A model collector and fan of dinosaurs praised Everything Dinosaur team members for their great customer service and for providing prehistoric animal figures that would otherwise be difficult to obtain.
Having supplied Everything Dinosaur with a detailed review of his recent acquisition – the Dino Hazard Irritator challengeri model, William thanked Everything Dinosaur team members for their hard work.
The dinosaur model reviewer praised Dino Hazard’s Irritator challengeri figure commenting that it was:
“One of the most accurate Spinosauridae figures on the market.”
The reviewer also reminded fellow model collectors to only purchase from official stockists such as Everything Dinosaur. By purchasing through a reputable company such as the UK-based Everything Dinosaur, collectors could be assured that the model makers were being properly supported and this would help them with future product development.
Thanking Everything Dinosaur
William thanked Everything Dinosaur team members for their hard work and dedication.
“For the legion of paleo-figure collectors we truly value all you have done and all you will do for us in the future. During these uncertain times you were always there for us during the pandemic. From searching the leading brands to all the tireless efforts to get the stock from suppliers to your warehouse to our front doors.”
The reviewer praised team members for their willingness to invest in product safety tests which permitted the importation of prehistoric animal models and figures.
He commented that:
“Purchasing from Everything Dinosaur is fast, safe, secure and no nonsense.”
The level and amount of recycled packaging was highlighted along with speedy and reliable delivery times.
William went onto state:
“If required, they [Everything Dinosaur] will delay posting your order until you wish it should you be away a few days, or no one will be at home to receive the parcel. The company also offers a wide range of delivery options including Royal Mail and courier services all very fairly priced.”
The fast deliver times were noted with some parcels being received in just 24-hours.
Our thanks to William for his kind words and to all our customers that have provided the company with feedback.
Our thanks to dinosaur fan and prehistoric animal model collector William who sent into Everything Dinosaur a review of the YVY Dino Hazard Irritator dinosaur model.
William Reviews Irritator
William began his review by explaining that the Dino Hazard brand was the brainchild of the brilliant Brazilian palaeontologist Tito Aureliano who conceived the idea of a group of bold palaeontologists travelling back in time to explore prehistoric South America.
The reviewer also noted that collectors would not have been able to purchase one of these figures without Everything Dinosaur undertaking product safety tests. As far as we and the reviewer are aware, Everything Dinosaur is the only company in the world to have undertaken product testing, obtaining a report on general product safety.
William commented that:
“In my mind’s eye this is how I see the Irritator challengeri and all other Spinosauridae – living animals going about their lives. All the credit and our thanks must be heaped upon Hugo Cafasso the artist and owner of YVY figures, it is he the maestro who created a real theropod.”
He added that there was no shrink wrapping and the replica had a full set of accurate conical Spinosauridae teeth. The ear sculpt was praised and the fully articulated jaw highlighted. The head crest was stated as being “the cherry on top of any Spinosauridae figure.”
An Accurate Slender Skull
The reviewer stated that the slender skull was accurate with its retracted nostrils positioned high on the snout and the red-coloured eyes were singled out for praise.
The Main Body of the Review
William explains that in his view the designers of the Irritator replica understood the Spinosauridae body plan, although he states that the neural spines would have been more subtle, but the overall impression created is pleasing to the eye. The model has been given a cloaca and the broad tail, reminiscent of recent interpretations of Spinosaurus aegyptiacus is commented upon.
The Model’s Limbs
William states that the forelimbs are positioned correctly and unlike the abelisaurids and tyrannosaurids, the Spinosauridae retained their Megalosauroidea heritage of a three fingered hand with three powerful claws.
“No worries about hurting yourself or others as the claws are not sharp”.
The defined musculature or the theropod’s legs are highlighted and the hindlimbs are praised for their accuracy.
Summarising the model, William exclaimed:
“With all elements coming together we have very dynamic dinosaur on a dynamic diorama”.
Irritator challengeri – Colour and Texture
William remarked upon the red eyes, and the facial markings. He praised the muted gunmetal grey wash and the base colouration. He commented that the careful painting of the claws and teeth lent a maturity to the figure.
When discussing the model’s skin texture the reviewer reflected:
“The skin textures are amazing but further heightened by the folds and creases of the skin and the wrinkles from the throat to the ripples in the thigh muscles. The entire figure is masterpiece! You realise how much time, love and effort it takes to create an accurate sculpt of a true likeness of a Spinosauridae.”
As with previous reviews William listed the model’s measurements:
In his detailed model review, William expressed his admiration for the product packaging and explained that the replica and base depicted a dinosaur traversing wet sand. Footprints in the base provided a guide to where the model should be placed.
He described the lungfish model supplied with the dinosaur as a “little jewel”, commenting that it was highly detailed and a fantastic replica of an Equinoxiodus.
William also provided some details about Irritator challengeri that he had researched.
Time Period: Early Cretaceous 110 Million Years Ago.
Location: North-eastern Brazil (from Santana do Cariri).
William also outlined how this theropod was awarded the genus name “Irritator”, explaining some of the problems associated with the acquisition, preparation and identification of this dinosaur.
He remarked that the specimen number SMNS 58022 became the designated holotype for I. challengeri in February 1996. He added that the holotype material represents a sub-adult animal so size estimates may have to be revised if fossils of a mature, adult animal are found.
William Provides an Estimate for the Size of I. challengeri
He also commented upon the palaeoenvironment describing it as a tropical ecosystem with extensive waterways patrolled by several different kinds of spinosaurids. These animals would have hunted along the banks of the rivers catching fish, but also scavenging carcasses and perhaps catching the occasional pterosaur.
Our thanks to William for providing Everything Dinosaur with a comprehensive dinosaur model review.
Everything Dinosaur team members were sent a dinosaur themed banner by our chums at Papo. The French manufacturer emailed over the Papo dinosaurs banner, can you name the trio of dinosaur models featured on the image?
Papo Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animal Models
The French manufacturer has spent more than twenty-five years creating an inspirational range of models and figures. In total, Papo currently produces more than six hundred replicas. The company’s prehistoric animals, the “Les Dinosaures” range consists of around fifty figures including the recently released Papo Protoceratops.
The Papo Protoceratops Dinosaur Model
Papo has added several horned dinosaur figures to their model range. The latest addition is a replica of “first horned face” – Protoceratops. The model measures sixteen centimetres in length and the top of that delicately painted neck frill stands some eight centimetres high. The Papo Protoceratops has an articulated jaw.
Protoceratops is one of the most extensively studied of all the dinosaur genera. Ironically, the first fossilised remains of this little plant-eater were found a hundred years ago (1922). It is appropriate for Papo to introduce a replica of “first horned face” to mark the centenary of this dinosaur’s discovery.
Protoceratops (P. andrewsi) was scientifically described in 1923 (Granger and Gregory).
Papo Dinosaur Model Retirements
Like all the other model and figure manufacturers, Papo are constantly updating and changing the range of replicas they offer. With the addition of the Papo Protoceratops comes news that another horned dinosaur model, the red Papo Styracosaurus model is being retired and withdrawn from production.
Originally released in 2011, the red Papo Styracosaurus dinosaur model is heading for retirement and is now officially out of production. This figure is due to be replaced by a green colour variant. A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur confirmed that stocks of the green Papo Styracosaurus would be available shortly.
Papo Model Fans and Collectors
Papo has built up a strong following within the prehistoric animal model collecting community. There are many Papo model fans and collectors who champion this product range and the prehistoric animal models therein.
Dedicated and enthusiastic field team members led by Dr Julie Bond (University of Bradford) are battling time and tides to document an Iron Age settlement and other important archaeological finds before the elements take their toll.
Dr Bond with her colleagues and students studying Archaeological and Forensic Sciences are battling against erosion to uncover artefacts and document the site located on the island of Rousay in the Orkneys (Scotland).
A Large Iron Age Settlement
The site, located at the Knowe of Swandro, on the west coast of Rousay has been occupied from around 1000BC to AD1200. As well as the Iron Age roundhouses, there are the remains of Pict buildings, a Viking settlement and a Norse Long Hall, all of which are threatened by coastal erosion.
The area is considered to be one of the most important locations for documenting the history of Scandinavian settlers in the British Isles.
Honorary Researcher, Dr Steve Dockrill warned that this project is a race against tides and time. Nature will win in the end, but the hardworking team are determined to map and document the site and collect artefacts to preserve evidence of human habitation.
Dr Dockrill stated:
“A substantial Iron Age roundhouse, which forms the focus of a village-like settlement is being eroded by the sea. The large roundhouse had been lived in by generations for a millennium or more, and shows signs of a number of building events modifying the structure.”
Coastal erosion, accelerated by rising sea levels is an increasing threat to sites such as these. The Knowe of Swandro location is providing archaeologists with a unique opportunity to explore the construction of the roundhouse and surrounding buildings.
Dr Dockrill added:
“The site is rich in cultural material and evidence for the use of land and sea in terms of agriculture and fishing. This site is being destroyed by the sea. Over a third of the roundhouse has been lost to coastal erosion. Despite this we are uncovering new evidence for life in the Iron Age and are using the latest technology to record the archaeological evidence before it vanishes”
The University of Bradford-led excavation is working in partnership with the Swandro Orkney Coastal Archaeology Trust, to investigate the site. The Swandro Orkney Coastal Archaeology Trust relies on public donations to fund its work and has HRH Prince Charles as its patron.
To date, the dedicated team have found bone tools, jewellery, shards of pottery and a late Roman coin. A rare Iron Age glass bead has also been uncovered, this could have been part of a piece of jewellery or perhaps a gaming piece.
Students from the University of Bradford on the Archaeological and Forensic Sciences course travel to the Orkneys to gain practical work experience.
Student Michal Szedzielorz commented:
“This is an amazing experience. I have learnt more in 6 weeks than I ever expected. I have learnt so many new practical skills and a better understanding of archaeology.”
A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:
“Whilst the actions of waves and tides can reveal archaeological and palaeontological treasures, these same forces can destroy, and we wish all the field team members every success with their endeavours.”
Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from the University of Bradford in the compilation of this article.
The Papo Megaloceros model was introduced in the autumn of 2020. A stunning model of the majestic member of the Cervidae, which is also referred to as the “giant elk” or the “Irish elk”, the Megaloceros was our favourite new Papo figure that year.
A Papo model fan from Hungary contacted Everything Dinosaur about this prehistoric animal.
Megaloceros – Official Fossil of the Year in Hungary
Our thanks to Valentin from Hungary who emailed Everything Dinosaur to confirm that his Papo Megaloceros model had arrived. It seems that Megaloceros has been declared the official fossil of the year for Hungary (2022). Despite being commonly referred to as the “Irish elk”, Megaloceros its range was not restricted to Ireland, nor was it related to the extant elk (Cervus canadensis) or indeed the modern Moose (Alces alces).
The Megaloceros genus had an extensive geographical range from China to Ireland and several species have been erected.
A Magnificent Ice Age Animal
Valentin emailed Everything Dinosaur stating:
“As far as I know, this is the only model made of this magnificent Ice Age animal – and what a beautiful one it is! The huge antlers of a male Megaloceros give him a really authoritative, majestic appearance, which is perfectly reproduced by this figure. The only thing I would have to complain about is the painting (the brown colour of the hump above his shoulders seemed a little unnatural to me), but apart from this minor flaw, it’s really beautiful. The giant deer became the official Fossil of the Year in Hungary in 2022, so it’s a perfect start to my collection! Totally recommended!”
Praise for Everything Dinosaur
Valentin praised Everything Dinosaur commenting:
“And to say a word or two about the delivery itself: my shipment arrived in a few days, fortunately completely intact! Shortly after placing my order, I received an email with a link that I could use to track my package. A good example to follow! Thank you very much, guys!”
Our thanks to Valentin for contacting Everything Dinosaur.
We have spotted our first froglet of 2022 from our office pond. Team members at Everything Dinosaur had been looking out for the first frogs to complete their metamorphosis and we have been taking care not to disturb the pond area, although it does need some tender care and a good clean out.
The picture (above), shows the tiny amphibian (Rana temporaria), clinging to the wall of our pond. It has already had probably, its longest journey of its life. We removed a pot plant choked with Elodea weed and drove a few miles to another location where we could safely plant the pond weed. Whilst inspecting the large hopper we used to transport the plants to the new site, we spotted the froglet. We made sure that it was returned to the pond where it was hatched. Hopefully, this frog will hang around the office pond, and perhaps it will return to it in a few years to spawn.
A farmer’s field in rural Gloucestershire (England), has provided palaeontologists with a remarkable glimpse into an Early Jurassic marine ecosystem.
Underneath a grassy bank, normally grazed by cattle at Court Farm, Kings Stanley near Stroud, lies an exceptional fossil site that contains the remains of fish, ammonites, squid, marine reptiles and other creatures, with many of the specimens preserved in three dimensions.
A Toarcian Ecosystem
The clays and hard limestone nodules, many of which contain fossils, were deposited around 183 million years ago (Toarcian stage of the Early Jurassic).
The site was discovered by Sally and Neville Hollingworth, avid fossil collectors who recently uncovered the remains of mammoths in the nearby Cotswold Water Park which was featured in the BBC One documentary “Attenborough and the Mammoth Graveyard” in 2021.
Commenting on the significance of this location, enthusiastic fossil hunters Neville and Sally stated:
“These fossils come from the Early Jurassic, specifically a time called the Toarcian. The clay layers exposed at this site near Stroud have yielded a significant number of well-preserved marine vertebrate fossils that are comparable to the famous and exquisitely preserved similar fauna of the Strawberry Bank Lagerstätte from Ilminster, Somerset – a prehistoric site of exceptional fossil preservation. Excavations at Kings Stanley over the last week have revealed a rich source of fossil material, particularly from a rare layer of rock that has not been exposed since the late 19th Century.”
A team of eight scientists spent a total of four days working to clear an area of the bank approximately eighty metres in length. An excavator proved invaluable, but the field team still had to endure record breaking temperatures as they laboured to find and crack open three-dimensionally preserved limestone concretions, many of which contained fossils.
Each specimen was carefully logged onto a database and approximately 200 kilograms of clay from around the concretions was also collected and carefully sieved using a state-of-the-art sediment processing machine to help locate microvertebrate fossils such as fish teeth and small bones.
Fossils Donated to Local Museum
Many of the fossils found at the site will be donated to the palaeontology collection of a local museum (The Museum in the Park, Stratford Park, Stroud).
Team member and world-renowned, palaeontological conservator Nigel Larkin (Visiting Research Fellow at Reading University) commented:
“Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day. Give a palaeontologist a fossil fish and they will tell you the species, the age of the rock, the climate of the time when the fish was alive plus the water depth and salinity and plenty of other information. This site – already an interesting farm in a beautiful setting – is one big outdoor classroom and the lessons now include geology, palaeontology, evolution and climate change. They tell farmers to diversify but this goes one step beyond!”
Exceptional Fossil Fish Finds
Some of the best finds include fossil fish, so well-preserved that details of the scales, fins and even their eyeballs can be made out. One of the most impressive discoveries was a three-dimensionally preserved fish skull, a Pachycormus, (see first image), a genus of ray-finned fish known from the Toarcian of Europe.
The lack of any signs of scavenging of the corpses and the absence of encrusting animals or burrows in the sediment suggest that the fauna which was frozen in time under a farmer’s field was rapidly buried.
The layered concretions around the organisms formed relatively early before the sediments were compacted, as the original sediment layering is preserved. These concretions prevented further compaction, compression and distortion from the overlying sediments during burial and thus preserved the fossils as three-dimensional time capsules.
Dr Dean Lomax, a palaeontologist and a Visiting Scientist at the University of Manchester, who recently led the excavation of the Rutland ichthyosaur that also dates to the Toarcian geological age, was part of the team he explained:
“The site is quite remarkable, with numerous beautifully preserved fossils of ancient animals that once lived in a Jurassic sea that covered this part of the UK during the Jurassic. Inland locations with fossils like this are rare in the UK. The fossils we have collected will surely form the basis of research projects for years to come.”
Landowner, Adam Knight, who has seen part of his farm temporarily converted into a real life “Jurassic Park” added:
“I’m delighted that after the initial work that Sally and Nev did over three years ago we now have a full-scale dig on the farm involving a range of fossil experts from The Natural History Museum, University of Manchester, University of Reading and The Open University. On Friday we were also joined by Emily Baldry on a day’s work experience before she goes to university to study palaeontology – it’s wonderful to see her enthusiasm for her chosen profession. It has been a real pleasure to host the dig and I’m excited to see the results of what has been found.”
Important Microvertebrates and Fossil Insects
Dr David Ward (research scientist at the Natural History Museum, London), outlined his contribution to the fieldwork explaining that his role was to collect evidence of all the small creatures that lived alongside the larger vertebrates and invertebrates in the ancient marine ecosystem.
The silty clay found in association with the limestone concretions was carefully washed and pushed through a fine sieve. Dr Ward’s wife Alison played a vital role in the collection process, and she added:
“My specialism is surface picking. This involves finding areas where fossils, particularly small bones and teeth, are naturally concentrated on the surface. Here, once I had collected them, I dug up the surrounding clay and fed it into David’s clay washing machine. The result is a fine concentrate of tiny fish bones and shells which we sort under a microscope.”
For Open University PhD student Emily Swaby, this fossil site has very special significance. Her PhD research is focused on how insects were affected by dramatic environmental changes that took place during the Toarcian. Fossil insects are extremely rare and although the Court Farm site represents marine deposition, insect fossils are known from such locations.
“Further research at this site and surrounding Gloucestershire localities might help us to work out the abundance and diversity of insects during this time and help us to understand how this environmental change influenced insects.”
Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from the University of Manchester and additional information supplied by Dr Dean Lomax in the compilation of this article.
Our thanks to talented, young artist Caldey who sent into Everything Dinosaur an illustration of a mother and baby Velociraptor inspired by the recent film “Jurassic World Dominion”. The skilfully produced drawing features Blue and her offspring Beta from the latest and potentially the last movie in the “Jurassic Park/Jurassic World” franchise.
A “Raptor” Legacy
Dinosaurs, marine reptiles and pterosaurs roam freely, and human/dinosaur interactions result in inevitable fatalities. The authorities strive to monitor the movements of the genetically engineered prehistoric animals. Blue, one of the Velociraptors trained by Chris Pratt’s character Owen Grady in previous incarnations of the franchise, resides in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where Owen earns a living helping to capture and relocate stray dinosaurs. Owen discovers that Blue has a juvenile “raptor” with her, this is an asexually reproduced hatchling. The baby Velociraptor is named Beta by Maisie Lockwood (played by Isabella Sermon).
Whilst many different types of prehistoric animal have been depicted in the films, no dinosaur has had as much screen time dedicated to it as the iconic “raptors” which have featured in all the films in the “Jurassic Park/Jurassic World” genre.
A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur thanked Caldey for her drawing and commented:
“Caldey’s choice of the Velociraptor pair for her illustration is fitting. These dinosaurs have featured in all six of the movies associated with this franchise. It is a wonderful drawing of Blue and Beta”.
Plesiosaur fossils found in strata associated with a 100-million-year-old river system prove that some plesiosaurs, traditionally thought to be marine animals, may have lived in freshwater. These long-necked, piscivores co-existed with the giant dinosaur Spinosaurus (S. aegyptiacus).
Scientists from the University of Bath and University of Portsmouth in the UK, and Université Hassan II (Morocco), have reported evidence small plesiosaurs from Kem Kem Group deposits in Morocco.
The fossils include bones and teeth from three-metre-long adults and an arm bone (humerus) from a 1.5- metre-long juvenile. They hint that these creatures routinely lived and fed in freshwater, alongside frogs, crocodiles, turtles, fish, and the huge aquatic dinosaur Spinosaurus.
When is a “Marine Reptile” a Marine Reptile?
The Plesiosauria clade was a long-lived and widely distributed group of marine reptiles. Most fossils, which date from the Upper Triassic to the end of the Cretaceous (Maastrichtian faunal stage), are associated with marine deposits, but a few specimens have been found in strata associated with brackish and freshwater environments. The researchers report plesiosaurs from river deposits of the Kem Kem Group. The numerous shed teeth show heavy wear similar to that observed in in the teeth of coeval spinosaurids. Contemporary plesiosaur fossils from the Bahariya Formation of Egypt have been identified as examples of the Polycotylidae plesiosaur family. The Kem Kem fossils probably represent leptocleidid plesiosaurs. Most Leptocleididae fossils come from shallow nearshore, brackish or freshwater palaeoenvironments suggesting that these small-bodied plesiosaurs were adapted to shallow, low-salinity environments.
As the fossil plesiosaur teeth show the same signs of wear as the teeth of Spinosaurus, the researchers imply that the plesiosaurs were eating the same food – chipping their teeth on the armoured fish that lived in the river. This indicates that they spent a lot of time in the river, rather than being occasional visitors.
As other types of Mesozoic marine reptile (mosasaurids and the crocodile-like teleosaurids), are thought to have inhabited (at least some of the time), freshwater environments, this suggests that so-called “marine reptiles” may have thrived in non-marine habitats.
Co-author of the scientific paper, Dr Nick Longrich (University of Bath Milner Centre for Evolution), commented:
“It’s scrappy stuff, but isolated bones actually tell us a lot about ancient ecosystems and animals in them. They’re so much more common than skeletons, they give you more information to work with. The bones and teeth were found scattered and in different localities, not as a skeleton. So, each bone and each tooth is a different animal. We have over a dozen animals in this collection.”
Diverse and Varied Kem Kem Group Freshwater Fauna
While extant marine mammals like whales and dolphins wander up rivers, either to feed or because they are lost, the number of plesiosaur fossils in the river deposits suggest that is unlikely. The team identified cervical, dorsal and caudal vertebrae, lots of teeth and the humerus from a juvenile. The researchers postulate that the plesiosaurs were able to tolerate fresh and salt water, like some whales, such as the beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas).
Co-author Dr Samir Zouhri said:
“This is another sensational discovery that adds to the many discoveries we have made in the Kem Kem over the past fifteen years of work in this region of Morocco. Kem Kem was truly an incredible biodiversity hotspot in the Cretaceous.”
Plesiosaurs – Freshwater Incursions
The researchers compiled a list of all the geological formations that have shown evidence for the presence of members of the Plesiosauria clade in brackish or freshwater. Having collated this information, they re-examined the data identifying the different types of plesiosaur associated with the deposit.
As a result, a map documenting the incidences of freshwater incursions by different plesiosaur types was produced.
For the key to the geological formations see the end of this article.
Co-author David Martill (University of Portsmouth) exclaimed:
“What amazes me is that the ancient Moroccan river contained so many carnivores all living alongside each other. This was no place to go for a swim.”
Key to the Geological Formations Featured in the Plesiosaur Map
Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from the University of Bath in the compilation of this article.
The scientific paper: “Plesiosaurs from the fluvial Kem Kem Group (mid-Cretaceous) of eastern Morocco and a review of non-marine plesiosaurs” by Georgina Bunker, David M. Martill, Roy Smith, Samir Zouhri and Nick Longrich.
Scientists have announced the discovery of what might possibly be the earliest known animal predator. The fossils discovered in Charnwood Forest (Leicester, England), are estimated to be around 560 million years old and the animal has been named Auroralumina attenboroughii in honour of Sir David Attenborough.
Attenborough’s Dawn Lantern
As a boy, Sir David Attenborough used to collect fossils from various locations close to his Leicestershire home. However, he never went to Charnwood Forest to hunt for fossils as the rocks exposed in that area were thought to be too old to contain signs of life.
In the late 1950s, another young boy, Roger Mason found a strange frond-like impression in a rock. Researchers identified this as the fossilised remains of a bizarre organism, later named Charnia masoni, which forms part of an ancient ecosystem that existed prior to the Cambrian.
This newly described organism Auroralumina attenboroughii honours Sir David Attenborough. The first part of its name is Latin for “dawn lantern”, in recognition of its great age and the organism’s resemblance to a burning torch.
Related to Corals, Jellyfish and Anemones
The geological period known as the Ediacaran precedes the Cambrian. The Ediacaran spans an immense amount of deep time, from approximately 635 million years ago, to the beginning of the Cambrian around 540 million years ago. In some parts of the world, notably the Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve on the south-eastern coast of Newfoundland, Namibia, Guizhou Province (China), Charnwood Forest and the Flinders Ranges of South Australia, ancient sedimentary rocks preserve the remains of the oldest, complex multi-cellular organisms known to science.
Most of the Ediacaran biota bears little resemblance to fossils associated with younger Cambrian-aged strata, A. attenboroughii is an exception, the research team postulate that the fossils represent an ancestor of today’s corals, jellyfish and anemones – the Cnidaria phylum.
Naturalist, campaigner and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough stated that he was “truly delighted” with his ancient namesake.
“When I was at school in Leicester, I was an ardent fossil hunter. The rocks in which Auroralumina has now been discovered were then considered to be so ancient that they dated from long before life began on the planet. So, I never looked for fossils there.
A few years later a boy from my school found one [Roger Mason] and proved the experts wrong. He was rewarded by his name being given to his discovery. Now I have – almost – caught up with him and I am truly delighted.”
The scientific paper has been published in the journal “Nature Ecology & Evolution”. This discovery challenges perceptions as to when modern groups of animals, or their direct ancestors first evolved.
Commenting on the significance of this fossil find, one of the authors of the paper, Dr Phil Wilby (palaeontology leader at the British Geological Survey), explained:
“It’s generally held that modern animal groups like jellyfish appeared 540 million years ago in the Cambrian explosion. But this predator predates that by 20 million years. It’s the earliest creature we know of to have a skeleton. So far we’ve only found one, but it’s massively exciting to know there must be others out there, holding the key to when complex life began on Earth.”
A Geological Spring Clean
In 2007, Dr Wilby and his colleagues spent over a week carefully cleaning a 100 square metres of a rock surface exposed in the Forest. A variety of tools including pressure hoses and toothbrushes were used to spring clean deposits that were laid down at the bottom of a deep sea more than half a billion years ago.
A rubber mould of the whole surface was then taken, capturing the preserved impressions of more than a thousand fossils.
One Fossil Specimen Stood Out
Co-author of the scientific paper, Dr Frankie Dunn (Oxford University Museum of Natural History), explained that one fossil impression stood out from the rest, commenting that it looked very different from the other Ediacaran fossils (Charnia masoni and Bradgatia linfordensis) preserved on the same bedding plane.
Dr Dunn commented that Auroralumina:
“Is very different to the other fossils in Charnwood Forest and around the world. Most other fossils from this time have extinct body plans and it’s not clear how they are related to living animals. This one clearly has a skeleton, with densely-packed tentacles that would have waved around in the water capturing passing food, much like corals and sea anemones do today. It’s nothing like anything else we’ve found in the fossil record at the time.”
A Lonely Fossil
Dr Dunn calls the single Auroralumina specimen a “lonely little fossil” and suggest it probably inhabited much shallower marine environments compared to rest of the Charnwood Forest biota.
“The ancient rocks in Charnwood closely resemble ones deposited in the deep ocean on the flanks of volcanic islands, much like at the base of Montserrat in the Caribbean today. All of the fossils on the cleaned rock surface were anchored to the seafloor and were knocked over in the same direction by a deluge of volcanic ash sweeping down the submerged foot of the volcano, except one, A. attenboroughii. It lies at an odd angle and has lost its base, so appears to have been swept down the slope in the deluge.”
Zircon minerals associated with the volcanic deposits permitted the researchers to accurately age the fossil based on radioactive decay measurements relating to uranium/lead ratios.
Dr Frankie Dunn said:
“The Cambrian Explosion was remarkable. It’s known as the time when the anatomy of living animal groups was fixed for the next half a billion years. Our discovery shows that the body plan of the cnidarians was fixed at least 20 million years before this, so it’s hugely exciting and raises many more questions.”
Nonagenarian Sir David Attenborough has been honoured on numerous occasions by having newly described extinct creatures named after him. However, arguably the lonely, little Auroralumina attenboroughii may represent the most significant, as it challenges existing perceptions about when animal body plans still found today, first evolved.
Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release received via email on 26th July in the compilation of this article.
The scientific paper: “A crown-group cnidarian from the Ediacaran of Charnwood Forest, UK” by F. S. Dunn, C. G. Kenchington, L. A. Parry, J. W. Clark, R. S. Kendall and P. R. Wilby published in Nature Ecology & Evolution.