All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
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23 12, 2015

Explosion of Life on Earth Thanks to Oxygen

By | December 23rd, 2015|General Teaching, Key Stage 3/4|Comments Off on Explosion of Life on Earth Thanks to Oxygen

Progressive Oxidation Permitted Life on Earth to Flourish

A new study published in the academic journal “Nature Communications” carried out by a team of international scientists, including researchers from Leeds University, UCL (London) and the University of Washington, suggests that it took about one hundred million years for oxygen levels on our planet to rise to a high enough level to allow a rapid increase in the diversity of life on Earth.  This study, which involved the use of a novel research technique – analysing selenium isotope concentrations from seven different locations, indicates that there was not a steady rise in oxygen levels over this immense period of time, O2 concentrations fluctuated.  The amount of oxygen increased in fits and starts, but the increase of overall available O2, did lead to a substantial increase in life around 600 million years ago.

The Gradual Rise in Oxygen Permitted a Myriad of Different Types of Animal to Evolve

Life on Earth around 580 million years ago.

Life on Earth around 580 million years ago.

Picture Credit: John Sibbick

The researchers examined the period in Earth’s history from around 720 million years ago to prior to the Cambrian geological period.  During this time at least three extensive glaciations occurred.  As global temperatures fell, so the conditions for life that did exist at the time became extremely harsh.  It is likely that a number of different types of fauna became extinct.  However, when the temperature of the Earth rose, the ice sheets melted and released vast quantities of minerals and other nutrients into the oceans.  The scientists suggest that the ice melt and the subsequent increased nutrient mix in the sea helped cause oxygen levels to rise in the deep ocean.

This rise in O2 levels had huge implications for life on Earth.  The scene was set for the Cambrian explosion.

23 12, 2015

Slow Rise of Oxygen Led to Explosion of Life

By | December 23rd, 2015|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Selenium Isotope Analysis Supports Idea of Progressive Oxidation

Most complex life on Earth, that is organisms that have evolved beyond the unicellular stage, depend on oxygen.  Fundamentally without O2, life on our planet would be very different, for one thing this highly reactive element is needed before amino acids and hence proteins can form.  Every breath you take reinforces the importance of oxygen to our planet’s great diversity and variation of life.  However, when did the oxygenation of our planet begin and how quickly did oxygen build up on Earth to allow complex life forms and more complicated ecosystems to evolve?

Earth Seven Hundred Million Years Ago – A Frozen Planet

Did these extreme conditions assist the evolution of complex life forms

“Snowball Earth” – progressive oxidation.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A new study published in the academic journal “Nature Communications” carried out by a team of international scientists, including researchers from University College London, Leeds University and the University of Washington, suggests that it took around 100 million years for oxygen levels in the atmosphere and oceans to rise to a level that allowed a rapid increase in the diversity and variety of life on Earth.  This research, that involved analysing selenium isotope concentrations from seven different locations, indicates that there was not a steady and sustained rise in O2 levels over this period, oxygen concentrations fluctuated, the amount of O2 increased in fits and starts leading to a substantial increase in life around 600 million years ago.

Which Came First More Animals or More Oxygen?

One of the fundamental questions that the scientists sought an answer to in this Natural Environment Research Council funded project was this – did rising oxygen levels permit the explosion of animal life recorded in the fossil record from about 600 million years onwards or was it a change in animal evolution that kick-started the rise of oxygen?

In simple terms:

  • Did rising O2 levels lead to an expansion in complex animal life?

OR

  • Did an expansion of more complex animal forms give rise to greater levels of oxygen?

This research suggests that the rise of O2 began significantly earlier than previously thought and the increase of oxygen was not a linear one, O2 levels rose, stalled and rose again over a vast period of geological time (at least 100 million years).  If the conclusions reached by the scientists are correct, then it is likely that early animal evolution was kick-started by an increase in the amount of oxygen available, rather than a change in animal behaviour leading to greater levels of O2 in the atmosphere and oceans.

Explaining the purpose of the isotope study, lead researcher Dr. Philip Pogge von Strandmann (University College London) stated:

“We want to find out how the evolution of life links to the evolution of our climate.  The question on how strongly life has actively modified Earth’s climate, and why the Earth has been habitable for so long is extremely important for understanding both the climate system, and why life is on Earth in the first place.”

Starting at the Bottom – Marine Shales Actually…

To gain a better understanding of Earth’s climate during the Neoproterozoic (that vast era of geological time from about a billion years ago to 542 million years ago), the international team of scientists analysed selenium isotope data retrieved from samples of marine shales laid down at the bottom of the sea at different times from seven different locations to piece together a global picture of oxygen levels in the oceans and the atmosphere.  Strata studied included rocks across the United States, China and Canada and this work was conducted with the collaboration of Utah State University, Birkbeck (London) and Bristol University along with scientists from the University of Southern Denmark.

Selenium isotopes from marine shales can act as a indicator of global oxygenation conditions.  Lighter Se (selenium) isotopes recorded in shales generally indicate more oxygen rich conditions.  So by measuring the different selenium isotope ratios recorded in rocks of different ages, the scientists can start to build up a picture of the amount of O2 on the planet, specifically the level of oxygen in deep water, which in turn reflects on the amount of oxygen likely to exist elsewhere on the planet such as near to the coasts and in the atmosphere.

The selenium isotope analysis revealed that it took over 100 million years for the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere to climb from less than 1% to over 10% of today’s current level (20.8%).

Dr. Pogge von Strandmann said:

“We took a new approach by using selenium isotope tracers to analyse marine shales which gave us more information about the gradual changes in oxygen levels than is possible using the more conventional techniques used previously.  We were surprised to see how long it took Earth to produce oxygen and our findings dispel theories that it was a quick process caused by a change in animal behaviour.”

Specifically the researchers focused on looking at strata laid down during the Cryogenian (720-635 million years ago) and Ediacaran (635-542 million years ago), towards the end of the Neoproterozoic.

During the period studied, three big glaciations –the “Snowball Earth” Sturtian (about 716 million years ago), and the Marinoan (635 million years ago) glaciations and the smaller Gaskiers glaciation (about 580 million years ago) occurred in which much of the planet (if not all of it), was covered in ice with the seas frozen and glaciers dominating the land.  As temperatures dropped, so the conditions for life that did exist at the time became extremely harsh.  However, when the temperature of the Earth rose, the glaciers melted and released vast quantities of mineral nutrients into the oceans.  The research team hypothesise that the ice melt and increased nutrient mix in the sea helped cause oxygen levels to rise in the deep ocean.

Glaciation and Subsequent Melt Boosted Oxygen Levels

Increased oxygen due to glacier melt.

Increased oxygen due to glacier melt.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Increased nutrients in a marine environment leads to more ocean plankton, which will bury and trap organic carbon in sediments at the bottom of the sea when they die.  Burying carbon results in oxygen increasing, dramatically changing conditions on our planet.  Up until this paper was published, oxygenation was thought to have occurred after the relatively small Gaskiers glaciation melted in the middle of the Ediacaran. The findings from this study suggests that oxygenation occurred much earlier, linking a rise in O2 levels to the Marinoan glaciation, after which animals began to flourish in the improved conditions.  As life flourished so more and more diversity came about.  This led to the Cambrian explosion, a burst of evolution that began around 542 million years ago.

Professor David Catling (University of Washington), a co-author of the scientific paper stated:

“Oxygen was like a slow fuse to the explosion of animal life.  Around 635 million years ago, enough oxygen probably existed to support tiny sponges.  Then, after 580 million years ago, strange creatures, as thin as crêpes, lived on a lightly oxygenated floor of the sea.  Fifty million years later, vertebrate ancestors were gliding through oxygen-rich seawater.  Tracking how oxygen increased is the first step towards understanding why it took so long.  Ultimately, a grasp of geologic controls on oxygen levels can help us understand whether animal-like life might exist or not on Earth-like planets elsewhere.”

Oxygen and the Slow Fuse to More Diverse Complex Life

Life in the Ediacaran.

Life in the Ediacaran.

Picture Credit: John Sibbick

 Related Articles

To read an article (2012), that looks at some of the world’s oldest fossils: Are these the oldest fossils known?

Research (2014), suggests that multicellular life began earlier than previously thought: New research suggests multicellular life started earlier

From August 2015, an article covering details of a study into ancient animal reproduction: Earliest evidence of reproduction in a complex organism

22 12, 2015

Hollywood Star Agrees To Return Dinosaur Fossil

By | December 22nd, 2015|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Nicolas Cage Agrees to Return Tarbosaurus bataar Dinosaur Skull to Mongolia

The film actor and producer Nicolas Cage, he of films such as “Lord of War” and “Con Air” has agreed to return a rare dinosaur skull back to the Mongolian Government.  The Oscar-winning actor purchased the skull back in 2007, unaware that the specimen he had bought was stolen.  The Upper Cretaceous cranial material is from an Asian tyrannosaur, Tarbosaurus bataar, a close relative of the famous North American dinosaur Tyrannosaurus rex.

At the time of the purchase, it was reported that Mr Cage had out-bid fellow Hollywood “A-lister” Leonardo DiCaprio for the mounted skull fossil.

A Mounted Tarbosaurus bataar Fossil Skeleton

Mounted Tarbosaurus Specimen.

Mounted Tarbosaurus Specimen.

Picture Credit: Heritage Auctions

Mr Cage purchased the skull for $276,000 USD (£185,000 GBP) from a Beverley Hills gallery (I. M. Chait), he was subsequently issued with a certificate of authenticity by the gallery.  U.S. Customs officials have not accused the actor or the gallery of any wrong doing.

Nicolas Cage Voluntarily Agrees to Give Skull Fossil Back

Unwittingly caught up in fossil thefts.

Unwittingly caught up in fossil thefts.

Picture Credit: Reuters

Contacted by the Department of Homeland Security

A publicist for Mr Cage, Alex Schack commented that the actor had been contacted last year by officials from the Department of Homeland Security and informed that the skull was most likely illegally smuggled out of Mongolia.  The removal of artefacts and other items of “cultural significance” has been outlawed in Mongolia for decades, in fact, we at Everything Dinosaur believe that this law was in place before T. bataar was officially named and described (1955).

The office of Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney in Manhattan, filed a civil forfeiture complaint last week to take formal possession of the tyrannosaur skull material.  Preet Bharara had acted in 2012 as the prosecutor in the case involving Florida resident Eric Prokopi, who was found guilty over the falsifying of import documents related to a Tarbosaurus fossil skeleton that he had arranged to ship into the United States.  Mr Prokopi was imprisoned for his actions but as part of his guilty plea he helped U.S. Customs recover a further seventeen dinosaur fossils that had been smuggled out of Mongolia.

To read the original article on the auction of a Tarbosaurus dinosaur fossil: Tyrannosaurid Fossil Goes Up for Auction

At the time this first article was posted (May 2012), Everything Dinosaur along with other vertebrate palaeontologists and dinosaur fans supported a petition to stop the auction taking place.

To read an article about the seizure of the Tarbosaurus specimen (June 2012): Seizing a Tyrannosaur!

The outcome of the case against Mr Eric Prokopi (December 2012): Florida Man Pleads Guilty in Dinosaur Smuggling Case

The return of the Tarbosaurus fossil skeleton to Mongolia (May 2013): Dinosaur Fossils to be Handed Back to Mongolia

Tarbosaurus bataar Apex Predator of Late Cretaceous Asia

Alarming Reptile - Mounted Skeleton sold at Auction leads to Legal Dispute

Alarming Reptile – Mounted Skeleton sold at Auction led to a legal dispute

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

It is unclear whether Mr Cage or his associates had any dealings with Mr Prokopi.  The I. M. Chait gallery has previously purchased and sold an illegally smuggled hadrosaurid dinosaur skeleton which had been procured from Mr Prokopi.

U.S. attorney, Preet Bharara had described Eric Prokopi as a “one-man black market in prehistoric fossils”, but we at Everything Dinosaur suspect things are very different.  Sadly, the practice of smuggling fossils and other rare and precious objects out of Asian, South American and African countries is relatively common place.   A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur stated:

“Whilst we are delighted to hear that dinosaur fossils are being returned to their country of origin, so long as there are people prepared to pay vast sums for fossils, so the smuggling racket will continue.  There will always be a black market in fossils and it’s not just the “headliners” like dinosaur skulls that concern us, we shudder to think how many Christmas fossil gifts purchased on line in all innocence have their origins in the murky world of falsifying documents, fossil smuggling and the black market.”

Tarbosaurus bataar Compared to Tyrannosaurus rex

The table published below provides a comparison between these Late Cretaceous tyrannosaurids:

Tarbosaurus bataar Compared to Tyrannosaurus rex

A tale of the tape for two tyrannosaurids.

A tale of the tape for two tyrannosaurids.

Table Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Well Mr Cage, here’s one “National Treasure” heading home to its rightful owners.

21 12, 2015

The Swimming Speed of Plesiosaurs

By | December 21st, 2015|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|1 Comment

Computer Simulations, Penguins, Plesiosaurs and Underwater Flight

Recently, Everything Dinosaur published an article on a fascinating piece of research published in the academic journal “PLOS Computational Biology” which focused on how plesiosaurs propelled themselves through the water.  The paper had been written by researchers at the School of Interactive Computing, (Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia, USA) with the collaboration of Dr. Adam Smith (Nottingham Natural History Museum, Wollaton Hall, Nottinghamshire).  A three-dimensional model of a plesiosaur based on the Early Jurassic Meyerasaurus was used to examine how this marine reptile might have swam.  The computer simulations implied a forelimb dominated approach with the hind-limbs having a likely role not in active locomotion but in manoeuvring and stability.

Recently Published Paper Tackles How Plesiosaurs Moved in Water

Superbly preserved Plesiosaurus fossil

Superbly preserved Plesiosaurus fossil

Picture Credit: Royal Tyrrell Museum/Sabrowski/CP

In essence, these extinct reptiles may have “flown” through the water in the same way that extant penguins and turtles do today.

One point team members at Everything Dinosaur picked up on was the velocities recorded during computer simulations of different limb configurations and different ranges of movement within the joints.  The speeds seemed remarkably low to us, especially when one considers how robust some of the limb bones of plesiosaurs seem to be.  A few weeks ago, team members were allowed to view some fossil bones from a plesiosaur that had been excavated over a series of dives off the coast of Dorset.  The humerus (upper arm bone) in particular was most impressive and it obviously came from a large and powerful swimmer.

Swimming Speeds Recorded in the 3-D Study

Rear flippers don't seem to contribute much to velocity.

Rear flippers don’t seem to contribute much to velocity.

Picture Credit: Liu at el/PLOS Computational Biology

The bar graph above shows the speed of the best motions that were found by the optimisation for each of the joint ranges (narrow, medium, wide).  They do not correspond to the maximum swimming speed likely to be achieved by a plesiosaur, although previous studies involving the plesiosaur genus used as the basis for the three-dimensional model (Meyerasaurus), suggested a swimming speed of around 0.4 metres/second.

Dr. Smith Provides Clarification

We expressed our surprise with regards to the velocity cited in this research and emailed Adam Smith asking him to clarify the readings obtained.  Dr. Smith email swiftly back explaining:

“The speeds we reported are not estimates of maximum swimming speeds.  We used speed only as a way to compare efficiency of simulations using all limbs versus simulations using just one pair of limbs (using identical joint ranges).  Comparison between simulations under *different* joint ranges are meaningless because all the simulations have the same beat frequency.  This is why the simulations with wider ranges are faster – the limbs move further in the same amount of time.”

The focus of this particular piece of research, the utilisation of state-of-the-art computer modelling to examine the locomotion of a Plesiosaur whose fossilised remains come from Lower Jurassic strata located in Germany, was on the range of motion of the limbs, calculating the maximum speed of the animal did not come within the parameters of the research brief.

Dr. Smith added:

“If we put more energy into the simulations [by increasing the frequency of the limb beats] then they would certainly move more rapidly.  However, we wanted to ensure that our swimming motions were biologically possible, so we made sure the beat frequency was quite conservative.”

The plesiosaur clade (Plesiosauria) consists of a very wide variety of prehistoric creatures ranging in size from around 1.5 metres in length to more than 15 metres long.  Swimming speeds are likely to have varied amongst species with different swimming abilities being consistent with different forms of feeding and hunting strategies.  To determine the maximum velocity of these creatures would involve calculating the muscle mass of a number of different sized individuals and looking at the influence on forward speed of different speeds of limb movement within a framework of what was biologically possible.  In addition, the metabolism of the animal would have to be considered.

Dr. Smith explained that estimating the maximum velocity of a plesiosaur was beyond the scope of this project but he teased:

“Maybe a future research project!”

Perhaps, we will have the answer one day to the theoretical question, how close to the beach would you have to be to allow you to escape before a large predatory marine reptile caught up with you?

How Much of a Head Start Would You Have Needed?

Under attack

Under attack, you probably could not swim quickly enough to get away.

Picture Credit: Mark Witton

To read the recent article which highlighted the research into the locomotion of plesiosaurs: Computer Simulations, Penguins, Plesiosaurs and Underwater Flight

20 12, 2015

Scottish Shark Fossil Honoured

By | December 20th, 2015|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page|0 Comments

Plaque and Cairn for the “Bearsden Shark”

It might not quite match the celebrity status of the Loch Ness Monster, but a metre long prehistoric shark which once swam in a shallow sea that covered much of Scotland, has been honoured by having a cairn and a plaque erected on the site where its fossils were found back in 1981.  The shark named Akmonistion zangerli is represented by one of the most complete cartilaginous fish fossils known from the Carboniferous, it is a member of the Stethacanthidae family of ancient sharks nick-named “the ironing board sharks” due to the shape of the male sharks dorsal fin.  The shark is known locally as the “Bearsden shark” as the fossils come from Manse Burn close to the town of Bearsden which is located just to the north-west of the city of Glasgow.

The Beautiful “Bearsden Shark” Fossil

Now housed in the collection of the Huntarian Museum (Scotland)

Now housed in the collection of the Hunterian Museum (Scotland)

Picture Credit: The Hunterian Museum

The picture above shows the fossilised remains of Akmonistion zangerli.  The broad head is to the left of the picture and the bizarrely shaped dorsal fin can be clearly made out.  The black shales from which this fossil was extracted represent sediments laid down at the bottom of an ancient sea.   A lack of current and a very poor level of oxygen at the bottom of the sea permitted the excellent preservation of the cartilage that made up the skeleton of this prehistoric fish.  Dr. Neil Clark who was present at the unveiling of the plaque to commemorate this important discovery, carried out his PhD on the fossil, he stated:

“This is the best preserved fossil shark of its time in the world.  It was a very special discovery because in most fossils it is only the hard shelly, or bony, structures that are preserved while the soft tissues generally rot away.  From the tip of its nose to the end of its tail, its fragile cartilage skeleton is almost intact after 330 million years locked in the black shales of Bearsden.  Even the partly digested remains of its last fish supper lie undisturbed still within the bowels.”

The actual fossil is on display at the Hunterian Museum (Glasgow University), but a small community group, aided by funding, including a generous donation by the company Tarmac has campaigned for the fossil find to be marked in some way at Manse Burn.  Earlier this week, a cairn and  a plaque commemorating the importance of this discovery was unveiled.

The “Bearsden Shark” is Honoured

Honouring a 330 million year old shark fossil from Scotland.

Honouring a 330 million year old shark fossil from Scotland.

Picture Credit: The Kirkintilloch Herald

The photograph shows (L to R) Amanda Stewart (Chairwoman of the Baljaffray Residents Association who started the campaign, Nan Lawless, Dr Neil Clark (Curator of Palaeontology at the Hunterian Museum), Andrew Kent, Neil Buchanan, Stephen Cowan, Debbie Macrae and Provost for East Dunbartonshire Una Walker.

Provost Una Walker said:

“It is a source of great pride that such a significant scientific discovery was made in our area and it is thanks to the hard work of the local residents that the site is now properly marked.”

Although formally named Akmonistion zangerli back in 2001, the shark is still affectionately called the “Bearsden Shark” by locals.  The site itself has received special protection as a site of special scientific interest (SSSI).

A Model of a Typical Member of the Stethacanthidae Shark Family

Part of the Safari Ltd "Prehistoric Shark Toob)

Part of the Safari Ltd “Prehistoric Shark Toob)

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows a model of a typical Stethacanthidae shark like Akmonistion zangerli, it is one of the excellent shark models in the prehistoric shark toob made by Safari Ltd.

To view the range of Safari Ltd prehistoric animal models including the prehistoric shark toob: Safari Ltd Prehistoric Animal Models.

20 12, 2015

A Dinosaur Poem

By | December 20th, 2015|General Teaching, Key Stage 1/2|Comments Off on A Dinosaur Poem

Children Write Poems About Dinosaurs

In the new national curriculum (England), teachers have quite a variety of scope in terms of how they can help children to articulate ideas.  When it comes to comprehension, the curriculum for Year 2 children ( Key Stage 1), encourages teaching teams to discuss poems, this leads on to the Lower Key Stage 2 comprehension section which has a statutory requirement to: “prepare poems and play scripts to read aloud and to perform, showing understanding through intonation, tone, volume and action.”

This can be quite a tough task, especially amongst boys who have become disillusioned and unenthusiastic when it comes to hand-writing.  For these pupils (girls as well as boys), why not inspire them to write a poem about a dinosaur?

Taken from a caption in an animated short made in the 1920’s and recently restored.  Here is a poem about dinosaurs:

“In days of old
When nights were cold
And school days were unknown
The mildest roar of a dinosaur
Would chill you to the bone!”

Can You Inspire Your Class to Write a Dinosaur Poem?

Here is a poem sent into Everything Dinosaur, by a young dinosaur fan (age 8) who wrote a poem about his favourite dinosaur Triceratops.

Triceratops Inspires Year 3 Poetry

"Three-horned face" inspires young poets.

“Three-horned face” inspires young poets.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

“Triceratops is the tops.
As when it comes to eating,
he never stops!”

 A fascination for dinosaurs can help and encourage young children with their writing and comprehension.

19 12, 2015

Plesiosaurs “Flew” through Water Like Penguins

By | December 19th, 2015|General Teaching|Comments Off on Plesiosaurs “Flew” through Water Like Penguins

How did Plesiosaurs Swim?

Plesiosaurs are marine reptiles, not dinosaurs and they roamed the seas for much of the Mesozoic.  Fossils of these long-necked, round bodied reptiles have been found in many parts of the world.  The geological record of plesiosaur fossils spans some 135 million years.  However, palaeontologists have debated, almost since the time of Mary Anning, how these carnivorous animals actually moved through water.  It turns out that these animals, some of which were as long as a school bus, actually “flew” through the water, swimming with their front paddles, in virtually the same way that penguins do today.

Studying How Plesiosaurs Moved through Water

A mounted fossil exhibit of a plesiosaur.

A mounted fossil exhibit of a plesiosaur.

With the help and support of plesiosaur fossil expert Dr. Adam Smith (Nottingham Natural History Museum, Wollaton Hall), a team of researchers from the School of Interactive Computing  at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia, United States) recreated the swimming motions of a three metre long, Early Jurassic plesiosaur, whose fossils come from Germany, (Meyerasaurus victor).  A three dimensional computer model of the marine reptile was created and then various swimming modes were tested.  The most efficient locomotion was achieved when just the front flippers were used.  It seems that the rear limbs did little in the way of helping to create forward thrust and momentum.  Instead, they were probably used for steering and keeping stable in the water column.

Commenting on the research, Dr. Smith stated:

“Plesiosaur swimming has remained a mystery for almost 200 years, so it was exciting to see the plesiosaur come alive on the computer screen.  Our results show that the front limbs provide the powerhouse for plesiosaur propulsion while the hind limbs are more passive”.

19 12, 2015

Saturday and Still Working

By | December 19th, 2015|Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page, Press Releases|0 Comments

Preparing and Packing Orders for Everything Dinosaur Customers

It has been dubbed “stressful Saturday” the last Saturday before Christmas Day.  Lots of shoppers racing around in a desperate rush to get the presents bought.  Team members at Everything Dinosaur do understand that at this time of year Christmas shopping can be a stressful experience.  In the mail order world for example, not only is there the stress in looking for the ideal gift on line but in addition, there is the worry as to whether or not the present is going to be packed and despatched so that it can be delivered in time for the big day.

We Don’t Want Present Buying to be a Nasty Experience!

Plans already in place to help out with Christmas orders.

Plans already in place to help out with Christmas orders.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

For several weeks now Everything Dinosaur has been implementing a number of seasonal policies to help our customers at this time of year.  Naturally, we still email customers in person to let them know that their order has been received, but in addition, the extra shifts put in has meant that we have kept on top of the orders and that parcels and packages have been despatched promptly.  All orders placed prior to 3.30pm on Friday, for example, were despatched late that afternoon (around 4.30pm), these parcels are already on their way.

Today, Saturday, we have team members in the office manning the phones, taking calls from customers looking for reassurance about delivery dates, getting telephone orders sorted and so on.  All the orders received up to 10.15am on our website were sent out with the Saturday morning 11am collection.  These parcels too, are in the mail network by now.

Last Recommended Posting Dates (UK)

We always advise people to post early, this is the best policy in our view, but here are the last recommended posting dates from Royal Mail and our main courier service company (Interlink):

  • Today, Saturday 19th December for second class parcels
  • Monday 21st December for first class parcels
  • Wednesday 23rd December for Royal Mail Special Delivery*

With couriers, Everything Dinosaur subsidises carrier charges and the last day for the majority of UK deliveries using courier despatch is Wednesday 23rd December (orders placed before 12 noon) for delivery next day, in time for Christmas, but please note, not all parts of the UK are covered by a next day delivery service and at this time of year, courier networks experience very high levels of demand and not all next day deliveries can be guaranteed.  We advise that customers email Everything Dinosaur so that we can provide individual assistance or alternatively, the Interlink website provides information on their services.

Contact Everything Dinosaur:

If you have a query about Christmas deliveries, or indeed any aspect of Everything Dinosaur’s delivery service please feel free to contact us: Email Everything Dinosaur

To view the Everything Dinosaur website: Everything Dinosaur’s Website

Team members will be working hard and doing all they can to help customers avoid difficulties when it comes to organising dinosaur themed Christmas gifts.

* Everything Dinosaur can arrange for Royal Mail special delivery of parcels, these services are available if UK customers should require them.  Simply email Everything Dinosaur or telephone the office (main switchboard number can be found at the bottom of Everything Dinosaur’s website) and we will do our best to help you.

18 12, 2015

Computer Simulations, Penguins, Plesiosaurs and Underwater Flight

By | December 18th, 2015|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|2 Comments

Plesiosaurs “Flew” Through the Water Like Penguins

Plesiosaurs roamed the seas for much of the Mesozoic.  The fossil record demonstrates that this group of long-necked, round-bodied marine reptiles were highly successful, with a global distribution and a geological record of some 135 million years or so.  However, ever since Mary Anning discovered the “sea dragon”, plesiosaur fossil at Lyme Regis in 1823, scientists have puzzled over how these animals actually moved through the water.  A team of scientists including Dr. Adam Smith (Nottingham Natural History Museum, Wollaton Hall), have used computer modelling to recreate plesiosaur locomotion.  It turns out that these extinct creatures most likely used their two front flippers to effectively “fly” through the water, much in the same way as penguins and turtles do today.

Scientists Use a Computer Simulation to Unravel the “Flight” of a Plesiosaur

The most effective swimming motion for the plesiosaur is flapping the two front flippers in an underwater flight motion

The most effective swimming motion for the plesiosaur is flapping the two front flippers in an underwater flight motion

Picture Credit: Liu et al. 

The Plesiosaurians

Plesiosaurs are part of the Sauropterygia, taxonomically a Superorder which was defined by Richard Owen in 1860 and encompasses a diverse range of marine reptiles such as the nothosaurs, the Pistosauroidea and the Plesiosauria.  Although the Sauropterygia consist of a myriad of marine reptiles with many different bauplans (body plans), they are united by having a modified pectoral girdle designed to provide support for the powerful strokes of the front flippers.  It seems that in some of the Plesiosauria at least, this modified pectoral girdle and other anatomical adaptations permitted these animals to swim primarily with the forelimbs, using an unmodified flight stroke to “fly” through the water.

Throughout that long evolutionary history of the plesiosaurs,  a unique body plan with two pairs of large, wing-like flippers was maintained, but just how these animals propelled themselves through the water has remained a controversial subject.   In this new study, published in the open access publication “PLOS Computational Biology” the researchers adopted a novel approach using a digital, three-dimensional, articulated computer model to simulate the actions of this type of marine reptile swimming.  A large number of simulations were conducted to test the efficiency of various swimming methods and the team concluded that within the biologically possible range of limb motion, the simulated plesiosaur moved primarily with its forelimbs using an unmodified underwater flight stroke, in essence, the same locomotion method found in extant penguins and turtles.

Plesiosaurs “Flew” in the Water Like Penguins

An Illustration of a Plesiosaurus.

An Illustration of a Plesiosaurus.

Surprisingly, the computer model demonstrated that the rear flippers flapping added little to the forward speed of the plesiosaur studied.  Instead, the back flippers of plesiosaurs were probably used for steering and stability, a sort of underwater version of rear wheel steer and front wheel drive.

The researchers involved in the study were Shiqiu Liu, Yuting Gu, Jie Tan, C. Karen Liu and Greg Turk from the School of Interactive Computing, (Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia) along with palaeontologist Dr. Adam Smith (Nottingham Natural History Museum, Wollaton Hall).

Commenting on the study, Dr. Smith stated:

“Plesiosaur swimming has remained a mystery for almost 200 years, so it was exciting to see the plesiosaur come alive on the computer screen.  Our results show that the front limbs provide the powerhouse for plesiosaur propulsion while the hind limbs are more passive”.

A Bar Chart Comparing the Forward Speeds Achieved in the Simulation

Rear flippers don't seem to contribute much to velocity.

Rear flippers don’t seem to contribute much to velocity.

Chart Credit: Liu at el/PLOS Computational Biology

In the table above the velocity of a typical plesiosaur was calculated over a series of joint ranges (wide, medium and narrow).  Measurements were taken when forelimb-only flapping, hind-limb-only flapping and both pairs of limbs together were flapped.  Note that the forward speed in the forelimb-only tests are superior or broadly equivalent to the velocity achieved when both pairs of limbs moved together.  When hind-limb-only optimisations were tested the speed was greatly reduced.

Interestingly, these swimming speeds are relatively slow given the length of time these creatures had to evolve.  Elite human athletes can swim at around two metres per second for short periods.  Although plesiosaurs are likely to be much more agile in water than a person, the velocity recorded in the computer simulation is much lower than we, at Everything Dinosaur would have expected.  Most fish would have easily been able to swim faster, perhaps, as most palaeontologists predict, that long neck holds the key to the hunting strategy of the plesiosaurs.

The species used as the template for the computer model was Meyerasaurus victor, known from the Lower Jurassic of Germany.  This small (3.5 metre long), plesiosaur is known from an almost complete articulated skeleton which is on display at the Natural History Museum of Stuttgart (Germany).  Meyerasaurus had a typical body plan amongst the Plesiosauria, with a moderately long neck, so it was considered to be an ideal candidate to represent the clade.

The research team  hopes to modify their computer programme to assess how the rear flippers helped in the manoeuvrability of these marine reptiles.  Just how agile were plesiosaurs in water?  The computer model can also be used to better understand the swimming motion of other prehistoric animals such as the short-necked plesiosaurs – the pliosaurs.

To read a recently published article about a Surrey pliosaur specimen that links Dorking to Kansas: Pliosaur Skull Links Dorking to Kansas

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the help of the press release from the Georgia Institute of Technology and Dr. Adam Smith in the production of this article.

17 12, 2015

Pliosaur Skull Links Dorking to Kansas

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

Pliosaur Skull Links Dorking to Kansas

For much of the later stages of the Cretaceous, the area that is now known as the British Isles lay underwater.   Bad news if you are searching for evidence of terrestrial dinosaurs, however, the limestones and chalk deposits associated with southern England can still yield some exciting surprises for vertebrate palaeontologists.  Take for example, the research of Dr. Roger Benson (University of Oxford, Dept. of Earth Sciences), who has been examining the fragmentary remains of pliosaurs associated with the lithostratigraphic unit of strata known as the Chalk Group.  Dr. Benson’s analysis of a pliosaur specimen housed in the collection of the Dorking Museum and Heritage Centre reveals that the fossils may have been misidentified, by none other than Sir Richard Owen, the anatomist who is credited with the naming of the Order Dinosauria.

An Illustration from the Original 1858 Monograph by Richard Owen

One of the original lithographs from Owen's 1858 paper.

One of the original lithographs from Owen’s 1858 paper.

Picture Credit: The Pterosaur Database/Dr. R Benson (Supplement (No. III) to the Monograph on the Fossil Reptilia of the Cretaceous Formations: 1858)

The illustration above shows some of the skull fossils and teeth described by Richard Owen as the pliosaur Polyptychodon interruptus.  The smaller illustrations to be found in the lower portion of the picture depict various pterosaur fossils.

What are Pliosaurs?

Pliosaurs, or those animals that make up the Pliosauridae clade, are an extinct group of marine reptiles, that along with the long-necked Plesiosaurs make up the Order Plesiosauria.  Pliosaurs tend have short necks and large, broad skulls.  They have a worldwide fossil distribution and they first appeared during the Early Jurassic with many of these reptiles evolving into giants that specialised in hunting other marine vertebrates like today’s killer whales.  Famous prehistoric animals such as Liopleurodon and the Australian Kronosaurus are examples of pliosaurs.

An Illustration of a Typical Pliosaur (Pliosaurus brachydeirus)

A scale drawing of a Pliosaurus.

A scale drawing of a pliosaurus.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Having dominated marine environments for the best part of a 100 million years, with many forms becoming apex predators, towards the early Late Cretaceous remains of these reptiles disappear from the fossil record.  Around ninety million years or so ago, these sea monsters died out.  Why the Pliosaurs became extinct remains a mystery.  It is important for palaeontologists to gain as much information as they can from existing fossil specimens.  Perhaps, thanks to the careful research of Dr. Benson and the presence of many fine fossil collections held in regional museums, one day scientists may have a more complete understanding of how these great reptiles evolved and radiated out into so many forms dominating a number of marine palaeoenvironments.  Scientists might even be able to provide information on why these leviathans went into decline and died out.

The Dorking Pliosaur Specimen

During the early part of the 19th Century a number of fossils of marine reptiles were collected by amateur geologists and naturalists.  One such collection, which had been the amassed by the first Baron Ashcombe was donated to the Dorking Museum in 1948 by the first Baron’s grandson.  Amongst the specimens donated was the relatively complete skull of a pliosaur which had been discovered sometime in the 1850’s.  The first Baron Ashcombe had used his influence to invite none other than Richard Owen to examine the fossil collection.  Richard Owen, who was later to help found the Natural History Museum (London), described this skull as an example of the pliosaur Polyptychodon interruptus (Po-lip-tie-ko-don in-terr-rupt-us), the name means ” broken apart fin shaped tooth”.

When Dr. Benson visited the Dorking Museum and Heritage Centre to inspect the skull material, he noted a number of similarities between this fossil specimen and the fossils of another pliosaur, known from North America.  In addition, Dr. Benson’s study revealed that most other fossils of Polyptychodon species come from rocks that are much older than the ones found in the chalk pits in this part of Surrey (southern England).  This casts doubt over the original conclusions drawn by the celebrated anatomist Richard Owen.  It seems that the Dorking specimen may represent a type of pliosaur whose fossils are associated with Kansas.

A Fragment of the Lower Jaw

Individual tooth sockets (alveoli) can be made out along the jawbone.

Individual tooth sockets (alveoli) can be made out along the jawbone.

Picture Credit: Dr. Roger Benson (Oxford University)

Affinities with Brachauchenius

Although Owen thought the Dorking specimen belonged to Polyptychodon the shape of the skull (morphology) suggests to Dr. Benson that this specimen may actual be another type of pliosaur altogether.  Dr. Benson concludes that the Dorking specimen shares many similarities with a pliosaur known as Brachauchenius (Brak-ow-ken-ee-us) whose fossils are mainly associated with the Western Interior Seaway of the early Late Cretaceous that covered most of the land that is now known as the United States.  According to Dr. Benson’s research, most other specimens assigned to the Polyptychodon genus are around 115 million years old (Aptian age of the Cretaceous), but the Dorking fossil material comes from much younger strata, rocks that date from around 90-95 million years ago (Cenomanian to Turonian age).  This indicates that the pliosaur fossils within the collection of the Dorking Museum and Heritage Centre represents one of the last of the pliosaurs.

Part of the Lower Jaw Bone

Lateral view of part of the Pliosaur lower jaw.

A view of part of the pliosaur lower jaw.

Picture Credit: Dr. Roger Benson (Oxford University)

Our knowledge of the Pliosauridae has improved enormously since the time of Richard Owen, as has our knowledge of stratigraphy.  These collections, many of which are housed in small regional museums can still have a very significant role in research, for example, in this instance, helping to build up a better picture of an ancient marine fauna.

The Museum’s Chairman, Nigel Arch, commenting on Dr. Benson’s visit stated that it was:

“a good example of the value of our collections and the fact that we can always learn more.  It is wonderful to think that the study of this specimen, found locally and collected by a local person, is still contributing to scientific knowledge today.” 

A Pliosaur Tooth of P. interruptus

Compare Dr. Benson's photograph to the Pliosaur tooth depicted in Owen's monograph.

Compare Dr. Benson’s photograph to the pliosaur tooth depicted in Owen’s monograph.

Picture Credit: Dr. Roger Benson (Oxford University)

Dr. Benson put his research into context, explaining:

“Pliosaurs were giant marine reptiles that could swim across oceans, specimens like the Dorking pliosaur show that this is true because similar fossils are also found in America”.   

The Importance of Regional Museums

Regional museums such as the the Dorking Museum and Heritage Centre house many fine specimens assisting in the preservation of an amazing geological and fossil record.  Research using some of the specimens from within these collections can help to shed light on the diversity and distribution of pliosaur genera.  Who knows, perhaps locked away in some cabinet, part of the prized fossil collection of another regional museum may lay the fossilised bones of another mislabelled specimen, one that could provide clues as to the why the Pliosauridae became extinct.

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