All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
29 10, 2015

In a Flap over an “Ostrich Mimics” Feathers

By | October 29th, 2015|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

A Densely Feathered Ornithomimid from Dinosaur Provincial Park

Published in the scientific journal “Cretaceous Research”, why is everybody so excited about the discovery of yet another fossil of a Theropod that shows feathers (at least integumental structures which include feathers)?  Lots of media coverage on this fossil discovery, so why such a flap?

The answer is fairly straight forward, the fossil (UALVP 52531), represents an Ornithomimus, a type of Theropod dinosaur which had a small head perched on top of a long, slender neck, long legs and a very long tail.  Think of Ornithomimus and its kin, the Ornithomimidae, as being very similar to a modern Ostrich (Struthio camelus), but with a tail of course.  It is only the third Ornithomimus fossil to indicate that these Late Cretaceous dinosaurs had feathers and the first ornithomimid specimen to preserve a tail which shows extensive plumes, feathers which are longer than those present on the remainder of the body.

To read about the discovery of the first feathered ornithomimid dinosaur to be found in the Western Hemisphere, an article published by Everything Dinosaur in 2012: Canadian Researchers Find Evidence of Feathers in Ornithomimus

The Fossil Material (UALVP 52531)

The feathered fossil.

The feathered fossil.

Picture Credit: University of Alberta/”Cretaceous Research”

The specimen, pictured above had been collected during a 2009 expedition to the Dinosaur Provincial Park Formation of Alberta (Canada).  It had been identified as an Ornithomimus, but as the head and forelimbs were missing it had largely been ignored.  Aaron van der Reest, a palaeontology student at the University of Alberta was given the task of preparing the specimen, carefully removing the matrix to reveal more of the leg bones which can be seen in the lower portion of the photograph.

Within twenty minutes of working on the tail section, he came across some blackened impressions, these turned out to be feathers.  What started out as an undergraduate project has catapulted Mr van der Reest into the world of published academia.

After two years of careful preparation, this specimen has shed new light on the integumentary coverings of ornithomimids.  It will help scientists to understand more about the different types of feathers and feathery structures that existed amongst the Dinosauria.

Commenting on the seventy-five million year old specimen (Campanian faunal stage of the Late Cretaceous), David Evans, curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology at the Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto) stated:

“It’s drop-dead gorgeous.  It is the most complete feathered dinosaur specimen found in North America to date.”

The partial, articulated specimen is the first ornithomimid to preserve a tail with extensive feathers.  These tail feathers are slightly longer than those present on the rest of the body.  Intriguingly, the underside of the tail and the hind limb distal to the middle of the femur appear to have no feathers at all.  This plumage pattern mapped out on the preserved Ornithomimus is very similar to that seen in an extant Ostrich (Struthio camelus).  The configuration of body feathers in Ostriches and other Palaeognaths (the Cassowary, Emu, Rhea and so forth), aids thermoregulation.  The feather pattern seen in this Ornithomimus specimen probably served the same function, further evidence that this Theropod dinosaur was endothermic (warm-blooded).

An Illustration of a Feathered Ornithomimus

Feathered Ornithomimus illustration.

Feathered Ornithomimus illustration.

Picture Credit: Julius Csotonyi

The fossil also shows the body outline around the legs, including skin patches in front of the femur, the authors of the scientific paper on this specimen suggest that the resting position of the femur was positioned more anteroventrally in ornithomimids than in most other Theropoda, and as a result may have been transitional to the situation in extant birds.   The research team conclude that whilst UALVP 52531 is not the first feathered ornithomimid dinosaur known from North America, the quality and extent of the feather and skin preservation is without equal.  It is from this specimen that much more can be learned about the likely function of the integumentary covering in Ornithomimus and non-avian Theropods in general.

So, that’s why there has been such a flap.

29 10, 2015

British Birds Including Puffins Face Extinction

By | October 29th, 2015|General Teaching, Key Stage 1/2, Key Stage 3/4|Comments Off on British Birds Including Puffins Face Extinction

Puffins and Three Other British Birds at Risk of Extinction

There may still be several million of them, but the colourful North Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica), that can be found on northern coasts of the British Isles, is in danger of extinction according to a new report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).  Puffins, Slavonian Grebes, Pochards and European Turtle Doves have all been added to the list of UK bird species included in the Red List of Threatened Species.

The Colourful Puffin Under Threat of Extinction

These colourful birds face extinction.

These colourful birds face extinction.

Picture Credit: Press Association

 Loss of “British Wildlife”

Climate change is influencing the number and location of sand eels, the main food of Puffins and these attractive birds rely on a glut of sand eels to help them raise their young each spring.  Fewer sand eels has led to a reduction in Puffin numbers as fewer chicks are being raised.  A total of eight UK species of birds are now included on the Red List of Threatened Species of Birds.

The Curlew Sandpiper

Under threat of extinction.

Under threat of extinction.

Picture Credit: Thinkstock

The Curlew Sandpiper is on the endangered list.  This shorebird has been classified as “Near-Threatened”.  Loss of estuarine habitat has seen a dramatic fall in the numbers of these birds.

Commenting on this revision of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species for Birds, a spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“Extinction is not just something that happened in the past, many species once thought of being invulnerable are under threat and a number of scientists have stated that we are now experiencing a global mass extinction event.  It is not just exotic species like Rhinos and Snow Leopards that are threatened, extinctions are happening in the British Isles as well.”

The number of UK species listed as critical has now doubled to eight, a further fourteen species associated with the United Kingdom are considered “near threatened”.

The Great Auk (Pinguinus impennis)

The Atlantic Puffin is distantly related to the Great Auk (Pinguinus impennis), a large, flightless bird that once shared much of the Puffin’s habitat.  The birds were slowly and systematically hunted during the 15th, 16th and 17th Centuries.  They were hunted for their meat, their eggs were collected and the down of these black and white birds was highly prized for use in pillows.  By around 1800, this bird that had once ranged across the whole of the Northern Atlantic was virtually extinct.  The last accredited sighting of a Great Auk, occurred in 1852, when a single bird was spotted on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.  This report, the last report of a Great Auk sighting, has been ratified by the IUCN.  Let’s hope that the Atlantic Puffin and the other birds now listed do not share the same fate.

For further information on the potential of a sixth mass extinction event, here is a link to an article published by Everything Dinosaur in 2014 that summarises a report into the potential accelerated  loss of species worldwide: Are We Heading for a Sixth Mass Extinction Event?

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