All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
/2014
11 12, 2014

Time to Focus on an Edmonton Bonebed

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

The Danek Edmontosaurus Bonebed – Learning About Dinosaur Communities

Vertebrate bonebeds are fascinating places to explore and one particular dinosaur dominated fossil site is under scrutiny as the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences produces a special edition all about the Danek Edmontosaurus bonebed.  The exact location of this highly fossiliferous site is kept under wraps, for fear of vandalism and theft but this extensive jumble of prehistoric animal remains is providing palaeontologists with a tremendous insight into dinosaur behaviour, ontogeny and anatomy.  The site, part of the urban area of Edmonton, is called the Danek Edmontosaurus bonebed, as it was discovered by amateur fossil collector Danek Mozdzenski (March 31st 1989) and the vast majority of the fossil material has been attributed to the species Edmontosaurus regalis.  Bonebeds are known from a number of locations within the Province of Alberta, ironically during the early years of dinosaur fossil collecting in this part of Canada, many of them were ignored by palaeontologists as they strove to find, identify and extract much more complete articulated specimens for study and for museum collections.

Initial excavations at the site by the Royal Tyrrell Museum from 1989 to 1991 led to the collection of eighty specimens, including one partially articulated skeleton.  The site was reopened by the University of Alberta Laboratory for Vertebrate Palaeontology back in 2006, so far another eight hundred fossils have been catalogued.

The site, which dates from the end of the Cretaceous is stratigraphically contentious, its age has been debated (Campanian to Maastrichtian faunal stages).  Radiometric dating of microscopic zircons deposited, most likely as a result of volcanic activity and found just below the main bone bearing layer indicate the site may represent a sequence in geological time perhaps as long as 100,000 years.  Large groups of dinosaurs may have migrated along a huge river valley.  From time to time, catastrophic events would overtake the dinosaurs leading to mass mortalities.  Amongst the Edmontosaurus bones, scientists have found evidence of horned dinosaurs, Ornithomimids, evidence of tyrannosaurids (Albertosaurus) as well as smaller predators such as Troodon and Sauronitholestes.

An Illustration of Edmontosaurus regalis

Edmontosaurus a member of the Hadrosaurine group of duck-billed dinosaurs.

Edmontosaurus a member of the Hadrosaurine group of duck-billed dinosaurs.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The Danek Edmontosaurus bonebed provides an excellent location for palaeontology students to practice their field craft skills.  Due to the amount of fossil material preserved, the exceptional state of preservation and the volume of associated material the Danek Edmontosaurus bonebed lends itself to a wide range of research projects.

Students and Supervisors Working at the Danek Edmontosaurus Bonebed

The site is ideal for field work.

The site is ideal for field work.

Picture Credit: Victoria Arbour

In addition to the extensive dinosaur remains found, the sediments that make up the bonebed are rich in organic matter.  This organic matter can be studied to help reconstruct the palaeoenvironment of this part of Canada during the Late Cretaceous.  Pieces of amber (fossilised tree resin) found at the site indicate that the river valley area was surrounded by extensive conifer forests – rich feeding grounds for the highly efficient feeders – the Edmontosaurs.

The site will continue to play an important role in helping to teach and train the next generation of palaeontologists and field technicians.

Commenting on the importance of the special edition of the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, dedicated to the Danek Edmontosaurus bonebed, Professor Phil Currie (University of Alberta) exclaimed:

“This collection of papers represents a significant contribution to our understanding of the dinosaurs that lived in prehistoric Edmonton.”

10 12, 2014

The Earliest Horned Dinosaur in North America?

By | December 10th, 2014|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Aquilops americanus – The Implications

When it comes to the horned dinosaurs of North America, there has been a lot of focus in the last few years on mapping the extraordinary diversity of Ceratopsians that once roamed the landmass known as Laramidia.   There has been much debate over the ethnicity of the Dinosauria, as suggested by the myriad of fossil finds and indeed the debate has been reignited recently with the publication of the research undertaken by the UK’s Dr. Nick Longrich and the “northern Pentaceratops” – Pentaceratops aquilonius.  Let’s face it, ever since the publication of “New Perspectives on Horned Dinosaurs”, there seems to have been an addition to the Late Cretaceous Ceratopsidae every couple of months or so.  For instance, Mojoceratops, Kosmoceratops, Utahceratops, Nasutoceratops, Xenoceratops and so forth.

To read about the recent research of Dr. Nick Longrich: Finding a New Species of Horned Dinosaur in a Canadian Museum.

However, many scientists have been turning their attention to another part of the horned dinosaur’s family tree.  These researchers have been trying to piece together (literally), the fossil evidence that hints at the presence of basal, more primitive members of this great group of Ornithischians much earlier in the Cretaceous of North America.  The search for the Neoceratopsian dinosaurs, may not garner quite the same publicity as work on their Campanian and Maastrichtian cousins such as Styracosaurus and Triceratops, but this dedicated team are helping scientists to understand how these dinosaurs evolved and migrated out of their Asian ancestral home.

That is why the paper published this week in the academic journal PLOS One is so important.  This paper describes the partial skull and lower jaw of a horned dinosaur, the fossils represent the earliest evidence of Neoceratopsian dinosaurs recorded in North America.  Say hello to Aquilops americanus, about the size of a King Charles spaniel that roamed southern Montana somewhere between 109 and 104 million years ago.

 A Tiny Skull that is Making a Big Difference

Skull fossil that can sit in the palm of your hand.

Skull fossil that can sit in the palm of your hand.

Picture Credit: Reuters

Prior to this fossil discovery, the Neoceratopsian dinosaurs of North America were represented by isolated teeth and skull fragments, collected from places as far apart as Utah and Maryland, the Cedar Mountain Formation and the Arundel Formation respectively.  The paucity of the fossil record was severely hampering the work of scientists as they tried to understand the pattern of migrations between Asia and North America.  During the Cretaceous, Asia and North America were joined, they shared a land bridge between them, most likely there were many occasions when fluctuating sea levels and geological activity permitted a land bridge to be formed.  It seems that the horned dinosaurs evolved in Asia but migrated via what is now the Bering Straits over to Canada and the United States.  Aquilops seems closely related to Early Cretaceous horned dinosaurs known from Asia such as Liaoceratops and Auroraceratops, it has been speculated that there were at least intermittent connections between these two continents throughout the Late Early Cretaceous, likely followed by a long period of geographic isolation that permitted a number of new genera to evolve before a final reconnection towards the end of the Mesozoic.

The skull measures just 8.4cm in length, it is likely that Aquilops americanus (the name means “American eagle face”), was an unobtrusive herbivore, selectively grazing young shoots and leaves from the protection of the undergrowth.  It may even have been nocturnal or perhaps it may have lived in a burrow.

Line Drawing of the Skull and a Reconstruction of the Dinosaur

Skull sketches top and middle with an artist's impression underneath.

Skull sketches top and middle with an artist’s impression underneath.

Picture Credit: PLOS One, life restoration by Brian Engh

 The line drawings of the skull have been based on better known Neoceratopsian specimens from Asia.  Note the large orbit (eye-socket), this has led to speculation that this little dinosaur may have lived in low light conditions or might possibly have been nocturnal.

Commenting on the study, one of the authors of the scientific paper Dr. Andrew Farke (Raymond M. Alf Museum of Palaeontology, California) stated:

“This was a small plant-eater and we know from its hooked beak that it was pretty selective, nipping off whatever vegetation was around.”

 An Illustration of Aquilops americanus

Earliest horned dinosaur known from North America.

Earliest horned dinosaur known from North America.

Picture Credit: Brian Engh/Raymond M. Alf Museum of Palaeontology

One of the mysteries with the Ceratopsian dinosaurs is when did the Asian migrations occur, and where there any significant migrations of North American fauna into Asia?  Before this discovery, the oldest known horned dinosaur from North America was Zuniceratops, which roamed New Mexico and Arizona some 90 million years ago.

Dr. Farke added:

“Aquilops lived nearly twenty million years before the next oldest horned dinosaur named [and described] from North America.  Even so, we were surprised that it was more closely related to Asian animals than those from North America.”

The discovery of these fossils, does support the theory that these type of bird-hipped dinosaurs did evolve in Asia and that they spread into North America, most likely via a northern latitude route, however, as the authors of this scientific paper say themselves, more field studies and more fossils will be needed before anyone can state anything else with a degree of certainty.

9 12, 2014

Last Recommended Posting Dates (Airmail to Canada and Poland)

By | December 9th, 2014|Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page, Press Releases|0 Comments

Tuesday 9th Last Recommended Posting Dates (Airmail to Canada and Poland

Christmas orders are in full swing at Everything Dinosaur and our team members are busy preparing, packing and despatching customer orders as fast as they can.  Today, Tuesday 9th December, is the last recommended posting date (Royal Mail) for airmail parcels, now called International Standard to be sent to Poland and Canada.  Orders placed after today, for delivery into Poland or Canada may not arrive in time for Christmas.

Last Recommended Posting Dates Christmas 2014 (Royal Mail)

Helpful table about Christmas posting dates.

Helpful table about Christmas posting dates.

Table Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Royal Mail

Parcel services are expected to be stretched as once again, on line retail sales are likely to set new records.  Everything Dinosaur is doing all it can to ensure parcels are packed and sent out as quickly as possible.  Although we would ask all customers to purchase as early as possible to avoid any potential disappointment as a result of a parcel not arriving in time for the big day.

A spokesperson for the company stated:

“We are doing all we can to ensure a rapid despatch of orders for our customers.  We have implemented Saturday morning packing and Saturday collections to speed up deliveries and our team members are working extra long hours to ensure we are on top of orders.”

The many Christmas cards received have been put up in the warehouse to keep everyone happy and cheerful at this very busy time of year.  Not quite got round to putting tinsel on the T. rex yet though.

8 12, 2014

Walking with Dinosaurs – Birth of a Dinosaur Footprint

By | December 8th, 2014|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Getting Under the Skin of a Dinosaur’s Foot

The footprints of prehistoric animals preserved as fossils can provide scientists with a wealth of information.  However, in a research project involving Brown University (Providence, Rhode Island) and the Royal Veterinary College, steps have been taken (no pun intended), to get a much more complete understanding of how ancient creatures walked.  It’s question of applying a number of highly technical research methods to step into the footsteps of a dinosaur, this research certainly adds a whole new meaning to “Walking with Dinosaurs”.

Providing a Deeper Understanding About Fossil Footprints

Sauropod footprint, the hand provides scale.

Sauropod footprint, the hand provides scale.

Picture Credit: AFP Photo/Igor Sasin

Dr. Peter Falkingham, a Research Fellow at the Royal Veterinary College (London) and co-author, Professor Stephen Gatesy (Brown University), attempted to map the displacement and complex re-organisation of sediment that takes place when a footprint is formed.  Put simply, imagine you are walking on the beach, across wet sand.  As you proceed across the sediment you will create footprints, these are visible impressions left in the surface layer, however, as your bodyweight moves across the sand, it will have an impact on the sand particles that surround and are underneath the area that you have just walked over.  In a unique experiment, the scientists have been able to create visual images of the re-organisation of particles involved in footprint formation.  This research can help ichnologists (the term used to describe a specialist in studying trace fossils), interpret dinosaur footprints, thus in turn providing palaeontologists with a better understanding of prehistoric animal locomotion.

A variety of techniques were used to create visual images of three-dimensional footprints.  Firstly, a Guinea Fowl (Galliformes) was persuaded to walk across a bed of poppy seeds.  The poppy seeds and the way that they were moved would mimic the action of the substrate as if it were soft sand.   The virtual footprint was created by combining two X-ray videos with a digital skeletal model of the bird’s legs derived from CT scans and a three-dimensional motion analysis called X-ray Reconstruction and Moving Morphology (XROMM), which had been developed at Brown University.  This technology enabled the research team to reconstruct the motions of the bird’s foot in three dimensions, even when the toes are hidden from sight as they sink into the sediment.

Which Came First the Guinea Fowl or the Virtual Simulation of a Dinosaur Footprint?

Cutting edge research combined with a Guinea Fowl.

Cutting edge research combined with a Guinea Fowl.

Picture Credit: Royal Veterinary College/Brown University

The picture above shows the hind limb bones of the guinea fowl, projected in three dimensions along with the footprints formed.

Commenting on this ground-breaking research (literally), Dr. Falkingham stated:

“By observing how a footprint is formed, from the moment the foot hits the sediment until it leaves, we can directly associate motions with features left behind in the track.  We can then study a fossil track left by a dinosaur and say, OK, these features of the track are similar, but these are different, so what does that mean for the way the animal was walking?”

A powerful computer programme was used to analyse and interpret the data, so that a virtual footprint that had been generated could be observed as an impression at the surface and also below the surface of the substrate.  Being able to directly associate movements of the foot with features of the footprint, both on the surface and deeper into the sediment, opens up the possibility of more accurately reconstructing the way in which long extinct creatures moved.

The Simulated Footprint (Guinea Fowl Footprint)

The footprint mapped at 1cm below the surface layer.

The footprint mapped at 1cm below the surface layer.

Picture Credit: Royal Veterinary College/Brown University

Professor Gatesy added:

“Footprints are not just simple moulds of the bottom of the foot, so it’s important to understand how the dynamic interaction between a living animal and the substrate give rise to a track’s 3-D shape”.

The team’s findings, published in the journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”, could help palaeontologists better understand how dinosaurs walked and perhaps build up a picture of how dinosaur locomotion changed as the Dinosauria evolved. Moving forward, (again no pun intended), the advent of  XROMM technology could help researchers explore how early hominids adapted to a bipedal stance.

7 12, 2014

His and Her Trilobites

By | December 7th, 2014|Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Geology|0 Comments

Dorset Fossil Expert Sends Everything Dinosaur Trilobites

For Brandon Lennon, fossil expert and Ammonite polisher supreme, this time of year is very busy as he prepares for the public Lyme Regis fossil walks which start again on Saturday 14th February.  February 2015, may seem a long way off, but for someone who spends his time studying the extensive fossil beds on this part of Dorset coast, it is merely a blink in geological time away.  Over the winter months, Brandon will be examining tide tables, looking at where rock falls and mud slides occur and plotting the best walks for those members of the public lucky enough to join him on his fossil finding adventures.

Brandon Lennon – Looking Forward to More Fossil Collecting in 2015

Exciting Plesiosaur Fossil Discovery

Exciting Plesiosaur Fossil Discovery

The picture above shows Brandon, with some beautifully preserved vertebrae from a Plesiosaurus, a marine reptile, fossils of which can be found eroding out of the cliffs on some parts of the Dorset coast.  Next year, marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of the world’s first extensive geological map.  The map that plotted the geology of England, Wales and parts of Scotland was created by the surveyor William Smith, (1769-1839), nick-named “strata Smith”, as it was Smith who used knowledge about which types of fossils could be found in which types of rock to plot the depositional sequence of strata.

This map, with its catchy title “A Delineation of the Strata of England and Wales with part of Scotland*, is regarded by many scientists and cartographers as one of the most important and significant maps ever created, it has even been dubbed “the map that changed the world”.  The geology of the Dorset coast is included, it forms one of fifteen sections that when combined produce the geological map.  Brandon and his father (a retired geologist), would be able to recognise the underlying geology as identified by Smith all those years ago.  Being able to identify the best places to look when it comes to finding fossils is a key skill for a leader of guided fossil walks and Brandon has more than twenty years experience in the role.

For further information on Guided Fossil Walks in the Lyme Regis area: Lyme Regis Fossil Walks

Brandon’s extensive interests are not confined to Jurassic aged sediments.  The other day, he kindly sent Everything Dinosaur a couple of Trilobite specimens to add to our Arthropod fossil collection.  Most vertebrate palaeontologists, when quizzed, will openly admit to having a passion for all things Trilobita.  These entirely marine relatives of crustaceans, insects and spiders, evolved during the Cambrian and survived right up to the End Permian mass extinction event.  Trilobites come in all shapes and sizes and the two specimens sent to us by Brandon are fine examples of the genus Calymene (the genus name means “beautiful crescent” and it is pronounced kal-im-minny).  These particular fossils probably come from Morocco and date from the Late Ordovician, making them approximately 270 million years older than the strata explored by Brandon and the groups he takes out on his fossil walks.

We have nick-named the Trilobites “Mike and Sue”.

Trilobite Fossils Sent to Everything Dinosaur by Brandon Lennon

"Mike and Sue" - the Trilobites.

“Mike and Sue” – the Trilobites.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To read more about Brandon’s fossil hunting adventures including an article on Ammonite polishing: Fossil Experts Demonstrate Their Skills

*In Georgian times, in nascent scientific circles, there was a trend to give extremely long titles to publications.  It seems a case of don’t use one word when five words would do instead.  The full title of the 1815 geological survey map is:

“A  Delineation of the Strata of England and Wales with part of Scotland, exhibiting the collieries and mines, the marshes and fen lands originally overflowed by the sea, and the varieties of soil according to the variations in the substrata, illustrated by the most descriptive names by W. Smith.”

6 12, 2014

Was there a Dinosaur Called Lufengosaurus?

By | December 6th, 2014|Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Lufeng Lizard – “Lufengosaurus huenei”

An interesting question was sent in the other day by a young dinosaur fan.  He wanted to know whether there really was a dinosaur called Lufengosaurus and if it existed, what sort of dinosaur was it?  An intriguing question, so our team members set about providing an answer.

Lufengosaurus lived during the very Early Jurassic in south-western China.  Its fossils are associated with the Lufeng Formation (hence this dinosaur’s name).  It was named and described back in 1941, a time when western science had very limited access to Chinese scholars and their work.  This dinosaur remained very much off the radar for many museums and academics in the West.  A second species was erected a few years later, but it is now thought that the fossilised remains associated with this second species are actually older, larger individuals representing Lufengosaurus huenei so this second species may not be valid.  Lufengosaurus was named by the Chinese scientist Chung Chien Young (Yang Zhongjian).

An Illustration of Lufengosaurus

A scale drawing of Lufengosaurus.

A scale drawing of Lufengosaurus.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

This dinosaur, one of the largest known from the Early Jurassic was a member of the lizard-hipped group (Saurischia).  More specifically it was a Sauropodomorph and closely related to Massospondylus which also lived in the Early Jurassic (South Africa).  In the mid 1980’s another species of Lufengosaurus was described, this time based on a specimen discovered in Tibet (Lufengosaurus changduensis) although this specimen has not been formally described and no holotype fossil material assigned so the species name currently has a nomen nudum status.

The hind limbs were longer than the front limbs so this dinosaur could have adopted a bipedal stance, although it probably spent most of its time ambling along on all fours. The neck is proportionally longer than in other Sauropodomoprhs and it had distinctive lumps and bumps on its cheek bones.  It was most likely entirely herbivorous, the jaw was lined with tightly packed teeth well suited to coping with a diet of tree leaves and ferns, although it possessed a disproportionately large thumb claw, which some scientists have suggested was used to attack and subdue smaller animals, suggesting that this dinosaur was an omnivore.  Other palaeontologists have disputed this idea, proposing that the claws and that large thumb claw in particular may have been used for defence or to help pull down branches so that it could feed more easily.

5 12, 2014

Dinosaur Bone Damaged by Vandals is Removed

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

Vandalised Dinosaur Bone is Removed from the Dinosaur National Monument

The 150 million year old dinosaur bone had slowly weathered out of the rock, its location, on part of the Fossil Discovery Trail at the Dinosaur National Monument (Utah), meant that thousands of visitors to the park could see the beautifully preserved fossil lying in situ.  However, the thoughtless and reckless action of vandals has resulted in the bone having to be removed from the trail for fear that it could crumble away.

Back in September, Everything Dinosaur reported on the incident of vandalism at the famous Dinosaur National Monument, one of the richest sources of Upper Jurassic fossil material anywhere in the world.  A Ranger spotted the damaged fossil bone (humerus of a juvenile Sauropod), whilst taking visitors on the 1.2 mile long Fossil Discovery Trail that runs between the Quarry Visitor Centre and the Exhibition Hall.

To read Everything Dinosaur’s report of the vandalism: Fossil Damaged at Dinosaur National Monument – Utah

A fist-sized chunk had been removed from the bone, a thoughtless act of vandalism, probably inspired by the high prices fetched for the sale of dinosaur fossils at auctions.  Palaeontologists assessed the bone and decided to remove it to prevent further damage and the possibility that the bone could break up over the winter as frost and freezing conditions would lead to cracks in the fossil widening.

Brooks Britt, a palaeontologist from Brigham Young University (department of Geological Sciences), carefully extracted the specimen, using techniques and tools that would not have been unfamiliar to the scientists who first extracted bones from this location over one hundred years ago.

Commenting on his work, Associate Professor Britt stated:

“This bone is easy to get out because it is in relatively soft rock.  The vandals took a chunk out about the size of my fist, that destabilised the fossil.  It propagated fractures, it opens them up and then the weathering process starts attacking the bone, so you can’t leave it out in the open.”

 Carefully Does It – Removing the Sauropod Humerus (Upper Arm Bone)

Vandalised bone is removed to prevent further damage.

Vandalised bone is removed to prevent further damage.

Picture Credit: Geoff Liesik/KSL TV

Daniel Chure, the Monument’s palaeontologist, described his reaction on hearing the news of the vandalism of one of “frustration and anger”.

He added:

“Hundreds and thousands of visitors have been able to come here and actually look at dinosaur bones as they are naturally exposed by erosion.  Now because of the thoughtless actions of one person, future visitors won’t have the opportunity to see this particular bone in the field.”

Park Rangers are still optimistic about finding the culprit.  They are asking for people who may have witnessed the act of vandalism to come forward.  A reward of $750 USD is being offered for information that could lead to a conviction.

What is the future for the Sauropod arm bone?  The Park Service has plans for it.  They would like the fossil to be fully prepared, stabilised and cleaned up ready for display at the Monument’s Quarry Visitor Centre.

A spokesperson for Everything Dinosaur stated:

“Hopefully this fossilised bone will serve as a reminder to visitors not to damage or to attempt to take fossils away with them.  It might prevent future fossil thefts or acts of vandalism, we sincerely hope so.”

An Illustration Showing Typical Sauropod Bauplans of the Late Jurassic of the Western United States

Long necks for different feeding envelopes.

Long necks for different feeding envelopes.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

4 12, 2014

Paying Tribute to the New Replicas from Safari Ltd

By | December 4th, 2014|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Everything Dinosaur videos|0 Comments

New for 2015 Safari Ltd Prehistoric Animal Models

Team members at Everything Dinosaur announced sometime ago the new additions to the Carnegie Collection and Wild Safari Dinos model ranges (Safari Ltd).  We are looking forward to stocking these models and can’t decide between us which one we like the best.  As we look forward to 2015, we have taken time out to produce a very quick teaser video which features the five new models from Safari Ltd which will be available from Everything Dinosaur next year.  After all, if a teaser trailer can be made for “Jurassic World”, then why not one for these exciting prehistoric animal replicas.

Everything Dinosaur’s “Teaser Trailer” – New for 2015 Safari Ltd Prehistoric Animals

Video Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view Everything Dinosaur’s current range of dinosaur and prehistoric animal models made by Safari Ltd: Carnegie Collectibles, Wild Safari Dinos. etc.

In this short video (under forty seconds in duration), we show pictures of the five new figures, the Archaeopteryx, the horned dinosaur Nasutoceratops, Sauropelta and the feathered tyrannosaurid Yutyrannus huali.  We also showcase the only scale model to be added next year, the 1:50 scale (approximate) replica of Velociraptor (V. mongoliensis).  No doubt we will comment more on the potential scales (as in scale size, not to be confused with feathers) when we create individual reviews of these prehistoric animals.

To read a little more about these new introductions: Safari Ltd announce new models for 2015

Our dedicated team members will be researching and writing fact sheets to accompany these new animal models.  For every named prehistoric animal replica Everything Dinosaur supplies, a fact sheet all about that creature, is included.  Scale drawings of all these animals have now been completed and the fact sheets themselves will be completed shortly.

Looks like 2015 is going to be an exciting time for dinosaur model and figure collectors.

3 12, 2014

Carnivorous Plant Remains Found Preserved in Amber

By | December 3rd, 2014|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

The Mystery of The Very First Carnivorous Plant Fossil Leaves

Some types of organism, despite having been on our planet for tens of millions of years have such a poor preservation potential that they rarely, if at all appear in the fossil record.  One such group are the carnivorous plants, be they Venus Fly Traps, Sundews or Pitcher plants.  The trapping structures are often derived from primary growth, this reduces the preservation potential and these types of plants tend to be found in areas such as peat bogs and tropical forests where rapid breakdown of organic material occurs.  Up to now, carnivorous plant fossils have consisted of micro-fossils such as preserved pollen with the occasional fossil seed.  However, a team of scientists from the Botanical State Collection of Munich as well as Bielefeld and Göttingen Universities have found the first fossils of a proto-carnivorous plant preserved in Baltic amber.  Two leaves, trapped in pine resin over between thirty-five and forty-seven million years ago, have been identified to belonging to the family of flypaper plant traps.  These types of plant produce sticky substances that trap small insects and other Arthropods.

The sticky hairs on the leaves can be clearly made out under a microscope.  The amber was found in a mine near Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave on the Baltic coast.  Amber from this part of the world, referred to as Baltic amber is relatively common and remarkably as amber floats in sea water, from time to time pieces of Baltic amber are washed up on the coast of East Anglia (United Kingdom).

The Fossils of a Carnivore (Roridula spp.)

Leaf remains trapped in amber.

Leaf remains trapped in amber.

Picture Credit: PNAS and University of Göttingen/Alexander Schmidt.

Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (United States), the research team led by Professor Alexander Schmidt (University oGöttingen), have identified the leaves, with their long-stalked multicellular glands as being reminiscent of extant plant species in the Roridula family.  Plants in the family Roridulaceae are not true carnivorous plants in the strictest botanical sense.  In contrast to the likes of the Venus Fly Trap (Dionaea spp.), Roridula do not trap, kill and digest their animal prey.  These plants are not capable of producing the enzymes required to breakdown the bodies of their victims.  Instead, they rely on a symbiotic relationship between types of carnivorous Heteropteran insects (bugs), that feed on the trapped organisms.  In turn, the nutrient rich excretions from these scavengers are absorbed by the plant through its leaves.

Today, living members of the carnivorous plant Roridula are restricted to southern Africa, however, during the Eocene these plants must have been much more widespread.  For much of the Eocene Epoch, the world was warmer than it is today.  The discovery of these fossils provides a mystery for the research team to solve.  Firstly, it suggests that the flora in the forests that were to produce the tree resin that was to eventually become amber, must have been more diverse than previously thought.  Secondly, it had been thought that the ancestors of the Roridula evolved around 90 million years ago in Africa and these plants evolved in isolation as Africa became separated from other land masses as the southern super-continent of Gondwanaland broke up.

However, as Professor Schmidt points out:

“The new fossils from Baltic amber show that the ancestors of Roridula plants occurred in the northern hemisphere until around 35 million years ago, they were not restricted to South Africa.”

These plants seem to be have been more widespread than previously thought, the fossils also confirm molecular dating that hypothesised that these types of plant had been distinct from other plant families for at least 38 million years.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the help of the University oGöttingen in the compilation of this article.

2 12, 2014

Chinese “Sea Dragon” Fossil Hints at Triassic Fauna Recovery

By | December 2nd, 2014|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Monster Nothosaur from China Suggests Ecosystem Recovery after Mass Extinction Event

A team of Chinese scientists, supported by palaeontologists from Bristol University, Washington D.C. and Australia, writing in the academic journal “Nature: Scientific Reports”, have described the fossilised remains of a giant marine reptile.  This fearsome hunter provides evidence that by around 245 million years ago, much of the world’s marine habitats had recovered sufficiently from the Permian/Triassic mass extinction event to support complex food chains.  The Permian/Triassic extinction event is often referred to as the “Great Dying”, a huge portion of life on Earth died out, scientists debate just how many different types of organisms perished, but it has been suggested that as much as 95% of all life on Earth became extinct.

To read more about how mass extinction events are defined: When is an Extinction Event a Mass Extinction?

The fossil represent a new species of Nothosaur, it is potentially the largest Nothosaur discovered to date.  The discovery is significant as it indicates that on the eastern side of the Paleotethys Sea, marine life had recovered sufficiently to support complex food chains, with carnivorous marine reptiles as the apex predators in the environment.  As similar sized apex predators are known from the western fringes of the Paleotethys Sea and also from the eastern seaboard of the Panthalassa Ocean, this provides evidence to support the theory that by the early part of the Middle Triassic there had been a global recovery (a synchronous global recovery), of marine fauna and flora.

The Nothosaur fossil consisting of an almost complete lower jaw, isolated teeth and post cranial elements was discovered in 2008.  The only known specimen was collected from Bed number 165 of the Dawazi section of strata, a highly fossiliferous zone that represents a shallow marine environment.  The fossils are located in Luoping County, Yunnan Province in the far south-west of China.  This part of the world is famous for its Middle Triassic marine fossils, many thousands of specimens have been collected including a number of Ichthyosaurs as well as other marine reptiles.

The Nothosaur Fossil Material (a) Line Drawing (b)

The specimen has been named Nothosaurus zhangi

The specimen has been named Nothosaurus zhangi

Picture Credit: Nature: Scientific Reports

Nothosaurs were a group of marine reptiles related to the better known Plesiosaurs.  They evolved from terrestrial ancestors and typically were between one and three metres in length.  They had relatively long snouts, quite narrow skulls, and their fingers and toes may have been webbed to help propel them through water.  The were also capable of hauling themselves up onto land and although well adapted to a marine environment, they probably rested and bred on land.  The Nothosaurs evolved very early on in the Triassic Period and as a group they persisted up until the beginning of the Jurassic.

 A Model of a Typical Nothosaur (Safari Prehistoric Sealife Toob)

One of the models in the Safari Prehistoric Sealife Toob.

One of the models in the Safari Prehistoric Sealife Toob.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows a typical Nothosaur bauplan (body plan), it is one of the models from the fantastic “Prehistoric Sealife Toob”, part of the range of prehistoric animal and plant replicas made by Safari Ltd.

To view this range: Safari Ltd Prehistoric Replicas

This new giant species of Nothosaur has been named Nothosaurus zhangi.  The species or trivial name honours the discoverer of the Luoping biota, scientist Qiyue Zhang.  Although far from complete, a comparative analysis using fossil material from the Nothosaur species known as N. giganteus, whose fossils come from Middle and Upper Triassic aged rocks in Germany, suggests that Nothosaurus zhangi was between five and seven metres in length.  Think of this ancient reptile being about the size of a large Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus).

The jaw was lined with a number of sharp, pointed teeth, many of which projected outwards to give the impression of elongated fangs.  These were adaptations to grabbing and subduing struggling prey, such as fish and cephalopods.  Given the size of Nothosaurus zhangi, it very probably hunted other, smaller marine reptiles in the shallow, tropical sea that once covered much of China.

These fossils from what would have been the eastern side of the Paleotethys Sea, when considered with the fossilised remains of other enormous Middle Triassic marine reptiles, suggests that across the world marine environments had recovered sufficiently to support complex food chains by around 245 million years ago.

A Map of the Middle Triassic Showing the Location of Apex Predator Marine Fossil Finds

Marking the location of apex predator fossils.

Marking the location of apex predator fossils.

Picture Credit: Nature: Scientific Reports with additional material from the Palaeobiology database

The map shows a whole world projection of the Middle Triassic. The super continent of Pangea is firmly established and the locations of potential apex predator marine reptile fossils have been marked.

Key

  • Thalattoarchon O – (T. saurophagis) a giant Ichthyosaur estimated to have measured 8-9 metres in length (YELLOW)
  • Cymbospondylus (several species), a basal Ichthyosaur estimated to have reached lengths in excess of 10 metres (BLUE)
  • Nothosaurus giganteus – estimated to be about 5-7 metres long (PURPLE)
  • Nothosaurus zhangi – estimated to be about 5-7 metres long (RED)

Thanks to the astonishing variety of fossils from the Luoping Province, scientists have been able to build up a great deal of knowledge about life in the seas surrounding the ancient land mass on the western fringes of Pangea, that was to eventually become China. The researchers have been able to develop a complex food chain diagram and the newly described Nothosaurus zhangi is placed at the top of the food chain as the largest predator discovered to date.

A Food Chain Constructed Using Luoping Biota Fossil Data

Nothosaurus zhangi at the top of the food chain.

Nothosaurus zhangi at the top of the food chain.

Picture Credit: Nature: Scientific Reports

It may have taken terrestrial life slightly longer to recover from the end Permian extinction event, but based on this evidence, many of the shallow sea environments had recovered fully and new types of fauna had filled ecological niches.

To read an article published in April 2014 about the discovery of a bizarre type of marine reptile (Atopodentatus) from the Luoping Biota: Bizarre Triassic Marine Reptile Described

Load More Posts