All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
3 09, 2015

The Mighty Daeodon

By | September 3rd, 2015|Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur Products, Main Page, Photos of Everything Dinosaur Products|0 Comments

Enigmatic Entelodonts – The Mighty Daeodon

If prizes were given for the ugliest animals to have lived on Earth, then the Entelodontidae would probably find themselves somewhere on the podium.  These hoofed mammals (Artiodactyls) have been nicknamed “terminator pigs”, a reference to the fact that these brutish animals come from the same branch of the hoofed mammals, the ungulates, as pigs, however, recent research suggests that the eight or nine genera that make up the Entelodontidae family are probably more closely related to hippos and whales.

With evolutionary roots somewhere in the middle Eocene epoch, the largest of the Entelodonts could have reached lengths in excess of three metres and weighed as much as three Steinway grand pianos.  Fossilised footprints and bone bed discoveries suggest that these omnivores lived in small family groups and that during the Oligocene and the early part of the Miocene epoch, they became adapted to open, savannah-like habitats.  The long legs would have helped them cover large territories as well as helping them to adapt to a pursuit hunting habit.  The strong neck muscles helped support a skull that in some species was over a metre long.  The thickly enamelled teeth and those large fangs located on both the upper and lower jaws would have given this prehistoric mammal a devastating bite.

One of Nature’s “Unloved Ones” – A Daeodon

One of the "ugly ones".

One of the “ugly ones”.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

At Everything Dinosaur, we describe the larger Entelodonts, animals such as Daeodon shoshonensis, from the Early Miocene of North America as “walking waste disposal units”.  With their muscular bodies, fearsome features and cloven hooves they may not have won many beauty contests but they were very well adapted and the Entelodonts seemed capable of eating almost anything from fallen fruit, tree bark and grubs to scavenging the bodies of dead animals.  They may have been very effective hunters, but their enormously strong jaws and powerful, crushing teeth were capable of breaking bones – giving them access to parts of a carcase such as the nutritious bone marrow, that most other scavengers such as Hyaenodons could not reach.

Many of the fossil skulls of large Entelodonts show evidence of extensive pathology.  Smashed eye sockets, crushed cheek bones, puncture wounds running down the long snout, these are quite common.  Palaeontologists have puzzled over how these facial injuries could have occurred and most believe, that these injuries were inflicted by other Entelodonts, perhaps in fights over social dominance, or disputes over mates or food.  In one, well documented example, it seems that one Entelodont managed to clamp its jaws across the skull of another.  The bite marks preserved in the maxilla and dentary are in some instances over five centimetres deep.  Despite this extensive damage, the attacked Entelodont survived.

The CollectA Daeodon Replica

Available from Everything Dinosaur.

Available from Everything Dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Models of Entelodonts are rare, but fortunately, CollectA introduced a 1:20 scale replica of a Daeodon (Entelodont) this year (2015).  The hand-painted model shows fantastic detail and it measures over sixteen centimetres long.  It is a wonderful figure and although these mammals are often regarded as one of nature’s unloved ones, the Daeodon figure, with its white face markings is certainly striking.

To view the complete range of Deluxe CollectA models: CollectA Scale Models

2 09, 2015

Dinosaur Britain – Part 2 Reviewed

By | September 2nd, 2015|Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, TV Reviews|0 Comments

A Review of Dinosaur Britain – Part 2

The second part of Maverick TV’s “Dinosaur Britain” aired on terrestrial television last night (ITV1).  Once again, presenter Ellie Harrison was joined by palaeontologist and author Dean Lomax on an exploration of Britain’s dinosaur fauna.  However, unlike the first programme with its emphasis very much on English dinosaurs, the two, intrepid investigators travelled into Scotland and Wales to help reveal some of the ancient animals that roamed these parts of the British Isles.

Plucky Ellie, who had coped with a very claustrophobic slate mine in programme one, was tasked with manning a row boat on Loch Ness.  No Nessie to be seen, but an opportunity to introduce the idea that whilst dinosaurs dominated terrestrial habitats during the Mesozoic, the seas surrounding the land masses that were ultimately to become Britain, once teemed with marine reptiles such as Plesiosaurs.  This had been touched upon in the first part of this two-part documentary series, when the idea of Ichthyosaurs feeding on the carcases of drowned armoured dinosaurs was discussed and it was good to see the storyline brought up to the present when on the beach at Lyme Regis, the presenters were shown Ichthyosaur vertebrae and a small bone, potentially from an Early Jurassic Plesiosaur.

Dinosaur Britain – Fossil Hunting in the UK

A Typical Ammonite - but not all types of this Cephalopod had coiled shells

A typical Jurassic Ammonite from Lyme Regis (Arnioceras – we think)

If the objective of the television programmes was to demonstrate the diversity of British Dinosauria and to encourage people to try fossil hunting for themselves, then appetites were certainly whetted when some of the children’s fossil finds were shown, Ellie Harrison seemed genuinely excited to have found some Belemnite guards.

Back to the dinosaurs and viewers were treated to a view of a Sauropod wandering around Edinburgh, part of a segment that explained the importance of the Isle of Skye in terms of its contribution to our understanding of the dinosaurs of the Jurassic.  Steve Brusatte, (University of Edinburgh) enthusiastically introduced more dinosaur fossils from the British Isles.  Steve is an American and we teased him last night when tweeting about seeing him discussing dinosaurs from this side of the Atlantic, when it is usually the dinosaurs known from the United States that tend to grab all the attention.  Steve took our gentle teasing in good spirit and he reminded us that it is because of British dinos that Steve has such a fantastic job!

On the Isle of Skye, Dean explained to Ellie that the tri-dactyl footprint he had located on the beach was very much a case of “walking with dinosaurs” and this led to a viewing of a tiny dinosaur footprint, less than two centimetres in diameter.  The fossilised print was discovered in Score Bay (Isle of Skye) and is thought to be the smallest dinosaur footprint ever found in Europe.  Slightly bigger prints were revealed on a visit to a beach on the southern side of the Isle of Wight.  These tracks were made by Iguanodonts, we suspect that the ones shown were examples of the natural casts from the foreshore of Hanover Point.  Cue an opportunity to introduce all-round good guy Darren Naish (vertebrate palaeontologist and science writer), who outlined some of the pathology found on the fossilised bones of the huge predator Neovenator and this dinosaur’s potential prey the Ornithopod Mantellisaurus atherfieldensis.   The resulting CGI showed the Neovenator accumulating all its injuries in just a few seconds as it pursued its victim, a little unlikely, but the important message here for the viewer, so eloquently relayed by Darren, is that the fossilised remains of long extinct animals can provide scientists with an insight into potential predator/prey interactions.

Interpreting the Evidence – Dorsal Vertebrae Assigned to M. atherfieldensis

Forensic examination of dinosaur bones can help to tell the story of the lives of long extinct animals.

Forensic examination of dinosaur bones can help to tell the story of the lives of long extinct animals.

Picture Credit: “Dinosaurs of the British Isles”

The picture above shows two fossil back bones (dorsal vertebrae) from the Ornithopod Mantellisaurus found in association with the Theropod Neovenator (N. salerii).  The bone on the left shows normal morphology with a tall, rectangular shaped neural spine.  The bone on the right shows a traumatic injury on the neural spine (see inset).   Bone re-growth in the area indicates that this iguanodontid lived for some time after this injury.

These pictures come from the excellent “Dinosaurs of the British Isles” book written by Dean Lomax and Nobumichi Tamura.  This book provides a comprehensive overview of the dinosaurs of the entire British Isles and is highly recommended.

To learn more about “Dinosaurs of the British Isles” and to purchase: “Dinosaurs of the British Isles”

Presenters Ellie Harrison and Dean Lomax

Dean guides Ellie through a dinosaur dominated Britain.

Programme two – features Cetiosaurus, Proceratosaurus, Iguanodontids, Stegosaurs, Neovenator and even little Echinodon is depicted.

Picture Credit: ITV

Just one small point that was noted by a colleague, many of the measurements provided for the dinosaurs were given in feet.  Old timers like the staff at Everything Dinosaur are well used to this, but with this programme aimed at a family audience including children, would very young viewers appreciate the size and scale of these prehistoric beasties when imperial measurements were used in some cases?  Perhaps not, although the CGI showing the armoured Dacentrurus wandering the galleries of the Natural History Museum and the tiny Echinodon attacking a sandwich at least gave viewers an opportunity to gauge size for themselves.

Time to introduce one of the earliest members of the Tyrannosauroidea clade, Proceratosaurus a very distant relative of the famous Tyrannosaurus rex.  Ms Harrison was surprised to learn that this three metre long Theropod once roamed around her home county of Gloucestershire.

To conclude the second programme, the viewer was brought right up to date and introduced to the very latest dinosaur to be added to the compendium of British dinosaurs.  Found in Lower Jurassic rocks at Lavernock Point (Vale of Glamorgan, Wales), Dr. Dave Martill (University of Portsmouth), showed off a remarkable fossil discovery, the partial skeleton of a small, agile meat-eating dinosaur that might turn out to be the oldest dinosaur specimen ever found in Jurassic aged strata.  It was pleasing to see plenty of feathered Theropods throughout the two programmes.

A few days ago, Everything Dinosaur reported on the finding of more fossil bones associated with this specimen: Putting the Welsh Theropod on a Firmer Footing

It seems that there are more dinosaurs awaiting discovery in the rocks of the British Isles.  Thanks to Maverick TV the British public has gained an appreciation of our rich dinosaur heritage.  A quick nod to the schedulers, the earlier start time of 8pm would have been appreciated by mums and dads.  Showing the programme an hour earlier than the first episode would have permitted more children to stay up and watch.

Let’s leave the last word to Dean, who summed up this two-part documentary succinctly:

“Despite Britain playing a pivotal role in the development and understanding of dinosaurs and palaeontology worldwide, in a modern capacity Britain has somewhat been overlooked.  Personally, I feel that Dinosaur Britain is a huge opportunity to put us on the map for dinosaur discoveries, tell the unique story it has and most importantly enthuse people of all ages to learn more about British palaeontology.  Who knows, Dinosaur Britain may just be the very programme that inspires future British palaeontologists.”

Well said.

1 09, 2015

The Oldest Known Eurypterid

By | September 1st, 2015|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Not Jaws but Claws Pentecopterus decorahensis

Named after an ancient Greek ship (penteconter) which was renowned for its speed and agility, a new and somewhat surprising addition to the mega-fauna of the Middle Ordovician has been described in a paper published in the academic journal “BMC Evolutionary Biology – Bio Med Centre”.  Enter Pentecopterus decorahensis (pent-tee-kop-ter-rus dek-kor-rah-en-sis), which at around 1.7 metres in length suggests that this was an apex predator of the brackish, shallow marine environment represented by shale deposits located in north-east Iowa (United States).

A Very Fearsome Arthropod – P. decorahensis

Ancient predator of the Middle Ordovician.

Ancient predator of the Middle Ordovician.

Picture Credit: Patrick Lynch/Yale University

This armour-plated, marine predator is a member of the Order Eurypterida, an extinct group of Arthropods distantly related to spiders and lobsters.  These creatures are often referred to as sea scorpions as they are distantly related to modern-day scorpions too.  With its streamlined body, grasping limbs for trapping prey and large, well-protected head this formidable carnivore would have dined on a variety of invertebrates as well as jawless fishes.  The fossils are part of the extraordinary Winneshiek Lagerstätte fauna (Iowa) and have been dated to around 467 million years ago (Darriwilian faunal stage of the Middle Ordovician).  Something in excess of 250 different eurypterid species have been described, but only eleven species have been documented from the Ordovician (488-443 million years ago) to date.  P. decorahensis is the oldest known, extending the documented range of the eurypterids by more than nine million years.

Commenting on the fossils, James Lamsdell of Yale University and the lead author of the study stated:

“This shows that eurypterids evolved some ten million years earlier than we thought and the relationship of the new animal to other eurypterids shows that they must have been very diverse during this early time of their evolution, even though they are very rare in the fossil record.”

Some of the Fossil Specimens that have been Found

Examples of fossil specimens.

Examples of fossil specimens, scale bars = 1o mm

Picture Credit: Lamsdell et al

The highly fossiliferous strata was discovered by an Iowa Geological Survey team (University of Iowa), close to the Upper Iowa River.  A temporary dam had to be constructed to allow the fossil site to be excavated. More than 150 fossils of Pentecopterus have been found, many of them representing juveniles.

University of Yale palaeontologist Derek Briggs, a co-author of the study explained that the shale deposits represent an ecosystem that became established when the sea flooded a meteorite impact crater some three miles across.  The weak currents coupled with the oxygen depleted bottom contributed to the remarkable state of preservation of the fossil material.  Even tiny hairs on the limbs can still be seen.

Although, enormous for an Arthropod, it is not the biggest eurypterid known, Everything Dinosaur has reported on a number of very large fossil sea scorpions

To read more about giant eurypterids: Giant Eurypterid Tracks Discovered in Scotland

Giant Devonian Sea Scorpion: Claws! of the Devonian

The largest living member of this Phylum today is the Japanese spider crab (Macrocheira kaempferi), the diameter of the legs of the largest males can be in excess of 3.5 metres and some specimens have weighed more than fifteen kilogrammes.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur stated:

“Thanks to the remarkable Winneshiek Lagerstätte scientists have been able to look into a window of marine life from some 467 million years ago.  Anyone taking a dip in the brackish waters that linked this part of Iowa to the seas surrounding the ancient land mass of Laurentia had better watch out.  This was one Arthropod capable of giving you more than just a “nip” with its claws.”

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