All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
3 05, 2018

The First Beak Under the Noses of Scientists

By | May 3rd, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Inspiring Ichthyornis – Top of the Pecking Order

As a very young boy, I remember eagerly striving to complete my Brooke Bond “Prehistoric Animals” card collection.  This was a set of fifty cards to collect,  given away free with packets of tea.   One of the cards featured a pair of toothed, prehistoric birds, a large, reddish coloured Hesperornis which was being mobbed by a couple of tern-like birds, this was my first introduction to Ichthyornis.  Perhaps, the first time that I realised that birds (at least primitive, toothed birds), lived alongside dinosaurs.  How wonderful to read this week that Ichthyornis, thanks to a pieced together three-dimensional skull, may be providing palaeontologists with fresh insights into avian evolution.  The Hesperornis/Ichthyornis picture card may have been burned into my conscience long ago, but it is refreshing to think that this ancient bird may represent a pivotal moment in the transition from dinosaurs to modern-day birds and its significance has only just come to light.  A team of international scientists have published a paper proposing that Ichthyornis may have had one of the first, true bird-like beaks.

The Brooke Bond Picture Card

Hesperornis and Ichthyornis

Hesperornis catching a fish, with Ichthyornis in close attention.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Brooke Bond

Toothy Bird with the Beginnings of a Beak

Writing in the journal “Nature”, researchers report on the analysis of beautifully preserved three-dimensional Ichthyornis (I. dispar) fossil skull that is providing new evidence on the evolution of the avian head and how the skull and beaks of birds evolved from their dinosaurian ancestors.

A Three-Dimensional Image of Ichthyornis Skull Material Indicates the Tip of the Premaxillary Formed the First Beak

The tip of the premaxillary forms the first beak.

A computer generated image showing the life position of the fossil bones in the three-dimensional Ichthyornis skull.

Picture Credit: Yale Office of Public Affairs and Communications

Ichthyornis dispar

Known from fragmentary fossils from Kansas and named back in 1872 by Yale University’s Othniel Charles Marsh, it seems fitting that this new study into one of the first toothed birds described, has been led by scientists from Yale University.  Working in conjunction with colleagues from the University of Kansas, Fort Hays State University, Alabama Museum of Natural History and the McWane Science Centre (Alabama), the team report on new specimens with three-dimensional cranial remains, including one example of a complete skull and two previously overlooked cranial elements that were part of the original Yale specimen examined by Marsh.

Using CT scans and sophisticated computer modelling, individual skull and jaw bones were scanned and reproduced in three-dimensions.  This allowed a complete skull to be constructed revealing new details about the transition from dinosaur skull to a more modern bird skull.

Yale University palaeontologist and lead author of the study Bhart-Anjan Bhullar commented:

“Right under our noses this whole time was an amazing, transitional bird.  It has a modern-looking brain along with a remarkably dinosaurian jaw muscle configuration.”

Ichthyornis is part of the biota of the Western Interior Seaway, a shallow sea that split North America in two during the Late Cretaceous.  It has been regarded as an early version of a tern or gull, but its size is unknown as the few fossils found represent individuals of different sizes, however, it probably had a wingspan of no more than sixty centimetres, making Ichthyornis slightly smaller than today’s Common Tern (Sterna hirundo), a bird which fills the same ecological niche as the Mesozoic Ichthyornis.

Using the Latest Research, a New Reconstruction of Ichthyornis dispar was Produced

Ichthyornis life reconstruction.

A life reconstruction of Ichthyornis.

Picture Credit: Yale Office of Public Affairs and Communications

The Evolution of a Beak

Having built a three-dimensional model of the skull and jaw bones, the researchers were able to note that the premaxillary bone in the upper jaw had become elongated and this, working in conjunction with a keratinous tip on the lower jaw formed the first “proto-beak”.  Ichthyornis dispar shows scientists what the first type of bird beak looked like.  This beak may have evolved as the function of the hands was increasingly limited as they were adapted to form a more effective wing.  The grasping hands of the maniraptoran dinosaurs were no longer able to grasp and manipulate objects so the jaws had to take on an additional function, secondary to their main function – dispatching and consuming prey.

The Beak of Ichthyornis

The beak of Ichthyornis.

The beak of Ichthyornis evolving to replace grasping, functional hands and fingers.

Picture Credit: Yale Office of Public Affairs and Communications

Although maniraptoran dinosaurs may not have been able to pronate their hands like us and they lacked an opposable thumb, as forelimbs and hands evolved into wings, so the jaws took over the function of the digits and manus.

Bhart-Anjan Bhullar stated:

“The first beak was a horn-covered pincer tip at the end of the jaw.  The remainder of the jaw was filled with teeth.  At its origin, the beak was a precision grasping mechanism that served as a surrogate hand as the hands transformed into wings.”

The research team conducted its analysis using CT-scan technology, combined with specimens from the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History; the Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays, Kansas, the Alabama Museum of Natural History; the University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute and the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research (South Dakota).

Bird Beaks versus Bird-hipped Dinosaur Beaks

The modern bird beak is a unique organ amongst vertebrates, although notably most derived Ornithischian (bird-hipped) dinosaurs possessed a beak, formed from the unique predentary bone in the lower jaw and a roughened, extension of the premaxilla (or the rostral in the case of Ceratopsians), in the upper jaw, which allowed the attachment of a keratinous tip which in conjunction formed the beak-like structure – believed to be an adaptation to assist with cropping vegetation.

This study of Ichthyornis suggests that the first bird beak was not the long organ seen in modern birds, but a little pincer tip to grasp and manipulate objects.

A Chasmosaurine Ceratopsian with the Roughened Rostral and the Predentary Forming a Plant-cropping Beak

The bones forming the beak of a horned dinosaur.

The beak of a horned dinosaur is highlighted.

Picture Credit: Rapid City Journal with additional notation by Everything Dinosaur

Fresh Insight into the Evolution of Extant Bird Skulls

The scientists conclude that their study offers new insights into how modern birds’ skulls formed.  Along with its transitional beak, Ichthyornis dispar had a brain similar to that seen in extant birds but a temporal region of the skull that was reminiscent of a dinosaur.  This suggests that during the evolution of Aves, the brain transformed first, possibly to adapt to a volant (aerial) lifestyle, whilst the remainder of the skull retained the ancestral features associated with the Dinosauria.  Ichthyornis retained a large adductor chamber bounded at the top by substantial bony remnants of the ancestral reptilian upper temporal fenestra (hole in the skull).  This combination of features indicates that important attributes of the avian brain and palate evolved before the reduction of jaw musculature and the full transformation of the beak.

The Beak of Ichthyornis Grasping a Mollusc

Holding a mollusc in its beak.

An illustration of an Ichthyornis holding a mollusc in its beak.

Picture Credit: Michael Hanson/Bhart-Anjan Bhullar

I may never have completed my Brooke Bond card collection, but at least, thanks to this new Ichthyornis study, our understanding of the evolution of the beak in birds is more complete.

2 05, 2018

Jinzhousaurus by Zhao Chuang

By | May 2nd, 2018|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Drawings, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Jinzhousaurus Illustrated

Renowned Chinese palaeoartist Zhao Chuang has produced stunning illustrations of many dinosaurs and prehistoric animals.  It is great to see that a lot of his work depicts dinosaurs that once roamed China.  Today, we feature an illustration of the Ornithischian dinosaur Jinzhousaurus (J. yangi) being attacked by a flock of dromaeosaurids.

Jinzhousaurus yangi Ambushed by Dromaeosaurid Dinosaurs

Jinzhousaurus being attacked (illustration by Zhao Chuang).

Jinzhousaurus from the Yixian Formation of China being attacked by a pack of dromaeosaurids, probably Sinornithosaurus.

Picture Credit: Zhao Chuang

Jinzhousaurus yangi

The picture (above) shows a very colourful Jinzhousaurus being attacked by a trio of Theropod dinosaurs.  Jinzhousaurus is known from a single, highly compressed specimen which includes most of the skeleton and skull.  It lived around 122 million years ago (early Aptian faunal stage of the Early Cretaceous) in north-eastern China and is one of the Ornithischian constituents of the Yixian Formation palaeobiota.   This herbivorous dinosaur measured around five metres in length.  Where Jinzhousaurus sits on the dinosaur family tree remains uncertain.  Despite well preserved (if somewhat flattened remains), the exact taxonomic position of this dinosaur is contentious.  When first described in 2001, it was regarded as a member of the iguanodontids (hence the prominent thumb spike painted by Zhao Chuang).  Recent studies have proposed that it was more closely related to the duck-billed dinosaurs.  Jinzhousaurus shows a number of primitive and more derived anatomical characteristics so its placement within the Ornithopoda remains problematic.  Current thinking is that it was a member of the Hadrosauroidea, a clade of Ornithischian dinosaurs that includes duck-billed dinosaurs (hadrosaurids) and all dinosaurs more closely related to them than to Iguanodon.

Which Raptor?

The trio of feathered raptors engaged in combat could represent a number of dinosaur species.  Our notes on Zhao Chuang’s illustration do not define the dinosaurs concerned.  Several dromaeosaurids and troodontids are known from the Yixian Formation. If we were to guess, then the three attacking Theropods illustrated by Zhao Chuang could represent Sinornithosaurus as fossils of this dromaeosaurid come from the same bedding planes (Dawangzhangzi Bed) of the Yixian Formation.

1 05, 2018

Unlocking the Secrets of the Insect in Amber Fossilisation Process

By | May 1st, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|1 Comment

Preservation Bias in Amber Fossilisation Examined

Fossils preserved in amber can give scientists unique insights into ancient ecosystems.  Petrified tree resin can provide a record of some of the smaller members of a prehistoric woodland habitat such as the insects, mites and spiders.  Spores and pollen grains trapped inside a nodule allow palaeobotanists the opportunity to assess the composition of the flora of a 100 million-year-old Cretaceous tropical forest, but all may not be as it seems.  Fossils in amber appear, on their surface, to be perfectly preserved, which in turn suggests that the amber fossil record is perfect and unbiased.  This is not the case, all that glitters inside an amber nodule may not be hidden palaeontological treasure.

A Mosquito Preserved in Amber – But How Much of the Insect is There?

Mosquito fossil preserved in amber.

Amber can provide a window into ancient ecosystems, but what factors affect the preservation process?

Picture Credit: Oregon State University

However, recent advances in three-dimensional imaging techniques, specifically synchrotron tomography, have allowed researchers to look inside amber-entombed fossils and observe that preservation is highly variable.  Many specimens are lacking some or all internal soft tissues, and some specimens are even lacking the more decay-resistant cuticle and are simply empty moulds stained in a life-like colour by remnant organic carbon.

With so many amazing discoveries being made, particularly in burmite from Myanmar, a team of scientists set about examining the amber fossil record in order to assess any potential preservation bias that might exist, with a focus on prehistoric insects.

In the project, the researchers used a serious of laboratory experiments to test the effect of three variables, resin (the un-fossilised precursor to amber) chemistry, gut biota, and dehydration prior to entombment, on the decay of a fruit fly engulfed in resin to better understand the controls on the fossil record of insects in amber.  The team discovered that resin chemistry has a large effect on decay: flies entombed in Wollemia (W. nobilis) tree resin retained essentially all of their external and internal morphology even after one and a half years, whereas flies entombed in Pinus (Scots Pine P. sylvestris) tree resin, were nothing but empty moulds after the same length of time.

Fruit Flies Being Entombed in Tree Resin

Fruit flies (arrowed) become trapped in tree resin.

Part of the experiment – fruit flies being embedded in tree resin.  The fruit flies are indicated by the arrows.

Gut biota had a smaller effect on decay: flies with an intact gut microbiota showed more rapid decay, as indicated by more extensive production of decay gases, than flies that were treated with an antibiotic prior to entombment.  Dehydration prior to entombment also enhanced decay, presumably because resin has very effective decay-inhibiting properties, and therefore any delay in embedding a carcass in resin enhances decay.  These three variables influence the preservation of fossils in amber, and therefore can impart a bias on the fossil record of insects in amber.  Writing in the academic journal “PLOS One”, the researchers concluded that, in particular, resin chemistry and gut biota may strongly influence the amber fossil record.

Synchrotron Images and a Three-Dimensional Reconstruction of the Fruit Fly Being Constructed

A synchrotron was used to scan the fruit flies entombed in the tree resin.

A synchrotron scan of the experiments, showing three different planes of the scan, and a 3-D reconstruction in progress.

Resin chemistry is the most likely control on whether or not a specific fossil site preserves the most decay-prone morphological features on the most decay-prone components of an ecosystem.  This could be a particularly confounding bias in the amber fossil record because the composition of the herbivore fauna (including herbivorous insects) is thought to be one control on the composition of resin chemistry; therefore, the composition of a faunal assemblage may influence whether or not it fossilises in amber.  Gut biota variations may also influence preservational variation, particularly among amber sites or specimens with similar chemistry.

Most importantly, the amber fossil record should not be viewed as a perfect record of an ancient ecosystem.  Rather, it must be viewed with a critical eye, and an understanding that information about an extinct organism can be lost during fossilisation in amber.

The scientific paper: “Unlocking Preservation Bias in the Amber Insect Fossil Record Through Experimental Decay” by Victoria E. McCoy , Carmen Soriano, Mirko Pegoraro, Ting Luo, Arnoud Boom, Betsy Foxman and Sarah E. Gabbott published in PLOS One.

Link to the paper open access paper: The Scientific Paper

Everything Dinosaur would like to thank Victoria McCoy (School of Geography, Geology and Environment, University of Leicester and the Steinmann-Institut für Geologie, Mineralogie und Paläontologie, Universität Bonn, Bonn, Germany), for her assistance with the compilation of this article.

1 05, 2018

Fake Reviews and Feedback

By | May 1st, 2018|General Teaching|Comments Off on Fake Reviews and Feedback

Fake Reviews and Feedback

In the UK at the moment, there is a lot of media coverage about fake reviews.  A BBC investigation has found that fake on-line reviews are being openly traded on the worldwide web.  In a radio programme broadcast on BBC 5 live, an investigator was able to purchase a false, 5-star recommendation placed on one of the world’s leading review websites, Trustpilot.  The BBC programme also uncovered on-line forums and closed groups where Amazon shoppers are offered full refunds in exchange for product reviews.  Both Trustpilot and Amazon have stated that they do not tolerate false reviews.

At Everything Dinosaur, we know how many customers rely on the information contained within testimonials and reviews before opting to either make a purchase or to use the company’s services.  Every single review either posted onto our website, or on our Feefo account and shown on our website, or a dinosaur workshop review posted up here on this site, is genuine.  We have never indulged in such practices, trying to mislead potential customers by purchasing fake reviews.  Everything Dinosaur has never purchased Facebook “likes”, Google reviews or undertaken any form of unscrupulous practice in a bid to boost our profile and ratings.  We pride ourselves in being an honest and ethical team that does all it can to help and support our customers.

The Latest Dinosaur Workshop Reviews – All Genuine from Teachers and Teaching Assistants Who Have Witnessed our Work

Feedback forms from dinosaur workshops.

Teaching feedback forms.  Five-star reviews – all of them genuine.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Let our Service and Products Speak for Themselves

Currently, at the time of writing, Everything Dinosaur has 489 verified Feefo reviews posted up onto its main website: Everything Dinosaur in addition, we have over 1,685 comments and reviews posted by customers on this website too, a total of over 2,170, genuine customer reviews and comments.  We have a 5-star rating with Feefo and have earned the prestigious Gold Trusted Service Award from that company.

Genuine Reviews from Real People

Feedback and reviews after a dinosaur workshop.

Genuine feedback from teachers and teaching assistants.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur stated:

“Feedback, customer comments and reviews are very important to us.  We use this information to help improve our customer service and the various workshops that we deliver in schools.  We do all we can to help our customers and the schools that we work with and we are immensely proud of our consistently high ratings for customer satisfaction and service.  Our reviews, just like our company can be trusted.”

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