All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
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5 11, 2014

Egg Shape Could Explain Survival of Birds into the Cenozoic

By | November 5th, 2014|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

New Study Suggests Egg Shape Might Hint at Clues to Survival

Eggs come in many different shapes and sizes.  There are large ones, small ones, those that are more rounded, others that can be more ovoid in shape and so on.  However, a new study, conducted by evolutionary biologists at Lincoln University (UK), suggests that egg shape could have been a factor in why some birds survived the Cretaceous extinction event, whilst other types of bird and the Dinosauria did not.  The research published in the on line journal of the Royal Society, looks at the geometry of eggshells and highlights morphological differences between the eggs of birds and those of their extinct, but very close relatives, the Theropod dinosaurs.

Birds, Reptiles and Mammals are linked as all these types of creature are descended from Carboniferous Tetrapods that evolved an ability to reproduce from an egg that was contained within a semi-permeable eggshell.  These early terrestrial animals were no longer dependent on the presence of water in order to breed and reproduce successfully.  These types of eggs are called Amniotic eggs.

A Diagram Showing the Structure of an Amniotic Egg

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

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

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Safe from drying out, the embryo inside the egg is further protected by a robust, internal membrane called the Amnion.  It is the evolution of the Amniote egg that permitted Tetrapods to conquer all terrestrial environments.

In this new study, the research team noted that there were notable differences between the eggs of birds that survived the Cretaceous mass extinction event that took place around sixty-five million years ago, and the shape of the eggs of those creatures that become extinct.  Although, the fossil record is far from complete when it comes to preserving evidence of eggs and reproductive strategies, the results suggest that early birds from the Mesozoic laid eggs that had different shapes to those of modern birds.  It is possible that egg morphology indicates different physiologies or different rates of embryonic development and this may have implications when it comes to surviving a mass extinction event, such as that which led to demise of around 70% of all terrestrial life, including all the non-avian dinosaurs.

Could Theropod Egg Shape Have Doomed the Dinosauria?

Dinosaur Eggs - New Extinction Theory gets Laid Down

Dinosaur Eggs – New Extinction Theory gets Laid Down

Picture Credit: Associated Press

One of the authors of this new paper, Dr. Charles Deeming (School of Life Sciences, Lincoln University) explained:

“These results indicate that egg shape can be used to distinguish between different types of egg-laying vertebrates.  More importantly they suggest Mesozoic bird eggs differ significantly from modern day bird eggs, but more recently extinct Cenozoic birds do not.  This suggests that the range of egg shapes in modern birds had already been attained in the Cenozoic.”

As extant Amniotic eggs vary considerably in size and shape and this variety reflects different patterns of egg formation and development, then the variation seen in the fossil record of eggs may also reflect different patterns of egg formation, egg development and even nesting behaviour.

Dr. Deeming commented:

“From a biological perspective, it is self-evident that different egg shapes by birds, both past and present, might be associated with different nesting behaviours or incubation methods.  However, hardly any research has been carried out on this topic and fossil data are insufficient to draw firm conclusions.  We hope that future discoveries of associated fossil eggs and skeletons will help refine the general conclusions of this work.”

Although there might be a link between eggshell shape and the ability to survive the Cretaceous mass extinction, it is likely that a lot of other factors contributed to the survival of one group of vertebrates whilst others died out.  The eggshell shape itself may be a part of the story, but palaeontologists are confident that dinosaurs, including many Theropod dinosaurs engaged in complex nesting behaviours, brooded eggs on nests and invested a great deal of time and effort in raising the next generation.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur stated:

“Although the fossil record for eggs and nesting sites is extremely fragmentary, there is evidence to suggest that members of the Dinosauria exhibited altricial and precocial behaviours.  How one group of birds, the Neornithines were able to dominate the Aves remains uncertain, more research in this area is needed.  However, this data adds a fresh perspective and it is certainly intriguing.” 

Dr. Deeming advised that this new paper does not provide all the answers, but it hints at the tantalising possibility that eggshell morphology could have been an contributory factor in the extinction of the dinosaurs.  Dr. Deeming and this paper’s co-author Dr. Marcello Ruta (Lincoln University), are continuing their investigations.  The scientists intend to explore how highly variable amounts of yolk (food for the embryo) and albumen (egg white) could possibly effect egg shape.

4 11, 2014

Mary Anning at the Natural History Museum

By | November 4th, 2014|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Photos, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Being Associated with the Wrong Marine Reptile

As team members from Everything Dinosaur travel around they sometimes get the chance to visit a natural history museum whilst out on their adventures.  There are many splendid museums in this country and elsewhere in the world and it is great fun looking at the various fossils held within the collections.  Occasionally, we come across an exhibit that has inaccurate or out of date information, mistakes do occur and we are always appreciative of the time and trouble curators take over their particular charges.

One such anomaly can be seen in the Fossil marine reptiles gallery in the Natural History Museum London.  There are some spectacular marine reptile fossils on display, Ichthyosaurs, Pliosaurs and their close cousins the Plesiosaurs.  The fossil specimens (most of them are casts) are truly astonishing and this museum (quite rightly in our opinion), does much to acknowledge the contribution of Mary Anning to the nascent science of palaeontology and her work excavating and describing fossils of ancient Jurassic marine vertebrates preserved in the cliffs on the Dorset coast around Lyme Regis.

Information about Mary Anning and her work can be found on various information boards on display.  However, one thing that has always puzzled us is that there is a prominent information board about Mary located on the Rhomaleosaurus cramptoni cast, Mary Anning had nothing to do with this specimen, its discovery or research into it.  In fact, she died about a year before this specimen was found.

Wonderful Marine Reptile Exhibits – but Nothing to Do with Mary Anning

Mary Anning died before this fossil was discovered.

Mary Anning died before this fossil was discovered.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Rebor

The specimen in the photograph is not a fossil but a cast, a copy of the fossil which was made very probably in the late 19th Century by the American Henry Augustus Ward, who set up one of the world’s first fossil dealers and provider of museum replicas and casts.  The animal that the cast represents is called Rhomaleosaurus cramptoni.  It is pronounced Row-ma-lee-oh-sore-us.  It is mounted on the wall of the fossil marine reptiles gallery in the Natural History Museum, but we are aware of similar casts of the same fossil specimen in Monash University (Victoria, Australia), Cornell University, (New York USA), University of Illinois,  and the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution (Bath, Somerset).

The actual fossil is part of the National Museum of Ireland (Natural History), Dublin, Ireland, we don’t think it is on current display.  The code for the specimen is NMING F8785 (all significant fossils are given a unique identifier, this helps when searching for information on a particular specimen).

A Model of the Fearsome Rhomaleosaurus cramptoni

A super model of a marine reptile.

A super model of a marine reptile.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Rhomaleosaurus means “strong lizard” an appropriate name for this fearsome predator that grew to more than six metres in length and might have weighed as much as 1,000 kilogrammes.

3 11, 2014

Tracing the Origins of the Ichthyosaurs

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

Short Snouted Basal Ichthyosauriform from the Lower Triassic of China

It had long been predicted, but until now one of the enduring mysteries of the marine reptiles had remained unsolved.  One of the most successful clades of marine vertebrates ever to have existed were the Ichthyosaurs , reptiles that form the Order Ichthyosauria (fish lizards), also known as the Ichthyopterygia (fish flippers).  These animals thrived in the seas and oceans for much of the Mesozoic but unlike other types of back-boned animals that had adapted to a life in water, no fossils of transitional forms showing a link with terrestrial ancestors had been found.

However, this week a team of researchers led by scientists from the University of California have published a paper detailing the discovery of an amphibious Ichthyosaur, an animal that, although adapted to a life in the sea was still capable of clambering about on land.  This specimen is believed to represent a transitional form, between the Ichthyosauria and their terrestrial ancestors.  Writing in the science Journal “Nature”, the researchers document a nearly complete specimen (just end of the tail missing), of a forty centimetre long, amphibious reptile that is probably part of a group of animals that were the ancestors of the nektonic Ichthyosaurs, widely regarded by many palaeontologists as the most well-adapted to a marine existence of all the reptiles.

The Fossil Specimen that Indicates a Transitional Form

Cartorhynchus

Picture Credit: University of California – Davis/Professor Motani

Commenting on the research, lead author Professor Ryosuke Motani (University of California, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences) stated:

 “But now we have this fossil showing transition.  There’s nothing that prevents it from coming onto land.”

Professor Motani and his colleagues uncovered the fossil specimen in eastern China (Anhui Province) from Lower Triassic strata believed to date from around 248 million years ago (Olenikian faunal stage).  Unlike the long-snouted fully marine Ichthyosaurs this animal, which has been named Cartorhynchus lenticarpus, had a short snout, its bones were also heavier, traits associated with fully terrestrial ancestors.  Unlike later Ichthyosaurs, the flippers were large in proportion to the body size and the wrists flexible.  These features helped this creature crawl around on land, in a similar way to extant seals.  C. lenticarpus means “truncated snout with flexible wrists”, an apt name for this little reptile that spent part of its life on land.  During the early part of the Triassic, eastern China was covered by a shallow tropical sea, there were numerous small islands, the whole area resembled the Caribbean today.  The isolated islands with their limited resources probably acted as a spur for vertebrate evolution.  There was plenty of food in the sea but it was a question of being able to reach it, this probably led to the evolution of reptiles that were more at home in water than their ancient ancestors.

The researchers also had to consider the implications of the Permian mass extinction event on the evolutionary pressures that these animals were under.  Just four million years earlier, planet Earth had undergone the most devastating extinction event known in the history of our planet.  More than 95% of all life on Earth died out.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur explained:

“Extinction events mean the inevitable demise of many genera and families.  However, for those organisms able to survive, such events open up a whole range of new opportunities and often there is a “burst” of evolution as animals and plants adapt to take advantage of vacated niches and new resources.”

Collaborating with the University of California were scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Peking University, Anhui Geological Museum, the University of Milan, and the Field Museum (Chicago).  As a basal Ichthyosauriform has been discovered in China, and the most primitive true Ichthyosaurs are also known from Triassic rocks from this region, then it is likely that the Ichthyosauria evolved in this part of the world.  This clade then radiated out and occupied a number of ecological niches including apex predatory positions before dying out in the Late Cretaceous.

Later Ichthyosaurs were agile, swimmers, although the end of the tail is missing, scientists speculate that Cartorhynchus lenticarpus was probably a relatively poor swimmer.  It probably hunted soft bodied animals and Arthropods in coastal waters.

2 11, 2014

Winner of Everything Dinosaur Competition Announced

By | November 2nd, 2014|Book Reviews, Press Releases|0 Comments

Name an English Dinosaur “Anglosaurus lomaxi

In October, Everything Dinosaur ran a competition to win a signed copy of the terrific dinosaur book “Dinosaurs of the British Isles”.  This book, which was published in the summer, catalogues the dinosaur discoveries known from the British Isles and it was written by the highly talented Dean Lomax and Nobumichi Tamura.  Following a foreward by the eminent palaeontologist Dr. Paul Barrett, the authors summarise what is known about the history of every dinosaur species discovered within the British Isles.

The Front Cover of “Dinosaurs of the British Isles”

A comprehensive guide to British dinosaurs over 400 pages.

A comprehensive guide to British dinosaurs over 400 pages.

Picture Credit: Siri Scientific Press

Palaeontologist Dean Lomax kindly signed a copy and sent it over to Everything Dinosaur, we had a prize, now all we needed was a competition.  The contest we came up was to name an imaginary new species of English dinosaur.  We had so many imaginative entries, we can’t give everyone a mention but here’s a few…

  • “Herniornis Londonous” – Bubosaurus
  • “Ankyliceritops” – Heathyceritops
  • “Britanniasaurus” – Tom
  • “Blightyosaurus” – Aaron
  • “Elgaraptor” – Melanie
  • Ukinodon” – Ken
  • “Manteladon” – Darryl
  • “Forsythodon” – Eleanor
  • “Stiffupperliposaur” – Rosemary
  • “Anningosaurus” – Susan
  • “Kyleosaurus” – Wyatt
  • “Britisaurus” – Sarah
  • “Arthurodon” – Kevin

Honourable mentions to all these but the winning entry pulled out of the hat was “Anglosaurus lomaxi” posted up on Everything Dinosaur’s Facebook page by Robert.  The name translates as “Lomaxi’s English Lizard”, which was very apt after all, this would not be the first dinosaur name to honour a palaeontologist.

To read more about the “Dinosaurs of the  British Isles”:  “Dinosaurs of the British Isles” Reviewed

To visit the publisher’s website and to order the book: Siri Scientific Press

Once again our congratulations to Robert and our thanks to everyone who took part.  Look out for more competitions on our Facebook page and on the Everything Dinosaur blog.

1 11, 2014

Congratulations to Diorama Winners

By | November 1st, 2014|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur Fans, Press Releases|3 Comments

Dinosaur Toy Forum Winners Announced

Over the spring and summer, Everything Dinosaur sponsored a prehistoric animal modelling contest on the Dinosaur Toy Forum.  The standard of entries was extremely high and the subjects covered by the contestants varied and diverse.  There were scenes of many different types of dinosaur (the Papo Running T. rex being a particular favourite model used), Pterosaurs and some amazing marine reptiles, even some Temnospondyl amphibians entered the fray.  One of our personal favourites was “Life in the Precambrian” that used the innovative Toob of Precambrian critters made by Safari Ltd that came out last year.  It is always a pleasure to see how model makers use replicas imaginatively to recreate prehistoric scenes.

2014 Model Contest Sponsored by Everything Dinosaur

Proud to sponsor the competition.

Proud to sponsor the competition.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

It was not just the excellent model making skills on display that impressed Everything Dinosaur team members.  Lots of creative use of photoshop was evident and we loved the titles that the artists had given to their exhibits.  For example, there were entries entitled “Breakfast at Tiffany” which featured the Collecta Stegosaurus corpse, “Desert Stand off”, “Heatstroke” and “Triassic Swim Lessons”.  Our congratulations to everyone who entered, it seems that model making is in fine fettle if the standard of entries in this competition are anything to go by.

As with all contests of this nature, there have to be winners and first prize goes to the forum member known as Federreptil for “Horrible Horn Horde”.

“Horrible Horn Horde” by Federreptil

Congratulations to Federreptil.

Congratulations to Federreptil.

Picture Credit: Federreptil

The detail is exquisite, we recognise a number of models and replicas in this Late Cretaceous scene, commenting on the winner a spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur stated:

“Clearly a great deal of work has gone into this diorama and the attention to detail is fantastic.  Although, the eye is drawn to the herd of Ceratopsians in the foreground, we loved spotting the other prehistoric replicas included in the scene, from the prehistoric plants and trees to the various Pterosaurs including Azhdarchidae”.

This is the second year in a row that Federreptil has won the contest, will anyone be able to challenge this talented model maker in 2015?

Second prize, as voted for by forum members goes to Seismosaurus of the United States for their entry called “On the Beach”.  This is a clever composition that depicts the tracks left by a Sauropod as it wanders along the sand.  The model used is the excellent Wild Safari Dinos Apatosaurus model (Safari Ltd).

Apatosaurus Goes for a Wander Along the Sand

An excellent effort with great lighting.

An excellent effort with great lighting.

Picture Credit: Seismosaurus

Commenting on this composition, Sue Judd (Finance Director at Everything Dinosaur) explained:

“Although the model used is not that large, the artist has really created an impression of scale.  The angle of shot and the clever way in which the seascape background has been incorporated into the picture gives the impression of a huge Sauropod wandering along the shoreline of a Jurassic sea.”

Third place, in what was an incredibly tight contest, went to Irimali for the composition entitled “Separated from the Herd/Storm is Coming”.  A Camarasaurus is isolated and alone, or is it?  Lurking amongst the beautifully recreated Late Jurassic flora, a Theropod waits ready to pounce.

Third Prize Went to “Separated from the Herd/Storm is Coming” by Irimali

Great atmosphere created in diorama.

Great atmosphere created in diorama.

Picture Credit: Irimali

Commenting on the diorama, Mike Walley (Everything Dinosaur) said:

“The model maker has managed to create a very realistic Jurassic forest.  The models themselves are not the “stars” in this particular diorama, for us it is the way that the flora has been depicted.  The scene has been carefully constructed and the diorama has an eerie atmosphere enhanced by the clever use of the background which represents the misty depths of the forest.”

Everything Dinosaur will be in touch with the prize winners shortly so that their prizes (a selection of prehistoric animal models from Everything Dinosaur’s huge range), can be sent out to them.

Once again our congratulations to everyone who took part, we will try and feature the “honourable mentions” in a future blog post.

Do you feel inspired by the amazing prehistoric scenes that have been created in this contest?  Check out Everything Dinosaur’s huge range of prehistoric animal models and plants: Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Models

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