All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
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Pictures of fossils, fossil hunting trips, fossil sites and photographs relating to fossil hunting and fossil finds.

17 02, 2021

Million-Year-Old DNA Sheds Light on Mammoth Evolution

By | February 17th, 2021|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Million-Year-Old DNA Sheds Light on Mammoth Evolution

A paper that sheds light on the evolutionary history of the mammoth has been published this week.  Scientists led by researchers from the Centre for Palaeogenetics (a joint venture between Stockholm University and the Swedish Museum of Natural History), sequenced DNA recovered from mammoth remains that are up to 1.2 million years old.  The analyses revealed that the Columbian mammoth which inhabited North America during the last ice age was a hybrid between the woolly mammoth and a previously unknown genetic lineage of mammoth.  Furthermore, the study provides new insights into when and how fast mammoths became adapted to cold climate.

Ancient Mammoth DNA Provides New Insights into How These Mammals Adapted to Cold Climates

Siberian Steppe Mammoths.

Siberian Steppe mammoths provided their descendants with many adaptations that helped these descendants adapt and thrive in cold environments.

Picture Credit: Beth Zaiken (Centre for Palaeogenetics)

Commenting on the importance of this study, senior author Love Dalén, a Professor of evolutionary genetics at the Centre for Palaeogenetics stated:

“This DNA is incredibly old.  The samples are a thousand times older than Viking remains and even pre-date the existence of humans and Neanderthals.”

Tracing the Evolutionary History of an Iconic Ice Age Elephant

Around one million years ago there were no Columbian or Woolly mammoths, these creatures had not evolved.  This was the time of their predecessor, the Steppe mammoth (Mammuthus trogontherii), a prehistoric elephant which was very widely dispersed across Eurasia.  Fossils have been found in the UK, perhaps most famously at West Runton on the Norfolk coast.  Steppe mammoth fossils are also known from much of Europe and as far away as China.  The research team extracted tiny amounts of DNA from mammoth teeth ranging in age from around 700,000 to 1.2 million years of age, that had been found eroding out of the Siberian permafrost.

An Illustration of Mammuthus trogontherii (Steppe Mammoth)

Steppe Mammoth illustration.

An illustration of a Steppe mammoth (Mammuthus trogontherii).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Professor Dalén added:

“This is the first time that DNA has been sequenced and authenticated from million-year-old specimens and extracting the DNA from the samples was challenging.”

Unexpected Results

Analyses of the genomes showed that the oldest specimen, which was approximately 1.2 million years old, belonged to a previously unknown genetic lineage of mammoth.  The researchers refer to this as the Krestovka mammoth, based on the Siberian locality where the fossil teeth were found.  Writing in the academic journal Nature, the scientists report that the Krestovka mammoth diverged from other Siberian mammoths more than two million years ago.

Tom van der Valk from the Centre for Palaeogenetics, the paper’s  lead author explained:

“This came as a complete surprise to us.  All previous studies have indicated that there was only one species of mammoth in Siberia at that point in time, called the Steppe mammoth.  But our DNA analyses now show that there were two different genetic lineages, which we here refer to as the Adycha mammoth and the Krestovka mammoth.  We can’t say for sure yet, but we think these may represent two different species.”

The Columbian Mammoth was a Hybrid

The research team proposes that it was mammoths that belonged to the Krestovka lineage that colonised North America some 1.5 million years ago.  Furthermore, the analyses show that the Columbian mammoth that inhabited North America during the last ice age, was a hybrid.  Roughly half of its genome came from the Krestovka lineage and the other half from the Woolly mammoth.

Co-author Patrícia Pečnerová from the Swedish Museum of Natural History commented:

“This is an important discovery.  It appears that the Columbian mammoth, one of the most iconic Ice Age species of North America, evolved through a hybridisation that took place approximately 420 thousand years ago.”

Genomic Data (DNA) Extracted from a Mammoth Tooth Approximately 1.2 Million Years Old

The Krestokva mammoth tooth.

Views of the mammoth tooth more than 1.2 million years old from which ancient DNA was extracted.  Note scale bar = 5 cm.

Picture Credit: Natural History Museum of Stockholm

Plotting Mammoth Evolution

The scientists could now compare the genome from mammoths covering a span of one million years.  This made it possible to investigate how mammoths became adapted to a life in cold environments and to what extent these adaptations evolved during the speciation process.  The analyses showed that gene variants associated with life in the Arctic, such as hair growth, thermoregulation, fat deposits, cold tolerance and circadian rhythms, were already present in the million-year-old mammoth, long before the origin of the Mammuthus primigenius (Woolly mammoth).  These results suggest that most adaptations in the mammoth lineage happened slowly and gradually over time.

It may be possible to recover even older DNA from the permafrost of Siberia.   The researchers speculate that genomic data could be recovered from fossilised teeth that dates back more than two million years, perhaps as far back into deep time as 2.6 million years.  Unfortunately, there is a limit to what can be achieved with the current technology and prior to 2.6 million years ago, there was no permafrost where ancient DNA could have been preserved.

The mammoth DNA represents the oldest genomic data known to science.  In 2013, Everything Dinosaur reported on genomic data that was recovered from the leg bone of horse found in Canada.  The horse specimen was approximately 700,000 years old.  To read more about this remarkable research: The Rocking Horse – Ancient Fossil Decodes Horse Evolution.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from the Centre for Palaeogenetics in the compilation of this article.

The scientific paper: “Million-year-old DNA sheds light on the genomic history of mammoths” by Tom van der Valk, Patrícia Pečnerová, David Díez-del-Molino, Anders Bergström, Jonas Oppenheimer, Stefanie Hartmann, Georgios Xenikoudakis, Jessica A. Thomas, Marianne Dehasque, Ekin Sağlıcan, Fatma Rabia Fidan, Ian Barnes, Shanlin Liu, Mehmet Somel, Peter D. Heintzman, Pavel Nikolskiy, Beth Shapiro, Pontus Skoglund, Michael Hofreiter, Adrian M. Lister, Anders Götherström and Love Dalén published in the journal Nature.

16 02, 2021

How Long is a Dinosaur’s Tail?

By | February 16th, 2021|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

How Long is a Dinosaur’s Tail?

How long is the tail of a dinosaur?  That’s a good question, one that has quite a complicated answer, but if a definitive assessment of the morphology of caudal vertebrae (tail bones) of the Dinosauria could be carried out, then palaeontologists would be better able to piece together (literally), the tails of dinosaurs and assess their length from even fragmentary remains.

The Tail of the North African Sauropod Atlasaurus

Atlasaurus Caudal Vertebrae (auction exhibit).

An Atlasaurus partial tail on display in the foyer of the BBVA Bancomer Tower (Mexico City).   A new study suggests that the tails of dinosaurs were very varied in their form, shape and function.

Picture Credit: Reuters/Daniel Becerril

Research led by Dr David Hone (Queen Mary University of London), in collaboration with colleague Dr Steven Le Comber (who sadly passed away in 2019) and Dr Scott Persons of Mace Brown Museum of Natural History (Charleston, South Carolina, USA), permitted a comprehensive dataset of dinosaur tails to be built up.  The data indicates that there is considerable variation in the caudal vertebrae of members of the Dinosauria.  The number of tail bones varies, as does their morphology (shape).  In addition, overall length of the tail as a proportion of body size is inconsistent within the very diverse dinosaur clade.

With such variation, comparing tails of different genera or even dinosaurs from the same family will prove troublesome.

However, the scientists did identify some general patterns that could prove useful when it comes to learning about a genus with only a few tail bones to work with.

What’s in a Tail?  The Great Variation within the Tails of Dinosaurs

Different types of dinosaur tail.

Examples of different dinosaur tails.  Note scale bar = 1 metre.

Picture Credit: Hone et al (PeerJ) with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

General Principles of Dinosaur Tails

Patterns of changes in centra lengths (the central part of each vertebra) along the tails of dinosaurs do vary.  However, the researchers did identify some general principles in terms of the bones that make up the tails.  For example, when viewing the tail bones from the base of the tail down to the tip, several different dinosaurs show a pattern of short centra, followed by a sequence of longer centra, with the remainder of the tail being made up of a long series of centra tapering in length.

The team suggest that this general pattern is consistent with the function of different parts of the tail, the longer centra quite near to the base of the tail help to provide support for the attachment of the large muscles associated with the top of the leg and this region of the tail.  This general pattern is not found in many early types of dinosaur, so the researchers conclude that this trait must have evolved independently in different kinds of dinosaurs over time.

A Reconstruction of the Tail of an Edmontosaurus

Edmontosaurus tail bones.

The reconstructed tail of the hadrosaurid Edmontosaurus.  The research team were able to identify a general pattern of bone morphology and size in a number of derived dinosaur taxa.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Deducing Form and Function

Writing in the on-line journal “PeerJ”, the scientists state that the number of vertebrae in a given section of tail can indicate its flexibility or its stiffness.  The more vertebrae recorded over a given distance then it is likely that this section of tail was quite flexible.  Conversely, the fewer joints in any length of tail will imply reduced flexibility.

General conclusions about dinosaur tails could be made, for example:

  1. The base of many dinosaur tails was flexible and allowed virtually the whole tail to be swung as a collective whole, helping to stabilise the animal as it moved and perhaps also having a defensive function in some herbivores.
  2. Just passed the tail base there was a zone of relative stiffness that supported the muscles associated with the tail and rear legs (caudofemoralis musculature).
  3. After the termination of the caudofemoralis and for a highly variable distance, the remaining vertebrae tapered to a reduced size.

The scientific paper: “New data on tail lengths and variation along the caudal series in the non-avialan dinosaurs” by David W. E. Hone, W. Scott Persons and Steven C. Le Comber published in PeerJ.

11 02, 2021

Elasmosaurs Lived In Rivers

By | February 11th, 2021|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Fluvionectes sloanae – Late Cretaceous Freshwater Elasmosaurid

Researchers based in Canada have identified the remains of a Late Cretaceous elasmosaur from fossil remains found in Alberta.  Fossils of these large, long-necked plesiosaurs are not unknown from North America, but significantly these fossils were found in rocks laid down in a non-marine environment.  This suggests that this elasmosaur named Fluvionectes sloanae, spent at least some of its time in freshwater.

An Artist’s Reconstruction of Fluvionectes sloanae Hunting Fish in a Freshwater Environment

Fluvionectes sloanae life reconstruction.

Fluvionectes sloanae hunting fish in a river.

Picture Credit: Andrea Elena Noriega

“River Swimmer”

Fossils of plesiosaurs occur throughout the Dinosaur Park Formation but they are generally rare, fragmentary and poorly preserved.  As a result, these fossils have attracted little scientific attention although they were first documented by Lawrence Lambe back in 1902.

This specimen is different, it consists of a partial disarticulated skeleton made up of a single tooth, numerous vertebrae, ribs, parts of the pectoral and pelvic girdles and elements from the left forelimb and left hindlimb.  The bones and the tooth were collected from a stratum immediately overlying the basalmost coal bed of the Lethbridge Coal Zone in the Dinosaur Park Formation with the first material discovered in 1990.  It is the most complete example of an elasmosaurid found to date in the Dinosaur Park Formation and as such, the researchers have been able to formally describe the specimen and assign it a scientific name – Fluvionectes sloanae. The genus name translates as “river swimmer”, a reference to the fact that the fossils come from alluvial deposits believed to have been laid down at least 100 kilometres inland from the Western Interior Seaway.  The species name honours Donna Sloan who discovered the holotype, and in recognition of her service to palaeontology, both in the field and as the scientific illustrator at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology (Drumheller, Alberta).

Quarry Map and Skeletal Reconstruction of F. sloanae

Colour coded quarry map showing location of F. sloanae fossil material.

Quarry map and skeletal reconstruction of F. sloanae.  The fossil material was found scattered over an area of around 2.5 square metres.

Picture Credit: Campbell et al (PeerJ)

A Freshwater Predator

A taxonomic analysis conducted by the scientists which included Dr James Campbell of the University of Calgary and Mark Mitchell, a technician at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, failed to resolve definitively the exact taxonomic relationship of Fluvionectes within the Elasmosauridae, but the team were able to conclude that the fossil remains probably represent a young adult that was approximately 5.6 metres long when it died.

Fragmentary fossils of potentially larger elasmosaurids, representing animals around seven metres in length have been found in the Dinosaur Park Formation.  Some of these specimens might represent the Fluvionectes genus.

Views of the Vertebrae Associated with Fluvionectes sloanae

Vertebrae associated with the elasmosaurid Fluvionectes sloanae.

Fluvionectes sloanae – examples of vertebrae.

Picture Credit: Campbell et al (PeerJ)

Did Some Juvenile Elasmosaurs Live in Freshwater?

Intriguingly, the elasmosaurid fossils found in the Dinosaur Park Formation (non-marine deposition), are relatively small when compared to elasmosaurid fossils found in offshore, marine deposits such as the Pierre Shale or Bearpaw formations.  Large elasmosaur fossil bones have not been found in the Dinosaur Park Formation.  It could be speculated that juvenile elasmosaurs ventured into estuarine environments and freshwater river systems before relocating to marine environments when they reached maturity.

This is not the first example of a marine reptile, normally associated with marine environments been found in freshwater.  To read Everything Dinosaur’s 2013 article about the discovery of a freshwater Pliosaur in Australia: Freshwater Pliosaur from Cretaceous Australia.

To read our article about a freshwater Mosasaur: Freshwater Mosasaur from a Hungarian Bauxite Mine.

The scientific paper: “A new elasmosaurid (Sauropterygia: Plesiosauria) from the non-marine to paralic Dinosaur Park Formation of southern Alberta, Canada” by James A. Campbell, Mark T. Mitchell, Michael J. Ryan and Jason S. Anderson published in PeerJ.

5 02, 2021

Horned Dinosaurs Evolved Frills to Attract Mates

By | February 5th, 2021|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Horned Dinosaurs Evolved Frills to Attract Mates

The ornate and very diverse head crests and frills of horned dinosaurs (ceratopsians) probably evolved to help them attract a mate.  That is the conclusion from a study recently published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.  Ever since the first horned dinosaurs were discovered, palaeontologists have debated why these plant-eating dinosaurs evolved such elaborate neck shields (these features are produced by elaborate extensions to the parietal and squamosal skull bones).  It had been thought that these frills provided some protection from attack from theropod dinosaurs such as the contemporaneous tyrannosaurs, or perhaps they had a role in thermoregulation.  With so many different types of large ceratopsians known from the Late Cretaceous of North America it had also been suggested that these crests and frills played a role in species recognition.  An extensive analysis of the skulls of “first horned face” – Protoceratops (P. andrewsi), suggests that they played a role in sexual selection.

A Reconstruction of the Skeleton of Protoceratops (P. andrewsi)

Protoceratops skeleton on display.

A skeleton of a Protoceratops on display.  The elaborate head crest complete with fenestrae (two large holes), probably evolved as a result of sexual selection.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Sexual Selection

Sexual selection is a method of natural selection in which members of one biological sex choose mates of the other sex to mate with.  Certain characteristics in organisms are favoured by members of the opposite sex and organisms that possess the favoured feature(s) are the ones that breed.  This leads over time to these preferred characteristics becoming more intricate and elaborate.  There are plenty of examples to be found in the natural world today, most certainly amongst the closest living relatives of the Dinosauria the birds.  The elaborate but cumbersome tails of peacocks for instance, or the ornate and very beautiful plumes of the birds of paradise.

A Male Goldie’s Bird of Paradise Displays to Attract a Mate

Goldie's bird of paradise (male) displays.

A Goldie’s bird of paradise displays.  The ornate feathers on this beautiful male are an example of sexual selection.

Picture Credit: Tim Laman/National Geographic Image Collection

The researchers, which included scientists from the Natural History Museum (London) and Queen Mary University of London, used computer modelling to map how the skull of Protoceratops changed as the dinosaur grew.  Protoceratops has a rich and extensive fossil record.  Hundreds of specimens have been found ranging from embryos in unhatched eggs up to large, very old adults.  This extensive fossil record made this type of horned dinosaur an ideal candidate for this study.

The Fossilised Remains of a Young Protoceratops

A baby Protoceratops skeleton.

The fossilised remains of a young Protoceratops.  The extensive fossil record of Protoceratops made it an ideal candidate for a study into sexual selection.

Picture Credit: Gregory Erickson (Florida State University)

Sexual selection is predicted to be an important driver of evolution.  It influences adaptation and the development of new species.  There are anatomical traits and characteristics that can be identified in the fossil record that indicate sexual selection within a species is at work.   The fossilised skulls of horned dinosaurs can be studied to see if any of these traits and characteristics can be found.

Predicted characteristics of horned dinosaur skulls that indicate sexual selection having an influence include:

  • Low integration with the rest of the skull.
  • A significantly higher rate of change in size and shape as the dinosaur grows.
  • A higher morphological variance in the parietal and squamosal when compared to other bones of the skull.

The computer modelling used to assess these traits supported the theory that sexual selection was at work within Protoceratops andrewsi.

No Evidence of Sexual Dimorphism in Protoceratops

Whilst it is notoriously difficult to identify males from females using just the fossil record, the large number of Protoceratops specimens gave the researchers the opportunity to see if they could spot evidence of male Protoceratops having different skull frills compared to the females.  Although the research involved a substantial sample set, no evidence of sexual dimorphism in skull shape was found.  This suggests that either there were no differences in frill shape between the boys and the girls or that any differences between the genders was very small.

The scientific paper supports the idea that the elaborate frills of horned dinosaurs did play a role in sexual selection.  Scientists have suspected that many of these strange anatomical features found in the Dinosauria were linked to sexual selection and display.  This evidence is extremely hard to find using the fossil record alone, however, the computer modelling and in-depth analysis used here provides evidence for the presence of signalling structures linked to sexual selection in Protoceratops andrewsi.

The scientific paper: “Three-dimensional geometric morphometric analysis of the skull of Protoceratops andrewsi supports a socio-sexual signalling role for the ceratopsian frill” by A. Knapp, R. J. Knell and D. W. E. Hone published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

4 02, 2021

Preparing Information Panels for a Dinosaur Exhibition

By | February 4th, 2021|Dinosaur Fans, Educational Activities, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils, Teaching|0 Comments

Preparing Information Panels for a Dinosaur Exhibition

Everything Dinosaur team members have been asked by an events company to check some information panels about dinosaurs in preparation for a series of outdoor exhibitions planned for the UK in the summer of 2021.  Events companies are making plans to commence exhibitions and other public activities as the lockdown restrictions are likely to come to an end later on this year (hopefully).

One of the dinosaurs featured is Diplodocus.  Everything Dinosaur team members have been busy checking and amending where necessary the information panel that will accompany an exhibit featuring this famous sauropod.  It is ironic that this is one of the first dinosaurs that we work on as we look forward to the end of lockdown.  Back in March 2020 staff were working with the Natural History Museum’s “Dippy” the Diplodocus touring exhibit, but the start of the first lockdown in the third week of that March led to all our outreach work being suspended.

A Size Comparison!  Diplodocus Compared to some Animals Alive Today

How big was Diplodocus?

Diplodocus compared to animals alive today.  This super-sized sauropod will be part of a set of prehistoric animals to be used by an exhibitions company.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The Information Panel

Name: Diplodocus
Means: Double Beam
Period: Late Jurassic, 154-150 Million Years Ago
Where have fossils been found: Colorado, Montana, Utah and Wyoming (USA)

Diplodocus is one of the longest dinosaurs to have ever lived.  It is also one of the best-known sauropods, as several skeletons have been discovered!  It is, at present, the longest dinosaur known from a practically complete skeleton.  Some dinosaurs were certainly larger, but they are known from less complete skeletons.  The largest specimen known is estimated to have been around 26 metres in length, about as long as three double decker buses and around 5 metres tall, from the toe to the hip.  Diplodocus weighed around approximately 10 to 15 tonnes!

The very first Diplodocus bones were discovered in a quarry in Colorado, USA, in 1877.  Diplodocus was herbivorous and possessed forward-pointing, long, peg-like teeth that were positioned at the front of its mouth; they were perfect branch-strippers.  Scientists believe that Diplodocus fed by closing its mouth around plant stems and stripping the leaves by pulling back its head – like a rake.

As our team members pointed out to the events company children are so well-informed and knowledgeable about dinosaurs, that whatever gets put on the information panel is likely to be challenged by them.  However, the panels we have helped to create we help to inform and to educate.

A Very Impressive Sauropod Femur (Diplodocid)

Professor Phil Manning and the diplodocid femur.

Professor Phil Manning (The University of Manchester) poses next to a diplodocid femur.  Huge sauropod fossils are still being found in the same area of the United States where the first Diplodocus fossils were discovered.

Picture Credit: The University of Manchester

3 02, 2021

Teeth Provide Evidence of H. sapiens and Neanderthal Interbreeding

By | February 3rd, 2021|Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Teeth Provide Evidence of H. sapiens and Neanderthal Interbreeding

Teeth estimated to be less than 48,000 years old from a site in Jersey have provided evidence of Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis interbreeding.  The collection of thirteen teeth were all found on a ledge behind a hearth at the cave site of La Cotte de St Brelade on the island of Jersey.  The teeth which were all collected between 1910 and 1911 were all thought to represent the adult teeth of Neanderthals, however, new research led by the Natural History Museum (London), the University of Wales, the University of Kent, The British Museum, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig, Germany), Wessex Archaeology and University College London, uncovered features characteristic with modern human teeth (H. sapiens).

Views of One of the Teeth from the La Cotte de St Brelade (Jersey) Site

Views of one of the teeth from La Cotte de St Brelade.

The teeth demonstrate a mixture of Neanderthal and modern human traits.

Picture Credit: Journal of Human Evolution

Traits of Both Neanderthal and Modern Human

One of the original teeth had been lost, another was identified as nonhominin, the remainder represent the teeth from at least two adults.  The shape of the area between the crown and the root, the cervix, indicated that the teeth were from a Homo sapiens, whilst the crown and root dimensions along with the shape of the roots are consistent with H. neanderthalensis.

Field Team Members at Work on the La Cotte de St Brelade Site

Evidence of interbreeding between Neanderthals and modern humans on Jersey.

The site of the discovery La Cotte de St Brelade on the island of Jersey.

Picture Credit: Dr Martin Bates (University of Wales)

This combination of Neanderthal and modern human traits led the research team to conclude that the people who had these teeth had a possible shared Neanderthal and H. sapiens ancestry.

Dating the Cave Deposits

The research team were able to utilise advance sediment dating techniques to determine the approximate age of the teeth.  The age of the material three to four metres below the horizon from which the teeth came from dates to about 48,000 years ago, a time when modern human populations and Neanderthals were both present in Europe.  A fragmentary skull bone (occipital) found in association with the teeth does not exhibit any diagnostic Neanderthal features, however the teeth provide further, intriguing evidence in support of hominin interbreeding.

Dr Martin Bates, (University of Wales), a geologist on the research team stated:

“The work on the teeth show the value of going back to historic collections of material where modern work at a site provides new contexts for this historic material.  So, although the teeth were collected back in the early 20th century, modern techniques applied to both the teeth and the site now allow us to really begin to understand what the teeth represent and how old they are.”

Mapping and Excavating the La Cotte de St Brelade Site

The cave site La Cotte de St Brelade (Jersey).

La Cotte de St Brelade cave entrance where excavation work continues.

Picture Credit: Dr Martin Bates (University of Wales)

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

The scientific paper: “The morphology of the Late Pleistocene hominin remains from the site of La Cotte de St Brelade, Jersey (Channel Islands)” by Tim Compton, Matthew M. Skinner, Louise Humphrey, Matthew Pope, Martin Bates, Thomas W. Davies, Simon A. Parfitt, William P. Plummer, Beccy Scott, Andrew Shaw and Chris Stringer published in the Journal of Human Evolution.

30 01, 2021

Four-year-old Finds Dinosaur Footprint

By | January 30th, 2021|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Three-toed Dinosaur Track Found in South Wales

There has been a lot of media interest in the discovery of a beautifully-preserved three-toed dinosaur footprint on a beach near the town of Barry in South Wales.  The track identified as an example of the ichnogenus Grallator was spotted by four-year-old Lily Wilder whilst out for a walk with her family.  The specimen, preserved in a loose boulder is now in the care of scientists at the National Museum of Wales.

A Superb Example of a Three-toed Dinosaur Track from the Mercia Mudstone Group at Bendrick Rock (Vale of Glamorgan, South Wales)

Grallator fossil track (South Wales).

Grallator track spotted by a 4-year-old girl at Bendrick Rock (South Wales).

Picture Credit: National Museum Wales

An Area Famed for its Dinosaur Footprints

This part of the South Wales coast is famous for its prehistoric animal tracks, which represent the oldest confirmed dinosaur trackways known from the British Isles.  The tracks are preserved in sediments associated with the Mercia Mudstone Group at Bendrick Rock and hundreds of individual prints have been found, representing at least sixty different trackways.  National Museum of Wales Palaeontology curator Cindy Howells was notified of the find and has described it as the best specimen ever found on this beach.  The print representing a small theropod dinosaur is estimated to be around 220 million years old (Late Triassic).

The print is a fraction over 10 cm long and was probably made by a light, agile, bipedal dinosaur similar in appearance to Coelophysis.

A Late Triassic Landscape Featuring a Trio of Coelophysis Dinosaurs

Burian depicts a Triassic landscape.

Beautiful and evocative artwork from Burian (Coelophysis bauri and Eupelor durus).  An illustration of a Late Triassic scene featuring the small, agile biped Coelophysis (C. bauri).

Picture Credit: Zdeněk Burian

The tracks preserved in the rocks exposed in this area not only record the movements of dinosaurs but prints associated with rauisuchian reptiles (crocodile-like contemporaries of the first dinosaurs), have also been found.

A Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)

Like many similar sites in the UK, this part of the coast close to the seaside town of Barry is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).  The landowner, the British Institute for Geological Conservation, is a charity that works to conserve natural heritage through site ownership, education and community engagement.  Natural Resources Wales (NRW) had to seek special permission in order to remove the track.  Researchers at the National Museum of Wales located in Cardiff will be studying the print in a bid to find out more about early dinosaur locomotion.

Commenting on this fantastic fossil find, Cindy Howells, the curator of palaeontology at National Museum Wales exclaimed:

“This fossilised dinosaur footprint from 220 million years ago is one of the best-preserved examples from anywhere in the UK and will really aid palaeontologists to get a better idea about how these early dinosaurs walked.  Its acquisition by the museum is mainly thanks to Lily and her family who first spotted it.  During the Covid pandemic scientists from Amgueddfa Cymru [National Museum Wales] have been highlighting the importance of nature on people’s doorstep and this is a perfect example of this.  Obviously, we don’t all have dinosaur footprints on our doorstep but there is wealth of nature local to you if you take the time to really look close enough.”

Lily’s mother Sally Wilder stated:

“It was Lily and Richard (her father) who discovered the footprint.  Lily saw it when they were walking along and said “Daddy look”.  When Richard came home and showed me the photograph, I thought it looked amazing.  Richard thought it was too good to be true. I was put in touch with experts who took it from there.  We were thrilled to find out it really was a dinosaur footprint and I am happy that it will be taken to the national museum where it can be enjoyed and studied for generations.”

Dinosaur Tracks from the Vale of Glamorgan Area (South Wales)

Vale of Glamorgan dinosaur tracks.

Dinosaur Tracks from the Late Triassic from the Vale of Glamorgan area (South Wales).

Picture Credit: Tom Sharpe (Dinosaurs of the British Isles)

To read a related article from 2012 reporting on the theft of dinosaur tracks from the Vale of Glamorgan: Dinosaur Footprints Stolen from the Vale of Glamorgan.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from National Museum Wales in the compilation of this article.

27 01, 2021

Ancient Placoderm Could Turn Vertebrate Evolution on its Head

By | January 27th, 2021|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Cutting-edge Technology Provides New Insights into Ancient Fish

Sophisticated, cutting-edge MicroCT scanning employed to look inside the fossilised skull of a prehistoric fish from the Early Devonian of New South Wales (Australia), has provided scientists with new insights into early vertebrate evolution and challenged the current view regarding the phylogeny and taxonomy of the bony, armoured prehistoric fishes known collectively as placoderms.

The research team, which included scientists from the University of Birmingham, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and colleagues based in Australia and Sweden, used MicroCT scanning to view the internal structures of the skull of a 400 million-year-old Brindabellaspis (Brindabellaspis stensioi) specimen.  A fish nicknamed the “platypus fish” due to its elongated snout.

Computer software was used to create a digital reconstruction of brain cavity and the inner ear.  The team discovered that Brindabellaspis possessed an inner ear that was surprisingly compact with closely connected components resembling the inner ear of modern jawed vertebrates such as sharks and bony fishes.  Some features of the inner ear from this ancient fish are remarkably similar to the structure of our own inner ear.

A Digital Model Showing the Skull and its Constituent Parts (Brindabellaspis stensioi)

A digital model of the skull of Brindabellaspis stensioi.

The skull of Brindabellaspis stensioi digitally recreated after MicroCT scan analysis.

Picture Credit: Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology

Important Implications for the Placodermi

Brindabellaspis is a member of the Placodermi, a diverse, geographically and temporally widespread class of armoured fish which thrived during the Devonian between 420 and 360 million years ago.  Most placoderms have less complex inner ear structures, with a large sac, called a vestibule, placed in the centre and separating all the other components.  The remarkably well-preserved and three-dimensional nature of the specimens from New South Wales provided the research team with an opportunity to examine the brain cavity and inner ear of Brindabellaspis for the first time.

Their findings could change the way in which the tree of life representing early vertebrates is constructed.

Life Reconstruction of Devonian fishes including Brindabellaspis with a Modern Shark and Diver for Scale

Life reconstruction of Devonian fishes with a Great White shark and a diver for scale.

Artistic rendering of Brindabellaspis (foreground) with a range of other Devonian fossil fishes.  The Great White shark and human diver in the upper right corner represent modern jawed vertebrates and provide scale.  Brindabellaspis is the large grey fish with its snout pointing to the bottom of the picture.

Picture Credit: YANG Hongyu and ZHENG Qiuyang

Re-writing the Evolutionary History of Early Vertebrates

Previous studies had suggested that prehistoric fish such as Brindabellaspis were closely related to primitive, jawless fish (agnathans), that first evolved around 500 million years ago.  This study challenges the assumption that placoderms are a distinct group, as considerable variation has been identified in the brain cavities and inner ears of “placoderms”.

Furthermore, this research suggests the possibility that these types of fish may be the ancestors of modern jawed vertebrates (the Gnathostomata).

Co-author of the scientific paper, published in the journal Current Biology, Dr Sam Giles (University of Birmingham), stated:

“The inner ear structure is so delicate and fragile that it is rarely preserved in fossils, so being able to use these new techniques to re-examine specimens and discover this wealth of new information is very exciting.  This fossil has revealed a really intriguing mosaic of primitive features and a surprisingly modern inner ear.  We don’t yet know for certain what this means in terms of our understanding of how modern jawed vertebrates evolved, but it’s likely that virtual anatomy techniques are going to be a critical tool for piecing together this fascinating jigsaw puzzle.”

An earlier research paper suggested that the snout of Brindabellaspis was sensitive and may have played a role in locating food or avoiding predators.  To read Everything Dinosaur’s article from 2018 about this study: A Primitive Placoderm Platypus Fish from Australia.

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

The scientific paper: “Endocast and Bony Labyrinth of a Devonian “Placoderm” Challenges Stem Gnathostome Phylogeny” by You-an Zhu, Sam Giles, Gavin C. Young, Yuzhi Hu, Mohamed Bazzi, Per E. Ahlberg, Min Zhu and Jing Lu published in Current Biology.

25 01, 2021

Baby Tyrannosaurs Born Ready to Hunt

By | January 25th, 2021|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Baby Tyrannosaurs Born Ready to Hunt

A new scientific paper published this week suggests that tyrannosaurs were able to hunt and to look after themselves soon after they hatched.  In addition, tyrannosaur hatchlings were surprisingly large, perhaps more than a metre long when they broke out of their eggs and if this the case, then tyrannosaur eggs would have been colossal, perhaps larger than any other dinosaur egg known to science.

A Life Reconstruction of a Baby Tyrannosaur

Juvenile tyrannosaur life reconstruction.

A life reconstruction of a juvenile tyrannosaur.  This illustration by the talented palaeoartist Julius Csotonyi, depicts a baby tyrannosaur covered in a coat of insulating protofeathers.

Picture Credit: Julius Csotonyi

As Big as a Collie Dog

Writing in the latest edition of the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, the scientists which include such eminent figures as Phil Currie, “Jack” Horner and Stephen Brusatte, have written up an on-line presentation from last October which took place at the virtual Society of Vertebrate Palaeontology Conference and they indicate that young tyrannosaurs were big babies.  With a length of in excess of 1 metre, that’s about the size of a border collie dog.

A Model of a Young Tyrannosaurus rex

A juvenile T. rex.

A young T. rex.  Research suggests that Late Cretaceous tyrannosaurs may have been around a metre in length when very young.  Rare fossil bones from perinatal tyrannosaurs from North America also suggest that these predators were highly developed and capable of hunting for themselves – precocial development – mobile and relatively fully developed when first hatched.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Perinatal tyrannosaurid bones and teeth from the Campanian–Maastrichtian of western North America provide the first window into this critical period of the life of a tyrannosaurid.  An embryonic dentary (Daspletosaurus horneri) from the Two Medicine Formation of Montana, measuring just 3 cm in length, already exhibits distinctive tyrannosaurine characters like a “chin” and a deep Meckelian groove, and reveals the earliest stages of tooth development.  When considered together with a remarkably large embryonic claw bone (ungual) from the Horseshoe Canyon Formation of Alberta and believed to have come from an Albertosaurus sarcophagus, a minimum hatchling size for tyrannosaurids could be estimated by the research team.

Corresponding author for the paper, Gregory Funston (University of Edinburgh), stated:

“It appears that tyrannosaurs were born ready to hunt, already possessing some of the key adaptations that gave tyrannosaurs their powerful bites.  So, it’s likely that they were capable of hunting fairly quickly after birth, but we need more fossils to tell exactly how fast that was.”

Tyrannosaur Babies Bigger than Other Dinosaur Babies

The dentary and the claw bone indicate that Late Cretaceous tyrannosaurs were bigger than any other known dinosaur babies.  The researchers conclude that they must have hatched from enormous eggs, perhaps exceeding the 43 cm length of largest dinosaur eggs described to date.

The Embryonic Tyrannosaur Dentary

Daspletosaurus horneri juvenile jawbone.

The fossilised lower jawbone (dentary) of a Daspletosaurus horneri, one of the first baby tyrannosaurs ever discovered.

Picture Credit: Gregory F. Funston (University of Edinburgh)

Co-author of the paper, Mark Powers a PhD student at the University of Alberta (Canada), commented:

“Tyrannosaurs are represented by dozens of skeletons and thousands of isolated bones or partial skeletons, but despite this wealth of data for tyrannosaur biology, the smallest identifiable individuals are aged three to four years old, much larger than when they would have hatched.  No tyrannosaur eggs or embryos have been found even after 150 years of searching—until now.”

The study, focused on the two fossils representing perinatal development of tyrannosaurids.  The ungual was found near Morrin in the province of Alberta, whilst the dentary came from Montana. The ungual is approximately 71.5 million years old, and the jawbone a little older at around 75 million years old.

Comparing the Tyrannosaurid Fossil Material with Dr Funston and an Adult Albertosaurus

Comparing the juvenile tyrannosaur specimens.

This diagram compares the size of a full-grown Albertosaurus with that of palaeontologist Greg Funston and the two dinosaur embryos whose toe claw and jawbone were identified in a newly published study.

Picture Credit: Gregory F. Funston (University of Edinburgh)

Mark Powers, who completed the research as a master’s student supervised by Phil Currie added:

“The discovery of embryonic material is a huge find in our efforts to understand how some of the most popular and charismatic dinosaurs began their life and grew to immense sizes.  It provides a much-needed—and until now, missing—data point depicting the starting point for tyrannosaur growth.”

Surprising Results

The researchers were surprised to find that the small tyrannosaur teeth in the lower jaw were distinct from the teeth of older tyrannosaurids.  They had not developed true serrations running along the cutting edges.  In addition, the toe claw (specimen number UALVP 59599), came from an animal estimated to be about 1.1 metres long, whilst the tiny jawbone (MOR 268), came from a tyrannosaur around 71 cm in length.

The size estimates for perinatal tyrannosaurs based on this study reinforce the work of the late American-Canadian palaeontologist Dale Russell, who back in 1970 provided some of the first insights into tyrannosaur development and ontogeny.  This study was published in a special issue of the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences which honours the contribution made to vertebrate palaeontology by Professor Russell.

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

The scientific paper: “Baby tyrannosaurid bones and teeth from the Late Cretaceous of western North America” by Gregory F. Funston, Mark J. Powers, S. Amber Whitebone, Stephen L. Brusatte, John B. Scannella, John R. Horner and Philip J. Currie published in the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences.

22 01, 2021

Limb Bone Confirms Large Pterosaurs Across Laramida

By | January 22nd, 2021|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Single Bone Suggests Large Pterosaurs Across Both North and South Laramidia

A single bone from a large pterosaur tentatively described as an ulna found in 2016 has confirmed the presence of large flying reptiles in terrestrial ecosystems in both north and south Laramidia during the Late Cretaceous.

Writing in the on-line, academic journal “PeerJ”, Dr Andrew Farke of the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Palaeontology (Claremont, California), reports that the 36 cm long bone from a bonebed within the middle unit of the Kaiparowits Formation (Utah), extends the distribution of large pterosaurs across terrestrial environments during the Campanian of western North America.

Views of the Single Pterosaur Bone with Accompanying Line Drawings

RAM 22574 pterosaur limb bone and line drawings

Views of the pterosaur limb bone with accompanying line drawings.  Note scale bar = 10 cm.

Picture Credit: Farke (PeerJ)

The picture above shows various views of the single pterosaur limb bone (specimen number RAM 22574).  Dorsal (A), proximal (B) with anterior (C) and dorsal (D) views, whilst E and F represent ventral and posterior views.  Line drawing (G) shows an interpretation of the posterior view with missing parts shaded and line drawing H shows a posterior view of the complete and restored bone.  The large size of the bone has permitted Dr Farke to make an estimate of the wingspan of the pterosaur.  He estimates that this bone came from an individual with a wingspan between 4.3 and 5.9 metres.   This bone is the largest pterosaur fossil reported to date from the Kaiparowits Formation.

Based on these estimates, the Kaiparowits Formation specimen is roughly comparable in size to Cryodrakon boreas an azhdarchid pterosaur known from the Dinosaur Park Formation of southern Alberta, Canada which was formally named and described in 2019: The First Pterosaur Unique to Canada is Described Cryodrakon boreas.

Significant Pterosaur Fossil Finds Associated with Terrestrial Environments in Late Cretaceous North America

Late Cretaceous major pterosaur fossil finds in western North America.

Major pterosaur fossil finds from late Campanian-aged terrestrial depositional environments in western North America.

Picture Credit: Farke (PeerJ) with additional annotation from Everything Dinosaur (silhouettes based on work from Naish and Witton)

Silhouettes are scaled to maximum estimates of wingspan for individual specimens.  The silhouette for RAM 22574 shows the minimum (black) and maximum (green) size estimates for the specimen (4.3 to 5.9 metre wingspan).

The strata in southern Alberta (Dinosaur Park Formation) from which C. boreas comes from was laid down shortly after the portion of the Kaiparowits Formation associated with this single pterosaur bone.  Thus, Dr Farke concludes that relatively large pterosaurs occurred in terrestrial ecosystems in both the northern and southern parts of Laramidia (western North America), during the late Campanian.

The scientific paper: “A large pterosaur limb bone from the Kaiparowits Formation (late Campanian) of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah, USA” by Andrew A. Farke published in PeerJ.

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