All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
/Animal News Stories

News stories and articles that do not necessarily feature extinct animals.

6 10, 2018

The Bolder the Male Bird the Faster They Find a Partner

By | October 6th, 2018|Adobe CS5, Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

The Bolder the Male Bird – the Harder and Faster they Fall for a Mate

Those avian dinosaurs (birds), in parks and gardens are living out complex lives under our noses and some of their behaviours are just beginning to become better understood.  New research into the humble Great Tit (Parus major), for example, a very common visitor to gardens all over the British Isles, has revealed that bold male birds focus on forming strong relationships with their future breeding partners while shy male birds play the field.

Scientists Study the Complex Breeding Strategies of Parus major

Parus major - a common garden visitor.

The complex breeding and mating selection in male Great Tits has been revealed.

Picture Credit: Getty Images

This insight into the mate selection and breeding behaviour of this garden visitor has come about following an Oxford University Department of Biology study.  The scientists found that the individual personalities of male Great Tits influence how they bond with their future breeding partner.

Bold Birds and Shy Birds Adopt Different Strategies

Writing in the academic journal “Nature Ecology and Evolution”, the study suggests that more dominant, bolder, more proactive males select their future breeding partners faster and in addition, put more effort into their relationship with their potential mate before the breeding season commences.  In contrast, less dominant, shy males are not as devoted to forming a strong pair bond, they choose to spend more time flocking with other females.

Commenting on how this research can highlight individual differences in behaviour which shapes the formation of crucial social relationships in the wild, lead author of the research Dr Josh Firth, stated:

“Finding a mating partner is of upmost importance to these birds, just as it is for many species across the animal kingdom.  We wanted to ask why individuals of the same species differ so much in how much effort they put into forming these relationships.”

Radio Frequency Identification Tags Used to Track the Bird’s Movements

The study was conducted in the Oxford University’s Wytham Woods.  The personalities of hundreds of individual Parus major was assessed and then radio-frequency identification tags were used to plot the bird’s movements and how they interacted with the local population over several breeding seasons.

Dr Firth added:

“We show that personality plays an important role explaining the differences in pair-bonding tactics; proactive males dedicate more time to their chosen future partner, even long before mating begins, while the less proactive males take the alternative option of sampling lots of different females right up until the breeding season actually starts.”

There is More to Common Garden Birds Than Meets the Eye

Parus major - Great Tit

A beautiful garden visitor.

Picture Credit: BBC

Which Breeding Strategy is Best?

The scientists conclude that there probably is no “best personality” or most effective strategy to adopt, when it comes to partner selection.  This may explain why natural selection has resulted in different breeding strategies within this species.  It could well be the case that being bold and proactive is better for finding a good partner in some social situations, while more reserved strategies prove to be the winning formula in other circumstances.

It might be difficult to infer such courtship and breeding behaviours on those extinct relatives of today’s modern birds – the Dinosauria.  However, the more scientists learn about individual behavioural differences in a species and how they can shape social relationships, then the case for suggesting complex breeding and socialising strategies amongst the Dinosauria becomes more compelling.

Inferring Complex Social Behaviours in Extinct Theropods

Beibeilong nesting scene.

A breeding pair of Beibeilong dinosaurs and their nest of giant dinosaur eggs.  Can studies of extant Aves provide clues to the social and breeding behaviours of the closely related Theropod dinosaurs?

Picture Credit: Zhao Chuang

The scientific paper: “Personality Shapes Pair Bonding in a Wild Bird Social System” by Josh A. Firth, Ella F. Cole, Christos C. Ioannou, John L. Quinn, Lucy M. Aplin, Antica Culina, Keith McMahon and Ben C. Sheldon and published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a press release from Oxford University in the compilation of this article.

5 10, 2018

The World’s Largest Bird Ever!

By | October 5th, 2018|Animal News Stories, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Vorombe titan – The Biggest Bird That Ever Lived

Scientists writing in the open access journal “Royal Society Open Science” have undertaken the first taxonomic revision for a very long time of the enigmatic family of giant, flightless birds, the “Elephant Birds”, that once roamed Madagascar.  In the first detailed study into the Aepyornithidae for fifty years, the research team concluded that their taxonomy is in fact spread across three genera and at least four distinct species.  Emerging out of this revision is Vorombe titan (meaning ‘big bird’ in Malagasy and Greek), the largest avian described to date.  V. titan may have lived as recently as 1,000 years ago and although standing more than three metres high and tipping the scales at an estimated eight hundred kilograms, this giant was relatively harmless, feeding on fruit, nuts and leaves.

At Around 3 Metres Tall and Weighing 800 Kilograms Vorombe titan is the Biggest of the Aepyornithidae

Giant "Elephant Bird" - Vorombe titan illustrated.

A life reconstruction of the biggest of the “Elephant Birds” Vorombe titan.

Picture Credit: Jaime Chirinos

Researchers at the international conservation charity, the Zoological Society of London’s Institute of Zoology, have used complex statistical analysis to reorder the Aepyornithidae, discovering unexpected diversity in these Madagascan birds.

Complicated Taxonomy

The first scientific assessments of the “Elephant Birds” took place in the 1850’s and species and genera assignment was based on comparative analysis, measurements and observed differences between fossils and bone specimens.  It had previously been suggested that up to fifteen different species made up the Aepyornithidae, assigned to two genera (Aepyornis and Mullerornis).  The scientists in this new study, coupled comparative analysis techniques familiar to 19th Century anatomists with the latest multivariate cluster analysis and Bayesian statistical processes to re-examine these large-bodied ratites.

Using specimens from museums all over the world, the team identified three genera and at least four distinct species, as well as confirming that Vorombe titan is the biggest bird species known to science.

The first species to be described, Aepyornis maximus, had been considered to be the world’s largest avian.  However, in 1894, British scientist C.W. Andrews described an even larger species, Aepyornis titan, but this idea was controversial, the specimen ascribed to this new species – A. titan being thought by many scientists and academics to represent an unusually large example of A. maximus.

This new study establishes enough unique characteristics in the material associated with A. titan to conclude that it is, indeed, a separate species.  The size, morphology and robust nature of its bones are so different from all other members of the Aepyornithidae, that this specimen has been placed in its own genus and named Vorombe titan.

The Robust Femur of V. titan

Views of the very robust femur of Vorombe titan.

Views of the Vorombe titan, femur (specimen number NHMUK A439) Madagascar; part of syntype series.

Picture Credit: Royal Society Open Science

Lead author of the study, Dr James Hansford (Zoological Society of London’s Institute of Zoology) explained:

“Elephant birds were the biggest of Madagascar’s megafauna and arguably one of the most important in the islands evolutionary history, even more so than lemurs.  This is because large-bodied animals have an enormous impact on the wider ecosystem they live in via controlling vegetation through eating plants, spreading biomass and dispersing seeds through defecation.  Madagascar is still suffering the effects of the extinction of these birds today.”

Helping to Understand the Evolution of a Unique Island Community

Co-author Professor Samuel Turvey (Zoological Society of London’s Institute of Zoology), added:

“Without an accurate understanding of past species diversity, we can’t properly understand evolution or ecology in unique island systems such as Madagascar or reconstruct exactly what’s been lost since human arrival on these islands.  Knowing the history of biodiversity loss is essential to determine how to conserve today’s threatened species.”

This research links and clarifies the 19th Century research with the very latest machine learning and Bayesian clustering statistical techniques, helping to solve a taxonomic muddle.  With a better understanding of these extinct avian megafauna scientists will learn important lessons about the impact extinctions have on island communities.

The revelation that the biggest of these birds was forgotten by history is just one part of the remarkable story of the “Elephant Birds”.

The scientific paper: “Unexpected Diversity within the Extinct Elephant Birds (Aves: Aepyornithidae) and a New Identity for the World’s Largest Bird” by James P. Hansford, Samuel T. Turvey published by the Royal Society Open Science.

30 09, 2018

Everything Dinosaur Supports TetZooCon 2018

By | September 30th, 2018|Adobe CS5, Animal News Stories, Educational Activities, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Everything Dinosaur Products, Main Page, Photos of Everything Dinosaur Products, Press Releases|0 Comments

Everything Dinosaur Supports TetZooCon 2018

The countdown to the annual TetZooCon has well and truly started, there is just under a week to go until the prestigious London conference dedicated to living and extinct Tetrapods.  TetZooCon opens on Saturday 6th October and for the first time, the amazing number of speakers, presenters and activities means that the fifth incarnation of this event has been extended over two days.  A whole weekend dedicated to the “TetZooniverse”!

Everything Dinosaur is honoured to be involved in this annual gathering and we have dispatched some rather special prehistoric animal models and figures that can be used as prizes for the super-tricky (but still fun), quiz that is a staple of this wonderful event.

Just Under One Week Until TetZooCon 2018

The Tetrapod Zoology Conference 2018.

The promotional banner for TetZooCon 2018.

Picture Credit: Darren Naish/John Conway

Talks, Presentations, Palaeoart Workshops, Book Signings and So Much More

Our congratulations to conference organisers Darren Naish and John Conway who have put together a varied and fascinating group of speakers and other Tetrapod themed events for what will, no doubt, be an extremely enjoyable and informative weekend.  Visitors to The Venue, Malet Street, London next weekend will be able to spot Everything Dinosaur’s slides that have been prepared for use in between the talks and various presentations.

Everything Dinosaur Supports TetZooCon 2018

One of Everything Dinosaur's slides prepared for TetZooCon 2018.

Everything Dinosaur has prepared slides for TetZooCon 2018.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The slides will showcase the breadth and the range of prehistoric animal figures and models that Everything Dinosaur now stocks.  Our prehistoric animal inventory is nearly as eclectic and diverse as the incredible range of presenters that have been invited to speak at this year’s TetZooCon.  Highlights of the event include a talk from herpetologist Mark O’Shea, Jennifer Jackson on the origins of baleen whales, Katrina van Grouw on the influence of Homo sapiens on the fate of Earth’s biota and Fiona Taylor providing a composer’s perspective on music used in wildlife documentaries.

We hope that Bristol University’s Steve Zhang, another speaker at this illustrious gathering, will spot the Eofauna Straight-tusked elephant (Palaeoloxodon antiquus) figure that we have donated as a quiz prize.  After all, Steven will be one of the first speakers TetZooCon 2018, with a short presentation highlighting the rise and fall of the Straight-tusked elephant.

The Slideshow Will Highlight the Huge Range of Prehistoric Animal Figures Stocked By Everything Dinosaur

Slides for TetZooCon 2018

The Eofauna Straight-tusked elephant features on the Everything Dinosaur TetZooCon slideshow.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The 2018 TetZooCon has a Very Special Banner

Since the very first TetZooCon in 2014, a promotional banner has been created by Darren featuring some of the enormous number of illustrations that the vertebrate palaeontologist and science writer has compiled for his textbook detailing the evolutionary history of the vertebrates.  This year’s banner is a little different, it includes artwork produced by delegates at last year’s conference, helping to encapsulate the inclusive and participative elements of this unique event.  If you attended TetZooCon and contributed to the pair of giant panels produced during the palaeoart workshop, then your own illustration may have been used to help create the 2018 TetZooCon promotional banner.

Beasts of the Mesozoic Will Feature at TetZooCon 2018

Beasts of the Mesozoic slide prepared for prestigious scientific conference.

Beasts of the Mesozoic features on the 2018 TetZooCon slideshow.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“TetZooCon is now in its fifth year and it is going from strength to strength.  Our congratulations to Darren and John for putting on this not-for-profit event, it is a wonderful example of scientific outreach, bringing together a cornucopia of talented artists, illustrators and scientists all helping to inform and educate.  Special wishes to Beth Windle, who once again will be bringing a Tetrapod inspired cake along to this prestigious event.”

Eagle-eyed attendees will spot something rather special on the slide presentation that we have prepared especially for TetZooCon 2018.  Everything Dinosaur will soon be sending out an important news release about yet another exciting development at the company.  A new range of prehistoric animal figures is being added to Everything Dinosaur’s already impressive portfolio and delegates at TetZooCon 2018 will be amongst the first to find out about this.

More news about TetZooCon and the developments at Everything Dinosaur coming soon….

12 08, 2018

In Praise of “Meg”

By | August 12th, 2018|Animal News Stories, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Everything Dinosaur Products, Everything Dinosaur videos, Main Page, Movie Reviews and Movie News, Photos of Everything Dinosaur Products|0 Comments

Megalodon Makes it to the Big Screen

This weekend sees the opening of the summer blockbuster “Meg”, a prehistoric shark-based action movie featuring Jason Statham and a twenty-five-metre-long representation of Carcharocles megalodon – Megalodon, an extinct species of prehistoric shark, so famous that it is just known by its specific or trivial name.  With the film likely to make in excess of £30 million in box office receipts on just its opening weekend in the USA, the movie, which incidentally is the most expensive shark film ever made (estimated budget of around $130 million USD), is likely to be a runaway box office success.  However, this iconic marine monster is well and truly extinct, it really is “safe to enter the water” to borrow a strapline from perhaps, the best-known and best-loved shark movie of them all, the 1975 “Jaws”.

Warner Bros and director Jon Turteltaub may have resurrected Megalodon, but most palaeontologists will confidently tell you that, what was probably the largest carnivorous shark to have existed, died out around 2.6 million years ago.

When those talented people as Safari Ltd introduced a “Megalodon” model back in 2014, Everything Dinosaur put together a short video introduction to the model.

Everything Dinosaur’s Video Review of the Wild Safari Dinos Megalodon Model

Video Credit: Everything Dinosaur

We may have lacked the budget of the movie and unfortunately, we were unable to afford the services of Jason Statham, but our six minute video review set out to explain a little more about the science behind this prehistoric shark and to provide a guide to the Wild Safari Prehistoric World Megalodon model.

Carcharocles megalodon

Many marine biologists had believed that Carcharocles megalodon was closely related to the modern Great White Shark – Carcharodon carcharias (hence Everything Dinosaur’s original research into finding a suitable Megalodon model).  However, recent studies suggest that it was actually a member of another sub-branch of the Lamniformes Order and that Megalodon was a member of the Otodontidae family and not a member of the Lamnidae family as previously thought.  It may have had a similar lifestyle and habit to the Great White Shark and it was much bigger and heavier, but it was unlikely to have been around twenty-five metres in length, the size of Megalodon in the movie.

A Still from the Motion Picture “Meg”

Meglaodon from the movie "Meg".

A still from the 2018 summer blockbuster “Meg”.

Picture Credit: Warner Bros

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“If these giant, prehistoric sharks were still around today, then, as we suspect they were shallow water specialists living in the top two hundred metres of water, the upper portions of the epipelagic zone of the ocean, then they certainly would have been spotted by now.  The “Meg” is very much extinct and we are sure that the film will provide plenty of thrills and spills for cinema goers.  Perhaps, it will also raise awareness amongst its audience about the plight of many shark species today.  Over fishing, habitat loss and pollution are having a devastating effect on global shark populations.  It has been estimated that some 100 million sharks die each year, with luck this movie will raise awareness about shark species conservation.”

The Jaws of Megalodon

Megalodon jaws.

Reconstructed jaws of a Megalodon shark (human gives scale).

Picture Credit: Rex Features

Safari Ltd have produced an excellent replica of this prehistoric shark, to view the model and the rest of the amazing figures in the Wild Safari Dinos Prehistoric World collection: Safari Ltd. Wild Safari Prehistoric World

The Wild Safari Prehistoric World Megalodon Figure 

Wild Safari Prehistoric World Megalodon model.

Fearsome C. megalodon

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

29 07, 2018

Gharial Evolution – A Fishy Business

By | July 29th, 2018|Animal News Stories, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

Convergent Evolution Thoracosaurs and Gharials

Crocodylians are a very ancient group of reptiles, sometimes these animals are referred to as living dinosaurs, that’s a mistake, they may be Archosaurs, the same as the Dinosauria, but they represent a different branch of the “ruling reptiles” clade.  However, just as with the dinosaurs, the ancient lineage of the crocodylians is full of intriguing taxonomic mysteries.  Back in 2017, Everything Dinosaur reported upon a new scientific paper that fundamentally re-wrote the dinosaur family tree, in recent weeks, a new scientific study has thrown light on the evolution of the gharials, specialist fish-eating crocodylians.  This new research into the gharials may not result in such a seismic shift that we saw with the 2017 dinosaur family tree, but it does help to explain an inconsistency that has puzzled palaeontologists for decades.

A Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus)

A Gharial.

An extant Gharial, note the long thin jaw lined with conical teeth, ideal for catching fish.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The Thoracosaur Mystery

Late Cretaceous, long-snouted, fish-eating crocodiles known as Thoracosaurs had been thought to be closely related to modern-day gharials (Gavialis lineage).  However, fossils of these crocodylians are found in Upper Cretaceous/Lower Palaeocene strata, but analysis of the genome of the modern Indian gharial suggests that these crocodiles only evolved some forty million years ago.  In a new study, led by Flinders University (South Australia), it is concluded that the Thoracosaurus is not closely related to the Gavialidae, it just happens to look very similar and to share the same adaptations for life as a piscivore.

A Life Reconstruction of the Late Cretaceous Crocodylian Thoracosaurus

Thoracosaurus life reconstruction.

A life reconstruction of the fish-eating Thoracosaurus.

Picture Credit: Jacob Baardse

The Four-metre-long Thoracosaurus

Two species of Thoracosaurus have been described, one from North America with a second species known from Europe.  This freshwater crocodile could have grown to a length of four metres or more.  Writing in the journal “Proceedings of the Royal Society Biology”, a team of international scientists propose that the uncanny resemblance between the modern gharial and the ancient Thoracosaurus is due to convergent evolution, the process whereby two unrelated organisms end up looking similar as they adapt to similar environments and ecological niches.

The study shows that the prehistoric Thoracosaurs, that were around at the same time as the last of the dinosaurs, were not closely related to modern gharials at all.  They represent a separate and distinct group of reptiles that adopted a similar fish-eating habit, evolving long, narrow jaws with needle-like teeth, anatomical traits they share with gharials.  Therefore, as borne out by the DNA of modern-day gharials, members of the Gavialidae are relatively newcomers when it comes to crocodylian evolutionary history.  Gharials did not exist in the Mesozoic.

The Fossilised Skull and Upper Jaw of Thoracosaurus (Cast)

The skull of Thoracosaurus.

A cast of the fossilised skull and upper jaw of Thoracosaurus.

Picture Credit: Michael Lee (Flinders University and South Australia Museum

Confusion Over the Indian Gharial and the False Gharial

The False gharial of south-east Asia (Tomistoma schlegelii), has a similar long snout to the Indian gharial, however, as it is broader at the base it was thought that this species was not closely related to the true gharial.  However, genomic studies have revealed that it is the sister taxon and consequently, very closely related to Gavialis gangeticus. Many biologists now classify this species as a member of the Gavialidae.

Lead author of the study, Professor Michael Lee (Flinders University), commented:

“The DNA of living gharials indicates they are a young group, which evolved well after the dinosaurs, but then why are there gharial-like fossils older than T. rex?  Either the DNA evidence is wrong, or we’ve misinterpreted these ancient Thoracosaurs.  Our work suggests we have got the fossils wrong, after being misled by convergent evolution.”

The scientific paper:
“Tip Dating and Homoplasy: Reconciling the Shallow Molecular Divergences of Modern Gharials with their Long Fossil Record” by MSY Lee and AM Yates and published in Proceedings: Biological Sciences:

Everything Dinosaur’s article on the reassessment of the Dinosauria: Root and Branch Reform for the Dinosaur Family Tree

22 05, 2018

A Feature of the Archosauria – (Part 2)

By | May 22nd, 2018|Animal News Stories, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Labelling the Fenestrae in a Diapsid Skull

Recently, Everything Dinosaur posted up a picture of the skull of a large gharial and discussed the teeth located in distinct sockets, an anatomical trait characteristic of that great group of reptiles the Archosaurs (Archosauria).  Today, we complete this very brief look at the Archosaurs by labelling the fenestrae (holes) in the skull that identify the gharial, all crocodiles and their close relatives, including the dinosaurs, that are classified as diapsid reptiles.

The Skull of the Gharial with the Eye Socket (Orbit) and Fenestrae Labelled

A gharial skull with the fenestrae and eye sockets labelled.

Labelling the skull of a diapsid reptile.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The gharial (a long-snouted, crocodilian), skull is from the Grant Museum of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy (London).  In the photograph (above), we have labelled the holes (fenestrae) in the skull, the left lateral side of the skull is seen and the lower (inferior) temporal fenestra has been labelled.  Behind the large orbits (eye sockets), on the top of the skull, the pair of upper (superior) temporal fenestrae have been labelled.  Please note each of the holes (singular) is termed a fenestra, but the plural is fenestrae.

The diapsid reptiles are an extremely diverse group that contains a number of extinct kinds of reptile as well as snakes, lizards, turtles, the last surviving member of the ancient order Ryhnchocephalia – the tuatara, crocodiles, dinosaurs and birds.  The last three listed, crocodiles, dinosaurs and birds are of course Archosaurs, and the Archosauria are characterised by a number of anatomical features including the two pairs of skull fenestrae.

The holes in the skull probably evolved to permit larger muscle attachments for the jaws, giving these animals a stronger bite.  The mouth could also be opened wider, a definite advantage of you are having to bolt down lumps of flesh or to cram into your stomach large amounts of nutritionally poor vegetation.

To read our article about another feature of the Archosauria – tooth sockets: A Feature of the Archosauria (Part 1)

21 05, 2018

A Feature of the Archosauria – (Part 1)

By | May 21st, 2018|Animal News Stories, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Examining Teeth in Sockets – Crocodilians (Archosauria)

Team members at Everything Dinosaur were given the opportunity to examine the skull of a large Gharial recently.  The gharial (Gavialis gangeticus), has evolved a long, elongated snout and specialises in catching fish (piscivore).  These once widespread and diverse members of the Gavialidae are extremely rare in the wild.  They are restricted to a few fragmentary populations scattered amongst the river systems of the northern parts of the Indian sub-continent.

Examining the Skull of a Large Gharial

The skull of a gharial.

The skull of a gharial from the Grant Museum of Zoology (London).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The skull of this crocodilian portrays several characteristics that identifies it as a member of the Archosauria, the same clade of reptiles that includes dinosaurs, pterosaurs and birds.  The skull has a number of holes in it (fenestrae), these holes establish it as a member of the diapsid, one of three main groups of reptiles that can be distinguished from each other by the presence or absence of such fenestrae and their number.  Establishing shared characteristics between different species (synapomorphies), is the standard model for classifying organisms.   These shared characteristics, came from a shared, common ancestor.  Essentially, taxonomists are looking to identify similarities and differences.  The number of holes in the skull is one of the synapomorphies that establishes this gharial as a member of the Archosaurs (ruling reptiles).

Teeth in Sockets

Another synapomorphy shared amongst the Archosauria, (although derived members of this group such as the birds have subsequently lost this trait), can be seen in the jaw.  The teeth of the gharial are set in sockets.  These sockets are termed alveoli (singular alveolus).  Being strongly anchored in a bony socket allows the tooth to withstand greater forces.  It is less likely to be lost during predation and feeding.  This enabled many of the early Archosaurs to evolve powerful jaws, capable to tacking struggling prey or coping with tough, fibrous vegetation.  This evolutionary trait may help to explain their success.

On the Skull of the Gharial – the Teeth Sockets can be Easily Seen

Teeth in sockets - characteristic of the Archosaurs.

A defining characteristic of the Archosauria – teeth in sockets.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

8 05, 2018

Happy Birthday Sir David Attenborough

By | May 8th, 2018|Animal News Stories, Famous Figures, Main Page|0 Comments

Happy Birthday Sir David Attenborough

Many happy returns to Sir David Attenborough, broadcaster, naturalist and someone who has done so much to help the public understand the wonders of the natural world.

Happy Birthday Sir Attenborough

Sir David Attenborough.

Still enthusing about the Natural World – happy birthday Sir David.

The Plastic Age

Throughout a broadcasting career that has spanned more than sixty years, Sir David has played a prominent role in highlighting the plight of the natural world.  In the recent, BBC television documentary series “Blue Planet II”, the damage caused by plastic pollutants in marine environments was emphasised and this has led to a number of plans and initiatives to reduce plastic use, especially items that are classed as “single use plastics”, such as plastic drinking straws.

The team behind “Blue Planet II”, including the narrator, Sir David, has helped raise awareness about the dangers of plastic pollution.   In the highly praised television series, there was one particularly distressing scene where a mother pilot whale was filmed holding her dead calf, which is believed to have died after consuming the mother’s milk which had been contaminated with toxic chemicals resulting from the breakdown of plastic in the marine environment.

Nonagenarian and Still Campaigning for the Natural World

Sir David Attenborough

Sir David raising awareness about the problems of plastic pollution.

Sir David Attenborough was born on this day in 1926, all the team members at Everything Dinosaur would like to take this opportunity to wish Sir David many happy returns.

Keep on campaigning sir.

22 03, 2018

Frog spawn in the Office Pond

By | March 22nd, 2018|Animal News Stories, Educational Activities, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page|0 Comments

Frog Spawn in the Pond

After a false start, when we noticed one clump of unfertilised frog spawn in our pond, we are happy to announce that on the morning of the 17th March we spotted three clumps of newly laid frog spawn.  The first eggs were produced on the 20th of February, just prior to a sudden cold snap.  Whether a female frog had been stressed we don’t know, but despite our careful gathering of the tennis ball-sized clump of spawn and storing it in a goldfish bowl along with some of the pond water and pond weed, the eggs failed to develop.  Our intention was to protect the spawn from the extremely cold weather and then once the snow had melted, to re-introduce the spawn into the pond.

 Frog Spawn in the Office Pond (March 2018)

Frog spawn in the office pond (2018).

Frog spawn 2018, at least three clumps of spawn have been spotted.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Later Than Last Year

The spawning has taken place around a week later than last year.  We suspect the cold weather delayed the onset of breeding.  Hopefully, with the approach of warmer weather (no snow at least), this spawn will be able to develop and soon we will have tadpoles to observe.  The amount of spawn, is about average, we estimate that three females laid eggs.  Although the eggs tend to merge into one, single mat of jelly, if you can observe the egg masses before they swell you can get a reasonable idea of the number of fertile females present.

We Intend to Keep a Close Watch on the Frog Spawn

Frog spawn in the office pond (2018).

Frog spawn 2018.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Our pond is a haven for wildlife and we hope that at least some of the tadpoles make it to adulthood.   Common Frogs (Rana temporaria) inhabit our pond, although sadly, these animals like most of the native British amphibians are no longer common.  At least our little pond is helping with conservation efforts.

22 02, 2018

Ground-Dwelling Birds Provide Clues to Theropod Dinosaur Locomotion

By | February 22nd, 2018|Animal News Stories, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Observe How Ground-Dwelling Birds Move to Learn About Theropod Locomotion

Just how fast could T. rex run?  Over the years, there have been a number of papers published that looked at the locomotion of big Theropod dinosaurs.  Computer models, three-dimensional analysis of trackways using state-of-the-art LIDAR (light detection and ranging), biomechanics, kinetic studies, so many disciples and so many areas of research.  One way of obtaining a better understanding of the movements of large, bipedal dinosaurs is to take a look at the dinosaurs that are still with us today, the birds.  By studying extant Aves, scientists can gain an insight into the locomotion of non-avian members of the Theropoda.

How Did Big Theropod Dinosaurs Move About?

Birds provide clues to Theropod locomotion.

T. rex locomotion.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Writing in the academic on-line journal PLOS One, a team of international scientists, which included Professor John Hutchinson from the Royal Veterinary College, Hertfordshire, set about gaining a greater appreciation of just how birds move by examining in detail the locomotion of twelve types of ground-dwelling bird, some of them flightless, such as the emu and ostrich, whilst others are accomplished flyers such as the Japanese quail and the Australian white ibis.  Aerial ability or the lack of it was not important, the team were interested in examining how birds of various sizes and body weights moved about, effectively recording their body movements using high speed cameras as these birds walked or ran across a track.  The species were selected based on the fact that these birds spend a lot of time on the ground.   By virtue of spending most of their lives (in the case of the emu and ostrich, all of their lives), on the ground, these feathered friends have well-developed hind limb locomotor systems.

Scaling Up to a Seven Tonne Theropod

There was a considerable variation in body size amongst the participants.  The smallest species represented being the Chinese painted quail, that weighed in at around 45 grammes, the largest being the ostrich which at 80 kilos represents a body mass some 1,780 times heavier.

The scientific paper deals with some of the problems of trying to use birds to test the locomotive abilities of big meat-eating dinosaurs.  Any studies using an 80-kg ostrich would require nearly a 100 fold extrapolation to equate to the body weight of a fully-grown Tyrannosaurus rex for example.  The researchers comment in the paper that the absolute range of body masses encompassed by modern birds is small compared to that encompassed by extinct, non-avian Theropod dinosaurs.  They postulate that whilst it may be reasonable to extrapolate to a 200-kilogramme flightless moa from New Zealand, is it reasonable to extrapolate to an eight tonne Tyrannosaur?

The Skeleton of an Ostrich (left) Compared to a Dinosaur Skeleton (right)

Ostrich skeleton compared to Guanlong dinosaur skeleton.

The skeleton of an extant ostrich compared to a Theropod dinosaur (Guanlong).

That point notwithstanding, birds are closely related to the likes of Tyrannosaurus rex and as such they make a better test subject than that other animal that is an obligate biped – us.  Data on how humans walk and run was also collated and studied, but Homo sapiens does move differently when compared to ground-dwelling birds, there are some very significant differences.   This research looked at the kinetics of bipedal movement, that is, those forces that cause motion (gravity, torque, friction and so forth).  It also examined the kinematics of motion, the study of describing movement, usually by measuring the precise motion of parts of the body such as the joints.  Kinematics involves looking at acceleration, velocity and braking.

When it comes to examining the differences in terrestrial motion between Aves and ourselves, perhaps the most significant difference is that in birds, all kinematic and kinetic parameters analysed changed continuously as velocity increased, whilst in humans all but one of those same parameters changed abruptly at the walk-run transition.  Think of it as birds being able to move through the gears a little more smoothly than their two-legged human counterparts.

The Locomotion of the Australian White Ibis was Examined

The Australian white ibis helps explain dinosaur locomotion

The Australian white ibis (Threskiornis molucca).

Ground Reaction Force

Particular attention was devoted to the ground reaction force (GRF), the force that the feet exert upon the ground.  The research team confirmed previous assessments of bird locomotion.  Birds have a highly continuous locomotor repertoire compared to humans.  Our discrete “walking” and “running” gaits are not easily distinguishable based on kinematic patterns alone.  If birds have a more continuous locomotion profile based on body mass and the speed of movement, then this means that scientists can develop equations that allows them to predict the potential locomotor capabilities of extinct creatures – Tyrannosaurus rex for example.

Lead author of the scientific paper, Peter Bishop (Queensland Museum) explained:

“Since birds, also known as “avian dinosaurs”, are actually just dinosaurs that didn’t become extinct, they were ideal models to study how their extinct cousins would have moved.  So, you’d be foolish to start anywhere else.”

The predictive model that the team has produced is able to explain 79–93% of the observed variation in kinematics and 69–83% of the observed variation in Ground Reaction Forces.  When used in extrapolation tests to examine the gaits of extinct animals, the results produced were within expected levels.  There are caveats however, this study also found that the location of the whole-body centre of mass may exert an important influence on the nature of the Ground Reaction Forces, some caution is needed before applying this model to a thirteen metre monster like T. rex, after all most extinct Theropod dinosaurs had substantial tails, whilst birds have a reduced tail in the form of a pygostyle and the presence/absence of a tail will have a bearing on locomotion.  The research team conclude that further investigation of the movement of dinosaurs is required.

A couple of years ago, a group of scientists mounted prosthetic tails on chickens and assessed how the presence of a tail altered their locomotion.

To read an article on this study: Walking Dinosaurs Chicken Run

Differences in Muscles and the Skeleton

Extant birds also have a very different skeleton compared to Theropod dinosaurs such as Allosaurus, Giganotosaurus, Megalosaurus and Tyrannosaurus rex.  The anatomy of birds varies considerable from that of a dinosaur, although there are striking similarities, the presence of a wish bone and a digitigrade stance for example.  Extinct non-avian Theropods have different limb proportions and their leg muscles and their position (as influenced, in part by that long tail), are different.  Theropod dinosaurs also had a different centre of gravity compared to birds.

For an article that looks at the evolution of the stance of birds from their dinosaur ancestors: Standing Dinosaur, Crouching Bird

The Research Will Help with the Locomotion of Extinct Flightless Birds (Sylviornis)

Sylviornis from New Caledonia.

Scale bar = 50 cm, a skeletal reconstruction of the giant, flightless bird from New Caledonia Sylviornis.

The Queensland Museum scientist Peter Bishop added that understanding the locomotion of giant, extinct Theropods such as the Late Cretaceous tyrannosaurids not only excited the curiosity of the public but was crucial to understanding a wide range of scientific questions.

He stated:

“Locomotion is important for understanding other parts of dinosaur ecology, how you find food, how you find mates, how you avoid becoming food yourself?  It could also help contribute to models of dinosaur migration and even help settle debates about whether they were warm-blooded.  But for me, the most interesting part of dinosaur locomotion is that it’s the most critical part of how dinosaurs evolved into birds.  There were a lot of changes in locomotion … including the development of powered flight.”

Next Steps

The research team hope to test their equations on more species of birds and also to develop computer programmes that can model how large bipedal dinosaurs would have moved.

An article published in 2013 that looks at the evolution of the gait of birds: Birds Have the Dinosauria to Thank for Their Crouching Gait

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