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8 06, 2022

Australian Pterosaur Fossils Reveal Crocodiles Dined on Flying Reptiles

By | June 8th, 2022|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Scientists have identified two partial pterosaur thigh bones that despite one being at least ten million years older than the other, have been identified as belonging to the same type of flying reptile (Anhangueria). Furthermore, one of the bones preserves a potential bite mark tentatively attributed to a crocodilian.

Pterosaur femur
Anhangueria indet. partial right femur from the Toolebuc Formation (NMV P231549): A, B, proximal; C, D, posterior; E, F, dorsal; G, H, anterior; I, J, ventral and K, distal views. A, C, E, G, I and K are photographs; B, D, F, H and J are 3-D renders derived from surface scan data. Scale bar = 2 cm. Picture credit: Pentland et al.

Two Rare Australian Pterosaur Fossils

The researchers who include famous Australian vertebrate palaeontologists Patricia Vickers-Rich and Thomas Rich report that the two bones although found over 200 miles apart, both come from pterosaurs from the same pterosaur clade (Anhangueria).

Specimen number NMV P231549 was collected in 1991 at Slashers Creek Station, southeast of the small town of Boulia (Queensland), from Toolebuc Formation deposits (middle to upper Albian) and is believed to be at least 100 million years old.

Specimen number AODF 2297 was found in 2004 at Belmont Station, around 35 miles northeast of the town of Winton in Queensland. It came from deposits associated with the “upper” Winton Formation (Cenomanian-lowermost Turonian stage of the Late Cretaceous). It is estimated to be around 10 million years younger.

Anhangueria femor from the Winton Formation.
Anhangueria indet. partial left femur from the Winton Formation (AODF 2297): A, B, posterior; C, D, dorsal; E, F, anterior; and G, H, ventral views. A, C, E and G are photographs; B, D, F and H are 3-D renders derived from surface scan data. Scale bar = 2 cm. Picture credit: Pentland et al.

Although pterosaur fossils are exceptionally rare in Australia and most specimens are extremely fragmentary, their three-dimensional preservation has enabled palaeontologists to learn a great deal about the type of pterosaurs that ranged over this part of Gondwana during the Cretaceous.

Lead author of the scientific paper describing these pterosaur bones, Adele Pentland (PhD student at Swinburne University, Melbourne, Victoria), was also the lead author of another scientific paper published in 2019 which described another anhanguerid pterosaur Ferrodraco lentoni.

To read more about F. lentoni: The Most Complete Pterosaur Specimen Found in Australia to Date.

Mojo Fun Tropeognathus.
A pair of typical anhanguerian pterosaurs based on the Mojo Fun Tropeognathus pterosaur model.

The Winton Formation fossil preserves a potential bite mark, that the researchers have tentatively proposed was made by a crocodylomorph. It is not known whether this feeding trace represents predation or post-mortem scavenging.

Comparing the two pterosaur femori.
Comparisons between greater trochanters of the Toolebuc Formation (NMV P231549) and Winton Formation (AODF 2297) pterosaur femora. AODF 2297 in A, B, dorsal view. NMV P231549 in C, D, dorsal view. A and C are photographs; B and D are 3-D renders derived from surface scan data. The bite marks associated with the Winton Formation fossil are highlighted. Scale bar = 1 cm. Picture credit: Pentland et al.

The scientists conclude that these new pterosaur fossils are a valuable addition to the meagre list of pterosaur specimens found in Australia and attest to the cosmopolitan distribution of anhanguerians during the Early and early Late Cretaceous.

The scientific paper: “New anhanguerian pterosaur remains from the Lower Cretaceous of Queensland, Australia” by Adele H. Pentland, Stephen F. Poropat, Matt A. White, Samantha L. Rigby, Patricia Vickers-Rich, Thomas H. Rich and David A. Elliott published in Alcheringa: An Australian Journal of Palaeontology.

5 06, 2022

A New Short-snouted Troodontid – Papiliovenator

By | June 5th, 2022|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

A new species of short-snouted troodontid has been named and described based on fossils found in the Upper Cretaceous Wulansuhai Formation at Bayan Manduhu, Inner Mongolia. This little dinosaur has been named Papiliovenator neimengguensis.

Everything Dinosaur team members have been busy updating readers about new dinosaurs named and described this year (see below*), the formal scientific paper announcing this new troodontid was published earlier in the spring, but information about the fossils attributed as the holotype material had been circulating for some time.

Papiliovenator neimengguensis Skull
The short-snouted skull of Papiliovenator neimengguensis in lateral view. Picture credit: Pei et al.

Named From Strangely Shaped Dorsal Vertebrae

Known from a nearly complete skull and fragmentary, semi-articulated postcranial material thought to represent a single, individual animal, Papiliovenator means “butterfly hunter”. This little carnivore, which was less than a metre long, might well have hunted butterflies and other members of the Lepidoptera, but the derivation of the genus name does not reflect this dinosaur’s diet. Instead, it was the unusual shape of the neural arches associated with the two dorsal vertebrae closest to the neck of this dinosaur that inspired the genus name. When viewed from above (dorsal view), these neural arches are butterfly-shaped.

Papiliovenator neimengguensis fossil bones.
Papiliovenator neimengguensis fossil bones. A view of the articulated dorsal vertebrae with the distinctive butterfly-shaped, broad neural arches of the anteriormost dorsal vertebrae when viewed from the top down (dorsal view). The neural arch has been outlined in red. Picture credit: Pei et al with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur.

Unusual for a Late Cretaceous Troodontid

The researchers report that Papiliovenator was unusual among Late Cretaceous troodontids in having a fairly deep, short-snouted skull. This skull shape is seen in geologically older troodontids known from the Early Cretaceous. Most other Late Cretaceous troodontids have long, low snouts, except for the smaller Almas ukhaa from the Campanian-aged Djadochta Formation of Mongolia. Coincidently, Rui Pei of the Chinese Academy of Sciences was the lead author of the scientific paper naming and describing A. ukhaa (Pei et al, 2017). Rui Pei is the lead author of the paper describing Papiliovenator.

*To read about a new basal iguanodontian from southern China: Napaisaurus guangxiensis.

*A new alvarezsaurid taxon from Uzbekistan: Dzharaonyx eski Old Dzharakuduk Claw.

*A new therizinosaur from the Japanese island of Hokkaido: Paralitherizinosaurus japonicus.

The fossils are thought to represent a sub-adult animal. The discovery of Papiliovenator neimengguensis allows for an improved understanding of troodontid anatomy, as well as helping to highlight the regional variation of troodontids from the Upper Cretaceous of the Gobi Basin.

The scientific paper: “A new troodontid from the Upper Cretaceous Gobi Basin of inner Mongolia, China” by Rui Pei, Yuying Qin, Aishu Wen, Qi Zhao, Zhe Wang, Zhanmin Liu, Weilesi Guo, Po Liu, Weiming Ye, Lanyun Wang, Zhigang Yin, Ruiming Dai and Xing Xu published in Cretaceous Research.

31 05, 2022

The Extinction of Megalodon

By | May 31st, 2022|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

The extinction of Megalodon more appropriately termed Otodus megalodon, regarded as the largest hypercarnivorous shark that has ever existed has been the subject of numerous scientific papers. Newly published research suggests that competition for food and space with the Great White Shark (C. carcharias) and possibly other large taxa such as hypercarnivorous toothed whales could have played a role in the giant fish’s extinction.

Brilliant artwork on the PNSO Megalodon model cover sleeve.
The amazing, colourful sleeve artwork on the PNSO Megalodon figure. Several scientific papers have explored the potential reasons for the demise and extinction of Otodus megalodon – regarded as the largest hypercarnivorous shark known to science.

Zinc Isotope Analysis from Teeth

The diet of extinct animals can hold clues to their lifestyle, behaviour, evolution and ultimately their extinction. However, studying an animal’s diet after millions of years is difficult due to the poor preservation of chemical dietary indicators in organic material. An international team of scientists led by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig, Germany), used a new technique, analysing zinc isotopes preserved in the mineralised tooth enamel to assess how far up the food chain Otodus megalodon was placed in comparison to the extant Great White Shark.

Tooth comparison Megalodon and Great White Shark
A tooth from the extinct early Pliocene Otodus megalodon (left) compared with a tooth (right) from a modern Great White Shark (C. carcharias). Picture credit: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

More Reliable than Nitrogen Isotope Analysis of Tooth Collagen

Nitrogen analysis of tooth collagen, a protein-based component of tooth dentine, has been used to establish the degree of animal matter consumed in a diet. However, in fossils collagen is generally not preserved so an analysis of zinc isotopes associated with the highly mineralised tooth enameloid may prove to be a more reliable indicator of the diet of long extinct animals.

Lead author of the study, published in “Nature Communications”, Dr Jeremy McCormack (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology) stated:

“On the timescales we investigate, collagen is not preserved, and traditional nitrogen isotope analysis is therefore not possible.”

The isotope ratios in O. megalodon teeth from the Pliocene were studied along with earlier Miocene “megatooth” taxa such as Otodus chubutensis. Modern contemporaneous shark species such as C. carcharias were analysed to provide a comparison. The researchers identified similar zinc isotope signatures in extinct as well as their modern analogous taxa.

Megalodon Occupied the Same Niche as Great White Sharks

The researchers concluded that super-sized sharks such as Otodus megalodon occupied the same niche in the ecosystem as the extant Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias). This suggests that when these two taxa were contemporaneous, they would have competed for the same resources.

This competition may have played a role in the demise and eventual extinction of Megalodon.

CollectA Deluxe Megalodon shark model.
The CollectA 1:40 scale Megalodon shark model. The extinction of Otodus megalodon could have been caused by multiple, compounding environmental and ecological factors including climate change and thermal limitations, the collapse of prey populations and resource competition with Carcharodon carcharias.

The extinction of Otodus megalodon could have had multiple causes. For example, environmental and ecological factors including climate change and dramatic cooling of the seas resulting in a restriction of the habitat of O. megalodon. In addition, the collapse of prey populations along with resource competition from Carcharodon carcharias could have put the Megalodon population under increasing pressure.

This study did not examine the potential impact on O. megalodon through competition from toothed whales (carnivorous odontocetes). If zinc isotope analysis proves to be a reliable methodology for analysing the diets of long extinct creatures, then this technique could be used to examine the impact of toothed whales on Megalodon populations.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in the compilation of this article.

The scientific paper: “Trophic position of Otodus megalodon and great white sharks through time revealed by zinc isotopes” by Jeremy McCormack, Michael L. Griffiths, Sora L. Kim, Kenshu Shimada, Molly Karnes, Harry Maisch, Sarah Pederzani, Nicolas Bourgon, Klervia Jaouen, Martin A. Becker, Niels Jöns, Guy Sisma-Ventura, Nicolas Straube, Jürgen Pollerspöck, Jean-Jacques Hublin, Robert A. Eagle and Thomas Tütken published in Nature Communications.

27 05, 2022

A Basal Iguanodontian from Southern China

By | May 27th, 2022|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Scientists have named and described a new genus of basal iguanodontian from the Xinlong Formation of southern China. The dinosaur has been named Napaisaurus guangxiensis. It is the first, basal iguanodontian taxa described from southern China.

Napaisaurus guangxiensis fossil material.
Holotype fossil material of Napaisaurus (N. guangxiensis) is a right ilium and ischium found in 2020. It is the first, basal iguanodontian taxa from southern China. Picture credit: Ji and Zhang.

Fossils Found in 2020

Partial hip bones (a right ilium and a right ischium) from a single individual animal were discovered in 2020 from excavations undertaken in strata associated with the Aptian-aged, Xinlong Formation of Napai Basin, Fusui County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, South China. The dinosaur’s name translates as Napai Basin lizard from Guangxi and its discovery adds to the dinosaur biota (sauropods, spinosaurids and carcharodontosaurids) associated with the Xinlong Formation.

Team members at Everything Dinosaur, estimate that based on the partial hip bones, the Napaisaurus specimen would have been around four metres in length.

Scale drawing of Napaisaurus
A scale drawing of Napaisaurus guangxiensis. This basal iguanodontian is estimated to be around four metres in length.

Comparing Dinosaur Biotas from China and North-eastern Thailand

The official journal publication announcing the discovery of this new Early Cretaceous herbivore was published earlier this year, but it was made available on-line in 2021.

The fossils permit an iguanodontian to be added to the dinosaur biota associated with the Xinlong Formation and it provides important evidence helping palaeontologists to better understand the relationship between the Lower Cretaceous fossils of the Napai Basin (Xinlong Formation) and those associated with contemporaneous deposits from northern China and the Khorat Group of north-eastern Thailand. Specifically, the naming of Napaisaurus adds a definitive iguanodontian to the Xinlong Formation biota, thus permitting a more detailed comparison with the ornithischian dinosaurs associated with the Aptian-aged Khok Kruat Formation (the uppermost member of the Khorat Group), from which several iguanodontian ornithopods have been described (Ratchasimasaurus, Siamodon, Sirindhorna).

The scientific paper: “First new genus and species of basal iguanodontian dinosaur (Ornithischia: Ornithopoda) from southern China” by S. Ji and P. Zhang published in Acta Geoscientica Sinica.

25 05, 2022

Argentina’s “Dragon of Death”

By | May 25th, 2022|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Researchers have named the largest pterosaur found to date in South America. The giant Thanatosdrakon (T. amaru) is estimated to have had a wingspan of around nine metres and it would have stood as tall as a giraffe.

Writing in the academic journal “Cretaceous Research”, the scientists, have assigned Thanatosdrakon to the Azhdarchidae family of pterosaurs and postulate that it was closely related to the slightly larger and geologically younger Quetzalcoatlus, fossils of which are known from North America.

Left humerus of Thanatosdrakon
The paratype fossil, a giant left humerus (UNCUYO-LD 350) is carefully cleaned at the dig site. Picture credit: Reuters/ICB-CONICET/UNCUYO.

One of the Largest Flying Vertebrates Known

The fossil material, thought to represent two individual pterosaurs was found in the upper-most levels of the Plottier Formation (upper Coniacian–lower Santonian, Neuquén Basin), Mendoza, western Argentina. The researchers, who include CONICET* researcher Dr Leonardo Ortiz David, Dr Bernardo González Riga, director of the Laboratory and Museum of Dinosaurs of the Faculty of Exact and Natural Sciences and world-renowned pterosaur expert Dr Alexander Kellner (Director of the National Museum of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), estimate that Thanatosdrakon lived around 86 million years ago. Based on the single, huge left humerus of the paratype (UNCUYO-LD 350), a wingspan of around 9 metres is proposed, making Thanatosdrakon amaru one of the largest flying vertebrates known to science.

Thanatosdrakon Size Comparison
Comparing the estimated wingspans of the paratype and holotype fossil material associated with Thanatosdrakon amaru with large, extant birds. Picture credit: ICB-CONICET/UNCUYO.

Exceptionally Preserved Fossils

A civil construction project had uncovered some of the fossils. A field team was despatched to map the site and to recover the exceptionally well-preserved bones. The fossil material consists of vertebrae and bones from the limbs. As the larger humerus was found in close proximity to the other fossils, the scientists have speculated that this huge animal was social and probably lived in flocks.

Thanatosdrakon is the oldest taxon of the clade Quetzalcoatlinae so far described. As the strata containing the fossil bones represent deposition in a floodplain environment with ephemeral meandering streams and rivers, the researchers conclude that like the much later Quetzalcoatlus, Thanatosdrakon inhabited continental, inland areas.

Thanatosdrakon skeletal material.
Skeletal reconstructions of Thanatosdrakon amaru. The holotype fossil material (UNCUYO-LD 307) and the left humerus paratype (UNCUYO-LD 350). Picture credit: ICB-CONICET/UNCUYO.

Important Information on Azhdarchid Anatomy

The fossils are not distorted or flattened to any great degree. Their three-dimensional preservation will help the researchers to learn more about the anatomy of giant pterosaurs. In addition, some of the fossil bones such as the dorsosacral vertebrae and caudal vertebra along with the notarium (the structure formed by fusion of the dorsal vertebrae, seen in pterosaurs and birds), have never been described in giant azhdarchids. The researchers expect that further study of these bones will provide important information on azhdarchid anatomy.

The “Dragon of Death”

This large pterosaur probably hunted on the ground, perhaps stalking prey in a similar manner to the marabou stork (Leptoptilos crumenifer) which is found in sub-Saharan Africa. The genus name is derived from the Greek words thanatos which means death and drakon (dragon). The species name honours the Inca winged serpent (Amaru).

CONICET* (Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas [National Council for Scientific and Technical Research of Argentina]).

The scientific paper: “Thanatosdrakon amaru, gen. et sp. nov., a giant azhdarchid pterosaur from the Upper Cretaceous of Argentina” by Leonardo D. Ortiz David, Bernardo J. González Riga and Alexander W. A. Kellner published in the journal Cretaceous Research.

22 05, 2022

Dzharaonyx eski – “Old Dzharakuduk Claw”

By | May 22nd, 2022|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Earlier this spring, a new taxon of alvarezsaurid theropod was described from well-preserved, postcranial remains found in Uzbekistan. The little dinosaur, measuring less than half a metre long, has been named Dzharaonyx eski, which translates as “old Dzharakuduk claw”.

Dzharaonyx eski scale drawing.
The cat-sized alvarezsaurid theropod Dzharaonyx eski from the Late Cretaceous of Uzbekistan. It is regarded as the geologically oldest member of the Parvicursorinae.

From the Bissekty Formation

Writing in the academic “Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology”, the researchers, including Hans-Dieter Sues (Department of Paleobiology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.), describe this cat-sized theropod based on bones from the spine including dorsal and caudal vertebrae, limb bones, parts of the pelvis and bones from the hand including the iconic, robust alvarezsaurid claws.

Dzharaonyx claw fossils.
Dzharaonyx eski a new taxon of alvarezsaurid from the Late Cretaceous of Uzbekistan. Picture credit: Averianov and Sues.

The fossils come from the Bissekty Formation (Upper Cretaceous, Turonian faunal stage) and D. eski is estimated to have lived around 91-92 million years ago. The dinosaur was named after the type locality (Dzharakuduk in south-central Uzbekistan). The species name “eski” is derived from the Uzbek word for “old”.

Pronounced Zar-ah-ra-on-niks es-key, a phylogenetic analysis of this newly described taxon places it within the alvarezsaurid subfamily the Parvicursorinae alongside other Asian members of the Alvarezsauridae such as Parvicursor (P. remotus) and Qiupanykus (Q. zhangi). Dzharaonyx eski is the oldest member of the Parvicursorinae known to science, it having lived at least 10 million years earlier than related species, fossils of which are confined to the Campanian and Maastrichtian faunal stages of the Late Cretaceous.

Alvarezsaurids were highly specialised theropods, with a single, powerful hand claw adapted for tearing and digging. It is thought that these small maniraptoran dinosaurs fed on colonial insects such as termites.

Recently, another Asian member of the Parvicursorinae was described from partial, postcranial material from the Upper Cretaceous (Campanian) Barungoyot Formation in Mongolia. The alvarezsaurid has been named Ondogurvel alifanovi.

The scientific paper: “New material and diagnosis of a new taxon of alvarezsaurid (Dinosauria, Theropoda) from the Upper Cretaceous Bissekty Formation of Uzbekistan” by Alexander O. Averianov and Hans-Dieter Sues published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

10 05, 2022

Pregnant Ichthyosaur Airlifted to Safety

By | May 10th, 2022|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

As the glaciers that comprise the Southern Patagonian Ice Field in Chile retreat, some of the rocks exposed have revealed an astonishing array of ichthyosaur fossils. A resilient and dedicated team of scientists have been working to map this hugely significant site and to extract the marine reptile fossil material so that these remarkable specimens can be studied in more detail.

Exposed ichthyosaur specimen revealed by a retreating glacier.
Dr Judith Pardo-Pérez (University of Magallanes), shows the ichthyosaur specimen exposed by the retreating Tyndall Glacier. Picture credit: Alejandra Zúñiga.

Finding and Rescuing “Fiona”

An expedition to the remote Tyndall Glacier located in the Torres del Paine National Park, led by Dr Judith Pardo-Pérez from the University of Magallanes (Punta Arenas, southern Chile), has recovered the country’s first complete ichthyosaur fossil. Nicknamed “Fiona” the four-metre-long specimen represents the remains of a pregnant female, complete with several ichthyosaur embryos.

“Fiona” was discovered in 2009, during an earlier expedition to this remote area of Chilean Patagonia. A team of dedicated researchers which included Jonatan Kaluza from Fundación de Historia Natural Félix de Azara and CONICET (Argentina), biologist and palaeontological excavator Héctor Ortiz from the Chilean Antarctic Institute and the University of Chile and renowned ichthyosaur expert Dr Dean Lomax (Visiting Scientist at The University of Manchester), braved the harsh conditions in March and April to ensure the safe removal of the specimen. The intact female ichthyosaur remains were airlifted using a helicopter. It is hoped that further analysis of this remarkable specimen will confirm it as a new ichthyosaur genus.

Airlifting an ichthyosaur fossil.
A helicopter prepares to airlift the pregnant ichthyosaur specimen. Picture credit: The University of Manchester.

The First Female Palaeontologist to Lead a Major Expedition to Patagonia

Dr Judith Pardo-Pérez has visited the Tyndall fossil site more than ten times since the initial discovery in 1997 and completed her PhD on the ichthyosaurs found in the area. Thanks to funding from the Chilean National Agency for Research and Development (ANID), a team of top scientists could be put together to allow the fossils preserved in an ancient Cretaceous seabed to be studied in detail.

Dr Pardo-Pérez, is the first female palaeontologist to lead a major expedition in Patagonia.

Team members at the Tyndall Glacier Site (Chile)
Part of the Tyndall Ichthyosaur Team discuss excavating a section of a fossil specimen. Picture credit: The University of Manchester.

Collecting these hugely important marine reptile fossils, was no easy task. The Tyndall Glacier site could only be reached by a 10-hour hike or horse ride and the team had to endure difficult weather conditions including high winds and snowstorms whilst excavating the fossils from the extremely hard sediment.

To combat the 90 kph winds, heavy rain and snow, a hangar was built over “Fiona” so that the team could continue to work despite the harsh weather. Circular saws and heavy-duty excavation tools were used to free the fossils from the bedrock.

A hanger erected over the ichthyosaur specimen.
A hanger was erected over the 4-metre-long ichthyosaur fossil so the scientists could continue working on the specimen despite the extreme weather conditions. Picture credit: The University of Manchester.

The Most Abundant and Best-preserved Cretaceous Ichthyosaur Deposit Known

Despite the constant threat of pumas, the team have ensured that this exceptional female specimen has been made available for further analysis and study. It is the only known specimen of a pregnant female of Valanginian-Hauterivian age (between 129 and 139 million years old from the Early Cretaceous).

Commenting on the importance of the specimen, Dr Pardo-Perez Pérez stated:

“At four metres long, complete, and with embryos in gestation, the excavation will help to provide information on its species, on the palaeobiology of embryonic development, and on a disease that affected it during its lifetime.”

In addition to “Fiona” a further twenty-three new ichthyosaur specimens were discovered by the expedition team, making the Tyndall Glacier site perhaps the most abundant and best-preserved early Cretaceous ichthyosaur deposit in the world.

Examining an Ichthyosaur Skull
Dr Judith Pardo-Pérez and Dr Dean Lomax examining the best-preserved skull of an ichthyosaur found at the Tyndall Glacier site. Whilst assisting on-site, Dr Lomax found new specimens including the skull of a juvenile ichthyosaur. Picture credit: The University of Manchester.

An Ichthyosaur Graveyard

The fossils consist of adults, juveniles and very young ichthyosaurs, they can provide scientists with information on breeding behaviour as well as helping to plot the radiation of new ichthyosaur genera following the end-Jurassic extinction event.

Dr Lomax explained:

“The fact that these incredible ichthyosaurs are so well preserved in an extreme environment, revealed by a retreating glacier, is unlike anywhere else in the world. The considerable number of ichthyosaurs found in the area, including complete skeletons of adults, juveniles, and new-borns provides a unique window into the past. The international collaboration helps to share this exceptional ichthyosaur graveyard with the world and, to a large extent, to promote science.”

Cutting out an ichthyosaur specimen
Jonatan Kuluza, palaeontological technician at the Fundación de Historia Natural Félix de Azara and CONICET (Argentina), uses a circular saw to cut out an ichthyosaur specimen. Picture credit: The University of Manchester.

Dr Lomax added:

“The weather was so extreme that we could not get to the ichthyosaur site every day and had to remain in camp. On those days when the team could reach the site, they documented the ichthyosaurs and other fossils and discovered new specimens. Amazingly, on average, two ichthyosaurs were found every day.”

Protecting and Preserving the Remaining Specimens

The female ichthyosaur nicknamed “Fiona”, will be prepared and studied at the Río Seco Natural History Museum in Punta Arenas. It is hoped that the beautifully preserved specimen will go on public display.

The priority for Dr Pardo-Pérez and her collaborators is to try to preserve as many specimens as possible. The remoteness of the site and the difficult working conditions will hamper any attempts to preserve and protect these remarkable specimens.

Outlining some of the problems facing the team, the doctor stated:

“We have almost a hundred ichthyosaurs in the Tyndall Glacier fossil deposit and many of them, unfortunately, will never be excavated, due to the difficulty of access, being in risk areas [cliff edge], and lack of funds. The ichthyosaurs that will not be excavated need protection and consolidation in situ, as the erosion to which they are being subjected on a daily basis is destroying them.”

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of media release from The University of Manchester in the compilation of this article.

6 05, 2022

New Species of Long-tailed Marine Reptile Described

By | May 6th, 2022|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

A new species of Triassic marine reptile has been described following the discovery of superbly preserved fossils in Yunnan Province (south-western China). Named Honghesaurus longicaudalis it is a member of the Pachypleurosauroidea and it possessed the longest tail of any known pachypleurosaur.

Honghesaurus longicaudalis
The holotype fossil (IVPP V30380) of the newly described Honghesaurus longicaudalis. Photo (a) and line-drawing (b) of whole specimen. c, cervical vertebra; ca, caudal vertebra; d, dorsal vertebra; s, sacral vertebra. Picture credit: Xu et al.

Writing in the academic journal “Scientific Reports”, the researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, in collaboration with colleagues from the Zhejiang Museum of Natural History and Guizhou University, describe a complete skeleton in the collection of the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences (specimen number IVPP V30380). The stunning fossil material comes from marine deposits associated with the Guanling Formation and it is estimated to be around 244 million years of age (Anisian stage of the Middle Triassic).

The Tale of a Very Long Tail

Remarkably, the tail of H. longicaudalis contains 69 caudal vertebrae, far more than any other known pachypleurosaur, other pachypleurosaurs commonly have no more than 58 caudal vertebrae. Humans in comparison have just 33 vertebrae in their skeleton. The researchers conclude that this extremely long tail (making up more than fifty percent of the entire body length), in combination with the animal’s long trunk made Honghesaurus extremely manoeuvrable in water. The scientists also speculate that the exceptionally long tail and body helped this marine reptile to conserve energy as it swam.

Skull and mandible of Honghesaurus longicaudalis.
Skull and mandible of Honghesaurus longicaudalis (IVPP V30380). Photo before (a) and after (b) dusted with ammonium chloride. (c) Line- drawing. (d) Reconstruction in dorsal view. an, angular; ar, articular; at, atlas; ax, axis; c, cervical vertebra; den, dentary; en, external naris; eo, exoccipital; f, frontal; j, jugal; m, maxilla; n, nasal; op, opisthotic; p, parietal; pat, proatlas; pm, premaxilla; po, postorbital; pof, postfrontal; prf, prefrontal; pt, pterygoid; q, quadrate; sa, surangular; so, supraoccipital; sq, squamosal; stf, supratemporal fossa. Picture credit: Xu et al.

The Dispersal of the Pachypleurosaurs

The holotype and currently only known specimen of H. longicaudalis (IVPP V30380) measures 47.1 cm in length. Most pachypleurosaurs were of a similar size although phylogenetic analysis suggests that Honghesaurus was closely related to the much larger Wumengosaurus delicatomandibularis, which had an estimated body length of 1.3 metres.

Pachypleurosaurs are regarded as basal members of the Superorder Sauropterygia, which includes placodonts and the plesiosaurs. The research team postulate that the discovery of Honghesaurus demonstrates the diverse morphology of the Pachypleurosauridae and lends weight to the idea that these marine reptiles originated in Europe and dispersed along the Tethys Ocean in a westerly direction giving rise to new forms in the eastern Tethys Ocean.

Keichousaurus life reconstruction.
The best-known of all the pachypleurosaurs is Keichousaurus, which is also known from south-western China although from geologically younger deposits than the strata that yielded the single specimen of Honghesaurus.

The scientific paper: “A long-tailed marine reptile from China provides new insights into the Middle Triassic pachypleurosaur radiation” by Guang-Hui Xu, Yi Ren, Li-Jun Zhao, Jun-Ling Liao and Dong-Hao Feng published in Scientific Reports.

5 05, 2022

Admiring Horsetails

By | May 5th, 2022|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Horsetails (sphenopsids) continue to thrive although their Carboniferous heyday is long behind them. Once a much more extensive group, these vascular plants, believed by many palaeobotanists to be closely related to ancestral ferns, are now represented by about twenty species, all contained in the genus Equisetum.

Horsetails (Equisetum) continue to thrive as they are able to grow in areas where other plants would find it difficult to get a foothold. Often regarded as weeds, these tough little plants are essentially living fossils, as the earliest examples of the genus Equisetum date from the Early Jurassic of South America.

A Living Fossil

When team members at Everything Dinosaur see a clump of horsetails, often growing on waste ground we stop to admire them. These tough little plants deserve respect. After all, they are essentially a living fossil, the oldest fossil remains of modern horsetails (genus Equisetum), date from approximately 190 to 182 million years ago (early Pliensbachian to early Toarcian), represented by Equisetum dimorphum from the Early Jurassic of South America (Chubut Province, Argentina).

Horsetail fossils - Equisetum dimorphum.
Photographs of Equisetum dimorphum sp. nov. from the Lower Jurassic of Chubut Province, Argentina. 1-2. Part and counterpart of a strobilus showing the hexagonal sporangiophores and the long leaves of MPEF-Pb 5894a and MPEF-Pb 5894b; 3. Detailed inner view of 1 showing oblong sporangia of MPEF-Pb 5894a; 4. Isolated external cast of sporangiophore showing central umbo of MPEF-Pb 6477a. Abbreviations: le, leaves; s, sporangia. Scale bars 1-2 = 3mm; 3 = 1 mm; 4 = 0.5 mm. Picture credit: Elgorriaga et al.
3 05, 2022

Getting your Claws into Therizinosaurs

By | May 3rd, 2022|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Scientists have named a new species of therizinosaur based on fragmentary remains found on the Japanese island of Hokkaido. The dinosaur has been named Paralitherizinosaurus japonicus, it is the first recovered from Asian marine deposits and the third example of a therizinosaur to be found in Japan.

The fossil material, recovered from the lower Campanian Osoushinai Formation near to the town of Nakagawa in the Hokkaido Prefecture, was previously identified as a maniraptoran theropod dinosaur, possibly therizinosaur, but its taxonomic status remained uncertain. A group of scientists including Yoshitsugu Kobayashi and Anthony R. Fiorillo from the Hokkaido University Museum re-examined the fossils and erected a new taxon confirming the fossil material did represent a Late Cretaceous member of the Therizinosauridae.

Paralitherizinosaurus japonicus life reconstruction
A life reconstruction of the Late Cretaceous, Japanese therizinosaur Paralitherizinosaurus japonicus. Picture credit: Masato Hattori.

Evolution of Claw Shape in the Therizinosauridae

Writing in the academic journal “Scientific Reports”, the researchers reassessed the fossil material consisting of a single vertebra plus bones and claws (unguals) from the right hand. As well as concluding that the fossils represent a therizinosaur, they confirmed that it is the geologically youngest therizinosaur known from Japan described to date.

Paralitherizinosaurus silhouette
Paralitherizinosaurus japonicus silhouette showing estimate of body size and position of known skeletal elements. The fossilised claw elements shown in close view with known material in white. Picture credit: Genya Masukawa.

Important Implications for Claw (Ungual) Evolution in the Therizinosauridae

The scientists compared the shape of the hand claws from Paralitherizinosaurus japonicus with the claws from geologically older therizinosaurs and they postulated that that primitive therizinosaurs had claws with generalist functionalities and that the claws of more derived, later therizinosaurs such as P. japonicus were more suited to the hook-and-pull feeding function. Hook-and-pull feeding involves the use of the claws to help gather vegetation and bring it closer to the mouth.

What’s in a Name?

The fossils were found in a concretion associated with the Campanian-aged Osoushinai Formation of the Yezo Group on Hokkaido Island. The Yezo Group mostly consists of marine deposits and many vertebrate fossils such as plesiosaurs, sharks, mosasaurs and turtles have been discovered. Fragmentary dinosaur fossils are also associated with these strata including hadrosaurids, an armoured dinosaur (nodosaurid) and a potential tyrannosaur. A therizinosaur taxon can now be added to this Late Cretaceous dinosaur biota.

The discovery of the bones and claw elements in marine deposits helped to inspire this dinosaur’s scientific name. The genus name translates as “scythe reptile by the sea”, whilst the species name honours Japan.

Paralitherizinosaurus japonicus fossils.
The concretion that contained the fragmentary therizinosaur fossil material prior to preparation. Picture credit: Kobayashi et al.

The scientific paper: “New therizinosaurid dinosaur from the marine Osoushinai Formation (Upper Cretaceous, Japan) provides insight for function and evolution of therizinosaur claws” by Yoshitsugu Kobayashi, Ryuji Takasaki, Anthony R. Fiorillo, Tsogtbaatar Chinzorig and Yoshinori Hikida published in Scientific Reports.

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