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

Key

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.”

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.

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