All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
//April
14 04, 2016

Heard the One About An Ancient Dolphin Ear Scan?

By | April 14th, 2016|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

CT Scan of Ancient Whale Reveals Evolution of Echolocation

There are many different types of dolphins, porpoises and toothed whales around today.  These sleek, marine mammals are characterised by their superb adaptations to their environment, social behaviours, their intelligence and also their ability to use a complex sensory system to make sense of their underwater world.  Modern toothed whales (Odontocetes), use sonar frequencies (echolocation) to communicate with each other, for navigation and to locate and capture prey.  These are the only marine mammals to have evolved the ability to hear and make sense of such high frequency sounds.  But how did this super sensitive system evolve?  This is a question that we are part way to solving thanks to a remarkable piece of research carried out by scientists at Monash University and  Museum Victoria (Australia).

An Illustration of a Prehistoric Whale – Dorudon

Digital painting and photographic composite showing Dorudon.

Fossils of ancient whales trace their evolution, but when did echolocation evolve?

Picture Credit:  Julius Csotonyi.

CT Scan of Oligocene Inner Ear Bone

In a paper published in the Royal Society’s journal “Biology Letters”, the researchers which included PhD student Travis Park (School of Biological Sciences, Monash University and Geosciences, Museum Victoria, both in Melbourne, Australia) explain how they borrowed a fossilised inner ear (cochlea) from the vertebrate fossil collection of the Smithsonian Institute and subjected the object to a CT scan (computerised tomography) to see inside and reveal the intricate structures that made up the hearing mechanism.

Student Travis Park Compares the Fossil Bone to the Inner Ear of an Extant Dolphin

The fossil cochlea (left) compared to the cochlea of a modern dolphin (right). Study suggests ancient toothed whales had echolocation.

The fossil cochlea (left) compared to the cochlea of a modern dolphin (right). Study suggests ancient toothed whales had echolocation.

Picture Credit: Ben Healley

Today’s dolphins and toothed whales produce high frequency sounds in their nasal passages.  These are transmitted through air sinuses and a specialised organ, the melon, which consists of a mass of fatty tissue.  It is the melon that propagates these sounds into the surrounding environment.  These sounds “bounce” of objects in the animal’s surroundings and the reflected signals reach the inner ear (cochlea) via acoustic fat pads that are located at the end of the lower jaw bone and the middle ear.  The CT scan produced a three-dimensional image of the cochlea and an assessment of the ancient creature’s hearing abilities could then be made using the cochlea of modern, extant dolphin as a benchmark.

The 26 million-year-old fossil ear bone from a xenorophid (one of the earliest Odontocetes known) revealed internal structures that were remarkably similar to those found in extant toothed whales.  The team concluded that ancient Oligocene whales had ears tuned for hearing high frequency sounds and therefore the ability to use echolocation.

A Computer Model Generated from the CT Scan Reveals the Intricate Structure

CT scan shows sophisticated cochlea of Oligocene fossil whale.

CT scan shows sophisticated cochlea of Oligocene fossil whale.

Picture Credit: Biology Letters

The picture above shows (a) the fossil bone with the inner ear structure superimposed on the transparent image, (b) a cross-sectional element from the CT scan showing key features of the inner ear.  Images (c) and (d) are computer models created from the CT scan that shows the shape and structure of the ancient cochlea.  From an assessment of the morphology and the structure of this cochlea, scientists have been able to determine the likely hearing abilities of the long extinct animal.

Commenting on the outcomes of the research, Travis Park stated:

“When I first looked at the inner ear of the xenorophid, I was blown away by just how similar this incredibly old toothed whale was to a modern echolocating dolphin.”

Intriguing Questions Remain

This means that even the most ancient ancestors of today’s toothed whales and dolphins had ears tuned for hearing high frequency sound, and therefore the ability to echolocate like their living relatives.  It is likely that echolocation evolved in the ancestral Odontocetes but the fossil record is incomplete and a number of tantalising questions remain, as explained by co-author of the study Dr. Erich Fitzgerald (Museum Victoria):

“Our paper shows even the earliest known fossil Odontocetes have all the tools for echolocation seen in living dolphins.  But they must have evolved from something that didn’t quite have all the tricks of the Odontocete trade.  What were those animals like and how did they start down the path to sonic super senses?  The quest for the origins of this extraordinary group of creatures continues.”

Plotting the Evolution of Echolocation in the Toothed Whales

Plotting the evolution of whale echolocation using a 26 million-year-old fossil inner ear bone.

Plotting the evolution of whale echolocation using a 26 million-year-old fossil inner ear bone.

Picture Credit: Biology Letters

The diagram above charts the evolution of the inner ear in cetaceans (whales).  The fossil bone used in the study has been assigned to the Xenorophidae family (fossil specimen used in the study is USNM-534010).  The researchers suggest that over millions of years, the inner ear of these creatures evolved into organs more capable of hearing high frequency sounds.

Everything Dinosaur has written a number of articles that feature the research of Dr. Fitzgerald (Senior Curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology at the Museum Victoria), he has certainly been involved in an eclectic range of studies including mapping Australia’s dinosaur diversity, looking at the origins of seals and examining the fossilised bones of a bird with “pseudo teeth” in its beak.

Australia’s diverse dinosaurs: Australia – A Dinosaur Melting Pot

The first seals of Australia: Australia’s First Seal – A Pliocene Pinniped

Giant bird with a toothy grin: Giant “Toothed” Birds Once Soared Over Australia

13 04, 2016

Polish Scientists Identify Potential Organic Remains in Triassic Fossils

By | April 13th, 2016|General Teaching, Key Stage 3/4|Comments Off on Polish Scientists Identify Potential Organic Remains in Triassic Fossils

Proteins Identified in Blood Vessels

A team of Polish scientists including researchers from the Polish Academy of Sciences have published a paper detailing the potential discovery of organic materials including collagen inside the fossilised bones of ancient reptiles that once roamed the coastline of the Tethys Ocean.

Writing in the on line, open access journal “PLOS One”, the researchers used a variety of highly sophisticated analytical methods to identify the minute quantities of organic material inside the preserved blood vessels within limb bones of Nothosaurs and preserved within the back bone (centrum) of a bizarre, long-necked reptile (Protanystropheus).

Mineralised Blood Vessels (High Magnification) but Tubular Structure is Maintained

Evidence of blood vessels and other biomolecular structures found in fossils.

Evidence of blood vessels and other biomolecular structures found in fossils.

Picture Credit: PLOS One

The research methods used included X-ray photo-electron spectroscopy (XPS), an environmental scanning electron microscope (ESEM) and fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR).  Some of the blood vessels even retained their tubular appearance under extreme magnification, quite remarkable when the fossils have been dated to around 247 million years ago (Early Triassic).  This discovery provides the oldest evidence to date of the preservation of complex organic molecules within vertebrate fossils excavated from marine sediments.

Explaining the significance of the team’s findings, one of the authors of the scientific report,  Dr. Andrzej Boczarowski (Faculty of Earth Science, University of Silesia) said:

“Among other proteins, we managed to find collagen, one of the most important proteins in the bodies of animals in general and vertebrates in particular.”

Members of this research team, had some years earlier, identified potential organic material in the fossilised bones of dinosaurs excavated from sites in the Gobi Desert.

Increasing Evidence

Despite many similar results having been dismissed due to contamination during sampling or due to the presence of bacteria skewing the results, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that some organic traces of long extinct creatures can persist in the fossil record, especially if the fossilisation process occurs rapidly.

13 04, 2016

JurassicCollectables Wild Safari Models Unboxing

By | April 13th, 2016|Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur videos, Main Page, Photos of Everything Dinosaur Products|0 Comments

Wild Safari Carcharodontosaurus, Masiakasaurus, Iguanodon and Shunosaurus Unboxing

The latest video from JurassicCollectables features a number of Wild Safari Prehistoric World animal models, mainly dinosaurs but the excellent Doedicurus replica, a re-issue of the glyptodont model that was retired by Safari Ltd a few years ago now, does make a brief appearance.  Team members at Everything Dinosaur carefully packed up the new for 2016 models and this video is an “unboxing video” with the narrator giving the viewer the opportunity to see the models as they come out of the packaging.

The Safari Ltd Models Unboxing Video by JurassicCollectables

Video Credit: JurassicCollectables

The video is around seven and a half minutes in duration and it does provide a wonderful opportunity to view Safari Ltd models close up.  There is also a fleeting appearance of the 1:40 CollectA feathered Tyrannosaurus rex model that we sent JurassicCollectables.  This particular Theropod replica was reviewed a few weeks ago, if you haven’t had chance to see this video, we do recommend it and you can catch it here: CollectA 1:40 Scale T. rex Dinosaur Models and a JurassicCollectables Video Review.

New for 2016 Wild Safari Prehistoric World Models Examined

The video provides a detailed view of each of the new for 2016 dinosaur models, the eagerly anticipated Carcharodontosaurus,  the snaggle-toothed Masiakasaurus, a stunning Iguanodon and Shunosaurus, one of the most remarkable members of the Early Jurassic Sauropoda.  Safari Ltd are to be congratulated for adding such a diverse set of models to their award winning model range.  The excellent lighting and clear narration provides the viewer with a comprehensive overview of each model.

To see the complete Wild Safari Prehistoric World range available from Everything Dinosaur: Wild Safari Prehistoric World and Rare Carnegie Collection Replicas

With the retirement of the “Carnegie Dinosaurs”, a range or prehistoric animal models that were approved by the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Safari Ltd have been able to concentrate on extending their not to scale collection and we can expect a number of new additions to this diverse model range over the next few years.  We at Everything Dinosaur, predict exciting times ahead for the Florida based manufacturer.

Some of the Dinosaur Models Featured in the Unboxing Video

New dinosaur models for 2016.

New dinosaur models for 2016.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The JurassicCollectables YouTube channel is packed with lots of well made and very informative dinosaur and prehistoric animal videos, if you have not already checked out this most impressive YouTube site we urge you to take a look and to subscribe: Check out the JurassicCollectables YouTube Channel

12 04, 2016

Everything Dinosaur and STEM Workshops

By | April 12th, 2016|Educational Activities, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page, Teaching|0 Comments

Everything Dinosaur and STEM Workshops

Now that the STEM directories are being run by such a prestigious scientific body as the Royal Institution, Everything Dinosaur team members have been giving the dinosaur and fossil themed workshops that feature in this national directory a bit of a spring clean.  STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths and the aim of the STEM members is to help to promote the teaching of these disciplines in schools.

Everything Dinosaur Offers a Variety of Dinosaur and Fossil Workshops for Schools

Dinosaur Detectives - one of the exciting school workshops offered by Everything Dinosaur.

Dinosaur Detectives – one of the exciting school workshops offered by Everything Dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

There are a wide variety of both in-school and excursion activities listed, covering all aspects of scientific endeavour as well as engineering and mathematics.  Our team members have been giving our workshops their annual check up, making sure all that helpful information (and contact details) are up to date.

Take for example one of our workshops aimed at school children between the ages of 9 and 11 – “Dinosaur Detectives”, which gives Key Stage 2 and 3 students the opportunity to study a real set of dinosaur fossilised tracks preserved in sediments located in Utah (USA).

Outline of the Workshop

Become a dinosaur detective in this fun and interactive session that introduces the concept of working scientifically.  Learn what fossils can tell us about life in the past and explore a strange and mysterious set of fossilised tracks that lead you on a journey of discovery all about evolution.  Can you become a dinosaur detective and solve the mystery?

Typical Session Activities

•Fossil handling and exploration
•Learning about palaeontology and the sort of work undertaken by palaeontologists
•An introduction to evolution and how organisms change over time
•What fossils can tell us about prehistoric life
•Interpreting information and gathering evidence from fossils
•Exploring a set of Early Jurassic fossilised footprints (working scientifically)

Lots of Tactile Fossil Handling in the Workshops

Lots of fossil handling in the Everything Dinosaur workshop.

Lots of fossil handling in the Everything Dinosaur workshop.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Learning Outcomes

The workshop is designed to reinforce learning associated with KS2 elements of the science curriculum with a focus on evolution, inheritance, climate change, adaptation and extinction. This is an active session that involves extensive participation, collaborative learning and reinforces key learning concepts.  The workshop reinforces the concept of scientific working, exploring evidence and interpreting information to formulate theories.  Students and teachers benefit from the chance to meet and engage with professionals from a scientific background.

Additional Information

Exploring trace fossils with Everything Dinosaur

Subjects Covered: Mathematics, General Science

Running time: 1-4 hours approximately

Ages 5-7 years old, 7-11 years old (Key Stages one and two)

To contact Everything Dinosaur to request more information/quotation: Contact Everything Dinosaur Request a Quotation

Note: Costs vary depending on location of school

11 04, 2016

Triassic Fossils Shed Light on Dinosaur Growth Rates

By | April 11th, 2016|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Triassic Fossil Study Suggests Fossil Size a Poor Predictor of Maturity in Ancient Reptiles

Scientists at the Department of Geosciences at Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, Virginia, USA), have published a paper in the “Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology”, that challenges some of the long-held assumptions about the growth of ancient reptiles.  Using an analysis of muscle tissue scars preserved on fossil limb bones combined with cross-sectional bone studies to examine growth and the age of individuals, the researchers conclude that dinosaurs and their close relatives within the Archosauria had much more variation in growth patterns than expected.  The growth variation does not seem to be linked to gender.

Size of the Fossil Bone May Not be Directly Linked to the Maturity of the Animal

A study of the bones of the Triassic reptile Asilisaurus.

A study of the bones of the Triassic reptile Asilisaurus.

Picture Credit: Virginia Tech

Lead author of the scientific paper Christopher Griffin is pictured above holding two differently sized leg bones (femora) of Asilisaurus kongwe the study suggests that bone size is not a good indicator of animal maturity.

Asilisaurus kongwe – On the Road to the Dinosaurs

Fossils of the silesaurid Asilisaurus kongwe were used in the study.  Sufficient fossil material had been excavated over the course of nearly ten years of field trips to the Middle Triassic sediments of Tanzania to provide a suitable sample set and this little carnivore was, most likely an ancestor of the Dinosauria.  It has been assigned to the Dinosauriforms, a clade of Archosaurs that gave rise to the dinosaurs and the birds.  The researchers found that when they examined the large number of bones associated with this species, they found that mature, adult bone size did not uniformly split into two distinct groups (male and female).  Instead, they found much more variation in bone size.  It might be difficult to apply this research to the whole of the Dinosauria, but as co-author Professor Sterling Nesbitt states:

“The earliest dinosaurs grew just like their closest relatives, and there are very few features that make dinosaurs unique from their closest relatives.”

If this is the case, then the Asilisaurus study could shed light on the growth habits (ontogeny), of the dinosaurs, at least the first types of dinosaur that evolved a few million years after Asilisaurus roamed Africa.

An Illustration of Asilisaurus kongwe

Depicted as a lithe, agile, active animal.

Depicted as a lithe, agile, active animal.

Picture Credit: Andrey Atuchin

The large sample size (most silesaurids and early dinosaurs for that matter are known from highly fragmentary fossil material), permitted the scientists to study several individual specimens that appeared to be more mature than larger specimens and individuals of the same approximate size that appeared to be a different stages of growth.  Analysis of the scars found on the surface of the bones where tendons and muscles once attached and cross-sectional studies showing the internal structure of the bone itself, allowed the scientists to plot changes in the anatomy and bone tissue.  The researchers found that although the sample set lived roughly at the same time and in the same location, they grew differently from each other.

Think of the analogy of a modern family with siblings and cousins of different heights and weights.

The more mature an individual was at death, the larger its bone scars appeared.  As with any animal or person, an individual skeleton goes from possessing few scars to possessing many during life, with scars appearing in a particular order as the age of the individual increases.

Size is Probably a Poor Predictor of Skeletal Maturity in Silesaurids

The researchers conclude that except for the smallest and largest individuals in the study (the least and most mature respectively), size of bones is probably a poor predictor of skeletal maturity in Asilisaurus and therefore, probably in other silesaurids and ultimately the early members of the Dinosauria as well.

Commenting on the implications for this research, Master’s student Christopher Griffin explained:

“Our study includes more individuals and more bone scars and with this increase in sample size we found that individuals fall on a trajectory that is more similar to maturity difference.  This suggests that similar variation in bone scars in early dinosaurs is variation in growth not male and female difference.  Because this variation appears to be widespread among early dinosaurs and their closest relatives, it is likely that high variation in growth between individuals characterised the most recent common ancestor of Asilisaurus and all dinosaurs.”

Articulating the Fossils of an Individual (Asilisaurus kongwe)

Fossil material laid out to represent Asilisaurus (femora labelled).

Fossil material laid out to represent Asilisaurus (femora labelled).

Picture Credit: Virginia Tech with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur (note the skull to the left of the picture is a model)

The growth rates of early, rapidly diverging ancestral dinosaurs is very poorly understood.  This study that assessed the thigh bones (femora) of Asilisaurus kongwe provides an opportunity to examine in detail the ontogeny of one of the closest known relatives of the Dinosauria.

Everything Dinosaur has written about the discovery of Asilisaurus, to read the article: Dinosaurs Around Ten Million Years Earlier than Previously Thought

Everything Dinosaur recognises the help of Virginia Tech in the compilation of this article.

10 04, 2016

Spectroscopic Studies on Organic Matter from Triassic Reptile Bones

By | April 10th, 2016|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

More Evidence of Organic Matter Preserved in the Mesozoic Fossil Record

Over the last few years, Everything Dinosaur has reported on a number of fascinating research projects from around the world that suggest that there may be more to the fossil record than first meets the eye.  As more and more sophisticated research methodologies are employed, so there has been an exponential increase in our understanding of ancient life.  On of the most controversial areas of research are those studies concerning the finding and identification of traces of organic material preserved in the fossilised bones of long-dead animals.  A team of Polish scientists have recently published in the on line academic journal “PLOS One” a paper detailing the discovery of blood vessels and traces in protein in the bones of Triassic reptiles.

As far as we are aware at Everything Dinosaur, this is the oldest organic material identified to date.

One of the Fossil Limb Bones Used in the Study

One of the limb bones used in the study of Triassic vertebrates from Poland.

One of the limb bones used in the study of Triassic vertebrates from Poland.

The scientists, which include researchers from the University of Silesia (Faculty of Earth Science), Jagiellonian University and the Polish Academy of Sciences report on the finding of preserved blood-vessel-like structures enclosing organic molecules that could be amino acids and fragments of other proteins including fibrils of collagen.   It is thought that the organic material had been preserved in the 247 million-year-old specimens as the bones were rapidly mineralised.

The Shores of the Ancient Tethys Ocean

For much of the Early and Middle Triassic, the central northern portions of Europe, including the countries of Poland and Germany were submerged under a shallow sea (the western edge of the mighty Tethys Ocean).  The limestone strata that was formed during this time preserve evidence of a rich and varied vertebrate fauna as a number of different types of diapsid reptile lived on the shoreline.  The most common large vertebrate fossils are Nothosaurs and the evidence of organic material preservation came from a study of Nothosaur limb bones.  In addition, the fossilised vertebrae (specifically a centrum) of an as yet unidentified Protanystropheus species was also studied.

A Model of a Triassic Marine Reptile a Nothosaurus

One of the models in the Safari Prehistoric Sealife Toob.

One of the models in the Safari Prehistoric Sealife Toob.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Protanystropheus is a member of the Tanystropheidae family of Archosauromorphs, a strange group of reptiles characterised by extremely long and stiff necks that in some species represent more than half their entire body length.  It is likely that both Nothosaurs and Protanystropheus were fish-eaters (piscivores).

An Illustration of a Typical Member of the Tanystropheidae (T. longobardicus)

A drawing of the bizarre Triassic reptile Tanystropheus.

A drawing of the bizarre Triassic reptile Tanystropheus.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Finding Fossil Biomolecules

The team, some of which had identified potential organic material in the fossilised remains of dinosaurs from the Gobi Desert, used an array of advanced and highly sophisticated research methods to identify the biomolecules.  The team used several analysis methods including X-ray photo-electron spectroscopy (XPS), an environmental scanning electron microscope (ESEM) and fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR).  Amino acids including hydroxyproline and hydroxylysine were found.  This discovery provides the oldest evidence yet of preservation of complex organic molecules in vertebrate remains from a marine environment.

Commenting on the team’s findings researcher Dr. Andrzej Boczarowski (Faculty of Earth Science, University of Silesia) stated:

“Among other proteins, we managed to find collagen, one of the most important proteins in the bodies of animals in general and vertebrates in particular.”

Highly Magnified Images Showing Demineralised Blood Vessels from the Fossil Material

Organic matter potentially identified in Triassic vertebrae fossils.

Organic matter potentially identified in Triassic vertebrae fossils.

Picture Credit: PLOS One

The pictures above show some of the images of demineralised blood vessels identified from the fossil samples.

  • Picture (a) – parallel-orientated fossilised blood vessels from the Protanystropheus centrum.
  • Picture (b) – fossilised “floating” blood vessels from the Protanystropheus centrum revealed during the demineralisation process (removing the calcium in a EDTA solution).
  • Picture (c) – and ESEM image of branching (bifurcated) blood vessels mounted on a carbon conductive tab – this organic material was identified from a Nothosaurus femur.
  • Pictures (d, e and f) – stereoscopic microscopic images of isolated branch-like blood vessels from the Nothosaurus femur.

Highly Magnified Fragment of Mineralised Blood Vessel with Tubular Morphology Preserved

Highly magnified image of a blood vessel-like object showing preservation of tube shape.

Highly magnified image of a blood vessel-like object showing preservation of tube shape.

Picture Credit: PLOS One

The picture above shows three ESEM images (g) a potential blood vessel mounted on a carbon conductive tab, (h) mineralised blood vessel showing preservation of a tubular shape from the Nothosaurus femur and (i) an image of a mineralised, damaged wall of a blood vessel from the Protanystropheus centrum.

Complex molecular analysis using highly sophisticated research techniques has yielded evidence of organic material in a number of Pleistocene specimens.  Some organic material including the remnants of blood vessels and collagen has been reported in studies of Cretaceous aged fossil material, but such findings have been questioned and contamination or an infiltration of bacteria have been put forward as more likely sources of organic material.  However, this new study further extends the age range of such potential organic material discoveries and may provide palaeontologists with further insight with regards to the biology of Early Triassic diapsid reptiles.

9 04, 2016

The Papo Baryonyx “The Marmite Model”

By | April 9th, 2016|Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur Products, Photos of Everything Dinosaur Products|0 Comments

The New Papo Baryonyx Divides Opinions

The new for 2016 Papo Baryonyx dinosaur model has been in stock at Everything Dinosaur for about a month now and team members have been monitoring the feedback and model reviews that we have received.  The figure measures an impressive thirty-three centimetres long and that head is approaching seventeen centimetres high, however, some dinosaur model collectors have found it difficult to come to terms with the very distinctive look that Papo have chosen to give this Theropod.

The Papo Baryonyx Dinosaur Model Divides Opinions

Available from Everything Dinosaur in a few weeks.

Available from Everything Dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A “Marmite Model”

This replica is one of the largest models that Papo intend to release in 2016, it certainly is a very striking figure with its row of spikes running down its back from the long neck to the tip of the tail.  Some collectors have suggested that the chosen colour scheme with half the model painted with brown stripes overlying battleship grey and the orange top line, is just a little too showy and elaborate, some have even termed the paint scheme as “positively garish”.  One thing is for sure, the Papo Baryonyx certainly stands out from the crowd, particularly when the more toned down greens and browns of the Papo tyrannosaurids and the Papo Spinosaurus are considered.

Those clever people at JurassicCollectables provided a very insightful guide to this dinosaur model in their recent video review.  Everything Dinosaur featured this video in an earlier blog post, to see the video and the accompanying article click the link: JurassicCollectables Reviews the Papo Baryonyx

The “Wet Look” Dinosaur

The finish applied to the top half of the Baryonyx gives the model a sheen, an almost “wet look”.  This has been commented upon by many collectors, it may not be to everyone’s taste but it is very likely that Baryonyx made its home in low-lying flood plains with extensive rivers and many lakes in the vicinity and as a piscivore (fish-eater), it would have been very much at home in or near water.

Baryonyx May Have Specialised in Eating Fish

Papo Baryonyx dinosaur model - available from Everything Dinosaur.

Papo Baryonyx dinosaur model – available from Everything Dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Correct Anatomical Features

The tripodal stance might annoy some, but there is a lot to admire in terms of the way in which the known anatomy of this Early Cretaceous dinosaur is reflected in the model.  For example, the nostrils are in the approximate correct place and the first digit has a large and strongly recurved claw (the thumb claw).  In addition, the jaw is elongated and care has been taken to give the upper jaw that distinctive notch.   The paintwork on the skull and in the very large mouth is quite exquisite, although we remain uncertain as to how wide this dinosaur could gape.  The folds of skin under the jaw give the impression that this dinosaur may have had a throat pouch, something that a number of palaeontologists have speculated upon.

To purchase the Papo Baryonyx and other prehistoric animal models in the Papo range: Papo Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animal Models

Manipulation of the Feet to Improve the Stance

Some models, with a little bit of care and persuasion can stand and support themselves without the tip of the tail resting on the ground.  We have heard of dinosaur model fans using hair dryers or hot water treatment to make the lower legs more pliable and then have them manipulated so that they can provide more support.  We note the pads on the bottom of the feet are somewhat splayed out, this will help with stability as well as giving the impression that this heavy biped was well adapted to walking on soft mud.

The new for 2016 Papo Baryonyx model has got people talking, that in itself is not a bad thing.  We have nicknamed this dinosaur the “marmite model” as some people love it some people dislike it.

We would love to hear what you think about it.

9 04, 2016

Stolen Dinosaur Fossils Repatriated to Mongolia

By | April 9th, 2016|General Teaching, Key Stage 3/4|Comments Off on Stolen Dinosaur Fossils Repatriated to Mongolia

Victory Against Illegal Fossil Smuggling

A ceremony was held this week in New York to mark the return of twenty-three dinosaur fossils to Mongolia.  Investigators from U.S. Immigration and Customs were able to retrieve the illegally smuggled fossils, from Wyoming and from New York, the specimens were handed over to officials representing the Mongolian government.

A Fossil of the Basal Horned Dinosaur Protoceratops Handed Over to Mongolian Officials

Part of the haul of 23 dinosaur fossils returned to Mongolia.

Part of the haul of 23 dinosaur fossils returned to Mongolia.

Picture Credit: U.S. Immigration and Customs

 It has been illegal for many years for such important artefacts to leave Mongolia, however, despite stringent attempts by the authorities fossil smuggling, especially dinosaur fossil smuggling is rife.  Smugglers, excavators and middle men can earn thousands of U.S. dollars via the black market in rare items such as dinosaur skulls, fossil eggs and dinosaur bones.

One of the exhibits being returned is a beautifully preserved dinosaur nest containing fourteen little dinosaur eggs (see picture below)

The Protoceratops Dinosaur Nest Being Repatriated to Mongolia

A nest of dinosaur eggs being returned to Mongolia by U.S. Customs officials.

A nest of dinosaur eggs being returned to Mongolia by U.S. Customs officials.

Picture Credit: U.S. Immigration and Customs

Many of the items have been extensively prepared and mounted ready for display in private collections.  Commenting on the success of the fossil recovery operation a spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur stated:

“We would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all the parties involved in achieving such a successful conclusion to this investigation.  International co-operation and understanding is helping to stem the flow of illegal fossils being smuggled out of Mongolia.

The haul also contains the mounted skull of a member of the Tyrannosauridae (Tyrannosaur family), the dinosaur concerned is Alioramus remotus, this lightly-built predator is only known from a few fragmentary, scrappy remains so the return of skull material to Mongolia, permitting scientists to study this fossil in detail is particularly significant.

The Alioramus remotus Skull Being Repatriated to Mongolia

Part of a dinosaur fossil haul being repatriated to Mongolia.

Part of a dinosaur fossil haul being repatriated to Mongolia.

Picture Credit: U.S. Immigration and Customs

8 04, 2016

New Model to Help Find Fossils

By | April 8th, 2016|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Serendipity Taken Out of Fossil Finding

Very often a major fossil find is attributed to serendipity, someone being in the right place at the right time.  Even the most experienced palaeontologist needs a little bit of luck, take for example the discovery of the ancient hominin Homo floresiensis on the Indonesian island of Flores.  Had the research team excavated an area just one metre either side of that part of the cave they did excavate they would never have found the beautifully preserved skull and partial skeleton of an individual (the holotype LB-1).  Yes, “lady luck” does play a part in many new scientific discoveries.  However, an international team of scientists, including researchers from the University of Adelaide, have created a mathematical model to help fossil hunters find the remains of long-extinct animals.

Combining Scientific Disciplines to Predict Where Fossils Can Be Found

The international team, that included researchers from Kiel University (Germany), as well as Australia, looked at the estimated ages of the fossils from a number of extinct Australian megafauna and plotted known fossil find locations for these creatures against data for the prehistoric climate of Australia.  This provided a guide to the maximum likely ranges of the animals in the study.  This information was then mapped against the geology of Australia to provide an indication of what suitably aged, likely fossil bearing strata was exposed.  Weighting for the erosion potential of the rocks was built into the mathematical model and this data set could then be used to help determine the best areas in the country to look for the animal’s fossil remains.

A paper detailing the research has been published in the on line journal PLOS One, the research team confidently state that their model can provide fossil hunters with guidelines on how to find fossils elsewhere in the world too.

Determining the Best Places to Hunt for Fossils

Combining palaeoclimate data with erosion studies and known fossil finds to predict where fossils can be found.

Combining palaeo-climate data with erosion studies and known fossil finds to predict where fossils can be found.

Picture Credit: Sebastián Block, Frédérik Saltré,  Marta Rodríguez-Rey, Damien A. Fordham, Ingmar Unkel, Corey J. A. Bradshaw

The picture above provides an illustration of how the mathematical model was constructed and how to implement it.  For any given type of extinct animal (in this example, the giant marsupial Diprotodon), the red map at the bottom shows the likely places to hunt for fossils of that animal.  The darker the red shading the more likely that location is to be a “fossil finding hot spot”.   The red map has been created by looking at certain variables, namely:

  • Where the animal used to live – a map created by assessing ancient climate data and known fossil finds (the brown map).
  • Where the fossils could be preserved – using an assessment of the geology of the local area (blue map).
  • Where it is now possible to find the fossils of that particular animal, building in an assessment of erosion profiles of the likely fossil bearing strata (green map).

The scientists are confident that this systematic approach to fossil finding is more likely to be successful than random approaches to fossil hunts, even out-doing sophisticated approaches such as using satellite data to identify likely fossil bearing outcrops and exposures.

Five genera of Late Pleistocene megafauna were selected for this study.  All had an extensive and relatively widely distributed fossil record on the continent and since all had become extinct relatively recently there was plenty of evidence to support an assessment of the ancient climate.  The creatures studied were Thylacoleo (the marsupial lion), Protemnodon (a giant wallaby), the cow-sized, giant marsupial  Zygomaturus, the flightless bird Genyornis and Diprotodon, the largest marsupial known to science.

Diprotodon Played a Role in the Study

Diprotodonts - Giant Marsupials

Diprotodon – A Giant Marsupial.

Picture Credit: Australian Museum/James King

Although all these five genera are unique to Australia, the scientists had sufficient fossils to create an accurate map of the creatures prehistoric distribution.

Commenting on the reasoning behind their model, project leader, Professor Corey Bradshaw, (Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change at the University of Adelaide) stated:

“A chain of ideal conditions must occur for fossils to form, which means they are extremely rare, so finding as many as possible can tell us more of what the past was like, and why certain species went extinct.  Typically, however, we use haphazard ways to find fossils.  Mostly people just go to excavation sites and surrounding areas where fossils have been found before.  We hope our models will make it easier for palaeontologists and archaeologists to identify new fossil sites that could yield vast treasures of prehistoric information.”

Lead author of the scientific paper Sebastián Block explained that the team made use of modelling techniques already used widely in ecology.  They looked at the past distribution of these prehistoric genera, where fossils were likely to have formed and the probability of making field discoveries.  The model may not make the back-breaking work of excavating fossils any easier, but at least palaeontologists will be looking in the most likely places.

The Probability of Finding Fossils

Combining disciplines increases the probability of finding fossils.

Combining disciplines increases the probability of finding fossils.

Graph Credit: Sebastián Block, Frédérik Saltré,  Marta Rodríguez-Rey, Damien A. Fordham, Ingmar Unkel, Corey J. A. Bradshaw

The bar chart above shows how the model increases the likelihood of fossil discovery for the five genera studied.  The chances of finding a fossil of that particular genus compared to a random search is plotted on the vertical (Y axis).  The blue bars represent the probability of finding a fossil based on an assessment of ancient climate.  The green bars show the probability of a successful fossil hunt using just geological data and erosion assessments.  The red bars show the increased likelihood of success after the application of the variables used in this assessment (ancient climate, preservation potential and known discoveries).  The dashed line outlines the probability of finding a fossil using a random search in a known fossil bearing locality.

Likely Fossil Preservation Sites Accounted For

The team added into their data relevant predictors for the likelihood of fossil discoveries.  For example, many Late Pleistocene fossils are found in caves so the number of caves in the areas studied were also plotted.  In addition, as Australian megafauna (indeed most terrestrial animal fossils), are found in association with ancient lakes and rivers, areas where sedimentary material can be built up were given greater weighting as indeed were areas that tended to be more open and devoid of extensive plant cover as this would make fossil finding easier.

Using the model, likely fossil “hot spots” identified include the area south of Lake Eyre (South Australia), the land to the west of Lake Torrens (also South Australia) and the Shark Bay locality in Western Australia.

Kiel University’s Professor Ingmar Unkel added:

“Our methods predict potential fossil locations across an entire continent, which is useful to identify potential fossil areas far from already known sites.  It’s a good “exploration filter”; after which remote-sensing approaches and fine-scale expert knowledge could compliment the search.”

Luck will still play a role in fossil discoveries but at least this mathematical model helps to swing the odds in the scientists favour.

7 04, 2016

Stolen Dinosaur Fossils Returned to Mongolia

By | April 7th, 2016|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Looted Dinosaur Fossils Returned Home to Mongolia

This week saw another success in the fight against illegal fossil smuggling and the black market in rare artefacts such as prehistoric animal fossils.  Officials from the U.S. Immigration and Customs returned a number of dinosaur skeletons and other fossils to the Mongolian government.  In a ceremony held in New York, investigators from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) handed over fossils that had been recovered from Wyoming and the “big apple”.

An Articulated Psittacosaurus Dinosaur Skeleton Part of the Haul Being Repatriated

A Psittacosuaurus skeleton part of a haul being returned to Mongolia.

A Psittacosaurus skeleton part of a haul being returned to Mongolia.

Picture Credit: ICE

A law passed in the 1920’s forbids the removal of artefacts deemed to be of significant cultural value from Mongolia, the returned items include nearly complete skeletons of the basal horned dinosaurs Protoceratops and Psittacosaurus, along with a beautifully preserved nest of Protoceratops eggs.  In addition, the fossils of the duck-billed dinosaur Bactrosaurus and the skull of a tyrannosaurid Alioramus as well as the skull of Psittacosaurus were returned.

Commenting on the significance of the returns, Peter Edge, (HSI’s Executive Associate Director) stated:

“Today’s ceremony is an excellent demonstration of the co-operation between HSI, our colleagues at the Department of Justice and our foreign counterparts with the Government of Mongolia.  A successful repatriation requires extensive co-operation among all parties involved, which is rewarded by the knowledge that we’ve returned what rightfully belongs to the people of Mongolia.”

Building on the Success of the Tarbosaurus bataar Repatriation

U.S. customs most noteworthy success came in 2013 with the high profile repatriation of a mounted Tarbosaurus bataar skeleton that had originally been put up for auction in New York the year before.  Tarbosaurus, like Alioramus was a member of the Tyrannosauridae family, this case resulted in the prosecution and eventual jailing of Florida fossil dealer Eric Prokopi.

To read more about this:  American Fossil Dealer Jailed for Dinosaur Smuggling

The Tarbosaurus case brought to the world’s attention the problem of illegal fossil dealing, it laid the foundation for much greater co-operation between governments and other federal bodies and sent a very clear message to the unscrupulous dealers and their middle men.  In this latest ceremony, a total of twenty-three dinosaur fossils were handed over to the Mongolian government.

The Mounted Skeleton of the Hadrosaur Bactrosaurus

Bactrosaurus fossils repatriated to Mongolia

Bactrosaurus fossils repatriated to Mongolia

Picture Credit: ICE

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“We would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all the parties involved in achieving such a successful conclusion.  These efforts will further strengthen cross-border co-operation and bilateral ties between nations as authorities attempt to reduce the level of fossil smuggling and the illegal removal and export of rare artefacts from Asia.”

An Almost Complete Protoceratops Skeleton

Protoceratops fossil skeleton returned to Mongolia.

Protoceratops fossil skeleton returned to Mongolia.

Picture Credit: ICE

HSI’s specially trained investigators, assigned to both domestic and international offices, partner with governments, agencies and experts to protect cultural antiquities.  They also train investigators from other nations and agencies to investigate crimes involving stolen property and art, and how to best enforce the law to recover these items when they emerge in the marketplace.  Those involved in the illicit trafficking of cultural property, art and antiquities can face prison terms of up to twenty years, fines and possible restitution to the purchasers of the items.

This is just the latest success for the HSI, since 2007 this American organisation has repatriated more than 8,000 items to more than thirty countries.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the help of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement media team for the compilation of this article.

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