and the blood vessels.  It allows blood to circulate and to deliver oxygen and nutrients around the body.  Most higher forms of life in the Kingdom Animalia have such a system, although those organisms without a real body cavity such as flatworms and jellyfish do not.

The specimens studied suggest that as early as 520 million years ago, Arthropods had evolved a complex internal anatomy which is very similar in structure to the internal anatomy found today in extant Arthropods such as shrimps.

Like the Burgess Shales, the Chengjiang Formation material has preserved much of an ecosystem that thrived in a shallow marine environment more than half a billion years ago.  It seems that these two ancient environments suffered much the same fate as each other even though just like today, in the Cambrian, these two locations were thousands of miles apart.  Both the Burgess Shale Formation and the Chengjiang Formations represent shallow marine environments which were on slopes.  From time to time mudflows, buried entire ecosystems and as a result, a wealth of organic material has been preserved.  A large number of Fuxianhuia fossil material is known from Yunnan Province, scientists believe that this Arthropod was benthic (living on the sea floor), although it is not known whether this animal was an active hunter or a scavenger.

A Schematic Diagram of the Internal Anatomy of Fuxianhuia protensa

Digestive tract and cardiovascular system of Fuxianhuia protensa

Digestive tract and cardiovascular system of Fuxianhuia protensa

Picture Credit: Journal of Nature Communications

The diagram above shows the internal anatomy of F. protensa.  Diagram (a) shows the cardiovascular system (red) shown in relation to the brain and central nervous system (blue).  Diagram (b) shows the whole reconstruction, with brain and segmental ganglia (blue) overlaid against the external skeleton of the animal.  Diagram (c) shows the cardiovascular system in relation to the digestive tract (green).  In all three diagrams, the tubular heart organ can be seen running down the central region of the thorax.

Thanks to highly detailed fossils from British Columbia and south-western China, scientists have been able to acquire a lot of knowledge about life in the oceans of the world during the Cambrian geological period.  Although, advanced and highly evolved cardiovascular systems were present in many organisms, the paucity of the fossil record that pre-dates the Cambrian prevents scientists from calculating when key structures such as hearts and brains first evolved.  Given the degree of sophistication seen in the Fuxianhuia material two competing theories have been put forward.  Firstly, such specialised internal structures such as hearts, brains and a cardiovascular system must have evolved gradually with incremental changes many millions of years before the Cambrian.  Secondly, the evolution of such specialised internal organs occurred relatively quickly in response to the development of predator/prey interactions and the increased availability of food resources.

The research team are able to conclude that organisms had cardiovascular systems before Fuxianhuia, but evidence of lacking in the fossil record so no further light on the subject can be cast for the time being.

The genus name Fuxianhuia is after Lake Fuxian in Yunnan Province, the specific or trivial name “protensa” means “elongated” a reference to the elongated thorax of the creature.

4 04, 2014

Dinosaurs Beginning with “Z”

By | April 4th, 2014|Dinosaur Fans, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Dinosaurs Whose Names Start with the Letter “Z”

With a number of new Chinese dinosaur fossil discoveries being announced over the last few years or so, the number of dinosaurs, whose names begin with the letter “Z” has increased dramatically.  For example, the Thyreophoran (armoured dinosaur) from China called Zhejiangosaurus and the Hadrosaur called Zhuchengosaurus.  These are both examples of Ornithischian dinosaurs known from Cretaceous aged strata.  However, Jurassic, lizard-hipped dinosaurs (Saurischians) get a look in to at the end of the alphabet thanks to the discovery of Zigongosaurus (long-necked Sauropod dinosaur from the Jurassic).

It is not just dinosaurs from China that dominate the very last letter of the alphabet.  Our experts at Everything Dinosaur can think of two dinosaur genera from Argentina that both begin with the letter “Z”.  Firstly, there is the poorly known Triassic Theropod called Zupaysaurus, whose fossils date from the Middle Triassic.  Then there is the much larger Zapalasaurus, a Diplodocid Sauropod from Cretaceous aged strata.

Our favourite dinosaur beginning with the letter “Z” is the horned dinosaur from North America called Zuniceratops (Zuniceratops christopheri) which was formally named and described in 1998.

An Illustration of the North American Ceratopsian Zuniceratops

Reconstruction based on the likes of Zuniceratops.

Reconstruction based on the likes of Zuniceratops.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

In 2011, a giant Tyrannosaurine dinosaur was named and described from a bone bed found in Shandong Province in China.  This dinosaur was named Zhuchengtyrannus magnus.  Unfortunately, the press releases announcing the discovery were sent out by the Chinese press agency on March 31st and they arrived in UK news rooms the next day.  Many media groups thought the story some kind of elaborate April Fool’s joke.  However, roaming north-eastern China in the Late Cretaceous was a very large, Tyrannnosaurine dinosaur that may have been about the same size as Tyrannosaurus rex.

To read more about Zhuchengtyrannus: New Tyrannosaur Named and Described from China

With so many new Chinese dinosaurs, we can expect many more dinosaurs to have names starting with the twenty-sixth letter of the western alphabet.

3 04, 2014

Papo Archaeopteryx Model – A Review

By | April 3rd, 2014|Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur Products, Product Reviews|0 Comments

A Review of the 2014 Papo Archaeopteryx Model

The first of the new for 2014 prehistoric animal replicas to be released by Papo is this excellent model of the Late Jurassic “dino bird” known as Archaeopteryx.  Although no longer regarded as the “earliest bird” from the fossil record, as recent discoveries from north-eastern China have challenged Archaeopteryx’s taxonomic position in the Aves Order, the dozen or so fossils of this Late Jurassic creature remain some of the most studied vertebrate fossils to have ever been found.

Named  and described back in 1861, just two years after Charles Darwin had published the first edition of the “Origin of Species”.  Archaeopteryx is described as a transitional fossil between the reptiles and birds.  The fossil evidence reveals that Archaeopteryx had characteristics associated with a bird but it also retained a number of reptilian features.

Papo Archaeopteryx Model (New for 2014)

Ready for take off!

Ready for take off!

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The design team at Papo have been keen to reflect a lot of what is known about Archaepteryx in their hand-painted replica and to also mirror some of the very latest research into this creature whose fossils have been found in southern Germany (Solnhofen).  For example, the figure is posed with its jaws wide open, permitting the teeth, so reminiscent of a small Theropod dinosaur to be prominently displayed.  The three-fingered claws on each wing are clearly visible and the claws themselves are strongly curved just like in the fossil material.

As for mirroring some of the very latest research, a close up of the dinosaur-like head reveals that the eyes are quite large, again reflecting the fossil data, but also the pupils are rounded.  Recent studies of the sclerotic rings, the ring of bones found in the eye socket of Archaeopteryx, indicate that this animal was very probably diurnal, that is, it was active during the day and it very probably had excellent colour vision.  Hence the bright, quirky plume of red coloured quills that project from the back of the skull – great for species recognition when you possess colour vision in what was largely still a green and brown world.

The Papo Archaeopteryx model measures approximately twelve and a half centimetres in length, from the tip of the jaws to the end of its fan of tail feathers.  The head itself, is around seven centimetres off the ground.  We estimate that this replica is in approximately 1 to 5 scale, based on fossil measurements that indicate that this creature was around the size of a modern day Magpie.

The paintwork is excellent, and a wide variety of colours have been used.  This marks a change for Papo as the rest of their prehistoric animal model range tends to be painted in one or two dominant colours.  Here we have bronze coloured feathers, contrasting with feathers painted white and light grey, even feathers showing a flash of azure blue with the top of the scaly neck painted an almost navy blue colour.

The detailing is superb with individual scales and feathers picked out on the model.  Perhaps, the quality of this model is best demonstrated by examining the underside of the tail, an area often neglected by other model making companies.  Here even the individual structure of feathers can be made out.

Unlike the majority of Papo’s carnivorous dinosaurs the jaws do not move, the reason for this is simple, when working with Papo we were told that the jaws proved too small to articulate, however, the fine detail of the mouth and the skull more than makes up for this.

An Excellent Papo Archaeopteryx Prehistoric Animal Model

Papo Archaeopteryx

Papo Archaeopteryx

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

All in all, this is an excellent model of an Archaeopteryx and one that is a welcome addition to the Papo model range, it does have a great deal to commend it.

To view the Papo prehistoric animal models available from Everything Dinosaur: Papo Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals

2 04, 2014

Schematic Story Maps Help Children Remember Facts

By | April 2nd, 2014|Educational Activities, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Teaching|0 Comments

Dinosaur Extinction Explained using Schematic Story Maps

When it comes to helping Year 1 recount what they have learned during their term topic on dinosaurs, the class teaching team at Wroxton Primary School utilise a simple technique that helps “map out” facts into a straight forward story for the children.

Being able to demonstrate evidence of learning at the end of a term topic is extremely important.  It is essential that the teaching team with the support of their learning support providers and teaching assistants can monitor the progress made by pupils.  At Everything Dinosaur, we recommend using the KWL technique to help plan and record the achievement of various learning objectives, however, there are a number of different techniques and methodologies available to teachers.

The KWL technique involves working with the class at the start of the topic to establish what the children know, what they would like to learn and this provides the foundation for the scheme of work and permits that all important recall and checking of learning once the topic has been concluded.

A Typical KWL Chart Prepared for a Dinosaur Teaching Topic

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

Essentially, KWL permits the following:

K= Know (test what the children known, brainstorming/discussion activities) log results

W = What (during the first stage questions will be raised, ideas to be tested proposed, these can form the basis of the teaching work)

L = Learn (the recounting stage or the recall stage, review at the end of the term topic what the children have learned (check learning, summarise learning)

During a school visit to a primary school in Oxfordshire, one of Everything Dinosaur’s dinosaur experts came across some excellent examples of story maps being used to help create visual cues to stimulate learning and recall for use in creative writing activities.  Our expert saw several examples of such “story boarding” maps, one covering the extinction of the dinosaurs, another telling the story of Mary Anning (1799-1847).

Visual Story Map for use in Year 1

Visual cues to help young children recall facts about dinosaurs.

Visual cues to help young children recall facts about dinosaurs.

Picture Credit: Wroxton Primary School

A level of knowledge regarding possible causes of the extinction of the dinosaurs was clearly demonstrated by the Year 1 pupils who were eager to explain all about an object from outer space crashing into the Earth and what happened to the dinosaurs as a result.  This was a most impressive demonstration of learning using a technique which would appeal to those children who prefer a visual learning style.

1 04, 2014

Digitally Reconstructing a Famous Dinosaur Trackway

By | April 1st, 2014|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Dinosaur Tracks Lost to Science for Decades Recreated Using Digital Technology

A set of dinosaur tracks, one from a large Sauropod dinosaur, the second set from a meat-eating dinosaur, have been digitally recreated permitting scientists to study the complete tracks for the first time in more than seventy years.  The footprints, which cover a distance of approximately forty-five metres, are part of a number of dinosaur trackways preserved in near marine sediments that were laid down between 113 and 110 million  years ago (Cretaceous geological period).  The Theropod dinosaur’s three-toed prints overlie the larger Sauropod prints and this indicates that the large herbivorous dinosaur passed first, perhaps the carnivore was stalking the Sauropod.  The tracks, now forming part of the bed of the Paluxy River in Texas are often referred to as the “dinosaur chase tracks”, although scientists cannot be certain whether or not the Theropod was stalking its prey.

The Famous Dinosaur “Chase” Tracks (Paluxy River, Texas)

Famous dinosaur tracks - Theropod and Sauropod tracks.

Famous dinosaur tracks – Theropod and Sauropod tracks.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows a potential interpretation of the Paluxy River tracks, with the huge, plant-eating dinosaur being stalked by the bipedal, Theropod dinosaur.  It is difficult to assign a genus to these dinosaur footprints, but it has been speculated that the Theropod may have been a member of the Acrocanthosaurus genus, as fossils of this large predator have been found in similar aged rocks and a dinosaur bone from the Glen Rose Formation, has been assigned to Acrocanthosaurus.

Using a technique called photogrammetry, scanning and combining photographs taken during research at the location back in the 1940’s, the scientists were able to build a digital model of the site.  The computer model created is the only complete record available to study as some of the physical tracks themselves have been lost.

The Paluxy River dinosaur tracksite is among the most famous in the world.  In 1940, Dr. Roland T. Bird, a American palaeontologist from the American Museum of Natural History (New York), described and excavated a portion of the site containing associated Theropod and Sauropod trackways, the so-called “dinosaur chase tracks.  As the river flow was in danger of completely eroding away the dinosaur footprints, it was decided to remove the tracks in a serious of carefully excavated blocks.  The trackway was thus broken up into a number of sections.  Split up as it was, the fossil specimens were housed in different museum collections and over the years the slabs have deteriorated and a portion of the track has been lost.

The research team, which included scientists from Liverpool University, the Royal Veterinary College (London) and Indiana-Purdue University, Indiana, applied state-of-the-art photogrammetric techniques to seventeen black and white photographs of the tracks that had been taken by Dr. Bird during the 1940 trace fossil study.  By producing highly detailed scans of the original photographs and their corresponding negatives the researchers were able to digitally reconstruct the site prior to its fateful excavation.  Furthermore, the three-dimensional study was able to corroborate sketches drawn by Dr. Bird when the trackway was first scientifically described.

Sixteen of the Photographs from the 1940 Expedition Used to make the 3-D Digital Map

Some of the original photographs used to create the 3-D image.

Some of the original photographs used to create the 3-D image.

Picture Credit: PLOS One

This new mapping technique demonstrates the exciting potential for digitally recreating palaeontological, geological, or archaeological specimens that have been lost to science, but for which photographic documentation still exists.

Using dinosaur footprints made back in the Aptian/Albian faunal stage of the Cretaceous, this work has dramatically illustrated the potential for the technique of historical photogrammetry, permitting the creation of highly detailed and precise 3-D maps of sites that may have been physically lost and just preserved in photographs.  In this instance, the last time the set of dinosaur tracks was complete was back in 1940 prior to the removal of the footprint blocks.

A Digital View of the Reconstructed Tracks

Video Credit: PLOS One

Commenting on the significance of this study, lead researcher Dr Peter Falkingham (Royal Veterinary College) stated:

“Here we’re showing that you can do this to lost or damaged specimens or even entire sites if you have photographs taken at the time.  That means we can reconstruct digitally, and 3-D print, objects that no longer exist.”

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