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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.

7 11, 2019

Remarkable Fossil Ape from the Miocene of Southern Germany

By | November 7th, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Danuvius guggenmosi – Adapted for Walking and Climbing

A previously unknown primate that lived in the forests of southern Germany around 12 million years ago was capable of walking upright, just like us.  Palaeontologists have debated how the development of bipedalism amongst the great apes occurred and for that matter, where in the world did the first apes capable of upright walking evolve.  A remarkable fossil found in Bavaria suggests that upright posture may have originated in a common ancestor of humans and great apes that lived in Europe and not in Africa as previously supposed.

A Life Reconstruction of the Newly Described Miocene Ape Danuvius guggenmosi

Danuvius guggenmosi life reconstruction.

Danuvius life reconstruction.

Picture Credit: Velizar Simeonovski / University of Tübingen

Writing in the publication “Nature”, an international research team led by Professor Madelaine Böhme from the Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment (University of Tübingen), report on the discovery of a previously unknown type of primate that once roamed the forests of Bavaria.  This ape named Danuvius guggenmosi, which lived 11.62 million years ago, shows anatomical adaptations suited to both walking upright as well as using all four limbs for climbing.  The ability to walk bipedally with a plantigrade foot is considered a key evolutionary stage on the road that would eventually lead to the evolution of hominins including our own species H. sapiens.

The Twenty-one Fossils that Comprise the Male Danuvius Specimen

The 21 bones of the most complete partial skeleton of a male Danuvius.

The 21 bones of the most complete partial skeleton of a male Danuvius (D. guggenmosi).

Picture Credit: Christoph Jäckle / University of Tübingen

A Fossil That Resets the Evolutionary Clock

The scientists conclude that Danuvius were able to walk on two legs nearly twelve million years ago.  This is around six million years earlier than previously thought.  Up until this discovery the oldest evidence of potential bipedalism had been reported from Late Miocene of Africa and remarkably, from the island of Crete in the Mediterranean.  Close to the village of Trachilos in western Crete, scientists uncovered a series of footprints, the preserved tracks of an upright walking ape-like animal.  These trace fossils are believed to be around 5.7 million years old.  To read about these strange fossil tracks: Has Human Evolution Tripped Us Up?

The German fossil material represent a significant step (no pun intended), in terms of human evolution.  Lead author Professor Böhme explained:

“The finds in southern Germany are a milestone in palaeoanthropology, because they raise fundamental questions about our previous understanding of the evolution of the great apes and humans.”

Piecing Together the Skeleton of Danuvius (White Elements Represent Plaster Reconstructions of Bones)

Part of the reconstructed skeleton of Danuvius.

Reconstructing the skeleton of Danuvius.

Picture Credit: Christoph Jäckle / University of Tübingen

Lead Author of the Scientific Paper Professor Madelaine Böhme

Professor Madelaine Böhme (University of Tübingen)

Professor Madelaine Böhme examining the fossil material.

Picture Credit: Christoph Jäckle / University of Tübingen

How Did Hommins Come to Walk on Two Legs?

In the “Origin of Species” written by Charles Darwin and first published in 1859, one of the great controversies that arose from this book was the implications regarding our own evolution.  Darwin, perhaps all too aware of the seismic nature of his theory, did not dwell on this aspect of natural selection in his ground-breaking volume.  Towards the end of the book, in the concluding remarks section, he merely stated “light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history”.  Most of us now believe that we are descended from apes, however, one of the key distinguishing features between ourselves and the Great Apes, now bracketed in the same taxonomic family – the Hominidae, is that we walk on our hind legs and are truly bipedal, but how did this come about?  Did our bipedalism evolve from forest-dwelling monkey-like apes which clambered around on all fours?  Did bipedalism first arise in brachiating apes such as gibbons and orangutans who mostly use their arms to climb, or did it arise first in knuckle-walking apes such as bonobos, chimpanzees and gorillas?

Reconstructing Cranial Elements of Danuvius guggenmosi

Piecing together the skull and jaws of Danuvius.

A reconstruction of part of the skull and the jaws of Danuvius (white plaster indicates reconstructed elements).

Picture Credit: Christoph Jäckle / University of Tübingen

Mapping an Ancient Vertebrate Fauna Preserved in a Bavarian Clay Pit

The Danuvius guggenmosi fossils were discovered between 2015 and 2018.  Working in the Hammerschmiede clay pit in the Allgäu region of Bavaria, Böhme and her team excavated more than 15,000 fossil vertebrate bones from the ancient humid and forested ecosystems that were abundant in southern Germany at that time.  The new primate fossils include the remains of at least four individuals.  The most complete skeleton, of a male Danuvius, has body proportions similar to modern-day bonobos.  Thanks to completely preserved limb bones, vertebrae, finger and toe bones, the researchers were able to reconstruct the way Danuvius moved about in its environment.

Professor Böhme stated:

“For the first time, we were able to investigate several functionally important joints, including the elbow, hip, knee and ankle, in a single fossil skeleton of this age.  It was astonishing for us to realise how similar certain bones are to humans, as opposed to great apes.”

The scientists conclude that Danuvius was capable of walking on two legs but could also climb like an ape.  The spine, for example, had an S-shaped curve similar to our own spine, it held the body upright when standing on two legs.  The ape’s build, posture, and the ways in which it moved are unique among known primates.

Co-author of the paper, Professor David Begun (University of Toronto), commented:

“Danuvius combines the hindlimb-dominated bipedality of humans with the forelimb-dominated climbing typical of living apes.”

The male Danuvius stood about a metre in height and weighed approximately 31 kilograms.  Females were smaller, reflecting the sexual dimorphism found in the extant members of the Hominidae today.  The research team estimate that females weighed around 18 kg, less than any great ape alive today.  The ribcage of these apes was broad and flat.  The lower back was elongated; this helped to position the centre of gravity over extended hips, knees and flat feet, as in bipeds.  Several key-features of human bipedality have been found on bones from the leg.

The Hand Bones of the Male Danuvius in their Storage Boxes

Hand bones from the male Danuvius.

Bones from the hand of the male Danuvius (manus).

Picture Credit: Christoph Jäckle / University of Tübingen

Despite these human-like anatomical adaptations, Danuvius would have been very much at home in the trees, fellow researcher, Professor Nikolai Spassov of the Bulgarian Academy of Science highlighted that:

“In contrast to later hominins, Danuvius had a powerful, opposable big toe, which enabled it to grasp large and small branches securely”.

This new study supports a previously published paper that analysed a fossilised ape hip bone that was around ten million years of age, that had been found in Hungary.  The Hungarian and the German fossil material indicate that the European ancestors of African apes and humans differed from extant gorillas and chimpanzees.

The researchers point out that the ancestors we share with living African apes were as unique as we are today.  These fossils may help palaeoanthropologists to map out where in deep time the African apes and human ancestors diverged, these remarkable fossils from southern Germany are certainly a step in the right direction.

The scientific paper: “A new Miocene ape and locomotion in the ancestor of great apes and humans” by Madelaine Böhme, Nikolai Spassov, Jochen Fuss, Adrian Tröscher, Andrew S. Deane, Jérôme Prieto, Uwe Kirscher, Thomas Lechner and David R. Begun published in the journal Nature.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a press release from the University of Tübingen in the compilation of this article.

5 11, 2019

Fossil Footprints Reflect Diverse Dinosaurs in South-western Alaska

By | November 5th, 2019|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Fossil Footprints Reflect Diverse Dinosaurs in South-western Alaska

Dinosaur fossils and their footprints have been found in Cretaceous-aged rocks in the American state of Alaska before.  Everything Dinosaur has produced a number of articles featuring fossil discoveries, many of which come from the Denali National Park area of the central part of the state.  However,  a new paper published in the journal PLOS One, provides an insight into the dinosaurs that roamed the south-western corner of the “Last Frontier” state.  The Late Cretaceous of the area of Alaska now known as the Aniakchak National Monument was dominated by duck-billed dinosaurs, but ankylosaurs, theropods and birds also lived in that part of the world.

A Digital Reconstruction of the Aniakchak National Monument in the Late Cretaceous

A landscape dominated by hadrosaurs but ankylosaurs were present too.

Numerous hadrosaur tracks have been found – both adults and juveniles.

Picture Credit: Karen Carr/PLOS One

The Late Cretaceous (Maastrichtian) Chignik Formation

The trackways, individual prints and other fossils, such as cycad leaves that indicate that around 70 million years ago, this part of Alaska was much warmer than it is today, provide palaeontologists with an insight into a high latitude, dinosaur dominated ecosystem.  These fossils may also provide some further evidence to help palaeontologists understand how dinosaurs migrated from Asia into the Americas.  Seventy-five new dinosaur footprints and trackways have been documented, more than ninety percent of which represent hadrosaurs.

Representative Hadrosaur Tracks

Hadrosaur tracks from Alaska.

Photographs of hadrosaur trackways including an overlapping track (A) with line drawing (B) and a photogrammatic contour map of a footprint (F).

Picture Credit: PLOS One

Co-author of the study, Dr Yoshitsugu Kobayashi (Hokkaido University Museum, Japan), stated:

“This study provides us a better understanding of the high-latitude dinosaur ecosystems of Alaska.  Such an understanding will help us address important questions such as did the dinosaurs survive the winters there and, if so, how did they survive?”

A Map Highlighting the Position of the Fossil Discoveries

Aniakchak National Park location and fossil sites.

A, Alaska.  Red star is location of Aniakchak National Park and Preserve.  Blue circles show location of dinosaur bonebeds on North Slope.  B, Drawing of Aniakchak National Park and Preserve.  The outcrop pattern for the Chignik Formation is shown in light green. Red rectangle outlines this study area.  C, Close-up diagram of study area showing Chignik Formation exposures in light green, restricted to shoreline.

Picture Credit: PLOS One

Ankylosaurs Present Too

Two tracks have been identified as having been made by armoured dinosaurs (ichnotaxon Tetrapodosaurus), both these tracks were found in fallen blocks and the largest of the footprints measures around 35 centimetres wide.  The impression of five digits in each of the tracks indicate that these prints represent tracks made by the forelimbs, not the four-toed back legs of armoured dinosaurs.

A Potential Ankylosaur Track – Aniakchak National Monument

Potentail Alaskan armoured dinosaur track.

Armoured dinosaur track (ichnotaxon Tetrapodosaurus).

Picture Credit: PLOS One with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

Avian and Non-Avian Theropods

The research team also identified a number of different sized tridactyl (three-toed), prints.  Two different types of bird track were identified in the study, along with a much larger single print that the scientists estimate was made by a theropod dinosaur around five to six metres in length.  The fossil print has been assigned to the ichnogenus Grallator.  The track suggests a large, predatory dinosaur and the team comment that the footprint is roughly around the track size that would have been made by the pygmy tyrannosaurid Nanuqusaurus hoglandi, which was named and described in 2014, from material found in the far north of Alaska (Prince Creek Formation).

A Large Three-toed Theropod Dinosaur Print (Aniakchak National Monument)

Large theropod track from south-western Alaska.

Large tridactyl track attributed to the ichnogenus Grallator from the Aniakchak National Monument location.

Picture Credit: PLOS One

The scientific paper: “Dinosaur ichnology and sedimentology of the Chignik Formation (Upper Cretaceous), Aniakchak National Monument, south-western Alaska; Further insights on habitat preferences of high-latitude hadrosaurs)” by Anthony R. Fiorillo, Yoshitsugu Kobayashi, Paul J. McCarthy, Tomonori Tanaka, Ronald S. Tykoski, Yuong-Nam Lee, Ryuji Takasaki and Junki Yoshida published in the journal PLOS One.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a press release from the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in the compilation of this article.

27 10, 2019

A Guide to Fossil Collecting on the South Dorset Coast

By | October 27th, 2019|Book Reviews, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

A Guide to Fossil Collecting on the South Dorset Coast – Fossil Collecting Guide Due Out in Early 2020

Exciting news for fossil collectors and fans of the “Jurassic Coast”, authors and fossil hunters extraordinaire Craig Chivers and Steve Snowball will publish another book on fossil collecting on the south coast of England in early 2020.  Entitled “A Guide to Fossil Collecting on the South Dorset Coast”, this new publication takes the reader further east, exploring the fossil treasure trove of the Weymouth area and the Purbeck limestone, strata that is associated with a plethora of invertebrate fossils, as well as marine reptiles and of course, the Dinosauria!

Due Out in Early 2020 – “A Guide to Fossil Collecting on the South Dorset Coast

"Fossil Collecting on the South Dorset Coast"

Fossil Collecting on the South Dorset Coast by Steve Snowball and Craig Chivers.

Picture Credit: Siri Scientific Press with kind permission by Steve Snowball and Craig Chivers

In Collaboration with Siri Scientific Press

This is the second book that the pair of produced, once again, it will be published by Siri Scientific Press and available via the company’s website.  The first book – “A Guide to Fossil Collecting on the West Dorset Coast”, focused on the Blue Lias Formation along with the Charmouth Mudstone and took the reader to the West Bay area culminating in an exploration of the Bridport Sands Formation.

To read Everything Dinosaur’s review of this book: A Guide to Fossil Collecting on the West Dorset Coast – A Review.

The second volume in this series follows a very similar format to the first.  Purchasers can expect fantastic full-colour photographs of the coastal landscape plus beautiful images of many of the fossils to be found in the vicinitiy.  Hints and tips about successful hunting abound and at 224 pages long, this is going to make a fabulous companion guide to this part of the UNESCO World Heritage site.  As with the previous publication, all author profits will be donated to the Charmouth Coast Heritage Centre, who do so much to promote the safe collection of fossils from the area and run a great educational programme too.

In Search of Dinosaurs

Whilst Lyme Regis and the surrounding environs are associated with ichthyosaurs and other marine reptiles, when moving east towards the Purbeck peninsula, it is possible to find terrestrial vertebrate fossils including dinosaurs and pterosaurs, many of which are unique to this part of the world.

Author Steve Snowball commented:

” The Middle to Late Jurassic was an important time in the evolution of both dinosaurs and plant life, which flourished under the favourable climatic conditions.  The area that became Britain was a crucial land bridge for creatures moving between North America and Eurasia, this has given our paleoartist, Andreas Kurpisz, a great opportunity to provide, once again, some superb reconstructions of prehistoric life, which have been exclusively produced for this book.”

Southern Britain in the Late Jurassic (Tithonian Stage- Kimmeridge Clay Formation)

"Fossil Collecting on the South Dorset Coast" - illustration.

An illustration from “Fossil Collecting on the South Dorset Coast” by Steve Snowball and Craig Chivers.

Picture Credit: Andreas Kurpisz

The image above shows the tyrannosauroid theropod Juratyrant (J. langhami), stalking a large herd of sauropods, whilst various pterosaurs circle overhead.  Titanosauriformes such as Duriatitan are associated with the Lower Kimmeridge Clay Formation of Dorset, whilst the southern Dorset coast is synonymus with a variety of different types of flying reptile.  In the image (above), the dsungaripteroid Germandactylus, the tentative wukongopterid Cuspicephalus scarfi and rhamphorhynchids all feature.

To visit the Siri Scientific Press website: Siri Scientific Press.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“This is exciting news, we look forward to reviewing this new fossil collecting guide when it comes out in early 2020.”

24 10, 2019

First Vertebrates Capable of Walking on Land May Have Never Left the Water

By | October 24th, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Parmastega aelidae – Hunting Like a Crocodile

A fascinating new paper has just been published in the journal “Nature” that suggests that some of the very first animals with backbones that were capable of terrestrial locomotion may have never left the water.  Instead, these creatures distantly related to animals that walk on land today, including ourselves, hunted rather like extant crocodiles and ambushed animals on the shore.  That is the conclusion of a group of international scientists that have studied the fossils of Parmastega aelidae, a needle-toothed early tetrapod that lived around 372 million years ago.

A Tropical Lagoon 372 Million Years Ago – P. aelidae Hunting Behaviour

Parmastega aelidae life reconstruction.

Sosnogorsk lagoon with Parmastega aelidae hunting behaviour.  The image (above) shows a tropical coastal lagoon at Sosnogorsk in Russia, about 372 million years ago.  The lagoon is inhabited by various kinds of fish, but also by the early tetrapod Parmastega.  One of creatures – which had eyes positioned at the top of their heads – can be seen on the bottom, with another in the foreground diving down from the surface (with bubbles).  A few more are shown in the middle distance resting at the surface with their eyes above the water, and one in the background crawling onto the beach.  In the far distance, a storm is approaching from the sea.  The sediment in which the fossil bones are found seems to have been deposited during a storm event that killed the inhabitants of the lagoon.

Picture Credit: Mikhail Shekhanov for the Ukhta Local Museum

What are Tetrapods?

Tetrapods include all living and extinct amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.  They are predominantly terrestrial, although some animals, whales for example, are entirely marine but had land-living ancestors.  Most tetrapods have four limbs, although some such as snakes have lost their limbs, but evolved from four-limbed ancestors.  These types of animals evolved from lobe-finned fishes (Sarcopterygii), during the Middle to Late Devonian.  Recent fossil discoveries have greatly increased the number of tetrapods known from Upper Devonian strata, but most genera are still only described from very fragmentary remains.  Most of what palaeontologists know about this extremely important group of vertebrates is based on the better known and more complete fossil specimens representing Ichthyostega and Acanthostega.

A Life Reconstruction of the Late Devonian Tetrapod Ichthyostega

Ichthyostega life reconstruction.

Ichthyostega – life reconstruction.

Picture Credit: Julia Molnar

A Gap in the Fossil Record

Trouble is, both Ichthyostega and Acanthostega along with the less complete but partly reconstructable genera Ventastega and Tulerpeton date from around 365-359 million years ago (late Famennian age of the Devonian), but palaeontologists have found tantalising fragmentary fossils that are at least ten million years older and the oldest known tetrapod footprints date from nearly 395 million years ago – read about their discovery here: Footprints from a Polish Quarry Suggest Land Vertebrates 35 Million Years Earlier than Previously Thought.

In this newly published paper, the researchers that include Jennifer Clack (University of Cambridge) and Pavel Beznosov (Russian Academy of Sciences), describe Parmastega aelidae, a tetrapod from Russia dated to the earliest Famennian age (about 372 million years ago), represented by three-dimensional material that enables the reconstruction of the skull and shoulder girdle.  The raised orbits, lateral line canals and weakly ossified postcranial skeleton of P. aelidae suggest a largely aquatic, surface-cruising animal.  Phylogenetic analysis supported by Bayesian statistics indicates that Parmastega might represent a sister group to all other tetrapods.

Skull Bones of Parmastega – Numerous Skull Bones Have Allowed Palaeontologists to Reconstruct the Skull

Skull bones of Parmastega.

Diagrammatic images showing the associated bones (in orange) of two individual skulls associated with Parmastega.  Fossil material includes several examples of skull bones from individuals which permitted scientists to reconstruct the skull in great detail.

Picture Credit: Nature

Large, Narrow Teeth and a Crushing Bite – Comparisons with a Crocodile

The fossil material representing several individual animals comes from north-western Russia.  This area in the Late Devonian was a large tropical lagoon on a coastal plain, inhabited by many types of ancient fish including placoderms.  The unusual suite of anatomical features identified in Parmastega include elasticated jaws, slender needle-like teeth and eyes located towards the top of the head so that it could keep a look out for prey whilst remaining almost totally submerged.  These anatomical features are reminiscent to those found in today’s aquatic ambush predators such as crocodilians.

Comparing the Skull of Parmastega to that of a Caiman

Parmastega compared to a Caiman.

The head of Parmastega compared to a modern crocodile.

Picture Credit: Nature

The scientists also discovered that part of Parmastega’s shoulder girdle consisted of cartilage, and its vertebral column and paired limbs could also be made of cartilage, indicating it probably spent most or all its time in water.  The large concentration of the fossil remains also suggests that it may have lived in large groups.

Co-author of the scientific paper, Professor Per Ahlberg (University of Uppsala, Sweden) stated that clues as to the lifestyle of Parmastega were found by analysing sensory canals identified in the fossil bones.  These sensors probably helped Parmastega to detect vibrations in the water, a trait inherited from its sarcopterygian ancestors.

Professor Par Ahlberg stated:

“These canals are well developed on the lower jaw, the snout and the sides of the face, but they die out on top of the head behind the eyes.  This probably means that it spent a lot of time hanging around at the surface of the water, with the top of the head just awash and the eyes protruding into the air.  We believe there may have been large arthropods such as millipedes or ‘sea scorpions’ to catch at the water’s edge.  The slender, elastic lower jaw certainly looks well-suited to scooping prey off the ground, its needle-like teeth contrasting with the robust fangs of the upper jaw that would have been driven into the prey by the body weight of Parmastega.”

Dr Marcello Ruta from the University of Lincoln, a co-author of the paper added:

“These fossils give us the earliest detailed glimpse of a tetrapod: an aquatic, surface-skimming predator, just over a metre in length, living in a lagoon.  The evolution of tetrapods is one of the most important events in the history of backboned animals, and ultimately led to the appearance of our own species.  Early in their history, tetrapods evolved many changes in their feeding strategies, movement abilities, and sensory perception, but many of these are still shrouded in mystery.”

Comparing the Head Morphology of Late Devonian Tetrapods

Late Devonian tetrapods.

Silhouette views of known Late Devonian tetrapods in approximate scale with head shape indicating different ecological niches.  Parmastega aelidae is estimated to be around a metre in length.

Picture Credit: Nature

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a press release from the University of Lincoln in the compilation of this article.

The scientific paper: “Morphology of the earliest reconstructable tetrapod Parmastega aelidae” by Pavel A. Beznosov, Jennifer A. Clack, Ervīns Lukševičs, Marcello Ruta and Per Erik Ahlberg published in the journal Nature.

20 10, 2019

Trilobite Fossils From Morocco Reveal Collective Behaviour

By | October 20th, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Linear Clusters of Trilobites (Ampyx priscus)

Collective behaviour is seen in all kinds of animals today.  Birds migrating, plagues of locusts, turtle nesting behaviour, social insects and such like, but when and how such complex collective behaviour in the animal kingdom evolved remains a mystery.  A team of scientists writing in the academic journal “Scientific Reports”, have published a paper on a series of fossils from south-eastern Morocco, that have been interpreted as showing collective, social behaviour amongst a group of 480-million-year-old trilobites.

Trilobite Fossils from the Lower Ordovician – Possible Collective Behaviour

Trilobite collective behaviour.

The raphiophorid trilobite Ampyx priscus from the Lower Ordovician, Fezouta Shale of Morocco – collective behaviour.

Picture Credit: Scientific Reports

Trilobites Travelling in Columns

Social behaviour is seen in many arthropods and other types of invertebrate today.  Termites and ants living in colonies, communities of bees and wasps and many types of crustacean migrate in cohorts gaining protection against predators by their sheer weight of numbers.  For example, hundreds of spiny lobsters line up for their annual migration through the blue waters of the Caribbean.  Each lobster maintains contact with the one in front with its antennules and the anterior legs.  Thus, even at night the migration can continue without disruption.  The scientists have interpreted a series of fossils showing linear clusters of Ampyx trilobites as collective behaviour.  The fossils come from the Fezouta Shale (upper Tremadocian-Floian stage) and consequently are dated to around 480 million years ago.

Passive transport of the corpses of these ancient arthropods has been discounted by the researchers, instead, they conclude that this trilobite was probably migrating in groups and using its long spines to maintain a single-row formation.  Physical contact might have been reinforced with chemical communication, which is known to occur in some types of arthropods today.

This group behaviour may have been a response to environmental stress due to periodic storms shown by sedimentological evidence associated with the fossil deposits, or perhaps these animals were migrating together to reach favoured spawning grounds.

This record of linear clustering in early euarthropods suggests that intraspecific group-level patterns comparable to those of modern animals already existed 480 million years ago in the early stages of the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event.

Interpretative Line Drawings of Trilobite Linear Clusters

Trilobite linear clusters.

Line drawings of trilobite linear clusters indicating collective behaviour.

Picture Credit: Scientific Reports

The scientific paper: “Collective behaviour in 480-million-year-old trilobite arthropods from Morocco” by Jean Vannier, Muriel Vidal, Robin Marchant, Khadija El Hariri, Khaoula Kouraiss, Bernard Pittet, Abderrazak El Albani, Arnaud Mazurier and Emmanuel Martin published in Scientific Reports.

3 10, 2019

Most Complete Pterosaur Specimen Found in Australia to Date

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

Ferrodraco lentoni – The “Iron Dragon”

The fossil record for pterosaurs “down under” is extremely poor.  Only around twenty very fragmentary specimens are known.  However, a team of scientists, including researchers from the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum (Winton, Queensland), have announced the discovery of a new species of flying reptile, what is more, the new species named Ferrodraco lentoni represents the most complete pterosaur known from Australia.

The Holotype Skull and Mandible of Ferrodraco lentoni

Ferrodraco lentoni holotype skull and jaw.

Ferrodraco lentoni holotype skull and mandible AODF 876. (A) dorsal view; (B) anterior view; (C) left lateral view; (D) ventral view; (E) right lateral view with line drawings (F and G).

Picture Credit: Scientific Reports

A Close Neighbour of Savannasaurus elliottorum

Local farmer Bob Elliott discovered the specimen eroding out of a bank adjacent to a small creek on Belmont Station in early 2017, the fossilised remains, although fragmentary, represent a type of flying reptile known as an ornithocheirid, a family of pterosaurs with a global distribution, with specimens known from the Americas, Europe, North Africa, Asia and with two Queensland representatives already – Aussiedraco and Mythunga.  Bob Elliott took some of the fossils to the experts at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum and a field team was despatched to excavate the rest of the material.

The pterosaur fossil material includes parts of the skull, the tips of the jaws, five partial vertebrae, limb bones and around forty isolated and broken teeth.  The pterosaur fossils were found less than five miles from the site of the  Savannasaurus elliottorum quarry.  Savannasaurus was a huge sauropod dinosaur, it was discovered in 2005 and formally described in 2016.  To read about Savannasaurus: Titanosaurs Crossing Continents Savannasaurus elliottorum.

A Skeletal Reconstruction of Ferrodraco lentoni (based on Tropeognathus mesembrinus)

Reconstruction of Ferrodraco lentoni.

Skeleton reconstruction of Ferrodraco lentoni, scale bar 5 cm.

Picture Credit: Scientific Reports – based on an illustration by Mark Witton

Named after the Late Mayor of Winton

The genus name is a reference to the ironstone preservation of the holotype specimen, and the Latin “draco” (dragon).   The species name honours former Winton Shire mayor Graham Thomas “Butch” Lenton, in recognition of his years of service to the Winton community and his strong support for the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Natural History Museum.

Ferrodraco is estimated to have lived some 96 million years ago and it is thought to have had a wingspan of around four metres.  Corresponding author for the scientific paper, published in the journal Scientific Reports, Adele Pentland, a PhD student at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum, commented:

“Ferrodraco would have been an apex aerial predator around 96 million years ago.  At this time the Winton region was on the southern shores of an inland sea and was globally positioned about where Victoria’s southern coastline is today.”

A Life Reconstruction of Ferrodraco lentoni (Based on Tropeognathus mesembrinus)

Mojo Fun Tropeognathus.

A life reconstruction of Ferrodraco lentoni based on the Mojo Fun model of T. mesembrinus.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The scientific paper: “Ferrodraco lentoni gen. et sp. nov., a new ornithocheirid pterosaur from the Winton Formation (Cenomanian–lower Turonian) of Queensland, Australia” by Adele H. Pentland, Stephen F. Poropat, Travis R. Tischler, Trish Sloan, Robert A. Elliott, Harry A. Elliott, Judy A. Elliott and David A. Elliott published in Scientific Reports.

27 09, 2019

End Cretaceous Mass Extinction Event Disrupted Oceans for Millions of Years

By | September 27th, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

New Study Examines the Impact of End Cretaceous Mass Extinction Event

A team of researchers, including scientists from Bristol University and the University of Southampton have published a new study looking at the impact of the extra-terrestrial Chicxulub impact event that devasted life on Earth 66 million years ago.  The non-avian dinosaurs may be the most famous victims of this mass extinction, but this study examined the consequences of a near instantaneous collapse of ocean food webs.  The plankton, the base of the ocean ecosystem, as primary produces, were disrupted for around 1.8 million years.  It then took a further 8 million years for global species numbers to fully recover.

End Cretaceous Extinction Event Disrupted the World’s Oceans for Millions of Years

Earth impact event.

Cataclysmic impact event that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs, but the bolide impact devastated global oceanic ecosystems that subsequently took millions of years to recover.

Picture Credit: Don Davis (Commissioned by NASA)

Major Oceanic Food Web Instability

Writing in the journal “Nature”, the research team, which also included scientists from the University of California, University College London and the Institute for Geoscience, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt (Germany), found that while the plankton in the oceans showed the first signs of ecological recovery almost immediately, these early communities of microscopic organisms were highly unstable and cell sizes unusually small.  With the collapse of the plankton population, the loss of these primary produces in the food chain would have devasted the vast majority of the other organisms in the ecosystem, resulting in their demise and in a lot of cases, their extinction.

Microscopic Nannoplankton Fossils

Fossils - Nannoplankton.

Microscopic Nannoplankton fossils.

Picture Credit: University of Southampton/University College London ( Samantha Gibbs/Paul Bown)

The “Reboot” of a Global Ecosystem

The research team plotted the changes in the fossil plankton record by studying the number and composition of calcareous nannoplankton fossils deposited over a period of 13 million years.  A “snapshot” of the population was mapped at intervals of approximately 13,000 years.  Cell size, abundance and species diversity were all recorded.  In total more than 700,000 fossils were studied.  This scientific paper has provided a remarkable insight into how a global marine ecosystem “reboots”.

As much today as in the past, the marine ecosystem is dependent on plankton at its base and this study highlights the risks posed by diversity loss which may result in highly unstable communities, loss of important ecosystem functions and the long timescales of recovery.  Important lessons to learn as we enter a period of extensive, global climate change.

Co-author of the paper, palaeobiologist Dr Samantha Gibbs “University of Southampton” commented:

“Losing species today runs the risk of eliminating key creatures in ecosystems.  What we’ve demonstrated from this fossil record is that function is achieved if you have the right players fulfilling key roles.  Today, by reducing biodiversity, we are running the risk of losing our critical ecosystem players, many of whose importance we don’t yet fully appreciate.”

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a press release from the University of Southampton in the compilation of this article.

The scientific paper: “Diversity decoupled from ecosystem function and resilience during mass extinction recovery” by Sarah A. Alvarez, Samantha J. Gibbs, Paul R. Bown, Hojung Kim, Rosie M. Sheward and Andy Ridgwell published in the journal Nature.

25 09, 2019

Stiff Skull Helped T. rex Crush Bones

By | September 25th, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Stiff Skull Helped T. rex Crush Bones

Numerous research papers have been published about those monstrous jaws and huge skull of Tyrannosaurus rex.  Many of the studies have examined the biomechanics in a bid to better understand the bite forces that this Late Cretaceous terror could generate.  It is widely accepted that T. rex had a bone crushing bite, but just how it managed to crush the bones of a Triceratops or an unfortunate Edmontosaurus without damaging itself, has puzzled palaeontologists.  A new study, published in the journal “The Anatomical Record”, suggests that the T. rex skull was much stiffer than previously thought, much more like a crocodile skull or that of a hyena than a scaled-up, flexible bird skull.

New Study Suggests T. rex Had a Stiff Skull

"Scotty" the Tyrannosaurus rex.

A reconstruction of the skeleton of “Scotty” the T. rex.  Regarded as the heaviest specimen of T. rex known to science.   A new study suggests that like other bone-crushing tetrapods, the skull was functionally akinetic.

Picture Credit: Amanda Kelley

One of the co-authors of the study, Kaleb Sellers of the Missouri University School of Medicine explained:

“The T. rex had a skull that’s about six feet long, five feet wide and four feet high and bites with the force of about six tons.  Previous researchers looked at this from a bone-only perspective without taking into account all the connections, ligaments and cartilage that really mediate the interactions between the bones.”

Computer Generated Models Examined Stresses in the Upper Skull with a Focus on the Palatal Area

T. rex skull stress test.

Computer generated models were created to assess the stresses placed on an adult T. rex skull.

Picture Credit: University of Missouri

Looking at the Roof of the Mouth (Palatal Area)

The scientists, which included Kevin Middleton of the Missouri University School of Medicine, M. Scott Echols of The Medical Centre for Birds, Lawrence Witmer of Ohio University and Julian Davis (University of Southern Indiana), used a combination of anatomical study, computer modelling and biomechanical analysis assessing the skulls of a gecko and a parrot to examine how the skull of this apex Late Cretaceous predator was adapted to deliver such powerful bites.

Casey Holliday, from the University of Missouri, who also helped to write the scientific paper commented:

“Dinosaurs are like modern-day birds, crocodiles and lizards in that they inherited particular joints in their skulls from fish — ball and socket joints, much like people’s hip joints — that seem to lend themselves, but not always, to movement like in snakes.  When you put a lot of force on things, there’s a trade-off between movement and stability.  Birds and lizards have more movement but less stability.  When we applied their individual movements to the T. rex skull, we saw it did not like being wiggled in ways that the lizard and bird skulls do, which suggests more stiffness.”

A Functionally Akinetic Skull

Tyrannosaurus rex is considered to have one of the strongest bites of any terrestrial tetrapod.  There are lots of scientific papers and other literature that document this evidence.  Over the years, Everything Dinosaur have produced many articles on this subject area, including a blog post that summarised research published in “Biology Letters” – T. rex had a Bite More Powerful than any Other Land Animal.

The Skull and Jaws of Tyrannosaurus rex

A close-up view of a Kaiyodo Sofubi Toy Box Tyrannosaurus rex "classic" colour.

A close-up view of the head of the Kaiyodo Sofubi Toy Box T. rex “classic” colouration.  T. rex is famous for its huge and powerful jaws.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A Biomechanical Paradox

The skull of T. rex has been regarded as quite flexible by palaeontologists, that is, it exhibits a degree of cranial kinensis.  The joints in the skull are quite mobile and flexible in relation to each other and the animal’s braincase.  This contradicts with what is seen in many extant tetrapods who are known to have a powerful, bone smashing bite.  Alligators and hyenas for example, have relatively robust and inflexible skulls, when compared to the skull of a bird or a lizard.  If the T. rex skull was flexible but still capable of delivering an enormous bite force, this is a biomechanical paradox, it defies a logical explanation.  Furthermore, the greatest bite forces measured for crocodilians and hyenas (ourselves for example too), are detected towards the back of the jaws, whereas, in Tyrannosaurus rex, the largest bite forces that have been calculated are recorded at the front of the jaws.

This New Analysis Suggests that the T. rex Skull was Functionally Akinetic

T. rex upper skull diagram.

Lateral and ventral views of a T. rex skull. The skull may have been more robust and stiffer than previously thought.

Picture Credit: University of Missouri

The researchers identified a number of adaptations in the cranium of T. rex to support the idea that the skull was not as flexible as previously thought.  The scientists postulate that the skull was functionally akinetic (much stiffer than previously surmised).

Research that Provides a Better Understanding of Our Own Joints and Bones

This study will help palaeontologists to better understand the function of tyrannosaurid skulls and the researchers postulate that their findings can help advance human and veterinary medicine.

The study, “Palatal biomechanics and its significance for cranial kinesis in Tyrannosaurus rex”, was published in The Anatomical Record.  Authors include Kevin Middleton of the Missouri University School of Medicine; M. Scott Echols of The Medical Centre for Birds; Lawrence Witmer of Ohio University and Julian Davis of University of Southern Indiana.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a press release from the University of Missouri in the compilation of this article.

24 09, 2019

Dust from a Giant Asteroid Collision Caused Ordovician Ice Age

By | September 24th, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Global Climate Change in the Ordovician Caused by Dust from a Giant Asteroid

Scientists have been aware for some time that during the Middle Ordovician, our planet endured a prolonged but gradual period of global cooling.  The average temperature on Earth fell and this opened up new ecological niches that permitted those animals and other organisms around at the time to adapt and to become more specious.  The cause of this world-wide ice age, one that started around 466 million years ago, is a mystery, but a team of scientists writing in the journal “Science Advances” think that they may have found the answer.  They postulate that the global cooling was triggered by huge amounts of dust deposited in the atmosphere from an extraterrestrial asteroid collision.

An Enormous Impact in Outer Space

Colliding asteroids in outer space.

An artist’s impression of an extraterrestrial asteroid impact.  Excessive amounts of dust in the atmosphere may have contributed to global cooling.

Picture Credit: Don Davis, Southwest Research Institute

Dust from Outer Space

The Earth’s atmosphere is constantly bombarded by extraterrestrial space dust, but normally it only makes up a tiny proportion of all the dust in the atmosphere.  Most of these tiny particles come from other sources such as volcanoes, forest fires, fine sand grains from deserts, pollution or from sea salt.  However, the research team, which included scientists from the University of Chicago and Sweden’s Lund University postulate that the break-up of a 93-mile-wide asteroid in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter led to the deposition of much more than just the normal background dosage of space dust.  Large amounts of dust would have interrupted the filtering of solar radiation to the surface of our planet and led to a period of dramatic global cooling.

Philipp Heck (University of Chicago), one of the co-authors of the paper published in “Science Advances” explained:

“Normally, Earth gains about 40,000 tons of extraterrestrial material every year.  Imagine multiplying that by a factor of a thousand or ten thousand.  Our hypothesis is that the large amounts of extraterrestrial dust over a timeframe of at least two million years played an important role in changing the climate on Earth, contributing to cooling.”

If large amounts of ice were formed due to this cooling effect, then sea-levels would have fallen as evidenced by the geological record of strata that was formed during this time in Earth’s turbulent history.  Falling sea levels would have changed ecosystems, potentially opening up new environments for organisms to exploit.

Lead author of the research paper, Birger Schmitz of Sweden’s Lund University added:

“Our results show for the first time that such dust, at times, has cooled Earth dramatically.  Our studies can give a more detailed, empirical-based understanding of how this works, and this in turn can be used to evaluate if model simulations are realistic.”

Searching for the Evidence

The researchers analysed Ordovician rocks looking for rare Earth particles that could be associated with cosmic dust.  Tiny micrometeorites collected from Antarctica were used to provide a base level of normal cosmic deposition.  Evidence of rare helium isotopes along with other rare Earth metals confirmed that dust deposits were extraterrestrial in nature.  The Middle Ordovician cooling period could therefore have been caused by this excessive dust.  The amount of water in the Earth’s oceans influences the way that rocks on the seabed form, and the rocks from this time period show signs of shallower oceans, an indication that some of the Earth’s water was trapped in glaciers and sea ice.  Schmitz and his colleagues are the first to show that this ice age correlates with the extra dust in the atmosphere.

A Fragment of a Meteorite Preserved in Ordovician-aged Rock (Note the Orthocone Fossil)

Fragment of a meteorite preserved in sandstone dating from the Ordovician. Note the orthocone fossil (above).

A fragment of a meteorite preserved in red sandstone dating from the Ordovician.  Note the orthocone fossil (above).

Picture Credit: John Weinstein/Chicago Field Museum

Gradual Climate Change Could Have Benefitted Life on Earth

Whilst the authors note that sudden and dramatic climate change can be very detrimental to ecosystems, the Middle Ordovician cooling could have proved to have been extremely beneficial.

Associate Professor Heck argues:

“In the global cooling we studied, we’re talking about timescales of millions of years.  It’s very different from the climate change caused by the meteorite 65 million years ago that killed the dinosaurs, and it’s different from the global warming today—this global cooling was a gentle nudge.  There was less stress.”

Rocks from Southern Sweden Record the Dramatic Increase in Cosmic Dust

The grey horizontal line marks the deposition of the cosmic dust from the asteroid collision in outer space.

These are cliffs made of sedimentary rock that was once an ancient seabed.  The grey horizontal line in the rock shows where the dust from the asteroid collision fell.  These deposits provide “smoking gun” evidence of the outer space asteroid collision.

Picture Credit: Philipp Heck (University of Chicago)

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a press release from the University of Chicago in the compilation of this article.

20 09, 2019

Japan’s Greatest Fossil Dinosaur Gets a Name

By | September 20th, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Kamuysaurus japonicus – Japan’s Newest Dinosaur

Earlier this month, a scientific paper was published providing details of Japan’s most complete dinosaur fossil known to science.  The dinosaur, a member of the Hadrosauridae, has been named Kamuysaurus japonicus, with the Rugby World Cup starting today in the “land of the rising sun”, we thought it appropriate to feature this new species of Late Cretaceous duck-billed dinosaur in today’s blog post.

A Life Reconstruction of the Newly Described Japanese Dinosaur Kamuysaurus japonicus

Kamuysaurus life reconstruction.

A herd of Kamuysaurus wander along a beach.   In the illustration by Masato Hattori, a trio Kamuysaurus wander across a beach some 72 mya, the fossilised remains, representing a single animal was discovered in marine strata.

Picture Credit:  Kobayashi Y., et al, Scientific Reports

The fossils come from the part Cretaceous to Palaeocene-aged Hakobuchi Formation, specifically from outcrops close to the town of Mukawa on the island of Hokkaido.  Despite the semi-articulated and nearly complete nature of the fossil material, some bones are heavily damaged and show signs of extensive bioerosion (damage caused by marine invertebrates boring into the bones), prior to burial.  The strata associated with the fossil material has yielded ammonites, mosasaurs and the remains of a sea turtle, it is correlated to the lowest Maastrichtian (faunal stage).

At Everything Dinosaur, we have followed the research into this new species of duck-billed dinosaur with eager anticipation.  We first wrote about this fossil discovery some years ago, when tail bones discovered eroding out of a hillside hinted at a very special dinosaur fossil find:  Japan’s Most Complete Dinosaur Discovery

Assigned to the Edmontosaurini Clade

In the current study, a group of researchers led by Professor Yoshitsugu Kobayashi of the Hokkaido University Museum conducted comparative and phylogenetic analyses on 350 bones and 70 taxa of hadrosaurids, which led to the discovery that the dinosaur belongs to the Edmontosaurini clade and is closely related to Kerberosaurus unearthed in Russia and Laiyangosaurus from China.  This herbivorous dinosaur was named after the indigenous people of Hokkaido, the specific name refers to Japan.  It translates as “the deity of Japanese dinosaurs”.

The Holotype Skeleton of Kamuysaurus

Holotype specimen of Kamuysaurus.

Holotype skeleton of Kamuysaurus japonicus (a). Reconstructed skeleton showing recovered elements in white (b).  Its unique characteristics include the anterior inclination of neural spines of the sixth to twelfth dorsal vertebrae.

Picture Credit: Kobayashi Y., et al Scientific Reports

The researchers found that Kamuysaurus has three unique characteristics that are not shared by other dinosaurs in the Edmontosaurini clade: the low position of the cranial bone notch, the short ascending process of the jaw bone, and the anterior inclination of the neural spines of the sixth to twelfth dorsal vertebrae.  The histological analysis revealed that the animal was a fully grown adult at least nine years of age and it measured 8 metres in length with a body mass of around 4,000 kilograms.

The frontal bone, a part of its skull, has a big articular facet connecting to the nasal bone, possible evidence that Kamuysaurus may have had a crest.  The crest, if it existed, is believed to resemble the thin, flat crest of Brachylophosaurus subadults, whose fossils have been unearthed in North America.

Selected Skull Elements of Kamuysaurus japonicus

Selected skull elements of Kamuysaurus.

Selected skull elements of Kamuysaurus japonicus.  Its unique characteristics include the low position of the cranial bone notch (quadratojugal notch, qjn) and the short ascending process of the jaw bone (surangular, acp)

Picture Credit: Kobayashi Y., et al Scientific Reports

The study also shed light on the origin of the Edmontosaurini clade and how it might have migrated.  Its latest common ancestors spread widely across Asia and North America, which were connected by what is now Alaska, allowing them to travel between the two continents.  Among them, the clade of Kamuysaurus, Kerberosaurus and Laiyangosaurus inhabited the Far East during the Campanian faunal stage, the fifth of six ages of the Late Cretaceous, before evolving independently.

The research team’s analyses pointed to the possibility that ancestors of hadrosaurids and its subfamilies, Hadrosaurinae and Lambeosaurinae, preferred to inhabit areas near the ocean, suggesting the coastline environment was an important factor in the diversification of the hadrosaurids in its early evolution, especially in North America.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a press release from Hokkaido University in the compilation of this article.

The “A New Hadrosaurine (Dinosauria: Hadrosauridae) from the Marine Deposits of the Late Cretaceous Hakobuchi Formation, Yezo Group, Japan” by Yoshitsugu Kobayashi, Tomohiro Nishimura, Ryuji Takasaki, Kentaro Chiba, Anthony R. Fiorillo, Kohei Tanaka, Tsogtbaatar Chinzorig, Tamaki Sato and Kazuhiko Sakurai published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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