All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
//April
22 04, 2016

Dinosaurs – Sandbrook Community Primary School

By | April 22nd, 2016|Early Years Foundation Reception, General Teaching|Comments Off on Dinosaurs – Sandbrook Community Primary School

Earth Day, Dinosaurs, Awards and Ofsted

What a busy day for teachers, staff and children at Sandbrook Community Primary School.  The two Reception classes have started to learn all about animals and life in the past with a topic dedicated to all things dinosaur.  In addition, there was a special assembly at the busy Rochdale school where some of the hard working and enthusiastic pupils received certificates.  On top of all this,  the Children’s Nursery is having an Ofsted inspection and it is Earth Day!  April 22nd is a very important date, events are held all over the world to demonstrate support for our planet and the environment.

There were some wonderful examples of recycling to see in the school and the well maintained garden and play areas certainly indicated that the children and staff at this “Eco-School” appreciate the environment.  Under the supervision of Mrs Beazley some of the Reception children had a go at making dinosaur footprints and of course, given the fact that it’s Earth Day, the dinosaur tracks had to be green.

Reception Class Make Dinosaur Footprints

Dinosaur footprints made by Reception children.

Dinosaur footprints made by Reception children.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Sandbrook Community Primary

Dinosaur Workshop for Reception Classes

The children learned all about a giant armoured dinosaur, how many tummies Tyrannosaurus rex had, what fossils feel like and how prehistoric ammonites caught their dinners.  There was lots of fossil handling and fun activities in the two workshops and the teaching assistants were on hand to provide plenty of support and to take plenty of pictures (useful in recall and recounting activities later on).  

Walking with Dinosaurs – Sandbrook Community Primary School

Can you follow the dinosaur footprints?

Can you follow the dinosaur footprints?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Sandbrook Community Primary

Using a foam cut which had been dipped in paint, the children were able to walk along a strip of paper and produce some super dinosaur footprints.  Our fossil expert was allowed to pop into the spacious and well-appointed  Reception classroom whilst the children were having lunch and take some pictures of their handiwork, (should that be footwork)?

We set a few challenges to the children including producing a dinosaur drawing.  Could they label their dinosaur drawing, including pointing out where the skull was?  During our workshops we explained what skulls were and we also talked about dinosaur brains!

The teaching team and the children had a fantastic time exploring dinosaurs and after the footprints activity, if the colour of Mrs Beazley’s trousers are anything to go by, on today, Earth Day, this is one school that has definitely gone green.

21 04, 2016

The Fifty Million Year Decline of the Dinosaurs – It was the “Stats Wot Did It”

By | April 21st, 2016|Main Page|1 Comment

Bayesian Analysis Sheds New Light on Dinosaur Decline

This week has seen the publication of a splendid piece of research by scientists from Reading and Bristol Universities.  The research team, which included lead author Dr. Manabu Sakamoto and his colleague Dr. Chris Venditti (Reading University), along with Professor Mike Benton (Bristol University), conclude that far from a sudden and abrupt end to the Dinosauria, as a result of a culmination of catastrophes around sixty-six million years ago, the dinosaurs were already on their way out.  In fact, according to their calculations, the dinosaurs had been in decline for the previous fifty million years.

An Extraterrestrial Impact Might Have Been the “Last Straw for the Dinosaurs”

Scientists suggest a slow decline for the dinosaurs.

Scientists suggest a slow decline for the dinosaurs.

Long-term Decline Versus a Sudden Population Collapse

The debate regarding whether the Dinosauria declined very rapidly or whether they were in a long-term, terminal decline, has raged for decades.  Everything Dinosaur team members remember a study undertaken into the diversity of the dinosaurs from the Hell Creek Formation.  This study calculated the number of different types of dinosaur associated with different layers of rock.  It was concluded that at the point where the non-avian dinosaurs disappear from the fossil record (K-T boundary), there were much fewer species present then in rock strata that represented slightly older sediments.  The overwhelming dominance of horned dinosaurs and Hadrosaurs compared to other types of dinosaur preserved in the bedding planes studied, also suggested a relatively unhealthy balance in the ecosystem.

Two years ago, Everything Dinosaur reported on another piece of research that concluded that the demise of the dinosaurs was a result of “bad luck and bad timing”.

To read more about this study: Dinosaur Extinction – “A Perfect Storm”

Bayesian Analysis Points the Way

The difficulty with a debate like this is that palaeontologists do not have a complete data set to work with.  The fossil record is simply not complete enough to provide definitive proof, one way or another.  It’s not just that there are not enough body and trace fossils of dinosaurs around from the Cretaceous, but scientists have very limited information on other types of fauna, the mammals for example.  Mammalian diversity may have been very apparent had you or I been able to travel back in time and wander through the temperate conifer forests of northern Laramidia for example, but in the absence of a time machine, we have to work with inadequate and far from complete information.  However, in this paper, perhaps for the first time, Bayesian analysis has been applied to assess the evolutionary dynamics in terms of how quickly the dinosaurs were able to evolve into new species to replace other species that had died out.

The scientists find that their Bayesian analysis provides overwhelming support for the theory of a long-term decline across all three sub-clades of the Dinosauria (the Ornithischia, Sauropodomorpha and the Theropoda).  The rate of new species development slowed down over time and this was ultimately overtaken by the species extinction rate tens of millions of years before the Cretaceous mass extinction event.  Or putting it another may, that extraterrestrial object that smashed into the Gulf of Mexico was tens of millions of miles away when the dinosaurs actually began to die out.

A Slow Decline According to the Statistics – Dinosaurs Did Not Go Out with a Bang!

Cataclysmic impact event that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Cataclysmic impact event that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs?

Picture Credit: Don Davis commissioned by NASA

Commenting on the implications for other terrestrial vertebrates, one of the authors of the scientific paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Chris Venditti stated:

“The decline of the dinosaurs would have left plenty of room for mammals, the group of species which humans are a member of, to flourish before the impact, priming them to replace dinosaurs as the dominant animals on Earth.”

What is Bayesian Analysis?

It’s complicated, named after the mathematician Thomas Bayes (1701-1761), Bayesian analysis is a statistical methodology that takes into account the absence of complete data.  By looking at the existing information, a more complete picture can be built up using information inferred from the data that you do have.  Bayesian analysis relies upon interpretations of probability which are based on degrees of belief.  There are a number of different forms of analytical technique that can be applied based on these principles.

In simple terms, imagine you have a dinosaur themed jigsaw that is made up of 24 pieces:

  • If you have all 24 pieces then it is easy to put together the jigsaw puzzle and see 100% of the picture.
  • BUT… if you were to ask another person to complete the puzzle but only gave them 12 pieces (50%), then that person would only have half the data to work on.
  • To solve the puzzle, that second person would have to examine the patterns made by the 12 pieces, to look at their shapes, their size, their colours and to use their existing knowledge about what the complete picture might be in order to compensate for the lack of all the jigsaw pieces to play with.
  • Using the Schleich Mini Dino Landscape “Discovery” Set seen below as an example, the second person would have to infer from the information available what the completed jigsaw puzzle would actually look like – this is essentially what Bayesian analysis permits you to do.

A Dinosaur Jigsaw Puzzle Helps to Explain Bayesian Principles

Green Velociraptor,  Torosaurus, Stegosaurus and Quetzalcoatlus are included.

Green Velociraptor, Torosaurus, Stegosaurus and Quetzalcoatlus are included in this Schleich jigsaw puzzle set.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Professor Mike Benton, explained that the dramatic impact event was probably the last straw for the remaining types of dinosaur:

“All the evidence shows that the dinosaurs, which had already been around, dominating terrestrial ecosystems for 150 million years, somehow lost the ability to speciate fast enough.  This was likely to have contributed to their inability to recover from the environmental crisis caused by the impact.”

The Bayesian analysis shows that the Sauropodomorphs, the long-necked, super-sized herbivorous Titanosaurs were declining the fastest, whilst the Theropods (mostly meat-eaters), were declining at a more gradual rate.

A Stylised Graph Indicating Rate of Decline for the Three Main Sub-Clades of the Dinosauria

Plotting the demise of the dinosaurs.

Plotting the demise of the dinosaurs.

Graph Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The graph above is intended to illustrate that, in this new Bayesian analysis, the Sauropodomorpha clade was shown to be declining most rapidly.  The Theropoda was in decline but the speed of de-speciation was lower and the Ornithischia was also in decline too but the rise of the Hadrosauriformes (duck-billed dinosaurs) and the rapid diversification of the Ceratopsidae (horned dinosaurs), temporarily bucked the downward trend.

Exceptions to the Rule

The only exceptions to the general trend are the Cretaceous herbivores, the duck-billed dinosaurs and the horned dinosaurs.  These two types of dinosaur show rapid species proliferation throughout the Late Cretaceous.  However, the research team conclude that overall, the Dinosauria showed a marked reduction in their ability to replace species that had died out with new species.  This made the dinosaurs vulnerable to extinction and unable to evolve quickly enough to allow them to recover from the catastrophic events that mark the end of the Mesozoic.

20 04, 2016

Countdown to the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival

By | April 20th, 2016|Dinosaur Fans, Educational Activities, Main Page|0 Comments

Countdown to the 10th Lyme Regis Fossil Festival

Just a few days to go until the start of the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival.  The festival, celebrating its tenth year kicks off with two days dedicated to supporting science teaching in schools before opening to the public on Saturday 29th April.  In a packed programme, there are a wide variety of family themed activities and events aimed at all ages to celebrate the natural and cultural history of this Dorset town and its prominent place on England’s Jurassic Coast.

This Year Marks the Tenth Anniversary of the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival

The Lyme Regis Fossil Festival - lots of activities to explore.

The Lyme Regis Fossil Festival – lots of activities to explore.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The theme for this year’s Fossil Festival is getting young people enthused by STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects. Everything Dinosaur knows STEM very well, our own dinosaur and fossil workshops are prominently displayed within the STEM directory of school activities.  Indeed, our educational workshops have recently been revised and upgraded to further enhance science learning objectives.  All part of our support for the Royal Institution, who now manage the on line STEM database.

Down on the seafront, three marquees will host a range of displays and activities, with experts on hand to answer questions and provide advice on careers in the Earth Sciences.  The Palaeontological Association will provide a tactile introduction to fossils and the Geological Society might be able to tempt you with some fossil casting, whilst the Scott Polar Research Institute will be looking for volunteers to dress like an explorer and if you fancy it, you can see how you measure up against a penguin with the British Antarctic Survey.

Will You Get Lucky and Find a Fossil?

Will you find a fossil at Lyme Regis?

Will you find a fossil at Lyme Regis?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Fossil Walks

Over the weekend, the festival will also be running a series of guided fossil walks.  There will also be a programme of talks and presentations given by leading scientists and academics.  A highlight will be the fossil polishing workshops planned by the Lyme Regis Museum, you can also pick up tips on how best to display your own fossil discoveries.  Local fossil expert Brandon Lennon has promised to send us some pictures, as our own teaching and field work commitments mean that we can’t make the festival this year, so disappointing, especially when Brandon tells us that there have been some exciting fossil finds over the winter and this spring.

Brandon explained:

“The winter storms and the high tides have battered the cliffs once again and there have been a large number of fossils washed out onto the foreshore, it looks like it is going to be a very exciting time to be visiting the Dorset coast looking for fossils and with the festival taking place there is going to be plenty of experts on hand to provide advice, support and assistance.”

One of the best ways to explore the geology of this beautiful part of the world, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is to participate in a guided fossil walk.  For further information on fossil walks and tours: Lyme Regis Fossil Walks

A Wonderful Family Friendly Festival

Prehistoric animal drawing fun at the Lyme Regis fossil festival.

Prehistoric animal drawing fun at the Lyme Regis fossil festival.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Commenting on the large number of august scientific institutions attending this year’s event, Heather Prior, the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival co-ordinator stated:

“Teams will also be attending from the Jurassic World Heritage Site, The Geological Society, Natural England and universities.  The festival will provide plenty of information and inspiration so that young people can learn about educational and career opportunities.”

Look out too for “Iggy the Iguanodon Restaurant” which is making its debut at the festival.  Iggy is a thirty foot long replica of a Victorian representation of Iguanodon, reminiscent of the Crystal Palace model constructed by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins.  This dinosaur (the second to be formally named), provides the stage for an innovative and educational piece of street theatre.  We suspect that the “restaurant” bit refers to the fact that a New Year’s Eve banquet was once held in part of the Iguanodon material destined for permanent display in the south of London.

To read more about this strange feast: Dinner Inside a Dinosaur

We at Everything Dinosaur would like to wish the organisers and everyone taking part in this year’s festival the very best of luck and we look forward to hearing more about the fun activities and events as well as posting up some pictures of this, the tenth, Lyme Regis Fossil Festival.

For further information on the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival and to view the programme of events: 2016 Lyme Regis Fossil Festival

19 04, 2016

Dinosaur Workshops from a Teaching Assistant Perspective

By | April 19th, 2016|Early Years Foundation Reception, General Teaching|Comments Off on Dinosaur Workshops from a Teaching Assistant Perspective

Teaching Assistants Praise Everything Dinosaur

A fairly local dinosaur workshop for Everything Dinosaur this morning, a visit to a Reception class in Cheshire, so not too early a start for our dinosaur experts.  We have visited this particular primary school on numerous occasions, delivering tactile fossil exploring sessions with the Reception-aged children as they are beginning the transition from free flow play to more task orientated learning.  It is always a pleasure to visit schools such as this, to meet the enthusiastic teaching team and to see the well-resourced classrooms packed full of examples of the children’s work.

Children and Dinosaurs – A Great Learning Combination

Children love dinosaurs, use them as they are a great educational resource.

Children love dinosaurs, use them as they are a great educational resource.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Feedback from a Teaching Assistant

As part of Everything Dinosaur’s continuous improvement strategy, we ask for feedback from teachers, teaching assistants and learning support providers.  We are always looking to see how we can improve our dinosaur workshops in schools to help maximise learning.

Below is a copy of the teaching feedback received today:

Five Stars for Dinosaur Workshop

Feedback from a Reception Teaching Assistant after a dinosaur workshop in school.

Feedback from a Reception Teaching Assistant after a dinosaur workshop in school.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Glad to see our work is so very much appreciated.

The Teaching Assistant wrote:

“This was an excellent session.  Mike [the Everything Dinosaur workshop leader],  kept the class completely engaged and involved, they enjoyed learning with him.  Mike is obviously incredibly knowledgeable and a particularly well-skilled presenter.  Mike’s reputation in school is amazing and well deserved.  Thank you!”

To learn more about Everything Dinosaur’s work with Reception-aged children and to contact us to request a quotation: Contact Everything Dinosaur

19 04, 2016

Congratulations to Palaeontologist Dean Lomax

By | April 19th, 2016|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Famous Figures, Main Page|0 Comments

Honorary Scientist at The University of Manchester Wins Award

Palaeontologist Dean Lomax, an honorary scientist at Manchester University has been awarded the prestigious Edward Forbes Prize by the Palaeontographical Society.  This annual award aims to encourage young palaeontologists (or those within ten years of completing their doctorate), and it recognises Dean’s contribution to the advancement of our knowledge about life in the past.  Established in 1847, the Palaeontographical Society promotes the publishing of monographs on British fossils as well as supporting taxonomic research into British fossil faunas and floras through its own research fund.

Dr. Paul Barrett (President of the Palaeontographical Society) Presents the Award to Dean

Dr. Paul Barrett congratulates Dean Lomax on his award.

Dr. Paul Barrett congratulates Dean Lomax on his award.

Picture: courtesy of Dean Lomax

It has been a busy twelve months for Dean, at the moment he is in the United States ready to start work on examining the fossils of a new dinosaur, but the Edward Forbes Prize was awarded to Dean principally in recognition for his work on a Jurassic marine vertebrate specimen that once resided in one of those places where one would least expect to make a scientific breakthrough concerning ancient sea creatures – Doncaster, located in the heart of South Yorkshire.

South Yorkshire’s Fossil Heritage

Doncaster may not readily spring to mind when it comes to Mesozoic fossils but a specimen of an Ichthyosaur thought to be replica residing in the collection of the Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery caught Dean’s attention.  The sub-adult, “fish lizard” turned out to be a new species and this led to Dean co-authoring a scientific paper on Ichthyosaurus anningae last year.  The trivial name honours Mary Anning, the 19th Century Lyme Regis-based fossil collector, who coincidently died the same year that the the Palaeontographical Society was founded.

To read more about the discovery of Ichthyosaurus anningaeNew Ichthyosaurus Species Honours Mary Anning

This is not the first time that talented Dean has had his research recognised by his peers.  Dean has recently received a multitude of awards, including the Marsh Award for Palaeontology (November, 2015), The School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Science (SEAES) Postgraduate Research Student Excellence Award (University of Manchester) – Best Contribution to Society for 2015 (November, 2015) and the Gold Medal (G.J. Mendel Award) – Set for Britain 2015 (March, 2015).

Dinosaurs of the British Isles

Readers of this blog, may already be quite familiar with Dean’s work.  Last August, he appeared in the two-part television documentary “Dinosaur Britain”, that explained the role of these islands in the history of dinosaur research.  The programmes were largely based on the highly acclaimed book “Dinosaurs of the British Isles” by Dean Lomax and Nobumichi Tamura.

If you have missed out on this excellent book all about British dinosaurs, it can be found here: Purchase “Dinosaurs of the British Isles” Courtesy of Siri Scientific Press

Dean Has Written a Book All 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

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur stated:

“Congratulations to Dean Lomax, it is always a pleasure to see that research is recognised in this way.  Palaeontology is blessed with a myriad of young, dedicated researchers just starting out on their careers and we predict exciting times ahead for Dean and his contemporaries.”

We suspect that Professor Edward Forbes himself, a palaeontologist and ardent supporter of the nascent Palaeontographical Society, would approve of Dean winning the award, after all, Professor Forbes spent much of his life studying the marine biology of the British Isles and he would have been very aware of the Ichthyosaur research undertaken by Conybeare, Georges Cuvier and Richard Owen.

18 04, 2016

Reception Teacher Thanks Everything Dinosaur

By | April 18th, 2016|Early Years Foundation Reception, General Teaching|Comments Off on Reception Teacher Thanks Everything Dinosaur

Thank You Everything Dinosaur

Last Friday saw Everything Dinosaur up in the Manchester area (north-west England) delivering a series of dinosaur and fossil themed workshops aimed at Reception-aged children.  Our visits certainly helped to inspire the three classes at Bowlee Park Community School who had just embarked on their dinosaur term topic.  Our objective was to provide a very tactile workshop aimed at both visual and kinaesthetic learners.  This well-resourced school had a super “digital den” that we were able to use for the day.  It felt quite surreal handling 180 million-year-old Ammonite fossils in such a futuristic setting.

Moving Fossils into the Digital Den at the Start of the Day

Everything Dinosaur prepares to deliver a fossil workshop in the futuristic "digital den".

Everything Dinosaur prepares to deliver a fossil workshop in the futuristic “digital den”.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Start of the Topic Provocation

Over the course of the day, our dinosaur expert delivered three workshops, each aimed at inspiring pupils and teachers alike.  They acted as a provocation to help “kick start” the dinosaur themed term topic.  Our workshop and the extra teaching resources we provided proved to be a big hit.

One of the Reception class teachers who had booked us emailed this morning to say:

“Thanks again for your workshops on Friday.  Both the children and staff thoroughly enjoyed the sessions and it was a wonderful start to our topic.  Also, thank you for taking the time to email me with resources for Tyler.  I have passed them onto Miss Pilkington (his teacher), who also sends her thanks.”

What resources did we email over especially for Tyler?  A Tylosaurus fact sheet and scale drawing of course.

To contact Everything Dinosaur to request information on our work in schools: Contact Everything Dinosaur

18 04, 2016

New Dinosaur Track Exhibit Opened at Moab (Utah)

By | April 18th, 2016|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Dinosaur Tracks and Other Trace Fossils on Display

After reporting on fossil thefts, vandalism and other sad incidents from the Moab area (Utah), it is a pleasure to write about the opening this month of a new dinosaur track and trace fossil trail.  In a short presentation, Bureau of Land Management personnel hosted the opening ceremony for the new trace fossil site, one that preserves life on an algae covered mudflat some 112 million years ago or thereabouts.  The new tourist attraction, named the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite Trail, features more than two hundred individual dinosaur prints, representing eight different types of tracks and some six different types of dinosaur.

Some of the Prehistoric Animal Tracks on the Trail

Trace fossils (dinosaur footprints) preserved at Moab (Utah).

Trace fossils (dinosaur footprints) preserved at Moab (Utah).

Picture Credit: Bureau of Land Management

Fossil Thefts and Vandalism

Sadly, over the years this blog has reported on the destruction of a number of the fossils found in this part of Grand County, eastern Utah.  For example, last year Everything Dinosaur reported on an aborted attempt to make copies of three-toed dinosaur tracks in the Moab area, this resulted in extensive damage to these rare dinosaur fossils: Dinosaur Tracks Vandalised, worse still, was the case of a dinosaur footprint theft from the Hell’s Trail location near to Moab, this print (another three-toed, tridactyl footprint) was never recovered, although an arrest was made and local Moab resident Jared Ehlers was sentenced to six months house arrest and one year of probation with a $15,000 USD fine.

To read the story of the dinosaur fossil footprint theft: Dinosaur Fossil Footprint Stolen

The Mudflats Preserve the Footprints and Trace Fossils from a Number of Prehistoric Animals Including Armoured Dinosaurs

An armoured dinosaur crossing the Moab (Utah) mudflats.

An armoured dinosaur crossing the Moab (Utah) mudflats.

Picture Credit: Brain Engh

A Unique Insight into Early Cretaceous North America

The strata forms part of the Ruby Ranch Member of the Cedar Mountain Formation, the mudstones were laid down in an inland floodplain environment with seasonal extremes of wet and dry.  A film of algae formed over the mudflats and it is thanks to this algal mat that the fine details of the trace fossils have been preserved.  Individual claw marks can be made out and there are other remarkable trace fossils too, such as the gashes in the mudstone, evidence of an ancient crocodile’s tail drag.

Ancient Crocodiles Thrived in this Lacustrine (Lake) Environment

The tail drag made by an ancient crocodile preserved in the Red Ruby mudstones of the Cedar Mountain Formation (Utah).

The tail drag made by an ancient crocodile preserved in the Ruby Ranch mudstones of the Cedar Mountain Formation (Utah).

Picture Credit: Bureau of Land Management

In the picture above the brushes and scale marker provide a visual guide to the size of the crocodile tail drag.

Commenting on the importance of the site and the vital role that the algae played in fossil preservation, Bureau of Land Management palaeontologist Rebecca Hunt-Foster stated:

“The algal mat that covered the mud helped to preserve the detail of the tracks when a finer-grained sediment washed over the mudflat.  This preserved the imprints in great detail, the algal covering helped to keep the finer details of the tracks, such as the impact rims made when the animals stepped into the soft mud, along with foot pad impressions, from being eroded away or damaged during this covering event.” 

2009 Discovery

The site was discovered in 2009, when a local person travelling over the area in a jeep noticed strange impressions on the ground.  Since 2013, a team of palaeontologists have been recording and mapping the location and thanks to funding from the Canyonlands Natural History Association, private donations and a contribution from the Bureau of Land Management itself, a tourist trail with dedicated walkways and helpful information boards has been established.  Dinosaur tracks include the large three-toed prints of a substantial Theropod, rounded tracks of a Sauropod, plus the tell-tale two-toed tracks of a big Dromaeosaur, something akin to a Utahraptor (U. ostrummaysorum) fossils of which are found in the older Yellow Cat Member of the Cedar Mountain Formation.

Visitors to the Site Can Use Walkways to Get Close to the Fossils

At least six different dinosaur tracks have been deciphered at Moab (Utah).

At least six different dinosaur tracks have been deciphered at Moab (Utah).

Picture Credit: Bureau of Land Management

The site is particularly important as it preserves activity (trace fossils) and very few body fossils of large vertebrates have been found in the Ruby Ranch Member, when compared to other parts of the Cedar Mountain Formation.  The trace fossils provide a guide to the dinosaur fauna that inhabited this part of the world during the latter stages of the Early Cretaceous.

Which Armoured Dinosaur(s)?

Intriguingly, the site preserves the tracks of an armoured dinosaur.  The rounded, five-toed prints are quite distinct and form parallel lines in the mudstone, where the slow moving, plodding dinosaur passed by.  Palaeontologists are not sure what type of armoured dinosaur made the prints, the strata is too old for it to represent the tracks made by a Sauropelta and although fossils of the polacanthid Gastonia have been found in Grand County, Utah, most of the fossil material ascribed to the only species assigned to the Gastonia genus (G. burgei) are associated with the older Yellow Cat Member.  The tracks could have been made by, an as yet, unnamed species of Gastonia or perhaps a different type of polacanthid altogether.

An Illustration of Gastonia (G. burgei)

Gastonia model (Collecta).

Gastonia model (CollectA).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“It is wonderful to be able to report on some positive news from Grand County, we wish the site’s management team every success and we hope that this remarkable window into the Early Cretaceous attracts lots of visitors and helps to preserve the amazing fossils to be found in this part of the western United States.”

17 04, 2016

Canadian Dinosaur Proves Dinosaurs were Show Offs

By | April 17th, 2016|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|1 Comment

Apatoraptor pennatus – Helps to Tie Together the Caenagnathidae

A University of Alberta PhD student working in collaboration with one of the world’s most respected palaeontologists has helped to unravel the connections between a bizarre toothless dinosaur from Alberta and its relatives from Asia.  In doing, so student Greg Funston was able to identify a new species of dinosaur, one that would have been at home in the steamy Late Cretaceous swamps that once covered southern Canada.  The new dinosaur has been named Apatoraptor pennatus, the genus name means “deceptive speedy thief”, as it was originally mistaken for another, more common dinosaur.

An Illustration of the New Feathered Dinosaur Apatoraptor pennatus

The presence of ulnar papillae on the ulna (bone of the forelimb) indicates the presence of long feathers on the arm.

The presence of ulnar papillae on the ulna (bone of the forelimb) indicates the presence of long feathers on the arm.

Picture Credit: Sydney Mohr

A near complete and partially articulated dinosaur specimen was discovered in 1993 by a field team exploring strata that makes up the Horseshoe Canyon Formation of southern Alberta.  The fossil material consisted of part of the lower jaw (mandible), articulated neck and back bones (cervical and dorsal vertebrae), elements from the forelimbs, a partial ilium (bone from the hip) and parts of the back legs.  Gastralia (stomach stones) were also found in association with the fossilised bones.  Although no traces of feathers were found with this specimen, marks on the ulna (a bone in the forearm), indicated that this 1.8 metre long dinosaur probably had feathers on its arms.

Misidentified as an Ornithomimidae Member

The fossil was originally thought to represent an ornithomimid (bird-mimic) dinosaur, as several genera of ornithomimid had been reported before (Ornithomimus, Struthiomimus and Dromiceiomimus).  As a result, the material was not studied extensively but stored at the Royal Tyrrell Museum (Drumheller, Alberta).  Much later the fossil was identified as a member of the Oviraptorosauria, a clade of very bird-like dinosaurs but ones that were not closely related to the ornithomimids – the bird-mimics.  Specifically, the fossil was assigned to the  Epichirostenotes genus (pronounced Ep-ee-ky-row-sten-oh-tees), a member of the enigmatic Caenagnathidae family.  Student Greg Funston, had the opportunity to conduct research on the bones as part of his PhD thesis and he began to realise that this specimen did not resemble other fossil material assigned to Epichirostenotes that he had examined previously.  Greg, with the support and collaboration of his PhD supervisor (Professor Phil Currie), concluded that this was indeed an example of a dinosaur more closely related to Oviraptor than to Ornithomimus,  but it was sufficiently different from Epichirostenotes to have a new genus – Apatoraptor erected.

Introducing the Caenagnathidae

The Oviraptorosauria are a clade of dinosaurs very closely related to modern birds.  They are part of a much larger group of dinosaurs the Maniraptora, which includes the sickle-toed, clawed “raptors” such as Deinonychus and Velociraptor.  The different dinosaur families that make up the Oviraptorosauria are usually split into two groups*:

  1. Caenagnathidae
  2. Oviraptoridae

*The classification of the Oviraptorosauria is controversial, most genera are only known from fragmentary remains and exact phylogenetic relationships are difficult to determine.

Caenagnathids (pronounced see-nag-na-fids) differ from oviraptorids in a number of ways.  There are differences in the jaws, the skulls tend not to be so deep and the finger proportions are different.  These and other subtle anatomical help to distinguish the two families.

A Simplified Cladogram Showing the Phylogenetic Relationship between the Caenagnathidae and the Oviraptoridae

A simplified cladogram of the Oviraptorosauria.

A simplified cladogram of the Oviraptorosauria.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A Feathered Dinosaur that Probably Liked to Display

A study of the arm bones of Apatoraptor revealed large muscle scars indicating that the relatively short arms were strong.  Prominent notches on the ulna (ulnar papillae) suggest that the arms possessed long, quill feathers.  Greg concluded that this dinosaur moved its arms quite vigorously, probably some form of display with its long feathered arms, perhaps these displays were used in mate selection or to intimidate potential predators.  As Apatoraptor pennatus fossil material represents the first articulated caenagnathid skeleton from anywhere in the world (meaning the bones are still in the same position as when the animal died) and is by far the most complete caenagnathid skeleton from Alberta.  Apatoraptor has helped palaeontologists to understand more about the taxonomic relationships within the Caenagnathidae.  It turns out that A. pennatus (the name means deceptive, winged speedy thief), may be more closely related to Asian dinosaurs than to other caenagnathids from North America.

Commenting upon the significance of this research, Greg stated:

“This is my first time naming a new dinosaur.  It’s really exciting on a personal level, but what I am most excited about is what it means for this field of palaeontology.  In future studies, it will help us to better understand these dinosaurs.  It’s a really important specimen, because it is a relatively complete skeleton. it helps resolve the relationships of caenagnathids, which have always been problematic.  Most caenagnathids are represented by isolated material or single bones, which means that we can’t tell if they came from the same animal.  Apatoraptor gives us a better idea of what these animals looked like, which tells us if the features we have been using to separate species are significant or not.”

Greg Funston with a Model of the Jawbone

Greg with a model of the Apatoraptor jawbone.

Greg with a model of the Apatoraptor jawbone.

Picture Credit: University of Alberta

Apatoraptor pennatus – A Prehistoric Heron?

Dating from around 70 million years ago (Maastrichtian faunal stage of the Late Cretaceous), Apatoraptor roamed the swamplands of southern Alberta.  The climate was sub-tropical and the region resembled the Florida Everglades of today.  It may have waded through shallow water feeding on crustaceans, fish and amphibians as well as grazing on water weeds.  It may have resembled a heron as it carefully picked its way through the water.  It was likely covered in a coat of shaggy feathers, although it was far to big to be able to fly.

Greg added:

“Oviraptorosaurs, the bigger group to which Apatoraptor and other caenagnathids belong, were probably some of the flashiest dinosaurs.  We know of three separate ways—head crests, tail feathers and now arm feathers—that they would display to their mates.”

16 04, 2016

Adding Another Diplodocus Drawing to our Portfolio

By | April 16th, 2016|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Drawings, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Everything Dinosaur Adds Another Diplodocus

There are a number of species assigned to the Diplodocus genus, at least three, but potentially there may be several more (nomen dubium, Seismosaurus and Amphicoelias notwithstanding).  Everything Dinosaur has commissioned almost as many Diplodocus illustrations as there were potential species.   Our latest Diplodocus drawing is going to be used in several projects including within an updated Diplodocus fact sheet (Diplodocus longus).

Everything Dinosaur’s Illustration of Diplodocus (D. longus)

A drawing of Diplodocus.

A drawing of Diplodocus.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Named As a Result of Its Tail

There are a few dinosaurs that have been named as result of their tails.  Diplodocus is one such dinosaur*.  Under a number of caudal vertebrae (tail bones), there was a length of bone that played a role in strengthening the extraordinarily long tail (estimated to have exceeded fifteen metres in length in some specimens) and protecting blood vessels.  This is the “double beam” that gave Diplodocus its name.  The first Diplodocus fossils were found in Colorado and this Sauropod dinosaur was named and described by the great American palaeontologist Othniel Charles Marsh (1877).

This quadrupedal herbivore may have been known to science for nearly 140 years but we thought it time to add a new Diplodocus drawing to our database.  Just as “Dippy” is relocated from the main, central gallery at the Natural History Museum (London), so we have added a new representation of this Sauropod to our collection of illustrations.

* Cauditeryx (Tail Feather) is another, can you name a dinosaur named from its tail?

15 04, 2016

All Eyes on Ancient Arachnid

By | April 15th, 2016|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Ancient “Spider” Reveals “Eye-opening” Secrets

Amazing three-dimensional images resulting from the interpretation of CT scans of a 305 million-year-old fossil have revealed that the forerunners of today’s arachnids had two sets of eyes rather than one.

Researchers from the University of Manchester, in collaboration with colleagues from the American Museum of Natural History (New York), say the highly magnified images reveal exquisite anatomical details not often found in invertebrate fossils.  Writing in the journal “Current Biology”, the scientists report that this research will add a great deal to the evolutionary story of the diverse and very successful group of Arthropods, the group that includes spiders, mites, scorpions, harvestmen and ticks.

A False Colour Image of the Prehistoric Arachnid H. argus

Hastocularis argus - an ancient harvestmen (arachnid) that had lateral eyes unlike modern harvestmen.

Hastocularis argus – an ancient harvestmen (arachnid) that had lateral eyes unlike modern harvestmen.

Picture Credit: Manchester University

Hastocularis argus

The specimen represents the primitive harvestman called Hastocularis argus.  The specimen is part of a collection of Late Carboniferous (Pennsylvanian Epoch), fossils from eastern France.  The CT scans and resulting computer generated images reveal that this tiny creature not only had median eyes (eyes found near the centre of the body), but eyes located on the side of the body as well (lateral eyes).

Commenting on the research, one of the co-authors of the scientific paper, Dr. Russell Garwood (University of Manchester) stated:

“Although they have eight legs, harvestmen are not spiders; they are more closely related to another arachnid, the scorpion.  Arachnids can have both median and lateral eyes, but modern harvestmen only possess a single set of median eyes – and no lateral ones.  These findings represent a significant leap in our understanding of the evolution of this group.”

Fossil Evidence Supported by Genetic Data

In order to confirm their analysis, the scientists examined the genes for the expression of eye stalks in extant harvestmen.  They found that modern harvestmen embryos had evidence of a “switched off” part of the genetic code that hinted at lateral eye formation.  Modern harvestmen have lost their lateral eyes, but the genetic evidence suggests that way back in the evolutionary history of these creepy-crawlies, lateral eyes were present.

Postdoctoral researcher, Prashant Sharma (American Museum of Natural History) commented:

“Terrestrial Arthropods like harvestmen have a sparse fossil record because their exoskeletons don’t preserve well.  As a result, some fundamental questions in the evolutionary history of these organisms remain unsolved.  This exceptional fossil has given us a rare and detailed look at the anatomy of harvestmen that lived hundreds of millions of years ago.  What we were also able to establish is that developing modern harvestmen embryos retain vestiges of eye-growth structures seen only in the fossil.”

Dr Garwood added:

“Harvestmen fossils preserved in three dimensions are quite rare and our X-ray techniques have allowed us to reveal this exceptional fossil in more detail than we would have dreamed possible just a couple of decades ago.”

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the help of a University of Manchester press release in the compilation of this article.

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