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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.

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.

15 09, 2019

Protodontopteryx ruthae – Toothed Terror of the Waipara Greensand

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

Scientists discover one of the oldest “toothed” bird species in the Waipara Greensands

The remarkable fossil site located on the banks of the Waipara River north of the town of Canterbury on New Zealand’s South Island has provided palaeontologists with an amazing record of life during the Palaeocene Epoch, when the climate of New Zealand was very different than it is today.  Soaring above the tropical coastline some 62 million years ago was a gull-sized, bony-toothed bird which has been named Protodontopteryx ruthae.  Classified as a member of the Pelagornithidae, a family of huge seafaring birds, characterised by bony outgrowths along their jaws that served as teeth, the discovery of Protodontopteryx suggests that these birds originated in the Southern Hemisphere and not in the Northern Hemisphere as previously thought.

A Life Reconstruction of the Newly Described Pelagornithid Protodontopteryx ruthae

Life reconstruction of Protodontopteryx.

Protodontopteryx life reconstruction.  A flock of Protodontopteryx flies over a pair of prehistoric penguins.  Both types of bird are believed to have fed on fish.

Picture Credit: Derek Onley

The Oldest and Smallest Member of the Pelagornithidae to be Described

Writing in the journal “Papers in Palaeontology”, the research team, which included scientists from Canterbury Museum, describe Protodontopteryx which is oldest member of the Pelagornithidae to be described to date.  It is one of the oldest named Neornithes (modern birds), known to science.

Examining the Fossil Remains of P. ruthae

Examing the Protodontopteryx fossil at Canterbury Museum.

Curators at Canterbury Museum and co-authors of the scientific paper, Dr Paul Scofield (left) and Dr Vanesa De Pietri (right) examine the Protodontopteryx fossil in a laboratory.

Picture Credit: Canterbury Museum

While its descendants were some of the biggest flying birds ever, with wingspans of more than 5 metres, Protodontopteryx was only the size of an average gull.  Like other members of its family, the seabird had bony, tooth-like projections on the edge of its beak.  Its discovery provides further evidence of the remarkable biota that existed in this part of the world just a few million years after the Cretaceous mass extinction event that saw the demise of the non-avian dinosaurs.  Recently, Everything Dinosaur team members blogged about another bird fossil excavated from the Waipara Greensand, a giant 1.6 metre high prehistoric penguin: Monster Penquin from the Palaeocene of New Zealand.

Discovered in 2018

Amateur palaeontologist Leigh Love found the partial Protodontopteryx skeleton last year at the Waipara Greensand fossil site.  The bird was named Protodontopteryx ruthae after Love’s wife Ruth, a token of his appreciation for her tolerance and support as he pursued his decades-long passion for fossil collecting.  Fellow amateur Alan Mannering prepared the bones, and a team comprising Love, Mannering, Canterbury Museum Curators Dr Paul Scofield and Dr Vanesa De Pietri and Dr Gerald Mayr (Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, Germany), described Protodontopteryx.

Commenting on the implications regarding the likely origin of pelagornithids Dr Scofield stated:

“While this bird was relatively small, the impact of its discovery is hugely significant in our understanding of this family.  Until we found this skeleton, all the really old pelagornithids had been found in the Northern Hemisphere, so everyone thought they’d evolved up there.  New Zealand was a very different place when Protodontopteryx were in the skies.  It had a tropical climate – the sea temperature was about twenty-five degrees [Celsius] so we had corals and giant turtles.”

An Unexpected Discovery

Dr Mayr added that the discovery was:

“Truly amazing and unexpected.  Not only is the fossil one of the most complete specimens of a pseudotoothed bird, but it also shows a number of unexpected skeletal features that contribute to a better understanding of the evolution of these enigmatic birds.”

Later pelagornithid species evolved to soar over oceans with some species having wingspans in excess of six metres.  Protodontopteryx’s skeleton suggests it was less suited for long-distance soaring than later pelagornithids and probably covered much shorter ranges.  Its short, broad pseudoteeth were likely designed for catching fish.  Later species had needle-like pseudoteeth which were likely used to catch soft-bodied prey like squid.

The Fossil Site where the Remains of Protodontopteryx was Discovered

Research team members at the site of the fossil discovery.

Paul Scofield and amateur palaeontologist Leigh Love examine a section of riverbank on the Waipara River, near where the Protodontopteryx fossil was found.

Picture Credit: Canterbury Museum

Dr De Pietri added:

“Protodontopteryx was less adapted to sustained soaring than other known pelagornithids, we can now say that pseudoteeth evolved before these birds became highly specialised gliders.”

These types of bird once dominated the oceans of the world, but the last of their kind died out some 2.5 million years ago.  A number of fossil discoveries from the remarkable Waipara Greensand will be put on display at Canterbury Museum, in a new exhibition tracing the evolutionary history of the fauna and flora of New Zealand.  The exhibition is due to open later this year.

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

The scientific paper: “Oldest, Smallest And Phylogenetically Most Basal Pelagornithid, From The Early Paleocene Of New Zealand, Sheds Light On The Evolutionary History Of The Largest Flying Birds” by Gerald Mayr, Vanesa L. De Pietri, Leigh Love, Al Mannering and R Paul Scofield published in Papers in Palaeontology.

13 09, 2019

The First Pterosaur Unique to Canada

By | September 13th, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Under a Giant’s Wing – Cryodraken boreas

A new species of giant pterosaur has been named and described from fossil material excavated from the famous Dinosaur Provincial Park Formation in southern Alberta (Canada).  The flying reptile represents one of the geologically oldest azhdarchid pterosaurs described to date from North America.  It is the first flying reptile genus to be erected from Dinosaur Provincial Park fossils.  Writing in the academic publication, the “Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology”, researchers from Queen Mary University of London, the University of Southern California, and the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology (Alberta), describe Cryodraken boreas and estimate that it could have been one of the largest flying vertebrates to have ever lived.

A Life Reconstruction of the Newly Described Azhdarchid Pterosaur Cryodraken boreas

The Canadian azhdarchid pterosaur C. boreas.

A life reconstruction of the Canadian pterosaur Cryodraken boreas.

Picture Credit: David Maas

Pterosaurs from the Dinosaur Provincial Park Formation

Despite the discovery of many thousands of dinosaur bones from the Dinosaur Provincial Park (DPP), the fossilised remains of pterosaurs are exceptionally rare.  Their delicate, pneumatised bones do not do well when it comes to the fossilisation process.  What fossils that have been found, since the first discoveries made in 1972, are highly fragmentary and difficult to assign down to the genus level.  Individual cervical vertebrae, metacarpals and metatarsal bones have been described as representing azhdarchid pterosaurs as they bore resemblance to Montanazhdarcho, a pterosaur known from contemporaneous strata some 150 miles or so, south of the DPP, or indeed to the Quetzalcoatlus genus known from the Javelina Formation of Texas.

In this scientific paper, the researchers examined undocumented pterosaur fossil material and reassessed previously studied fossils and concluded that the remains, bones from the wing, limb bones, cervical vertebrae and a rib originally assigned to Quetzalcoatlus were sufficient different to merit the establishment of a new azhdarchid pterosaur genus.

A Line Drawing of an Azhdarchid Pterosaur Neck Bone from the Dinosaur Provincial Park Formation

A line drawing of an azhdarchid pterosaur neck bone from the Dinosaur Provincial Park Formation.

A line drawing of an azhdarchid cervical vertebra in (A) ventral, (B) anterior and (C) posterior views.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Indiana University Press

“Cold Dragon”

The genus name is from the Greek and means “cold dragon”, reflecting the relatively high latitude where the fossils were found, commenting on why the fossils have been ascribed to a new genus, lead author Dr David Hone (Queen Mary University, London) stated:

“This is a cool discovery, we knew this animal was here but now we can show it is different to other azhdarchids and so it gets a name.”

Line Drawings of a Juvenile Azhdarchid Pterosaur Cervical Vertebra from the Dinosaur Provincial Park Formation

Juvenile pterosaur neck bone.

A juvenile azhdarchid cervical vertebra from the Upper Campanian strata of the Dinosaur Provincial Park Formation.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Indiana University Press

The associated fossil material represents a young animal, with an estimated wingspan of five metres, but one giant cervical vertebra from the DPP, once thought to represent a partial femur, indicates that mature adults were comparable in size to Quetzalcoatlus northropi.

The slightly more robust bones from the DPP (when compared to Javelina Formation material), suggests that Cryodraken may have been slightly heavier than Quetzalcoatlus spp.  It is difficult to calculate bodyweights, but the press releases suggested an adult Cryodraken might have weighed in excess of 250 kilograms.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from the Royal Tyrrell Museum, (Alberta) and a press release from Queen Mary University (London), in the compilation of this article.

The scientific paper: “Cryodraken boreas, gen. et sp. nov., a Late Cretaceous Canadian azhdarchid pterosaur” by David W. E. Hone, Michael B. Habib and François Therrien published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

11 09, 2019

Skull Bones of Saurornitholestes Point to Asian Migration

By | September 11th, 2019|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

New Study Published on Saurornitholestes langstoni

Researchers based at the University of Alberta and the Royal Ontario Museum (Canada), have published a new scientific paper on the dinosaur nicknamed the “raptor of Alberta”.  The dinosaur – Saurornitholestes langstoni, was once thought to be a troodontid, but its placement within the Dromaeosauridae has been reinforced.  Furthermore, although no impressions of preserved feathers have ever been found in association with skeletal material, a tooth wear analysis conducted by the scientists suggests that a tooth in the upper jaw might have been specialised for preening feathers.

The Beautifully Preserved Saurornitholestes langstoni Specimen

The beautifully preserved and nearly complete Saurornitholestes langstoni fossil discovered in 2014.

The nearly complete Saurornitholestes langstoni fossil discovered in 2014.

Picture Credit: University of Alberta

The researchers who produced the scientific paper, two famous and very influential palaeontologists, Professor Philip Currie (University of Alberta) and Dr David Evans (Royal Ontario Museum), also suggest that their analysis of recently described skull bones supports the idea of at least two major faunal interchanges between Asia and North America during the Late Cretaceous.

Several Partial Skeletons – Hundreds of Isolated Teeth and Bones

In 1978, Saurornitholestes langstoni was formally described based on some fragmentary fossil bones found close to the small town of Patricia in southern Alberta four years before.  Since then, four additional partial skeletons ascribed to Saurornitholestes and hundreds of isolated teeth and bones have been recovered from the Upper Cretaceous sediments (Campanian faunal stage), of Alberta and Montana.  Despite these fossils, very little was known about the skull of S. langstoni, curtailing attempts to better understand the taxonomic relationship between this Canadian dromaeosaurid and other Asian forms such as Velociraptor mongoliensis and Tsaagan mangas.

A Scale Drawing of Saurornitholestes langstoni

Saurornitholestes langstoni illustration - scale drawing.

Saurornitholestes langstoni illustration (scale drawing).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Study of the 2014 Specimen

Frustrated by the lack of truly diagnostic fossil cranial material to study, palaeontologists could do very little to better understand where within the Dromaeosauridae the “raptor of Alberta” should reside.  This all changed in 2014 with the discovery of a nearly complete fossil specimen, ironically within a thousand metres of where the holotype specimen had been found back in 1978.  Although loaned out to Japan’s National Museum of Nature and Science (Tokyo), for a special exhibition marking fifty years of “raptor research”, analysis continued on the remarkable skeleton.

Writing in the academic journal “The Anatomical Record”, the scientists confirm that Saurornitholestes was similar in size to Velociraptor, but the facial region of the skull is relatively shorter, taller and wider.  The premaxillary teeth are distinctive, and fossil teeth collected in the Dinosaur Provincial Park (southern Alberta), ascribed to the dromaeosaurid Zapsalis abradens can now be identified as the second premaxillary tooth of S. langstoni.

A Close-up View of the Skull of S. langstoni 

Saurornitholestes langstoni fossil skull.

A close-up view of the fossilised skull of the 2014 specimen.  The skull bones were preserved in articulation, helping the scientists to understand the anatomy of the skull.

Picture Credit: University of Alberta

Teeth Used for Preening Feathers

A detailed microscopic study of the tiny abrasions preserved on the teeth located in the front of the upper jaw (premaxilla), have led the researchers to speculate that these teeth could have had a role in helping to preen and clean the dinosaur’s feathery coat.

A Typical Dromaeosaurid Tooth

Dromaeosaurid tooth from Alabama.

An isolated dromaeosaurid tooth with very different denticles (anterior and posterior).  Different sized serrations might have assisted with grooming as a secondary function of the tooth.

Picture Credit: David R. Schwimmer

A Distinctive North American Clade of Dromaeosaurs

With an almost complete specimen to study and, most importantly of all, a skull, the scientists have concluded that a distinctive North American clade of Late Cretaceous dromaeosaurids can be established within the Dromaeosauridae family.  A distinctive and separate branch from the Asian part of the Dromaeosauridae that includes the likes of Velociraptor.  Professor Currie and Dr Evans were able to identify many unique anatomical traits (autapomorphies), that permitted the establishment of this clade – the Saurornitholestinae.  This new information on the skull allows a more complete evaluation of the systematic position of Saurornitholestes langstoni within the Dromaeosauridae and supports the suggestion of at least two major faunal interchanges between Asia and North America during the Cretaceous.

At Everything Dinosaur, we have seen a resurgence in interest in “raptor” figures and models.  These theropod dinosaurs continue to feature prominently in dinosaur movies and the “Beasts of the Mesozoic” range of “raptor” models including an articulated replica of Saurornitholestes langstoni have been introduced.

To view the Beasts of the Mesozoic model range available from Everything Dinosaur: Beasts of the Mesozoic Figures

The scientific paper: “Cranial Anatomy of New Specimens of Saurornitholestes langstoni (Dinosauria, Theropoda, Dromaeosauridae) from the Dinosaur Park Formation (Campanian) of Alberta” by Philip J. Currie and David C. Evans published in the journal The Anatomical Record.

6 09, 2019

T. rex and Air-conditioning

By | September 6th, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

T. rex had “Air Conditioning”

Scientists from the University of Missouri, Ohio University and the University of Florida have turned a theory about Tyrannosaurus rex (and other archosaurs for that matter), on its head.  Previously, palaeontologists had thought that two large holes in the roof of the skull of T. rex (the dorsotemporal fenestra), were filled with muscles to assist with movement of the jaws.  However, a thermal imaging study of extant archosaurs, specifically American alligators at the St Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park (Florida), has led the researchers to suggest that these skull holes played a role in helping this huge animal to regulate its temperature.  The team, which included Larry Witmer, a professor of anatomy at Ohio University, conclude that, in essence T. rex had an air-conditioning unit in its head.

An Imagined Thermal Image Taken in the Cretaceous Night

The glowing dorsotemporal fenestra of T. rex and two crocodiles.

Archosaurs at night!  An imagined thermal image showing the glowing dorsotemporal fenestra of Cretaceous archosaurs.

Picture Credit: Brian Engh

Helping to Regulate Body Temperature

Lead author of the scientific paper, published in the journal “The Anatomical Record”, Professor Casey Holliday was puzzled by the idea that these skull holes were associated with muscle attachments.  The Professor of anatomy at the Missouri University School of Medicine commented:

“It’s really weird for a muscle to come up from the jaw, make a 90-degree turn, and go along the roof of the skull.  Yet, we now have a lot of compelling evidence for blood vessels in this area, based on our work with alligators and other reptiles.”

The researchers used thermal imaging cameras to examine alligators in captivity and they believe that these living archosaurs can provide key insights into the anatomy of their long dead, cousins the Dinosauria.

A Thermal Image of the “Hot Spots” on the Head of an American Alligator

American alligator thermal image.

A thermal image of the head of an American alligator.

Picture Credit: University of Missouri

Studying American Alligators

Explaining the significance of this new study, co-author Kent Vliet (University of Florida), stated:

“An alligator’s body heat depends on its environment.  Therefore, we noticed when it was cooler and the alligators are trying to warm up, our thermal imaging showed big hot spots in these holes in the roof of their skull, indicating a rise in temperature.  Yet, later in the day when it’s warmer, the holes appear dark, like they were turned off to keep cool.  This is consistent with prior evidence that alligators have a cross-current circulatory system — or an internal thermostat, so to speak.”

If the dorsotemporal fenestra of theropods such as Tyrannosaurus rex were also lined with blood vessels then these holes could have played a role in helping dinosaurs to control their body temperatures.  For such a big animal, the problem might not be trying to keep warm, but actually the avoidance of overheating.  The blood vessels occupying the dorsotemporal fenestra would have been covered by skin and the proximity of these vessels to the outside environment might have helped T. rex to lose heat.

An Speculative Thermal Image (Dorsal View) Showing the Head of T. rex

A thermal image of the head of T. rex.

A dorsal view of the head of T. rex showing the two “hot spots” the dorsotemporal fenestra.

Picture Credit: Brian Engh

T. rex and alligators have similar holes in the top of their head.  By studying the anatomy of living animals, scientists can gain valuable insights into the anatomy of long extinct relatives such as the dinosaurs.

The Skull of a Gharial Showing Two Large, Prominent Dorsotemporal Fenestra 

The skull of a gharial.

The skull of a gharial from the Grant Museum of Zoology (London).  The large holes in the skull roof are the dorsotemporal fenestra.

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

The scientific paper: “The Frontoparietal Fossa and Dorsotemporal Fenestra of Archosaurs and Their Significance for Interpretations of Vascular and Muscular Anatomy in Dinosaurs” by Casey M. Holliday, William Ruger Porter, Kent A. Vliet and Lawrence M. Witmer published in the journal The Anatomical Record.

5 09, 2019

Non-dinosaurian Dinosauromorphs from Colorado

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

Kwanasaurus williamparkeri – The Newest Member of the Silesauridae

Dinosaur discoveries usually grab all the headlines.  However, our attention was caught recently with the publication of a scientific paper in the academic journal “PeerJ”, describing a new species of silesaurid, a Triassic reptile that was so very closely related to the Dinosauria, but not quite a dinosaur.  The animal has been named Kwanasaurus williamparkeri and it roamed what was to become Colorado some 210 million years ago.

A Skeletal Reconstruction and a Life Reconstruction of Kwanasaurus williamparkeri

Skeletal drawing and life reconstruction of K. williamparkeri.

Skeletal drawing and life reconstruction of Kwanasaurus williamparkeri.

Picture Credit: PeerJ/Jeffrey W Martz and Bryan J Small

The picture (above), shows (A) a skeletal reconstruction with known fossil elements shaded light grey.  The skeletal reconstruction is based on the fossilised remains of several individuals all scaled to the same size.  The body plan is based on Silesaurus.  Note the scale bars equal ten centimetres given for probable largest specimen (DMNH EPV.34579) and one of the smallest specimens.(DMNH EPV.63139).

From the Upper Triassic Chinle Formation of Colorado

Numerous fragmentary fossils representing parts of the jaw, limb bones and possibly a scapula and lower leg bones along with isolated teeth have been found in the “red siltstone” member of the Upper Triassic Chinle Formation (Eagle Basin, Colorado).  The strata were deposited in the Late Triassic (215-207 mya – middle to late Norian.  Kwanasaurus  is the northernmost silesaurid known from the Americas and only the fourth taxon recognised from North America, although more specimens of silesaurids are likely to be found in the future, after all the Silesauridae was only formally erected in 2010.  In addition, the authors of the paper, report on the discovery of fossils ascribed to Dromomeron romeri, a bipedal member of the Dinosauromorpha but from another branch (the Lagerpetidae), thus, we have two non-dinosaurian dinosauromorphs from these sediments.  This is the first documented occurrence of D. romeri from the Chinle Formation of the Eagle Basin of Colorado

Upper Jawbone (Maxillae) and Accompanying Line Drawings – Kwanasaurus williamparkeri

Kwanasaurus upper jaw bone images and line drawings.

Images of upper jaw bones maxillae and accompanying line drawings of Kwanasaurus.

Picture Credit: PeerJ

“Eagle Lizard” – Probably a Herbivore

The genus name means “eagle lizard” honouring the town and county of Eagle, as the fossils were found nearby. The trivial epithet honours Dr William Parker, a vertebrate palaeontologist who has helped develop our understanding of Triassic archosaurs.  These types of archosaurs were contemporaneous with the first dinosaurs and the discovery of Kwanasaurus adds further support to the theory that for millions of years different types of archosaurs co-existed and that the Dinosauria did not have a sudden rise to ecological dominance.  The robust jaws and the teeth indicate that Kwanasaurus was probably herbivorous, this suggests a dietary specialism amongst silesaurids as most other genera are believed to have been omnivorous.

Views of the Left Dentary (Lower Jaw) of K. williamparkeri with Accompanying Line Drawings

Views and line drawings of the dentary of Kwanasaurus.

Views of the left jawbone (dentary) of Kwanasaurus.   The deep lower jaw and the shape of the teeth suggest a herbivorous diet.

Picture Credit: PeerJ

The scientific paper: “Non-dinosaurian dinosauromorphs from the Chinle Formation (Upper Triassic) of the Eagle Basin, northern Colorado: Dromomeron romeri (Lagerpetidae) and a new taxon, Kwanasaurus williamparkeri (Silesauridae)” by Jeffrey W Martz and Bryan J Small published in PeerJ.

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