Gold miners working at Eureka Creek in the Klondike Region of Yukon Province in Canada have discovered the frozen remains of a baby woolly mammoth. The calf, which is female is estimated to have lived around 30,000 years ago and it represents the best-preserved woolly mammoth specimen ever found in North America.
“Big Baby Animal”
The discovery was made on June 21st, the Northern Hemisphere solstice and also appropriately, Canada’s National Indigenous Peoples Day. The Klondike gold fields lie within the Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin Traditional Territory. Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin elders have named the mammoth calf Nun cho ga, meaning “big baby animal” in the indigenous people’s (Hän) language.
Ice Age animal remains are quite commonly found in the Yukon area as they erode out of thawing permafrost, however, mummified remains complete with skin and hair are exceptionally rare.
Minister for Tourism and Culture, Ranj Pillai of the Yukon Territory Administration commented:
“The Yukon has always been an internationally renowned leader for ice age and Beringia research. We are thrilled about this significant discovery of a mummified woolly mammoth calf: Nun cho ga. Without strong partnerships between placer miners, Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin, and the Yukon government, discoveries like this could not happen.”
Vertebrate palaeontologist Dr Grant Zazula added:
“As an ice age palaeontologist, it has been one of my lifelong dreams to come face to face with a real woolly mammoth. That dream came true today. Nun cho ga is beautiful and one of the most incredible mummified ice age animals ever discovered in the world. I am excited to get to know her more.”
Comparisons with Lyuba
The discovery of the superbly preserved corpse will provide scientists with an opportunity to compare Nun cho ga with Lyuba, a mammoth calf discovered in Siberia back in 2007. Lyuba lived a few thousand years earlier than the Yukon mammoth (circa 41,800 years), researchers will have the opportunity to compare the genetic health of the mammoth population and plot any changes between the older Lyuba and Nun cho ga which lived, around 12,000 years later.
The discovery of Nun cho ga is not the first woolly mammoth calf found in North America. In 1948, a partial mammoth calf, nicknamed Effie, was found at a gold mine in Alaska.
Palaeontologists in New Zealand have started a consultation process in a bid to appoint a fossil emblem for New Zealand. Everything Dinosaur has come across media reports that palaeontologists at the University of Otago (South Island, New Zealand), are beginning a project to identify a fossil emblem for the country. Once a shortlist of candidate fossils has been compiled, the winner will be decided by a public vote.
Many Australian states, have fossil emblems, for example, back in January (2022), team members at Everything Dinosaur covered the announcement that the giant amphibian Koolasuchus (K. cleelandi) had been appointed the fossil emblem of Victoria. Now it seems that New Zealand wants to have a fossil emblem too.
Penguins, Plesiosaurs, Trilobites, Dolphins and Giant Prehistoric Birds
New Zealand might not be the first country one thinks about when considering the fossil record. However, several important and unique fossil discoveries have been made on Aotearoa (the Māori name for the country).
The campaign is being led by Dr Nic Rawlence (University of Otago palaeogenetics laboratory), he has suggested some of the country’s giant penguins (Kairuku waewaeroa, Kumimanu biceae, Crossvallia waiparensis), or perhaps one of the early cetaceans or an example of a primitive pinniped (Eomonachus belegaerensis), fossils of which come from the western side of North Island (Taranaki area).
In 2002, the Late Cretaceous plesiosaur Kaiwhekea katiki was formally named and described. The seven-metre-long specimen was excavated from a single, large concretion found at Shag Point, Otago (Katiki Formation). It is one of the most complete plesiosaur specimens known from the Southern Hemisphere.
There are also more recent inhabitants of New Zealand to consider, such as the giant South Island Moa Dinornis robustus, as well as many important invertebrate fossils that date from the Palaeozoic but, our personal choice would be the enormous Haast’s eagle (Hieraaetus moorei), the largest eagle known to science. This huge predator occupied the niche filled by mammalian carnivores in other ecosystems. With a body weight in excess of 15 kilograms and a wingspan of around 3 metres, Haast’s eagle was a formidable and terrifying predator.
Only Recently Extinct
Unlike the trilobites, plesiosaurs, penguins and ancient marine mammals, Haast’s eagle died out relatively recently, not long after the first Māori settlers came to New Zealand.
It has not been decided yet whether a single fossil specimen should become the national emblem, or whether there would be two emblems designated, one for South Island and one for North Island.
A shortlist is due to be announced in the near future and then a public vote will decide on the winner(s).
If New Zealand appoints a fossil emblem, then perhaps the UK or the countries that make up the United Kingdom could consider having fossil emblems too.
A cross-sectional analysis of a pterosaur wing bone has helped palaeontologists to work out the ages and growth stages of flying reptiles from the Early Cretaceous Jiufotang Formation of China. This research suggests that the Jehol tapejarid biota represents a migratory area for these pterosaurs.
Writing in the academic journal “Scientific Reports”, researchers from Shandong University of Science and Technology (China) in collaboration with the University of Birmingham, took a tiny cross section of bone from the left forelimb of a pterosaur specimen assigned to the genus Sinopterus. Detailed analysis of the bone structure revealed that the fossil came from an immature individual at a late juvenile stage prior to reaching sexual maturity. This is the first time that histological data about the growth stages of Jehol tapejarids has been undertaken and based on this study, the largest skeletally immature tapejarid individuals recorded from the Jiufotang Formation might have reached sexual maturity.
At Least a Year Old
Microscopic analysis of the internal structure of the bone revealed the presence of one line of arrested growth (LAG) suggesting that this specimen was over a year old when it died. Palaeontologists have proposed that pterosaurs had a remarkably fast growth rate in their first three years and the postulated size of the pterosaur based on SDUST-V1014 fits with this hypothesis.
The Jehol biota relating to the Pterosauria is dominated by immature individuals and skeletally mature adults are exceptionally rare. The researchers postulate that this ecosystem was not home to the adults, that they may have lived apart from juveniles and immature animals. Perhaps this part of northern China was on a migratory route for these types of flying reptiles.
Improving Our Knowledge of Tapejarid Anatomy
Although crushed, the forelimb bones reveal helpful morphological information clarifying the anatomy of Jehol tapejarids and the researchers suggest that this improved understanding could lead to a revision of the taxa associated with the Jiufotang Formation.
In addition, this histological analysis permits comparison with other pterosaur growth rates and the researchers conclude that the size gap between sexual and skeletal maturity in tapejarids was very similar to that observed in the not very closely related Pteranodon genus (Ornithocheiroidea).
The scientific paper: “A new wing skeleton of the Jehol tapejarid Sinopterus and its implications for ontogeny and paleoecology of the Tapejaridae” by Chang-Fu Zhou, Dongxiang Yu, Ziheng Zhu and Brian Andres published in scientific reports.
Over the last few weeks, team members at Everything Dinosaur have been enjoying “Palaeontology an Illustrated History” by Dr David Bainbridge. A beautifully illustrated book that examines the art and science of palaeontology from its earliest origins to the modern discipline it is today.
This skilfully crafted publication provides an insight not only into the way that the study of fossils and past life has changed, but looks in detail at how famous fossil discoveries have been interpreted and depicted. The work and illustrations of Mary Anning feature, along with reflections on the influence of such luminaries as Georges Cuvier, Charles Darwin, Jenny Clack and Roy Chapman Andrews.
Splendid Sketches, Engravings and Computer-generated Images
Divided into four main chapters, the author takes the reader on a journey through the history of palaeontology and the artwork associated with key fossil discoveries and ground-breaking research. David Bainbridge brings to life the people and the stories behind some of the most significant developments in the Earth sciences. Illustrations of early sketches, engravings as well as state-of-the-art computer-generated images providing a perfect accompaniment demonstrating how our views of the ancient world and the animals contained therein have changed.
Palaeontology and the Artists that Illustrate Scientific Discoveries
The author, a comparative anatomist at the University of Cambridge, explains how our perceptions regarding prehistoric animals have been changed by their depiction on the big screen, perhaps most famously in King Kong (1933) and Jurassic Park, which was premiered some sixty years later. He looks at how palaeoart has developed from the early influencers such as Charles Knight through the work of Neave Parker and how modern-day palaeoartists work with researchers to produce illustrations that accompany scientific papers.
A Comprehensive Account
“Paleontology an Illustrated History” is a most enjoyable and comprehensive account demonstrating how art and scientific enquiry combine to help inform, enlighten and educate.
Published by Princeton University Press
100+ colour illustrations
To purchase this excellent book, visit the Princeton University Press website and search for “David Bainbridge”, the Princeton University Press site is here: Princeton University Press.
The fossil record is rich and diverse however, it only represents a tiny fraction of all the life that has ever existed on Earth. In addition, some fossils can be easily confused and misinterpreted, for example, we recall an incident that occurred when visiting the National Museum Cardiff (Wales). We overhead a conversation in the Evolution of Wales gallery, a mother was pointing out a dinosaur jaw fossil to her children.
The object was not the fossilised remains of a dinosaur, this was not a jaw at all, but the preserved remains in lateral view of the claw of a large sea scorpion (eurypterid).
We can understand how the confusion arose, the fossilised claw does resemble a jaw. The fossil exhibit featuring several examples of Palaeozoic invertebrates was clearly labelled and the gallery layout guides readers from the Big Bang to the present day in chronological order. There are plenty of helpful panels providing information and explanations, all helping to educate and inform.
One of the children corrected the grown-up, pointing out that the dinosaurs lived in the Mesozoic.
We shared a smile and moved on to view some of the other amazing exhibits housed in this excellent museum.
The discovery of a titanosaurid egg, preserved inside another titanosaur egg (ovum-in-ovo) adds weight to the theory that dinosaurs had a reproduction strategy very similar to birds. This discovery opens up the possibility that dinosaurs laid their eggs sequentially like birds, whereas other reptiles tend to lay eggs simultaneously as a clutch.
The researchers from the University of Delhi in collaboration with a colleague from the Higher Secondary School (Dhar District, Madhya Pradesh), documented the contents of a titanosaur nest discovered in Upper Cretaceous deposits (Maastrichtian stage) from the Lameta Formation exposed in the lower Narmada valley. The Lameta Formation is famous for its titanosaur nest fossils, hundreds of individual nests have been recorded. The titanosaur nest which records a rare example of an abnormal egg is known as P7, it is one of fifty-two titanosaur nests that have been mapped around the village of Padlya.
Titanosaur Nest P7
The titanosaur nest P7 preserves eleven large, round eggs which are placed in a circular arrangement entombed within a block of sandy limestone. Not all the eggs are entire, some of the eggshell is missing. They could represent broken shells after the eggs hatched or the missing shell elements may have been eroded away.
One egg (egg C) records unusual pathology. Two partially broken, circular eggshell outlines are preserved, with a prominent crescent-shaped gap between the two eggshells present in the top right corner (see line drawing). Egg C has been interpreted as an example of an abnormal egg, one egg containing another egg within it. This type of egg pathology is termed ovum-in-ovo and this is the first time this has been reported in a dinosaur. Ovum-in-ovo eggs are found in birds but no such egg pathology has been reported in a reptile (living or extinct). This discovery suggests that titanosaurids had a reproductive system similar to that of birds.
Different Types of Egg Pathology
Abnormal egg formation has been documented in many types of amniote (undergoing foetal or embryonic development within a protective membrane, the amnion), such as turtles, dinosaurs and birds. Two main examples of egg pathology are known. There is a condition where one egg forms within another egg (ovum-in-ovo) and a second condition in which multi-shelled eggs are formed, essentially the formation of a second eggshell layer beside the primary eggshell.
If Egg C represents an example of ovum-in-ovo egg laying in a dinosaur, then this egg deformity will only have been recorded in the Dinosauria and birds, suggesting similar reproductive biology. In birds, when an egg is fully formed it is pushed into the cloaca to be laid one-by-one. Eggs are not laid as clutch, but egg laying can take place sequentially over several days. In birds such as hens (Galliformes), egg laying can be suspended if conditions are unfavourable. However, crocodiles and turtles tend to lay all their eggs at the same time, as a single clutch. Both turtles and crocodiles have two oviducts, but crocodiles are more derived than turtles possessing a segmented oviduct and share this derived trait with the birds.
The structure of the oviduct dictates the sort of egg abnormalities that can occur. The ovum-in-ovo pathology as observed in the titanosaur eggs has led the researchers to hypothesise that titanosaurs possessed a segmented oviduct similar to birds and crocodiles, but unlike crocodilians they were capable of laying eggs sequentially.
Building up a Picture of Titanosaurid Reproductive Strategy
Turtles, crocodiles, dinosaurs and birds all share the common trait of having multi-shelled eggs. Both turtles and crocodiles have two oviducts, but crocodiles are more derived than turtles in that they possess a segmented oviduct, a characteristic that they share with birds.
This new study suggests that at least one type of dinosaur (titanosaurids) had an oviduct anatomy and biology similar to modern birds. Titanosaurs may have been capable of laying eggs sequentially, just like birds.
Palaeontologists are building up a detailed picture of titanosaur reproductive behaviour. These sauropods had favoured nesting sites, which they returned to, they nested in colonies, excavated nests and covered the nests to incubate the eggs and they may have laid their eggs not as a single clutch but sequentially over several days.
The scientific report: “First ovum-in-ovo pathological titanosaurid egg throws light on the reproductive biology of sauropod dinosaurs” by Harsha Dhiman, Vishal Verma & Guntupalli V. R. Prasad published in Scientific Reports.
Researchers have identified the oldest preserved umbilical scar (umbilicus) in the fossilised remains of a dinosaur (Psittacosaurus). The equivalent of our “belly button”, this is the first dinosaur specimen to demonstrate an umbilical scar.
The “Belly Button” in Placental Mammals
Placental mammals such as humans (Homo sapiens) have an umbilical cord that connects the growing embryo to the placenta. It provides a supply line for nutrients, gaseous exchange and the removal of waste products. Our “belly button”, the navel, is the scar that is left when the last fragment of the umbilical detaches from the baby shortly after the cord has been cut.
Reptiles and living avian dinosaurs (birds) do not have a true umbilical cord. However, whilst inside the egg, the embryo’s abdomen is connected to the yolk sac, which provides the developing embryo with a food source. The umbilical scar (umbilicus), appears when the embryo detaches from the yolk sac and other membranes.
In most living reptiles and birds this umbilical scar persists for only a few days, although in some genera the scar can persist and be found in adult animals, the Rock pigeon (Columba livia) for example. Scales on the bellies of snakes, lizards and crocodilians often preserve faint traces of the umbilicus, it being marked by a subtle change in scale morphology and alignment.
The Remarkable Senckenberg Psittacosaurus
The researchers who included Dr Phil Bell (University of New England, New South Wales, Australia) and Dr Michael Pittman (The Chinese University of Hong Kong), subjected the superbly-preserved Senckenberg Psittacosaurus specimen (SMF R 4970) to examination under laser-stimulated fluorescence (LSF). Using this imaging technique, the team were able to identify the umbilical scar as a midline structure outlined by a row of paired scales on the abdomen.
The remarkable Senckenberg Psittacosaurus specimen preserves extensive soft tissues including skin, it has provided palaeontologists with a rare insight into the integumentary covering of an early member of the horned dinosaur lineage. The skeleton is so precious that no form of destructive bone histology was permitted, but by measuring the length of the thighbones (femora) of this fossil and comparing these measurements to the length of the thigh bones from other Psittacosaurus fossils, which had been subjected to ontogenetic study, the researchers concluded that the Senckenberg specimen was close to being sexually mature.
This suggests that the umbilicus was probably retained in psittacosaurids throughout their lives.
Whilst this is the first, definitive proof of an umbilical scar in the Dinosauria, it is not possible to infer from this study whether all dinosaurs retained the umbilicus into adulthood.
A Legal Debate Surrounding SMF R 4970
The Psittacosaurus sp. specimen (SMF R 4970) is on public display in the Dinosaurs Unlimited permanent exhibition at the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum Frankfurt, Frankfurt, Germany. Team members at Everything Dinosaur have had the opportunity to view this remarkable fossil.
The legal ownership of this fossil is disputed and there have been attempts to have this specimen repatriated to China.
The scientific paper: “Oldest preserved umbilical scar reveals dinosaurs had “belly buttons” by Phil R. Bell, Christophe Hendrickx, Michael Pittman and Thomas G. Kaye published in BMC Biology.
Last week, the discovery of the fossilised bones of a huge spinosaurid from the Isle of Wight was reported*. This giant theropod, with an estimated length of around ten metres, could be the biggest meat-eating dinosaur described from European fossils, but the largest theropod known to science is thought to be Spinosaurus aegyptiacus, which was first reported from the Bahariya Formation of Egypt.
Spinosaurus had plenty of company, several large theropods have been named and described from fossils from the Upper Cretaceous (Cenomanian), Bahariya Oasis, Western Desert of Egypt and a newly published paper confirms the presence of abelisaurids in this ancient ecosystem too.
Cervical Vertebra Fossil Discovery
A 2016 expedition led by researchers from the Mansoura University Vertebrate Palaeontology Centre, (Mansoura, Egypt), unearthed a single neck bone (10th cervical vertebra), a formal description of this specimen (MUVP 477) has been published in Royal Society Open Science.
Similar to the Cervical Vertebrae of Majungasaurus and Carnotaurus
The neckbone is strikingly similar to the cervical vertebrae of Majungasaurus from the Late Cretaceous of Madagascar and the cervical vertebrae of Carnotaurus, fossils of which are associated with Upper Cretaceous deposits of Argentina. Phylogenetic analysis places the Bahariya Formation specimen within the Abelisauridae, but the absence of any further fossil material has restricted the taxonomic classification to the family level (a similar taxonomic position to that of the “White Rock spinosaurid” described from fragmentary bones found on the Isle of Wight).
Based on measurements of the cervical vertebra the Bahariya Formation abelisaurid is estimated to have had a body length of between 5.3 and 6.3 metres, indicating that this fossil represents a mid-sized member of the Abelisauridae with a body size similar to Rugops, Majungasaurus, Viavenator and Xenotarsosaurus bonapartei.
The First Definitive Proof of Abelisaurids and the Oldest from North-eastern Africa
Specimen number MUVP 477 is not only the first definitive proof of the presence of abelisaurids with the Bahariya Formation biota, but with an estimated age of approximately 98 million years, this fossil is also the oldest record of the Abelisauria clade in Egypt and north-eastern Africa generally.
Providing a Key for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History Life Reconstruction
The stunning prehistoric scene (Andrew McAfee/Carnegie Museum of Natural History) shows, the mid-sized abelisaurid (far right) confronting the giant theropod Spinosaurus aegyptiacus which is holding a dipnoan (lungfish) Retodus tuberculatus in its jaws.
The large carcharodontosaurid Carcharodontosaurus saharicus can be seen in the centre background. Two stomatosuchid crocodyliforms (Stomatosuchus inermis) can be seen on the far left, whilst in the background a trio of Paralititan stromeri walk by. A pair of bahariasaurids are located just behind the tail of the abelisaurid whilst a flock of pterosaurs soar overhead. The vegetation is dominated by the mangrove-like tree fern Weichselia reticulata.
The presence of so many large predators in the biota suggests that the Bahariya Formation ecosystem was extremely rich, even so, it is likely that the different types of theropod exhibited niche-partitioning, with coeval genera exploiting different resources.
The scientific paper: “First definitive record of Abelisauridae (Theropoda: Ceratosauria) from the Cretaceous Bahariya Formation, Bahariya Oasis, Western Desert of Egypt” by Belal S. Salem, Matthew C. Lamanna, Patrick M. O’Connor, Gamal M. El-Qot, Fatma Shaker, Wael A. Thabet, Sanaa El-Sayed and Hesham M. Sallam published by Royal Society Open Science.
Scientists have identified two partial pterosaur thigh bones that despite one being at least ten million years older than the other, have been identified as belonging to the same type of flying reptile (Anhangueria). Furthermore, one of the bones preserves a potential bite mark tentatively attributed to a crocodilian.
Two Rare Australian Pterosaur Fossils
The researchers who include famous Australian vertebrate palaeontologists Patricia Vickers-Rich and Thomas Rich report that the two bones although found over 200 miles apart, both come from pterosaurs from the same pterosaur clade (Anhangueria).
Specimen number NMV P231549 was collected in 1991 at Slashers Creek Station, southeast of the small town of Boulia (Queensland), from Toolebuc Formation deposits (middle to upper Albian) and is believed to be at least 100 million years old.
Specimen number AODF 2297 was found in 2004 at Belmont Station, around 35 miles northeast of the town of Winton in Queensland. It came from deposits associated with the “upper” Winton Formation (Cenomanian-lowermost Turonian stage of the Late Cretaceous). It is estimated to be around 10 million years younger.
Although pterosaur fossils are exceptionally rare in Australia and most specimens are extremely fragmentary, their three-dimensional preservation has enabled palaeontologists to learn a great deal about the type of pterosaurs that ranged over this part of Gondwana during the Cretaceous.
Lead author of the scientific paper describing these pterosaur bones, Adele Pentland (PhD student at Swinburne University, Melbourne, Victoria), was also the lead author of another scientific paper published in 2019 which described another anhanguerid pterosaur Ferrodraco lentoni.
The Winton Formation fossil preserves a potential bite mark, that the researchers have tentatively proposed was made by a crocodylomorph. It is not known whether this feeding trace represents predation or post-mortem scavenging.
The scientists conclude that these new pterosaur fossils are a valuable addition to the meagre list of pterosaur specimens found in Australia and attest to the cosmopolitan distribution of anhanguerians during the Early and early Late Cretaceous.
The scientific paper: “New anhanguerian pterosaur remains from the Lower Cretaceous of Queensland, Australia” by Adele H. Pentland, Stephen F. Poropat, Matt A. White, Samantha L. Rigby, Patricia Vickers-Rich, Thomas H. Rich and David A. Elliott published in Alcheringa: An Australian Journal of Palaeontology.
A new species of short-snouted troodontid has been named and described based on fossils found in the Upper Cretaceous Wulansuhai Formation at Bayan Manduhu, Inner Mongolia. This little dinosaur has been named Papiliovenator neimengguensis.
Everything Dinosaur team members have been busy updating readers about new dinosaurs named and described this year (see below*), the formal scientific paper announcing this new troodontid was published earlier in the spring, but information about the fossils attributed as the holotype material had been circulating for some time.
Named From Strangely Shaped Dorsal Vertebrae
Known from a nearly complete skull and fragmentary, semi-articulated postcranial material thought to represent a single, individual animal, Papiliovenator means “butterfly hunter”. This little carnivore, which was less than a metre long, might well have hunted butterflies and other members of the Lepidoptera, but the derivation of the genus name does not reflect this dinosaur’s diet. Instead, it was the unusual shape of the neural arches associated with the two dorsal vertebrae closest to the neck of this dinosaur that inspired the genus name. When viewed from above (dorsal view), these neural arches are butterfly-shaped.
Unusual for a Late Cretaceous Troodontid
The researchers report that Papiliovenator was unusual among Late Cretaceous troodontids in having a fairly deep, short-snouted skull. This skull shape is seen in geologically older troodontids known from the Early Cretaceous. Most other Late Cretaceous troodontids have long, low snouts, except for the smaller Almas ukhaa from the Campanian-aged Djadochta Formation of Mongolia. Coincidently, Rui Pei of the Chinese Academy of Sciences was the lead author of the scientific paper naming and describing A. ukhaa (Pei et al, 2017). Rui Pei is the lead author of the paper describing Papiliovenator.
The fossils are thought to represent a sub-adult animal. The discovery of Papiliovenator neimengguensis allows for an improved understanding of troodontid anatomy, as well as helping to highlight the regional variation of troodontids from the Upper Cretaceous of the Gobi Basin.
The scientific paper: “A new troodontid from the Upper Cretaceous Gobi Basin of inner Mongolia, China” by Rui Pei, Yuying Qin, Aishu Wen, Qi Zhao, Zhe Wang, Zhanmin Liu, Weilesi Guo, Po Liu, Weiming Ye, Lanyun Wang, Zhigang Yin, Ruiming Dai and Xing Xu published in Cretaceous Research.