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 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.

6 08, 2020

Scale Drawings of Invertebrates

By | August 6th, 2020|Adobe CS5, Animal News Stories, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Drawings, Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Everything Dinosaur Products, Main Page, Photos of Everything Dinosaur Products|0 Comments

Scale Drawings of Iconic Invertebrates

Prehistoric animal model collectors will probably already know that CollectA is about to introduce a range of models of iconic invertebrates, animals such as a straight-shelled nautiloid, an ammonite, trilobite and an extant nautilus (Nautilus pompilius).  These figures are due to be in stock at Everything Dinosaur very soon.  As part of our preparations for the arrival of these replicas, our team members have been busy compiling fact sheets and data files on these key taxa.

A Scale Drawing of the Nautilus

Nautilus scale drawing.

A scale drawing of an extant nautilus (Nautilus pompilius).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“We have compiled hundreds of fact sheets over the years.  They are supplied to our customers, being sent out with model purchases.  For example, purchasers of the CollectA nautilus model from Everything Dinosaur will also be sent a free fact sheet about this amazing cephalopod.  We have also prepared fact sheets on the straight-shelled nautiloid and the horseshoe crab.”

The New for 2020 CollectA Nautilus Model (N. pompilius)

CollectA Nautilus pompilius model.

CollectA Nautilus pompilius sometimes referred to as the “Emperor nautilus” because of its large size.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Horseshoe Crab Scale Drawing

Horseshoe Crab scale drawing.

A scale drawing of an extant horseshoe crab.  The silhouette of the hand helps to provide a scale for the illustration.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

These invertebrate figures are due to arrive at Everything Dinosaur’s warehouse shortly.  However, due to issues arising from the COVID-19 global pandemic affecting global logistics, we are unable to provide an exact date as to when these models will arrive.  Followers of Everything Dinosaur on social media such as our Facebook page and newsletter subscribers will be alerted very quickly when these figures are in stock and available to purchase.

To view the range of CollectA Prehistoric Life models available from Everything Dinosaur: CollectA Prehistoric Life Models and Figures.

To view the range of CollectA Deluxe and scale replicas of prehistoric animals: CollectA Deluxe, Supreme and Scale Models.

18 07, 2020

Celebrating the Start of National Dragonfly Week

By | July 18th, 2020|Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos|0 Comments

National Dragonfly Week (Saturday 18th – Sunday 26th July) 2020

Today, Saturday 18th 2020, is the start of Dragonfly Week, an annual celebration of these amazing members of the Odonata organised by the British Dragonfly Society. It is wonderful to see these magnificent creatures emerging from the office pond and we know how important small ponds are to many temperate species as in recent years, great tracts of wetland habitat have been lost.

Recently Emerged from the Office Pond – A Hawker Dragonfly

Dragonfly spotted around the office pond.

A dragonfly that has just emerged from Everything Dinosaur’s office pond.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

We are not experts, but we think the majority of dragonflies that we see are Southern Hawkers (Aeshna cyanea), a relatively large and inquisitive species that is widespread in the UK and Europe.  These insects have a long fossil record with the first winged forms evolving around 325-330 million years ago (Carboniferous).  They may have been around for a very long time, but it is always exciting to see them leave the office pond and very occasionally we can spot them in the warehouse yard.

A Fossil of a Dragonfly (Brazil – Crato Formation)

Dragonfly fossil (Cretaceous).

The first animals to take to the air.  Dragonflies are believed to be amongst the very first animals to evolve powered flight.  The insects had the sky largely to themselves until the first members of the Pterosauria evolved.

Picture Credit: Manchester University

8 05, 2020

Happy Birthday Sir David Attenborough

By | May 8th, 2020|Animal News Stories, Famous Figures, Main Page, TV Reviews|0 Comments

Happy Birthday Sir David Attenborough

Today, May 8th, is Sir David Attenborough’s birthday.  Sir David Attenborough has enjoyed the best part of seventy years as a broadcaster, narrator and television presenter.  His energy and enthusiasm for the natural world shows no sign of deteriorating despite him being just six years short of his centenary.  Over recent years, the veteran broadcaster has become an active campaigner raising awareness about climate change, global warming and the impact of our species on the planet.  He remains as busy as ever, with the BBC producing a new five-part television series narrated by Sir David, highlighting how natural forces such as ocean currents, seismic activity, sunshine and volcanoes contribute to maintaining a sustainable natural world.  A source close to Everything Dinosaur has stated that the series is entitled “A Perfect Planet”.

Sir David Attenborough

Sir David Attenborough.

A gentleman and a scholar.  Sir David Attenborough is 94 years old today.

Many Happy Returns

The television programmes will also highlight how some animals such as snub-nosed monkeys, wolves and bears are having to adapt as the world around them changes.  Birdlife from the Galapagos islands including vampire finches will also feature in the series.

Commenting on the significance of these programmes, Sir David stated that:

“To preserve our perfect planet we must ensure we become a force for good”.

The fifth and final episode will look at how our species has impacted upon the environment and the billions of other organisms that share our world.

Sir David added:

“Our planet is one in a billion, a world teeming with life.  But now, a new dominant force is changing the face of Earth: humans”.

Team members have been lucky enough to have corresponded with Sir David Attenborough, he remains as enthusiastic as ever and passionate about conservation.  Many happy returns Sir David, stay safe, keep well.

Sir David Attenborough – A Nonagenarian Passionately Campaigning to Raise Awareness About Climate Change

Sir David Attenborough

Sir David Attenborough veteran naturalist and broadcaster.  An active campaigner raising awareness about climate change and global warming.

Picture Credit: BBC

1 05, 2020

The First Fossil Frog from Antarctica

By | May 1st, 2020|Animal News Stories, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

The First Fossil Frog from Antarctica

A researcher from the Swedish Museum of Natural History in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Fribourg (Switzerland) and the Instituto Antártico Argentino based in Buenos Aires (Argentina), has published a scientific paper which provides details of the first fossil remains of a frog to have been found on the continent of Antarctica.

The fossils, consisting of a partial ilium and a bone from the skull which were found in Eocene-aged deposits on Seymour Island, resemble an extant lineage of frogs known as helmeted frogs (family Calyptocephalellidae). Until this discovery, no Cenozoic ectothermic continental tetrapods (amphibians and reptiles), had been documented from Antarctica.  The tiny frog fossils suggest that around 40 million years ago, climatic conditions at high latitudes in the southern hemisphere were still mild enough to support “cold-blooded” amphibians.

A Life Reconstruction of the Helmeted Frog Found on the Antarctic Peninsula (Seymour Island)

Fossil frog described from Antarctica.

Life reconstruction of the frog genus described from the Eocene of Antarctica.

Picture Credit: Pollyanna von Knorring / Swedish Museum of Natural History

Writing in the academic, on-line journal “Scientific Reports”, the researchers conclude that some Eocene freshwater habitats in Antarctica provided habitats that were favourable for cold-blooded (ectothermic) vertebrates such as frogs.  Antarctica was much milder than it is today, the warmest months of the year averaging around 13 degrees Celsius whilst temperatures in the winter would have dropped to below an average of 4 degrees Celsius.  Frogs were present in freshwater ecosystems at a time in the history of Antarctica where ice sheets had formed in upland areas towards the interior of the continent.

Views of the Fragmentary Ilium from Seymour Island

Frog ilium from the Antarctic.

Ilium (NRM-PZ B282) of Calyptocephalella sp. from Seymour Island, Antarctica.  Ilium in lateral (a), medial (b), ventral (c) and dorsal (d) views.  Scale bar equals 1 mm.

Picture Credit: Swedish Museum of Natural History

The fossil frog remains were collected during three joint Argentinian-Swedish expeditions to Seymour Island in the southern hemisphere summers 2011–13.  The bone fragments were concentrated from dry-sieved sediment samples. The closest living relatives of the Eocene specimen are limited to the Chilean Andes (Calyptocephalellidae).  With the discovery of the fossils on Seymour Island, the researchers conclude that these types of helmeted frog were much more widespread across what remained of Gondwana during the Eocene.

The material is housed in the palaeozoological collection of the Swedish Museum of Natural History, Stockholm.

The scientific paper: “First fossil frog from Antarctica: implications for Eocene high latitude climate conditions and Gondwanan cosmopolitanism of Australobatrachia” by Thomas Mörs, Marcelo Reguero and Davit Vasilyan published in Scientific Reports.

13 04, 2020

Chirping Caribbean Coquí Frogs from the Oligocene

By | April 13th, 2020|Animal News Stories, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

The Oldest Record of a Frog from the Caribbean

Researchers from the Florida Museum of Natural History (Florida University) and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County have published a scientific paper describing a portion of a left humerus (upper arm bone), discovered in north-western Puerto Rico that represents the oldest fossil remains of a frog ever found in the Caribbean.  The tiny bone, it measures less than one centimetre in length, has been assigned to the genus Eleutherodactylus, colloquially called coquí frogs in reference to the distinctive “coe-kee” call made by the males of some species as they seek to attract a mate.

The Fossilised Humerus is Compared to the Humeri of Extant Genera

Comparing the fossil material to extant genera.

Comparisons of the fossil specimen to representatives of each extant Caribbean frog genus as well as each Caribbean subgenus of Eleutherodactylus (Eleutherodactylus, Euhyas, Pelorias and Schwartzius).  Note various views LACM 162445 anterior, medial, posterior and lateral views.  Scale bar = 1 mm.

Picture Credit: Blackburn et al (Biology Letters) with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

The authors of the scientific paper comment that it is fitting to have discovered this fossil bone in Puerto Rico, as the coquí is one of the national symbols associated with this tropical island.

From the San Sebastian Formation and Estimated to be 29 Million Years Old

The tiny bone was found by co-author Jorge Velez-Juarbe (Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County), in a mudstone layer of the San Sebastian Formation, exposed by a river (Rio Guatemala), in the north-western portion of the island, close to the town of San Sebastián.  The mudstone layer has been dated to 29.47 million years ago (+/- 300,000 years) and it represents an estuarine environment.  Other vertebrate fossils associated from this location include turtles, gharials and rodents.

Commenting on the discovery, lead author David Blackburn (Florida Museum of Natural History), stated:

“It’s a national treasure.  Not only is this the oldest evidence for a frog in the Caribbean, it also happens to be one of the frogs that are the pride of Puerto Rico and related to the large family Eleutherodactylidae, which includes Florida’s invasive greenhouse frogs.”

A Life Reconstruction of the Prehistoric Frog

Ancient frog from the Oligocene of Puerto Rico.

The 29 million-year-old Eleutherodactylus frog life reconstruction. Based on measurements of the partial humerus, the scientists estimate the extinct frog to have measured around 4 centimetres in length.

Picture Credit: Jorge Velez-Juarbe (Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County)

Looking for Evidence of Oligocene Frogs

Scientists studying data from phylogenetic assessments had postulated that these types of frogs had established themselves in the Caribbean during the Oligocene but until now there was no fossil evidence to support this line of research.  The bones of frogs tend to have a poor preservation potential.   They are small, light and any corpse would very likely, quickly decompose in the hot, humid tropical conditions.

Possibly first arriving in the Caribbean by rafts of vegetation displaced from South America, these small tree frogs in the genus Eleutherodactylus, which encompasses some 200 species, dominate the Caribbean today.  Coquís differ from most other frogs as they usually do not lay their eggs in water.  They do not have a hatching tadpole stage, instead the tadpole stage takes place within the egg, the male carefully tending the nest and ensuring that the eggs remain moist.  When the eggs hatch, the young emerge as fully formed froglets.

A Male Coquí Frog Protecting a Clutch of Eggs

Male coquí frog protecting a clutch of eggs.

A male coquí frog protecting a clutch of eggs.

Picture Credit: Jorge Velez-Juarbe (Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County)

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from the University of Florida in the compilation of this article.

The scientific paper: “The earliest record of Caribbean frogs: a fossil coquí from Puerto Rico” by David C. Blackburn, Rachel M. Keeffe, María C. Vallejo-Pareja and Jorge Vélez-Juarbe published in Biology Letters.

2 04, 2020

New Study Might Help Explain Why Crocodilians Are Survivors

By | April 2nd, 2020|Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

New Study Might Help Explain Why Crocodilians Survive Extinction Events

A team of scientists including researchers from the Natural History Museum (London) and the Milner Centre for Evolution (Bath University), have provided fresh insight into how crocodilians are able to survive dramatic changes in climate that cause extinctions amongst other vertebrates.  The researchers conclude that extant crocodilians are part of a lineage of great survivors that might cope better than most other large animals when having to face a world with a continuing rise in average annual temperature.

Crocodilians Might Be Better Able to Cope with Global Climate Change

Even small crocodiles can be dangerous.

The hands-on approach to parenting might help crocodilians survive the challenges of global climate change.

Picture Credit: Blue Planet

Writing in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, the scientists suggest that the ability of crocodilians to survive mass extinction events could be due in part, to their approach to reproduction.  Modern crocodiles are an ancient lineage.  They are grouped into the clade Neosuchia, which first arose in the Late Cretaceous, although related forms are even older, such as the Pseudosuchia, which first arose some 250 million years ago.  Neosuchian crocodilians have therefore survived numerous extinction events, including two mass extinctions, the first that occurred approximately 66 million years ago and saw the demise of their fellow archosaurs – the Dinosauria and the Pterosauria as well as many other different types of organism.  Then, there was a second, albeit smaller, mass extinction event towards the end of the Eocene approximately 33.9 million years ago.

The Relationship Between Size of Female Crocodilians and Where They are Found

The relationship between distribution patterns and body size has been recorded and analysed in many kinds of endothermic (warm-blooded) animals.  However, evidence to support the idea that there is a correlation between where in the world animals are found and the size of females in ectotherms (cold-blooded animals), has been generally, not that well documented.  No extensive study between the global distribution of crocodiles and the body mass of females has been carried out.  The research team examined the relationship between latitudinal distribution and body mass in twenty living species of crocodilians and studied seven other important factors in reptile reproduction such as size of the egg clutch laid, the number of successful hatchings per nest, incubation length and incubation temperature.

The Average Size of a Female of the Species was Correlated Against the Latitudinal Midpoint of Where that Species is Found

Plotting female crocodile body size against species distribution

Plotting the average size of female crocodiles against where the species is found.

Picture Credit: Lakin et al (Biological Journal of the Linnean Society)

Statistical Analysis

Using statistical analysis, the study showed that, in general, smaller species of crocodilian tend to live at low latitudes (close to the equator).  Larger species tend to live at higher latitudes, still in the tropics but further away from the equator.  This is the first study to propose a relationship between where in the world crocodilians live and the effect on adult female body mass.

Previous studies looking at the how well adapted crocodilians are have cited diet, their aquatic nature and their behaviours as factors in helping these types of creatures to survive dramatic changes in environmental conditions.  However, this study also identified a unique aspect of crocodilian reproductive biology that may also be a significant factor.  Crocodilians have no sex chromosomes, just like many types of tortoises and turtles, instead the sex of the hatchlings is determined by the temperature at which the eggs are incubated.  Both crocodiles and most turtles have a threshold temperature at which the ratio of males to females is roughly equal in any given clutch.

In crocodilians, the higher the temperature of the clutch, then more males will be produced.  For those members of the Order Chelonia (Testudines), that are biologically subject to temperature controlled sexual determination, the opposite is true, higher temperatures result in more female hatchlings.  The increase in average global temperatures is already having a dramatic impact on turtle populations.  Our warming world is resulting in some hatchling populations being comprised of 80% females.  Such an imbalance in animal populations could have a dramatic impact on those species affected.

Environmental Temperature Affects the Sex of Crocodilians and Most Members of the Order Testudines

Temperature influencing the sex of reptiles.

In most turtles/tortoises sex of the individual is dependent upon temperature of the clutch.  This environmental factor determines the sex of all crocodilians.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The diagram (above), demonstrates that in crocodilians the higher the temperature of the nesting environment, more males are likely to be produced from the nest.  For most members of the Order Testudines, the reverse is true – warmer temperatures will lead to more females.

The research team wanted to assess the impact of this aspect of crocodilian reproductive biology on their ability to cope with the impact of climate change.

Twenty Different Species of Crocodile Studied

In total, twenty different species of crocodiles were assessed to see if there was a correlation between their latitude and a variety of biological traits such as female body size and incubation temperature.  The researchers conclude (with some exceptions), that smaller species do tend to live close to the equator, whilst larger species generally live in more temperate climates at higher latitudes.  Intriguingly, they found that, in contrast to most Testudines, the threshold incubation temperatures don’t correlate with the latitude.

Whilst turtles are critically endangered by the increase in temperatures due to climate change, this research indicates that crocodiles and their close relatives may be slightly more resilient because of the ways they look after their young.  For example, sea turtles always return to the same beach to nest and lay eggs regardless of the local environmental conditions, leaving their young to hatch alone and fend for themselves.  The authors hypothesise that the geographical location of the nest doesn’t affect the incubation temperatures as much as in turtles because crocodilians select their nesting sites carefully and bury their nests in rotting vegetation or earth which insulates them against temperature fluctuations.

However, despite being around virtually unchanged for 90 million years, crocodilians are still threatened and several species are critically endangered.  Unless adequate steps are taken to safeguard these species, they too, will sadly, end up going the same way as the dinosaurs.

Lead author of the study, PhD student Rebecca Lakin at the Milner Centre for Evolution (University of Bath) stated:

“Crocodilians are keystone species in their ecosystems.  They are amongst the last surviving archosaurs, a group that once inhabited every continent and has persisted for at least 230 million years”.

The Cuban Crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer) is Critically Endangered

A crocodile giving a piggy back ride.

The Cuban crocodile (C. rhombifer) is critically endangered and close to extinction in the wild.

Picture Credit: Vladimir Dinets

Rebecca added:

“They show a remarkable resilience to cataclysmic climate change and habitat loss, however half of all living crocodile species are threatened with extinction and the rate of vertebrate species loss will soon equal or even exceed that of the mass extinction that killed the dinosaurs.  Whilst their parenting skills and other adaptations brace them for climate change, they aren’t immune.  They are still vulnerable to other human-induced threats such as pollution, the damming of rivers, nest flooding and poaching for meat or skin.  Climate change could encourage these great survivors to relocate to other areas that are close to densely human populated areas, putting them at even greater threat.”

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from the Milner Centre for Evolution in the compilation of this article.

The scientific paper: “First evidence for a latitudinal body mass effect in extant Crocodylia and the relationships of their reproductive characters” by Rebecca J Lakin, Paul M Barrett, Colin Stevenson, Robert J Thomas and Matthew A Wills published in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society.

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