All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
30 08, 2014

Did Psittacosaurus Use Baby Sitters?

By | August 30th, 2014|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

Palaeontologists Suggest Dinosaur Fossil Material Shows a “Creche” with Baby Sitter

A team of international researchers have re-examined a set of Psittacosaurus dinosaur fossils that come from the Lujiatun beds of the Yixian Formation in Liaoning, China.  The rock slab has preserved the fossilised remains of twenty-four young Psittacosaurs and one older individual.  It has been suggested that the fossil represents a group of hatchlings being looked after by an older animal.  Could this be evidence of a dinosaur “creche” with a “baby sitter”?

The paper on this new research has been published in the academic journal “Cretaceous Research”.  The international team included University of Pennsylvania based scientists Brandon P. Hedrick and Peter Dodson as well as researchers from China’s Dalian Museum of Natural History, where the rock slab is currently stored.  The fossil material was first described ten years ago, the block, which measures a little over sixty centimetres in length was discovered by an amateur palaeontologist, it is believed to date from around 120 million years ago (Aptian faunal stage of the Cretaceous).

Psittacosaurus is one of the most studied of all the dinosaurs.  A number of species have been assigned to the genus, it remains the most specious of all the Dinosauria, although some species have been described as nomen dubium following a recent review (2013).  Seen as a transitional form between the Ornithopods and the horned dinosaurs, Psittacosaurus is regarded as a basal member of the Marginocephalia.  Rarely exceeding two metres in length, fossils of this herbivorous dinosaur have been found in China, Russia and Thailand.

An Illustration of Psittacosaurus

A typical psittacosaurid.

A typical psittacosaurid.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Despite its spectacular appearance, the fossil material has only been briefly described, although the idea of a “dinosaur creche” has been proposed before.  The exact location of the discovery was never recorded, this hampered the international research team but as PhD student Brandon P. Hedrick stated:

“I saw a photo of it [the block] and instantly knew I wanted to explore it in more depth.”

Dalian Museum of Natural History Slab of Fossil Material

Is this evidence of a dinosaur creche with a baby sitter?

Is this evidence of a dinosaur creche with a baby sitter?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/University of Pennsylvania

In order to learn more about how these dinosaurs may have died, the orientation of their bodies was carefully studied.  Thin slivers of rock were examined under the microscope and further samples were subjected to X-ray diffraction.  The analyses suggested that the matrix was composed of volcanic material, indicating that these prehistoric animals were caught in a flow of material as a result of a volcanic eruption.  Since all the fossils were orientated in the same plane, the position of the fossils supports this idea that all these dinosaurs were engulfed in a flow.

As the fossilised bones showed no scorch marks or signs of heat damage, the researchers concluded that the flow was unlikely to be pyroclastic in nature.

Hedrick added:

“If they were captured in a flow, the long axis, their spines, would be orientated in the same direction.  That was what we found.  They were likely trapped by a flow.”

It is likely the flow was some sort of lahar – a mixture of water, mud, rock and other debris associated with volcanic eruptions.

Since no egg shell material has been found, it is believed that the twenty-four fossils represent a group of hatched dinosaurs.  The larger skull was found in close association with the fossil material, it is likely that this larger Psittacosaurus perished at the same time as the younger animals.  All the Psittacosaurs have been assigned to the same species Psittacosaurus lujiatunensis, the skull probably belonged to an immature adult, one not old enough to breed, so the researchers have hypothesised that this was an older sibling helping to care for its younger brothers and sisters.

Family members helping out to raise the following year’s brood is a type of behaviour found in a number of bird species.  It has been estimated that around 8% of all, extant bird species are involved in some form of co-operative breeding in which other family members help to raise young.  This behaviour is found in many types of song bird and the crow family for example.  The scientists emphasise that this material cannot be regarded as a dinosaur “nest”.

Hedrick explained:

“It certainly seems like it might be a nest, but we were not able to satisfy the intense criteria to say definitely that it is.  It is just as important to point out what we don’t know for sure as it is to say what we are more certain of.”

The scientists hope to continue their work by focusing on the micro-structure of the fossilised bones of the smaller dinosaurs to establish whether they were all at the same stage of development.  If this is found to be the case, this would support the theory that this rock slab represents the preserved remains of one clutch or brood of animals.

30 08, 2014

Dinosaurs Help Young Children with Phonics

By | August 30th, 2014|Early Years Foundation Reception|Comments Off on Dinosaurs Help Young Children with Phonics

Tripping off the Tongue – Dinosaur Names

A number of teachers and learning support providers are using dinosaur names to help young children to appreciate and understand the sounds of words. As dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals seem to be very popular with young children, so these long extinct creatures can prove very helpful when it comes to supporting phonics based teaching.  A three-year-old happily tells us all about their favourite dinosaur, a Stegosaurus, yet the same child struggles to come to terms with the correct pronunciation of the own surname.

Diplodocus not a Problem to a Budding Fossil Hunter

Why do children love talking about dinosaurs?  This is one of the intriguing questions asked of the Everything Dinosaur teaching team as they prepare to put together more lesson plans and schemes of work aimed at Foundation Stage children.  The ability to say correctly the name Diplodocus (and to correct anyone who does not pronounce the word properly), has been observed by many teachers as well as parents and guardians.  It seems that Diplodocus may not be a problem but saying “dafffodil” or “digital” can be quite a challenge to a young palaeontologist.  Even the word “palaeontologist” does not seem to phase them.

Diplodocus – A Popular Dinosaur Amongst EFYS

Diplodocus (pronounced either Dip-plo-dok-kus or Dip-plod-oh-kus) both are fine by us.

Diplodocus (pronounced either Dip-plo-dok-kus or Dip-plod-oh-kus) both are fine by us.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Everything Dinosaur’s experts were not aware of any study being currently undertaken into this specific element of children’s phonics and their grasp of speech.  Research has shown that young children up to the age of seven have an astonishing ability to pick up speech, language skills and enhance their vocabulary.  The sound of the words, particularly if accompanied with a picture of the prehistoric animal might make learning new words and sounds exciting.  The longest genus name, Everything Dinosaur’s staff were able to recall is Micropachycephalosaurus (mike-cro-pack-ee-sep-hal-oh-sore-us).  That’s a hefty twenty-three letters long.  Could dinosaur name pronunciation leave a tingle on the tongue?  Certainly, most young children learning about dinosaurs seem to relish and enjoy saying the names of dinosaurs.

There might be a strong sense of achievement after the pronunciation, as for many young children, the names of dinosaurs might be the longest and most complicated words that the child has encountered.  Children could be picking up cues from parents who might be expressing a strong sense of pride as their child says Tyrannosaurus rex, just like an accomplished academic.

Dinosaur Name Pronunciation Helps Teachers

A number of parents, learning support providers and home educators have exploited a child’s fascination with dinosaurs to help them with their writing, reading and sentence construction.  If the young pupil loves Stegosaurus, then using this Late Jurassic plant-eating dinosaur in a fun activity to look at how to pronounce words and to get to grips with writing is a bit like pushing at an already open door.

Stegosaurus Speech Bubble Dinosaur Themed Teaching Aid

Stegosaurus helps with sentence construction.

Stegosaurus helps with sentence construction.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Everything Dinosaur provides some handy, free, downloadable, dinosaur themed pronunciation bubble pictures.  These are available from the downloads section of the site along with other helpful teaching resources.

To visit the EYFS/Foundation/Reception Downloads: Teaching Resources for EYFS etc.

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