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/Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories

Fossil finds, new dinosaur discoveries, news and views from the world of palaeontology and other Earth sciences.

11 09, 2019

Skull Bones of Saurornitholestes Point to Asian Migration

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New Study Published on Saurornitholestes langstoni

Researchers based at the University of Alberta and the Royal Ontario Museum (Canada), have published a new scientific paper on the dinosaur nicknamed the “raptor of Alberta”.  The dinosaur – Saurornitholestes langstoni, was once thought to be a troodontid, but its placement within the Dromaeosauridae has been reinforced.  Furthermore, although no impressions of preserved feathers have ever been found in association with skeletal material, a tooth wear analysis conducted by the scientists suggests that a tooth in the upper jaw might have been specialised for preening feathers.

The Beautifully Preserved Saurornitholestes langstoni Specimen

The beautifully preserved and nearly complete Saurornitholestes langstoni fossil discovered in 2014.

The nearly complete Saurornitholestes langstoni fossil discovered in 2014.

Picture Credit: University of Alberta

The researchers who produced the scientific paper, two famous and very influential palaeontologists, Professor Philip Currie (University of Alberta) and Dr David Evans (Royal Ontario Museum), also suggest that their analysis of recently described skull bones supports the idea of at least two major faunal interchanges between Asia and North America during the Late Cretaceous.

Several Partial Skeletons – Hundreds of Isolated Teeth and Bones

In 1978, Saurornitholestes langstoni was formally described based on some fragmentary fossil bones found close to the small town of Patricia in southern Alberta four years before.  Since then, four additional partial skeletons ascribed to Saurornitholestes and hundreds of isolated teeth and bones have been recovered from the Upper Cretaceous sediments (Campanian faunal stage), of Alberta and Montana.  Despite these fossils, very little was known about the skull of S. langstoni, curtailing attempts to better understand the taxonomic relationship between this Canadian dromaeosaurid and other Asian forms such as Velociraptor mongoliensis and Tsaagan mangas.

A Scale Drawing of Saurornitholestes langstoni

Saurornitholestes langstoni illustration - scale drawing.

Saurornitholestes langstoni illustration (scale drawing).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Study of the 2014 Specimen

Frustrated by the lack of truly diagnostic fossil cranial material to study, palaeontologists could do very little to better understand where within the Dromaeosauridae the “raptor of Alberta” should reside.  This all changed in 2014 with the discovery of a nearly complete fossil specimen, ironically within a thousand metres of where the holotype specimen had been found back in 1978.  Although loaned out to Japan’s National Museum of Nature and Science (Tokyo), for a special exhibition marking fifty years of “raptor research”, analysis continued on the remarkable skeleton.

Writing in the academic journal “The Anatomical Record”, the scientists confirm that Saurornitholestes was similar in size to Velociraptor, but the facial region of the skull is relatively shorter, taller and wider.  The premaxillary teeth are distinctive, and fossil teeth collected in the Dinosaur Provincial Park (southern Alberta), ascribed to the dromaeosaurid Zapsalis abradens can now be identified as the second premaxillary tooth of S. langstoni.

A Close-up View of the Skull of S. langstoni 

Saurornitholestes langstoni fossil skull.

A close-up view of the fossilised skull of the 2014 specimen.  The skull bones were preserved in articulation, helping the scientists to understand the anatomy of the skull.

Picture Credit: University of Alberta

Teeth Used for Preening Feathers

A detailed microscopic study of the tiny abrasions preserved on the teeth located in the front of the upper jaw (premaxilla), have led the researchers to speculate that these teeth could have had a role in helping to preen and clean the dinosaur’s feathery coat.

A Typical Dromaeosaurid Tooth

Dromaeosaurid tooth from Alabama.

An isolated dromaeosaurid tooth with very different denticles (anterior and posterior).  Different sized serrations might have assisted with grooming as a secondary function of the tooth.

Picture Credit: David R. Schwimmer

A Distinctive North American Clade of Dromaeosaurs

With an almost complete specimen to study and, most importantly of all, a skull, the scientists have concluded that a distinctive North American clade of Late Cretaceous dromaeosaurids can be established within the Dromaeosauridae family.  A distinctive and separate branch from the Asian part of the Dromaeosauridae that includes the likes of Velociraptor.  Professor Currie and Dr Evans were able to identify many unique anatomical traits (autapomorphies), that permitted the establishment of this clade – the Saurornitholestinae.  This new information on the skull allows a more complete evaluation of the systematic position of Saurornitholestes langstoni within the Dromaeosauridae and supports the suggestion of at least two major faunal interchanges between Asia and North America during the Cretaceous.

At Everything Dinosaur, we have seen a resurgence in interest in “raptor” figures and models.  These theropod dinosaurs continue to feature prominently in dinosaur movies and the “Beasts of the Mesozoic” range of “raptor” models including an articulated replica of Saurornitholestes langstoni have been introduced.

To view the Beasts of the Mesozoic model range available from Everything Dinosaur: Beasts of the Mesozoic Figures

The scientific paper: “Cranial Anatomy of New Specimens of Saurornitholestes langstoni (Dinosauria, Theropoda, Dromaeosauridae) from the Dinosaur Park Formation (Campanian) of Alberta” by Philip J. Currie and David C. Evans published in the journal The Anatomical Record.

6 09, 2019

T. rex and Air-conditioning

By | September 6th, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

T. rex had “Air Conditioning”

Scientists from the University of Missouri, Ohio University and the University of Florida have turned a theory about Tyrannosaurus rex (and other archosaurs for that matter), on its head.  Previously, palaeontologists had thought that two large holes in the roof of the skull of T. rex (the dorsotemporal fenestra), were filled with muscles to assist with movement of the jaws.  However, a thermal imaging study of extant archosaurs, specifically American alligators at the St Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park (Florida), has led the researchers to suggest that these skull holes played a role in helping this huge animal to regulate its temperature.  The team, which included Larry Witmer, a professor of anatomy at Ohio University, conclude that, in essence T. rex had an air-conditioning unit in its head.

An Imagined Thermal Image Taken in the Cretaceous Night

The glowing dorsotemporal fenestra of T. rex and two crocodiles.

Archosaurs at night!  An imagined thermal image showing the glowing dorsotemporal fenestra of Cretaceous archosaurs.

Picture Credit: Brian Engh

Helping to Regulate Body Temperature

Lead author of the scientific paper, published in the journal “The Anatomical Record”, Professor Casey Holliday was puzzled by the idea that these skull holes were associated with muscle attachments.  The Professor of anatomy at the Missouri University School of Medicine commented:

“It’s really weird for a muscle to come up from the jaw, make a 90-degree turn, and go along the roof of the skull.  Yet, we now have a lot of compelling evidence for blood vessels in this area, based on our work with alligators and other reptiles.”

The researchers used thermal imaging cameras to examine alligators in captivity and they believe that these living archosaurs can provide key insights into the anatomy of their long dead, cousins the Dinosauria.

A Thermal Image of the “Hot Spots” on the Head of an American Alligator

American alligator thermal image.

A thermal image of the head of an American alligator.

Picture Credit: University of Missouri

Studying American Alligators

Explaining the significance of this new study, co-author Kent Vliet (University of Florida), stated:

“An alligator’s body heat depends on its environment.  Therefore, we noticed when it was cooler and the alligators are trying to warm up, our thermal imaging showed big hot spots in these holes in the roof of their skull, indicating a rise in temperature.  Yet, later in the day when it’s warmer, the holes appear dark, like they were turned off to keep cool.  This is consistent with prior evidence that alligators have a cross-current circulatory system — or an internal thermostat, so to speak.”

If the dorsotemporal fenestra of theropods such as Tyrannosaurus rex were also lined with blood vessels then these holes could have played a role in helping dinosaurs to control their body temperatures.  For such a big animal, the problem might not be trying to keep warm, but actually the avoidance of overheating.  The blood vessels occupying the dorsotemporal fenestra would have been covered by skin and the proximity of these vessels to the outside environment might have helped T. rex to lose heat.

An Speculative Thermal Image (Dorsal View) Showing the Head of T. rex

A thermal image of the head of T. rex.

A dorsal view of the head of T. rex showing the two “hot spots” the dorsotemporal fenestra.

Picture Credit: Brian Engh

T. rex and alligators have similar holes in the top of their head.  By studying the anatomy of living animals, scientists can gain valuable insights into the anatomy of long extinct relatives such as the dinosaurs.

The Skull of a Gharial Showing Two Large, Prominent Dorsotemporal Fenestra 

The skull of a gharial.

The skull of a gharial from the Grant Museum of Zoology (London).  The large holes in the skull roof are the dorsotemporal fenestra.

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

The scientific paper: “The Frontoparietal Fossa and Dorsotemporal Fenestra of Archosaurs and Their Significance for Interpretations of Vascular and Muscular Anatomy in Dinosaurs” by Casey M. Holliday, William Ruger Porter, Kent A. Vliet and Lawrence M. Witmer published in the journal The Anatomical Record.

1 09, 2019

New Brazilian Pterosaur Announced

By | September 1st, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Keresdrakon Lived Alongside Caiuajara

A new species of large, toothless pterosaur has been described based on fossil specimens excavated from the “cemitério dos pterossauros” (pterosaur graveyard), in southern Brazil.  This new flying reptile has been named Keresdrakon vilsoni.  The researchers, writing in the academic journal “Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciências” conclude that Keresdrakon co-existed with another, smaller and, based on the fossil evidence more numerous, pterosaur (Caiuajara dobruskii).  In addition, the two distinct pterosaurs coexisted with a theropod dinosaur (Vespersaurus paranaensis) and together they provide an unique insight into an ancient desert ecosystem.

The Palaeoenvironment of the “Cemitério dos Pterossauros”

Keresdrakon life reconstruction.

Keresdrakon life reconstruction, feeding on the carcase of a Vespersaurus.

Picture Credit: Maurilio Oliveira

Interpreting the Palaeoenvironment

The age of the strata is disputed.  Some authors favour a Turonian to Campanian age indicating Upper Cretaceous deposits, whilst other scientists have suggested that the rocks might be Lower Cretaceous in age (Aptian to Albian).  The bonebeds associated with these sandstones indicate a congregation of vertebrates in what was probably an interdunal wetland in the middle of a desert.  Caiuajara is interpreted as a likely frugivore, a feeding behaviour associated with other members of the Tapejaridae family.  Although, the much larger, edentulous (toothless), Keresdrakon probably filled a different niche in the ecosystem.  Its fossils are much rarer than those of Caiuajara, the researchers infer that Keresdrakon vilsoni might have behaved as an opportunistic predator or a scavenger.  Analysis of this pterosaur’s beak suggest that it did not have a strong bite, so overcoming larger prey such as the theropod Vespersaurus might have been difficult for Keresdrakon, but it could have fed on carrion, as depicted in the above illustration.

The authors of the scientific paper, which include pterosaur expert Alexander Kellner of the Museu Nacional/Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), consider Keresdrakon to be the equivalent of a modern-day Marabou stork (Leptoptilos crumenifer), which scavenges but also eats any small animal that it can swallow.  The scientists speculate that K. vilsoni might have eaten juvenile Caiuajara or even hatchlings and eggs.  Given the geological and fossil evidence, it is likely that these two pterosaurs along with Vespersaurus co-existed together and that the “cemitério dos pterossauros”, demonstrates evidence of sympatry in the Pterosauria, if this is the case, then these sandstone deposits of uncertain age in Paraná State represent an extremely significant discovery for vertebrate palaeontologists.

The Holotype Fossil Material of Keresdrakon vilsoni

Holotype of Keresdrakon vilsoni.

Holotype of Keresdrakon vilsoni gen. et sp. nov. (CP.V 2069).  Skull and lower jaw are presented in right lateral view.  Note scale bar = 10 cm.

Picture Credit: Kellner et al

What is Sympatry?

Sympatry is a term used in biology to describe the situation when two or more related species co-exist in the same environment at the same time.  Caiuajara and Keresdrakon are contemporaneous, occupying the same space and time in the fossil record.

To read about the discovery of Caiuajara dobruskiiNew Species of Flying Reptile Identified from Pterosaur Graveyard.

To read about the theropod dinosaur associated with this fossil site: The First Dinosaur from the Caiuá Group – Brazil.

Classifying Keresdrakon

A phylogenetic analysis suggests that Keresdrakon sits outside the Tapejaridae family but is still quite closely related to these types of flying reptiles.  It is described as part of a non-tapejarid lineage within the wider Tapejaromorpha.

A Sandstone Block Showing Keresdrakon vilsoni and Caiuajara dobruskii Fossils in Association

Keresdrakon and Caiuajara in association.

Sample (CP.V 5697) from bonebed C showing on the right (a) a partial skeleton of the Caiuajara dobruskii the left (b) elements of Keresdrakon vilsoni gen. et sp. nov. separated by the white line.  Scale bar = 10 cm.

Picture Credit: Kellner et al

The scientific paper: “A new toothless pterosaur (Pterodactyloidea) from Southern Brazil with insights into the paleoecology of a Cretaceous desert” by Kellner, Alexander W. A.; Weinschütz, Luiz C.; Holgado, Borja; Bantim, Renan A. M.; Sayão, Juliana M. and published in the Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciências.

30 08, 2019

T. rex to Feature on U.S. Postal Service Stamps

By | August 30th, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

“King of the Tyrant Lizards” on American Postage Stamps

The United States Postal Service saluted one of natural history’s superstars this week, with the introduction of a set of stamps depicting Tyrannosaurus rex, which has been known to science for over a hundred years.  One of the apex predators of the tail-end of the Mesozoic is commemorated with new Forever stamps, reflecting current scientific thinking about T. rex which roamed North America around sixty-six million years ago.

The Four U.S. Postal Service Stamps (2019) that Feature Tyrannosaurus rex

New T. rex postage stamps issued by the U. S. Postal Service.

Four new stamps issued by the U.S. Postal Service celebrate Tyrannosaurus rex.

Picture Credit: U.S. Postal Service

Two of the four designs show movement when rotated.  See the skeletal remains with and without flesh and watch as an approaching T. rex suddenly lunges forward.  This printing method was first used by the Postal Service to produce the Rabbit and Hat stamp on the Art of Magic souvenir pane in 2018.

A Dinosaur that has Stirred the Public’s Imagination for over a Hundred Years

Speaking at the dedication ceremony for these stamps held at the prestigious Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (Washington D.C.), Isaac Cronkhite, the U.S. Postal Service’s chief human resources officer and executive vice president stated:

“With the dedication of these dazzling new Forever stamps today, the Postal Service pays tribute to the king of dinosaurs.  More than any other dinosaur, since its discovery more than a century ago, the T. rex has stirred the public imagination.  We are proud to bring the powerful T. rex on stamps that will whiz through the mail stream on millions of birthday cards, letters and thank-you notes.”

Available in Panes of Sixteen Stamps with Four Designs

U. S. Postal Service T. rex pane.

Available as a set of sixteen stamps.

Picture Credit: U.S. Postal Service

The Digital Artwork of Julius T. Csotonyi

The artwork for these dinosaur-themed stamps was created by renowned palaeoartist Julius T. Csotonyi and these stamps are available in sets of sixteen with four different designs depicting this iconic dinosaur at different growth stages and reflecting inferred behaviours.  Julius T. Csotonyi created photorealistic illustrations of T. rex with depictions based on the growing body of research on these dinosaurs.  The artist painted digitally using a stylus on a computer screen, an approach he likens to acrylic painting.  Art director Greg Breeding designed the pane.

The Newly Hatched T. rex – Artwork Created by Julius T. Csotonyi

A baby T. rex features on an American stamp.

A newly hatched T. rex features on one of the Tyrannosaurus rex stamps issued by the U.S. Postal Service.

Picture Credit: U.S. Postal Service based on original artwork by Julius T. Csotonyi

The “Nation’s T. rex

The young, sub-adult T. rex that is featured on two of the stamps, is specimen number MOR-555, discovered in 1988 on federal land in Montana.  When first brought to the attention of the scientific community, this specimen was nick-named “the Wankel T. rex” in honour of the person who found these fossilised remains, which represent about 45% of the skeleton of a single T. rex.  Painstaking excavation revealed what would become one of the most studied and important tyrannosaur specimens ever found, including the first T. rex arms ever recovered.  The Nation’s T. rex is now exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History.

This is not the first time that dinosaurs have featured on a set of postage stamps.  Many stamps featuring prehistoric animals have been issued.  For example, back in 2013, Everything Dinosaur team members were asked to help write the press releases for a set of prehistoric animal stamps produced by Royal Mail: Royal Mail Issues New Prehistoric Animal Stamps.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“It is great to see that such an iconic animal from North America’s natural history being honoured in this way.  These stamps are ‘roarsome’!”

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a press release from the United States Postal Service in the compilation of this article.

24 08, 2019

Picking the Brains of Psittacosaurus

By | August 24th, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Psittacosaurus Gets its Head Examined

Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, in collaboration with colleagues from Carleton University (Ottawa, Canada) and Bristol University, have produced a new study on the Early Cretaceous Asian dinosaur Psittacosaurus (P. lujiatunensis).  This new research, published in PeerJ, provides the first detailed survey of Ceratopsian braincase changes as a dinosaur grows.  Three growth stages were studied – hatching, juvenile and adult and as Psittacosaurus got bigger, so its brain changed in shape.  Furthermore, the study suggests that these little, herbivorous dinosaurs changed posture as the aged.  When young they were facultative quadrupeds, but as they matured they favoured a bipedal stance.

Psittacosaurus Gets Its Head Examined

CollectA Psittacosaurus dinosaur model.

A typical psittacosaurid.  A model of Psittacosaurus (CollectA Psittacosaurus).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Hundreds of Fossil Specimens Examined

Hundreds of Psittacosaurus fossil specimens were examined.  These fossils herald from the Early Cretaceous (Barremian–Aptian) of China, specifically from the Yixian Formation.  The lack of fossils representing dinosaurs at different growth stages limits ontogenetic studies, but Psittacosaurus is an exception, it is one of the better represented members of the Ornithischia.  The cranial and endocranial morphology of Psittacosaurus has been well documented, but only cursory details have been published on the bones surrounding the brain.

Comparing Skulls Psittacosaurus “Parrot Lizard” Compared to a Parrot 

The skull of parrot lizard compared to the skull of a parrot.

Comparing skulls.  The skull of an adult Psittacosaurus – P. gobiensis (left) is compared with an adult parrot (right).

Picture Credit: Mike Hettwer

From Hamster-sized Hatchlings to Two-metre-long Adults

From hamster-sized babies these dinosaurs grew relatively quickly into two-metre-long adults.  As they grew, their brain changed in shape from being crammed into the back of the head, behind the huge eyes in the hatchling, to being longer, and extending under the skull roof in the adult animals.  The braincase provides evidence that supports the idea that these dinosaurs changed posture as they got older.  The position and the orientation of the semi-circular canals, which helped these dinosaurs with their balance, changed as they grew.

Corresponding author of the paper, Claire Bullar (University of Bristol School of Earth Sciences), commented:

“I was excited to see that the orientation of the semi-circular canals changes to show this posture switch.  The semi-circular canals are the structures inside our ears that help us keep balance, and the so-called horizontal semi-circular canal should be just that – horizontal – when the animal is standing in its normal posture.  This is just what we see, with the head of Psittacosaurus pointing down and forwards when it was a baby – just right for moving on all-fours.  Then, in the teen or adult, we see the head points exactly forwards, and not downwards, just right for a biped.”

Dinosaur Brains from Baby to Adult (left to right)

Changing head position of Psittacosaurus.

A study of the brain of Psittacosaurus (ontogenetic study).  Head posture if the lateral (horizontal) semi-circular canal is parallel to the ground, in hatching (A), juvenile (B) and adult (C) Psittacosaurus lutjiatunensis.  Images not to scale.

Picture Credit: Claire Bullar/Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology

The change in posture is supported by postcranial fossil evidence.  The relative limb lengths indicate that a juvenile Psittacosaurus would have moved around on four legs, but by the age of two or three, they switched to a bipedal posture, standing upright on their elongate hind legs.  This would have freed up the arms and hands to help with gathering food.  The team used reconstructions created from micro-computed tomography scans of well-preserved skulls to plot the ontogenetic changes.

Co-supervisor Dr Qi Zhao from the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology (IVPP) in Beijing, where the specimens are housed, added:

“It’s great to see our idea of posture shift confirmed, and in such a clear-cut way, from the orientation of the horizontal ear canal.  It’s also amazing to see the results of high-quality CT scanning in Beijing and the technical work by Claire to get the best 3-D models from these scan data.”

Skulls of Psittacosaurus (P. lujiatunensis) Showing Different Growth Stages

Brain and skull study - Psittacosaurus.

Ontogenetic skull sequence from hatchling to adult (Psittacosaurus).  Hatchling (IVPP V15451) – (A) in lateral view.  (B) Hatchling in dorsal view.  (C) Juvenile (IVPP V22647) in lateral view. (D) Juvenile in dorsal view.  (E) Adult (IVPP V12617) in lateral view.  (F) Adult in dorsal view. All shown to the same scale; scale bar represents 2 cm.

Picture Credit: Claire Bullar/Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology

Co-author Professor Michael Ryan (Carleton University) contributed:

“This posture shift during growth from quadruped to biped is unusual for dinosaurs, or indeed any animal.  Among dinosaurs, it’s more usual to go the other way, to start out as a bipedal baby, and then go down on all fours as you get really huge.  Of course, adult Psittacosaurus were not so huge, and the shift maybe reflects different modes of life: the babies were small and vulnerable and so probably hid in the undergrowth, whereas bipedalism allowed the adults to run faster and escape their predators.”

Professor Michael Benton (Bristol University), another collaborator in this study commented:

“This is a great example of classic, thorough anatomical work, but also an excellent example of international collaboration.”

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

The scientific paper: “Ontogenetic braincase development in Psittacosaurus lujiatunensis (Dinosauria: Ceratopsia) using micro-computed tomography” by C. Bullar, Q. Zhao, M. Benton and M. Ryan in PeerJ — the Journal of Life and Environmental Sciences.

23 08, 2019

North Africa’s First Stegosaur

By | August 23rd, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Adratiklit boulahfa – The Oldest Definitive Stegosaur

A team of British scientists in collaboration with colleagues from Morocco, have announced the discovery of a new species of armoured dinosaur, described from remains found in the Atlas Mountains.  The dinosaur has been named Adratiklit boulahfa and it is the first stegosaur to have been found in northern Africa.  Adratiklit is also the oldest definitive stegosaur described, it having roamed Morocco some 168 million years ago (Bathonian faunal stage of the Middle Jurassic).  This fossil discovery is significant, as it hints at the possibility of more armoured dinosaurs likely to be found on the continents that once made up the ancient landmass of Gondwana.

A Life Restoration of the Newly Described North African Stegosaur Adratiklit boulahfa

A life restoration of Adratiklit boulahfa.

A life restoration of Adratiklit boulahfa based on the closely related Dacentrurus.  The scale size estimate for this dinosaur has been compiled using the left humerus (NHMUK PV R37007).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The Third Stegosaur from Africa

The fossils were acquired by the Natural History Museum (London).  The material consists of cervical and dorsal vertebrae and the left humerus.  Although fragmentary, these fossils permitted the scientists to erect a new armoured dinosaur genus.  Although the exact provenance of these fossils is unclear, they probably came from the siltstone deposits of the El Mers II Formation located in the Middle of the Atlas Mountains (Fès-Meknes, northern Morocco).  The age of this formation has been dated biostratigraphically based on ammonite fossils.  Adratiklit is only the third stegosaur known from Africa, although a phylogenetic assessment carried out by the researchers, indicates that it was probably more closely related to European stegosaurs such as Dacentrurus (D. armatus).

Views of the Left Humerus Ascribed to A. boulahfa

Views of the left humerus ascribed to Adratiklit boulahfa.

Views of the left humerus ascribed to A. boulahfa.  NHMUK PV R37007, left humerus referred to Adratiklit boulahfa in A, lateral, B, posterior, C, medial, D, anterior, E, dorsal and F, ventral views.  Note the white scale bar.

Picture Credit: Gondwana Research/Maidment et al

The two other stegosaurs known from Africa described to date are:

  • Kentrosaurus – K. aethiopicus from the Late Jurassic (approximately 156-148 million years ago), fossils found in Tanzania
  • Paranthodon P. africanus from the Early Cretaceous (approximately 139-131 million years ago), fossils come from Cape Province, South Africa

What’s in a Name?

The generic name (Adratiklit), is from the local Berber terms for “mountain” and “lizard”, whilst the trivial epithet refers to Boulahfa, the likely site of the fossil discovery.  Commenting on the significance of this stegosaur from Morocco, lead author Dr Maidment commented:

“The discovery of Adratiklit boulahfa is particularly exciting as we have dated it to the Middle Jurassic.  Most known stegosaurs date from far later in the Jurassic period, making this the oldest definite stegosaur described and helping to increase our understanding of the evolution of this group of dinosaurs.”

One of the Two Dorsal Vertebrae Preserved (A. boulahfa)

Views of the holotype fossil specimen (dorsal vertebra) of A. boulahfa.

Views of the holotype fossil specimen (dorsal vertebra) of Adratiklit boulahfa.  NHMUK PV R37366, holotype specimen of Adratiklit boulahfa.  Dorsal vertebra in A, anterior, B, posterior, C, left lateral, D, right lateral, E, dorsal and F, ventral view.

The Implications for Stegosaurs and Ankylosaurs from Gondwana

The Stegosauria together with the Ankylosauria form a clade within the Ornithischian dinosaurs, this is referred to as the Eurypoda, which has been defined to include the iconic armoured dinosaurs Ankylosaurus, Stegosaurus and their most recent, common ancestor and all its descendants.  The fossil record suggests that stegosaurs were more common than ankylosaurs in the Jurassic, but during the Cretaceous the ankylosaurs rose in prominence and the stegosaurs as a group went into decline.

It is important to note that numerous members of the Eurypoda are known from Mesozoic rocks that made up the northern landmass of Laurasia, but only a few Eurypoda taxa are known from the super-continent of Gondwana.

The Global Distribution of Eurypoda Fossil Finds (Stegosaurs and Ankylosaurs)

A map showing where stegosaur and ankylosaur fossils have been found.

A map showing the known fossil distribution of the Eurypoda.  The grey dots indicate the presence of fossils associated with the Eurypoda clade.  More dinosaurs assigned to the Eurypoda have been found in areas associated with Laurasia, in contrast fossils representing the Eurypoda from Gondwana are relatively sparse.

Picture Credit: Tom Patterson, Nathaniel Vaughn Kelso et al from naturalearthdata.com, along with Bjørn Sandvik via Wikimedia Commons.

Writing in the academic journal, “Gondwana Research”, the scientists conclude that it remains unclear whether these types of armoured dinosaurs were genuinely rare in Gondwanan Mesozoic ecosystems, or whether their poor fossil record on southern continents is the result of sampling bias.  The discovery of a Moroccan stegosaur hints at the possibility that there could be many more armoured dinosaurs awaiting discovery in South America, India, Africa, Madagascar, Australia and Antarctica.

The scientific paper: “North Africa’s first stegosaur: Implications for Gondwanan thyreophoran dinosaur diversity” by Susannah C. R. Maidment, Thomas J. Raven, Driss Ouarhache and Paul M. Barrett published in Gondwana Research.

19 08, 2019

Ancient Jurassic Volcano Landscape Found Under Central Australia

By | August 19th, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Main Page|0 Comments

Volatile Jurassic Landscape Named after Fiery Australian Cricketer

An ancient landscape of 100 volcanoes has been discovered underneath Australia’s largest onshore oil and gas region.  Researchers from the University of Aberdeen (Scotland) and the University of Adelaide (South Australia), have identified a network of volcanoes that formed between 180 and 160 million years ago, buried deep within the Cooper-Eromanga Basins of central Australia.   A considerable portion of the scientific paper, published in the journal “Gondwana Research”, was written whilst the University of Aberdeen researchers were in Adelaide, watching an England versus Cricket Australia XI match (November 2017).

The scientists have called the volcanic region the Warnie Volcanic Province, in recognition of the formidable spin bowling talent of former Australian cricketer Shane Warne, who had a seismic impact on the sport.

The Scientists were Able to Map Characteristics of the Region Highlighting the Violent Past of the Landscape

Lava flows and volcano cones identified.

Characteristics of the volcanic region as mapped by the scientists.

Picture Credit: University of Aberdeen/University of Adelaide

Sixty Years of Petroleum Exploration

The Cooper-Eromanga Basins in the north-eastern corner of South Australia and south-western corner of Queensland have been the site of about sixty years of petroleum exploration and production.  However, evidence for a volcano dominated ancient Jurassic underground landscape had gone largely unrecorded.  The volcanoes developed in the Toarcian through to the Oxfordian faunal stages and have been subsequently buried beneath hundreds of metres of sedimentary rock.  The researchers used advanced sub-surface imaging techniques, analogous to medical CT (computerised tomography) scanning, to identify the multitude of volcanic craters and lava flows, and the deeper magma chambers that fed them.  In contrast, today, this area of Australia is a very arid and barren landscape.

The Study Identified Around a Hundred Volcanoes

Identifying a Jurassic World of Volcanoes in Australia

Line drawings and seismic data from the Warnie Volcanic Province.

Picture Credit: University of Aberdeen/University of Adelaide

This study demonstrates that during the Middle to the early Late Jurassic this area would have been a landscape of craters and fissures, expelling hot ash and lava into the air, surrounded by networks of river channels forming large lakes and coal-swamps.  This area was inhabited by dinosaurs and pterosaurs.

Co-author of the scientific paper, Associate Professor Simon Holford (University of Adelaide), stated that the discovery raised the prospect that more undiscovered volcanic worlds resided beneath the poorly explored surface of Australia.

Associate Professor Holford commented:

“While the majority of Earth’s volcanic activity occurs at the boundaries of tectonic plates, or under the Earth’s oceans, this ancient Jurassic world developed deep within the interior of the Australian continent.”

One of the authors was Jonathon Hardman, at the time a PhD student at the University of Aberdeen, as part of the Natural Environment Research Council Centre for Doctoral Training in Oil and Gas.  Jurassic-aged sedimentary rocks bearing oil, gas and water have been economically important for Australia, but this latest discovery suggests a lot more volcanic activity in the Jurassic period than was previously supposed.  The area has been named the Warnie Volcanic Province, in honour of the explosive Australian cricketer Shane Warne.

Co-author Associate Professor Nick Schofield (University of Aberdeen), explained that the Cooper-Eromanga Basins had been substantially explored since the first gas discovery in 1963.

He added:

“This has led to a massive amount of available data from underneath the ground but, despite this, the volcanics have never been properly understood in this region until now.  It changes how we understand processes that have operated in Earth’s past.”

A Typical Jurassic Landscape

A Jurassic landscape.

A typical Jurassic landscape.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from “The Lead South Australia” in the compilation of this article.

The scientific paper: “The Warnie volcanic province: Jurassic intraplate volcanism in Central Australia” by Jonathon P.A. Hardman, Simon P. Holford, Nick Schofield, Mark Bunch and Daniel Gibbins published in the journal Gondwana Research.

18 08, 2019

Prehistoric Predator with a Mouth Like a Slice of Pineapple

By | August 18th, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

The Predatory Cambroraster falcatus from the Burgess Shale

Palaeontologists at the Royal Ontario Museum and the University of Toronto have announced the discovery of a new 500-million-year-old predator, adding to the diversity associated with the Cambrian-aged Burgess Shale biota.  The animal, a distant relative of today’s spiders, insects and crustaceans, has been named Cambroraster falcatus.  At around thirty centimetres in length C. falcatus was one of the biggest animals around in the Late Cambrian and it was a distant relative of the formidable Anomalocaris, the apex predator on Earth during this time in our planet’s history.

A Life Reconstruction of Cambroraster falcatus

Illustrating the newly described Cambroraster from the Burgess Shale biota.

Cambroraster life reconstruction (dorsal view) and top, a view of the animal’s underside.

Picture Credit: Royal Ontario Museum

Providing New Information About the Diversity of Early Arthropods

Fossils of this newly described species were found in the Kootenay National Park in the Canadian Rockies.  Cambroraster has rake-like claws and a pineapple-slice-shaped mouth at the front of an extremely large head, it probably used its rake-like claws to sift through sediment and trap prey.

Lead author of the scientific paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B (Biology), Joe Moysiuk, based at the Royal Ontario Museum stated:

“Its size would have been even more impressive at the time it was alive, as most animals living during the Cambrian Period were smaller than your little finger.  Cambroraster was a distant cousin of the iconic Anomalocaris, the top predator living in the seas at that time, but it seems to have been feeding in a radically different way.”

Revealing a Fossil of a Cambroraster at the Kootenay National Park Field Site

Cambroraster fossil excavation.

Excavating a Cambroraster fossil from the Burgess Shale. Although flattened, enough detail has been preserved in the fine sediments for paleaontologists to reconstruct the animal.

Image Credit: Royal Ontario Museum

Remarkable Claws and the Millennium Falcon

The name Cambroraster refers to the remarkable claws of this animal, which bear a parallel series of outgrowths, looking like forward-directed rakes.   With the space between the spines on the claws at typically less than a millimetre, this would have enabled Cambroraster to feed on very small organisms, although larger prey could also likely be captured, and ingested into the circular tooth-lined mouth.  It is this specialised radial mouth that links Cambroraster to the Radiodonta, a clade of stem arthropods that were geographically widespread during the Cambrian, with many genera evolving into large nektonic predators.  The species or trivial name “falcatus”, is in honour of another of this marine animal’s distinctive features – the large, shield-like carapace covering the anterior part of the body.  This shield reminded the scientists of the iconic spaceship the Millennium Falcon from the Star Wars movie.

Graduate student Moysiuk added:

“With its broad head carapace with deep notches accommodating the upward facing eyes, Cambroraster resembles modern living bottom-dwelling animals like horseshoe crabs.  This represents a remarkable case of evolutionary convergence in these radiodonts.”

The researchers conclude that such convergence is likely reflective of a similar environment and mode of life, like modern horseshoe crabs, Cambroraster may have used its carapace to plough through sediment as it fed.

A Large Number of Specimens Found

Co-author of the paper, Dr Caron, an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto commented:

“The sheer abundance of this animal is extraordinary.  Over the past few summers we found hundreds of specimens, sometimes with dozens of individuals covering single rock slabs.”

Based on over a hundred exceptionally well-preserved fossils now housed at the Royal Ontario Museum, the researchers were able to reconstruct Cambroraster in unprecedented detail, revealing characteristics that had not been seen before in related species.

Dr Caron added:

“The radiodont fossil record is very sparse, typically, we only find scattered bits and pieces.  The large number of parts and unusually complete fossils preserved at the same place are a real coup, as they help us to better understand what these animals looked like and how they lived.  We are really excited about this discovery.  Cambroraster clearly illustrates that predation was a big deal at that time with many kinds of surprising morphological adaptations.”

A View of the Underside of Cambroraster with a Close-up View of the Radial Mouth

Cambroraster Life Reconstruction

A life reconstruction of Cambroraster showing the underside (ventral view) and the unusual mouth parts with the pair of raking appendages.

Picture Credit: Royal Ontario Museum

The Significance of the Burgess Shale

The fossils from the Burgess Shale of British Columbia document a remarkable time during the evolution of life on Earth.  There was a huge increase in biodiversity and food chains became much more complex as most of the major Phyla of animals that are around today evolved.  The Cambroraster fossil material comes from several locations in the Marble Canyon area of Kootenay National Park.  These locations and others like them are being explored and mapped by field teams from the Royal Ontario Museum.  These sites are about 25 miles (40 km) away from the original Burgess Shale fossil site in Yoho National Park that was discovered in 1909.  Scientists are confident that more new species will be discovery in this area of Kootenay National Park

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a press release from the Royal Ontario Museum in the compilation of this article.

The scientific paper: “A new hurdiid radiodont from the Burgess Shale evinces the exploitation of Cambrian infaunal food sources” by J. Moysiuk and J.B. Caron published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

15 08, 2019

What Killed the Cave Bears? Probably Us

By | August 15th, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Who rather than What Killed the Cave Bears?

A team of international researchers writing in the academic journal “Scientific Reports” have concluded that the extinction of the cave bear (Ursus spelaeus), could probably be put down to the impact of our own species – Homo sapiens.  Anatomically modern humans would have competed with this large, mostly herbivorous bear for caves as our species migrated into Europe.  This competition and our hunting of the bear, along with our impact on the populations of other species of large mammal, put increased pressure on the species leading it into a terminal decline before final extinction some 24,000 years ago.

The Papo Cave Bear (U. spelaeus) Model

The new for 2017 Papo Cave Bear model.

Lateral view of the Papo cave bear model.  Specimens from Europe including France were used in this new cave bear study.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A Spectacular Mammalian Fauna – Until about 50,000  – 40,000 Years Ago

Today, Europe has a relatively impoverished big mammal fauna, however, this was not always the case.  As recently as 50,000 years ago, some of the largest terrestrial mammals known roamed the extensive European forests, grasslands and steppes.  By the onset of the Holocene Epoch, the vast majority of terrestrial mammals more than fifty kilograms in weight had disappeared.  The reasons for the demise of the once relatively ubiquitous cave bear has been the subject of numerous scientific studies.  In this latest paper, the researchers used an analysis of mitochondrial DNA taken from cave bear fossils from several European countries.   Specimens from Switzerland, Serbia, Italy, Germany, Spain and France were involved in the study (59 specimens).  The DNA analysis, in combination with a statistical evaluation, was used to plot the decline of the cave bear, which was related to the extant brown bear (Ursus arctos).

A Mounted Skeleton of a Cave Bear (Ursus spelaeus)

A mounted cave bear fossil from an auction.

Cave bear up for sale!  This Late Pleistocene megafauna species is represented by one of the largest fossil records in Europe.  The study looked at specimens from fourteen different locations.

Picture Credit: Associated Press

Five Major Mitochondrial DNA Lineages

The researchers discovered five major mitochondrial DNA lineages resulting in a noticeably more complex biogeography of the European lineages during the last 50,000 years than had been previously thought.  In addition, the team propose that there was a drastic decline in the cave bear population commencing around 40,000 years ago, which coincides with the arrival of anatomically modern humans.  This study supports a potential significant human role in the general extinction and local extirpation (localised extinctions) of the European cave bear and illuminates the fate of this megafauna species.

Lead-author of the study, Professor Verena Schuenemann (University of Zurich, Switzerland), stated:

“It is the clearest evidence we have so far that humans might have played a big role in the extinction of the cave bear.”

Biogeologist Hervé Bocherens of the University of Tuebingen (Germany), a co-author of the scientific paper added:

“There is more and more evidence that modern humans have played a determinant role in the decline and extinction of large mammals once they spread around the planet, starting around 50,000 years ago.  This happened not just by hunting these mammals to extinction, but by causing demographic decline of keystone species, such as very large herbivores, that led to ecosystems’ collapse and a cascade of further extinctions.”

The scientific paper: “Large-scale mitogenomic analysis of the phylogeography of the Late Pleistocene cave bear” by Jocsha Gretzinger, Martyna Molak, Ella Reiter et al published in Scientific Reports.

14 08, 2019

The “Scunthorpe Pliosaur”

By | August 14th, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|1 Comment

The “Scunthorpe Pliosaur” – What is it?  When and Where Did it Live?  What it May Have Eaten and Lived Alongside

A few weeks ago, we set young palaeontologist Thomas a challenge, could he research and write an article for posting up onto the Everything Dinosaur blog.  Thomas has taken up our offer and here is the first of his articles, it provides information on a prehistoric animal close to Thomas’s  heart the “Scunthorpe Pliosaur”.

The “Scunthorpe Pliosaur”, a specimen announced earlier this year, was a large plesiosauroid belonging to the family Pliosauridae and is related to the better known pliosaurs such as Pliosaurus and Liopleurodon in fact, it may have lived alongside and directly competed with these two better-known pliosaurs at some point.  It has been estimated at 8 metres long.

The “Scunthorpe Pliosaur” on Display at North Lincolnshire Museum

Rose Nicholson, Richard Forrest and Darren Withers with the Scunthorpe Pliosaur.

Rose Nicholson from North Lincolnshire Museum, palaeontologist Richard Forrest and Darren Withers from Stamford and District Geological Society with the “Scunthorpe Pliosaur”.

Picture Credit: North Lincolnshire Museum

When and Where Did it Live and Where was it Found?

The “Scunthorpe Pliosaur” lived around 160 to 155 million years ago in what is now north Lincolnshire (England).  These fossils date from the Late Jurassic and the United Kingdom 160 million years ago was a very mysterious place.  Whilst marine fauna is decently represented in the fossil record, there is still much science does not know about the seas from this time and this new specimen may help open up a new window into that mysterious world.  The terrestrial fauna on the other hand, is poorly represented and full of mystery with one of the only described theropods being the British Metriacanthosaurus from Dorset (a close relative of Sinraptor from China).  The pliosaur specimen was recovered from a CEMEX quarry.

Partially Excavated Fossils at the Excavation Site

Ribs and a vertebra fossil in situ.

Ribs and a vertebra in situ.

Picture Credit: Yorkshire Geological Society

What Did it Live With and What Might it Have Eaten?

Inhabiting the seas alongside the “Scunthorpe Pliosaur” were other pliosaurs, plesiosaurs, turtles, fish, ichthyosaurs, squid, ammonites, marine crocodiles, sharks and more.  Some of these animals include the pliosaurs Liopleurodon, Simolestes and Pliosaurus which would have competed with it and the plesiosaurs Cryptocleidus and Colymbosaurus which could have been prey of the pliosaur especially the latter plesiosaur’s young.

Palaeontologist Richard Forrest Holding a Fossil Tooth

The pliosaur tooth examined by Richard Forrest.

Richard Forrest holding a pliosaur tooth.

Picture Credit: North Lincolnshire Museum

Looking at the “Scunthorpe Pliosaur’s” dentition, the known teeth of this pliosaur are reminiscent of teeth associated with Pliosaurus (Pliosaurus brachydeirus),  a species which has been found in Lincolnshire.  From this comparison, it can be concluded that the Scunthorpe individual possibly preyed upon other marine reptiles and other large marine fauna.  Stomach content of related pliosaurs and bite marks left by them on their prey show that pliosaurs like the Scunthorpe specimen would have been hunting a wide range of hard bodied marine prey from large ammonites to plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs, however, they wouldn’t have shied away from preying on softer bodied animals.

Like most pliosaurs, the “Scunthorpe Pliosaur” probably had a very powerful sense of smell, good eyesight, acute hearing and a powerful bite, all necessary adaptations for a hunting pliosaur to have in order to hunt effectively.

Holding a Fossilised Pliosaur Tooth

Holding a pliosaur tooth.

Holding a fossil tooth.

Picture Credit David Haber

The ecology at the time would have consisted of kelp forests, reefs, coastal shallows and a steep pelagic drop-off that plummets into a benthic zone.  Pliosaurs such as Liopleurodon, Pliosaurus and the “Scunthorpe Pliosaur” probably used these drop-off points as ambush spots to strike unsuspecting prey from below.

When attacking prey, Pliosaurs would have come up from below like white sharks and either rammed or bitten prey in one massive disabling blow to the prey item to prevent it’s escape.   In conclusion, the “Scunthorpe Pliosaur “was a large pliosaur which could have occupied the apex predator niche in its warm, shallow coastal ecosystem hunting all manners of prey from fish and squid to marine reptiles using sight, hearing and smell to track down its prey and applying similar hunting strategies to modern Great Whites to secure and catch that prey.  This discovery is an important one as it opens up a window into a little known area of the Late Jurassic British seas and helps palaeontologists piece together that ancient ecosystem over 155 million years ago.

Holding the Ancient History of North Lincolnshire

Pliosaur fossils.

History in your hands, part of the fossilised skeleton.

Picture Credit: The Stamford and District Geological Society Facebook page

Our thanks to Thomas for compiling this article on the “Scunthorpe Pliosaur”.

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