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

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

10 08, 2019

A Very Mammal-like Cynodont from Argentina

By | August 10th, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Pseudotherium argentinus – A Very Mammal-like Cynodont from the Triassic of Argentina

Scientists have described a new species of cynodont, from a single, well-preserved skull found in north-western Argentina.  The animal has been named Pseudotherium argentinus and although this animal was not a mammal, the skull shows some very mammal-like characteristics.  For example, the cochlea is elongated but uncoiled and this feature is reminiscent of basal mammaliamorphs, the lineage that was to lead to true mammals and of course, ultimately, our own species.

CT Scan (Right Lateral View of the Skull of Pseudotherium argentinus

Pseudotherium Skull.

Computer generated model of the skull of Pseudotherium.  The skull in right lateral view with the cross-sectional profile indicated by the dotted line shown in white.

Picture Credit: PLOS One

Helping to Unravel Mammal Evolution

Classified as a member of the Probainognathia, one of two clades within the Infraorder Eucynodontia, which includes modern mammals, the skull shows an enlarged braincase, large eye-sockets and other anatomical traits that indicate that this animal might have been developing the heightened senses associated with more advanced therapsids.  The fossil was found in 2006 during a field trip to the Ischigualasto Formation carried out by the Instituto y Museo de Ciencias Naturales of the Universidad Nacional de San Juan.  The strata in this region is believed to be between 231 and 226 million years old approximately.  The researchers conclude that Pseudotherium, the name means “false wild beast [mammal]” in reference to its mammal-like skull, may lie just inside or very close to the Mammaliamorpha, indicating that it might be a transitional form between the Probainognathia and basal mammals.

Many of the mammal-like cynodont specimens known, have badly crushed and deformed skulls.  Their state of preservation prevents palaeontologists from identifying key anatomical changes leading to more advanced therapsids.  The research team hope to recover more specimens from the Ischigualasto Formation which will shed further light on the evolution of our early mammal ancestors.

The scientific paper: “First record of a basal mammaliamorph from the early Late Triassic Ischigualasto Formation of Argentina” by Rachel V. S. Wallace, Ricardo Martínez and Timothy Rowe published in PLOS One.

8 08, 2019

The Very Peculiar Parrots of Ancient New Zealand

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

Heracles inexpectatus – A Prehistoric Parrot

We had known about this for a little while, but we wanted to keep our beaks firmly shut until the scientific paper had been published, the biggest parrot known to science has been announced.  The metre tall, most probably flightless psittaciform roamed the South Island of New Zealand around 19 million years ago.  Named Heracles inexpectatus it was part of a bizarre Miocene-aged biota that existed in New Zealand, the remains of which have been excavated from a riverbank on the Manuherikia River, Home Hills Station, Otago (Bannockburn Formation).  The fossil deposits are close to the small town of St Bathans, this area is renowned for its remarkable fossil deposits that record life in a sub-tropical forest environment which surrounded a huge, lake, which at its largest  extent covered an area equivalent to nearly four times the size of the city of London.

A Life Reconstruction of Heracles inexpectatus

A life reconstruction of Heracles inexpectatus the newly described giant prehistoric parrot from New Zealand.

A life reconstruction of the newly described giant prehistoric parrot from New Zealand.  If you look carefully at this image you can see three small birds as well as the giant parrot.  These represent the extinct genus Kuiornis, which at around 8 cm high was dwarfed by H. inexpectatus.

Picture Credit: Dr Brian Choo (Flinders University)

A Flightless Forager

Writing in “Biology Letters”, the researchers which include Associate Professor Trevor Worthy (Flinders University, Adelaide, South Australia), suggest that this parrot weighed around seven kilogrammes, and if it did, this makes it twice as heavy as the largest living parrot, the Kakapo (Strigops habroptilus), which also comes from New Zealand.  H. inexpectatus has been described based on partial lower leg bones (the shafts of the left and right tibiotarsi), which were collected in January 2008.  These two bones probably came from the same individual and since no other fossils related to a giant parrot have been found in the St Bathans area before, the discovery was quite unexpected, hence the trivial name of this new parrot species.

Comparing the Fossil Bone to the Leg Bones of an Extant Kakapo (Largest Living Parrot)

Comparing the fossil leg bone of the giant extinct parrot Heracles to the leg bones of the largest living parrot - the Kakapo.

Heracles leg bone (top) compared to the lower leg bones of a Kakapo parrot (bottom).

Picture Credit: Flinders Palaeontology Laboratory

Commenting on this quite surprising discovery, Associate Professor Worthy stated:

“New Zealand is well known for its giant birds.  Not only moa dominated avifaunas, but giant geese and adzebills shared the forest floor, while a giant eagle ruled the skies.  But until now, no-one has ever found an extinct giant parrot – anywhere.”

Carnivore or Omnivore?

It is the leg bones that give an indication of the bird’s size.  What it ate can be speculated upon, for example, in the absence of large mammalian predators Heracles could have been an apex predator, perhaps a hypercarnivore.  The rarity of the fossils, could indicate it was relatively uncommon and therefore likely to be near the top of an ancient food chain.

Associate Professor Worthy added:

“We have been excavating these fossil deposits for 20 years, and each year reveals new birds and other animals.  It [Heracles] was likely a flightless forager who ate abundantly on fruit and seeds but may have preyed on small animals that it could dig out of logs, or even snack on dead or dying moa.”

Co-author Professor Mike Archer (University of New South Wales), suggests that the feeding habits of such a large parrot could have been quite gruesome.

He explained:

“Heracles, as the largest parrot ever, no doubt with a massive parrot beak that could crack wide open anything it fancied, may well have dined on more than conventional parrot foods, perhaps even other parrots.”

More Amazing Fossil Finds from Otago Likely

Whilst the discovery of a giant prehistoric parrot is quite remarkable, the researchers are confident that the Miocene-aged sedimentary strata in this area (Manuherikia Group), will yield even more amazing fossils in the future.  In these rocks, palaeontologists have discovered the fossilised remains of around forty different types of bird, as well as bats, frogs and a crocodilian.

These fossil deposits have provided palaeontologists with an insight into the rich avian fauna of prehistoric New Zealand.  In 2018, Everything Dinosaur wrote about the discovery of fragmentary bones that suggested a type of prehistoric pigeon inhabited New Zealand during the Early Miocene: A New New Zealand Pigeon from the Early Miocene.

What’s in a Name?

A number of media outlets reporting this discovery have stated that the genus name Heracles honours the Greek hero (Hercules), renowned for his great strength.  That is true, but the inspiration behind the genus name is a little more subtle than that.  Some of the authors of this scientific paper about Heracles, were also involved in the discovery and naming of another much smaller parrot species from the Bannockburn Formation.  Nelepsittacus was named and described in 2011, its genus name was inspired by Neleus, who in Greek myth was the son of Poseidon and Tyro.  Neleus refused to release Hercules from a debt and was murdered by Hercules, so it seemed logical to give the much larger psittaciform from the St Bathans Fauna a name honouring Hercules.

The scientific paper: “Evidence for a giant parrot from the early Miocene of New Zealand” (2019) by Trevor H Worthy, Suzanne J Hand, Michael Archer, R Paul Scofield and Vanesa L De Pietri published in Biology Letters.

6 08, 2019

New Dinosaur Species Discovered “Hiding in Plain Sight”

By | August 6th, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

The Sauropodomorph Ngwevu intloko “Hiding in Plain Sight”

The fossilised remains of a dinosaur that once roamed South Africa some 200 million years ago and that had lain mislabelled in a university vault for three decades has been identified as an entirely new species of dinosaur, a discovery that helps to demonstrate that ecosystems that developed shortly after the end-Triassic extinction event were much more specious than previously thought.

A View of the Skull of the Newly Described Sauropodomorpha N. intloko in the University of Witwatersrand Collection

Ngwevu fossil skull (BP/1/4779.

The skull of the newly described South African sauropodomorph Ngwevu intloko.

Picture Credit: Kimberley Chapelle (University of Witwatersrand)

Ngwevu intloko

The dinosaur has been named Ngwevu intloko and it was PhD student Kimberley Chapelle (University of Witwatersrand), whilst working with her supervisors mapping the extensive fossil material associated with Massospondylus (M. carinatus), that first realised that the well-preserved skull and postcranial remains could represent a new species.  Hundreds of fossils including several nearly complete skulls have been ascribed to Massospondylus (M. carinatus), since it was described by Richard Owen (later Sir Richard Owen) in 1854.  The skull (specimen number BP/1/4779), had been part of the University of Witwatersrand vertebrate fossil collection for years, but it had been thought that this was just an unusual example of this species.

Co-author of the scientific paper, which has been published in the journal PeerJ, Professor Paul Barrett of the Natural History Museum, London explained:

“This is a new dinosaur that has been hiding in plain sight.  The specimen has been in the collections in Johannesburg for about thirty years and lots of other scientists have already looked at it.  But they all thought that it was simply an odd example of Massospondylus.”

Views of BP/1/4779 – The Skull of Ngwevu intloko

Views of the skull of N. intloko.

Views of the skull of Ngwevu intloko.  Views of BP/1/4779 in (A) right lateral view, (B) dorsal view and (C) left lateral view.  Scale bar = 1 cm.

Picture Credit: Kimberley Chapelle (University of Witwatersrand)

A Diverse Sauropodomorpha Fauna of South Africa During the Early Jurassic

Using a variety of techniques including computerised tomography (CT) scans and three-dimensional bone mapping, the team identified a total of sixteen cranial and six postcranial characteristics that supported the establishment of a new dinosaur species.  Deformation due to the fossilisation process and ontogeny were ruled out as the basis of these traits, thus leading to the conclusion that these fossils did not represent Massospondylus, but a different, albeit related dinosaur.  Ngwevu was a bipedal omnivore with a small head, long neck and a robust, chunky body.  It is estimated to have reached a length of about three metres or so.  Analysis of bone cross sections indicate that the specimen would have been about ten years old when it died.

A Life Reconstruction of N. intloko

Drawing of Ngwevu intloko (based on Lufengosaurus).

A drawing of Ngwevu intloko (based on Lufengosaurus).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Up until recently, Massospondylus (M. carinatus) was thought to be the only sauropodomorph represented by fossil material from the Lower Jurassic upper Elliot and Clarens formations of southern Africa, but there are now known to have been several different genera present, some of which were to eventually give rise to the huge sauropods of the Late Jurassic.  Scientists are now starting to take a closer look at many of the supposed Massospondylus specimens, believing there to be much more variation than first thought.

Sauropodomorpha from the Elliot Formation include:

  • Antetonitrus ingenipes
  • Massospondylus kaalae
  • Aardonyx celestae
  • Ignavusaurus rachelis
  • Arcusaurus pereirabdalorum
  • Pulanesaura eocollum
  • Ledumahadi mafube to read an article about the naming and scientific description of L. mafubeNew Giant Dinosaur from South Africa

This new research, helping to support the idea that there were many different types of sauropodomorphs in this part of Gondwana during the Early Jurassic, will help scientists to better understand how ecosystems recovered after the end-Triassic extinction event.

A Three-dimensional Digital Reconstruction of the Skull

Ngwevu intloko fossil skull - digital reconstruction.

A digital reconstruction of the skull of Ngwevu intloko.

Picture Credit: Kimberley Chapelle (University of Witwatersrand)

Professor Paul Barrett commented:

“This new species is interesting, because we thought previously that there was really only one type of sauropodomorph living in South Africa at this time.  We now know there were actually six or seven of these dinosaurs in this area, as well as a variety of other dinosaurs from less common groups.  It means that their ecology was much more complex that we used to think.  Some of these other sauropodomorphs were like Massospondylus, but a few were close to the origins of true sauropods, if not true sauropods themselves.”

This research shows the value of revisiting specimens in museum collections, as many news species are probably sitting unnoticed in cabinets around the world, an example of dinosaurs “hiding in plain sight”.

The scientific paper: “Ngwevu intloko: a new early sauropodomorph dinosaur from the Lower Jurassic Elliot Formation of South Africa and comments on the cranial ontogeny in Massospondylus carinatus” by Kimberley E.J. Chapelle​, Paul M. Barrett, Jennifer Botha and Jonah N. Choiniere published in PeerJ.

4 08, 2019

New Study Confirms Ichthyosaurs Had Tough Lives

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

The Hard, Tough Lives of Ichthyosaurs

A trio of scientists have published a study looking at signs of injury and disease in a range of ichthyosaur genera.  Such studies have been undertaken before, indeed the authors of this new paper, published by the Royal Society Open Science, Judith M. Pardo-Pérez, Erin Maxwell (Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde, Stuttgart, Germany) and Benjamin Kear (Uppsala University, Sweden) have examined pathologies in the giant ichthyosaur Temnodontosaurus as recently as 2018, but this study takes a different approach.  The researchers looked in detail at one specific ancient ecosystem, analysing injuries and disease recorded in several different types of  ichthyosaur and found some surprising results.

A Scale Drawing Illustrating the Size of the Superpredator Temnodontosaurus

Scale drawing of Temnodontosaurus.

Temnodontosaurus scale drawing.  In this illustration the marine reptile is giving birth (these vertebrates were viviparous).  A study was published in 2018 which examined pathologies associated with the skeleton of this apex predator.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Back in 2018, these scientists published a paper detailing the injuries and disease lesions (pathology), associated the ichthyosaur superpredator Temnodontosaurus.  They found that despite its size, growing up to ten metres in length, these predators led quite tough lives, given the healed wounds, evidence of trauma and signs of disease preserved in their fossils.

In this new paper, published last week, the scientists examined the fossils of five different ichthyosaurs known from a single fossil deposit (Posidonienschiefer Formation).  These fossils from southern Germany, date from the Early Jurassic (Toarcian faunal stage) and represent a marine fauna that suffered a minor extinction event resulting in a significant faunal turnover amongst the vertebrates.

The five genera of ichthyosaur (Posidonienschiefer Formation) from the study in order of maximum size:

1).  Hauffiopteryx (2.5 m long) – a relatively short-snouted genus that probably fed on small fish and squid.
2).  Stenopterygius (3.5 m long) – feeding on small fish and squid.
3).  Suevoleviathan (4 m long)- a primitive member of the Neoichthyosuria clade that with a short-snout that indicates a generalist feeding habit.
4).  Eurhinosaurus (7 m long) – its elongated upper snout suggests a specialist position in the food chain, perhaps feeding on small fish or probing the seabed to feed on invertebrates.
5).  Temnodontosaurus (up to 10 metres long) – the top predator in the ecosystem, attacking and eating other marine reptiles including ichthyosaurs.

Not Just Damaged Ribs

Damaged ribs are quite commonly found on ichthyosaur fossils, but in this study, a detailed examination of the entire fossilised remains of individual animals was carried out.  The team examined the influence of taxa (which species demonstrated the greatest signs of trauma and disease), as well as which parts of the body were damaged the most, the influence of ontogeny and the impact of environmental change (early Toarcian Oceanic Anoxic Event).

Examples of Pathologies in Ichthyosaurs from the Posidonienschiefer Formation

Ichthyosaur pathologies.

Examples of ichthyosaur pathologies from the Posidonienschiefer Formation.  In picture (a) a fused (ankylosed) femur and fibula is indicated by the two black arrows, the species is Stenopterygius uniter.  In picture (b) fused neural spines (ankylosis) is indicated by the single black arrow.   The species is Stenopterygius quadriscissus.

Picture Credit: Royal Society Open Science

Small-bodied Genera Do Best

Following the review of the skeletal material, the researchers found that the incidence of pathologies is dependent on the type of taxon being examined.  Small-bodied genera such as Stenopterygius had fewer injuries, signs of disease and trauma when compared to larger-bodied ichthyosaurs.  Within the Stenopterygius genus, the scientists discovered that more pathologies were identified in large adults when compared to smaller sized individuals.  Stratigraphic horizon, a proxy for evidence of change within the ancient marine ecosystem did not influence the incidence of pathology associated with Stenopterygius.

The Research Team Carefully Examined an Extensive Portion of the Posidonienschiefer Formation Ichthyosaur Biota

Ichthyoaur pathology.

Evidence of pathologies found in ichthyosaur fossils.  Photograph (C) shows a fractured and healed gastralia rib (belly rib) of a Hauffiopteryx (H. typicus).  The black arrow indicates the break and the resulting callus.  Photograph (D) shows a healed fractured rib from a Stenopterygius, the arrow indicating the break and showing the callus.

Picture Credit: Royal Society Open Science

Skull and Forelimb Injuries

When all the data from the examined taxa was added together, it was no surprise that the rib area was identified as that part of an ichthyosaur’s body most likely to show signs of pathology.  Around 8% of the specimens examined showed rib trauma.  However, approximately 6% of skulls and 4% of forelimbs also showed pathologies.  In contrast, those areas of the body showing the least signs of injury were the vertebrae and the hind limb.

The researchers concluded that within the fauna studied, ichthyosaurs appear to be similar to living vertebrates in which pathologies accumulate in the oldest/largest members of a population, and larger taxa experience proportionately more frequent skeletal traumas.

The scientific paper: “Palaeoepidemiology in extinct vertebrate populations: factors influencing skeletal health in Jurassic marine reptiles” by Judith M. Pardo-Pérez , Benjamin Kear and Erin E. Maxwell published in Royal Society Open Science.

3 08, 2019

Legal Protection for Isle of Skye Fossil Sites

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

Vital Legal Protection for Isle of Sky Fossil Sites

Some very good news for scientists, conservationists and for anyone concerned with protecting the natural heritage of the UK.  Internationally-recognised and extremely important Jurassic-aged fossil sites on the Scottish island of Skye, containing rare evidence of how dinosaurs and early mammals lived many millions of years ago, have been granted greater legal status.  This will help to ensure their protection for future generations and provide greater security for future fossil discoveries.

A Tridactyl Dinosaur Footprint Preserved on the Shoreline of the Isle of Skye

Tridactyl dinosaur footprint (Isle of Skye).

A three-toed dinosaur footprint on the Isle of Skye.

Picture Credit: Colin MacFadyen (Scottish National Heritage)

Here is the full press release provided by Scottish Natural Heritage with some additional information from Everything Dinosaur:

Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment, Mairi Gougeon, had signed a Nature Conservation Order (NCO) at Staffin Museum, home of dinosaur bones and footprints found nearby on the Isle of Skye.  The key aim of the NCO is to prevent rare vertebrate fossils from being damaged through irresponsible collection and removal from Skye’s globally important fossil sites.  Importantly, the NCO aims to encourage local people and the wider public to take an interest in and report any potentially important fossil finds.

The Isle of Skye in the Middle Jurassic

Isle of Skye Sauropods.

The Isle of Skye (Bathonian faunal stage).  The Isle of Skye during the Middle Jurassic.

Picture Credit: Jon Hoad

Aiming to Deter Irresponsible Fossil Collecting

In the past, important fossil discoveries have been damaged by hammering, with specimens taken from the island and moved to private collections.  In 2016, an attempt to take a plaster cast of a dinosaur footprint at An Corran risked significant damage to a feature that has become an important tourist attraction.  To read Everything Dinosaur’s article about this: 165-million-year-old dinosaur footprints damaged.

Known as the dinosaur capital of Scotland, the rich Middle Jurassic fossil fauna of Skye is gradually being revealed with new discoveries continuing to be made.  These include some of the first fossil evidence of dinosaur parenting.  Housed at Staffin Museum, a rock slab shows the footprints of baby dinosaurs, together with the print of an adult.  It is expected that Skye is also home to fossil remains of flying reptiles, and confirmation of this will firmly place the island in the international dinosaur hall of fame.  The new legal protection will help to deter irresponsible fossil collecting on the island.

Commenting on the significance of the increased protection, Minister for the Natural Environment Mairi Gougeon said:

“Skye lays claim to the most significant dinosaur discoveries of Scotland’s Jurassic past and this Nature Conservation Order is a vital step in protecting and preserving this important part of our natural heritage for future generations.  The Order gives extra legal protection to these special sites whilst providing for important artefacts to be collected responsibly for science and public exhibition, as Dugald Ross of the Staffin Museum has been doing since his first important discovery in 1982.  I hope the Order gives even greater awareness of the significance of these important sites, and the important and valuable role everyone has in helping protect them.”

Everything Dinosaur team members have corresponded with Dugald Ross in the past.  Sadly, our communications have mostly been about damage to fossil deposits and suspected thefts of fossil material.

To read an article from 2011 that reported on the damage caused to an important fossil site on the Isle of Skye: Important Jurassic Fossil Site Ransacked.

Colin MacFadyen, a geologist at Scottish National Heritage stated:

“This vital legal protection is important to ensure Skye’s unique dinosaur heritage is available for everyone to learn from and enjoy.  The NCO covers areas of coastline where 165 million-year-old Middle Jurassic sedimentary rocks are gradually being eroded by the sea.  It is crucial that the footprints and actual skeletal remains of dinosaurs and other vertebrates, that are being revealed by nature are protected.  These fabulous fossil finds can help answer crucial questions about ancient ecosystems and pave the way for exciting advances in our understanding of vertebrate evolution.”

Dinosaurs and Mammal Fossil Evidence Too

The Minch Basin region of north-western Scotland partially consists of strata laid down in the Middle Jurassic, an important time in the evolution of the Dinosauria with many new families evolving.  This period in Earth’s history also marks the evolution of a number of mammal genera.   Unfortunately, there are very few fossil bearing exposures around the world that record evidence of life on our planet during this important period of terrestrial vertebrate evolution.  The Isle of Skye is one of these locations, hence this new legal protection is extremely important.

Early Mammal Fossils Have Also Been Found on the Isle of Skye

Jawbone and line drawing of Wareolestes jawbone fossil.

The fossil jawbone from the Isle of Skye (Wareolestes).  The Middle Jurassic was also an important time for mammalian evolution.

Staffin Museum owner Dugald Ross added:

“Everyone has a role to play in making the Order a success, and we are encouraging local people who think they may have found a vertebrate fossil – or a dinosaur bone or tooth – to contact Staffin Museum for advice.  We are encouraging everyone to find, report and help protect – but not collect – Skye’s wonderful dinosaur heritage.”

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a press release from Scottish Natural Heritage in the compilation of this article.

1 08, 2019

Cute and Cuddly Marsupial Had a Fearsome Fossil Relative

By | August 1st, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Sparassocynus – A Pliocene Predator

Scientists, including a researcher from the University of Salford (Manchester), writing in the academic publication the “Journal of Mammalian Evolution”, have shed further light on a predatory prehistoric marsupial from the Pliocene of South America.  Sparassocynus might be related to living short-tailed opossums, but unlike its extant relatives, Sparassocynus was not insectivorous, most likely, other small mammals were on the menu.

A Life Reconstruction of Sparassocynus

Sparassocynus life reconstruction.

A life reconstruction of Sparassocynus feeding on a small rodent.

Picture Credit: Velizar Simeonovski

Living short-tailed opossums are cute and most are not much bigger than a squirrel, but these natives of South America had a bigger and ferocious fossil relative.  The joint British and Argentinian research team have shown that Sparassocynus, is an extinct carnivorous relative of today’s cute and cuddly short-tailed opossums.  The Sparassocynus genus has been known to science for over a hundred years, but its evolutionary position within the Didelphimorphia, that great clade of marsupials that includes the specious opossums and their relatives has been uncertain.  However, Dr Robin Beck, a mammal systematist at the University of Salford, in collaboration with Matías Taglioretti (Museo Municipal de Ciencias Naturales “Lorenzo Scaglia”, Argentina), have clarified its taxonomic position.

The pair of scientists focused their attention on a 4-million-year-old skull of Sparassocynus (Sparassocynus derivatus), that provided vital new information about this genus.  The skull was found in 2012 by Taglioretti and colleagues in a fossil deposit in cliffs along the Atlantic coast of Argentina, near the city of Mar del Plata (Playa Las Palomas).

Commenting on the significance of the skull fossil find Dr Beck stated:

“As soon as Matías showed me the skull, I knew it was really important.  It’s almost perfectly preserved, and it’s not fully grown [it still has its baby teeth], so it preserves a lot of features that are not visible in other specimens.”

The Juvenile Sparassocynus Skull Fossil (Lateral View)

Sparassocynus fossil skull.

Four-million-year-old skull of a Sparassocynus (S. derivatus) juvenile from the Chapadmalal Formation near Mar del Plata, Argentina.  Note scale bar = 1 cm.

Picture Credit: Dr Robin Beck (University of Salford)

By comparing over a hundred different anatomical characteristics, and incorporating DNA evidence from living species, Beck and Taglioretti showed that Sparassocynus is an extinct member of the opossum family and is most closely related to the much more cute and cuddly, insect-eating short-tailed opossums.

Dr Beck added:

“This might seem surprising because Sparassocynus was clearly a carnivore that would probably have eaten rodents and other small vertebrates, whereas short-tailed opossums are about five times smaller and mainly eat insects, but they share some unusual features that indicate a close relationship.”

Sparassocynus survived in South America until about 2.5 million years ago, when it may have been driven extinct by the arrival of weasels from North America in what is known as the “Great American Biotic Interchange”, the land masses of North America and South America were finally united when the Panama land bridge became complete.  There are over a hundred species of opossum still alive today in South America, of which, twenty-four are short-tailed opossums.  Thankfully, none of these extant species are quite as ferocious as Sparassocynus would have been.

The scientific paper:

“A nearly complete juvenile skull of the marsupial Sparassocynus derivatus from the Pliocene of Argentina, the affinities of “sparassocynids” and the diversification of opossums (Marsupialia; Didelphimorphia; Didelphidae)” by RMD Beck and ML Taglioretti published in the Journal of Mammalian Evolution.

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

21 07, 2019

Scientists Conclude Dinosaurs Nested in Colonies

By | July 21st, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Mongolian Fossil Site Sheds Light on Theropod Nesting Behaviour

A team of international scientists writing in the academic journal “Geology”, have published a scientific paper that outlines strong evidence to indicate that at least some types of dinosaur nested communally and that the Dinosauria had a breeding season.   Communial nesting behaviour as seen in living theropods such as birds has been inferred in a variety of non-avian dinosaurs in the past.  Famous fossil sites such as “Egg Mountain” in Montana, a nesting site for the hadrosaurid Maiasaura (and one or two troodontids too), that has provided high concentrations of nests preserved in a single location suggest that some types of dinosaurs nested in colonies, but the difficulty lay in proving that all the nests were created and the eggs laid at roughly the same time.

A new fossil nesting site discovered in the Upper Cretaceous Javkhlant Formation of the eastern Gobi Desert (Mongolia), preserves at least fifteen egg clutches laid by a probable non-avian theropod and this site provides strong evidence for colonial nesting in the dinosauria.

A Field Photograph of One of the Dinosaur Nests

The most complete nest of dinosaur eggs preserved at the site.

The most complete clutch of discovered at the site, preserving 30 dinosaur eggs.

Picture Credit: Kohei Tanaka, (University of Tsukuba).

A Common Palaeosurface to the Fossil Finds

The researchers, which included scientists from the University of Calgary (Alberta, Canada), University of Tsukuba (Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan), Hokkaido University Museum (Hokkaido, Japan), and the Royal Tyrrell Museum (Alberta, Canada), studied fifteen egg clutches laid by a theropod dinosaur.  As all the eggs were very similar, (classified as the oofamily the Dendroolithidae), it is likely that all the nests were created by the same species of dinosaur.  Communial nesting behaviour has been inferred before, but unsually, at this fossil site, the mudstone and eggshell fragments that fell inside the eggs during, or soon after hatching, along with other sediments indicates the clutches were subsequently buried during a small flood event that deposited a thin red marker bed.  It is this thin marker bed and the consistency of sediment infill among the eggs that indicates that these clutches were laid and hatched during a single season.  In scientific terms, there is a common palaeosurface associated with the dinosaur nests and eggshell fragments.

A Natural Cross Section Through an Egg Showing the Palaeosurface

Identifying the palaeosurface - evidence of communial nesting.

A natural cross section through an egg that shows the palaeosurface on which the eggs were laid, and the mudstone layers that infill and overlay the eggs.

Picture Credit: Kohei Tanaka, (University of Tsukuba).

Strong Evidence to Suggest that Some Dinosaurs Nested in Colonies Just Like Some Birds

The discovery of clutches of dinosaur eggs believed to have been laid by the same species of dinosaur, at the same level within the palaeosurface indicates that this is probably the fossilised remains of a single breeding season event.

A Hypothetical View of the Theropod Nesting Site (Therizinosaurs Nesting)

Javkhlant nesting site - theropods colonial nesting.

Life reconstruction of the theropod nesting site at Javkhlant.  It is suggested that the eggs were laid by Therizinosaurs.

Picture Credit: Masato Hattori

Using Vegetation to Incubate Eggs

The researchers conclude that despite the absence of sedimentologic evidence indicative of nest structure, statistical analyses of egg characteristics and facies association suggests that the clutches were likely incubated in covered or buried nests.  Some types of ground-nesting bird bury their eggs and use vegetation to help incubate and regulate the nest temperature.  This behaviour is also found in that other extant branch of the Archosauria, the crocodilians.  Furthermore, based on the number of nests and eggs found, the hatching success of the colony is estimated at around 60%.  This hatching success is comparable to the hatching success found in crocodile nesting sites and amongst bird species that attend their nests and, very importantly, protect their nests from predators during the incubation period.

Therefore, it is likely that colonial nesting with parental attendance, widespread in living birds, likely evolved initially among non-brooding, non-avian dinosaurs to increase nesting success.  In essence, the sort of nesting behaviours observed in living archosaurs today (birds and crocodiles), is probaby a trait that evolved quite early on in the evolutionary history of the Archosauria.

Nest Guarding Behaviour in Dinosaurs

It has been inferred that dinosaurs protected their nests, based on evidence that some dinosaurs may have nested in groups.  The percentage hatching success calculated from this site, reinforces that inference that some theropods may have defended their nest and, in all likelihood, their newly hatched offspring as well.  The oofamily Dendroolithidae is associated with Therizinosaurs, although the eggs could have been laid by another type of dinosaur.  Therizinosaurs are theropods but importantly, they are thought to be herbivorous and so in the life reconstruction, the nest builders are depicted as Therizinosaurs breeding together as a form of protection against carnivorous theropods and other predators.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from the Royal Tyrrell Museum (Alberta) in the compilation of this article.

The scientific paper: “Exceptional preservation of a Late Cretaceous dinosaur nesting site from Mongolia reveals colonial nesting behavior in a non-avian theropod” by  Kohei Tanaka; Yoshitsugu Kobayashi; Darla K. Zelenitsky; François Therrien; Yuong-Nam Lee; Rinchen Barsbold; Katsuhiro Kubota; Hang-Jae Lee; Tsogtbaatar Chinzorig; Damdinsuren Idersaikhan published in the journal Geology.

17 07, 2019

The Etymology of Aquilarhinus and Mystery Fossil Material

By | July 17th, 2019|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|2 Comments

How Did Aquilarhinus Get its Name?  Mystery Fossils from Rattlesnake Mountain

Recently, team members at Everything Dinosaur wrote a blog article announcing the discovery of a primitive, “shovel-billed” hadrosaurid from the Big Bend National Park in south-western Texas.  We received an email asking us how this dinosaur got its name, here is a quick explanation of the etymology.

Aquilarhinus palimentus – What’s in a Name?

A life reconstruction of the head of Aquilarhinus.

An illustration of Aquilarhinus with a crest along its snout and its unusual beak that may have been used to shovel up soft plants.  Anatomical features related to the skull and jaws gave this dinosaur its name.

Picture Credit: ICRA Art

Aquilarhinus palimentus

The genus name is derived from the Latin “aquila” which means eagle and the from the Greek “rhinos” meaning nose.  The combination of these two words – “eagle nose” describes the shape of the rostrum of this newly described dinosaur.  It had a bony crest on its snout.  The species or trivial epithet is derived from a combination of Latin words – “pala” meaning shovel and “mentus” which is translated as chin.  The species name has therefore been erected to describe the assumed front portion of the lower jaw (predentary), that resembled a shovel.  It is thought that this broad-skulled, shovel-mouthed dinosaur fed by scooping up marsh plants.

Could the Scientists Have Found Another Hadrosaurid in the Big Bend National Park?

In addition to the fossil material found and ascribed to Aquilarhinus palimentus, researchers have also found additional fossils which are from a hadrosaurid, but they remain unsure whether these fragments of bone from the skull represent A. palimentus or another type of duck-billed dinosaur.  All the fossils ascribed to Aquilarhinus palimentus were found within four square metres, but these other bones were found just a short distance from the Aquilarhinus remains.  The researchers writing in the “Journal of Systematic Palaeontology”, state that this material might pertain to A. palimentus but none of these isolated bones exhibit diagnostic features that would allow for certain attribution.  For this reason, the research team describes this material separately and refrain from referring it to as A. palimentus, instead it is regarded as Hadrosauridae incertae sedis.  The term “incertae sedis” is from the Latin, it means “uncertain placement”, the palaeontologists are unsure which type of dinosaur the fossils represent.

Hadrosaurid Skull Elements from Rattlesnake Mountain (Big Bend National Park)

Hadrosauridae incertae sedis fossil material.

Hadrosaurid facial and cranial material from Rattlesnake Mountain (south-western Texas). Hadrosauridae incertae sedis.  The fossils from the skull are not diagnostic of a species, therefore the material is incertae sedis.

Picture Credit: Journal of Systematic Palaeontology

To read our previous blog post about the discovery of Aquilarhinus palimentusAn Unusual Shovel-billed Hadrosaurid

16 07, 2019

An unusual “shovel-billed” Hadrosaurid

By | July 16th, 2019|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Aquilarhinus palimentus from the Early Campanian of Texas

Researchers writing in the “Journal of Systematic Palaeontology” have announced the discovery of a new species of duck-billed dinosaur (hadrosaurid), although this dinosaur possessed a very peculiar “duck-bill”.  The dinosaur named Aquilarhinus palimentus, seems to have had a shovel-shaped beak, suggesting that it had a unique way of feeding.   The front of the jaws of duck-billed dinosaurs meet in a U-shape to support a cupped beak used for cropping vegetation.  Aquilarhinus was different, analysis of the front of the lower jaw (anterior portion of the dentary), indicate that the jaws of this plant-eater met in a strange W-shape, creating a wide, flattened shovel.

A Life Reconstruction the Newly Described Late Cretaceous Hadrosaurid Aquilarhinus palimentus

Life reconstruction of Aquilarhinus palimentus

Aquilarhinus palimentus life reconstruction.

Picture Credit: ICRA Art

From the Lower Shale Member of the Aguja Formation of Big Bend National Park (Texas)

In 1985, Tom Lehman, then a geology master’s student at the University of Texas was exploring Upper Cretaceous-aged outcrops in south-western Texas.  Whilst working on the western side of Rattlesnake Mountain, which is in the Big Bend National Park, he and his fellow field team members came across some badly weathered dinosaur fossil bones cemented together in an ironstone nodule.  For some years, the material remained in storage, a preliminary study of the skull material back in the 1990s identified a broad nasal crest and it was thought that this dinosaur was related to Gryposaurus.  This new research has identified a number of unique anatomical characteristics that merit these fossil bones being placed in their own genus.  Furthermore, Aquilarhinus was a more primitive hadrosaurid then Gryposaurus and as such, these fossils can perhaps help palaeontologists to understand how the huge variety of different duck-billed dinosaurs evolved.

Line Drawings Showing Views of the Skull and Jaws of Aquilarhinus palimentus

Views of the skull and jaws of Aquilarhinus.

Line drawing showing various views of the skull and jaws of Aquilarhinus palimentus.

Picture Credit: Journal of Systematic Palaeontology with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

The picture (above), shows line drawings that reconstruct the skull and jaws of A. palimentus.  The areas coloured brown indicate bones belonging to the holotype specimen.  Note (B), showing the skull viewed from the front, Everything Dinosaur has added an illustration of the symphyseal processes of the dentary indicating the unique “W-shaped” component to the lower jaw.  These bony struts are elongated and pushed upwards, causing the dentaries to meet with a “W-shaped” anterior profile.

The shales from which the fossil bearing nodules were recovered (Aguja Formation), date from the lower Campanian (about 80 million years old) and suggest that Aquilarhinus roamed a tidal marshland.  It may have been semi-aquatic using its “shovel-like” jaws to scoop vegetation out of the silt and mud.

The Lower Jaw of Aquilarhinus

The dentary of Aquilarhinus (lower jaw.

The lower jaw of Aquilarhinus palimentus (left lateral view).  Note, the white material is filler.

Picture Credit: Albert Prieto-Marquez

Much Smaller than Gryposaurus

Comparisons with the skull bones of Gryposaurus suggest that Aquilarhinus was probably about half the size of Gryposaurus, indicating an animal around five metres in length, although the size of Aquilarhinus is only conjecture.  More fossil material is required in order to make a more certain diagnosis.

Corresponding author of the scientific paper, Dr Albert Prieto-Márquez from the Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont (Spain) commented:

“This new animal is one of the more primitive hadrosaurids known and can therefore help us to understand how and why the ornamentation on their heads evolved, as well as where the group initially evolved and migrated from.  Its existence adds another piece of evidence to the growing hypothesis, still up in the air, that the group began in the south-eastern area of the United States.”

A Life Reconstruction of the Head of Aquilarhinus palimentus

A life reconstruction of the head of Aquilarhinus.

An illustration of Aquilarhinus with a crest along its snout and its unusual beak that may have been used to shovel up soft plants.

Picture Credit: ICRA Art

A Non-saurolophid Hadrosaurid

Phylogenetic analysis undertaken by the research team reveals Aquilarhinus to be superficially similar to dinosaurs like Kritosaurus and Gryposaurus but more likely to be more closely related to Latirhinus from the Late Campanian of Mexico.  As such, Aquilarhinus does not fit with the main group of duck-billed dinosaurs known as Saurolophidae.  It is more primitive than this group, suggesting there might have been a greater number of lineages than previously recognised that evolved before the great radiation that gave rise to the bewildering array of unadorned, solid and hollow-crested forms of duck-billed dinosaurs that thrived in northern latitudes during the Late Cretaceous.

Most saurolophids had bony head crests of many different shapes and sizes.  Aquilarhinus also sported a bony crest, albeit a simple one shaped like a humped nose.  The discovery of a solid crest outside the major radiation of hadrosaurids supports the hypothesis that all crests derived from a common ancestor that had a simple humped nose.

The scientific paper: “An unusual “shovel-billed” dinosaur with trophic specialisations from the Early Campanian of Trans-Pecos Texas, and the ancestral hadrosaurian crest” by Albert Prieto-Márquez, Jonathan R. Wagner and Thomas Lehman published in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology.

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

12 07, 2019

New Theropod Dinosaur from the Late Triassic of Switzerland

By | July 12th, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Notatesseraeraptor frickensis – A Mixture of Coelophysid and Dilophosaurid Characteristics

A new European theropod dinosaur from the Late Triassic of Switzerland has been named and described this week.  This is big news, as very little is known about Late Triassic theropods that roamed Europe more than 200 million years ago, only a handful have been described to date, just four species.  The dinosaur has been named Notatesseraeraptor frickensis (No-tah-tess-er-ray-rap-tor frick-ensis), the genus name derives from the Latin “nota” meaning feature and “tesserae”, a Latin term to describe tiles used to create a mosaic, a reference to the mixture of anatomical features (dilophosaurid and coelophysoid) identified in the fossil bones. The trivial name honours the Swiss town of Frick, where the fossils were found.

The Body Plan, Known Fossil Material and a Skeletal Reconstruction of N. frickensis

Skeletal anatomy of Notatesseraeraptor frickensis

The silhouette shows the body plan of Notatesseraeraptor, known fossil material and pictures of the blocks that make up the holotype specimen.

Picture Credit: Nature: Ecology and Evolution

Lizard-eating Dinosaur

The partially articulated specimen was collected in 2006 from the famous Gruhalde clay pit in the town of Frick (Aargau Canton, northern Switzerland).  This clay pit has yielded large numbers of Plateosaurus fossils, although Notatesseraeraptor layer is located above the classic Plateosaurus bone beds.  The strata are from the middle part of the Gruhalde Member of the Klettgau Formation and represents Late Triassic (end-Norian) sediments.  The fossils associated with N. frickensis include a nearly complete skull, articulated forelimbs, vertebrae, hip bones and ribs.  The body cavity revealed the remains of a Clevosaurus, a lizard-like rhynchocephalian, distantly related to the extant Tuatara of New Zealand.  It is likely that the Clevosaurus remains represent this dinosaur’s last meal.

The Skull of Notatesseraeraptor frickensis

Notatesseraeraptor frickensis cranial material.

A view of the skull and upper jaw (Notatesseraeraptor frickensis).  Around 90% of the cranial fossil material was recovered.

A Carnivorous Dinosaur Reported from Switzerland

Around 90% of the skull material was excavated, giving Notatesseraeraptor one of the most complete carnivorous dinosaur skulls known from before the Late Jurassic.   Although, our knowledge of early theropod dinosaurs has improved greatly since the turn of the century, thanks mainly to fossil discoveries from North and South America, very little is known about the evolution and radiation of Late Triassic/Early Jurassic European theropods, their fossil record is notably sparse.  This new theropod species is the first meat-eating dinosaur to be described from Switzerland.

Notatesseraeraptor displays a mix of characteristics typically seen either in coelophysids or in dilophosaurids.  A phylogenetic analysis suggests that it is a member of the Neotheropoda clade with affinities to Dilophosaurus of the Early Jurassic and that Notatesseraeraptor is a basal member of that line of theropods that led to the Averostra (a group, of carnivorous dinosaurs that includes the Ceratosaurs).

The Late Triassic/Early Jurassic European Theropods

The nearly complete skull will help palaeontologists to better understand the evolutionary relationships between different types of Late Triassic/Early Jurassic theropod dinosaur.  The fossil specimen suggests a sub-adult with a length of between 2.6 to 3 metres, but this is speculation based on comparative analysis with dinosaurs such as Coelophysis and Tawa as the length of the tail of Notatesseraeraptor is not known.

A Life Reconstruction of a Typical Coelophysid Dinosaur (Coelophysis bauri)

Coelophysis model.

A life reconstruction of Coelophysis bauri.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The three previously described species of Late Triassic European theropod are:

  • Liliensternus liliensterni – named in 1934 (von Huene) from the Middle and Late Norian of Germany
  • Procompsognathus triassicus – named in 1913 (Fraas) also from the Middle to Late Norian of Germany
  • Lophostropheus airelensis named in 1993 known from slightly younger rocks (Late Rhetian to Hettangian – Late Triassic to possibly Early Jurassic)

With the exception of a few scraps of bone associated with Liliensternus skull material and the recently described  Dracoraptor hanigani from south-Wales, no other skull material has been found relating to a neotheropod dinosaur from the Late Triassic/Early Jurassic  in the whole of Europe.

Load More Posts