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

22 07, 2021

Scutellosaurus Steps into the Spotlight

By | July 22nd, 2021|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

When asked to name an armoured dinosaur, we suspect that most readers would quickly reply with “Stegosaurus” or possibly “Ankylosaurus”. True, some armoured dinosaurs are very famous, having seeped into the public consciousness thanks to countless appearances in the media, dinosaur documentaries and films. However, very little is known about the origins of this diverse and highly successful ornithischian clade. Newly, published research on the labrador-sized early thyreophoran Scutellosaurus (S. lawleri) is helping scientists to better understand the evolutionary origin of these dinosaurs.

Scutellosaurus lawleri life reconstruction
A life reconstruction of the Early Jurassic, primitive member of the Thyreophora Scutellosaurus (S. lawleri). This labrador-sized dinosaur is helping to shed light on the early evolution of the armoured dinosaurs and is the only definitive bipedal thyreophoran described to date. Picture credit: Gabriel Ugueto.

A Palaeontological Project Lasting Sixteen Years

The scientific paper, the first detailed anatomical assessment of Scutellosaurus covering its entire skeleton, has been published in the on-line, open access journal Royal Society Publishing. The dedicated research team consisted of PhD student Benjamin Breeden (University of Utah), Professor Richard Butler (University of Birmingham), Professor Timothy Rowe (University of Texas at Austin) along with PhD student Tom Raven and Dr Susannah Maidment (Natural History Museum, London).

This research project was first proposed back in 2005. Sixteen years after the project’s inception, the paper has been published providing a new perspective on the evolution of the armoured dinosaurs.

Bones from the Lower Jaw of Scutellosaurus
Scutellosaurus lawleri, holotype (MNA.V.175) dentaries. Left dentary in lateral (a) and medial (b) views. Right dentary in lateral (c) and medial (d) views. Picture credit: Breeden et al.

Scutellosaurus lawleri

Named and described in 1981, from material discovered ten years earlier. Scutellosaurus lawleri fossils come from the Kayenta Formation of Arizona, more specifically mudstones associated with the “middle third” of this Formation (Lower Jurassic). It has been estimated that the Scutellosaurus fossils are around 181 to 186 million years old (Pliensbachian and Toarcian stages).

More than seventy Scutellosaurus specimens are known, representing all parts of the skeleton. As such, Scutellosaurus fossil material is much more abundant than that of other early armoured dinosaurs such as Scelidosaurus (S. harrisoni), which was named and described by the famous Victorian anatomist Richard Owen. This relative abundance of fossil material in comparison with other early armoured dinosaurs makes Scutellosaurus an ideal candidate to help palaeontologists to better understand the evolution of this important group of plant-eating dinosaurs.

Scutellosaurus caudal vertebrae
Views of selected tail bones (caudal vertebrae) of the ornithischian Scutellosaurus lawleri. Picture credit: Breeden et al

Scutellosaurus was a Biped

One of the key findings of this research is that based on limb proportions and postcranial skeletal assessments, Scutellosaurus was bipedal. As such, it is the only bipedal thyreophoran known to science. It had been suggested that as thyreophorans evolved into larger and more heavily armoured forms they lost this ability to adopt a bipedal posture.

Although the exact layout of the dermal armour of Scutellosaurus is not known, the researchers tested the hypothesis that heavier armour led these dinosaurs to adopt a quadrupedal stance. The research team calculated the centre of mass of Scutellosaurus with its armour, without armour, with the armour of Stegosaurus and with the armour of the Late Cretaceous ankylosaurid Euoplocephalus. They found that the addition of armour did cause the centre of mass to move slightly further back in the body in all the tests. However, the team concluded that the evolution of armour probably was not the reason to cause early armoured dinosaurs to adopt quadrupedal locomotion. More derived taxa of armoured dinosaurs required forelimb support for their body weight for other, as yet not understood reasons.

Armoured Dinosaurs Grew Slowly

Detailed analysis of Scutellosaurus bones indicate that this dinosaur grew very slowly throughout its life. This supports other studies that suggest that thyreophorans had lower metabolic rates when compared to other dinosaurs, even closely related ornithischians.

Lots of Variety in Early Jurassic Dinosaur Faunas

The supercontinent Pangaea did begin to break-up during the Jurassic, but at the time Scutellosaurus roamed what was to become the western United States, this landmass was largely intact, which in theory would have helped homologous populations of dinosaurs to evolve. That is to say, that given the absence of any geographical barriers preventing movement, similar dinosaur faunas would have existed across Pangaea. When this study of Scutellosaurus is looked at from the wider perspective of dinosaur evolution and radiation, a different picture emerges.

The ornithischian dinosaurs from the Kayenta Formation are represented by Scutellosaurus lawleri, a larger unnamed thyreophoran known from isolated bones and an undescribed hetrodontosaurid. Scutellosaurus fossils are the most abundant dinosaur fossils associated with the Kayenta Formation, they are much more common than theropod or sauropodomorph fossils. In contrast, the roughly contemporaneous upper Elliot Formation of South Africa has many more sauropodomorphs than ornithischians and the dinosaur biota of the Lufeng Formation of China is dominated by sauropodomorphs with ornithischian material exceptionally rare.

Comparing different dinosaur faunas.
A comparison of plant-eating dinosaur faunas from three Lower Jurassic Formations. The grey silhouettes represent ornithischian dinosaurs which in the case of the Kayenta Formation is dominated by the thyreophoran Scutellosaurus. The black silhouettes represent members of the Sauropodomorpha, which in the Kayenta Formation is represented by Sarahsaurus.

This suggests that there was considerable variation in the composition of dinosaur biotas during the Early Jurassic.

The scientific paper: The anatomy and palaeobiology of the early armoured dinosaur Scutellosaurus lawleri (Ornithischia: Thyreophora) from the Kayenta Formation (Lower Jurassic) of Arizona by Benjamin T. Breeden, Thomas J. Raven, Richard J. Butler, Timothy B. Rowe and Susannah C. R. Maidment published by Royal Society Publishing.

17 07, 2021

Did Baby Tyrannosaurs Gnaw Bones?

By | July 17th, 2021|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Drawings, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Scientists have reported the discovery of a hadrosaur pedal ungual (the bone on the end of a toe that supported the keratin claw or hoof), that shows a series of small bite marks made by a theropod dinosaur. The toe claw seems to have been bitten repeatedly and although scrapes and scratches on fossil bones that are incidental feeding traces left by meat-eating dinosaurs have been well documented, these bite marks might represent something very different.

Did a baby tyrannosaur or possibly a dromaeosaurid gnaw on the toe bone of a dead duck-billed dinosaur?

A young tyrannosaur gnaws on a hadrosaur toe bone
A life reconstruction of a juvenile tyrannosaur biting down on the hadrosaur pedal ungual causing the bite marks that have been preserved in the fossil (TMP 2018.012.0123). Picture credit: Joshua Doyon.

Gnawing Behaviour

Gnawing behaviour is synonymous with many types of mammals, specifically members of the Carnivora and rodents (Rodentia), but it is not commonly associated with the Dinosauria. Coprolites thought to have come from tyrannosaurs contain a lot of bone fragments, tests demonstrate that large tyrannosaurids were capable of crushing bone and it had been thought that coprolite bone content came about as bones were ingested through general consumption.

However, a trio of scientists – Caleb Brown and Darren Tanke from the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology (Alberta) in collaboration with Dr David Hone, Senior Lecturer in Zoology at the University of London, have recently published a paper in PeerJ, that suggests that the unusual bite marks on the hadrosaur pedal ungual might represent dinosaur gnawing behaviour.

A hadrosaur pedal ungual with gnaw marks
Ammonium chloride powder coated photographs of the hadrosaurid pedal showing bite marks (viewed from the bottom – ventral/plantar view). (A) View of TMP 2018.012.0123 (A), with marks highlighted in blue (A’). Close-up of the bitten region (B), with marks highlighted in blue and numbered in Arabic numerals (B’). Note scale bars = 1 cm.

Documenting Unusual Dinosaur Behaviour

The fossil toe claw bone (specimen number TMP 2018.012.0123), comes from a bonebed (bonebed 50) that contains the disarticulated remains of several different types of duck-billed dinosaur including Corythosaurus. Although the bone came from an adult, it is not possible to confirm the dinosaur species. Thirteen, distinct and highly localised tooth marks have been identified. Their pattern suggests that a small, meat-eating dinosaur delivered up to six repeated, powerful bites to the claw bone. There would have been very little meat on this part of the hadrosaur’s body, gnawing on the pedal ungual represents an unusual and rare form of behaviour.

The researchers reviewed pedal unguals of duck-billed dinosaurs from the Dinosaur Park Formation. They identified tooth marks and feeding traces on four other toe claw bones, but this represents less than 1% of all the hadrosaur toe bones found and feeding traces were much more common on other bones.

Evidence of late stage carcase consumption by a dromaeosaur or young tyrannosaur on a pedal ungual of a hadrosaur.
Right articulated hadrosaurid pes in dorsal view (A), with ungual of digit three highlighted (white) and the position of the tooth marks (ventral side) indicated in black. Shaded line drawing of the ventral view of the ungual (B), showing the position of the bite marks (black). Close-up view of bite mark size (C) and (D) Close-up view of bite marks showing potential alignment of tooth row parallel with the long axes of the tooth marks. Hollow fills in C indicate potential bite marks missing from rows/columns. Note scale bars = 1 cm.

Dromaeosaur or Tyrannosaur?

The tracemaker cannot be definitively identified but the researchers rule out crocodilians, small mammal feeding traces and snake bites, leaving a theropod dinosaur as the likely tracemaker whose unusual behaviour has been recorded in the fossil. The number of theropods capable of causing such marks and known from the Dinosaur Park Formation is relatively small. The scientists considered dromaeosaurids and their close relatives the Troodontidae, as the tooth marks could have been made by a large troodontid such as Latenivenatrix. The team also considered whether the tracemaker was a young tyrannosaurid.

Given the lack of evidence of denticle spacing present on the bite marks, and that both Tyrannosauridae and Dromaeosauridae were capable of delivering bites resulting in deep furrows and pits to the bone surface, the team speculated that either a dromaeosaur (such as Dromaeosaurus or Saurornitholestes), caused the damage or perhaps the marks were made by a very young tyrannosaurid. Two genera of tyrannosaur are known from the Dinosaur Park Formation, namely Gorgosaurus and Daspletosaurus.

Perhaps, a very young Gorgosaurus, the lowest ranked animal in the pack was left to pull at and gnaw on the toe of the hadrosaur, whilst the rest pack gorged themselves on the more attractive, nutrient rich parts of the carcase.

Can Dogs Provide an Answer?

Anyone who has kept horses and dogs will tell you that when the horse’s hooves are trimmed dogs love to eat the trimmings. The hooves are made from keratin, the same protein responsible for the toe claw on the hadrosaur. Dogs can get very excited when the farrier starts to tidy up the hooves, they seem to crave the soft, recently trimmed parts of the hoof.

Many dog treats are made from horse’s hooves. Could your pet dog provide an insight into dinosaur feeding behaviour?

A trio of Japanese hunting dogs.
Most dogs like to consume hoof trimmings. The hooves of horses and duck-billed dinosaurs are made of the same material (keratin), could a young tyrannosaur have craved the taste of the toe claws of hadrosaurs?

Could a tyrannosaur similarly have craved the taste of the toe claw of a duck-billed dinosaur?

The scientific paper: “Rare evidence for ‘gnawing-like’ behavior in a small-bodied theropod dinosaur” by Caleb M. Brown, Darren H. Tanke and David W. E. Hone published in PeerJ.

15 07, 2021

The Dinosaurs Were in Decline Before Asteroid Impact

By | July 15th, 2021|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

New research examining the number of different types of non-avian dinosaur roaming the planet 66 million years ago, suggests that these dinosaurs were in decline long before the extra-terrestrial impact that led to their ultimate extinction.

Researchers including Professor Michael Benton (Bristol University), Fabien Condamine and Guillaume Guinot (Université de Montpellier) along with Phil Currie (University of Alberta), compiled an extensive list of dinosaur fossils associated with the last few million years of the Mesozoic. They then subjected the data to sophisticated statistical analysis and concluded that across the six main types of dinosaur studied (three herbivorous groups and three carnivorous groups), the non-avian dinosaurs were in general decline.

The end of the non-avian dinosaurs.
An artist’s impression of the bolide about to impact with the Gulf of Mexico 66 million years ago. New research suggests that the non-avian dinosaurs were in decline long before the extra-terrestrial impact. Picture credit: Chase Stone.

Speciation-extinction Dynamics

The six different types of non-avian dinosaur studied were:

  • Tyrannosauridae (big meat-eaters such as Tyrannosaurus rex, Gorgosaurus and Daspletosaurus.
  • Dromaeosauridae – swift predators such as Velociraptor, Zhenyuanlong and Dromaeosaurus.
  • Troodontidae closely related to the dromaeosaurs – dinosaurs such as Stenonychosaurus and Latenivenatrix.
  • Ceratopsidae horned dinosaurs such as Triceratops and Pachyrhinosaurus.
  • Ankylosauridae the club-tailed, armoured dinosaurs such as Euoplocephalus, Scolosaurus and Ankylosaurus.
  • Hadrosauridae the duck-billed dinosaurs such as Edmontosaurus, Hadrosaurus and Corythosaurus.

The statistical analysis comparing speciation rates to extinction rates revealed that the number of dinosaur species was in steep decline from around 10 million years before the extra-terrestrial impact event.

End Cretaceous speciation versus extinction in the non-avian dinosaurs.
Speciation plotted against extinction rates for six dinosaur families. Dinosaurs were in decline prior to the impact event. Picture credit: Condamine et al.

Global Climate Cooling and the Success of the Hadrosaurs

The sophisticated Bayesian analysis indicates that both herbivorous and carnivorous dinosaurs declined and that this was a world-wide phenomenon. Some types of dinosaur declined sharply towards the end of the Cretaceous, for example the Ankylosauridae and the horned dinosaurs (Ceratopsidae). Of the six families studied, only one family, the Troodontidae shows a very small decline. This decline took place in the last five million years of the Cretaceous.

The team also found a link between the decline of herbivores and the decline of the carnivores. Plant-eaters declined first and this led shortly afterwards to a decline in the genera of meat-eating dinosaurs. It is presumed that the reduction in prey led to the demise of carnivorous dinosaurs.

The reduction in the number of armoured and horned dinosaurs might be linked to the number of hadrosaur species identified. Duck-billed dinosaurs could have outcompeted other herbivores leading to a decline in the total number of herbivore types present in an ecosystem.

Yamatosaurus izanagii Life Reconstruction with more Advance Forms of Duck-billed Dinosaur in the Background
Recent studies indicate that the hadrosaurs evolved in Asia. This group of herbivorous dinosaurs became very speciose and geographically widespread during the Late Cretaceous. It has been suggested that the duck-billed dinosaurs dominated terrestrial ecosystems and outcompeted other types of herbivorous dinosaur. Picture credit: Masato Hattori.

The research team continued conducting a statistical analysis to test theories as to why this decline occurred. They concluded that global cooling could have been a major factor in the extinction of many different types of dinosaur and the reduction in the number of new species evolving to re-populate ecosystems. The Earth cooled by around 7-8 degrees Celsius at the end of the Cretaceous. In contrast, periods of sustained global warming in the Early Cretaceous led to a rise in the diversity of the Dinosauria.

The decline of the Dinosauria
The research showed that all six dinosaur families declined in the number of species in the last few million years before the end of the Mesozoic. Only the Troodontidae showed a marginal decline, but this became more pronounced in the last 5 million years of the Cretaceous. Picture credit: Condamine et al.

The scientific paper: “Dinosaur biodiversity declined well before the asteroid impact, influenced by ecological and environmental pressures” by Fabien L. Condamine, Guillaume Guinot, Michael J. Benton and Philip J. Currie published in Nature Communications.

12 07, 2021

Miniature Alvarezsauroids under the Spotlight

By | July 12th, 2021|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

A new study into those bizarre theropods the alvarezsauroids, indicates that they became much smaller in the Late Cretaceous. Newly published research in “Current Biology” suggests that these dinosaurs reduced in size about 95 million years ago when they became specialised insectivores.

The research team, which included PhD student Zichuan Qin and Professor Michael Benton (Bristol University), along with researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, George Washington University (USA) and Jonah N Choiniere from the University of Witwatersrand (South Africa), conclude that the miniaturisation of the alvarezsauroids probably coincided with adaptations to feeding on termites and ants. It has been a busy week for Professor Choiniere, as Everything Dinosaur recently published an article summarising a study of Heterodontosaurus that Professor Choiniere had co-authored: Breathing Life into the Dinosauria.

Typical alvarezsauroids.
Life reconstruction of four representative alvarezsauroids, Haplocheirus sollers (left), Patagonykus puertai (upper middle), Linhenykus monodactylus (lower middle) and Bannykus wulatensis (lower right), illustrating the body size and dieting change in alvarezsauroid dinosaurs. Picture credit: Zhixin Han.

Miniaturisation in the Dinosauria is Very Rare

The research team define sustained miniaturisation within a group of animals as a drop in body size of at least two orders of magnitude from ancestors to descendants. This trait has been recorded many times in terrestrial vertebrates such as dwarf hippos and elephants, diminutive chameleons and tiny frogs. Miniaturisation is often associated with animals living in environments with limited resources such as islands and as such dwarf forms of dinosaurs associated with “island dwarfism” are known. However, in general terms miniaturisation within the Dinosauria is rare.

Miniaturisation is recorded twice within the Dinosauria:

  • Once in the avialan theropods as powered flight evolved (the lineage leading to birds).
  • Once in the Alvarezsauroidea -a bizarre group of dinosaurs nested within the Maniraptora.
Chinese fossils shed light on the evolution of the specialised Alvarezsaurian monodactyl hand.
Known mainly from China, although fossils have been found in the Americas and Europe, the Alvarezsauroidea had bird-like skeletons with many derived species having significantly reduced front limbs and digits. The oldest and most primitive alvarezsauroids are known from the early Late Jurassic Shishugou Formation of north-western China. Picture credit: Viktor Radermacher.

Measuring Alvarezsaurs and Calculating their Age

The scientists measured the fossilised remains of dozens of these dinosaurs and assessed bone histology to separate juvenile, not fully grown specimens from adult fossil remains. They demonstrated that alvarezsaurs ranged in size from about 10 kilograms up to 70 kilograms for most of their evolutionary history, but from about 95 million years ago, very much smaller, chicken-sized forms, weighing less than 5 kilograms evolved. This miniaturisation coincided with these dinosaurs adopting a more specialised diet, that of consuming ants and termites.

Towards the end of the Cretaceous alvarezsauroids became much smaller and many more species evolved
Study shows a rapid Late Cretaceous alvarezsauroid miniaturisation and radiation. Picture credit: Bristol University.

Professor Michael Benton commented:

“Perhaps competition with other dinosaurs intensified through the Cretaceous. The Cretaceous was a time of rapidly evolving ecosystems and the biggest change was the gradual takeover by flowering plants. Flowering plants changed the nature of the landscape completely, and yet dinosaurs mostly did not feed on these new plants. But they led to an explosion of new types of insects, including ants and termites”.

The Cretaceous Terrestrial Revolution

The rapid evolution of flowering plants (angiosperms), led to a dramatic change in ecosystems with modern-looking woodlands and forests evolving with a diverse flora and fauna, including an enormous increase in insects that specialised on feeding on the leaves, nectar, petals and pollen of the flowering plants. This restructuring of ecosystems has been called the Cretaceous Terrestrial Revolution.

Whilst most other types of dinosaurs got bigger as they evolved, the alvarezsaurs seem to be the exception. When the first of these bizarre theropods evolved some of them were ostrich-sized, such as Haplocheirus, with sharp teeth and strong, flexible forelimbs suggesting a mixed and varied diet. However, from about 95 million years ago, body size plummeted and claw shapes changed from grabbing and tearing types to more robust forms. Arms became reduced as did the number of digits.

Mononykus (M. olecranus) typifies the Late Cretaceous alvarezsaurids. It roamed southern Mongolia around 70 million years ago and it measured about a metre in length and weighed around 3.5 kilograms. The forelimbs of Mononykus were tiny and they terminated in a hand that had just one digit topped with a very robust probe-like claw. This claw seems ideally suited to punching holes in termite mounds.

Beasts of the Mesozoic Desert Accessory Pack.
The assembled Beasts of the Mesozoic Desert Accessory Pack featuring Mononykus.

The Second Case of Miniaturisation within the Dinosauria

Whilst most scientists accept the link between getting smaller and the evolution of powered flight within the branch of the Dinosauria leading to the evolution of birds, not much research had been undertaken into alvarezsauroid miniaturisation.

Professor Xing Xu (Chinese Academy of Sciences), a co-author of the study added:

“This is a very strange result, but it seems to be true. All other dinosaurs were getting bigger and bigger, but one group of flesh-eaters miniaturised and this was associated with living in trees and flying. They eventually became birds. We’ve identified a second miniaturisation event – but it wasn’t for flight, but to accommodate a completely new diet, switching from flesh to termites.”

The scientific paper: “Growth and miniaturization among alvarezsauroid dinosaurs” by Zichuan Qin, Qi Zhao, Jonah N. Choiniere, James M. Clark, Michael J. Benton and Xing Xu published in Current Biology.

11 07, 2021

Heterodontosaurus Breathes Life into Dinosauria Respiratory Studies

By | July 11th, 2021|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Drawings, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

A beautifully preserved and almost complete fossil specimen of the early ornithischian Heterodontosaurus (H. tucki) has provided palaeontologists with a fresh perspective on how bird-hipped dinosaurs breathed.

An international team of scientists including Richard Butler, a professor of palaeobiology at the University of Birmingham, Jonah Choiniere, a professor of comparative palaeobiology at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, Kimberley Chapelle, a postdoctoral fellow at the American Museum of Natural History (New York), subjected the 200-million-year-old fossil to a series of extremely powerful X-rays courtesy of the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble, (France). The data from these scans permitted the researchers to construct computer models reassembling the skeleton in unprecedented detail and to learn how this dinosaur breathed.

Heterodontosaurus breathing study.
A life reconstruction of the early ornithischian Heterodontosaurus – its breath shows as a vapour trail in the early morning light. Picture credit: University of Witwatersrand.

Getting to Understand the Unique Ornithischian Dinosaurs

Vertebrates like reptiles, birds and mammals all move air through their lungs in different ways. Mammals like us have a diaphragm, whilst lizards use rib movements to help them move air through their lungs. Birds have another, very different respiratory system which is more efficient than our own. Birds have thin-walled air sacs connected to their lungs. These air sacs fill a considerable portion of the body cavity. They are not involved directly in gas exchange but function as bellows to direct airflow through the lungs in one direction, from back to front. This increases lung efficiency. To read an article from 2007 that examines how non-avian dinosaurs might have breathed: Dinosaur Breathing Study.

This study showed that Heterodontosaurus was using its oddly shaped ribs connected to its sternum to breathe, but that it also showed the first steps towards a muscle attached to the hips that would inflate the lung – similar to how crocodiles breathe.

Heterodontosaurus respiration study
Each of the blocks making up the Heterodontosaurus fossil material (AM 4766) were scanned by the synchrotron and then the skeleton was digitally recreated with a focus on the trunk. Gastralia ribs are shown in blue. Picture credit: Viktor Radermacher.

Lead author of the scientific study published in the journal eLife, Viktor Radermacher (PhD student in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences), commented:

“This specimen represents a turning point in understanding how dinosaurs evolved”.

Fossil Discovered in 2009

The specimen, representing a sub-adult Heterodontosaurus was discovered in 2009, eroding out of a riverbed. It is the most complete Heterodontosaurus fossil known to science. The surrounding matrix is very hard, so removal of the individual bones was not possible, but employing extremely powerful X-rays allows the scientists to peer inside the matrix and reconstruct the anatomy of this dinosaur.

In 2016, the fossil of the turkey-sized dinosaur was transported to the ESRF for a week-long study. Huge amounts of data on this early member of the Ornithischia were compiled: Heterodontosaurus visits the European Synchrotron.

The Distinctive and Successful Ornithischia

Described in 1962, Heterodontosaurus is thought to one of the most primitive members of the Ornithischia (bird-hipped dinosaurs), although the exact taxonomic placement of the Heterodontosauridae is still debated and their early evolution remains obscure. Ornithischian dinosaurs include the armoured dinosaurs, pachycephalosaurs, ceratopsians and the ornithopods – which encompasses such well-known dinosaurs as Iguanodon and the duck-billed dinosaurs.

Research team member Richard Butler (Birmingham University), explained the importance of this study:

“We’ve long known that the skeletons of ornithischian dinosaurs were radically different from those of other dinosaurs. This amazing new fossil helps us understand why ornithischians were so distinctive and successful”.

Not All Dinosaurs Breathed in the Same Way

The research revealed that Heterodontosaurus possessed numerous gastralia (belly ribs), the first time this anatomical feature has been found in an ornithischian and several other, unique autapomorphies (characteristics), that are unknown in other bird-hipped dinosaurs. For example, it had paddle-shaped sternal ribs and a forward projecting sternum. The team concluded that this suite of anatomical features enabled Heterodontosaurus to breathe in a different way when compared to other members of the Dinosauria. Heterodontosaurus forced air into its lungs by expanding both its belly and chest.

Lead author Viktor Radermacher stated:

“We have actually never known how these ornithischians breathed. The interesting thing is that Heterodontosaurus is the ancestor of this group and it has these [newly discovered] pieces of anatomy, but its descendants don’t. What that means is that Heterodontosaurus is a missing link between the ancestors of dinosaurs and the bigger, charismatic species we know. This gives us a whole bunch of information and fills in some pretty glaring gaps in our knowledge of the biology of these dinosaurs.”

Lead author of the research, University of Minnesota PhD student Viktor Radermacher
Lead author of the research, University of Minnesota PhD student Viktor Radermacher, poses next to some skull casts and dinosaur models that represent suborders of the Ornithischia. Picture credit: Sebastian Alfonzo.

Different Solutions to the Need to Breathe

Viktor Radermacher explained that this research demonstrates that there is still a lot to learn about the Dinosauria and that many different types of tetrapod evolved different solutions when it came to getting oxygen to their muscles.

He added:

“The takeaway message is that there are many ways to breathe. The really interesting thing about life on Earth is that we all have different strategies to do the same thing, and we’ve just identified a new strategy of breathing. This shows that utilising dinosaurs and palaeontology, we can learn more about the diversity of animals on Earth and how they breathe.”

The scientific paper: “A new Heterodontosaurus specimen elucidates the unique ventilatory macroevolution of ornithischian dinosaurs” by Viktor J Radermacher, Vincent Fernandez, Emma R Schachner, Richard J Butler, Emese M Bordy, Michael Naylor Hudgins, William J de Klerk, Kimberley E J Chapelle and Jonah N Choiniere published in eLife.

7 07, 2021

New Dinosaur Described from Spain

By | July 7th, 2021|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

A new species of dinosaur has been named and described from a jawbone found in Castellón, Spain. The dinosaur has been named Portellsaurus sosbaynati and it has been classified as a member of the Ornithopoda subgroup Styracosterna. Its discovery could help shed light on the evolution of the Hadrosauroidea – the duck-billed dinosaurs, from other large-bodied dinosaurs more closely related to the iguanodontids.

Portellsaurus sosbaynati life reconstruction
A life reconstruction of the newly described Spanish styracosternan hadrosauroid named Portellsaurus sosbaynati. Picture credit: Universitat Jaume I.

Portellsaurus sosbaynati

The fossil material, consisting of a right dentary (lower jawbone), specimen number MQ98-II-1, comes from Mirambell Formation exposures at a site near Mas de Curolles, Portell, Castellón (Spain). The fossil is around 129-130 million years old (Barremian faunal stage of the Early Cretaceous). The strata represent a shallow lagoon and although no other fossil material has been described, unique characteristics associated with the dentary combined with the fossil’s geological age, permitted the research team to erect a new genus of herbivorous dinosaur.

Views of the right dentary of Portellsaurus
View of the right dentary (MQ98-II-1) of Portellsaurus sosbaynati. Labial (A), lingual (B), and occlusal (C) views. (D) Enlargement (2x) of a dental crown fragment at the tooth row. Note scale bar = 10 cm. Picture credit: Santos-Cubedo et al.

Writing in the on-line academic journal PLoS One, the researchers from Universitat Jaume I, Grup Guix and Valencia University, conclude that Portellsaurus is closely related to Ouranosaurus (O. nigeriensis) from Africa and Bolong (B. yixianensis) from north-eastern China.

Based on comparisons with other fossil material from other better-known iguanodontids and hadrosauroids, the scientists estimate that Portellsaurus could have been up to 8 metres long. The genus name for this new Spanish dinosaur honours the town of Portell, whilst the trivial name honours Vicente Sos Baynat, a Spanish geologist born in Castelló de la Plana and the first scientist to be awarded the accolade of honorary doctorate by the Universitat Jaume I.

Time-calibrated phylogeny of Portellsaurus sosbaynati.
Time-calibrated phylogeny of Portellsaurus sosbaynati. This analysis suggests that this Spanish styracosternan hadrosauroid was closely related to Ouranosaurus from Africa and Bolong from China. Picture credit: Santos-Cubedo et al.

Not Closely Related to Other Large-bodied Iberian Ornithopods

In addition, the scientists including corresponding author Andrés Santos-Cubedo (Universitat Jaume I), conclude that Portellsaurus sosbaynati is less closely related to other Iberian taxa such as Iguanodon bernissartensis and Proa valdearinnoensis than it is to the other Early Cretaceous Iberian styracosternans Mantellisaurus atherfieldensis and Morelladon beltrani, although Portellsaurus is geologically several million years older than both Mantellisaurus and Morelladon.

The scientific paper: “A new styracosternan hadrosauroid (Dinosauria: Ornithischia) from the Early Cretaceous of Portell, Spain” by Andrés Santos-Cubedo, Carlos de Santisteban, Begoña Poza and Sergi Meseguer published in PLoS One.

3 07, 2021

Dinosaurs Nested in the High Arctic

By | July 3rd, 2021|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Analysis of sediments taken from the famous Prince Creek Formation of northern Alaska has revealed tiny, fossilised bones and teeth representing perinatal dinosaurs – either embryonic (just about to hatch) or dinosaurs that have recently hatched. Several different types of dinosaurs are represented, which means that high latitudes in the northern hemisphere were probably the dinosaur’s permanent home and that they nested there.

High Arctic was a Nursery for some dinosaurs
The discovery of tiny teeth and bones from perinatal dinosaurs provides strong evidence for dinosaurs nesting in the Arctic. This in turn suggests that many different dinosaurs were year-round residents and supports the hypothesis that most theropod and ornithischian dinosaurs were endothermic (warm-blooded). Picture credit: James Havens.

A Dinosaur Nursery

Researchers from the University of Alaska Museum, the Royal Tyrrell Museum, Florida State University and the University of Colorado writing in the academic journal “Current Biology”, report the discovery of tiny teeth — some less than 2 mm in length along with bones from seven species of perinatal dinosaurs. These tiny fossils were found after conducting a microscopic analysis of sediments from the bluffs that can be found along the shores of the Coleville River. These sediments are from the Prince Creek Formation and represent deposition that took place around 70 million years ago,

The field season is very short at such a high latitude. In the three weeks of field work that are possible, the team removed hundreds of kilograms of sediment from the face of the bluffs. The buckets of sediment are hauled down to the river’s edge, where team members wash the material through smaller and smaller screens until they have removed any large rocks and soil.

Researchers pose next to buckets of sediments that will be sieved for microfossils.
Field team members pose for a photograph next to buckets of sediment that they will sift through to search for tiny mammalian teeth end evidence of perinatal dinosaurs. Picture credit: Jaelyn Eberle.

Once back at the lab, researchers run the material through more screens to remove all the clay, until all that’s left is sandy particles. Then, teaspoon by teaspoon, the team, including graduate and undergraduate students examine the sand under microscopes to find the tiny bones and teeth. This work has revealed tiny teeth of mammals, but in addition, tiny teeth and bones of dinosaurs have been discovered.

dinosaurs nested in the Arctic
A map of Laramidia in the Late Cretaceous showing the position of the Prince Creek Formation in relation to other deposits where Late Cretaceous dinosaur fossils have been found. At this latitude, around 120 days each year were in total darkness. The scientists have found perinatal bones and teeth representing a wide variety of dinosaurs. Picture credit: Druckenmiller et al

Endothermic Dinosaurs

Although not as cold as today, conditions in this part of northern Laramidia during the Late Cretaceous were extremely challenging. For around 120 days each year there was total darkness and it has been calculated that the mean average temperature was just 6.3°C ± 2.2°C (43.3°F ± 4.0°F). The Eumeralla and Wonthaggi Formations of Australia at a palaeolatitude of about 70° south, have also provided evidence of recently hatched dinosaurs and yearlings. However, the Prince Creek Formation at a latitude of 80°– 85° north represents the most extreme environment yet described for the Dinosauria. Intriguingly, whilst dinosaurs living in southern Gondwana (Eumeralla and Wonthaggi Formation fossil remains), would have experienced around 45 days of total darkness each year, this palaeoenvironment was still warm enough for ectothermic animals such as crocodilians and amphibians to thrive. However, no such “cold-blooded” animals are found in association with Prince Creek Formation sediments.

To survive such harsh conditions, the researchers conclude that the dinosaurs of Prince Creek Formation were endothermic, just like modern mammals and birds.

Evidence of perinatal dinosaurs from the Prince Creek Formation.
Perinatal skeletal elements of Prince Creek Formation dinosaurs. Insert (A) medial and distal views of distal femur(?), Ornithischia indet. (UAMES 41721). (B) Lateral, articular, and ventral views of caudal centrum, Ornithischia indet. (UAMES 41633). (C) Lateral, ventral, and articular views of caudal centrum, Theropoda indet. (UAMES 51934). (D) Transverse thin section of Ornithischia indet. long bone (UAMES 52384) showing the extreme porosity attributable to large, irregularly shaped vascular canals and the incompletely formed primary vascular canals on both the endosteal and periosteal surfaces. (E) Extensor, distal, and flexor views of distal tarsometatarsus, Avialae indet. (UAMES 41722). bol, bulbous osteocyte lacunae; end, endosteal surface; ipvc, incipient primary vascular canals; per, periosteal surface.

Lead author of the research Patrick Druckenmiller (University of Alaska Museum) commented:

“Recovering these tiny fossils is like panning for gold. It requires a great amount of time and effort to sort through tonnes of sediment grain-by-grain under a microscope. The fossils we found are rare but are scientifically rich in information”.

Dinosaurs were Year-round Residents of Northern Alaska

The presence of such young dinosaurs, who were not capable of making long, seasonal migrations is strong evidence to suggest that the dinosaur biota was present all year. The palaeoenvironment was extreme but numerous different types of dinosaur were able to thrive in this harsh habitat.

Tiny teeth suggest dinosaurs nested in the Arctic
Comparative sizes of immature and mature teeth from Prince Creek Formation dinosaurs. A) Troodontidae indet. (UAMES 52268, UAMES 51652). (B) Saurornitholestinae indet. (UAMES 52292, UAMES 29574). (C) Thescelosauridae indet. cheek teeth (UAMES 52230, UAMES 52272) (D) Leptoceratopsidae indet. (UAMES 42720, UAMES 39298). (E) Hadrosauridae (cf. Ugrunaaluk) (UAMES 42739, UAMES 12491). (F) Ceratopsidae (cf. Pachyrhinosaurus) (UAMES 52467, UAMES 29413). (G), Tyrannosauridae (cf. Nanuqsaurus) premaxillary teeth, Picture credit: Druckenmiller et al.

This discovery demonstrates just how adaptable members of the Dinosauria were and hints at a diverse and rich dinosaur dominated ecosystem hundreds of miles inside the Palaeo-Arctic Circle.

The scientific paper: “Nesting at extreme polar latitudes by non-avian dinosaurs” by Patrick S. Druckenmiller, Gregory M. Erickson, Donald Brinkman, Caleb M. Brown and Jaelyn J. Eberle published in Current Biology.

2 07, 2021

Triassic Beetle Described from Fossil Poo

By | July 2nd, 2021|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

A new species of ancient beetle has been named and described based on preserved remains found in the poo (coprolite) of an ancestor of the dinosaurs. The beetle named Triamyxa coprolithica, is the first insect to be scientifically described from coprolite and this research, suggests that coprolite remains could become as important as insects preserved in amber when it comes to identifying new species.

Images of the Triassic beetle Triamyxa coprolithica
Images of the newly described Triassic beetle Triamyxa coprolithica, the first insect to be named and described from a coprolite. Picture credit: Qvarnström et al.

Published in Current Biology

The researchers from Uppsala University (Sweden), in collaboration with entomologists from Sun Yat-sen National University (Taiwan), Jena University (Germany) and Guadalajara University in Mexico used synchrotron microtomography to examine the coprolite’s contents and sophisticated computer software to rebuild the tiny insects so that they could be studied. The coprolite contained numerous insect remains preserved in three-dimensions. Most insect fossils are squashed so flat that deciphering them is extremely difficult.

The researchers conclude that coprolites may prove to be an important source of information for exploring insect evolution. Their paper is published this week in “Current Biology”.

Using synchrotron microtomography, the beetle fossil was virtually reconstructed while still remaining in the coprolite. Picture credit: Qvarnström et al
Using synchrotron microtomography, the beetle fossil was virtually reconstructed while still remaining in the coprolite. Picture credit: Qvarnström et al

Silesaurus opolensis

Although the scientists cannot be certain, they speculate that the coprolite represents the scat from a relative of the dinosaurs called Silesaurus opolensis, which is known from the same Polish deposits associated with the coprolite. An animal (probably S. opolensis), swallowed a large number of these tiny insects 230 million years ago, the greedy reptile inadvertently giving palaeontologists a rare opportunity to study a beetle, at a time (the Triassic), when many different types of insect were evolving and diversifying.

Phylogenetic analysis suggests that T. coprolithica is a member of Myxophaga (fungal beetles), a small suborder of beetles with a sparse fossil record whose extant representatives are small and often associated with wet environments.

An illustration of the Triassic dinosauriform Silesaurus.
An illustration of the Triassic dinosauriform Silesaurus opolensis, the coprolite has been putatively assigned to this reptile. Picture credit: Małgorzata Czaja

Complete Specimens Preserved

Some of the beetles were almost complete with even their antennae and thin legs intact and attached to the body.

Commenting on the significance of this research, lead author of the scientific paper, Martin Qvarnström, (Uppsala University), remarked:

“We were very positively surprised by how many beetle remains there were in the coprolite and above all how well preserved they were. We really have to thank Silesaurus, who was probably the animal that helped us collect and preserve the beetles”.

The labrador-sized Silesaurus did not usually dine on such small insects, it probably was a generalist eating a wide variety of prey. It had a beak that was possibly used to bite insects just like today’s living dinosaurs – the birds. Despite the fact that Silesaurus ingested lots of individuals of Triamyxa coprolithica, these small beetles probably did not constitute its main food. Triamyxa lived in the same environments as larger insects and it was these insects as well as small vertebrates that probably made up the majority of the diet of this fast running, agile reptile.

Silesaurus body plan
A skeletal reconstruction of the Late Triassic dinosauriform Silesaurus.

The beetle fossils are reminiscent of other beetle remains associated with amber. Both coprolites and amber are capable of preserving insects in three-dimensions and this study suggests coprolites can be extremely valuable for studying early insect evolution and extinct animal food chains at the same time.

The scientific paper: “Exceptionally preserved beetles in a Triassic coprolite of putative dinosauriform origin” by
Martin Qvarnström, Martin Fikáček, Joel Vikberg Wernström, Emmanuel Arriaga-Varela, Per E. Ahlberg and Grzegorz Niedźwiedzki published in Current Biology.

27 06, 2021

“Dragon Man” from North-eastern China

By | June 27th, 2021|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Drawings, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|1 Comment

No sooner have we praised the remarkable artist Zhao Chuang for his work illustrating the mammaliamorph biota associated with Early Cretaceous China, then he produces another stunning piece of palaeoart – this time illustrating the newly described “Dragon Man” or to give the proposed formal scientific name Homo longi.

Dragon Man life reconstruction.
A life reconstruction of “Dragon Man”. Picture credit: Zhao Chuang.

A Completely New Species of Human

Researchers including Professor Chris Stringer from the London Natural History Museum have published a paper in the journal “Innovation” that describes and dates a remarkable and very complete fossil skull from Heilongjiang Province. The team have concluded that the ancient skull believed to be at least 146,000 years old represents a completely new species of human. They postulate that the skull could be from our closest evolutionary relative among known species of hominin such as Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalensis.

Harbin hominin skull.
The skull of the archaic hominin from the Harbin region of China. It could represent a new species of human. Picture credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences.

“Dragon Man”

The skull was reportedly discovered in 1933 by a construction worker helping to build a bridge over the Songhua river running through the city of Harbin. The river means “Black Dragon River” in the local language which explains why this skull representing a male was nicknamed “Dragon Man”.

The province was occupied by imperial Japanese forces at the time, so the construction worker hid the skull at the bottom of his family’s well to prevent it falling into the hands of the Japanese. According to media reports he only told relatives about the fossil find shortly before his death. The specimen was handed over to scientists so that a full examination of this extraordinary fossil could be carried out.

Where the fossil was found remains a mystery, but geochemical analysis suggests it came from lakebed sediments (lacustrine sediments). The research which involved non-destructive X-ray fluorescence, the analysis of rare earth elements and strontium isotope degradation, placed the date of this fossil between 138 to 309 thousand years old.

Uranium isotope analysis indicated that the fossil was at least 146,000 years old.

The face of "Dragon Man"
Views of the face of “Dragon Man”. Picture credit: Kai Geng

Commenting on the significance of this discovery, Professor Chris Stringer stated:

“The skull has a large brain capacity, fully within the range of modern humans and Neanderthals. It also shows features resembling our species, including flat and low cheekbones with a shallow canine fossa, and the face looks reduced and tucked under the braincase. It’s widely believed that the Neanderthals form the sister group of the Homo sapiens lineage. But our analyses suggest that this skull, and some other Middle Pleistocene human fossils from China, form a third East Asian lineage, which is actually closer to sapiens than the Neanderthals are”.

Other researchers have suggested that the skull might represent an example of the ancient human known as a Denisovan. Where “Dragon Man” fits on the human family tree remains uncertain, but it is true that the evolution of hominins during the Pleistocene Epoch has yet to be fully explained. There may have been a number of human lineages inhabiting our planet and the exact taxonomic relationships between them will continue to attract controversy and lively debate.

The scientific paper: “Geochemical provenancing and direct dating of the Harbin archaic human cranium” by Qinqfeng Shao, Junyi Ge, Qiang Ji, Rainer Grün and Chris Stringer published in the journal Innovation.

For the article featuring the mammaliamorph illustration by Zhao Chuang: The Jehol Biota and a Wonderful Illustration.

26 06, 2021

Tickets Snapped Up at T. rex Premiere

By | June 26th, 2021|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|4 Comments

Excitement is mounting as we approach the start of the “Titus: T. rex is King” exhibition at Wollaton Hall Natural History Museum in Nottingham which officially opens to the public on Sunday 4th July (2021). Tickets for the Exclusive Premiere Event are also being snapped up as dinosaur fans grab the chance to be the first people to see a real Tyrannosaurus rex fossil skeleton in England for 100 years.

Titus the T. rex bones from the jaw.
The fearsome upper jaws (premaxilla and maxilla) of the T. rex known as Titus going on display at Wollaton Hall Natural History Museum in Nottingham.

Tickets for Exclusive Premiere Selling Fast

Organisers have revealed that the T. rex has safely arrived in Nottingham and this precious cargo is currently being unpacked and made ready for the grand opening of the exhibition. The organisers have also revealed that a third of the tickets for the Exclusive Premiere Event to be held on Saturday 3rd July have already gone.

Just 100 tickets were available for this unique event on Saturday 3rd July, the day before the exhibition officially opens to the public. For those eager to claim that they were the very first to meet Titus, they are being urged to purchase tickets now via the Wollaton Hall website, before, just like a T. rex they are gone forever!

To find out more about ticket sales including the Exclusive Premiere Event: Wollaton Hall Website.

The tail bones of Titus the T. rex.
The articulated caudal vertebrae of Titus the T. rex ready to be unpacked for display.

T. rex Proving to be an Irresistible Attraction

Ever since tickets went on general sale, the chance to view a real Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton and to visit this exciting exhibition has proved irresistible. Interest in “Titus: T. rex is King” has been so high that virtually all the weekend tickets for the whole of July have gone already.

In response to the huge demand the organisers decided to launch the special one-off premiere event on Saturday 3rd July to mark the century since a real T. rex was last exhibited in the country.

The exhibition will officially open its doors to the general public on Sunday 4th July at Wollaton Hall Natural History Museum – an appropriate date, revealing an iconic North American dinosaur on U.S. Independence Day!

Visitors will be able to get up close to the skeleton Titus and enjoy an immersive experience of digital and interactive media displays that takes them from his discovery in the Montana Badlands in the USA, through the journey of excavation and curation.

The ticket price of £53 (inc. booking fee) includes a conversation with renowned palaeontologist Dr. David Hone and an exhibition Goody Bag of Titus merchandise worth over £30.

The famous clawed hand of a T. rex
Unpacking the famous limbs of the Tyrannosaurus rex exhibit (Titus the T. rex).

Palaeontologist Dr David Hone, Senior Lecturer in Zoology at the University of London has played a key role in the story of Titus and has helped set up the Exclusive Premiere Event. Dr Hone will be the host for the premiere event, taking guests on a “A Walk with Titus”. What a fantastic opportunity to learn from the UK’s top expert about the biology and behaviour of the most famous of all the dinosaurs.

Event Details

To comply with Covid-19 regulations in place, arrival times will be staggered with 11.00a.m., 12.00p.m. and 1.00p.m. slots available to purchase. Visitors will be required to wear face masks throughout, unless exempt.

Details

Titus: T. rex is King Premiere Event
Saturday July 3rd, 11.00a.m., 12.00p.m. and 1.00p.m.
Ticket Price is £50.00 (plus £3.00 booking fee), to include a specialist talk by Dr David Hone and exhibition Goody Bag of merchandise to the value of £30.00.

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