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.

13 10, 2019

Rebor Komodo Dragon Preparations

By | October 13th, 2019|Adobe CS5, Animal News Stories, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Everything Dinosaur Products, Main Page, Photos of Everything Dinosaur Products|0 Comments

Rebor GrabNGo Komodo Dragon Preparations

Team members at Everything Dinosaur are busy preparing for the arrival of the next new Rebor model, the GrabNGo Komodo dragon figure in 1/6th scale.  This model has created quite a lot of interest from herpetologists – those scientists and academics that specialise in the study of amphibians and reptiles.  We have it on good authority that this new Rebor figure has even been discussed at the prestigious Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP), annual meeting in Brisbane, a sizeable reservation list for this lizard replica has been built up over the last few weeks and Everything Dinosaur staff will be very busy contacting all these customers when the models arrive next month.

Rebor GrabNGo Komodo Dragon Models

Rebor GrabNGO Komodo dragon replicas.

A collection of Rebor GrabNGo Komodo dragon models.  We are not sure about the collective noun for a group of Komodo dragons, we have been informed that the collective noun is a “bank”, but there must be a better term for six of these fantastic figures together.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The 1:6 Scale Komodo Dragon Model

The picture (above), shows production samples ready to be sent out to zookeepers and specialists.  We are not sure what the collective noun for a group of Komodo dragons is called (we have been told it is a “bank of Komodos”), but who knows.  Rebor commented that when all the models were put together it reminded them of Billingsgate fish market, all we know is that the figures look splendid and we are looking forward to receiving our stock in just a few weeks’ time.

One of the models is being used to help us design a new cardboard box for use as packaging.  The model is so long (around 50 cm in length), that we are having to commission a special, double-walled cardboard box to accommodate this model and to provide protection when it is sent out to customers.

The CE Mark is Clearly Shown on the Underside of the Figure

The CE mark on the underside of the Rebor GrabNGo Komodo dragon replica.

Highlighting the CE mark on the underside of the Rebor GrabNGo Komodo dragon model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The production samples will be sent out to various specialists and researchers next week, in the meantime, team members will be working hard to ensure that all is ready in our warehouse for the arrival of the Komodo dragon figures.

To see the current range of Rebor models and figures in stock at Everything Dinosaur: Rebor Models, Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animal Replicas

6 10, 2019

New Species of Crocodile Honours Researcher

By | October 6th, 2019|Animal News Stories, Geology, Main Page, Photos|0 Comments

Crocodylus halli – A New Species of Crocodile is Announced

The crocodile family has undergone yet another revision.  It seems that the Crocodylidae are a more specious family than previously thought.  The New Guinea Crocodile (Crocodylus novaeguineae), is actually two species and not one and the second species has been named Crocodylus halli after Philip Hall, a University of Florida researcher who sadly, passed away before his work on these three-metre-long reptiles could be completed.

A New Crocodile Species has been Discovered – Hall’s Crocodile (Crocodylus halli)

New crocodile species discovered.

A new crocodile species has been discovered.  The picture (above), shows Jen Brueggen, Park social media manager, researchers Caleb McMahan, Christopher Murray and John Brueggen, Park director, with a specimen of Crocodylus halli, that seems rather reluctant to pose for a photograph.

Picture Credit: Southeastern Louisiana University

Crocodile Nesting Behaviour Hinted at Different Species

The late scientist Philip Hall, noticed subtle differences in osteoderm patterns on the backs of crocodiles and in the nesting behaviours of crocodile populations in the north and the south of the island of New Guinea.  He speculated that there could be two species living on New Guinea, but unfortunately, he died before his research could be completed.  Southeastern Louisiana University Assistant Professor of Biology Christopher Murray and his co-author Caleb McMahan (Field Museum, Chicago), were inspired to continue this research and they have published their findings in the academic journal “Copeia”, the journal of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists.

A chain of high hills and mountains known as the Central Highlands divides the island of New Guinea.  It is thought this geological feature was formed in the last 8 million years or so.  Geographically isolated crocodile populations, each living on different drainage basins that came about as a result of the uplift, have been identified as different species.

The Island of New Guinea 

Distribution of crocodile populations on New Guinea.

The Central Highlands of New Guinea permits two distinct drainage basins to form. This geographical barrier has led to the evolution of two distinct species of crocodile.

Picture Credit: Copeia/Murray and McMahan with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

The illustration of the island of New Guinea (above), shows the location of the Central Highlands and the red dots south of the mountain chain denote sampling areas for C. halli in the study, whilst the brown dots north of the chain indicate sampling sites for C. novaeguineae.

Careful analysis of museum specimens along with a study of the crocodiles kept in captivity at the St Augustine Alligator Zoological Park (Florida), confirmed the hypothesis.  Subtle differences in the shape of bones and the observed behaviour differences indicates the presence of two distinct species on the island.  This has been confirmed by molecular analysis.

Difference in the Shape of the Skull and Jaws

Comparing Crocodile Skulls from Papua New Guinea.

Dorsal view of skulls from  New Guinea crocodiles.  Crocodylus novaeguineae (left) with its extended maxilla and proportionately reduced postcranial elements compared with two examples of Crocodylus halli (middle and right).  In contrast, the C. halli skulls show much shorter maxillae and proportionately enlarged postcranial elements.

Picture Credit: Copeia/Murray and McMahan

The Importance of Museum Specimens

The researchers comment that this new insight into the Crocodylidae would not have been possible without access to the collections from numerous museums.  The museums involved in this research included The Field Museum (Chicago), the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, the American Museum of Natural History (New York), Queensland Museum, Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science and the Florida Museum of Natural History.  The careful curation and collection of a large number of specimens permitted the scientists to build up a substantial database on crocodilian skull morphology that allowed them to tease out the subtle differences between the two species.

Crocodylus halli – Hall’s Crocodile

Newly described crocodile species from New Guinea Crocodylus halli.

One of the residents at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park – Crocodylus halli.

Picture Credit: Copeia/Murray and McMahan

Implications for Crocodile Conservation

Identifying a separate species has important implications for the conservation of both populations of crocodile.

Commenting on the significance of this discovery, Caleb McMahan stated:

“Now that we know the evolutionary history of these species, we need to re-inform the conservation status of them given that the distribution has changed and conservation threats are different in different areas.”

5 07, 2019

Repeated Evolution of Herbivorous Crocodyliforms

By | July 5th, 2019|Animal News Stories, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Fossil Teeth Suggests Lots of Different Types of Mesozoic Crocodiles

Researchers from the University of Utah have studied the teeth of extinct crocodyliforms and concluded that crocodiles occupied a large range of different ecological niches during the Age of Dinosaurs.  Furthermore, these geographically widespread and speciose reptiles adapted to a variety of diets and that herbivorous crocodyliforms evolved at least three times independently.  This suggests that plant-eating was a beneficial dietary strategy and not a unique occurrence.  Many of these crocodyliforms lived alongside omnivorous or herbivorous synapsids, illustrating an ecological partition that is not found today.

The Diets of Extinct Crocodyliforms were Diverse with Many Examples of Herbivory Identified

Extinct crocodyliforms had different shaped teeth.

Life reconstructions of extinct crocodyliforms. Differences in tooth shape are related to differences in diets.

Picture Credit: Jorge Gonzalez

Writing in the academic paper “Current Biology”, the researchers Keegan Melstrom and Randall Irmis at the Natural History Museum of Utah at the University of Utah, discovered that multiple ancient groups of crocodyliforms (the group including living and extinct relatives of crocodiles and alligators), were not all carnivorous.  Research has been conducted before on the various potential dietary niches of ancient crocodiles, but this new study proposes that vegetarianism arose at least three times within this group.

Commenting on the significance of this new study, doctoral student Keegan Melstrom stated:

“The most interesting thing we discovered was how frequently it seems extinct crocodyliforms ate plants.  Our study indicates that complexly shaped teeth, which we infer to indicate herbivory, appear in the extinct relatives of crocodiles at least three times and maybe as many as six.”

Teeth Variation within Crocodyliforms (Extinct and Extant)

Heterodonty in Crocodyliforms.

False colour 3-D images showing the range in shape of crocodyliform teeth.  Carnivores (left), such as the living Caiman, have simple teeth, whereas herbivores (right) have much more complex teeth.

Picture Credit: Keegan Melstrom (The Natural History Museum of Utah)

The Tip of the Crocodyliform Iceberg

The twenty plus species of crocodylians alive today possess a similar general body shape and ecology.  They are mainly generalist hypercarnivores and semi-aquatic, confined to lower latitudes.  Although, consuming fruit and vegetable matter has been observed in several extant species.  In 2013, Everything Dinosaur wrote an article about fruit consumption (frugivory), in crocodiles.

To read the article: New Study Suggests a Number of Different Types of Crocodylian Consume Fruit.

The crocodiles alive today, all have similar, simple conical teeth but the fossil record shows that extinct crocodyliforms were much more diverse.  Today’s crocodiles are just the remnants from a once much richer and more specious group of reptiles, consider the living crocodylians as the “tip of the crocodyliform iceberg”.

Living Crocodiles are Generalist Ambush Predators (Hypercarnivores)

Saltwater crocodile (Estuarine crocodile).

A Saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus), the largest living reptile which is an apex predator (hypercarnivore).

The researchers identified different teeth morphologies (heterodonty) and this suggests that in the past crocodile-like creatures had a variety of diets.

Melstrom added:

“Carnivores possess simple teeth whereas herbivores have much more complex teeth.  Omnivores, organisms that eat both plant and animal material, fall somewhere in between.  Part of my earlier research showed that this pattern holds in living reptiles that have teeth, such as crocodylians and lizards.  So, these results told us that the basic pattern between diet and teeth is found in both mammals and reptiles, despite very different tooth shapes, and is applicable to extinct reptiles.”

Keegan Melstrom (The Natural History Museum of Utah) with Some of the Casts Used in the Study

Examing three-dimensional prints of fossil jaws.

Keegan Melstrom, the study’s lead author, with the fossil jaw of Brachychampsa and 3-D prints of other extinct crocodyliforms (blue).

Picture Credit: The Natural History Museum of Utah

Comparing Tooth Complexity – Extinct versus Extant

To deduce what long dead crocodyliforms most likely consumed, Melstrom with the assistance of his graduate advisor ( Randall B. Irmis), compared the tooth complexity of extinct crocodyliforms to those of living animals using a research methodology originally designed to study mammalian heterodonty.  In total, 146 teeth from 16 different species of extinct crocodyliforms were incorporated into the study.

Using a combination of quantitative dental measurements and an assessment morphological features, the scientists reconstructed the diets of those extinct animals.  The results indicate that these animals had a wider range of dental complexities and presumed dietary ecologies than had been appreciated previously.  Quantitative analyses also revealed that some species with complex dentition were likely to be herbivorous.

The researchers conclude that plant-eating crocodyliforms appeared early in the group, perhaps shortly after the end-Triassic mass extinction event and herbivory persisted until the end of the Age of Dinosaurs.  The analysis suggests that herbivory arose independently a minimum of three times, and possibly six times, in Mesozoic crocodyliforms.

Melstrom stated:

“Our work demonstrates that extinct crocodyliforms had an incredibly varied diet.  Some were similar to living crocodylians and were primarily carnivorous, others were omnivores and still others likely specialised in eating plants.  The herbivores lived on different continents at different times, some alongside mammals and mammal relatives, and others did not.  This suggests that herbivorous crocodyliforms were successful in a variety of environments!”

As many of these herbivorous crocodyliforms co-existed with plant-eating synapsids including Mammaliaformes, some of which were the ancestors of today’s mammals, this was an ecological partition that is no longer found on our planet.

The scientific paper: “Repeated Evolution of Herbivorous Crocodyliforms during the Age of Dinosaurs” by Keegan M. Melstrom and Randall B. Irmis published in Current Biology.

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

27 06, 2019

Noise Pollution Hampers Living Theropods

By | June 27th, 2019|Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

Bird Communication Hampered by Noise Pollution

Extant theropods (birds) are having a rough time communicating with each other as man-made noise pollution is getting in the way.  That is the conclusion from new research from Queen’s University (Belfast).  Both urban and rural bird populations could decline as noise pollution prevents effective communication during the mating season.

New Study Suggests Bird Song Badly Affected by Noise Pollution

A robin in full voice.

New study looks at the impact of noise pollution on bird song and behaviour.

Picture Credit: Queen’s University (Belfast)

In the spring, birds use song to show aggressiveness and to attain territory for nesting and breeding, but this is becoming much harder for them due to noisy conditions created by our own species.  Dr Gareth Arnott, (Senior Lecturer and Researcher from the Institute for Global Food Security), at Queen’s University, studied bird song in detail and found that background noise can mask crucial information.  The scientific paper has been published this week in the academic journal “Biology Letters”.

Commenting on the significance of his study for British ornithology, Dr Arnott stated:

“Sound is a great form of bird communication because it can carry beyond where birds can see.  Singing is one of the most common ways birds advertise that a territory belongs to them, and birds will perch near the edge of their territory to broadcast their claim to the maximum range.  A strong, vibrant song will help defend a territory from intruders and attract a mate.”

The Impact of Noise Pollution

However, Dr Arnott and his colleagues have identified that man-made noise is disrupting birds from being able to hear and understand each other clearly.  In effect, thanks to us, birds are losing the ability to communicate orally with each other, this could have dire consequences in terms of breeding success and subsequent population numbers.

Dr Arnott added:

“We found that bird song structure can communicate aggressive intent, enabling birds to assess their opponent, but human-made noise can disrupt this crucial information passed between them by masking the complexity of their songs used for acquiring resources, such as territory and space for nesting.  As a result, the birds receive incomplete information on their opponent’s intent and do not appropriately adjust their response.”

Testing the Responses of the Humble Garden Robin

To test how noise pollution might be disrupting avian communication, the researchers used recordings of robins (Erithacus rubecula) to stimulate responses from birds that held territory.  Both simple and more complex types of bird song were tested with and without the addition of man-made noise.  The behaviour and responses of the subject birds were then assessed.

The scientists discovered that song complexity was used as a signal of aggressive intent, with birds demonstrating higher aggressive intent towards complex versus simple song, reflecting the level of threat perceived by the signal.  However, importantly, this assessment process was disrupted by the presence of noise pollution.  The team’s findings raise concerns about the ability of birds to cope with a modern, ever more complex human society.

The study also demonstrated that bird song is crucial to the survival and reproduction of birds and there are important implications to consider around noise pollution and the protection of wildlife.  This research may have implications regarding how other extinct types of theropod may have behaved including maniraptoran dinosaurs.

Did Extinct Theropods Vocalise to Proclaim Territories and to Attract a Mate?

Dinosaur dawn chorus.

Vocalisation in theropod dinosaurs (Maniraptora).

Picture Credit: Nicole Fuller/Sayo Art for University of Texas at Austin

Dr Arnott concluded:

“The study is evidence that human-made noise pollution impacts animal habitats and directly influences their ability to communicate properly, which may have implications for survival and population numbers for birds.”

The research team believe that further investigation is required in order to help to find the best way to protect avian biodiversity.

The scientific paper: “Signal complexity communicates aggressive intent during contests, but the process is disrupted by noise” by Kyriacos Kareklas, James Wilson, Hansjoerg P. Kunc and Gareth Arnott published in Biology Letters.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a press release from Queen’s University Belfast in the preparation of this article.

24 03, 2019

Alligator Study Provides Insight into Dinosaur Hearing

By | March 24th, 2019|Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Alligator Hearing Study Provides Insight into Dinosaur Hearing

New research published in the “Journal of Neuroscience” identifies that living Archosaurs – birds and crocodiles make a mental map of sounds in the same way.  This suggests that this auditory strategy existed in their common ancestor which has implications for dinosaur research.

Animal brains determine where a sound is coming from, by analysing the minute difference in time it takes audio waves to reach each ear—a cue known as interaural time difference.  What happens to the cue once the signals get to the brain depends on what kind of animal is doing the hearing.

An American Alligator – New Research Suggests that Birds and Crocodilians Hear in the Same Way

An American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis).

A photograph of an American alligator.

Picture Credit: Ruth Elsey Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries

Scientists have known that birds are exceptionally good at creating neural maps to chart the location of sounds, and that the strategy differs in mammals.  Little was known, however, about how alligators process interaural time difference.

A new study of American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis), found that the reptiles form neural maps of sound in the same way birds do.  The research by Catherine Carr, a Distinguished University Professor of Biology at the University of Maryland and her colleague Lutz Kettler from the Technische Universität München, was published this week in the “Journal of Neuroscience”.

Most research into how animals analyse interaural time difference has focused on physical features such as skull size and shape, but Carr and Kettler believed it was important to look at evolutionary relationships.

Birds have very small head sizes compared with alligators, but the two groups share a common ancestor, as both Aves (birds) and crocodilians are members of the Archosauria.   Archosaurs began to emerge around 246 million years ago and split into two lineages; one that led to alligators and one that led to dinosaurs (and birds).  Although most dinosaurs died out during the mass extinction event 66 million years ago, some types of dinosaur survived and we see their descendants all around us today, these are the modern birds.

Carr and Kettler’s findings indicate that the hearing strategy birds and alligators share may have less to do with head size and more to do with common ancestry.

Carr commented:

“Our research strongly suggests that this particular hearing strategy first evolved in their common ancestor.  The other option, that they independently evolved the same complex strategy, seems very unlikely.”

Sedated American Alligators were Fitted with Earphones

An American alligator.

A photograph of an American alligator.

Picture Credit:  Ruth Elsey Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries

To study how alligators identify where sound comes from, the researchers anesthetised forty American Alligators and fitted them with earphones.  They played tones for the sleepy reptiles and measured the response of a structure in their brain stems called the nucleus laminaris.  This structure is the seat of auditory signal processing.  Their results showed that alligators create neural maps very similar to those previously measured in barn owls and chickens.  The same maps have not been recorded in the equivalent structure in mammal brains.

The Distinguished Professor added:

“We know so little about dinosaurs.  Comparative studies such as this one, which identify common traits extending back through evolutionary time add to our understanding of their biology.”

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

The scientific paper: “Neural Maps of Interaural Time Difference in the American Alligator: A Stable Feature in Modern Archosaurs” by Lutz Kettler and Catherine Carr and published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

25 01, 2019

Link Between Bird Beak Shape and Feeding Ecology Not That Strong

By | January 25th, 2019|Animal News Stories, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Bird Beak Shape Did Not Evolve to Help Process Different Types of Food

A team of international researchers, including scientists from Bristol University, have published a new scientific paper that provides a new perspective on how the beaks of birds adapted over time. It seems that the “strong relationship” between bird beak shape and what the bird eats might not be that strong a relationship after all.

New Research Shows a Link Between Beak Shape and Feeding Ecology but it is not as Strong as Previously Suggested

The highly modified mandible of the Black Skimmer.

The highly modified mandible of the Black Skimmer indicates a strong link between feeding ecology and beak shape, but this relationship might not be as strong as previously thought.

Picture Credit: hoganphoto.com

Darwin and the Galapagos Finches

Charles Darwin famously observed that finches on different islands of the Galapagos possessed distinctive beak shapes.  He postulated that the beak shapes had come about due to natural selection as the birds adapted to fill unique niches within the ecosystem.  It had been assumed that this form-function relationship holds true across all species of bird.  In a new study looking at a total of 176 extant avian species and published in the academic journal “Evolution”, it is suggested that the beaks of birds are not as adapted to the food types they feed upon as it is generally believed.  After all, birds use their beaks for a variety of functions not just for feeding.

Puffins on the Island of Skomer – Beaks Perform a Variety of Tasks

Bird beaks used for various tasks not just feeding.

The beak on a bird is used for various tasks.  Functions of the beak include visual display, preening and feeding.

Picture Credit: Sergio Martínez-Nebreda and Paula Medina-García

The research team, consisting of scientists from the UK, the United States and Spain, used mathematical and computational statistical techniques to map the connection between beak shapes and functions in birds.  By measuring the beak shape in a wide range of modern bird species from museum collections and looking at information about how the beak is used by different species to consume different foods, the scientists were able to examine the link between beak shape and feeding behaviour.  Did feeding behaviour influence beak shape evolution?  If it did, how strong a link was this?

Co-author of the study, Professor Emily Rayfield (Bristol University), commented:

“This is, to our knowledge, the first approach to test a long-standing principle in biology: that the beak shape and function of birds is tightly linked to their feeding ecologies.”

Lead author of the research, Guillermo Navalón, a PhD student at Bristol University’s School of Earth Sciences added:

“The connection between beak shapes and feeding ecology in birds was much weaker and more complex than we expected and that while there is definitely a relationship there, many species with similarly shaped beaks forage in entirely different ways and on entirely different kinds of food.  This is something that has been shown in other animal groups, but in birds this relationship was always assumed to be stronger.”

Research co-author, Dr Jesús Marugán-Lobón from Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, explained:

“These results only made sense when you realise birds use the beak for literally everything!  Therefore, it also makes sense they evolved a versatile tool not just for getting food, but also to accomplish many other tasks.”

Important Implications for the Study of Fossil Birds

The study is part of a larger research programme by the team in collaboration with academics from other universities across Europe and the USA to better understand the main drivers of the evolution of the skull in birds, the only living members of the Theropoda.  Similar results were identified in a study of birds of prey, but this is the first time that the link between beak shape and ecology has been examined across a wide variety of bird families.

Guillermo Navalón added:

“These results have important implications for the study of fossil birds.  We have to be careful about inferring ecology in ancient birds, which we often assume based solely on the shape of the beak.”

A Fossil Bird – Eoconfuciusornis

Eoconfuciusornis fossil bird.

The fossilised remains of a Lower Cretaceous bird from China (Eoconfuciusornis).  This new study has implications for how the beaks of fossil birds are interpreted.

Picture Credit: Dr Xiaoli Wang (Linyi University)

What About the Pterosauria?

This study may also have implications for the Pterosauria.  Pterosaurs are extinct and they have no living close relatives, so what we know about these volant animals has to be deduced from their fossils.  There are many different types of beak associated with these flying reptiles and the link between shape and feeding ecology may not be as strong as previously thought.  The beaks of pterosaurs may not be as adapted to the food types they are thought to have fed upon.

A Wide Range of Different Beak Types Demonstrated in the Pterosauria

Examples of pterosaurs from the Museum Nacional collection.

The Pterosauria exhibit a wide variety of different types of mandible.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

If the mandibles of pterosaurs were employed in a variety of functions such as display, preening and visual signalling as well as feeding could their beaks be not as well adapted to the food types they fed on as is generally believed?  These reptiles had more manipulative function in their hands and fingers than extant birds, but the function of the hand would have been limited by the animal’s wing membranes.

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

The scientific paper: “The Evolutionary Relationship between Beak Shape, Mechanical Advantage and Feeding Ecology in Modern Birds” by G. Navalón, J. A. Bright, J. Marugán‐Lobón and E.J. Rayfield published in the journal Evolution.

11 12, 2018

Prehistoric Cave Art Reveals an Understanding of Astronomy

By | December 11th, 2018|Animal News Stories, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Drawings, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

Cave Paintings Indicate a Link with Complex Astronomical Measurements

Scientists have decoded some ancient (Palaeolithic and Neolithic), cave art and found consistent links which indicate that Stone Age people had an advanced knowledge of astronomy.  The artworks located across Europe (Spain, France and Germany, with some younger artworks studied from Turkey), are not simply depictions of animals and hunting, the wild animals that have been painted onto cave walls represent star constellations and are used to represent dates and catastrophic events such as meteor strikes.

The Famous Lascaux Shaft Cave Painting (France)

The Lascaux Shaft Cave Painting

The cave painting shows a wounded bison with its entrails hanging outside his body standing over a prone man with a bird mask.  Once thought to depict a hunting accident and also linked to shamanism, scientists now think such symbolism relates to understanding movements of celestial bodies.

Picture Credit: Alistair Coombs

This research, published in the latest edition of the quarterly “Athens Journal of History”, suggests that perhaps as far back as 40,000 years ago, humans kept track of time using knowledge of how the position of the stars slowly changes over thousands of years.  The study conducted by scientists from Edinburgh University and the University of Kent, hints at the possibility that ancient peoples understood an effect caused by the gradual shift of the Earth’s rotational axis.  Discovery of this phenomenon, called precession of the equinoxes, was previously thought to have occurred much more recently (credited to the Ancient Greek civilisation).

Like Signs of the Zodiac

In western, occidental science, constellations are represented by symbols such as animals, for example, The Great Bear, Pegasus, Aries and Leo.  It seems this idea has roots far back into our ancestry.  The researchers estimate that Stone Age people could define the date of an astronomical event according to this celestial calendar to within 250 years or thereabouts.  The findings indicate that the astronomical insights of ancient people were far greater than previously believed.  One practical application of this knowledge would have been seen in navigation.  Knowledge of the movements of the stars in the night sky would have aided navigation across open water out of sight of land.  This new study may have implications for how we perceive human migration in prehistory.

Studying Palaeolithic and Neolithic Art

The scientists discovered all the ancient sites they studied across Europe and into Turkey used the same method of date-keeping based on sophisticated astronomy, even though the art was separated in time by tens of thousands of years.  The oldest art in the research project was the Lion-Man sculpture from the Hohlenstein-Stadel Cave, in southern Germany.  This sculpture is believed to have been created around 38,000 B.C.  The most recent artworks incorporated into this research come from Neolithic sites in southern Turkey which are dated to around 9,000 years ago.  Researchers clarified earlier findings from a study of stone carvings at one of these sites – Gobekli Tepe in (Turkey), which is interpreted as a memorial to a devastating comet strike around 13,000 years ago.  The extra-terrestrial impact event is believed to have caused a mini Ice Age in the northern hemisphere (the Younger Dryas period).

Löwenmensch Figurine or Lion-man of the Hohlenstein-Stadel Cave (Germany)

The Lion-man sculpture of Hohlenstein-Stadel.

Löwenmensch figurine or Lion-man of the Hohlenstein-Stadel cave complex.  Carved from Mammoth ivory, the figure probably took several hundred hours to make.

The scientists also decoded what is probably one of the most famous ancient cave paintings, the Lascaux Shaft Scene in France.  The artwork, which features a dying man and several animals (see above), may commemorate another comet strike around 17,200 years ago.  The team confirmed their findings by comparing the age of many examples of cave art, known from chemically dating the paints used, with the positions of stars in ancient times as predicted by sophisticated software.

Dr Martin Sweatman (School of Engineering at Edinburgh University), stated:

“Early cave art shows that people had advanced knowledge of the night sky within the last Ice Age.  Intellectually, they were hardly any different to us today.  These findings support a theory of multiple comet impacts over the course of human development and will probably revolutionise how prehistoric populations are seen.”

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

1 12, 2018

Defining Background Extinction

By | December 1st, 2018|Animal News Stories, Educational Activities, Main Page, Teaching|0 Comments

What is Background Extinction?

Amongst the numerous emails that we receive from schools and schoolchildren every day, we were sent a query by a UK-based, Key Stage 2 teacher, who raised a question surrounding the teaching of natural selection, Darwinism and evolution with her Year 6 class.  The teacher had come across the term “background extinction”, but was unsure as to its meaning, could we help?

Bolide Impacts May Have Contributed to Mass Extinctions But What is Background Extinction?

The extinction of the dinosaurs.

The impact of an extra-terrestrial object such as a comet or asteroid probably contributed to the end-Cretaceous mass extinction event.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Defining Background Extinction

If ideas about natural selection are correct, then organisms in ecosystems are all competing against each other for resources.  Such competition for finite resources such as space, water and food will lead to some organisms being more successful than others.  Ultimately, those less competitive organisms within a population will not survive to reproduce.  The same idea applies on a species level, some species will be more successful than other species.  Eventually, in the face of this competition, some species will die out.  These extinctions as a result of the operation of normal competition and natural selection are referred to as “background extinction”.  These extinctions are also sometimes referred to as the “standard rate of extinction”.

It is estimated that something like 90% of all extinctions throughout the history of our planet have taken place during times of background extinction.

To read an article (2015), that looks at why Australia’s extinction rate might be higher than on other continents: The Extinction Rate in Australia is Higher than most Other Continents

Background Extinction – Extension Activities

In order to help the teacher’s scheme of work with the Year 6 class, we set two extension activities linked to the theme of background extinction:

1).  Could the school children draw a graph to represent mass extinction events that have occurred but also show on the same graph background extinction?

2).  Have the children research The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), can they produce a non-chronological report on this organisation, its aims, objectives and what current conservation projects are being undertaken?  There are plenty of on-line resources available including videos to support this type of independent enquiry and research.

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.

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