All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
/Animal News Stories

News stories and articles that do not necessarily feature extinct animals.

20 10, 2022

Special Models for Customers

By | October 20th, 2022|Adobe CS5, Animal News Stories, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page, Photos, Press Releases|0 Comments

Everything Dinosaur’s team members receive lots of email enquiries every day including requests to source special models for customers. A mother of a reptile-obsessed dinosaur fan emailed us to ask could we source and supply some snake replicas. We made some enquiries and we were able to sort this out, bringing in some Squamata with our next shipment of Safari Ltd prehistoric animal models.

Special models for customers.
Getting in special orders for customers. An Everything Dinosaur customer wanted some Safari Ltd snake models, we were able to arrange to bring them in our next Safari Ltd shipment. Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur.

Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur

Snakes on a Shipment

You might have heard about the film “Snakes on a Plane”, starring Samuel L. Jackson. This film was released in 2006 to mixed reviews. In this instance, team members had to ensure there were “snakes on a shipment”, to satisfy the demands of a snake-loving dinosaur fan.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“If customers are looking to source some unusual models, or perhaps a replica that has been recently retired, we are happy to use our extensive contacts in the industry to see if we can obtain the figure for them.”

The snake models come from the Safari Ltd range of replicas, to view the Safari Ltd prehistoric animal models in stock at Everything Dinosaur: Wild Safari Prehistoric World Figures and Models.

Special Models for Customers

Everything Dinosaur does supply some prehistoric snake models, for example the popular Rebor Titanoboa Museum Class Maquettes “Brian Diccus” and “Monty Resurgent”. These limited-production figures were introduced in 2020, a museu-quality replica of a Titanoboa swallowing its crocodilian prey.

To view the range of Rebor figures and replicas in stock at Everything Dinosaur: Rebor Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animal Replicas.

Rebor Titanoboa Museum Class Maquette Brian Diccus.
The Rebor Titanoboa Museum Class Maquette Brian Diccus.

When it came to handling the very realistic snake figures from Safari Ltd, team members tried not to be too squeamish, but whatever the model might be, we will try our best to source it and supply it, even if it is a green Anaconda!

To ask about how Everything Dinosaur can help you find a rare, retired or otherwise difficult to find model or figure: Contact Everything Dinosaur.

30 08, 2022

A Trio of CollectA Cephalopods

By | August 30th, 2022|Adobe CS5, Animal News Stories, Everything Dinosaur Products, Photos of Everything Dinosaur Products, Press Releases|0 Comments

Time to praise CollectA for adding some superb replicas of prehistoric cephalopods to the “Prehistoric Life” model collection including a Pleuroceras ammonite, a nautilus and a Cooperoceras replica.

A trio of CollectA cephalopod models.
A terrific trio of CollectA cephalopod figures. The new for 2022 Palaeozoic nautiloid Cooperoceras (left), the Pleuroceras ammonite model (centre) and a replica of the extant Nautilus pompilius (right). Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur.

The picture (above) shows the bizarre Palaeozoic nautiloid Cooperoceras (left). The CollectA Pleuroceras ammonite (centre) a replica of a geographically widespread ammonite known from Lower Jurassic strata and on the right is a replica of the extant, chambered nautilus N. pompilius, which is distantly related to Cooperoceras.

Marvellous Molluscs

The Cephalopoda (cephalopods) are a class within the huge Mollusca phylum. The cephalopods which include extant squid, cuttlefish and octopi as well as extinct forms such as ammonites and indeed belemnites, only make up a small proportion of the genera within the Mollusca. The most successful molluscs in terms of the number of species and habitat range are the gastropods (slugs and snails). It has been calculated that more than three-quarters of all the molluscs known to science are members of the Gastropoda class. The Mollusca phylum is itself, the second largest phyla within the Kingdom Animalia (the largest being the Arthropoda).

Still, that is enough musing about invertebrate taxonomy for now, it is just great to be able to stock a fabulous selection of cephalopod models, including this trio of CollectA cephalopods.

CollectA Pleuroceras ammonite model.
CollectA Age of Dinosaurs Popular Size Pleuroceras ammonite model. One of several excellent replicas of extinct cephalopods in the CollectA “Prehistoric Life” model series.

CollectA Age of Dinosaurs “Prehistoric Life” Figures

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur praised CollectA for producing such a wide range of prehistoric animal figures. The cephalopod models have proved particularly popular with fossil collectors, they have been able to add a replica of the living animal to their fossil display cabinets.

To view the trio of CollectA cephalopods and the rest of the prehistoric animal models in the not-to-scale CollectA series: CollectA Prehistoric Life Models and Figures.

22 08, 2022

A Dragonfly is Spotted

By | August 22nd, 2022|Adobe CS5, Animal News Stories, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page, Photos|0 Comments

A dragonfly has been spotted by Everything Dinosaur team members on a small patch of grass next to a drainage ditch outside the company’s warehouse. This is the first time that a dragonfly has been seen in the vicinity of the Everything Dinosaur warehouse. There is a small area of grass next to a drainage ditch and we suspect the dragonfly, possibly a male Common darter (Sympetrum striolatum) emerged from the ditch during the recent hot weather. Our litter picking and tidying up of this small body of water outside our warehouse is paying dividends.

Dragonfly spotted in grassland.
Can you spot the dragonfly? Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur.

A Haven for Wildlife

The ditch is a haven for wildlife, and we have spotted several different species of water snails including the Great Pond Snail (Lymnaea stagnalis) and the Great Ramshorn (Planorbarius corneus). There are also small fish – we suspect Stickleback (Gasterosteidae family). There may also be frogs and newts, although we have not observed any amphibians to date, although we were visited by a young Mallard duck a few weeks ago.

Photographing the dragonfly was tricky, we could not get that close to our subject, but we tried our best.

A view of the dragonfly spotted in the grassland
A close-up view of the dragonfly. We think this might be an immature male Common darter (Sympetrum striolatum). Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented that it was always exciting to see a dragonfly. Due to loss of habitat and pollution, these magnificent insects are under threat in many parts of the UK. The earliest dragonfly fossils are known from the Carboniferous. Some of these Carboniferous forms (Meganisoptera order) were huge with wingspans in excess of sixty centimetres. Extant dragonflies (Odonata) are distantly related to these ancient, winged insects, the Odonata lineage may have evolved in the Late Permian.

A view of the dragonfly by an Everything Dinosaur team member.
A close-up view of the dragonfly spotted outside the Everything Dinosaur warehouse.

Spotting Dragonflies

The office pond has also produced dragonflies, although no Common darters. As the mature nymphs emerge from the pond, they climb up plant stems and prepare to shed their external skeletons and emerge as winged adults (Ecdysis).

Team members have already spotted several exuviae (shed exoskeletons) around the pond.

Dragonfly spotted around the office pond.
A dragonfly that has just emerged from Everything Dinosaur’s office pond. This picture shows a Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea) – we think. The photograph was taken in 2020. Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur.

Let’s hope we see a few more dragonflies before the end of summer.

18 08, 2022

The De-extinction of the Thylacine

By | August 18th, 2022|Adobe CS5, Animal News Stories, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|2 Comments

On the 7th of September, 1936 the last known Thylacine died at Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart (Tasmania). Although most of the scientific community believe that the Thylacine, or as it is sometimes called the Tasmanian Tiger, is extinct there are occasional reports of sightings, either from Tasmania or elsewhere in Australia.

Researchers at the University of Melbourne believe that extinction does not have to mean forever, and they are pursuing a Thylacine de-extinction project to bring back one of the last of Australia’s marsupial apex predators.

The research team led by Professor Andrew Pask of the Thylacine Integrated Genetic Restoration Research (TIGRR) Lab is confident that a newly signed partnership agreement with Dallas-based Colossal Biosciences will bring the resurrection of the Tasmanian Tiger one step closer.

Thylacine De-extinction project (Melbourne University)
Professor Pask leading the Thylacine de-extinction project. For the time being, the closest scientists can get to a Thylacine is to examine museum specimens and stuffed animals. Professor Pask is holding the Thylacine pup (specimen number C5757), that played a pivotal role in the sequencing of the Thylacine genome. Picture credit: Melbourne University.

Conserving Australia’s Wildlife Heritage

The new American/Australian partnership will provide access to CRISPR DNA editing technology and allow scientists to pool their resources in their quest to bring back the Thylacine and to prevent many of Australian’s endangered mammals from going the same way.

Commenting on the significance of the new partnership and the access to state-of-the-art gene editing technology, Professor Pask stated:

“We can now take the giant leaps to conserve Australia’s threatened marsupials and take on the grand challenge of de-extincting animals we had lost.”

A Tasmanian tiger exhibit.
Stuffed Thylacine (Tasmanian tiger) in a museum case alongside other Australian mammals. Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur.

The Professor added:

“A lot of the challenges with our efforts can be overcome by an army of scientists working on the same problems simultaneously, conducting and collaborating on the many experiments to accelerate discoveries. With this partnership, we will now have the army we need to make this happen.”

Genome Sequenced

Thylacines (family Thylacinidae) are part of the marsupial order Dasyuromorphia. In 2018, researchers led by Professor Pask sequenced the genome of the Thylacine. This was achieved by extracting DNA samples from the pouch of a young Thylacine preserved in a jar of alcohol (specimen number C5757), part of the marsupial collection at Melbourne Museum. The team were able to read the approximately 3 billion nucleotide “letters” of the Thylacine genome and with the help of powerful computers to sequence them.

Armed with this knowledge, the research team could establish the genetic relationship between the extinct Thylacine and living, closely related members of the Dasyuromorphia such as the Tasmanian devil.

It would be theoretically possible to mimic the Thylacine genome and reconstruct it using marsupial stem cells.

A Focus on Protecting Extant Marsupials

Professor Pask explained that TIGGR will concentrate efforts on establishing the reproductive technologies tailored to Australian marsupials, such as IVF and gestation without a surrogate, as Colossal simultaneously deploy their CRISPR gene editing and computational biology capabilities to reproduce Thylacine DNA. This research will also help in the long-term protection of many of Australia’s indigenous marsupials, study of Thylacine DNA will help scientists to better understand the genetic makeup of closely related, extant genera. This research will influence the next generation of Australia’s marsupial conservation efforts.

The CollectA Thylacine replica.
A replica of a female Thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger). Perhaps in the next decade or so this iconic Australasian species will be resurrected.

This partnership with Colossal follows a significant philanthropic donation of $5 million AUD for the TIGGR Lab earlier this year.

Sharing Expertise

Colossal’s experience in CRISPR gene editing will be partnered with TIGGR’s work sequencing the Thylacine genome and identifying marsupials with similar DNA to provide living cells and a template genome that can then be edited to recreate the genetic instructions required to resurrect the extinct marsupial.

Professor Park added:

“The question everyone asks is ‘how long until we see a living Thylacine’ – and I’ve previously believed in ten years’ time we would have an edited cell that we could then consider progressing into making into an animal. With this partnership, I now believe that in ten years’ time we could have our first living baby Thylacine since they were hunted to extinction close to a century ago.”

The TIGRR Lab is believed to be close to producing the first laboratory-created embryos from Australian marsupial sperm and eggs.

Marsupials have a much shorter gestation period when compared to placental mammals. It is conceivable to produce a marsupial without the aid of a surrogate mother. Growing a marsupial, even a Thylacine in a test-tube from conception to the stage at which it would have been born.

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

14 08, 2022

A Majestic Kingfisher

By | August 14th, 2022|Adobe CS5, Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos|0 Comments

Our thanks to model collector and keen bird watcher Elizabeth who sent into Everything Dinosaur a fantastic photograph of a Kingfisher with its lunch. The lack of rainfall in most areas of the UK in recent months has led to water levels in rivers and lakes dropping. This has concentrated fish (the preferred prey of the Kingfisher), into ever decreasing pools and fish-eaters such as the beautiful Kingfisher have been taking advantage of the easier access to prey.

Kingfisher image.
The “King of the River” one of the most spectacular of Britain’s birds – a close-up view of the beautiful plumage of a Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis). Picture credit: Elizabeth.

The drought could have long-term implications for local Kingfisher populations, particularly if ponds and other water sources dry up. Team members at Everything Dinosaur do occasionally catch the glimpse of a pair of iridescent wings, or a splash of orange colour, as they walk along the canal and the river on their way to work. There are Kingfishers in our neighbourhood, but these short-lived birds are notoriously difficult to spot.

Our thanks to Elizabeth for sending in her superb photograph. We think this might be a male. Female Kingfishers have an orange/pinkish tinge to their lower beak. In contrast, the males tend to have black beaks. A tip to help you remember the difference between male and female Kingfishers is to think of the female birds wearing pink lipstick on their lower mandibles.

It is a superb, close-up view of one of our country’s most colourful birds.

31 07, 2022

The First Froglet of 2022 Spotted

By | July 31st, 2022|Adobe CS5, Animal News Stories, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page|0 Comments

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.

Froglet from 2022.
A photograph of a froglet from the office pond. It is a common frog (Rana temporaria). Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur.

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.

29 06, 2022

If You Want to Live for a Long Time be Cold-blooded

By | June 29th, 2022|Adobe CS5, Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

Compared with most birds and mammals, reptiles like turtles and tortoises are extremely long-lived, but how do they achieve such great ages, with little evidence of age-related decline? Recently published research papers examined ageing rates and lifespans across seventy-seven species of reptiles and amphibians and these studies suggest that “cold-blooded” animals could teach us a thing or two about living to a ripe old age.

Lonesome George
Animals such as the giant tortoises of the Galapagos Islands are known to live for over 100 years. Picture credit: AFP/Getty Images.

Life in the Slow Lane

An international team, consisting of over one hundred scientists including researchers from Flinders University (Adelaide, South Australia), Pennsylvania State, Northeastern Illinois University and the University of Kent, have provided the first comprehensive evidence confirming that turtles in the wild age very slowly and have long lifespans. In addition, the team concluded that reptiles and amphibians (ectotherms) have highly variable rates of ageing.

Several cold-blooded (ectothermic) species, essentially, do not age and show very little evidence for age-related decline. Unlike warm-blooded (endothermic) animals, ectotherms rely on external heat sources to help them regulate their body temperature, as a result, they tend to have much lower metabolisms than animals like birds and mammals. They way in which these animals regulate their body temperatures could play a role in ageing and potential lifespan (thermoregulatory mode hypothesis).

Sleepy lizard (Tiliqua rugosa).
Native to Australia, the Sleepy lizard (Tiliqua rugosa), which is also referred to as the Shingleback, can live for more than 50 years. Scientists from Flinders University have been working on a long-term study of these slow-moving reptiles, their maximum lifespan is not known. Picture credit: Mike Gardner.

Having a Shell, Armour, Venom or Spines Might Help You Live Longer

In this extensive study programme, the researchers also noted that animals with physical or chemical traits that provide defence and protection such as spines, armour, shells or venom, tend to age slowly and to live longer.

The scientists documented that these protective traits do, indeed, enable animals to age more slowly and in the case of physical protection, live much longer for their size than those without protective phenotypes (protective phenotypes hypothesis).

Radiated Tortoise (Astrochelys radiata).
The Radiated tortoise (Astrochelys radiata), native to Madagascar might be critically endangered, but the protective phenotype hypothesis suggests that protective characteristics such as a shell can confer longevity and slow down the ageing process. Picture credit: IUCN

Some Cold-blooded Animals Do Not Seem to Age

Discussing the significance of this long-term research programme, Professor Mike Gardner (Flinders University) stated:

“We helped track seventy-seven species for up to sixty years to try to reveal the secrets of long life. Some don’t seem to age at all.”

First author of one of the studies, published in the journal “Science”, Assistant Professor Beth Reinke from Northeastern Illinois University added:

“These various protective mechanisms may reduce animals’ mortality rates within generations. Thus, they are more likely to live longer, and that can change the selection landscape across generations for the evolution of slower ageing. We found the biggest support for the protective phenotype hypothesis in turtles. Again, this demonstrates that turtles, as a group, are unique.”

Aging diagram from the study
Ageing diagram ectotherms compared to endotherms. A supertree diagram showing all the endothermic and ectothermic species included in the analysis. Branch lengths are not scaled. The red in the inner circle represents endotherms and blue represents ectotherms. Green bars are longevity estimates and orange bars are the ageing rates. Silhouettes from Phylopic.org. Picture credit: Reinke et al.

Cold-blooded

It might sound a little dramatic to conclude that some cold-blooded animals may show no signs of ageing, but basically their likelihood of dying does not alter to any great extent once they mature. They show “negligible ageing” which means if an animal’s chance of dying in a year when they are ten years old is 1%, if that animal is alive in a hundred years, it still has a 1% chance of dying. In contrast, a study of American women found that the risk of dying at age twenty is 1 in 2,500, but this risk rises as they get older. For example, in this study group, at the age of eighty, their risk of dying was more than a hundred times higher (1 in 24) than when they were twenty years old.

Everything Dinosaur stocks a range of prehistoric reptile models including crocodilians and other cold-blooded animals as well as feathered dinosaurs and models of endothermic creatures.

To view the range: Models of Ectothermic and Endothermic Prehistoric Animals.

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

The scientific paper: “Diverse aging rates in ectothermic tetrapods provide insights for the evolution of aging and longevity” by Beth A. Reinke, Hugo Cayuela, Fredric J. Janzen et al published in Science.

27 06, 2022

Frozen Baby Mammoth Discovered in the Klondike

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

Gold miners working at Eureka Creek in the Klondike Region of Yukon Province in Canada have discovered the frozen remains of a baby woolly mammoth. The calf, which is female is estimated to have lived around 30,000 years ago and it represents the best-preserved woolly mammoth specimen ever found in North America.

Baby mammoth from the Klondike of Yukon
The baby mammoth identified as a female, is the best-preserved woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) found to date in North America. It is thought to be around 30,000 years old. Picture credit: Yukon Government.

“Big Baby Animal”

The discovery was made on June 21st, the Northern Hemisphere solstice and also appropriately, Canada’s National Indigenous Peoples Day. The Klondike gold fields lie within the Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin Traditional Territory. Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin elders have named the mammoth calf Nun cho ga, meaning “big baby animal” in the indigenous people’s (Hän) language.

Ice Age animal remains are quite commonly found in the Yukon area as they erode out of thawing permafrost, however, mummified remains complete with skin and hair are exceptionally rare.

Minister for Tourism and Culture, Ranj Pillai of the Yukon Territory Administration commented:

“The Yukon has always been an internationally renowned leader for ice age and Beringia research. We are thrilled about this significant discovery of a mummified woolly mammoth calf: Nun cho ga. Without strong partnerships between placer miners, Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin, and the Yukon government, discoveries like this could not happen.”

Woolly Mammoths.
Woolly Mammoths (M. primigenius) an iconic animal of the Ice Age.

Vertebrate palaeontologist Dr Grant Zazula added:

“As an ice age palaeontologist, it has been one of my lifelong dreams to come face to face with a real woolly mammoth. That dream came true today. Nun cho ga is beautiful and one of the most incredible mummified ice age animals ever discovered in the world. I am excited to get to know her more.”

Comparisons with Lyuba

The discovery of the superbly preserved corpse will provide scientists with an opportunity to compare Nun cho ga with Lyuba, a mammoth calf discovered in Siberia back in 2007. Lyuba lived a few thousand years earlier than the Yukon mammoth (circa 41,800 years), researchers will have the opportunity to compare the genetic health of the mammoth population and plot any changes between the older Lyuba and Nun cho ga which lived, around 12,000 years later.

The baby Woolly Mammoth known as Lyuba.
The 42,000-year-old baby mammoth Lyuba. Picture credit: Uppa/Photoshot (Daily Telegraph News).

The discovery of Nun cho ga is not the first woolly mammoth calf found in North America. In 1948, a partial mammoth calf, nicknamed Effie, was found at a gold mine in Alaska.

6 06, 2022

Defining the Pecora

By | June 6th, 2022|Adobe CS5, Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos|0 Comments

A few days ago (3rd of June, 2022), we published a blog post about a new species of ancestral giraffe (Discokeryx xiezhi) that had been described from fossils found in Miocene strata in the Junggar Basin in north-western China (Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region).

Discokeryx xiezhi - two males fight.
The recently described Miocene Discokeryx xiezhi. Two males indulge in a head-butting contest. Picture credit: Wang Yu and Guo Xiaocong.

The researchers, writing in the academic journal “Science” had compared the prevalence of head ornamentation amongst giraffomorphs (those animals within the Giraffidae family and their ancestors) to other types of ruminant within the Pecora. They concluded that those animals on the branch of ruminants leading to the extant giraffes evolved more types of headgear than other pecoran groups. The driver for this evolution, was not selective browsing as previously thought, but the variety of headgear had, in part come about due to intensive sexual selection linked to various male combat styles – head-butting, neck banging etc.

Team members at Everything Dinosaur were not familiar with the Pecora and what types of ruminant within the Artiodactyla (even-toed, hoofed mammals) would be described as pecorans. So, we thought we would dedicate this blog post to providing a definition.

The Pecora – A Definition

The order Artiodactyla is the most diverse and abundant group of large mammals on planet Earth. The Artiodactyla consists of the Whippomorpha (hippos), pigs (Suidae), Tayassuidae (peccaries and their relatives), the whales (Cetacea), Tylopods (camels, llamas and their relatives) as well as all the ruminants.

The biggest component of the Artiodactyla is the Ruminantia which are characterised by their four-chambered stomachs. Over eighty-five percent of all the artiodactyls are ruminants. Molecular studies have helped scientists to better understand the evolutionary relationships between the many families that make up this very large and diverse group of mammals. Although the exact taxonomy of this group is still uncertain, attempts have been made to clarify the evolutionary relationships between the different types of ruminant – hence the creation of the infraorder Pecora.

A model of a cow.
Of the 280 species of artiodactyls today, around half of these species are bovines (Bovidae) – cattle, antelopes, sheep, goats and their close relatives.

Most scientists define the Pecora as artiodactyls with a ruminant digestive system. Specifically, those ruminants that possess cranial ornamentation either horns, antlers, bony structures (ossicones) or pronghorns, although Musk deer and their relatives lack cranial ornamentation but are still defined as pecorans.

To read Everything Dinosaur’s recent blog post about the discovery of Discokeryx xiezhi: What Drove the Giraffes to Evolve Long Necks?

3 06, 2022

What Drove the Giraffes to Evolve Long Necks?

By | June 3rd, 2022|Adobe CS5, Animal News Stories, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

The long neck of the giraffe has often been cited as a classic example of adaptive evolution. Long necks evolved to permit them to access food that other animals could not reach. However, a newly described early giraffe with a toughened skull adapted for head-butting contests suggests that intensive sexual competition may have led to the extremely long neck found in modern giraffes.

Intra-specific combat in giraffoids.
Intraspecific combat in giraffoids. Foreground two male Discokeryx xiezhi indulge in a head-butting context whilst in the background two male extant giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis) fight each other by banging necks. Picture credit: Wang Yu and Guo Xiaocong.

Discokeryx xiezhi from the Early Miocene (Junggar Basin)

Scientists led by researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences have described a new species of ancient giraffe from the northern margins of the Junggar Basin in north-western China (Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region). The early giraffoid named Discokeryx xiezhi did not have a very long neck, instead, based on the analysis of an almost complete skull and four cervical vertebrae, this herbivore had a neck and head adapted to absorbing the immense stresses of head-butting combat.

Writing in the academic journal “Science”, the researchers conclude that the neck bones of Discokeryx xiezhi were extremely stout and had the most complex joints between the head and the neck and between the cervical vertebrae of any mammal. The team demonstrated that the complex articulations between the skull and cervical vertebrae of Discokeryx xiezhi were particularly adapted to high-speed head-to-head impact. They found this structure was far more effective than that of extant animals, such as musk oxen, that are adapted for head butting intraspecific combat. The scientists postulate that D. xiezhi may have been the vertebrate best adapted to head impact known to science.

Lead author of the study, Shi-qi Wang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences explained:

“Both living giraffes and Discokeryx xiezhi belong to the Giraffoidea, a superfamily. Although their skull and neck morphologies differ greatly, both are associated with male courtship struggles and both have evolved in an extreme direction.”

Climate Change Driving Morphological Changes

Tooth isotope analysis of fossil teeth indicate that Discokeryx lived in a dry, grassland environment. The habitat was more barren and less rich than forest environments and this may have resulted in increased stress on animal populations and greater competition within species for limited resources. Around 7 million years ago, the environment on the East African Plateau was broadly similar with forests being replaced by savannah. The direct ancestors of extant giraffes had to adapt and it is possible that during this period mating males developed a way of attacking their competitors by swinging their necks and heads. This extreme struggle, supported by sexual selection, thus led to the rapid elongation of the giraffe’s neck over a period of two million years to become the extant genus, Giraffa.

Mammalian Fauna of the Junggar Basin (Miocene)
Typical large vertebrate fauna associated with the early Miocene of the Junggar Basin approximately 17 mya. Forests were replaced by barren, open grasslands and this may have been a driver for intraspecific competition amongst early giraffes which led to the evolution of a range of specialist heads and necks and resulted in the extremely long neck associated with extant species. Picture credit: Guo Xiaocong.

Comparing Horn Morphology

The research team compared the horn morphology of several groups of ruminants, including giraffoids, cattle, sheep, deer and pronghorns. They found that horn diversity in giraffes is much greater than in other groups, with a tendency toward extreme differences in morphology. This suggests that courtship struggles (intraspecific combat) are more intense and diverse in giraffes than in other ruminants.

The evolution of complex head ornamentation in giraffomorphs.
The accumulative number of headgears in various pecoran groups during their evolution. Note that giraffomorphs had evolved more types of headgear than other pecoran groups, which may be partly attributable to their various combat styles. Picture credit: Wang Yu and Guo Xiaocong.

The research team conclude that the primary driving force for extreme body shape in giraffes was not the benefit of being able to browse on parts of the canopy other herbivores could not reach, but it was the intensive sexual competition that fostered extreme morphologies.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in the compilation of this article.

The scientific paper: “Sexual selection promotes giraffoid head-neck evolution and ecological adaptation” by Shi-qi Wang, Jie Ye, Jin Meng, Chunxiao Li, Loic Costeur, Bastien Mennecart, Chi Zhang, Ji Zhang, Manuela Aiglstorfer, Yang Wang, Yan Wu, Wen-yu Wu and Tao Deng published in the journal Science.

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