All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
/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.

1 02, 2019

Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum – New Research is Published

By | February 1st, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Puzzling Pachyrhinosaurs – The Remarkable Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum

Researchers from the Perot Museum of Nature and Science (Dallas, USA), in collaboration with the University of Toronto (Canada), have published an update on their research into one of the most remarkable Late Cretaceous dinosaurs known to science.

Back in 2011, Everything Dinosaur reported that field work in the high Arctic led by palaeontologists from the Perot Museum of Nature and Science had uncovered the fossilised remains of at least ten individual dinosaurs representing a new species of Ceratopsian.  This horned dinosaur, a Pachyrhinosaur, was named Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum and it became the third species to be assigned to this centrosaurine genus.  With numerous specimens to study, the palaeontologists could gain a fresh perspective on how horned dinosaurs changed as they grew up and develop a better understanding of the cranial ornamentation associated with the Ceratopsidae.

The Ontogeny of P. perotorum

Illustrating the ontogeny of a Pachyrhinosaurus (P. perotorum).

How a baby P. perotorum grew up.  With numerous individuals represented at the same dig site, palaeontologists can examine variation within a species and assess how these dinosaurs changed as they matured.

Picture Credit: Perot Museum of Nature and Science

Updating Their Findings

The authors of the original scientific paper describing P. perotorum, Anthony Fiorillo and Ronald Tykoski, have published a new report in conjunction with Kentaro Chiba of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Toronto, updating their research and providing more information on how this species can be distinguished from the two other species of Pachyrhinosaurus.  The continued preparation of fossil specimens collected from the type locality, the  Kikak-Tegoseak Quarry (Prince Creek Formation), has produced more skull elements to study.  The researchers note that their original reconstruction of the type parietal bone was incorrect, the parietal along with the squamosal bone form the neck frill in horned dinosaurs.  The parietal of P. perotorum is similar to the parietal bones of the other species – P. canadensis and P. lakustai.

It is postulated that Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum can be identified by an upturned tip of the rostrum, a dorsally shifted rostral bone lacking a sharply downturned, parrot-like beak and an enlarged median ridge at the posterior end of the nasal boss.  Other differences in cranial morphology are also tentatively proposed in the new scientific paper, published in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology.

A Speculative Illustration of the High Northern Latitude Ceratopsian Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum

A northern Ceratopsian with a shaggy coat.

A speculative illustration of Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum with a shaggy coat of feathers.  Although northern Alaska was warmer in the Late Cretaceous than today, it would have been distinctly chilly, too cold for ectothermic reptiles and it has been speculated that the dinosaur biota of high latitudes may have been specifically adapted to cold climates.  In this illustration, Pachyrhinosaurus has been depicted with a long, shaggy coat of feathers to help keep out the cold.

Picture Credit: Mark Witton

The Sister Taxon of P. canadensis

A cladistic analysis undertaken by the team using this new dataset in conjunction with previous research confirms that the Pachyrhinosaurus genus is monophyletic (all descended from a common ancestor) and that Pachyrhinosaurus canadensis is the sister taxon to P. perotorum.  In addition, this research supports the idea that parietal and squamosal frill ornamentations alone do not adequately address the variables in craniofacial morphology needed to distinguish between species of Pachyrhinosaurus.

The continuing research into horned dinosaurs that lived at high latitudes is helping palaeontologists to gain a better understanding of a unique ecosystem that existed towards the end of the dinosaur age.  Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum is not only the youngest Pachyrhinosaur species known, it is also the geologically youngest known centrosaurine.  With three species assigned to the genus, Pachyrhinosaurus is the most speciose of all the Centrosaurinae genera.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum holds a special place in Ceratopsidae research.  It lived at a higher latitude than any other horned dinosaur known to science and, as a consequence, had to endure some very tough and harsh climatic conditions.  Whether this dinosaur was a seasonal migrant to the area in summer to take advantage of the 24-hours of daylight that permitted abundant plant growth, or whether this reptile was a permanent resident remains uncertain.  However, the discovery of the fossilised remains of a juvenile at the Kikak-Tegoseak Quarry, suggests that this dinosaur could have been indigenous to northern Alaska during the Maastrichtian faunal stage.”

To read Everything Dinosaur’s original article from 2011 that announced the discovery of a third species of Pachyrhinosaurus: A New Species of Pachyrhinosaurus – P. perotorum.

The scientific paper: “New Data and Diagnosis for the Arctic Ceratopsid Dinosaur Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum” by Ronald S. Tykoski, Anthony R. Fiorillo and Kentara Chiba published in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology.

29 01, 2019

Preparing to Introduce a New Oviraptorid

By | January 29th, 2019|Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Press Releases|0 Comments

Preparing to Introduce a New Oviraptorid

As Everything Dinosaur team members prepare to write about the formal scientific description of a new species of oviraptorid from the Late Cretaceous of southern Mongolia, we have been brushing up on our knowledge of the Oviraptorosauria clade.

No Need to Get into a Flap over the Oviraptorosauria

Is this an example of dinosaur courtship?

The Oviraptorosauria is a very diverse clade of Theropods.

Picture Credit: Sydney Mohr, University of Alberta

An Unusual Branch of the Maniraptora

The Oviraptorosauria clade is an atypical branch of the maniraptoran Theropods.   They are characterised by short, deep skulls, jaws which lack teeth (edentulous in derived, advanced members of the clade), short, stunted tails and tail bones with lots of air sacs within them (pneumatised proximal caudal vertebrae).  The first of these dinosaurs were formally named and described in the 1920’s (Oviraptor and Chirostenotes), over the last three decades, numerous new members of this clade have been identified, mostly from Upper Cretaceous strata.

The  oviraptorosaurs are likely to have originated in Asia.  The earliest fossil record of these dinosaurs is reported from the Lower Cretaceous Yixian Formation of China.  It is likely that these dinosaurs were feathered and most of them were relatively small and light-weight.   However, there were exceptions to this rule, such as the huge Gigantoraptor (Gigantoraptor erlianensis), that stood nearly as tall as a giraffe.  Gigantoraptor was named and described in 2007: New Giant Chinese Dinosaur Described.

A Scale Drawing of Gigantoraptor Atypical of an Atypical Theropod Clade

Gigantoraptor scale drawing.

The largest feathered animal known to science.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Three Families within the Oviraptorosauria

Palaeontologists consider the Oviraptorosauria to be a very diverse clade with numerous taxa, but it can be broadly classified into three distinct families:

  1. The Avimimidae  – which for the moment contains a single genus (Avimimus), with two species from the Nemegt Formation of Mongolia, although the provenance of the first fossils associated with this genus is not clear.
  2.  The Caenagnathidae – which are known from North America and Asia with numerous genera including the giant Gigantoraptor erlianensis.
  3. The Oviraptoridae – which are only known from Asia, although there are more genera recognised than within the more geographically widespread caenagnathids.

Of these three dinosaur families, it can be argued that the Oviraptoridae are the best understood.  Many genera are known from nearly complete fossil skeletons, whilst in the case of most caenagnathids, these dinosaurs are mostly known from highly fragmentary and far from complete material.

We look forward to publishing an article in the very near future describing a new member of the Oviraptoridae from the famous Upper Cretaceous deposits of the Nemegt Formation of Mongolia.

Note

Our article has been published, say hello to a new Asian, Late Cretaceous oviraptorid – Gobiraptor minutus.

You can read our article here: New Species of Late Cretaceous Oviraptorid Dinosaur Named

23 01, 2019

Prehistoric Shark Named after Video Game

By | January 23rd, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Galagadon nordquistae – Shark Resident of Hell Creek

Perhaps the most famous exhibit at the Field Museum (Chicago), is the Tyrannosaurus rex specimen named “Sue”, the most complete T. rex fossil discovered to date.  A great deal of research has been carried out on the 66 million-year-old fossilised bones of this giant, meat-eating Theropod that measures over twelve metres in length.  However, the matrix that surrounded the fossil material has helped to shed light on another resident of the famous Hell Creek Formation of South Dakota.  Fossil teeth found in the matrix surrounding the bones of the most famous T. rex in the world has led to the naming and description of a prehistoric shark that lived in freshwater, say hello to Galagadon nordquistae.

A Life Reconstruction of the Late Cretaceous Shark G. nordquistae

Galagadon nordquistae life reconstruction.

A life reconstruction of the Late Cretaceous shark Galagadon nordquistae.

Picture Credit: Velizar Simeonovski (Field Museum)

A Small, Freshwater Predator

Ever since the preparation work on “Sue” began in the 1990’s, the leftover sediment (matrix), was carefully stored at the Field Museum.  Researchers examined this material searching for micro-fossils in a bid to build up a picture of what life was like in this part of Laramidia towards the end of the age of dinosaurs.  Teeth were found from a shark which would have measured around half a metre in length.

Peter Makovicky (Curator of Dinosaurs at the Field Museum) commented:

“This shark lived at the same as Sue the T. rex, it was part of the same world.  Most of its body wasn’t preserved, because sharks’ skeletons are made of cartilage, but we were able to find its tiny fossilised teeth.”

The shark, named Galagadon nordquistae, is described in a scientific paper published in the “Journal of Palaeontology”.

Named After a 1980s Video Game

Lead author of the research, Terry Gates (North Carolina State University), explained that the shark’s name was inspired by the stepped, triangular shape of the teeth that reminded the research team of the spaceships in the 1980s video game Galaga.  The species epithet honours Field Museum volunteer Karen Nordquist who discovered the fossilised teeth in the matrix material.

Fossil Teeth Reminded the Scientists of Video Game Spaceships

Galagadon fossil teeth.

Specimens of shark teeth (lingual view) assigned to Galagadon.  Scale bars = 1 mm.

Picture Credit: Terry Gates (North Carolina State University)/Journal of Paleontology

Commentating on her fossil find, Nordquist stated:

“It [a tooth] was so tiny, you could miss it if you weren’t looking really carefully.  To the naked eye, it just looks like a little bump, you have to have a microscope to get a good view of it.”

Tiny Teeth Change our View of the Prehistoric Environment

The tiny teeth are only about a millimetre wide, about the size of a pinhead.  Galagadon was small too, estimated at around thirty to sixty centimetres in length.

Dr Makovicky added:

“Galagadon was less than two feet long, it’s not exactly Jaws.  It’s comparable to bamboo sharks living today.  It probably had a flat face and was very likely camouflage-coloured, since its relatives today have a camouflage pattern.  It would have eaten small invertebrates and probably spent a fair amount of time lying on the bottom of the riverbed.”

Galagadon may not have been huge, but its discovery has forced scientists into a re-think over what they thought they knew about the area where the T. rex named “Sue” was found.  It had been thought that the fossil locality represented a lake formed from a partially dried-up river, the presence of a shark suggests there must have been at least some connection to the sea.

The shark has been classified as a member of the Orectolobiformes Order of sharks, making it distantly related to extant carpet sharks including bamboo sharks.  These types of shark are believed to have originated in the Jurassic and had a global distribution, today they are mostly restricted to waters in southeast Asia and Australia.

Co-author of the study, Eric Gorscak (Field Museum) explained:

“It’s surprising to find their fossils at the Sue locality.  During the Late Cretaceous, the continents continued to drift apart, further isolating dinosaurs and other land animals, and at the same time created the Atlantic and Indian oceans.  With occasional seaways connecting these young oceans, we have found fossils of marine life flourishing globally, including Galagadon and its relatives.”

Various Views of the Galagadon Teeth

Views of Galagadon teeth.

Galagadon teeth. Specimens in lingual view (1–4), labial view (5–8), lateral view (9–12), basal view (13–16), and occlusal view (17–20). Scale bars = 1 mm.

Picture Credit: Terry Gates (North Carolina State University)/Journal of Paleontology

Hell Creek – More than Flashy Dinosaurs

The study also reflects the importance of learning about fossils beyond big, flashy dinosaurs.  Each species discovered helps to build up a picture of the ecosystem in which the dinosaurs and other megafauna existed.

Karen Nordquist added:

“Most people, when they think of fossils, think of big huge dinosaur bones, but in the dirt, there are the bones of tiny animals.  When you get those bones and identify them, you get an idea of the whole environment, everything that lived with the big dinosaurs.  You learn so much from micro-sorting.”

The scientific paper: “New Sharks and Other Chondrichthyans from the Latest Maastrichtian (Late Cretaceous) of North America” by Terry A. Gates, Eric Gorscak and Peter J. Makovicky published in the Journal of Paleontology.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the help of a press release from the Field Museum (Chicago), in the compilation of this article.

21 01, 2019

100 million-year-old Cretaceous Hagfish Shakes Our Family Tree

By | January 21st, 2019|Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Research Changes Views over Evolution of Jawed Vertebrates

An international team of scientists, including researchers from Manchester University, have helped unravel the secrets hidden in the fossilised remains of an ancient hagfish, a slimy, eel-like fish whose descendants still swim the oceans of the world today.

Working in collaboration with researchers from the University of Chicago (Illinois, USA), the Manchester University team have identified the first detailed fossil of a hagfish.  The Manchester team were led by Professors Phil Manning and Roy Wogelius, powerful X-rays were used to provide a detailed examination of the fossil specimen, providing a fresh perspective on the evolution of jaws in animals with back bones (vertebrates).

The Tethymyxine tapirostrum fossil Specimen Being Prepared for Synchrotron Analysis

Tethymyxine tapirostrum fossil.

Tethymyxine tapirostrum fossil being prepared for synchrotron X-ray analysis.

Picture Credit: University of Manchester

The X-rays were produced using the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL), a cyclic particle accelerator at Stanford University (California).  Once the fossil had been scanned, the data produced helped answer the question as to when these ancient jawless fish branched-off the vertebrate evolutionary tree.

An Important Discovery

The discovery is incredibly important as it changes our view of the evolutionary lineage that gave rise to modern-day jawed vertebrates (gnathostomes), from bony fish to humans.  The scientific paper is being published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”.  The fossil, a specimen of a hagfish from the Late Cretaceous comes from Lebanon and it measures just over thirty centimetres long.  The fossil represents a species named Tethymyxine tapirostrum.

Commenting on the importance of this research, Professor Phil Manning (Chair of Natural History at the University of Manchester) stated:

“This is an extremely significant discovery as it recalibrates our understanding of the evolutionary history of all early vertebrates, an ancestral line that leads to all jawed beasties including us. Humans!”

Professor Manning added:

“This wonderful fossil plugs a 100-million-year gap in the fossil record and shows that hagfish are more closely related to the lamprey than to other fishes.  The chemical maps produced at SSRL enabled our team to see for the first time the anatomical features so crucial to the interpretation of this very distant relative.”

Lampreys are another form of ancient, blood-sucking, jawless fish also still in existence today.  These findings show that both the hagfish and lamprey evolved their eel-like body form and strange feeding systems after they branched off from the rest of the vertebrate line of ancestry about 500 million years ago, during the Cambrian geological period.

Professor Manning at the SSRL (Stanford University)

Professor Phil Manning at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL).

Professor Manning at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL).

Picture Credit: University of Manchester

Dr Tetsuto Miyashita, (Fellow in the Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy at Chicago University), who led the research, explained:

“This is a major reorganisation of the family tree of all fish and their descendants.  This allows us to put an evolutionary date on unique traits that set hagfish apart from all other animals.”

The Bizarre Hagfish

The bizarre hagfish are entirely marine and are the only known living animals that possess a rudimentary skull but no vertebral column.  They do have very primitive vertebrae but instead of a back bone like other vertebrates they just have a modified notochord.  They have a unique defence mechanism to help them ward off ocean predators such as sharks.  They can produce copious amounts of slime, clouding the water in their proximity and clogging the gills of would-be attackers.  In some parts of Asia, such as South Korea, this slime is prized and used in cooking.

It was this ability to produce slime that made the Tethymyxine fossil all the more important and rare.  The discrete chemistry locked within the fossil could only be mapped using synchrotron-based imaging techniques developed by the Manchester/SSRL team.  Manchester University  is an established world leader in the synchrotron-based imaging of fossil remains.  This technique has permitted the team to identify the “chemical ghost” of the preserved soft tissue and slime glands of the fossil.  Soft tissues are rarely preserved as fossils, which is why there are so few examples of prehistoric hagfish for palaeontologists to study.

The detailed scans picked up the chemical signal for keratin, the same material that makes up your hair and nails.  Keratin is a crucial part of what makes the hagfish slime defence so effective.

Professor Wogelius, (Chair of Geochemistry at The University of Manchester), commented:

“Our team at Manchester has been using these increasingly sophisticated imaging techniques to help us better understand ancient fossils and resolve chemistry derived from both the organism and the environment in which they were preserved.”

Professor Manning added:

“This ‘chemical’ fossil has offered new and exciting evidence that has enabled a more robust reconstruction of the vertebrate family tree.  However, it was only made possible through the collaboration of an international team, as Darwin once said, ‘In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed’”.

14 01, 2019

Basilosaurus – The Apex Predator

By | January 14th, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Research Confirms Basilosaurus Was a Top Predator

Readers with a long memory might remember an episode from the BBC “Walking with Beasts” television series that first aired in 2001.  In this sequel to “Walking with Dinosaurs”, the focus was placed upon the evolution of the mammals after the dinosaur extinction.  “Whale Killer”,  which was episode two in the six-part series, told the story of a pregnant Basilosaurus (archaic whale), desperately searching for food to help the calf growing inside her.  Thanks to raids on Dorudon whales and their young, the Basilosaurus is able to successfully give birth and this episode ends with the mother swimming away with her new-born calf following close behind.

An Illustration of the Fearsome Early Toothed Whale Basilosaurus

PNSO Basilosaurus illustration.

An illustration of Basilosaurus.  The human figure provides scale.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Analysis of Basilosaurus Stomach Contents

A team of researchers writing in the on-line, academic journal PLOS One, have published the results of stomach content analysis of Basilosaurus specimens from the Late Eocene-aged site at Wadi Al-Hitan in Egypt.  It is confirmed that Basilosaurus fed on smaller whales (juvenile Dorudon atrox) as well as large fish (Pycnodus mokattamensis).  The scientists, which included Manja Voss (Museum für Naturkunde Berlin) and Mohammed Sameh M. Antar from the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency, Cairo, state that this is the first direct evidence of Basilosaurus (B. isis) diet.

A Size Comparison Between an Adult Basilosaurus isis and an Adult Dorudon atrox

An adult Basilosaurus compared to an adult Dorudon whale.

Comparing an adult, fifteen-metre-long Basilosaurus isis museum mounted skeleton to a fully grown Dorudon atrox.

Picture Credit: PLOS One/University of Michigan

Basilosaurus – Top of a Tethys Ocean Ecological Pyramid

The Late Eocene Epoch was a time of dramatic change and global extinction.  The once mighty Tethys Ocean was very much reduced, but the first, giant, toothed whales had evolved and the research team cite Basilosaurus isis, the Late Miocene Livyatan melvillei, and the extant Orca (Orcinus orca) as three marine apex predators known from relatively short intervals of time during the Cenozoic.  This research confirms the predator-prey relationship between the two most frequently found fossil whales at the Wadi Al-Hitan location.  Bite marks on the preserved skulls of Dorudon whales suggest predation and not scavenging behaviour by Basilosaurus.

A Photomosaic of a Basilosaurus Specimen (WH 10001)

Basilosaurus scattered remains.

Photomosaic of Basilosaurus isis (WH 10001) from the Gehannam Formation of Wadi Al Hitan.

Picture Credit: PLOS One

The image above shows a photomosaic of a scattered and disarticulated Basilosaurus isis specimen from the Gehannam Formation of Wadi Al-Hitan.  The disarticulation of the fossil skeleton and the scattering suggests disturbance by scavengers and possibly long exposure on the seafloor prior to burial.

The researcher conclude that Basilosaurus was a top apex predator that hunted and ate its prey alive, rather than scavenging for scraps.  If the Wadi Al-Hitan site, represents a calving area for the Dorudon, then this would have made an ideal hunting spot for a hungry Basilosaurus.  The dramatic scenes in episode two of the “Walking with Beasts” television series, have more published scientific evidence to back up the screenplay.

9 01, 2019

When Did Life on Land First Evolve?

By | January 9th, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Was There Life on Land During the Ediacaran?

The transition of vertebrates from fully aquatic to partially terrestrial animals has been well documented.  Transitional vertebrates such as the remarkable Tiktaalik roseae* provide evidence of the anatomical adaptations undertaken by back-boned animals as they conquered the land.  However, invertebrates got there first and before them the land was home to other organisms such as multi-cellular, photosynthesisng mats of algae.  When complex organisms, rather than members of the Plantae Kingdom or bacteria established themselves on land is somewhat controversial, but new clues might be emerging from fossils found in some of the oldest known soils on Earth.  Could land-dwelling organisms have been present during the Ediacaran?

An Ediacaran Fossil Affected by Wind-drift Deposition

Evidence of wind-drift deposition in ancient Ediacaran sediments.

A portion of a quilted Ediacaran fossil is partly covered by ancient wind deposition – source Namibia.

Picture Credit: Greg Retallack (Oregon University)

Not Marine Fossils But Fossils from a Fluvial Environment

Multi-cellular, terrestrial animals may have existed during the Ediacaran, that is the conclusion of Greg Retallack, fossil collections director at the University of Oregon’s Museum of Natural and Cultural History, writing in the journal Sedimentary Geology.  The evidence for such a conclusion emerged from fossil assemblages, previously considered to represent ocean organisms, found in thin layers of silt and sand located between thicker sandstone beds from Ediacaran-aged fossil localities of Nilpena, South Australia and in similarly aged rocks from Namibia.

The Ediacaran is the last geological period of the Precambrian (Neoproterozoic Era), it lasted from 635 million years ago to 542 million years ago and this period in Earth’s history was named after the Ediacara Hills, located north of Adelaide (South Australia), in which, geologist Reginald Sprigg discovered a remarkable collection of fossils representing bizarre, soft-bodied organisms.

Commenting on his new research Greg Retallack stated:

“These Ediacaran organisms are one of the enduring mysteris of the fossil record.  Were they worms, sea jellies, sea pens, amoebae, algae?  They are notoriously difficult to classify, but conventional wisdom has long held that they were marine organisms.”

Studying Interflag Sandstone Laminae

An in-depth, microscopic analysis of the sediments and their geochemical properties has led to a reassessment of the environmental conditions that led to their deposition.  The grains that make up the sediments, reveal telltale marks of ancient wind erosion, the sediments suggest wind-drift deposition between flood beds.  This indicates a terrestrial origin for them and not deposition in a marine environment, after all, wind (aeolian forces), hardly affect sand grains on the seabed.

These thin, silty to sandy layers that are “sandwiched” between thicker sandstone beds are referred to as interflag sandstone laminae, they are sometimes called “shims” or “microbial mat sandwiches”.  In the research paper, Greg Retallack found similar structures in modern river deposits as well as more ancient interflag sandstone laminae in Pennsylvanian (Upper Carboniferous), and Eocene fluvial levee facies.

Thin, Silty to Sandy Layers Deposited Between Thicker Layers of Sandstone

Interflag Sandstone Laminae

How interflag sandstone laminae form – wind deposition alternates with flood deposition – a phenomenon observed in modern fluvial environments.

Picture Credit: Greg Retallack (Oregon University)

Professor Retallack confirmed his diagnosis of an aeolian factor in the deposition by stating:

“Such wind-drifted layers are widespread on river levees and sandbars today.  They are present throughout the Flinders Ranges of South Australia and also in Ediacaran rocks of southern Namibia.”

If the sediments are affected by aeolian forces, then it follows that they were deposited in terrestrial environments and therefore the fossil assemblage associated with these deposits are very likely to represent a terrestrial biota.  The organisms that left these fossils would have been multicellular and quite complex, visible to the naked eye.  Such life would have preceded the emergence of the first land plants by many tens of millions of years.

Unearthing Important Clues

The Ediacaran biota remains extremely difficult to classify, only impressions have been preserved so the internal structure of most of these bizarre organisms is entirely unknown.  They could represent a “dead-end” in the evolution of complex life, or some of them might be ancestral to extant groups of animals.  The fauna of the Ediacaran might remain enigmatic, when it comes to learning what the fossils actually represent, but this new study offers some intriguing new evidence about the palaeoenvironment.

The Professor concluded:

“The investigation points to a terrestrial habitat for some of these organisms, and combined with growing evidence from studies of fossil soils and biological soil crust features, it suggests that they may have been land creatures such as lichens.”

*To read an article about Tiktaalik roseaeScientists Get to Grips with Tiktaalik’s Rear End

Life in the Ediacaran (Marine Biota)

Ediacaran marine life.

Life in the Ediacaran.  Up until now, most if not all of the life reconstructions have focused on a marine ecosystem scenario.

Picture Credit: John Sibbick

The scientific paper: “Interflag Sandstone Laminae, A Novel Sedimentary Structure, with Implications for Ediacaran Paleoenvironments” by Gregory J. Retallack published in Sedimentary Geology.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the help of a press release from the Univesity of Oregon in the compilation of this article.

4 01, 2019

New Middle Jurassic Pterosaur Described

By | January 4th, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Klobiodon rochei – Fanged Flier of the Middle Jurassic

The famous Stonesfield Slate mines located in Oxfordshire have provided palaeontologists with a rich assemblage of Middle Jurassic (Bathonian), marine and terrestrial fossils, perhaps most famously, the Theropod Megalosaurus, the first dinosaur to be scientifically described.  Joining “big reptile” as a member of the area’s prehistoric biota is a newly described, toothy pterosaur – Klobiodon rochei.

Writing in the academic journal Acta Palaeontologica Polonica, Dr Michael O’Sullivan, (University of Portsmouth), has reviewed the extensive but highly fragmentary pterosaur material and uncovered evidence of well-armed and substantial flying reptiles from historically important, but overlooked, British fossils.

A Life Reconstruction of the Middle Jurassic Rhamphorhynchid Pterosaur Klobiodon rochei

Klobiodon rochei life reconstruction.

A life reconstruction of the Middle Jurassic pterosaur Klobiodon rochei.

Picture Credit: Mark Witton

An Unexpectedly Large and Formidable Flying Reptile

Working in collaboration with Professor David Martill (University of Portsmouth), Dr O’Sullivan examined many of the 215 fragmentary pterosaur fossils that have been collected from the Stonesfield Slate mines, K. rochei is one of the largest known from any Middle Jurassic-aged deposits.  It had an estimated wingspan of two metres, making it about the size of a modern-day mute swan.  Living around 166-165 million years ago, Klobiodon is an unexpectedly large and formidably-armed species.

Commenting on the significance of the newly described member of the Rhamphorhynchidae family, Dr O’Sullivan stated:

“It’s large fangs would have meshed together to form a toothy cage, from which little could escape once Klobiodon had gotten a hold of it.   The excellent marine reptiles and ammonites of the UK’s Jurassic heritage are widely known, but we celebrate our Jurassic flying reptiles far less.  The Stonesfield pterosaurs are rarely pretty or spectacular, but they capture a time in flying reptile evolution which is poorly represented globally.  They have an important role to play in not only understanding the UK’s natural history, but help us understand the bigger global picture as well.”

Honouring Comic Book Artist Nick Roche

The genus name translates as “cage tooth”, a reference to its huge, fang-like teeth, up to 26 millimetres long, that lined the jaw (this pterosaur has been named based on the morphology of the lower mandible).  The species name honours comic book artist Nick Roche in recognition of the role this popular media has in how extinct animals are portrayed.  Comic books are a medium where prehistoric animals are portrayed in an increasingly scientifically accurate manner, Roche’s work at the turn of this century was one of the earlier examples of a revival of palaeoart.

The Lower Jaw of Klobiodon rochei

Holotype fossil fo Klobiodon rochei.

The right lower mandible of the newly described Middle Jurassic pterosaur Klobiodon rochei.  The photograph shows the original label assigned to the fossil the validity of Rhamphocephalus depressirostris has now been questioned.

Only the lower jaw of Klobiodon is known, but it has a unique dental configuration that allows it to be distinguished from other pterosaurs.   It probably fed on small fish and squid, filling a role in the coastal ecosystem of an extant seagull or tern.

A Confused Picture

Much of Dr O’Sullivan’s research has involved untangling the messy science associated with these neglected specimens.  For example, the pterosaur specimens from the Great Oolite Group (Stonesfield Slate is a unit of the Great Oolite Group), are held in museums scattered across the world, although the majority are housed either at the London Natural History Museum or within the collection of the Natural History Museum of Oxford University.  Most of these fossils were assigned in the 19th Century to the genus Rhamphocephalus and to one of three species namely: Rhamphocephalus prestwichi, Rhamphocephalus bucklandi, and Rhamphocephalus depressirostris.

This study reviewed the British Middle Jurassic Pterosauria assemblage, evaluating both their systematics and taxonomic diversity.  The holotype of Rhamphocephalus, an isolated skull table, is found to be a misidentified crocodylomorph skull and the genus is therefore considered a nomen dubium.  The holotype of Rhamphocephalus bucklandi is identified as missing and that of Rhamphocephalus depressirostris has characters diagnostic at a family level, not a generic or specific one.  Both species are considered dubious.  Detailed examination of the entire pterosaur fossil assemblage shows that these fossils actually represent at least five different taxa, representing three families.  The researchers propose that the fossil material includes the earliest occurrences of the Monofenestrata clade and sub-order Pterodactyloidea, that was to give rise to some of the largest flying reptiles known to science.

Dr O’Sullivan explained:

“Klobiodon has been known to us for centuries, archived in a museum drawer and seen by dozens or hundreds of scientists, but it’s significance has been overlooked because it’s been confused with another species since the 1800s.”

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur stated:

“The pterosaur fossils associated with Middle Jurassic deposits of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire have been neglected.  Research undertaken in the 19th century suggested that this was a time of relatively low pterosaur diversity.  This new research suggests that this was not the case, the Bathonian pterosaur assemblage is actually quite diverse with important early representatives of key types of flying reptile having been identified from this English fossil material.”

Stonefield Slate’s Most Famous Resident

Perhaps the most famous member of the Great Oolite Group biota is Megalosaurus bucklandii, the first dinosaur to be formally described.  The name was first used by James Parkinson in 1822 and published by the Reverend William Buckland in 1824, when he described various fossil remains including an iconic lower jaw bone (right dentary).  Size estimates vary for M. bucklandii, it could have been around ten metres in length.  It was probably the apex predator within this ecosystem and it is intriguing to think that the likes of Klobiodon could have scavenged the kills of Megalosaurus.

A Life Reconstruction of the Stonefield Slate’s Most Famous Member – Megalosaurus bucklandii

A life reconstruction of Megalosaurus bucklandii.

Megalosaurus feeding.  An illustration of the Middle Jurassic Ecosystem (Great Oolite Group).

Picture Credit: Mark Witton

The scientific paper: “Pterosauria of the Great Oolite Group (Bathonian, Middle Jurassic) of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire, England” by Michael O’Sullivan and David M. Martill, published in published in Acta Palaeontologica Polonica (editor’s choice).

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

31 12, 2018

Scientists Discover the Earliest Evidence of Three Major Plant Groups

By | December 31st, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Permian Tropical Lowlands – A Hot Spot for Plant Evolution

Over recent days, team members at Everything Dinosaur have been reviewing the breadth and scope of the articles posted on this blog in the last twelve months.  The number of Sauropodomorpha themed articles (Sauropods and their ancestors), has been commented upon.  There have certainly been some amazing early, long-necked dinosaur discoveries, but we have also had a lot of exciting fossil discoveries concerning the Plantae Kingdom to write about too.  In 2019, we have reported on research that suggests the very first land plants evolved earlier than previously thought.  We have also written about new compelling evidence that suggests that flowering plants (Angiosperms), were present during the Middle Jurassic.

The Preserved Remains of a Seed Fern (Upper Permian Deposits – Jordan)

The fossilised remains of a seed fern.

A beautifully preserved seed fern frond in mudstone from the Jordan (Upper Permian).

Picture Credit: Palaeobotany Research Group, University of Münster/Blomenkemper et al

It seems fitting that our last post for 2019, once again looks at some remarkable plant fossil discoveries.

Scientists led by palaeobotanists from the University of Münster (western Germany), have uncovered a series of well-preserved fossils representing important plant groups from Upper Permian rocks at a site in Jordan.  The location, on the Dead Sea, has revealed the fossils of three major plant lineages:

  1. Podocarpaceae – a type of conifer, an evergreen tree
  2. Corystospermaceae – a type of seed fern (Pteridosperm)
  3. Bennettitales – cycad-like plants which produced seeds in cone-like structures

All the fossils pre-date the End-Permian extinction event that wiped out around 95% of all the life on our planet and the fossils prove that all three plant groups evolved millions of years earlier than previously thought.  For example, the now extinct Bennettitales were thought to have evolved sometime in the Triassic.  These fossils confirm that their evolution took place much earlier and that all three types of plant evolved before and persisted through the greatest mass extinction event known in Phanerozoic Eon.

A “Hidden Cradle of Plant Evolution”

Fossilised twigs representing the Podocarpaceae, commonly referred to as southern conifers, as the vast majority of extant species are found in the southern hemisphere, have been found.  These fossils represent the oldest record of any living conifer family.  In collaboration with colleagues from the Smithsonian Institute (USA) and scientists from the University of Jordan, the team also discovered the preserved, carbonised leaves and reproductive organs of Corystospermaceae, a group of seed ferns that went extinct some 150 million years ago, as well as remains of Bennettitales, a peculiar lineage of extinct seed plants with flower-like reproductive organs.

Trekking Through the Wadis on the Dead Sea Coast Looking for Plant Fossils

Exploring the Dead Sea coast of Jordan for Permian plant fossils.

Exploring Upper Permian fossil deposits for evidence of an ancient, lowland plant community.

Picture Credit: Palaeobotany Research Group, University of Münster/Blomenkemper et al

Evidence for the unexpectedly early occurrence of Corystospermaceae in the Permian of Jordan was first published about ten years ago by a research team led by Prof Dr Hans Kerp.  Since then, researchers have uncovered not only the well-preserved leaves but also the characteristic reproductive organs of this group of plants.  Like Bennettitales and Podocarpaceae, these plants were believed to have evolved millions of years later during the Early Mesozoic.

One of the co-authors of the scientific paper, published in the journal “Science”, Benjamin Bomfleur (Palaeobotany Research Group, University of Münster), stated:

“Analysis of characteristic epidermal cell patterns enabled us to resolve the systematic relationships of the plant fossils more precisely.  The study area is really exceptional, like a melting pot of floral provinces.”

An Unusual Mix of Plant Taxa

The researchers noted that the plant fossils at the site represent a diverse and very mixed assemblage of plant types.  The sedimentary deposits were laid down in an equatorial coastal environment with a distinct dry season – an ecosystem that rarely preserves delicate plant fossils.  The scientists conclude that, early evolutionary innovations can occur in drought-prone tropical habitats which rarely offer the conditions needed for fossil preservation.

Dr Bomfleur added:

“The occurrence of no less than three major ‘modern’ plant groups in deposits of just this single rock formation may indicate that such stressed and disturbance-prone tropical environments may have acted as evolutionary cradles also for other plant groups.”

Exquisite Details Revealed by Acid Etching

Once the fossil material had been collected by the field team, a variety of methods were employed in the preparation laboratory to help identify the plant types the fossils represented.  Powerful acids were used on some specimens to prepare plant cuticles for detailed microscopic analysis.  It can be very difficult to distinguish Pteridosperms from ferns based on foliage alone.  Similarly, the fossil leaves of cycads are very difficult to tell apart from those of true Bennettitales.  Identification is usually confirmed by examining microscopic details preserved in cells and on the cell wall of the cuticle, hence the need to use a variety of delicate techniques to reveal fine details.

Careful Exposure to Acids Helps Prepare Delicate Fossils for Microscopic Analysis

A seed fern frond is prepared for analysis.

A fragment of a seed fern frond after acid preparation.

Picture Credit: Palaeobotany Research Group, University of Münster/Blomenkemper et al

Survivors of a Mass Extinction Event

The plant fossils have been dated to approximately 255 million years ago (Lopingian Epoch of the Late Permian), so this ecosystem existed just a few million years prior to the “Great Permian Dying”, a mass extinction event that devasted both marine and terrestrial ecosystems.  The unexpected discovery of these three main groups of plants prior to this extinction event, not only pushes back the origins of these plant types in time, but also proves that all three groups survived the End-Permian extinction event.  Some of these lineages appear to span the mass extinction event, which suggests that the communities they supported may have been more stable than expected over this period of dramatic transition and change.  Thus, early evolutionary innovations can occur in drought-prone tropical habitats, which rarely offer the conditions needed for fossil preservation.  Seasonally dry tropical environments could be described as “cradles of evolution”.

The scientific paper: “A Hidden Cradle of Plant Evolution in Permian Tropical Lowlands” by Patrick Blomenkemper, Hans Kerp, Abdalla Abu Hamad, William A. DiMichele and Benjamin Bomfleur published in the journal Science.

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

To read Everything Dinosaur’s blog post on the idea that the first land plants evolved millions of years earlier than once thought: Plants May Have Originated 100 Million Years Earlier

To read Everything Dinosaur’s article about the discovery of fossils representing very early flowering plants: The First Flowering Plants Originated in the Early Jurassic

30 12, 2018

Palaeontology Predictions for 2019

By | December 30th, 2018|Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Press Releases|0 Comments

Palaeontology Predictions for 2019

Time to stick our collective necks out to see if we can predict the sort of news stories that we are going to feature on this blog next year (2019).  We took a break from making predictions in 2018, after all, just like fossil collecting, attempting to foresee some of the scientific discoveries that will be covered in the next twelve months can be a bit of a hit and miss affair to say the least.  However, with our trusty geological hammers tucked into our rucksack next to our crystal ball, here are our suggestions as to the fossil finds and palaeontology themed stories that 2019 will bring.

1).  Bring on the Horned Dinosaurs – More Ceratopsians to be Named and Described from America

After the dearth of new horned dinosaurs named and described this year (only one – Crittenceratops krzyzanowskii), we expect the Marginocephalia clade, specifically the North American Ceratopsia to be increased substantially again next year.  Team members at Everything Dinosaur predict that at least four new horned dinosaurs from the United States will be named and described in 2019.

The Diverse Ceratopsia – Likely to be More Diverse by the end of 2019

Divesity in the Ceratopsia.

Diversity in the horned dinosaurs.  Everything Dinosaur team members predict that there will be another four new Ceratopsia taxa from the United States described in 2019.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

2).  Herefordshire Lagerstätte To Make Its Mark Again

In recent years, we have featured a number of amazing fossil finds from the Silurian-aged deposits from the secret Lagerstätte in the county of Herefordshire.  These fossils represent an ancient marine biota that was covered in fine volcanic ash some 425 million years ago.  Such is the exquisite nature of their taphonomy that even the finest soft tissues have been preserved.  We predict that British-based scientists will utilise high-resolution computed tomography in conjunction with computer-generated three-dimensional modelling to reveal a new species of Silurian marine invertebrate.

3).  A New Dinosaur from India

More Chinese dinosaur fossil discoveries are going to be made in 2019.  We also expect fresh insights into the Cretaceous flora and fauna entombed in amber from Myanmar.  However, amongst the twenty or so new species of dinosaur described in the next twelve months, we predict that one of these new-to-science specimens will be found in India.  Many parts of the world (Africa and Asia) for example, are being opened up to geological and fossil exploration.  Several different types of dinosaur are already known from the sub-continent and we predict that there will be a new addition to the dinosaur fauna described from India.

Will a New Dinosaur Species be Discovered in India?

Will a new dinosaur taxon be discovered in Indian in 2019?

Will a new dinosaur species be discovered in India?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

4).  Everything Dinosaur – A New Look to the Website

As well as writing about what other people have been doing, we expect our blog site to update readers on how Everything Dinosaur itself is evolving and changing.  Our core values of customer service and finding the very best quality prehistoric animal products are not going to change, but visitors to: Everything Dinosaur can expect to see some changes next year – all aimed at improving our service and helping our customers.  The number of different types of prehistoric animal models that we offer is also going to increase, but by how many?  Let’s predict another fifty new models  to be made available on our website in 2019.

5).  More Fossils Reveal Melanosomes

With more and more sophisticated and sensitive devices being made available to palaeontologists to aid their research, 2019 will see further developments in the study of fossil specimens on the molecular level.  There have already been some remarkable papers published on the presence of fossilised microscopic structures containing the colour pigment melanin (melanosomes) and we confidently predict that this trend will continue.  We predict that further evidence will emerge next year concerning the colour of members of the Dinosauria.

The Hunt is on for More Melanosome Structures in Fossil Material

Identifying potential melanosomes in fossil material.

Sausage-shapes – potential melanosomes.  Research is likely to continue into prehistoric animal colouration in 2019.

Picture Credit: Lund University (Johan Lindgren)

6). Giant Azhdarchid Pterosaurs

Recent fossil discoveries have indicated that the Pterosauria were more diverse than previously thought towards the very end of the Cretaceous (Campanian to Maastrichtian faunal stages).  Everything Dinosaur has reported on the discovery of several fossil fragments from Europe and Africa in recent years and we predict that a new species of large, very probably azhdarchid, pterosaur will be described in 2019.  The fossil find could come from northern Africa or perhaps from the famous Hateg Basin deposits of Romania.

An Azhdarchid Pterosaur Wrist Bone (Hateg Island) – Will a New Species of Azhdarchid Pterosaur be Described in 2019?

Azhdarchid Pterosaur wrist bone (Hateg Formation).

Azhdarchid pterosaur wrist bone.  What surprises lie in wait for flying reptile researchers in 2019?

Picture Credit: Mátyás Vremir

7).  New Tyrannosaurids from the United States

We began our predictions by stating that we thought it was likely that at least four new horned dinosaur taxa from the USA will be named next year.  With all these herbivores being named and described, it would not surprise us if some more, large Theropod dinosaurs were formally described from fossil material found in the United States next year as well.  Let us conclude our crystal ball gazing by suggesting that two new species of Late Cretaceous tyrannosaurid will be identified from fossil finds from the southern USA (southern parts of Laramidia).

Will New Members be Added to the Tyrannosauridae Family in 2019?

Will there be new types of tyrannosaurid described in 2019.

Will new Tyrannosauridae taxa be described in 2019?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

This time next year, as we approach the end of 2019, we will review our predictions and see how we got on.

27 12, 2018

Convoluted Nasal Passages Helped Armoured Dinosaurs Cool Their Brains

By | December 27th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Armoured Dinosaurs Coped with the Mesozoic Heat Thanks to Nasal Air-conditioning

Being a very large dinosaur covered in armour, might help you to keep safe from attack by predatory dinosaurs, but this body plan does have its downsides.  For example, how do you keep cool when you have a very broad body?  New research from scientists based at Ohio University and the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State, suggests that those complicated Ankylosauria nasal passages acted like heat-exchanges helping to prevent these dinosaurs from overheating.  In essence, this study published in the academic, on-line journal PLOS One, suggests that members of the Ankylosauria clade had built-in air conditioning units in their noses.

Convoluted Nasal Passages Helped Armoured Dinosaurs to Avoid Overheating

Nasal air-conditioning in armoured dinosaurs.

Ankylosauria nasal passages used as heat exchanges.

Picture Credit: PLOS One with additional annotation from Everything Dinosaur

Panoplosaurus and Euoplocephalus Studied

The researchers, which included Jason Bourke (Assistant Professor at the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State), chose to examine the craniums of Euoplocephalus (E. tutus), a member of the Ankylosauridae family of dinosaurs along with the nodosaurid Panoplosaurus mirus.  A representative of the Nodosauridae family as well as a member of the Ankylosauridae was selected as Nodosaurs tend to have much narrower muzzles than the related Ankylosaurs.  In this way, the scientists were able to compare and contrast the different nasal passages associated with these two types of armoured dinosaur.

Assistant Professor Bourke commented:

“The huge bodies that we see in most dinosaurs must have gotten really hot in warm Mesozoic climates.  Brains don’t like that, so we wanted to see if there were ways to protect the brain from cooking.  It turns out the nose may be the key.”

Dr Victoria Arbour, an Authority on the Ankylosauria Poses Next to the Broad Skull of Euoplocephalus (E. tutus)

Dr Victoria Arbout next to a Euoplocephalus skull.

Victoria next to a skull of a Euoplocephalus tutus (University of Alberta).  Note the broad muzzle and the wide skull of this Late Cretaceous ankylosaurid.

Picture Credit: Angelica Torices

Computational Fluid Dynamic Analysis

The research team created three-dimensional, computer generated models of two famous skull fossils, a Panoplosaurus specimen housed in the Royal Ontario Museum collection and a Euoplocephalus skull from the American Museum of Natural History (New York).  A computational fluid dynamic analysis was then undertaken to map how air would have moved through the nasal passages as these dinosaurs breathed.  The scientists wanted to test the heat exchange capacity of the complex passages, to see how well the Ankylosauria noses transferred heat from the body to the inhaled air.

Co-author of the study, Lawrence Witmer (Ohio University), explained:

“A decade ago, my colleague Ryan Ridgely and I published the discovery that ankylosaurs had insanely long nasal passages coiled up in their snouts.  These convoluted airways looked like a kid’s ‘crazy-straw!’  It was completely unexpected and cried out for explanation.  I was thrilled when Jason took up the problem as part of his doctoral research in our lab.”

It is thought that these complex nasal passages gave members of the Ankylosauria clade, an exceptional sense of smell.  This may have been their primary function, however, noses are also heat exchangers, ensuring that air is warmed and humidified before it reaches the delicate lungs.  To accomplish this effective air conditioning, birds and mammals, including humans, rely on thin curls of bone and cartilage within their nasal cavities called turbinates, which increase the surface area, allowing for air to come into contact with more of the nasal walls.   Ankylosaurs and nodosaurids lacked turbinates, to compensate for this they evolved exceptionally long and twisty nasal passages.

Comparing Armoured Dinosaurs to Living Animals

When the researchers compared their findings to data from living animals, such as the nasal passages of an avian dinosaur (pigeon),  they discovered that the noses of armoured dinosaurs were just as efficient at warming and cooling respired air.  The length of the winding and twisting nasal passages in the two armoured dinosaurs studied were also measured.  In the narrow-snouted, nodosaurid Panoplosaurus, the nasal passages were a bit longer than the skull itself and in Euoplocephalus they were almost twice as long as the skull, which is why they are coiled up in the snout.

To see if nasal passage length was the reason for this efficiency in heat exchange, the researchers created alternative models with shorter, simpler nasal passages that ran directly from the nostril to the throat, as in most other animals.  The results clearly showed that nose length and the length of the nasal passages were indeed key to their air-conditioning ability.

Assistant Professor Bourke stated:

“When we stuck a short, simple nose in their snouts, heat-transfer rates dropped over fifty percent in both dinosaurs.  They were less efficient and didn’t work very well.”

Helping to Cool Brains

The blood vessels in the skull leading up to and surrounding the brain were mapped.  The scientists wanted to explore whether the internal plumbing of the snout helped to cool the brains of armoured dinosaurs.  The team found a rich blood supply running adjacent to the convoluted nasal passages.

Co-author Ruger Porter (Ohio University), explained:

“When we reconstructed the blood vessels, based on bony grooves and canals, we found a rich blood supply running right next to these convoluted nasal passages.  Hot blood from the body core would travel through these blood vessels and transfer their heat to the incoming air.  Simultaneously, evaporation of moisture in the long nasal passages cooled the venous blood destined for the brain.”

Euoplocephalus Kept a Cool Head

Cooling the brain of Euoplocephalus

Vascular pathways associated with the brain of Euoplocephalus tutus.  Red highlighted veins indicate main channels of heat transfer.

Picture Credit: PLOS One

Thermoregulation – A Problem for Large Animals

The large, broad bodies of Panoplosaurus and Euoplocephalus were really good at retaining heat, which might have some advantages, especially when you need to stay warm, but this does cause problems when large Tetrapods need to keep their cool.  This heat-shedding problem would have put them at risk of overheating even on cloudy days.  In the absence of some protective mechanism, the delicate neural tissue of the brain could be damaged by the hot blood from the body core.  In simple terms, the small brains of armoured dinosaurs might have been cooked inside the skull.

The complicated nasal airways of these dinosaurs were acting as radiators to cool down the brain with a constant flow of cooled venous blood.  This natural engineering feat also may have allowed some members of the Dinosauria to evolve into huge animals.

Lawrence Witmer added:

“When we look at the nasal cavity and airway in dinosaurs, we find that the most elaborate noses are found in the large dinosaur species, which suggests that the physiological stresses of large body size may have spurred some of these anatomical novelties to help regulate brain temperatures.”

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