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/Palaeontological articles

Articles, features and information which have slightly more scientific content with an emphasis on palaeontology, such as updates on academic papers, published papers etc.

16 01, 2022

Dating the Mammal Tree of Life

By | January 16th, 2022|Animal News Stories, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Recently published research has answered an important question regarding the timing of the evolutionary origins of modern types of placental mammals such as the Carnivora, the rodents and the primates. Once the non-avian dinosaurs vanished some 66 million years ago, placental mammals rapidly evolved and diversified to fill many of the niches in ecosystems vacated by the extinct members of the Dinosauria.

The research team who included scientists from Queen Mary University of London, Cambridge University, University College London, the University of Bristol and Imperial College London used a new and fast Bayesian statistical approach to plot the timeline of mammal evolution. The data generated confirms the hypothesis that although the first placental mammals evolved in the Mesozoic, it was only after the KPg extinction event that marked the end of this Era and the beginning of the Cenozoic, some 66 million years ago, that the ancestors of today’s modern placental mammal groups evolved.

Mammal tree of life.
The research team used a new and rapid Bayesian statistical approach to plot the timeline of mammal evolution. The data generated confirms the hypothesis that although the first placental mammals evolved in the Mesozoic, it was only after the KPg extinction event that the ancestors of today’s modern placental mammal groups evolved. Picture credit: Mario dos Reis Barros and Sandra Alvarez-Carretero.

Analysing the Mammalian Genomic Dataset

Writing in the academic journal “Nature”, the scientists used a novel Bayesian statistical method to analyse an enormous mammal genomic dataset, in a bid to plot more precisely the timeline of the evolution of modern mammals. They conclude that the ancestors of these modern groups postdate the KPg extinction event.

The Bayesian analysis had to be robust, not only to handle the genetic data from almost 5,000 mammal species and 72 complete genomes but also to accommodate and account for uncertainties within the huge amount of data being processed.

Tracing the Mammal Family Tree
Tracing the mammalian family tree. The Bayesian analysis plotted the major evolutionary advances of the Mammalia. It is known that the first placental mammals evolved in the Mesozoic, exactly when is hugely controversial. This study aimed to clarify the evolutionary origins of modern placentals. Picture credit: Luo Laboratory.

Tackling a Contentious Topic in Evolutionary Biology

Commentating on the significance of this study, one of the co-authors of the paper, Professor Philip Donoghue (Bristol University) stated:

“The timeline of mammal evolution is perhaps one of the most contentious topics in evolutionary biology. Early studies provided origination estimates for modern groups deep in the Cretaceous, in the dinosaur era. The past two decades had seen studies moving back and forth between post- and pre-KPg diversification scenarios. Our precise timeline settles the issue.”

The statistical method developed for this study can be used to help resolve other controversial areas of research that require the detailed analysis of huge amounts of data. The scientists are confident that this technique can be applied to even grander projects such as the Earth BioGenome project which aims to plot a reliable evolutionary timescale for the development of life on Earth.

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

The scientific paper: “A Species-Level Timeline of Mammal Evolution Integrating Phylogenomic Data” by Sandra Álvarez-Carretero, Asif U. Tamuri, Matteo Battini, Fabrícia F. Nascimento, Emily Carlisle, Robert J. Asher, Ziheng Yang, Philip C. J. Donoghue and Mario dos Reis published in the journal Nature.

10 01, 2022

The Rutland Ichthyosaur

By | January 10th, 2022|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

The discovery of the remarkable Rutland ichthyosaur has featured in many news channels and media outlets. It is a stunning fossil specimen, demonstrating that even in a country like Britain, arguably the birthplace of geology and the science of palaeontology, a part of the world that has been extensively mapped, documented and studied, that there are still amazing fossils to be found.

This story highlights the many largely unsung individuals that bring to the attention of scientists, strange phenomena that they spot, often in the unlikeliest of places. In this case it was Joe Davis (Conservation Team Leader for Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust at the Rutland reservoir), who along with his colleague Paul Trevor spotted strange circular objects jutting out of the exposed Jurassic clay as they routinely inspected part of a drained lagoon back in February 2021.

These objects turned out to be bones from the spinal column, fortunately, Joe a career conservationist, was familiar with the skeletons of whales and dolphins and he had an inkling that these objects were organic in origin. The local council was called and asked whether they had a “dinosaur department” that could investigate further. Thus, was set in motion a series of events that led to award-winning ichthyosaur specialist Dr Dean Lomax setting up an exploratory dig at the site, the results of which led to a full-scale excavation over the summer.

Dr Dean Lomax dwarfed by the giant ichthyosaur skeleton.
Dr Dean Lomax provides the scale for an aerial shot of the Rutland ichthyosaur specimen. Picture credit: Anglian Water/Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust/Matthew Power Photography.

An Extraordinary Marine Reptile Fossil

The ichthyosaur fossil is the largest and most complete ichthyosaur to have been found in the UK. It measures around 10.5 metres in length. As has been repeatedly stated in the plethora of media releases concerning this Jurassic monster, ichthyosaurs are not dinosaurs. Ichthyosaurs are aquatic reptiles that evolved from terrestrial ancestors. Their evolutionary origins remain obscure, but their fossil record covers most of the Mesozoic and the Rutland ichthyosaur happens to be the most complete skeleton of a large prehistoric reptile ever found in the UK.

This spectacular fossil discovery stands out well compared to the scrappy and fragmentary remains of Britain’s dinosaurs.

Some of the team members responsible for the Rutland Sea Dragon excavation
Some of the Rutland “Sea Dragon” excavation team. Left to right – Dr Emma Nicholls (Senior Curator of Natural Sciences at the Horniman Museum and Gardens, London), David Savory (Peterborough Geological and Palaeontological Group), Nigel Larkin (palaeontological conservator), Dr Dean Lomax (palaeontologist), Mick Beeson (Peterborough Geological and Palaeontological Group), Dr Mark Evans (palaeontologist at the University of Leicester), Emily Swaby (PhD student the Open University), and Darren Withers (Peterborough Museum). Picture credit: Anglian Water.

A “Rosetta Stone” for the Temnodontosaurus Genus

The fossil specimen has been tentatively assigned to the species Temnodontosaurus trigonodon. If this proves to be the case, the identification will be confirmed when the fossils are fully cleaned and prepared, then this is the first T. trigonodon known from the British Isles.

The species Temnodontosaurus trigonodon was erected in 1843. Its fossils have been found in Germany and France, if the Rutland specimen proves to be this species it will extend the palaeogeographical range of T. trigonodon. In addition, the almost complete, articulated Rutland ichthyosaur will provide an extremely useful comparator when assessing Temnodontosaurus fossils. It will help to identify other large, but much less complete, ichthyosaur specimens housed in museums, acting as a “Rosetta Stone” for the genus.

A life reconstruction of the Rutland Ichthyosaur
The ichthyosaur specimen has been tentatively assigned to the species Temnodontosaurus trigonodon. T. trigonodon was an apex predator and it probably hunted other smaller ichthyosaurs. Picture credit: Bob Nicholls.

A Huge Fossil but It’s Also the Little Details

These fossilised remains are not the first ichthyosaur fossils to have been found at Rutland Water, smaller, fragmentary material representing other species were found during construction of the reservoir. Once excavated and wrapped in plaster jackets the Rutland ichthyosaur was taken to a research facility where the job of preparing and restoring it will take place under the watchful supervision of conservator Nigel Larkin.

The bones and teeth may have been removed but the site can still provide a great deal of data. For example, the clay-rich rocks that contained the specimen represent deposits from the Whitby Mudstone Formation and analysis of microfossils preserved in the sediment have enabled researchers at the University of Birmingham to reliably date the Rutland ichthyosaur to 181.5 to 182 million years ago (Toarcian faunal stage of the Jurassic).

The composition of these microfossils indicates that this large predator lived in a tropical, marine environment with a rich and diverse ecosystem. Temnodontosaurus is thought to have lived far out to sea and away from the coast. It is hoped that further analysis of the matrix surrounding the fossil will provide more details of this animal’s palaeoenvironment.

The Rutland sea dragon excavation
The summer 2021 excavation of the Rutland ichthyosaur. The ventral elements of the skull can be seen in the foreground. This photograph was taken before prior to plaster encasement of the specimen and it being removed from the site. Picture credit: Anglian Water/Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust.

Locked in Time

Palaeontologist Dr Dean Lomax who led the excavation, has recently published a book in collaboration with Bob Nicholls the artist that provided the Temnodontosaurus illustration.

It provides a fascinating analysis of fifty extraordinary fossils and what these discoveries can tell scientists about life in the past.

The book is available from Columbia University Press: Columbia University Press just search for Dean Lomax on this site.

Locked in Time by Dean Lomax and illustrated by Bob Nicholls
Published by Columbia University Press “Locked in Time” examines 50 extraordinary fossils that provide a remarkable glimpse into the lives and behaviours of long extinct animals. Picture credit: The University of Manchester.
7 01, 2022

Research into Fossils Affected by a Significant Colonial Bias

By | January 7th, 2022|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

The study of fossils, the science of documenting the history of life on our planet, is heavily biased by influences such as colonialism, history and global economics. That is the conclusion from new research conducted by palaeontologists from the University of Birmingham in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg (Germany), Rhodes University (South Africa), Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte (Brazil), Cambridge University and IISER Pune, Department of Earth and Climate Science (India).

Excavating dinosaur fossils in Lesotho (circa 1955).
A photograph from The National Archives showing a dinosaur fossil excavation in Lesotho. The research team concluded that a global power imbalance persists in palaeontology, with researchers in high or upper-middle-income countries holding a monopoly over palaeontological knowledge production by contributing to 97% of fossil data. Picture credit: Alwyn Bisschoff/The National Archives (catalogue reference Part of CO 1069/209)

Distorting Estimates of Past Biodiversity

The research team discovered that sampling biases in the fossil record distort estimates of past biodiversity. However, these biases not only reflect the geological and spatial aspects of the fossil record, but also the historical and current collation of fossil data. These findings have significance across the field of palaeontology, but also for the ways in which researchers are able to use our knowledge of ancient fossil records to gain clearer, long-term perspectives on Earth’s biodiversity.

Writing in the journal “Nature Ecology & Evolution”, the researchers investigated the influence and extent of these biases within the Paleobiology Database, a vast, widely-used and publicly-accessible resource which forms the foundation for analytical studies in the field.

They found significant bias in areas such as knowledge production, with researchers in high or upper-middle-income countries contributing to 97 per cent of fossil data. This means that wealthy countries, primarily located in the Global North control the majority of the palaeontological research power.

 Percentage contribution of the top 15 countries to the total fossil data analysed in this study.
Percentage contribution of the top 15 countries to the total fossil data analysed in this study. The colour of each bar represents whether the authors of each country conducted their research domestically (that is, in the same country), in a foreign country, or in a foreign country without collaboration with local palaeontologists. Picture credit: Raja et al.

Lack of Involvement for Local Researchers

The team also found the top countries contributing to palaeontological research, carried out a disproportionate amount of work abroad, more than half of which did not involve any local researchers (researchers based in the country where the fossils are being collected).

There are many famous examples of colonial, political and economic biases across the natural sciences and humanities. During the 19th century and for most of the 20th century, specimens uncovered following exploratory expeditions were shipped back to respective imperial capitals to be housed in museums, where many are still used for scientific research today.

In a press release from Birmingham University the plight of the Parthenon sculptures, sometimes referred to as the Elgin Marbles was provided as an example. The Greek government has repeatedly requested that they be returned since they were taken from Athens in the early 19th century and transported to Britain.

There are also many other examples, such as the fossil excavations undertaken in Egypt by the German palaeontologist Ernst Freiherr Stromer von Reichenbach or the removal of many Cretaceous-aged dinosaur fossils by French field teams from the island of Madagascar.

The huge neural spines associated with Spinosaurus
A picture of Spinosaurus fossils taken from Egypt to Germany.

The researchers postulate that these biases affect the way in which palaeontologists conduct their research and can lead to unethical practices in the most extreme cases.

Co-lead author Dr Emma Dunne (University of Birmingham) stated:

“Although we know there are these irregularities and gaps in our knowledge of the fossil record, the historical, social and economic factors which influence these gaps are not well understood. Many of the research practices that are informed by these biases still persist today and we ought to be taking action to address them.”

Dr Dunne added:

We are familiar, for example, with ‘scientific colonialism, or ‘parachute science’, in which researchers, generally from higher income countries drop in to other countries to conduct research, and then leave without any engagement with local communities and local expertise. But this issue goes further than that – the expertise of local researchers is devalued, and laws are often violated, hindering domestic scientific development and leading to mistrust between researchers.”

The first step towards conducting research that is more equitable and ethical, argue the researchers, is to address the power relations driving the production of scientific research. This means properly involving and acknowledging local expertise.

One project which strives to do this is a research project involving researchers from both European and African universities, based in a remote area of Western Cape in South Africa. Here palaeontologists from University of Witwatersrand and the University of Johannesburg are at the forefront of the research and are working with local education specialists Play Africa to create interactive materials that can be toured around schools in the region.

The scientific paper: “Colonial history and global economics distort our understanding of deep-time biodiversity” by Nussaïbah B. Raja, Emma M. Dunne, Aviwe Matiwane, Tasnuva Ming Khan, Paulina S. Nätscher, Aline M. Ghilardi and Devapriya Chattopadhyay published in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

31 12, 2021

Favourite Blog Articles of 2021 (Part 2)

By | December 31st, 2021|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils, Press Releases|0 Comments

Recently, team members at Everything Dinosaur posted about their favourite blog articles from the first six months of 2021. Today, we conclude our look at the 360 posts or so produced in 2021 by listing our favourite articles that went up from July to December.

To read part one of this series: Favourite Blog Articles of 2021 (Part 1)

July – Lots of New Dinosaur Discoveries

In July, team members announced two dinosaurs described from fossils found in Spain. We wrote about the enigmatic Late Cretaceous hadrosauroid Fylax thyrakolasus “Keeper of the Gates of Hell”, a sister taxon to Tethyshadros (more about Tethyshadros later). We also produced articles on prehistoric crocodiles from Chile, how straight shelled ammonites avoided predators, miniature alvarezsauroids, changes to European Union law that affects parcel deliveries and the first T. rex fossils to be exhibited in England for a hundred years. Other posts highlighted the evidence that some dinosaurs nested in the high Arctic and examined the respiration of Heterodontosaurus.

Our favourite article in July took a more scatological approach. A new genus of Triassic beetle was described after its fossil remains were found in ancestral dinosaur dung: Beetle Described from Fossil Poo.

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

Perfect Paraceratherium Figures

August saw Everything Dinosaur team members going on their only fossil hunt of the year, off to Wales to look for ancient corals. We marked the sad passing of Dr Angela Milner, a highly influential British palaeontologist who along with her colleague Alan Charig described Baryonyx in 1986. Our blog featured articles on two new Lower Cretaceous sauropods from China, revealed the part of space where the dinosaur killing extraterrestrial bolide came from and looked at the skull of the early bird Ichthyornis.

However, our favourite article documented the arrival of the eagerly awaited, super-sized Paraceratherium model from ITOY Studio. ITOY Studio are underrated, but they produce stunning prehistoric animal figures: ITOY Studio Paraceratherium Models Arrive.

The ITOY Studio Paraceratherium.
A view of the eagerly anticipated ITOY Studio Paraceratherium model from ITOY Studio which came into stock in August (2021).

Spinosaurids and a Giant Late Cambrian Armoured Radiodont

In September two new spinosaurids from the Isle of Wight were announced, details of the first rhamphorhynchid pterosaur from Gondwana was published, research into the evolution of snakes demonstrated that they evolved from a handful of species and scientists got under the skin of a Carnotaurus as well as providing information on the earliest ankylosaur known to science and the first from Africa. The first Late Cretaceous carcharodontosaurian from Central Asia was described (Ulughbegsaurus uzbekistanensis) and a paper about yet another new species of abelisaurid was published.

Our favourite post whisked readers back to the Cambrian, to the famous Burgess Shale deposits of British Columbia. One of the biggest animals from the Cambrian was scientifically described. The giant, armoured radiodont Titanokorys gainesi took centre stage: Titanokorys gainesi a Giant Cambrian Radiodont.

Views of the Cambrian radiodont Titanokorys gainesi
Life reconstruction of Titanokorys gainesi (a) dorsal view, (b) ventral view, (c) lateral view and (d) anterior view. Picture credit: Lars Fields/Royal Ontario Museum.

Giant Penguins and a Dinosaur from Greenland

October blog posts included an assessment of organic molecules found in the cells of a Caudipteryx, a re-examination of another feathered Chinese theropod Beipiaosaurus, giant sea scorpions, a new species of horned dinosaur from New Mexico and Pendraig milnerae, a new species of dinosaur from Wales, named in honour of the recently passed Dr Angela Milner. Fossils found by school children on a field trip to a beach in New Zealand turned out to have come from a giant penguin, at 1.4 metres tall, Kairuku waewaeroa was a most impressive bird: A New Giant Penguin from New Zealand.

Giant penguin from New Zealand Kairuku waewaeroa
The Kawhia giant penguin Kairuku waewaeroa from the Oligocene of North Island (New Zealand). Picture credit: Simone Giovanardi.

Customer model reviews and drawings by young palaeoartists featured in November, along with new Isle of Wight iguanodonts, headless pterosaurs, Permian beetles and toothless Brazilian theropods. Everything Dinosaur produced articles and videos on the new for 2022 CollectA models and the Early Cretaceous ornithomimosaur Pelecanimimus came under the spotlight.

Our favourite post featured Issi saaneq, a sauropodomorph that roamed Greenland during the Late Triassic. It is the first non-avian dinosaur to be named from fossils found in Greenland: Issi saaneq “Cold Bones” from Greenland.

Computer generated models of skulls and a life reconstruction of Issi saaneq.
Digital interpretative reconstruction of the skulls NHMD 164741 and NHMD 164758 and living representation of Issi saaneq. (A) Digital interpretative reconstruction of the skull NHMD 164741 in left lateral view (A). Digital interpretative reconstruction of the smaller skull NHMD 164758 in left lateral view (B). Digital interpretative reconstruction of skull NHMD 164741 in dorsal view (C). Living representation of Issi saaneq (D). Scale bar = 50 mm.

December Yet More Dinosaurs and Upscaling Tethyshadros

As we entered the final month of 2021, we reported upon Stegouros elengassen, a new armoured dinosaur from Chile, research surrounding the KPg extinction event that postulated the extraterrestrial impact took place in the Northern Hemisphere late spring/summer and we helped a young dinosaur fan get reunited with a favourite dinosaur soft toy. Yet another dinosaur from the Isle of Wight was announced – Vectiraptor greeni, the largest fossilised remains of the giant millipede Arthropleura were discussed and palaeontologists got very excited about an exquisitely preserved dinosaur embryo inside a fossilised egg.

In December, we returned once again to the Late Cretaceous hadrosauriform Tethyshadros. A description of a second, much larger specimen was published and it refutes the idea that this dinosaur was a pygmy form – that Tethyshadros was an example of insular dwarfism: Sizing Up Tethyshadros.

Tethyshadros Fossils
The new skeleton of Tethyshadros insularis “Bruno” (a) preserving details of its cranial anatomy such as the nearly complete skull (b) exposing its braincase (c) adding important information for the anatomy and systematic of this taxon. Elements in black are reconstructed. Picture credit: Chiarenza et al.

This completes are our run through of the blog posts of 2021. We look forward to writing about new dinosaur discoveries, fossil finds and palaeontology related news stories over the next 12 months.

30 12, 2021

Favourite Blog Articles of 2021 (Part 1)

By | December 30th, 2021|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils, Press Releases|0 Comments

As 2021 draws to a close, it is time to reflect on some of the blog articles that we have produced over the last twelve months or so.  It has certainly been an incredible year for palaeontology with lots of new fossil discoveries although the impact of the global pandemic has continued to cause havoc when it comes to planning field expeditions. Many museums have been closed and research projects suspended or postponed. We have in our own small way tried to create a sense of normality by continuing to produce daily blog posts. Let us take a look at our favourite posts between January and June 2021 in the first of a two-part series.

In January 2021 we reported upon a study of early sauropodomorph brains, the role of plant-eating dinosaurs in seed dispersal, oviraptorid incubation, the world’s oldest cave art on the island of Sulawesi and how Ediacaran fossils were helping scientists to piece together the evolution of the first animals. Our favourite January post concerned the discovery of a three-toed dinosaur footprint discovered near the town of Barry in South Wales. Fossilised footprints are known from Mercia Mudstone Group exposures in the Vale of the Glamorgan, but not many dinosaur tracks are discovered by four-year-olds.

Grallator fossil track (South Wales).
Grallator track spotted by a 4-year-old girl at Bendrick Rock (South Wales). Picture credit: National Museum Wales.

Here is the blog post: Four-Year-Old Finds Dinosaur Footprint.

Mammoths and “Thunderbirds”

February saw team members admiring prehistoric animal drawings sent into us by customers, articles on why horned dinosaurs evolved elaborate frills, our work on information panels for a major exhibition, the breeding habits of Neanderthals and the confirmation of concentrated levels of iridium found at the Chicxulub impact site. Our favourite article was published on the 17th of February, scientists had recovered DNA from mammoth remains that were up to 1.2 million years old. This new data provided a fresh perspective on the evolution of prehistoric elephants.

Our mammoth DNA blog: Million-year-old DNA Sheds Light on Mammoth Evolution.

In March, team members blogged about the mystery surrounding why there were so few medium-sized theropod dinosaurs, provided confirmation of troodontid dinosaurs in Europe, the earliest titanosaur on record, discussed a scientific paper that proposed that cephalopods evolved 30 million years earlier than previously thought and examined the extinction threat to extant amphibians.

Our favourite post was put up on the last day of the month. It focused on a newly published paper that proposed that the giant flightless “Thunderbirds” of Australia were related to gamefowl: Studying the Brains of Australia’s “Thunderbirds”.

Dromornis stirtoni life reconstruction.
A life reconstruction of the giant Australian “Thunderbird” Dromornis stirtoni of the Late Miocene. Picture credit: Peter Trusler.

Yamatosaurus and Moroccan Marine Reptiles

In April we blogged about the origins of the Amazon Rainforest, a new abelisaurid from Argentina, the legs of trilobites, ancient mammals from southern Gondwana and a new species of pterosaur from China. Our favourite post took us to Japan as we wrote about Yamatosaurus izanagii, the second hadrosaur to be named from fossils found in the “land of the rising sun”.

Japan’s second duck-billed dinosaur: Japan’s Second Hadrosaur.

The early summer sunshine of May prompted us to write about crocodile conservation at Miami Zoo, billion-year-old microfossils from Scotland, Mongolian dromaeosaurids and dinosaur bones from the dry and parched Australian Outback. However, it was an article that described a new species of giant mosasaur from the Ouled Abdoun Basin of Morocco that ticked all the boxes for us: Giant Moroccan Mosasaur – Pluridens serpentis.

Jurassic June

“Jurassic June” involved discussions on the PNSO Allosaurus and Torvosaurus models, the necks of Early Jurassic plesiosaurs and exploring the “Jurassic Coast” of Dorset. We also wrote about stegosaurs from the Arctic Circle, the official scientific description of the Australian dinosaur nicknamed “Cooper” (Australotitan cooperensis) and looked at a paper that reinterpreted the famous Burgess Shale of British Columbia.

Australotitan cooperensis life reconstruction
A life reconstruction of the newly named Australotitan cooperensis, the largest known animal to have ever lived in Australia. Picture credit: Queensland Museum

Our favourite post concerned the discovery of a remarkable series of pterosaur tracks in China. The extensive trackway consists of over 100 individual prints and it was given the moniker the “pterosaur dance floor”.

To read about “dancing” pterosaurs: A Pterosaur Dance Floor from China.

Pteraichnus pterosaur tracksite
A photograph of the tracksite with an interpretative line drawing. The tracks have been assigned to the new pterosaur ichnospecies Pteraichnus wuerhoensis. Picture credit Wei Gao.

This concludes our look at blog posts produced in the first half of 2021. We shall post up part two of this short series looking at our favourite blogs from July to December 2021, in the very near future.

29 12, 2021

Penarth Prints are Dinosaur Tracks

By | December 29th, 2021|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

A team of researchers writing in the journal “Geological Magazine”, have confirmed that the strange impressions exposed on the beach at Penarth (south Wales), are indeed dinosaur tracks. The site had been examined back in 2009, further evidence of tracks was revealed in 2020 after more of the bedding plane was laid bare by tidal erosion. The site some 800 metres south of Penarth pier, probably represents tracks made by different types of dinosaurs but they are too badly eroded for a more precise diagnosis other than to tentatively assign the largest, rounded tracks to the ichnogenus Eosauropus.

Dinosaur trackway from south Wales.
A part of the brushed and cleaned up trackway (left) with (right) a close-up view of a single print. Picture credit: NHM/Peter Falkingham

Carefully Mapped and Recorded

The tracks, some of which are more than 50 cm in diameter, are associated with the Upper Triassic Blue Anchor Formation. Although it is difficult to identify individual trackways, the high density of impressions suggests that the area was a trample ground that might have been visited by many individuals. Although the number of taxa making these impressions cannot be reliably inferred because of their poor preservation, based on their large size, round shape and digit impressions, the research team consider it likely that they were made by large sauropodomorph dinosaurs. As such, Late Triassic sauropodomorph tracks are exceptionally rare and the research team, which consisted of scientists from Liverpool John Moores University, the London Natural History Museum, Cardiff University, the University of Lyon and National Museum of Wales, conclude that these tracks provide additional information regarding the Late Triassic biota of the UK.

Penarth dinosaur tracks
Detail images of individual tracks. Individual D-shaped impression recorded in 2020, presented as photo-textured and height-mapped digital models (a). Two to three overlapping impressions recorded in 2020, with a displacement rim spanning the centre of the deepest areas, presented as photo-textured and height-mapped digital models (b). Individual tracks recorded during 2009 (c,d), but showing clearer morphology in the displacement rims that are interpreted as digit impressions (marked with *) (c). White scale bar = 10 cm. Picture credit: Falkingham et al.

Likely to be Eroded Away in Just a Few Years

The team highlight the rapidly eroding site, more than one metre of the exposed surface has been lost since the first examination made in 2009 and the detailed mapping carried out in 2020. The loss of the bedding surface highlights the transient and vulnerable nature of these fossils. The site has been extensively photographed and mapped digitally ensuring that a computer record of these trace fossils can be stored in perpetuity.

Dinosaur tracks Penarth Tracks
Possible trackways observed on the northern surface, photo-textured models and interpretive outlines; dashed lines indicate extent of displacement rims. Picture credit: Peter Falkingham et al.

Team members from Everything Dinosaur visited the area in 2019 and had planned to return the following year to help record the tracks, unfortunately, COVID-19 restrictions prevented this. Still, this new study published this week confirms the presence of sauropodomorph tracks along the coastline and provides additional information on the Late Triassic biota of the British Isles.

The scientific paper: “Late Triassic dinosaur tracks from Penarth, south Wales” by Peter L. Falkingham, Susannah C. R. Maidment, Jens N. Lallensack, Jeremy E. Martin, Guillaume Suan, Lesley Cherns, Cindy Howells and Paul M. Barrett published in the journal Geological Magazine.

24 12, 2021

Red Spheres in Dinosaur Bone not Ancient Blood

By | December 24th, 2021|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Scientists from Virginia Tech and Des Moines University in the USA have challenged the idea that spheres identified under high magnification in thin sections of fossilised dinosaur bone are preserved fragments of dinosaur blood. The reddish coloured circular structures might not be remnants of blood cells, but instead they could be sediments that have been altered physically, chemically or via biological action to provide misleading data.

That is the conclusion made by the authors of a scientific paper published recently in the peer-reviewed, open-access journal PeerJ.

Has dinosaur blood been found?
Photograph of sampled specimen (Beipiaosaurus inexpectus, IVPP V11559) (A) and transmitted light micrographs of representative thin sections (B–D). In the section images black arrows indicate spheres (putatively identified as red blood cells), white arrows indicate osteocyte lacunae and grey arrows indicate non-spherical vessel fills. The researchers suggest the spheres are not evidence of dinosaur blood. Picture credit: Korneisel et al.

Analysing the Holotype of Beipiaosaurus inexpectus

The researchers, who included Sterling J. Nesbitt (Department of Geosciences at Virginia Tech), analysed thin sections of bone from the holotype of the Chinese therizinosaur Beipiaosaurus inexpectus from the Jehol Lagerstätte. The fossil specimen (IVPP V11559) consists of both cranial and postcranial elements and it was found in sediments representing the Yixian Formation. This specimen was the subject of a paper earlier this year, remarkably when B. inexpectus was scientifically described only the skull elements were examined in detail. In October (2021), Everything Dinosaur published a blog post on the study of the postcranial material which provided more anatomical traits to help define this genus and clarify the evolution of the Therizinosauridae.

Our post can be found here: Beipiaosaurus Revisited.

In this study, the researchers employed a variety of sophisticated techniques including Ramon spectroscopy, X-ray spectrometry and Time of flight – secondary ion mass spectrometry to analyse thin sections of fossil bone from the Beipiaosaurus and compare them to similarly prepared thin sections of fossilised wood.

The team found that the bone had been dramatically altered by the fossilisation process (taphonomy). Vascular canals in the bone, once thought to contain preserved red blood cells, were filled with a mix of clay minerals and carbonaceous compounds. The spheres that were identified could not be analysed in isolation, but the researchers did not find any evidence of pyrite or haemoglobin fragments associated with a concentration of iron.

However, similar spheres were identified in the thin sections of fossilised wood which were found close to the Beipiaosaurus fossils and as such, had presumably been subjected to the same taphonomic processes.

Small spherical structures spotted in petrified wood
Transmitted light micrographs of fossil wood found near to the dinosaur fossil material seem to show similar, microscopic spherical structures. The blue arrows highlight small and large examples. At higher magnification (B) these spheres appear to consist of small crystals. Picture credit: Korneisel at al.

The researchers concluded that the reddish coloured spheres were not evidence of dinosaur blood, but more likely structures formed by diagenesis. Diagenesis is the process whereby sediments in sedimentary rocks are altered by the interaction of water, microbial activity or by physical and chemical processes.

This research suggests that further study of alleged red blood cells associated with fossil bone is required in order to confirm the assertions made in previous papers.

The scientific paper: “Putative fossil blood cells reinterpreted as diagenetic structures” by Dana E. Korneisel, Sterling J. Nesbitt, Sarah Werning and Shuhai Xiao published in PeerJ.

23 12, 2021

Largest-ever Millipede Fossil Found

By | December 23rd, 2021|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

A recently described, fossilised partial exoskeleton of a giant millipede proves that some of these invertebrates matched the giant sea scorpions (eurypterids) in size. The fossil, discovered by chance at Howick Bay in Northumberland some 40 miles north of the city of Newcastle, back in January 2018, indicates that some terrestrial arthropods could have reached a length in excess of 2.6 metres.

The fossil has been identified as part of the moulted exoskeleton (an exuvium), of the colossal millipede Arthropleura, the preserved portion of the exoskeleton is around 75 cm in size, from this the total length of this huge arthropod is inferred. Intriguingly, the fossil was found in an ancient river channel, part of a delta that was surrounded by open woodland. Previously, it had been thought that Arthropleura inhabited swamps. This fossil discovery supports the hypothesis that Arthropleura preferred open, woody habitats.

Arthropleura fossil from Northumberland
Specimen of partial remains of a giant Arthropleura (anterior 12–14 tergites) after excavation from the Serpukhovian Stainmore Formation, Howick Bay, Northumberland, England (CAMSM X.50355). Slab A and slab B are not true part and counterpart, but rather a split through the middle of a three-dimensional dorsal exoskeleton. Note scale bar = 25 cm. Picture credit: Davies et al.

A Chance Discovery

The fossil was discovered by chance. A large sandstone block (approximately 2 m × 3 m × 8 m) fell from the cliffs at Howick Bay. It cracked exposing the fossil and it was spotted by a former PhD student at the University of Cambridge who happened to be visiting the beach. As this area is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) permission was sought from Natural England and the Howick Estate to extract the fossil and this work was undertaken in May 2018.

The block comes from the Stainmore Formation, which was laid down in the late Mississippian of the Carboniferous (Serpukhovian stage). The fossil is estimated to be around 323 million years old and it represents the earliest evidence for gigantism in Arthropleura. The specimen comes from the same regional sedimentary succession as the ichnotaxon Diplichnites cuithensis, the name given to the trace fossils of parallel tracks, some of which are half a metre wide, which have been interpreted as representing Arthropleura trackways.

The research team, consisting of scientists from Cambridge University, the University of Manchester and the Technical University Bergakademie Freiberg (Germany), published their study in the “Journal of the Geological Society”. The Northumberland specimen was compared to the two other known Arthropleura specimens, both of which were found in Germany and represent much smaller animals.

The Howick Arthropleura specimen compared to other articulated Arthropleura fossil remains.
Comparing the Howick Arthropleura specimen to other articulated giant specimens (preserved remains highlighted in pink) and the largest Diplichnites cuithensis trackways known from each Carboniferous-Permian stage. Picture credit: Davies et al.

What Did Arthropleura Eat?

Fossilised remains of the head have never been found. If it was a carnivore, with strong mouthparts these robust structures would have had a high likelihood of fossil preservation, as seen in the very distantly related marine, ancestral arthropod Anomalocaris from the Cambrian, where the disc-like mouth plates have been preserved. It has been speculated that, despite its huge size, Arthropleura may have been herbivorous.

Lead author of the scientific paper, Dr Neil Davies from Cambridge University’s Department of Earth Sciences commented:

“While we can’t know for sure what they ate, there were plenty of nutritious nuts and seeds available in the leaf litter at the time, and they may even have been predators that fed off other invertebrates and even small vertebrates such as amphibians”.

Where did Arthropleura Live?

The fossil has also provided additional information on the sort of habitat that may have been preferred by Arthropleura, previously, Arthropleura was thought to have inhabited swampy environments. The Northumberland fossil was found in an ancient river channel, which was part of a delta. This was not a swampy habitat, but an area that was quite open with sparse woodland.

Arthropleura life reconstruction
A life reconstruction of the Northumberland Arthropleura specimen. This invertebrate inhabited a delta floodplain with closely associated open woodland rather than a swampy environment. Picture credit: Davies et al.

Arthropleura is typically depicted as an inhabitant of swamps. It may have been limited to equatorial regions (the UK was close to the Equator for much of the Carboniferous), but this fossil suggests that it did not live in areas with standing water and saturated soils.

Arthropleura in a swamp habitat.
It had been suggested that Arthropleura inhabited swampy environments. Whilst it was probably limited to equatorial regions, this study suggests it preferred open woodland. Picture credit: National Museum of Wales.

The scientific paper: “The largest arthropod in Earth history: insights from newly discovered Arthropleura remains (Serpukhovian Stainmore Formation, Northumberland, England)” by Neil S. Davies, Russell J. Garwood, William J. McMahon, Joerg W. Schneider and Anthony P. Shillito published in Journal of the Geological Society.

22 12, 2021

Exquisitely Preserved Dinosaur Embryo Found Inside Fossilised Egg

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

An exquisite dinosaur embryo from southern China has shed new light on the evolutionary link between the Dinosauria and modern birds. The beautifully preserved embryo of an oviraptorosaur has a posture inside the egg reminiscent of a late-stage modern bird embryo. This pre-hatching behaviour, previously considered unique to the Aves (birds), originated in the Theropoda.

Dinosaur embryo close-to-hatching.
Life reconstruction of a close-to-hatching oviraptorosaur dinosaur embryo, based on the new specimen “Baby Yingliang”. Picture credit: Lida Xing.

“Baby Yingliang”

Writing in the journal “iScience”, the researchers who include Professor Lida Xing from the China University of Geosciences (Beijing), Professor Steve Brusatte (University of Edinburgh) and PhD student Fion Waisum Ma (University of Birmingham), describe the dinosaur embryo, nicknamed “Baby Yingliang”. Study of the fossilised remains preserved inside the egg (in-ovo), demonstrates that the head of the baby dinosaur lies ventral to the body, with the feet on either side and the back is curled along the blunt end of the egg. This posture had not been recorded in dinosaur embryos before. In modern birds, this posture is referred to as “tucking” – a behaviour controlled by the central nervous system and critical for hatching success.

The oviraptorosaur embryo known as "Baby Yingliang"
The oviraptorosaur embryo known as “Baby Yingliang”, one of the best-preserved dinosaur embryos ever reported. Picture credit: Xing et al.

An Oviraptorosaur Embryo

The fossil comes from Upper Cretaceous deposits from Ganzhou Province (southern China). It is believed to be between 72 and 66 million years old. Lead author of the study, Professor Lida Xing explained that the fossil was acquired by the director of Yingliang Group, Mr Liang Liu, during the construction of Yingliang Stone Nature History Museum.

The embryo is articulated in its life position without much disruption from fossilisation. It has been identified as an oviraptorosaur, a toothless theropod dinosaur and a member of the Maniraptora, so it was closely related to the dinosaur lineage that led to modern birds. The elongatoolithid egg measures 17 cm in length and the embryo inside measures 27 cm long.

Joint first author of the scientific paper, Fion Waisum Ma stated:

“Dinosaur embryos are some of the rarest fossils and most of them are incomplete with the bones dislocated. We are very excited about the discovery of ‘Baby Yingliang’. It is preserved in a great condition and helps us answer a lot of questions about dinosaur growth and reproduction. It is interesting to see this dinosaur embryo and a chicken embryo pose in a similar way inside the egg, which possibly indicates similar prehatching behaviours.”

Oviraptorosaur embryo line drawing.
A line drawing of the oviraptorosaur embryo known as “Baby Yingliang”. Picture credit: Xing et al.

Plotting the Evolution of “Tucking” Behaviours

Birds develop this tucking posture, prior to hatching. Embryos that fail to adopt this posture have a higher chance of dying during the hatching process. By comparing this oviraptorosaur embryo with the embryos of other theropods, long-necked sauropod dinosaurs and birds, the researchers postulate that tucking behaviour, which was considered unique to birds, first evolved in theropod dinosaurs. Pinning down just when in geological time this behaviour evolved is dependent on the discovery of more dinosaur embryo fossils.

Co-author of the study, Steve Brusatte commented:

“This dinosaur embryo inside its egg is one of the most beautiful fossils I have ever seen. This little prenatal dinosaur looks just like a baby bird curled in its egg, which is yet more evidence that many features characteristic of today’s birds first evolved in their dinosaur ancestors.”

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from the University of Birmingham in the compilation of this article.

The scientific paper: “An exquisitely preserved in-ovo theropod dinosaur embryo sheds light on avian-like prehatching postures” by Lida Xing, Kecheng Niu, Waisum Ma, Darla K. Zelenitsky, Tzu-Ruei Yang, Stephen L. Brusatte published in iScience.

21 12, 2021

Ancient Relative of Velociraptor from the Isle of Wight

By | December 21st, 2021|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Researchers from the University of Bath and the University of Portsmouth have identified a new species of Early Cretaceous dromaeosaurid from fragmentary fossils found on the Isle of Wight. The new dinosaur, a distant relative of Velociraptor has been named Vectiraptor greeni and it is estimated to have been around 2.5 to 3 metres in length, powerfully built and although not the largest theropod associated with the Wessex Formation it would have been a formidable predator.

Vectiraptor greeni life reconstruction.
A life reconstruction of the newly described dromaeosaurid Vectiraptor greeni. This powerfully built predator may have been able to climb trees. Picture credit: Gabriel Ugueto.

Fossil Teeth Hinted at the Presence of Dromaeosaurids

Fossil teeth found on the Isle of Wight hinted at the presence of a large dromaeosaurid, but no large dromaeosaur bones had been discovered. The only dromaeosaur known from the Isle of Wight is the much smaller Ornithodesmus (O. cluniculus), which was once thought to represent a primitive bird but has been assigned to the Dromaeosauridae.

Local amateur fossil collector Mick Green discovered the bones on the foreshore of Compton Bay on the south coast of the island back in 2004. They had been washed out of the cliffs and they remained entombed in their matrix until in 2012 Mick gave up fossil collecting due to ill health and decided to spend more time cleaning and preparing the fossils that he had found.

They were shown to palaeontologists Megan Jacobs (University of Portsmouth) and Dr Nick Longrich (University of Bath) and this led to the material, which consists of three dorsal vertebrae and a partial sacrum, being taken away for further analysis. The genus name translates from the Latin as “Isle of Wight thief” and the species name honours Mick Green.

Vectiraptor fossils.
Although fragmentary and eroded the vertebrae demonstrate a combination of features found only in the Dromaeosauridae, including relatively short and massive vertebrae, tall neural spines, and facets for the ribs set on long stalks. Picture credit: University of Bath.

Early Cretaceous Predator

Bigger theropods have been discovered such as the tyrannosauroid Eotyrannus and the carcharodontosaurid Neovenator. Recently, two large spinosaurids were reported: Two New Spinosaurids Described from the Isle of Wight.

Vectiraptor may have roamed the forests and avoided large open areas where other, larger predators lurked. With strong arms and talons, it may have climbed trees like modern leopards. The heavy bones suggest an animal that relied less on speed and more on strength, and perhaps ambushes, to tackle its prey.

Lead author of the paper, Dr Nick Longrich (University of Bath) stated:

“This was a large, and very heavily constructed animal. The bones are thick-walled and massive. It clearly didn’t hunt small prey, but animals as large or larger than itself.”

Velociraptor fossil site.
Wessex Formation outcrops at Compton Bay on the Isle of Wight where the Vectiraptor fossils were discovered. Picture credit: University of Bath.

Dinosaur Dispersal

Vectiraptor resembles Early Cretaceous eudromaeosaurs from North America such as Deinonychus, suggesting a faunal exchange between Europe and North America. The diverse Early Cretaceous dinosaur assemblage found in England and Europe resulted from dispersal from North America, Asia, and West Gondwana, likely involving both land bridges and oceanic dispersal. Europe likely served as a biotic crossroads in the Early Cretaceous, allowing faunal interchange between landmasses.

Vectiraptor dorsal vertebra.
The eroded, partial dorsal vertebra of Vectiraptor. Picture credit: Nick Longrich.

Dr Longrich added:

“It’s a tantalising hint at the diversity of dinosaurs in England at this time. There’s an extraordinary diversity of dinosaurs known in England in the Cretaceous and even after more than a century of study, we continue to find new species.”

Eudromaeosauria stratigraphy and geography.
Dromaeosaurids closely related to Vectiraptor have been found in North America and Asia suggesting that during the Early Cretaceous southern England was an important dispersal route for dinosaurs. Picture credit: Bath University.

The First Large Dromaeosaur Known from the UK

This is the first time a large raptor has been found in the UK. Co-author of the study, Megan Jacobs (University of Portsmouth), commented:

This dinosaur is incredibly exciting, adding to the huge diversity of dinosaurs here on the Isle of Wight, and helping to build a bigger picture of the Early Cretaceous world. This little dinosaur also serves as an excellent example of the importance of amateur fossil collectors, and how working with them can produce important scientific research, which would otherwise not be possible.”

Without the dedication of Mick Green and others like him, Vectiraptor would have been lost to the sea.

To read a recent Everything Dinosaur blog post about the discovery of a new species of ornithopod dinosaur from the Isle of Wight: New iguanodontid from the Isle of Wight.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from the University of Bath in the compilation of this article.

The scientific paper: “A new dromaeosaurid dinosaur from the Wessex Formation (Lower Cretaceous, Barremian) of the Isle of Wight, and implications for European palaeobiogeography” by Nicholas R. Longrich, David M. Martill and Megan L. Jacobs published in Cretaceous Research.

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