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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.

15 01, 2020

Ediacaran Fossil Site Gains Protection

By | January 15th, 2020|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Geology, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

South Australian Fossil Site Purchase Supported by Billionaire

With so much bad news about the environment coming out of Australia due to the devastating bush fires, it is pleasing to report on a conservation success story.   A $1 billion (USD), nature fund has been used to buy a vast tract of outback South Australia containing some of the oldest animal fossils on Earth.  The acquisition safeguards an extremely important fossil site and helps support the Australian Government’s plans to gain World Heritage Site status for the area.

The Nilpena Fossil Fields (South Australia)

The Nilpena fossil fields (South Australia).

The Nilpena fossil fields preserve examples of Precambrian biota.

Picture Credit: Jason Irving

The 60,000-hectare (150,000 acre) Nilpena West property is 370 miles (600 kilometres), north of the South Australian capital Adelaide and was previously part of Nilpena Pastoral Station.  The property includes the Ediacara Fossil Site (Nilpena), which is listed on Australia’s National Heritage List and records a remarkable marine biota, documenting some of the earliest, large, multicellular creatures to have evolved on Earth.

Global not-for-profit organisation The Nature Conservancy, sourced funding from an anonymous donor in October 2019 to allow the purchase and protection to go ahead after the South Australian Government announced in March that it had reached an agreement with the land’s owners to purchase the site.  The purchased land is adjacent to the Ediacara Conservation Park and increases the size of the protected area ten-fold.

The Importance of the Flinders Range

Strange fossils, preserved in the sandstone of the Ediacaran hills of South Australia provided the first substantial evidence for the existence of complex life in the late Precambrian.  In 1946, Australian geologist Reginald Spriggs discovered fossilised impressions in this part of the Flinders Range, his unexpected discovery failed to enthuse the scientific community at first, his paper outlining the discovery was rejected by the academic journal “Nature”.  However, the significance of these exquisitely preserved fossils and what they represented – organisms associated with an ancient marine community, was soon realised.

An Example of Dickinsonia – One of the Fossilised Ediacaran Organisms Associated with the Nilpena Fossil Fields

Dickinsonia costata fossil.

The Ediacaran fossil Dickinsonia costata, specimen P40135 from the collections of the South Australia Museum.  The disc-like Dickinsonia is one of the creatures preserved at the Nilpena fossil site.

Picture Credit: Dr Alex Liu (Cambridge University)

To read an article about the bizarre Dickinsonia: Dickinsonia Definitely an Animal.

The sale has now been finalised with The Nature Conservancy announcing this week that funding from the Wyss Campaign for Nature, the once anonymous donor, had helped secure the acquisition.  The Wyss Campaign for Nature was founded two years ago, by the wealthy, Swiss-born philanthropist Hansjörg Wyss.  The purchased land will be permanently protected and managed by the South Australian Government.  It will be formally allocated to the Ediacara Conservation Park later this year.

A Map Showing the Location of the Nilpena Fossil Fields Relative to the Ediacara Conservation Park

A map of the Nilpena fossil fields site.

Nilpena fossil fields site.  The Nilpena Station purchase will greatly increase the protected area for the fossils.

Picture Credit: The Government of South Australia

The South Australian property is now permanently protected and managed for conservation by the South Australian Government. It will be added to the Ediacara Conservation Park later this year.

Scores of Species

Palaeontologists have excavated many hundreds of specimens representing three dozen different species, most of which are more than 550 million years old.  The fossils provide the first evidence of locomotion and sexual reproduction.  The space agency NASA, has examined the Ediacaran biota in a project to assess how life could evolve on other worlds.

The Nature Conservancy’s Australian Director of Conservation Dr James Fitzsimons explained that this purchase which would permit the formal protection of the 60,000 hectare property was a big win for conservation in South Australia.

He commented:

“The property contains significant biodiversity values including two threatened ecological communities and a number of threatened species.  Most critically, the property also covers extremely important sites that contain the oldest fossilised animals on Earth.”

South Australian Environment and Water Minister David Speirs said Nilpena West would soon be added to the South Australian public protected area estate and managed by the Department for Environment and Water.

The minister added:

“Its inclusion in the conservation estate will link the Ediacara Conservation Park to the Lake Torrens National Park and will support our nomination for the listing of areas of the Flinders Ranges as a World Heritage Site.”

When did life on land evolve?  An Ediacaran related article: When Did Life on Land First Evolve – Does the Ediacaran Biota Provide the Answer?

A recent article about how computerised tomography and other sophisticated research techniques are providing new insights into how the first animals evolved: Chinese Fossils Suggest Animal-like-embryos Evolved Before Animals.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a press release from The Lead South Australia in the compilation of this article.

11 01, 2020

Thin-skinned, Grey Duck-billed Dinosaurs

By | January 11th, 2020|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Thin-skinned, Grey Duck-billed Dinosaurs

Scientists writing in the journal of The Palaeontological Association have published a remarkable study on the properties of the skin of duck-billed dinosaurs.  Analysis of fossilised hadrosaur skin, from the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History (New Haven, Connecticut), suggests that the skin structure of these dinosaurs had more in common with living birds than with reptiles.  In addition, the skin is much thinner when compared to large, terrestrial mammals of comparable size such as elephants and rhinos.  In a blow to palaeoartists who like to adorn their ornithischian illustrations with a multitude of colours, the scientists conclude from an analysis of potential preserved skin pigments that hadrosaurids were grey in colour.

Hadrosaurs Could Have Been Largely Grey in Colour Just Like Big Terrestrial Mammals Alive Today Such as Elephants

Gryposaurus - Hadrosaur Model available from Everything Dinosaur.

The Wild Safari Prehistoric World Gryposaurus dinosaur model.  The model’s colouration being largely grey may actually reflect the true colouration of duck-billed dinosaurs.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Getting Under the Skin of a Dinosaur

Scientists from Yale University, in collaboration with colleagues in Italy, investigated the chemical properties of a section of fossilised duck-billed dinosaur skin that had been preserved in three dimensions. The specimen (YPMPU 016969) was also subjected to detailed chemical mapping and microspectroscopy as well as scanning electron micrographs to establish the anatomical structure.

Two of the three layers associated with skin in tetrapods were identified, the outer layer (epidermis) and the dermis. The innermost layer, the subcutis, could not be identified in this study.  The dinosaur’s scales on the skin surface are very well-preserved.  They form an irregular, pebbly pattern with individual scales ranging in size from under one millimetre in diameter to much larger scales around 12 millimetres across.

Specimen Number YPMPU 016969 – The Fossilised Skin Studied

Fossilised duck-billed dinosaur skin.

The skin preserved in YPMPU 016969 (A), three‐dimensional skin and (B), the fossil counterpart. Scale bar represents 2 cm.

Picture Credit: Yale University

Three-dimensionally Preserved Pigment Bearing Bodies and  Blood Vessels

The detailed analysis of the fossilised skin and the samples taken permitted the scientists to identify three-dimensionally preserved eumelanin‐bearing bodies.  This enabled the researchers to propose that the dinosaur was mostly dark grey in colour, a skin colouration that reflects ecological parallels seen in today’s large, terrestrial animals such as elephants and rhinos.  However, caution is urged when it comes to determining the colouration of these types of dinosaurs.  There might be a preservation bias in favour of pigment cells that produce darker skin tones, other pigments may not have been preserved.  The section of fossil skin also permitted the researchers to trace blood vessels and dermal cells.

The Study Suggests That Large-bodied Hadrosaurids Were Similar in Colour to Today’s Large-bodied Terrestrial Mammals

Analysis suggests grey-coloured hadrosaurids.

A life reconstruction of a grey-coloured duck-billed dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Yale University

Surprisingly Thin Skin

The skin was found to be much thinner than that of living mammals of similar size.  The outer layer of skin is around 0.2 mm in thickness, whilst the dermis is estimated to have been up to 3 mm thick.  Although, no measurements for the subcutis layer could be made, in living elephants the skin is around 10-15 mm thick and in extant rhinos a skin thickness (all three layers, epidermis, dermis and subcutis), of 25 mm is not uncommon.

The relative thickness of the epidermis and dermis in YPMPU 016969 resembles that in birds more closely than that of reptiles.

If the skin of these large, Cretaceous herbivores is so much thinner than previously thought, then how does it fossilise more readily than the integumentary coverings of other dinosaurs?  After all, the most commonly preserved soft tissues associated with ornithischian dinosaurs are skin remains.  The researchers postulate that the unusual layering and the microstructure of hadrosaur skin may play an important role in its fossilisation potential.

The scientific paper: “Three-dimensional soft tissue preservation revealed in the skin of a non-avian dinosaur” by Matteo Fabbri, Jasmina Wiemann, Fabio Manucci and Derek E. G. Briggs published in Palaeontology – the journal of The Palaeontological Association

3 01, 2020

Palaeontology Predictions for 2020

By | January 3rd, 2020|Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Press Releases|0 Comments

Everything Dinosaur’s Palaeontology Predictions for 2020

Just for a little bit of fun, team members at Everything Dinosaur have been taking a look into their crystal balls to see if they can predict some of the news stories and other articles that we will feature on this blog site over the coming twelve months or so.  Proposals have been brought forward, we have discussed and debated and come up with a list of our predictions for what we think will be covered in our next 365 or so blog posts.

Here are our attempts at second guessing what news stories will be covered on this site.  At the end of 2020, we will take a look back to see how we have done.

1).  A new Dinosaur Named from Thailand

Last year we predicted that a new dinosaur would be named and described from fossil discoveries made in India.  We drew a blank on that one, we did not report any new genera from India being erected, so, this time we will predict that a new dinosaur will be discovered in Thailand, perhaps a basal ornithopod or a member of the Theropoda.   Last year we reported upon the discovery of two meat-eating dinosaurs from Thailand (Phuwiangvenator yaemniyomi and Vayuraptor nongbualamphuensis), in previous years we have blogged about the discovery of the remains of a huge sauropod.  Dinosaur fossils from Thailand are rare, but we will stick our collective necks out and predict a new dinosaur from this part of south-east Asia.

To read our 2019 blog article about Phuwiangvenator yaemniyomi and Vayuraptor nongbualamphuensisTwo New Theropods from Thailand.

Will a New Theropod Dinosaur be Named in 2020 from Fossils Found in Thailand?

Will Thailand have a new theropod dinosaur in 2020?

A new genus of theropod dinosaur to be named from fossil discoveries made in Thailand?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

2).  Everything Dinosaur to be Awarded Feefo Platinum Award for Customer Service

The independent ratings company Feefo will introduce a new top standard of customer service in 2020.  The Feefo Platinum Trusted Service award recognises those businesses that go above and beyond to provide a consistently high level of customer service all the time.  This is the highest service recognition that Feefo has ever offered, will Everything Dinosaur achieve these exacting standards.  Our team members are going to do their best, if we continue to put our customers front and centre then we predict that Everything Dinosaur will achieve this standard in the next twelve months.

Everything Dinosaur Has Earned the Feefo Gold Standard for Customer Service but in 2020 Can We Do Better?

Gold Trusted Service Award to Everything Dinosaur.

Feefo awards top marks to Everything Dinosaur.  Will Everything Dinosaur earn the Platinum Trusted Service accolade in 2020?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

3).  The “Jurassic Mile” to Make its Mark

A 26o hectare site in Wyoming (United States), will continue to astonish scientists with the wealth of Late Jurassic fossil material that it contains.  We predict that Everything Dinosaur will report on more discoveries from this remarkable site.  The location will be opened again in the spring and the joint Dutch, American and British research team will be adding to their discoveries shortly afterwards.  Expect more news of sauropods, fossil flora and dinosaur tracks, with theropods and stegosaurs thrown into the mix too.  It is the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis that is leading the research, we predict more news from them and sadly, the first reports of illegal fossil gathering from the site.

Professor Phil Manning (University of Manchester) at the “Jurassic Mile”

Professor Phil Manning and the diplodocid femur.

Professor Phil Manning (The University of Manchester) poses next to a diplodocid femur.

Picture Credit: Manchester University

4).  The Anthropocene and our Carbon Footprint

Climate change will dominate the news in the coming years.  Everything Dinosaur team members predict that the Anthropocene, the proposed, new geological epoch dating from the commencement of significant human impact on Earth’s geology and ecosystems will be thrown into sharp focus this year.  Research will be published that contrasts the sudden rise in greenhouse gases with what is known about global warming from ancient palaeoclimates.  In 2019, Everything Dinosaur developed an environmental and ethical trading policy.  We will continue to do our part by increasing the amount of recycled packing materials we use, cutting out waste, increasing the amount of material recycled and reducing our use or electricity.  We have a number of initiatives in place to help make our company more environmentally friendly including supporting the restoration of natural habitats.  We predict blog posts will focus on the environmental emergency and that links will be made to previous climate change events recorded by scientists.  The concept of a sixth mass extinction event as recorded in the Phanerozoic will be reported upon in this weblog.

Expecting the Anthropocene to Make Headlines in 2020

Climate change, time is running short to make necessary changes.

Climate change, time is running out, changes in human activity need to be made.

Picture Credit: Associated Press

5).  Everything Dinosaur to add an Additional Fifty Models

This year is going to be yet another very busy one for Everything Dinosaur.  The range of models and figures that we currently supply is vast but just as last year we predict that at least fifty new replicas and figures will be added to our range over the next twelve months.  We have already made exclusive announcements about CollectA models and Papo, expect more news about new products in the coming months.  Fifty new models works out at around one new model every 175 hours!

New Models for 2020 in Stock at Everything Dinosaur

New models and figures expected at Everything Dinosaur in 2020.

Everything Dinosaur expects to stock a lot of new prehistoric animal figures in 2020.  Expect new models from Rebor, Beasts of the Mesozoic, CollectA, Safari Ltd and Papo in 2020.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

6). “Jurassic World 3” – First Trailers Expected

Expect the hyperbole regarding the sixth instalment of the “Jurassic Park/World” movie franchise to build over the next twelve months.  The first teaser trailers are likely to be released soon, perhaps airing first in the USA during the commercials surrounding the Super Bowl in early February.  An announcement has already been made about the original stars of the 1993 film “Jurassic Park”, joining the cast and reprising their roles for the new film.  “Jurassic World 3” is due for release in 2021 and will be directed by Colin Trevorrow.

Stars of the Original Film will Feature in “Jurassic World 3”

Stars to return in "Jurassic World 3".

Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum will reprise their roles.  However, Gennaro (pictured far left), played by Martin Ferrero, is not going to return, his part in the franchise was ended by a hungry T. rex.

Picture Credit: Getty Images

7).  Picking Up a Prehistoric Penguin

Last but not least comes our prediction that sometime over the next twelve months or so a scientific paper will be published that describes a new species of prehistoric penguin.  Lots of different types of prehistoric birds are going to be named and described in 2020.  We can expect new discoveries from China, the United States and possibly Antarctica.  However, Everything Dinosaur team members predict that a scientific paper will be published naming and describing a new species of penguin, perhaps a recent Pleistocene species or an early member of the Sphenisciformes Order.  New Zealand has proved to be a successful hunting ground for fossils of early penguins so we predict that the fossil discoveries will come from that country.

To read a recent article about the fossils of a giant penguin: Monster Penguin from the Southern Hemisphere.

So, we have made seven predictions about news stories and other articles that we will feature on this blog site over the coming year.  In twelve months’ time, we will look back to see how we have got on.

2 01, 2020

Palaeontology Predictions for 2019 – How Did We Get On?

By | January 2nd, 2020|Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Press Releases|1 Comment

Palaeontology Predictions for 2019 – How Did We Get On?

One of the skills in science is being able to predict the outcome of any experiment.  The prediction can then be compared with the actual outcome and the reasons for any variance can become another line of enquiry.  In early January, there are lots of New Year resolutions being made, but for team members at Everything Dinosaur, rather than looking forward, we shall reflect on the list of palaeontology predictions we made twelve months ago.  How accurate were our attempts at trying to second guess news stories we would cover in this blog?

Thus, we end the preamble and jump right in…

Here is the list of our 2019 palaeontology predictions with notes as to how well (or how badly) we did:

The List of Predictions (2019)

1).  More Ceratopsians to be Described from America (Four New Members of the Marginocephalia).
2).  Herefordshire Lagerstätte To Make Its Mark Again – A New Species of Silurian Marine Invertebrate.
3).  A New Dinosaur from India.
4).  Fifty New Models Available from Everything Dinosaur.
5).  The Presence of Melanosomes Amongst the Dinosauria (The Colour of Dinosaurs).
6).  A New Species of Large Azhdarchid Pterosaur – northern Africa or the Hateg Basin.
7).  New Tyrannosaurids from the United States (Two New Species).

1).  Four New Members of the Marginocephalia

We are off to a bit of a shaky start.  In 2018, we reported on one new addition to the Marginocephalia and again in 2019 we covered just one new member of this clade.  Our blushes were saved by the first unique dinosaur species to have been found in the Canadian Province of British Columbia – Ferrisaurus sustutensis.  We thought there would be more horned dinosaurs and pachycephalosaurs from what was the southern portion of Laramidia, but no, Ferrisaurus roamed the more northerly parts of this ancient landmass.

Ferrisaurus sustutensis Life Reconstruction

Ferrisaurus sustutensis life reconstruction.

Ferrisaurus sustutensis illustrated.  Just one new member of the Marginocephalia reported upon in 2019, the leptoceratopsid F. sustutensis.

Picture Credit: Raven Amos and courtesy of the Royal British Columbia Museum

2).  A New Species of Silurian Marine Invertebrate – Herefordshire Lagerstätte Fossil Find

Back in April 2019, team members wrote about the discovery of a multi-tentacled predator from the secret Silurian-aged Herefordshire Lagerstätte.  Sollasina cthulhu was described in some press reports as a “monster”, but at just three centimetres in diameter, things need to be kept in perspective.  However, it was likely a seafloor-dwelling, ferocious predator and a significant fossil discovery, as it helps to shed light on the evolution of sea cucumbers and their relatives, many of which are still with us today.

Sollasina cthulhu Life Reconstruction

Life reconstruction of the Silurian ancestral sea cucumber Sollasina cthulhu.

Sollasina cthulhu life reconstruction.

Picture Credit: Elissa Martin, (Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History)

3).  A New Dinosaur from India

Whoops, despite lots of new dinosaurs being named and described last year (we think there were 43 new genera published), as far as the team members at Everything Dinosaur are aware, India drew a blank.    Approximately 8 new genera were described from Argentina, China and the USA produced 6 and 5 respectively.  Mongolia had 4 new dinosaur genera named in 2019.  As for India, nothing, our prediction proved to be inaccurate.  There was even a formal description of a long-awaited dinosaur discovery from Japan: Japan’s Greatest Dinosaur Fossil Gets a Name, but nothing from India, better luck next time.

Argentina Recorded Eight New Dinosaur Genera in 2019 including Bajadasaurus pronuspinax

CollectA Bajadasaurus model and an illustration of the strange cervical vertebrae.

The bizarre cervical vertebrae of Bajadasaurus and a life reconstruction, one of eight new genera of dinosaur described from Argentina in 2019.

Picture Credit: Gallina et al published in Scientific Reports and Everything Dinosaur

4).  Fifty New Models Available from Everything Dinosaur

With new figures from Mojo Fun, Schleich, PNSO, Rebor, Papo, CollectA and Beasts of the Mesozoic there were more than fifty new prehistoric animal replicas added to the Everything Dinosaur range last year, how many more in 2020?  Perhaps, we could have a go at a prediction for the next twelve months.

Lots and Lots of New Prehistoric Animal Models Added to the Everything Dinosaur Portfolio in 2019

A large number of prehistoric animal models added to Everything Dinosaur's huge range.

More than fifty different prehistoric animal models added to Everything Dinosaur’s huge range in 2019.  Mojo Fun, PNSO, Rebor, CollectA, Beasts of the Mesozoic, Schleich and Papo what a huge range!

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

5).  The Presence of Melanosomes Amongst the Dinosauria

East Gippsland (Victoria, Australia), currently being devastated by intense bush fires, provided Everything Dinosaur with evidence of the colour of dinosaurs from “Down Under”.  Remarkable bird and non-avian fossilised feathers from the Koonwarra Fish Beds Geological Reserve were analysed and fresh insights into the plumage of Early Cretaceous inhabitants of southern Gondwana were gained.  The scientists, writing in the academic journal “Gondwana Research”, highlighted dark pigmentation which might have provided camouflage or helped with the absorption of energy from the rays of sun – helpful if you live in high latitudes.  Looks like we got this prediction just about right.

One of the Tufted Body Feathers from the Research Paper

Feather fossil from the A fossilised feather from the Koonwarra Fish Beds Geological Reserve.

A fossilised feather from the Koonwarra Fish Beds Geological Reserve.  More information on prehistoric pigmentation.

Picture Credit: Kundrát et al (Gondwana Research)

6).  A New, Large Azhdarchid Pterosaur

2019 proved to be a productive year for pterosaur research, sure enough one of the nine new genera named was indeed a giant, azhdarchid (Cryodrakon boreas).  However, we predicted that this find would be reported from north African deposits or perhaps from the famous Hateg Basin of Romania.  We were correct when it came to the pterosaur but a few thousand miles out when it came to the location of its discovery.  Like Ferrisaurus sustutensis, this was a fossil discovery from Canada, but not from British Columbia, the Cryodrakon fossil remains come from the Dinosaur Provincial Park Formation of southern Alberta.  To read more about this giant flying reptile: The First Pterosaur Unique to Canada.  As Ferrisaurus was the first dinosaur unique to Canada, so Cryodrakon is the first reported pterosaur that was unique to this country too.

7).  Two New Tyrannosaurids from the United States

In February, we reported on a fast-running member of the Tyrannosauroidea from the Cedar Mountain Formation (Utah).  This dinosaur was named Moros intrepidus.  In May, Everything Dinosaur team members blogged about the newly described Suskityrannus hazelae.  It [Suskityrannus] may only have been around three metres in length, but it represents one of the best known early Late Cretaceous tyrannosauroids yet to be described.

Moros intrepidus (top) and Suskityrannus hazelae (below)

M. intrepidus and S. hazelae life reconstruction.

Moros intrepidus and Suskityrannus hazelae illustrations.

Picture Credit: Andrey Atuchin (S. hazelae) and Jorge Gonzalez (M. intrepidus)

So, all in all, not a bad set of predictions, some were admittedly more accurate than others.  What predictions will we make for 2020?  We will publish our thoughts tomorrow.

29 12, 2019

Carboniferous Parental Care

By | December 29th, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Carboniferous Fossil Provides Evidence of Parental Care

Parental care is a common behaviour amongst mammals, the chances of the offspring surviving are enhanced by the parents making an investment in looking after their young, but when did this behavioural strategy evolve in the ancestors of the Mammalia?  This is a tricky question to answer as evidence for such behaviours is rarely preserved in the fossil record, but a remarkable discovery inside a lithified tree stump dating from around 305 million years ago from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia (Canada), may have provided palaeontologists with a fresh insight into prehistoric parenting.

A team of scientists writing in the academic journal “Nature Ecology & Evolution” report the discovery of fossilised remains of an adult lizard-like creature in association with a very young member of the same species preserved within the tree stump.  Finding an adult and associated conspecific juvenile has been interpreted as evidence of the parent staying close to its offspring and therefore a demonstration of parental care.

The creatures are members of the Varanopidae family, so called as these creatures resemble extant monitor lizards (Varanus), but they are not closely related to monitor lizards and are a new genus.  They have been named Dendromaia unamakiensis and if this is prehistoric parental care, then it predates the previous earliest evidence by some forty million years.

Evidence of Parental Care in a Synapsid (Dendromaia unamakiensis)

Dendromaia unamakiensis life reconstruction - evidence of parental care in a synapsid.

Dendromaia unamakiensis life reconstruction.

Picture Credit: Henry Sharpe

A Varanopid (Synapsid) Caring for its Young

The Varanopidae are geographically widespread and temporally diverse.  Most of these animals were around 1 metre in length, much of their body length was made up of their long tails.   They evolved during the Carboniferous and persisted into the Middle Permian.  Varanopids are regarded as one of the most successful of the early types of amniotes, however, whether they are ancestral to modern mammals and members of the Synapsida or whether they are actually diapsids is an area of debate amongst palaeontologists.

Commenting on the significance of the fossil discovery, lead author of the scientific paper Professor Hillary Maddin (Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada), commented:

“Parental care is a behavioural strategy where parents make an investment or divert resources from themselves to increase the health and chances of survival for their offspring.  While there are a variety of parental care strategies, prolonged postnatal care is amongst the most costly to a parent.  This form of parental care is particularly common in mammals, as all mammalian offspring demand nourishment from their mothers.”

The Slab and Counter Slab with the Preserved Remains of the D. unamakiensis Fossils

Dendromaia unamakiensis slab and counter slab.

The slab and the counter slab with the preserved Dendromaia unamakiensis fossils.

Picture Credit: Maddin et al

The researchers concluded that this was evidence of parental care as the preservation of delicate details and structures in the fossils indicate a rapid burial with little movement after death.  The adult and the juvenile were close to each other at the time that they died.  The location of the young animal beneath the hindlimb and encircled tail of the adult resembles a position associated with animals living in a den.

Earliest Evidence of Prolonged Parental Care

The fossils could represent the earliest known record of prolonged parental care.  Prior to this discovery, the previous earliest record of this sort of parental behaviour was identified in a varanopid from the Middle Permian of South Africa.  A scientific paper was published in 2007, describing the discovery of five articulated conspecific varanopid specimens, one of which was much larger than the others.  This was interpreted as an adult and four juveniles, a family group with the older animal looking after its offspring.

Whether Dendromaia is a synapsid of diapsid might be debatable, but whatever the taxonomic relationship to other more advanced amniotes, this fossil discovery suggests that parental care is deeply rooted within the Amniota clade and that parenting behaviour might have been more widespread amongst Palaeozoic tetrapods than previously thought.

The scientific paper: “Varanopid from the Carboniferous of Nova Scotia reveals evidence of parental care in amniotes” by Hillary C. Maddin, Arjan Mann and Brian Hebert published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

26 12, 2019

Dinosaurs Bred Close to the South Pole

By | December 26th, 2019|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Baby Dinosaurs from Australia Indicate Dinosaurs Bred at High Latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere

Evidence has been found of ornithopod dinosaurs breeding at high latitudes in the northern hemisphere but evidence of similar behaviours in the southern hemisphere, dinosaurs nesting within the Antarctic Circle, had been lacking until now.  Writing in the on-line, open access journal “Scientific Reports”, researchers from the University of New England (New South Wales, Australia), in collaboration with colleagues from the Australian Opal Centre (Lightning Ridge, New South Wales), report the discovery of two tiny thigh bones (femora), that suggest that ornithopods did breed in southern polar environments.

An Artist’s Reconstruction of a Nesting Ornithopod with Recently Hatched Young

Dinosaurs Nesting Close to the South Pole.

A life reconstruction of a nesting Australian ornithopod (based on Weewarrasaurus).  The two femora are indistinct and scientists are not able to identify them down to the genus level but since the wallaby-sized ornithopod Weewarrasaurus is known from close by, the reconstruction has been based on this dinosaur.

Picture Credit: James Kuether

Co-author of the scientific paper, Dr Phil Bell (School of Environmental and Rural Science, University of New England) explained:

“We have examples of hatchling-sized dinosaurs from close to the North Pole, but this is the first time we’ve seen this kind of thing anywhere in the southern hemisphere.  It’s the first clue we’ve had about where these animals were breeding and raising their young.”

Dinosaurs Were Able to Tolerate a Range of Climates

The discovery of the two tiny, opalised thigh bones adds to the growing body of evidence that suggests that the Dinosauria, just like their close relatives the birds,  were remarkably climate-tolerant.  They thrived in equatorial, temperate and polar environments.  Fossilised eggshell and the fossilised remains of tiny hatchling hadrosaurids demonstrates that dinosaurs bred at high latitudes in the northern hemisphere and now the discovery to two partial thigh bones from the Griman Creek Formation exposed near Lightning Ridge suggests that non-iguanodontid ornithopods bred beyond sixty degrees south, well inside the Antarctic Circle.

The Two Opalised Fragmentary Dinosaur Thigh Bones (Femora)

The two tiny thigh bones indicate dinosaur nesting within the Antarctic Circle.

Proximal parts of ornithopod femora from the Griman Creek Formation. LRF 0759 (a–d). LRF 3375 (e–i).  Anterior views (a-e); (b,f) medial views; (c,g) posterior views; (d,i) proximal views; (h) lateral view.

Picture Credit: Scientific Reports

The two fragmentary fossil femurs do not preserve any evidence of histology, so, it is not possible to determine the exact age of the animals from these fossils.  However, when this material is compared with neonatal and slightly older, possible yearling specimens known from the geologically slightly older Eumeralla and Wonthaggi formations in Victoria (Australia), it can be deduced that these are the thigh bones of embryonic dinosaurs, ones that were yet to hatch.

The femur is relatively large (although in these tiny dinosaurs, one femur is estimated to have a total length of 4.5 cm, whilst the other is even smaller with an estimated total length of just 3.7 cm), as such, this bone has a better chance of surviving the fossilisation process than most of the other bones in the dinosaur’s body.  Palaeontologists had thought that dinosaurs living at high latitudes were not permanent residents, they migrated into these areas during the period of extended daylight and subsequent copious plant growth, just like herds of caribou in the Arctic Circle do today.  However, the ornithopods, even as fully grown adults were relatively small animals, as such they were probably not capable of migrating vast distances.  Therefore, it is likely that at least some dinosaurs were permanent residents at very high southerly latitudes and as such they bred at these environments.

Palaeogeographic Map of Australia Around 100 Million Years Ago

Palaeogeographic map of South Pole (100 million years ago).

Palaeogeographic map of Australia at the Albian/Cenomanian boundary (circa 100 million years ago) showing the fossil localities discussed in this paper. (1) Lightning Ridge, Griman Creek Formation (Cenomanian); (2) Dinosaur Cove, Eumeralla Formation (Albian); (3) Flat Rocks, Wonthaggi Formation (Aptian).

Picture Credit: Scientific Reports

The image (above) shows the approximate landmass associated with the polar regions around 100 million years ago.  The tiny fossilised thigh bones come from (1) the Lightning Ridge location.  In order to determine the age of these dinosaurs, they were compared with bones representing neonatal and slightly older animals found at locations (2) and (3).

The researchers conclude that these fossils support they hypothesis that some dinosaurs at least were permanent residents in the very southernmost portion of Gondwana.

The scientific paper: “High-latitude neonate and perinate ornithopods from the mid-Cretaceous of south-eastern Australia” by Justin L. Kitchener, Nicolás E. Campione, Elizabeth T. Smith and Phil R. Bell published in Scientific Reports.

22 12, 2019

Dinosaurs from the “End of the World”

By | December 22nd, 2019|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Scientists Map out the Late Cretaceous Biota of the Chorrillo Formation (Patagonia)

Scientists meeting at the end of year conference of the Argentine Museum of Natural Sciences have presented a new paper that provides an insight into the vertebrate biota associated with the Chorrillo Formation in the Province of Santa Cruz (Patagonia, southern Argentina).  Two new dinosaurs have been described, a basal member of the Iguanodontia estimated to have measured around four metres in length and a much bigger dinosaur, a titanosaur that is estimated to have measured around twenty-five metres long.

Numerous fossil fragments representing several individuals have been found indicating that the iguanodont material might represent a small herd of animals that died together.  This dinosaur has been named Isasicursor santacrucensis, whilst the titanosaur has been named Nullotitan glaciaris.

Two New Dinosaurs were Named at the Conference

Nullotitan and Isasicursor life reconstruction.

A life reconstruction of the titanosaur Nullotitan and the basal iguanodontid Isasicursor.

Picture Credit: CONICET

“Los Dinosaurios del fin del Mundo”

All the fossil material examined in the scientific paper, the dinosaur remains, fossilised titanosaur eggshells, fossils associated with other reptiles including a mosasaur, come from an area of approximately 2,000 square metres.  The sequential strata associated with this part of the Chorrillo Formation plot a gradual ingression of the sea eating into a coastal environment.  The dinosaurs are believed to have lived around 70 million years ago (Maastrichtian faunal stage of the Cretaceous).  As these fossils date from near the end of the Age of Dinosaurs and are geographically located in the south of Argentina, the researchers dubbed them as “Los dinosaurios del fin del mundo” – the dinosaurs from the end of the world.

Silhouette Reconstructions of Isasicursor and Nullotitan

Chorrillo Formation dinosaurs.

Silhouettes of Isasicursor santacrucensis (top) and Nullotitan glaciaris (bottom).

Picture Credit: CONICET

An Enormous Femur

Nullotitan fossil material consists of fragmentary elements from the tail (caudal vertebrae), along with a single neck bone (cervical vertebra), portions of the limbs and other scrappy fossil material.  The largest, most complete fossil bone is a humerus (upper arm bone), it measures 114 cm long, but both the distal and proximal ends of an enormous femur (thigh bone) were also recovered from the site.  The femur is estimated to have been around 190 centimetres in length.

The scientists also reported fragments of theropod eggshells as well as evidence of the presence of both large and small members of the Megaraptoridae, although no fossils associated with abelisaurs were found.  Remains of fishes, lizards, turtles and snakes were also identified along with fossil wood and a large number of terrestrial and freshwater snails.  Mammals were present in the ecosystem, two isolated vertebrae belonging to a small mammal were found.  The fossil material representing individual animals might be quite poor and scrappy in nature, but the number of fossil finds has greatly improved our understanding of the biota of the southern tip of Patagonia close to the K-Pg boundary that marks the end of the Cretaceous.

Fossil Material Ascribed to Isasicursor santacrucensis

Isascursor fossils.

The fossil material associated with Isasicursor.

Picture Credit: CONICET

17 12, 2019

Ancient Crocodilian Evolved Unique Specialisations Due to its Size

By | December 17th, 2019|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Purussaurus mirandai – Had an Extra Vertebra to Assist Movement

The giant, prehistoric caiman Purussaurus mirandai, known from Miocene-aged deposits of Venezuela, had unique anatomical adaptations to help it move.  New research, published in the on-line journal “eLife” by an international team of scientists led by Dr Torsten Scheyer of the Palaeontological Institute and Museum of Zurich, demonstrate that this three-tonne predator was able to support its huge bulk by having an extra vertebra in its hip region (sacrum) and the shoulder girdle had also become specially adapted to assist terrestrial movement.

Comparing the Anatomy of P. mirandai to an Extant Caiman (C. Yacare)

P. mirandai compared to a living caiman (C. Yacare).

Comparing the anatomy of P. mirandai to a living caiman (C. Yacare).

Picture Credit: JA Chirinos/The Royal Veterinary College

A Swamp Dweller But Capable of Moving Around on Land

The unusual characteristics suggest that although Purussaurus would have been very much at home in rivers and swamps it was also able to move around on land, although not all that quickly, but over rough terrain and a short distance, this 8-metre-long reptile could have threatened to catch a typical member of our own species .  This research links nicely into a study carried out on the locomotion of modern crocodilians undertaken recently by the Royal Veterinary College, a study that Everything Dinosaur intends to report upon in the near future.

It is the only crocodilian to date to have an extra vertebra in its sacrum.  Purussaurus had three sacral vertebrae not the usual two.  This development requires changes to the “Hox genes” that control where certain body parts are formed.  The scientists noticed that some living crocodilians suffer malformations that cause an extra vertebra to be created in their sacrum, so it is evident that the Hox genes that can make these evolutionary changes remain available to crocodilians today.

Commenting on the findings, co-author of the study, Professor John Hutchinson (Royal Veterinary College) stated:

“We didn’t think that Purussaurus moved quickly on land.  Our findings are important because they help show how development can be altered in order to enable biomechanical changes as animals evolve into larger body sizes.”

Selected Forelimb Bones of Purussaurus from the Urumaco Formation of Venezuela

Purussaurus forelimb fossils.

(A) Interpretative reconstruction of the complete body outline of P. mirandai showing the preserved and assembled bones and the lower jaw in tentative live position.  Left shoulder blade (B) in lateral, medial, and posterior view.  Right shoulder blade (c) in medial view.  Right lower shoulder girdle (coracoid) (D) in dorsomedial, ventrolateral, and anterior view.  Note bony armour osteoderms (in upper part of trunk) and ribs (in lower part of trunk) are not in life position.

Picture Credit: The Royal Veterinary College

Lead author of the research, Dr Torsten Scheyer commented:

“We have been extremely lucky to find such a high amount of fossils in the badlands of Venezuela, which allowed the recognition of the unique condition in the hip region of the giant Purussaurus in the first place.  These old bones show us once again that the morphological variation seen in animals that are long extinct extends well beyond that of what is known in living animals, and thereby broadens our knowledge of what animals can do in evolution.”

An Illustration of the Fearsome Crocodilian Purussaurus mirandai 

Purussaurus mirandai illustrated.

Purussaurus mirandai illustrated, scale bar = 50 cm.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The scientific paper: “Giant extinct caiman breaks constraint on the axial skeleton of extant crocodylians” by Torsten M Scheyer, John R Hutchinson, Olivier Strauss, Massimo Delfino, Jorge D Carrillo-Briceño, Rodolfo Sánchez and Marcelo R Sánchez-Villagra published in eLife.

10 12, 2019

Lice Feeding on Dinosaur Feathers Entombed in Amber

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

Ancient Lice Fed on Dinosaur Feathers

With the evolution of modified scales into feathers, it was very likely that feather-feeding invertebrates would evolve to exploit this new food source.  However, the lack of fossils prevents palaeontologists from being able to plot how feather-feeding behaviours evolved.  However, damaged dinosaur down, complete with several lice-like insects preserved in 100-million-year-old amber confirms that by the Early Cretaceous, feathery dinosaurs had parasites that specialised on feeding upon their integumentary systems.

Writing in the on-line, academic journal “Nature Communications”, a team of scientists, including researchers from the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Smithsonian Institute and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, describe the discovery of ten nymph specimens, a new lineage of insect preserved alongside the dinosaur downy feathers they were feeding upon in amber from northern Myanmar.

The new insect species has been named Mesophthirus engeli.  The specific name “engeli” is dedicated to Dr Michael S. Engel, for his outstanding contribution to entomological research.

Parasitic Nymphs Feeding on Dinosaur Feathers

Feather-feeding insects preserved in amber.

Parasitic insects feeding on a dinosaur feather preserved in amber.

Picture Credit: Nature Communications

The photograph (above), shows an amber nodule with the specimens of the newly described parasitic insect Mesophthirus engeli preserved in situ.  Photograph (a), shows the whole feather and the locations of the insects.  White stars indicate parts of the feather with relatively complete barbules, whilst the black stars indicate areas that show probable feeding damage.  Scale bars (a) = 1 mm, 100 µm (b-j) and (k) 0.5 mm.

Ectoparasitic Morphological Characters

The nymphs demonstrate a series of ectoparasitic morphological traits such as a small, wingless body, a relatively large head with strong mouth parts and robust, short antennae.  These insects preserved in association with partially damaged dinosaur feathers, the damage probably caused by their feeding behaviour, suggests that feather-feeding insects originated in the Cretaceous, accompanying the radiation of the feathered dinosaurs, including the early birds.

Magnified Views of Mesophthirus engeli Along with Line Drawings and Life Reconstruction

Feather-feeding insects preserved in amber.

Views of Mesophthirus engeli specimens, line drawings and life reconstruction.

Picture Credit: Nature Communications

The picture (above), shows magnified views of the M. engeli specimens (a, c, d, e, g and h), with accompanying line drawings (b and f) and a life reconstruction (i).  Scale bars equal 50 μm.  The colour of the insects in the life reconstruction (i) are conjectural and reflect the general colouring of living feather-feeding lice.

To read a related article about the remains of blood-sucking mites being found preserved in burmite (amber from Myanmar): A Blood-sucking Story – Dinosaur Parasites Preserved in Amber.

The scientific paper: “New insects feeding on dinosaur feathers in mid-Cretaceous amber” by Taiping Gao, Xiangchu Yin, Chungkun Shih, Alexandr P. Rasnitsyn, Xing Xu, Sha Chen, Chen Wang and Dong Ren published in Nature Communications.

3 12, 2019

Telling Apart Teenage Tyrannosaurs

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

Fossils From Alberta Help to Tell Teenage Tyrannosaurs Apart

It is often the case that a newly described fossil specimen only leads to confusion and controversy as its details are published.  However, a reassessment of a partial skull of a juvenile dinosaur that had been attributed to the tyrannosaurine Daspletosaurus (Daspletosaurus torosus) has now been referred to Gorgosaurus libratus.  The finding of a scrap of bone, a part of the skull (postorbital), discovered in the Dinosaur Park Formation of Alberta, was the key to unlocking a mystery when it came to deciphering the fossilised bones of young tyrannosaurids.

Thanks to this new research, identifying which fossils represent different tyrannosaurid species might just have become a little easier.

A Digital Reconstruction of the Skull Elements (TMP 1994.143.1.)

Skull restoration TMP 1994.143.1.

Skull reconstruction of TMP 1994.143.1. Digital rendering of skull based on CT data in right lateral view (a), left lateral view (b), dorsal view (c) and anterior view (d).  Note that not all preserved elements were CT scanned.  Skull reconstruction in right lateral view based on combination of preserved right and left elements.  Scale bar = 10 cm.

Picture Credit: Voris et al/Scientific Reports

TMP 1994.143.1.

The partial skull and jaws (specimen number TMP 1994.143.1.), comes from the Dinosaur Provincial Park Formation of southern Alberta.  Although the fossil material was well preserved, the fossils were found in a jumbled and disarticulated state.  The bones had also been distorted during burial and the fossilisation process (the red shaded elements in the picture above depict the bones affected).  This distortion led to the bones becoming slightly wider, thus altering the dimensions of the fossil skull when it was reconstructed by scientists.  The skull length is around sixty-two centimetres whilst other skulls associated with Daspletosaurus torosus measure more than eighty-five centimetres in length, hence TMP 1994.143.1. was thought to represent a juvenile Daspletosaurus.

A Scale Drawing of an Adult Daspletosaurus

Drawing of Daspletosaurus.

Daspletosaurus (D. torosus) is estimated to have been around 8-9 metres in length when fully grown.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Defining a Juvenile Dinosaur

As scientists have been able to work out the likely growth rates of different dinosaurs, so a definition of what makes a juvenile specimen has emerged.  Lead author of the newly published paper, Jared Voris (University of Calgary), explained that juvenile dinosaurs were about half the body length of the largest adult animal known from that species.  A juvenile Daspletosaurus would have been around 4 metres in length, the equivalent in age of a human teenager, but still a formidable predator, one best avoided by all but the largest herbivorous dinosaurs.

A Small Piece of Skull Bone – Changes Views

The discovery of a small, isolated tyrannosaurid postorbital bone found in the Dinosaur Park Formation led to a reassessment of TMP 1994.143.1.  What was thought to represent the only known juvenile Daspletosaurus skull material has been assigned to the Gorgosaurus genus.  The study reveals that previously unrecognised morphological differences exist between juvenile albertosaurines and tyrannosaurines and demonstrates that juvenile tyrannosaurids are more morphologically distinct than originally thought.  Previous issues associated with differentiating juveniles of these two clades were likely caused by the misidentification of TMP 1994.143.1 as a juvenile Daspletosaurus.

Views of the Postorbital Bone Assigned to a Juvenile Daspletosaurus

Juvenile Daspletosaurus postorbital bone.

Views of the juvenile Daspletosaurus postorbital (TMP 2013.18.11) with line drawings.  Lateral view (a) with line drawing (c) and medial view (b) and accompanying line drawing (d).  Note scale bars equal 5 cm.

Picture Credit: Voris et al/Scientific Reports

Commenting on the significance of this new research, co-author Darla Zelenitsky (University of Calgary), explained that young Daspletosaurus specimens:

“Are now only represented by a few isolated bones instead of a nearly complete skull.  Regardless, we still have been able to figure out the earlier growth stages in the life cycle of both tyrannosaurs, Gorgosaurus and Daspletosaurus.”

It seems that skull diagnostic features develop quite early in these types of theropod dinosaur, if this is the case, then distinguishing different Late Cretaceous tyrannosaurid species from even fragmentary fossil remains might just become a little easier in future.

The scientific paper: “Reassessment of a juvenile Daspletosaurus from the Late Cretaceous of Alberta, Canada with implications for the identification of immature tyrannosaurids” by Jared T. Voris, Darla K. Zelenitsky, François Therrien and Philip J. Currie published in Scientific Reports.

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