All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
16 06, 2015

Extreme Equatorial Climates Slowed the Rise of the Dinosaurs

By | June 16th, 2015|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Main Page|0 Comments

Climate of the Tropics too Unstable for the Dinosaurs to Dominant in the Late Triassic

The vast majority of the reptile species found today are confined to the tropics.  However, a new study undertaken by an international team of researchers suggests that during the Late Triassic as one group of reptiles came to dominate the land, the dinosaurs, they struggled to gain a foothold in the tropics due to extreme climate fluctuations.  Dramatic swings in the equatorial climate from wet and humid to extremely hot and dry checked the evolutionary development of the Dinosauria.  Such conditions may be repeated in equatorial regions in the very near future due to increased amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as a result of global warming.  What slowed the rise of the dinosaurs, could provide our species Homo sapiens with a viable model of what lies in store for us.

The Flora and Fauna of the Late Triassic (Ghost Ranch, New Mexico)

Dramatic climate changes from very wet to very dry conditions limited the range of large, herbivorous dinosaurs.

Dramatic climate changes from very wet to very dry conditions limited the range of large, herbivorous dinosaurs.

Picture Credit: Victor Leshyk

The picture above shows a typical scene representing the flora and fauna of the Late Triassic (Ghost Ranch, New Mexico).  Thick forests of primitive ,drought resistant conifers, araucaria, redwoods and podocarps dominate the landscape.  Armoured Aetosaurs (foreground and background) would have grazed upon ferns, club mosses and horsetails, whilst Phytosaurs, which superficially resemble modern-day crocodiles, would have hunted small animals and mammal-like reptiles.  The vast majority of dinosaur fossils associated with the Ghost Ranch location (Chinle Formation), relate to small, Theropod dinosaurs.

Late Triassic Equatorial Dinosaur Puzzle

What has troubled the curiosity of palaeontologists, is why so very little evidence of larger plant-eating dinosaurs have been found in rock formations that represent deposits laid down close to the Equator?  The first dinosaurs might have evolved some 240 million years ago, perhaps slightly earlier.  Although, the fossil record is far from complete, it is likely the first dinosaurs lived in the southern hemisphere.  Over the next thirty million years or so, the Dinosauria gradually diversified and spread.  At this time in our planet’s history, most of the landmasses were joined together to form a single, super-sized land mass (Pangaea or Pangea).  Fossils of Sauropodomorphs have been found in Late Triassic strata from northerly as well as southerly latitudes but very few fossils of big, herbivorous dinosaurs have been found from locations that would have been close to the Equator.  Small-bodied, meat-eaters are found, although they do not make up a huge proportion of the total fauna, least not until the latter stages of the Triassic, but there is very little evidence to suggest the presence of large, plant-eating Sauropodomorphs.

To read about the recent discovery of a new type of meat-eating, Therpod dinosaur from the south-western United States: New Theropod Dinosaur Discovery Provides Evidence of Meat-Eating Dinosaur Diversification

A Map of the World in the Late Triassic

The position of the continents during the Late Triassic.

The position of the continents during the Late Triassic.

Picture Credit: North Arizona University with additional annotations by Everything Dinosaur

The map shows the approximate location of the Ghost Ranch site (New Mexico, USA), which during the Late Triassic lay close to the Equator.

To help understand the why certain types of dinosaur may have struggled to survive in the tropics, an international team of scientists, including researchers from the University of Southampton, have created a remarkably detailed picture of the ecology and climate of the famous Ghost Ranch fossil site (New Mexico).  The colourful rock layers preserved in this part of south-western United States represent a series of continental deposits, consisting mainly of sandstones and shales.  They date mostly from the Late Triassic (Carnian and Norian faunal stages).  The research team sampled different layers and used these samples to identify microscopic trace fossils such as plant pollen and fern spores.  This provided the researchers with some understanding of the changing plant populations over time.  This data was correlated with the work of organic geochemist Jessica Whiteside (Southampton University), who analysed carbon isotopes preserved in the rocks. Dr. Whiteside identified repeated highs and lows in the amount of “heavy” carbon-13 that was recorded, signs of major changes in the ecology of the area over time.  These peaks and troughs lined up with changes in the composition of the fossil pollen and fern spores preserved  This suggests that there were wild and dramatic climate swings leading to a flipping of floras, between a dominance of water loving species suited to a humid, warm and wet environment and those species that thrived when the climate became much more arid.

Dr. Whiteside Taking Samples for Isotope Analysis

Researchers Jessica Whiteside and Maria Dunlavey taking rock samples for analysis of the isotopic signature of organic carbon at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico. These data help reconstruct ecosystem productivity and environmental changes in the Triassic.

Researchers Jessica Whiteside and Maria Dunlavey taking rock samples for analysis of the isotopic signature of organic carbon at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico. These data help reconstruct ecosystem productivity and environmental changes in the Triassic.

Picture Credit: Randall Irmis

Commenting on the implications of this part of the study, Dr. Whiteside stated that this see-sawing between wet and dry environments occurred as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels rose from around 1,200 part per million in the oldest rocks sampled up to 2,400 parts per million in the youngest rocks included in the study.  These levels are well in excess of the current CO2 levels in our atmosphere (400 parts per million), but as global warming occurs and the amount of green house gases like carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases, then we too, are likely to experience much more extremes in world weather.

Ian Glasspool, a specialist in studying ancient plant remains, examined the layers of charcoal that could be found in those sediments associated with the drier, hotter climate.  These are the remains of trees that were caught up in forest fires that periodically swept through this part of the world in the Late Triassic.  He measured the reflectiveness of the charcoal to estimate the intensity of the wildfires that had occurred.  The suggestion is that, the greater the amount of fuel available for a fire to consume, then the greater the heat generated.  The biomass available to burn would be directly related to dry conditions, the drier the climate the greater likelihood of very hot forest fires due to the presence of so much combustible material.

The evidence from the charcoal samples support the idea of a tropical climate swinging violently from extremes.  Severe droughts and forest fires would have continually reshaped the vegetation available for plant-eating dinosaurs.  Perhaps the large bodied, Sauropodomorphs, with their much greater food demands compared to other plant-eating reptiles, were not able to cope with the changes in the flora.

 The Field Team Excavating Vertebrate Fossils

A field team excavating vertebrate fossil remains (Ghost Ranch).

A field team excavating vertebrate fossil remains (Ghost Ranch).

Picture Credit: Randall Irmis

Note the clearly defined bands of different rocks which is a hall mark of the Chinle Formation.  The layers represent different deposition environments, the red sandstones are coloured due to the amount of iron minerals that they contain.  In the published academic paper that outlines this research, the scientists conclude that extreme climate fluctuation led to ecosystem instability in the tropics, which in turn suppressed the rise of the large, plant-eating dinosaurs in these regions.

Warm-Blooded versus Cold-Blooded

This new study may go some way to explain why fossils of small Theropod dinosaurs are found amongst the vertebrate fossil assemblage, but the remains of large Sauropodomorphs are extremely rare.  Although this new research provides a fascinating insight into an prehistoric ecosystem, it throws up some intriguing but controversial ideas.  The scientists postulate that these extreme climates prevented large, active, warm-blooded herbivorous dinosaurs from becoming established in sub-tropical low latitudes until much later in the Mesozoic.  It is suggested that the higher metabolic rates of plant-eating dinosaurs which were endothermic or had a form of endothermy (warm-bloodedness), prevented them from getting a foothold.  They would have needed greater amounts of food to sustain them when compared to the other types of, presumably, cold-blooded reptile that did live in those regions.  The debate over dinosaur metabolism is not resolved and even if the majority of the Dinosauria were endothermic or even mesothermic (a combination of cold-blooded and warm-blooded features), the early long-necked dinosaurs and their descendants, the Sauropoda, may have been entirely ectothermic.

The Femur of a Small Meat-Eating Theropod Dinosaur Excavated by the Researchers

A fossilised dinosaur thigh bone (Ghost Ranch), only small dinosaurs were present close to the Equator.

A fossilised dinosaur thigh bone (Ghost Ranch), only small dinosaurs were present close to the Equator.

Picture Credit: Randall Irmis

The small scribe provides a simple scale.  The distal end of the femur is towards the left of the photograph.

To read a short article about another early meat-eating dinosaur from the Ghost Ranch site: Buck Toothed Vicious Dinosaur Daemonosaurus chauliodus

15 06, 2015

“Jurassic World” in Record Weekend

By | June 15th, 2015|Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Movie Reviews and Movie News, Press Releases|0 Comments

$511 Million USD in Cinema Ticket Sales in a Weekend for Jurassic World

“Jurassic World” directed by Colin Trevorrow and co-produced by Steven Spielberg has become the first film in history to take more than $500 million dollars (USD) at the box office on its opening weekend.  The film, the fourth in the Jurassic Park franchise, had been scheduled for release in the summer of 2014, but script issues and filming delays put back the release of the movie.  Any doubts the executives at Universal Studios had about “Jurassic World” were very quickly dispelled as advance ticket sales for the opening weekend had hinted that the lure of genetically engineered dinosaurs was going to result in huge financial rewards for the studio.

“Jurassic World” Opened Globally to Record Box Office Ticket Sales

Global success for dinosaur themed block-buster.

Global success for dinosaur themed block-buster.

Picture Credit: Getty Images

The film was the most popular screening in all sixty-six countries where it was released over  the weekend.  In the United States it took some $204 million dollars (USD), box office receipts in China are estimated to have exceeded $100 million (USD), whilst in the United Kingdom and Ireland ticket sales were around the $30 million (USD) mark.  According to media reports, the success of “Jurassic World” in America makes it the second highest grossing opening weekend for a film in the United States (the record is held by the 2012 release of Marvel’s “The Avengers” which took $207.4 million (USD) in its first weekend.

A Monster Hit in the Cinemas

Huge Mosasaur about to tackle "jaws".

Huge Mosasaur about to tackle “jaws”.

Picture Credit: Universal Studios

 Global box office ticket sales have been estimated at around the $511.8 million dollars mark (USD), that equates to approximately  £325 million (GBP), even the giant Masrani conglomerate, the fictitious global concern that supposedly owns the theme park where the movie is set, would be impressed with sales figures such as these.

The first “Jurassic Park” film was released in 1993.  Everything Dinosaur team members think that this first movie (for the time being), remains Universal Studio’s highest grossing film ever, with over $921 million (USD) generated at the box office worldwide.  This figure was further boosted by cinema receipts from the twentieth anniversary edition released in 2013.  To put these cinema sales into context, the top grossing film in the United States and Canada last year (box office receipts), was “Guardians of the Galaxy which took some $333.1 million (USD), “Jurassic World” achieved over sixty percent of this sales figure in just its opening weekend.  “Guardians of the Galaxy” starred Chris Pratt, who plays Owen Grady, the Velociraptor behaviourist turned hero of “Jurassic World”.

People Just Love Dinosaurs

What does all this mean?  Put simply, people just love dinosaurs and the bigger and fiercer they are the better.  Perhaps this film will inspire the next generation of scientists, a spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“Jurassic World, was always going to be a huge success in all likelihood.  The film puts people and dinosaurs together and that is a winning combination that has been proved time and time again throughout cinema history.”

A Sequel?

The success of the film does not just mean a rekindling of our love affair with summer block-busters, it also virtually guarantees that the “Jurassic Park” franchise will continue.  Everything Dinosaur team members predict that there will be a sequel, expect announcements soon and a cinema release of maybe late 2017.

Team members try to make annual predictions about dinosaur discoveries, fossil finds and likely events related to palaeontology at the beginning of each year.  Our first prediction for 2015, was a real no-brainer, we confidently stated that “Jurassic World” was going to be a huge success!

To read Everything Dinosaur’s full list of palaeontology predictions for 2015: Everything Dinosaur’s Predictions 2015

To visit Everything Dinosaur’s website: Everything Dinosaur

14 06, 2015

Apatosaurus Illustration

By | June 14th, 2015|Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Everything Dinosaur Products, Main Page, Press Releases|0 Comments

A Young Apatosaurus is Sketched

To reflect the recently published scientific paper that summarised the re-evaluation of the Apatosaurinae, that sub-family of diplodocid Sauropods, that led to the re-establishment of the genus Brontosaurus, team members at Everything Dinosaur have commissioned a new illustration of one of these long-necked dinosaurs.  Brontosaurus means “thunder lizard”, an apt description for this type of dinosaur, one that could have weighed as much as twenty-five tonnes and measured as long as a tennis court (B. excelsus).  Long-necked dinosaurs are extremely popular amongst adults and youngsters and we do get asked a lot of questions about these types of prehistoric animals when we visit schools, from the teachers as well as the children.

For further information: Is Brontosaurus Back?

An Illustration of Apatosaurus, or is it Brontosaurus?

Or is it a Brontosaurus?

Or is it a Brontosaurus?

Picture Credit: Mike Fredericks/Everything Dinosaur

We will probably use this new illustration to make a scale drawing for our dinosaur fact sheets.  We research and write a fact sheet for every named prehistoric animal item that Everything Dinosaur supplies.  We have hundreds of these fact sheets and we do supply them to schools and to home education groups to help teachers and parents.  More drawings will be commissioned shortly, the majority of these will be for new model introductions.  We can’t say too much about this just yet, further information will be made available at the end of the year.  What we can say is that there are going to be some very exciting new models in 2016.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s existing model range, including Apatosaurus models: Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Models

13 06, 2015

Valley of the Whales – Basilosaurus Fossil Discovery

By | June 13th, 2015|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Scientists Study Nearly Complete Basilosaurus Fossil 

Egypt’s “Valley of the Whales” has proved to be a very happy hunting ground as a team of scientists announce the discovery of the most complete skeleton of the ancient whale known as Basilosaurus ever found.  The skeleton, believed to be around forty million years old, measures eighteen metres in length.  A second whale fossil has also been discovered in the body cavity of the leviathan, at this early stage, scientists are unsure whether these bones represent the last meal of the Basilosaurus or perhaps its unborn young.  The giant whale was the apex predator in the shallow sea, a remnant of the mighty Tethys Ocean, that once covered this part of the world during the Eocene Epoch.  Fossils of crustaceans and a number of fish species have also been discovered at the site.  In addition, the discovery of several large shark teeth indicate the Basilosaurus corpse may have been scavenged prior to its burial.

Researchers Carefully Excavating the Nearly Perfectly Articulated Basilosaurus Fossil

The remains of the skull are nearest the camera.

The remains of the skull are nearest the camera.

Picture Credit: Egyptian Ministry of the Environment

 Basilosaurus was an early type of toothed whale.  It is descended from a group of terrestrial carnivores, the Mesonychians.  Two species have been described to date and this specimen represents one of the largest found in the Fayum deposits south-west of Cairo.  The fossil material comes from one of the most important Cenozoic-aged fossil sites in the world, the Wadi Al-Hitan (Whale Valley), a region of the Western Desert of Egypt, which contains the remains of the earliest types of ancient whales (Archaeoceti), scientists are able to trace from these fossils the last stages of Cetacean limb evolution, in which the hind limbs were eventually lost.  Wadi Al-Hitan has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2005.  It provides a unique insight into an ecosystem dominated by shallow waters and mangrove swamps that existed  along the northern coast of Africa and into what is now, the Sahara Desert.

A Model of the Fearsome Marine Predator Basilosaurus

One of the ancient sea creatures featured in the Prehistoric Sealife Toob

One of the ancient sea creatures featured in the Prehistoric Sealife Toob

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Basilosaurus featured in the BBC television series “Walking with Beasts”, a follow up to the hugely successful 1999 “Walking with Dinosaurs”.  Episode Two was entitled “Whale Killer” and told the story of a female Basilosaurus as she struggles to find food and find somewhere safe to give birth.  As a result of this media exposure, Everything Dinosaur does receive requests for information about this early whale from time to time.  In terms of models, a Basilosaurus is featured in the “Prehistoric Sealife Toob” manufactured by Safari Ltd.  It is one of ten models in this model set.

To see the range of Safari Ltd models supplied by Everything Dinosaur, including the Prehistoric Sealife Toob: Carnegie Dinosaur Toys and Models

To read Everything Dinosaur’s review of the Safari Ltd Prehistoric Sealife Toob: Prehistoric Sealife Toob Reviewed

It is hoped that this new fossil discovery can help solve one of the enduring mysteries associated with Basilosaurus.  The very long and serpentine shape of Basilosaurus (the name means “King Reptile”), has presented anatomists and vertebrae palaeontologists with a bit of a puzzle.  The distal caudal vertebrae are compressed in a very similar way to those seen in animals with a tail fluke.  However, having the tail fluke at the very end of a long, sinuous tail (as in the model above), would have given this marine mammal quite an awkward and inefficient swimming action.  With a complete specimen of the tail bones to study, it is hoped that these fossils will provide more information on early Cetacean locomotion.

A Close up of the Preserved Skull and Jaws of Basilosaurus

Basilosaurus skull excavation.

Basilosaurus skull excavation.

Picture Credit: Egyptian Ministry of the Environment

12 06, 2015

Fibres and Cellular Structures Preserved in Dinosaur Fossils

By | June 12th, 2015|Key Stage 3/4|Comments Off on Fibres and Cellular Structures Preserved in Dinosaur Fossils

Evidence of Dinosaur Blood and Soft Tissue in Fossil Bones

In rare and exceptional cases, preserved organic remains have been identified in the fossil record of vertebrates, even dinosaurs.  However, this area of research, the identification of soft tissues in the fossilised bones of dinosaurs, is highly controversial.  Researchers from Imperial College London examined samples from eight dinosaur bones that were not renowned for their exceptional preservation.   The techniques used involved nano-analysis including FIB (focused ion beam) technology.  In one sample, the team observed structures that were consistent with the fibrous structure of collagen.  In another fossil specimen, that of an indeterminate Theropod claw, erthrocyte (red blood cell) structures were observed.  Mass spectrometry analysis of these microscopic remains provided a chemical signature similar to that of emu blood.

Potential Evidence for the Remains of Dinosaur Blood Preserved in Fossil Bone

Structures similar to red blood cells potentially identified.

Structures similar to red blood cells potentially identified.

Picture Credit: Laurent Mekul

All the fossils were from either the Dinosaur Provincial Park Formation or the Lance Formation (North America), the specimens are believed to date from the Late Cretaceous and are estimated to be around 75 million years old.

Potential Collagen Structures Preserved in Dinosaur Bones

Fibrils that resemble collagen preserved in dinosaur fossils.

Fibrils that resemble collagen preserved in dinosaur fossils.

Picture Credit: Laurent Mekul

Using advanced and extremely sophisticated material characterisation approaches, scientists may have identified preserved biological structures in these samples.  If these experiments can be repeated, then it might suggest that organic remains preserved in the fossil record of long extinct creatures may be more common than previously thought.

Further information on this research can be found here: Fibres and Cellular Structures Indicate Organic Remains Preserved in Dinosaur Fossils

Teaching Guidelines

This article can be used to help explain permineralisation of materials (geology) and link into an exploration of genetics and inheritance as part of the KS3 science curriculum.  Ask the students to consider the implications of the discovery of preserved organic remains in the fossil record.  Look at Siberian Woolly Mammoths and the merits of attempts to bring back long extinct species via genetic manipulation and cloning.

12 06, 2015

Fibres and Cellular Structures Observed in Dinosaur Fossils

By | June 12th, 2015|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Soft Tissue Preservation in Late Cretaceous Dinosaur Bones

When Everything Dinosaur team members were first informed of a paper being published that reported on “blood cells and soft tissue” having been discovered in dinosaur fossils the day before the film “Jurassic World ” was released, there was some scepticism around the office.  Amid the inevitably lurid and rather dramatic headlines which have been seen in some publications we thought it a good idea to try to put this fascinating piece of research into a wider context.  The study was undertaken by scientists at the Imperial College London, their findings were published in the academic journal “Nature Communications”, it is not going to herald the establishment of a number of genetically engineered dinosaur themed safari parks, but it does suggest that even poorly preserved body fossils may contain more than just permineralised materials.

Bones and Teeth Alone are Not Enough

Most of what we have learned about the Dinosauria has been gained from studying their bones and teeth.  Trace fossils too have proved useful, even permitting researchers to speculate on behaviours such as social groupings and pack hunting, but if traces of soft tissue could be analysed, then our understanding could move forward exponentially.  Such a study could provide valuable insights into dinosaur physiology, it would for example, provide strong evidence with regards to the endothermy versus ectothermy debate (warm-blooded versus cold-blooded).  Importantly, the link between the Coelurosauria and birds could be established beyond doubt.  In short, it could be proved that the Robin perched on your bird table is indeed a distant relative of Tyrannosaurus rex.

Dr. Susannah Maidment One of the Authors of the Study Holding a Stegosaurus Skull Cast

Dr Susannah Maidment, one of the authors of the study holding a cast of a Stegosaurus skull.

Dr Susannah Maidment, one of the authors of the study holding a cast of a Stegosaurus skull.

Picture Credit: Laurent Mekul

A point that we frequently make is that dinosaur biology remains very much a mystery.  What we have learned has come about through some very remarkable research that utilises techniques and scientific methods that were undreamed of even a few years ago.  It is the collaboration between different scientific disciplines that is providing so much new information on dinosaurs and other extinct creatures.  The use of computerised tomography (CT), for example, has enabled palaeontologists to explore the three-dimensional structures of fossil bone, even when it has been embedded in extremely dense rock.  In this study, samples from eight dinosaur bone specimens were subjected to scanning electron microscopy (SEM) to provide exquisite images of the fossil structures in minute detail.  A number of samples were studied using a focused ion beam  (FIB), an imaging and resolution technology more at home in a materials science lab but now finding an increasing number of applications in other scientific areas of enquiry including vertebrate palaeontology.  It is the adoption and application of different scientific methods, drawn from a whole variety of research fields that is enabling academics to make some remarkable discoveries, shedding light, or in this case electrons and ions on those most enigmatic of extinct creatures – the dinosaurs.

Any Old Fossils?

The novel approach undertaken by the Imperial College scientists sets up an intriguing possibility, one that allows us to use an analogy from the “Jurassic Park” franchise  to explain.  The eight fossils used in this study came from the Natural History Museum (London), which is conveniently located just a few hundred metres away from the College.  Specifically the fossils come from two collections at the Museum, all of them relate to Late Cretaceous dinosaur fossil material from North America (Dinosaur Provincial Park and Lance Formations respectively).  The fossils studied represent a claw bone from an unknown species of meat-eating dinosaur, a partial rib from an indeterminate duck-billed dinosaur and other bits and pieces of assorted dinosaur that would not have got a second glance had they been on display.  That’s the point.  Evidence for soft tissue preservation in a number of vertebrate fossils have been reported before, even in the Dinosauria.  This area is not without controversy, but here evidence has been presented for the potential preservation of organic remains from reptiles that died more than seventy million years ago.

Dinosaur Claw Bone used in the Study

Manual ungual (dinosaur claw) from an unknown species of Theropod used in the Imperial College London study.

Manual ungual (dinosaur claw) from an unknown species of Theropod used in the Imperial College London study.

Picture Credit: Laurent Mekul

If these fragments of fossils can possibly contain proteins and other biological structures, then maybe, just maybe there is a lot more preserved within the fossil record – we just have not been looking for it.

Jurassic Park

Let’s use that “Jurassic Park” analogy to look at this intriguing aspect further.  In the original book, written by Michael Crichton and published in 1990, the InGen scientists (the team behind the creation of various dinosaurs using DNA recovered from blood-sucking insects preserved in amber, mixed with amphibian genetic material and so forth), come up with what they think to be an infallible method of ensuring that all their engineered dinosaurs stay on their island home.  Each animal’s position is tracked and movements can be recorded using a simple receiver.  With three hundred dinosaurs on the preserve, it is just a case of asking the software that tracks the animals’ comings and goings to find three hundred dinosaurs.  Every day without fail, when asked, the computer read out states that there are three hundred dinosaurs on the island.  The flaw in this safety precaution is pointed out by Dr. Ian Malcolm, a mathematician who has been brought to the resort in order to validate it prior to the park opening to the public.  The good doctor, asks the computer programme to find three hundred and one dinosaurs, and sure enough the software reports on that number.  Dr. Malcolm continues to interrogate the team behind the computer programme asking repeatedly for the software to detect more and more dinosaurs.  The doctor, a  specialist in Chaos Theory, had predicted that the biological preserve would fail “nature finds a way” as he so eloquently states in the film.  Despite the entire dinosaur population starting out as female, the animals had started to breed and that was why there were more dinosaurs recorded than expected.

Just like in the example above, scientists may have been asking the wrong questions.  Soft tissue preserved in the fossil record of long extinct creatures might be more common than previously thought.  Similar structures have been observed before, but for most of the time, the research was focused on investigating the range of criteria that were believed to have existed to have led to the preservation of organic remains, these specimens were treated as the exception – could they be the norm?

Caution Advised

Tiny egg-like shapes identified deep within a dinosaur claw bone that have a resemblance to red blood cells, certainly deserve further analysis and investigation.  Admittedly, the red and green images of the structures with the different colours reflecting varying material densities can be confusing, after all, if a lay person reads a headline in a magazine stating that dinosaur blood may have been found and sees a picture covered in red, he or she may jump to one very obvious conclusion.  Mass spectrometry analysis, another relatively recent addition to the palaeontologist’s ever increasing technical armoury, this time from the laboratory of an analytical chemist, threw up tantalising results when the red blood cell-like materials were scrutinised.  Four different regions from the same fossilised Theropod claw were compared to the mass spectrometry report for Emu blood.  The resulting data suggested that there were indeed chemical similarities.  If this really is some form of preserved, (although quite probably severely degraded), remnant of a Theropod dinosaur’s blood then, as Ratites such as the Emu are believed to be closely related to the Theropoda then similar mass spectrometry results could be anticipated.

Potential Evidence of Preserved Red Blood Cells in Dinosaur Bone

Evidence of potential red blood cells preserved in 75 million year old dinosaur bone.

Evidence of potential red blood cells preserved in 75 million year old dinosaur bone.

Picture Credit: Laurent Mekul

Microscopic Fibres – More Caution Advised

Fibres or fibrous-like structures were reported from half the samples studied.  In one specimen, a fragment of rib bone from an unknown dinosaur revealed a structure within it that resembled collagen.  Further chemical analysis revealed traces of amino acid fragments such as glycine, alanine and proline.  This is consistent what you would expect to find if you were analysing collagen.  If a fragment of collagen could be recovered, then that would be a remarkable discovery indeed.  Like blood and other organic materials these substances are believed to degrade relatively quickly after death.  However, if a protein based structure like collagen could be found in the fossilised bones of a dinosaur then this would open up an entirely new area of research into the Dinosauria.

Potential Collagen Structures Preserved in Fossil Bone

Fibrous structures preserved in fossilised bone.

Fibrous structures preserved in fossilised bone.

Picture Credit: Laurent Mekul

The scientists behind this paper are keen to point out that further study is required.  Two of the fossil bones used in this research revealed no traces of any potential soft tissue components, a point missed by a number of media outlets that covered this story. However, if poorly preserved fossil material can retain microscopic traces of blood and other organic materials then it will change our science forever.  Dig sites will be subjected to forensic procedures, perhaps a clean room will be have to be set up in the field to help minimise the risk of organic cross-contamination.  What about the use of glues and resins that act as fossil bone stabilisers?  Could the over enthusiastic use of super glue at a dig station compromise the chances of retrieving viable traces of organic material later, back in the prep lab?

If other institutes can repeat these experiments and produce the same results consistently, then this has some dinosaur-sized implications for palaeontology.  If it can be concluded that the structures observed and analysed within the samples do indeed originate from preserved proteins from the extinct animal, then we may have an opportunity to study soft tissues in long dead creatures.  A more complete understanding of dinosaur biology may be within our grasp.

Now that would be something to make a movie about.

11 06, 2015

Updating the Everything Dinosaur School Site

By | June 11th, 2015|Educational Activities, Teaching|0 Comments

A Busy Teaching Schedule for the Summer Term

The relatively short summer term is in full swing and so are Everything Dinosaur’s teaching activities with team members undertaking a number of dinosaur and fossil workshops with children aged from 4 years up to Key Stage 3.  The Everything Dinosaur “Dinosaurs for Schools” web site, a bespoke on line presence for teachers and home educationalists, is constantly being updated with helpful posts and additional downloads of free to use dinosaur and fossil themed teaching resources.  With evolution and natural selection being incorporated into the English national curriculum, the demand for our experts is at an all time high, but team members remain determined to help all the teachers and education specialists that contact the company.

Planning and Preparing So That More Support Can Be Provided

Planning schemes of work to support teachers.

Planning schemes of work to support teachers.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Commenting on the company’s proposed teaching plans for the summer term a spokesperson for the Cheshire based organisation stated:

“We know how busy teachers are at the moment, there is so much to squeeze into this term and on top of this many senior leadership teams are well advanced with their schemes of work for 2016.  We too have put in place measures to help ensure that we can keep creating new downloadable teaching resources as well as posting up additional articles on our schools website to provide further support.  Rest assured, we shall keep working on this throughout this term and into the summer recess so educationalists can rely on us for useful, informative and helpful dinosaur and fossil themed teaching resources.”

To view the Everything Dinosaur schools web site: Dinosaur Workshops and Teaching Resources for Schools

In addition, the schools website will have a number of new features incorporated within it over the next two weeks.  New “quick links” will be included in the site to help teachers and learning practitioners navigate quicker to key areas such as being able to contact one of our dinosaur and fossil experts directly via email.  These improvements to this element of Everything Dinosaur’s on line presence are designed to provide an even speedier service to teachers, permitting questions about dinosaurs, requests for advice about lesson plans and so forth to be handled even quicker than before.

Everything Dinosaur must be doing something right when it comes to dinosaur workshops in schools.  Feedback from teachers and teaching assistants averages a very impressive 4.8 stars out of a maximum of 5 stars.

10 06, 2015

There were Dragons in Wales

By | June 10th, 2015|General Teaching|Comments Off on There were Dragons in Wales

New Early Jurassic Carnivorous Dinosaur From Wales

Brothers Nick and Rob Hanigan discovered the fossil find of a lifetime back in April 2014 when they found the remains of a dinosaur which had been exposed on a Welsh beach after bad weather.  The fossils come from strata at Lavernock Point (Vale of Glamorgan) and represent the remains of a three metre long, meat-eating dinosaur whose corpse was washed out to sea and eventually came to settle on the seabed.  The rocks on this part of the Welsh coast date from the Late Triassic into the Early Jurassic.  After careful examination by a number of notable palaeontologists including Dr. David Martill (University of Portsmouth), the mudstone containing the skeletal remains of the dinosaur have been assigned to the Early Jurassic (Hettangian faunal stage).  This, as yet to be fully scientifically described and named dinosaur, could well represent the earliest Jurassic dinosaur fossil ever found in Europe.

Vertebrae and Leg Bones from the Early Jurassic Dinosaur

Two of the five stone blocks that contain the fossils.

Two of the five stone blocks that contain the fossils.

Picture Credit: National Museum of Wales

Nick Hanigan, contacted Everything Dinosaur to explain how the fossil had been prepared.  He stated:

“When the skull block was picked up, quite a bit of bone, for example, the lacrimal [bone from the front of the eye socket] and part of the maxillae [upper jaw] had already been washed out but the imprints were still left in the rock.  We took a silicon peel and made positive and negative casts of the surface and we also x-rayed and CT scanned the block before we prepared it.   As a result Rob and I built up a lot of information to support any future description and as such we can reconstruct quite a bit of the skull and missing part of the leg bones.”

About five percent of the actual skeleton has been discovered, enough for scientists to establish this as a new genus.  The dinosaur was not fully grown when it died, it may have reached a length of more than five metres, making this “Welsh dragon” one of the largest predators known from this part of the Jurassic.

An Illustration of the Dinosaur from Wales

The dinosaur roamed what was Wales some 200 million years ago.

The dinosaur roamed what was Wales some 200 million years ago.

Picture Credit: National Museum of Wales/Bob Nicholls

It seems that dragons did once roam Wales, fearsome meat-eating dinosaurs.  This discovery is hugely significant as further research using the fossilised bones will help scientists to understand more about how the dinosaurs diversified into a myriad of different types of carnivorous dinosaur during the Jurassic.

10 06, 2015

Welsh Dinosaurs – New Early Jurassic Theropod Discovered

By | June 10th, 2015|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|2 Comments

Early Jurassic Dinosaur Goes on Display

The story broke this week of the discovery of a new species of meat-eating dinosaur after fossils found at Lavernock beach (near Penarth, South Wales), went on display at the National Museum of Wales.  Many of the news reports that carried this story heralded this important discovery and claimed that this new meat-eating dinosaur was a Welsh cousin of the famous Tyrannosaurus rex.  Whilst it is true, this lithe and agile Theropod was indeed distantly related to T. rex it is important to stress the term “distantly” in this context.  The domestic cat is much more closely related to a tiger than this Welsh dinosaur was to the North American “King of the Tyrant Lizards”, at least a domestic cat and a tiger belong to the same taxonomic family (Felidae).

A New Early Jurassic Dinosaur has been Discovered

Significant dinosaur discovery.

Significant dinosaur discovery.

Picture Credit: National Museum of Wales/Bob Nicholls

The Theropods (Theropoda) are a sub-order of dinosaurs, they are lizard-hipped and perhaps the most diverse and most specious of all the Dinosauria.  This new fossil find is important for a number of reasons.  Firstly, the Lavernock shales represent strata formation in a shallow, marine environment.  These rocks were laid down at the very beginning of the Jurassic geological period (Hettangian faunal stage), this discovery is one of just a handful of dinosaur fossils known from this location.  Most of the dinosaur material from the Lavernock Point area that had been found in the past consisted of highly eroded, isolated and very fragmentary bones.  The rocks do preserve fossils of vertebrates, fish scales and teeth are the most common finds these too are usually quite worn.

It seems some 200 million years ago, the carcase of a not fully grown, meat-eating dinosaur was washed out to sea, when the corpse sank, it was covered in fine silt and the fossilisation process began.  The five blocks in which the largely disarticulated fossil was found, (bone material representing about 5% of the total skeleton), were washed out of the cliffs during storms in the spring of 2014.  Brothers Nick and Rob Hanigan were responsible for making the fossil find.  One of the brothers came across the exposed blocks whilst out fossil hunting and alerted his brother to help explore the immediate location after the rock fall.  Nick and Rob were able to locate a number of bones including fragments of the skull and some very fine examples of the dinosaur’s teeth.  They are to be congratulated for their discovery, had the fossils remained exposed on the beach for just a few weeks they may have been subjected to erosion or even washed out to see with the next high tide and therefore potentially lost forever.

A Close up of the Upper Jaw Bone and Tooth Surrounded by Other Skull Material

Jaw and skull fossil material

Jaw and skull fossil material

Picture Credit: National Museum of Wales

Fragmentary fossils that have been assigned to the Dinosauria have been found in this part of the British Isles before, we have had the opportunity to look at pictures of a number of specimens from south, central England.  These specimens consist of, for the most part, isolated bones, here is an Early Jurassic Theropod dinosaur that is represented by a lot more fossil material.  The specimen has been studied by scientists from the National Museum of Wales, along with experts from Manchester and Portsmouth Universities.  We are expecting a formal scientific paper to be published in the autumn and we think that the distinguished University of Portsmouth palaeontologist Dr. David Martill we be one of the authors.

Dr. John Nudds, (Manchester University), who has examined the specimen stated:

“It is very rare to find this type of dinosaur at all and never before in Wales.  In fact it is only the second dinosaur ever found in Wales.”*

The Blocks of Material and a Reconstruction on Display at the National Museum of Wales

On display the fossils with a skeleton reconstruction.

On display the fossils with a skeleton reconstruction.

Picture Credit: National Museum of Wales

We are aware of a number of ichnogenera described from trace fossils found near Bendrick Rock, down the coast from the Lavernock site.  Theropod footprints have been found in Wales, but body fossils are extremely rare.  The first dinosaur described from Welsh deposits is Pantydraco caducus, which is known from a partial skull and post cranial material, it belongs to the Sauropodomorph group and its fossils were collected from a quarry in Bonvilston, about six miles north-west of the Lavernock fossil discovery.  Could Pantydraco have been attacked by this, as yet, unnamed Theropod?  The answer is no, the strata in which the fossils of Pantydraco were found are several million years older than the Lavernock sediments.  In addition, the Lavernock specimen represents an individual that would have been around half a metre high at the hips and measuring around two to three metres in length.  It is very likely that this little meat-eating dinosaur fed on insects, small reptiles and mammals, although when fully grown, perhaps over five metres in length, other Early Jurassic dinosaurs including Sauropodomorphs were probably on the menu.

* This may not be the second dinosaur fossil discovered in Wales, isolated bone fragments have been found in South Wales from near Bridgend and from the Lavernock area.  Unfortunately, these fossils are very difficult to assign with any certainty to a specific clade of the Dinosauria.  They may not represent dinosaurs at all but other related Archosaurs.

We shall have to wait for the scientific paper, this will provide a lot more information and also help to assign this particular specimen to a family.  We suspect that the fossils represent a member of the Coelophysidae, it will most certainly be a new species.  So very few fossils of Late Triassic/Early Jurassic Theropod dinosaurs have been found, a time when the Theropoda were diversifying and evolving into a number of new forms.  This little dinosaur may represent the earliest known dinosaur from the Jurassic.

There are a couple of things to note about the illustration produced by the highly talented palaeo-artist Bob Nicholls, first of all the animal is not painted a dull grey or brown.  This dinosaur has a reddish hue with distinctive white markings, a sign of the times as more colourful depictions of the Dinosauria are now becoming the norm.  In addition, this Theropod dinosaur has quills and tufts of simple feathers.  This is a nod to the now widely accepted theory that most Theropod dinosaurs were indeed feathered.

More Information About British Dinosaurs

A comprehensive guide to British dinosaurs over 400 pages.

A comprehensive guide to British dinosaurs over 400 pages.

Picture Credit: Siri Scientific Press

For further information on dinosaurs from the British Isles we recommend the excellent “Dinosaurs of the British Isles” by Dean R. Lomax and Nobumichi Tamura

Copies can be purchased here: Siri Scientific Press – Dinosaurs of the British Isles

9 06, 2015

Annual Queensland Dinosaur Dig Yields Fossils

By | June 9th, 2015|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Queensland Dinosaur Dig Unearthing Bones

At the beginning of the month we reported on the annual Australian dinosaur excavations that were opening up once again in Queensland.  As the digs continue to progress, scientists from the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum (Winton), have stated that a number of new dinosaur fossils have been found.  At the start of the dig season, palaeontologists had expressed the wish to discover a new species of Cretaceous dinosaur, given the wealth of material recovered so far it seems that there is a strong possibility that the fossil specimens, once fully prepared might lead to the identification of a new genus of Australian dinosaur.

To read Everything Dinosaur’s earlier article about the annual excavations: Time for Some More Aussie Dinosaurs

The exposed strata around Winton dates from the Late Cretaceous (98 to 95 million years ago).  During this time, (Late Albian faunal stage of the Lower Cretaceous), Australia was beginning to separate from Antarctica as the super-continent of Gondwana continued to break up, most of the dinosaur’s described from Queensland rocks are unique to Australia, although they are related to other types of dinosaur found elsewhere in the southern hemisphere.

Fossil Bone is Carefully Cleaned

An air scribe is used to remove the surrounding rock from the bone.

An air scribe is used to remove the surrounding rock from the bone.

Picture Credit: ABC News (Chrissy Arthur)

 Dr. Stephen Poropat (Australian Age of Dinosaurs), commented that a number of intriguing specimens had already been found including some large dinosaur bones.

He added:

“We are looking for a Sauropod dinosaur, so a long-necked dinosaur with four elephant-like legs and then a long tail – and we know that because we have found some of its back bone and some of its ribs.”

A number of locations are currently being explored, some of them have not been studied and mapped before.   It is hoped that these excavations and the dinosaur discoveries will help to provide a boost to the local economy as tourists visit the area to view Australia’s very own “Jurassic Park”, or to be more correct and with the age of the strata considered it would be more appropriate to refer to this location as “Cretaceous Park”.

The Australian Age of Dinosaurs Executive Chairman, David Elliott explained that the work carried out so far, it had been hard going but some significant finds had been unearthed.

Mr Elliott stated:

“We found one really nice scapula [shoulder bone], like a big shoulder blade and it is beautiful, it is quite a large bone.”

Dinosaur bones had been found at several locations, the Executive Chairman added:

“We’re just starting to really hit on the bones now, we have found this big row of boulders, and we are talking massive boulders, like the size of a ute [utility vehicle].”

Once identified as fossil bearing rock, these large boulders will have to be carefully jacketed and then loaded onto either large pick-up trucks (utes to use the local vernacular), or onto a low loader.  Once safely back at the laboratory, the careful job of preparing and cleaning the fossilised bones can begin.

Volunteers and Scientists Work Together to Explore Another Likely Dig Site

Digging for dinosaurs in the Outback.

Digging for dinosaurs in the Outback.

Picture Credit: Australian Age of Dinosaurs

Although, Everything Dinosaur team members have no additional information at this stage and we have not received details of the measurements of any fossil material, but if the fossils are as large as predicted, then the palaeontologists will probably be looking at another sizeable Australian Titanosaur, perhaps something in excess of twenty metres in length.  A number of Titanosaurs are already known from this part of the world, dinosaurs such as Wintonotitan (W. wattsi), which may have reached a length of around fifteen metres or so when fully grown and the slightly smaller Diamantinasaurus (Diamantinasaurus matildae).  The palaeoenvironment must have been particularly rich and diversified to be able to sustain a number of different types of Titanosaurs within the same habitat.

We look forward to hearing more about these new fossil discoveries from Queensland.

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