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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, 2021

Extensive Dinosaur Tracks Discovered in China

By | January 15th, 2021|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Over 240 Fossilised Dinosaur Prints Discovered in South-eastern China

Everything Dinosaur team members have received several media reports from Chinese news agencies about the discovery of an extensive series of dinosaur tracks in Fujian Province (south-eastern China).  The dinosaur track site was uncovered in Shanghang County and covers approximately 1,600 square metres.  The tracks and individual prints were made around 80 million years ago (Campanian faunal stage of the Late Cretaceous) and they represent the first dinosaur trace fossils to have been found in Fujian Province.

Field Team Members Examine and Map the Dinosaur Tracks

Extensive dinosaur tracks uncovered in China.

Chinese field team members examine and map the numerous dinosaur tracks and prints uncovered in Fujian Province.

Picture Credit: CFP

The Tracks of at Least Eight Different Types of Dinosaur

Extensive track sites such as this are exceptionally rare, early indications from the field team mapping the prints are that at least eight different types of dinosaur are represented.  The three-toed prints of ornithopods and the large, more rounded prints of sauropods have been identified.  The various media channels have also reported both large and small theropod prints including prints around thirty centimetres in length made by a large, bird-like member of the Deinonychosauria, a raptor that has left distinctive two-toed prints, as the second toe was raised off the ground as it possessed a large, curved sickle-like claw.

Running with Second Toe Raised Off the Ground

The second toe claw of Velociraptor.

A model showing the raised second toe held off the ground as a member of the Deinonychosauria (Velociraptor) runs.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Xing Lida, from the China University of Geosciences and a member of the research team has stated:

“Judging from the size of the footprints, which were eight to fifty-five centimetres long, lengths of the dinosaurs range from one metre to ten metres.”

The site is under the stewardship of the local authorities in order to protect this important discovery and to deter any would-be fossil hunters who might be tempted to remove any prints for sale on the black market.  The site contains at least 240 individual dinosaur prints.

Two of the Dinosaur Prints from the Shanghang County Site

Dinosaur tracks discovered in Fujian Province.

Two dinosaur prints from the Fujian Province site.  The research team estimate that the tracks represent lakeside activity from around 80 million years ago.

Picture Credit: CFP

The tracks were made as dinosaurs visited an ancient lake, the various prints and trackways being preserved in the soft mud on the lake margins.

Senior palaeontologist and former curator at the Zigong Dinosaur Museum (Sichuan Province) Peng Guangzhao, explained that the researchers were optimistic about finding more fossils.  The team are hopeful that more tracks, bones or even dinosaur eggs could be discovered in Fujian Province in the future.

9 01, 2021

Oviraptorid Overturns Ideas on Late Stage Egg Incubation

By | January 9th, 2021|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Fossil of Dinosaur Sitting on Eggs (Late Stage Incubation)

Fossils of dinosaurs are rare, fossils of articulated dinosaur skeletons rarer still and any fossils that preserve evidence of behaviour, these are amongst the rarest of all, truly scientific treasures.  A newly published paper describes the fossilised remains of a Late Cretaceous oviraptorid from east China’s south-eastern Jiangxi Province, a specimen that ticks all these boxes.  The fossils represent the partial, articulated remains of oviraptorosaur preserved sitting on a clutch of eggs in a brooding position.  Such fossils have been found before, but uniquely these 70 million-year-old remains include fossils of baby dinosaurs preserved inside the eggs, the first time this has been recorded in the non-avian dinosaur fossil record.

The Partially Preserved Adult Oviraptorid On the Nest

Oviraptorid sitting on eggs with embryos identified.

The fossilised remains of an oviraptorid with preserved eggs that contain the remains of baby dinosaurs.  Note scale bar = 10 cm.

Picture Credit: Shundong Bi et al (Science Bulletin)

Sitting Atop a Nest

The multinational team of researchers includes Dr Shundong Bi (Indiana University of Pennsylvania) and Xing Xu (Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology – Beijing) along with Dr Matt Lamanna (Carnegie Museum of Natural History) and scientific illustrator Andrew McAfee.

Commenting on the significance of this discovery, Dr Bi stated:

“Dinosaurs preserved on their nests are rare, and so are fossil embryos.  This is the first time a non-avian dinosaur has been found, sitting on a nest of eggs that preserve embryos, in a single spectacular specimen.”

Fossils of brooding dinosaurs have been found before, perhaps the most famous is “Big Mamma” the fossilised remains of an adult Citipati osmolskae (also an oviraptorid) on display at the American Museum of Natural History (New York).

Citipati osmolskae Fossil Sitting Atop a Nest of Eggs

Citipati osmolskae fossil.

The Citipati fossil sitting on a nest “Big Mamma”.

Picture Credit: The American Museum of Natural History

Oviraptorids – Very Bird-like Dinosaurs

The Chinese fossil material has been assigned to the Oviraptoridae, although Everything Dinosaur are not aware of any new taxon being announced.  Oviraptorid dinosaurs are mainly associated with Asia, but the closely related Caenagnathidae are also known from North America.  The bones of these dinosaurs are very bird-like and they do belong to a great linage of theropods that are related to modern birds (the Maniraptora).

The specimen represents an incomplete, articulated skeleton of a large, (presumably adult) oviraptorid crouched in a bird-like brooding posture over a clutch of at least twenty-four eggs.  The adult appears to have perished whilst brooding the clutch.  The researchers identified the preserved remains of seven unhatched dinosaurs entombed inside the eggs.  The late stage of development of the embryos suggests that, just like modern birds, oviraptorids brooded their eggs, rather than simply guarding them as observed in extant crocodilians.

A Caring Parent

Dr Lamanna explained:

“This kind of discovery, in essence, fossilised behaviour, is the rarest of the rare in dinosaurs.  Though a few adult oviraptorids have been found on nests of their eggs before, no embryos have ever been found inside those eggs.  In the new specimen, the babies were almost ready to hatch, which tells us beyond a doubt that this oviraptorid had tended its nest for quite a long time.  This dinosaur was a caring parent that ultimately gave its life while nurturing its young.”

As part of their research, the scientists conducted an oxygen isotope study that demonstrated that the eggs were incubated at high bird-like temperatures, further evidence to support the idea that the adult died whilst brooding its clutch of eggs.  Analysis of the tiny baby dinosaur bones preserved inside their eggs indicate that some babies were more fully developed than others, this suggests that the eggs might have hatched at different intervals, a hatching strategy known as asynchronous hatching.  This strategy is found in many types of birds today such as Shoebill storks and numerous species of birds of prey such as raptors and owls.

Oviraptorids – Evidence that they were Caring Parents

Communal roosting in oviraptorids.

A pair of oviraptorosaurs.  Scientists suggest that these dinosaurs incubated their eggs and that they were caring parents.

Picture Credit: Mike Skrepnick

Asynchronous hatching appears to have evolved independently in oviraptorids and modern avians.

The Evolutionary Benefits of Asynchronous Hatching

If the eggs of oviraptorids did hatch at different intervals, then this too can provide an insight into the behaviour of these Late Cretaceous dinosaurs.  Biologists have identified a number of reasons why some kinds of bird alive today have evolved asynchronous hatching.

The evolutionary benefits of asynchronous hatching:

  • To reduce the losses from predators due to the whole brood not being present in the nest at the same time.
  • The younger animals are a back-up plan in case earlier hatched animals die.
  • When food resources are scarce the adults can dedicate the bulk of these scarce resources to the older babies and let the younger siblings perish.
  • Reduces the demands on the parents as they do not have to care for all the babies at the same time.

Gastroliths Identified

The researchers also noted the presence of gastroliths (stomach stones).  A cluster of tiny pebbles had accumulated in the body cavity of the adult dinosaur.  Gastroliths are associated with many different types of dinosaur, but this is the first time that undoubted gastroliths have been found in an oviraptorid.  As such, these stones may provide new insights into the diets of these very bird-like dinosaurs.

Dr Xu concluded:

“It’s extraordinary to think how much biological information is captured in just this single fossil.  We’re going to be learning from this specimen for many years to come.”

To read a related article on dinosaur parenting skills: Doting Fathers – A Parenting Strategy Amongst the Dinosauria

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a press release from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History (Pennsylvania).

The scientific paper: “An oviraptorid preserved atop an embryo-bearing egg clutch sheds light on the reproductive biology of non-avialan theropod dinosaurs” by Shundong Bi, Romain Amiot, Claire Peyre de Fabrègues, Michael Pittman, Matthew C. Lamanna, Yilun Yu, Congyu Yu, Tzuruei Yang, Shukang Zhang, Qi Zhao and Xing Xu published in Science Bulletin.

8 01, 2021

How Far Might Plant-eating Dinosaurs Have Dispersed Seeds?

By | January 8th, 2021|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

How Far Might Plant-eating Dinosaurs Have Dispersed Seeds?

During the imposed lockdown due to COVID-19 lots of people have attempted to learn new skills, perhaps studying a musical instrument, mastering a new language or taking an on-line course as part of a planned career move.

For Professor George Perry of the School of the Environment at the University of Auckland, time away from his students gave him the opportunity to conduct a study into the pooping habits of plant-eating dinosaurs. This is not simply a case of an educated man with too much time on his hands but a serious examination in the role played in seed dispersal by ancient megaherbivores.

How Far Might Plant-Eating Dinosaurs Have Dispersed Seeds?

The new Mojo Fun Brachiosaurus deluxe dinosaur model.

A scientist has examined the role large, herbivorous dinosaurs may have had in the dispersal of seeds.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Plotting Frequency of Pooping Against Walking Speed

Herbivores play and important role in seed dispersal in modern ecosystems and it has been proposed that herbivorous dinosaurs might have been important seed dispersal agents in the Mesozoic. It is likely that a proportion of the plant seeds ingested by plant-eating dinosaurs would have passed through the gut, ending up being deposited with a helpful quantity of dung to act as fertiliser.

How far dinosaurs of different body sizes might have dispersed seeds remains uncertain.

Professor Perry modelled the likely travelling speeds of various dinosaurs along with the likely frequency of defecation (both factors that can be estimated based on an assessment of body mass).

It is known that large vertebrates are capable of transporting seeds considerable distances.  For example, African elephants (Loxodonta africana africana) can deposit seeds as a far away as 36 miles (60 kilometres), from their parent plant.  Using statistical analysis to assess the spread of seeds from members of the Dinosauria, Professor Perry concluded that the simulations demonstrated that dinosaurs likely moved some seeds very long distances, comparable distances to those observed in extant megaherbivores.

It is not possible to infer from the fossil record the effect on germination on seeds having passed through the gut of a dinosaur, or indeed, whether plants evolved seed dispersal strategies to take advantage of browsing and grazing dinosaurs, but this research does suggest that dinosaurs such as Triceratops and Stegosaurus may have spread seeds around 20 miles (more than 30 kilometres) away from their parent plants.

A Champion at Seed Dispersal (Triceratops)

Triceratops dinosaur illustration.

Triceratops was one of the last dinosaurs to evolve.  It is likely that ornithischian dinosaurs played an important role in seed dispersal during the Mesozoic.

Picture Credit: Julius Csotonyi

The scientific paper: “How far might plant-eating dinosaurs have moved seeds?” by George L. W. Perry published in Biology Letters.

4 01, 2021

Early Dinosaur’s Brain Reveals New Insights into Sauropodomorpha

By | January 4th, 2021|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

The Brain of Thecodontosaurus

Analysis of the brain and inner ear of the Late Triassic basal Sauropodomorpha Thecodontosaurus (T. antiquus), reveals that it may have been bipedal, able to hold a steady gaze whilst running and possibly predatory.  These are some of the conclusions drawn by researchers from the University of Bristol and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History in a new study published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.

The Research Team Used CT-scans and 3-D Modelling to Construct the Brain and Inner Ear of Thecodontosaurus

CT-scans and computer modelling used to construct the brain of Thecodontosaurus.

Building up a picture of the brain and the inner ear based on the fossilised braincase of Thecodontosaurus antiquus.

Picture Credit: Antonio Ballell et al

Named in 1836 (it was only the fourth dinosaur to be scientifically described), Thecodontosaurus is regarded as a basal member of the lizard-hipped Sauropodomorpha, a clade of dinosaurs that includes Brontosaurus, Brachiosaurus, Diplodocus and Argentinosaurus.  Thecodontosaurus was much smaller than its illustrious Jurassic and Cretaceous descendants.  It was approximately two metres long, more than half its body length was made up by its long, thin tail and it was lightly built with most palaeontologists estimating that it weighed around 20-25 kilograms, about as heavy as a border collie.

As an early member of the lineage of long-necked dinosaurs, a study of the fossilised remains of Thecodontosaurus can provide palaeontologists with a better understanding of the evolutionary history of the Sauropodomorpha.

Bristol University has Researched the “Bristol Dinosaur” For Decades

Thecodontosaurus study.

Thecodontosaurus fossil block with life reconstruction in the background.  In the picture (above), from 2009, a researcher stands in front of a block of Thecodontosaurus bones with a life reconstruction of the dinosaur in the background.  Note that in 2009, Thecodontosaurus was thought to be quadrupedal, this new study suggests that it may have been bipedal.

Picture Credit: Simon Powell/University of Bristol

Three-dimensional Modelling Techniques

Research, led by the University of Bristol, used advanced imaging and 3-D modelling techniques to digitally rebuild the brain of Thecodontosaurus.  The scientists suggest that Thecodontosaurus could have eaten meat, although the substantial part of its diet was plant matter, its brain morphology indicates that this little dinosaur had a good sense of balance and that it was agile, traits that may have helped it supplement its vegetarian diet with the occasional meal of captured prey.

Lead author of the study, Antonio Ballell stated:

“Our analysis of Thecodontosaurus’ brain uncovered many fascinating features, some of which were quite surprising.  Whereas its later relatives moved around ponderously on all fours, our findings suggest this species may have walked on two legs and been occasionally carnivorous.”

The research team was able to deploy imaging software to extract new information from the fossils in a non-destructive manner.  Numerous three-dimensional models were generated from CT scans by digitally extracting the bone from the rock, identifying and classifying anatomical details about the brain and the inner ear which were previously unknown in this taxon.

PhD student Antonio explained the basis of the research:

“Even though the actual brain is long gone, the software allows us to recreate brain and inner ear shape via the dimensions of the cavities left behind.  The braincase of Thecodontosaurus is beautifully preserved so we compared it to other dinosaurs, identifying common features and some that are specific to Thecodontosaurus.  Its brain cast even showed the detail of the floccular lobes, located at the back of the brain, which are important for balance.  Their large size indicate it was bipedal.  This structure is also associated with the control of balance and eye and neck movements, suggesting Thecodontosaurus was relatively agile and could keep a stable gaze while moving fast.”

The Diet of Thecodontosaurus

The diet of Thecodontosaurus, nicknamed the “Bristol dinosaur” as a result of its association with the city, remains uncertain, although this new study suggests that it may have been omnivorous.

Antonio added:

“Our analysis showed parts of the brain associated with keeping the head stable and eyes and gaze steady during movement were well-developed.  This could also mean Thecodontosaurus could occasionally catch prey, although its tooth morphology suggests plants were the main component of its diet.  It’s possible it adopted omnivorous habits.”

The researchers were also able to reconstruct the inner ears, allowing them estimate how well it could hear compared to other dinosaurs.  Its hearing frequency was relatively high, potentially inferring some sort of social complexity, an ability to recognise varied squeaks and honks from different animals.

Comparing the Brain Cast of Thecodontosaurus to Other Dinosaurs

The changing shape of sauropod brains.

Structure, size and shape of the inner ear and brain examined in relation to the evolution of the Sauropodomorpha.

Picture Credit: Antonio Ballell et al with additional notation by Everything Dinosaur

Comparing Thecodontosaurus to Other Members of the Sauropodomorpha

The application of these technologies enabled the research team to compare the brain and inner ear of Thecodontosaurus to Saturnalia tupiniquim – an earlier basal sauropodomorph which roamed the southern hemisphere around twenty-five million years before Thecodontosaurus evolved.  Comparisons were also carried out between Plateosaurus, which is also known from the Late Triassic and the much later sauropod Spinophorosaurus (S. nigerensis) from the Middle Jurassic.

Professor Mike Benton, study co-author, said:

“It’s great to see how new technologies are allowing us to find out even more about how this little dinosaur lived more than 200 million years ago.”

The distinguished professor added:

“We began working on Thecodontosaurus in 1990, and it is the emblem of the Bristol Dinosaur Project.  We’re very fortunate to have so many well-preserved fossils of such an important dinosaur here in Bristol.  This has helped us understand many aspects of the biology of Thecodontosaurus, but there are still many questions about this species yet to be explored.”

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

The scientific paper: “The braincase, brain and palaeobiology of the basal sauropodomorph dinosaur Thecodontosaurus antiquus” by A. Ballell, J. L. King, J. M. Neenan, E. J. Rayfield and M. J. Benton published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.

28 12, 2020

Favourite Blog Posts of 2020 (Part 2)

By | December 28th, 2020|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos, Photos/Pictures of Fossils, Press Releases|0 Comments

Favourite Blog Posts of 2020 (Part 2)

Everything Dinosaur team members conclude their review of their favourite blog articles of 2020 by looking at articles and news stories that were posted up between July and December.  With the best part of 180 posts to choose from selecting our favourite six for this period was quite tricky.  The ones we have selected demonstrate the broad range of topics we cover on the Everything Dinosaur weblog.

To view our earlier article about our favourite posts in the first half of the year: Favourite Blog Posts of 2020 (Part 1).

July – “Lizard Born of Fire”

We might have been in the middle of a global pandemic but Everything Dinosaur team members kept up their blogging reporting upon tiny theropod eggs from Japan, a revision of Dilophosaurus and a number of new dinosaurs.  Our favourite post of the month concerned the scientific description of Aratasaurus museunacionali, a basal member of the Coelurosauria from Brazil.  The genus name translates as “lizard born of fire”, a reference to the terrible fire that ripped through the National Museum of Brazil where the fossil specimen was kept.

A Life Reconstruction of the Basal Member of the Coelurosauria Aratasaurus museunacionali

Aratasaurus museonacionali illustration.

Aratasaurus museonacionali life reconstruction.

Picture Credit: Museu Nacional

To read more about A. museunacionaliAratasaurus museunacionali A Lizard Born of Fire.

August – Oculudentavis khaungraae Not a Stem Bird

The controversy over the naming of the smallest dinosaur based on a skull preserved in amber from northern Myanmar rumbled on.  In August, a paper was published that refuted claims that the tiny skull of the animal named Oculudentavis khaungraae was that of an archosaur.  A month earlier (July 2020), the original scientific paper describing this remarkable fossil was retracted.

The Tiny Fossil Skull Preserved in Amber from Myanmar – But is it a Dinosaur?

Oculudentavis khaungraae skull in amber.

Tiny fossil skull preserved in amber (Oculudentavis khaungraae).

 

Picture Credit: Lida Xing et al (Nature)

To read more about O. khaungraaeSmallest Dinosaur Preserved in Amber a Lizard.

September: Doctor Who Meets a Trilobite

The Oxford University Museum of Natural History celebrated its 160th birthday, the Monsters of the Deep exhibition opened in the midst of the chaos caused by COVID-19 and Euparkeria got a makeover. Our favourite post of September concerned a new species of trilobite (Gravicalymene bakeri) from Tasmanian that was named after Doctor Who actor Tom Baker.

A Photograph of a Gravicalymene bakeri Trilobite Fossil with Line Drawing

Gravicalymene bakeri trilobite fossil.

Gravicalymene bakeri trilobite fossil with line drawing.

Picture Credit: Australian Museum

To read more about “Doctor Who and the Trilobites”: Newly Described Species of Trilobite Named after Doctor Who Actor.

October – It’s a Dog’s Life

In October we reported on the mapping of the genome of the Scimitar-toothed cat Homotherium latidens, discussed a new species of mosasaur from Morocco and the diet of pterosaurs, but our favourite article concerned the research into ancient dog DNA.  The study suggested that the diversity observed between dogs in different parts of the world today originated when all of mankind were hunters and gatherers.

Mapping Ancient Doggy DNA

Mapping ancient dog DNA.

Mesolithic dog skull (left) compared to wolf skull (right).

Picture Credit: E. E. Antipina (Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences)

To read the article: DNA Study Highlights Ancient Relationship Between Humans and Dogs.

November – Dinosaurs from the Emerald Isle

In November, Everything Dinosaur celebrated publishing its 5,000 blog post, discussed Kholumolumo a dinosaur from an African rubbish dump, looked at seal evolution and got to grips with the earliest Paranthropus robustus skull described to date.

Our favourite post concerned the first dinosaur remains reported from Ireland, not just one dinosaur but two!

First Evidence of Dinosaurs from Ireland

Dr Mike Simms holds the two precious fossils.

Dr Mike Simms (National Museums Northern Ireland) holds the theropod tibia on the left and the thyreophoran femur on the right.

Picture Credit: The University of Portsmouth

To learn more about the Irish dinosaurs: The First Dinosaur Remains from Ireland.

December – Thalassodraco etchesi Swims into View

As the year closed, in the final month of 2020 we looked at how interactive “I-books” were helping to explain archaeology, examined a very flashy new dinosaur (U. jubatus), the first sauropod dinosaur from Switzerland (Amanzia greppini) and studied Parasaurolophus pathology.

Our favourite post concerned the establishment of a new species of Late Jurassic ichthyosaur after the discovery of fossil bones by the wonderful Dr Steve Etches MBE, the founder of the amazing Etches Collection museum in Dorset.

A Life Reconstruction of the Newly Described Thalassodraco etchesi

Thalassodraco etchesi life reconstruction.

A life reconstruction of the newly described Late Jurassic ichthyosaur Thalassodraco etchesi.

Picture Credit: Megan Jacobs/University of Portsmouth

To read more about Thalassodraco etchesi: A New Taxon of Late Jurassic Ichthyosaur is Described.

This concludes our review of the blog posts that we have researched and written up over the last twelve months.  Which one is your favourite?

27 12, 2020

Favourite Blog Posts of 2020 (Part 1)

By | December 27th, 2020|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos, Photos/Pictures of Fossils, Press Releases|0 Comments

Favourite Blog Posts of 2020 (Part 1)

At Everything Dinosaur, we try and post up an article on this blog site every single day.  This can be quite a challenge considering all our other activities and projects.  However, as a result of our work on this weblog we have managed to compile a huge amount of information, articles and features chronicling (for the most part), advances in the Earth sciences and new fossil discoveries along with research into the Dinosauria.

This year, Everything Dinosaur’s blog has passed the 5,000 articles benchmark.  Here is a selection of our own favourite news stories that we have covered in the first six months of 2020 (January to June).

January – A New Allosaurus Taxon

In January, a new species of North American Allosaurus was added to the pantheon of dinosaurs known from the famous Morrison Formation of the western United States.  Allosaurus jimmadseni honours the sadly departed James H. Madsen Jr. Utah’s inaugural state palaeontologist.  The famous Allosaurus specimen MOR 693 “Big Al” was reassigned to this new species.

A Pack of Allosaurus (A. jimmadseni) Attack a Luckless Juvenile Sauropod

Allosaurus jimmadseni a new Allosaurus taxon is described.

A pack of allosaurs (A. jimmadseni) attacking a juvenile sauropod.

Picture Credit: Todd Marshall

The January Allosaurus article: A New Species of Allosaurus.

February – The “Father of Argentinian Palaeontology” – José Bonaparte

On the 18th February José Bonaparte, regarded by many as the most influential vertebrate palaeontologist of the 20th Century passed away.  Respected and admired, José helped to develop and train a whole new generation of Earth scientists.  He was also responsible for naming and describing a large number of new dinosaurs including Abelisaurus, hence our illustration of that South American theropod (below).

José Bonaparte and a Drawing of One of the Many Dinosaurs He Named and Described (Abelisaurus comahuensis)

Lamenting the death of José Bonaparte (February 2020).

José Bonaparte (inset) and a drawing of one of the dinosaurs he named in his long and distinguished career Abelisaurus (A. comahuensis).

Picture Credit: Télam/Everything Dinosaur

To read more about José Bonaparte: José Bonaparte – The Founding Father of Palaeontology in Argentina.

March – Telling the Time Back in the Cretaceous

As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, team members at Everything Dinosaur were distracted by some remarkable research undertaken by scientists from the University of Ghent and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel.

A study of the growth rings preserved on the fossilised shells of Cretaceous bivalves permitted the researchers to calculate that 70 million years ago, the day length was approximately thirty minutes shorter and a year on Earth was around a week longer than it is today.

To read this article: Telling the Time Back in the Cretaceous.

April – Homo erectus at Home in Africa

The remarkable Drimolen fossil hominin site in South Africa, provided palaeoanthropologists with likely confirmation that the hominin H. erectus did indeed evolve in Africa and not Asia.  A carefully and painstakingly reconstructed fossil skull (DNH 134), found in this area – regarded as the “Cradle of Humankind”, suggests that Homo erectus existed some 100,000 to 200,000 years earlier than previously realised.

We still have a lot to learn about our own evolution.

Homo erectus Evolved in Africa

Partial H. erectus cranium from the Drimolen Fossil Hominin site.

The partial H. erectus cranium from the Drimolen Fossil Hominin site.

Picture Credit: La Trobe University (Australia)

To learn more about the origins of Homo erectusH. erectus Originated in Africa.

May – Lots of Pterosaurs

A jawbone found on the Isle of Wight was identified as a new species of tapejarid pterosaur.  The flying reptile, named Wightia declivirostris which translates as “slanting beak from the Isle of Wight” was one of several new pterosaur species described in 2020.

A Life Reconstruction of the Early Cretaceous Pterosaur Wightia declivirostris

Wightia declivirostris from the Isle of Wight

A life reconstruction of the newly described tapejarid from the Lower Cretaceous of the Isle of Wight (Wightia declivirostris).

Picture Credit: Megan Jacobs (University of Portsmouth)

To read more about Wightia declivirostrisA New Terrific Tapejarid.

We have a lot more to learn about the Pterosauria too.

June – Fossilised Stick – Provides a Surprise

A fossil discovered more than fifty years ago and regarded as little more than a “fossilised stick” has proved to be a new species of Late Devonian plant and it will help scientists to better understand the flora of the ancient landmass of Gondwana.

The specimen was found by amateur geologist John Irving whilst exploring the banks of the Manilla River in Barraba (New South Wales, Australia).  A study in the open-access journal PeerJ identifies the newly named Keraphyton mawsoniae and proposes that it has a similar structure to primitive horsetails and ferns.  The fossil which looks so unremarkable on the outside, once studied in cross-section, has provided a unique window into the plant life on Earth around 360 million years ago.

Not Much to Look at on the Outside but Inside a Treasure Trove of Information for Palaeobotanists

Keraphyton mawsoniae fossil.

The newly described Keraphyton mawsoniae a fern-like land plant from the Late Devonian of Australia.

Picture Credit: Champreux et al (PeerJ)

To read more about K. mawsoniaeFossil Stick Proves to be New Species of Ancient Plant.

This selection represents some of our favourite blog posts from the first six months of 2020, which one is your favourite post?

We will conclude this review of the news stories we have covered on this blog in part 2.

15 12, 2020

One Very Flashy New Dinosaur – Ubirajara jubatus

By | December 15th, 2020|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Ubirajara jubatus – One Very Flashy Dinosaur

News about the discovery of a species of feathered dinosaur has now become relatively commonplace.  Yet, it is worth remembering that it was just twenty-four years ago, back in 1996, that the first, non-avian dinosaur species with evidence of fuzzy feathers was described.  Named Sinosauropteryx this lithe meat-eater literally “rocked” scientists as the long-awaited proof of feathered dinosaurs was revealed to the world.  Sinosauropteryx was a compsognathid, a team of researchers, including scientists from the University of Portsmouth have described another feathered dinosaur, this new feathered theropod is a compsognathid too, but with a more elaborate and spectacular integumentary covering.  The newly described Ubirajara jubatus is the first Gondwanan non-avian theropod with preserved filamentous integumentary structures.  It is also the first non-maniraptoran possessing elaborate integumentary structures that were most likely used for display.

A Life Reconstruction of the Newly Described Brazilian Compsognathid Ubirajara jubatus

Ubirajara jubatus life reconstruction.

Ubirajara jubatus life reconstruction by the very talented palaeoartist Bob Nicholls.

Picture Credit: Bob Nicholls/Paleocreations

Dressed to Impress

Described as the most elaborately dressed-to-impress dinosaur described to date, the research team co-led by Professor David Martill and researcher Robert Smyth (University of Portsmouth), propose that U. jubatus will shed new light on how birds evolved elaborate display structures.

This chicken-sized dinosaur possessed a mane of long bristles running down its back and stiff ribbons projecting out and back from its shoulders, a combination of features never seen before in the fossil record.

The scientific paper has been published in the journal of Cretaceous research and involved a collaboration between the University of Portsmouth and the appropriately named Professor Dino Frey at the State Museum of Natural History, Karlsruhe, Germany, who discovered the new species while examining fossils in Karlsruhe´s collection and Héctor E. Rivera-Sylva of the Departamento de Paleontología, Museo del Desierto in Saltillo, Mexico.  The fossil was authorised by the Brazilian authorities for export some time ago, but was only recently studied.

The bizarre integumentary structures must have had a purpose, whilst the body covering may have originally evolved to provide insulation, the stiff ribbons on either side of the shoulders were probably used for display, perhaps to attract a mate, deter a rival or to frighten a potential predator.

Professor Martill commented:

“We cannot prove that the specimen is a male, but given the disparity between male and female birds, it appears likely the specimen was a male, and young, too, which is surprising given most complex display abilities are reserved for mature adult males.  Given its flamboyance, we can imagine that the dinosaur may have indulged in elaborate dancing to show off its display structures.”

Not Scales or Fur

The ribbons are not fur or scales, they are not feathers in the modern sense, as seen on an extant bird.  They appear to be structures unique to this animal.

Mr Smyth added:

“These are such extravagant features for such a small animal and not at all what we would predict if we only had the skeleton preserved.  Why adorn yourself in a way that makes you more obvious to both your prey and to potential predators?  The truth is that for many animals, evolutionary success is about more than just surviving, you also have to look good if you want to pass your genes on to the next generation.”

The Holotype of Ubirajara jubatus Preserved as a Slab and Counter Slab

Holotype of Ubirajara jubatus preserved as slab and counter slab.

The holotype of Ubirajara jubatus preserved as slab and counter slab.  Note scale bar = 50 mm.

Picture Credit: Smyth et al /Cretaceous Research

From the Lower Cretaceous (Aptian) Crato Formation of North-eastern Brazil

Fossil discoveries starting with the ground-breaking Sinosauropteryx specimen that was described in 1996 have fundamentally changed our understanding of the phylogenetic relationships between birds and dinosaurs as well as the origin and evolution of feathers.  A variety of elaborate integumentary coverings and structures are now known from the Theropoda and from ornithischian dinosaurs too.  They have been linked to behaviours including egg incubation, mating displays and thermoregulation.

The Colourful PNSO Model of the Chinese Compsognathid Sinosauropteryx

PNSO Sinosauropteryx dinosaur model.

PNSO Yuyan the Sinosauropteryx dinosaur model.  The PNSO model of the compsognathid Sinosauropteryx.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Within the Theropoda, such features have only been previously recorded within the Maniraptoriformes, a theropod clade which includes birds and is defined as “the most recent common ancestor of the ostrich mimic Ornithomimus and Aves (birds) and all descendants of that common ancestor.”

The majority of theropods preserving integumental structures come from the Upper Jurassic and Lower Cretaceous of China or the Upper Jurassic of southern Germany and all are of Laurasian origin.  Ubirajara jubatus from the Lower Cretaceous (Aptian) Crato Formation of north-eastern Brazil, is the first non-maniraptoran possessing elaborate integumentary structures that were most likely used for display.

It is also the first non-avian theropod with preserved filamentous integumentary structures to have been described from the southern hemisphere landmass of Gondwana.

The researchers compare Ubirajara to living birds stating that many modern Aves are famed for their exotic and colourful plumage along with their complex displays that are used to win mates.  Male peacocks with their stunning tails and male birds of paradise are examples of this.

A Goldie’s Bird of Paradise Male Bird Displays to Attract a Mate

Goldie's bird of paradise (male) displays.

A Goldie’s bird of paradise displays.  New Guinea is famous for its exotic and flamboyant birds of paradise.

Picture Credit: Tim Laman/National Geographic Image Collection

Ubirajara jubatus (pronounce You-bi-rah-jar-rah jew-bay-tus), lived approximately 110 million years ago (Aptian faunal stage of the Early Cretaceous).  The genus name is derived from the local Tupi dialect and translates as “lord of the spear”, whilst the trivial or specific name is from the Latin for “mane” a reference to the integumentary covering on its back.

Able to Raise its Hackles Like a Dog?

The mane running down its back is thought to have been controlled by muscles allowing it to be raised, in a similar way a dog raises its hackles or a porcupine raises its spines when facing a threat. Once the danger had passed, Ubirajara could lower its mane close to the skin allowing this little dinosaur to move quickly through the undergrowth without getting tangled up.

Professor Martill explained:

“Any creature with movable hair or feathers as a body coverage has a great advantage in streamlining the body contour for faster hunts or escapes but also to capture or release heat.”

The unique body plan of Ubirajara with its long, flat, stiff shoulder ribbons of keratin, each with a small sharp ridge running along the middle, described by the authors as “enigmatic” might have looked cumbersome, but in reality they were located on the body in such a way as not to impede movement allowing Ubirajara to preen, hunt, move around and display unencumbered.

The scientific paper: The scientific paper: “A maned theropod dinosaur from Gondwana with elaborate integumentary structures” by Robert S.H. Smyth, David M. Martill, Eberhard Frey, Héctor E. Rivera-Sylva and Norbert Lenz published in Cretaceous Research

14 12, 2020

Revising the Mamenchisauridae – Analong chuanjieensis

By | December 14th, 2020|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Revising the Mamenchisauridae – Analong chuanjieensis

2020 has proved to be an important year for that enigmatic family of sauropods the Mamenchisauridae, which are predominantly associated with the Early Jurassic of China, although, as with most things relating to vertebrate palaeontology, there are exceptions to the consensus.  For example, the Late Jurassic Tanzanian genus Wamweracaudia is regarded by many scientists as a mamenchisaurid, based on the shape and structure of its tail bones (caudal vertebrae).

That’s the point with the mamenchisaurids.  They are one of the most extensively researched of all the Sauropodomorpha, thanks almost entirely to the numerous fossil bones found near Zigong in the Chinese Province of Sichuan.  However, even the most well-researched group of dinosaurs are subject to revision.

This is the case with a specimen of Chuanjiesaurus (C. anaensis) which is pronounced Chu-an-je-sore-us, a twenty-five metre long giant known from the Middle Jurassic Chuanjie Formation of Yunnan Province located in south-western China.

Chuanjiesaurus was named and described in 2000, from fossils found near to the town of Chuanjie in Lufeng County (Yunnan Province).  Intriguingly, a recent assessment of the disarticulated sauropod fossil remains found just a few metres away in the same quarry have demonstrated that these fossils are not the remains of a second Chuanjiesaurus as previously thought.

A Life Reconstruction of the Newly Described Mamenchisaurid Analong chuanjieensis

Analong chuanjieensis life reconstruction.

A life reconstruction of the recently erected mamenchisaurid taxon Analong chuanjieensis.  Fossils of this dinosaur, once regarded as a specimen of the related Chuanjiesaurus come from the Chuanjie Formation (Bajocian faunal stage of the Middle Jurassic).  Analong roamed China around 170-168 million years ago.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

In a scientific paper published in the International Journal of Paleobiology, Ren at al erected a new mamenchisaurid taxon based on a revision of specimen number LFGT LCD 9701-1.  Analong chuanjieensis is based on several autapomorphies (unique characteristics).  This reassessment has important implications for the Mamenchisauridae as a whole.  Analysis of the bones of the newly described Analong with other related mamenchisaurids indicate that Analong chuanjieensis is the earliest branching of the Mamenchisauridae family, whereas the contemporary Chuanjiesaurus represents a later branching of these types of dinosaurs.

In Recognition of the Increasing Public Awareness of the Mamenchisauridae CollectA are Introducing a Scale Replica of Mamenchisaurus in 2021

CollectA Deluxe Mamenchisaurus dinosaur model.

CollectA Deluxe Mamenchisaurus a 1:100 scale replica of an Asian sauropod.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur 

Thus, the establishment of a the new Analong taxon not only increases the number of long-necked dinosaurs known from the Middle Jurassic of China but also suggests that the ecosystem which was dominated by these herbivores was more complex and nuanced.  Furthermore, this reassessment of the fossil material suggests that the evolution of the Mamenchisauridae is more convoluted than previously realised.

For a related article on Chinese mamenchisaurs: Another Mamenchisaurid from Anhui Province – Anhuilong diboensis is described.

The scientific paper: “A revision of the referred specimen of Chuanjiesaurus anaensis Fang et al., 2000: a new early branching mamenchisaurid sauropod from the Middle Jurassic of China” by Xin-Xin Ren, Toru Sekiya, Tao Wang, Zhi-Wen Yang and Hai-Lu You published by An International Journal of Paleobiology (Historical Biology).

10 12, 2020

Niebla antiqua

By | December 10th, 2020|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

A New Medium-sized Abelisaurid – Niebla antiqua

A new species of Late Cretaceous abelisaurid theropod has been named based on fragmentary fossils found in northern Patagonia (Argentina).  The dinosaur has been named Niebla antiqua and it represents one of the most derived of all the abelisaurids described to date.  With an estimated body length of around 4 to 4.5 metres, Niebla is smaller than the roughly contemporaneous abelisaurid Quilmesaurus (Q. curriei), known from the same formation and considerably smaller than Carnotaurus sastrei.

Described recently in a scientific paper published in the Journal of South American Earth Sciences, the description being based on ribs, weathered vertebrae, a near complete braincase, lower jaw fragments (dentary) and teeth plus a relatively intact scapulocoracoid (pectoral girdle), Niebla helps to strengthen the fossil record of abelisaurids known from the Maastrichtian.

The Location of the Niebla antiqua Fossil Discovery in Río Negro Province (Patagonia) and a Skeletal Drawing

The newly described abelisaurid Niebla antiqua.

The Location of the Niebla antiqua fossils in northern Patagonia and a skeletal drawing showing the known fossil material.

 

Picture Credit: Rolando et al (Journal of South American Earth Sciences)

The fossil material was found during excavation of exposed Allen Formation strata located near Matadero Hill in the province of Río Negro by CONICET researchers.  Their study suggests that abelisaurid evolution may be more complex than previously thought.

A Size Comparison Between Niebla antiqua and Carnotaurus sastrei

Abelisaurid size comparison - Carnotaurus compared to Niebla.

A size comparison between the newly described abelisaurid Niebla antiqua from the Allen Formation of northern Patagonia and Carnotaurus sastrei.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Adding to the Diversity of South American Members of the Abelisauridae

Abelisauridae dinosaurs are very well known from South America.  However, the fossil record of the very youngest members of this theropod family (abelisaurids associated with the Maastrichtian faunal stage of the Late Cretaceous), is relatively poor.  The researchers describe a new species (Niebla antiqua), although the fossils are highly fragmentary, they conclude that the material represents an adult animal and therefore this dinosaur was a medium-sized abelisaurid, much smaller than other coeval abelisaurids such as Carnotaurus and Abelisaurus.

The genus name is from the Spanish for “mist” a reference to the foggy conditions that the field team encountered when conducting the excavation, whilst the trivial or specific name refers to the great age of the strata.

The braincase shows autapomorphic features (unique characteristics), such as a dorsoventrally tall basal tuber and postemporal foramen enclosed by parietal and exoccipitals.  The scapulocoracoid is notably similar to that of Carnotaurus (C. sastrei), the research team note a number of features including having a posterodorsally oriented glenoid, a dorsoventrally expanded and wide coraco-scapular plate and the blade of the scapula is very narrow and straight.  These anatomical traits are very different from those of other abelisaurids.  This might indicate a unique conformation of the pectoral girdle among these South American members of the Theropoda.

The scientific paper: “A new medium-sized abelisaurid (Theropoda, Dinosauria) from the late cretaceous (Maastrichtian) Allen Formation of Northern Patagonia, Argentina” by Mauro Aranciaga Rolando, Mauricio A. Cerroni, Jordi A. Garcia Marsà, Federico l. Agnolín, Matías J. Motta, Sebastián Rozadilla, Federico Brisson Eglí and Fernando E. Novas published in the Journal of South American Earth Sciences.

9 12, 2020

Thalassodraco etchesi – A New Species of Ichthyosaur is Described

By | December 9th, 2020|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Thalassodraco etchesi – A New Species of Ichthyosaur is Described

A new kind of ichthyosaur has been named and described following the discovery of a partial, articulated skeleton preserved in a limestone concretion on the Dorset coast (southern England).   The fossil material consisting of the anterior portion of the marine reptile was discovered by renowned amateur fossil hunter Dr Steve Etches MBE, the founder of the Etches Collection museum, located on Kimmeridge Bay, not too far from where this new species was discovered.

This new species has been named Thalassodraco etchesi, the name translates as “Etches Sea Dragon”.

A Life Reconstruction of Thalassodraco etchesi

Thalassodraco etchesi life reconstruction.

A life reconstruction of the newly described Late Jurassic ichthyosaur Thalassodraco etchesi.

Picture Credit: Megan Jacobs/University of Portsmouth

Unusual Dentition

Noticing the numerous, small teeth in the jaws, there are more than seventy teeth in the upper jaws alone, Steve passed his find onto researchers at the University of Portsmouth.  The scientific paper on the fifth known ichthyosaur from the Late Jurassic has been published in the on-line, open-access journal PLOS One.

Corresponding author of the paper, University of Portsmouth Masters student, Megan Jacobs, comments that at an estimated two metres in length, it is the smallest ichthyosaur from the Late Jurassic to be described to date.

The location of the fossil discovery – Kimmeridge Bay is part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site.  The material comes from a limestone layer known as the White Stone Band.  When it died, the seafloor would have been a very soft ooze, allowing the front half of the animal to sink into the mud, before scavengers came along and ate the tail end.

The Beautifully Prepared Fossilised Remains of T. etchesi with an Interpretative Line Drawing

Prepared fossil specimen of Thalassodraco and interpretative line drawing.

A, photograph showing area restored during preparation.  B, interpretative drawing of anterior portion of the skeleton.  Scale bar represents 300 mm.

Picture Credit: Jacobs and Martill (with permission to use the photograph from the Etches Collection)

As the anterior portion of the carcass was partially buried it was protected from being scavenged and the fine particles of mud which encased it provided conditions for exceptional preservation.  Stomach contents along with ligaments and some other soft tissues have been preserved.

Commenting on the specimen, Megan stated:

“Skeletons of Late Jurassic ichthyosaurs in the UK are extremely rare, so, after doing some research, comparing it with those known from other Late Jurassic deposits around the world, and not being able to find a match was very exciting.  Thalassodraco etchesi is a beautifully preserved ichthyosaur, with soft tissue preservation making it all the more interesting.  Steve’s incredible collection contains many new and exciting animals, and being given the chance to describe this ichthyosaur was a real privilege.”

A Deep Body but Small Forelimbs

The researchers noted the unusual body shape of the small ichthyosaur, it had a deep ribcage, small forelimbs and jaws lined with dozens of tiny, conical teeth.  It may have filled a slightly different niche in the Late Jurassic marine ecosystem compared to other ichthyosaurs.

Co-author of the paper, Professor David Martill, who leads the vertebrate palaeontology research unit at the University of Portsmouth commented:

“Steve is an exceptional fossil collector and although he is sometimes referred to as an amateur collector, he has done so much for palaeontology that he has been awarded an MBE, and is truly a pro.  If it were not for collectors like Steve, scientists would have very few specimens to work on.”

A Skeletal Reconstruction of Thalassodraco etchesi

Skeletal drawing of Thalassodraco etchesi.

A skeletal drawing of Thalassodraco etchesi (known bones in grey).  Scale bar = 1 metre.

Picture Credit: Jacobs and Martill (PLOS One)

With the publication of the scientific paper formally naming this new species of marine reptile, the research does not end.  The team hope to study the specimen, which is part of the Etches Museum collection, learning more about the reptile’s biology.

Professor Martill explained:

“There are a number of things that make this animal special, not least of which is its unusual rib cage and small flippers.  It may have swum with a distinctive style from other ichthyosaurs.”

Our congratulations to Dr Steve Etches and all the team at the amazing Etches Collection museum on the Dorset coast.

The scientific paper: “A new ophthalmosaurid ichthyosaur from the Upper Jurassic (Early Tithonian) Kimmeridge Clay of Dorset, UK, with implications for Late Jurassic ichthyosaur diversity” by Megan L. Jacobs and David M. Martill published in PLOS One.

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