Everything Dinosaur team members took a photograph of the Compsognathus fossil cast on display at the Manchester Museum of Natural History. This chicken-sized theropod is known from two specimens. One fossil was found in France, the other was found in Bavaria (Germany). The fossil cast represents the Bavarian specimen (BSP AS I 563).
Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur
The Famous Compsognathus Fossil Cast
The German specimen was collected from limestone deposits. This fossil came into the ownership of the amateur fossil collector Dr Joseph Oberndorfer. The famous German palaeontologist Johann A Wagner, was loaned the specimen to study. He penned a brief description in 1859. Wagner named this dinosaur Compsognathus longipes. Although at the time, Wagner did not recognise Compsognathus as a member of the Dinosauria. He thought it was a prehistoric lizard.
Numerous Compsognathus models and replicas have been manufactured. Perhaps, the most intriguing is the limited-edition Compsognathus dissection replicas made by Rebor.
The picture (above) shows the stunning and extremely realistic Rebor Oddities Compsognathus longipes preserved dissection specimen.
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.
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.
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.
The picture (above) shows a model of the American Mastodon by Safari Ltd.
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.
Everything Dinosaur team members took some photographs of the London Natural History Museum Baryonyx exhibit during a visit to the Museum in the summer. The first skeletal remains of this iconic theropod were discovered forty years ago. This dinosaur was formally named and described in 1986 (Baryonyx walkeri).
Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur
A Museum Baryonyx Exhibit
Baryonyx was named by British palaeontologists Alan J. Charig and Angela Milner, based on about 70 percent of the skeleton. The holotype was originally known as BMNH R9951, however, it was later re-catalogued as NHMUK VP R9951. It remains one of the most complete theropod fossil skeletons known from the British Isles. It is also one of the most complete examples of a spinosaurid known to science.
The museum Baryonyx exhibit (pictured above), is not made up of the actual fossil bones. Instead, the mounted skeleton is made up of casts and reconstructed skeletal material.
Numerous Baryonyx replicas have been produced. It remains a popular theropod dinosaur. The image (above) shows the 2021 Wild Safari Prehistoric World Baryonyx figure.
The London Natural History Museum display also includes several Baryonyx fossil casts. These exhibits highlight important characteristics of the fossil skeleton. Team members at Everything Dinosaur took the opportunity to admire the cast of the premaxilla and a partial maxilla on display.
Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur
A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented that Baryonyx walkeri was one of their favourite British theropod dinosaurs. Although, they did concede that fossil specimens from elsewhere in the world had been assigned to this genus.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A new species of Japanese dinosaur has been announced. The dinosaur, classified as a deinocheirid and therefore distantly related to the bizarre Deinocheirus has been named Tyrannomimus fukuiensis.
Fragmentary fossils representing a type of ornithomimosaur had been excavated from the Kitadani Dinosaur Quarry (Fukui Prefecture, Japan) since 1998. The remains represent several individuals, but the fossil bones show identical anatomical traits leading palaeontologists to conclude that a single, new taxon was present.
Phylogenetic analysis indicates that T. fukuiensis is the earliest definitive deinocheirid described to date. Its discovery will help scientists to better understand the evolution and dispersal of early ornithomimosaurs. Tyrannomimus is estimated to have had a body length of around 2.5 metres. It was probably feathered.
The bonebed from which the fossil material was excavated is thought to be around 120 million years old (Aptian faunal stage of the Cretaceous). The Kitadani Dinosaur Quarry has yielded several different types of dinosaur. The stratum from where the Tyrannomimus was excavated is associated with two other dinosaurs – Fukuiraptor (possible megaraptoran) and the herbivorous Fukuisaurus (hadrosauriform).
Kitadani Dinosaur Quarry Bonebed 1 Biota
Both Fukuiraptor (F. kitadaniensis) and Fukuisaurus (F. tetoriensis) are found at the same level as Tyrannomimus fossil material. This suggests these dinosaurs were coeval. The palaeoclimate of the lower portion of the Kitadani Formation is believed to have been a humid, tropical ecosystem. Slightly younger geological deposits, yield abundant conifer fossils indicating that the climate may have become drier.
The picture (above) shows Fukuiraptor and Fukuisaurus figures. These replicas are part of the CollectA range of prehistoric animal figures. Fukuiraptor is in the CollectA Age of Dinosaurs range, whilst the 1:40 scale Fukuisaurus is found within the CollectA Deluxe range.
The genus name translates as “tyrant mimic”. The ilium shows similarities to the hip bones of tyrannosauroids. Indeed, prior to its formal scientific description this dinosaur was thought to be a member of the Tyrannosauroidea.
The identification of Tyrannomimus fukuiensis as an ornithomimosaur has implications for a dinosaur found in Portugal. Aviatyrannis jurassica was named and described in 2003 (Rauhut). It is estimated to have lived around 155 million years ago (Late Jurassic). Aviatyrannis was thought to represent a tyrannosauroid. However, analysis of the bones of Tyrannomimus with Aviatyrannis revealed similar characteristics. As such, Aviatyrannis may represent an ornithomimid too. If this is the case, then Aviatyrannis jurassica, may represent the earliest ornithomimosaur described to date.
If Aviatyrannis is confirmed to be a member of the Ornithomimosauria, then it significantly expands the temporal and biogeographic range of these theropod dinosaurs.
Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of the open-access scientific paper in the compilation of this article.
The scientific paper: “New theropod dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous of Japan provides critical implications for the early evolution of ornithomimosaurs” by Soki Hattori, Masateru Shibata, Soichiro Kawabe, Takuya Imai, Hiroshi Nishi and Yoichi Azuma published in Scientific Reports.
Fossils of an ancient ape that lived in Turkey around 8.7 million years ago is challenging accepted ideas about human origins. The fossils include skull bones, jaws and teeth of both males and females. This new ape has been named Anadoluvius turkae. The material was excavated from the Çorakyerler fossil locality near Çankırı in northern Turkey, about 60 miles (100 km) northeast of the country’s capital, Ankara. Assigned to the subfamily Homininae, the genus name is from “Anadolu” the modern Turkish word for the Anatolia region.
The discovery of A. turkae lends support to the hypothesis that the Homininae first evolved in Europe before migrating to Africa 7–9 million years ago.
The subfamily Homininae consists of two tribes. The Hominini which includes modern humans and their extinct relatives along with the subtribe Panina which consists of bonobos and chimpanzees. In addition, there is the Gorillini tribe (gorillas).
The researchers suggest that hominines (members of the Homininae tribe), not only evolved in western and central Europe but spent over five million years evolving there and spreading to the eastern Mediterranean. These apes eventually dispersed into Africa, probably as a result of a drying climate reducing the amount of forest habitat in the eastern Mediterranean.
The well-preserved fossils including an Anadoluvius cranium permitted the scientists to conduct a detailed analysis of character attributes in the fossil record. This new study supports the hypothesis that hominines originated in Europe and dispersed into Africa along with many other mammals between 9 and 7 million years ago (Tortonian stage of the Miocene Epoch).
Anadoluvius turkae was about the size of a modern chimpanzee. Anadoluvius probably weighed around 50-60 kilograms. It inhabited dry forested habitats and probably spent a lot of time on the ground rather than in the trees.
More Miocene Homininae Fossils
The researchers consisting of scientists from Ankara University, Pamukkale University and the Ege University Faculty of Science (Turkey), along with colleagues from the Naturalis Biodiversity Centre (Holland) and the University of Toronto (Canada) hope to find more fossils.
A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:
“Further fossil discoveries will help to clarify the evolutionary origins of the Homininae. More fossils from Africa and Europe will help palaeontologists to outline the geographical distribution of our ancient ancestors.”
Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of the Media Relations team at the University of Toronto (Canada) in the compilation of this article.
The scientific paper: “A new ape from Türkiye and the radiation of late Miocene hominines” by Ayla Sevim-Erol, D. R. Begun, Ç. Sönmez Sözer, S. Mayda, L. W. van den Hoek Ostende, R. M. G. Martin and M. Cihat Alçiçek published in Communications Biology.
Long necks in proportion to overall body length is known in many tetrapods. Giraffes and sauropods are typical examples. The evolution of a longer neck being linked to feeding strategies. A newly described ancestor of plesiosaurs named Chusaurus xiangensis suggests that neck elongation occurred rapidly in these types of marine reptiles. Lengthy necks, ideal for pursuing fast-moving nektonic prey such as fish and squid developed quickly over a five-million-year period approximately 250 million years ago.
Picture credit: Qi-Ling Liu
Researchers have reported a new species of pachypleurosaurid sauropterygian from southern China. The new species shows key features of its Middle Triassic relatives, but has a relatively short neck, measuring 0.48 of the trunk length, compared to > 0.8 from the Middle Triassic onwards. Comparative phylogenetic analysis shows that neck elongation occurred rapidly in all Triassic eosauropterygian lineages. This evolution was probably driven by feeding pressure in a time of rapid re-establishment of new kinds of marine ecosystems.
The lengthy necks of marine reptiles, used for chasing fast-moving fishes, developed quickly over a five-million-year period around 250 million years ago.
Adding More Vertebrae
The researchers conclude that pachycephalosaurs lengthened their necks mainly by adding new vertebrae.
The findings, published today in BMC Ecology and Evolution, and carried out by scientists in China and the UK, show that pachypleurosaur taxa lengthened their necks mainly by adding new vertebrae. One taxon, Keichousaurus had more than 20 cervical vertebrae, while some Late Cretaceous plesiosaurs such as Elasmosaurus had as many as 72. Its neck was five times the length of its trunk.
Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur
The illustration (above) was inspired by the recently introduced CollectA Age of Dinosaurs Elasmosaurus figure.
Pachypleurosaurs Like Chusaurus xiangensis Evolved in the Early Triassic
These reptiles originated in the Early Triassic, four million years after the end-Permian mass extinction that wiped out around 90% of Earth’s species. Ecosystems were undergoing dramatic changes in the aftermath of the extinction event.
The authors of the study, including scientists from the University of Bristol, studied the Chusaurus xiangensis fossils from Hubei Province (China). Its neck had begun to lengthen. However, it was less than half the length of its trunk, compared to later relatives that had a neck length to trunk ratio of greater than 0.8 (80%).
Two Fossil Skeletons to Study
Lead researcher Qi-Ling Liu from the China University of Geosciences (Wuhan), commented:
“We were lucky enough to find two complete skeletons of this new beast. It’s small, less than half a metre long, but this was close to the ancestry of the important group of marine reptiles called Sauropterygia. Our new reptile, Chusaurus, is a pachycephalosaur, one of a group of small marine predators that were very important in the Triassic. I wasn’t sure at first whether it was a pachypleurosaur though because the neck seemed to be too short.”
Co-author Dr Li Tian (China University of Geosciences) added:
“The fossils come from the Nanzhang-Yuan’an Fauna of Hubei. This has been very heavily studied in recent years as one of the oldest assemblages of marine reptiles from the Triassic. We have good quality radiometric dates showing the fauna is dated at 248 million years ago.”
Fellow author Professor Michael Benton of the University of Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences explained:
“The end-Permian mass extinction had been the biggest mass extinction of all time and only one in twenty species survived. The Early Triassic was a time of recovery and marine reptiles evolved very fast at that time, most of them predators on the shrimps, fishes and other sea creatures. They had originated right after the extinction, so we know their rates of change were extremely rapid in the new world after the crisis.”
Not All Vertebrates Evolve in the Same Way
Not all vertebrates evolve in the same way. When it comes to evolving a lengthy neck, giraffes have changed in a different way to pachypleurosaurs. Most mammals have seven neck vertebrae. Giraffes have seven neck bones too. Each one is extremely long, so these herbivores can browse on the tops of trees. Chusaurus had seventeen. Later pachycephalosaurs had twenty-five. Late Cretaceous plesiosaurs such as the huge Elasmosaurus had seventy-two. These long necks with numerous vertebrae are likely to have been extremely flexible. These marine reptiles could whip their necks round and grab a fish, whilst keeping their body steady.
Flamingos also have long necks so they can reach the water to feed. They have extra cervical vertebrae, up to twenty, but each one is also long.
Chusaurus xiangensis – Perfectly Adapted to its Environment
Dr Benjamin Moon, who also collaborated in this study stated:
“Our study shows that pachycephalosaurs doubled the lengths of their necks in five million years, and the rate of increase then slowed down. They had presumably reached some kind of perfect neck length for their mode of life.”
Dr Moon added:
“We think, as small predators, they were probably mainly feeding on shrimps and small fish, so their ability to sneak up on a small shoal, and then hover in the water, darting their head after the fast-swimming prey was a great survival tool. But there might have been additional costs in having a much longer neck, so it stabilised at a length just equal to the length of the trunk.”
Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from the University of Bristol in the compilation of this article.
The scientific paper: “Rapid neck elongation in Sauropterygia (Reptilia: Diapsida) revealed by a new basal pachypleurosaur from the Lower Triassic of China” by Qi-Ling Liu, Long Cheng, Thomas L. Stubbs, Benjamin C. Moon, Michael J. Benton, and Li Tian published in BMC Ecology and Evolution.
Scientists have described a new species of prehistoric bat based on the oldest bat fossils ever discovered. The new bat species has been named Icaronycteris gunnelli and it flew in the skies above Wyoming approximately 52 million years ago.
The study describing these remarkable fossil finds was published earlier this summer in the academic journal PLOS One.
The authors at the American Museum of Natural History (New York) in collaboration with the Naturalis Biodiversity Centre in the Netherlands, hypothesise that bats diversified rapidly during the early Cenozoic.
There are more than 1,460 extant species of bats found in nearly every part of the world, with the exception of the polar regions and a few isolated islands. These fossils from the Green River Formation of Wyoming suggest that these mammals were geographically widespread by the early Eocene.
Bat fossils had been found in these strata over the last sixty years or so. However, they were all thought to represent the same two taxa. The two fossil bat taxa that have been described previously from the Green River Formation are Icaronycteris index (Jepsen, 1966) and Onychonycteris finneyi (Simmons et al, 2008).
Scientists from the Naturalis Biodiversity Center started looking closely at Icaronycteris index by collecting measurements and other data from museum specimens. This more detailed study they suspected, would lead to new taxa being identified.
Although there are fossil bat teeth from Asia that are slightly older, the two I. gunnelli fossils represent the oldest bat skeletons ever found.
Arvid Aase, park manager and curator at the Fossil Butte National Monument, in Wyoming commented;
“The Fossil Lake deposits of the Green River Formation are simply amazing because the conditions that created the paper-thin limestone layers also preserved nearly everything that settled to the lake’s bottom. One of these bat specimens was found lower in the section than all other bats, making this species older than any of the other bat species recovered from this deposit.”
While the I. gunnelli skeletons are the oldest bat fossils from this site, they are not the most primitive, supporting the idea that Green River bats evolved separately from other Eocene bats around the world.
Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from the American Museum of Natural History in the compilation of this article.
The scientific paper: “The oldest known bat skeletons and their implications for Eocene chiropteran diversification” by Tim B. Rietbergen, Lars W. van den Hoek Ostende, Arvid Aase, Matthew F. Jones, Edward D. Medeiros and Nancy B. Simmons published in PLOS One.