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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.

17 12, 2019

Ancient Crocodilian Evolved Unique Specialisations Due to its Size

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

Purussaurus mirandai – Had an Extra Vertebra to Assist Movement

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

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

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

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

Picture Credit: JA Chirinos/The Royal Veterinary College

A Swamp Dweller But Capable of Moving Around on Land

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

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

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

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

Selected Forelimb Bones of Purussaurus from the Urumaco Formation of Venezuela

Purussaurus forelimb fossils.

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

Picture Credit: The Royal Veterinary College

Lead author of the research, Dr Torsten Scheyer commented:

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

An Illustration of the Fearsome Crocodilian Purussaurus mirandai 

Purussaurus mirandai illustrated.

Purussaurus mirandai illustrated, scale bar = 50 cm.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

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

10 12, 2019

Lice Feeding on Dinosaur Feathers Entombed in Amber

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

Ancient Lice Fed on Dinosaur Feathers

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

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

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

Parasitic Nymphs Feeding on Dinosaur Feathers

Feather-feeding insects preserved in amber.

Parasitic insects feeding on a dinosaur feather preserved in amber.

Picture Credit: Nature Communications

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

Ectoparasitic Morphological Characters

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

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

Feather-feeding insects preserved in amber.

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

Picture Credit: Nature Communications

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

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

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

3 12, 2019

Telling Apart Teenage Tyrannosaurs

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

Fossils From Alberta Help to Tell Teenage Tyrannosaurs Apart

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

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

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

Skull restoration TMP 1994.143.1.

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

Picture Credit: Voris et al/Scientific Reports

TMP 1994.143.1.

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

A Scale Drawing of an Adult Daspletosaurus

Drawing of Daspletosaurus.

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

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Defining a Juvenile Dinosaur

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

A Small Piece of Skull Bone – Changes Views

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

Views of the Postorbital Bone Assigned to a Juvenile Daspletosaurus

Juvenile Daspletosaurus postorbital bone.

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

Picture Credit: Voris et al/Scientific Reports

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

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

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

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

27 11, 2019

Targaryendraco – Unravelling the Ornithocheiridae

By | November 27th, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Targaryendraco – When the Pterosauria and “Game of Thrones” Meet

The Ornithocheiridae is one of the most extensively researched of all the pterosaur families.  However, this family of flying reptiles has a reputation amongst researchers for being one of the most difficult when it comes to mapping out their taxonomy.  The fragmentary fossils (usually jaw tips), first studied in the middle of the 19th century, has led to the erection of all kinds of genera and species.  Many palaeontologists are trying to make sense of this complicated and confused taxonomy, trying to unpick and unravel all those dubious pterosaurs assigned from the Cambridge Greensand of southern England and from the Lower Cretaceous deposits of central Germany as well as elsewhere in the world.

A team of researchers writing in the academic journal “Historical Biology”, have reassessed a specimen housed at the State Museum of Natural History – Stuttgart (Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde).  This specimen, the most complete pterosaur fossil known from Lower Cretaceous deposits in Germany, consists of material from the lower jaws, (including the jaw tips), a partial rib as well as elements from the forelimbs, hand and fingers.  Originally assigned to the Ornithocheirus genus and named Ornithocheirus wiedenrothi, the authors build on previous studies that questioned whether this specimen represented a species of Ornithocheirus, redescribe it and assign this pterosaur to its own genus – Targaryendraco.  The trivial name is still retained, honouring amateur palaeontologist Kurt Wiedenroth who discovered the fossil material back in 1984.

A Life Reconstruction of Targaryendraco wiedenrothi

A life reconstruction of the pterosaur Targaryendraco.

Targaryendraco life reconstruction.  The single specimen known probably represents a sub-adult, so the size of this flying reptile is uncertain, some estimates have suggested a wingspan of between 3-4 metres.  Ironically the fossil specimen demonstrates a narrow mandible, a characteristic of the Ornithocheiridae.

Picture Credit: Vitor Silva

The “Game of Thrones” Connection

The genus name is a combination of Targaryen and “draco” from the Latin for dragon.  Targaryen is one of the Houses in the fictional chronicles “A Song of Ice and Fire” by George R. R. Martin, upon which the television series “Game of Thrones” is based.  The dragons of the popular saga have dark coloured bones, the type specimen of Targaryendraco wiedenrothi is a dark grey colour, caused by mineralisation from the surrounding matrix.  The name also references the connection between pterosaurs and dragons, a link cited almost since the first fossils of these flying reptiles came to be known by western science.

The Holotype Lower Jaw with Line Drawings (Targaryendraco wiedenrothi)

Views of the holotype lower jaw of Targaryendraco wiedenrothi.

Holotype lower jaw of Targaryendraco wiedenrothi with line drawings.  The holotype fossil (SMNS 56628) dorsal view (A) with line drawing (B) and a lateral view (C) with accompanying line drawing (D).

Picture Credit: Alexander Kellner and Taissa Rodrigues

A New Clade of Pterosaurs – the Targaryendraconia

The researchers, Rodrigo V. Pêgas, Borja Holgado and Maria Eduarda C. Leal undertook a phylogenetic analysis based on the three-dimensional German fossils and subsequently erected a new clade of pterosaurs – the Targaryendraconia which consists of six genera (see below).  This new clade is both geographically and temporally widespread and demonstrates that the diversity of Lower Cretaceous toothy pterosaurs was higher than previously thought.

The six genera assigned to the clade Targaryendraconia:

  • Targaryendraco – described in 2019 from fossil material found in near Hannover in Germany.
  • Aussiedraco – described in 2011 from fossils found in Queensland, Australia.
  • Barbosania – described in 2011 (Santana Formation of north-eastern Brazil).
  • Camposipterus – redescribed in 2013 and known from the Cambridge Greensand formation.
  • Aetodactylus – described in 2010 and known from Texas (USA).
  • Cimoliopterus – redescribed in 2013 and known from fragmentary fossils from Texas and Kent in south-eastern England.

Studying the ornithocheirids might be like trying to untie the Gordian Knot of ancient mythology, but at least with this new assessment, a small part of this complicated fossil collection has been unravelled.

20 11, 2019

First Fossil Evidence of Feathered Polar Dinosaurs

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

Fossilised Bird and Dinosaur Feathers from Australia

Palaeontologists know that dinosaurs roamed high latitudes, that is to say that fossil finds have demonstrated that dinosaurs once inhabited parts of the world that are now in the Arctic Circle and similar fossil discoveries have been made in the southern hemisphere demonstrating that the Dinosauria also inhabited Antarctica.  Although, the climate during the Mesozoic was much warmer than it is today, in these high latitudes the fauna and flora would still have had to endure challenging conditions, such as freezing temperatures and many months of darkness with the sun not rising above the horizon.  It has been suggested that many dinosaur residents were feathered, their integumentary coverings of protofeathers and down helping to keep them warm.  However, actual evidence of fossilised feathers was lacking, but scientists writing in the journal “Gondwana Research”, describe several feathers from the Lower Cretaceous-aged sediments at the Koonwarra Fish Beds Geological Reserve located in Victoria (Australia).

A Fossilised Feather from the Koonwarra Fish Beds Geological Reserve

A protofeather likely to have come from a theropod dinosaur.

A fossilised filamentous protofeather associated with the Theropoda from the Koonwarra Fish Beds Geological Reserve.

Picture Credit: Kundrát et al (Gondwana Research)

Different Types of Feathers Found

Researchers from the Pavol Jozef Safarik University (Slovakia), Monash University, Swinburne University of Technology (both in Australia), Lund University, Uppsala University (Sweden) and from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (USA) in collaboration with other colleagues have identified the first record of avian and non-avian integumentary structures described from Mesozoic polar regions.

In essence, feathered dinosaurs and birds were present at a latitude of around 70 degrees south between 118-115 million years ago.  Finding feathers this far south reinforces the view that feathered dinosaurs were ubiquitous for much of the Mesozoic.

Importantly, the handful of fossilised feathers from this site show a lot of variation.  Some fossils consist of the preserved remains of tufted body feathers, whilst others show asymmetrical bird-like flight feathers.  Fossils of simple, open-vaned contour feathers reminiscent to those of the Liaoning theropod Caudipteryx have also been found.

A Tufted Body Feather from the Koonwarra Fish Beds Geological Reserve

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

A fossilised feather from the Koonwarra Fish Beds Geological Reserve.

Picture Credit: Kundrát et al (Gondwana Research)

One of the co-authors of the scientific paper, Dr Benjamin Kear (Uppsala University) commented:

“Dinosaur skeletons and even the fragile bones of early birds have been found at ancient high-latitudes before.  Yet, to date, no directly attributable integumentary remains have been discovered to show that dinosaurs used feathers to survive in extreme polar habitats.  These Australian fossil feathers are therefore highly significant because they came from dinosaurs and small birds that were living in a seasonally very cold environment with months of polar darkness every year”.

The Koonwarra Fish Beds Geological Reserve

The feathers come from the Koonwarra Fish Beds Geological Reserve located in South Gippsland, Victoria.  The sediments represent the fine-grained clay deposits formed in a large, shallow lake. Many different fossils have been found at this location, including a fossilised flower and Ginkgo leaves.  Invertebrates are well represented, the fine grained deposits preserving insects, freshwater mussels, spiders and even the remains of a horseshoe crab.  Apart from the feathers, the only evidence of vertebrates associated with this location are the remains of fish.  The strata consist of alternate light and dark bands indicating an extreme seasonal environment, what you would expect in a part of the polar region where lakes would have frozen over during the extremely long winter.

A Life Reconstruction of a Theropod Dinosaur – A Likely Inhabitant of the Polar Region

Life reconstruction of a polar theropod dinosaur.

A life reconstruction of a polar theropod dinosaur.  Feathers found in Victoria indicate the presence of feathered polar dinosaurs in southern Gondwana during the Early Cretaceous.

Picture Credit: Peter Trusler

Feather fossils from this site were first described in the 1960’s but at the time they were thought to represent bird feathers, thanks to feathered dinosaur discoveries from elsewhere in the world, most notably north-eastern China, this fossil material has been reassessed and the researchers conclude that the variety of feathers at this site augments the limited skeletal evidence for a range of insulted non-avian theropods and birds living at extreme high latitudes in the southern hemisphere.  Analysis of some of the feathers has revealed residual patterning and the preservation of rod-shaped structures at the cellular level suggests the presence of eumelanosomes which in turn could help scientists determine pigments and colouration.

The scientists infer that many of the feathers indicate a dark pigmentation, such a colouration might have provided effective camouflage or permitted the absorption of a greater proportion of the energy from the rays of the sun – very useful if you inhabit a cold, dark world for much of the year.

7 11, 2019

Remarkable Fossil Ape from the Miocene of Southern Germany

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

Danuvius guggenmosi – Adapted for Walking and Climbing

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

A Life Reconstruction of the Newly Described Miocene Ape Danuvius guggenmosi

Danuvius guggenmosi life reconstruction.

Danuvius life reconstruction.

Picture Credit: Velizar Simeonovski / University of Tübingen

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

The Twenty-one Fossils that Comprise the Male Danuvius Specimen

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

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

Picture Credit: Christoph Jäckle / University of Tübingen

A Fossil That Resets the Evolutionary Clock

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

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

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

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

Part of the reconstructed skeleton of Danuvius.

Reconstructing the skeleton of Danuvius.

Picture Credit: Christoph Jäckle / University of Tübingen

Lead Author of the Scientific Paper Professor Madelaine Böhme

Professor Madelaine Böhme (University of Tübingen)

Professor Madelaine Böhme examining the fossil material.

Picture Credit: Christoph Jäckle / University of Tübingen

How Did Hommins Come to Walk on Two Legs?

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

Reconstructing Cranial Elements of Danuvius guggenmosi

Piecing together the skull and jaws of Danuvius.

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

Picture Credit: Christoph Jäckle / University of Tübingen

Mapping an Ancient Vertebrate Fauna Preserved in a Bavarian Clay Pit

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

Professor Böhme stated:

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

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

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

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

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

The Hand Bones of the Male Danuvius in their Storage Boxes

Hand bones from the male Danuvius.

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

Picture Credit: Christoph Jäckle / University of Tübingen

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 11, 2019

Fossil Footprints Reflect Diverse Dinosaurs in South-western Alaska

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

Fossil Footprints Reflect Diverse Dinosaurs in South-western Alaska

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

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

A landscape dominated by hadrosaurs but ankylosaurs were present too.

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

Picture Credit: Karen Carr/PLOS One

The Late Cretaceous (Maastrichtian) Chignik Formation

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

Representative Hadrosaur Tracks

Hadrosaur tracks from Alaska.

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

Picture Credit: PLOS One

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

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

A Map Highlighting the Position of the Fossil Discoveries

Aniakchak National Park location and fossil sites.

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

Picture Credit: PLOS One

Ankylosaurs Present Too

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

A Potential Ankylosaur Track – Aniakchak National Monument

Potentail Alaskan armoured dinosaur track.

Armoured dinosaur track (ichnotaxon Tetrapodosaurus).

Picture Credit: PLOS One with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

Avian and Non-Avian Theropods

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

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

Large theropod track from south-western Alaska.

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

Picture Credit: PLOS One

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

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

27 10, 2019

A Guide to Fossil Collecting on the South Dorset Coast

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

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

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

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

"Fossil Collecting on the South Dorset Coast"

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

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

In Collaboration with Siri Scientific Press

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

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

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

In Search of Dinosaurs

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

Author Steve Snowball commented:

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

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

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

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

Picture Credit: Andreas Kurpisz

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

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

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

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

24 10, 2019

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

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

Parmastega aelidae – Hunting Like a Crocodile

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

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

Parmastega aelidae life reconstruction.

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

Picture Credit: Mikhail Shekhanov for the Ukhta Local Museum

What are Tetrapods?

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

A Life Reconstruction of the Late Devonian Tetrapod Ichthyostega

Ichthyostega life reconstruction.

Ichthyostega – life reconstruction.

Picture Credit: Julia Molnar

A Gap in the Fossil Record

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

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

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

Skull bones of Parmastega.

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

Picture Credit: Nature

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

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

Comparing the Skull of Parmastega to that of a Caiman

Parmastega compared to a Caiman.

The head of Parmastega compared to a modern crocodile.

Picture Credit: Nature

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

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

Professor Par Ahlberg stated:

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

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

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

Comparing the Head Morphology of Late Devonian Tetrapods

Late Devonian tetrapods.

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

Picture Credit: Nature

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

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

20 10, 2019

Trilobite Fossils From Morocco Reveal Collective Behaviour

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

Linear Clusters of Trilobites (Ampyx priscus)

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

Trilobite Fossils from the Lower Ordovician – Possible Collective Behaviour

Trilobite collective behaviour.

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

Picture Credit: Scientific Reports

Trilobites Travelling in Columns

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

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

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

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

Interpretative Line Drawings of Trilobite Linear Clusters

Trilobite linear clusters.

Line drawings of trilobite linear clusters indicating collective behaviour.

Picture Credit: Scientific Reports

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

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