All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
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Pictures of fossils, fossil hunting trips, fossil sites and photographs relating to fossil hunting and fossil finds.

21 03, 2021

Spring Clean for Allosaurus

By | March 21st, 2021|Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page, Photos of Everything Dinosaur Products, Photos/Pictures of Fossils, Press Releases|0 Comments

We have been asked to update an exhibit featuring the dinosaur Allosaurus. Our work will involve providing information for use on display boards next to a reconstruction of this Late Jurassic theropod. As part of our work to update the text associated with this dinosaur exhibit, we will be adding information about Allosaurus jimmadseni – a new species within this genus named and described in 2020.

An Allosaurus skeleton.
Note the narrow lower jaw, reflecting studies that show a relatively weak bite. Everything Dinosaur team members have been asked to provide an update on this iconic Late Jurassic dinosaur genus.

First Described in 1877

Allosaurus was named and described by the American palaeontologist Othniel Charles Marsh in 1877, on the basis of fragmentary remains including a single fossil tooth and a toe bone. The subsequent discovery of many thousands of fossils including nearly complete skeletons, most famously from the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry in Emery County, Utah, has made Allosaurus one of the best-known of all the big meat-eating dinosaurs. Size estimates vary but it may have grown to more than 12 metres in length and weighed around 2.5 tonnes (depending on species).

CollectA "Roaring" Allosaurus model.
The CollectA “Roaring” Allosaurus dinosaur model. A 2020 model introduction by CollectA. This dinosaur model is regarded by many model collectors as an accurate depiction of Allosaurus.

The State Fossil of Utah

In 1988, in recognition of the abundance of Allosaurus fossil material excavated from the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry, Allosaurus was appointed the state fossil of Utah.

Several species of Allosaurus have been erected since it was first scientifically described, although most palaeontologists recognise just three species, the most recent of which to be named is Allosaurus jimmadseni (2020). This species was named in honour of James H. Madsen Jr. the first state palaeontologist of Utah.

To read Everything Dinosaur’s blog post from January 2020 about a third valid species of Allosaurus to be described: A New Species of Allosaurus – Allosaurus jimmadseni

20 03, 2021

Utahraptor State Park Proposed

By | March 20th, 2021|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Fossils of the large dromaeosaurid Utahraptor (U. ostrummaysorum) were put on display as legislators and campaigners lobbied for the creation of a state park named after the iconic theropod dinosaur.

Utahraptor dinosaur model
Legislators have proposed a new state park in Utah which would conserve and protect the famous Dalton Wells quarry (Yellow Cat Member of the Cedar Mountain Formation), which has yielded numerous important dinosaur fossils including the first fossils of the giant dromaeosaurid Utahraptor (U. ostrummaysorum).

A New State Park for Grand County, Utah

A bill has been proposed that would create the Utahraptor State Park, if passed this would be the 45th such park designated within the “Beehive State”. The park would cover an area of Grand County in eastern Utah, close to the town of Moab and it would include the Dalton Wells Quarry where the first fossils of the giant raptor Utahraptor were discovered.

As well as providing camp sites and trails the park would protect and preserve the Dalton Wells Quarry site. Although the park’s current plans do not include provision for a museum, it has been suggested that if funding could be found, then a small museum documenting the extensive Lower Cretaceous strata that are exposed in this area and their contribution to palaeontology could be constructed.

It has been speculated that a 1:1 scale replica of the skeleton of a Utahraptor could be erected within the park’s boundary.

The fossilised remains of a Utahraptor jaw (slab and counter slab)
Slab and counter slab of a Utahraptor jaw (dentary). This fossil was collected from the Arches National Park, the proposed Utahraptor State Park will border it. Picture credit: James Kirkland/St George News.

The proposals involve the conversion of approximately 6,500 acres (2,630 hectares), into a park. Responsibility for conservation would be undertaken by either Utah’s Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands or the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration.

Rebor Wind Hunter (Utahraptor model).
A replica of the fearsome Early Cretaceous predator Utahraptor. The model is “Wind Hunter” the Rebor Utahraptor replica which has been out of production for some time.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“We do appreciate how tight budgets are right now, but if the funding could be found to establish this new park and to protect the famous Dalton Wells location, that would be fabulous. So much of the world’s open spaces and important scientific sites are under threat it would be wonderful to see this exceptionally important fossil site protected.”

10 03, 2021

A Fan of “Huxley’s near bird” – Anchiornis

By | March 10th, 2021|Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur Products, Main Page, Photos of Everything Dinosaur Products, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Our thanks to Cooper, a dinosaur fan who commented on one of our blog posts highlighting one of his favourite dinosaurs, the diminutive Anchiornis (A. huxleyi), the scientific name translating as “Huxley’s near bird”.

An illustration of Anchiornis huxleyi.
An illustration of the feathered dinosaur Anchiornis huxleyi. Picture credit: Julius Csotonyi.

Controversial Taxonomy

Many palaeontologists believe that this small dinosaur known from Upper Jurassic deposits associated with the Tiaojishan Formation of Liaoning (north-eastern China), is a basal member of the Paraves clade, a part of the Maniraptora that incorporates the dromaeosaurids, the troodontids and the avialans, those dinosaurs that lead directly to the evolution of modern birds. The exact taxonomic position of this dinosaur remains controversial.

Fossil of an Anchiornis
Ancient, feathered creature. An Anchiornis fossil from the famous Tiaojishan Formation of Liaoning Province (north-eastern China). Picture credit: CAS.

A Fan of Anchiornis

Cooper produced a near perfect copy of one of Everything Dinosaur’s numerous articles on Anchiornis huxleyi. The many fossil specimens associated with this species has led to several different types of scientific research paper being published about Anchiornis, focusing on ontogeny, phylogeny and behavioural aspects of this little theropod.

Everything Dinosaur has written a number of blog posts (at least fourteen), about Anchiornis with our first article being published in 2009.

PNSO Luffy the Anchiornis Dinosaur Model
The PNSO “Luffy” the Anchiornis dinosaur model from the “Age of Dinosaurs” model range. PNSO introduced a series of prehistoric animal models, many of which were based on Chinese fossil discoveries.

A spokesperson for the UK-based specialist mail order company stated:

“Our thanks to Cooper for reaching out to us. We deal with hundreds of enquires every week and we do our best to respond to all those that require a reply. We are glad that Cooper found our work on Anchiornis huxleyi so thought-provoking and informative.”

Anchiornis huxleyi

Named and described shortly before Everything Dinosaur published its first blog post about this dinosaur, the species name honours Thomas Henry Huxley, an early champion of Darwin’s theory of evolution.

The Chinese company PNSO is one of the few mainstream model makers to have made an Anchiornis figure. “Luffy” the Anchiornis (pictured above), is one of a series of 48 models featured in the “Age of Dinosaurs – Toys that Accompany your Growth” model range. It also features in the huge PNSO Age of Dinosaurs box set.

Forty-eight models in the PNSO gift box.
PNSO special edition gift box features 48 prehistoric animal models including “Luffy” the Anchiornis.

To view the PNSO Anchiornis model and the other prehistoric animal figures available from Everything Dinosaur: PNSO Age of Dinosaurs.

8 03, 2021

Unlocking Evolutionary Secrets – A Plant Pompeii

By | March 8th, 2021|Adobe CS5, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Stunning fossil plants preserved within a volcanic ash fall in China have shed light on an evolutionary race 300 million years ago, which was eventually won by the seed-bearing plants that dominate the flora of our planet today.

New research into fossils found at the “Pompeii of prehistoric plants”, in Wuda, Inner Mongolia, reveals that the plants, called Noeggerathiales, were highly-evolved members of the lineage from which came seed plants.

Reconstruction of the crown of Paratingia wuhaia
A reconstruction of the crown of Paratingia wuhaia. A newly described prehistoric plant from the Early Permian.

The Importance of Noeggerathiales

Noeggerathiales were important peat-forming plants that lived around 325 to 251 million years ago (Late Carboniferous to the end of the Permian). Understanding their relationships to other plant groups has been limited by poorly preserved examples until now. The beautiful fossils found in China have allowed experts to work out that Noeggerathiales are more closely related to seed plants than to other fern groups.

No Evolutionary Dead-end

No longer considered an evolutionary cul-de-sac, they are now recognised as advanced tree-ferns that evolved complex cone-like structures from modified leaves. Despite their sophistication, Noeggerathiales fell victim to the profound environmental and climate changes of 251 million years ago that destroyed swamp ecosystems globally (End Permian mass extinction event).

Fossil specimen of the new species (Paratingia wuhaia)
Fossil specimen of the new species (Paratingia wuhaia) preserving the crown of the tree with leaves and its fertile organs attached to the stem.

Co-author of the scientific paper, published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Dr Jason Hilton, Reader in Palaeobiology at the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Forest Research, commented:

“Noeggerathiales were recognised as early as the 1930s, but scientists have treated them as a ‘taxonomic football’, endlessly kicked around without anyone identifying their place in the story of life. The spectacular fossil plants found in China are becoming renowned as the plant equivalent of Pompeii. Thanks to this slice of life preserved in volcanic ash, we were able to reconstruct a new species of Noeggerathiales that finally settles the group’s affinity and evolutionary importance.”

A Stark Warning for Us

The researchers comment that the fate of advanced Noeggerathiales is a stark reminder of what can occur when a sophisticated and seemingly well-adapted form of life is faced with rapid, dramatic environmental change.

The scientists studied complete Noeggerathiales preserved in a bed of volcanic ash 66 cm thick formed 298 million years ago (Early Permian), smothering all the plants growing in a nearby swamp. The ash stopped the fossils from rotting or being consumed and preserved many complete individuals in microscopic detail.

A Life Reconstruction of the Early Permian Wuda Tuff Flora
A life reconstruction of the swamp (yellow arrows indicate the newly named plant species (Paratingia wuhaia).

Lead-Author Jun Wang, (Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology), added:

“Many specimens were identified in excavations in 2006-2007 when a few leaves were visible on the surface of the ash. It looked they might be connected to each other and a stem below – we revealed the crown on site, but then extracted the specimens complete to take them back to the lab. It has taken many years to study these fully and the additional specimens we have found more recently. The complete trees are the most impressive fossil plants I have seen and because of our careful work they are also some of the most important to science.”

An Extensive Ancestral Lineage

The research team postulate that that the ancestral lineage from which seed plants evolved diversified alongside the earliest seed plant radiation during the Devonian, Carboniferous and Permian periods, and did not rapidly die out as previously thought.

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

The scientific paper: “Ancient noeggerathialean reveals the seed plant sister group diversified alongside the primary seed plant radiation” by Jun Wang, Jason Hilton, Hermann W. Pfefferkorn, Shijun Wang, Yi Zhang, Jiri Bek, Josef Pšenička, Leyla J. Seyfullah and David Dilcher published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

7 03, 2021

The First Rebbachisaurid Sauropod Reported from Asia

By | March 7th, 2021|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

An open-access paper has recently been published in the on-line academic journal PLOS One announcing the discovery of a new species of rebbachisaurid sauropod. The newly described dinosaur named Dzharatitanis kingi is the first member of the Rebbachisauridae family to have been found in Asia. Rebbachisaurids are known from Europe, Africa South America and possibly North America. They are related to diplodocids such as Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus and most palaeontologists group them in the Diplodocoidea superfamily along with the Diplodocidae and the rare and enigmatic Dicraeosauridae dinosaurs.

A Life Reconstruction of Dzharatitanis kingi
Dzharatitanis kingi the first rebbachisaurid to be described from Asia. Picture credit: Alexander Averianov. The large pterosaurs walking in the same direction as the sauropod probably represent the azhdarchid Azhdarcho, the only pterosaur to have been described to date from fossils found in the Bissekty Formation.

Described from a Single Fossil Bone

Described from a single, well-preserved tail bone from the base of the tail (anterior caudal vertebra), this herbivore is estimated to have been around 15 to 20 metres in size. The fossil bone was found in 1997, by David Ward and one of the authors of the scientific paper, Hans-Dieter Sues, during the Uzbekistan/Russian/British/American/Canadian exhibition to map and document Late Cretaceous Dzharakuduk escarpment outcrops associated with the Bissekty Formation in the Kyzylkum Desert of Uzbekistan.

Dzharatitanis is (as far as Everything Dinosaur team members are aware), the first sauropod to have been formally described from the Bissekty Formation.

The strata associated with the fossil find are believed to be around 90 million years of age (Turonian stage of the Late Cretaceous). D. kingi represents one of the geologically youngest known rebbachisaurids.

Dzharatitanis caudal vertebra
Dzharatitanis kingi, USNM 538133 (holotype), anterior caudal vertebra in posterior (A), right lateral (B), and anterior (C) views. Note scale bar = 10 cm. Picture Credit: Alexander Averianov and Hans-Dieter Sues

“Dzharakuduk titan”

The genus name is derived from the Dzharakuduk escarpment and translates as “Dzharakuduk titan”, whereas the species name honours the late Dr Christopher King who did much to map and document the geology of the Cretaceous-aged strata of central Asia.

Numerous “pencil-shaped” teeth along with isolated bones indicate the presence of sauropods within the Bissekty Formation however, D. kingi is the first member of the Sauropoda to be described. The caudal vertebrae of these types of dinosaur are very diagnostic. Their shape and characteristics help palaeontologists to identity related genera and this single fossil bone, believed to represent the first bone of the tail was sufficient to merit the erection of a new dinosaur species.

The sauropods from the Bissekty Formation now comprise at least two taxa, the rebbachisaurid Dzharatitanis kingi and an indeterminate and as yet unnamed titanosaur.

The scientific paper: “First rebbachisaurid sauropod dinosaur from Asia” by Alexander Averianov and Hans-Dieter Sues published in PLOS One.

6 03, 2021

Troodontids in Europe

By | March 6th, 2021|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

A team of international scientists including Steve Brusatte (University of Edinburgh), have confirmed the presence of troodontids in the Late Cretaceous of Europe. A new species of troodontid has been erected based on the discovery of a single metatarsal bone (the second metatarsal bone from the right foot), from Late Cretaceous strata in the Talarn Formation exposed at the Sant Romà d’Abella site in the southern Pyrenean region of Spain. This new dinosaur has been named Tamarro insperatus.

Tamarro insperatus Life Reconstruction
A life reconstruction of the first troodontid confirmed from the Late Cretaceous of Europe Tamarro insperatus.

Picture Credit: Oscar Sanisidro

Found in 2003

The single fossil bone indicating the presence of troodontids in Europe was found in September 2003 by a team of palaeontologists from the Museu de la Conca Dellà (Lleida, Isona, Spain) at the Sant Romà d’Abella site (Spain). It was found in fluvial floodplain deposits believed to have been laid down just 200,000 years or so before the K-Pg mass extinction event.

The fossil bone was found in the same horizon as plant fossils and the type specimen of the lambeosaurine Pararhabdodon isonensis, the metatarsal was found in close proximity to the Pararhabdodon type specimen, these are the only two vertebrates known from this site.

The Dinosaurs from the Late Cretaceous of Europe

During the Late Cretaceous, high sea levels ensured that much of the European landmass we know today was underwater. Numerous islands existed, creating an extensive archipelago and several dinosaurs associated with these islands exhibit dwarfism or other unusual features associated with isolated ecosystems. Very little is known about the Theropoda that inhabited these islands. For example, the presence of troodontids in Europe has been debated for a long time. Several troodontid-like and Paronychodon teeth (a nomen dubium taxa referred by some to the Troodontidae), were recovered from the Campanian and Maastrichtian deposits of the ancient Hateg (Romania) and Ibero-Armorican (Portugal, France and Spain) islands, but this fossil bone provides definitive, unequivocal proof of these theropods being present in the Late Cretaceous of Europe.

The Single Fossil Bone (Metatarsal) of Tamarro insperatus
Views of the second metatarsal (metatarsal II from the right foot), plus line drawing showing the skeletal position of the bone.

Picture Credit: Albert G. Sellés (Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafon/Museu de la Conca Dellà)

A Basal Troodontid with Asian Origins

An analysis of the bone and a phylogenetic assessment suggests that Tamarro is a basal member of the Troodontidae family and most likely a representative of the Asian subfamily the Jinfengopteryginae. The research team speculate on how a dinosaur with relatives in Asia could have become established in Europe. Maastrichtian troodontids like Tamarro could have reached Europe during the Cenomanian faunal stage and persisted on these islands until the K-Pg extinction event.

Estimated at around two metres in length Tamarro is around twice the size of other related troodontids. A close examination of the bone (cross-sectional histology), reveals that the metatarsal came from a subadult animal that was growing rapidly. Although troodontids are known to have fast growth rates, Tamarro seemed to be growing much quicker than other members of the Troodontidae, perhaps reaching full maturity in around two years.

Tamarro insperatus Growth Rate
Growth rate of Tamarro insperatus compared to other members of the Maniraptora. When compared to other taxa from the group of dinosaurs most closely related to birds (including Aves), Tamarro has a rapid growth rate reaching a subadult state in around one year.

The genus name is derived from the Catalan word “Tamarro” which refers to a small, mythical creature from local folklore. The species or trivial name “insperatus” is from the Latin for unexpected, a reference to the unexpected discovery of the fossil bone.

The scientific paper: “A fast-growing basal troodontid (Dinosauria: Theropoda) from the latest Cretaceous of Europe” by Albert G. Sellés, Bernat Vila, Stephen L. Brusatte, Philip J. Currie and Àngel Galobart published in Scientific Reports.

3 03, 2021

Ninjatitan zapatai the Earliest Known Titanosaur

By | March 3rd, 2021|Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Scientists have identified a new species of titanosaur from fragmentary fossil remains found in northern Patagonia (Argentina). Readers of Everything Dinosaur’s blog will know that there have been many amazing titanosaur fossil discoveries from Argentina featured on this site. Some of the largest dinosaurs known to science have been described from fossil material found in Patagonia, giants such Argentinosaurus, Patagotitan and Dreadnoughtus as well as slightly smaller ones, for example Sarmientosaurus (S. musacchioi)* with its beautifully preserved skull and the recently described Punatitan and Bravasaurus**.

However, the new species named Ninjatitan zapatai, is perhaps much more significant when it comes to the Titanosauria clade. The fossils from this titanosaur come from the Lower Cretaceous Bajada Colorada Formation located in Neuquén Province. Ninjatitan roamed Argentina around 140 million years ago, as such it could be the earliest known titanosaur sauropod, further strengthening the theory that these types of sauropod originated from South America.

A Life Reconstruction of Ninjatitan zapatai

Ninjatitan Life Reconstruction
Ninjatitan zapatai life reconstruction.

Picture Credit: Jorge A. González courtesy of Fundación Azara.

Known from Fragmentary Remains

In 2014, Jonatan Aroca, a technician at the Ernesto Bachmann Municipal Museum, was exploring a rocky outcrop close to the Limay River between the towns of Picún Leufú and Piedra del Águila (Neuquén Province), when he spotted a large fossil bone eroding out of the sediments. This fossil proved to be the scapula (shoulder blade) and subsequent excavations revealed two dorsal vertebrae, a fibula, part of the femur and a tail bone. After the materials had been extracted and technically prepared and cleaned in the laboratory of the Chocón Museum, it was determined that this was a new species of sauropod titanosaur.

The Scapula (Shoulder Blade) is Excavated

Ninjatitan Scapula Being Excavated
The scapula of Ninjatitan is slowly and carefully excavated.

Picture Credit: Jorge A. González courtesy of Fundación Azara.

The Origin of the Titanosauria

In recent years, several studies have postulated that the origin of the Titanosauria clade would have been in the early Cretaceous (about 140 million years ago) and somewhere in South America. However, until now, these hypotheses were not clearly supported by fossil evidence, but were the results of theoretical studies with statistical models.

Lead author of the scientific paper, Pablo Gallina, a CONICET (Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas), palaeontologist from the Palaeontology Area of the Azara Foundation and Maimonides University commented:

“This finding allows us to reinforce the idea that titanosaurs appeared in South America. It was thought that they might have first appeared there, but there was no real evidence, with fossils, to prove it. This finding gives more support to this theory.”

The Stunning Landscape of the Limay River

The Lower Cretaceous Bajada Colorada Formation (Argentina)
The Lower Cretaceous Bajada Colorada Formation in Neuquén Province, Argentina. The rocks from which the Ninjatitan fossil material came are believed to be around 140 million years old.

Picture Credit: Jorge A. González courtesy of Fundación Azara.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from CONICET in the compilation of this article.

At an estimated 20 metres in length Ninjatitan may not be the largest titanosaur from Argentina, but because of its age, it might just prove to be one of the most important South American titanosaur discoveries ever made.

Read our article about Sarmientosaurus* here: A New Late Cretaceous Titanosaur from Patagonia – Sarmientosaurus.

For our recent article on the titanosaurs Punatitan and Bravasaurus** click here: Two New South American Titanosaurs.

The scientific paper: “The Earliest Known Titanosaur Sauropod Dinosaur” by Pablo Ariel Gallina, Juan Ignacio Canale and José Luis Carballido published in Ameghiniana.

17 02, 2021

Million-Year-Old DNA Sheds Light on Mammoth Evolution

By | February 17th, 2021|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Million-Year-Old DNA Sheds Light on Mammoth Evolution

A paper that sheds light on the evolutionary history of the mammoth has been published this week.  Scientists led by researchers from the Centre for Palaeogenetics (a joint venture between Stockholm University and the Swedish Museum of Natural History), sequenced DNA recovered from mammoth remains that are up to 1.2 million years old.  The analyses revealed that the Columbian mammoth which inhabited North America during the last ice age was a hybrid between the woolly mammoth and a previously unknown genetic lineage of mammoth.  Furthermore, the study provides new insights into when and how fast mammoths became adapted to cold climate.

Ancient Mammoth DNA Provides New Insights into How These Mammals Adapted to Cold Climates

Siberian Steppe Mammoths.

Siberian Steppe mammoths provided their descendants with many adaptations that helped these descendants adapt and thrive in cold environments.

Picture Credit: Beth Zaiken (Centre for Palaeogenetics)

Commenting on the importance of this study, senior author Love Dalén, a Professor of evolutionary genetics at the Centre for Palaeogenetics stated:

“This DNA is incredibly old.  The samples are a thousand times older than Viking remains and even pre-date the existence of humans and Neanderthals.”

Tracing the Evolutionary History of an Iconic Ice Age Elephant

Around one million years ago there were no Columbian or Woolly mammoths, these creatures had not evolved.  This was the time of their predecessor, the Steppe mammoth (Mammuthus trogontherii), a prehistoric elephant which was very widely dispersed across Eurasia.  Fossils have been found in the UK, perhaps most famously at West Runton on the Norfolk coast.  Steppe mammoth fossils are also known from much of Europe and as far away as China.  The research team extracted tiny amounts of DNA from mammoth teeth ranging in age from around 700,000 to 1.2 million years of age, that had been found eroding out of the Siberian permafrost.

An Illustration of Mammuthus trogontherii (Steppe Mammoth)

Steppe Mammoth illustration.

An illustration of a Steppe mammoth (Mammuthus trogontherii).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Professor Dalén added:

“This is the first time that DNA has been sequenced and authenticated from million-year-old specimens and extracting the DNA from the samples was challenging.”

Unexpected Results

Analyses of the genomes showed that the oldest specimen, which was approximately 1.2 million years old, belonged to a previously unknown genetic lineage of mammoth.  The researchers refer to this as the Krestovka mammoth, based on the Siberian locality where the fossil teeth were found.  Writing in the academic journal Nature, the scientists report that the Krestovka mammoth diverged from other Siberian mammoths more than two million years ago.

Tom van der Valk from the Centre for Palaeogenetics, the paper’s  lead author explained:

“This came as a complete surprise to us.  All previous studies have indicated that there was only one species of mammoth in Siberia at that point in time, called the Steppe mammoth.  But our DNA analyses now show that there were two different genetic lineages, which we here refer to as the Adycha mammoth and the Krestovka mammoth.  We can’t say for sure yet, but we think these may represent two different species.”

The Columbian Mammoth was a Hybrid

The research team proposes that it was mammoths that belonged to the Krestovka lineage that colonised North America some 1.5 million years ago.  Furthermore, the analyses show that the Columbian mammoth that inhabited North America during the last ice age, was a hybrid.  Roughly half of its genome came from the Krestovka lineage and the other half from the Woolly mammoth.

Co-author Patrícia Pečnerová from the Swedish Museum of Natural History commented:

“This is an important discovery.  It appears that the Columbian mammoth, one of the most iconic Ice Age species of North America, evolved through a hybridisation that took place approximately 420 thousand years ago.”

Genomic Data (DNA) Extracted from a Mammoth Tooth Approximately 1.2 Million Years Old

The Krestokva mammoth tooth.

Views of the mammoth tooth more than 1.2 million years old from which ancient DNA was extracted.  Note scale bar = 5 cm.

Picture Credit: Natural History Museum of Stockholm

Plotting Mammoth Evolution

The scientists could now compare the genome from mammoths covering a span of one million years.  This made it possible to investigate how mammoths became adapted to a life in cold environments and to what extent these adaptations evolved during the speciation process.  The analyses showed that gene variants associated with life in the Arctic, such as hair growth, thermoregulation, fat deposits, cold tolerance and circadian rhythms, were already present in the million-year-old mammoth, long before the origin of the Mammuthus primigenius (Woolly mammoth).  These results suggest that most adaptations in the mammoth lineage happened slowly and gradually over time.

It may be possible to recover even older DNA from the permafrost of Siberia.   The researchers speculate that genomic data could be recovered from fossilised teeth that dates back more than two million years, perhaps as far back into deep time as 2.6 million years.  Unfortunately, there is a limit to what can be achieved with the current technology and prior to 2.6 million years ago, there was no permafrost where ancient DNA could have been preserved.

The mammoth DNA represents the oldest genomic data known to science.  In 2013, Everything Dinosaur reported on genomic data that was recovered from the leg bone of horse found in Canada.  The horse specimen was approximately 700,000 years old.  To read more about this remarkable research: The Rocking Horse – Ancient Fossil Decodes Horse Evolution.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from the Centre for Palaeogenetics in the compilation of this article.

The scientific paper: “Million-year-old DNA sheds light on the genomic history of mammoths” by Tom van der Valk, Patrícia Pečnerová, David Díez-del-Molino, Anders Bergström, Jonas Oppenheimer, Stefanie Hartmann, Georgios Xenikoudakis, Jessica A. Thomas, Marianne Dehasque, Ekin Sağlıcan, Fatma Rabia Fidan, Ian Barnes, Shanlin Liu, Mehmet Somel, Peter D. Heintzman, Pavel Nikolskiy, Beth Shapiro, Pontus Skoglund, Michael Hofreiter, Adrian M. Lister, Anders Götherström and Love Dalén published in the journal Nature.

16 02, 2021

How Long is a Dinosaur’s Tail?

By | February 16th, 2021|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

How Long is a Dinosaur’s Tail?

How long is the tail of a dinosaur?  That’s a good question, one that has quite a complicated answer, but if a definitive assessment of the morphology of caudal vertebrae (tail bones) of the Dinosauria could be carried out, then palaeontologists would be better able to piece together (literally), the tails of dinosaurs and assess their length from even fragmentary remains.

The Tail of the North African Sauropod Atlasaurus

Atlasaurus Caudal Vertebrae (auction exhibit).

An Atlasaurus partial tail on display in the foyer of the BBVA Bancomer Tower (Mexico City).   A new study suggests that the tails of dinosaurs were very varied in their form, shape and function.

Picture Credit: Reuters/Daniel Becerril

Research led by Dr David Hone (Queen Mary University of London), in collaboration with colleague Dr Steven Le Comber (who sadly passed away in 2019) and Dr Scott Persons of Mace Brown Museum of Natural History (Charleston, South Carolina, USA), permitted a comprehensive dataset of dinosaur tails to be built up.  The data indicates that there is considerable variation in the caudal vertebrae of members of the Dinosauria.  The number of tail bones varies, as does their morphology (shape).  In addition, overall length of the tail as a proportion of body size is inconsistent within the very diverse dinosaur clade.

With such variation, comparing tails of different genera or even dinosaurs from the same family will prove troublesome.

However, the scientists did identify some general patterns that could prove useful when it comes to learning about a genus with only a few tail bones to work with.

What’s in a Tail?  The Great Variation within the Tails of Dinosaurs

Different types of dinosaur tail.

Examples of different dinosaur tails.  Note scale bar = 1 metre.

Picture Credit: Hone et al (PeerJ) with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

General Principles of Dinosaur Tails

Patterns of changes in centra lengths (the central part of each vertebra) along the tails of dinosaurs do vary.  However, the researchers did identify some general principles in terms of the bones that make up the tails.  For example, when viewing the tail bones from the base of the tail down to the tip, several different dinosaurs show a pattern of short centra, followed by a sequence of longer centra, with the remainder of the tail being made up of a long series of centra tapering in length.

The team suggest that this general pattern is consistent with the function of different parts of the tail, the longer centra quite near to the base of the tail help to provide support for the attachment of the large muscles associated with the top of the leg and this region of the tail.  This general pattern is not found in many early types of dinosaur, so the researchers conclude that this trait must have evolved independently in different kinds of dinosaurs over time.

A Reconstruction of the Tail of an Edmontosaurus

Edmontosaurus tail bones.

The reconstructed tail of the hadrosaurid Edmontosaurus.  The research team were able to identify a general pattern of bone morphology and size in a number of derived dinosaur taxa.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Deducing Form and Function

Writing in the on-line journal “PeerJ”, the scientists state that the number of vertebrae in a given section of tail can indicate its flexibility or its stiffness.  The more vertebrae recorded over a given distance then it is likely that this section of tail was quite flexible.  Conversely, the fewer joints in any length of tail will imply reduced flexibility.

General conclusions about dinosaur tails could be made, for example:

  1. The base of many dinosaur tails was flexible and allowed virtually the whole tail to be swung as a collective whole, helping to stabilise the animal as it moved and perhaps also having a defensive function in some herbivores.
  2. Just passed the tail base there was a zone of relative stiffness that supported the muscles associated with the tail and rear legs (caudofemoralis musculature).
  3. After the termination of the caudofemoralis and for a highly variable distance, the remaining vertebrae tapered to a reduced size.

The scientific paper: “New data on tail lengths and variation along the caudal series in the non-avialan dinosaurs” by David W. E. Hone, W. Scott Persons and Steven C. Le Comber published in PeerJ.

11 02, 2021

Elasmosaurs Lived In Rivers

By | February 11th, 2021|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Fluvionectes sloanae – Late Cretaceous Freshwater Elasmosaurid

Researchers based in Canada have identified the remains of a Late Cretaceous elasmosaur from fossil remains found in Alberta.  Fossils of these large, long-necked plesiosaurs are not unknown from North America, but significantly these fossils were found in rocks laid down in a non-marine environment.  This suggests that this elasmosaur named Fluvionectes sloanae, spent at least some of its time in freshwater.

An Artist’s Reconstruction of Fluvionectes sloanae Hunting Fish in a Freshwater Environment

Fluvionectes sloanae life reconstruction.

Fluvionectes sloanae hunting fish in a river.

Picture Credit: Andrea Elena Noriega

“River Swimmer”

Fossils of plesiosaurs occur throughout the Dinosaur Park Formation but they are generally rare, fragmentary and poorly preserved.  As a result, these fossils have attracted little scientific attention although they were first documented by Lawrence Lambe back in 1902.

This specimen is different, it consists of a partial disarticulated skeleton made up of a single tooth, numerous vertebrae, ribs, parts of the pectoral and pelvic girdles and elements from the left forelimb and left hindlimb.  The bones and the tooth were collected from a stratum immediately overlying the basalmost coal bed of the Lethbridge Coal Zone in the Dinosaur Park Formation with the first material discovered in 1990.  It is the most complete example of an elasmosaurid found to date in the Dinosaur Park Formation and as such, the researchers have been able to formally describe the specimen and assign it a scientific name – Fluvionectes sloanae. The genus name translates as “river swimmer”, a reference to the fact that the fossils come from alluvial deposits believed to have been laid down at least 100 kilometres inland from the Western Interior Seaway.  The species name honours Donna Sloan who discovered the holotype, and in recognition of her service to palaeontology, both in the field and as the scientific illustrator at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology (Drumheller, Alberta).

Quarry Map and Skeletal Reconstruction of F. sloanae

Colour coded quarry map showing location of F. sloanae fossil material.

Quarry map and skeletal reconstruction of F. sloanae.  The fossil material was found scattered over an area of around 2.5 square metres.

Picture Credit: Campbell et al (PeerJ)

A Freshwater Predator

A taxonomic analysis conducted by the scientists which included Dr James Campbell of the University of Calgary and Mark Mitchell, a technician at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, failed to resolve definitively the exact taxonomic relationship of Fluvionectes within the Elasmosauridae, but the team were able to conclude that the fossil remains probably represent a young adult that was approximately 5.6 metres long when it died.

Fragmentary fossils of potentially larger elasmosaurids, representing animals around seven metres in length have been found in the Dinosaur Park Formation.  Some of these specimens might represent the Fluvionectes genus.

Views of the Vertebrae Associated with Fluvionectes sloanae

Vertebrae associated with the elasmosaurid Fluvionectes sloanae.

Fluvionectes sloanae – examples of vertebrae.

Picture Credit: Campbell et al (PeerJ)

Did Some Juvenile Elasmosaurs Live in Freshwater?

Intriguingly, the elasmosaurid fossils found in the Dinosaur Park Formation (non-marine deposition), are relatively small when compared to elasmosaurid fossils found in offshore, marine deposits such as the Pierre Shale or Bearpaw formations.  Large elasmosaur fossil bones have not been found in the Dinosaur Park Formation.  It could be speculated that juvenile elasmosaurs ventured into estuarine environments and freshwater river systems before relocating to marine environments when they reached maturity.

This is not the first example of a marine reptile, normally associated with marine environments been found in freshwater.  To read Everything Dinosaur’s 2013 article about the discovery of a freshwater Pliosaur in Australia: Freshwater Pliosaur from Cretaceous Australia.

To read our article about a freshwater Mosasaur: Freshwater Mosasaur from a Hungarian Bauxite Mine.

The scientific paper: “A new elasmosaurid (Sauropterygia: Plesiosauria) from the non-marine to paralic Dinosaur Park Formation of southern Alberta, Canada” by James A. Campbell, Mark T. Mitchell, Michael J. Ryan and Jason S. Anderson published in PeerJ.

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