All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
17 05, 2015

Kronosaurus – Down on the Farm

By | May 17th, 2015|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Queensland Farmer Discovers Kronosaurus Jaw Fossil

A Queensland farmer, out spraying weeds on his farm near Nelia in the north-western part of the State, has unearthed the fossilised remains of the lower jaw of a huge marine reptile known as a Kronosaurus.  Although the jaw measures 1.6 metres long, it came from a sub-adult, most of the teeth may be missing, but this is one of the best preserved Pliosaur jaws found anywhere in the world.

Robert Hacon of Euroba Station, was taking advantage of the recent rains that have occurred in this drought hit part of Australia to spray some prickly Acacia plants when he noticed some shiny objects in amongst the weeds.  At first, he dismissed them thinking that they were fossilised mussel shells, which are relatively common in this part of the world, evidence to support the idea that much of the land mass we call Australia was part of a warm, tropical, shallow sea back in the Early Cretaceous.  However, curious to find out exactly what the objects were, he returned to the spot a few minutes later and discovered that the recent downpour had exposed a near complete lower jaw bone of a huge marine reptile.

Dr. Timothy Holland (Kronosaurus Korner) Poses Next to the Fossil Jaw

Dr. Timothy Holland provides a scale next to the massive Kronosaurus jaw.

Dr. Timothy Holland provides a scale next to the massive Kronosaurus jaw.

Picture Credit: Patricia Woodgate

 The first fossils of this apex, marine predator were discovered in Queensland in 1889.  At the time, the fragmentary remains were identified as a type of Ichthyosaur, but in 1924 they were reassigned to the short-necked Sub-Order  of the Plesiosauria, the Pliosauroidea.  Most of the fossil material related to the two species of Kronosaurus so far described, have been crushed, severely weathered and distorted, but pliosaurid specialist, Dr. Timothy Holland of Kronosaurus Korner, a museum that exhibits a number of marine reptile fossils found in Queensland, stated that this specimen was one of the best found to date.

An Illustration of Kronosaurus (K. queenslandicus)

A fantastic replica of the huge marine reptile Kronosaurus.

A fantastic replica of the huge marine reptile Kronosaurus.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows a superb model of the marine reptile Kronosaurus (Safari Ltd).  This replica is part of the now retired Carnegie Collectibles model series.

To see more prehistoric animals in the Carnegie Collectibles model range: Prehistoric Animal Models including Marine Creatures

The fossilised jawbones have been donated to the Kronosaurus Korner museum, they will shortly be put on display to the public.

Commenting on the fossil find, Dr. Holland stated:

“The scary thing is that this creature wasn’t even an adult when it died, it still had a lot of growing to do.  We are thrilled to display the specimen, it’s a timely reminder of Australia’s rich geoheritage and I marvel to think what else lies waiting to be found.”

The skull of this ancient marine reptile made up about a quarter of the animal’s entire body length, a spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented on the excellent state of preservation and estimated that the total length of the animal would have been approximately seven metres.

A Close up of the Beautifully Preserved Jaw Bones

Some teeth can still be seen in the rounded sockets.

Some teeth can still be seen in the rounded sockets.

Picture Credit: Patricia Woodgate

Posterior parts of the jaw are up to eighteen centimetres thick, indicating that this powerful predator had very strong jaws.  It was most likely the top predator in the marine environment, eating fish, cephalopods and other reptiles.

Over the last few years, Everything Dinosaur has reported on a number of marine reptile fossil finds from Queensland, Australia.  Some of these fossils turn up in very unexpected places, such as the case of Ichthyosaur fossil bones being found in the vegetable patch of a school.

To read more about this amazing discovery: Marine Reptile Fossils Found at School

In Everything Dinosaur’s fossil and palaeontology predictions for 2015, we predicted that there would be some exciting new dinosaur discoveries reported from Australia.  This is certainly an exciting fossil find, but Kronosaurus was not a member of the Dinosauria.  Still, more than half of the year to go so we have plenty of time left to be proved right (just for once).

To see the full list of Everything Dinosaur’s predictions: Everything Dinosaur’s Palaeontology and Fossil Predictions for 2015

17 05, 2015

Scientists Manipulate Genes to Create Dinosaur Snouts in Chicken Embryos

By | May 17th, 2015|Key Stage 3/4|Comments Off on Scientists Manipulate Genes to Create Dinosaur Snouts in Chicken Embryos

Chicken Embryos with the Snouts of their Dinosaur Ancestors

A team of researchers from Harvard and Yale Universities have genetically engineered chicken embryos with snout-like features reminiscent of their ancient dinosaur ancestors.  This study identifies the beak of birds as a specific adaptation and links the development of the palatine bone in the roof of the mouth to the development of bird beaks.

This was no attempt to create, what the scientists euphemistically refer to as a “dino chick”, the goal was to better understand the molecular changes needed to bring about this important evolutionary transition.

It is now widely accepted that modern birds are closely related to a group of fast-running predatory dinosaurs known as the Dromaeosauridae.  Popular dinosaurs such as Velociraptor and Utahraptor are dromaeosaurids.  Birds are surviving relatives of dinosaurs, they are actually more closely related to the Dinosauria than to crocodiles and other reptiles.

Dinosaurs Like Velociraptor are Closely Related to Modern Birds

A feathered Velociraptor model.

A feathered Velociraptor model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows a hand-painted, scale model of a feathered Velociraptor dinosaur.  This model is ideal for use in schools when teaching about inheritance and evolution as it shows the bird-dinosaur link extremely well.

For further information and to purchase this teaching resource: Museum Quality Feathered Dinosaur Models for use as Teaching Resources

From a Chicken’s Beak to a Dinosaur’s Snout

A quantitative assessment of fossils of creatures believed to be close to the avian/dinosaur root along with a study of living animals such as lizards, crocodiles, mammals and birds, such as emus was undertaken.  Using this data, the research team were able to formulate a hypothesis as to how the specialised bill of birds evolved from the skull and jaws of a dinosaur.

Having examined the DNA of living organisms, the research team set about trying to inhibit the proteins that cause beak development in chicken embryos, getting them to revert back to their underlying dinosaur state.

Modifying Chicken Embryos to Create Snouts not Beaks

left - normal chicken embryo (control) middle - embryo showing snout formation right - alligator embryo

left – normal chicken embryo (control)
middle – embryo showing snout formation
right – alligator embryo

Picture Credit: Evolution

Dr. Bhullar, a palaeontologist at Yale University, who has co-authored the scientific paper on this research, was surprised by the additional changes seen in the palatine bone, he explained:

“This was unexpected and demonstrates the way in which a single, simple developmental mechanism can have wide-ranging and unexpected effects.”

Professor Michael Benton of Bristol University, who has worked extensively on the evolutionary link between dinosaurs and birds, stated that this new research identifies that the beak of birds develop very different from the snouts, noses and jaws of reptiles.  A different set of genes are involved.

He stated:

“That’s what proves the beak is a real adaptation or “thing”, not just a slightly different nose shape.”

This is the first time a quantitative analysis of the fossil record and living animals has been used to identify the potential evolutionary path taken leading to specific adaptations in animals.  The scientists are confident that this technique can be applied to a wide range of scientific applications involving the manipulation of genetic material to help identify development processes.

Suggested Teaching Extensions

  • Genetics and Evolution (KS3) – linking to variation in a population: Variation can permit some organisms to compete more successfully, which means these organisms are more likely to breed and pass on their variations to the next generation.  Looking at pictures of Archaeopteryx, a transitional bird/dinosaur with jaws and teeth challenge the class to consider the evolutionary drivers involved in the development of a toothless beak from a jaw bone with teeth.

Hint – Consider the need to lighten the body to enable more efficient powered flight.

Extension – What other adaptations can be seen in modern birds when compared to the fossils of Archaeopteryx and related dinosaurs such as Velociraptor?

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