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/Palaeontological articles

Articles, features and information which have slightly more scientific content with an emphasis on palaeontology, such as updates on academic papers, published papers etc.

27 11, 2023

Farlowichnus rapidus – A New Early Cretaceous Theropod

By | November 27th, 2023|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Researchers have erected a new ichnogenus and ichnospecies of theropod dinosaur based on fossil tracks. The dinosaur has been named Farlowichnus rapidus.

The trackways come from the Lower Cretaceous Botucatu Formation of Brazil. The sandstones preserve a variety of trackways including dinosaurs. The tracks were made when animals traversed the extensive dune fields that once existed in this ancient desert. The sandstones of Botucatu Formation originally covered a land area estimated to be at least 1,300,000 km2, an area larger than the Gobi Desert. The ancient sandstones of the Botucatu Formation represent the largest fossil desert known to science.

Farlowichnus rapidus

The three-toed prints that led to the erection of the new dinosaur ichnogenus Farlowichnus were donated to Brazil’s Museum of Earth Sciences (Museu de Ciências da Terra) in 1984. The stride pattern indicates a small biped probably less than a metre tall. This dinosaur was probably carnivorous and fleet-footed, its light body able to traverse the dunes without disturbing the sands too much. This permitted the prints to be preserved.

Farlowichnus rapidus
A new ichnogenus of fleet-footed theropod has been described from fossilised trackways preserved in sandstones located in the Paraná Basin (Brazil).

Picture credit: Cretaceous Research

Unique Characteristics

The tracks differ from other theropod ichnogenera. The footprints have a relatively large and very wide digit III and small, short, pointed, bladelike outer digits. The most significant characteristic is that digit II is longer and more robust than digit IV. As a result of this unusual morphology, the general outline of the footprint reminded the scientists of a water droplet. Although three toes are in contact with the ground (a tridactyl print), most of the weight would have been supported by the oversized digit III, making the foot essentially monodactylous.

A similar foot morphology is seen in living archosaurs today. The ostrich (Struthio camelus) walks on two toes (digits III and IV). Digit III is much more robust and supports most of the bird’s weight.

Close-up view of the foot of an ostrich.
Views of the foot of an ostrich (Struthio camelus). Dorsal (left) and ventral (right). The third digit (III) is greatly enlarged, it is much larger than digit IV. Essentially the foot morphology gives this extant bird an almost monodactylous pes. Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur.

Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur

Ancestors of Noasaurs and Velocisaurs

The ichnogenus name honours the palaeontologist James O. Farlow, for his extensive work on dinosaur trace fossils. The species name “rapidus” reflects the likely habits of this small theropod. It was probably able to run fast, and it was extremely agile.

Writing in the academic journal “Cretaceous Research”, the authors of the scientific paper speculate that Farlowichnus was an ancestor of other theropod clades such as the noasaurs and velocisaurs.

To read about the discovery of the noasaur Vespersaurus paranaensis: First Dinosaur from the Caiuá Group of Brazil.

The scientific paper: “Farlowichnus rapidus new ichnogen., new ichnosp.: A speedy and small theropod in the Early Cretaceous Botucatu paleodesert (Paraná Basin), Brazil” by Giuseppe Leonardi, Marcelo Adorna Fernandes, Ismar de Souza Carvalho, Julia Beatrice Schutzer and Rafael Costa da Silva published in Cretaceous Research.

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25 11, 2023

Biggest and Best Ever – TetZooCon 2023

By | November 25th, 2023|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur Fans, Educational Activities, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Press Releases|0 Comments

Less than a week to go now before the start of the TetZooCon 2023 event. Once again, Everything Dinosaur are proud to be involved with this conference and as a sponsor we wish the organisers every success. This is the tenth TetZooCon, the conference is becoming an institution, a must attend event for anyone with an interest in the natural world, the Earth sciences and palaeoart.

Many of Everything Dinosaur’s chums will be attending. Unfortunately, pressures of work have once again prevented us from going, but we will be thinking of everyone next weekend.

The TetZooCon banner for 2023
The TetZooCon banner for 2023 which has been designed by Darren Naish, one of the conference organisers.

Picture credit: Darren Naish

TetZooCon 2023

TetZooCon 2023 will be held at Bush House, King’s College, London, on the weekend of 2nd and 3rd December 2023, with an evening reception on Friday December 1st and a fieldtrip on Monday 4th December. For the first time ever, the TetZooCon will consist of parallel sessions throughout.

Several of the sessions are dedicated to marine reptile research. Attendees will get the chance to meet “Flip” the world’s most scientifically accurate swimming plesiosaur. Dr Dean Lomax will be delivering a presentation covering the latest research into the “Rutland Sea Dragon”. Not to be outdone, Emily Swaby will be discussing Yorkshire’s very own giant marine reptile – Temnodontosaurus crassimanus.

Dr Dean Lomax working on the skull of the Rutland ichthyosaur.
Dr Dean Lomax working on the skull of the Rutland ichthyosaur, the largest and most complete ichthyosaur fossil ever found in the UK. Picture credit: Matthew Power.

Palaeoart in Perspective

The very talented Luis Rey will lead a panel discussion on the Past and Future of Palaeoart. Co-host Darren Naish will provide an insight into the television series “Prehistoric Planet” and expect living archosaurs such as corvids and cassowaries to enter the debate.

On Sunday (December 3rd), Nigel Marven will look back on his adventures filming dinosaurs and other reptiles. In addition, during Sunday lunch time there will be a special screening of the film “The Lost World” from 1925.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“We wish we could attend next weekend. Bush House at King’s College, London is going to be buzzing. Our congratulations to Darren Naish and John Conway for all their hard work organising such an exciting event.”

Visit the Everything Dinosaur website: Everything Dinosaur’s website.

11 11, 2023

The Super Senses of Thescelosaurus

By | November 11th, 2023|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

A newly published scientific paper, examining the skull of a bird-hipped dinosaur (Thescelosaurus neglectus), suggests that this dinosaur had remarkable senses. CT scans of the skull suggest that this Late Cretaceous herbivore possessed a unique combination of traits and indicate that Thescelosaurus may have spent at least some of the time underground. The study is the first to link a specific suite of sensory abilities with dinosaur behaviour.

If you live alongside Tyrannosaurus rex, then having a burrow or den to hide in might prove to be an effective survival strategy.

Studying the Skull of “Willo”

The skull used in the study comes from “Willo”, which is part of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences vertebrate collection. Thescelosaurus is a member of the Ornithischia. The genus was erected in 1913. It measured around four metres in length and weighed around 340 kilograms. That is about as heavy as a Jersey cow. In an ecosystem which included Triceratops, Edmontosaurus as well as T. rex, Thescelosaurus tends to be overlooked.

Thescelosaurus and super senses.
A newly published scientific paper which undertook a detailed analysis of the skull of a Thescelosaurus suggests that this relatively small, Late Cretaceous dinosaur may have lived underground.

Picture credit: Anthony Hutchings

Thescelosaurus neglectus – “Wonderful, Overlooked Lizard”

The binomial scientific name of this dinosaur translates as “wonderful, overlooked lizard”. However, undeterred by this dinosaur’s lack of sharp teeth, dermal armour, crests or horns – traits associated with some of its contemporaries, Dr David Button (Bristol University) began studying Thescelosaurus.

Dr Button built up a detailed, three-dimensional model of the skull using multiple CT scans. The brain and the inner ear were reconstructed. This allowed the researchers to determine the size of the brain and to build up a picture of the dinosaur’s senses.

Dr Button commented:

“We found that the olfactory bulbs – the regions of the brain that process smell – were very well developed in Thescelosaurus. They were relatively larger than those of any other dinosaur we know of so far, and similar to those of living alligators, which can smell a drop of blood from miles away.”

Dr Button added:

“Thescelosaurus may have used its similarly powerful sense of smell to instead find buried plant foods like roots and tubers. It also had an unusually well-developed sense of balance, helping it to pinpoint its body position in 3D space, another trait often found in burrowing animals.”

There is More to Thescelosaurus

Co-author of the paper, published in Scientific Reports, Dr Lindsay Zanno (North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences), stated:

“The irony is that palaeontologists generally think of these animals as pretty boring. When we first looked at our results we thought, yeah, this animal is plain as toast. But then we took a big step back and realised there was something unique about the combination of Willo’s sensory strengths and weaknesses.”

A drawing of Thescelosaurus.
A new species of Thescelosaurus (T. assiniboiensis ) was described in 2011. Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur.

Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur

Limited Hearing

The scientists calculated that the hearing range of Thescelosaurus neglectus was extremely limited. It could only hear about 15% of the frequencies humans can detect, and between 4% to 7% of what dogs and cats can hear. In particular, T. neglectus was bad at hearing high-pitched sounds.

Dr Zanno explained:

“We found that Thescelosaurus heard low frequency sounds best, and that the range of frequencies it could hear overlaps with T. rex. This doesn’t tell us they were adapted to hearing T. rex vocalise, but it certainly didn’t hurt them to know when a major predator was tooling about in the area. More interesting to us was the fact that these particular deficiencies are often associated with animals that spend time underground.”

However, the researchers discovered that this dinosaur did have an excellent sense of smell.

T. neglectus may not have been particularly clever, not even for a dinosaur. It may have had limited hearing, but it had powerful arms and legs, a superb sense of balance and spatial awareness coupled with a keen sense of smell. These are all typical characteristics found in extant vertebrates that spend time underground or engage in digging behaviours.

Dr Button summarised the study:

“While we can’t say definitively that these animals lived part of their lives underground, we know that their ancestors did. This fact, together with their unique combination of sensory abilities, strongly suggests T. neglectus engaged in similar behaviours.”

Thescelosaurus neglectus – Not a “Boring” Dinosaur

Dr Zanno concluded:

“We still don’t know the sensory abilities of most dinosaurs. That makes it difficult to link these traits to specific lifestyles with confidence, but it also means there are plenty of cool discoveries to come. The idea that there might have been dinosaurs living under the feet of T. rex and Triceratops is fascinating. No matter what, we now know for certain that T. neglectus isn’t boring.”

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

The scientific paper: “Neuroanatomy of the late Cretaceous Thescelosaurus neglectus (Neornithischia: Thescelosauridae) reveals novel ecological specialisations within Dinosauria” by David Button and Lindsay Zanno published in Scientific Reports.

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15 10, 2023

Boom in Mammoth Tusk Sales Threatens Living Elephants

By | October 15th, 2023|Adobe CS5, Animal News Stories, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils, Teaching|0 Comments

The boom in the trade for mammoth tusks threatens extant elephant populations and their habitats. This is the conclusion of newly published research from the University of Portsmouth.

Conservationists and campaigners fear an increase in the buying and selling of mammoth tusks poses a direct threat to elephants. The trade in “ice ivory” was banned in the UK in 2018. The ban was imposed following a Portsmouth University led investigation into the British antiques trade of the material.

Boom in sale of mammoth tusks threatens extant elephants.
Humans encounter a Woolly Mammoth. A boom in “ice ivory” trade of mammoth tusks presents a threat to elephants and the environment. Picture credit: Mark Witton.

The Trade in Mammoth Tusks

Earlier this year (2023), it was announced the Ivory Act would be extended to protect five more endangered CITES-listed species, including the hippopotamus, narwhal, walrus, orca and sperm whale. However, new research highlights the unregulated sale of mammoth tusks needs to be addressed. The species fall outside of the regulation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This is an international, multi-government agreement set up to ensure the survival of animals and plant species.

The authors argue that while woolly mammoths became extinct thousands of years ago, their lives and ultimate demise has much to teach us about how we conserve and protect existing elephant populations.

Large elephants on display. (Mastodons and Mammoths).
Prehistoric elephants on display at the Senckenberg Museum (Frankfurt). Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur.

Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur

What About Other Prehistoric Elephant Genera?

Everything Dinosaur notes, that many species of extinct elephant had large tusks. Whilst the tusks eroding out of melting Siberian permafrost might usually be associated with the Woolly Mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius), tusks from other extinct species might be traded too. For example, tusks from the American Mastodon (Mammut americanum) or the Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi) found in North America might also be bought and sold.

Wild Safari Prehistoric World Mastodon model.
The Wild Safari Prehistoric World Mastodon model. The trade in the ivory of other prehistoric elephants would also need to be controlled.

The picture (above) shows a model of the American Mastodon by Safari Ltd.

To view this range of prehistoric animal models and figures: Safari Ltd. Wild Safari Prehistoric World Models.

Prehistoric Elephant Tusks Labelled as Ivory from Extant Species

Lead author in the recently published paper, Dr Caroline Cox (University of Portsmouth) commented:

“There’s evidence traders are trying to sustain the illegal ivory market with mammoth tusks, by intentionally mislabelling ice ivory as elephant ivory. Modern elephants and woolly mammoths share a common ancestor, so their tusks have close similarities. Instead of profiting from these new discoveries, we should be learning from them – how mammoths lived and how they died – to help protect their endangered relatives.”

It is estimated the illegal wildlife trade to be collectively worth between $15-22.5 billion USD a year. This puts the trade on a par with the illegal arms trade, the illegal drugs trade and the trade in human trafficking.

Schreger Lines in Elephant Ivory

Co-author of the study, Luke Hauser (University of Portsmouth) explained:

“Structurally, mammoth ivory is fundamentally identical to elephant ivory. Both have Schreger lines, which are distinct characteristics of the species.”

The majority of the ivory coming out of Siberia is woolly mammoth, but because evolution is a slow process there would have been crossovers between their characteristics and their predecessors. In theory, a trader could have a document claiming a tusk is from a Steppe Mammoth (M. trogontherii) when in fact it is actually a Woolly Mammoth (M. primigenius). Conservationists could not argue otherwise without an expensive and lengthy DNA test.

It is more than a decade since eBay announced its own complete, worldwide ban on ivory sales. An on-line post stated that the global ban would “protect buyers and sellers, as well as animals in danger of extinction”. Unfortunately, recent studies have shown that sellers of illegal wildlife products operate on the dark web, rather than more openly through on-line social media and auction platforms.

The Trade in Mammoth Tusks Damages the Fossil Record

Dr Cox explained:

“While mammoth tusks continue to be in demand, particularly in the Far East, the Siberian tusk hunters of Yakutia recover only what the buyers want – the ivory. The remains of the mammoth are left behind and lost to science.”

The mining of mammoth tusks is dangerous. It is often illegal, and it damages the environment. The law of the Russian Federation states that only mammoth tusks that have come to the surface, usually as a result of the permafrost melting, can be harvested. However, this is extremely difficult to enforce. Miners can speed up the erosion process by using high pressure hoses to blast the permafrost. The industrial mining of the permafrost also releases huge amounts of greenhouse gases such as methane. This is leading to accelerated global warming.

The paper, published in the “Journal of International Wildlife Law and Policy”, states that the best and most effective way of tackling issues surrounding the “ice ivory” trade is international cooperation from nations sharing resources and intelligence.

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

The scientific paper: “Ice Ivory to White Gold: Links Between the Illegal Ivory Trade and the Trade in Geocultural Artifacts” by Caroline Cox and Luke Hauser published in the Journal of International Wildlife Law & Policy.

Visit the website of Everything Dinosaur: Everything Dinosaur.

26 09, 2023

The First Dicraeosaurid from India

By | September 26th, 2023|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Scientists have described the first dicraeosaurid sauropod dinosaur known from India. The dinosaur, named Tharosaurus indicus roamed northwestern India during the Middle Jurassic. At around 167 million years old, Tharosaurus indicus represents the earliest diplodocoid dinosaur described to date. It lived at least ten million years earlier than famous North American diplodocids such as Apatosaurus and Diplodocus, to which it was distantly related.

Partial cervical vertebrae (neck bones) of Tharosaurus indicus.
Partial cervical vertebrae (neck bones) of Tharosaurus indicus and interpretive line drawings. Scale bars equal 5 cm. Picture credit: Bajpai et al © Springer Nature Limited 2023.

Fragmentary Fossils from Rajasthan

The fragmentary and disarticulated fossils consisting of vertebra and a solitary rib are believed to represent a single animal. The fossils were excavated from shale deposits just north of the village of Jethwai in Rajasthan State. The area is hot and arid, and it is known as the Great Indian Desert or the Thar Desert. The genus name of this new dinosaur references the Thar Desert, in recognition of the location of the fossil finds. The specific name honours the country of origin – India.

The fossil material was excavated from a bedding plane located at the base of the Fort Member (Jaisalmer Formation) with represents an early to middle Bathonian faunal stage deposition.

The Dicraeosauridae

The dicraeosaurids are a clade of small-bodied diplodocoid sauropods classified by their distinctive vertebrae with long paired neural spines. They are both temporally and geographically dispersed with fossils found in Africa, South America as well as China and the USA. The discovery of Tharosaurus extends their temporal range from the Bathonian faunal stage of the Middle Jurassic to the Early Cretaceous.

Dicraeosaurus scale drawing.
A scale drawing of the first dicraeosaurid to be described – Dicraeosaurus (1914). Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur.

Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur

The dicraeosaurid illustration (above) is based on the Haolonggood Dicraeosaurus 1:35 scale replica.

To view the range of Haolonggood dinosaur models: Haolonggood Dinosaur Models.

New Insights into Sauropod Diversity

The research team suggest that Tharosaurus indicus is a relic of a sauropod lineage that originated in India and underwent rapid dispersal across the rest of Pangaea. Writing in the academic journal “Scientific Research”, the scientists conclude that this fossil discovery provides new insights into sauropod diversity. It also has important implications for the origin and dispersal of neosauropod dinosaurs.

Tharosaurus indicus and diplodocoid distribution in the Middle Triassic.
A palaeogeographic distribution of diplodocoids with taxa of different ages plotted together in a simplified Middle Jurassic (170 Ma) map to show their spatio-temporal distribution across Pangea. Silhouettes indicate the type of diplodocoid and fossil occurrences. Numbers adjoining sauropod silhouettes indicate age of the fossils as follows: 1—Middle Jurassic (early–middle Bathonian); 2—Late Jurassic; 3—Cretaceous; 4—Middle Jurassic (Callovian). Picture credit: Bajpai et al © Springer Nature Limited 2023.

Tracing the Origins of the Sauropoda

The Sauropoda is thought to have originated in the Late Triassic/Early Jurassic. The origin and radiation of the Neosauropoda and its major clades (Macronaria and the Diplodocoidea) remains contentious. Non-neosauropods were restricted to eastern Gondwana (Zimbabwe and India) and parts of Laurasia (China, Germany and Thailand) during the Late Triassic/Early Jurassic. This suggests that there were barriers preventing their dispersal to the Americas and the most southerly portions of Gondwana. Although preservation and sampling biases cannot be ruled out, neosauropods possibly appeared during the late Early or early Middle Jurassic. The geologically youngest forms being associated with the Americas and Asia.

Tharosaurus indicus temporal range within the Sauropoda.
A time-calibrated phylogenetic tree of the Sauropoda. Tharosaurus indicus is represented by the red star. It represents the oldest diplodocoid dinosaur known to science. The phylogenetic analysis defines Tharosaurus as a member of the Dicraeosauridae family. Picture credit: Bajpai et al © Springer Nature Limited 2023.

Tharosaurus indicus – Helping to Clarify Neosauropoda Evolution

Tharosaurus indicus is among the earlier-diverging dicraeosaurid dinosaurs, and its stratigraphic age (Bathonian) makes it the earliest known diplodocoid dinosaur globally. The authors of the paper stress the importance of the Lower and Middle Jurassic deposits of India and propose that further fossil discoveries will help to clarify the evolutionary history of the Neosauropoda.

The scientific paper: “Fossils of the oldest diplodocoid dinosaur suggest India was a major centre for neosauropod radiation” by Sunil Bajpai, Debajit Datta, Pragya Pandey, Triparna Ghosh, Krishna Kumar and Debasish Bhattacharya published in Scientific Reports.

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22 09, 2023

Fossil Feather Proteins Can Persist over Deep Time

By | September 22nd, 2023|Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos of Everything Dinosaur Products|0 Comments

Researchers including scientists from University College Cork (Ireland) have demonstrated that fossil feather proteins can persist over deep time. Using sophisticated and highly sensitive X-ray techniques the team have clarified the chemical composition of feathers preserved in the fossil record.

Encountering a life-size Velociraptor replica.
Encountering a life-size Velociraptor replica at the Manchester Museum. The replica is part of a display that documents the evolution of feathers and the ancestry of modern birds. New research suggests that the protein composition of modern feathers was also present in ancient feathers. Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur.

Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur

Identifying Fossil Feather Proteins

The study, published in “Nature Ecology and Evolution” provides a new perspective on feather evolution. Earlier research had suggested that primitive feathers had a different chemical composition to that of the feathers of extant birds. The new research reveals that the protein composition of modern-day feathers was also present in the feathers of dinosaurs and enantiornithine birds. The researchers conclude that the chemistry of feathers originated much earlier than previously thought.

The study was led by Dr Tiffany Slater and Professor Maria McNamara (School of Biological, Earth, and Environmental Science, University College Cork). They worked in collaboration with scientists at Linyi University (China) and the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource in the USA.

The feathers of the Early Cretaceous dromaeosaurid Sinornithosaurus were analysed. In addition, the integumentary covering of the enantiornithine Confuciusornis was studied.

A life reconstruction of the Early Cretaceous dromaeosaurid Sinornithosaurus. Picture credit: Zhao Chuang.

Commenting upon the implications of their study, Dr Slater said:

“It’s really exciting to discover new similarities between dinosaurs and birds. To do this, we developed a new method to detect traces of ancient feather proteins. Using X-rays and infrared light we found that feathers from the dinosaur Sinornithosaurus contained lots of beta-proteins, just like feathers of birds today.”

Fossilised Proteins

Fossil proteins are valuable tools in evolutionary biology. Recent technological advances and better integration of experimental methods have confirmed the feasibility of biomolecular preservation in deep time, yielding new insights into the timing of key vertebrate evolutionary transitions.

Keratins (formerly α-keratins) and corneous β-proteins (CBPs, formerly β-keratins) are of particular interest to palaeontologists. These proteins define tissue structures that underpin fundamental physiological and ecological strategies and can provide evidence to help map how feathers evolved.

As well as using infrared and sulphur X-ray spectroscopy to plot chemical signals, the team also conducted taphonomic experiments to help them to understand how feather proteins break down during fossilisation.

Dr Slater explained:

“Modern bird feathers are rich in beta-proteins that help strengthen feathers for flight. Previous tests on dinosaur feathers, though, found mostly alpha-proteins. Our experiments can now explain this weird chemistry as the result of protein degradation during the fossilisation process. So, although some fossil feathers do preserve traces of the original beta-proteins, other fossil feathers are damaged and tell us a false narrative about feather evolution.”

PNSO Confuciusornis model. Cretaceous birds.
“A bird in the hand”, the Confuciusornis model from PNSO. The chemical composition of Confuciusornis feather fossils was analysed. Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur.

Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur

The image above shows a Confuciusornis model from the PNSO range.

To view this collection: PNSO Age of Dinosaurs Models.

Surviving the Fossilisation Process

This study confirms that fossil feather proteins can survive fossilisation, that these proteins can persist through deep time.

Senior author of the study, Professor Maria McNamara (University College Cork) commented:

“Traces of ancient biomolecules can clearly survive for millions of years, but you can’t read the fossil record literally because even seemingly well-preserved fossil tissues have been cooked and squashed during fossilisation. We’re developing new tools to understand what happens during fossilisation and unlock the chemical secrets of fossils. This will give us exciting new insights into the evolution of important tissues and their biomolecules.”

As predicted by the experiments conducted by this study, analyses of Mesozoic feathers confirm that evidence of feather corneous β-proteins (CBPs) can persist through deep time.

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

The scientific paper: “Preservation of corneous β-proteins in Mesozoic feathers” by Tiffany S. Slater, Nicholas P. Edwards, Samuel M. Webb, Fucheng Zhang and Maria E. McNamara published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Visit the Everything Dinosaur website: Everything Dinosaur.

20 09, 2023

A Bizarre Avialan Theropod from China

By | September 20th, 2023|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

A new taxon of avialan theropod has been described from fossils found in Fujian Province (China). This small dinosaur has been named Fujianvenator prodigiosus. The fossil bones demonstrate a mosaic of anatomical features that are shared with early avialans as well as other members of the Maniraptora.

Fujianvenator prodigiosus life reconstruction.
A life reconstruction of Fujianvenator prodigiosus along with other vertebrates associated with the Zhenghe Fauna (Late Jurassic of south-eastern China). Picture credit: Zhao Chuang.

Fujianvenator prodigiosus

Writing in the academic journal “Nature”, the researchers describe this new theropod and state that it is one of the stratigraphically youngest avialans described to date. Fujianvenator roamed a wetland environment around 148-150 million years ago (Tithonian faunal stage of the Late Jurassic). Its fossils are likely to prove invaluable in understanding the evolution of the characteristic bird body plan, and to reconcile phylogenetic controversies over the origin of birds.

Fujianvenator is one of the geographically southernmost Jurassic avialans known to science. The headless specimen was excavated from Nanyuan Formation deposits near Yangyuan Village (Zhenghe County).

Defining the Avialae

The Avialae (means bird wings), is a clade of theropods. It contains the Aves (avian dinosaurs) and all non-avian dinosaurs more closely related to birds than to deinonychosaurs. In turn, the Avialae is part of the larger Maniraptora which includes all birds, and well-known types of dinosaurs such as dromaeosaurs, troodontids, the Alvarezsauroidea, the therizinosaurs and the Oviriaptorosauria.

During the fieldwork, a diverse assemblage of vertebrate fossils were documented. The assemblage is dominated by aquatic and semi-aquatic species. Fossil discoveries include fish, turtles and choristoderes (semi-aquatic, diapsid reptiles). Only one dinosaur fossil has been found at the location (Fujianvenator prodigiosus). Furthermore, this is the first time that a dinosaur fossil has been discovered in Fujian Province.

Fujianvenator prodigiosus fossils and interpretative line drawing.
Fujianvenator prodigiosus fossils and interpretative line drawing. Picture credit: Xu et al Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Fujianvenator and the Zhenghe Fauna

Fujianvenator demonstrates a mosaic of morphological features. The forelimbs are similar to those of Archaeopteryx, whereas the hip bones are more typical of troodontids. The hindlimb is elongated, suggesting that this theropod adapted to a wading lifestyle. In contrast, other early avialans show specific adaptations to powered flight or a life in the trees.

Such is the amount of vertebrate fossil material collected that the palaeontologists can build up a detailed map of this ancient swampland ecosystem. They are confident that it will provide key insights into terrestrial ecosystems of the Late Jurassic. Perhaps more avialan theropod fossils will be found.

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

The scientific paper: “A new avialan theropod from an emerging Jurassic terrestrial fauna” by Liming Xu, Min Wang, Runsheng Chen, Liping Dong, Min Lin, Xing Xu, Jianrong Tang, Hailu You, Guowu Zhou, Linchang Wang, Wenxing He, Yujuan Li, Chi Zhang and Zhonghe Zhou published in Nature.

For models and replicas of dinosaurs including members of the Maniraptora: Dinosaur Replicas Including Models of Theropods.

18 09, 2023

Vectidromeus – A New Hypsilophodontid from the Isle of Wight

By | September 18th, 2023|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Scientists have formally named a new species of hypsilophodontid dinosaur from the Isle of Wight. The new species, named Vectidromeus insularis, is the second member of the hypsilophodont family to be found on the island after Hypsilophodon foxii. This discovery lends weight to the theory that Europe had its own unique biota of small herbivorous dinosaurs, distinct from those found in North America and Asia.

Vectidromeus insularis life reconstruction.
Vectidromeus insularis life reconstruction. Picture credit: Emily Willoughby.

Vectidromeus insularis

Four blocks containing fossil bones were collected at different times from Wessex Formation exposures at Sudmoor Point which is located on the western side of the island about 2 miles (3.2 kms) from the village of Brighstone. The largest block contains hip bones, dorsal vertebrae, a left femur and lower leg bones. The second block contains other parts of the lower leg bones and some tailbones. A third block consists of elements from the right femur and the right tibia. The small fourth block contains the left metatarsals and bones from the toes (phalanges). Blocks one and two come from the same animal and the other fossils can be tentatively ascribed to the same individual.

Vectidromeus insularis - Mantell/Bowerbank block.
An image of the largest block showing Vectidromeus insularis fossils. Picture credit: University of Bath.

The fossils represent a chicken-sized juvenile. Vectidromeus may have grown much larger.

Closely Related to Hypsilophodon foxii

The specimen shows numerous autapomorphies that distinguish it from Hypsilophodon foxii. For example, the hip bones are very different. The blade of the ilium is short and deep, and the ischia are more rectangular in shape. The fourth trochanter, a muscle attachment scar on the femur is proportionately larger. As both juvenile and adult specimens of H. foxii are known, the research team confidently stated that these anatomical traits were not due to the dinosaur’s young age. The different characteristics indicate a new dinosaur genus, albeit one closely related to Hypsilophodon.

Vectidromeus insularis holotype fossils.
Holotype fossil material of Vectidromeus insularis. Picture credit: University of Bath.

Dr Nicholas Longrich, from the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath, led the study. He commented:

“Palaeontologists have been working on the Isle of Wight for more than a century, and these fossils have played an important role in the history of vertebrate palaeontology, but we’re still making new discoveries about the dinosaur fauna as the sea erodes new fossils out of the cliffs.”

Vectidromeus Geologically Much Older than Hypsilophodon

Vectidromeus probably dates from the earliest Barremian or the latest Hauterivian stage of the Early Cretaceous (125-126 million years ago. The H. foxii material from the Hypsilophodon beds higher up the stratigraphic column, lie at the top of the Wessex Formation and are no younger than 121.4 million years. Therefore, as much as 4.6 million years could separate these two taxa.

Vectidromeus insularis compared in size to Hypsilophodon foxii.
Vectidromeus insularis compared in size to Hypsilophodon foxii. Picture credit: University of Bath.

The Cretaceous strata on the Isle of Wight are hundreds of metres thick and span several million years. Scientific consensus is still not entirely clear how old they are – so the fossils may be sampling a whole series of evolving ecosystems, each with a different set of species.

Co-author on the study, Professor Dave Martill (University of Portsmouth) stated:

“It is utterly bizarre that so many new dinosaurs are being discovered on the Isle of Wight. Vectidromeus is the seventh new species of dinosaur to be discovered in the last four years. This is all down to the amateur collectors.”

It is likely that many new species of dinosaur will be described from fossils found on the Isle of Wight. Palaeontologists are building up a more complete picture of the dinosaur dominated fauna that existed in this part of the world during the Early Cretaceous.

Isle of Wight ornithopods.
Herbivorous dinosaurs (ornithopods) known from the Isle of Wight. Picture credit: University of Bath.

Dozens of small plant-eating dinosaurs have been assigned to the hypsilophodont family, but revisions to the dinosaur family tree have resulted in reclassifying them to other branches of the tree, leaving Hypsilophodon as the only species left in the family.

Dr Longrich added:

“We had a curious situation where one of the first dinosaur families to be recognised had just one species. And now, we have two. What’s intriguing is that they’re not particularly closely related to anything found in North America, Asia, or the Southern Hemisphere. We’re still piecing together how all these dinosaurs are related, and how dinosaurs moved between continents. After Pangaea broke up, there was a lot of isolation, leading to different kinds of dinosaurs evolving on each continent.”

This newly published scientific paper highlights the contribution made to science by fossil hunters and their local knowledge.

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

The scientific paper: “Vectidromeus insularis, a new hypsilophodontid dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous Wessex Formation of the Isle of Wight, England” by Nicholas R. Longrich, David M. Martill, Martin Munt, Mick Green, Mark Penn and Shaun Smith published in Cretaceous Research.

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16 09, 2023

Brachiopods and Bivalves Faunal Turnover Study

By | September 16th, 2023|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Scientists have used complex statistical analysis to assess one of the most dramatic changes in the history of visible life on Earth. At the end of the Permian, during a mass extinction event there was a dramatic and extensive faunal turnover between brachiopods and bivalves.

One of the biggest crises in Earth’s history was marked by a revolution in the shellfish. Brachiopods, sometimes called “lamp shells”, as some genera superficially resembled Roman lamps, were replaced everywhere ecologically by the bivalves, such as clams, mussels and oysters. This happened as a result of the devastating end-Permian mass extinction which reset the evolution of life 250 million years ago.

Research conducted by palaeontologists based in Wuhan (China) and the University of Bristol, has shed new light on this crucial faunal turnover when ocean ecosystems changed, eventually taking on a more modern, familiar structure that still persists today.

Revolution in the shellfish. Brachiopods and Bivalves.
Left, Devonian brachiopod fossils from Ohio, USA. Image by ‘Daderot’ (Wikimedia Commons; Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication). Right, recent bivalve shells from shell beach, western Australia. Picture credit Zhong-Qiang Chen.

Brachiopods and Bivalves

Life on land and in the sea is rich and forms particular ecosystems. In modern oceans, the seabed is dominated by animals such as bivalves, corals, gastropods, crustaceans, marine worms and fishes. These ecosystems all date back to the Triassic when life slowly recovered from the “Great Dying”. During that crisis, only one in twenty species survived, and there has been long debate about how the new ecosystems were constructed and why some groups survived, and others perished.

Brachiopods were the dominant shelled animals prior to the extinction. However, bivalves thrived afterwards, seemingly better adapting to their new conditions.

Lead author of the study published in “Nature Communications”, Zhen Guo commented:

“A classic case has been the replacement of brachiopods by bivalves. Palaeontologists used to say that the bivalves were better competitors and so beat the brachiopods somehow during this crisis time. There is no doubt that brachiopods were the major group of shelled animals before the extinction, and bivalves took over after.”

Statistical Bayesian Analysis

Co-author Joe Flannery-Sutherland added:

“We wanted to explore the interactions between brachiopods and bivalves through their long history and especially around the Permian-Triassic handover period. So, we decided to use a computational method called Bayesian analysis to calculate rates of origination, extinction, and fossil preservation, as well as testing whether the brachiopods and bivalves interacted with each other. For example, did the rise of bivalves cause the decline of brachiopods?”

The researchers found that in fact both groups shared similar trends in diversification dynamics right through the time of global crisis.

This suggests that these two groups were not really competing or preying on each other. It is more likely that these unrelated groups were responding to similar external drivers such as fluctuations in sea temperature, oxygen levels and acidity.

The bivalves eventually prevailed, and the brachiopods retreated to deeper waters, where they still occur, but in much reduced numbers.

Brachiopods and Bivalves examining their diversity.
Diversities of brachiopods and bivalves over the past 500 million years, showing the brachiopod-bivalve switch near the Permian-Triassic boundary. Picture credit: Zhen Guo et al.

Statistical Analysis to Resolve the Brachiopods and Bivalves Faunal Turnover Issue

Professor Zhong-Qiang Chen (China University of Geosciences, Wuhan) explained that it was very satisfying to see how modern computational techniques helped resolve a long-standing issue in palaeontology.

Professor Zhong-Qiang Chen stated:

“We always thought that the end-Permian mass extinction marked the end of the brachiopods and that was that. But it seems that both brachiopods and bivalves were hit hard by the crisis, and both recovered in the Triassic, but the bivalves could adapt better to high ocean temperatures. So, this gave them the edge, and after the Jurassic, they just rocketed in numbers, and the brachiopods didn’t do much.”

Fossils of over 330,000 brachiopods and bivalves were analysed in the course of this study. The Bristol University supercomputer took weeks to crunch all the numbers. The Bayesian analysis took into account all kinds of uncertainties and aspects of the data to provide an extremely detailed report on the evolutionary changes.

Brachiopods and Bivalves examining the impact of the end-Permian mass extinction event.
Diversities of brachiopods and bivalves through the time of the brachiopod-bivalve switch near the Permian-Triassic boundary. Picture credit: Zhen Guo et al.

Professor Michael Benton (University of Bristol) concluded:

“The end-Permian mass extinction was the biggest of all time, and it massively reset evolution. In fact the 50 million years after the crisis, the Triassic, marked a revolution in life on land and in the sea. Understanding just how life could come back from near-annihilation and then set the basis for modern ecosystems is one of the big questions in macroevolution. I’m sure we haven’t said the last word here though!”

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

The scientific paper: “Bayesian analyses indicate bivalves did not drive the downfall of brachiopods following the Permian-Triassic mass extinction” by Zhen Guo, Joseph T. Flannery-Sutherland, Michael J. Benton, and Zhong-Qiang Chen published in Nature Communications.

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15 09, 2023

Furcatoceratops – A New Centrosaurine

By | September 15th, 2023|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Drawings, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

The discovery of a new species of horned dinosaur from the Judith River Formation of Montana has been announced. The new dinosaur named Furcatoceratops elucidans has been assigned to the Nasutoceratopsini subfamily of the Centrosaurinae. This ceratopsian is known from a single, sub-adult specimen (holotype number NSM PV 24660). However, the nearly complete and three-dimensionally preserved bones have the potential to yield valuable data on early centrosaurines. The fossil material was first described in 2015, it was reputed to represent an Avaceratops.

Furcatoceratops elucidans life reconstruction.
A Furcatoceratops life reconstruction. The recently described (2023), ceratopsid Furcatoceratops elucidans shown in lateral view. Picture credit: Tim Bollinger.

Furcatoceratops elucidans

The disarticulated skeleton was collected from the upper Coal Ridge Member of the Judith River Formation. The fossil material is believed to around 75.6 million years old (Campanian faunal stage of the Late Cretaceous. Postcranial material recovered included a substantial proportion of the left side of the body, including a complete left front limb and parts of the pelvis. In addition, a significant amount of skull material was excavated.

Although the fossil specimen represents a sub-adult, researchers estimate that this herbivorous dinosaur probably reached a maximum length of around four metres. It may be possible to calculate an accurate assessment of bodyweight using circumference measurements of the left femur. Consequently, it may be possible to demonstrate that a fully grown adult Furcatoceratops would have weighed over five hundred kilograms.

Furcatoceratops elucidans scale drawing
A scale drawing showing the newly described centrosaurine Furcatoceratops elucidans. This horned dinosaur from the Judith River Formation of Montana is thought to have been around four metres in length. Picture credit: Tim Bollinger.

A Significant Ceratopsid Fossil Discovery

The authors of the scientific paper conducted a phylogenetic assessment and concluded that F. elucidans was closely related to Nasutoceratops titusi from Utah and Avaceratops lammersi, which is also known from the Judith River Formation. Although Avaceratops lammersi was scientifically described in 1986, palaeontologists have remained uncertain with regards to classifying ceratopsid fossil material associated with other strata within the Coal Ridge Member.

The Furcatoceratops fossils will permit palaeontologists to study postcranial autapomorphies. Research on centrosaurines will be less reliant on skull fossil characteristics. Therefore, the Furcatoceratops holotype will likely be valuable for understanding previously neglected aspects of ceratopsian anatomy.

The genus translates as “forked horn face”, presumably a reference to the curved shape of the prominent brow horns. The species name comes from the Latin for “enlightening”, which reflects the significance of the holotype in terms of providing insights into ceratopsid anatomy and growth rates.

Scale Drawing and Illustration

Everything Dinosaur team members were composing a blog post about Furcatoceratops when an email was received from American artist Tim Bollinger. We checked out his DevianArt page: UnexpectedDinoLesson and discovered that he had drawn Furcatoceratops.

Tim stated:

“I love everything you are doing at Everything Dinosaur. I am a dinosaur enthusiast myself, and an aspiring palaeoartist I would love to be involved with Everything Dinosaur in any way possible.”

We explained that we get many requests such as this. However, in a bid to showcase his work, we asked and received permission to feature Tim’s illustration of Furcatoceratops in our blog post.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of artist Tim Bollinger in the compilation of this article.

Take a look at Tim Bollinger’s work under the moniker UnexpectedDinoLesson:

Instagram – @unexpecteddinolesson
Facebook – @UnexpectedDinoLesson
X (Twitter) – @Dino_Lesson
YouTube – @unexpecteddinolesson (subscribe to the channel here: Unexpected Dinosaur On YouTube.

The scientific paper: “Furcatoceratops elucidans, a new centrosaurine (Ornithischia: Ceratopsidae) from the upper Campanian Judith River Formation, Montana, USA” by Hiroki Ishikawa, Takanobu Tsuihiji and Makoto Manabe published in Cretaceous Research.

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