All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
/Photos/Pictures of Fossils

Pictures of fossils, fossil hunting trips, fossil sites and photographs relating to fossil hunting and fossil finds.

15 01, 2019

The Left Femur of Aepyornis

By | January 15th, 2019|Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

A Thigh Bone from an “Elephant Bird”

Whilst on a recent visit to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, a beautiful specimen of a femur from an extinct “elephant bird” was spotted in a display case on the ground floor.    The thigh bone is purported to come from the genus Aepyornis, we suspect that from the robust nature of the bone, this is from A. maximus, or the bone may have to be classified to the genus Vorombe, following a reassessment of the largest specimens.

The Robust Left Femur on Display at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Elephant bird left femur.

Aepyornis (elephant bird) left femur but possibly representing the genus Vorombe.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Native to Madagascar

Following the first taxonomic revision of the Aepyornithidae for more than fifty years, the species formerly known as Aepyornis titan was renamed Vorombe titan and it is the largest member of the bird family known to science.  It has been calculated that V. titan stood around three metres tall and weighed approximately 800 kilograms.

Whether or not the left femur represents A. maximus or V. titan, one thing is for sure, that’s a very strong looking leg bone.

To read Everything Dinosaur’s article on the taxonomic revision of the Aepyornithidae: The World’s Largest Bird – Ever!

If you look carefully, where the internal structure of the bone is exposed, the honey-comb texture (pneumacity) can be observed.  This is a feature common to both avian and many non-avian dinosaurs.

14 01, 2019

Basilosaurus – The Apex Predator

By | January 14th, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Research Confirms Basilosaurus Was a Top Predator

Readers with a long memory might remember an episode from the BBC “Walking with Beasts” television series that first aired in 2001.  In this sequel to “Walking with Dinosaurs”, the focus was placed upon the evolution of the mammals after the dinosaur extinction.  “Whale Killer”,  which was episode two in the six-part series, told the story of a pregnant Basilosaurus (archaic whale), desperately searching for food to help the calf growing inside her.  Thanks to raids on Dorudon whales and their young, the Basilosaurus is able to successfully give birth and this episode ends with the mother swimming away with her new-born calf following close behind.

An Illustration of the Fearsome Early Toothed Whale Basilosaurus

PNSO Basilosaurus illustration.

An illustration of Basilosaurus.  The human figure provides scale.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Analysis of Basilosaurus Stomach Contents

A team of researchers writing in the on-line, academic journal PLOS One, have published the results of stomach content analysis of Basilosaurus specimens from the Late Eocene-aged site at Wadi Al-Hitan in Egypt.  It is confirmed that Basilosaurus fed on smaller whales (juvenile Dorudon atrox) as well as large fish (Pycnodus mokattamensis).  The scientists, which included Manja Voss (Museum für Naturkunde Berlin) and Mohammed Sameh M. Antar from the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency, Cairo, state that this is the first direct evidence of Basilosaurus (B. isis) diet.

A Size Comparison Between an Adult Basilosaurus isis and an Adult Dorudon atrox

An adult Basilosaurus compared to an adult Dorudon whale.

Comparing an adult, fifteen-metre-long Basilosaurus isis museum mounted skeleton to a fully grown Dorudon atrox.

Picture Credit: PLOS One/University of Michigan

Basilosaurus – Top of a Tethys Ocean Ecological Pyramid

The Late Eocene Epoch was a time of dramatic change and global extinction.  The once mighty Tethys Ocean was very much reduced, but the first, giant, toothed whales had evolved and the research team cite Basilosaurus isis, the Late Miocene Livyatan melvillei, and the extant Orca (Orcinus orca) as three marine apex predators known from relatively short intervals of time during the Cenozoic.  This research confirms the predator-prey relationship between the two most frequently found fossil whales at the Wadi Al-Hitan location.  Bite marks on the preserved skulls of Dorudon whales suggest predation and not scavenging behaviour by Basilosaurus.

A Photomosaic of a Basilosaurus Specimen (WH 10001)

Basilosaurus scattered remains.

Photomosaic of Basilosaurus isis (WH 10001) from the Gehannam Formation of Wadi Al Hitan.

Picture Credit: PLOS One

The image above shows a photomosaic of a scattered and disarticulated Basilosaurus isis specimen from the Gehannam Formation of Wadi Al-Hitan.  The disarticulation of the fossil skeleton and the scattering suggests disturbance by scavengers and possibly long exposure on the seafloor prior to burial.

The researcher conclude that Basilosaurus was a top apex predator that hunted and ate its prey alive, rather than scavenging for scraps.  If the Wadi Al-Hitan site, represents a calving area for the Dorudon, then this would have made an ideal hunting spot for a hungry Basilosaurus.  The dramatic scenes in episode two of the “Walking with Beasts” television series, have more published scientific evidence to back up the screenplay.

9 01, 2019

When Did Life on Land First Evolve?

By | January 9th, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Was There Life on Land During the Ediacaran?

The transition of vertebrates from fully aquatic to partially terrestrial animals has been well documented.  Transitional vertebrates such as the remarkable Tiktaalik roseae* provide evidence of the anatomical adaptations undertaken by back-boned animals as they conquered the land.  However, invertebrates got there first and before them the land was home to other organisms such as multi-cellular, photosynthesisng mats of algae.  When complex organisms, rather than members of the Plantae Kingdom or bacteria established themselves on land is somewhat controversial, but new clues might be emerging from fossils found in some of the oldest known soils on Earth.  Could land-dwelling organisms have been present during the Ediacaran?

An Ediacaran Fossil Affected by Wind-drift Deposition

Evidence of wind-drift deposition in ancient Ediacaran sediments.

A portion of a quilted Ediacaran fossil is partly covered by ancient wind deposition – source Namibia.

Picture Credit: Greg Retallack (Oregon University)

Not Marine Fossils But Fossils from a Fluvial Environment

Multi-cellular, terrestrial animals may have existed during the Ediacaran, that is the conclusion of Greg Retallack, fossil collections director at the University of Oregon’s Museum of Natural and Cultural History, writing in the journal Sedimentary Geology.  The evidence for such a conclusion emerged from fossil assemblages, previously considered to represent ocean organisms, found in thin layers of silt and sand located between thicker sandstone beds from Ediacaran-aged fossil localities of Nilpena, South Australia and in similarly aged rocks from Namibia.

The Ediacaran is the last geological period of the Precambrian (Neoproterozoic Era), it lasted from 635 million years ago to 542 million years ago and this period in Earth’s history was named after the Ediacara Hills, located north of Adelaide (South Australia), in which, geologist Reginald Sprigg discovered a remarkable collection of fossils representing bizarre, soft-bodied organisms.

Commenting on his new research Greg Retallack stated:

“These Ediacaran organisms are one of the enduring mysteris of the fossil record.  Were they worms, sea jellies, sea pens, amoebae, algae?  They are notoriously difficult to classify, but conventional wisdom has long held that they were marine organisms.”

Studying Interflag Sandstone Laminae

An in-depth, microscopic analysis of the sediments and their geochemical properties has led to a reassessment of the environmental conditions that led to their deposition.  The grains that make up the sediments, reveal telltale marks of ancient wind erosion, the sediments suggest wind-drift deposition between flood beds.  This indicates a terrestrial origin for them and not deposition in a marine environment, after all, wind (aeolian forces), hardly affect sand grains on the seabed.

These thin, silty to sandy layers that are “sandwiched” between thicker sandstone beds are referred to as interflag sandstone laminae, they are sometimes called “shims” or “microbial mat sandwiches”.  In the research paper, Greg Retallack found similar structures in modern river deposits as well as more ancient interflag sandstone laminae in Pennsylvanian (Upper Carboniferous), and Eocene fluvial levee facies.

Thin, Silty to Sandy Layers Deposited Between Thicker Layers of Sandstone

Interflag Sandstone Laminae

How interflag sandstone laminae form – wind deposition alternates with flood deposition – a phenomenon observed in modern fluvial environments.

Picture Credit: Greg Retallack (Oregon University)

Professor Retallack confirmed his diagnosis of an aeolian factor in the deposition by stating:

“Such wind-drifted layers are widespread on river levees and sandbars today.  They are present throughout the Flinders Ranges of South Australia and also in Ediacaran rocks of southern Namibia.”

If the sediments are affected by aeolian forces, then it follows that they were deposited in terrestrial environments and therefore the fossil assemblage associated with these deposits are very likely to represent a terrestrial biota.  The organisms that left these fossils would have been multicellular and quite complex, visible to the naked eye.  Such life would have preceded the emergence of the first land plants by many tens of millions of years.

Unearthing Important Clues

The Ediacaran biota remains extremely difficult to classify, only impressions have been preserved so the internal structure of most of these bizarre organisms is entirely unknown.  They could represent a “dead-end” in the evolution of complex life, or some of them might be ancestral to extant groups of animals.  The fauna of the Ediacaran might remain enigmatic, when it comes to learning what the fossils actually represent, but this new study offers some intriguing new evidence about the palaeoenvironment.

The Professor concluded:

“The investigation points to a terrestrial habitat for some of these organisms, and combined with growing evidence from studies of fossil soils and biological soil crust features, it suggests that they may have been land creatures such as lichens.”

*To read an article about Tiktaalik roseaeScientists Get to Grips with Tiktaalik’s Rear End

Life in the Ediacaran (Marine Biota)

Ediacaran marine life.

Life in the Ediacaran.  Up until now, most if not all of the life reconstructions have focused on a marine ecosystem scenario.

Picture Credit: John Sibbick

The scientific paper: “Interflag Sandstone Laminae, A Novel Sedimentary Structure, with Implications for Ediacaran Paleoenvironments” by Gregory J. Retallack published in Sedimentary Geology.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the help of a press release from the Univesity of Oregon in the compilation of this article.

8 01, 2019

Computer Modelling Reveals a Marine Reptile Braincase

By | January 8th, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

CT Scanner Helps Palaeontologists to Map the Braincase of a Marine Reptile

A farmer’s field in Warwickshire was the site of a remarkable fossil discovery more than sixty years ago.  Thanks to the application of advanced medical science and computer modelling, a team of researchers including scientists from Manchester University, have been able to unlock secrets from inside the skull of a giant, Early Jurassic marine reptile.  The almost 200 million-year-old fossil, was found at Fell Mill Farm (Warwickshire, England), in 1955.  The material included a nearly one-metre-long skull of an ichthyosaur, it had been preserved in three-dimensions permitting scientists a rare glimpse into the internal workings of a prehistoric animal’s skull.

The Beautifully Preserved and Now Fully Restored Skull Specimen

Reconstructed Protoichthyosaurus skull.

The reconstructed, three-dimensional ichthyosaur skull (Protoichthyosaurus).

Picture Credit: Thinktank, Birmingham Science Museum

Revealing New Information About the Rarely Preserved Braincase

Most ichthyosaur cranial material is crushed, flattened and distorted during the fossilisation process.  This specimen permitted the research team which included Dean Lomax (Manchester University), skilled fossil preparator Nigel Larkin and Laura Porro (University College London), to study a near complete and undistorted three-dimensional skull providing new insights into ichthyosaur cranial anatomy and the morphology of the braincase.  Despite the fossil specimen’s excellent preservation, it had never been formally studied prior to this research.

Co-author of the paper, Nigel Larkin explained:

“Initially, the aim of the project was to clean and conserve the skull and partially dismantle it to rebuild it more accurately, ready for redisplay at the Thinktank Museum [Birmingham].  But we soon realised that the individual bones of the skull were exceptionally well preserved in three dimensions, better than in any other ichthyosaur skull we’d seen.  Furthermore, that they would respond well to CT scanning, enabling us to capture their shape digitally and to see their internal details.  This presented an opportunity that couldn’t be missed.”

Computed Tomography (CT) Scans

To help unlock the information contained inside the skull, the specimen was subjected to computed tomography (CT) scans using a large medical scanner located at the Royal Veterinary College (London).  The powerful X-rays in conjunction with computer modelling allowed a three-dimensional and highly accurate digital reconstruction of the fossil to be made.  This is the first time a digital reconstruction of a skull and mandible of a large marine reptile has ever been made available for research purposes and to the public.

Going Through the CT Scanner

Scanning the skull of a marine reptile.

A large marine reptile skull is placed in a CT scanner.

Picture Credit: Nigel Larkin photograph taken at Royal Veterinary College, London

Further computed tomography analysis (micro-CT scanning) took place at the University of Cambridge.

Study Clears Up Fossil Identification

When originally labelled several decades ago, the ichthyosaur was classified as an example of the species Ichthyosaurus communis.  Indeed, when Everything Dinosaur wrote an article about this remarkably well-preserved skull back in 2016, the specimen was still being described as Ichthyosaurus.  However, lead-author and ichthyosaur expert, Dean Lomax became convinced as the research progressed, that this specimen represented a much rarer species.  He identified it as an example of an ichthyosaur called Protoichthyosaurus prostaxalis, the type species of this genus had originally been named in 1979.

To read the 2016 article that describes the skull and shows the post cranial material associated with this specimen: One of Britain’s Largest Ichthyosaurs Goes on Display.

With a skull almost twice as long as any other specimen of Protoichthyosaurus, this is the largest specimen known to science.

Research Team Members View the Results of the CT Scans

Viewing three-dimensional images of the fossil skull.

Dean Lomax (left), Laura Porro (centre) and Nigel Larkin (right) view 3-D images of the skull.

Picture Credit:  Nigel Larkin, taken at the University of Cambridge

Lead-author Dean Lomax stated:

“The first time I saw this specimen I was puzzled by its excellent preservation.  Ichthyosaurs of this age (Early Jurassic), are usually ‘pancaked’, meaning that they are squished so that the original structure of the skull is either not preserved or is distorted or damaged.  So, to have a skull and portions of the skeleton of an ichthyosaur of this age preserved in three dimensions, and without any surrounding rock obscuring it, is something quite special.”

Protoichthyosaurus prostaxalis

Protoichthyosaurus was first erected by the British palaeontologist Robert Appleby forty years ago.  Prior to his research, the fossil material that Dr Appleby assigned to the new genus had been placed in the Ichthyosaurus genus.  Indeed, subsequent research challenged this assessment and for some time, the validity of the Protoichthyosaurus genus remained in doubt.  In 2017, Dean Lomax along with colleagues Professor Judy Massare (State University of New York) and Rashmi Mistry (Reading University), conducted a re-examination of the fossil material and carried out extensive comparisons between Ichthyosaur and suspected Protoichthyosaurus specimens.  The researchers concluded that Protoichthyosaurus was indeed, a valid genus: Reaffirming Protoichthyosaurus as a Valid Genus.

A Life Reconstruction of the Ichthyosaur Protoichthyosaurus prostaxalis

Protoichthyosaurus life reconstruction.

A life reconstruction of the Ichthyosaur Protoichthyosaurus (P. prostaxalis).

Picture Credit: Bob Nicholls @Paleocreations

Back to the Braincase

The skull is not quite complete, but several bones that make up the braincase, which are very rarely preserved in the Ichthyosauridae, are present.  The micro-CT scanning conducted at Cambridge University provided crucial data to help reconstruct the internal anatomy of the animal’s skull and brain.  The fossil only preserved bones from the left side of the braincase, however, using CT scans these elements were digitally mirrored and 3-D printed at life size to provide a complete braincase.

Commenting on how the use of modern technologies, such as medical scanners, have revolutionised the way in which palaeontologists are able to study and describe fossils, Dr Laura Porro stated:

“CT scanning allows us to look inside fossils – in this case, we could see long canals within the skull bones that originally contained blood vessels and nerves.  Scans also revealed the curation history of the specimen since its discovery in the ‘50s.  There were several areas reconstructed in plaster and clay, and one bone was so expertly modelled that only the scans revealed part of it was a fake.  Finally, there is the potential to digitally reconstruct the skull in 3-D.  This is hard (and risky) to do with the original, fragile and very heavy fossil bones; plus, we can now make the 3-D reconstruction freely available to other scientists and for education.”

An Image of the Three-Dimensional Scan of the Protoichthyosaurus Skull Material

Three-dimensional scan of a Protoichthyosaurus skull.

A three-dimensional image from the scan of the Protoichthyosaurus skull.  Individual elements and bones are highlighted in different colours.

Picture Credit: University of Manchester/Thinktank

Dean Lomax added:

“It’s taken more than half a century for this ichthyosaur to be studied and described, but it has been worth the wait.  Not only has our study revealed exciting information about the internal anatomy of the skull of this animal, but our findings will aid other palaeontologists in exploring its evolutionary relationship with other ichthyosaurs.”

7 01, 2019

Smallest Dinosaur Tracks Known to Science

By | January 7th, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

A New Tiny Dromaeosaurid Ichnogenus Dromaeosauriformipes

Catching up with our reading of scientific papers over the weekend and our attention was caught by the description of tiny, two-toed prints from South Korea that reaffirm the growing conviction amongst scientists that some types of non-avian dinosaur were very small, not much bigger than sparrows.  Writing in the academic journal “Scientific Reports”, researchers from South Korea, in collaboration with colleagues from Australia, China, Spain and the USA, describe eighteen diminutive, didactyl tracks that are attributed to either juveniles or tiny adult dinosaurs that may have had a hip height of around five centimetres.

The tracks have been ascribed to a new ichnogenus – Dromaeosauriformipes (D. rarus), the name translates as similar in form to Dromaeosauripus*, small and rare.

A Life Reconstruction of the Recently Described Dromaeosauriformipes rarus

Dromaeosauriformipes illustrated.

A life reconstruction of the diminutive, dromaeosaurid ichnogenus Dromaeosauriformipes.

Picture Credit: Anthony Romilio (Queensland University)

Dromaeosauripus* is an earlier described ichnogenus representing a larger set of tracks, three ichnospecies have been assigned to this ichnogenus to date.

Dromaeosauriformipes rarus – A Microsaur

The tracks were originally found by Professor Kyung Soo Kim (Chinju National University of Education, South Korea), one of the authors of the paper.  The tracks come from a series of remarkable multiple track-bearing horizons from the JinJu Formation of the south-eastern part of the Korean peninsula.  The deposits represent lakeshore sediments (Lower Cretaceous) and date from approximately 115 million years ago (Aptian faunal stage).  The trackways criss-cross an area that was once soft mud and the eighteen tracks are interpreted as representing an estimated 6 to 10 individual trackways possibly made by a similar number of different individuals.  It is suggested that the prints could resemble a Microraptor-like dromaeosaurid (Microraptorine).  Some scientists have suggested that Microraptor was piscivorous (fish-eating).  The tracks found in association with a lakeshore, could represent a Microraptor-like dinosaur searching for food, but equally the tracks could represent other types of activity.

Microraptorine Activity in Lakeshore Setting (D. rarus)

Mapping tiny tracks assigned to a dromaeosaurid dinosaur.

Diminutive dromaeosaurid tracks from South Korea (Dromaeosauriformipes rarus).

Picture Credit: Scientific Reports  – original photo (A) by Professor Kim

The picture shows (A), the seven print trackway of the diminutive dromaeosaurian Dromaeosauriformipes rarus.  A line drawing of the trackway is shown (B) and (C) shows a line drawing of the track-bearing surface showing two tiny tracks but trackway 2 has a much bigger stride length indicating greater velocity than recorded in trackway 1.  Pictured below are seven photographs recording the individual prints.

One of the authors of the scientific paper, Dr Anthony Romilio from the University of Queensland stated:

“They are the world’s smallest dinosaur tracks.  These new tracks are just one centimetre in length, which means the dinosaur that made them was an animal you could have easily held in your hand.”

Hatched from Tiny Eggs

To estimate the size of the dinosaur that made the tracks, the team measured the footprint length and multiplied the value by 4.5 to get an approximate hip height.  The maker(s) of these tiny tracks would have had a hip height of around five centimetres.  The two-toed prints are definitively dromaeosaurid, as the second toe, the killing claw, is held off the ground as the dinosaur moves about, hence just two toe impressions are left behind in each print.  In the paper, the scientists comment upon the fact that these tiny dinosaurs must have hatched from very small eggs.

Back in 2016, Everything Dinosaur featured the discovery of tiny three-toed Theropod prints that had been discovered in Lower Cretaceous sediments from south-western China.  As a result, a new “tiny-saurus” ichnogenus was erected – Minisauripus.  The South Korean prints assigned to Dromaeosauriformipes rarus are even smaller.

To read about the earlier discovery of tiny dinosaur footprints from south-western China: Minisauripus – the Smallest Dinosaur Known?

Professor Kyung Soo Kim commented that the lake deposits at this location created ideal conditions that allowed for the preservation of tiny footprints, rarely found anywhere else in the world.

Professor Kim added:

“In addition to tiny dinosaur tracks, we have footprints made by birds, pterosaurs, lizards, turtles, mammals, and even frogs.”

Comparing the Tracks of Dromaeosauriformipes rarus with Dromaeosauripus jinjuensis

Comparing the didactyl tracks of different sized dromaeosaurid ichnogenera.

Dromaeosauriformipes rarus tracks compared in size and scale to Dromaeosauripus jinjuensis.

Picture Credit: Scientific Reports

The image above compares illustrations of the tracks of  Dromaeosauriformipes rarus to the size of the trackways assigned to Dromaeosauripus jinjuensis.  Note the raised second toe which produces the characteristic two-toed print.  D rarus tracks suggest a much smaller dromaeosaur produced the tracks.  The image in the upper left is a colour photogrammetric image of Trackway 1 which helps to define track depth and characteristics.  This is compared to the photogrammetric colour image showing the type trackway of D. jinjuensis (right).

Are These Tiny Dinosaurs or Newly-Hatched Dinosaurs from a Much Larger Species?

The tracks support the idea that there may have been lots of very small dinosaurs, but their small bones would not necessarily be preserved in the fossil record so there may be a bias towards larger members of the Dinosauria due to their greater preservation potential.  However, if conditions are right, then diminutive prints and tracks can be preserved, providing tantalising evidence to support the idea of a much more diverse Theropoda then previously thought.  The researchers raise two fascinating questions in their published paper:

  1. What is the size range of “raptor” tracks based on footprints or inferred from skeletal remains?
  2. How might diminutive tracks of juveniles be distinguished from the prints made by tiny adults (Microsaurs)?

Co-author Dr Martin Lockley (University of Colorado Denver’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences), suggests that these tiny trackways could represent the prints of adult dinosaurs.

He commented:

“Rapidly growing dinosaurs don’t remain small or leave little footprints for very long.  But of all of the footprints we’ve found of the Minisauripus, none grew larger than one inch; a preponderance of evidence of a small species and not babies.  There’s a chance that we just found something smaller.”

5 01, 2019

First Fossil Record of a Yam from Asia

By | January 5th, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Leaf Fossils from India Hint at the Origin of Yams

The edible, starch-filled tubers of the genus Dioscorea are an important food stuff for many people.  These flowering plants (Dioscoreaceae family), are often referred to as yams and several hundred species are known.  These plants are widely distributed throughout warm temperate, subtropical and tropical regions, but scientists were unsure of the evolutionary history of this important group of Angiosperms.  However, researchers from the Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeosciences (Lucknow, northern India), have named a new fossil species – Dioscorea eocenicus.  Two broad, heart-shaped leaf fossils unearthed at a Gurha lignite mine in Bikaner (western Rajasthan), hint that this important group of plants could have evolved on the southern super-continent of Gondwana.

One of the Broad Leaf Fossils from the Mine – Dioscorea eocenicus

Ancient leaf fossils suggest Eocene Epoch yams.

Dioscorea eocenicus – ancient yam of the Early Eocene Epoch.

Picture Credit: Rakesh Chandra Mehrotra and Anumeha Shukla published (Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology)

The First Record of Dioscoreaceae from Asia

Writing in the academic journal “Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology”, the researchers describe the two leaf fossils which measure around sixteen centimetres in length.  Comparative analysis with extant and extinct flowering plants led the authors to conclude that these fossils represent the first record of the Dioscoreaceae family from Asia.  Fossils representing ancient members of the Dioscoreaceae are known from Africa, Europe and America, but these Eocene fossils found on the Indian subcontinent suggest a southern hemisphere origin for this plant family and furthermore, it could mean that yams were present in the Cretaceous.  Perhaps, Late Cretaceous herbivorous dinosaurs fed on their leaves and succulent, energy rich tubers.

Analysis of other plant fossils found in the same deposits, reveal that when these early yams lived, Rajasthan was a humid, tropical paradise.  The climate of Rajasthan today is very different.  India’s largest state is arid and it contains the Thar Desert, sometimes referred to as the “Great Indian Desert” which covers and area bigger than the whole of England and Wales.

The scientific paper: “First Record of Dioscorea from the Early Eocene of north-western India: Its Evolutionary and Palaeoecological Importance” by Rakesh Chandra Mehrotra and Anumeha Shukla published in the Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology.

4 01, 2019

New Middle Jurassic Pterosaur Described

By | January 4th, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Klobiodon rochei – Fanged Flier of the Middle Jurassic

The famous Stonesfield Slate mines located in Oxfordshire have provided palaeontologists with a rich assemblage of Middle Jurassic (Bathonian), marine and terrestrial fossils, perhaps most famously, the Theropod Megalosaurus, the first dinosaur to be scientifically described.  Joining “big reptile” as a member of the area’s prehistoric biota is a newly described, toothy pterosaur – Klobiodon rochei.

Writing in the academic journal Acta Palaeontologica Polonica, Dr Michael O’Sullivan, (University of Portsmouth), has reviewed the extensive but highly fragmentary pterosaur material and uncovered evidence of well-armed and substantial flying reptiles from historically important, but overlooked, British fossils.

A Life Reconstruction of the Middle Jurassic Rhamphorhynchid Pterosaur Klobiodon rochei

Klobiodon rochei life reconstruction.

A life reconstruction of the Middle Jurassic pterosaur Klobiodon rochei.

Picture Credit: Mark Witton

An Unexpectedly Large and Formidable Flying Reptile

Working in collaboration with Professor David Martill (University of Portsmouth), Dr O’Sullivan examined many of the 215 fragmentary pterosaur fossils that have been collected from the Stonesfield Slate mines, K. rochei is one of the largest known from any Middle Jurassic-aged deposits.  It had an estimated wingspan of two metres, making it about the size of a modern-day mute swan.  Living around 166-165 million years ago, Klobiodon is an unexpectedly large and formidably-armed species.

Commenting on the significance of the newly described member of the Rhamphorhynchidae family, Dr O’Sullivan stated:

“It’s large fangs would have meshed together to form a toothy cage, from which little could escape once Klobiodon had gotten a hold of it.   The excellent marine reptiles and ammonites of the UK’s Jurassic heritage are widely known, but we celebrate our Jurassic flying reptiles far less.  The Stonesfield pterosaurs are rarely pretty or spectacular, but they capture a time in flying reptile evolution which is poorly represented globally.  They have an important role to play in not only understanding the UK’s natural history, but help us understand the bigger global picture as well.”

Honouring Comic Book Artist Nick Roche

The genus name translates as “cage tooth”, a reference to its huge, fang-like teeth, up to 26 millimetres long, that lined the jaw (this pterosaur has been named based on the morphology of the lower mandible).  The species name honours comic book artist Nick Roche in recognition of the role this popular media has in how extinct animals are portrayed.  Comic books are a medium where prehistoric animals are portrayed in an increasingly scientifically accurate manner, Roche’s work at the turn of this century was one of the earlier examples of a revival of palaeoart.

The Lower Jaw of Klobiodon rochei

Holotype fossil fo Klobiodon rochei.

The right lower mandible of the newly described Middle Jurassic pterosaur Klobiodon rochei.  The photograph shows the original label assigned to the fossil the validity of Rhamphocephalus depressirostris has now been questioned.

Only the lower jaw of Klobiodon is known, but it has a unique dental configuration that allows it to be distinguished from other pterosaurs.   It probably fed on small fish and squid, filling a role in the coastal ecosystem of an extant seagull or tern.

A Confused Picture

Much of Dr O’Sullivan’s research has involved untangling the messy science associated with these neglected specimens.  For example, the pterosaur specimens from the Great Oolite Group (Stonesfield Slate is a unit of the Great Oolite Group), are held in museums scattered across the world, although the majority are housed either at the London Natural History Museum or within the collection of the Natural History Museum of Oxford University.  Most of these fossils were assigned in the 19th Century to the genus Rhamphocephalus and to one of three species namely: Rhamphocephalus prestwichi, Rhamphocephalus bucklandi, and Rhamphocephalus depressirostris.

This study reviewed the British Middle Jurassic Pterosauria assemblage, evaluating both their systematics and taxonomic diversity.  The holotype of Rhamphocephalus, an isolated skull table, is found to be a misidentified crocodylomorph skull and the genus is therefore considered a nomen dubium.  The holotype of Rhamphocephalus bucklandi is identified as missing and that of Rhamphocephalus depressirostris has characters diagnostic at a family level, not a generic or specific one.  Both species are considered dubious.  Detailed examination of the entire pterosaur fossil assemblage shows that these fossils actually represent at least five different taxa, representing three families.  The researchers propose that the fossil material includes the earliest occurrences of the Monofenestrata clade and sub-order Pterodactyloidea, that was to give rise to some of the largest flying reptiles known to science.

Dr O’Sullivan explained:

“Klobiodon has been known to us for centuries, archived in a museum drawer and seen by dozens or hundreds of scientists, but it’s significance has been overlooked because it’s been confused with another species since the 1800s.”

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur stated:

“The pterosaur fossils associated with Middle Jurassic deposits of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire have been neglected.  Research undertaken in the 19th century suggested that this was a time of relatively low pterosaur diversity.  This new research suggests that this was not the case, the Bathonian pterosaur assemblage is actually quite diverse with important early representatives of key types of flying reptile having been identified from this English fossil material.”

Stonefield Slate’s Most Famous Resident

Perhaps the most famous member of the Great Oolite Group biota is Megalosaurus bucklandii, the first dinosaur to be formally described.  The name was first used by James Parkinson in 1822 and published by the Reverend William Buckland in 1824, when he described various fossil remains including an iconic lower jaw bone (right dentary).  Size estimates vary for M. bucklandii, it could have been around ten metres in length.  It was probably the apex predator within this ecosystem and it is intriguing to think that the likes of Klobiodon could have scavenged the kills of Megalosaurus.

A Life Reconstruction of the Stonefield Slate’s Most Famous Member – Megalosaurus bucklandii

A life reconstruction of Megalosaurus bucklandii.

Megalosaurus feeding.  An illustration of the Middle Jurassic Ecosystem (Great Oolite Group).

Picture Credit: Mark Witton

The scientific paper: “Pterosauria of the Great Oolite Group (Bathonian, Middle Jurassic) of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire, England” by Michael O’Sullivan and David M. Martill, published in published in Acta Palaeontologica Polonica (editor’s choice).

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

3 01, 2019

Picking Up a Pair of Peccaries in Tennessee

By | January 3rd, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Picking up a Peccary or Two

Scientists from East Tennessee State University in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Tennessee and the University of California have published a scientific paper on the discovery of two types of Pliocene peccary from the famous Gray Fossil Site located Washington County (north-eastern Tennessee).  The town of Gray harbours a remarkable fossil quarry that has highly fossiliferous strata that dates from around 4.9 to 4.5 million years ago.  The site represents a watery sink hole, that was once surrounded by an oak and hickory dominated forest.  Since this location’s discovery nineteen years ago, a treasure trove of vertebrate and plant fossils has been excavated, permitting palaeontologists and palaeobotanists to build up a detailed picture of the ecosystem.  Fossils of frogs, fish, salamanders and several reptiles including two types of alligator have been recorded, but perhaps the most spectacular fossils are the numerous specimens of mammals that have been discovered.

Views of part of the Skull of a Peccary from the Gray Fossil Site (assigned to Mylohyus elmorei)

Mylohyus elmorei fossil from the Gray Fossil Site.

Gray Fossil Site peccary jaw – assigned to Mylohyus elmorei. Note the scale bar = 30 mm, (A) lateral view, (B) occlusal view and (C) medial view.

Picture Credit: PeerJ

Field teams have found evidence of short-faced bears, dwarf tapirs, sabre-toothed cats, prehistoric elephants (Gomphotheres and Mastodons), camels, as well as rodents, bats and rabbits.  Scientists can add another animal to the ecosystem – a peccary, to be precise, fossils of two different types of peccary have been found.

Prehistoric Peccaries

Peccaries may look like pigs but they are not true pigs (members of the Suidae family).  Peccaries, or as they are sometimes known javelinas, are assigned to a different family (Tayassuidae).  They probably share a common Eocene ancestor with the true pigs, however, by around 35 million years ago peccaries were established in North America and they have evolved independently away from European and Asian suoids.

Writing in the academic journal “PeerJ”, the researchers identify two different extinct species of peccary from skull and jaw fossils found at the site.  The species are Mylohyus elmorei and Prosthennops serus.  They are not new to science, after all the genera were erected in 1860 and 1877 respectively but neither of these extinct species has ever been found in this part of the United States before.  P. serus has been found in fossil sites around the United States, but never before in the Appalachian region.  With the confirmation that the Gray Fossil Site contains specimens of Mylohyus elmorei, the range of this species has been extended by over 500 miles northwards.

The Lower Jaw of the Extinct Peccary Prosthennops serus

Prosthennops serus lower jaw.

The lower jaw of Prosthennops serus.  Note how the large canine teeth in the front of the jaw point straight up, this is an important characteristic that helps to distinguish peccary fossils from the fossils of true pigs (Suidae).

Picture Credit: East Tennessee State University

Commenting on the significance of the published paper, Dr Chris Widga (East Tennessee State University Museum of Natural History at the Gray Fossil Site), stated:

“Details of the peccaries’ teeth suggest that they spent their lives browsing on the leaves and fruits of succulent plants, so they would have been right at home in the Gray Fossil Site ecosystem, which we know from plant fossils was rich with tasty vegetation.”

How to Tell a Peccary from a Pig (True Pig)

Peccaries look superficially like pigs, they fill the same niche in the ecosystem (ground dwelling omnivores), but there are a number of striking anatomical differences.  The canine tusks of peccaries are always very simple, either pointing up or down.  In contrast the canine tusks of true pigs usually are more elaborate affairs, with distinct curves and often flaring out to the side.  Peccary skulls tend to be much narrower and much shorter than pig skulls.

Comparing the Skull of a Pig (Warthog) to that of a Peccary

A pig skull (warthog) compared to a peccary skull.

Comparing a pig skull (left) with a peccary skull (right).

Picture Credit: Christine Janis (Brown University) with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

The Gray Fossil Site peccary material will help scientists to better understand subtle variations within each peccary species (intraspecific variation), which will aid peccary fossil interpretation and classification.  In addition, the Gray Fossil Site material includes the most complete mandible found to date of Mylohyus elmorei.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a press release from the East Tennessee State University in the preparation of this article.

The scientific paper: “First Occurrence of the Enigmatic Peccaries Mylohyus elmorei and Prosthennops serus from the Appalachians: Latest Hemphillian to Early Blancan of Gray Fossil Site, Tennessee” by Evan M. Doughty​, Steven C. Wallace, Blaine W. Schubert and Lauren M. Lyon published in the journal PeerJ.

31 12, 2018

Scientists Discover the Earliest Evidence of Three Major Plant Groups

By | December 31st, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Permian Tropical Lowlands – A Hot Spot for Plant Evolution

Over recent days, team members at Everything Dinosaur have been reviewing the breadth and scope of the articles posted on this blog in the last twelve months.  The number of Sauropodomorpha themed articles (Sauropods and their ancestors), has been commented upon.  There have certainly been some amazing early, long-necked dinosaur discoveries, but we have also had a lot of exciting fossil discoveries concerning the Plantae Kingdom to write about too.  In 2019, we have reported on research that suggests the very first land plants evolved earlier than previously thought.  We have also written about new compelling evidence that suggests that flowering plants (Angiosperms), were present during the Middle Jurassic.

The Preserved Remains of a Seed Fern (Upper Permian Deposits – Jordan)

The fossilised remains of a seed fern.

A beautifully preserved seed fern frond in mudstone from the Jordan (Upper Permian).

Picture Credit: Palaeobotany Research Group, University of Münster/Blomenkemper et al

It seems fitting that our last post for 2019, once again looks at some remarkable plant fossil discoveries.

Scientists led by palaeobotanists from the University of Münster (western Germany), have uncovered a series of well-preserved fossils representing important plant groups from Upper Permian rocks at a site in Jordan.  The location, on the Dead Sea, has revealed the fossils of three major plant lineages:

  1. Podocarpaceae – a type of conifer, an evergreen tree
  2. Corystospermaceae – a type of seed fern (Pteridosperm)
  3. Bennettitales – cycad-like plants which produced seeds in cone-like structures

All the fossils pre-date the End-Permian extinction event that wiped out around 95% of all the life on our planet and the fossils prove that all three plant groups evolved millions of years earlier than previously thought.  For example, the now extinct Bennettitales were thought to have evolved sometime in the Triassic.  These fossils confirm that their evolution took place much earlier and that all three types of plant evolved before and persisted through the greatest mass extinction event known in Phanerozoic Eon.

A “Hidden Cradle of Plant Evolution”

Fossilised twigs representing the Podocarpaceae, commonly referred to as southern conifers, as the vast majority of extant species are found in the southern hemisphere, have been found.  These fossils represent the oldest record of any living conifer family.  In collaboration with colleagues from the Smithsonian Institute (USA) and scientists from the University of Jordan, the team also discovered the preserved, carbonised leaves and reproductive organs of Corystospermaceae, a group of seed ferns that went extinct some 150 million years ago, as well as remains of Bennettitales, a peculiar lineage of extinct seed plants with flower-like reproductive organs.

Trekking Through the Wadis on the Dead Sea Coast Looking for Plant Fossils

Exploring the Dead Sea coast of Jordan for Permian plant fossils.

Exploring Upper Permian fossil deposits for evidence of an ancient, lowland plant community.

Picture Credit: Palaeobotany Research Group, University of Münster/Blomenkemper et al

Evidence for the unexpectedly early occurrence of Corystospermaceae in the Permian of Jordan was first published about ten years ago by a research team led by Prof Dr Hans Kerp.  Since then, researchers have uncovered not only the well-preserved leaves but also the characteristic reproductive organs of this group of plants.  Like Bennettitales and Podocarpaceae, these plants were believed to have evolved millions of years later during the Early Mesozoic.

One of the co-authors of the scientific paper, published in the journal “Science”, Benjamin Bomfleur (Palaeobotany Research Group, University of Münster), stated:

“Analysis of characteristic epidermal cell patterns enabled us to resolve the systematic relationships of the plant fossils more precisely.  The study area is really exceptional, like a melting pot of floral provinces.”

An Unusual Mix of Plant Taxa

The researchers noted that the plant fossils at the site represent a diverse and very mixed assemblage of plant types.  The sedimentary deposits were laid down in an equatorial coastal environment with a distinct dry season – an ecosystem that rarely preserves delicate plant fossils.  The scientists conclude that, early evolutionary innovations can occur in drought-prone tropical habitats which rarely offer the conditions needed for fossil preservation.

Dr Bomfleur added:

“The occurrence of no less than three major ‘modern’ plant groups in deposits of just this single rock formation may indicate that such stressed and disturbance-prone tropical environments may have acted as evolutionary cradles also for other plant groups.”

Exquisite Details Revealed by Acid Etching

Once the fossil material had been collected by the field team, a variety of methods were employed in the preparation laboratory to help identify the plant types the fossils represented.  Powerful acids were used on some specimens to prepare plant cuticles for detailed microscopic analysis.  It can be very difficult to distinguish Pteridosperms from ferns based on foliage alone.  Similarly, the fossil leaves of cycads are very difficult to tell apart from those of true Bennettitales.  Identification is usually confirmed by examining microscopic details preserved in cells and on the cell wall of the cuticle, hence the need to use a variety of delicate techniques to reveal fine details.

Careful Exposure to Acids Helps Prepare Delicate Fossils for Microscopic Analysis

A seed fern frond is prepared for analysis.

A fragment of a seed fern frond after acid preparation.

Picture Credit: Palaeobotany Research Group, University of Münster/Blomenkemper et al

Survivors of a Mass Extinction Event

The plant fossils have been dated to approximately 255 million years ago (Lopingian Epoch of the Late Permian), so this ecosystem existed just a few million years prior to the “Great Permian Dying”, a mass extinction event that devasted both marine and terrestrial ecosystems.  The unexpected discovery of these three main groups of plants prior to this extinction event, not only pushes back the origins of these plant types in time, but also proves that all three groups survived the End-Permian extinction event.  Some of these lineages appear to span the mass extinction event, which suggests that the communities they supported may have been more stable than expected over this period of dramatic transition and change.  Thus, early evolutionary innovations can occur in drought-prone tropical habitats, which rarely offer the conditions needed for fossil preservation.  Seasonally dry tropical environments could be described as “cradles of evolution”.

The scientific paper: “A Hidden Cradle of Plant Evolution in Permian Tropical Lowlands” by Patrick Blomenkemper, Hans Kerp, Abdalla Abu Hamad, William A. DiMichele and Benjamin Bomfleur published in the journal Science.

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

To read Everything Dinosaur’s blog post on the idea that the first land plants evolved millions of years earlier than once thought: Plants May Have Originated 100 Million Years Earlier

To read Everything Dinosaur’s article about the discovery of fossils representing very early flowering plants: The First Flowering Plants Originated in the Early Jurassic

26 12, 2018

“Little Foot” Reveals Her Secrets

By | December 26th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Fourteen Years of Work to Tell the Story of “Little Foot”

Christmas is a time for family get togethers and spending time with relatives.  Today, we feature the astonishing story of the remarkable and nearly complete fossilised skeleton of an Australopithecine nicknamed “little foot” a member of the Hominidae family and as such, a long, distant relative of us all.  The Sterkfontein Caves in South Africa are located around twenty-five miles north-west of Johannesburg in Gauteng Province (South Africa).  Numerous fossils of hominids are known from the Caves and the surrounding area, which is called the Cradle of Humankind and Everything Dinosaur has reported on several recent and highly significant Australopithecine fossil finds, however, at an estimated 3.67 million years of age, “little foot” is the oldest Australopithecine specimen ever found in southern Africa.

The Partially Uncovered Remains of the Australopithecine Nicknamed “Little Foot”

In situ fossils of the Australopithecine "little foot" in the Sterkfontein Caves.

The fossilised remains of the Australopithecus nicknamed “little foot” found in the Sterkfontein Caves.  The skull can be seen in the bottom right corner of the photograph.

Picture Credit: PAST/Paul Myburgh

Lead researcher Professor Ron Clarke and his team have published the first, formal scientific description of the fossil material in the “Journal of Human Evolution”.  Such is the completeness of the skeleton, that anthropalaeontologists confidently predict that many more papers will be written, as this is the only known, virtually complete fossil skeleton of an Australopithecus discovered to date.  It has taken fourteen years of painstaking work to excavate the fossils and six years to clean and prepare them for detailed study.

Dedicated Research Leads to Scientific Breakthrough

In 1994 and 1997, Professor Clarke identified twelve foot and lower leg bones of one Australopithecus individual misidentified as animal fossils in boxes stored at Sterkfontein and at the University of Witwatersrand (Johannesburg).  Clarke and his assistants, Nkwane Molefe and Stephen Motsumi, then looked for and located the very spot where the bones had been blasted out by lime miners, probably sometime in the 1920’s deep inside the Sterkfontein Caves.  It was a real case of detective work, as Nkwane and Stephen worked in the caves to try to identify the very spot where the fossils that had been stored in the boxes, actually came from.  After one and a half of days of carefully searching the caves, they found that the pieces matched with two broken-through shin bones in a concrete-like cave infill and started the excavation process, first with hammer and chisel to remove the overburden, before turning to the painstaking process of locating and exposing the bones with an airscribe.

The Researchers were Able to Locate the Rest of the Skeleton by Matching Pieces Together

Identifying the rest of the "little foot" skeleton.

Researchers demonstrate how the rest of the skeleton was found by matching fragments of limb and ankle bones to fossil material exposed in the cave.

Picture Credit: PAST/Paul Myburgh

Unusual Taphonomy of the Female Australopithecine

The taphonomy of “little foot” is unusual.  The female (identified by the shape of the pelvis), fell into a cave and the body became mummified in the exceptionally dry conditions.  The absence of predators allowed the body to remain undisturbed but at some time in the past there was a slight displacement of some skeletal parts through slippage on the rock-strewn talus slope in the cave, crushing and breaking of some bones through rockfall and pressure, calcification after a change to wet conditions, and then slight downward collapse of part of the cave infill.  This partial collapse left voids that were later filled with stalagmitic flowstone that encased breaks through the femurs.  When the first attempts to date the fossils was made, an analysis of the stalagmite flowstone encasing the fossil was made.  However, the flowstones were later infills in voids created by the collapse that had broken and displaced parts of the skeleton.  The data gave a more recent date for the fossil, “little foot” was actually much older, having lived during the Zanclean stage of the Pliocene Epoch.

Professor Ron Clarke Demonstrates the Use of an Airscribe

Professor Ron Clarke demonstrates the use of an airscribe.

Professor Ron Clarke showing how an airscribe was used to remove the surrounding matrix.

Picture Credit: PAST/Paul Myburgh

Commenting on the earlier attempts to date the skeleton, Professor Clarke stated:

“The flowstones do not date the skeleton.  In 2015, cosmogenic isochron dates using 26Al and 10Be were published in Nature, showing that the age of the actual breccia containing the skeleton dates back ca 3.67 million years.  This is consistent with the original age estimates of around 3.5 million years that were proposed based on the low stratigraphic position of the deposit within the cave.”

Helping to Reassess the Australopithecus Genus

Study of the anatomical features of “little foot” suggests that the skeleton is most similar to the Australopithecine known as A. prometheus, which was proposed as a species in 1948 by the famous anthropologist Raymond Dart.  The phylogeny of the Australopithecines and related genera is controversial.  It is hoped that the virtually complete skeleton, so painstakingly excavated, will shed new light on taxonomic relationships, helping to fill in a number of evolutionary gaps.

Professor Ron Clarke and the Skull of “Little Foot”

The skull of "little foot" with Professor Ron Clarke

Professor Ron Clarke with the skull and left humerus of “little foot”.

Picture Credit: PAST/Paul Myburgh

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a press release from the University of Witwatersrand and supporting materials in the compilation of this article.

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