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19 01, 2020

Little Dancing Dragon Sheds Light on How Dinosaurs Grew Up

By | January 19th, 2020|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

The New Microraptorine Wulong bohaiensis

A new feathered dinosaur from Liaoning Province (north-eastern China), has been named and described.  The little dinosaur, not much bigger than a crow, but with a long tail, has been named Wulong bohaiensis.  The fossilised feathers associated with the beautifully preserved skeleton, include two long tail feathers, the sort of extravagant plumage associated with mature birds which use such adornments to attract a mate.  However, when an analysis of the limb bones was undertaken to determine the age of the specimen (histological analysis), the research team discovered that the specimen represented a juvenile.

Either those long, showy feathers served some other function, or dinosaurs that were closely related to birds grew up differently when compared to their living relatives.

The Newly Described Wulong bohaiensis.

Wulong bohaiensis fossil specimen.

The beautifully preserved and almost complete W. bohaiensis fossil specimen.

Picture Credit: Ashley W. Poust (University of California)

Dancing Dragon

The fossil specimen was found more than ten years ago by a local farmer.  It had resided in the vertebrate collection of the Dalian Natural History Museum (Liaoning Province), being eventually described and studied by scientists at the museum in conjunction with student Ashley Poust under the supervision of  Dr David Varricchio (Montana State University), her former advisor, prior to Ashley moving to the University of California.

The genus name is Chinese for “dancing dragon”, a reference to the posture of the preserved specimen.  A phylogenetic analysis places W. bohaiensis within Microraptorinae, this little dinosaur was therefore closely related to Microraptor.  Whether, like Microraptor, Wulong bohaiensis was capable of powered flight can be speculated upon.

Ashley Poust explained the significance of this research stating:

“The specimen has feathers on its limbs and tail that we associate with adult birds, but it had other features that made us think it was a juvenile.”

In order to determine the age of the dinosaur when it died, staff at the Dalian Natural History Museum gave permission for the tibia, fibula and humerus bones to be examined histologically.  Essentially, cross-sectional slices of these bones were removed from the skeleton, prepared and then examined under a microscope so that the seasonal/annual growth of the animal could be identified.  Such a technique is invasive and will cause damage to the fossil specimen, fortunately, the curators at the Dalian Natural History Museum took the decision that in order to benefit science the invasive procedures had to be undertaken.

Ashley commented:

“Thankfully, our co-authors at the Dalian Natural History Museum were really forward thinking and allowed us to apply these techniques, not only to Wulong, but also to another dinosaur, a close relative that looked more adult called Sinornithosaurus.”

A Life Reconstruction of Wulong bohaiensis

Life reconstruction of Wulong bohaiensis.

A life reconstruction of Wulong bohaiensis.  The sharp, small teeth in the jaw of Wulong suggest that this dinosaur was a piscivore, or perhaps feeding on insects.

Picture Credit: Ashley Poust (University of California)

Sinornithosaurus Provides a Surprise

The histology of a specimen of another feathered dinosaur associated with the Early Cretaceous Jehol biota was also examined.  The research team wanted to compare their immature, juvenile Wulong to what they thought was a specimen of an adult Sinornithosaurus.  However, analysis of the bone structure of the Sinornithosaurus provided a surprise.  The histology revealed that both specimens were young and still growing at death, indicating an age for Wulong of about one-year-old.

Commenting on the results of the histological analysis on the Sinornithosaurus specimen, Ashley explained:

“Here was an animal that was large and had adult looking bones.  We thought it was going to be mature, but histology proved that idea wrong.  It was older than Wulong, but seems to have been still growing.  Researchers need to be really careful about determining whether a specimen is adult or not.  Until we learn a lot more, histology is really the most dependable way.”

An Illustration of Sinornithosaurus

Sinornithosaurus

The fearsome dromaeosaurid Sinornithosaurus, in reality this dinosaur was about 1-1.2 metres in length, although it might have preyed upon the smaller Wulong bohaiensis.

Picture Credit: Zhao Chuang

This new study suggests that either young dinosaurs developed elaborate tail feathers for some other purpose, or that they were growing feathers in a different way from their close living relatives the Aves (birds).

The Paraves Clade

The Paraves is a clade of theropod dinosaurs.  It is defined as containing all the dinosaurs which are more closely related to birds than to oviraptorosaurs.  As such it includes troodontids, dromaeosaurids and avialians, which encompasses extant birds.  Much of what we know about the diversity of this group in the Early Cretaceous comes from fossil specimens found in Liaoning, China.  However, many taxa are represented by specimens of unclear ontogenetic age.  With a better understanding of how dinosaurs may have changed in their appearance as they grew up, scientists can be more confident about their phylogeny, their evolutionary relationships and which character traits can be used to infer biology and the dinosaur’s position within the complex Jehol ecosystem.

This scientific paper identified several different types of feather associated with Wulong bohaiensis – pennaceous primary feathers, filamentous feathers and long tail feathers.  The team established that such plumage preceded skeletal maturity and full adult size in some dromaeosaurids.  Histological analysis of the Wulong holotype and a Sinornithosaurus specimen revealed that they developed mature feather coverings associated with adult animals after their first year, but before they had become fully grown.  This has implications for Paraves research as assumptions made about the adult age of a fossil specimen may not be accurate in the absence of histological analysis.

The scientific paper: “A new microraptorine theropod from the Jehol Biota and growth in early dromaeosaurids” by Ashley W. Poust, Chunling Gao, David J. Varricchio, Jianlin Wu, and Fengjiao Zhang published in The Anatomical Record.

15 01, 2020

Ediacaran Fossil Site Gains Protection

By | January 15th, 2020|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Geology, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

South Australian Fossil Site Purchase Supported by Billionaire

With so much bad news about the environment coming out of Australia due to the devastating bush fires, it is pleasing to report on a conservation success story.   A $1 billion (USD), nature fund has been used to buy a vast tract of outback South Australia containing some of the oldest animal fossils on Earth.  The acquisition safeguards an extremely important fossil site and helps support the Australian Government’s plans to gain World Heritage Site status for the area.

The Nilpena Fossil Fields (South Australia)

The Nilpena fossil fields (South Australia).

The Nilpena fossil fields preserve examples of Precambrian biota.

Picture Credit: Jason Irving

The 60,000-hectare (150,000 acre) Nilpena West property is 370 miles (600 kilometres), north of the South Australian capital Adelaide and was previously part of Nilpena Pastoral Station.  The property includes the Ediacara Fossil Site (Nilpena), which is listed on Australia’s National Heritage List and records a remarkable marine biota, documenting some of the earliest, large, multicellular creatures to have evolved on Earth.

Global not-for-profit organisation The Nature Conservancy, sourced funding from an anonymous donor in October 2019 to allow the purchase and protection to go ahead after the South Australian Government announced in March that it had reached an agreement with the land’s owners to purchase the site.  The purchased land is adjacent to the Ediacara Conservation Park and increases the size of the protected area ten-fold.

The Importance of the Flinders Range

Strange fossils, preserved in the sandstone of the Ediacaran hills of South Australia provided the first substantial evidence for the existence of complex life in the late Precambrian.  In 1946, Australian geologist Reginald Spriggs discovered fossilised impressions in this part of the Flinders Range, his unexpected discovery failed to enthuse the scientific community at first, his paper outlining the discovery was rejected by the academic journal “Nature”.  However, the significance of these exquisitely preserved fossils and what they represented – organisms associated with an ancient marine community, was soon realised.

An Example of Dickinsonia – One of the Fossilised Ediacaran Organisms Associated with the Nilpena Fossil Fields

Dickinsonia costata fossil.

The Ediacaran fossil Dickinsonia costata, specimen P40135 from the collections of the South Australia Museum.  The disc-like Dickinsonia is one of the creatures preserved at the Nilpena fossil site.

Picture Credit: Dr Alex Liu (Cambridge University)

To read an article about the bizarre Dickinsonia: Dickinsonia Definitely an Animal.

The sale has now been finalised with The Nature Conservancy announcing this week that funding from the Wyss Campaign for Nature, the once anonymous donor, had helped secure the acquisition.  The Wyss Campaign for Nature was founded two years ago, by the wealthy, Swiss-born philanthropist Hansjörg Wyss.  The purchased land will be permanently protected and managed by the South Australian Government.  It will be formally allocated to the Ediacara Conservation Park later this year.

A Map Showing the Location of the Nilpena Fossil Fields Relative to the Ediacara Conservation Park

A map of the Nilpena fossil fields site.

Nilpena fossil fields site.  The Nilpena Station purchase will greatly increase the protected area for the fossils.

Picture Credit: The Government of South Australia

The South Australian property is now permanently protected and managed for conservation by the South Australian Government. It will be added to the Ediacara Conservation Park later this year.

Scores of Species

Palaeontologists have excavated many hundreds of specimens representing three dozen different species, most of which are more than 550 million years old.  The fossils provide the first evidence of locomotion and sexual reproduction.  The space agency NASA, has examined the Ediacaran biota in a project to assess how life could evolve on other worlds.

The Nature Conservancy’s Australian Director of Conservation Dr James Fitzsimons explained that this purchase which would permit the formal protection of the 60,000 hectare property was a big win for conservation in South Australia.

He commented:

“The property contains significant biodiversity values including two threatened ecological communities and a number of threatened species.  Most critically, the property also covers extremely important sites that contain the oldest fossilised animals on Earth.”

South Australian Environment and Water Minister David Speirs said Nilpena West would soon be added to the South Australian public protected area estate and managed by the Department for Environment and Water.

The minister added:

“Its inclusion in the conservation estate will link the Ediacara Conservation Park to the Lake Torrens National Park and will support our nomination for the listing of areas of the Flinders Ranges as a World Heritage Site.”

When did life on land evolve?  An Ediacaran related article: When Did Life on Land First Evolve – Does the Ediacaran Biota Provide the Answer?

A recent article about how computerised tomography and other sophisticated research techniques are providing new insights into how the first animals evolved: Chinese Fossils Suggest Animal-like-embryos Evolved Before Animals.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a press release from The Lead South Australia in the compilation of this article.

11 01, 2020

Thin-skinned, Grey Duck-billed Dinosaurs

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

Thin-skinned, Grey Duck-billed Dinosaurs

Scientists writing in the journal of The Palaeontological Association have published a remarkable study on the properties of the skin of duck-billed dinosaurs.  Analysis of fossilised hadrosaur skin, from the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History (New Haven, Connecticut), suggests that the skin structure of these dinosaurs had more in common with living birds than with reptiles.  In addition, the skin is much thinner when compared to large, terrestrial mammals of comparable size such as elephants and rhinos.  In a blow to palaeoartists who like to adorn their ornithischian illustrations with a multitude of colours, the scientists conclude from an analysis of potential preserved skin pigments that hadrosaurids were grey in colour.

Hadrosaurs Could Have Been Largely Grey in Colour Just Like Big Terrestrial Mammals Alive Today Such as Elephants

Gryposaurus - Hadrosaur Model available from Everything Dinosaur.

The Wild Safari Prehistoric World Gryposaurus dinosaur model.  The model’s colouration being largely grey may actually reflect the true colouration of duck-billed dinosaurs.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Getting Under the Skin of a Dinosaur

Scientists from Yale University, in collaboration with colleagues in Italy, investigated the chemical properties of a section of fossilised duck-billed dinosaur skin that had been preserved in three dimensions. The specimen (YPMPU 016969) was also subjected to detailed chemical mapping and microspectroscopy as well as scanning electron micrographs to establish the anatomical structure.

Two of the three layers associated with skin in tetrapods were identified, the outer layer (epidermis) and the dermis. The innermost layer, the subcutis, could not be identified in this study.  The dinosaur’s scales on the skin surface are very well-preserved.  They form an irregular, pebbly pattern with individual scales ranging in size from under one millimetre in diameter to much larger scales around 12 millimetres across.

Specimen Number YPMPU 016969 – The Fossilised Skin Studied

Fossilised duck-billed dinosaur skin.

The skin preserved in YPMPU 016969 (A), three‐dimensional skin and (B), the fossil counterpart. Scale bar represents 2 cm.

Picture Credit: Yale University

Three-dimensionally Preserved Pigment Bearing Bodies and  Blood Vessels

The detailed analysis of the fossilised skin and the samples taken permitted the scientists to identify three-dimensionally preserved eumelanin‐bearing bodies.  This enabled the researchers to propose that the dinosaur was mostly dark grey in colour, a skin colouration that reflects ecological parallels seen in today’s large, terrestrial animals such as elephants and rhinos.  However, caution is urged when it comes to determining the colouration of these types of dinosaurs.  There might be a preservation bias in favour of pigment cells that produce darker skin tones, other pigments may not have been preserved.  The section of fossil skin also permitted the researchers to trace blood vessels and dermal cells.

The Study Suggests That Large-bodied Hadrosaurids Were Similar in Colour to Today’s Large-bodied Terrestrial Mammals

Analysis suggests grey-coloured hadrosaurids.

A life reconstruction of a grey-coloured duck-billed dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Yale University

Surprisingly Thin Skin

The skin was found to be much thinner than that of living mammals of similar size.  The outer layer of skin is around 0.2 mm in thickness, whilst the dermis is estimated to have been up to 3 mm thick.  Although, no measurements for the subcutis layer could be made, in living elephants the skin is around 10-15 mm thick and in extant rhinos a skin thickness (all three layers, epidermis, dermis and subcutis), of 25 mm is not uncommon.

The relative thickness of the epidermis and dermis in YPMPU 016969 resembles that in birds more closely than that of reptiles.

If the skin of these large, Cretaceous herbivores is so much thinner than previously thought, then how does it fossilise more readily than the integumentary coverings of other dinosaurs?  After all, the most commonly preserved soft tissues associated with ornithischian dinosaurs are skin remains.  The researchers postulate that the unusual layering and the microstructure of hadrosaur skin may play an important role in its fossilisation potential.

The scientific paper: “Three-dimensional soft tissue preservation revealed in the skin of a non-avian dinosaur” by Matteo Fabbri, Jasmina Wiemann, Fabio Manucci and Derek E. G. Briggs published in Palaeontology – the journal of The Palaeontological Association

9 01, 2020

Animal-like Embryos Evolved Before Animals

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

Animal-like Embryos Evolved Before the First Animals Appear in the Fossil Record

Catching up with our reading, examining university press releases and having a little time to review some scientific literature enabled team members at Everything Dinosaur to get to grips with this research.  A new paper has been published in the journal “Current Biology” that sheds light on how the Animalia evolved.  Researchers led by scientists from the University of Bristol and Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology (Nanjing, China), have discovered that animal-like embryos evolved long before the first animals appear in the fossil record.

The study centred around a multicellular organism found in 609-million-year-old-rocks in Guizhou Province.  The organism is called Caveasphaera and it blurs the definition as to what is and what is not an animal.  However, analysis of tiny embryonic fossils suggests that as Caveasphaera developed it went from a single-cell stage to a multi-cellular stage and that it developed distinct, specialist cells and tissues.

Remarkable Fossils Reveal Ancient Organism May Have Set the Blueprint for Animal Body Plans

The embryology of 609 million-year old Caveasphaera.

Embryology of 609 million-year old Caveasphaera.

Picture Credit: Philip Donoghue and Zongjun Yin

Animals evolved from single-celled ancestors, subsequently, the Animalia diversified into thirty or forty body plans.  How and when animal ancestors made this evolutionary transition from a microbial state into complex multicellular creatures has been discussed and debated for many years.  The researchers, using sophisticated X-ray computer tomography, analysed tiny fossils from southern China and identified that a key step in this major step in the story of life on our planet occurred long before complex animals appear in the fossil record, in the fossilised embryos that resemble multicellular stages in the life cycle of single-celled relatives of animals.

X-ray Microscopy – Fossils on the Cellular Level

Analysis of the Ediacaran fossils preserved in the strata, revealed that the tiny 0.5 mm in diameter Caveasphaera material had been preserved all the way down to their component cells.

Co-author of the study paper, Kelly Vargas (Bristol University), commented:

“X-Ray tomographic microscopy works like a medical CT scanner, but allows us to see features that are less than a thousandth of a millimetre in size.  We were able to sort the fossils into growth stages, reconstructing the embryology of Caveasphaera.”

Fellow co-author Zongjun Yin, (Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology), added:

“Our results show that Caveasphaera sorted its cells during embryo development, in just the same way as living animals, including humans, but we have no evidence that these embryos developed into more complex organisms.”

Scanning Electron Microscope Image of Caveasphaera Showing Cell Division

Scanning electron microscope image of Caveasphaera.

A Caveasphaera embryo showing cellular structure and the growing tips where cells are dividing to increase their numbers.

Picture Credit: Philip Donoghue and Zongjun Yin

A Life Cycle that Mirrors the Development of Animals

The researchers concluded that Caveasphaera had a life cycle very close to the life cycle of animals which alternate between single-celled and multicellular stages, however, Caveasphaera goes one step further, reorganising those cells during embryology.  This is the earliest fossil evidence found to date that shows such development and the setting up of more complex distinct tissue layers and organs.

Whether the enigmatic, Caveasphaera is a member of the Animalia remains open to debate.  It resembles the embryos of some starfish and corals but no adult forms are known as they may not have been easily fossilised.

Professor Philip Donoghue from the University of Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences, stated:

“Caveasphaera shows features that look both like microbial relatives of animals and early embryo stages of primitive animals.  We’re still searching for more fossils that may help us to decide. Either way,  fossils of Caveasphaera tell us that animal-like embryonic development evolved long before the oldest definitive animals appear in the fossil record.”

Sequential Development of Caveasphaera Mirrors the Development Seen in the Animalia

Computer generated images show embryology of Caveasphaera.

Embryology of 609 million-year old Caveasphaera.  Computer models based on X-ray tomographic microscopy of the fossils, showing the successive stages of development.

Picture Credit: Philip Donoghue and Zongjun Yin

The scientific paper: “The early Ediacaran Caveasphaera foreshadows the evolutionary origin of animal-like embryology” by Z. Yin, K. Vargas, J. Cunningham, S. Bengtson, M. Zhu, F. Marone and P. Donoghue published in Current Biology.

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

7 01, 2020

Turning a Stegosaur Fossil into the “Rosetta Stone”

By | January 7th, 2020|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Newly Described Specimen of Miragaia longicollum helps to Decipher the Dacentrurinae

A fossil of a stegosaur discovered in 1959 on the coast of western Portugal has helped to decipher the taxonomic relationships of an obscure sub-family of armoured dinosaurs known from the Late Jurassic.  The specimen number MG 4863 has been identified as an example of Miragaia longicollum, a stegosaur named and described in 2009 from fossils found some 6 miles (10 kilometres) further inland.

MG 4863 has been described as a “Rosetta Stone” specimen, just as the discovery of the Rosetta Stone was vital in helping scholars to interpret and understand ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, these fossils, that had languished in storage for sixty years, can help palaeontologists to distinguish between different genera of closely related stegosaurs.

Laid Out in an Approximate Skeletal Reconstruction (MG 4863) – Newly Described Miragaia longicollum Specimen

Views of the Miragaia longicollum specimen ( MG 4863)

Miragaia longicollum specimen (A) before preparation and (B) after preparation. Material is laid out in approximate articulation.

Picture Credit: Costa and Mateus published in PLOS One

The picture (above), shows the fossil material associated with MG 4863 prior to preparation (September 2015) and after preparation (May 2017).  The fossils have been positioned in an approximate skeletal layout, the box in (B) contains unidentified fossil fragments.

Although far from complete and lacking any evidence of a skull, these fossils, that had been stored in an unprepared state at the Alfragide campus of LNEG (Laboratório Nacional de Energia e Geologia, Portugal), consist of bones that were not part of the original holotype specimen for M. longicollum (specimen number ML 433).  Thus, palaeontologists have more parts of the skeleton of Miragaia longicollum to study and this newly described specimen has helped to decipher the differences between Miragaia and the closely related Dacentrurus.

The Dacentrurinae Deciphered

The first armoured dinosaur to be scientifically described was Dacentrurus armatus (although it was originally named Omosaurus armatus by the famous English palaeontologist Richard Owen).  It was named from a jumbled up set of bones preserved in a block discovered in a clay quarry in Wiltshire (southern England).  The fossilised bones mostly represent the back-end (posterior) portions of an armoured dinosaur.  For a considerable period, stegosaur fossils from strata approximately the same age from the Iberian peninsula were referred to as Dacentrurus.  When ML 433 was excavated all that changed and this part of Europe had its very own stegosaur Miragaia longicollum.  However, the holotype (ML 433), represented the front end (anterior) of the animal, so direct comparisons between Dacentrurus and Miragaia were not possible.

Now that palaeontologists have more fossils of Miragaia to study, thanks to the Alfragide campus specimen, clear differences between these two taxa can be identified, which reinforces their validity.  In addition, ML 4863 is the the most complete dinosaur described from Portugal and the most complete stegosaur described from the whole of Europe.

Comparing the Holotypes of Dacentrurus armatus and Miragaia longicollum with the Newly Described Miragaia Material (ML 4863)

Dacentrurus and Miragaia compared.

Comparing Dacentrurus with Miragaia.  Known fossil bones are shown in white.

Picture Credit: Costa, Mateus et al published in PLOS One with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

Both the Miragaia holotype (ML 433) and this newly described specimen (MG 4863), are associated with the Upper Jurassic Lourinhã Formation.  Writing in the on-line academic journal PLOS One, the researchers (Francisco Costa and Octávio Mateus), provide a revised diagnosis for both M. longicollum and D. armatus.

A Land Bridge Between Iberia and North America – Late Jurassic Faunal Interchange

Significantly, the scientists conclude that Miragaia was closely related to a Late Jurassic stegosaur named Alcovasaurus longispinus, which is known from hip bones and other fragmentary fossils associated with a Morrison Formation outcrop in Natrona County (Wyoming, USA).  Not only does MG 4863 help to describe and define two European stegosaurs but it lends weight to the idea that there was an ephemeral land bridge between North America and Iberia that allowed faunal exchange.

A Scale Drawing of Miragaia longicollum

Scale Drawing of Miragaia

“Long-neck from Miragaia”.  A scale drawing of M. longicollum.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

We have two species of the carnivorous Late Jurassic dinosaur Torvosaurus identified, one from the western United States (T. tanneri) and one from Portugal (T. gurneyi) and now the idea of there being links between the Iberian landmass and North America is reinforced by the conclusion that Miragaia from Portugal and Alcovasaurus from Wyoming were closely related.  Indeed, Alcovasaurus is so similar to Miragaia that the researchers propose that it should be assigned to the same genus and renamed Miragaia longispinus.

To read Everything Dinosaur’s article from 2009 about the discovery of Miragaia longicollumA New Long-necked Stegosaur from Portugal.

29 12, 2019

Carboniferous Parental Care

By | December 29th, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Carboniferous Fossil Provides Evidence of Parental Care

Parental care is a common behaviour amongst mammals, the chances of the offspring surviving are enhanced by the parents making an investment in looking after their young, but when did this behavioural strategy evolve in the ancestors of the Mammalia?  This is a tricky question to answer as evidence for such behaviours is rarely preserved in the fossil record, but a remarkable discovery inside a lithified tree stump dating from around 305 million years ago from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia (Canada), may have provided palaeontologists with a fresh insight into prehistoric parenting.

A team of scientists writing in the academic journal “Nature Ecology & Evolution” report the discovery of fossilised remains of an adult lizard-like creature in association with a very young member of the same species preserved within the tree stump.  Finding an adult and associated conspecific juvenile has been interpreted as evidence of the parent staying close to its offspring and therefore a demonstration of parental care.

The creatures are members of the Varanopidae family, so called as these creatures resemble extant monitor lizards (Varanus), but they are not closely related to monitor lizards and are a new genus.  They have been named Dendromaia unamakiensis and if this is prehistoric parental care, then it predates the previous earliest evidence by some forty million years.

Evidence of Parental Care in a Synapsid (Dendromaia unamakiensis)

Dendromaia unamakiensis life reconstruction - evidence of parental care in a synapsid.

Dendromaia unamakiensis life reconstruction.

Picture Credit: Henry Sharpe

A Varanopid (Synapsid) Caring for its Young

The Varanopidae are geographically widespread and temporally diverse.  Most of these animals were around 1 metre in length, much of their body length was made up of their long tails.   They evolved during the Carboniferous and persisted into the Middle Permian.  Varanopids are regarded as one of the most successful of the early types of amniotes, however, whether they are ancestral to modern mammals and members of the Synapsida or whether they are actually diapsids is an area of debate amongst palaeontologists.

Commenting on the significance of the fossil discovery, lead author of the scientific paper Professor Hillary Maddin (Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada), commented:

“Parental care is a behavioural strategy where parents make an investment or divert resources from themselves to increase the health and chances of survival for their offspring.  While there are a variety of parental care strategies, prolonged postnatal care is amongst the most costly to a parent.  This form of parental care is particularly common in mammals, as all mammalian offspring demand nourishment from their mothers.”

The Slab and Counter Slab with the Preserved Remains of the D. unamakiensis Fossils

Dendromaia unamakiensis slab and counter slab.

The slab and the counter slab with the preserved Dendromaia unamakiensis fossils.

Picture Credit: Maddin et al

The researchers concluded that this was evidence of parental care as the preservation of delicate details and structures in the fossils indicate a rapid burial with little movement after death.  The adult and the juvenile were close to each other at the time that they died.  The location of the young animal beneath the hindlimb and encircled tail of the adult resembles a position associated with animals living in a den.

Earliest Evidence of Prolonged Parental Care

The fossils could represent the earliest known record of prolonged parental care.  Prior to this discovery, the previous earliest record of this sort of parental behaviour was identified in a varanopid from the Middle Permian of South Africa.  A scientific paper was published in 2007, describing the discovery of five articulated conspecific varanopid specimens, one of which was much larger than the others.  This was interpreted as an adult and four juveniles, a family group with the older animal looking after its offspring.

Whether Dendromaia is a synapsid of diapsid might be debatable, but whatever the taxonomic relationship to other more advanced amniotes, this fossil discovery suggests that parental care is deeply rooted within the Amniota clade and that parenting behaviour might have been more widespread amongst Palaeozoic tetrapods than previously thought.

The scientific paper: “Varanopid from the Carboniferous of Nova Scotia reveals evidence of parental care in amniotes” by Hillary C. Maddin, Arjan Mann and Brian Hebert published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

28 12, 2019

Everything Dinosaur’s Top Ten Blog Posts of 2019 (Part 2)

By | December 28th, 2019|Adobe CS5, Animal News Stories, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Everything Dinosaur’s Top Ten Blog Posts of 2019 (Part 2)

Today, we conclude our review of the top ten blog posts written by Everything Dinosaur team members in 2019.  We have produced a blog post for every day of the year and as a result we have covered a tremendous range of topics from new fossil discoveries, highlighting research, the introduction (and retirement) of prehistoric animal replicas, book reviews, artwork created by academic illustrators and scientific discoveries.

Here is our countdown of the top five.

5). Ngwevu intloko – New Dinosaur “Hiding in Plain Sight”

Over the summer, Everything Dinosaur published a wide range of articles.  A new bizarre, shovel-mouthed duck-billed dinosaur (Aquilarhinus), was reported and news of a fast-running Triassic theropod from Switzerland (Notatesseraptor) broke.  We had strange prehistoric parrots, an analysis of the cranial capacity of “parrot lizard” Psittacosaurus and herbivorous crocodylomorphs.  However, number five on our list concerns the discovery of a new type of Triassic herbivorous dinosaur that was found in a museum cabinet.

Fossils once thought to represent an unusual specimen of Massosopondylus (M. carinatus) in the collection of the University of Witwatersrand (South Africa), were assigned to their own genus. Student Kimberley Chapelle and colleagues identified a total of twenty-two characteristics that supported the establishment of a brand new dinosaur genus.  The new dinosaur was named Ngwevu intloko, this member of the Sauropodomorpha had been hiding in plain sight within the vertebrate fossil collection of the University for more than three decades.

Views of the Skull of Ngwevu intloko

Views of the skull of N. intloko.

Views of the skull of Ngwevu intloko.

Picture Credit: Kimberley Chapelle/University of Witwatersrand

4). Keresdrakon vilsoni – Toothless Pterosaur from an Ancient Desert Ecosystem

September and thirty days of blog posts covering stiff T. rex skulls and subsequently how the skull of T. rex may have helped it to keep cool, dinosaur model deliveries to hotels, the most complete dinosaur fossil from Japan (Kamuysaurus japonicus) and the Asian origins of Saurornitholestes, but our number four features a newly described species of pterosaur from Brazil.

Researchers, writing in the academic journal “Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciências”, identified a new species of edentulous flying reptile that co-existed with the pterosaur Caiuajara and may have fed on its young.  Described as part of a non-tapejarid lineage of pterosaurs outside the Tapejaromorpha, Keresdrakon provides a new perspective on the paleoecology of a Cretaceous desert environment.

Keresdrakon Life Reconstruction It Feeds on the Carcase of a Contemporary Dinosaur (Vespersaurus) whilst a Second Keresdrakon is Mobbed by Juvenile Caiuajara

Keresdrakon life reconstruction.

Keresdrakon life reconstruction, feeding on the carcase of a Vespersaurus.

Picture Credit: Maurilio Oliveira

An honourable mention to Cryodraken boreas the first pterosaur to be described which is unique to Canada.

3). A Potential Terrestrial Tetrapod that May Not Have Gone onto Land

In October, Everything Dinosaur team members covered the amazing TetZooCon event in London, the naming of a new, basal carcharodontosaurian theropod from Thailand (Siamraptor suwati) and the reclassification of crocodiles in New Guinea.  A team of researchers, writing in “Nature” put forward an intriguing new hypothesis that some of the first vertebrates that were capable of terrestrial locomotion may have never left the water.  Parmastega aelidae was a sharp-eyed predator that may have ambushed invertebrates that ventured too close to the sea.

With eyes positioned towards the top of their heads, Parmastega was capable of observing life on land and potential prey without leaving the water.

Life in a Late Devonian Coastal Lagoon (Sosnogorsk, Russia)

Parmastega aelidae life reconstruction.

Sosnogorsk lagoon with Parmastega aelidae hunting behaviour.

Picture Credit: Mikhail Shekhanov for the Ukhta Local Museum

2).  Unusual Styracosaurus Skull Might Change the Way New Dinosaurs are Identified

The first fossil evidence of feathered polar dinosaurs, plans to map extra-terrestrial space objects in a bid to prevent Earth impact events, limited edition dinosaur models, a new predatory dinosaur from Brazil – Gnathovorax cabreirai, all featured in October.  A fossil ape from the Miocene of Germany, Poland’s first pliosaur, Rebor Komodo dragons, a new megaraptorid from “Down Under” and the discovery of a Styracosaurus skull that might just turn palaeontology on its head were also discussed.  “Hannah” an asymmetrical Styracosaurus skull named after the pet dog of palaeontologist Scott Persons has cranial imperfections that could alter the way that scientists identify new species of dinosaur.  Whoops, looks like there may have to be another revision of the Centrosaurinae.

Palaeontologist Scott Persons Poses with the Two “Hannahs” in His Life “Hannah” the pet dog and “Hannah” the Styracosaurus

Scott Persons with dog and "Hannah" the Styracosaurus.

Scott Persons with “Hannah” the Styracosaurus and his dog.

Picture Credit: Scott Persons/University of Alberta

1). Asfaltovenator vialidadi – A New Basal Allosauroid from Argentina

Our blog articles this month have covered such varied topics as galloping crocodilians, 7,000 Facebook “likes”, the announcement of new for 2020 Papo prehistoric animal figures, dinosaur teeth replacement, how to distinguish teenage tyrannosaurs and Mimodactylus libanensis, a new toothy pterosaur from the Late Cretaceous of Lebanon.

However, since we started this top ten countdown with a fossil discovery from North America and despite the focus on asymmetrical dinosaurs, we shall conclude with a dinosaur from the opposite end of the Americas.

Asfaltovenator vialidadi from the Cañadón Asfalto Formation (Chubut Province, Patagonia) roamed South America perhaps as early as 170 million years ago.  Its discovery is important, as most Middle Jurassic theropods are only known from quite fragmentary material and this dinosaur, described as a basal allosauroid, has traits linking it to both the allosauroids and the megalosauroids.  The fossils suggest that the Allosauroidea and the Megalosauroidea evolved from a common ancestor.

A Life Reconstruction of the Newly Described Asfaltovenator vialidadi 

Asfaltovenator illustration.

Asfaltovenator life reconstruction.  The theropod dinosaur shows a mix of anatomical characteristics linking the Allosauroidea and the Megalosauroidea.

Picture Credit: Gabriel Lio/Conicet

Team members at Everything Dinosaur look forward to posting up more blog articles that help to work out taxonomic relationships within the Dinosauria and improve our understanding of ancient life still further in the coming months.

27 12, 2019

Everything Dinosaur’s Top Ten Blog Posts 2019 (Part 1)

By | December 27th, 2019|Adobe CS5, Animal News Stories, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Everything Dinosaur’s Top Ten Blog Posts of 2019 (Part 1)

As this year draws to a close, it is time to reflect on all the work put into writing this web log by Everything Dinosaur team members.  It is also an opportunity to look back and reflect on some of the news stories and articles that we have published over the last twelve months.  Today, we start our look at the top ten articles that we have posted, the countdown from ten to number six.  This list has been compiled based on the total number of comments made, emails received requesting  further information, Facebook “likes” and comments, Pinterest shares and so forth.

So, without any further fuss, here is the first part of our top ten news stories for 2019.

10).  Prehistoric Shark Named After Video Game Character

In January, Everything Dinosaur covered a story about the naming of a new species of Late Cretaceous prehistoric shark.  Strange, unusually shaped shark’s teeth had been found preserved in some of the matrix associated with the famous “Sue” T. rex skeleton.  The tiny teeth reminded the research team of the shape of a spaceship from the 1980’s video game Galaga.  This was the inspiration behind the naming of this new species – Galagadon nordquistae.

Life Reconstruction of Galagadon nordquistae

Galagadon nordquistae life reconstruction.

A life reconstruction of the Late Cretaceous shark Galagadon nordquistae.

Picture Credit: Velizar Simeonovski (Field Museum)

9).  Bajadasaurus pronuspinax Rears its Head

Early February saw the announcement of the discovery of a new, bizarre dicraeosaurid from Neuquén Province, Argentina.  A single, cervical vertebra suggests that Bajadasaurus had a series of forward facing defensive spikes on its neck.  A sauropod that carried its own set of Victorian railings around with it.  Although, the fossil material is fragmentary, CollectA were quick of the mark and have created a stunning replica of this Early Cretaceous giant.  Everything Dinosaur expects to have the CollectA Bajadasaurus replica in stock early in 2020.

A Silhouette Showing a Reconstruction of the Neck Vertebrae of Bajadasaurus and the CollectA Bajadasaurus Dinosaur Model

CollectA Bajadasaurus model and an illustration of the strange cervical vertebrae.

The bizarre cervical vertebrae of Bajadasaurus.  In the silhouette illustration known fossil material is shown in white.

Picture Credit: Gallina et al published in Scientific Reports and Everything Dinosaur

8).  The Jurassic Mile

In March, a blog post was published recording the start of a huge collaboration between a number of European and American museums to explore and excavate an extraordinary, fossil-rich deposit located in the Badlands of Wyoming.  The site has been nicknamed the “Jurassic Mile” and these Morrison Formation deposits have already yielded a treasure trove of dinosaur bones, fossil plants and dinosaur trackways.

Everything Dinosaur will be providing more details of the fossil discoveries in blog articles over the coming twelve months, but the site is so vast that it could be decades before all the fossil material has been collected and studied.

Palaeontologist Phil Manning Sitting Next to a Diplodocid Femur from the “Jurassic Mile”

Professor Phil Manning and the diplodocid femur.

Professor Phil Manning (The University of Manchester) poses next to the diplodocid femur.

Picture Credit: Manchester University

7). New Kid on the Block – Homo luzonensis

The discovery of fragmentary fossil remains of a diminutive hominin on the island of Luzon in the Philippines gave the human family tree a jolt in 2019.  The fossil material, dated to around 67,000 years ago, provides the earliest direct evidence of human inhabitation of the Philippines archipelago, but is Homo luzonensis, with its arboreal adaptations the descendant of a primitive African hominin that somehow migrated to south-eastern Asia or a more advanced hominin, perhaps related to Homo erectus that evolved and changed as it adapted to life on a heavily forested tropical island?

Professor Philip Piper – A Co-author of the Scientific Paper Published in April Holding a Cast of a Toe Bone

A cast of the toe bone of Homo luzonensis.

Professor Piper (Australian National University) holding a cast of a toe bone assigned to H. luzonensis.

Picture Credit: Lannon Harley (Australian National University)

6). A Terrifying Trilobite (Redlichia rex)

In the summer, Everything Dinosaur published an article about the largest trilobite to have been discovered in Australia.  A likely predator of other trilobites, this was a thirty-centimetre-long Cambrian terror. It was appropriately named Redlichia rex and was nicknamed “the king of the trilobites”.  The fossil material comes from an exceptional Lagerstätte known as the Emu Bay Shale on Kangaroo Island, South Australia.  Around fifty different species of trilobite have been identified from this location.  Intriguingly, the predatory and potentially cannibalistic Redlichia rex may also have been hunted, preserved coprolite and the injuries recorded on the exoskeleton of specimens hint at a much larger predator lurking in the shallow sea that once covered this part of Australia.

A Fossil Specimen and the New for 2020 CollectA Redlichia rex Trilobite Model

Redlichia rex fossil and model.

A Redlichia rex trilobite fossil and the new for 2020 CollectA model.

Picture Credit: University of Adelaide/Everything Dinosaur

The naming of a new Cambrian predator inspired the model makers at CollectA to create a replica of Redlichia rex, we expect this figure to make its debut on the Everything Dinosaur website around the middle of next year.  Prior to that event in 2020, we must first complete our chronicle of the top blog posts of 2019, we will conclude this feature tomorrow.

26 12, 2019

Dinosaurs Bred Close to the South Pole

By | December 26th, 2019|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Baby Dinosaurs from Australia Indicate Dinosaurs Bred at High Latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere

Evidence has been found of ornithopod dinosaurs breeding at high latitudes in the northern hemisphere but evidence of similar behaviours in the southern hemisphere, dinosaurs nesting within the Antarctic Circle, had been lacking until now.  Writing in the on-line, open access journal “Scientific Reports”, researchers from the University of New England (New South Wales, Australia), in collaboration with colleagues from the Australian Opal Centre (Lightning Ridge, New South Wales), report the discovery of two tiny thigh bones (femora), that suggest that ornithopods did breed in southern polar environments.

An Artist’s Reconstruction of a Nesting Ornithopod with Recently Hatched Young

Dinosaurs Nesting Close to the South Pole.

A life reconstruction of a nesting Australian ornithopod (based on Weewarrasaurus).  The two femora are indistinct and scientists are not able to identify them down to the genus level but since the wallaby-sized ornithopod Weewarrasaurus is known from close by, the reconstruction has been based on this dinosaur.

Picture Credit: James Kuether

Co-author of the scientific paper, Dr Phil Bell (School of Environmental and Rural Science, University of New England) explained:

“We have examples of hatchling-sized dinosaurs from close to the North Pole, but this is the first time we’ve seen this kind of thing anywhere in the southern hemisphere.  It’s the first clue we’ve had about where these animals were breeding and raising their young.”

Dinosaurs Were Able to Tolerate a Range of Climates

The discovery of the two tiny, opalised thigh bones adds to the growing body of evidence that suggests that the Dinosauria, just like their close relatives the birds,  were remarkably climate-tolerant.  They thrived in equatorial, temperate and polar environments.  Fossilised eggshell and the fossilised remains of tiny hatchling hadrosaurids demonstrates that dinosaurs bred at high latitudes in the northern hemisphere and now the discovery to two partial thigh bones from the Griman Creek Formation exposed near Lightning Ridge suggests that non-iguanodontid ornithopods bred beyond sixty degrees south, well inside the Antarctic Circle.

The Two Opalised Fragmentary Dinosaur Thigh Bones (Femora)

The two tiny thigh bones indicate dinosaur nesting within the Antarctic Circle.

Proximal parts of ornithopod femora from the Griman Creek Formation. LRF 0759 (a–d). LRF 3375 (e–i).  Anterior views (a-e); (b,f) medial views; (c,g) posterior views; (d,i) proximal views; (h) lateral view.

Picture Credit: Scientific Reports

The two fragmentary fossil femurs do not preserve any evidence of histology, so, it is not possible to determine the exact age of the animals from these fossils.  However, when this material is compared with neonatal and slightly older, possible yearling specimens known from the geologically slightly older Eumeralla and Wonthaggi formations in Victoria (Australia), it can be deduced that these are the thigh bones of embryonic dinosaurs, ones that were yet to hatch.

The femur is relatively large (although in these tiny dinosaurs, one femur is estimated to have a total length of 4.5 cm, whilst the other is even smaller with an estimated total length of just 3.7 cm), as such, this bone has a better chance of surviving the fossilisation process than most of the other bones in the dinosaur’s body.  Palaeontologists had thought that dinosaurs living at high latitudes were not permanent residents, they migrated into these areas during the period of extended daylight and subsequent copious plant growth, just like herds of caribou in the Arctic Circle do today.  However, the ornithopods, even as fully grown adults were relatively small animals, as such they were probably not capable of migrating vast distances.  Therefore, it is likely that at least some dinosaurs were permanent residents at very high southerly latitudes and as such they bred at these environments.

Palaeogeographic Map of Australia Around 100 Million Years Ago

Palaeogeographic map of South Pole (100 million years ago).

Palaeogeographic map of Australia at the Albian/Cenomanian boundary (circa 100 million years ago) showing the fossil localities discussed in this paper. (1) Lightning Ridge, Griman Creek Formation (Cenomanian); (2) Dinosaur Cove, Eumeralla Formation (Albian); (3) Flat Rocks, Wonthaggi Formation (Aptian).

Picture Credit: Scientific Reports

The image (above) shows the approximate landmass associated with the polar regions around 100 million years ago.  The tiny fossilised thigh bones come from (1) the Lightning Ridge location.  In order to determine the age of these dinosaurs, they were compared with bones representing neonatal and slightly older animals found at locations (2) and (3).

The researchers conclude that these fossils support they hypothesis that some dinosaurs at least were permanent residents in the very southernmost portion of Gondwana.

The scientific paper: “High-latitude neonate and perinate ornithopods from the mid-Cretaceous of south-eastern Australia” by Justin L. Kitchener, Nicolás E. Campione, Elizabeth T. Smith and Phil R. Bell published in Scientific Reports.

22 12, 2019

Dinosaurs from the “End of the World”

By | December 22nd, 2019|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Scientists Map out the Late Cretaceous Biota of the Chorrillo Formation (Patagonia)

Scientists meeting at the end of year conference of the Argentine Museum of Natural Sciences have presented a new paper that provides an insight into the vertebrate biota associated with the Chorrillo Formation in the Province of Santa Cruz (Patagonia, southern Argentina).  Two new dinosaurs have been described, a basal member of the Iguanodontia estimated to have measured around four metres in length and a much bigger dinosaur, a titanosaur that is estimated to have measured around twenty-five metres long.

Numerous fossil fragments representing several individuals have been found indicating that the iguanodont material might represent a small herd of animals that died together.  This dinosaur has been named Isasicursor santacrucensis, whilst the titanosaur has been named Nullotitan glaciaris.

Two New Dinosaurs were Named at the Conference

Nullotitan and Isasicursor life reconstruction.

A life reconstruction of the titanosaur Nullotitan and the basal iguanodontid Isasicursor.

Picture Credit: CONICET

“Los Dinosaurios del fin del Mundo”

All the fossil material examined in the scientific paper, the dinosaur remains, fossilised titanosaur eggshells, fossils associated with other reptiles including a mosasaur, come from an area of approximately 2,000 square metres.  The sequential strata associated with this part of the Chorrillo Formation plot a gradual ingression of the sea eating into a coastal environment.  The dinosaurs are believed to have lived around 70 million years ago (Maastrichtian faunal stage of the Cretaceous).  As these fossils date from near the end of the Age of Dinosaurs and are geographically located in the south of Argentina, the researchers dubbed them as “Los dinosaurios del fin del mundo” – the dinosaurs from the end of the world.

Silhouette Reconstructions of Isasicursor and Nullotitan

Chorrillo Formation dinosaurs.

Silhouettes of Isasicursor santacrucensis (top) and Nullotitan glaciaris (bottom).

Picture Credit: CONICET

An Enormous Femur

Nullotitan fossil material consists of fragmentary elements from the tail (caudal vertebrae), along with a single neck bone (cervical vertebra), portions of the limbs and other scrappy fossil material.  The largest, most complete fossil bone is a humerus (upper arm bone), it measures 114 cm long, but both the distal and proximal ends of an enormous femur (thigh bone) were also recovered from the site.  The femur is estimated to have been around 190 centimetres in length.

The scientists also reported fragments of theropod eggshells as well as evidence of the presence of both large and small members of the Megaraptoridae, although no fossils associated with abelisaurs were found.  Remains of fishes, lizards, turtles and snakes were also identified along with fossil wood and a large number of terrestrial and freshwater snails.  Mammals were present in the ecosystem, two isolated vertebrae belonging to a small mammal were found.  The fossil material representing individual animals might be quite poor and scrappy in nature, but the number of fossil finds has greatly improved our understanding of the biota of the southern tip of Patagonia close to the K-Pg boundary that marks the end of the Cretaceous.

Fossil Material Ascribed to Isasicursor santacrucensis

Isascursor fossils.

The fossil material associated with Isasicursor.

Picture Credit: CONICET

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