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Dinosaur and prehistoric animal themed articles, features and stories.

14 08, 2018

Toothy, Pterosaur Terror from the Saints and Sinners Quarry

By | August 14th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Caelestiventus hanseni – Rare Pterosaur Fossil Sheds Light on Triassic Pterosaur Diversity

A team of scientists have published a paper in the journal “Nature Ecology & Evolution”, detailing the discovery of a new type of Triassic pterosaur.  The exquisitely preserved fossils, including skull and jaw material excavated from strata laid down at a desert oasis that existed around 210 million years ago, has got vertebrate palaeontologists in a flap.  Firstly, only around thirty fossils of Triassic pterosaurs are known, most of these from only fragmentary remains and secondly, as this flying reptile fossil is associated with a desert environment, it suggests that by the Late Triassic the Pterosauria were very specious and had already adapted to a variety of different habitats.  If all this wasn’t enough to get scientists excited, the exceptional state of preservation has revealed anatomical features previously obscured in other early pterosaurs and shows that this new flying reptile from Utah, was closely related to Dimorphodon macronyx which is known from Lower Jurassic rocks from Dorset (southern England).

The flying reptile was large, very large for a Triassic Pterosaur, it had an estimated wingspan of 1.5 metres.  It has been named Caelestiventus hanseni (pronounced Sel-less-tees-vent-us han-son-eye).

A Life Restoration of the Newly Described Late Triassic Pterosaur Caelestiventus hanseni

Caelestiventus hanseni illustration.

Caelestiventus hanseni illustration. Study of the fossil bones suggests the presence of a throat pouch.

Picture Credit: Michael Skrepnick

From Saints and Sinners Quarry (Utah)

The fossils come from a vertebrate bone bed located in the Saints and Sinners Quarry, within sandstone deposits in north-eastern Utah.  Numerous vertebrate fossils have been associated with this locality including Crocodylomorphs and Theropod dinosaur material.  The bones come from silty, fine-grained sandstones laid down in near-shore waters of an oasis, that was surrounded by arid desert.  More than 18,000 individual bones representing a total of nine Tetrapod taxa (including two Theropod dinosaurs), have been found.  The flying reptile bones described in the scientific paper are the only ones known from this deposit and Caelestiventus hanseni is the first Triassic pterosaur from the western hemisphere from outside Greenland.  Whether this flying reptile was a resident of the oasis is unclear, but it is possible that this individual was an occasional visitor, to what would have been, an isolated oasis surrounded by extensive dune fields.

One of the Delicate Skull and Jaw Fossils Held by Professor Brooks Britt (Brigham Young University)

Holding fossils of Caelestiventus hanseni.

Professor Brooks Britt (Brigham Young University) holds one of the pterosaur fossils (jaw and skull fossils). His finger is pointing to roughly where the eye socket would have been.

Picture Credit: Brigham Young University

The picture above, shows a prepared piece of the fossilised skull of C. hanseni (maxilla and other elements from the jaws and skull), the specimen is held by Professor Brooks Britt of Brigham Young University and the lead author of the scientific paper.  It is not possible to remove the delicate, three-dimensional fossils from the matrix, the fossils would collapse under their own weight, but CT scans in conjunction with computer modelling enabled the production of precise plastic replicas of the fossil pieces, that gave the researchers the opportunity to reconstruct the skull.

Related to Dimorphodon (D. macronyx)

The beautiful state of preservation enabled the research team to gain fresh insights into the morphology of skull and jaws of Late Triassic pterosaurs.  The reconstructed brain case reveals that those parts of the brain responsible for processing vision were particularly well-developed, reinforcing the theory that flying reptiles had very keen eyesight.

A phylogenetic analysis undertaken by the researchers reveals that Caelestiventus is a sister taxon of Dimorphodon macronyx, which is known from Lower Jurassic rocks from Dorset.

A Three-Dimensionally Printed Skull of Caelestiventus hanseni

Line drawings and three dimensional model.

C. hanseni model skull and line drawing comparisons between C. hanseni and D. macronyx.

Picture Credit: Brigham Young University with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

The use of CT scans and computer software to digitally remove the fossils from their matrix without damaging them has enabled the scientists to produce extremely accurate three-dimensional images of the specimen, these data files can then be shared with other vertebrate specialists across the world.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“The scans permitted the production of finely detailed and extremely accurate three-dimensional models of the individual bones.  When these were fitted together this gave the scientists the opportunity to study the entire skull and to share this information very easily with other palaeontologists.  The use of technology is now helping scientists to gain much easier access to important fossil finds.”

The Geographical Significance of Caelestiventus hanseni

Not only is Caelestiventus hanseni the first record of a Triassic pterosaur from North America, the discovery suggests that by the Late Triassic, flying reptiles were not only quite large but also that they may have already adapted to a wide variety of habitats.  Similarly aged fossils from Greenland and Europe indicate pterosaurs living in forested areas and coastal environments on the super- continent of Pangaea.  This fossil discovery demonstrates that early pterosaurs were geographically widely distributed and ecologically diverse, even living in harsh desert environments.  C. hanseni is the only record of a desert-dwelling, non-pterodactyloid pterosaur and predates all known desert living pterosaurs by more than sixty-five million years.

The Geographical Significance of the Utah Pterosaur Fossil Discovery

The geographical location of the pterosaur find.

The location of the Triassic pterosaur find from Utah plotted against a map of Pangaea during the Late Triassic and other pterosaur fossil discoveries from Triassic strata.

Picture Credit: Brigham Young University

The picture above shows (top left), the location of Utah in the United States and (insert), the geological formations associated with north-western Utah.  The world map shows the location of Triassic pterosaur fossil discoveries superimposed on an illustration of Pangaea with a colour key to indicate different habitats.  Caelestiventus is the first Triassic pterosaur identified from a desert environment.

The genus name is from the Latin for “heavenly wind”, in recognition of the volant capabilities of this reptile.  The trivial name honours geologist Robin L. Hanson of the Bureau of Land Management, who has played a crucial role in the excavation of the Saints and Sinners Quarry material.

Photographs Showing Some of the Fossil Material Associated with the Caelestiventus Genus

Caelestiventus hanseni fossil material.

Views of the Pterosaur fossil material – Caelestiventus hanseni.

Picture Credit: Brigham Young University

To read Everything Dinosaur’s 2015 article that first broke the news of this Pterosaur fossil discovery: Fearsomely-fanged Triassic Pterosaur from Utah

10 08, 2018

The Really Dangerous Predator of Hell Creek

By | August 10th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Drawings, Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur Products, Main Page, Photos of Everything Dinosaur Products, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|1 Comment

Acheroraptor temertyorum – Most Dangerous Critter of Hell Creek

If you could travel back in time and visit western North America 66 million years ago, you might find yourself within the territory of a Tyrannosaurus rex.  Not a very safe place to be you might think, you would probably be right, but the Hell Creek fauna contained another Theropod dinosaur, one that was perhaps, more dangerous to a human visitor than a T. rex or for that matter the other apex predator known from the Hell Creek Formation – Dakotaraptor steini.

Named and scientifically described in 2013, the real man-eater of Hell Creek might have been Acheroraptor (A. temertyorum), at around three metres long and weighing as much as a German Shepherd dog, a pack of these ferocious hunters would probably have made short work of any human visitor to the Late Cretaceous who was unfortunate to encounter them.

A Scale Drawing of the Velociraptorine Dromaeosaurid Acheroraptor temertyorum

Acheroraptor temertyorum scale drawing.

A scale drawing of Acheroraptor.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

“Underworld Plunderer”

Named after the River of Pain “Acheron” in the underworld from Greek myth, Acheroraptor was one of the very last of the non-avian Theropod dinosaurs and it probably played a secondary predator role in the Hell Creek ecosystem.  There were larger predators, the five-and-a-half-metre-long Dakotaraptor for example, that like Acheroraptor was one of the very last dromaeosaurids to evolve.  However, packs of Dakotaraptors and the iconic Tyrannosaurus rex may not have considered a single person much of meal and may not have expanded a lot of energy in trying to catch them.  To a pack of Acheroraptors, a human would have made a very satisfactory lunch, best to avoid Acheroraptor if you can.

To read more about the discovery of Dakotaraptor steiniDakotaraptor – A Giant Raptor

Some of the Typical Dinosaurian Fauna of the Hell Creek Formation (Maastrichtian Faunal Stage of the Late Cretaceous)

Dinosaurs of the Hell Creek Formation.

Typical dinosaurs of the Hell Creek Formation.   Although there were larger predators, to a person visiting Montana 66 million years ago, meeting a pack of Acheroraptors would have been extremely dangerous.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Part of the Vertebrate Fossil Collection at the Royal Ontario Museum

The specific or trivial name “temertyorum” was selected to honour James and Louise Temerty in recognition for their outstanding support and contribution to the Royal Ontario Museum, which houses the jaw fragments that led to the scientific description of this dinosaur back in 2013.  Acheroraptor probably lived in packs and may have had a role similar to extant hyenas or jackals in present-day ecosystems.  Palaeontologists had suspected that dromaeosaurids roamed Montana in very last years of the Cretaceous, numerous teeth with their diagnostic wide ridges (denticles) had been discovered, but the lack of fossilised bones prevented scientists from assigning a genus.

The Holotype Fossil Maxilla and Lower Jaw (Dentary) of Acheroraptor

The fossilised jawbones of Acheroraptor.

The jaws of Acheroraptor.

Picture Credit: Royal Ontario Museum

Acheroraptor More Closely Related to Asian Dromaeosaurids

Palaeontologists have concluded that Acheroraptor was more closely related to Asian dromaeosaurids such as Velociraptor (V. mongoliensis), than it was to other North American dromaeosaurids.  Assigned to the Velociraptorinae subfamily of the Dromaeosauridae, the relatively long-snouted Acheroraptor provides supporting evidence to suggest the presence of a Late Cretaceous land bridge between Asia and North America.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur explained:

“There is a considerable amount of evidence that supports the idea of the existence of a Cretaceous Beringian land bridge linking North America and Asia.  This land bridge may not have been permanent but appeared at times when sea levels fell, permitting a faunal exchange between dinosaur-based ecosystems.  The ancestors of Acheroraptor temertyorum probably migrated into North America.”

To read Everything Dinosaur’s recent article about Alaskan trace fossils providing evidence of a mixing of dinosaur faunas from Asia and North America: Did Alaskan Therizinosaurs and Hadrosaurs Live Together?

Beasts of the Mesozoic 1/6th Scale Acheroraptor temertyorum

There are lots of models of the Hell Creek Formation biota available, countless T. rex and Triceratops figures for instance, but it was the clever and talented David Silva of Creative Beast Studio who created a 1/6th scale replica of Acheroraptor within the amazing “Beasts of the Mesozoic” model range.

The “Beasts of the Mesozoic” Acheroraptor temertyorum Figure

Beasts of the Mesozoic Acheroraptor temertyorum figure.

The Beasts of the Mesozoic Acheroraptor model.

To view the beautiful Acheroraptor model and the rest of the figures in the “Beasts of the Mesozoic Raptor” range: Beasts of the Mesozoic “Raptors”

9 08, 2018

Mojo Fun Dinosaurs, CollectA and Rebor

By | August 9th, 2018|Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Everything Dinosaur Newsletters, Everything Dinosaur Products, Main Page|0 Comments

Everything Dinosaur’s Latest Newsletter

Subscribers to Everything Dinosaur’s newsletter received their latest bulletin earlier this month.  August started with a roar, as the four new for 2018 Mojo Fun dinosaurs have arrived at our warehouse.  Choose from a blue Baryonyx, a delightful Diplodocus, a model of the deadly Deinonychus or a giant (it measures around 35 cm long), Giganotosaurus.  All four models are very colourful and show lots of amazing detail, they are a quartet of super new additions to the Mojo Fun range (Prehistoric and Extinct).

The Four New for 2018 Mojo Fun Dinosaurs are in Stock at Everything Dinosaur

New Mojo Fun dinosaur models are in stock.

New for 2018 Mojo Fun Dinosaur Models are in stock at Everything Dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Everything Dinosaur customers who had requested a model be reserved for them have already been contacted by team members.  It’s all part of our customer service.

To view the range of Mojo Fun models available from Everything Dinosaur: Mojo Fun Prehistoric and Extinct Animals

The CollectA Roaring T. rex and the Return of “Savage”

Before we had the opportunity to finish unloading all the new Mojo Fun models, the CollectA roaring, feathered Tyrannosaurus rex arrived.  This is the latest feathered dinosaur to be made by CollectA and it has replaced the original 1:40 scale model that came out in 2015.  CollectA were unsure about the future of their first, large, 1:40 scale feathered T. rex replica, but after three years in production, the company decided that it would replace its first figure with a new dinosaur replica, this time, depicting T. rex vocalising.

To view the CollectA Deluxe range of models: CollectA Deluxe Prehistoric Life

Great news for fans of the Rebor replicas, the popular Ceratosaurus (C. dentisulcatus) model is back in stock!  There are more than thirty figures in the Rebor range currently, with more models to be announced before the end of the year.  Newsletter readers will be amongst the first to find out about availability and release dates for the new Rebor figures.

Newsletter Readers were Amongst the First to Find Out About New Models and Items Back in Stock

The CollectA roaring, feathered T. rex and the Rebor "Savage" Ceratosaurus.

The CollectA roaring T. rex model is in stock along with the welcome return of the Rebor Centrosaurus replica (Savage).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

5,000 Facebook “Likes” and the Return of “Sentry”

Our Facebook page has passed the landmark of 5,000 “likes”, we are well on our way to 5,100, but we took this opportunity to thank our customers and followers on social media for their support.  We are all truly humbled by all the “likes” that we have received.  We do our best to follow up every comment, enquiry and question that we receive on our Facebook pages, we tend to post up several times a day on social media.

In addition, our latest newsletter announced the arrival of new stocks of the Rebor “Sentry” Compsognathus figure.  This is a beautifully detailed 1/6th scale model of the little Theropod Compsognathus (C. longipes).  It is a very elegant model of “elegant jaw”.

Celebrating 5,000 “likes” on Facebook and “Sentry” Returns

Celebrating 5,000 Facebook likes and the return of the Rebor "Sentry" figure.

Celebrating 5,000 Facebook “likes” and the return of the Rebor Compsognathus figure.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view the Rebor range of figures including “Savage” and “Sentry”: Rebor Replicas and Figures

Subscribing to Everything Dinosaur’s Newsletters

Subscribing to our newsletter is very easy and it’s free!  The Everything Dinosaur newsletter provides lots of updates and information on new model releases, company production plans, figure retirements and special offers.  We send out these emails periodically, helping to keep our dedicated and enthusiastic customer base informed.

To request a subscription to Everything Dinosaur’s regular newsletter, simply drop us an email: Email Everything Dinosaur

8 08, 2018

Did Alaskan Therizinosaurs and Hadrosaurs Live Together?

By | August 8th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Scientists Describe Therizinosaur and Hadrosaur Tracks from Alaska

A team of international scientists have published a report on a series of dinosaur trackways found in Upper Cretaceous rocks located in Denali National Park, Alaska.  The tracks show the presence of duck-billed dinosaurs (Hadrosaurs) and bizarre herbivorous Theropods (Therizinosaurs), in the same location at potentially the same time.  If this is the case, then it could be speculated that these very different dinosaurs benefited from an association, just as some animals today congregate together for mutual benefit.

The Hadrosaur and Therizinosaur trackways represent the first report from North America of co-occurrence between these very different dinosaurs and the trace fossils support the idea that the dinosaur population in Alaska in the Late Cretaceous was similar in composition to that associated with Asia (Nemegt Formation).  Alaska could have been a “highway” linking the dinosaur faunas of Asia with the North American continent.

Did Therizinosaurs and Hadrosaurs Live Side by Side?

Hadrosaur and Therizinosaur Tracks Found Together

A series of Hadrosaur and Therizinosaur tracks have been discovered together in the Denali National Park of Alaska.

Picture Credit: Masato Hattori

It Started with a Single Footprint

The lower Cantwell Formation represents a series of sedimentary deposits laid down in a terrestrial environment and fossil pollen analysis suggests a Late Campanian to early Maastrichtian temporal setting (73-71 million years ago).  Numerous vertebrate and plant fossils are associated with this strata, vertebrates including fishes, pterosaurs and numerous dinosaurs.  Lead author of the paper, published in the journal “Scientific Reports”, Anthony Fiorillo, (Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Dallas, Texas), had previously described a single four-toed print found in the area back in 2012.  This track was identified as having been made by a Therizinosaur and was the first evidence found of these strange Theropods living at such high latitudes.

To read more about the 2012 fossil discovery: Potential Therizinosaur Track Discovered in Alaska

The discovery of a single fossil leaf, resembling that of a waterlily from the same site as the Therizinosaur and Hadrosaur trackways suggest the prints were made by dinosaurs as they crossed a shallow body of water away from the main river channels.  During the Late Cretaceous this part of North America was a vast wetland habitat.

A Photograph and Line Drawing of the Waterlily Fossil

Photograph (a) and line drawing (b) of nymphaceous leaf found in study area. This plant is indicative of standing water.

A fossil of a waterlily leaf found in Upper Cretaceous rocks of Alaska.  Photograph (a) and line drawing (b) of nymphaceous leaf found in study area.  This plant is indicative of a body of standing water.

Picture Credit: Scientific Reports

A More Detailed and Thorough Mapping of the Area

A field team returned to this location in 2013 and 2014 an mapped a series of dinosaur tracks, unearthing dozens more four-toed tracks that were identified as Therizinosaur prints.  The researchers were surprised to discover that the Therizinosaur tracks seem to co-occur with lots of tracks indicating herds of Hadrosaurs.

Commenting on the significance of these trace fossils, Dr Fiorillo stated:

“Hadrosaurs are very common and found all over Denali National Park.  Previously, they had not been found alongside Therizinosaurs in Denali.  In Mongolia, where Therizinosaurs are best known, though no footprints have been found in association, skeletons of Hadrosaurs and Therizinosaurs have been found to co-occur from a single rock unit so this was a highly unusual find in Alaska and it prompted my interest.”

A Photograph and Accompanying Diagram Showing Some of the Associated Trace Fossils

The co-occurrence of Therizinosaur and Hadrosaur tracks (Alaska).

A photograph of a large block within the study area showing the co-occurrence of Hadrosaur and Therizinosaur tracks.

Picture Credit: Scientific Reports

The picture above (a) shows a large block of stone representing a single bedding plane with two distinctive trackways highlighted (note the geology hammer, closest to the uppermost yellow circle that provides scale).  Diagram (b) illustrates the two types of trackway found, yellow prints and circles indicate Therizinosaur, whilst blue prints and circles indicate trace fossils made by Hadrosaurs.

The scientists deduced that from the range of sizes of the Hadrosaur tracks (pes prints), these trace fossils represented groups of duck-billed dinosaurs of different ages, with younger animals associating with larger, fully-grown adults.

A Highway Linking North America to Alaska – A Dinosaur Driveway

The scientists state that this co-occurrence of Therizinosaurs and hadrosaurids at this single locality within the lower Cantwell Formation has not been documented elsewhere in North America.  This dinosaur co-occurrence is more characteristic of dinosaur biota associated with contemporaneous rocks found in central Asia.  The team speculate that the Alaska of the Late Cretaceous represented a gateway for faunal exchange between the two continental landmasses.  The existence of a Cretaceous Beringian land bridge prompted this mixing of faunas, which was encouraged as similar habitats were present within continental North America and Asia.

Co-author of the scientific paper, Dr Yoshitsugu Kobayashi (Hokkaido University Museum, Japan), reaffirmed the team’s conclusion stating:

“This study helps support the idea that Alaska was the gateway for dinosaurs as they migrated between Asia and North America.”

A Fondness for Marshland?

A report from Asia has commented on the presence of both Therizinosaurs and hadrosaurids at the same location.  Fossils of both these types of dinosaur being found in the same strata, in a sequence of sediments that indicate the palaeoenvironment was very wet at the time, relative to the sequence of rocks deposited above and below the fossil layer.  The authors of this newly published study, suggest that Therizinosaurs and Hadrosaurs liked to live in wetter locations, such as marshland.

Did Therizinosaurs and Hadrosaurs Co-exist?

It is possible the tracks were made at different times and the these two different types of herbivorous dinosaur did not interact.  However, given the similarity of track preservation, the research team conclude that it is likely that these two taxa occupied the same environment at the same time, but why would two dinosaurs want to hang out together?

There are probably a number of reasons for this co-existence with one group of dinosaurs at least tolerating the presence of another megaherbivore, two possibilities are speculated upon within the scientific paper and summarised below:

  1. Not competing with each other for food – the teeth and jaws of hadrosaurids and Therizinosaurs are very different.  The two herbivores probably fed on different types of plant food and therefore they were not in direct competition with each other for food.
  2. Mutual protection/spotting predators – studies have suggested that Therizinosaurs had excellent hearing and a well-developed sense of smell, their long necks gave them an excellent field of view.  Although, an excellent sense of smell has been proposed for at least some duck-billed dinosaurs (Lambeosaurinae), re-evaluation of the nasal cavities of some Hadrosaurs has suggest that their sense of smell was not that remarkable.  It is tempting to consider the differences in sensory adaptations and capabilities in these taxa that might have served a role as a mutually beneficial predatory avoidance mechanism for the more inclusive herd.  Zebras and ostriches are often found feeding together, the sharp, colour vision of the ostrich compliments the zebra’s better developed sense of smell, helping to detect the approach of predators, thus benefiting all the grazing animals.

Examples of Mutual Association (Extinct and Extant)

Mutual association in herbivores.

Zebras and ostriches benefit from the presence of each other when it comes to sensing predators.  Perhaps, duck-billed dinosaurs and Therizinosaurs had a similar mutually beneficial relationship.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Although the scientists speculate on the reasons why these plant-eaters might have associated, they suggest it is more likely that Therizinosaurs and Hadrosaurs gathered together simply because they preferred the same habitat.

7 08, 2018

In Praise of the CollectA Deluxe 1:20 Scale Dunkleosteus

By | August 7th, 2018|Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur Products, Main Page, Photos of Everything Dinosaur Products, Product Reviews|0 Comments

Praising the CollectA Deluxe 1:20 Scale Dunkleosteus Model

CollectA have stated that they intend to introduce more figures and replicas that represent animals from the Palaeozoic into their model range.  True to their word, 2018 has seen the introduction of a Dimetrodon along with an Estemmenosuchus, models of animals that lived during the Permian.  In addition, CollectA have added a 1:20 scale Dunkleosteus to their Deluxe range.

The Dunkleosteus figure has attracted a lot of praise from model collectors and from curators of vertebrate fossil collections around the world.

The CollectA Dunkleosteus Model Compared to a Museum Specimen

The CollectA 1:20 scale Dunkleosteus compared to a museum specimen.

A comparison between the new for 2018 CollectA 1;20 scale replica of Dunkleosteus and a museum specimen.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture (above), shows a close-up view of the anterior portion of the new for 2018 CollectA Dunkleosteus model (left).  The use of gloss on the figure gives this model an attractive wet-look, very appropriate for a Late Devonian marine predator.  To the right, is a photograph of a Dunkleosteus exhibit on display at the Senckenberg Naturmuseum Frankfurt in Germany.  The production team at CollectA have taken great care to depict the famous jaws and the bony head shield of this prehistoric fish accurately.

Dunkleosteus is a member of the Placodermi (plated skins), a Class of armoured fish, that was extremely varied, geographically widespread and specious.

Huge Skull Plates and Shears for Jaws

Although Dunkleosteus (D. terrelli), is regarded as an iconic animal in the fossil record, it is only known from its massive skull plates and shear-like jaws, although recently, some details were published on the discovery of a fragmentary piece of fossilised cartilage associated with supporting the tail (ceratotrichia).  The rest of the animal, its backbone, soft tissues, the shape of its fins and tail are not known.  In order to produce a 1:20 scale model, the designer at CollectA has had to make an educated guess about the body plan of Dunkleosteus.

Designer Anthony Beeson got inspiration from other Devonian Placoderms as well as using living fish when it came to devising the shape of the CollectA model.

The CollectA Deluxe Dunkleosteus Figure

CollectA Dunkleosteus.

CollectA 1:20 scale Deluxe Dunkleosteus model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The bony plates and jaws that have been preserved give scientists an impression of what the front of this fish looked like, but the remainder, more than two thirds of the entire animal is simply not known to science.  The CollectA model has been given a short, but broad dorsal fin.  Other better known and much smaller Placoderms had similarly shaped dorsal fins.  These fishes also possessed paired pelvic and pectoral fins, so the CollectA model has been provided with these as well.

The CollectA figure has been given a heterocercal tail.  Heterocercal tails are not symmetrical.  The vertebrae extend into the top lobe of the tail and this makes it longer than the lower or ventral lobe.  Heterocercal tails are known in members of the Placodermi and these types of tails are also found in many species of shark.  The CollectA Dunkleosteus tail has some nicks in both the top and ventral lobe, typical wear and tear as expected in the fins of an apex predator and from a fish that may have been subject to attack from members of its own species (intraspecific combat).

A View of the Heterocercal Tail of the CollectA Dunkleosteus Model

The tail of the CollectA Dunkleosteus.

The CollectA Dunkleosteus has been given a heterocercal tail.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Head Shield Covered in Skin

The huge bony plates that covered the anterior portion, of what many scientists have described as the world’s first vertebrate super-predator, are frequently described as armour.  The head was actually covered by a tough skin, as much as eight centimetres thick in some areas.  The headshield very probably did provide protection, but they also served as anchor points for the huge muscles needed to power the jaws of this prehistoric fish.

Recent research undertaken by the Cleveland Museum of Natural History (Ohio), that houses an extensive collection of Placoderm fossils, indicates that Dunkleosteus had a very powerful bite, at least as powerful as that of top aquatic predators today such as alligators and sharks.

Commenting on the shape of the figure, including the raised area immediately behind the jaws, designer Anthony Beeson stated:

“The hump (which isn’t supposed to be anything of the sort), is simply the result of having the bony skull embedded in the body of the Dunkleosteus, rather than to just have it resting on the surface of the fish like a suit of armour as other firms have done.  If there is a resulting hump that is purely my take on how it may have appeared.  As the skull is the only thing preserved in the fossil record the rest of the animal is pure speculation as any artist or modeller has to do.  No one for instance is certain on how the tail may have looked.  One has to look at contemporary and modern species and also think what will make the model attractive both visually and touch-wise.  The skin ornamentations are not scutes, but I based them on the skin of the Devonian fossil fish Gemuendina and other skin decoration on those of large modern fishes such as the Wolf Fish.”

To view the CollectA Dunkleosteus and the other figures in the CollectA Deluxe model range: CollectA Deluxe Prehistoric Life Models

6 08, 2018

What Did the Long-necked Plesiosaurs Use Their Necks For?

By | August 6th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Nichollssaura borealis – Shaking its Neck from Side to Side

The long-necked Plesiosaurs (Plesiosauroidea), are characterised (unsurprisingly), by their long necks, which in the case of the elasmosaurids were taken to extremes with some Late Cretaceous species having necks around seven metres in length, comprising 76 cervical vertebrae, but how did these marine reptiles use their necks?  What degree of movement did these long necks have?  These are questions that have been debated by palaeontologists for nearly two hundred years.

New research, published this week by the Royal Society, sheds light on the flexibility and neck movement in one Plesiosaur, the Early Cretaceous leptocleidid Nichollssaura borealis.

The Fossilised Skeleton of Nichollssaura borealis (TMP 1994.122.0001)

Nichollssaura borealis type specimen.

Superbly preserved Plesiosaurus fossil – the type specimen of Nichollssaura borealis in dorsal view.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Royal Tyrrell Museum (Drumheller))

Defining the Plesiosauria Clade

The Plesiosauria clade was very successful, originating in the Triassic and persisting until the very end of the Cretaceous.  This clade is split into three distinct groups, although palaeontologists debate the phylogeny between the Plesiosauria clade members.

  1. The Plesiosauroidea – the long-necked marine reptiles, epitomised by short tails, broad bodies, four flippers, a small head and an elongated neck.
  2. The Pliosauridae – the short-necked Plesiosaurs, with large heads, broad bodies, four flippers and much shorter necks than the Plesiosauroidea.
  3. The Rhomaleosauridae – a sort of half-way house between the other two, typically possessing longer necks and smaller heads relative to the Pliosauridae, but have shorter necks and larger heads when compared to members of the Plesiosauridae.  Most known rhomaleosaurids are confined to the Early to Middle Jurassic of Europe, with most specimens assigned to this group having been found in England.

The Three Groups Within the Plesiosauria

The Plesiosauroidea illustrated

The three groups that make up the Plesiosauroidea.  The long-necked Plesiosauroidea, the short-necked Pliosauridae and the Rhomaleosauridae.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Studying One Member of the Plesiosauroidea – Nichollssaura borealis

The researchers from the Royal Tyrrell Museum and the University of Calgary, focused their study upon one specimen, a member of the Plesiosauroidea called Nichollssaura borealis.  This specimen was chosen as it represents a very nearly complete individual and the fossil is not distorted or crushed to any degree which might have comprised any research into neck flexibility.  There were two further, more practical reasons why N. borealis was selected.  Firstly, the specimen is housed at the Royal Tyrrell Museum and since one of the researchers involved in the study was Donald Henderson, a curator at the museum, accessing the specimen was not a problem.  In addition, with a total length of 2.6 metres Nichollssaura could squeeze into the medical CT scanner that was being used to create accurate three-dimensional images of the bones.

Once the specimen had been CT scanned, the subsequent three-dimensional models that were produced could be examined so as to conclude the range of movement afforded by the 24 bones in the neck of this Plesiosaur (24 cervical vertebrae).

The Research Team Tested the Range of Neck Movement Using Three-Dimensional Models

The range of neck movement in Examining the range of motion of Nichollssaura borealis.

Examining the range of motion of Nichollssaura.

Picture Credit: Royal Society Open Science

Sideways Movement of the Neck

When the three dimensional models of the Nichollssaura borealis neck were examined the scientists discovered that the neck of this Plesiosaur was indeed very mobile, but their results suggest a preference for lateral (sideways) movements of the neck in this species.  This supports the idea that these marine reptiles fed in or along the seafloor, using their small heads and long necks to probe into the sediment to find invertebrates and fish.  Unfortunately, no gut contents indicating potential prey have been preserved in association with the single fossil specimen of Nichollssaura, however, other researchers have found prey gut contents in other plesiosaurids that supports the idea that these animals fed by disturbing and catching animals that live on the sea floor (epifaunal).

To test the validity of the three-dimensional computer models, the scientists studied the range of neck movement in a extant species of monitor lizard, Dumeril’s monitor, a species from south-east Asia (Varanus dumerilii).  This species was chosen as it has a relatively long neck for a monitor lizard and a preserved specimen was available for study.

The researchers conclude that if this species of plesiosaurid (N. borealis) had a neck that was adapted to rapid sideways movements then this probably evolved in relation to feeding method and prey capture.  Different types of Plesiosauroidea with their different neck lengths very likely had different ecological roles within the ecosystem.  This study also demonstrates that three-dimensional modelling is an effective tool for assessing function morphology for structures where no good, living analogue for comparison exists.

5 08, 2018

Dorset Dinosaur Tracks Discovered

By | August 5th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Sauropod Trackways Discovered in Dorset

Scientists have been measuring and mapping a set of dinosaur tracks found in a quarry in Dorset.  The saucer-shaped tracks were made by a herd of long-necked Sauropod dinosaurs that crossed a stretch of a tidal lagoon back in the Early Cretaceous.  The quarry is located close to the village of Worth Matravers, around three-and-a half-miles east of the coastal town of Swanage, on the Isle of Purbeck.

A View (Dorsal) of a Dinosaur Footprint (Sauropoda)

Sauropod fossil footprint (Dorset).

Dorsal view of one of the dinosaur footprints (Sauropoda).

Picture Credit: Bournemouth University

Giant Dinosaur Footprints

The group of large dinosaurs were walking slowly in a herd, leaving a series of parallel trackways.  They have been described as “giant saucer-shaped depressions just a few millimetres deep”, according to geologist Matthew Bennett from Bournemouth University who has been called in to study and map the fossilised tracks.

The quarry is the property of Lewis Quarries, one of a number in the area that provide valuable limestone blocks for the construction industry.

An Aerial View of the Dinosaur Tracks

Dorset Dinosaur Footprint Quarry Site (Sauropoda).

An aerial view of the Dorset dinosaur footprint site.

Picture Credit: Bournemouth University

The footprints were made between 139 and 145 million years ago (Early Cretaceous), the tracks were infilled by lime rich muds, creating trace fossils.

David Moodie, a spokesperson for Lewis Quarries explained:

“It became apparent that we had come across something of historical interest, so working closely with the National Trust and Professor Matthew Bennett of Bournemouth University, we were able to move forward in the best way without stopping progress in the quarry itself.”

National Trust Lead Ranger Jonathan Kershaw added:

“The group of dinosaurs that made these tracks may be the same ones whose footprints can still be seen in situ just nearby at Keates Quarry just off the Priest’s Way bridleway.  It’s exciting to think that giant Sauropods once roamed where today there are dry stone walls, skylarks and nesting seabirds.”

An Illustration of the Sauropods Crossing the Shallow Lagoon

Sauropod illustration.

Sauropod illustration – Sauropods crossing a shallow lagoon.

Picture Credit: Bournemouth University

In 2015, Everything Dinosaur reported on the discovery of a series of Sauropod footprints and tracks on the Isle of Skye.  These tracks were made in similar circumstances as the Purbeck limestone prints, a group of Sauropods crossed a shallow lagoon, however, the Isle of Skye prints are around thirty million years older and date from the Middle Jurassic.

To read more about the Sauropod prints from the Isle of Skye: Isle of Skye Sauropods and their Watery World

DigTrace Maps the Fossil Footprints

Using a process of photogrammetry and special freeware developed at Bournemouth University called DigTrace, Professor Bennett carefully documented the tracks in three dimensions.  The DigTrace technology was developed with a government grant and help from the Home Office and National Crime Agency.  Its principle aim is to forensically examine footprints and other tracks related to crime scenes, however, it is ideal for plotting the movements of extinct dinosaurs too.

Professor Bennett commented:

“This technology is now being used by the police to help track criminals via their footprints, but we can also use it to record and preserve rare footprints like these.  The beauty of capturing the tracks in 3D is that they can be analysed digitally and even printed in the future, no need to hold up the quarrying for long.”

Drawing Up a Conservation Plan for the Dinosaur Tracks

With the co-operation of Lewis Quarries and in collaboration with the National Trust and researchers at Bournemouth University, a conservation plan is being prepared.  It is hoped that the tracks will be lifted from their setting and put on public display once all the appropriate scientific steps (pardon the pun), have been taken.

The trackway surface is also exposed in nearby Keates Quarry where the National Trust maintains a small conservation area of similar tracks.

Professor Bennett concluded:

“What is remarkable, is that the tracks at both adjacent quarries were probably made by the same animals moving along the coast.  The dip of the beds, folded when the European Alps were pushed up, means that the tracks are closer to the ground in Keates Quarry and can be preserved but are much deeper at Lewis Quarries where in situ preservation is not possible.”

The Dig Site at the Dorset Quarry

The Dorset Sauropod dinosaur trackway.

The Sauropod trackway site (Purbeck limestone).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of the media centre at Bournemouth University for the compilation of this article.

4 08, 2018

CollectA Dimorphodon Model Wins Award

By | August 4th, 2018|Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur Products, Main Page, Photos of Everything Dinosaur Products|0 Comments

Award Winning CollectA Deluxe Dimorphodon

The CollectA Supreme Deluxe Dimorphodon model has been voted by readers of Prehistoric Times magazine the best non-dinosaur prehistoric animal toy of 2017.  This prestigious award recognises the efforts of CollectA to bring larger models to the market, the Dimorphodon measures nearly forty centimetres in length and as such, provides an accurate scale model of one of the first Pterosaurs to be scientifically described.

The Award Winning CollectA Supreme Deluxe Dimorphodon Figure

CollectA Dimorphodon pterosaur model.

The CollectA Dimorphodon model with a movable lower jaw.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The CollectA Dimorphodon and other models in the Deluxe range can be found on Everything Dinosaur’s website here: CollectA Deluxe Prehistoric Life Models

Early Jurassic Flying Reptile

Dimorphodon was the first Pterosaur fossil from the British Isles to be scientifically described, the first specimen was discovered by the world-famous, amateur fossil hunter Mary Anning.  The fossil, which was missing the skull, was found on the Dorset coast in 1828.  Prior to the scientific description of Dimorphodon, only two species of Pterosaur had been studied, both of which came from the Solnhofen limestone deposits of southern Germany.  When first described, this flying reptile was named Pterodactylus macronyx.  Pterodactylus was the first flying reptile genus to be erected.  It was later discovered that the Dorset specimens had very different shaped heads compared to those fossils associated with the Pterodactylus genus, a new genus name for the fossil was proposed by the English anatomist Richard Owen (1858).

A Scale Drawing of D. macronyx

Dimorphodon scale drawing.

A scale drawing of Dimorphodon macronyx.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Long Claws on the Forelimbs

The species name “macronyx” refers to the large claws on the forelimbs.  It has been suggested that this flying reptile favoured inland habitats and it lived in woodland, the long claws would have helped it to scramble up trees.   The long stiff tail may have been involved in flight stability.  The wingspan of D. macronyx was approximately 1.4 metres, about the same size as the wings of today’s Raven (Corvus corax).

The CollectA Supreme Deluxe Dimorphodon Model

CollectA catalogue 2017.

The CollectA 2017 catalogue featured the Dimorphodon model on the front cover.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“We are so pleased for all the team at CollectA.  It is great to hear that their Deluxe Dimorphodon figure has been awarded this accolade.  We look forward to hearing news about what plans the company has for prehistoric animal figures in the future.”

3 08, 2018

Modern Shark Diversity Strongly Influenced by Cretaceous Extinction Event

By | August 3rd, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Study Suggests Shift from Lamniform to Carcharhiniform Dominated Shark Populations

The Cretaceous mass extinction event saw the demise of the non-avian dinosaurs on land, but in the seas there was a massive faunal turnover too.  For example, many of the marine reptiles became extinct.  However, sharks seem to have come through the K-Pg extinction event largely unscathed, but a new study, published in the journal “Current Biology” suggests a subtle change in the diversity of shark species, a change that is reflected in extant shark species today.

The researchers, which include scientists from Uppsala University (Sweden) and the University of New England (Australia), examined hundreds of fossilised shark teeth across the Cretaceous through to the Palaeogene and their study concludes that modern shark biodiversity was triggered by the mass extinction event that took place approximately 66 million years ago.

A Late Cretaceous (Maastrichtian) Marine Faunal Assemblage

A Maastrichtian marine faunal assemblage.

A Late Cretaceous sea scene.

Picture Credit: Julius Csotonyi

Hell’s Aquarium

The Upper Cretaceous marine deposits of Kansas have provided palaeontologists with an insight into the number of large predators that inhabited the sea during the last few million years of the Mesozoic.  There were numerous types of Mosasaur, such as Hainosaurus which was as long as Tyrannosaurus rex.  In addition, you had enormous marine turtles as well as the elasmosaurids, giant Plesiosaurs that measured up to fifteen metres in length.  Then you have the fish, brutes like Xiphactinus (zie-fak-tin-us) with a mouth lined with needle-sharp teeth and the sharks, lots of species, some of which were apex predators, such as Squalicorax and Cretoxyrhina.

Hell’s Aquarium – Many Different Types of Predator in Late Cretaceous Seas

Western Interior Seaway.

Typical Western Interior Seaway marine life.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Carcharhiniformes and Lamniformes – Two Different Types of Shark

Today, there are two major groups of predatory sharks.  Firstly, there are the Carcharhiniformes, otherwise called “ground sharks”, typically represented by species such as the dangerous bull and tiger sharks, as well as the enigmatic hammerhead shark and closer to home, the lesser spotted dogfish (Scyliorhinus canicula) which is resident in British waters.  There are around 270 extant species within this clade.

Secondly, there are the  Lamniformes, or the “mackerel sharks” which has around fifteen species and includes the great white, mako and another resident of British waters, the Porbeagle shark (Lamna nasus).  Back in the Cretaceous, things were very different, the Lamniform sharks, in particular, a diverse group of great-white-like sharks, members of the family Anacoracidae, were much more numerous.  The fearsome Squalicorax was an anacoracid and therefore along with Cretoxyrhina, members of the Lamniformes clade.

Lead author of the study, PhD student at Uppsala University, Mohamad Bazzi stated:

“Our study found that the shift from Lamniform to Carcharhiniform-dominated assemblages may well have been the result of the end-Cretaceous mass extinction.  Unlike other vertebrates, the cartilaginous skeletons of sharks do not easily fossilise and so our knowledge of these fishes is largely limited to the thousands of isolated teeth they shed throughout their lives.  Fortunately, shark teeth can tell us a lot about their biology, including information about diet, which can shed light on the mechanisms behind their extinction and survival.”

Fossil Shark Teeth

fossilised shark teeth.

A successful fossil hunt.  Shark teeth study reveals shift from Lamniform to Carcharhiniform dominated shark populations.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Cutting-edge Analytical Techniques

The researchers used state-of-the-art analytical techniques to explore the variation of tooth shape in Carcharhiniformes and Lamniformes and measured diversity by calculating the range of morphological variation, also called disparity.

Dr Nicolás Campione, (University of New England), a co-author of the study added:

“Going into this study, we knew that sharks underwent important losses in species richness across the extinction.  But to our surprise, we found virtually no change in disparity across this major transition.  This suggests to us that species richness and disparity may have been decoupled across this interval.”

A More Complex Picture

Despite this seemingly stable pattern, the study found that extinction and survival patterns were substantially more complex.  Morphologically, there were differential responses to extinction between Lamniform and Carcharhiniform sharks, with evidence for a selective extinction of Lamniformes and a subsequent proliferation of Carcharhiniformes in the immediate aftermath of the extinction.

Student Bazzi explained:

“Carcharhiniforms are the most common shark group today and it would seem that the initial steps towards this dominance started approximately 66 million years ago.”

Although the reasons for the shift in shark species are not that clear, the researchers hypothesise that the extinction of various types of prey such as the marine reptiles and ammonites may have played a significant role.  In addition, it is likely that the loss of apex predators (such as Lamniformes and marine reptiles) benefited secondary predator sharks, a role fulfilled by many Carcharhiniforms.

Dr. Campione concluded:

“By studying their teeth, we are able to get a glimpse at the lives of sharks and by understanding the mechanisms that have shaped their evolution in the past, perhaps we can provide some insights into how to mitigate further losses in current ecosystems.”

2 08, 2018

Do It Yourself Taphonomy

By | August 2nd, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Scientists Learn to Make Fossils in 24-hours

Fossils help us to learn about life in the past and palaeontologists study fossils.  Fossils can form in a variety of conditions, but scientists have discovered a new way to mimic key fossilisation processes in the laboratory.  What might have taken tens of thousands, or even millions of years can be replicated in around twenty-four hours.  Taphonomy is the branch of palaeontology that deals with the fossilisation process.  Taphonomy involves studying how organisms become fossilised.  Scientists have been  able to build up a better picture about how the fossilisation process works.  Perhaps, more importantly, this new research paints a picture about what kinds of materials can become fossils, from feathers and scales to tiny molecules like proteins and which materials can’t.

Writing in the journal of the Palaeontological Association “Palaeontology”, the researchers, which include scientists from the Field Museum of Chicago and Bristol University, found a way to improve simulations of the fossilisation process with modern-day animal and plant specimens.

The Scientists Mimicked the Fossilisation Process

A "baked" lizard foot fossil produced in a laboratory.

A laboratory made fossil of a lizard’s foot.

Picture Credit: The Field Museum (Chicago)

Lead author, Evan Saitta, a PhD student at the Field Museum, explained:

“Palaeontologists study fossils.  We interpret them to learn about the evolution and biology of extinct animals,  but the fossil record yields data that can be hard to interpret.  For us to answer our questions, we need to understand how fossils form.  The approach we use to simulate fossilisation saves us from having to run a seventy-million-year-long experiment.”

Working Backwards

Palaeontologists can learn about the fossilisation process by finding fossils and then chemically analysing them.  However, these researchers worked backwards, finding a way to simulate the fossilisation process and then studying the materials that survived the heat and pressure used to create the fossil in the first place.

Bird feathers, lizard limbs and leaves were put into a hydraulic press to pack them into clay tablets, just a few millimetres in diameter.  These tablets were baked in a sealed metal tube inside a laboratory oven heated to over 400 degrees Fahrenheit and at 3,500 psi pressure.  After a day, the tablets were examined and they produced specimens that are reminiscent of fossils that take millennia to make.

Student, Evan Saitta stated:

“We kept arguing over who would get to split open the tablets to reveal the specimens.  They looked like real fossils, there were dark films of skin and scales, the bones became browned.  Even by eye, they looked right.”

At the Start of the Fossilisation Process

Death of the dinosaurs.

By learning more about the fossilisation process, scientists can learn more about fossils.

Picture Credit: Mark Garlick/Science Photo Library

Easy Bake Fossils

The laboratory-made “fossils” were examined under a scanning electron microscope.  The researchers could identify exposed melanosomes, the structures that contain the biomolecule melanin that gives feathers and skin their colour.  Less stable materials such as proteins and fatty tissues did not show up in the laboratory specimens, these materials are usually absent from fossils found in the field too.

Evan Saitta added:

“Our experimental method is like a cheat sheet.  If we use this to find out what kinds of biomolecules can withstand the pressure and heat of fossilisation, then we know what to look for in real fossils.”

This is not the first attempt to mimic the fossilisation process under artificial conditions, but as one of the authors of the scientific paper explained “I think we are the first ones to get it pretty darn close”.

Previous experimental attempts to cook up fossils in sealed tubes didn’t work because the unstable biomolecules that naturally break down, leak out, and disappear during fossilisation, but in these experiments, these materials stayed trapped.  With this new method, the breakdown products remain entombed within the artificial sediment.

The Implications for the Study of Dinosaurs

The researchers are excited by the possibilities that their new experimental method unlocks.  Exceptional dinosaur fossils don’t just contain hard materials like bones and teeth, soft tissues can be preserved too.  These often carbonaceous films provide important data, so it is important to understand how these materials are preserved.

Learning How to Simulate Fossil Production Can Improve Our Understanding of Taphonomy

Melanosome fossils study.

This new study can help with interpreting soft tissue preservation in feathered dinosaur fossils.

Picture Credit: Li et al

Everything Dinosaur recognises the contribution of a press release from the Field Museum (Chicago) in the compilation of this article.

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