All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
//September
20 09, 2014

Autumn Edition of Prehistoric Times

By | September 20th, 2014|Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Magazine Reviews|0 Comments

Issue 111 (Autumn 2014) on its Way

The front cover of the next edition of Prehistoric Times depicts a dramatic scene.  A flock of Dromaeosaurs are attacking and over powering an Ornithopod.  We suspect that this is an interpretation of a fossil site whereby the carcases of a number of ferocious dinosaurs called Deinonychus were found in close proximity to the body of a much larger, herbivorous Tenontosaurus.  The scene was created by the highly talented Julius Csotonyi (interview with him in this magazine), it shows a group of Utahraptors overpowering a Hippodraco.  It is a digital painting created in 2013.

Front Cover of Prehistoric Times (Autumn 2014)

Prehistoric Times magazine.

Prehistoric Times magazine.

Picture Credit: Mike Fredericks

To read more about Prehistoric Times and to subscribe: Prehistoric Times Magazine

What a dramatic and beautifully crafted scene depicted on the front cover of the autumn edition.  We note also that the film “Dinosaur 13” will be discussed, we look forward to reading this article, after all, we had a small role in the pre-publicity with regards to this movie that hit selected cinema screens in August.  There is also an interview with the very talented Julius Csotonyi.  Team members at Everything Dinosaur had the great honour of reviewing Julius’s latest book earlier this year “The Palaeoart of Julius Csotonyi” and what an excellent publication it is to.  On the subject of excellent publications, we are really looking forward to the next edition of Prehistoric Times.

19 09, 2014

Key Stage 1 Pupils Learn about Dinosaurs and Fossils

By | September 19th, 2014|Educational Activities, Teaching|0 Comments

Primary School Pupils Explore the Dinosauria

Another busy day for Everything Dinosaur team members with a primary school visit.  Children at St. Joseph and St. Bede R. C. Primary had a great time exploring fossils and learning all animals and plants that lived in the past.  As part of our teaching work we looked at the work of a palaeontologist, examined the differences and the similarities between plants today and those preserved as fossils.  The pupils looked at plant-eaters and meat-eaters, well done to Tilly for knowing what a herbivore ate.

Our team member even met a student called Maia and we explained all about the dinosaur called Maiasaura (Good Mother Lizard).

To read more about the dinosaur called Maiasaura: Maiasaura – Mothers Day and Marsh

 The Teaching Team Prepared A Slide Show of the Activities

Slideshow credit: St. Joseph and St. Bede Primary School

 We did have some dinosaur eggs, but we are not sure where they have gone.  Could we have left them at the school?

Lots of extension activities have come out of the visit, we look forward to hearing more about how the school children have been learning to work scientifically.

For more information about Everything Dinosaur’s work in schools: Everything Dinosaur’s Work in Schools

18 09, 2014

Tropical North Wales – 300 Million Years Ago

By | September 18th, 2014|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Educational Activities|0 Comments

Photographs of the Brymbo Steelworks Fossils

We were emailed today by the mum of one keen young palaeontologist who wanted to know all about Petrolacosaurus (pet-ro-lak-co-saw-rus).  Our team member explained that this primitive reptile was not a dinosaur, although it was very distantly related to them.  Petrolacosaurus lived at the very end of a geological period called the Carboniferous, at a little over forty centimetres in length, most of that tail, it was not the biggest reptile known from the fossil record – but its fossils are exceedingly important.  It looked like a lizard and it scurried through the extensive tropical forests that dominated the world at that time in Earth’s history.  By the early Permian, Petrolacosaurus was extinct, it remains one of the earliest reptiles known, part of a rapidly diverging group, that unlike amphibians evolved amniotic eggs.

One of the Earliest Reptiles – Petrolacosaurus (P.kansensis)

Petrolacosaurus kansensis

Petrolacosaurus kansensis

Picture Credit: BBC

Amniotic eggs have a semi-permeable shell that protects the embryo from drying out.  A tough, internal  membrane called the amnion surrounds the growing embryo as well as the yolk, the food source.  Development of the embryo in a shelled egg meant that for the first time in history, the Tetrapods were no longer tied to water to breed.  We as mammals are amniotes, along with the birds and reptiles.

The Amniote Egg – Great Breakthrough for the Tetrapods

The growing embryo is protected by a semi-permeable egg shell.

The growing embryo is protected by a semi-permeable egg shell.

Fossils of the rare and exotic Petrolacosaurus come from faraway Kansas, other primitive reptiles are known from a site in Nova Scotia (more about Nova Scotia later), but did you know that in an abandoned steelworks, just north of Wrexham (North Wales), a team of dedicated researchers and volunteers are busy preserving the fossilised remains of a Carboniferous habitat?

Important Fossil Discovery

It is not all that often that we get to talk about globally significant scientific sites virtually on our doorstep, but that’s exactly what the “fossil forest” preserved at an abandoned steelworks at Brymbo is and we are delighted to hear that plans are being considered to develop this location, perhaps leading to a visitor centre to explain all about the local industry and the fossils to be found nearby.  The Brymbo steelworks site preserves a forest and swamp environment from the Late Carboniferous, a time when the first reptiles scurried around hunting for insects and from time to time becoming prey themselves.  Top predators of the Late Carboniferous included spiders the size of dinner plates and three metre long amphibians.  Although, no reptile fossils have been discovered to date, this location is just one of a handful of such sites around the world and it is likely to significantly improve our understanding of the palaeoecology of the Late Carboniferous of Europe.

 Some of the Hundreds of Plant Fossils Collected at Brymbo

Ancient fossil uncovered at North Wales steel works.

Ancient fossil uncovered at North Wales steel works.

Picture Credit: Rachel Mason

The first fossils were discovered in 2005, when coal was being extracted from part of the Brymbo site. Everything Dinosaur team members wrote an article about the discoveries in 2009, when some of the fossil finds went on display to the public:

To read the article: Fossilised Plant Remains Go on Display

The forest that existed 300 million years ago in North Wales was part of an extensive ecosystem that stretched across Europe and North America.  The vast amount of peat that was formed as the plant remains became buried was, eventually, over time, turned into coal. This coal was to fuel the Industrial Revolution, so it could be argued that the 300 million-year-old forest gave rise to the steelworks.  The forest would not have looked like any modern-day forest environment.  Giant forty metre high Lycopsids (club mosses dominated), along with huge Sphenopsids (horsetails) called Calamites.  Nowhere else in Britain have Calamites fossils been found in such quantities.   Many other types of plant are known from this site, including the now extinct seed ferns (Pteridosperms) and the true fern Syndneia, which was previously known just from one site in Canada.

Giant Lycopsid fossils found

Giant Lycopsid fossils found

Picture Credit: Rachel Mason

Plants are very rarely preserved as whole fossils, but normally occur as isolated individual parts, such as leaves, stems, cones and roots.  As these different parts of plants are found separately in the fossil record, they tend to be given their own individual binomial name.  The roots system of Lycopsids such as the huge Lepidodendron, had a branching structure and these root systems are often preserved along with the Knorria (the name for the base of the trunk).  The term Lepidodendron, although used to describe the entire plant is actually the term that refers specifically to the upper part of the plant and its branches.

More Fossils from Brymbo (we suspect Stigmaria)

Preserved elements of the roots (we think) of a Lycopsid.

Preserved elements of the roots (we think) of a Lycopsid.

Picture Credit: Rachel Mason

Now Back to Nova Scotia

We mentioned earlier primitive reptile fossils from Nova Scotia.  Important information about life on Earth around 310 million-years-ago has been gained from studies of the coal deposits and the fossils they contain from Joggins in Nova Scotia.  The fossils in theses coal measures represent an ecosystem that is probably a few million years older than the one represented by Brymbo.  The Joggins site preserves numerous tree-sized stumps just as at Brymbo.  However, the fossilised remains of many different types of vertebrate (early Tetrapods) have been found inside the sediment associated with these hollowed out tree stumps.  It has been suggested that the hollow trunks of Lepidodendron plants became natural traps for many creatures, which has preserved evidence of the vertebrate fauna associated with these ancient forests and swamps.  No terrestrial vertebrate fossils have been found to date (as far as we know), from the Brymbo site, but importantly, Brymbo is a sheltered, inland location.  Yes, it has the vagaries of the Welsh weather to contend with, however, the Coal Measures at Joggins are on the coast and this site is subjected to much harsher weather, frequent cliff falls and significant amounts of erosion.

In terms of its importance to geology and palaeontology, the Brymbo site with its plant, invertebrate and trace fossils, may turn out to be one of the most important fossil sites in the whole of Europe.

17 09, 2014

Congratulations to the North-West Science Alliance

By | September 17th, 2014|Educational Activities, Press Releases|0 Comments

Certificate of Achievement for the North-West Science Alliance

Within the scientific community there are a great many hard-working, dedicated people who give up their free time to advance the general public’s understanding of science.  The North-West branch of the British Science Association is a typically vibrant team who work tirelessly to help inform, inspire and educate.

Amongst the many successes of this dedicated community that provides speakers, organises science festivals, SciBars (a science presentation in a pub), workshops and other hands-on events, there is the North-West Science Alliance (NWSA). This long-standing organisation has acted as a facilitator bringing together the public, science industries, schools, colleges and universities and fosters co-operation between these diverse bodies.

Lorelly Wilson, as Chairperson of the NWSA and the Chair/Secretary of the North-West branch of the British Science Association has done more than most to advance the general public’s understanding of science and to promote careers in science to students.  Her work was recognised when the NWSA was nominated for an award as part of Adult Learners’ Week organised by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE).  Yesterday evening, a team member of Everything Dinosaur was asked to present a Certificate of Achievement to Lorelly in recognition of her hard work.

Certificate of Achievement to the North-West Science Alliance

Lorelly Wilson accepts award.

Lorelly Wilson accepts award.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

One of the great things about our work is that we get to meet some amazing and talented people.  We were delighted to be able to present this award, the North-West Science Alliance had some stiff competition, more than fifteen hundred nominations were put forward and we at Everything Dinosaur were very pleased to hear of their success and to celebrate this achievement with them.

16 09, 2014

Closing Date for Name a Dinosaur (T shirt Competition) Approaches

By | September 16th, 2014|Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Press Releases|0 Comments

Dinosaur T-shirt Competition Closes on Friday 19th September (2014)

Just a few more days to go, but there is still time to enter Everything Dinosaur’s “Name the Dinosaur on our Exclusive T. rex T-shirt Competition”, seriously, we are going to have to think of easier titles.  Anyway, the contest closes on Friday 19th September.  PLEASE NOTE THIS COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED.

Back on August 22nd, Everything Dinosaur introduced a little contest to celebrate the introduction of the company’s exclusive range of dinosaur themed T-shirts.  We called it our “T-errific, T-yrannosaurus, T-easer, T-shirt competition (there we go again with the long titles).  Our “Apprentice Palaeontologist” tee featured a very cute baby Tyrannosaurus rex.  It even held in its claws a geology hammer, very sweet, but we did not have a name for this little critter.  That reminds us, thanks to Sandra and Mary for their suggestion of “crittersaurus”, this name has been added to our competition entries.

Cute Tyrannosaurus rex Baby Needs a Name

Think of a name for me to win a T-shirt!

Think of a name for me to win a T-shirt!

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view Everything Dinosaur’s dinosaur themed clothing for children: Dinosaur Themed Clothing for Children

Entering the competition is really easy, remember it’s a chance to win a dinosaur themed T-shirt for your own budding palaeontologist, just “Like” Everything Dinosaur’s FACEBOOK page, then comment on the picture of the baby dinosaur design on our red T-shirt (as seen above, the same picture will be posted up on our Facebook page today, so that it is easy to find).  It is a very friendly looking “Apprentice Palaeontologist”, our little dinoaur just needs a name.

Don’t forget, to enter, just visit Everything Dinosaur on FACEBOOK  and “like” our page and leave a suggested name for our baby dinosaur by adding a comment to the baby dinosaur’s picture.

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”.

Everything Dinosaur on FACEBOOK: “LIKE” Our Facebook Page and Enter Competition

We will draw the lucky winner at random after the name caption competition closes this Friday that’s  Friday 19th September 2014.  Good luck to everyone taking part.

Full terms and conditions, the competition rules and so forth can be found here: Dinosaur T-shirt Competition Extra Information

PLEASE NOTE THIS COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED

15 09, 2014

Pterosaur Named after Avatar Dragon

By | September 15th, 2014|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Ikrandraco avatar – New Species of Cretaceous Pterosaur Described

An international team of palaeontologists have described a new species of flying reptile that lived in what is now China during the Cretaceous period, about 120 millions years ago, and named it after the flying dragon-like creatures from the 2009 movie blockbuster directed by James Cameron – Avatar.  The fossils, which have both been laterally compressed, were found at two separate sites, around fifteen miles apart, although one is smaller than the other, they have both been assigned to a single new species – Ikrandraco avatar, the name translates as “Ikran dragon from Avatar”.

One of the Newly Described Pterosaur Fossils

White scale bar =

White scale bar = 5cm

Picture Credit: Scientific Reports/Xiaolin Wang et al

Both fossils come from the Jiufotang Formation of north-eastern China (Liaoning Province), although the exact stratigraphic location for both specimens has been difficult to determine.  The larger of the two specimens indicates a wingspan in excess of 2.4 metres, making this flying reptile slightly larger than a Golden Eagle.  The lower jaw had a distinct, semi-circular crest on its anterior portion, it has been suggested that a large “hook” at the back of this structure helped to support either an enlarged throat or a pouch, broadly similar to that seen in extant Pelicans.   The joint Chinese and Brazilian research team that studied the fossil material and published the scientific paper on the new discoveries, propose that this Pterosaur probably fed on small fish.  It may have flown over the water catching prey by skimming its lower jaw into the water.  Once the jaw connected with a fish, it snapped shut and the fish was stored in the throat pouch prior to swallowing.

This type of feeding, a skimming over the water surface to collect fish approach has been proposed before for members of the Pterosaur family.  To read an article written by Everything Dinosaur team members back in 2007, click on the link here: Pterosaur Feeding Habits – Could they Skim Surface Waters for Fish?

Dr. Alexander Kellner of the Federal Univervisty (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), one of the senior authors of the academic paper and an authority on Cretaceous Pterosaurs commented:

“Ikrandraco didn’t have a crest on the top of its elongated head as many Pterosaurs did.  Behind the lower jaw crest was a hook-like structure that appears to have been the anchor point for the throat pouch.”

The Jiufotang Formation is a member of the extensive Jehol Group and scientists have been able to build up an detailed picture of the environment that existed in this part of the world in the Early Cretaceous.  Although the exact age of the Jiufotang Formation is still debated, most observers now believe that the majority of the strata was laid down in the Early Cretaceous (Aptian faunal stage).

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur stated:

“It is now thought that the highly fossiliferous rocks of this part of the world were laid down around 120 million years ago.”

Ikrandraco avatar exhibits a number of anatomical characteristics that suggest it was a piscivore.  For example, the teeth in the jaw are small, sharp and pointed, ideal for grabbing and holding slippery fish.  The unusual blade-like crest on the lower jaw reminded the scientists of the crests seen on the dragon like creatures in the 2009 movie Avatar.

Creature from a Film Inspires Pterosaur Name

Note the long, orange coloured crest on the lower jaw

Note the long, orange coloured crest on the lower jaw

Picture Credit: 20th Century Fox

Most flying reptile fossils have been found in marine strata.  However, over the last twenty years or so an increasing amount of Pterosaur fossil material has been found in rocks that were laid down inland.  A number of different Pterosaur types co-existed in this part of China around 120 million years ago, intriguingly, these reptiles shared the air with a large number of primitive, enantiornithine birds.  The habitat was a tropical paradise, with verdant forests and a great many, large bodies of freshwater that teemed with fish.  Fossils found in this region include feathered dinosaurs (Saurischian as well as Ornithischian), early mammals, frogs, turtles, fish and birds.

Commenting on the habitat, Dr. Xiaolin Wang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, a co-author of the scientific paper stated:

“It [Ikrandraco] lived in a warm region teeming with life that included feathered dinosaurs, birds, mammals and frogs along with a variety of trees and other plants.”

An Artist’s Impression of Ikrandraco avatar (Early Cretaceous of North-eastern China)

A flock of Ikrandraco Pterosaurs "fishing".

A flock of Ikrandraco Pterosaurs “fishing”.

Picture Credit: Chuang Zhao

Of the 130 or so genera of Pterosaur described to date, a  number of them are known to have had skull or jaw crests.  These crests were either made of bone or formed by a combination of bone and soft tissue.  However, Ikrandraco avatar is unique in that it only had a crest on its lower jaw (mandible).  There is no evidence of a crest on the skull or upper jaw.  Up until now, blade-like crests were known exclusively in the Anhangueria family and in Cimoliopterus cuvier with such crests also noted in Ludodactylus sibbicki (although the evidence of a blade-like crest in this species is debated).

The researchers also note that Cearadactylus atrox (an ornithocheirid from Brazil), also possessed a crest, but only on the front portion of the upper jaw (the premaxilla).  The crest configuration of a crest on the skull but none on the mandible is much more common in the Pterosauria.  In essence, skull crests are far more common than crests on the jaws and a single, lower jaw crest in a species was unheard of until Ikrandraco came along.

The Second Specimen of Ikrandraco avatar

Scale bar = 5cm

Scale bar = 5cm

Picture Credit: Scientific Reports/Xiaolin Wang et al

The photograph and line drawing above shows the second referred specimen of I. avatar.  The crest on the lower jaw with its distinctive “hook” at the back (labelled dcr – dentary crest) can clearly be made out.

As the specimens were found around fifteen miles apart, it could be that these two fossils represent different, but closely related species.  However, the researchers discounted this as both specimens were preserved in a left lateral view and although flattened, the team did not record any observable anatomical differences.  Both specimens revealed evidence of a unique, hook-like structure at the back of the blade-like crest.  This could have served as an anchor point for soft tissues that made up either an extended throat or a pouch.

The presence of throat sacs (pouches) in Pterosaurs has been proposed on numerous occasions.  The suggestions have been made for Late Jurassic species from the famous Solnhofen deposits of southern Germany.  It has been suggested that both Rhamphorhynchus and Pterodactylus had pouches.  In all previously described cases, the pouch starts at the posterior ventral part of the mandible and extends until the level of the third or fourth neck bones (cervical vertebrae).   Due to the difficulties of preservation of such structures, their properties, size and shape are disputed.  Some palaeontologists have proposed that these pouches were similar to those seen in extant Pelicans, others have used the more neutral term of “loose extensible skin”.  These protagonists argue that this gullet structure might have helped them swallow larger prey items whole, as seen in modern day Ostriches, for example.

It is interesting to note that the inspiration for the scientific name came from the movie Avatar. Next year sees the release of Jurassic World, the fourth movie in the extremely successful Jurassic Park franchise.  Although a closely guarded secret, the film is very likely to include a super-sized, apex predator with a large number of teeth.  We at Everything Dinosaur confidently predict that whatever the film makers come up with, it will one day be the inspiration behind the naming of another prehistoric animal that is new to science.

14 09, 2014

Feedback from Everything Dinosaur Customers

By | September 14th, 2014|Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Photos of Everything Dinosaur Products, Press Releases|0 Comments

Customer Says Hi and Thank You

We are very lucky to have some amazing customers and we really enjoy learning all about the adventures our dinosaur toys get up to.  The other day, amongst the very many complimentary emails we received about our customer service, there was one from dad Kevin, who wrote to us about his young son Ted.

It seems that Ted is a budding palaeontologist and he just loves the dinosaur models that came from Everything Dinosaur.

Kevin wrote to say:

“I recently made an order of about five dinosaurs from you.  Ted’s growing obsession with dinosaurs led me to your site and I was impressed by the quantity, quality and value for money of the models that you offer.  I was thoroughly impressed by your service, the dinosaurs really are top quality and not only that but they arrived fast, nicely packed and came with info sheets that were a pleasant surprise too.”

Ted Ensuring that his Diplodocus Gets a Good Feed

Young Ted knows that Diplodocus was a herbivore.

Young Ted knows that Diplodocus was a herbivore.

Picture Credit: Dad (Kevin)

It’s always a pleasure to hear from our customers.  We receive a lot of feedback from parents, teachers, guardians, museum staff – all sorts of people.  We genuinely try and help all that we can.

Kevin went onto add:

“The main purpose of this email, was to thank you and to share with you some of the joy your products have brought us all.”

We are grateful to Kevin and his family for sending us a splendid picture of young Ted making sure his Diplodocus gets plenty of food to eat.  Kevin commented that thanks to his dinosaurs, he was learning all about what different animals eat.  An understanding of animals, plants and learning about food chains is part of the national science curriculum for Key Stages 1 and 2 for England.  Dinosaurs as a teaching topic does help enthuse and engage the minds of young children.

13 09, 2014

Ancient Mammal Named after Mick Jagger

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

Jaggermeryx naida – “Jagger’s Water Nymph”

It resembled something akin to a skinny hippopotamus crossed with a long-legged pig and spent most of the time in the warm, freshwaters of tropical North Africa, but the biggest claim to fame for a newly described member of the Anthracotheres (extinct family of hoofed mammals), is that it has been named after the lead singer of the Rolling Stones.  Sir Mick Jagger is famous for his big mouth and lips and it seems these are traits he shared with Jaggermeryx naida, which roamed the ancient waterways of Egypt some 19 million years ago (Burdigalian faunal stage of the Miocene epoch).  The name means “Jagger’s water nymph” and we will avoid any references to the Rolling Stone’s front man and his age.

Views of the Jaw Fragment of J. naida

Various views of the fossil material.

Various views of the fossil material.

Picture Credit: Greg Gunnell (Duke Lemur Centre)

The picture above shows views of the jawbone fragment that led to the identification of this new species of hoofed mammal.  Picture 1 is a view of inside of the jaw (medial), picture 2 shows the same fossil but in lateral view (outside of the jaw) and picture 3 shows the same fossil viewed from the top (dorsal) view.

An international team of scientists have been carefully excavating an area of the Qattara Depression (north-western Egypt).   Although the Qattara depression forms part of the Libyan desert today and it is famous for its dunes, salt lakes and arid terrain (it was the setting of the 1958 film “Ice Cold in Alex”), back in the Miocene epoch, much of North Africa was covered in lush swamplands and a number of Anthracotheres thrived.  The paper reporting on the excavation of the Anthracothere specimens has been published this week in the academic “Journal of Paleontology”, (note the American form of spelling).

The site, known as Wadi Moghra has provided the highest diversity of Anthracothere fossils when compared to other locations of Miocene aged deposits.  A spokes person from Everything Dinosaur commented that at least six different types of these hoofed mammals are now known to have been living in this part of the world nineteen million years ago.

Associate Professor Ellen Miller, of Wake Forest University (North Carolina), one of the co-authors of the scientific paper stated:

“We imagine its lifestyle was like that of a water deer, standing in water and foraging for plants along the river bank.”

 Ellen Miller (Wake Forest University) at Work Examining Fossil Material at the Site

Often palaeontology can involve lying down on the job.

Often palaeontology can involve lying down on the job.

 Picture Credit: Wake Forest University

The “Jagger” Connection

The site has revealed a number of vertebrate fossils, not just artiodactyls (even-toed mammals), but the fossilised remains of catfish, turtles and a number of water birds have also been found.   The fossil jaw fragments showed a series of eight holes.  These have been interpreted as having been the sites of large nerves that fed information back to the brain from the lower lip and snout.  Jaggermeryx naida probably had large lips (just like the Rolling Stones singer) and a super-sensitive lower lip and snout.  These adaptations would have enabled this herbivore to forage for nutritious plants in the muddy waters of this ancient Egyptian landscape.

A sensitive lower lip and snout.

A sensitive lower lip and snout.

Picture Credit: Wake Forest University

Associate Professor Miller added that the first fossils of this animal that they have described were found back in 1918, but at the time it was not recognised that these fossils represented a new type of Anthracothere.

She commented that when the team asked fellow researchers had they seen similar looking bones elsewhere:

“When people kept telling us no, we knew we were really on to something.  They’ve [Jaggermeryx naida] have been around for nearly a Century, we just didn’t know what they were.”

Mick Jagger is not the first celebrity to have a prehistoric animal named after him.   Many famous people have been honoured in this way.  For example, last summer (June 2013), Everything Dinosaur reported on the fact that an Eocene lizard had been named after Jim Morrison (lead singer of the Doors).  Earlier in 2013, we reported on a new type of Cambrian Arthropod being named after the actor Johnny Depp.

To read about the Eocene lizard named after Jim Morrison: Rock Star Honoured

To read about the Cambrian invertebrate named in honour of Johnny Depp: Film Star Honoured by Having Arthropod Fossil Named After Him

12 09, 2014

Spinosaurus “Four Legs are Better than Two”?

By | September 12th, 2014|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|3 Comments

Spinosaurus – Steps into the Spotlight (Once Again)

And so, the long awaited paper that re-evaluates the fossil data on the Spinosaurus genus and specifically S. aegyptiacus was published in the academic journal “Science” yesterday.  Time to open a new chapter on this, one of the most enigmatic, mysterious and bizarre of all the known Theropoda.  Since the paper’s submission in the summer, there has been a lot of debate in scientific circles with regards to what this new study will show.  The paper’s title “Semi-aquatic Adaptations in a Giant Predatory Dinosaur”, is almost an understatement, when this is contrasted with the lurid headlines we have seen from a large number of media outlets.

Re-examining What We Thought We Knew About Spinosaurus

In very brief summary, the dedicated team of international researchers have re-assessed the known fossil material on Spinosaurus.  They have been able to track down the location in Morocco from which a number of Spinosaurus bones were excavated and sold via a fossil dealer.  The team have then re-examined this site and found further material.  Their efforts has led to a considerable re-think in terms of what this animal looked like and how it moved.  This new study interprets Spinosaurus as a sixteen metre plus dinosaur, that considered itself more at home in the water than on land.  Although capable of terrestrial locomotion, unlike every other large Theropod, a new rendering sees Spinosaurus as an obligate quadruped.  Here is a meat-eating dinosaur that walked on all fours.

A Semi-Aquatic Obligate Quadruped – Spinosaurus

Very much at home in the water.

Very much at home in the water.

Picture Credit: Davide Bonadonna, Nizar Ibrahim, Simone Maganuco

In the picture above, a web-footed Spinosaurus pursues a prehistoric swordfish, known as Onchopristis.  Earlier studies and research based on other members of the Spinosauridae suggest that fish may have made up a substantial proportion of their diet.  Instead of perching on the river bank, attempting to claw fish out of the water like some form of giant, prehistoric Grizzly bear, an ecological niche trumpeted by ourselves to the CGI team helping with the rendering of Spinosaurus for an episode of the BBC television series “Planet Dinosaur” back in 2011, this latest interpretation goes a lot further.

Beyond “Planet Dinosaur” – The Transformation of Spinosaurus aegyptiacus

From paddler to swimming the "evolving" image of Spinosaurus.

From paddler to swimming the “evolving” image of Spinosaurus.

Picture Credit: BBC

Building Up a New Picture

Having re-visited what records and remaining photographs that exist of the original Stromer material excavated from the Western desert of Egypt around a 100 years ago, the dedicated research team then set about mapping previously known Moroccan finds including jaw bone fossils that had been discovered in the mid 197o’s.  To this eclectic mix they added information obtained from the fossils from the newly “rediscovered” Moroccan site, which itself makes up what is now known as the neotype for Spinosaurus aegyptiacus.  A neotype is a specimen that is deemed to represent a species in the absence of the holotype material that has either been lost or destroyed.  Add a pinch of material not known from the Spinosaurus genus but described from related animals baryonychids, spinosaurids and so forth, combined with a soupcon of inferred parts of the anatomy as the bones are not known at all in the fossil record and you have a “composite” view of the animal.

The Latest Interpretation of Spinosaurus (S. aegyptiacus)

Life-size reconstruction and supplemental figure

Life-size reconstruction and supplemental figure

Picture Credit: Davide Bonadonna (top) Ibrahim et al (bottom)

The illustration (top), depicts Spinosaurus as a dinosaur that walked on four legs, in this new study the centre of gravity is positioned further forward, the pelvic girdle is estimated to have been much smaller and the hind limbs with their robust but very short femur  reflect the adaptations of a paddler more than that of a bipedal walker.

The picture below, referred to by a colleague as the “Spinosaurus colour chart” is a figure from the scientific paper’s supplementary data.  The colour coded bones illustrate the composite nature of this digital reconstruction.

The “Spinosaurus Colour Chart” Key

RED = the neotype fossils (FSAC-KK 11888)

ORANGE = the original bones from Stromer’s expeditions

YELLOW = isolated fossil material ascribed to Spinosaurus spp. from the same geological Formation as the neotype (Kem Kem Formation)

GREEN = scaled up bones derived from better known spinosaurids

BLUE = additions to help complete the skeleton based on no known fossils but derived from adjacent bones in the digital restoration

We at Everything Dinosaur applaud the efforts of the international team responsible for this new reconstruction.  A revaluation of the known Spinosaurus fossil material has been long overdue and this is the first time that palaeontologists have been able to relocate the bones from a private fossil collection to the actual site where they were excavated.  We commend the team for their perseverance.

Taking a Different Perspective

However, as with all good science, a number of counterpoints have already been made.

Scott Hartman, addresses these concerns in his web log: There’s Something Fishy About Spinosaurus

Scott, with a background in anatomy, and an expert in skeletal reconstructions, makes a number of excellent points in his article.

The dinosaur referred to as Spinosaurus aegyptiacus was one of the last of the Spinosauridae.  There is a British connection to this story.  One of the spinosaurids used in the comparative study was Baryonyx (B. walkeri).  When this dinosaur, whose bones were found in a Surrey clay pit, was formally described back in 1986 it was depicted as a semi-aquatic dinosaur, fish scales found in the body cavity suggested that fish made up at least a portion of its diet.

Commenting on this new research, Dean Lomax, (Honorary Visiting Scientist: School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, The University of Manchester) and author of the recently published “Dinosaurs of the British Isles” which includes extensive information on the Baryonyx fossil finds, stated:

“The new discovery is very interesting as it potentially confirms what had been suspected for quite some time, that Spinosaurus lived a semi-aquatic lifestyle.”

For further information on the book “Dinosaurs of the British Isles” by Dean Lomax and Nobumichi Tamura, which includes some fantastic skeletal drawings by Scott Hartman visit: Siri Scientific Press

This new paper, marks a new chapter in the story of Spinosaurus, but it’s not the end of the story that’s for sure.  Ironically, although Stromer originally depicted S. aegypticacus as a biped, we recall that in the distant past (the 1970’s), Spinosaurus had previously been thought of as a dinosaur that walked on all fours.

An Illustration of Spinosaurus from 1976

Spinosaurus as a terrestrial quadruped.

Spinosaurus as a terrestrial quadruped.

Picture Credit: Giovanni Caselli (from the book “The Evolution and the Ecology of the Dinosaurs” by L. B. Halstead)

We suspect there are going to be a few more twists and turns in the Spinosaurus story.

11 09, 2014

What Happens when an Ichthyosaur Dies?

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

Scientists Explore the Miniature Ecosystem Created by an Ichthyosaur Carcase

It has been known for some time that when Cetaceans (whales and dolphins) die and their corpses settle on the seabed, the carcase can sustain a diverse ecosystem for many years, even decades with the largest individuals.  Palaeontologists had long suspected that the corpses of marine reptiles that patrolled the seas of the world long before the whales evolved, would have played a similar role, but until now this area of marine reptile research had not been that thoroughly investigated.  Stepping up to this challenge, scientists from the Natural History Museum (London) and the Centre for Research in Earth Sciences (Plymouth University) set about mapping the evidence preserved on the fossilised bones and surrounding matrix of an Ichthyosaur skeleton found in southern England.

The team concluded that although there was evidence for a succession of community feeding phases, phases which are very similar to those found in association with Cetacean remains deposited in shallow water, the fossilised communities differed from those associated with whale carcases deposited in deep water environments.  One phase, consisting of the establishment of a community feeding on inorganic compounds such as methane and sulphides (known as the “sulphophilic phase”) seemed to be absent according to this fossil study.

Exploring the “After Life” of an Ichthyosaur

Ichthyosaurus Model (Carnegie Collectibles)

Ichthyosaurus Model (Carnegie Collectibles)

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Safari Ltd

Ichthyosaurs were a very diverse group of marine reptiles that evolved in the Early Triassic and survived up until the Late Cretaceous (Olenikian faunal stage of the Early Triassic to Turonian faunal stage of the Late Cretaceous).  Although, Ichthyosaurs had the same basic, streamlined body plan, a number of families are now recognised and these reptiles, only distantly related to the Dinosauria are regarded by many palaeontologists as amongst the best adapted of all the reptiles to a marine existence.

The specimen studied was a highly disarticulated Ophthalmosaurus fossil, from Dorset.  The fossil represents a three-metre long individual from the upper part of the Ringstead Clay Member of the Sandsfoot Formation, Late Oxfordian faunal stage.  We estimate that this specimen is approximately 157-156 million years old (Jurassic).  The carcase came to rest on a shallow sea bed, the bones became scattered over an area of several square metres before final burial.  The break-up of the skeleton was probably caused by a combination of scavenging and the action of currents, possibly high energy water flows as a result of storm activity.

The researchers identified a wealth of trace fossil evidence indicating feeding on the carcase by scavengers as well as evidence of organisms grazing on the bones themselves.  Marks made by the teeth of fish were identified and the “star-shaped” feeding scratches from the ichnospecies Gnathichnus pentax were found.  An ichnospecies is an organism only known from trace fossil evidence. The strange five-pointed, star shapes etched over many of the fossilised reptile bones are very similar to the patterns made by living sea urchins with their five-toothed feeding apparatus.  Scientists have interpreted these star-shaped patterns on the bones as evidence of grazing by a prehistoric sea-urchin (echinoid), G. pentax. It would have been feeding on mats of algae that had formed.

Trace Fossil Evidence on the Ophthalmosaurus Bones

Rib showing sharp, narrow grooves (white arrows) probably left by the scavenging action of small fishes.

Rib showing sharp, narrow grooves (white arrows) probably left by the scavenging action of small fishes.

Picture Credit: Nature Communications

The picture above shows a close up of an Ophthalmosaurus rib bone showing signs of having been scavenged by small fish. The arrows indicate potential bite mark evidence (scale bar = 0.5cm).

Evidence of Grazing on the Fossilised Bones by Echinoids (Sea Urchins)

G. pentax ichnospecies on a fragment of fossil rib.

G. pentax ichnospecies on a fragment of fossil rib.

Picture Credit: Nature Communications

The photograph above (b) shows the tell-tale grazing pattern of the ichnospecies Gnathichnus pentax on one of the fossilised bones (scale bar = 1cm).

A Close up of the Star-Shaped Feeding Pattern

Scale bar = 0.2cm.

Scale bar = 0.2cm.

Picture Credit: Nature Communications

Commenting on the study, Richard Twitchett (Natural History Museum), one of the research paper’s co-authors stated:

“This is the first time anybody has described the ecological succession in the Mesozoic equivalent of a whale fall in detail.”

When an extant whale dies and its body sinks to the seabed,  scientists have identified a number of distinct and sometimes overlapping ecological phases.  First, scavengers remove the flesh and other soft tissues from the carcase.  Then snails and the charmingly named bone-eating, snot-flower worms (Osedax genus) feast on the blood and the fluids from the decomposing remains.  The last phase sees the hard parts such as the bones themselves being digested by microbes which feed on the fats (lipids) stored in the bones.  Tube worms live off the microbes and the likes of the bone-eating snot-flower worms persist.

When the insides of the Ophthalmosaurus’s bones were examined under powerful microscopes further evidence of feeding by scavengers was found.  A number of tiny, fossilised molluscs were discovered.  These are associated with the same ecological community phase now associated with the bone-eating, snot-flower worms.  However, there was no sign of the “sulphophilic stage”, in which oxidised inorganic compounds such as sulphides and methane, derived from microbial activity as the fats inside the bones are broken down are consumed by a chemosynthetic community.  The chemosynthetic community found on the carcases of whales in deep water (greater than two hundred metres) consists of free-living bacteria and bivalves (for example, the genus Beggiatoa).

Evidence of Microscopic Scavenging Activity within the Fossilised Bone

Close-up of the bioeroded area where microborings are perpendicular to the external bone surface

Close-up of the bioeroded area where microborings are perpendicular to the external bone surface

Picture Credit: Nature Communications

The picture above (e) shows a highly magnified section of Ichthyosaur bone (ib) and the adjacent micrite rim represents a fine-grained calcite layer formed by the action of microbes boring into the substrate.

Instead, the Ichthyosaur’s bones were colonised by mats of microbes which attracted sea urchins and other grazing invertebrates.  The bones also became the home for a number suspension feeders, such as oysters that cemented themselves to the remains of the skeleton, forming a miniature “reef phase” as described by the scientists.  The remains were eventually buried entombing the remnants of the ecosystem that had been established to exploit the last resources from the dead animal.  When large Cetaceans perish, a reef phase is less likely to occur as most carcases settle in deeper water and the ubiquitous bone-eating snot-flowers rapidly destroy the skeleton.  The researchers conclude that shallow-water Ichthyosaur falls do provide a range of ecosystem opportunities to other organisms similar to the ones seen in studies of dead whales and dolphins.  However, it seems such shallow water corpses do not support any specialised chemosynthetic communities.

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