All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
11 05, 2014

Those Very Tough Dinosaurs

By | May 11th, 2014|Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

New Research Provides Data on How Dinosaurs Recovered from Injuries

It has long been accepted that dinosaurs led tough lives.  A new study by University of Manchester scientists in collaboration with international colleagues, has revealed just how tough the Dinosauria were.  An analysis of a toe bone from a 150 million year old meat-eating dinosaur is helping scientists to identify chemical markers of elements that show where bone healing took place.  Identifying such chemical markers could help with the development of strategies to assist in the healing and recovery rates when it comes to injuries in other species, including our own.

The fossil record of vertebrates records many instances of disease, injury or other trauma in the bones.  This is known as pathology and interpreting this pathology permits palaeontologists to gain an insight into the lives and behaviours of long extinct animals.  At Everything Dinosaur, we have a number of pedal phalanges (toe bones) of the dinosaur known as Edmontosaurus (E. regalis) that show signs of arthritis.  Its seems that the Dinosauria suffered from conditions which are very familiar to us.  Other fossil specimens show more dramatic signs of injury, such as another duck-billed dinosaur, whose skeleton reveals evidence of a potential attack from a carnivorous dinosaur – a duck-billed dinosaur with a chunk bitten out of its tail.

Evidence of Pathology in a Member of the Saurolophinae

Museum exhibit may show evidence of T. rex attack.

Museum exhibit may show evidence of T. rex attack.

Picture Credit: Denver Museum of Nature and Science/Everything Dinosaur

 To read more about the research into this particular specimen: Evidence to suggest an attack by T. rex

Some dinosaurs seem to have recovered from injuries that would have proved fatal to us.  It might be a generalisation, but reptiles do seem to be tougher than a lot of mammal species.  Team members have looked at Alligators (A. mississippiensis) that have suffered terrible injuries either in fights with larger Alligators or in collisions with boats.  So long as the animal is able to feed, then missing limbs, lumps out of tails and severely broken bones do not necessarily prove terminal.

The accepted approach to studying the pathology present in the bones of dead animals was to examine the shape of the distorted bone and to take very thin slices from the section of bone under analysis and study its composition and structure.  This is a destructive technique that yields some data, it relies on the fundamental structure of the bone remaining intact to show signs of healing, regrowth and recovery despite permineralisation.  However, it is known that if a chemical analysis could be undertaken then much more information could be obtained.  Different elements and different concentrations of those elements are known to be absorbed and utilised by bone for different physiological purposes such as growth and recovery from traumatic injury.

The problem is, detecting these minute chemical signatures is beyond the capabilities of most laboratory equipment, even sophisticated analytical techniques involving scanning electron microscopy.  Step in to the spotlight (no pun intended as light is very much involved), synchrotron rapid scanning-X-ray fluorescence, otherwise known as SRS-XRF.  A synchrotron light source is made up from electromagnetic radiation that is emitted when charged particles moving at close to the speed of light are forced to change direction by a magnetic field.  When a specimen is bombarded with these high energy X-rays, their diffusion can be used to map minute quantities of individual elements.  Sophisticated software interprets the resulting data and a picture can be built up to show the density and location of individual elements within the sample.

In this study, the toe bone of a Late Jurassic Theropod dinosaur (Allosaurus fragilis) was analysed.  A damaged bone from an extant Archosaur, a Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) was used to provide a comparison.  Bones are complex structures made up fibrous collagen and an inorganic material combining calcium, phosphorous and other material.  Bone can absorb a very wide range of elements and traces of these elements are recorded at elevated levels in those parts of the bone where repair or extension is taking place.  These “sink sites”, as one of our colleagues calls them, can indicate where bones have been broken and mended during a vertebrate’s lifetime.  The histology of bones (growth rate) is dependent on a number of factors such as the amount of food available to the animal, its metabolism and its immune response.

Sophisticated Study of the Toe of an Allosaurus

The fearsome Jurassic predator Allosaurus

The fearsome Jurassic predator Allosaurus

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Commenting on the research findings, Dr Phil Manning (University of Manchester’s School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences) stated:

“Using synchrotron imaging, we were able to detect astoundingly dilute traces of chemical signatures that reveal not only the difference between normal and healed bone, but also how the damaged bone healed.  It seems dinosaurs evolved a splendid suite of defence mechanisms to help regulate the healing and repair of injuries.  The ability to diagnose such processes some 150 million years later might well shed new light on how we can use Jurassic chemistry in the 21st Century.”

Thin Section of A fragilis pedal phalanx Under Analysis

SRF-XRF helps to show how dinosaurs recovered from injury.

SRF-XRF helps to show how dinosaurs recovered from injury.

Picture Credit: Royal Society Journal “Interface”/Manchester University

The picture above shows a thin section of A. fragilis fossil bone.  The bone is part of a collection from the Utah Museum of Natural History (specimen number UMNH 6282), it is from the third toe.  It was studied as there are two areas of obvious damage on the fossil, one on the top part of the section (major callus), with a second sign of trauma underneath (minor callus).  The Turkey Vulture bone was chosen as it too shows similar deformities.

Pictures a-c reveal the section under plain polarised light, a large crack can be observed in the bone.  This is not evidence of further pathology, the damage to the bone occurred after the dinosaur died.  Pictures d to f show a grayscale elemental map of the deposition of iron throughout the specimen.  Pictures labelled b, c, e and f are blown up images of areas of greatest interest.  In figures d, e and f, white shows a high concentration of the element being analysed, black colouration shows a lower concentration of the element.  In figures a and c the boundary between damaged tissue and normal tissue is indicated by a solid black line.  In figures d and e this boundary is marked by a red line.  Traces of different elements were mapped including iron, zinc, lanthanum and strontium.  The levels of these elements and where they were situated indicates where healing and recovery from damage occurred.

Dr. Phil Manning went onto add:

“The chemistry of life leaves clues throughout our bodies in the course of our lives that can help us diagnose, treat and heal a multitude of modern-day ailments.  It’s remarkable that the very same chemistry that initiates the healing of bone in humans also seems to have followed a similar pathway in dinosaurs.”

Grayscale Elemental Analysis of the Fossil Bone

Determining the presence and concentration of elements with fossil bone.

Determining the presence and concentration of elements with fossil bone.

Picture Credit: Royal Society Journal “Interface”/Manchester University

In the illustration above, software has interpreted the SRS-XRF data to show the location and concentrations of key elements involved in bone composition.

a).  Phosphorous [P]

b).  Calcium [Ca]

c).  Zinc [Zn]

d).  Lanthanum [La]

Phosphorous is concentrated in the original tissue.  Calcium is present in a relatively uniform manner in the sample and the Lanthanum is localised, being found mainly in damaged areas.  It is from this mineral evidence that scientists can determine how the bones of extinct dinosaurs reacted to trauma and recovered from injuries.

Fellow author Jennifer Anné (University of Manchester) stated:

“Bone does not form scar tissue, like a scratch to your skin, so the body has to completely reform new bone following the same stages that occurred as the skeleton grew in the first place.  This means we are able to tease out the chemistry of bone development through such pathological studies.  It’s exciting to realise how little we know about bone, even after hundreds of years of research.  The fact that information on how our own skeleton works can be explored using a 150-million-year-old dinosaur just shows how interlaced science can be.”

Professor Roy Wogelius, another co-author from The University of Manchester, added:

“It is a fine line when diagnosing which part of the fossil was emplaced after burial and what was original chemistry to the organism.  It is only through the precise measurements that we undertake at the Diamond Lightsource in the UK (Didcot, Oxfordshire) and the Stanford Synchrotron Lightsource in the US (California), that we were able to make such judgements.”

To read another article on how Manchester University scientists are using synchrotron light rays to reveal more information about fossils: Searching for ghosts in fossils

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the contribution of the University of Manchester in the production of this article.

10 05, 2014

Artwork Prepared for New School Site

By | May 10th, 2014|Educational Activities, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Press Releases|0 Comments

Everything Dinosaur’s New School Site Coming Along Nicely

Team members at Everything Dinosaur have been busy sorting through and setting aside the pictures of all the company’s dinosaur themed activities in museums, educational events and dinosaur workshops in schools.  A number of new visuals are required for the new and improved “dinosaur teaching” website that is currently being worked on.  The website is much bigger than the existing site and we are keen to include as many photographs of our work in schools and museums as we possibly can.

One of the Banner Visuals for the “Dinosaur Teaching” Website

So many events, so many activities, so many photographs.

So many events, so many activities, so many photographs.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The site is slowly and surely coming together.  It will provide teachers, home-schoolers and museum staff with lots more information about who we are and what we do.  In addition, there will be lots of free downloads of teaching materials to help with teaching about dinosaurs, fossils and evolution in schools and other establishments.  Hopefully the new site will be ready soon.

9 05, 2014

Nosing Around Qianzhousaurus sinensis – The Implications

By | May 9th, 2014|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

“Pinocchio rex” Qianzhousaurus sinensis – A new Look for the Tyrannosaurs

Over the last two days or so, there has been a lot of media coverage regarding the discovery of a long-snouted member of the Tyrannosaur family, a fearsome, carnivorous dinosaur that has been named Qianzhousaurus sinensis.  The fossil discovery is very significant as it establishes the presence of long-snouted Tyrannosaurs nestling somewhere amongst the Tyrannosauridae family.  Quite where they fit is still up for debate as the phylogeny of this group is becoming more and more complicated as new genera are described.  Phylogenetics looks at the evolutionary history of a species or group of organisms, it aims to map out lines of descent and taxonomic relationships.

This new Tyrannosaur nick-named “Pinocchio rex” due to its long snout, has led to the establishment of a new branch of the Tyrannosaur family. Living alongside the bone crushing apex predators that were the deep-skulled Tyrannosaurs, there was another closely related group, meat-eaters that probably hunted different sorts of prey and fed in a different way.  This new sub-branch or clade of Tyrannosaurs has been named the Alioramini (pronounced Al-ee-oh-ram-min-eye), as for the moment it contains just two genera, Alioramus and the newly described Qianzhousaurus.  Alioramus also had a long, narrow snout.  The genus name translates as “other evolutionary branch”, as ever since Alioramus was discovered, palaeontologists had suspected that there was a sub-branch of the Tyrannosaur family tree.  The fossils of Qianzhousaurus go a long way in helping to strengthen this hypothesis.

Long-Snouted Fearsome Tyrannosaur – Qianzhousaurus sinensis

New long-snouted Tyrannosaur.

New long-snouted Tyrannosaur.

Picture Credit: Junchang Lü/Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences

The picture above shows three views of the partial skull and upper jaw of Q. sinensis.  The first picture shows a view from the side (lateral), the second picture shows a view looking down onto the fossil (dorsal) and the third picture shows the view from the underside (ventral).  The scale bar represents five centimetres.

In a paper published this week in the journal “Nature Communications”,  the authors which include Stephen Brusatte (Chancellor’s Fellow in Vertebrate Palaeontology at the University of Edinburgh) and Junchang Lü (Institute of Geology at the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences), describe this Theropod as a “remarkable find”.  It is indeed, but the story of this fossil’s discovery is also very remarkable.

Back in the late summer of 2010, construction workers helping to build a new industrial park close to the city of Ganzhou in Jiangxi Province (south-eastern China), uncovered the remains of two dinosaurs.  One was a small oviraptorid, the second and much more spectacular find represented a substantial meat-eater.  The works foreman telephoned a local fossil hunter who visited the site and having examined some of the finds and realised their importance, called in the Ganzhou city Mineral Resources Management Department.  A field team was quickly despatched and within a few hours the vast majority of the exposed fossil material was collected, which in the case of the large Theropod represented much of the skull and jaws, vertebrae, parts of the pelvis and limb bones.  Many different types of dinosaur have been found in the sedimentary rocks that are exposed in and around Ganzhou city, it is often described as a “hotbed” for Late Cretaceous dinosaur discoveries.  The field team had to work fast, as a number of fossil dealers had also heard of the discovery and if they had got to the bones first, then the fossilised remains could have ended up being sold on the black market.

As things turned out, following the speedy collection, the story of Qianzhousaurus slowed down to a snail’s pace.  The fossils which had been bagged up remained with the Mineral Resources Management Department for the best part of eight months, before they were presented to the Ganzhou Natural History Museum.  In August 2012, the museum assembled a team of Chinese scientists and technicians to examine the bones and begin the reconstruction of the specimen.  The initial research work was concluded in January of last year and the full significance of the discovery was realised.  Here was an adult Tyrannosaur that exhibited skull characteristics that placed it in a close phylogenetic relationship with the Tyrannosaur known as Alioramus.  This was proof that the long suspected sub-branch of long-snouted Tyrannosaurs had existed.

Further work was undertaken and the formal academic paper published this week.  Say hello to Qianzhousaurus sinensis.  Qianzhousaurus is pronounced Chy-an-shoe-sore-us, the genus name is derived from the old name for the city of Ganzhou (Qianzhou), the species name reflects that this dinosaur was Chinese.

An Illustration of the Late Cretaceous Tyrannosaur Q. sinensis

New Tyrannosaur described - Qianzhousaurus sinensis.

New Tyrannosaur described – Qianzhousaurus sinensis.

Picture Credit: Chuang Zhao

This dinosaur had a number of small horns or bumps running along its snout.  It is illustrated attacking a feathered  oviraptorid dinosaur, as the fossils of Qianzhousaurus sinensis were found in association with the bones of a small member of the Oviraptoridae family.

Dr Brusatte explained:

“This is a different breed of Tyrannosaur.  It has the familiar toothy grin of T. rex, but its snout was much longer and it had a row of horns on its nose.  It might have looked a little comical, but it would have been as deadly as any other Tyrannosaur, and maybe even a little faster and stealthier.”

This specimen is very significant as the fused skull bones identify it as an adult animal. Qianzhousaurus probably weighed around 1,000 kilogrammes and reached lengths of around 8-9 metres.  Smaller than its deep-skulled Tyrannosaur contemporaries, Qianzhousaurus probably occupied a niche in the Late Cretaceous food chain, that of a secondary predator.  Even if it lived in packs, it probably did not specialise in hunting really large herbivorous dinosaurs.  It was nowhere near as powerful as some of the other Upper Cretaceous Tyrannosaurs known from Asia, the likes of Tarbosaurus and the recently described Zhuchengtyrannus.

Tyrannosaur Skull Comparisons (T. rex versus Q. sinensis)

Scale bar = 5cm

Scale bar = 5cm

Picture Credit: Journal of Nature Communications and Everything Dinosaur

To read an article about Zhuchengtyrannus: New Species of Asian Tyrannosaur Announced

The bite force that this predator could generate was nowhere near the bone crushing bite force of Tyrannosaurus rex.  This was a more graceful, agile hunter, perhaps stalking feathered dinosaurs and other reptiles.  Consider Qianzhousaurus as the leopard that shares the same habitat as a lion.

This fossil is very important for a number of reasons, firstly there is a substantial amount of fossil material to study, scientists can learn more about the Tyrannosaur family as a result.  Secondly, unlike the two known Alioramus specimens which both represent juveniles, this adult animal demonstrates that there were long-snouted forms of Tyrannosauridae.  A sub-branch of Tyrannosaurs did exist and the presence of a long-snout in the likes of the Alioramus specimens cannot be attributed to the fact that these not fully grown dinosaur specimens “hadn’t filled out yet” as a colleague puts it.

Thirdly and perhaps most crucially of all, this fossil discovery from south-eastern China was found in Upper Cretaceous deposits located more than two thousand kilometres away from the Upper Cretaceous deposits that yielded the Alioramus material.  It seems that the long-snouted Tyrannosaurs were widely distributed in Asia during the last few million years of the Cretaceous period.  This means that there are, very probably a number of other “Pinocchio rex” Tyrannosaurs awaiting discovery.

We wonder what Geppetto would have made of it all…

8 05, 2014

Happy Birthday Sir David Attenborough

By | May 8th, 2014|Famous Figures, Main Page, Press Releases|0 Comments

Happy Birthday Sir David!

Today, May 8th is the birthday of the naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough.  His contribution to natural history programme making has been immense and he remains an inspiration to us all.  We at Everything Dinosaur have put together a commemorative banner to celebrate the birthday of one of Britain’s greatest broadcasters.

Happy Birthday Sir David Attenborough

Many Happy Returns!

Many Happy Returns!

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

On behalf of everyone at Everything Dinosaur, we wish Sir David, a very happy birthday.

 

7 05, 2014

The Dinosauria Shrank to Continue to Evolve

By | May 7th, 2014|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

New Study Suggests that Birds Survived Mass Extinction Events Because they Stayed Small

There has been a lot of media coverage today with regards to a paper published in the scientific journal PLOS Biology (Public Library of Science),  that used an analysis of dinosaur and bird body masses to examine how quickly members of the Dinosauria including the ancestors of modern birds evolved to exploit new ecological niches.  A lot of emphasis has been placed on the size and scale of the non-avian dinosaurs, we shall come to this in due course, but the main thrust of the academic paper does not concern itself with just how big some of the dinosaurs got.  In this instance, measuring body mass is a means to an end, the research suggests that on that branch of the Dinosauria family tree that leads to the birds (Aves), there was a sustained and very lengthy period of evolution of species.  Birds and their direct dinosaur ancestors seem to have evolved rapidly for at least 170 million years, quickly diversifying and becoming more speciose to exploit niches in ecosystems as and when they arose.  Other types of dinosaur, those not directly related to extant birds, seemed to evolve at a slower rate, once an initial burst of adaptive radiation took place to exploit those gaps left in the world’s terrestrial ecosystems after the End Triassic extinction event.

The international team of researchers including academics from Oxford University, the Royal Ontario Museum of Canada, the University of Toronto, the Smithsonian Institute, Imperial College, University College of London, the IVPP (Beijing) and Sweden’s Uppsala University also suggest that the evolutionary ability of those birds that existed during the time of Cretaceous mass extinction event, to remain small may have assisted their survival.  The larger, less diverse dinosaurs, the likes of Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops horridus died out.

Decreasing Body Size to Continuously Exploit New Ecological Niches

small body size helped birds evolve rapidly.

Small body size helped birds evolve rapidly.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The research team believes that the group that eventually evolved into birds decreased their body volume to continuously take advantage of new ecological niches through their evolution, becoming the successful species they are today.  Small, may indeed have been beautiful when it came to surviving major extinction events and the more speciose your clade was, the more niches you as a clade occupied the better your chances of survival.

Let’s start at the beginning, the first dinosaurs evolved sometime in the Middle Triassic, palaeontologists can’t be certain as to when or even where, although some of the latest research suggests that the very first dinosaurs as we now know them evolved in Africa.

To read an article on what might have been one of the first dinosaurs: The First Dinosaur?

The first birds may have evolved in the region of 170 million years ago (Middle Jurassic), the problem with both the early dinosaurs and those early birds is that the fossil record is extremely poor and material fragmentary.  It is difficult to establish a clear, evolutionary lineage.

To read an article about one of the first types of bird to evolve: New Contender for the “First Bird” – Aurornis

What the fossil record does show is that in all the major groups of animals there was a rapid burst of evolution with lots of new body shapes and sizes rapidly evolving during their early history.  Different types evolve to exploit niches in food chains.  There is a rapid explosion of adaptive radiation amongst organisms.  Adaptive radiation, to an evolutionary biologist is a process in which living things rapidly diversify into a vast array of new forms. This burst of natural selection is often prompted by a mass extinction event that eliminates competitors or through climate change that opens up new territories and habitats to exploit.  For example, the dinosaurs rapidly diversified into a number of different Superfamilies in the Early Jurassic, perhaps a biological response to the gaps left after the End Triassic extinction event.

Problem is, very few studies of adaptive radiation have looked at how Orders evolve over deep geological time, so the links between how diverse a modern day Order might be in relation to major extinct groups remains relatively unclear.  This is what the international team of scientists set out to examine.  Today, there are over 10,000 species of birds, they are the most speciose of all the living Tetrapod clades, how did the evolution of the birds and their dinosaur ancestors compare to the evolutionary rates of other types of dinosaur not that closely related to the Aves?

To measure the pace of evolutionary development, the scientists chose to look at the variations in body mass.  Put simply the idea is this:

  • Look at the family tree of the dinosaurs and examine each of the major branches.
  • Look at the body sizes of the different types of prehistoric animal (estimating body mass was undertaken by measuring the robustness and size of limb bones notably femurs)

Work on the basis that if closely related animals are similar in body size then evolutionary rates were probably slow.

However, if closely related animals show a very wide range in body size then evolutionary rates were probably very rapid

A comprehensive data set of body mass was compiled for the major types of dinosaur and birds that evolved in the Mesozoic.  Although it is difficult to accurately estimate the weight of long extinct animals (a source of continual debate amongst scientists), in living creatures the scaling model based on the size and shaft circumference of major limb bones such as the thigh bone seems the most reliable.

From this study, the scientists concluded that the heaviest dinosaur known was Argentinosaurus (Argentinosaurus huinculensis) with an estimated body mass of around 90,000 kilogrammes.

Dinosaur Super-Heavyweight Argentinosaurus

The largest dinosaur yet described.

The largest dinosaur yet described.

The body weights of 426 dinosaurs were estimated and when added to the number of bird species studied the total exceeds 600, the smallest and lightest species analysed was Qiliania (Q. graffini), a primitive bird whose fossils date from around 120 million years ago and come from China.  Qiliania graffini weighed six million times less than Argentinosaurus huinculensis.  However, Qiliania may have been tiny, but there are very few Mesozoic creatures that can claim to have been named after the founder of a punk rock band (Dr. Gregory Graffin).

Estimated Body Masses of Various Types of Dinosauria (the Smallest Examples)

The estimated size of the smallest member of various dinosaur Superfamilies

The estimated size of the smallest member of various dinosaur Superfamilies

Table Credit: PLOS One Biology

The table above lists the smallest Dinosauria members known by type of dinosaur, weights are given in kilogrammes.

Estimated Body Masses of Various Types of Dinosauria (the Biggest Examples)

Estimated size of the biggest members of the Dinosauria.

Estimated size of the biggest members of the Dinosauria.

Table Credit: PLOS One Biology

The table above shows the body mass estimates of some of the biggest dinosaurs and birds known (weight in kilogrammes).

The international team of researchers did not set out to re-classify the heaviest types of dinosaur and submit new information to the Guinness Book of Records, this is what has intrigued a number of media outlets and journalists who have focused on the estimated size and scale of these long extinct creatures.  There are one or two notable points worth making.  For instance, using the limb robustness and shaft circumference method, Tyrannosaurus rex comes out significantly heavier than Giganotosaurus carolinii.  The herbivorous Iguanodon (I. bernissartenis) and Triceratops (T. horridus) are approximately twice as heavy as the fearsome T. rex.

But enough of this, let’s focus on the main aspect of this new research.  The Dinosauria evolved very rapidly early on in their evolutionary history, but the speed of evolutionary change for most of the Superfamilies slowed down, if the relative body masses of closely related dinosaur types is used as a measure of evolutionary change.  Only in the Maniraptora, that clade of Coelurosaurian Theropods that gave rise to modern birds did that initial high rate of evolutionary change continue.  According to Dr David Evans, the Curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology at the Royal Ontario Museum and one of the co-authors of the paper, the branch of the dinosaur family tree that led to the birds represents “the second major adaptive radius ring of dinosaurs”.

Closely related groups of dinosaurs with similar body sizes may not have evolved to exploit new opportunities with quite the same rapidity as the birds.  As a result, when there was intense pressure put on the Superfamily because of environmental changes such as those that occurred at the end of the Cretaceous, extinction was the outcome.

Dinosaur Phylogeny Showing Nodes which indicate Exceptional Evolution of Body Size 

The Aves (Avialae) have been ringed faintly in red.

The Aves (Avialae) have been ringed faintly in red.

Picture Credit: PLOS One Biology 

Feathered Maniraptoran dinosaurs, including those now classified as Mesozoic birds sustained a rate for rapid evolution, suggesting these taxa would have been much quicker at adapting to new ecological niches.  Birds retained their ability to evolve very rapidly, a precondition of which was their relatively small size when compared to other dinosaurs.   The research team conclude that the smaller body masses attained by the Aves was the key to their survival, the birds lowered the body mass threshold of the Dinosauria below one kilogramme, subsequently individuals would need fewer resources to survive.  It is thanks to these factors that the birds remain the most speciose of all the Tetrapod vertebrates alive today.

Finally, for all those who wanted to see just how big Argentinosaurus was, we have reproduced below a picture of a technician preparing casts of bones of A. huinculensis.  This dinosaur is only known from fragmentary remains and the casts have been made based on scaling up the sizes of bones from better known, more complete Titanosaurs.

Just How Big was Argentinosaurus?

The world's biggest jigsaw puzzle?

The world’s biggest jigsaw puzzle?

Picture Credit: Reuters/Ina Fassbender/files

6 05, 2014

Palaeontologists Fear for Safety of Red Rock Canyon Dinosaur Tracks

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

Recently Discovered Dinosaur Tracks May be Damaged or Stolen Before they are Studied

Located in southern Nevada, just twenty-five miles from the bustling city of Las Vegas, the Red Rock  Canyon National Conservation Area provides a peaceful haven for campers and walkers amongst spectacular sandstone buttes and rock formations.  This State Park covers nearly 200,000 acres and up until recently its main claims to fame include being the preferred filming location for several westerns and for sandstone petroglyphs created by native Indians.  However, this arid place was once home to a range of Early Jurassic dinosaurs and palaeontologists fear that the footprints these ancient creatures left behind could be either damaged or even stolen before they have been properly studied.

The Park attracts over one million visitors a year and back in 2010, three hikers reported finding dinosaur tracks whilst out trekking in the Park.  At first these reports were dismissed, but a scientific investigation confirmed the trace fossil find and the announcement of the discovery was made public in the autumn of 2011.  As many as ten locations within Red Rock Canyon have been identified as having preserved prehistoric tracks, five of these sites represent the footprints made by a small, bipedal dinosaur, these prints, once made in soft, wet sand are now preserved in the location’s famous sandstone deposits.

 190 Million Year Old Dinosaur Tracks in the State Park

Ancient Theropod Dinosaur walked this way!

Ancient Theropod Dinosaur walked this way!

Picture Credit: Gary Fike

The picture above shows a set of three-toed dinosaur prints preserved in the sandstone rock of the Park.  The picture has been taken as if the dinosaur which made these tracks was walking towards the camera.  The species is not known, but it is presumed to have been around two to three metres in length and probably carnivorous. At this time in the Early Jurassic, there was a significant radiation of different types of dinosaur and a number of new types of dinosaur evolved.  Palaeontologists and the National Park’s staff are keen to protect these trace fossils, they hope to keep most of the locations secret, at least until they have been mapped, recorded and properly studied.  However, with a million visitors a year to contend with, the threat of damage to the delicate prints or even theft is always on their minds.

In the neighbouring stage of Utah, Everything Dinosaur team members recently reported on the theft of a dinosaur footprint from near the town of Moab.  The thief has subsequently been caught but the fossil has yet to be found.  A trail date has been set for July 7th.

To read more about this incident of fossil theft: Dinosaur Footprint Stolen in Utah

Commenting on just how fragile these ancient tracks can be, University of Nevada (Las Vegas), palaeontologist Josh Bonde stated:

“Even well-intentioned folks going out to take a look can harm the site by walking on or nearby the tracks.  The formation the tracks are preserved in is not a very rigid rock and it is notorious for easily falling apart.”

The initial 2010 discovery, once confirmed, triggered a number of similar finds in the Park.  Bureau of Land Management officials would prefer visitors not to go out deliberately looking for more signs of dinosaurs having walked this way.  Most of the known prints are not on designated trails and some of them are in more remote and unsafe locations.

A spokes person for the Bureau explained:

“We really want visitors to stay on designated trails” to minimise damage to all of the Park’s sensitive natural and cultural resources.”

A Close Up of One of the Dinosaur Footprints

Evidence of an early visitor to Red Rock Canyon.

Evidence of an early visitor to Red Rock Canyon.

Picture Credit: Gary Fike

The picture above shows a close up of a single dinosaur footprint.  Two of the three toes that this little dinosaur walked on can clearly be made out.  Such fossil finds are extremely significant and team members at Everything Dinosaur have been studying a set of similar tracks found in southern Utah, near the town of St George.

To read more about the St George trace fossils: Important Dinosaur Trace Fossil Discovery in Utah

The University of Nevada (Las Vegas) was recently awarded a $25,000 USD (£14,800 GBP), by the Bureau of Land Management to study the fossilised tracks in the Red Rock Canyon region.  High resolution cameras will be used to photograph the prints and even LiDAR (light detection and range), a three-dimensional laser mapping system has been proposed.  LiDAR would record the prints in very fine detail without causing any damage to the prints themselves.  It is likely that the study will take more than twelve months to complete.

Staff at the Red Rock Canyon State Park, are hopeful that once completed this study could form the basis of a permanent display located in the Park’s visitor centre.

However, there is the ever-present risk of theft and staff have urged visitors to be on the look out for any suspicious activity.  With high prices being paid for dinosaur fossils at auction, there has been a number of thefts reported in recent years.  A spokes person from Everything Dinosaur added:

“As the tracks are preserved in coarse grained sandstone, any attempts to lift the prints by untrained individuals would most probably result in the prints being damaged to such an extent that they would have no commercial value.  There are very strict laws in the United States concerning damage to or theft of such precious artefacts.  Any one caught committing such an act of wanton vandalism can expect to face very severe penalties.”

The Bureau of Land Management requests that anyone who finds what they believe could be dinosaur tracks or other fossils in the Park, calls 702-515-5000 and reports their discovery.  They advise taking careful note of the location and photographing the finds.  The Bureau also is quick to remind visitors to the Park that it is illegal to dig up or collect fossils on public land without a permit.

It is likely that more dinosaur tracks await discovery in the Lower Jurassic sandstone, known as Aztec sandstone, that outcrops this part of the western United States.  Hikers and other  tourists can play their part by looking out for such fossils but are reminded to report their finds and to not to attempt to dig or in anyway remove the fossils.

5 05, 2014

Turkmenistan’s “Jurassic Park”

By | May 5th, 2014|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|1 Comment

Dinosaur Plateau in Turkmenistan Part of Proposal for UNESCO World Heritage Site

Bordering the land-locked Caspian sea to the west, Kazakhstan to the north-west, Uzbekistan as well as Afghanistan and Iran, the central Asian state of Turkmenistan has been a part of the world largely out of bounds to western scientists.  However, tucked in the eastern corner of the country, close to the border with Uzbekistan is the visually stunning  Koytendag National Park, an area known for its caves, spectacular mountain scenery and waterfalls.  The Park is also one of the most important locations for ichnologists in the world.

Ichnologists study trace fossils, most notably footprints and tracks, for preserved in the rocks that make up an area of the Park, are thousands of dinosaur footprints.  The area is known as the “Plateau of the Dinosaurs” and so perfectly preserved are the prints, they look like they were made just yesterday.  The fossilised tracks have been dated to the Upper Jurassic.  Although, this part of Turkmenistan is semi arid, 150 million years ago, it was a lush, tropical paradise that teemed with life and there were many different types of dinosaur inhabiting the area.

The location is regarded as one of the most important vertebrate trace fossil assemblages anywhere in the world, but it was not until the latter part of the 20th Century that scientists from outside the Soviet Union became aware of them.  Locals had marvelled at the tracks for centuries, one of the villages at the foot of the plateau is Khodja Pil which in the native dialect (Turkmen) translates as “the miracle of the elephants”, local legend has it that the tracks were made by elephants that formed part of the huge army of Alexander the Great.

Trace Fossils Made by Herds of Plant-Eating Dinosaurs from the Jurassic

Hundreds of dinosaur tracks preserved.

Hundreds of dinosaur tracks preserved.

Picture Credit: AFP Photo/Igor Sasin

The site which covers an extensive area, has been carefully mapped and more than 2,500 individual prints have been recorded.  There are a range of different types of dinosaur represented.  The most common ones are the prints of large herbivores, but there are several tracks of three-toed carnivorous Theropod dinosaurs too.

A resident of Khodja Pil commented that:

“Steven Spielberg should have shot “Jurassic Park here.  Here the tracks of the dinosaurs are real and not made by computers.”

The largest tracks represent Sauropod dinosaurs, most probably diplodocids.  Some of the individual prints measure seventy centimetres in length and are more than sixty centimetres in diameter, but most of the Sauropod tracks are from slightly smaller animals, that left prints measuring forty centimetres long by thirty centimetres wide.

A Close up of One of the Large Sauropod Prints to be Found on the Plateau

Sauropod footprint, the hand provides scale.

Sauropod footprint, the hand provides scale.

Picture Credit: AFP Photo/Igor Sasin

It is not only the quantity of the footprints that are of fascination to palaeontologists.  The area has some of the longest continuous lines of footprints made by dinosaurs to be found anywhere in the world.  Individual tracks can run for over two hundred metres.  Such tracks enable scientists to study Dinosauria locomotion and even behaviour can be inferred from the prints.

Anatoly Bushmakin, a Turkmen scientists who along with colleagues has been studying the fossils explained how the tracks were formed:

“Some 145-150 million years ago, [Upper Jurassic], there were lakes and marshes and herds of dinosaurs strode along the banks.  There were both vegetarian and carnivorous dinosaurs.  This sandy marshland quickly silted up and so these prehistoric tracks left their mark forever.”

The site is remote and only a handful of foreign tourists visit this location each season.  The United Kingdom Government provides advice on visiting Turkmenistan and there are a number of extreme sports and extreme off-roading companies that offer tours.  Visiting this border region requires a special permit.

A Typical Late Jurassic Scene

Dinosaurs roamed the land whilst Pterosaurs soared overhead.

Dinosaurs roamed the land whilst Pterosaurs soared overhead.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Turkmenistan officials are optimistic that the Park could become a major tourist attraction which would help to boost revenues for the country’s exchequer.  To this end, the Ministry of Tourism is preparing a submission to UNESCO to have the Koytendag National Park declared a world heritage site, on a par with the Great Barrier Reef of Australia or our own “Jurassic Coast”.

We at Everything Dinosaur wish the authorities well in their campaign, but we do urge caution.  Opening up such a remote part of the world can bring problems and it would be essential to ensure that the environment is protected and that visitor numbers to view the dinosaur tracks are managed appropriately to ensure the site is properly preserved.

4 05, 2014

Fossil Fun at Wiltshire Museum

By | May 4th, 2014|Educational Activities, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Press Releases|0 Comments

Fantastic Fossil Fun at Wiltshire Museum

In the beautiful town of Devizes (Wiltshire), lies a little gem of a museum which houses an amazing collection of ancient artefacts associated with this historic county of south-western England.  The chalk downlands of this part of the UK have provided archaeologists with a huge collection of Stone Age and Bronze Age relics and the museum itself boasts many fine examples including gold from the time that Stonehenge was built.  Wiltshire is the home of many historic, ancient monuments and visitors to locations such as the West Kennet Long Barrow, the Neolithic stone circle at Avebury and of course Stonehenge itself can learn a lot about the people who built these structures during a visit to the Wiltshire Museum.

Wiltshire Museum, is located in the heart of Devizes about ten miles to the north of the prehistoric monument of Stonehenge, now a World Heritage Site.  Within its walls, the extensive collection traces human history in this part of the world over the last half a million years or so.  However, a new exhibition housed in the temporary gallery space takes visitors further back in time as it explores fossils and prehistoric animals, many of which would have been familiar to our ancient ancestors.  Wiltshire itself, borders Dorset and team members at Everything Dinosaur recall talking to farmers in the area who have ploughed up evidence of strange marine creatures that once lived in a tropical sea that covered much of Europe.  A number of Mesozoic aged fossils are on display along with more recent finds that bring to life the Stone Age and depict animals that made up part of the prehistoric landscape.

Wiltshire Museum’s Fossil Exhibition 2014

Family orientated fossil exhibition at the Museum.

Family orientated fossil exhibition at the Museum.

Picture Credit: Wiltshire Museum

The friendly staff are on hand to guide visitors through life in the Ice Age and to explain a little more about the amazing prehistoric creatures whose fossils can be found in the sedimentary strata.  The Wiltshire Museum is open seven days a week and the exhibition will run all through spring and into August.  The Museum has recently been rated one of the top tourist attractions and places to see in Wiltshire on Trip Advisor.

To learn more about the museum and the fossil exhibition, visit the website: Wiltshire Museum

To read an article from Everything Dinosaur about how the fossilised remains of a Jurassic marine creature was used in a remarkable and unexpected way: Ink from Jurassic Belemnite found in Wiltshire “re-writes” history

3 05, 2014

Dinosaur Footprints Set Out on a Tour of New Zealand

By | May 3rd, 2014|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Geology, Main Page|0 Comments

New Zealand’s Very Own “Walking with Dinosaurs”

Dinosaur fossils are exceptionally rare in New Zealand, despite this remarkable and very beautiful country being home to some flora and fauna that can definitely be thought of as being prehistoric.  For example, there is the Tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus), which belongs to an otherwise extinct reptilian group called the Rhynchocephalians and this little reptile is found nowhere else in the world.  The country can also boast some of the finest examples of cycad groves (Cycadales) on the planet.  However, evidence for dinosaurs having lived in New Zealand, which formed part of the huge southern super-continent of Gondwana has been hard to find.  Very few body fossils have been discovered and trace fossils such as dinosaur tracks are even rarer, but for GNS Science* geologist Greg Browne, the next few months sees some Titanosaur footprints that he found forming part of a touring exhibition that aims to educate New Zealanders about their prehistoric heritage.

GNS Science was founded in 2006 it was formerly known as the Institute for Geological and Nuclear Science Ltd.

The exhibition entitled “Dinosaur Footprints: A Story of Discovery” will open at the prestigious Auckland War Memorial Museum in June before touring the country.  The footprints, the first evidence of such dinosaurs having lived on what is now known as South Island were found in sedimentary rocks north-west of the town of Nelson.  At first, scientists were unsure whether the strange marks in the rocks represented the tracks of giant plant-eating dinosaurs, but the circular footprints, some of which are over sixty centimetres in diameter have been confirmed as being the tracks produced by a long-necked dinosaur referred to as a Titanosaur.

To read an article on the footprints published by Everything Dinosaur: Dinosaur Tracks from New Zealand

Visitors to the exhibition will be able to learn all about the fossil discovery, the prints have been identified from more than half a dozen locations and they stretch over an area of around ten kilometres.  Replicas and casts of the prints will be on display and artist Dave Gunson has created a watercolour illustration depicting a pair of giant Titanosaurs roaming across a Late Cretaceous, sandy beach, the moment in time when the trails were formed.

An Illustration of a Typical Titanosaur – Saltasaurus

Saltasaurus

Saltasaurus – a typical Titanosaur

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The titanosaurids were the last group of Sauropod dinosaurs to evolve and although the Sauropoda seemed to have gone into decline in the northern hemisphere as the Cretaceous progressed, Titanosaurs made up a significant proportion of the herbivorous biomass on the southern continents.  This group of long-necked dinosaurs persisted until the very end of the Cretaceous.

Although Greg Browne and his team are not able to identify the genus that made the tracks, the footprints vary in diameter and indicate that the dinosaurs ranged in size from about two metres to more than six metres in length.  These animals were probably moving as a herd and chose to walk close to the shore as this would have been an easier and probably safer route than attempting to move as a group through the forest that was located further inland.  The roughly circular prints probably represent a single species.

The current tour Itinerary is as follows:

  • Auckland War Memorial Museum 13th June until July 27th
  • Rotorua Museum 6th September until October 12th
  • New Zealand National Aquarium, Napier over Labour Weekend – from January 11th 2015
  • Puke Ariki, New Plymouth 17th January until March 22nd
  • Nelson Provincial Museum from July through to September 2015

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented that is was great to hear that the story of  these enigmatic and extremely rare footprints was going to reach a wider audience.  He encouraged New Zealanders to attend, to have the opportunity to get up close to the evidence for dinosaurs roaming New Zealand seventy million years ago.  It was also important for the work of sedimentologists such as Greg Browne to receive wider public recognition.

It is likely that more venues will be added to the tour schedule.

2 05, 2014

Dinosaur Fun at St Elizabeth’s Primary School

By | May 2nd, 2014|Educational Activities, Main Page|0 Comments

Foundation Stage Children Explore Dinosaurs

The month of May is always a busy time for Everything Dinosaur team members and May Day itself saw Everything Dinosaur carrying out a morning’s activities with Foundation Stage children at St Elizabeth’s  Primary School.  The children had been learning about dinosaurs and fossils and with the help of their teachers, Mrs Carr and Miss Bailey the budding young palaeontologists had created a “dinosaur museum” in one of the classrooms.

The Dinosaur Museum at the School

Children create their very own dinosaur exhibition.

Children create their very own dinosaur exhibition.

Picture Credit: St Elizabeth’s Primary/Everything Dinosaur

The museum was full of lots of drawings and labelling exercises that the children had undertaken, with the help of Mrs Driver and Mrs Wilson (teaching assistants).  The children were keen to demonstrate which dinosaurs were plant-eaters and which ones ate meat.

As part of Everything Dinosaur’s visit to the school, our dinosaur expert challenged Foundation Stage 2 to create a piece of dinosaur themed writing.  Could they write about their favourite dinosaur?  Perhaps they could include a dinosaur fact,  could they recall something that the dinosaur expert had said to them and then include this in their piece of prose?  In return, Everything Dinosaur’s expert promised (pinkie palaeontologist promise), to email a drawing of an Ammonite for the children’s museum along with a fact sheet on these extinct Cephalopods for Mrs Carr.

A Promise to Send over Information on Ammonites

A model showing an Ammonite.

A model of an Ammonite.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Ammonites are members of the Mollusc Phylum and they are closely related to the cuttlefish, octopus and squid.  The children learned all about their wiggle-wobbly tentacles and how some Ammonites swam and caught fish.

It was a full morning of activities for the children, some of which were only just 4 years of age, but they demonstrated excellent listening skills.  Although, our dinosaur expert was kept very busy, there was still time to take some pictures of the lovely dinosaur models that the children had made.

A Model of a Tyrannosaurus rex Made by the Children

A very fearsome looking dinosaur.

A very fearsome looking dinosaur.

Picture Credit: St Elizabeth’s  Primary School/Everything Dinosaur

This dinosaur has some very big teeth and the yoghurt pot eyes look fantastic.  Perhaps the children can think of an appropriate name for their model, how about “Yoghurt-pot-o-saurus”?

To learn more about Everything Dinosaur’s work in schools: Dinosaur Workshops for Foundation Stage and Reception

The combination of physical activities, cognitive processes, tactile fossil handling with the extension activity seemed to be very well received by the children and their teachers.

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