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.

14 09, 2021

Modern Snakes Evolved from a Handful of Species

By | September 14th, 2021|Animal News Stories, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Key Stage 3/4, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

New research published in the journal “Nature Communications” suggests that all extant snakes evolved from just a handful of species that survived the K-Pg extinction event 66 million years ago. The researchers conclude that this catastrophic extinction event, that wiped out the non-avian dinosaurs and something like 75% of all terrestrial life, was a form of “creative destruction” leading to a burst of evolutionary development within the Serpentes.

Snakes benefitted from the End-Cretaceous extinction event.
Snakes benefitted from the End-Cretaceous extinction event. It enabled them to evolve rapidly and to exploit new, ecological niches. Picture credit: Joschua Knüppe.

Snakes benefited from the extinction event, the loss of so many competitors allowed them to diversify rapidly and to occupy new niches in food chains.

The Snake Fossil Record

The fossil record of snakes is relatively poor because snake skeletons are typically small and fragile making the preservation of fossil material a rare event.

It is generally accepted that snakes (Suborder Serpentes), evolved from lizards. Snakes gradually losing their limbs, whether the first snakes were burrowers and evolved from burrowing lizards or whether the first snakes were adapted to a life in marine environments is an area of on-going debate between vertebrate palaeontologists. For example, in 2016 a team of scientists challenged the conclusions from the paper that described Tetrapodophis amplectus, a primitive snake-like animal from the Lower Cretaceous of Brazil. It had been suggested that T. amplectus, which had been described and named the year before, was adapted to a life underground, however, researchers from Canada and Australia challenged this view and proposed a marine habit for this 20 cm long animal that has been classified as being close to the base of the evolutionary lineage of true snakes.

Tetrapodophis Illustrated
The tiny limbs of Tetrapodophis may have been used to hold prey. Scientists are uncertain whether this animal was a burrower or adapted to a marine environment. Picture credit: Julius Csotonyi.

To read more about this research: Were the Very First Snakes Marine Reptiles?

Studying Fossils and the Genomes of Living Snakes

The research, led by scientists at the University of Bath in collaboration with researchers from Cambridge, Bristol and Germany, involved examining snake fossils and an analysis of the genomes of living snakes to pinpoint genetic differences permitting a picture of modern snake evolution to be built up.

The results indicate that despite the great variety of snakes alive today – cobras, vipers, pythons, boas, sea snakes and blind, burrowing snakes for example, all extant snakes can be traced back to a handful of species that survived the K-Pg extinction event that took place 66 million years ago.

A scientist examines a venomous Bushmaster snake (genus Lachesis), a type of pit viper known from Central and South America. Picture credit: Rodrigo Souza/Serra Grande Center.

Snake Survival Strategy

The authors postulate that the ability of snakes to shelter underground and go for long periods without food helped them survive the destructive effects of the bolide impact event. In the aftermath, the extinction of their competitors including Cretaceous snakes and small theropod dinosaurs, permitted snakes to move into new niches, new habitats and new parts of the world. Today, snakes are found in all but the highest latitudes and are present on every continent except Antarctica.

The researchers, which included lead author Dr Catherine Klein, a former graduate of Bath University but now based at the Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) in Germany, state that modern snake diversity – including tree snakes, sea snakes, venomous vipers and cobras, and huge constrictors like boas and pythons – emerged only after the non-avian dinosaur extinction.

Dr Klein commented:

“It’s remarkable, because not only are they surviving an extinction that wipes out so many other animals, but within a few million years they are innovating, using their habitats in new ways.”

A Change in Snake Vertebrae

Fossils also show a change in the shape of snake vertebrae in the aftermath, resulting from the extinction of Cretaceous lineages and the appearance of new groups, including giant sea snakes, such as Gigantophis garstini from the Eocene of northern Africa which may have reached a length of ten metres. Gigantophis was scientifically described in 1901, it was thought to have been the largest snake to have ever lived, until in 2009 when the giant, South American boa – Titanoboa cerrejonensis was described.

Rebor Titanoboa Museum Class Maquette Monty Resurgent.
The Rebor Titanoboa Museum Class Maquette Monty Resurgent. A model of the largest snake known to science.

Rapidly Spreading Around the Globe

The research team also suggest that snakes began to spread rapidly around the globe. The “Greenhouse Earth” conditions that occurred close to the boundary between the Palaeocene and Eocene Epochs that led to the establishment of extensive tropical forests in the Northern Hemisphere, would have facilitated the geographical spread of cold-blooded animals such as snakes.

Although the ancestor of living snakes probably lived somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere, snakes first appear to have spread to Asia after the extinction event.

Corresponding author, Dr Nick Longrich, from the Milner Centre for Evolution (University of Bath), explained:

“Our research suggests that extinction acted as a form of “creative destruction”- by wiping out old species, it allowed survivors to exploit the gaps in the ecosystem, experimenting with new lifestyles and habitats. This seems to be a general feature of evolution – it’s the periods immediately after major extinctions where we see evolution at its most wildly experimental and innovative. The destruction of biodiversity makes room for new things to emerge and colonise new landmasses. Ultimately life becomes even more diverse than before.”

Further Serpentes Evolution Driven by Climate Change

The researchers also found evidence for a second major diversification event around the time that the world shifted from a warm and moist climate to a colder, more seasonal climate (Oligocene Epoch).

It seems, that for the snakes at least, global catastrophes can have their upsides. The patterns seen in snake evolution hint at the key role played by mass extinction events – they are the catalysts for driving rapid evolutionary changes.

The scientific paper: “Evolution and dispersal of snakes across the Cretaceous-Paleogene mass extinction” by Catherine G. Klein, Davide Pisani, Daniel J. Field, Rebecca Lakin, Matthew A. Wills and Nicholas R. Longrich published in Nature Communications.

20 05, 2021

Horned Crocodile Gets a Home

By | May 20th, 2021|Animal News Stories, Key Stage 3/4, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Specimens of a strange, recently extinct crocodile housed at the American Museum of Natural History (New York), have helped unravel a mystery surrounding the evolutionary relationships of crocodilians. The skulls belong to the horned crocodile of Madagascar (Voay robustus) and a research team has demonstrated that it was closely related to “true crocodiles” – Crocodylus, making it the closest species to the common ancestor of the crocodile genus.

Voay robustus - horned crocodile skull
A skull of Voay robustus collected at Ampoza during the joint mission Franco-Anglo-American expedition from 1927–1930 (White, 1930). Picture credit: Hekkala et al.

Recently Extinct

When the first Europeans came to Madagascar the native Malagasy people told them about two distinct types of crocodiles that lived on their island. There was a gracile form that preferred rivers, this was identified as a population of Nile crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus), but the swamps and lakes were home to a crocodile that the early explorers had never seen before. This second type was a much more heavy-set and powerful animal with two, bony bumps at the top of its skull.

When first named and described in 1872 (Grandidier and Vaillant), it was thought to be a species of true crocodile – a member of the Crocodylus genus. More recent studies have suggested affinities with the dwarf crocodiles (Osteolaeminae), however, with an estimated length of around 5 metres V. robustus was much larger than any other species assigned to this group.

New research published in the academic journal Communications Biology, which used DNA extracted from the American Museum of Natural History specimens, has resolved the phylogeny of this enigmatic reptile. Carbon dating of the material used in the study confirms that the horned crocodile probably survived until just a few hundred years ago.

Voay robustus phylogeny
The DNA study places the horned crocodile right next to the true crocodile branch of the evolutionary tree, making it the closest species to the common ancestor of the crocodiles alive today.

One of the authors of the scientific paper, Evon Hekkala, a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History stated:

“This crocodile was hiding out on the island of Madagascar during the time when people were building the pyramids and was probably still there when pirates were getting stranded on the island. They blinked out just before we had the modern genomic tools available to make sense of the relationships of living things. And yet, they were the key to understanding the story of all the crocodiles alive today.”

Mitochondrial DNA extracted from sub-fossil specimens found during a Franco-Anglo-American expedition to south-western Madagascar (1927 to 1930), demonstrates that V. robustus was not a true crocodile but very closely related to that lineage that led to them. Being placed next to the true crocodiles on an evolutionary tree suggests that it was the closest species to the common ancestor of extant members of the Crocodylus genus.

Voay robustus lower jaw.
The tip of the lower jaw (dentary) of the horned crocodile from Madagascar (Voay robustus). Carbon dating of the subfossils suggests that they are less than 1,400 years old. Picture credit: The American Museum of Natural History.

Co-author George Amato, (American Museum of Natural History), explained:

“This is a project we’ve tried to do on and off for many years, but the technology just hadn’t advanced enough, so it always failed. But in time, we had both the computational setup and the paleogenomic protocols that could actually fish out this DNA from the fossil and finally find a home for this species.”

“Teasing apart the relationships of modern crocodiles is really difficult because of the physical similarities,” Hekkala added. “Many people don’t even realise that there are multiple species of crocodiles, and they see them as this animal that’s unchanging through time. But we’ve been trying to get to the bottom of the great diversity that exists among them.”

Surprising Results

The close affinity of Voay to Crocodylus lends weight to the idea that Crocodylus originated in Africa and then dispersed into the Americas and Asia/Australia. Competing theories have proposed an Asian origin for Crocodylus but as Voay was restricted to Madagascar and has been cited as the closest species to the true crocodiles, this DNA analysis lends weight to the “African origins” idea.

The scientific paper: “Paleogenomics illuminates the evolutionary history of the extinct Holocene “horned” crocodile of Madagascar, Voay robustus” by E. Hekkala, J. Gatesy, A. Narechania, R. Meredith, M. Russello, M. L. Aardema, E. Jensen, S. Montanari, C. Brochu, M. Norell and G. Amato published in Communications Biology.

8 05, 2021

Crocodile Conservation Success Story at Zoo Miami

By | May 8th, 2021|Adobe CS5, Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

Zoo Miami (Florida), has announced that a clutch of Orinoco crocodile eggs has successfully hatched. The Orinoco crocodile (Crocodylus intermedius), is one of the world’s rarest crocodilians, in the wild, this species is limited to freshwater habitats in Venezuela and Columbia. As such, it is the most southerly of all the American crocodilians.

The female Orinoco crocodile laid a clutch of 45 eggs on February 5th (2021). Zoo staff collected the eggs and placed them in two incubators set at different temperatures. The sex of crocodilians is determined by the temperature that the eggs are incubated at. So, in order to ensure a mix of males and females, the clutch was divided in two and incubated in two batches. Generally, cooler temperatures produce females and warmer temperatures produce males. By incubating the eggs in separate incubators with different temperatures, the curators at the crocodilian enclosure planned to have a mix of both males and females hatching in a bid to maximise the future breeding potential of the progeny.

A quartet of Orinoco crocodiles.
Recently hatched, critically endangered Orinoco crocodiles are shown to the media. Picture credit: Zoo Miami.

Hatching Spread over Several Days

The first eggs began to hatch on May 2nd, the mother of the brood, was herself hatched at Zoo Miami in 1980 and had been sent to various institutions before returning to the zoo two years ago. The father was hatched at the Dallas World Aquarium in the spring of 2004 and arrived at Zoo Miami in November 2006. This is their first clutch together.

A spokesperson for the zoo stated that once the crocodiles were big enough, it was hoped that these rare reptiles could be returned to the wild.

Zoo Miami (also known as The Miami-Dade Zoological Park and Gardens), was formed in 1948 and is the largest zoo in Florida and the fifth biggest in the United States. It is home to more than 3,000 animals, many of which such as the Orinoco crocodiles, are critically endangered.

3 04, 2021

Extra-terrestrial End-Cretaceous Impact Gave Rise to the Amazon Rainforest

By | April 3rd, 2021|Adobe CS5, Animal News Stories, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Key Stage 3/4, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

The Amazon rainforest is an extremely important low latitude habitat with a huge diversity of animals, fungi and plant species. Described as the “lungs of the planet”, this tropical rainforest is at the very centre of many global conservation efforts. New research suggests that it was the extra-terrestrial impact event some 66 million years ago that led to the rise of this angiosperm dominated ecosystem.

Earth impact event.
Cataclysmic impact event that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs and lots of other animal life. New research suggests that the dinosaur-killing bolide also gave rise to the Amazon rainforest ecosystem. Picture credit: Don Davis (commissioned by NASA).

K/Pg Extinction Event

Approximately 66 million years ago a rock from space smashed into our planet. This triggered a sudden mass extinction event devastating around 75% of all the animal and plant terrestrial species, many of which subsequently became extinct. At this time the dinosaurs, their cousins the pterosaurs and the majority of marine reptiles died out.

The end of the non-avian dinosaurs.
An artist’s impression of the bolide about to impact with the Gulf of Mexico 66 million years ago. This devastating event wiped out a large number of animals and plants, very probably contributing to the extinction of many different families including all the non-avian dinosaurs. Picture credit: Chase Stone.

Analysis of Fossil Pollen and Study of Fossil Leaves

Writing in the journal “Science”, researchers from the Southern Methodist University (Texas) and the University of Wyoming report on the study of tens of thousands of fossil pollen specimens along with thousands of leaf fossils from Cretaceous-aged strata and deposits laid down after the K/Pg extinction event. The scientists, which include co-author Dr Ellen Currano (Department of Botany, University of Wyoming), found that the types of plant creating tropical forests were very different pre and post the extra-terrestrial impact. In the Late Cretaceous tropical forests were dominated by conifers and they were much more open than the dense, angiosperm forests that came about during the Palaeocene.

Cretaceous maniraptora.
Study suggests the floral composition of tropical rainforests changed dramatically after the extra-terrestrial impact event. During the Late Cretaceous tropical forests were dominated by conifers and forest canopies were less dense. Picture Credit: Danielle Dufault.

A Thick Forest Canopy Denying Access to Light

The scientists discovered that the fossil pollen and leaves show a marked transition in tropical forest flora. After the extra-terrestrial impact forests developed a thick canopy blocking much of the light from reaching the ground and angiosperms became more dominant.

A view of a modern tropical rainforest canopy.
An aerial view of the dense angiosperm dominated canopy of a modern rainforest. Picture credit: BBC.

How Did These Changes Come About?

As well as the documenting the turnover in flora and the transition from one tropical forest environment to a different type of rainforest in the Palaeocene, the researchers propose three possible explanations for this change:

  1. The absence of large megaherbivores, specifically dinosaurs allowed plant densities in forests to increase. The extinction of giant plant-eating dinosaurs such as the Ceratopsia, hadrosaurs, armoured dinosaurs and the titanosaurs allowed plants to grow at lower levels as they were not being trampled or consumed by herbivorous dinosaurs.
  2. Several types of fern and conifer became extinct during the K/Pg transition permitting new types of angiosperm (flowering plants) to evolve and exploit the vacated niches.
  3. Falling ash from the impact enriched soils throughout the tropics, provided an advantage to faster-growing angiosperms.
The floral composition of rainforests radically altered after the K/Pg extinction event.
The floral composition of rainforests radically altered after the K/Pg extinction event. Picture Credit: BBC.

The scientists conclude that the three hypotheses are not mutually exclusive and that a combination of factors could have led to the change in the flora as recorded in the fossil record.

A Significant Lesson for Today

Today, a rapidly changing climate, largely caused by the actions of our own species is having a dramatic effect on the world’s forests. The researchers note that the fossil record demonstrates that rainforests do not simply “bounce back”, after a catastrophe. They can take millions of years to recover and a very different type of ecosystem is likely to emerge.

The scientific paper: “The impactful origin of neotropical rainforests” by Bonnie F. Jacobs and Ellen D. Currano published in the journal Science.

23 03, 2021

Smaller Amphibians More Vulnerable to Extinction

By | March 23rd, 2021|Adobe CS5, Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos|0 Comments

New research published this week shows that smaller amphibians may be more vulnerable to extinction than larger amphibian species.

A study led by Queen’s University Belfast has found that the risk of extinction among amphibians, the most endangered vertebrates on the planet, increases for species of smaller body size as their females produce fewer babies per birth.

Red-eyed Tree Frog of Central America
The red-eyed tree frog (scientific name: Agalychnis callidryas). This tropical frog species produces on average about 40 eggs per clutch. Small numbers of offspring can lead to concern over the extinction threat. Picture Credit: Roberto García-Roa.

Scientists had thought that animals of larger body size, be they hypercarnivores, or megaherbivores were more vulnerable to extinction. In popular culture, most people are aware of the threat of extinction to animals such as whales, pandas, big cats and polar bears. These large-bodied animals are certainly in danger. It has been postulated that we are currently experiencing a mass extinction event, brought on mainly due to the behaviour of Homo sapiens.

This newly published research in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography, which represents a collaboration between Tel Aviv University, the University of Lincoln, Exeter University, Queen’s University (Belfast) and Nottingham Trent University, is the first to suggest amending the theory to focus on reproduction levels of animals rather than on body size when assessing extinction risk.

A Global Challenge

Regarded as one of the most pressing challenges facing our world, scientists are determined to better understand the factors that drive extinction.

Amphibians, such as frogs, toads, newts and salamanders, in particular, have become the iconic example of human-induced extinctions. Amphibian species are dying out faster than any other group of vertebrates on Earth. It has been calculated that something like forty per cent of all known species of amphibians currently face the threat of extinction.

Mating frogs (2017).
A pair of mating frogs (2017) Rana temporaria (European Common Frog).

Not Focusing Just on Mammals

One of the most accepted theories regarding extinction risk is that larger body size significantly increases the extinction threat. This hypothesis has been mainly driven via research into the Mammalia. This research is the first to investigate the causes behind extinction in amphibians based on the theory that it is not body size, but the number of babies a female produces per clutch that determines extinction risk.

Thousands of species from around the world were studied, irrespective of their conservation status. The researchers then mapped their level of endangerment against body size and their number of babies produced per batch of eggs.

The Fewer the Offspring the Greater the Risk

Strong evidence was found indicating that extinction risk increases towards species that produce fewer offspring, such as the “rain frogs” (Eleutherodactylus), whereas extinction risk decreases towards species that produce more, such as different species of American water frogs (Lithobates) or the large-bodied ‘bufonid’ toads.

Japanese Giant Salamander
The increasingly rare Giant Salamander of Japan. In some species, large body size makes you exceptionally vulnerable to extinction. This is demonstrated by the largest extant amphibian species. Picture Credit: BBC News.

Lead author, Dr Daniel Pincheira-Donoso (Queen’s University), explained:

“More babies per clutch or birth means more variety among the babies. To some extent, it is like playing the lottery, the more tickets you play the higher your chances to win. In this case, more numerous and diverse babies increase the chances that at least some can survive the stress of environmental alterations, such as progressive climatic changes.”

Focusing on the number of offspring rather than looking solely at body size, may permit a more effective approach to amphibian conservation.

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

The scientific paper: “The global macroecology of brood size in amphibians reveals a predisposition of low‐fecundity species to extinction” by Daniel Pincheira‐Donoso, Lilly P. Harvey, Sheena C. Cotter, Gavin Stark, Shai Meiri and Dave J. Hodgson published in Global Ecology and Biogeography.

11 03, 2021

Frogspawn in the Office Pond (2021)

By | March 11th, 2021|Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

Team members from Everything Dinosaur have spotted frogspawn in the office pond this morning. The overnight gales and heavy rain have not deterred the common frogs (Rana temporaria) and they have spawned.

Frogspawn spotted in the Everything Dinosaur office pond
Frogspawn in Everything Dinosaur’s office pond. Team members estimate that there were more than ten Common frogs (Rana temporaria) in the pond.

An Early Spawning

With eggs being laid on the 11th March (2021), this is a little earlier than in recent years. For example, last year (2020), frogspawn was spotted on March 19th. In 2018, frogspawn was spotted on the 17th March, the last time the frogs spawned on the 11th March was 2017.

A spokesperson from the UK-based dinosaur model company stated:

“We keep a close watch on the office pond at this time of year and when the frogs spawn we record the date and then we monitor the progress of the tadpoles when they hatch and become more mobile.”

The frogs in the office pond are Common frogs, sometimes referred to as the European common frog or the grass frog (Rana temporaria).

14 01, 2021

World’s Oldest Cave Art Discovered

By | January 14th, 2021|Adobe CS5, Animal News Stories, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Drawings, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

Oldest Cave Art Found in Sulawesi

Scientists have discovered the world’s oldest known animal cave painting on the island of Sulawesi (Indonesia) – a wild pig – believed to have been drawn 45,500 years ago.  The cave painting consists of a figurative depiction of a group of Sulawesi warty pigs, one male seems to be observing an interaction between two other pigs, their impressions are only partly preserved.  Painted in red ochre, the dark red impressions are approximately life size.  There are two handprints painted above the back of the pig, this evocative artwork provides the earliest evidence recorded to date of human settlement in this region.

The World’s Oldest Known Animal Cave Painting

Warty pig cave art (Sulawesi, Indonesia).

The world’s oldest known animal cave painting on Sulawesi (Indonesia).  An illustration of a warty pig believed to have been drawn 45,500 years ago.

Picture Credit: Maxime Aubert (Griffith University, Australia)

Writing in the academic journal Science Advances, the archaeologists from Griffith University, the University of Brisbane in collaboration with their Indonesian colleagues from Pusat Penelitian Arkeologi Nasional (ARKENAS), Hasanuddin University (Indonesia) and other academic bodies discovered the remarkable cave art in a limestone cave known as Leang Tedongnge on the south-western peninsula of the island of Sulawesi.  The cave painting consists of a figurative depiction of a group of Sulawesi warty pigs (Sus celebensis) that are endemic to this Indonesian island.

Commenting on the significance of their discovery, Professor Adam Brumm (Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution at Griffith University) stated:

“The Sulawesi warty pig painting we found in the limestone cave of Leang Tedongnge is now the earliest known representational work of art in the world, as far as are aware.  The cave is in a valley that’s enclosed by steep limestone cliffs and is only accessible by a narrow cave passage in the dry season, as the valley floor is completely flooded in the wet.  The isolated Bugis community living in this hidden valley claim it had never before been visited by Westerners.”

Views of the Entrance to the Leang Tedongnge Cave and a Schematic Plan of the Cave Site

Views of the Leang Tedongnge cave on Sulawesi and a schematic diagram of the cave system.

(A and B) Leang Tedongnge cave.  The cave is located at the foot of a limestone karst hill (A); the cave mouth entrance is shown in (B).  Plan (C) and section of Leang Tedongnge site.

Picture Credit: Brumm et al (Science Advances)

Dating Using Isotope Analysis of Mineral Deposits

To determine the approximate age of the cave paintings, the research team used Uranium-series isotope dating of associated calcium carbonate mineral deposits.  The oldest cave painting was estimated to be at least 45,500 years old.  A second painting from a nearby cave known as Leang Balangajia was dated to around 32,000 years ago.

A Digitally Enhanced View of the Cave Art at the Leang Tedongnge site

Computer enhanced view of the cave art with hand prints and pigs highlighted.

A stitched panorama view of the cave art enhanced using Decorrelation Stretch (DStretch) computer software.

Picture Credit: Brumm et al (Science Advances)

Professor Brumm described the artwork:

“It shows a pig with a short crest of upright hairs and a pair of horn-like facial warts in front of the eyes, a characteristic feature of adult male Sulawesi warty pigs.  Painted using red ochre pigment, the pig appears to be observing a fight or social interaction between two other warty pigs.”

Co-author of the paper PhD student Basran Burhan, an Indonesian archaeologist from southern Sulawesi ,who is currently studying at Griffith University commented:

“These pigs were the most commonly portrayed animal in the ice age rock art of the island, suggesting they have long been valued both as food and a focus of creative thinking and artistic expression.”

Recovering DNA from the Handprints

The research team are confident that they will be able to recover DNA from the two handprints located above the pig’s back.  A study of this genetic material will shed light on the origins of the people who painted this prehistoric scene.  This cave art underlines the importance of Indonesia in terms of mapping the spread of modern humans around Asia and the researchers state that even older cave art may still be awaiting discovery in the hundreds of limestone caves located on Sulawesi.

Views of the Two Sulawesi Handprints

Cave art hands.

Close-up views of the two Sulawesi handprints preserved above the red ochre illustration of the warty pig.  One looks much larger than the other and these may represent stencils made by two individuals.

Picture Credit: Maxime Aubert (Griffith University, Australia)

The scientific paper: “Oldest cave art found in Sulawesi” by Adam Brumm, Adhi Agus Oktaviana, Basran Burhan, Budianto Hakim, Rustan Lebe, Jian-xin Zhao, Priyatno Hadi Sulistyarto, Marlon Ririmasse, Shinatria Adhityatama, Iwan Sumantri and Maxime Aubert published in the journal Science Advances.

2 01, 2021

A Komodo Dragon in the Snow

By | January 2nd, 2021|Animal News Stories, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Drawings, Main Page, Photos|0 Comments

A Komodo Dragon in the Snow

A good artist can turn their hand to using a variety of materials and techniques to express themselves.  Take for instance, this excellent illustration of a Komodo dragon (V. komodoensis), created after a recent snowfall by Caldey.  A fine example of snow art, depicting the largest living lizard, a reptile that would have been very uncomfortable in such a cold environment, however Caldey’s Komodo dragon looks very much at home in her back garden.

A Komodo Dragon in the Snow

Komodo dragon in the snow

Creating a Komodo dragon in the snow.

Picture Credit: Caldey

Plotting Proportions and Adding Details

When working on a large project, many professional artists sketch out their design at first and use this as a blueprint for the much larger artwork. By taking this approach, the proportions can be plotted prior to the outline being made and the details added.  We are not sure how Caldey created her lizard, but she has done well to plot the proportions and scale the animal to fit the space that was available.  Our congratulations!  What a clever and innovative piece of work.

Getting Creative in the Snow – Creating a Komodo Dragon

Komodo dragon in the snow.

Getting creative in the snow.  An illustration of a Komodo dragon by Caldey.  A close-up view of the head of the Komodo dragon snow drawing.

Picture Credit: Caldey

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“With the recent snowfalls in the UK, we have seen lots of pictures of snowmen on social media, but we can’t recall ever seeing a Komodo dragon before.  Our congratulations to Caldey for her clever and innovative use of “solid precipitation”.  We suspect there are not many gardens graced with drawings of lizards.”

Sadly, given the vagaries of the British weather, the Komodo dragon will not be on view for very long.

27 09, 2020

Monsters of the Deep: Science Fact and Fiction

By | September 27th, 2020|Animal News Stories, Educational Activities, Main Page, Photos, Press Releases, Teaching|0 Comments

Monsters of the Deep: Science Fact and Fiction at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall (July to 3rd January 2022)

We might be living in a world of track and trace, where everywhere we go and who we meet can be uploaded into a gargantuan database, but there is a part of our planet that remains relatively unknown even in today’s digitally dominated environment.  The deep, dark depths of our oceans harbour some of the most bizarre and amazing creatures to have ever evolved and a recently re-opened exhibition at the National Maritime Museum (Falmouth, Cornwall), permits visitors to meet up with some of nature’s most curious creatures as well as plunging into the depths of our own imagination to explore legendary sea monsters – all without getting our feet wet.

Monsters of the Deep: Science Fact and Fiction

Monsters of the Deep exhibition.

Monsters of the Deep: Science Fact and Fiction at the National Maritime Museum (Cornwall).  Take the plunge!  Encounter myths, legends and real sea monsters. 

Picture Credit: Courtesy of the National Maritime Museum Cornwall 

Deep-sea Monsters Real and Imagined

Running until January 2022, this carefully crafted exhibition takes visitors on a voyage of discovery from Medieval folklore through cryptozoology and the modern-day monster hunters employing the very latest maritime technology used to explore those parts of planet Earth furthest from our sun.

A Collection of Ocean-dwelling Curiosities

Giant Isopods on display.

Curious crustaceans such as giant isopods with their huge compound eyes stare back at you.  The exhibition permits visitors to closely examine some of the most amazing ocean-dwelling creatures known to science.

Picture Credit: Courtesy of the National Maritime Museum Cornwall 

A Collaboration Between Leading Institutions

World class scientific collections from such august bodies as the British Museum, the National Oceanography Centre, the Science Museum, Royal Museums Greenwich and Cambridge University Library have been plundered by modern day buccaneers on a mission to inform, educate and entertain.  Rarely seen specimens, artwork and artefacts all housed under one roof including a large scale reproduction of the Carta Marina, the world’s most famous medieval map of the sea, complete with fanciful monsters and mermaids.  The exhibition highlights the myths associated with early exploration and showcases exquisite illustrations of sea monsters including the strange “mirror creatures”, denizens of the deep that haunted the nightmares of many a seafarer in the age of sail.

Early Explorers Brought Home Tales of Encounters with Fantastic Sea Creatures

Explorers and sea monsters.

Early explorers brought back fanciful tales of sea serpents, mermaids and monsters.

As Real as Elephants and Giraffes

Prior to the Age of Enlightenment which hastened a revolution in scientific thinking in the 17th century, little was known about the exotic fauna that inhabited our world.  On display at this exhibition is the Hortus sanitatis, the first ever natural history encyclopaedia.  Originally printed in 1491, the year before Christopher Columbus set out on his voyage that led to the discovery of the New World, it represents a significant landmark in our attempts to document and understand the natural world with unicorns and mermaids considered just as real as elephants and giraffes.

A Collection of Books on Cryptozoology on Display

Books about Sea Monsters on Display

A large number of books documenting our fascination with monsters of the deep are on display.

Picture Credit: Courtesy of the National Maritime Museum Cornwall 

Guest Curators and Leading Specialists

Monsters of the Deep: Science Fact and Fiction has been developed in co-operation with leading specialists and guest curators, including Viktor Wynd, the custodian of the “UnNatural History Museum”, bringing together a collection of curiosities including a mummified feegee mermaid and a skeleton of a unicorn!  This section of the exhibition is dedicated to exploring ideas about what is real and what can be falsified or faked.

A Rearing “Unicorn” on Display at the National Maritime Museum

A rearing unicorn skeleton.

An exhibit from the “UnNatural History Museum” – a rearing unicorn skeleton.

Picture Credit: Courtesy of the National Maritime Museum Cornwall 

As well as exploring the theme of sea monsters in popular culture, the exhibition provides an insight into some of the very latest cutting-edge technical developments that have allowed marine biologists rare glimpses of the natural wonders that still exist in the largely unexplored regions of our planet such as the vast abyssal plain.

Combining Myth and Fantasy with Scientific Endeavour and Research

Meet Boaty McBoatface.

The exhibition highlights state-of-the-art technology such as the latest mini submersibles that are transforming our understanding of the world’s oceans.

Picture Credit: Courtesy of the National Maritime Museum Cornwall 

To ensure the safety and wellbeing of all visitors and staff, the Museum has implemented a number of new health and safety measures, in line with the latest government advice including timed arrival slots, social distancing measures and on-line only booking.

As half-term approaches, escape your bubble and take the plunge!  Immerse yourself in a world of folklore, fun, facts and fantasy.

Monsters of the Deep: Science Fact and Fiction at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall (July to 3rd January 2022).  For further details: The National Maritime Museum.

11 08, 2020

The Butchers of Boxgrove

By | August 11th, 2020|Adobe CS5, Animal News Stories, Geology, Main Page|0 Comments

The Butchers of Boxgrove

Not far from the location of one of the greatest anthropological hoaxes of all time, the Piltdown Man, lies Boxgrove quarry.  This site in picturesque, rural West Sussex provides evidence of the earliest known residents of the United Kingdom, some of the very first Europeans.  The gravel quarry reveals a chalk cliff and a bedding plane that represents an ancient beach.  Around 500,000 years ago this location was the gathering place for a group of Homo heidelbergensis as they butchered and processed the big game that they had brought down after a successful hunt.

Boxgrove has been meticulously studied for over forty years with the University College London Institute of Archaeology taking a prominent role.  Their work is detailed in a new book about the discoveries entitled “The Horse Butchery Site”, published by University College London Archaeology South-East’s “Spoilheap Publications”.

At Boxgrove a Number of Large Animals were Butchered including Prehistoric Horses

Butchering the horse at Boxgrove.

An artist’s impression of the social event of butchering the horse.

Picture Credit: Lauren Gibson / University College London institute of Archaeology

The book documents the activities and movements of a group of early Britons (H. heidelbergensis) as they knapped flints to make stone tools, modified bones to make implements and butchered a horse around 480,000 years ago or thereabouts.

Leader of the project, Dr Matthew Pope (Institute of Archaeology), commented:

“This was an exceptionally rare opportunity to examine a site pretty much as it had been left behind by an extinct population, after they had gathered to totally process the carcass of a dead horse on the edge of a coastal marshland”

Investigating a Site where Flint Knapping Took Place

Flint knapping site being investigated (1989).

Knapping site under excavation (1989).

Picture Credit: University College London institute of Archaeology

For over a decade from the 1980s and into the 1990s, a dedicated team of volunteers and archaeologists led by Mark Roberts (Institute of Archaeology) uncovered a treasure trove of prehistoric remains, that permitted the researchers to document the activities of these ancient people.   More than 2,000 sharp flint fragments were recovered from eight separate areas, known as knapping scatters.  These are individual workstations where humans knelt to make tools and left behind a concentrations of flint fragments.  In some places the impression made by the worker’s knees as they knelt on the sand can still be seen.

Boxgrove Knapping Site with Preserved Knee Impression

Investigating a flint knapping site (Boxgrove).

Examining a flint knapping site, note the preserved knee imprint (bottom right).

Picture Credit: University College London institute of Archaeology

At one location, the “flint shadow” of a man has been preserved.  The outline of his legs, as he sat, perhaps all day making tools and relentlessly flaking away at the flint, so that a shower of tiny fragments fell on him and around him, leaving a stencil impression of his limbs on the ground.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

” The communal activity recorded at Boxgrove, where a number of large animals were skilfully cut up, their bones broken and the marrow removed suggests a very high degree of co-ordination and co-operation.  Everything in this behaviour indicates planning and a need to communicate, this suggests that Homo heidelbergensis was using a language to explain abstract concepts, organise work and to exchange ideas.”

To read an article about Homo heidelbergensis butchering a prehistoric elephant: Giant Prehistoric Elephant Butchered by H. heidelbergensis.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges a media release from the University College London in the compilation of this article.

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