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16 10, 2018

Spitsbergen Ichthyosaurs – Newly Described Fossils Open Up the Ophthalmosaurids

By | October 16th, 2018|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Learning More About Palvennia hoybergeti

The Svalbard archipelago located off the coast of northern Norway, has attracted the attention of palaeontologists for several decades.  Some of the marine strata exposed on these islands date from the Late Jurassic and Early Cretaceous, the remote location and inaccessibility has not prevented hardy scientists from exploring these deposits and over the years, a huge number of invertebrate and vertebrate fossils have been collected.  Writing in the on-line, open access journal “PeerJ”, researchers from the University of Oslo, the London Natural History Museum, the University of Alaska and the University of Alaska Natural History Museum, have described a number of new Ichthyosaur specimens that have been excavated from Spitsbergen, the largest island in the group.

To date, four different types of ophthalmosaurid Ichthyosaur are known from these rocks (the Slottsmøya Member of the Agardhfjellet Formation).  Several specimens are described in the newly published paper, including a disarticulated but relatively complete fossil of Palvennia hoybergeti.  P. hoybergeti is a Late Jurassic ophthalmosaurid marine reptile, that had been described back in 2012, from a single and very incomplete skull.  This new specimen (museum number PMO 222.669), has a mostly complete skull and reveals important new information about this short-snouted Ichthyosaur species.

A Skeletal Drawing of the New P. hoybergeti Specimen PMO 222.669

Skeletal drawing of the newly described Palvennia hoybergeti Ichthyosaur specimen.

A line drawing of the fossilised skeleton of the newly described specimen of Palvennia hoybergeti. Viewed from underneath (ventral view), note scale bar = 50 cm.

Picture Credit: PeerJ

A Short-Snouted Ichthyosaur

The fossil specimen (PMO 222.669) has provided the researchers with new information on the skull morphology of Palvennia hoybergeti.  It has a much reduced snout, superficially similar to the Early Jurassic Ichthyosaur Ichthyosaurus breviceps, although the two genera are not closely related and they lived tens of millions of years apart.

The Rostrum and Teeth of Specimen Number PMO 222.669

Rostrum and isolated teeth with line drawing P. hoybergeti.

Rostrum and teeth of PMO 222.669, referred specimen of P. hoybergeti.
(A), photograph and (B), interpretation of the rostrum from the surface stratigraphically down.  Disarticulated teeth in (C), and (D), different views of the same tooth and (E), and (F), different views of a second tooth.  The scale bar (A-B) is 10 cm, whilst the scale bar (C-F) is 1 cm.

Picture Credit: PeerJ

The relatively robust, short snout (rostrum) and the broad teeth may represent adaptations to feeding on other types of prey compared to other members of the Thunnosauria clade.  It could be speculated that Palvennia hoybergeti may have been less of a specialist cephalopod or fish hunter, perhaps preying on larger animals such as other Ichthyosaurs.

A View of the Top of the Skull of the Newly Described Palvennia hoybergeti Specimen

Skull roof of Palvennia hoybergeti with line drawing.

Photograph of the skull of P. hoybergeti (dorsal view) with an accompanying line drawing. Scale bar = 10 cm.

Picture Credit: PeerJ

Confusing Pectoral Girdles

The researchers conclude that the more complete specimen that they have described greatly adds to our knowledge of this taxon.  Furthermore, two additional, newly discovered ophthalmosaurid specimens with pectoral girdles were also described in the paper.  The shape of the bones in the pectoral girdle, (the shoulders and associated bones for attaching the forelimbs), had thought to be quite useful diagnostic tools when assessing these types of Ichthyosaur. However, although the shape of the coracoids may provide some guidance as to taxonomy, the scientists noted that the fossils from the Slottsmøya Member show a degree of individual variation which might compound the issue of identifying unique anatomical characteristics to help define a genus.

An Illustration of the Ophthalmosaurid Palvennia hoybergeti

Palvennia hoybergeti illustrated

An illustration of the ophthalmosaurid Ichthyosaur Palvennia hoybergeti. Scale bar = 1 metre.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The Ichthyosaur specimens from Spitsbergen span quite a substantial temporal range.  Fossils of these marine reptiles have been found in strata dating from the Early Tithonian of the Late Jurassic, whilst some specimens have been located in Early Berriasian deposits (Early Cretaceous).  It is proposed that future studies should aim to include a large number of specimens and use quantitative approaches to reveal phylogenetic and evolutionary patterns.  As the temporal range of these fossils covers some six million years (around 150 million years ago to 144 million years ago), the fossils from this part of the Svalbard archipelago may prove valuable in helping to determine the evolution of the Ichthyosauria at a time when a number of ecosystems were suffering from extinction events.

The scientific paper: “A New Specimen of Palvennia hoybergeti: Implications for Cranial and Pectoral Girdle Anatomy in Ophthalmosaurid Ichthyosaurs” by Lene Liebe Delsett​, Patrick Scott Druckenmiller, Aubrey Jane Roberts, Jørn Harald Hurum and published in PeerJ.

15 10, 2018

Baby Tylosaurus Provides Clues to How Marine Reptiles Hunted

By | October 15th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Baby Tylosaurus Fossils Shed Light on Tylosaurus Hunting Strategy

The fragmentary remains of a baby Tylosaurus may have provided palaeontologists with an insight into how the giant and powerful marine predator Tylosaurus hunted.  Analysis of the front portion of the jaw shows that this tiny terror lacked a deep rostrum, whilst older, larger specimens and the adults all had these bony protrusions.  Scientists writing in the “Journal of Vertebrate Paleonotology” hypothesise that Tylosaurus rammed its victims with its snout in a similar fashion to a hunting method observed in extant Orcas.

Fearsome Mosasaurs – How Did These Predators Subdue Their Prey?

Different Mosasaurs

Comparing different models of Mosasaurs.  Fossil teeth and bones indicate that several types of Mosasaur were apex predators but how did these animals subdue their prey?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Scientists are aware that pods of Orcas (Orcinus orca), tend to specialise in different types of prey, some hunt fish, others specialise in hunting other marine mammals whilst others are generalists, however, it is known that Orcas tend to stun prey such as seals and dolphins by ramming them with their snouts.  A study of the smallest Tylosaurus skull fossils found to date, suggest that as these animal’s grew their snouts (rostrums) became elongated and more robust.  It is suggested that these predators rammed their victims in the same way that some living Killer Whales do.

A Still from a Video Showing a Killer Whale Ramming a Dolphin

Orca rams a Dolphin.

An Orca rams a Dolphin.

Picture Credit: Discovery

Little Killer/Tiny Tylosaurus

Lead author of the scientific paper, Professor Takuya Konishi, explained that he examined fossils of a very young Tylosaurus whilst working on his master’s degree in 2004.  The fossils came from an animal with a skull length of around thirty centimetres, approximately 1/6th the size of an adult Tylosaurus skull.  The fossils come from the Smoky Hill Chalk Member of the Niobrara Chalk of western Kansas, deposits that were laid done in the shallow Western Interior Seaway.  The baby Tylosaurus is estimated to have lived around 85 million years ago.  The fossils had been originally found in 1991, by palaeontologist Michael Everhart (Sternberg Museum of Natural History), the small size and fragmentary nature made initial identification difficult and the fossils has been assigned to another type of Mosasaur, a Platecarpus, remains of which are relatively common in the Smoky Hill Chalk Member.

Tiny Fossil Fragments Identified as Neonate Tylosaurus

Baby Tylosaurus skull and jaw fossil bones.

Pieces of the skull and jaw of the baby Tylosaurus.  Specimen number FHSM VP-14845.

Picture Credit: Christina Byrd/Sternberg Museum of Natural History with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

Lack of a Prominent Snout

The lack of a snout puzzled the scientists who were unable to tie this material to other Tylosaurine remains.  The Platecarpus assignment seemed the best fit, then Professor Konishi had his “eureka” moment.  The elongated rostrum of Tylosaurus might develop as the animal grew, this anatomical feature might not be present in very young examples of this genus.  While Platecarpus and other members of the Mosasauridae have teeth that begin virtually at the tip of their snouts, mature Tylosaurus possess a bony protrusion called a rostrum that extends out from its face, a similar feature is found in Orcas.  The research team speculate that this rostrum might have served as a battering ram and protected the marine reptile’s teeth as it slammed into its prey.

Professor Konishi takes up the story:

“Having looked at the specimen in 2004 for the first time myself, it too took me nearly ten years to think out of that box and realise what it really was,  a baby Tylosaurus yet to develop such a snout.”

The Ontogeny of Tylosaurus

Tylosaurus ontogeny - as these reptiles grew their rostrums become elongated and more robust.

Elongation and development of the rostrum in Tylosaurus.  Scale bar equals 2 cm.

Picture Credit: Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology

The picture (above) shows various Tylosaurus fossil specimens.  Specimen number FHSM VP-14845 is from the neonate Tylosaurus (left) and moving towards the right, the rostrums denote progressively older, larger Tylosaurus specimens.  The researchers identified greater anteroposterior alignment of two pairs of premaxillary teeth in association with alveolar elongation (tooth socket spacing).  The abbreviation t2  denotes the second premaxillary tooth, this alveolar elongation slows down as the Tylosaurus ages, as seen here between specimens FHSM VP-14840 and RMM 5610.  In contrast, the rostrum continues to grow and to become deeper and more robust.

Professor Konishi and His Co-workers Suggest Tylosaurus Used Its Snout to Ram Prey

Takuya Konishi (Cincinnati University) with a Mosasaur skull cast.

University of Cincinnati Biology Professor Takuya Konishi points out the rostrum on a Mosasaur skull.

Picture Credit: Joseph Fuqua II/University of Cincinnati Creative Services

The Possibility of Misidentified Fossil Material

The scientists suggest that, as Tylosaurus developed its “tell-tale” snout as it grew, then this could mean that other fossil specimens of Mosasaurs from the Western Interior Seaway may have been mistakenly classified as other types of Mosasaur.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“What was once thought to be a diagnostic feature of Tylosaurus, a robust and elongated snout, might not be as diagnostic as previously thought.  This means that short-snouted fossil remains assigned to other types of Mosasaur could, actually represent juvenile Tylosaurus specimens.”

The scientific paper: “The Smallest Known Neonate Individual of Tylosaurus (Mosasauridae, Tylosaurinae) Sheds New Light on the Tylosaurine Rostrum and Heterochrony” by Takuya Konishi, Paulina Jiménez-Huidobro and Michael W. Caldwell published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology

13 10, 2018

The Ancestors of Sarahsaurus Probably Did Not Originate in North America

By | October 13th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Early Jurassic North American Sauropodomorphs were Migrants

The sauropodomorph dinosaur called Sarahsaurus was a migrant into North America just like the other North American sauropodomorphs that have been described to date.  That is the conclusion made by researchers from the University of Texas Austin, in a scientific paper published this week.  Recently, Everything Dinosaur has covered a number of technical papers that have featured the Suborder Sauropodomorpha (the sauropods and their direct ancestors).  The United States might be famous for dinosaurs such as Brontosaurus, Camarasaurus and Diplodocus, but surprisingly not much is known about the ancestors of these iconic, long-necked dinosaurs.  Writing in the open access journal PLOS One, the researchers from the University’s Jackson School of Geosciences, conclude that the handful of sauropodomorphs known from the Lower Jurassic of North America are not that closely related and they represent successive immigration waves into that part of the super-continent Pangaea.

Sarahsaurus and Other North American Early Jurassic Sauropodomorphs Do Not Form a Unique Clade

Sarahsaurus (North American dinosaur).

A life reconstruction of the North American sauropodomorph Sarahsaurus.

Picture Credit: Brian Engh

CT Scans and Phylogenetic Analyses

The researchers conducted the first detailed analysis of the fossils ascribed to the genus Sarahsaurus (Sarahsaurus aurifontanalis).  This dinosaur had been named back in 2010, from fossil material excavated from the Lower Jurassic Kayenta Formation exposed in north-eastern Arizona.  In total, three specimens, including the holotype were studied and subjected to computed tomographic imaging.  With more anatomical data, the scientists then conducted a series of phylogenetic assessments to see where within the Sauropodomorpha Sarahsaurus should be nested and importantly, how the other sauropodomorphs from North America such as Anchisaurus (A. polyzelus) and Seitaad (S. ruessi) were related to Sarahsaurus.

The Main Fossil Block Associated with Sarahsaurus and a Line Drawing Showing a Layout of the Fossil Material

Sarahsaurus holotype.

The main block containing much of the holotype specimen of Sarahsaurus aurifontanalis.

Picture Credit: PLOS One

Sarahsaurus aurifontanalis

All of the Sarahsaurus specimens referred to in this study came from siltstone deposits.  Manual preparation of the fossils was extremely laborious and time consuming.  Many of the bones were encrusted with an extremely hard purple-black oxide coating, hence the use of high-resolution X-ray CT scans to provide more information about the finer details preserved on the fossil material.

In addition, conducting the phylogenetic analysis was made even more problematic than usual as the material used to establish unique characteristics of Sarahsaurus which could then be used to compare with other sauropodomorphs, provided numerous obstacles for the scientists to overcome.  Firstly, a skull used in this study probably came from a much younger individual than the other Sarahsaurus specimens analysed.  Furthermore, not all the specimens shared the same bones so making direct comparisons to establish a unique set of features for Sarahsaurus was challenging.  These factors coupled with some mixing and redistribution of the holotype material in the sediment and the crushed nature of many of the fossil bones made the phylogenetic assessment very tricky, but the researchers were able to conclude that Sarahsaurus aurifontanalis is very probably a member of the Massospondylidae family, which means that this dinosaur is not closely related to the other North American Sauropodomorpha and is more closely related to dinosaurs known primarily from the southern hemisphere (Gondwana).

CT Scans of a Skull Specimen Provisionally Assigned to Sarahsaurus

CT scans help to plot the shape of the fossil skull provisionally assigned to Sarahsaurus.

Skull (MCZ 8893) provisionally referred to Sarahsaurus aurifontanalis, reconstructed from CT data.  Life reconstruction (H) by Brian Engh.

Picture Credit: PLOS One/Brian Engh

Waves of Dinosaur Migration into North America Following the End Triassic Extinction Event

If the three known North American sauropodomorphs are not that closely related and the likes of Sarahsaurus is classified as a member of the Massospondylidae, then this suggests that rather than evolving in North America, these dinosaurs arrived on that part of the super-continent of Pangaea as a result of a number of migrations that took place during the Early Jurassic.  This links with other research that suggests that although Theropods were present in North America during the Triassic transition to the Jurassic, other types of dinosaurs such as the Sauropoda and the Ornithischians populated this part of the world later.

The dinosaurs may not have been the super evolved terrestrial animals that simply outcompeted all the other Tetrapods in the world driving the majority to extinction.  Instead, the Dinosauria may have been opportunists, migrating into areas after the former occupants of key niches in the ecosystem had already died out.

Research Suggests that there were Several Migration Waves into North America During the Early Jurassic

Comparing three North American members of the Sauropodomorpha.

Relative ages of North American sauropodomorphs.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To read Everything Dinosaur’s article on the discovery of Seitaad ruessiDinosaur Buried Alive is a New Species from Utah

The scientific paper: “Anatomy and Systematics of the Sauropodomorph Sarahsaurus aurifontanalis from the Early Jurassic Kayenta Formation” by Adam D. Marsh and Timothy B. Rowe published in the open access journal PLOS One.

11 10, 2018

Smallest Diplodocid Skull Shedding Light on the Family Life of Diplodocus

By | October 11th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Baby Diplodocid Skull Could Provide Fresh Insight into the Life of Diplodocus

A team of international researchers writing in the academic journal “Scientific Reports”, have described a partial skull of a diplodocid dinosaur.  The skull, measuring just 24 centimetres long, is the smallest diplodocid skull described to date and it is helping to provide information on how long-necked dinosaurs changed as they grew.  The fossil (CMC VP14128), was collected back in 2010 from south, central Montana (Mother’s Day Quarry). The site contains the fossilised remains of at least sixteen immature diplodocids, that may have perished having been caught up in a turbulent mudflow.  The skull, which consists of four large segments plus additional fragments, reveals that the heads of diplodocid dinosaurs changed as they got older and suggests that immature individuals fed on different types of vegetation (dietary partitioning relative to age).  Groups of young animals may have stayed together in a creche, living apart from the adults, even occupying a different habitat.

The Fossilised Skull of a Young Diplodocid Hints at Dietary Partitioning

Dietary partitioning amongst diplodocids.

A newly published study of a small long-necked dinosaur skull suggests dietary partitioning within diplodocids.

Picture Credit: Andrey Atuchin

“Andrew” the Diplodocus

The specimen (CMC VP14128), also includes a rudimentary bone that links the skull to the cervical column (the proatlas) and four neck bones from the front part of the neck, closest to the skull.  The fossil material has been assigned to the diplodocid species Diplodocus carnegii and the skull was nicknamed “Andrew” in honour of Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish-American industrialist and philanthropist, who did much to support the nascent science of palaeontology in the United States.  The species D. carnegii is named after him in recognition of his financial support for expeditions to excavate fossils from the Morrison Formation.

The Immature Diplodocid Compared to an Adult and Andrew Carnegie (1.6 m tall) with Skull Views and Accompanying Line Drawings

Immature diplodcid skull.

The juvenile diplodocid with Andrew Carnegie and an adult Diplodocus for scale. Along with right and left lateral views of the skull and line drawings.

Picture Credit: Scientific Reports

The picture above shows a skeletal reconstruction of “Andrew” compared to Andrew Carnegie and an adult D. carnegii (A), the bones in the skeleton in white represent the fossil material (CMC VP14128).  Right lateral view of the skull (B), with an accompanying line drawing and (C), a left lateral view of the skull with a line drawing.  The four segments of the skull are numbered in the line drawings and the scale bar in (B) and (C) is ten centimetres.

Differences in the Shape of the Head of Young and Fully Grown Dinosaurs

Although the skull fossil has been crushed, the researchers, which included lead author Cary Woodruff (University of Toronto) and Glenn Storrs (Cincinnati Museum Centre), conclude that the juvenile, which was perhaps around 5 years of age and 5 metres long when it died, had a much narrower snout compared to the broad, wide snout of an adult.  In addition, “Andrew” possessed thirteen teeth on each side of its lower jaw, some of which had spatulate, spoon-like edges to slice through tough vegetation.  In contrast, fully-grown Diplodocus lower jaws had eleven teeth on each side and these were much more peg-like and were probably used to “comb” food in to the mouth.  This indicates that juveniles had different skull morphologies and dentition when compared to older, more mature animals and suggests resource partitioning between juveniles and adults.  In short, juvenile Diplodocus probably fed on different plants compared to the grown-ups.

An Adult Diplodocus had a Differently Shaped Head and Snout Compared to a Juvenile

Adult Diplodocus compared to a juvenile.

Adult animals had broader snouts whilst the juveniles and much narrower snouts with more teeth which were shaped differently.

Picture Credit: Andrey Atuchin

This research is consistent with the theory that immature diplodocids adopted a different feeding strategy, grazing on a greater variety of plants, whilst the adults were predominantly ground-level browsers.

To read an article from 2010 that hypothesised that baby dinosaurs had different skull morphologies and facial features when compared to adults: Juvenile Diplodocus Skull Study Suggests Baby Dinosaurs Had Different Shaped Skulls Compared to the Adults

Commenting on the significance of this research, lead author Cary Woodruff, stated”

“Because they have [Diplodocus juveniles] got these different tooth types, it’s kind of like of a Swiss army knife in their mouth, right?  They can pick and eat every plant they want to.  They had free rein at the salad bar.”

Young Diplodocids Living in Woodland Habitats

The skull and tooth morphology of Diplodocus suggests that these animals transitioned through distinct feeding roles over their lifespan and vindicates the dramatised life story of a Diplodocus in the ground-breaking BBC television documentary series “Walking with Dinosaurs”.  In episode two “Time of the Titans”, the story of a Diplodocus from hatching to reaching adulthood was told and juveniles were depicted as living in groups within the forests, only joining the adults on the open plains when they were much larger, too large for most predators to tackle.  The different skull shapes and dentition suggest that juvenile diplodocids lived in more forested environments than the adults that (restricted and protected by their size), were most likely browsing in more open habitats.

For an article published in 2012 on Diplodocus feeding strategies: Diplodocus Feeding Frenzy – A Biter or a Comber?

Lead Author of the Study Cary Woodruff Holds the Skull of a Juvenile Diplodocid

Holding the skull of a juvenile diplodocid.

Cary Woodruff (University of Toronto), holding the skull of a juvenile diplodocid.

Picture Credit: John P Wilson

The scientific paper: “The Smallest Diplodocid Skull Reveals Cranial Ontogeny and Growth-Related Dietary Changes in the Largest Dinosaurs” by D. Cary Woodruff, Thomas D. Carr, Glenn W. Storrs, Katja Waskow, John B. Scannella, Klara K. Nordén and John P. Wilson published in Scientific Reports.

9 10, 2018

“Powerful Terror Ruler” – Dynamoterror dynastes

By | October 9th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

“Powerful Terror Ruler” – Dynamoterror dynastes

A new species of North American Tyrannosaur has been scientifically named.  The newly described “tyrant lizard” joins a plethora of tyrannosaurids known from the Late Cretaceous of Laramidia, but Dynamoterror dynastes stands out from the majority of these fearsome Theropods for some very important reasons.  Firstly, it is quite geologically old for a Late Cretaceous large-bodied Tyrannosaur, its discovery has implications for our understanding of Tyrannosaur evolution.  In addition, its the frontal bones that help make this dinosaur stand out and besides, its scientific name, which means “powerful terror ruler”, is a nod in the direction of the most famous dinosaur of all – Tyrannosaurus rex.

A Life Reconstruction of Dynamoterror dynastes Attacking the Recently Described Invictarx zephyri

The newly described Tyrannosaur Dynamoterror attacks Invictarx

Dynamoterror ambushes the armoured dinosaur Invictarx zephyri.

Picture Credit: Brian Engh

The Geological Age – Early Campanian

The fossil bones, representing a single, individual animal were collected in 2012.  They herald from San Juan County, New Mexico, specifically the upper part of the Allison Member of the Menefee Formation.  Although fragmentary, the fossil material consists of asociated bones including left and right frontals (bones from the top of the skull over the eye socket), a right metacarpal (bone from the hand), four broken pieces from the backbone, pieces of rib, a portion of the right ilium and some toe bones, plus several unidenfiable slithers of bone.  It might not sound like much, but this is the first associated tyrannosaurid skeleton reported from the Menefee Formation.  Isolated teeth had been found in this locality before suggesting the presence of tyrannosaurids, but Dynamoterror dynastes is the first to be named and described.  It was probably the dominant predator in the lush, tropical, coastal swamps that covered this part of the southern United States some 80 million years ago.

During the Late Cretaceous, North America was essentially split into two by a wide seaway, the Western Interior Seaway.  To the east lay Appalachia and Tyrannosaurs are known from here, but not many, only two genera have been named to date – Appalachiosaurus montgomeriensis and Dryptosaurus aquilunguis and both of these are only known from a single, partial, associated skeleton.  In the Upper Cretaceous strata to the west that formed the landmass called Laramidia, lots of Tyrannosaurs have been named and described.  However, the tyrannosaurid record for Laramidia is restricted to a period from about 77 million years ago to the K-Pg extinction event some 66 million years ago.  Dynamoterror comes from rocks which are around 3 million years older.  It provides the first fossil record of a Laramidian tyrannosaurid from the Early Campanian of 80 million years ago and, as a result, will help palaeontologists to better understand tyrannosaurid evolution.

The Cool Thing About Frontals

Less than one percent of the skeleton may have been found (field teams were despatched in 2013 and again this year to try and find more remains but without luck), but when it comes to describing a new genus, it is often quality that triumphs over quantity.  The frontal bones, their shape, the groves that they possess and other features including how they knit together with other skull bones, can prove extremely helpful when it comes to identifying a new dinosaur species.  The researchers which included Dr Andrew McDonald (Curator, of the Western Science Centre, California), identified some unique characteristics in the frontal bones, hence the establishment of a new genus.

Photographs and Computer-generated Three-dimensional Models of the Left and Right Frontals of D. dynastes

The frontal bones of Dynamoterror dynastes.

Photographs and three-dimensional, computer-generated models of the right frontal (A, B) and the left frontal (C, D) of Dynamoterror dynastes (rostal view – viewed from the front of the brain).  Scale bar = 5  centimetres.

Picture Credit: PeerJ/Western Science Centre

A Large Bodied Tyrannnosaur

The researchers cannot be certain whether their fossil discovery represents a fully grown animal or a sub-adult.  However, when the frontal bones of D. dynastes were compared to those of Tyrannosaurus rex, the scientists concluded that Dynamoterror was at least nine metres long.  The armoured dinosaur that features in the illustration (above), Invictarx, was also named and described by Dr McDonald, along with Mr Doug Wolfe (Zuni Dinosaur Institute for Geosciences) who worked together on this Tyrannosaur.  It is likely that more dinosaurs will be described based on fossil discoveries from within the Menefee Formation.  Alton C. Dooley Jr also collaborated in the study of Dynamoterror.

To read about the discovery of the nodosaurid Invictarx: A New Nodosaur from New Mexico

Size Comparison of Selected Late Cretaceous Tyrannosaurs

Comparing the size of selected Late Cretaceous Tyrannosaurs.

Size comparison between selected Late Cretaceous Tyrannosaurs.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

What’s in a Name?

This new taxon provides further, significant insight into the morphology and diversity of tyrannosaurids from the Early Campanian of Laramidia and it’s name is pretty cool too.  The genus name is taken from the Greek word “dynamis” which means “power” and the Latin word “terror”.  The trivial or specific name, is from the Latin word “dynastes” meaning “ruler”.  Hence, the binomial scientific name Dynamoterror dynastes translates to “powerful terrror ruler”, however, the scientific paper also states that this epithet honours the name “Dynamosaurus imperiosus“, from Henry Fairfield Osborn, the American palaeontologist who referred to fossil material later assigned to Tyrannosaurus rex as Dynamosaurus imperiosus in scientific papers published in the early years of the 20th Century.

The Reconstructed Frontal Complex of Dynamoterror dynastes

Life restoration of the frontals of Dynamoterror dynastes.

The reconstructed frontals of D. dynastes.

Picture Credit: PeerJ/Western Science Centre

In the picture above, the left and right frontals have been articulated together to show how they would sit at the top of the skull, in (A) rostral; (B) caudal; (C) right lateral; (D) dorsal; and (E) ventral views.   The illustration (F), shows a view of the reconstructed skull in dorsal view.  Individual bone elements of the skull are colour-coded to show how the top of the skull knitted together: frontals (grey); fused nasals (violet); prefrontals (yellow); lacrimals (red); postorbitals (blue); and parietal (green).  The scale bars represent 5 centimetres and the missing skull bones have been based on the related tyrannosaurid Teratophoneus curriei, a geologically younger Tyrannosaur from the Upper Campanian of southern Utah (Kaiparowits Formation).  T. curriei roamed Laramidia around 76 million years ago, some 4 million years after Dynamoterror dynastes.

The scientific paper: “A New Tyrannosaurid (Dinosauria: Theropoda) from the Upper Cretaceous Menefee Formation of New Mexico” by Andrew T. McDonald, Douglas G. Wolfe and Alton C. Dooley published in PeerJ

8 10, 2018

Baby Mammoth Lyuba Not Visiting the UK

By | October 8th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Baby Mammoth Lyuba Not Visiting the UK

Everything Dinosaur has received a number of enquiries asking whether the beautifully preserved baby Woolly Mammoth known as Lyuba will be visiting the UK in 2019.  As far as we know, there are no plans for any museum in the United Kingdom to exhibit this amazing specimen next year.

Lyuba Not Coming to the UK Anytime Soon

The baby Woolly Mammoth known as Lyuba.

The 40,000-year-old baby mammoth Lyuba.

Picture Credit: Uppa Photoshot (Daily Telegraph News)

Drowned in a Muddy Pool 40,000 Years Ago

The almost perfectly preserved frozen carcass of a four-week-old, female Woolly Mammoth calf was discovered in the Yamal-Nenets region of Siberia eleven years ago.  The baby Mammoth was named Lyuba, after the wife of the reindeer herder who found her.  The specimen is part of the Shemanovskiy Museum and Exhibition Centre collection in Salekhard (Russia), but in death she has travelled far further than she did in her short life.  Lyuba was part of a special exhibition focusing on Mammoths and Mastodons that toured the world back starting in 2010/11 “Mammoths and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice Age”.  The last stop on that extensive tour was London, where Lyuba was exhibited at the Natural History Museum in 2014.

Extensive precautions have to be taken to protect this remarkable specimen, described by many palaeontologists as the “best preserved baby Woolly Mammoth ever found”.  In addition, back in 2009, this exhibit was insured for a “Mammoth” 1.1 million euros prior to the world tour.  Such high insurance costs act as a disincentive to all but the largest museums when it comes to funding an exhibition of this sort.  As far as team members at Everything Dinosaur are aware, there are no plans to exhibit Lyuba in the UK anytime in the near future.

1 10, 2018

In the Age of Dinosaurs the Trees were Giants Too

By | October 1st, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Giant Flowering Trees Some Fifteen Million Years Earlier Than Previously Thought

A team of international scientists writing in the open-access, on-line journal “Science Advances”, have published a paper detailing a new fossil assemblage that provides fresh insight into the prehistoric life of southern North America around ninety-two million years ago.  The fossils, which have been collected from several sites in Utah, come from exposures associated with the Upper Cretaceous Ferron Sandstone Member of the Mancos Shale Formation and they reveal a rich and diverse fauna and flora, including giant flowering trees (Angiosperms).

The fossils represent animals and plants that lived on a large, flat river delta close to the coast.  The fossil material associated with these strata represent terrestrial life such as dinosaurs, crocodiles and pterosaurs, plus the plants that made up the forests nearby.  In addition, some isolated sharks teeth have been found and other vertebrate remains in those rock units representing areas of the delta that were brackish and therefore closer to the sea.  The most significant find is also the largest specimen, a giant, petrified log that was approximately 1.8 metres in diameter and around 11 metres in length.  The researchers conclude that the log represents part of the trunk of a tree that may have been over 50 metres in height, making this Cretaceous giant, roughly the same height as Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, London.

Part of the Giant Angiosperm Log – The Field Team Member’s Boots Provide a Handy Scale

Giant Angiosperm tree fossil.

Giant fossil log from the Late Cretaceous (Paraphyllanthoxylon).

Picture Credit: Science Advances

Assigned to the Paraphyllanthoxylon Genus

The log was very probably transported some distance via the river before finally being deposited on the delta, where it became preserved as a fossil.  It is the largest known pre-Campanian Angiosperm and the earliest documented occurrence of a flowering tree more than one metre in diameter.  Leaf fossils and fossilised spore samples indicate a wide range of flora within the locality.  This ancient giant probably formed part of a forest canopy, beneath which, conifers, ginkgo trees and ferns along with other flowering plants thrived.  The fossil has been assigned to the  Paraphyllanthoxylon genus, as such, it is distantly related to numerous types of tropical flowering tree found today.

A Variety of Plant Fossils Have Been Found

Plant fossils (Ferron sandstone) Utah.

Various plant fossils have been found indicating a mixed woodland habitat.

Picture Credit: Science Advances/N. A. Jud, University of Florida

Several other plant fossils have been found from rocks associated with the Ferron sandstones, these fossils indicate the presence of a mixed woodland habitat.

The photograph (above) shows different types of fossil plant associated with the strata – (A) a leafy shoot identified as Elatides curvivolia (conifer), (B) the broad leaf of an indeterminate Angiosperm, (C) shows a close up of the E. curvivolia fossil.  Picture (D) shows an isolated fern pinnule.

Scale bars:

(A to C) = 5 mm

(D) = 3 mm

The Vertebrate Fossil Assemblage

Although only a few vertebrate fossils have been found, they hint at a rich and diverse biota.  Fossils of Therizinosaurs are known from Utah (Nothronychus spp.) and a partial, indeterminate, poorly preserved  Ornithopod sacrum was discovered along with isolated shark and crocodile teeth and a fragment from a turtle’s shell.  The rocks record life during the Turonian faunal stage of the Late Cretaceous.  Few Turonian-aged deposits are known from North America, it is known that there were exceedingly diverse regional faunas during the later Campanian and Maastrichtian faunal stages and it is hoped that by studying fossils from earlier, some insight into how these diverse communities came about could be gleaned from the information.  This newly described fossil assemblage from Utah will help to fill the gap in our knowledge of early Late Cretaceous terrestrial communities in North America.

Examples of Vertebrate Fossils from the Ferron Sandstone Member

Vertebrates of the Turonian faunal stage.

Examples of vertebrate fossils from the Ferron sandstone deposits of Utah.

Picture Credit: Science Advances/S. A. Williams, Burpee Museum of Natural History

The picture above shows (A), views of an isolated shark tooth assigned to  Cretodus crassidens, a common lamniform shark known from Turonian Western Interior Seaway deposits.  Figure (B) shows isolated crocodylian teeth and (C) shows a large turtle scute.  Picture (D) shows various views of the poorly-preserved Ornithopod sacrum that was also found.

The scientific paper: “A New Fossil Assemblage Shows that Large Angiosperm Trees Grew in North America by the Turonian (Late Cretaceous)” by Nathan A. Jud, Michael D. D’Emic, Scott A. Williams, Josh C. Mathews, Katie M. Tremaine and Janok Bhattacharya and published in the open-access journal Science Advances.

29 09, 2018

New Giant Dinosaur From South Africa Described

By | September 29th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Ledumahadi mafube – Giant Plant-eater from the Early Jurassic

A new species of giant sauropodiform from the Early Jurassic of South Africa has been named and described. The dinosaur has been named Ledumahadi mafube and is estimated to have weighed around twelve tonnes and stood about four metres high at the hips. L. mafube may have been the largest animal alive on Earth between 200 and 195 million years ago.  Over the course of the Jurassic, gigantic Sauropod genera evolved, famous giants such as Brontosaurus, Brachiosaurus and Diplodocus.  Writing in the journal “Current Biology”, the international research team led by Professor Jonah Choiniere (Witwatersrand University), concluded that Ledumahadi shows that quadrupedal sauropodomorphs which lacked the columnar limbs of the later Sauropods could still attain, massive Sauropod-like body sizes.  This challenges one of the assumptions held in palaeontology, that the evolution of column-like legs was a prerequisite that enabled the long-necked, lizard-hipped dinosaurs to grow so big.

A Life Reconstruction of the Newly Described Sauropodiform Ledumahadi mafube

Ledumahadi mafube illustrated.

A life reconstruction of Ledumahadi mafube.

Picture Credit: Viktor Radermacher (Witwatersrand University)

The illustration shows the twelve tonne South African giant Ledumahadi mafube with its bent, semi-erect forelimbs.  It is observed by a much smaller Early Jurassic dinosaur, the Ornithischian Heterodontosaurus tucki.

“Giant Thunderclap at Dawn”

The fossil material consists of disarticulated post-cranial material discovered at Beginsel farm, approximately fifteen miles southeast of the town of Clarens in Free State Province, close to the border of South Africa and Lesotho.  The fossils were found in mudstone from the upper Elliot Formation representing terrestrial sediments laid down between 200 and 195 million years ago (Hettangian to Sinemurian faunal stages of the Early Jurassic).

The Fossilised Remains of Ledumahadi mafube and Location Maps

Fossils and location map of Ledumahadi mafube (South Africa).

Skeletal drawing the fossils of Ledumahadi mafube along with maps showing the fossil discovery location (UEF – upper Elliot Formation, whilst LEF – lower Elliot Formation).

Picture Credit: Witwatersrand University

The dinosaur’s name, pronounced Le-dew-ma-har-dee maf-fu-be is from the local Sesotho dialect of the region.  It translates as “giant thunderclap at dawn”, reflecting the size of the animal and the stratigraphically early position of this taxon.

Commenting on the significance of the name, Professor Choiniere stated:

“The name reflects the great size of the animal as well as the fact that its lineage appeared at the origins of Sauropod dinosaurs.   It honours both the recent and ancient heritage of southern Africa.”

Fossil Bones Photographed at the Quarry Site

Giant dinosaur bones from South Africa

Bones from the front limbs (hands) – Ledumahadi mafube, the penknife provides a handy scale.

Picture Credit: Witwatersrand University

An Adult Dinosaur Around Fourteen Years Old When it Died

An analysis of the growth lines of the limb bones indicate that the specimen was fully grown when it died and that this dinosaur was approximately fourteen years old when it met its demise.  The research team compared the limb measurements of the front and hind limbs of Ledumahadi with other dinosaurs and extant Tetrapods and they concluded that this dinosaur, had very robust limbs and was a quadruped, which weighed around twelve tonnes.  The plant-eating Ledumahadi was a giant amongst the Early Jurassic Dinosauria, it is the largest animal known so far from Early Jurassic sediments more than 195 million years old.  When Ledumahadi roamed it may have been the largest animal on Earth at the time.

Professor Choiniere and the Distal Portion of the Right Femur of Ledumahadi

Professor Jonah Choiniere describes the new Early Jurassic dinosaur Ledumahadi mafube.

Professor Jonah Choiniere with the distal portion of the femur of Ledumahadi.

Picture Credit: Witwatersrand University

A Different Stance and Posture Compared to Later Sauropods

The scientists, which included Roger Benson from Oxford University, conclude that L. mafube had a different posture than later Sauropods.  It did not have the column-like limbs of dinosaurs like Brontosaurus, Brachiosaurus and Diplodocus, its forelimbs would have been more crouched and partially flexed.  The research team postulate that this posture was an evolutionary experiment with gigantism within the lizard-hipped reptiles.

Lead author of the paper, Dr Blair McPhee (Witwatersrand University), explained:

“The first thing that struck me about this animal is the incredible robustness of the limb bones.  It was of similar size to the gigantic Sauropod dinosaurs, but whereas the arms and legs of those animals are typically quite slender, Ledumahadi’s are incredibly thick.  To me this indicated that the path towards gigantism in sauropodomorphs was far from straightforward and that the way that these animals solved the usual problems of life, such as eating and moving, was much more dynamic within the group than previously thought.”

Professor Choiniere Compares A Giant Toe Claw Bone (Pedal Ungual) with His Hand

The toe claw (ungual) of Ledumahadi mafube.

Professor Jonah Choiniere holding a pedal ungual (toe claw bone) from Ledumahadi mafube.

Picture Credit: Witwatersrand University

A Transitional Form of Long-necked Dinosaur

Analysis of the bones and comparative studies with other Sauropods and extant Tetrapods, led the scientists to conclude that the internal structure of the bones of Ledumahadi displayed traits associated with basal sauropodomorphs and more derived members of this group.  L. mafube probably represents a transitional stage between the sauropodomorphs and the later true Sauropoda.

Limb Bone Study Has Helped Plot the Evolutionary Change from Bipedalism to a Quadrupedal Stance

How did a quadrupedal stance in Sauropods evolve?

Plotting the evolutionary change from bipedalism to a quadrupedal stance in the Sauropoda.

Picture Credit: Witwatersrand University

The picture above depicts silhouettes scaled in height to the cube root of mass estimate of the taxon.  The colour of the silhouettes represents the inferred posture; red is bipedal, and black equals quadrupedal.   The purple line marks the Triassic/Jurassic boundary.

Out-competed by the Columnar-limbed Sauropods

Ledumahadi may have been the biggest animal on Earth during the very Early Jurassic, but the fossil record indicates that this large dinosaur body-plan with flexed limbs and a more crouched posture was not to last.  Co-existing with Ledumahadi were primitive Sauropods such as Vulcanodon (V. karibaensis), which although smaller had column-like limbs.  Within a few million years, only the columnar-limbed Sauropods remained as the only surviving lineage.  The reasons for this faunal turnover are unclear, but it might reflect that Ledumahadi might have had to expend more energy moving about with its flexed limbs that were not held directly under the body.  The more energy efficient posture of the straight-legged Sauropods with their column-like legs may have provided a competitive edge, driving dinosaurs like Ledumahadi to extinction.

To read Everything Dinosaur’s article about a recently described long-necked, Early Jurassic sauropodiform from China that is also helping palaeontologists to better understand Sauropod evolution:  Yizhousaurus Helping to Give Sauropod Evolution a Head Start

The scientific paper: “A Giant Dinosaur from the Earliest Jurassic of South Africa and the Transition to Quadrupedality in Early Sauropodomorphs” by Blair W. McPhee, Roger B.J. Benson, Jennifer Botha-Brink, Emese M. Bordy & Jonah N. Choiniere published in the journal “Current Biology”.

26 09, 2018

Bird Evolution Very Complicated

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

Jinguofortis perplexus – A Mosaic of Dinosaur and Bird Features

Scientists from the Chinese Academy of Scientists have described a new species of ancient, Early Cretaceous bird with a mosaic of dinosaur and bird characteristics.  The bird, which has been named Jinguofortis perplexuslived approximately 127 million years ago and it will help palaeontologists to learn more about bird development and the evolution of powered flight in the avian dinosaurs.

An Illustration of the Newly Described Early Cretaceous Bird Jinguofortis perplexus

Jingoufortis perplexus illustrated.

Jinguofortis a newly described Early Cretaceous bird with a mosaic of avian and reptilian traits.

Picture Credit: PNAS (Chung-Tat Cheung)

The pigeon-sized bird does not have a long bony tail, a characteristic inherited from dinosaurs that is found in the first birds such as Archaeopteryx.  Instead, the tail is much reduced and ends with a compound bone, a pygostyle, possessed by modern birds today.  Jinguofortis perplexus represents a transitional form, after birds had lost their dinosaurian tails but before they had evolved a fan of flight feathers on their shortened, compressed tails.

Honouring the Contribution of Female Scientists

The fossil specimen comes from the Debeigou Formation of north-eastern China and the genus name “Jinguofortis” derives from the Mandarin word for female warrior “jinguo” and the Latin word “fortis” meaning brave and strong.  The name honours the contribution made to palaeontology by female scientists around the world.  The species or trivial name “perplexus” is from the Latin and reflects the puzzling mix of anatomical traits.  Jinguofortis has been assigned to a basal member of the clade of short-tailed birds (Pygostylia).

The Slab and Counter Slab of the Fossil Bird Jinguofortis perplexus

Jingoufortis perplexus fossil material.

The fossilised remains of the Early Cretaceous bird Jinguofortis perplexus.

Picture Credit: PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Science)

Avian and Dinosaurian Characteristics

Writing in the academic journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA)”, the researchers Wang Min, Thomas Stidham and Zhou Zhonghe (Chinese Academy of Sciences), describe a unique combination of anatomical traits, including a jaw with small teeth like Jinguofortis’s Theropod dinosaur relatives as well as a short bony tail ending in a pygostyle.  Gizzard stones associated with the well-preserved, but rather flattened fossil, indicate that Jinguofortis may have fed on seeds and other plant material.  Jinguofortis also possessed a third finger with only two bones, unlike other early birds.

Fused Shoulder Bones

Close examination of the slab and counter slab revealed that the shoulder girdle of Jinguofortis was fused into a single bone, the scapulocoracoid, a feature associated with the non-avian dinosaurs.  Modern birds usually have two bones the scapula and the coracoid that provide greater flexibility in the shoulder, ideal for flapping, powered flight.  The fossil’s shoulder joint also gives clues about its flight capacity.  In flying (volant) birds, the shoulder, which experiences high stress during flight, is a tight joint between the two unfused bones (scapula and the coracoid).  In contrast, Jinguofortis perplexus with its fused bones suggests that it flew in a different way compared to modern birds.

Changes in the Coracoid and Scapula (Shoulder Girdle) in Vertebrates

Evolution of the shoulder girdle with a focus on the Avialae.

Changes in the evolution of the shoulder girdle (vertebrates) and the development of the shoulder within Avialae.

Picture Credit: Wang Min (Chinese Academy of Sciences)

The picture above plots the main changes in the shoulder joint of vertebrates from fish through to Tetrapods such as amphibians, reptiles and mammals.  The second part of the diagram maps the evolution of the shoulder joint from the Dromaeosauridae (the raptors), through to avian dinosaurs (birds) and shows that Jinguofortis sits between the earlier Confuciusornithiformes and the later Sapeornithiformes and is basal to the Pygostylia.  The diagram provides a temporal reference and also illustrates the evolution of the bird hand with its much reduced digits from dinosaurian ancestors with their grasping hands.

Measurement of the fossil’s wing size and estimation of its body mass show that the extinct species had a wing shape and wing loading (wing area divided by body mass) similar to living birds that need a lot of manoeuvrability.  Jinguofortis lived in a dense forest.  Its body plan would have assisted it to dodge and weave through the branches and dense foliage as it flew.

Jinguofortis perplexus with its mosaic of bird and dinosaur characteristics suggests that the evolution of modern birds was more complex than previously thought.

23 09, 2018

Chemical Clues to the Earliest Animal Fossils

By | September 23rd, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Cholesterol Proves Dickinsonia was an Animal

A team of international scientists including researchers from the Australian National University (Canberra) and the Russian Academy of Sciences (Moscow), have finally solved one of the great puzzles in palaeontology.  They have detected molecules of cholesterol in an ancient fossil to confirm that the bizarre Dickinsonia, part of the enigmatic Ediacaran biota, was an animal and therefore distantly related to all other animals including humans.

A Fossil of Dickinsonia – A Bizarre Disc-like Organism But What Exactly Was It?

Dickinsonia costata fossil.

The Ediacaran fossil Dickinsonia costata, specimen P40135 from the collections of the South Australia Museum

Picture Credit: Fr Alex Liu (Cambridge University)

The Enigmatic Ediacaran Biota

Before the Cambrian explosion and the evolution of hard-bodied organisms, there existed a strange biota formed of bizarre, soft-bodied organisms that did not show much affinity to Late Cambrian fossil groups and to any form of living organisms today.  Fossils appear in sedimentary rock dated between 570 to 541 million years ago and have been found in Australia, (the Ediacara Hills of South Australia, from which this period in Earth’s history is named) and notably in Namibia, England, China, Canada and Russia.  They were the first complex multi-cellular organisms to appear on Earth.  Although the Ediacaran biota immediately preceded the rapid appearance and diversification of animals in the Cambrian, where these strange organisms fit within the tree of life remained a mystery.  Some of these fossils appear segmented and show some bilateral symmetry, Dickinsonia for example, but most lack any obvious signs of a gut, a mouth, an anus or any appendages that might link them to the Animalia.

This new study, published in the journal “Science”, identified biomarkers, specifically the fat, cholesterol in the fossilised remains of Dickinsonia.  This discovery confirms that at least one bizarre Ediacaran group, Dickinsonia and related taxa are members of the animal kingdom (Metazoa).

Finding Fossils Can Be Dangerous

Australian National University PhD student Ilya Bobrovskiy and his fellow collaborators in this research project, explored a remote area of exposed cliff on the White Sea coast of north-western Russia.  The field team were looking for strata laid down in the Ediacaran so that they could study any fossils preserved within the ancient rocks.  The sedimentary material they were interested in was exposed high up on a steep cliff face and ropes had to be used to get the field team down the cliff face so that they could dislodge sandstone boulders which fell to the beach below and then could be collected for further analysis.

Palaeontology Can Be a Dangerous Business – Dislodging Ancient Marine Sandstone Boulders From the Cliff Face

Extracting sandstone blocks from the cliff face.

Digging out huge blocks of sandstone to find Ediacaran fossils on the Russian White Sea coast.

Picture Credit: Australian National University

Dickinsonia – The Earliest Known Animal in the Geological Record

Some Dickinsonia fossils are a whopping 140 centimetres in length, indicating that these organisms were much bigger than most of the Ediacaran and later Cambrian biota, but where they fitted in the classification of life on Earth remained open to conjecture.  Previously, it had been suggested that these fossils represented giant, single-celled amoeba, lichens or dead-end evolutionary experiments that have no connection to other life forms.  The research team discovered a Dickinsonia fossil that was so well preserved that a molecular analysis revealed traces of tiny amounts of cholesterol, a type of fat that is only produced by animal life.  The scientists postulate that this is the conclusive evidence that confirms that Dickinsonia was an animal.

Cholesterol Found in Dickinsonia Proves it was an Animal

Dickinsonia fossil.

A beautifully preserved 558 million-year-old fossil of Dickinsonia, now classified as an animal (Metazoan).

Picture Credit: Australian National University

Co-author of the study, Associate Professor Jochen Brocks from the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences commented:

“The fossil fat molecules that we’ve found prove that animals were large and abundant 558 million years ago, millions of years earlier than previously thought.  Scientists have been fighting for more than 75 years over what Dickinsonia and other bizarre fossils of the Ediacaran biota were.  The fossil fat now confirms Dickinsonia as the oldest known animal fossil, solving a decades-old mystery that has been the Holy Grail of palaeontology.”

Preparing Fossil Specimens for Analysis

Searching for traces of organic materials such as fats in Dickinsonia.

Preparing a fossil specimen for the organic matter analysis.

Picture Credit: Australian National University

Molecular Analysis

Using extremely sensitive techniques to assess the chemical nature of fossil material has opened up whole new areas of study for palaeontologists.  Prior to the employment of such technologies as computerised tomography, synchrotron radiation light sources, biomarker analysis and four-dimensional scanning, palaeontologists were restricted to studying the shape and the form of fossils.  Today, palaeontologists can utilise these new methodologies, drawn from a variety of disciplines such as engineering and medicine to undertake complementary areas of study.

To read an article published in 2017 that postulated that Dickinsonia was a member of the Animal Kingdom and likely to be a Metazoan: Growth Analysis Suggests Dickinsonia was Definitely an Animal

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