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12 02, 2020

“Cracking” the Mystery of Dinosaurs Being Warm-Blooded

By | February 12th, 2020|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|2 Comments

Eggshell Geochemistry Suggests Endothermy Deeply Rooted in the Dinosauria

The puzzle of dinosaur metabolism has been a subject of debate amongst vertebrate palaeontologists for a very long time.  Numerous studies have been published, drawing on a variety of research methods and lines of enquiry to determine whether the non-avian dinosaurs were warm-blooded like their avian (bird) relatives, or whether they were cold-blooded like today’s crocodilians.  A study published in the journal “Science Advances”, one that looked at the geophysical and chemical properties of dinosaur eggshell, has concluded that non-avian dinosaurs had the ability to metabolically raise their temperatures above their environment – in essence they were endothermic, that is to say “warm-blooded”.

A Thin Cross-section of Fossilised Eggshell Viewed under Cross-polarising Light to Reveal Internal Structure

Dinosaur eggshell fossil in cross-section under a microscope using cross-polarising light.

A dinosaur eggshell fossil in cross-section under a microscope using cross-polarising light.  Eggshell analysis has provided compelling evidence to suggest that dinosaurs were endothermic.  Note scale is 500 microns.

Picture Credit: Robin Dawson/University of Yale

Cold-blooded or Warm-blooded – A Quick Explanation

The terms cold-blooded and warm-blooded are found frequently in articles about dinosaurs.  These terms are very misleading and have been disregarded for a long time by most of the scientific community.  For example, most lizards, regarded as cold-blooded, actually maintain a surprisingly high body temperature in their normal environment during the daytime.  Internal body temperatures around 42 degrees Celsius have been recorded in some species, much higher than the normal 37˚ Celsius associated with our own “warm-blooded” species.  In simple terms, cold-blooded animals (ectotherms), are largely unable to regulate their own body temperature without the assistance of external sources.  Lizards bask in the early morning sun to warm up and then during the heat of the day, they seek shade to help them to keep cool.  In contrast, “warm-blooded” organisms such as mammals and birds (endotherms), are able to maintain a body temperature that is higher than the temperature of the environment.  They can generate their own body heat.  This heat comes from the animal’s metabolism, the chemical reactions that take place in the body (although there are other methods of keeping cool and warming up).

The Debate over Endothermic or Ectothermic Dinosaurs

warm-blooded or cold-blooded dinosaurs?

Where on the spectrum between endothermic and ectothermic are the Dinosauria?  Organisms can demonstrate a range of adaptations to assist them in maintaining an optimal body temperature.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Understanding the Metabolism – So What?

Understanding the metabolism of a long extinct group of animals such as the non-avian members of the Dinosauria, can provide valuable insight into all sorts of areas, such as energy requirements, food consumption, behavioural traits and activity levels.  It can also help scientists to understand how extinct animals adapted to a wide range of environments, such as dinosaurs being found at high latitudes, dinosaur fossils being discovered in Antarctica for example.

In this newly published study, the researchers used a technique known as clumped isotope palaeothermometry.  It is based on the fact that the ordering of oxygen and carbon atoms in a fossil eggshell are determined by temperature.  Once the order of the atoms has been plotted, the scientists can calculate the internal body temperature of the egg-layer.

Based on this analysis, the research team were able to demonstrate that potentially, the three major clades of dinosaurs, Ornithischia, Sauropodomorpha and Theropoda, were characterised by warm body temperatures.

Commenting on the significance of this study, lead author of the research Robin Dawson, who conducted the research while she was a doctoral student in geology and geophysics at Yale University stated:

“Dinosaurs sit at an evolutionary point between birds, which are warm-blooded, and reptiles, which are cold-blooded.  Our results suggest that all major groups of dinosaurs had warmer body temperatures than their environment.”

Eggshell ascribed to a troodontid (theropod) tested at 38˚, 27˚, and 28˚ Celsius (100.4, 80.6, and 82.4 degrees Fahrenheit).  Eggshells from the large, duck-billed dinosaur Maiasaura (an ornithischian dinosaur), yielded a temperature of 44˚ Celsius (111.2 degrees Fahrenheit).  Both the troodontid and Maiasaura eggshells were collected from Alberta, Canada.

In addition, the fossilised eggs associated with the oospecies Megaloolithus from the Hateg Formation of Romania tested at 36˚ Celsius (96.8 degrees Fahrenheit).  The taxonomy of the Romanian material remains uncertain.  The eggshells could represent the dwarf titanosaur Magyarosaurus, the much larger titanosaur Paludititan or indeed, the dwarf hadrosauroid Telmatosaurus.  If this fossil material does represent a Sauropodomorph, then these results could suggest that metabolically controlled thermoregulation was the ancestral condition for the Dinosauria.

The Taxonomic Relationships of the Taxa Involved in the Study

Simplified phylogeny of the archosaur taxa involved in the study.

The phylogeny of the taxa involved in the study.

Picture Credit: Science Advances

The picture (above), shows living ectotherms in blue, whilst extant endotherms (birds) are shown in orange.  The Maiasaura silhouette represents the major dinosaurian subclade Ornithischia.  The asterisk (*) indicates the uncertainty over the taxonomy of the oospecies Megaloolithus, but the fossil eggshells could represent the dwarf sauropod Magyarosaurus.  The troodontid material is assigned to the Theropoda.

The researchers conducted the same analysis on cold-blooded invertebrate shell fossils (molluscs) from the same locations as the dinosaur eggshells.  This helped the scientists determine the temperature of the local environment — and whether dinosaur body temperatures were higher or lower.

Dawson, now a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, explained that  the troodontid samples were as much as 10˚ Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit), warmer than their environment, the Maiasaura samples were 15˚ Celsius warmer (59 degrees Fahrenheit) and the Megaloolithus samples were 3 to 6˚  Celsius (37.4-42.8 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer.

She added:

“What we found indicates that the ability to metabolically raise their temperatures above the environment was an early, evolved trait for dinosaurs.”

This new research may have other implications as well.  For instance, the study shows that a dinosaur’s body size and growth rate may not necessarily be a good indicator of body temperature.  The researchers also stated that their findings might add to the ongoing discussion about the role of feathers in early bird evolution.  Dense coats of feathers may have evolved to help insulate the bodies of dinosaurs, secondary functions such as for use in visual displays or as part of adaptations towards powered flight occurred later.

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

The scientific paper: “Eggshell geochemistry reveals ancestral metabolic thermoregulation in Dinosauria” by Robin R. Dawson, Daniel J. Field, Pincelli M. Hull, Darla K. Zelenitsky, François Therrien and Hagit P. Affek published in the journal Science Advances.

10 02, 2020

The First Non-pterodactyloid Pterosaur Tracks

By | February 10th, 2020|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Rhamphorhynchids – “Good Climbers and Rare Walkers”

One of the great mysteries regarding the Pterosauria may have finally be solved.  Palaeontologists are one “step” closer to better understanding how these flying reptiles moved about on the ground.  Researchers studying six pterosaur trackways preserved in the sandstone that once comprised part of a Late Jurassic beach have been able to examine the locomotive abilities of non-pterodactyloid pterosaurs for the first time.

This is a big deal, tracks of pterosaurs have been known about for some time, but all the trace fossils suggesting tracks up until now were believed to have been made by pterodactyloid pterosaurs, (Pterodactyloidea), essentially flying reptiles with short tails, relatively long metacarpal bones and a fifth toe that is greatly reduced or absent.  Virtually nothing was known about the terrestrial abilities of other types of pterosaur that dominated the skies of the Jurassic, the dimorphodonts, Anurognathidae and the rhamphorhynchids for example.

However, scientists from the remarkable Musée de la Plage aux Ptérosaures, writing in the academic journal “Geobios”, describe six trackways related to three non-pterodactyloid new ichnotaxa and determine that these animals moved quadrupedally and that they were quite at home on the ground.

A Life Reconstruction of a Rhamphorhynchid Pterosaur Walking Across a Beach

Rhamphorhynchus walking on a beach.

The long-tailed Rhamphorhynchus leaves a series of five-toed tracks on the Jurassic beach.

Picture Credit: Mark Witton

“Good Climbers and Bad Walkers”

Over the last two hundred years or so, a variety of theories have been put forward by palaeontologists regarding the way in which these flying reptiles moved about on the ground.  For most of that time, these ideas were based on anatomical analysis of fossil bones.  Trackways preserving evidence of a flying reptile moving about on the ground were exceptionally rare.  Ironically, when such evidence did come to light, such as the trackway found in Wyoming in 1952 (Sundance Formation), these trace fossils received little scientific scrutiny.

The lack of tracks from non-pterodactyloid pterosaurs preserved in the fossil record, led many palaeontologists to believe that these animals rarely left the trees or the water and moved around on land.  When they did, it was thought that they would have been clumsy and slow-moving, very vulnerable to predation.

A Non-pterodactyloid Trackway from the Upper Jurassic (Plage aux Ptérosaures)

Non-pterodactyloid pterosaurs were very much at home on the ground.

Pterosaur trackway (non-pterodactyloid) from south-western France.

Picture Credit: Musée de la Plage aux Ptérosaures/Geobios

“The Pterosaur Beach of Crayssac”

The fossil finds come from the remarkable “la Plage aux Ptérosaures” (the pterosaur beach), located close to the village of Crayssac in the Occitanie region of south-western France.  The site provides a trace fossil record of activity on a Late Jurassic beach around 150 million years ago (lower Tithonian faunal stage).  Both dinosaur and pterosaur trackways are preserved.  The authors of the scientific paper, conclude that the tracks may have been made by rhamphorhynchids and they propose that non-pterodactyloids, at least during the Late Jurassic, were quadrupedal with digitigrade hands and plantigrade to digitigrade feet.  Analysis of the tracks indicates that these animals were good walkers, even if their hind legs were hampered by the uropatagium (the membrane of skin that spanned the back legs).  The idea that these types of flying reptiles were “good climbers but bad walkers”, seems to have been refuted.

The authors state that based on this new study and contrary to current hypotheses, non-pterodactyloid pterosaurs seem to have been good walkers even though their trackways are very rare or unidentified to date.  Each of the trackways is around a metre in length, the individual prints measuring approximately three centimetres long.  Jean-Michel Mazin and his co-author Joane Pouech (from the museum at la Plage aux Ptérosaures), were aware of the significance of these trace fossils as pterodactyloids tracks tend to produce four toe marks in the trace fossil, whereas, non-pterodactyloids had five toes, so five toe marks would be expected in the majority of the hind prints.

Pterosaur expert Mark Witton provides a well-written and comprehensive overview of pterosaur anatomy and discusses the theories associated with their terrestrial locomotion in his excellent book simply entitled “Pterosaurs”.

A review of this publication can be found here: Pterosaurs by Mark Witton – a book review.

The Front Cover of the Comprehensive Book on Pterosaurs by Mark Witton

Pterosaurs by Mark Witton.

A very well researched and documented publication from an authority on the Pterosauria.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The scientific paper: “The first non-pterodactyloid pterosaurian trackways and the terrestrial ability of non-pterodactyloid pterosaurs” by Jean-Michel Mazin and Joane Pouech published in Geobios.

9 02, 2020

Lots of Different Types of Carnivorous Dinosaur in the Late Jurassic of Europe

By | February 9th, 2020|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Lots of Different Types of Theropod Dinosaur Identified from a German Quarry

During the Late Jurassic, much of the landmass we now know as Europe was covered by shallow, tropical seas.  The islands that dotted this seascape were dominated by dinosaurs and a great deal of research has been undertaken to identify and map the ancient terrestrial fauna.  A new study published in the journal PeerJ, reveals that there were a wide variety of different types of meat-eating dinosaur present on these islands.  Fossils associated with allosauroids, ceratosaurs and megalosauroids have been identified in a single bonebed dominated by the dwarf sauropod Europasaurus.

Views of a Single Claw (Pedal Ungual) and Toe Bones (Pedal Phalanges) Tentatively Ascribed to the Allosauroidea

Fragmentary fossils from the Langenberg Quarry associated with theropod dinosaurs.

A fossilised foot claw and fossil toe bones tentatively ascribed to the Allosauroidea.

Picture Credit: PeerJ

Dwarfism in the Dinosauria

Scientists from the University of Fribourg (Switzerland) in association with the Martin-Luther-Universität (Germany), examined the fragmentary theropod dinosaur remains associated with the Europasaurus bonebed found at the Langenberg Quarry site in Germany’s Harz Mountains, near the town of Goslar (Lower Saxony).  These marine deposits have yielded a variety of vertebrate fossils, representing the corpses of terrestrial fauna washed into the marine depositional environment from a nearby island.  All the meat-eating dinosaur fossils described represent relatively small individuals.  It is not known whether these fossils represent juveniles or whether they might be evidence of insular dwarfism.  Animals living on islands with limited food resources can evolve into dwarf forms, becoming much smaller in size than their mainland relatives.

The incompleteness of the theropod fossil remains and their rarity when compared to the Europasaurus material had discouraged scientific analysis.  This is the first academic paper to describe these types of fossils from the Langenberg Quarry.  The fragmentary material can only be classified on higher taxonomic levels, the new occurrences reported add to our understanding of the regional tetrapod fauna and to theropod diversity in Europe in general.

Partial Fibulae (Lower Leg Bones) Ascribed to the Theropoda

Partial lower leg bones ascribed to the Theropoda.

Partial left fibula (top) and partial right fibula (below) both assigned to the Theropoda and described as potentially megalosauroid.

Picture Credit: PeerJ

Several Different Types of Theropod Dinosaur Present

This research confirms the presence of several different types of theropod dinosaur in the Late Jurassic northern European archipelago and will help palaeontologists to better understand the diversity and evolution of the Theropoda during the Late Jurassic of Europe.  The incomplete material can be assigned to ceratosaurian, megalosauroid, and allosauroid theropods.  These identifications agree with previous reports of the presence of these theropod groups in the Late Jurassic of Northern Germany based on fossil teeth.  Although the Langenberg theropod fauna is not as rich as some other European localities, such as the Lourinhã Formation of Portugal, these findings confirm a varied dinosaur fauna in central Europe during the Late Jurassic.

The scientific paper: “Late Jurassic theropod dinosaur bones from the Langenberg Quarry (Lower Saxony, Germany) provide evidence for several theropod lineages in the central European archipelago” by Serjoscha W. Evans and Oliver Wings published in the journal PeerJ.

6 02, 2020

Rhamphorhynchus Fed on Squid

By | February 6th, 2020|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Pterosaur Tooth Discovered in Jurassic Squid Fossil

The pterosaur Rhamphorhynchus, probably fed by grabbing soft-bodied creatures such as squid as it flew close to the surface of the sea.  That is the conclusion made by a group of researchers reporting on the remarkable fossil of a squid-like animal with a pterosaur tooth embedded in its body found in Germany.  Writing in the academic journal Scientific Reports, the authors of the paper, describe the beautifully preserved remains of the octobrachian (eight-armed) cephalopod Plesioteuthis subovata which has a pterosaur tooth embedded in its left flank.

Reconstruction of the Hunting Behaviour of Rhamphorhynchus muensteri

Rhamphorhynchus hunting behaviour.

Reconstruction of the hunting behaviour of Rhamphorhynchus muensteri.

Picture Credit: C. Klug and Beat Scheffold

Discovered in 2012

The cephalopod fossil was found in 2012 and it heralds from the world-renowned Solnhofen Lagerstätte in south-eastern Germany.  The strata from which the remarkable specimen was gathered has been dated to the Upper Jurassic Altmühltal Formation (lower Tithonian faunal stage – ammonite Hybonoticeras hybonotum biozone).  The fossil is kept at the Paläontologisches Institut und Museum, Universität Zürich, Switzerland (PIMUZ 37358).

Views of the Plesioteuthis subovata Specimen Showing the Pterosaur Tooth

Pterosaur tooth embedded in the fossilised remains of Plesioteuthis.

Views of the Plesioteuthis subovata specimen in natural and UV light showing the embedded pterosaur tooth.

Picture Credit: R. Hoffmann et al (Scientific Reports)

The picture above shows (A), the 28 cm long fossil of the coleoid Plesioteuthis subovata with highlighted areas (B and D).  The pterosaur tooth measures 19 mm long and picture (C) shows the tooth viewed under ultraviolet (UV) light.  The tip of the tooth is partially covered with phosphatised mantle tissue, thus ruling out the association of the tooth during the fossilisation process.  Insert (D), shows the posterior portion of the mantle with faint imprints probably representing a terminal fin.  Under UV light analysis no evidence of fin musculature could be identified (E).

Direct Evidence of Hunting/Feeding Behaviour

Such direct evidence of hunting/feeding behaviour is rarely preserved in the fossil record.  The authors of the scientific paper, which include a researcher from the University of Leicester (UK), suggest that the adult Plesioteuthis subovata was swimming close to the surface when a pterosaur (suspected of being Rhamphorhynchus muensteri), made a grab for it.  It is not known whether the injury sustained to the squid proved fatal, or whether the animal lived for a period of time before finally dying and becoming preserved in the fine-grained sediments associated with the Solnhofen Archipelago.

The tooth most likely came from the front or middle regions of either the upper or lower jaw.  As rhamphorhynchid teeth associated with very young or juveniles tend to be much smaller and straighter, the researchers conclude that the tooth came from a mature adult pterosaur with a wingspan of at least one metre.

A Model of Rhamphorhynchus (Wild Safari Prehistoric World)

Rhamphorhynchus model

Wild Safari Prehistoric World Rhamphorhynchus figure.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Helping to Construct Ancient Food Webs

The coleoid/pterosaur fossil will help scientists to better understand the palaeo-ecosystem associated with the Solnhofen Lagerstätte.  Whilst it is true that many different types of predator may have fed upon Plesioteuthis subovata, the size, shape and the lack of longitudinal ridges discounts marine reptiles such as ichthyosaurs, pliosaurs and crocodyliformes.  The tooth coming from a type of predatory fish has also been discounted.

The single tooth is most likely from a mature Rhamphorhynchus in a failed hunting attempt.  This seems to be the most plausible interpretation of the fossil evidence.  Furthermore, several Rhamphorhynchus fossils are known where the pterosaur is entangled within the jaws of the predatory fish Aspidorhynchus.  It has been assumed that these types of fish hunted close to the water surface and would have grabbed pterosaurs as they swooped to feed.  These fossils indirectly corroborate the suggestion that this pterosaur-cephalopod interaction occurred near the water surface.

Sometimes the Hunter Became the Hunted (Rhamphorhynchus Entangled with the Jaws of Fish)

Rhamphorhynchus and fish fossil.

A fatal encounter between two Jurassic hunters.  The Rhamphorhynchus is entangled within the jaws of a predatory fish (Aspidorhynchus acutirostris).

Picture Credit: PLOS One

Skim-feeding had been proposed for marine pterosaurs such as Rhamphorhynchus but subsequent studies suggested that this was too energy expensive.  It is more likely that Rhamphorhynchus captured prey on the wing just above the water surface or while floating on the water surface.

The scientific paper: “Pterosaurs ate soft-bodied cephalopods (Coleoidea)” by R. Hoffmann, J. Bestwick, G. Berndt, R. Berndt, D. Fuchs and C. Klug published in Scientific Reports.

5 02, 2020

Adding to the Ornithosuchidae – Dynamosuchus collisensis

By | February 5th, 2020|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Dynamosuchus collisensis – Late Triassic Bone Crushing Scavenger

A new species of ancient reptile, a distant relative of modern crocodilians has been named and described.  The two-metre-long, terrestrial predator has been named Dynamosuchus collisensis and it is the first member of the Ornithosuchidae family of archosaurs to have been discovered in Brazil.  The fossilised remains of the fearsome Dynamosuchus were found in March 2019 in the municipality of Agudo, Rio Grande do Sol in southern Brazil.  This is only the fourth ornithosuchid to have been described, the first was found in Scotland (Ornithosuchus) and described in 1894, whilst the other two genera (Riojasuchus and Venaticosuchus), were named and described in 1969 and 1971 respectively, from fossil discoveries made in Argentina.

Dynamosuchus collisensis is the first ornithosuchid to have been found for nearly five decades.

A Life Reconstruction of the Fearsome Dynamosuchus collisensis

Dynamosuchus life reconstruction.

Life reconstruction of the fearsome ornithosuchid Dynamosuchus.

Picture Credit: Márcio L. Castro

Writing in the academic journal Acta Palaeontologica Polonica, the researchers from the Universidade Federal de Santa Maria (Brazil), Museo de la Plata (Argentina) and Virginia Tech (USA), estimate that Dynamosuchus roamed Gondwana around 230 million years ago (Carnian faunal stage of the Triassic) and that it may have been a scavenger.

Members of the Ornithosuchidae are characterised by the shape of their snout.  The premaxilla tends to project forward and they have two pairs substantial, conical teeth located in the anterior portion of the lower jaw (dentary).  Like modern crocodilians these animals were covered in bony armour (osteoderms), but unlike today’s crocodiles, caiman and alligators, they were much more at home on the land than in water.  Like other ornithosuchids, Dynamosuchus probably spent most of its time on all fours, but it may have been capable of adopting a bipedal stance, perhaps when a turn of speed was required to escape from other bipedal predators such as the recently described herrerasaurid Gnathovorax (G.cabreirai).

To read about Gnathovorax: Superb Fossil Sheds Light on Triassic Terrors.

One of the Osteoderms (Bony Scales) Found at the Fossil Quarry

Dynamosuchus osteoderm.

An osteoderm (bony armour) recovered from the excavation site.

Picture Credit: Rodrigo Temp Müller (Universidade Federal de Santa Maria)

A Specialised Scavenger

Studies of the skulls of these archosaurs indicate that they had strong jaws, but a relatively slow bite speed and the projecting premaxilla was not well suited to handling struggling prey.  As a result, it is has been speculated that ornithosuchids were specialised scavengers, using their powerful jaws and their curved, serrated teeth in the upper jaw to consume carcasses.  The genus name is from the Latin meaning “powerful crocodile”, whereas the trivial name is a Latinised form of “morro” a reference to the fossil quarry located at the base of the “Morro Agudo”.

A Close-up View of the Head of Dynamosuchus collisensis 

Dynamosuchus collisensis - likely to be a specialised scavenger.

Dynamosuchus collisensis (view of the head).

Picture Credit: Márcio L. Castro

The fossil material from the Santa Maria Formation adds to the number of fossil vertebrates known from the Late Triassic of Brazil.  The terrestrial ecosystem was complex with synapsids, rauischians, rhynchosaurs, aetosaurs and numerous dinosauromorphs as well as some of the earliest types of dinosaur known.  Dynamosuchus collisensis represents the first reptile with specialised anatomical adaptations for scavenging (necrophagy), to be discovered in a single fossiliferous site along with fossil remains of dinosaurs.  The new ornithosuchid further demonstrates a link between the animals associated with the Argentinean and Brazilian basins during the Carnian stage of the Triassic.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from the Universidade Federal de Santa Maria in the compilation of this article.

The scientific paper: “The first ornithosuchid from Brazil and its macroevolutionary and phylogenetic implications for Late Triassic faunas in Gondwana” by Rodrigo T. Müller, M. Belén Von Baczko, Julia B. Desojo, and Sterling J. Nesbitt published in Acta Palaeontologica Polonica.

2 02, 2020

A Sunday Stegosaurus

By | February 2nd, 2020|Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

A Sunday Stegosaurus (Stegosaurus stenops)

“Sophie” the Stegosaurus has been on display at the London Natural History Museum since late 2014.  She stands (although palaeontologists remain uncertain as to whether “Sophie” represents a male or a female), in the Earth Hall close to the Exhibition road entrance.  The fossil specimen was discovered in the western United States in 2003 and acquired by the museum thanks to the efforts of private donors including a Hedge Fund manager.  This exhibit is the world’s most complete Stegosaur specimen, the species is Stegosaurus stenops.

“Sophie” The Stegosaurus (S. stenops) on Display

Stegosaurus specimen on display.

Right lateral View of “Sophie” the Stegosaurus (London Natural History Museum).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Named after the Daughter of the Wealthy Hedge Fund Manager

This exhibit was named after the daughter of the wealthy Hedge Fund manager who helped secure the specimen.  A total of sixty-nine private donors contributed to the funding to help bring this fossil, originally from Wyoming to London.

“Sophie” Greeting Visitors to the Museum’s Earth Hall

Sophie the Stegosaurus at the London Natural History Museum

Sophie the Stegosaurus (S. stenops), a star exhibit at the London Natural History Museum.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Not Fully Grown

At around 5.6 metres long and standing a fraction under three metres tall, this 1.6 tonne herbivore is most impressive.  However, this dinosaur was not fully when grown when it died and it would have been dwarfed by the largest members of the Stegosauridae, some of which measured more than 9 metres in length.

The Stegosaurus Specimen at the London Natural History Museum

Natural History Museum (London) - Sophie the Stegosaurus

A view of the anterior of “Sophie” the Stegosaurus stenops specimen on display at the London Natural History Museum.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

“Sophie” might be quite small by stegosaur standards but we think this specimen is beautiful and we congratulate the Natural History Museum for creating such a spectacular exhibit that always thrills us when we visit.  We even have to grudgingly acknowledge the support of a Hedge Fund manager for making it possible.

A View of the Posterior Portions of “Sophie” the Stegosaurus

"Sophie" the Stegosaurus on display.

A posterior view of the spectacular “Sophie” the Stegosaurus (S. stenops) exhibit at the London Natural History Museum.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

1 02, 2020

Looking for Fossils in Unusual Places

By | February 1st, 2020|Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Spotting Belemnites in Stone Floor Tiles

Fossils can be found in unusual places.  A few years ago, we reported on an initiative by Liverpool John Lennon Airport to encourage passengers to explore the various fossils that could be found entombed in the stone floor and the pillars of the concourse building.  As limestone is used in many construction projects, it is surprising where fossils of ancient life forms can be spotted.  For example, whilst in Germany, an Everything Dinosaur team member spotted a beautiful belemnite guard preserved in cross-section in a floor tile.

Belemnite Fossil Found in a Stone Floor Tile

Belemnite fossil found in a stone floor tile.

A cross-sectional impression of a belemnite guard preserved in the floor of a building.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The term “belemnite” is derived from the Greek for “dart”.  Looking at the fossil preserved in the stone floor tile, it is easy to see the reason for the name of these Mesozoic cephalopods.  The guard is the internal skeleton of the belemnite, it consists of a solid piece of calcite and these fossils can be found in their hundreds in rocks dating from the Lower and Middle Jurassic.  However, they are also abundant in many Cretaceous marine clays.  The anterior portion of the guard (seen on the left of the photograph), would contain the phragmocone, the cone-shaped chambered shell that demonstrates that these nektonic animals were related to ammonites.  In many instances, the phragmocone is lost, leaving a “U” shaped hollow that can be seen in the picture (above).

Some Belemnite Fossils Collected from the “Jurassic Coast” (Dorset)

Some belemnit guard fossils, the coin shows scale.

Belemnite guard fossils from the “Jurassic Coast”.  The coin on the right of the picture shows scale.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To read Everything Dinosaur’s article about fossil hunting around John Lennon airport: Fossil Hunting at John Lennon Airport (Liverpool).

A Model of a Belemnite

A model of a belemnite.

The new for 2020 CollectA Belemnite model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Given the amount of sedimentary rock used in buildings, you never know when you might be going on a fossil hunt.

29 01, 2020

Noasaurids from Down Under

By | January 29th, 2020|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Australia’s Latest Theropod Dinosaur

The theropod fossil record for Australia is particularly poor.  The majority of the meat-eating dinosaur fossils found down-under come from the Albian-Cenomanian faunal stages of the Cretaceous have been predominantly referred to the Megaraptoridae.  However, a single neck bone (cervical vertebra), found in an opal mine near the town of Lightning Ridge (New South Wales), in conjunction with a fragmentary ankle bone from the Gippsland Basin in Victoria have led scientists to conclude that another type of predatory dinosaur roamed Australia – noasaurids.

A Silhouette of the Unnamed Noasaurid with a Human Figure for Scale and the Fossil Neck Bone Placed in Life Position

Fossil neck bone and silhouette showing life position.

Silhouette showing approximate size of the Australian noasaurid and the fossil material.

Picture credit: Tom Brougham (University of New England, New South Wales)

Classifying the Noasauridae

The Noasauridae are a family of small-bodied, fast-running, largely predatory dinosaurs nested within the Superfamly Abelisauroidea, although their exact taxonomic position and which genera fit within the Noasauridae remains controversial.  Essentially, these types of dinosaurs are distantly related to the abelisaurids such as Carnotaurus and Rajasaurus.  Noasaurids demonstrate a wide range of anatomical characteristics.  For example, Masiakasaurus (M. knopfleri), known from the Late Cretaceous of Madagascar, had a downturned lower jaw with teeth in both jaws, whereas the adult forms of Limusaurus (L. inextricabilis) known from the Jurassic of China, had no teeth in their jaws and could have been herbivores.

A Scale Drawing of Masiakasaurus (M. knopfleri)

Masiakasaurus scale drawing.

Unusual theropod dinosaur – Masiakasaurus, the downward turned lower jaw and the dentition suggest that this predator could have specialised in catching fish (piscivore).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The Noasauridae are known from the southern hemisphere and seem to have been confined to the landmass of Gondwana.

Dr Tom Brougham (University New England, New South Wales), one of the co-authors of the study, published in the journal Scientific Reports stated:

“It was assumed that noasaurids must have lived in Australia because their fossils have been found on other southern continents that, like Australia, were once part of the Gondwanan supercontinent.  These recent fossil finds demonstrate for the first time that noasaurids once roamed across Australia.  Discoveries of theropods are rare in Australia, so every little find we make reveals important details about our unique dinosaur fauna.”

To read more about Limusaurus: Limusaurus – A Dinosaur That Lost its Teeth as it Grew.

The partial cervical vertebra from the Wallangulla Sandstone Member of the Griman Formation, collected from an underground opal mine at the “Sheepyard” opal field, southwest of Lightning Ridge was found within a bonebed containing the iguanodontian Fostoria dhimbangunmal.  The bone is estimated to be around 100 million years old.  Although, the fossil (specimen number LRF 3050.AR), is badly eroded the researchers discovered that is resembled cervical vertebrae associated with the noasaurids, hence the diagnosis that this fossil indicates the presence of these types of theropod dinosaurs in Australia.

The Neck Bone from the Opal Mine Ascribed to the Noasauridae

Opal mine noasaurid neck bone.

The noasaurid cervical vertebra LRF 3050.AR in (a) ventral; (b) dorsal, (c) left lateral, (d) right lateral, (e) anterior and (f) posterior views.  Note scale bar = 50 mm.

Picture Credit: Brougham et al (Scientific Reports)

The scientists re-examined a ceratosaurian astragalocalcaneum fossil (NMV P221202) that had been found in 2012 in strata associated with the much older upper Barremian–lower Aptian San Remo Member of the upper Strzelecki group in Victoria.  It was concluded that this ankle bone also represented noasaurid fossil material.

The East Gippsland Ankle Bone Now Ascribed to the Noasauridae

East Gippsland astragalocalcaneum (NMV P221202).

The East Gippsland astragalocalcaneum (NMV P221202) in (a) anterior, (b) posterior, and (c) proximal views.  Note scale bar = 20 mm.  This fossil lends support to the idea that noasaurids were present in Australia.

Picture Credit: Brougham et al (Scientific Reports)

Oldest Known Noasaurid

Between them, the Lightning Ridge neck bone and the ankle bone from Victoria represent the first evidence of noasaurid dinosaurs found in Australia.  The astragalocalcaneum material comes from deposits that were laid down in the Early Cretaceous and could be 120 million years of age.  This would make the ankle bone the earliest known example of a noasaurid in the world described to date.  The recognition of Australian noasaurids further indicates a more widespread Gondwanan distribution of the clade outside of South America, Madagascar and India consistent with the timing of the fragmentation of the supercontinent.

The scientific paper: “Noasaurids are a component of the Australian ‘mid’-Cretaceous theropod fauna” by Tom Brougham, Elizabeth T. Smith and Phil R. Bell published in Scientific Reports.

27 01, 2020

A New Species of Allosaurus – Allosaurus jimmadseni

By | January 27th, 2020|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

“Big Al” is Not Allosaurus fragilis but Allosaurus jimmadseni

A new species of North American Allosaurus has been described, the new dinosaur has been named Allosaurus jimmadseni, the species name honouring the late James H. Madsen Jr, Utah’s first state palaeontologist, who dedicated his career to excavating, preserving and studying the fossils found at the famous Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry.  In 1976, Madsen published a detailed monograph documenting the Allosaurus specimens found at this location, which is now the Jurassic National Monument complete with visitor centre.  The monograph describing and illustrating the Quarry’s Allosaurus fossils is regarded as a seminal piece of work that strongly influenced the direction of research into theropod dinosaurs.

A Pack of Allosaurs (Allosaurus jimmadseni) Attacking a Juvenile Sauropod

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

Picture Credit: Todd Marshall

“The Ballard of Big Al” – Allosaurus jimmadseni

Fans of the documentary “The Ballard of Big Al”, a spin-off programme to the famous “Walking with Dinosaurs” television series, made by the BBC Natural History Unit and Impossible Pictures that first aired over twenty years ago, will remember that this programme told the story of the life of an Allosaurus.  The fossil specimen used as the basis for the story line, was found in the Howe Quarry (Wyoming), specimen number MOR 693.  This was thought to represent an Allosaurus fragilis, but MOR 693 “Big Al” has now been assigned to this new species.

The Star of the Ballard of Big Al (MOR 693) Now Assigned to A. jimmadseni

"The Ballard of Big Al".

The front cover of “The Ballard of Big Al” BBC/Impossible Pictures documentary.  Once thought to be an example of Allosaurus fragilis, this fossil specimen (MOR 693), has been reassigned to A. jimmadseni.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

New Allosaurus Species Based on Two Nearly Complete Fossil Skeletons

Writing in the academic journal PeerJ, the two authors of the scientific paper Mark Loewen, research associate at the Natural History Museum of Utah and associate professor in the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Utah and co-worker Dan Chure, now retired, but formerly based at the Dinosaur National Monument, set out the case for the erection of a new species of Allosaurus.  Between them they have studied virtually all the Allosaurus specimens in North American museums, a research project that has taken two decades and is still on-going.  The paper describing Allosaurus jimmadseni, is one of several papers that will be published by the pair.  Future scientific papers will address post-cranial morphology and provide a further revision of the Allosaurus genus.

The new species of Allosaurus has been established based on the study of the “Big Al” specimen and specimen number DINO 11541 discovered by Dr George Engelmann (University of Nebraska), in 1990.  Excavation continued at the Dinosaur National Monument site for several years, gradually exposing an almost complete articulated skeleton, but missing the skull.  In the summer of 1996, University of Utah employee Ray Jones returned to the site and used a gamma X-ray detection device to locate the beautifully preserved cranium.

A Cast of the Specimen DINO 11541 Showing the Articulation and the Approximate position of the Skull

Painted cast of Allosaurus jimmadseni holotype material.

A painted cast of the holotype fossil material DINO 11541 (Allosaurus jimmadseni).

Picture Credit: Dan Chure

Three Recognised Allosaurus Species

Since Allosaurus was first erected by the American palaeontologist Othniel Charles Marsh in 1877, numerous species have been named.  However, in this research paper only three species are recognised – Allosaurus fragilis and Allosaurus jimmadseni in North America and Allosaurus europaeus from Europe.  The researchers identified a number of unique characteristics (autapomorphies), in the specimens MOR 693 and DINO 11541 that led them to propose a new species.  For example, the paired nasals of A. jimmadseni possess bilateral, thin, blade-like crests that run from the nostrils up the snout, ending at the apex of the eye socket.  This feature is absent in Allosaurus fragilis.

A Life Reconstruction of Allosaurus jimmadseni

Allosaurus jimmadseni life reconstruction.

A reconstruction of the head of Allosaurus jimmadseni.  Note the pair of bilateral nasal crests that run from the nostrils to the eye socket.  This feature is absent in Allosaurus fragilis.

Picture Credit: Andrey Atuchin

As a result of this new study, a number of other fossil specimens formerly placed within A. fragilis have been reassigned to A. jimmadseni.

Geologically the Oldest Species of Allosaurus

The “Big Al” fossil and specimen number DINO 11541 come from strata associated with the Lower Morrison Formation (Brushy Basin Member and Salt Wash Member respectively), as such, these animals are several million years older than those fossils now ascribed to Allosaurus fragilis.

Commenting on the significance of their extensive research, co-author Mark Loewen stated:

“Previously, palaeontologist thought there was only one species of Allosaurus in Jurassic North America, but this study shows that there were two species.  The newly described Allosaurus jimmadseni evolved at least five million years earlier than its younger cousin, Allosaurus fragilis.  The skull of Allosaurus jimmadseni is more lightly built than its later relative Allosaurus fragilis, suggesting a different feeding behaviour between the two.”

Comparing Allosaurus Skulls (Three Species Compared)

Comparing Allosaurus skulls.

Comparing the skulls of Allosaurus species (left lateral view).  (A) Allosaurus fragilis (DINO 2560).  (B) Allosaurus jimmadseni (DINO 11541).  (C) Allosaurus europaeus (ML 415).  Scale bars equal 10 cm.

Picture Credit: Chure and Loewen published in PeerJ

An Anagenetic Lineage?

This study suggests that Allosaurus jimmadseni fossils are found in the Salt Wash Member of the Morrison Formation in Utah and the lower part of the Brushy Basin Member of the Morrison Formation in Wyoming and South Dakota.  If this is the case, then it raises the question whether the later A. fragilis evolved from the earlier Allosaurus jimmadseni.  Did Allosaurus fragilis directly evolve from its older, close relative?  If it did, then this is a form of evolution known as anagenesis – whereby one species gradually evolves into a new species over a long period of geological time.  An anagenetic lineage occurs when one population representing a single species, over thousands and thousands of years, gradually accumulates change.  These changes eventually become sufficiently distinct from the earlier form that descendants can be labelled a new species.

Skull Drawings and Skeletal Reconstructions of Allosaurus jimmadseni

Skull and skeletal diagrams Allosaurus jimmadseni.

Skull and skeletal reconstructions of Allosaurus jimmadseni.

Picture Credit: Chure and Loewen published in PeerJ with additional notation by Everything Dinosaur.

The illustration above shows stylised line drawings of the skull of Allosaurus jimmadseni in lateral, dorsal and posterior views along with skeletal reconstructions of DINO 11541 and “Big Al”.  Scale bar (A-C) equals 10 cm and for D-E 1 metre.

Allosaurus, as the most common genus of Late Jurassic theropod in North America has played a significant role in helping palaeontologists to cement the phylogeny of Jurassic meat-eating dinosaurs. A revision of this key genus will probably have important consequences for future studies regarding the taxonomy of the Coelurosauria.

The scientific paper: “Cranial anatomy of Allosaurus jimmadseni, a new species from the lower part of the Morrison Formation (Upper Jurassic) of Western North America” by Daniel J. Chure and Mark A. Loewen published in PeerJ.

26 01, 2020

Wild Safari Prehistoric World Pachycephalosaurus “Battle Damage”

By | January 26th, 2020|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur Products, Main Page, Photos of Everything Dinosaur Products, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Wild Safari Prehistoric World Pachycephalosaurus “Battle Damage”

Sometimes a model manufacturer goes that little bit further when it comes to adding a degree of authenticity to its figures.  A case in point is Safari Ltd and their recently introduced Wild Safari Prehistoric World, Pachycephalosaurus.  This beautifully painted replica depicts an injury to the skull of this “bone-headed” dinosaur.  There is a small, brown-coloured mark on top of the skull.  Eagle-eyed Everything Dinosaur team members noticed this feature when looking at pre-production images, but it had been difficult to spot in some promotional shots.

However, we can confirm this little bit of pachycephalosaur pathology is indeed an integral part of the model.

Showing the “Pachycephalosaur Pathology” – The Wild Safari Prehistoric World Pachycephalosaurus with the Mark on its Head

Showing the pathology on the head of the Wild Safari Prehistoric World Pachycephalosaurus dinosaur model.

A close-up view of the top of the head of the Wild Safari Prehistoric World Pachycephalosaurus model with the “battle damage” highlighted.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view the new for 2020 Pachycephalosaurus model and the rest of the figures available from Everything Dinosaur in the Wild Safari Prehistoric World range: Safari Ltd – Wild Safari Prehistoric World Models and Figures.

Pachycephalosaur Pathology

A number of theories have been put forward as to why pachycephalosaurs tended to have highly ornate, often very thick skulls.  These anatomical features probably did not evolve to protect their brains, the brains of these types of dinosaur are proportionately no bigger than many other types of ornithischians.  They probably did not have a defensive role, after all, to a large tyrannosaurid a thick, reinforced skull would have been not much of an obstacle to overcome if it were fortunate to catch a pachycephalosaur.  Many palaeontologists believe these characteristics evolved as these animals competed with each other in combat over hierarchical status in the herd, or the right to mate.   This theory was, we believe, first postulated by the distinguished American vertebrate palaeontologist Edwin Colbert in 1954.  Since then, a number of studies have been undertaken to verify/refute this idea: Study Sheds New Light on the Intraspecific Combat of Pachycephalosaurs.

Pachycephalosaurus wyomingensis Replica Skull

A replica skull of Pachycephalosaurus wyomingensis.

Pachycephalosaurus wyomingensis replica skull.   In some specimens the skull bone is more than twenty centimetres thick.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

However these Late Cretaceous dinosaurs used their heavily ornate and robust headgear remains open to speculation, but one thing is for sure, the Wild Safari Prehistoric World Pachycephalosaurus model certainly shows lots of detail.

A Beautiful and Very Detailed Dinosaur Model

The new for 2020 Wild Safari Prehistoric World Pachycephalosaurus dinosaur model.

The new for 2020 Wild Safari Prehistoric World Pachycephalosaurus model.  The “battle damage” to the skull can be seen in this image of the dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

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