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17 11, 2020

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences Gets “Duelling Dinosaurs”

By | November 17th, 2020|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

“Duelling Dinosaurs” Find Permanent Home

The famous “Duelling Dinosaurs” featuring a tyrannosaurid specimen closely associated with a large ceratopsid have found a permanent home at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.  The fossils, discovered eroding slowly out of a hillside formed from the famous Hell Creek Formation deposits of Montana were once thought to represent a dwarf, lightweight species of Late Cretaceous tyrannosaurid – named Nanotyrannus and a new species of horned dinosaur, these days, most palaeontologists consider the largely articulated and heavily associated pair to represent a sub-adult Tyrannosaurus rex and a Triceratops.

Their acquisition on behalf of the Museum, by the not-for-profit Friends of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences will permit palaeontologists access to study these amazing 66-million-year-old dinosaurs as well as allowing the general public to get up close and personal to two dinosaur fossils that could have ended up in the hands of a private collector.

Still Partially Entombed – The  Tyrannosaurid Member of the “Duelling Dinosaurs”

The articulated remains of a tyrannosaur "dueling dinosaurs".

A dorsal view of the articulated remains of the sub-adult tyrannosaurid – part of the “duelling dinosaurs”

Picture Credit: Matt Zeher

Evidence of Predator/Prey Interaction

The fossils, only partially exposed and still protected by their burlap field jackets may represent the best-preserved skeletons of Triceratops and T. rex known to science.  The huge blocks may contain evidence of a predator/prey interaction.  The dinosaur carcasses have not been studied and remain entombed within sediment from the Montana hillside where they were discovered. Because of these rare burial conditions, each bone is in its natural position and Museum scientists will have access to biological data that is typically lost in the excavation and preparation processes.  Entombing sediment preserves extraordinary features such as body outlines, skin impressions and other soft tissues, as well as injuries and potential evidence of interaction, such as tyrannosaur teeth embedded in the bones of its ceratopsian companion.

A Life Reconstruction of “Duelling Dinosaurs”

Triceratops and T. rex battel (dueling dinosaurs).

A life reconstruction of the tyrannosaur pack encountering a herd of ceratopsians.

Picture Credit: Anthony Hutchings

Commenting on the arrival of these remarkable specimens, Jason Barron, chair of the Friends of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences stated:

“It is an immeasurable honour to welcome these specimens as they take up permanent residence here at the Museum.  Duelling Dinosaurs is a singular find; we are incredibly grateful to our supporters for making this a reality and allowing our visitors – in-person and virtual alike – to experience this journey with us.”

In conjunction with the fossil acquisition, design is nearing completion on a globally unique, behind-the-scenes visitor experience at the Museum in downtown Raleigh.  The exhibit will be the first physical expansion of the Museum in over ten years and will build on its sustained leadership in public engagement with scientific research.

Part of the “Duelling Dinosaurs” Awaiting Further Study and Research

Part of the famous "dueling dinosaurs" of Montana.

The articulated and near complete specimens may reveal interaction between predator and prey.

Picture Credit: Matt Zeher

Providing New Opportunities to Learn About Iconic North American Dinosaurs

The acquisition of the “duelling dinosaurs” and the fact that they have a permanent home, will allow palaeontologists the opportunity to carefully study what has been described as one of the most astonishing vertebrate fossils ever found.

Dr Lindsay Zanno, head of palaeontology at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, is very excited at the prospect at being able to study these unique, associated fossils and commented:

“We have not yet studied this specimen; it is a scientific frontier.  The preservation is phenomenal, and we plan to use every technological innovation available to reveal new information on the biology of T. rex and Triceratops.  This fossil will forever change our view of the world’s two favourite dinosaurs.  The way we have designed the entire experience — inviting the public to follow the scientific discoveries in real time and participate in the research — will set a new standard for museums.”

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in the compilation of this article.

To read an article from 2013 about the auction of these fossils: D-Day for Important Dinosaur Fossils.

12 11, 2020

Sinking our Teeth into Toothless Pterosaurs

By | November 12th, 2020|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Shark Spines and Fish Jaws Turn Out to be Pterosaur Mandibles

Over the last few months, Everything Dinosaur has reported upon the research into the Pterosauria conducted by scientists from the University of Portsmouth and the University of Leicester in collaboration with academics from several other institutions.  We really do seem to be having a “Golden Age” of pterosaur research with lots of exciting discoveries about flying reptile behaviour and lifestyles as well as a number of new species being named and described.

Pterosaur Research Has Not Been Standing Still

Hatzegopteryx drawing.

Pterosaur research has not been standing still.  There have been lots of new and exciting discoveries made recently.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Recently, we have reported upon a suite of new Late Cretaceous flying reptiles from Morocco*, research that re-examined some of the evidence associated with integumentary coverings when it comes to flying reptiles**, a new tapejarid from the Wessex Formation (Wightia declivirostris) and last month, team members looked into the tactile qualities of sensitive pterosaur jaws: The Sensitive Beaks of Pterosaurs.

*For our article reporting upon the discovery of several new pterosaurs from the Late Cretaceous of Morocco: Pterosaurs, Pterosaurs the “Golden Age” of Pterosaur Research.

*A fourth new pterosaur from Morocco is announced: Afrotapejara zouhrii.

**For the Everything Dinosaur article looking at integumentary coverings in the Pterosauria: Naked Pterosaurs!  No Protofeathers on Pterosaurs.

Researchers from the University of Portsmouth in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Leicester and the London Natural History Museum have published a new paper this week.  Writing in the “Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association”, they report upon the discovery of a new species of toothless pterosaur after the re-examination of vertebrate fossil collections at the Sedgwick Museum (Cambridge) and the Booth Museum (Brighton).

It was Portsmouth University PhD student, Roy Smith, already a published author, as the links we have posted above testify, who found evidence for the new species when searching through material in the collections that had been misidentified either as shark spines or the jaws from prehistoric fish.

Explaining How to Identify the Edentulous (Toothless) Beak of a Pterosaur

Co-author Roy Smith explains about pterosaur beaks.

PhD student Roy Smith explaining what the edentulous beaks of pterosaurs look like.

Picture Credit: Portsmouth University

Late Cretaceous Pterosaurs

The fossil material studied comes from the Cretaceous Cambridge Greensand Member of the West Melbury Marly Chalk Formation.  The fossils had been collected in Cambridgeshire during the latter part of the 19th century, when very little was known about the Pterosauria.  As these sediments represent a marine environment, this does explain to some extent how the toothless beaks of flying reptiles could be confused with shark spines and fish jaws.  Thanks to the efforts of the researchers, a number of of new specimens of edentulous pterosaur jaw fragments have been identified.  These are now recognised as pterosaurian jaw tips and referred to Ornithostoma sedgwicki, which was first named and described by the British palaeontologist Harry Seeley.

It had been thought that O. sedgwicki was a member of the Pteranodontia, perhaps the most famous of all the types of flying reptile known as the genus Pteranodon is part of this group.

A Prehistoric Scene Featuring Pteranodon

The Western Interior Seaway (Late Cretaceous)

Dramatic scene from the Western Interior Seaway painted by Burian.  Images such as this helped to popularise the Pteranodon genus.

Picture Credit: Zdeněk Burian

Time to Re-classify Ornithostoma sedgwicki

The research team which includes Professor David Martill (Portsmouth University), Dr David Unwin (University of Leicester), Dr Lorna Steel (London Natural History Museum) as well as PhD student Roy Smith, conclude that as tiny pits along the side of the jaw bone have been identified in these fragmentary fossils, it might be time to revise the taxonomy of O. sedgwicki.

If these pits and minute holes indicate the presence of neural foramina (nerves passing through the jaw to make contact with the beak’s surface to help the animal sense its environment), then as neural foramina are not known in the Pteranodontia, Ornithostoma could have been placed in the wrong part of the flying reptile family tree.

The scientists assign O. sedgwicki to the Azhdarchoidea group instead.  Whatever the classification of Ornithostoma, its fossils still probably represent the first evidence of toothless pterosaurs to have ever been discovered.

Student Roy Smith, summarising what the team found as they re-examined the material from the 19th century stated:

“Two of the specimens discovered can be identified as a pterosaur called Ornithostoma, but one additional specimen is clearly distinct and represents a new species – it is a palaeontological mystery.”

Unfortunately, like most of the pterosaur fossils associated with the Cambridge Greensand of England, this fossil is too fragmentary to permit a new genus to be erected.

The scientific paper: “Edentulous pterosaurs from the Cambridge Greensand (Cretaceous) of eastern England with a review of Ornithostoma Seeley, 1871” by Roy E. Smith, David M. Martill, David M. Unwin and Lorna Steel published in the Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association.

11 11, 2020

The Earliest Paranthropus robustus Skull

By | November 11th, 2020|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

The Earliest Paranthropus robustus Skull

The discovery of a near complete skull of the hominin Paranthropus robustus has shed new light on the evolution of this enigmatic species, related to but not likely to be a direct ancestor of the hominin lineage that led to the evolution of our own species.  The fossil was found at the world famous Drimolen Main Quarry (DMQ) site, some twenty-five miles north of Johannesburg, South Africa.  This site consists of in-fill deposits from an ancient cave system and it has produced a number of remarkable fossil specimens of early hominins that co-existed around two million years ago.

The specimen (DNH 155), is believed to represent the skull of a large, adult male and the fossil has been dated from approximately 2.04–1.95 million years ago (Gelasian age of the early Pleistocene), it is the earliest known Paranthropus skull discovered to date.

Specimen Number DNH 155 The Skull of Paranthropus robustus

Paranthropus robustus skull fossil from South Africa.

The P. robustus skull has been pieced together from fragments found at the Drimolen Main Quarry (DMQ) archaeological site north of Johannesburg (South Africa).

Picture Credit: Andy Herries, La Trobe Archaeology

Discovered on Father’s Day

Field team members from La Trobe University’s Archaeology Department (Melbourne, Australia), led the excavation work.  The rare skull fossil was discovered in 2018, on June 20th, appropriately Father’s Day in South Africa.  During the careful excavation, cleaning and preparation of the fossil, the specimen was nicknamed the “Father’s Day fossil”.

The skull was found close to the location of Homo erectus skull material, that at around two million years of age, provided strong evidence to support the hypothesis that H. erectus evolved in Africa rather than in Asia.  Lead author of the paper outlining the discovery of the partial H. erectus skull was Professor Andy Herries (La Trobe University), the Director of the Australian Research Council-funded Drimolen project, who also co-authored the scientific paper on DNH 155 that was published this week in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

To read more about the Homo erectus discovery at the Drimolen Main Quarry site: Homo erectus Originated in Southern Africa.

The Drimolen Main Quarry – A Hugely Significant Location for Early Hominin Fossil Material

Field team members at the Paranthropus excavation site.

Paranthropus excavation site.  The Drimolen Main Quarry (DMQ) has provided palaeoanthropologists with a treasure trove of early hominin fossils as well as the bones and teeth of a number of contemporaneous early Pleistocene animals.

Picture Credit: Andy Herries, La Trobe Archaeology

Describing Paranthropus robustus

Although, small in stature compared to modern humans, these early hominins were strongly built, small-brained and they possessed particularly robust jaws and large teeth.  Adaptations for a mainly vegetarian diet consisting of roots and tubers.  Paranthropus robustus co-existed with other direct human ancestors and is regarded as a “cousin species” to the hominin lineage that led to Homo sapiens.  The researchers postulate that the DNH 155 specimen provides the first high resolution evidence for microevolution within an early hominin species.

The most complete P. robustus skull (DNH 7), which was found at the DMQ site in 1994, differs from other P. robustus skull material found at other chronologically younger locations.  These differences had been put down to sexual dimorphism, with DNH 7 believed to represent the skull of a female.  This led palaeoanthropologists to speculate that if there was sexual dimorphism within the Paranthropus genus then these hominins could have lived in social groups like extant gorillas, with a large dominant male looking after a number of females and their offspring.

A Family Group of Paranthropus – Palaeoanthropologists Had Speculated That These Hominins Lived in Social Groups Like Extant Gorillas

A Paranthropus family group.

Paranthropus family group.  It had been thought that these robust hominins lived in social groups similar to those seen in gorillas today, with a large dominant male looking after a hareem of smaller females, juveniles and offspring.  The discovery of DNH 155 has challenged this long-held view.

Picture Credit: David Gur

However, the newly described DNH 155 skull shares a number of characteristics with the contemporaneous DNH 7 skull.

Co-lead author Jesse Martin (La Trobe University), explained the significance of DNH 155 stating that it could lead to a revised system for classifying and understanding the palaeobiology of human ancestors.

The PhD student commented:

“Demonstrating that Paranthropus robustus is not especially sexually dimorphic removes much of the impetus for supposing that they lived in social structures similar to gorillas, with large dominant males living in a group of smaller females.  The DNH 155 male fossil from Drimolen is most similar to female specimens from the same site, whereas Paranthropus robustus specimens from other sites are appreciably different.”

PhD Student Jesse Martin and Co-author Dr Angeline Leece Examine the Skull

PhD student Jesse Marting and Dr Angeline Leece examine the Paranthropus skull.

Dr Angeline Leece and PhD student Jesse Martin examine the Paranthropus skull specimen.

Picture Credit: Andy Herries, La Trobe Archaeology

A Rare Example of Microevolution within Hominins

Mr Martin said the discovery is a rare example of microevolution within a human lineage, showing that Paranthropus robustus evolved their powerful jaws and strong teeth, adaptations that evolved incrementally, possibly over hundreds of thousands of years in response to environmental change.

Mr Martin added:

“The Drimolen fossils represent the earliest known, very first step in the long evolutionary story of Paranthropus robustus.”

Professor Andy Herries elucidated:

“The DNH 155 cranium shows the beginning of a very successful lineage that existed in South Africa for a million years.  Like all other creatures on Earth, to remain successful our ancestors adapted and evolved in accordance with the landscape and environment around them.  For the first time in South Africa, we have the dating resolution and morphological evidence that allows us to see such changes in an ancient hominin lineage through a short window of time.

“We believe these changes took place during a time when South Africa was drying out, leading to the extinction of a number of contemporaneous mammal species.  It is likely that climate change produced environmental stressors that drove evolution within Paranthropus robustus.”

Staring at the Face of DNH 155 (Male P. robustus)

Paranthropus robustus specimen (anterior view).

The face of the Paranthropus specimen (DNH 155).

Picture Credit: Andy Herries, La Trobe Archaeology

Paranthropus robustus Co-existed with Homo erectus

Co-lead author, La Trobe’s Dr Angeline Leece, said it was important to know that Paranthropus robustus appeared at roughly the same time as our direct ancestor Homo erectus, as demonstrated by the H. erectus fossil material representing the skull of a child found within a few metres of DNH 155.

Dr Leece commented:

“These two vastly different species, Homo erectus with their relatively large brains and small teeth, and Paranthropus robustus with their relatively large teeth and small brains, represent divergent evolutionary experiments.  Through time, Paranthropus robustus likely evolved to generate and withstand higher forces produced during biting and chewing food that was hard or mechanically challenging to process with their jaws and teeth – such as tubers.  Future research will clarify whether environmental changes placed populations under dietary stress and how that impacted human evolution.”

As Dr Leece pointed out, whilst the lineage made up of our direct ancestors survived this period of environmental change and the Paranthropus genus is extinct having left no direct descendants, the fossil record indicates that two million years ago, Paranthropus robustus was much more common than Homo erectus.  The Drimolen project is likely to continue to play a key role in helping us to understand the evolutionary history of our own species and the fates of those other hominins that ultimately became extinct.

Important Implications for Interpreting the Human Fossil Record

Co-author Professor David Strait (Department of Anthropology, Washington University in St. Louis USA), stated the DNH 155 skull fossil had important implications for interpreting diversity in the fossil record of hominins.

He explained:

“We think that palaeoanthropology needs to be a bit more critical about interpreting variation in anatomy as evidence of the presence of multiple species.  Depending on the ages of fossil samples, differences in bony anatomy might represent changes within lineages rather than evidence of multiple species.”

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

The scientific paper: “Drimolen cranium DNH 155 documents microevolution in an early hominin species” by Jesse M. Martin, A. B. Leece, Simon Neubauer, Stephanie E. Baker, Carrie S. Mongle, Giovanni Boschian, Gary T. Schwartz, Amanda L. Smith, Justin A. Ledogar, David S. Strait and Andy I. R. Herries published in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

29 10, 2020

DNA Study Highlights Ancient Relationship Between Us and Dogs

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

Dogs Really are Our Oldest Friends

An international team of scientists including researchers from The Francis Crick Institute (London), University College Dublin, Ludwig Maximillian University (Munich), Stockholm University (Sweden) and Liverpool John Moores University, have collaborated together in order to sequence a total of 27 ancient dog genomes in a bid to unravel the evolution of the domestic dog.  Dogs are widely believed to be the first animal to be domesticated, but very little is known about their population history and to what extent population changes are linked to humans.

Writing in the academic journal “Science”, the researchers present evidence that there were different types of dogs more than 11,000 years ago in the period immediately following the last Ice Age.

One of the Ancient Dog Skulls Compared to the Skull of a Modern Wolf

Mapping ancient dog DNA.

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

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

By sequencing the ancient DNA from the 27 specimens, some of which lived around 11,000 years ago, the team found that by the end of the last Ice Age before any other animal had been domesticated, there were already at least five different types of dog with distinct genetic ancestries.

This study suggests that the diversity observed between dogs in different parts of the world today originated when all humans were hunters and gatherers.

Commenting on the significance of this research Pontus Skoglund (The Francis Crick Institute) stated:

“Some of the variation you see between dogs walking down the street today originated in the Ice Age.  By the end of this period, dogs were already widespread across the northern hemisphere.”

Extracting Genetic Information from Skeletons

By extracting genetic information from the skeletons of ancient dogs the team were able to analyse the DNA they found providing a window into the past.  They were able to show that over the last ten millennia these early dog lineages mixed and moved giving rise to the dogs we know today.  For example, the researchers calculated that early European dogs were initially diverse, most likely originating from two highly distinct populations, one related to Near Eastern dogs and another cluster related to dogs from Siberia.  However, at some point this diversity was lost, as it is not found in European dogs today.

Lead author Anders Bergström, a post-doctoral researcher at The Francis Crick Institute commented:

“If we look back more than four or five thousand years ago, we can see that Europe was a very diverse place when it came to dogs.  Although the European dogs we see today come in such an extraordinary array of shapes and forms, genetically they derive from only a very narrow subset of the diversity that used to exist.”

Newly Published Research Suggests Some of the Variation Seen in Dogs Today Dates Back to the Last Ice Age

A trio of Japanese hunting dogs.

Japanese hunting dogs, some of the variation seen in dogs today can be traced back to the last Ice Age.

Comparing Human Evolution to Dog Evolution

The researchers also compared the evolution in dog population to changes in human evolution, lifestyles and migrations.  In many cases comparable changes took place, likely reflecting how humans would bring their dogs with them as they migrated across the world.  However, this study also identified that dog evolution and human history do not mirror each other.  The loss of European dog diversity is not reflected in human population studies.

Co-author Ron Pinhasi (University of Vienna), added:

“Just as ancient DNA has revolutionised the study of our own ancestors, it’s now starting to do the same for dogs and other domesticated animals.  Studying our animal companions adds another layer to our understanding of human history.”

This newly published research might provide a fresh perspective on the early history of dog populations and their relationship with our own species, but still, many questions remain.  Dogs may have been the first animal to become domesticated, likely originating from wolves that associated with humans, however, when and how the first wolves became dogs is still not known.

The scientific paper: “Origins and genetic legacy of prehistoric dogs” by Anders Bergström, Laurent Frantz, Ryan Schmidt, Erik Ersmark, Ophelie Lebrasseur, Linus Girdland-Flink et al published in the journal Science.

28 10, 2020

Microscopic Analysis of Pterosaur Teeth Provides Guide to Diet

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

Members of the Pterosauria Undergo Dental Examination

Visiting the dentist can be a daunting experience for some, but for seventeen different species of pterosaur, a microscopic analysis of wear on the teeth has provided palaeontologists with a fresh perspective on the diets and lifestyles of these enigmatic flying reptiles.

Scientists from the University of Birmingham and the University of Leicester’s Centre for Palaeobiology Research studied dental wear patterns preserved on the fossilised teeth of the specimens and then compared these wear patterns to those found on the teeth of living reptiles including crocodilians and monitor lizards whose diets are known.

A Newly Published Scientific Paper Reveals New Data on the Diets of Pterosaurs

Pterosaur ecology, a fresh insight into the diets of the Pterosauria.

Pterosaur feeding strategies.  A study of dental microwear provides a new perspective on the diets of flying reptiles.

Picture Credit: Mark Witton

The researchers were able to demonstrate for the first time how microscopic dental wear analysis can be used to inform palaeontologists about the diet of an extinct animal but to also challenge existing ideas and perceptions about lifestyle and behaviour.

The scientific paper detailing their results are published in the academic journal “Nature Communications”.

Lead author of the study, Dr Jordan Bestwick (University of Birmingham’s School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences), commented:

“Most existing ideas about what pterosaurs ate come from comparisons of the shapes of their teeth with those of living animals.  For example, if the animal had conical teeth like a crocodile, we might assume it ate fish.  But this approach has obvious shortcomings – the teeth of pandas and polar bears, for example, are similar, but comparing them wouldn’t give us an accurate picture of their diets.”

Did Some Super-sized Pterosaurs Eat Dinosaurs?

Powerful necked Hatzegopteryx feeds on a dinosaur.

Transylvanian giant azhdarchid pterosaur Hatzegopteryx sp. preys on the rhabdodontid iguanodontian Zalmoxes.

Picture Credit: Mark Witton

Durophagus Diets

The analysis showed that modern reptiles with rougher wear on their tooth surfaces are more likely to have eaten crunchy things, such as shelled invertebrates – beetles or crabs.  Eating hard-shelled animals or creatures with a tough exoskeleton such as some types of insect is referred to as durophagy.  Reptiles which eat mainly soft items, such as fish, have smoother tooth surfaces, which show less wear.  By applying the technique to pterosaurs, the scientists were able to comment on the likely diet of each species.

Dr Bestwick added:

“Our analysis has yielded some fascinating insights into individual species, but also into some of the bigger questions around how these pterosaurs evolved and whether their lifestyles were more similar to those of extant birds or reptiles.  Evidence from dental microwear analysis can shed new light on this debate.”

Professor Mark Purnell, Professor of Palaeobiology at the University of Leicester explained:

“This is the first time this technique has been applied in this way to ancient reptiles, and it’s great to find it works so well.  Often, palaeontologists have very little to go on when trying to understand what extinct animals ate.  This approach gives us a new tool, allowing us to move from what are sometimes little more than educated guesses, into the realms of solid science.”

Examining the Diet of Rhamphorhynchus

In one example, the team examined the teeth of Rhamphorhynchus, a long-tailed pterosaur from the Jurassic period.  Researchers found that juvenile Rhamphorhynchus had insect-based diets, whereas their adult counterparts – about the size of a large seagull – were more likely to have eaten fish.  This suggests a species in which the adults took little care of their young (precocial behaviour) – a behaviour that is common in reptiles and is not exhibited by birds.

A Rhamphorhynchus Fossil Specimen (R. muensteri)

Rhamphorhynchus fossil (R. muensteri)

A Rhamphorhynchus fossil from the Upper Jurassic sediments of Solnhofen (Germany).

Picture Credit: Peabody Museum of Natural History/Yale University

Looking at Pterosaur Evolution

The research team also investigated whether their analysis could shed light on how different species of pterosaurs evolved.  The first pterosaurs evolved during the Triassic and they survived until the very end of the Mesozoic some 66 million years ago, becoming extinct at the same time as their archosaur relatives the dinosaurs.  In that time, according to the dental microwear analysis, there was a general shift in diet from invertebrates such as insects, towards a more meat or fish-based diet.

Commenting on the potential significance of this dietary shift, Dr Bestwick stated:

“We found that the earliest forms of pterosaurs ate mainly crunchy invertebrates.  The shift towards eating fish or meat coincides with the evolution of birds.  We think it’s possible, therefore, that competition with birds could explain the decline of smaller-bodied pterosaurs and a rise in larger, carnivorous species.”

It is an intriguing thought, although the fossil record of the Pterosauria is far from complete and there is a degree of bias towards the most productive pterosaur-fossil bearing strata such as deposits associated with the Crato and Santana Formations of the Early Cretaceous, which prevents a detailed assessment of pterosaur diversity over the duration of the Mesozoic from the Norian onwards.

Natalia Jagielska, a PhD researcher in pterosaur palaeontology based at the University of Edinburgh, (not involved in this study), commented that the research adds much-needed clarity to the behaviour and ecological role of pterosaurs in ancient food webs.

“Pterosaurs are a fascinating group of Mesozoic reptiles with astounding diversity in tooth morphology.  This study is important for contributing to the idea that young Rhamphorhynchus were independent invertebrate hunters before becoming fish consumers, rather than being fed and nurtured by parents, like birds.  Or that in pterosaur-rich environments, like the Late Jurassic Bavarian lagoons, pterosaur species have partitioned to occupy variations of dietary niches.”

The authors of the scientific paper are confident that this new research will provide a benchmark assisting in the interpretation of the diet of long extinct reptiles and in doing so, will lead to an improved understanding of ancient ecosystems.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the contribution of a media release from the University of Birmingham in the compilation of this article.

21 10, 2020

Remembering “Joe” the Baby Parasaurolophus

By | October 21st, 2020|Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Remembering “Joe” the Baby Parasaurolophus

This week, seven years ago, a remarkable paper was published in the academic journal PeerJ.  The research centred upon a beautifully-preserved fossil specimen of a baby Parasaurolophus that at around two and a half metres in length, represented the smallest and most complete specimen described to date for this genus.  Nicknamed “Joe” this dinosaur that roamed southern Utah some 75 million years ago, demonstrated the astonishing growth rates of duck-billed dinosaurs.  Although approximately a quarter of the size of a fully grown Parasaurolophus, bone histology suggested that “Joe” was less than a year old when it died.

Interpretive Drawing and Right Lateral View of the Fossilised Remains  -“Joe” the Parasaurolophus

"Joe" the baby Parasaurolophus.

The skeleton of “Joe” the Parasaurolophus (specimen number RAM 14000), in right lateral view (A) interpretive drawing and (B) photograph.   Note scale bar = 10 cm.

Picture Credit: Farke et al (PeerJ)

A Baby Dinosaur Found by Students

The fossilised remains of the young Parasaurolophus were found in 2009 by a group of students on a field trip to the Kaiparowits Formation (Campanian faunal stage), exposures at the famous Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, with Andrew Farke of the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Palaeontology. When first shown a fragment of fossil bone eroding out of the surrounding sediment, Dr Farke dismissed it as an inconsequential piece of fossil rib.  It was only when they explored the area a little more closely did they realise the potential significance of the discovery.

The scientific paper on this remarkable specimen was published in October 2013.  The skull, measuring 24.6 cm in length showed signs of the tubular crest beginning to form, although a cross-section of bone from the tibia (lower leg bone), showed no lines of arrested growth (LAGs), implying that the Parasaurolophus may have been less than twelve months old when it died.  Based on a comparison with other Lambeosaurine fossils, the research team concluded that Parasaurolophus initiated development of its head crest at less than 25% maximum skull size, contrasting with 50% of maximum skull size in hadrosaurs such as Corythosaurus.

Parasaurolophus formed its unusual headgear by expanding some of its skull bones earlier and for a longer period of time than other closely related duck-billed dinosaurs.

An Interpretative Drawing of the Skull with Fossil Shown in Left Lateral View

Interpretive drawing and photograph of baby Parasaurolophus skull.

Left half of the skull of Parasaurolophus sp., RAM 14000, in lateral view. Interpretive drawing (A) and (B) photograph of the skull.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

“Joe” was named after Joe Augustyn, a patron of the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Palaeontology, where the fossils can be seen on display.

To read Everything Dinosaur’s original article on “Joe” the baby Parasaurolophus: Fossilised Remains of a Baby Parasaurolophus from Southern Utah.

The scientific paper: “Ontogeny in the tube-crested dinosaur Parasaurolophus (Hadrosauridae) and heterochrony in hadrosaurids” by Andrew A. Farke, Derek J. Chok, Annisa Herrero, Brandon Scolieri and Sarah Werning published in PeerJ.

20 10, 2020

Mapping the Genome of the Scimitar-Toothed Cat Homotherium latidens

By | October 20th, 2020|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Mapping the Genome of Homotherium latidens

The diverse and geographically widespread machairodonts, a subfamily of the cat family (Felidae), have fascinated palaeontologists for a very long time and there is still a great deal of research directed towards these sabre-toothed predators.  Recently, Everything Dinosaur published an article that looked at how those enlarged canines might have been used by different types of sabre-toothed creature known from the fossil record: Sabre-toothed Predators Evolved Different Hunting Styles.  However, a team of international scientists led by researchers from the University of Copenhagen (Denmark), have taken a more holistic view when it comes to these long-fanged mammals.  They have mapped the entire nuclear genome of the machairodont Homotherium latidens and their research suggests that this tiger-sized carnivore was a highly social, pursuit predator.

A Pack of Homotherium Pursue a Prehistoric Horse

Homotherium latidens a cursorial pack hunter?

A pack of Homotherium latidens chasing a prehistoric horse.  What an amazing example of paleoart – our congratulations to the artist.

Picture Credit: Velizar Simeonovski/University of Copenhagen

Writing in the academic journal “Current Biology”, the scientists were able to extract DNA from a H. latidens specimen found in thawing Pleistocene permafrost near Dawson City in the Yukon Territory (Canada).  A variety of modern genomic sequencing strategies were applied to reveal a map of the entire genome of the fossil.  The data was then compared to living felids such as the domestic cat as well as lions and tigers.  The DNA study reveals what genes were highly selected upon and important in evolution of the species.

Commenting on the significance of this research, Michael Westbury, a co-author of the paper based at the University of Copenhagen stated:

“Their genetic makeup hints towards scimitar-toothed cats being highly skilled hunters.  They likely had very good daytime vision and displayed complex social behaviours.  They had genetic adaptations for strong bones and cardiovascular and respiratory systems, meaning they were well suited for endurance running.  Based on this, we think they hunted in a pack until their prey reached exhaustion with an endurance-based hunting-style during the day light hours.”

This type of hunting behaviour is sometimes seen in lions today, although they are mainly ambush predators and they also hunt at night.  Perhaps the most relevant modern analogue to the hunting behaviour proposed for Homotherium latidens is that of the gray wolf (Canis lupus), which is primarily a diurnal, pursuit predator of large prey.

The genome analysis also revealed that this scimitar-toothed cat was genetically very diverse when compared to extant cat species.

Doctor Westbury, a postdoctoral researcher in the GLOBE Institute at the University of Copenhagen also stated:

“We know that genetic diversity correlates to how many of a given species that exists.  Based on this, our best guess is that there were a lot of these big cats around.  This also makes perfect sense given that their fossils have been found on every single continent except Australia and Antarctica.”

To read a related article about the discovery of a treasure trove of prehistoric mammal fossils including machairodonts that have been found in Venezuela: Oil Companies Assist with Huge Fossil Discovery.

The Genome of the Extinct Machairodont Homotherium latidens has been Mapped

Mapping the genome of Homotherium latidens.

Researchers have mapped the genome of the prehistoric cat Homotherium latidens.  The analysis suggests that these cats were highly social and adapted to a long pursuit, endurance form of hunting.

Picture Credit: University of Copenhagen/Current Biology

Homotherium Distantly Related to Extant Felids

The study demonstrated that the Homotherium genus is only very distantly related to all modern cats.  This type of cat diverged from the Felidae lineage around 22.5 million years ago (early Miocene Epoch) and this conclusion supports the hypothesis that the Machairodontinae are a distinct subfamily within the Felidae.

The Demise of Homotherium

The fossil record demonstrates that Homotherium and related genera were extremely successful.  These cats were both geographically and temporally widely dispersed.  It remains a mystery as to why these carnivores were unable to survive to the present day.  The authors of the paper speculate that some of the adaptations/specialisations that led to Homotherium’s success could also have played a pivotal role in its demise and eventual extinction.

Toward the end of the Late Pleistocene, a decrease in large prey availability may have caused more direct competition with other cat species that were likely more effective at capturing the remaining smaller prey species.  The specific adaptations Homotherium had acquired would have suddenly become less advantageous, leading to an irreversible decline that ultimately resulted in extinction.

Fellow co-author Ross Barnett, (GLOBE Institute at the University of Copenhagen), explained:

“This was an extremely successful family of cats.  They were present on five continents and roamed the earth for millions of years before going extinct.  The current geological period is the first time in 40 million years that earth has lacked sabre-tooth predators.  We just missed them.”

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

The scientific paper: “Genomic Adaptations and Evolutionary History of the Extinct Scimitar-Toothed Cat, Homotherium latidens” by Ross Barnett, Michael V. Westbury, Marcela Sandoval-Velasco, Filipe Garrett Vieira, Sungwon Jeon, Grant Zazula, Michael D. Martin, Simon Y. W. Ho, Niklas Mather, Shyam Gopalakrishnan, Jazmín Ramos-Madrigal, Marc de Manuel, M. Lisandra Zepeda-Mendoza, Agostinho Antunes, Aldo Carmona Baez, Binia De Cahsan, Greger Larson, Stephen J. O’Brien, Eduardo Eizirik, Warren E. Johnson, Klaus-Peter Koepfli, Andreas Wilting, Jörns Fickel, Love Dalén, Eline D. Lorenzen, Tomas Marques-Bonet, Anders J. Hansen, Guojie Zhang, Jong Bhak, Nobuyuki Yamaguchi and M. Thomas P. Gilbert published in the journal Current Biology.

17 10, 2020

A News Species of Mosasaur from Morocco

By | October 17th, 2020|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Gavialimimus almaghribensis – Specialised Piscivore from Morocco

An international team of researchers including scientists from the University of Alberta, the University of Cincinnati (USA) and Flinders University (Adelaide, Australia), have identified a new species of marine reptile from fossil remains found in Upper Cretaceous rocks from Morocco.  The animal, a new species of mosasaur has been named Gavialimimus almaghribensis, its long, narrow snout and interlocking teeth suggest that it specialised in hunting fast-swimming, bony fish.

These adaptations suggest that this carnivore, distantly related to modern snakes and lizards, occupied a specific niche in the Moroccan marine ecosystem.  Around a dozen different species of mosasaur are known from the Upper Cretaceous of Morocco, many with different shaped jaws and teeth.  This suggests that these reptiles diversified rapidly during the Late Cretaceous and adapted to differing roles in the ecosystem to avoid direct competition with each other.  The researchers writing in the “Journal of Systematic Palaeontology” suggest that these are examples of niche partitioning in the ancient environment.

A Life Reconstruction of the Newly Described Gavialimimus almaghribensis

Life reconstruction of Gavialimimus almaghribensis.

A life reconstruction of the newly described Moroccan mosasaur Gavialimimus almaghribensis which is thought to have been a specialised piscivore (fish-eater).

Picture Credit: Tatsuya Shinmura

Corresponding author for the scientific paper, Catherine Strong (University of Alberta), stated:

“Its long snout reflects that this mosasaur was likely adapted to a specific form of predation, or niche partitioning, within this larger ecosystem.  For some species, these adaptations can be very prominent, such as the extremely long snout and the interlocking teeth in Gavialimimus, which we hypothesised as helping it to catch rapidly moving prey.”

Resembling a Gavial (Gavial Mimic)

The genus name means “Gavial mimic”, a reference to the similarity between the jaws and dentition of this mosasaur to that of the extant long-snouted gavial (gharial).  Whilst the trivial or species name is derived from the Romanised version of the Arabic term for Morocco (al-Maghrib) paired with the Latin suffix “ensis”, thus denoting the country of origin of the holotype.

The Skull of a Gharial (Gavial)

The skull of a gharial.

The skull of a gharial (gavial) from the Grant Museum of Zoology (London).  The long snout and teeth superficially resemble the jaws and teeth of the newly described mosasaur Gavialimimus almaghribensis.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

From the Oulad Abdoun Basin

The fossils, including a metre-long skull come from the upper Maastrichtian deposits of the Oulad Abdoun Basin of northern Morocco.  The phosphate mines in this region are a rich source of mosasaur fossils and occasionally a dinosaur or two: The Last Dinosaur from Africa.

These sediments have revealed new species of pterosaur too: Pterosaurs More Diverse at the End of the Cretaceous than Previously Thought.

The Fossilised Skull of the Newly Described Gavialimimus almaghribensis

Gavialimimus almaghribensis fossil skull.

The fossilised skull of the newly described mosasaur G. almaghribensis.

Picture Credit: Catherine Strong (University of Alberta)

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

The scientific paper: “A new species of longirostrine plioplatecarpine mosasaur (Squamata: Mosasauridae) from the Late Cretaceous of Morocco, with a re-evaluation of the problematic taxon ‘Platecarpus’ ptychodon” by Catherine R. C. Strong, Michael W. Caldwell, Takuya Konishi and Alessandro Palci published in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology.

15 10, 2020

Catching Up with Ordosipterus planignathus

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

Ordosipterus planignathus – The First Pterosaur from the Ordos Region of Inner Mongolia

Time to catch up with developments in the world of the Pterosauria with a brief look at the recently described new dsungaripteroid pterosaur named Ordosipterus planignathus.  Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences have described a new species of flying reptile from a partial lower jawbone found in the Ordos region of Inner Mongolia.  This is the first confirmed pterosaur discovery from the Lower Cretaceous deposits associated with this region.  The Dsungaripteridae are both geographically and temporally widespread, with taxa known from South America, Asia, North America and Europe as well as China and Mongolia.  However, Ordosipterus enlarges the geographical distribution of this kind of pterosaur, from north-western China (with western Mongolia), to central northern China.

A Life Reconstruction of Ordosipterus planignathus

Life reconstruction - Ordosipterus planignathus.

A life reconstruction of Ordosipterus planignathus.

Picture Credit: Ji/China Geology

Probing in the Mud for Crustaceans or an Insect Eater

Palaeontologists are uncertain as the trophic habits of these pterosaurs.  That is, it is hard to say what these animals ate.  Dsungaripteroid skulls are characterised by their stoutness and their study bones.  The skulls seem to be reinforced and strengthened to cope with disproportionately large bite forces.  These reinforced skulls in combination with the robust teeth associated with this family suggest that these types of pterosaurs might have probed in soft-mud to find molluscs such as snails and bivalves.  They may also have fed on hard-shelled insects.  The jaws and teeth of dsungaripteroid pterosaurs seem particularly suited to a durophagus diet.

To read a recent Everything Dinosaur blog post that looked at the evidence for probe feeding amongst flying reptiles: The Sensitive Beaks of Pterosaurs.

Only one tooth crown was found in situ, it appears to be short and blunt, perhaps, further evidence of durophagy in this type of pterosaur.

The Holotype Material for O. planignathus with Accompanying Line Drawings

Ordosipterus planignathus (holotype IG V13-011) with line drawings.

The incomplete but articulated lower jaw bones of Ordosipterus planignathus (Holotype IG V13-011) with accompanying line drawings.  Note scale bar equals 2 cm.

Picture Credit: Ji/China Geology

The picture (above), shows the anterior portion of the lower jaws of the recently described flying reptile (a) dorsal view, (b) left lateral view and (c) ventral view.  The genus name honours the Ordos region, whilst the species or trivial name translates from the Greek and Latin as “flat-jawed”, in reference to the shape of the lower jaws.

Evidence of a Unique Biota in Northern China/Mongolia during the Early Cretaceous

The finding of a new species of Early Cretaceous (Aptian faunal stage), pterosaur unique to this area of Asia further strengthens the idea that two distinct terrestrial faunas existed.  It has been suggested that during the Early Cretaceous, two separate dinosaur/pterosaur dominated biotas could be identified in China and Mongolia.  The northern fauna was characterised by the presence of Psittacosaurus and a number of pterosaur genera (including Ordosipterus), whilst the southern fauna was distinguished by an absence of psittacosaurs.

The scientific paper: “First record of Early Cretaceous pterosaur from the Ordos Region, Inner Mongolia, China” by Shu-an Ji published in China Geology.

13 10, 2020

A New Basal Abelisaurid is Described “Ghost Hunter”

By | October 13th, 2020|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

A New Basal Abelisaurid – Spectrovenator ragei

Researchers from the Universidade de São Paulo (Brazil), in collaboration with colleagues from the Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio (Argentina), have described a new species of basal abelisaurid from the Early Cretaceous of Brazil.  The theropod has been named Spectrovenator ragei, the genus name translates from the Latin as “Ghost Hunter” as the fossilised remains were found unexpectedly underneath the holotype of the titanosaur Tapuiasaurus macedoi when the fossils of this dinosaur were being partially prepared by the field team.

An Illustration of Spectrovenator ragei with Key Fossils Highlighted that Help to Define the Dinosaur’s Taxonomy

Spectrovenator key fossils.

Key fossil bones that helped to define Spectrovenator taxonomically.  Known fossil material shaded blue.

Picture Credit: Zaher et al

The species or trivial name honours the late Dr Jean-Claude Rage, an eminent French researcher who made a significant contribution to the study of South American Mesozoic vertebrates.

Described from a partially articulated skeleton including a virtually complete skull, the dinosaur is thought to have measured around 2.2 metres in length and it is the first Early Cretaceous abelisaurid known with an almost complete skull.  The cranial material has helped the researchers to demonstrate the evolution of abelisaurid skulls from the earliest, most basal Eoabelisaurus to the abelisaurids that existed in Gondwana during the later stages of the Cretaceous.

Views of the Skull with Accompanying Line Drawings

The Skull of Spectovenator (lateral view with line drawings).

The skull of Spectrovenator ragei (MZSP-PV 833) in (a) right lateral view with (b) line drawing and (c) left lateral view and accompanying line drawing (d).  Scale bar equals 5 cm.

Picture Credit: Zaher et al

With a beautifully preserved skull to study, the scientists have been able to compare the function of the skull and jaws of Spectrovenator with more derived members of the Abelisauridae.  The Early Cretaceous Spectrovenator (Barremian-Aptian), lacks the specialisations, such as a high occipital region and highly flexible jaw joints linked to a modified feeding strategy suggested for much later abelisaurids.  For example, some scientists, think that large-bodied abelisaurids such as Carnotaurus (C. sastrei) specialised in hunting titanosaurs (large prey).  The lack of these specialisations in the skull of Spectrovenator suggests this modified feeding strategy may be restricted to Late Cretaceous abelisaurids and linked to an increase in body size by this type of predatory dinosaur which occurred during the Cenomanian and through to the Maastrichtian.

Phylogenetic relationships of Spectrovenator within the Ceratosauria

Phylogenetic relationships of Spectrovenator within the Ceratosauria.

Phylogenetic relationships of Spectrovenator within the Ceratosauria with a geographical and temporal break down of fossil material.  Spectrovenator is regarded as a basal member of the Abelisauridae.

Picture Credit: Zaher et al

The discovery of Spectrovenator helps to fill a sizeable gap in the evolutionary history of the Abelisauridae.  The earliest member of the Abelisauridae described to date Eoabelisaurus (E. mefi), is known from the Middle Jurassic of Argentina (around 166 million years ago), whilst other abelisaurids such as Rugops and Skorpiovenator are known from Upper Cretaceous sediments (100 million years ago approximately).  Whereas Spectrovenator was found in strata that is approximately 120 million years old.

The scientific paper: “An Early Cretaceous theropod dinosaur from Brazil sheds light on the cranial evolution of the Abelisauridae” by Hussam Zaher, Diego Pol, Bruno Albert Navarro, Rafael Delcourt and Alberto Barbosa Carvalho published in Comptes Rendus Palevol.

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