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/Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories

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

18 08, 2019

Prehistoric Predator with a Mouth Like a Slice of Pineapple

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

The Predatory Cambroraster falcatus from the Burgess Shale

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

A Life Reconstruction of Cambroraster falcatus

Illustrating the newly described Cambroraster from the Burgess Shale biota.

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

Picture Credit: Royal Ontario Museum

Providing New Information About the Diversity of Early Arthropods

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

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

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

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

Cambroraster fossil excavation.

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

Image Credit: Royal Ontario Museum

Remarkable Claws and the Millennium Falcon

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

Graduate student Moysiuk added:

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

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

A Large Number of Specimens Found

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

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

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

Dr Caron added:

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

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

Cambroraster Life Reconstruction

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

Picture Credit: Royal Ontario Museum

The Significance of the Burgess Shale

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

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

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

15 08, 2019

What Killed the Cave Bears? Probably Us

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

Who rather than What Killed the Cave Bears?

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

The Papo Cave Bear (U. spelaeus) Model

The new for 2017 Papo Cave Bear model.

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

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

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

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

A Mounted Skeleton of a Cave Bear (Ursus spelaeus)

A mounted cave bear fossil from an auction.

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

Picture Credit: Associated Press

Five Major Mitochondrial DNA Lineages

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

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

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

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

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

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

14 08, 2019

The “Scunthorpe Pliosaur”

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

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

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

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

The “Scunthorpe Pliosaur” on Display at North Lincolnshire Museum

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

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

Picture Credit: North Lincolnshire Museum

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

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

Partially Excavated Fossils at the Excavation Site

Ribs and a vertebra fossil in situ.

Ribs and a vertebra in situ.

Picture Credit: Yorkshire Geological Society

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

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

Palaeontologist Richard Forrest Holding a Fossil Tooth

The pliosaur tooth examined by Richard Forrest.

Richard Forrest holding a pliosaur tooth.

Picture Credit: North Lincolnshire Museum

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

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

Holding a Fossilised Pliosaur Tooth

Holding a pliosaur tooth.

Holding a fossil tooth.

Picture Credit David Haber

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

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

Holding the Ancient History of North Lincolnshire

Pliosaur fossils.

History in your hands, part of the fossilised skeleton.

Picture Credit: The Stamford and District Geological Society Facebook page

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

13 08, 2019

Monster Penguin from the Palaeocene of New Zealand

By | August 13th, 2019|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Crossvallia waiparensis – Monster Penguin from New Zealand

Sixty-six million years ago, the non-avian dinosaurs became extinct.  The end-Cretaceous mass extinction event also resulted in the extinction of the majority of the marine reptiles, the mosasaurs and the plesiosaurs.  Nature abhors a vacuum and in some parts of the world, the apex piscivore niche became occupied by man-sized penguins.  This idea of prehistoric penguin super-predators has been boosted with the naming and scientific description of a “monster penguin” from Palaeocene-aged deposits on New Zealand’s South Island.  Weighing in at an estimated eighty kilograms, and standing around 1.6 metres tall, Crossvallia waiparensis is one of the largest penguins known to science.

The Newly Described Crossvallia waiparensis Compared to an Average-height Woman

Crossvallia waiparensis compared to a human.

Crossvallia waiparensis compared to an average-height woman.

Picture Credit: Canterbury Museum

One of the World’s Oldest Species of Penguin

Writing in the scientific journal “Alcheringa: An Australasian Journal of Palaeontology”, researchers Dr Paul Scofield and Dr Vanesa De Pietri (Canterbury Museum), in collaboration with their colleague Dr Gerald Mayr (Senckenberg Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, Germany), describe C. waiparensis based on leg bones representing an individual animal and tentatively referred partial humeri (upper arm bones).  The fossils were found by amateur palaeontologist Leigh Love last year, during field work at the Waipara Greensand fossil site located north of Canterbury.

The sediments were laid down in the Palaeocene Epoch (66 to 56 million years ago), making C. waiparensis is one of the world’s oldest known penguin species.  The discovery also reinforces the idea that penguins (Sphenisciformes), attained large size early in their evolutionary history.  The biggest extant penguin is the Emperor Penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri), which can weigh more than twenty kilograms and stands around 1.2 metres high.

Overview of the Leg Bones of C. waiparensis

Fossils of Crossvallia waiparensis.

Fossils of Crossvallia waiparensis a giant penguin from the Palaeocene of New Zealand.

Picture Credit: Mayr et al

The photograph (above), shows an overview of the leg bones of Crossvallia waiparensis (A-L), along with views of the tentatively referred proximal end of a left humerus (M-O), scale bar = 5 centimetres.

The team have concluded that the closest known relative of C. waiparensis is a fellow Palaeocene species Crossvallia unienwillia, which was identified from a fossilised partial skeleton found in the Cross Valley in Antarctica.  This newly described “monster penguin” is not the first giant penguin to have been discovered.  For example, the Eocene taxa Anthropornis and Palaeeudyptes were comparable in size, if not bigger and this suggests that giant penguins evolved several times in the evolutionary history of the penguin family.

To read a related article from Everything Dinosaur: Gigantism in Penguins

The scientific paper: “Leg bones of a new penguin species from the Waipara Greensand add to the diversity of very large-sized Sphenisciformes in the Paleocene of New Zealand” by Gerald Mayr, Vanesa L. De Pietri, Leigh Love, Al Mannering and R. Paul Scofield published in Alcheringa; An Australasian Journal of Palaeontology.

10 08, 2019

A Very Mammal-like Cynodont from Argentina

By | August 10th, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Pseudotherium argentinus – A Very Mammal-like Cynodont from the Triassic of Argentina

Scientists have described a new species of cynodont, from a single, well-preserved skull found in north-western Argentina.  The animal has been named Pseudotherium argentinus and although this animal was not a mammal, the skull shows some very mammal-like characteristics.  For example, the cochlea is elongated but uncoiled and this feature is reminiscent of basal mammaliamorphs, the lineage that was to lead to true mammals and of course, ultimately, our own species.

CT Scan (Right Lateral View of the Skull of Pseudotherium argentinus

Pseudotherium Skull.

Computer generated model of the skull of Pseudotherium.  The skull in right lateral view with the cross-sectional profile indicated by the dotted line shown in white.

Picture Credit: PLOS One

Helping to Unravel Mammal Evolution

Classified as a member of the Probainognathia, one of two clades within the Infraorder Eucynodontia, which includes modern mammals, the skull shows an enlarged braincase, large eye-sockets and other anatomical traits that indicate that this animal might have been developing the heightened senses associated with more advanced therapsids.  The fossil was found in 2006 during a field trip to the Ischigualasto Formation carried out by the Instituto y Museo de Ciencias Naturales of the Universidad Nacional de San Juan.  The strata in this region is believed to be between 231 and 226 million years old approximately.  The researchers conclude that Pseudotherium, the name means “false wild beast [mammal]” in reference to its mammal-like skull, may lie just inside or very close to the Mammaliamorpha, indicating that it might be a transitional form between the Probainognathia and basal mammals.

Many of the mammal-like cynodont specimens known, have badly crushed and deformed skulls.  Their state of preservation prevents palaeontologists from identifying key anatomical changes leading to more advanced therapsids.  The research team hope to recover more specimens from the Ischigualasto Formation which will shed further light on the evolution of our early mammal ancestors.

The scientific paper: “First record of a basal mammaliamorph from the early Late Triassic Ischigualasto Formation of Argentina” by Rachel V. S. Wallace, Ricardo Martínez and Timothy Rowe published in PLOS One.

9 08, 2019

New Prehistoric Animal Model from Eofauna Scientific Research

By | August 9th, 2019|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Everything Dinosaur Products, Main Page, Photos of Everything Dinosaur Products, Press Releases|0 Comments

New Prehistoric Animal Model from Eofauna Scientific Research

Our chums at Eofauna Scientific Research will be bringing out two new prehistoric animal models this autumn.  Eofauna Scientific Research has produced a trio of stunning prehistoric animal figures and by the end of the year, a further two beautiful replicas will join their range, both of which will be available from Everything Dinosaur.

Which prehistoric animals will be depicted?  We know, but we are not going to reveal what they are just yet, model collectors will have to wait a little while to find out.  However, just for a bit of fun, in association with Eofauna Scientific Research we have put together a little teaser – can you guess which prehistoric animal it is?

Which Prehistoric Animal Figure Will Eofauna Produce Next?

Which prehistoric animal figure will they produce next?

Eofauna Scientific Research which prehistoric animal figure will they produce next?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Eofauna Scientific Research

Prehistoric Animal Guessing Game

Something like 1,200 dinosaur genera have been described to date.  Scientists have named around 120 different types of pterosaur and hundreds of genera of prehistoric mammal have been erected.  Then of course you have all the amazing and bizarre Palaeozoic creatures to consider.  The Trilobita alone has approximately 20,000 different species arranged in ten orders (sometimes 9 depending on the taxonomy, which is still debated).

Our apologies if you don’t like prehistoric animal guessing games, feel free to attribute blame to Everything Dinosaur, we suggested to Eofauna that providing a “teaser” about new models would be a good way to develop a sense of anticipation and help raise awareness about their range of replicas.

The Eofauna Scientific Research Model Range at the Beginning of 2019

The Eofauna model range (2018).

Eofauna model range at the beginning of 2019.  Far left the straight-tusked elephant (Palaeoloxodon antiquus), in the middle a Steppe Mammoth (Mammuthus trogontherii) and far right, the theropod dinosaur Giganotosaurus carolinii.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Commissioning a Scientific Drawing

As well as making preparations for the arrival of a new prehistoric animal model, team members at Everything Dinosaur will be commissioning a scientific drawing to be used in association with this new Eofauna Scientific Research figure.

Previous Scientific Drawing That Have Been Commissioned – Eofauna Scientific Research Models

Three Eofauna replicas illustrated.

Illustrations based on the three Eofauna replicas (left to right), Palaeoloxodon antiquus, Mammuthus trogontherii and Giganotosaurus carolinii.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The first of the new for 2019 Eofauna models should be with us in late October, the second figure should follow about 14 days later.  Naturally, the figures could arrive sooner, they could arrive later, but model collectors can be assured these two new models are worth the wait and we look forward to revealing the first of these new 2019 figures in about a week.

To view the current range of Eofauna Scientific Research models available from Everything Dinosaur: Eofauna Scientific Research Models

8 08, 2019

The Very Peculiar Parrots of Ancient New Zealand

By | August 8th, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Heracles inexpectatus – A Prehistoric Parrot

We had known about this for a little while, but we wanted to keep our beaks firmly shut until the scientific paper had been published, the biggest parrot known to science has been announced.  The metre tall, most probably flightless psittaciform roamed the South Island of New Zealand around 19 million years ago.  Named Heracles inexpectatus it was part of a bizarre Miocene-aged biota that existed in New Zealand, the remains of which have been excavated from a riverbank on the Manuherikia River, Home Hills Station, Otago (Bannockburn Formation).  The fossil deposits are close to the small town of St Bathans, this area is renowned for its remarkable fossil deposits that record life in a sub-tropical forest environment which surrounded a huge, lake, which at its largest  extent covered an area equivalent to nearly four times the size of the city of London.

A Life Reconstruction of Heracles inexpectatus

A life reconstruction of Heracles inexpectatus the newly described giant prehistoric parrot from New Zealand.

A life reconstruction of the newly described giant prehistoric parrot from New Zealand.  If you look carefully at this image you can see three small birds as well as the giant parrot.  These represent the extinct genus Kuiornis, which at around 8 cm high was dwarfed by H. inexpectatus.

Picture Credit: Dr Brian Choo (Flinders University)

A Flightless Forager

Writing in “Biology Letters”, the researchers which include Associate Professor Trevor Worthy (Flinders University, Adelaide, South Australia), suggest that this parrot weighed around seven kilogrammes, and if it did, this makes it twice as heavy as the largest living parrot, the Kakapo (Strigops habroptilus), which also comes from New Zealand.  H. inexpectatus has been described based on partial lower leg bones (the shafts of the left and right tibiotarsi), which were collected in January 2008.  These two bones probably came from the same individual and since no other fossils related to a giant parrot have been found in the St Bathans area before, the discovery was quite unexpected, hence the trivial name of this new parrot species.

Comparing the Fossil Bone to the Leg Bones of an Extant Kakapo (Largest Living Parrot)

Comparing the fossil leg bone of the giant extinct parrot Heracles to the leg bones of the largest living parrot - the Kakapo.

Heracles leg bone (top) compared to the lower leg bones of a Kakapo parrot (bottom).

Picture Credit: Flinders Palaeontology Laboratory

Commenting on this quite surprising discovery, Associate Professor Worthy stated:

“New Zealand is well known for its giant birds.  Not only moa dominated avifaunas, but giant geese and adzebills shared the forest floor, while a giant eagle ruled the skies.  But until now, no-one has ever found an extinct giant parrot – anywhere.”

Carnivore or Omnivore?

It is the leg bones that give an indication of the bird’s size.  What it ate can be speculated upon, for example, in the absence of large mammalian predators Heracles could have been an apex predator, perhaps a hypercarnivore.  The rarity of the fossils, could indicate it was relatively uncommon and therefore likely to be near the top of an ancient food chain.

Associate Professor Worthy added:

“We have been excavating these fossil deposits for 20 years, and each year reveals new birds and other animals.  It [Heracles] was likely a flightless forager who ate abundantly on fruit and seeds but may have preyed on small animals that it could dig out of logs, or even snack on dead or dying moa.”

Co-author Professor Mike Archer (University of New South Wales), suggests that the feeding habits of such a large parrot could have been quite gruesome.

He explained:

“Heracles, as the largest parrot ever, no doubt with a massive parrot beak that could crack wide open anything it fancied, may well have dined on more than conventional parrot foods, perhaps even other parrots.”

More Amazing Fossil Finds from Otago Likely

Whilst the discovery of a giant prehistoric parrot is quite remarkable, the researchers are confident that the Miocene-aged sedimentary strata in this area (Manuherikia Group), will yield even more amazing fossils in the future.  In these rocks, palaeontologists have discovered the fossilised remains of around forty different types of bird, as well as bats, frogs and a crocodilian.

These fossil deposits have provided palaeontologists with an insight into the rich avian fauna of prehistoric New Zealand.  In 2018, Everything Dinosaur wrote about the discovery of fragmentary bones that suggested a type of prehistoric pigeon inhabited New Zealand during the Early Miocene: A New New Zealand Pigeon from the Early Miocene.

What’s in a Name?

A number of media outlets reporting this discovery have stated that the genus name Heracles honours the Greek hero (Hercules), renowned for his great strength.  That is true, but the inspiration behind the genus name is a little more subtle than that.  Some of the authors of this scientific paper about Heracles, were also involved in the discovery and naming of another much smaller parrot species from the Bannockburn Formation.  Nelepsittacus was named and described in 2011, its genus name was inspired by Neleus, who in Greek myth was the son of Poseidon and Tyro.  Neleus refused to release Hercules from a debt and was murdered by Hercules, so it seemed logical to give the much larger psittaciform from the St Bathans Fauna a name honouring Hercules.

The scientific paper: “Evidence for a giant parrot from the early Miocene of New Zealand” (2019) by Trevor H Worthy, Suzanne J Hand, Michael Archer, R Paul Scofield and Vanesa L De Pietri published in Biology Letters.

6 08, 2019

New Dinosaur Species Discovered “Hiding in Plain Sight”

By | August 6th, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

The Sauropodomorph Ngwevu intloko “Hiding in Plain Sight”

The fossilised remains of a dinosaur that once roamed South Africa some 200 million years ago and that had lain mislabelled in a university vault for three decades has been identified as an entirely new species of dinosaur, a discovery that helps to demonstrate that ecosystems that developed shortly after the end-Triassic extinction event were much more specious than previously thought.

A View of the Skull of the Newly Described Sauropodomorpha N. intloko in the University of Witwatersrand Collection

Ngwevu fossil skull (BP/1/4779.

The skull of the newly described South African sauropodomorph Ngwevu intloko.

Picture Credit: Kimberley Chapelle (University of Witwatersrand)

Ngwevu intloko

The dinosaur has been named Ngwevu intloko and it was PhD student Kimberley Chapelle (University of Witwatersrand), whilst working with her supervisors mapping the extensive fossil material associated with Massospondylus (M. carinatus), that first realised that the well-preserved skull and postcranial remains could represent a new species.  Hundreds of fossils including several nearly complete skulls have been ascribed to Massospondylus (M. carinatus), since it was described by Richard Owen (later Sir Richard Owen) in 1854.  The skull (specimen number BP/1/4779), had been part of the University of Witwatersrand vertebrate fossil collection for years, but it had been thought that this was just an unusual example of this species.

Co-author of the scientific paper, which has been published in the journal PeerJ, Professor Paul Barrett of the Natural History Museum, London explained:

“This is a new dinosaur that has been hiding in plain sight.  The specimen has been in the collections in Johannesburg for about thirty years and lots of other scientists have already looked at it.  But they all thought that it was simply an odd example of Massospondylus.”

Views of BP/1/4779 – The Skull of Ngwevu intloko

Views of the skull of N. intloko.

Views of the skull of Ngwevu intloko.  Views of BP/1/4779 in (A) right lateral view, (B) dorsal view and (C) left lateral view.  Scale bar = 1 cm.

Picture Credit: Kimberley Chapelle (University of Witwatersrand)

A Diverse Sauropodomorpha Fauna of South Africa During the Early Jurassic

Using a variety of techniques including computerised tomography (CT) scans and three-dimensional bone mapping, the team identified a total of sixteen cranial and six postcranial characteristics that supported the establishment of a new dinosaur species.  Deformation due to the fossilisation process and ontogeny were ruled out as the basis of these traits, thus leading to the conclusion that these fossils did not represent Massospondylus, but a different, albeit related dinosaur.  Ngwevu was a bipedal omnivore with a small head, long neck and a robust, chunky body.  It is estimated to have reached a length of about three metres or so.  Analysis of bone cross sections indicate that the specimen would have been about ten years old when it died.

A Life Reconstruction of N. intloko

Drawing of Ngwevu intloko (based on Lufengosaurus).

A drawing of Ngwevu intloko (based on Lufengosaurus).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Up until recently, Massospondylus (M. carinatus) was thought to be the only sauropodomorph represented by fossil material from the Lower Jurassic upper Elliot and Clarens formations of southern Africa, but there are now known to have been several different genera present, some of which were to eventually give rise to the huge sauropods of the Late Jurassic.  Scientists are now starting to take a closer look at many of the supposed Massospondylus specimens, believing there to be much more variation than first thought.

Sauropodomorpha from the Elliot Formation include:

  • Antetonitrus ingenipes
  • Massospondylus kaalae
  • Aardonyx celestae
  • Ignavusaurus rachelis
  • Arcusaurus pereirabdalorum
  • Pulanesaura eocollum
  • Ledumahadi mafube to read an article about the naming and scientific description of L. mafubeNew Giant Dinosaur from South Africa

This new research, helping to support the idea that there were many different types of sauropodomorphs in this part of Gondwana during the Early Jurassic, will help scientists to better understand how ecosystems recovered after the end-Triassic extinction event.

A Three-dimensional Digital Reconstruction of the Skull

Ngwevu intloko fossil skull - digital reconstruction.

A digital reconstruction of the skull of Ngwevu intloko.

Picture Credit: Kimberley Chapelle (University of Witwatersrand)

Professor Paul Barrett commented:

“This new species is interesting, because we thought previously that there was really only one type of sauropodomorph living in South Africa at this time.  We now know there were actually six or seven of these dinosaurs in this area, as well as a variety of other dinosaurs from less common groups.  It means that their ecology was much more complex that we used to think.  Some of these other sauropodomorphs were like Massospondylus, but a few were close to the origins of true sauropods, if not true sauropods themselves.”

This research shows the value of revisiting specimens in museum collections, as many news species are probably sitting unnoticed in cabinets around the world, an example of dinosaurs “hiding in plain sight”.

The scientific paper: “Ngwevu intloko: a new early sauropodomorph dinosaur from the Lower Jurassic Elliot Formation of South Africa and comments on the cranial ontogeny in Massospondylus carinatus” by Kimberley E.J. Chapelle​, Paul M. Barrett, Jennifer Botha and Jonah N. Choiniere published in PeerJ.

4 08, 2019

New Study Confirms Ichthyosaurs Had Tough Lives

By | August 4th, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

The Hard, Tough Lives of Ichthyosaurs

A trio of scientists have published a study looking at signs of injury and disease in a range of ichthyosaur genera.  Such studies have been undertaken before, indeed the authors of this new paper, published by the Royal Society Open Science, Judith M. Pardo-Pérez, Erin Maxwell (Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde, Stuttgart, Germany) and Benjamin Kear (Uppsala University, Sweden) have examined pathologies in the giant ichthyosaur Temnodontosaurus as recently as 2018, but this study takes a different approach.  The researchers looked in detail at one specific ancient ecosystem, analysing injuries and disease recorded in several different types of  ichthyosaur and found some surprising results.

A Scale Drawing Illustrating the Size of the Superpredator Temnodontosaurus

Scale drawing of Temnodontosaurus.

Temnodontosaurus scale drawing.  In this illustration the marine reptile is giving birth (these vertebrates were viviparous).  A study was published in 2018 which examined pathologies associated with the skeleton of this apex predator.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Back in 2018, these scientists published a paper detailing the injuries and disease lesions (pathology), associated the ichthyosaur superpredator Temnodontosaurus.  They found that despite its size, growing up to ten metres in length, these predators led quite tough lives, given the healed wounds, evidence of trauma and signs of disease preserved in their fossils.

In this new paper, published last week, the scientists examined the fossils of five different ichthyosaurs known from a single fossil deposit (Posidonienschiefer Formation).  These fossils from southern Germany, date from the Early Jurassic (Toarcian faunal stage) and represent a marine fauna that suffered a minor extinction event resulting in a significant faunal turnover amongst the vertebrates.

The five genera of ichthyosaur (Posidonienschiefer Formation) from the study in order of maximum size:

1).  Hauffiopteryx (2.5 m long) – a relatively short-snouted genus that probably fed on small fish and squid.
2).  Stenopterygius (3.5 m long) – feeding on small fish and squid.
3).  Suevoleviathan (4 m long)- a primitive member of the Neoichthyosuria clade that with a short-snout that indicates a generalist feeding habit.
4).  Eurhinosaurus (7 m long) – its elongated upper snout suggests a specialist position in the food chain, perhaps feeding on small fish or probing the seabed to feed on invertebrates.
5).  Temnodontosaurus (up to 10 metres long) – the top predator in the ecosystem, attacking and eating other marine reptiles including ichthyosaurs.

Not Just Damaged Ribs

Damaged ribs are quite commonly found on ichthyosaur fossils, but in this study, a detailed examination of the entire fossilised remains of individual animals was carried out.  The team examined the influence of taxa (which species demonstrated the greatest signs of trauma and disease), as well as which parts of the body were damaged the most, the influence of ontogeny and the impact of environmental change (early Toarcian Oceanic Anoxic Event).

Examples of Pathologies in Ichthyosaurs from the Posidonienschiefer Formation

Ichthyosaur pathologies.

Examples of ichthyosaur pathologies from the Posidonienschiefer Formation.  In picture (a) a fused (ankylosed) femur and fibula is indicated by the two black arrows, the species is Stenopterygius uniter.  In picture (b) fused neural spines (ankylosis) is indicated by the single black arrow.   The species is Stenopterygius quadriscissus.

Picture Credit: Royal Society Open Science

Small-bodied Genera Do Best

Following the review of the skeletal material, the researchers found that the incidence of pathologies is dependent on the type of taxon being examined.  Small-bodied genera such as Stenopterygius had fewer injuries, signs of disease and trauma when compared to larger-bodied ichthyosaurs.  Within the Stenopterygius genus, the scientists discovered that more pathologies were identified in large adults when compared to smaller sized individuals.  Stratigraphic horizon, a proxy for evidence of change within the ancient marine ecosystem did not influence the incidence of pathology associated with Stenopterygius.

The Research Team Carefully Examined an Extensive Portion of the Posidonienschiefer Formation Ichthyosaur Biota

Ichthyoaur pathology.

Evidence of pathologies found in ichthyosaur fossils.  Photograph (C) shows a fractured and healed gastralia rib (belly rib) of a Hauffiopteryx (H. typicus).  The black arrow indicates the break and the resulting callus.  Photograph (D) shows a healed fractured rib from a Stenopterygius, the arrow indicating the break and showing the callus.

Picture Credit: Royal Society Open Science

Skull and Forelimb Injuries

When all the data from the examined taxa was added together, it was no surprise that the rib area was identified as that part of an ichthyosaur’s body most likely to show signs of pathology.  Around 8% of the specimens examined showed rib trauma.  However, approximately 6% of skulls and 4% of forelimbs also showed pathologies.  In contrast, those areas of the body showing the least signs of injury were the vertebrae and the hind limb.

The researchers concluded that within the fauna studied, ichthyosaurs appear to be similar to living vertebrates in which pathologies accumulate in the oldest/largest members of a population, and larger taxa experience proportionately more frequent skeletal traumas.

The scientific paper: “Palaeoepidemiology in extinct vertebrate populations: factors influencing skeletal health in Jurassic marine reptiles” by Judith M. Pardo-Pérez , Benjamin Kear and Erin E. Maxwell published in Royal Society Open Science.

3 08, 2019

Legal Protection for Isle of Skye Fossil Sites

By | August 3rd, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Vital Legal Protection for Isle of Sky Fossil Sites

Some very good news for scientists, conservationists and for anyone concerned with protecting the natural heritage of the UK.  Internationally-recognised and extremely important Jurassic-aged fossil sites on the Scottish island of Skye, containing rare evidence of how dinosaurs and early mammals lived many millions of years ago, have been granted greater legal status.  This will help to ensure their protection for future generations and provide greater security for future fossil discoveries.

A Tridactyl Dinosaur Footprint Preserved on the Shoreline of the Isle of Skye

Tridactyl dinosaur footprint (Isle of Skye).

A three-toed dinosaur footprint on the Isle of Skye.

Picture Credit: Colin MacFadyen (Scottish National Heritage)

Here is the full press release provided by Scottish Natural Heritage with some additional information from Everything Dinosaur:

Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment, Mairi Gougeon, had signed a Nature Conservation Order (NCO) at Staffin Museum, home of dinosaur bones and footprints found nearby on the Isle of Skye.  The key aim of the NCO is to prevent rare vertebrate fossils from being damaged through irresponsible collection and removal from Skye’s globally important fossil sites.  Importantly, the NCO aims to encourage local people and the wider public to take an interest in and report any potentially important fossil finds.

The Isle of Skye in the Middle Jurassic

Isle of Skye Sauropods.

The Isle of Skye (Bathonian faunal stage).  The Isle of Skye during the Middle Jurassic.

Picture Credit: Jon Hoad

Aiming to Deter Irresponsible Fossil Collecting

In the past, important fossil discoveries have been damaged by hammering, with specimens taken from the island and moved to private collections.  In 2016, an attempt to take a plaster cast of a dinosaur footprint at An Corran risked significant damage to a feature that has become an important tourist attraction.  To read Everything Dinosaur’s article about this: 165-million-year-old dinosaur footprints damaged.

Known as the dinosaur capital of Scotland, the rich Middle Jurassic fossil fauna of Skye is gradually being revealed with new discoveries continuing to be made.  These include some of the first fossil evidence of dinosaur parenting.  Housed at Staffin Museum, a rock slab shows the footprints of baby dinosaurs, together with the print of an adult.  It is expected that Skye is also home to fossil remains of flying reptiles, and confirmation of this will firmly place the island in the international dinosaur hall of fame.  The new legal protection will help to deter irresponsible fossil collecting on the island.

Commenting on the significance of the increased protection, Minister for the Natural Environment Mairi Gougeon said:

“Skye lays claim to the most significant dinosaur discoveries of Scotland’s Jurassic past and this Nature Conservation Order is a vital step in protecting and preserving this important part of our natural heritage for future generations.  The Order gives extra legal protection to these special sites whilst providing for important artefacts to be collected responsibly for science and public exhibition, as Dugald Ross of the Staffin Museum has been doing since his first important discovery in 1982.  I hope the Order gives even greater awareness of the significance of these important sites, and the important and valuable role everyone has in helping protect them.”

Everything Dinosaur team members have corresponded with Dugald Ross in the past.  Sadly, our communications have mostly been about damage to fossil deposits and suspected thefts of fossil material.

To read an article from 2011 that reported on the damage caused to an important fossil site on the Isle of Skye: Important Jurassic Fossil Site Ransacked.

Colin MacFadyen, a geologist at Scottish National Heritage stated:

“This vital legal protection is important to ensure Skye’s unique dinosaur heritage is available for everyone to learn from and enjoy.  The NCO covers areas of coastline where 165 million-year-old Middle Jurassic sedimentary rocks are gradually being eroded by the sea.  It is crucial that the footprints and actual skeletal remains of dinosaurs and other vertebrates, that are being revealed by nature are protected.  These fabulous fossil finds can help answer crucial questions about ancient ecosystems and pave the way for exciting advances in our understanding of vertebrate evolution.”

Dinosaurs and Mammal Fossil Evidence Too

The Minch Basin region of north-western Scotland partially consists of strata laid down in the Middle Jurassic, an important time in the evolution of the Dinosauria with many new families evolving.  This period in Earth’s history also marks the evolution of a number of mammal genera.   Unfortunately, there are very few fossil bearing exposures around the world that record evidence of life on our planet during this important period of terrestrial vertebrate evolution.  The Isle of Skye is one of these locations, hence this new legal protection is extremely important.

Early Mammal Fossils Have Also Been Found on the Isle of Skye

Jawbone and line drawing of Wareolestes jawbone fossil.

The fossil jawbone from the Isle of Skye (Wareolestes).  The Middle Jurassic was also an important time for mammalian evolution.

Staffin Museum owner Dugald Ross added:

“Everyone has a role to play in making the Order a success, and we are encouraging local people who think they may have found a vertebrate fossil – or a dinosaur bone or tooth – to contact Staffin Museum for advice.  We are encouraging everyone to find, report and help protect – but not collect – Skye’s wonderful dinosaur heritage.”

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a press release from Scottish Natural Heritage in the compilation of this article.

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