We have spotted our first froglet of 2022 from our office pond. Team members at Everything Dinosaur had been looking out for the first frogs to complete their metamorphosis and we have been taking care not to disturb the pond area, although it does need some tender care and a good clean out.
The picture (above), shows the tiny amphibian (Rana temporaria), clinging to the wall of our pond. It has already had probably, its longest journey of its life. We removed a pot plant choked with Elodea weed and drove a few miles to another location where we could safely plant the pond weed. Whilst inspecting the large hopper we used to transport the plants to the new site, we spotted the froglet. We made sure that it was returned to the pond where it was hatched. Hopefully, this frog will hang around the office pond, and perhaps it will return to it in a few years to spawn.
Readers of “Prehistoric Times” magazine have voted the Wild Safari Prehistoric World Spinosaurus model as the best dinosaur toy figure of 2021. Safari Ltd have won this prestigious accolade on several occasions, the Wild Safari Prehistoric World Spinosaurus dinosaur model joins the roll of honour.
The figure represents the largest theropod dinosaur known to science – Spinosaurus aegyptiacus.
The Spinosaurus replica measures around 22 cm in length and it was one of three dinosaur models (excluding armoured prehistoric animal figures), introduced last year by Safari Ltd. The Spinosaurus replica arrived at Everything Dinosaur’s UK warehouse in the spring of 2021 along with the new for 2021 Safari Ltd Daspletosaurus. The other dinosaur figure introduced by the Safari Ltd team was an updated version of Baryonyx, a dinosaur which was also a member of the Spinosauridae.
Commenting on the award of the best dinosaur toy figure of 2021, a spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:
“The readers of the magazine are very knowledgeable and discerning. The Spinosaurus figure was up against some very tough competition and to win this award is a wonderful affirmation of the dedication and hard work of the Safari Ltd design team.”
Safari Ltd have introduced a variety of Spinosaurus replicas since the company started making dinosaur models back in the late 1980s. Team members at Everything Dinosaur believe that the first Spinosaurus replica to be made by Safari Ltd was introduced in 1992 as part of the now retired Carnegie Collectibles model range.
A farmer’s field in rural Gloucestershire (England), has provided palaeontologists with a remarkable glimpse into an Early Jurassic marine ecosystem.
Underneath a grassy bank, normally grazed by cattle at Court Farm, Kings Stanley near Stroud, lies an exceptional fossil site that contains the remains of fish, ammonites, squid, marine reptiles and other creatures, with many of the specimens preserved in three dimensions.
A Toarcian Ecosystem
The clays and hard limestone nodules, many of which contain fossils, were deposited around 183 million years ago (Toarcian stage of the Early Jurassic).
The site was discovered by Sally and Neville Hollingworth, avid fossil collectors who recently uncovered the remains of mammoths in the nearby Cotswold Water Park which was featured in the BBC One documentary “Attenborough and the Mammoth Graveyard” in 2021.
Commenting on the significance of this location, enthusiastic fossil hunters Neville and Sally stated:
“These fossils come from the Early Jurassic, specifically a time called the Toarcian. The clay layers exposed at this site near Stroud have yielded a significant number of well-preserved marine vertebrate fossils that are comparable to the famous and exquisitely preserved similar fauna of the Strawberry Bank Lagerstätte from Ilminster, Somerset – a prehistoric site of exceptional fossil preservation. Excavations at Kings Stanley over the last week have revealed a rich source of fossil material, particularly from a rare layer of rock that has not been exposed since the late 19th Century.”
A team of eight scientists spent a total of four days working to clear an area of the bank approximately eighty metres in length. An excavator proved invaluable, but the field team still had to endure record breaking temperatures as they laboured to find and crack open three-dimensionally preserved limestone concretions, many of which contained fossils.
Each specimen was carefully logged onto a database and approximately 200 kilograms of clay from around the concretions was also collected and carefully sieved using a state-of-the-art sediment processing machine to help locate microvertebrate fossils such as fish teeth and small bones.
Fossils Donated to Local Museum
Many of the fossils found at the site will be donated to the palaeontology collection of a local museum (The Museum in the Park, Stratford Park, Stroud).
Team member and world-renowned, palaeontological conservator Nigel Larkin (Visiting Research Fellow at Reading University) commented:
“Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day. Give a palaeontologist a fossil fish and they will tell you the species, the age of the rock, the climate of the time when the fish was alive plus the water depth and salinity and plenty of other information. This site – already an interesting farm in a beautiful setting – is one big outdoor classroom and the lessons now include geology, palaeontology, evolution and climate change. They tell farmers to diversify but this goes one step beyond!”
Exceptional Fossil Fish Finds
Some of the best finds include fossil fish, so well-preserved that details of the scales, fins and even their eyeballs can be made out. One of the most impressive discoveries was a three-dimensionally preserved fish skull, a Pachycormus, (see first image), a genus of ray-finned fish known from the Toarcian of Europe.
The lack of any signs of scavenging of the corpses and the absence of encrusting animals or burrows in the sediment suggest that the fauna which was frozen in time under a farmer’s field was rapidly buried.
The layered concretions around the organisms formed relatively early before the sediments were compacted, as the original sediment layering is preserved. These concretions prevented further compaction, compression and distortion from the overlying sediments during burial and thus preserved the fossils as three-dimensional time capsules.
Dr Dean Lomax, a palaeontologist and a Visiting Scientist at the University of Manchester, who recently led the excavation of the Rutland ichthyosaur that also dates to the Toarcian geological age, was part of the team he explained:
“The site is quite remarkable, with numerous beautifully preserved fossils of ancient animals that once lived in a Jurassic sea that covered this part of the UK during the Jurassic. Inland locations with fossils like this are rare in the UK. The fossils we have collected will surely form the basis of research projects for years to come.”
Landowner, Adam Knight, who has seen part of his farm temporarily converted into a real life “Jurassic Park” added:
“I’m delighted that after the initial work that Sally and Nev did over three years ago we now have a full-scale dig on the farm involving a range of fossil experts from The Natural History Museum, University of Manchester, University of Reading and The Open University. On Friday we were also joined by Emily Baldry on a day’s work experience before she goes to university to study palaeontology – it’s wonderful to see her enthusiasm for her chosen profession. It has been a real pleasure to host the dig and I’m excited to see the results of what has been found.”
Important Microvertebrates and Fossil Insects
Dr David Ward (research scientist at the Natural History Museum, London), outlined his contribution to the fieldwork explaining that his role was to collect evidence of all the small creatures that lived alongside the larger vertebrates and invertebrates in the ancient marine ecosystem.
The silty clay found in association with the limestone concretions was carefully washed and pushed through a fine sieve. Dr Ward’s wife Alison played a vital role in the collection process, and she added:
“My specialism is surface picking. This involves finding areas where fossils, particularly small bones and teeth, are naturally concentrated on the surface. Here, once I had collected them, I dug up the surrounding clay and fed it into David’s clay washing machine. The result is a fine concentrate of tiny fish bones and shells which we sort under a microscope.”
For Open University PhD student Emily Swaby, this fossil site has very special significance. Her PhD research is focused on how insects were affected by dramatic environmental changes that took place during the Toarcian. Fossil insects are extremely rare and although the Court Farm site represents marine deposition, insect fossils are known from such locations.
“Further research at this site and surrounding Gloucestershire localities might help us to work out the abundance and diversity of insects during this time and help us to understand how this environmental change influenced insects.”
Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from the University of Manchester and additional information supplied by Dr Dean Lomax in the compilation of this article.
Our thanks to talented, young artist Caldey who sent into Everything Dinosaur an illustration of a mother and baby Velociraptor inspired by the recent film “Jurassic World Dominion”. The skilfully produced drawing features Blue and her offspring Beta from the latest and potentially the last movie in the “Jurassic Park/Jurassic World” franchise.
A “Raptor” Legacy
Dinosaurs, marine reptiles and pterosaurs roam freely, and human/dinosaur interactions result in inevitable fatalities. The authorities strive to monitor the movements of the genetically engineered prehistoric animals. Blue, one of the Velociraptors trained by Chris Pratt’s character Owen Grady in previous incarnations of the franchise, resides in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where Owen earns a living helping to capture and relocate stray dinosaurs. Owen discovers that Blue has a juvenile “raptor” with her, this is an asexually reproduced hatchling. The baby Velociraptor is named Beta by Maisie Lockwood (played by Isabella Sermon).
Whilst many different types of prehistoric animal have been depicted in the films, no dinosaur has had as much screen time dedicated to it as the iconic “raptors” which have featured in all the films in the “Jurassic Park/Jurassic World” genre.
A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur thanked Caldey for her drawing and commented:
“Caldey’s choice of the Velociraptor pair for her illustration is fitting. These dinosaurs have featured in all six of the movies associated with this franchise. It is a wonderful drawing of Blue and Beta”.
Plesiosaur fossils found in strata associated with a 100-million-year-old river system prove that some plesiosaurs, traditionally thought to be marine animals, may have lived in freshwater. These long-necked, piscivores co-existed with the giant dinosaur Spinosaurus (S. aegyptiacus).
Scientists from the University of Bath and University of Portsmouth in the UK, and Université Hassan II (Morocco), have reported evidence small plesiosaurs from Kem Kem Group deposits in Morocco.
The fossils include bones and teeth from three-metre-long adults and an arm bone (humerus) from a 1.5- metre-long juvenile. They hint that these creatures routinely lived and fed in freshwater, alongside frogs, crocodiles, turtles, fish, and the huge aquatic dinosaur Spinosaurus.
When is a “Marine Reptile” a Marine Reptile?
The Plesiosauria clade was a long-lived and widely distributed group of marine reptiles. Most fossils, which date from the Upper Triassic to the end of the Cretaceous (Maastrichtian faunal stage), are associated with marine deposits, but a few specimens have been found in strata associated with brackish and freshwater environments. The researchers report plesiosaurs from river deposits of the Kem Kem Group. The numerous shed teeth show heavy wear similar to that observed in in the teeth of coeval spinosaurids. Contemporary plesiosaur fossils from the Bahariya Formation of Egypt have been identified as examples of the Polycotylidae plesiosaur family. The Kem Kem fossils probably represent leptocleidid plesiosaurs. Most Leptocleididae fossils come from shallow nearshore, brackish or freshwater palaeoenvironments suggesting that these small-bodied plesiosaurs were adapted to shallow, low-salinity environments.
As the fossil plesiosaur teeth show the same signs of wear as the teeth of Spinosaurus, the researchers imply that the plesiosaurs were eating the same food – chipping their teeth on the armoured fish that lived in the river. This indicates that they spent a lot of time in the river, rather than being occasional visitors.
As other types of Mesozoic marine reptile (mosasaurids and the crocodile-like teleosaurids), are thought to have inhabited (at least some of the time), freshwater environments, this suggests that so-called “marine reptiles” may have thrived in non-marine habitats.
Co-author of the scientific paper, Dr Nick Longrich (University of Bath Milner Centre for Evolution), commented:
“It’s scrappy stuff, but isolated bones actually tell us a lot about ancient ecosystems and animals in them. They’re so much more common than skeletons, they give you more information to work with. The bones and teeth were found scattered and in different localities, not as a skeleton. So, each bone and each tooth is a different animal. We have over a dozen animals in this collection.”
Diverse and Varied Kem Kem Group Freshwater Fauna
While extant marine mammals like whales and dolphins wander up rivers, either to feed or because they are lost, the number of plesiosaur fossils in the river deposits suggest that is unlikely. The team identified cervical, dorsal and caudal vertebrae, lots of teeth and the humerus from a juvenile. The researchers postulate that the plesiosaurs were able to tolerate fresh and salt water, like some whales, such as the beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas).
Co-author Dr Samir Zouhri said:
“This is another sensational discovery that adds to the many discoveries we have made in the Kem Kem over the past fifteen years of work in this region of Morocco. Kem Kem was truly an incredible biodiversity hotspot in the Cretaceous.”
Plesiosaurs – Freshwater Incursions
The researchers compiled a list of all the geological formations that have shown evidence for the presence of members of the Plesiosauria clade in brackish or freshwater. Having collated this information, they re-examined the data identifying the different types of plesiosaur associated with the deposit.
As a result, a map documenting the incidences of freshwater incursions by different plesiosaur types was produced.
For the key to the geological formations see the end of this article.
Co-author David Martill (University of Portsmouth) exclaimed:
“What amazes me is that the ancient Moroccan river contained so many carnivores all living alongside each other. This was no place to go for a swim.”
Key to the Geological Formations Featured in the Plesiosaur Map
Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from the University of Bath in the compilation of this article.
The scientific paper: “Plesiosaurs from the fluvial Kem Kem Group (mid-Cretaceous) of eastern Morocco and a review of non-marine plesiosaurs” by Georgina Bunker, David M. Martill, Roy Smith, Samir Zouhri and Nick Longrich.
Whilst reviewing some old files in the Everything Dinosaur offices as part of our compliance with GDPR regulations, team members came across some feedback from teachers after we had delivered as series of prehistoric animal themed workshops at Unity Academy in Lancashire.
Everything Dinosaur had been invited to participate in the “Blackpool Celebrating Science Conference”. This event, which took place back in 2015 is well remembered by our staff. We prepared and delivered two workshops around the theme of “A Jurassic World”. We received excellent feedback from the teachers that observed our workshops.
One teacher commented:
“Fabulous! Very interesting! Children really engaged and focused. Thoroughly, enjoyed it – thank you.”
Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur
A second teacher, who attended one of our workshops with her Key Stage 2 pupils added:
“Very informative and entertaining”
A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur stated that team members were delighted to have received the feedback and it was a pleasure working with all the enthusiastic and highly motivated children.
To view the range of educational prehistoric animal toys and gifts available from Everything Dinosaur’s user-friendly and award-winning website: Everything Dinosaur.
Scientists have announced the discovery of what might possibly be the earliest known animal predator. The fossils discovered in Charnwood Forest (Leicester, England), are estimated to be around 560 million years old and the animal has been named Auroralumina attenboroughii in honour of Sir David Attenborough.
Attenborough’s Dawn Lantern
As a boy, Sir David Attenborough used to collect fossils from various locations close to his Leicestershire home. However, he never went to Charnwood Forest to hunt for fossils as the rocks exposed in that area were thought to be too old to contain signs of life.
In the late 1950s, another young boy, Roger Mason found a strange frond-like impression in a rock. Researchers identified this as the fossilised remains of a bizarre organism, later named Charnia masoni, which forms part of an ancient ecosystem that existed prior to the Cambrian.
This newly described organism Auroralumina attenboroughii honours Sir David Attenborough. The first part of its name is Latin for “dawn lantern”, in recognition of its great age and the organism’s resemblance to a burning torch.
Related to Corals, Jellyfish and Anemones
The geological period known as the Ediacaran precedes the Cambrian. The Ediacaran spans an immense amount of deep time, from approximately 635 million years ago, to the beginning of the Cambrian around 540 million years ago. In some parts of the world, notably the Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve on the south-eastern coast of Newfoundland, Namibia, Guizhou Province (China), Charnwood Forest and the Flinders Ranges of South Australia, ancient sedimentary rocks preserve the remains of the oldest, complex multi-cellular organisms known to science.
Most of the Ediacaran biota bears little resemblance to fossils associated with younger Cambrian-aged strata, A. attenboroughii is an exception, the research team postulate that the fossils represent an ancestor of today’s corals, jellyfish and anemones – the Cnidaria phylum.
Naturalist, campaigner and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough stated that he was “truly delighted” with his ancient namesake.
“When I was at school in Leicester, I was an ardent fossil hunter. The rocks in which Auroralumina has now been discovered were then considered to be so ancient that they dated from long before life began on the planet. So, I never looked for fossils there.
A few years later a boy from my school found one [Roger Mason] and proved the experts wrong. He was rewarded by his name being given to his discovery. Now I have – almost – caught up with him and I am truly delighted.”
The scientific paper has been published in the journal “Nature Ecology & Evolution”. This discovery challenges perceptions as to when modern groups of animals, or their direct ancestors first evolved.
Commenting on the significance of this fossil find, one of the authors of the paper, Dr Phil Wilby (palaeontology leader at the British Geological Survey), explained:
“It’s generally held that modern animal groups like jellyfish appeared 540 million years ago in the Cambrian explosion. But this predator predates that by 20 million years. It’s the earliest creature we know of to have a skeleton. So far we’ve only found one, but it’s massively exciting to know there must be others out there, holding the key to when complex life began on Earth.”
A Geological Spring Clean
In 2007, Dr Wilby and his colleagues spent over a week carefully cleaning a 100 square metres of a rock surface exposed in the Forest. A variety of tools including pressure hoses and toothbrushes were used to spring clean deposits that were laid down at the bottom of a deep sea more than half a billion years ago.
A rubber mould of the whole surface was then taken, capturing the preserved impressions of more than a thousand fossils.
One Fossil Specimen Stood Out
Co-author of the scientific paper, Dr Frankie Dunn (Oxford University Museum of Natural History), explained that one fossil impression stood out from the rest, commenting that it looked very different from the other Ediacaran fossils (Charnia masoni and Bradgatia linfordensis) preserved on the same bedding plane.
Dr Dunn commented that Auroralumina:
“Is very different to the other fossils in Charnwood Forest and around the world. Most other fossils from this time have extinct body plans and it’s not clear how they are related to living animals. This one clearly has a skeleton, with densely-packed tentacles that would have waved around in the water capturing passing food, much like corals and sea anemones do today. It’s nothing like anything else we’ve found in the fossil record at the time.”
A Lonely Fossil
Dr Dunn calls the single Auroralumina specimen a “lonely little fossil” and suggest it probably inhabited much shallower marine environments compared to rest of the Charnwood Forest biota.
“The ancient rocks in Charnwood closely resemble ones deposited in the deep ocean on the flanks of volcanic islands, much like at the base of Montserrat in the Caribbean today. All of the fossils on the cleaned rock surface were anchored to the seafloor and were knocked over in the same direction by a deluge of volcanic ash sweeping down the submerged foot of the volcano, except one, A. attenboroughii. It lies at an odd angle and has lost its base, so appears to have been swept down the slope in the deluge.”
Zircon minerals associated with the volcanic deposits permitted the researchers to accurately age the fossil based on radioactive decay measurements relating to uranium/lead ratios.
Dr Frankie Dunn said:
“The Cambrian Explosion was remarkable. It’s known as the time when the anatomy of living animal groups was fixed for the next half a billion years. Our discovery shows that the body plan of the cnidarians was fixed at least 20 million years before this, so it’s hugely exciting and raises many more questions.”
Nonagenarian Sir David Attenborough has been honoured on numerous occasions by having newly described extinct creatures named after him. However, arguably the lonely, little Auroralumina attenboroughii may represent the most significant, as it challenges existing perceptions about when animal body plans still found today, first evolved.
Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release received via email on 26th July in the compilation of this article.
The scientific paper: “A crown-group cnidarian from the Ediacaran of Charnwood Forest, UK” by F. S. Dunn, C. G. Kenchington, L. A. Parry, J. W. Clark, R. S. Kendall and P. R. Wilby published in Nature Ecology & Evolution.
Everything Dinosaur is switching to more environmentally friendly bubble wrap as part of the company’s continuing commitment to more sustainable working practices. The UK-based company has already committed to using 100% recycled cardboard for its product packaging and fully compostable potato starch chips. The bubble wrap used to help protect prehistoric animal models and other items sent out in the post, will now consist of a minimum of 30% recycled material.
A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:
“We are committed to lowering our carbon footprint, minimising waste and to reducing our impact on the planet. As part of our environmental policy, we have been able to source bubble wrap that uses at least 30% recycled material. We are doing our best to cut down on the use of plastics in our business, but when plastic packaging can’t be avoided, we are using more environmentally friendly packaging.”
Increased Packaging Costs Not Being Passed onto Customers
The new air-pocket-based packaging material is more expensive than standard bubble wrap. It offers the same level of protection but rather than use cheaper materials Everything Dinosaur is committed to taking measures to help minimise single use plastics and protect the environment.
The considerable extra costs for sourcing this new packaging material are not being passed onto customers.
Reducing Waste – Increasing Recycling
The company has introduced numerous measures to reduce waste. Virtually all the wastepaper and cardboard are recycled and Everything Dinosaur has entered into an agreement with a local print company to return wooden pallets, so they can be used over and over again.
The spokesperson added:
“Whilst our cost base has increased as a result of the steps we have undertaken, we believe that this is the right thing to do. We have even introduced electricity and water saving measures. The non-avian dinosaurs might be extinct and we need to ensure that our own species does not go the same way.”
To view the range of dinosaur and prehistoric animal themed toys and gifts available from Everything Dinosaur: Visit Everything Dinosaur.
Twenty years ago, references to the end-Cretaceous mass extinction event confidently stated that this occurred around 65 million years ago, the date of the extinction of the Dinosauria et al seems to have been pushed back to a million years earlier. When did this change in chronology happen?
Team members at Everything Dinosaur have been reviewing the huge inventory of blog posts that have been built up over the last fifteen years or so. It has been noted that the extinction of the dinosaurs, pterosaurs and a large portion of other types of life on Earth at the end of the Cretaceous in the numerous early blog articles that reference this event, is estimated to have occurred around sixty-five million years ago. In later articles, the date given is approximately sixty-six million years ago.
In 2013, Everything Dinosaur reported upon the work of an international team of scientists that had calculated the most accurate date for the extraterrestrial impact that created the Chicxulub crater. Researchers from the Berkeley Geochronology Centre (University of California), in co-operation with colleagues from Glasgow University and Vrije University (Amsterdam, Holland), have concluded that a meteorite, asteroid or possibly even an object such as a comet collided with the Earth approximately 66.038 million years ago (plus or minus 11,000 years).
Could this scientific paper have marked the point in time, when the point in time marking the end of the non-avian dinosaurs was changed in popular culture?
Today, Australia has no vultures, but in the Pleistocene Epoch it did. Researchers have reclassified fossil remains and identified Australia’s first fossil vulture. The bird, which probably stood around one metre tall, has been named Cryptogyps lacertosus. The scientific name translates as “powerful hidden vulture”, reflecting the fact that its fossils had been hiding in plain sight for more than a hundred years.
Fossil Vulture Hiding in Plain Sight
Researchers from Flinders University and the South Australian Museum writing in the academic journal “Zootaxa” have reassessed fossil material first described by the English ornithologist Charles Walter de Vis in 1905 and named as “Taphaetus lacertosus”. The ornithologist thought the partial humerus and fragmentary skull bones found in north-eastern South Australia represented an ancient eagle and he named the bird “powerful grave eagle”.
The scientists were able to study fossils from the Wellington Caves of New South Wales and material recovered from the Nullarbor Plain of Western Australia including a lower leg bone (tarsometatarsus), which when compared to the lower leg bones of living birds of prey, it became clear that the fossil tarsometatarsus did not support the musculature required to despatch prey.
Lead author of the paper, Dr Ellen Mather (Flinders University) commented:
“We compared the fossil material to birds of prey from around the world, and it became clear right away that this bird was not adapted to being a hunter, and so it was not a hawk or an eagle.”
A Phylogenetic Analysis
A phylogenetic analysis placed C. lacertosus within the subfamily Aegypiinae, making it an Old World Vulture related to extant birds found in Africa, Asia and Europe. The identification of Cryptogyps lacertosus as an Old World Vulture significantly expands the palaeogeographical range of the Old World vultures, previously unknown in Australia and indeed, there are no vultures in Australia today.
Given the megafauna that existed on the continent until very recently, giant kangaroos, flightless thunder birds, huge wombats such as Diprotodon and the enormous monitor lizard Megalania, the presence of vultures in the Pleistocene ecosystem had been predicted.
Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from Flinders University in the compilation of this article.
The scientific paper: “A new look at an old Australian raptor places “Taphaetus” lacertosus de Vis 1905 in the Old World vultures (Accipitridae: Aegypiinae)” by Ellen K. Mather, Michael S. Y. Lee and Trevor H. Worthy published in Zootaxa.