All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
/Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories

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

7 03, 2021

The First Rebbachisaurid Sauropod Reported from Asia

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

An open-access paper has recently been published in the on-line academic journal PLOS One announcing the discovery of a new species of rebbachisaurid sauropod. The newly described dinosaur named Dzharatitanis kingi is the first member of the Rebbachisauridae family to have been found in Asia. Rebbachisaurids are known from Europe, Africa South America and possibly North America. They are related to diplodocids such as Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus and most palaeontologists group them in the Diplodocoidea superfamily along with the Diplodocidae and the rare and enigmatic Dicraeosauridae dinosaurs.

A Life Reconstruction of Dzharatitanis kingi
Dzharatitanis kingi the first rebbachisaurid to be described from Asia. Picture credit: Alexander Averianov. The large pterosaurs walking in the same direction as the sauropod probably represent the azhdarchid Azhdarcho, the only pterosaur to have been described to date from fossils found in the Bissekty Formation.

Described from a Single Fossil Bone

Described from a single, well-preserved tail bone from the base of the tail (anterior caudal vertebra), this herbivore is estimated to have been around 15 to 20 metres in size. The fossil bone was found in 1997, by David Ward and one of the authors of the scientific paper, Hans-Dieter Sues, during the Uzbekistan/Russian/British/American/Canadian exhibition to map and document Late Cretaceous Dzharakuduk escarpment outcrops associated with the Bissekty Formation in the Kyzylkum Desert of Uzbekistan.

Dzharatitanis is (as far as Everything Dinosaur team members are aware), the first sauropod to have been formally described from the Bissekty Formation.

The strata associated with the fossil find are believed to be around 90 million years of age (Turonian stage of the Late Cretaceous). D. kingi represents one of the geologically youngest known rebbachisaurids.

Dzharatitanis caudal vertebra
Dzharatitanis kingi, USNM 538133 (holotype), anterior caudal vertebra in posterior (A), right lateral (B), and anterior (C) views. Note scale bar = 10 cm. Picture Credit: Alexander Averianov and Hans-Dieter Sues

“Dzharakuduk titan”

The genus name is derived from the Dzharakuduk escarpment and translates as “Dzharakuduk titan”, whereas the species name honours the late Dr Christopher King who did much to map and document the geology of the Cretaceous-aged strata of central Asia.

Numerous “pencil-shaped” teeth along with isolated bones indicate the presence of sauropods within the Bissekty Formation however, D. kingi is the first member of the Sauropoda to be described. The caudal vertebrae of these types of dinosaur are very diagnostic. Their shape and characteristics help palaeontologists to identity related genera and this single fossil bone, believed to represent the first bone of the tail was sufficient to merit the erection of a new dinosaur species.

The sauropods from the Bissekty Formation now comprise at least two taxa, the rebbachisaurid Dzharatitanis kingi and an indeterminate and as yet unnamed titanosaur.

The scientific paper: “First rebbachisaurid sauropod dinosaur from Asia” by Alexander Averianov and Hans-Dieter Sues published in PLOS One.

6 03, 2021

Troodontids in Europe

By | March 6th, 2021|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

A team of international scientists including Steve Brusatte (University of Edinburgh), have confirmed the presence of troodontids in the Late Cretaceous of Europe. A new species of troodontid has been erected based on the discovery of a single metatarsal bone (the second metatarsal bone from the right foot), from Late Cretaceous strata in the Talarn Formation exposed at the Sant Romà d’Abella site in the southern Pyrenean region of Spain. This new dinosaur has been named Tamarro insperatus.

Tamarro insperatus Life Reconstruction
A life reconstruction of the first troodontid confirmed from the Late Cretaceous of Europe Tamarro insperatus.

Picture Credit: Oscar Sanisidro

Found in 2003

The single fossil bone indicating the presence of troodontids in Europe was found in September 2003 by a team of palaeontologists from the Museu de la Conca Dellà (Lleida, Isona, Spain) at the Sant Romà d’Abella site (Spain). It was found in fluvial floodplain deposits believed to have been laid down just 200,000 years or so before the K-Pg mass extinction event.

The fossil bone was found in the same horizon as plant fossils and the type specimen of the lambeosaurine Pararhabdodon isonensis, the metatarsal was found in close proximity to the Pararhabdodon type specimen, these are the only two vertebrates known from this site.

The Dinosaurs from the Late Cretaceous of Europe

During the Late Cretaceous, high sea levels ensured that much of the European landmass we know today was underwater. Numerous islands existed, creating an extensive archipelago and several dinosaurs associated with these islands exhibit dwarfism or other unusual features associated with isolated ecosystems. Very little is known about the Theropoda that inhabited these islands. For example, the presence of troodontids in Europe has been debated for a long time. Several troodontid-like and Paronychodon teeth (a nomen dubium taxa referred by some to the Troodontidae), were recovered from the Campanian and Maastrichtian deposits of the ancient Hateg (Romania) and Ibero-Armorican (Portugal, France and Spain) islands, but this fossil bone provides definitive, unequivocal proof of these theropods being present in the Late Cretaceous of Europe.

The Single Fossil Bone (Metatarsal) of Tamarro insperatus
Views of the second metatarsal (metatarsal II from the right foot), plus line drawing showing the skeletal position of the bone.

Picture Credit: Albert G. Sellés (Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafon/Museu de la Conca Dellà)

A Basal Troodontid with Asian Origins

An analysis of the bone and a phylogenetic assessment suggests that Tamarro is a basal member of the Troodontidae family and most likely a representative of the Asian subfamily the Jinfengopteryginae. The research team speculate on how a dinosaur with relatives in Asia could have become established in Europe. Maastrichtian troodontids like Tamarro could have reached Europe during the Cenomanian faunal stage and persisted on these islands until the K-Pg extinction event.

Estimated at around two metres in length Tamarro is around twice the size of other related troodontids. A close examination of the bone (cross-sectional histology), reveals that the metatarsal came from a subadult animal that was growing rapidly. Although troodontids are known to have fast growth rates, Tamarro seemed to be growing much quicker than other members of the Troodontidae, perhaps reaching full maturity in around two years.

Tamarro insperatus Growth Rate
Growth rate of Tamarro insperatus compared to other members of the Maniraptora. When compared to other taxa from the group of dinosaurs most closely related to birds (including Aves), Tamarro has a rapid growth rate reaching a subadult state in around one year.

The genus name is derived from the Catalan word “Tamarro” which refers to a small, mythical creature from local folklore. The species or trivial name “insperatus” is from the Latin for unexpected, a reference to the unexpected discovery of the fossil bone.

The scientific paper: “A fast-growing basal troodontid (Dinosauria: Theropoda) from the latest Cretaceous of Europe” by Albert G. Sellés, Bernat Vila, Stephen L. Brusatte, Philip J. Currie and Àngel Galobart published in Scientific Reports.

2 03, 2021

Why So Few Medium-sized Carnivorous Dinosaurs?

By | March 2nd, 2021|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and University of New Mexico have come up with a novel explanation as to why there are so few medium-sized carnivorous dinosaurs found in the fossil record.

In a scientific paper published in the academic journal “Science” they propose that sub-adults and juveniles of much larger species out-competed similarly sized adults of medium-sized meat-eating dinosaurs resulting in a transformation of dinosaur community populations.

Comparing Mammalian and Dinosaurian Carnivorous Communities

Comparing Mammalian Predator Communities to Dinosaur Predator Communities
Did juvenile and sub-adult hypercarnivores drive out the medium-sized meat-eaters?

Picture Credit: Schroeder et al (Science)

Communities with Megatheropods Lacked Medium-sized Carnivores

The researchers identified that based on the known fossil record, communities of dinosaurs with super-sized theropods such as the Dinosaur Provincial Park fauna (Campanian faunal stage of the Late Cretaceous), lacked medium-sized carnivorous dinosaurs in the size range from 100 kilograms to 1,000 kilograms.

In contrast, modern mammalian communities such as that which exists on the savannah of Kruger National Park in South Africa have predators in a range of sizes, small ones such as mongooses, medium-sized species such as wild dogs as well as mega-carnivores such as leopards and lions. Each meat-eating species is able to exploit a food resource (prey animals). The distinctive biology of the Dinosauria wherein, all predators hatched from eggs so started out as tiny in size perhaps less than ten kilogrammes for even the largest tyrannosaurids, may have led to a fundamental shift in predator community dynamics.

Rapidly growing juveniles and sub-adults of the larger species could have out-competed the fully grown medium-sized carnivores (mesocarnivores).

Gorgosaurus libratus – An Apex Predator of the Dinosaur Park Formation

Gorgosaurus libratus illustrated.
Did juvenile and sub-adult tyrannosaurids such as Gorgosaurus and Daspletosaurus out-compete mesocarnivores?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Lead author PhD student Katlin Schroeder (University of New Mexico), explained:
“Dinosaur communities were like shopping malls on a Saturday afternoon — jam-packed with teenagers. They made up a significant portion of the individuals in a species and would have had a very real impact on the resources available in communities.”

Compiling Physiological Data on Dinosaur Dominated Ecosystems

The researchers compiled physiological and fossil data on more than 550 different dinosaur species from 43 different dinosaur dominated ecosystems. They found that there was an absence of mesocarnivores. The scientists concluded that it was the teenage megatheropods that created and filled this gap in the community. After dividing this 100 to 1,000 kilogram gap into different weight categories, they found that juvenile megatheropods made up more than 50% of the total dinosaur biomass in every weight class. This is like a boxer destined to be the heavyweight champion dominating the bantam, lightweight and middleweight classes during their rise to the top.

Abelisaurids Also Drove out Mesocarnivores

A drawing of a dinosaur (Abelisaurus).
A typical large theropod dinosaur. Like the Tyrannosauridae, abelisaurs were the megatheropods in a number of dinosaur communities that lacked mesocarnivores.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Driving Out the Medium-sized Meat-eaters

Although herbivorous dinosaurs were found in a range of different body sizes, including medium-sized ones, the team concluded that when it came to the meat-eaters, the way in which large carnivorous dinosaurs grew was an important factor that helped shape dinosaur community structure and diversity.

Co-author of the study, Kate Lyons (Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln), added that the research:

“Essentially says that megatheropods were consuming 50% or more of the energy available to dinosaurs at a respective body size, leaving very little for other species to consume. If they were consuming the majority of the energy at that body size, then they were going to be outcompeting anything else that might try to feed at that size, as well.”

A Difference in Jurassic and Cretaceous Dinosaur Communities

It was noted that there was a subtle difference between dinosaur communities from the Jurassic with those from the Cretaceous. Generally, there were smaller gaps in the size range of carnivorous dinosaurs during the Jurassic when compared to the size gap seen in later communities dating from the Cretaceous.

Katlin Schroeder postulated that this difference came about because:

“Jurassic megatheropods don’t change as much, the teenagers are more like the adults, which leaves more room in the community for multiple families of megatheropods as well as some smaller carnivores. The Cretaceous, on the other hand, is completely dominated by tyrannosaurs and abelisaurs, which change a lot as they grow.”

Jurassic Ecosystems

T. gurneyi.
Torvosaurus gurneyi a top predator of Portugal from the Late Jurassic but there were also mesocarnivores in this ecosystem too such as Lourinhanosaurus, Ceratosaurus and Lusovenator.

Picture Credit: Sergey Krasovskiy

The scientific paper: “The influence of juvenile dinosaurs on community structure and diversity” by Katlin Schroeder, S. Kathleen Lyons and Felisa A. Smith published in Science.

25 02, 2021

Coins Commemorate Mary Anning

By | February 25th, 2021|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Famous Figures, Main Page|0 Comments

Coin Collection Celebrates the Contribution of Mary Anning

The Royal Mint in collaboration with the London Natural History Museum has launched a commemorative coin collection honouring the celebrated palaeontology pioneer Mary Anning.  From selling seashells on the seashore to a coin collection which includes a gold proof coin valued at over £1,100.00 ($1,540.00 USD) featuring an image of an ichthyosaur, the contribution to science of the most famous former resident of Lyme Regis in Dorset is being honoured in a very special way.

One of the Commemorative Coins Features an Ichthyosaur

A coin features an ichthyosaur (Temnodontosaurus).

One of the coins that commemorates Mary Anning features an illustration of an ichthyosaur (Temnodontosaurus).

Picture Credit: The Royal Mint

The “Tales of the Earth” Series

This is the second coin collection in The Royal Mint’s “Tales of the Earth” series, celebrating the remarkable fossil record of the British Isles. Whilst the original series featured the first dinosaurs to be named and described (Iguanodon, Megalosaurus and the armoured dinosaur Hylaeosaurus), there are no dinosaurs on these three coins, after all, dinosaur fossil remains from the “Jurassic Coast” are exceptionally rare.  The marine shales explored by the Anning family in Georgian times revealed the remains of huge sea monsters and occasionally pterosaurs, such as Dimorphodon which features on another of the coins that make up this set.

Honouring Mary Anning – The First Fossil Remains of Dimorphodon Were Found in 1828

Coin honours Mary Anning.

From the Royal Mint, a coin has been issued which honours the discovery of the first pterosaur fossil in England by Mary Anning.

Picture Credit: The Royal Mint

The renowned British palaeo-artist Bob Nicholls who designed the trio of dinosaurs that featured on the first set of “Tales of the Earth” commemorative coins, returns to bring back to life three prehistoric creatures that reflect the contribution to palaeontology made by Mary Anning.  The third coin features a beautiful illustration of a Plesiosaurus.

A Plesiosaurus Features on One of the Commemorative Fifty Pence Coins

Honouring Mary Anning (Plesiosaurus 1823).

Picture Credit: The Royal Mint

With the assistance of Sandra Chapman of the Earth Sciences Department at the Natural History Museum, each of the coin design’s created by Bob Nicholls are a scientifically accurate reconstruction of the creatures and their ancient Early Jurassic environment.  By using the latest colour printing techniques, the intricate characteristics of each of the prehistoric marine reptiles have been captured to illustrate accurately how these creatures looked like on Earth millions of years ago, making them appear dynamic and adding a new level of visual fidelity to the coins.

Commemorative Coins to Celebrate the Contribution of Mary Anning

Coins minted to honour Mary Anning.

A trio of coins that have been minted to honour the contribution to science of Mary Anning.

Picture Credit: The Royal Mint

Commenting on the addition of this coin collection, the Divisional Director of Commemorative Coin at The Royal Mint, Clare Maclennan stated:

“It is an absolute pleasure to continue the popular Tales of the Earth commemorative 50p coin series in conjunction with the Natural History Museum.  The next collection in the series celebrates fossil hunter and pioneering palaeontologist Mary Anning, with three coin’s featuring Anning’s astonishing discoveries of Temnodontosaurus, Plesiosaurus and Dimorphodon.”

The coins each with a face value of fifty pence are available in a number of formats at various price points permitting coin collectors and dinosaur fans the opportunity to acquire them.  For the record, the gold coin valued at over £1,000 is a limited edition piece, just 250 have been produced.

The Temnodontosaurus Coin in a Presentation Acrylic Block

Acrylic block containing one of the Mary Anning commemorative coins.

An acrylic block which features the 50p commemorative Temnodontosaurus image honouring Mary Anning.

Picture Credit: The Royal Mint

A Mysterious Coin Found at Lyme Regis

Back in 2015 Everything Dinosaur reported on the discovery of a mysterious metal token that was found by a metal detectorist at Lyme Regis.  It was speculated that this coin-like object could have been the property of Mary Anning.  We wonder what Mary would have made of the coin collection created by The Royal Mint commemorating her contribution.

Did This Metal Token Once Belong to Mary Anning?

The Mary Anning Disc

Stamped on the disc are the words “Mary Anning and the year 1810 marked in Roman numerals.

Picture Credit: Lyme Regis Museum with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

To read more about the Mary Anning disc: Mysterious Token Linked to Mary Anning.

17 02, 2021

Million-Year-Old DNA Sheds Light on Mammoth Evolution

By | February 17th, 2021|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Million-Year-Old DNA Sheds Light on Mammoth Evolution

A paper that sheds light on the evolutionary history of the mammoth has been published this week.  Scientists led by researchers from the Centre for Palaeogenetics (a joint venture between Stockholm University and the Swedish Museum of Natural History), sequenced DNA recovered from mammoth remains that are up to 1.2 million years old.  The analyses revealed that the Columbian mammoth which inhabited North America during the last ice age was a hybrid between the woolly mammoth and a previously unknown genetic lineage of mammoth.  Furthermore, the study provides new insights into when and how fast mammoths became adapted to cold climate.

Ancient Mammoth DNA Provides New Insights into How These Mammals Adapted to Cold Climates

Siberian Steppe Mammoths.

Siberian Steppe mammoths provided their descendants with many adaptations that helped these descendants adapt and thrive in cold environments.

Picture Credit: Beth Zaiken (Centre for Palaeogenetics)

Commenting on the importance of this study, senior author Love Dalén, a Professor of evolutionary genetics at the Centre for Palaeogenetics stated:

“This DNA is incredibly old.  The samples are a thousand times older than Viking remains and even pre-date the existence of humans and Neanderthals.”

Tracing the Evolutionary History of an Iconic Ice Age Elephant

Around one million years ago there were no Columbian or Woolly mammoths, these creatures had not evolved.  This was the time of their predecessor, the Steppe mammoth (Mammuthus trogontherii), a prehistoric elephant which was very widely dispersed across Eurasia.  Fossils have been found in the UK, perhaps most famously at West Runton on the Norfolk coast.  Steppe mammoth fossils are also known from much of Europe and as far away as China.  The research team extracted tiny amounts of DNA from mammoth teeth ranging in age from around 700,000 to 1.2 million years of age, that had been found eroding out of the Siberian permafrost.

An Illustration of Mammuthus trogontherii (Steppe Mammoth)

Steppe Mammoth illustration.

An illustration of a Steppe mammoth (Mammuthus trogontherii).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Professor Dalén added:

“This is the first time that DNA has been sequenced and authenticated from million-year-old specimens and extracting the DNA from the samples was challenging.”

Unexpected Results

Analyses of the genomes showed that the oldest specimen, which was approximately 1.2 million years old, belonged to a previously unknown genetic lineage of mammoth.  The researchers refer to this as the Krestovka mammoth, based on the Siberian locality where the fossil teeth were found.  Writing in the academic journal Nature, the scientists report that the Krestovka mammoth diverged from other Siberian mammoths more than two million years ago.

Tom van der Valk from the Centre for Palaeogenetics, the paper’s  lead author explained:

“This came as a complete surprise to us.  All previous studies have indicated that there was only one species of mammoth in Siberia at that point in time, called the Steppe mammoth.  But our DNA analyses now show that there were two different genetic lineages, which we here refer to as the Adycha mammoth and the Krestovka mammoth.  We can’t say for sure yet, but we think these may represent two different species.”

The Columbian Mammoth was a Hybrid

The research team proposes that it was mammoths that belonged to the Krestovka lineage that colonised North America some 1.5 million years ago.  Furthermore, the analyses show that the Columbian mammoth that inhabited North America during the last ice age, was a hybrid.  Roughly half of its genome came from the Krestovka lineage and the other half from the Woolly mammoth.

Co-author Patrícia Pečnerová from the Swedish Museum of Natural History commented:

“This is an important discovery.  It appears that the Columbian mammoth, one of the most iconic Ice Age species of North America, evolved through a hybridisation that took place approximately 420 thousand years ago.”

Genomic Data (DNA) Extracted from a Mammoth Tooth Approximately 1.2 Million Years Old

The Krestokva mammoth tooth.

Views of the mammoth tooth more than 1.2 million years old from which ancient DNA was extracted.  Note scale bar = 5 cm.

Picture Credit: Natural History Museum of Stockholm

Plotting Mammoth Evolution

The scientists could now compare the genome from mammoths covering a span of one million years.  This made it possible to investigate how mammoths became adapted to a life in cold environments and to what extent these adaptations evolved during the speciation process.  The analyses showed that gene variants associated with life in the Arctic, such as hair growth, thermoregulation, fat deposits, cold tolerance and circadian rhythms, were already present in the million-year-old mammoth, long before the origin of the Mammuthus primigenius (Woolly mammoth).  These results suggest that most adaptations in the mammoth lineage happened slowly and gradually over time.

It may be possible to recover even older DNA from the permafrost of Siberia.   The researchers speculate that genomic data could be recovered from fossilised teeth that dates back more than two million years, perhaps as far back into deep time as 2.6 million years.  Unfortunately, there is a limit to what can be achieved with the current technology and prior to 2.6 million years ago, there was no permafrost where ancient DNA could have been preserved.

The mammoth DNA represents the oldest genomic data known to science.  In 2013, Everything Dinosaur reported on genomic data that was recovered from the leg bone of horse found in Canada.  The horse specimen was approximately 700,000 years old.  To read more about this remarkable research: The Rocking Horse – Ancient Fossil Decodes Horse Evolution.

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

The scientific paper: “Million-year-old DNA sheds light on the genomic history of mammoths” by Tom van der Valk, Patrícia Pečnerová, David Díez-del-Molino, Anders Bergström, Jonas Oppenheimer, Stefanie Hartmann, Georgios Xenikoudakis, Jessica A. Thomas, Marianne Dehasque, Ekin Sağlıcan, Fatma Rabia Fidan, Ian Barnes, Shanlin Liu, Mehmet Somel, Peter D. Heintzman, Pavel Nikolskiy, Beth Shapiro, Pontus Skoglund, Michael Hofreiter, Adrian M. Lister, Anders Götherström and Love Dalén published in the journal Nature.

16 02, 2021

How Long is a Dinosaur’s Tail?

By | February 16th, 2021|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

How Long is a Dinosaur’s Tail?

How long is the tail of a dinosaur?  That’s a good question, one that has quite a complicated answer, but if a definitive assessment of the morphology of caudal vertebrae (tail bones) of the Dinosauria could be carried out, then palaeontologists would be better able to piece together (literally), the tails of dinosaurs and assess their length from even fragmentary remains.

The Tail of the North African Sauropod Atlasaurus

Atlasaurus Caudal Vertebrae (auction exhibit).

An Atlasaurus partial tail on display in the foyer of the BBVA Bancomer Tower (Mexico City).   A new study suggests that the tails of dinosaurs were very varied in their form, shape and function.

Picture Credit: Reuters/Daniel Becerril

Research led by Dr David Hone (Queen Mary University of London), in collaboration with colleague Dr Steven Le Comber (who sadly passed away in 2019) and Dr Scott Persons of Mace Brown Museum of Natural History (Charleston, South Carolina, USA), permitted a comprehensive dataset of dinosaur tails to be built up.  The data indicates that there is considerable variation in the caudal vertebrae of members of the Dinosauria.  The number of tail bones varies, as does their morphology (shape).  In addition, overall length of the tail as a proportion of body size is inconsistent within the very diverse dinosaur clade.

With such variation, comparing tails of different genera or even dinosaurs from the same family will prove troublesome.

However, the scientists did identify some general patterns that could prove useful when it comes to learning about a genus with only a few tail bones to work with.

What’s in a Tail?  The Great Variation within the Tails of Dinosaurs

Different types of dinosaur tail.

Examples of different dinosaur tails.  Note scale bar = 1 metre.

Picture Credit: Hone et al (PeerJ) with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

General Principles of Dinosaur Tails

Patterns of changes in centra lengths (the central part of each vertebra) along the tails of dinosaurs do vary.  However, the researchers did identify some general principles in terms of the bones that make up the tails.  For example, when viewing the tail bones from the base of the tail down to the tip, several different dinosaurs show a pattern of short centra, followed by a sequence of longer centra, with the remainder of the tail being made up of a long series of centra tapering in length.

The team suggest that this general pattern is consistent with the function of different parts of the tail, the longer centra quite near to the base of the tail help to provide support for the attachment of the large muscles associated with the top of the leg and this region of the tail.  This general pattern is not found in many early types of dinosaur, so the researchers conclude that this trait must have evolved independently in different kinds of dinosaurs over time.

A Reconstruction of the Tail of an Edmontosaurus

Edmontosaurus tail bones.

The reconstructed tail of the hadrosaurid Edmontosaurus.  The research team were able to identify a general pattern of bone morphology and size in a number of derived dinosaur taxa.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Deducing Form and Function

Writing in the on-line journal “PeerJ”, the scientists state that the number of vertebrae in a given section of tail can indicate its flexibility or its stiffness.  The more vertebrae recorded over a given distance then it is likely that this section of tail was quite flexible.  Conversely, the fewer joints in any length of tail will imply reduced flexibility.

General conclusions about dinosaur tails could be made, for example:

  1. The base of many dinosaur tails was flexible and allowed virtually the whole tail to be swung as a collective whole, helping to stabilise the animal as it moved and perhaps also having a defensive function in some herbivores.
  2. Just passed the tail base there was a zone of relative stiffness that supported the muscles associated with the tail and rear legs (caudofemoralis musculature).
  3. After the termination of the caudofemoralis and for a highly variable distance, the remaining vertebrae tapered to a reduced size.

The scientific paper: “New data on tail lengths and variation along the caudal series in the non-avialan dinosaurs” by David W. E. Hone, W. Scott Persons and Steven C. Le Comber published in PeerJ.

14 02, 2021

Dinosaurs and St Valentine’s Day

By | February 14th, 2021|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos|0 Comments

Dinosaurs and St Valentine’s Day

Today, February 14th is St Valentine’s Day in the UK (and elsewhere in the world too).  It is the feast day of St Valentine, a day associated with romance.  Romance and the Dinosauria might be an unusual mix, but we are reminded of an article we published nearly five years ago that reported upon some remarkable research into dinosaur trace fossils that possibly shed light on the mating behaviour of “terrible lizards”.

Writing in the academic journal “Scientific Reports”, a team of scientists from Poland, China, South Korea and the USA concluded that a series of trace fossils consisting of pits, scrapes and gouges associated with Upper Cretaceous strata located in western Colorado, preserve evidence of dinosaurs engaging in courtship and mating behaviours similar to modern birds.

Dinosaurs Go a Wooing

Courtship of dinosaurs.

An artist imagines the Cretaceous courtship scene.  Gouges and scrapes preserved in sandstone strata that is estimated to be around 100 million years old, preserve evidence of dinosaurs engaging in courtship and mating behaviours similar to extant birds.

Picture Credit: Lida Xing and Yujiang Han / University of Colorado, Denver

The connection between dinosaurs and Aves (birds) is well established.  However, to what extent can we view the behaviour of modern-day birds and infer behaviours in their long extinct relatives?  Thanks to some research published in 2016 in the academic journal “Scientific Reports”, palaeontologists may have gained an insight into the courtship and mating behaviours of theropod dinosaurs.

To view the original Everything Dinosaur article from 2016:Dance of the Dinosaurs.

The scientific paper: “Theropod courtship: large scale physical evidence of display arenas and avian-like scrape ceremony behaviour by Cretaceous dinosaurs” by Martin G. Lockley, Richard T. McCrea, Lisa G. Buckley, Jong Deock Lim, Neffra A. Matthews, Brent H. Breithaupt, Karen J. Houck, Gerard D. Gierliński, Dawid Surmik, Kyung Soo Kim, Lida Xing, Dal Yong Kong, Ken Cart, Jason Martin and Glade Hadden published in the journal Scientific Reports.

11 02, 2021

Elasmosaurs Lived In Rivers

By | February 11th, 2021|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Fluvionectes sloanae – Late Cretaceous Freshwater Elasmosaurid

Researchers based in Canada have identified the remains of a Late Cretaceous elasmosaur from fossil remains found in Alberta.  Fossils of these large, long-necked plesiosaurs are not unknown from North America, but significantly these fossils were found in rocks laid down in a non-marine environment.  This suggests that this elasmosaur named Fluvionectes sloanae, spent at least some of its time in freshwater.

An Artist’s Reconstruction of Fluvionectes sloanae Hunting Fish in a Freshwater Environment

Fluvionectes sloanae life reconstruction.

Fluvionectes sloanae hunting fish in a river.

Picture Credit: Andrea Elena Noriega

“River Swimmer”

Fossils of plesiosaurs occur throughout the Dinosaur Park Formation but they are generally rare, fragmentary and poorly preserved.  As a result, these fossils have attracted little scientific attention although they were first documented by Lawrence Lambe back in 1902.

This specimen is different, it consists of a partial disarticulated skeleton made up of a single tooth, numerous vertebrae, ribs, parts of the pectoral and pelvic girdles and elements from the left forelimb and left hindlimb.  The bones and the tooth were collected from a stratum immediately overlying the basalmost coal bed of the Lethbridge Coal Zone in the Dinosaur Park Formation with the first material discovered in 1990.  It is the most complete example of an elasmosaurid found to date in the Dinosaur Park Formation and as such, the researchers have been able to formally describe the specimen and assign it a scientific name – Fluvionectes sloanae. The genus name translates as “river swimmer”, a reference to the fact that the fossils come from alluvial deposits believed to have been laid down at least 100 kilometres inland from the Western Interior Seaway.  The species name honours Donna Sloan who discovered the holotype, and in recognition of her service to palaeontology, both in the field and as the scientific illustrator at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology (Drumheller, Alberta).

Quarry Map and Skeletal Reconstruction of F. sloanae

Colour coded quarry map showing location of F. sloanae fossil material.

Quarry map and skeletal reconstruction of F. sloanae.  The fossil material was found scattered over an area of around 2.5 square metres.

Picture Credit: Campbell et al (PeerJ)

A Freshwater Predator

A taxonomic analysis conducted by the scientists which included Dr James Campbell of the University of Calgary and Mark Mitchell, a technician at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, failed to resolve definitively the exact taxonomic relationship of Fluvionectes within the Elasmosauridae, but the team were able to conclude that the fossil remains probably represent a young adult that was approximately 5.6 metres long when it died.

Fragmentary fossils of potentially larger elasmosaurids, representing animals around seven metres in length have been found in the Dinosaur Park Formation.  Some of these specimens might represent the Fluvionectes genus.

Views of the Vertebrae Associated with Fluvionectes sloanae

Vertebrae associated with the elasmosaurid Fluvionectes sloanae.

Fluvionectes sloanae – examples of vertebrae.

Picture Credit: Campbell et al (PeerJ)

Did Some Juvenile Elasmosaurs Live in Freshwater?

Intriguingly, the elasmosaurid fossils found in the Dinosaur Park Formation (non-marine deposition), are relatively small when compared to elasmosaurid fossils found in offshore, marine deposits such as the Pierre Shale or Bearpaw formations.  Large elasmosaur fossil bones have not been found in the Dinosaur Park Formation.  It could be speculated that juvenile elasmosaurs ventured into estuarine environments and freshwater river systems before relocating to marine environments when they reached maturity.

This is not the first example of a marine reptile, normally associated with marine environments been found in freshwater.  To read Everything Dinosaur’s 2013 article about the discovery of a freshwater Pliosaur in Australia: Freshwater Pliosaur from Cretaceous Australia.

To read our article about a freshwater Mosasaur: Freshwater Mosasaur from a Hungarian Bauxite Mine.

The scientific paper: “A new elasmosaurid (Sauropterygia: Plesiosauria) from the non-marine to paralic Dinosaur Park Formation of southern Alberta, Canada” by James A. Campbell, Mark T. Mitchell, Michael J. Ryan and Jason S. Anderson published in PeerJ.

5 02, 2021

Horned Dinosaurs Evolved Frills to Attract Mates

By | February 5th, 2021|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Horned Dinosaurs Evolved Frills to Attract Mates

The ornate and very diverse head crests and frills of horned dinosaurs (ceratopsians) probably evolved to help them attract a mate.  That is the conclusion from a study recently published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.  Ever since the first horned dinosaurs were discovered, palaeontologists have debated why these plant-eating dinosaurs evolved such elaborate neck shields (these features are produced by elaborate extensions to the parietal and squamosal skull bones).  It had been thought that these frills provided some protection from attack from theropod dinosaurs such as the contemporaneous tyrannosaurs, or perhaps they had a role in thermoregulation.  With so many different types of large ceratopsians known from the Late Cretaceous of North America it had also been suggested that these crests and frills played a role in species recognition.  An extensive analysis of the skulls of “first horned face” – Protoceratops (P. andrewsi), suggests that they played a role in sexual selection.

A Reconstruction of the Skeleton of Protoceratops (P. andrewsi)

Protoceratops skeleton on display.

A skeleton of a Protoceratops on display.  The elaborate head crest complete with fenestrae (two large holes), probably evolved as a result of sexual selection.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Sexual Selection

Sexual selection is a method of natural selection in which members of one biological sex choose mates of the other sex to mate with.  Certain characteristics in organisms are favoured by members of the opposite sex and organisms that possess the favoured feature(s) are the ones that breed.  This leads over time to these preferred characteristics becoming more intricate and elaborate.  There are plenty of examples to be found in the natural world today, most certainly amongst the closest living relatives of the Dinosauria the birds.  The elaborate but cumbersome tails of peacocks for instance, or the ornate and very beautiful plumes of the birds of paradise.

A Male Goldie’s Bird of Paradise Displays to Attract a Mate

Goldie's bird of paradise (male) displays.

A Goldie’s bird of paradise displays.  The ornate feathers on this beautiful male are an example of sexual selection.

Picture Credit: Tim Laman/National Geographic Image Collection

The researchers, which included scientists from the Natural History Museum (London) and Queen Mary University of London, used computer modelling to map how the skull of Protoceratops changed as the dinosaur grew.  Protoceratops has a rich and extensive fossil record.  Hundreds of specimens have been found ranging from embryos in unhatched eggs up to large, very old adults.  This extensive fossil record made this type of horned dinosaur an ideal candidate for this study.

The Fossilised Remains of a Young Protoceratops

A baby Protoceratops skeleton.

The fossilised remains of a young Protoceratops.  The extensive fossil record of Protoceratops made it an ideal candidate for a study into sexual selection.

Picture Credit: Gregory Erickson (Florida State University)

Sexual selection is predicted to be an important driver of evolution.  It influences adaptation and the development of new species.  There are anatomical traits and characteristics that can be identified in the fossil record that indicate sexual selection within a species is at work.   The fossilised skulls of horned dinosaurs can be studied to see if any of these traits and characteristics can be found.

Predicted characteristics of horned dinosaur skulls that indicate sexual selection having an influence include:

  • Low integration with the rest of the skull.
  • A significantly higher rate of change in size and shape as the dinosaur grows.
  • A higher morphological variance in the parietal and squamosal when compared to other bones of the skull.

The computer modelling used to assess these traits supported the theory that sexual selection was at work within Protoceratops andrewsi.

No Evidence of Sexual Dimorphism in Protoceratops

Whilst it is notoriously difficult to identify males from females using just the fossil record, the large number of Protoceratops specimens gave the researchers the opportunity to see if they could spot evidence of male Protoceratops having different skull frills compared to the females.  Although the research involved a substantial sample set, no evidence of sexual dimorphism in skull shape was found.  This suggests that either there were no differences in frill shape between the boys and the girls or that any differences between the genders was very small.

The scientific paper supports the idea that the elaborate frills of horned dinosaurs did play a role in sexual selection.  Scientists have suspected that many of these strange anatomical features found in the Dinosauria were linked to sexual selection and display.  This evidence is extremely hard to find using the fossil record alone, however, the computer modelling and in-depth analysis used here provides evidence for the presence of signalling structures linked to sexual selection in Protoceratops andrewsi.

The scientific paper: “Three-dimensional geometric morphometric analysis of the skull of Protoceratops andrewsi supports a socio-sexual signalling role for the ceratopsian frill” by A. Knapp, R. J. Knell and D. W. E. Hone published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

30 01, 2021

Four-year-old Finds Dinosaur Footprint

By | January 30th, 2021|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Three-toed Dinosaur Track Found in South Wales

There has been a lot of media interest in the discovery of a beautifully-preserved three-toed dinosaur footprint on a beach near the town of Barry in South Wales.  The track identified as an example of the ichnogenus Grallator was spotted by four-year-old Lily Wilder whilst out for a walk with her family.  The specimen, preserved in a loose boulder is now in the care of scientists at the National Museum of Wales.

A Superb Example of a Three-toed Dinosaur Track from the Mercia Mudstone Group at Bendrick Rock (Vale of Glamorgan, South Wales)

Grallator fossil track (South Wales).

Grallator track spotted by a 4-year-old girl at Bendrick Rock (South Wales).

Picture Credit: National Museum Wales

An Area Famed for its Dinosaur Footprints

This part of the South Wales coast is famous for its prehistoric animal tracks, which represent the oldest confirmed dinosaur trackways known from the British Isles.  The tracks are preserved in sediments associated with the Mercia Mudstone Group at Bendrick Rock and hundreds of individual prints have been found, representing at least sixty different trackways.  National Museum of Wales Palaeontology curator Cindy Howells was notified of the find and has described it as the best specimen ever found on this beach.  The print representing a small theropod dinosaur is estimated to be around 220 million years old (Late Triassic).

The print is a fraction over 10 cm long and was probably made by a light, agile, bipedal dinosaur similar in appearance to Coelophysis.

A Late Triassic Landscape Featuring a Trio of Coelophysis Dinosaurs

Burian depicts a Triassic landscape.

Beautiful and evocative artwork from Burian (Coelophysis bauri and Eupelor durus).  An illustration of a Late Triassic scene featuring the small, agile biped Coelophysis (C. bauri).

Picture Credit: Zdeněk Burian

The tracks preserved in the rocks exposed in this area not only record the movements of dinosaurs but prints associated with rauisuchian reptiles (crocodile-like contemporaries of the first dinosaurs), have also been found.

A Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)

Like many similar sites in the UK, this part of the coast close to the seaside town of Barry is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).  The landowner, the British Institute for Geological Conservation, is a charity that works to conserve natural heritage through site ownership, education and community engagement.  Natural Resources Wales (NRW) had to seek special permission in order to remove the track.  Researchers at the National Museum of Wales located in Cardiff will be studying the print in a bid to find out more about early dinosaur locomotion.

Commenting on this fantastic fossil find, Cindy Howells, the curator of palaeontology at National Museum Wales exclaimed:

“This fossilised dinosaur footprint from 220 million years ago is one of the best-preserved examples from anywhere in the UK and will really aid palaeontologists to get a better idea about how these early dinosaurs walked.  Its acquisition by the museum is mainly thanks to Lily and her family who first spotted it.  During the Covid pandemic scientists from Amgueddfa Cymru [National Museum Wales] have been highlighting the importance of nature on people’s doorstep and this is a perfect example of this.  Obviously, we don’t all have dinosaur footprints on our doorstep but there is wealth of nature local to you if you take the time to really look close enough.”

Lily’s mother Sally Wilder stated:

“It was Lily and Richard (her father) who discovered the footprint.  Lily saw it when they were walking along and said “Daddy look”.  When Richard came home and showed me the photograph, I thought it looked amazing.  Richard thought it was too good to be true. I was put in touch with experts who took it from there.  We were thrilled to find out it really was a dinosaur footprint and I am happy that it will be taken to the national museum where it can be enjoyed and studied for generations.”

Dinosaur Tracks from the Vale of Glamorgan Area (South Wales)

Vale of Glamorgan dinosaur tracks.

Dinosaur Tracks from the Late Triassic from the Vale of Glamorgan area (South Wales).

Picture Credit: Tom Sharpe (Dinosaurs of the British Isles)

To read a related article from 2012 reporting on the theft of dinosaur tracks from the Vale of Glamorgan: Dinosaur Footprints Stolen from the Vale of Glamorgan.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from National Museum Wales in the compilation of this article.

Load More Posts