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Rhoetosaurus brownei: A 'High-Heeled' Dinosaur that Walked on its Tiptoes

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Rhoetosaurus brownei by Gogosardina

A 24-tonne dinosaur may have walked in a 'high-heeled' fashion, according to University of Queensland research.

UQ Ph.D. candidate Andréas Jannel and colleagues from UQ's Dinosaur Lab analysed fossils of Australia's only named Jurassic sauropodRhoetosaurus brownei, to better understand how such an enormous creature could support its own body weight.

"Looking at the bones of the foot, it was clear that Rhoetosaurus walked with an elevated heel, raising the question: how was its foot able to support the immense mass of this animal, up to 40 tonnes?" Mr Jannel said.

"Our research suggests that even though Rhoetosaurus stood on its tiptoes, the heel was cushioned by fleshy pad."

"We see a similar thing in elephant feet, but this dinosaur was at least five times as heavy as an elephant, so the forces involved are much greater."

Mr Jannel and his colleagues arrived at this conclusion by creating a replica of the fossil, and then physically manipulating it in an attempt to understand the movement between bones.

"We also used 3-D modeling techniques to assess the different foot postures that would have allowed Rhoetosaurus to support its weight," he said.

Right hind foot of the fossil specimen of Rhoetosaurus brownei (QM F1659), in dorsal view. The hind foot preserves the first four digits in completion, but is missing the fifth one. Credit: Jay P. Nair & Andréas Jannel.

"Finally, we looked at a range of sauropod footprints from around the world, many of which indicated the presence of a fleshy heel pad behind the toes, supporting what the bones were telling us.

"The addition of a cushioning pad that supports the raised heel appears to be a key innovation during the evolution of sauropods, and probably appeared in early members of the group some time during the Early to Middle Jurassic Periods.

"The advantages of a soft tissue pad may have helped facilitate the trend towards the enormous body sizes we see in these dinosaurs."

The fossils of the specimen R. brownei were found near Roma in southwest Queensland and are dated to 160–170 million years ago, when Australia was part of the supercontinent of Gondwana.

Mr Jannel is now using computer techniques to simulate how different foot postures and the presence of a soft tissue pad affect stress distributions within the bones.

A cross-section of an elephant’s foot alongside a human foot x-ray, revealing a striking skeletal likeness. Credit: University of Queensland

"In a nutshell, I'm using engineering tools to apply theoretical forces on the bones, assessing how stress is distributed within the feet of these giant dinosaurs, with the aim to provide mechanical evidence for the presence of such a soft tissue pad.

"It can be a tedious and time-consuming process, but I've always been fascinated by palaeontology, particularly the link between form and function in extinct animals," he said.

"There's so much more to know, but it's amazing to discover that becoming 'high-heeled' might have been an important step in the evolution of sauropod dinosaurs."


Fossil Trackway Discovered At Grand Canyon Traced To Early Reptiles

Friday, May 17, 2019

Artwork depicting the Coconino desert environment and two primitive tetrapods, based on the occurrence of Ichniotherium from Grand Canyon National Park/Voltaire Paes Neto illustrator

Nearly 300 million years ago, in a sandy desert now preserved as Coconino Sandstone at Grand Canyon National Park, some creatures walked across an area left moist very likely by an oasis. Those tracks, revealed today in a remote area of the national park, likely point to the transition of amphibians to reptiles and reflect another of the wonders held within the National Park System.

The discovery of the trackway, which was found a couple years ago, dates back 280 million years, just about to the arrival of the Permian Period and before dinosaurs walked the Earth.

"It's a pretty spectacular trackway," said Vince Santucci, the National Park Service's senior paleontologist. "It's called an 'ichnogenus.' The term ichno refers to trace fossil. This ichnogenus is really well represented on this track block. It is known from Permian age rocks in Europe and South America, and so it's only recently been confirmed and this block contributes to the occurrence of that Permian age ichno form in North America at Grand Canyon National Park.

"There have been some similar finds in northern Arizona, but this particular block is the most well-preserved long trackway, several long trackways," he added during a phone call from his Washington, D.C., office.

Map of Arizona (southwestern USA), indicating the main localities mentioned in the text. The Grand Canyon National Park area is shaded dark brown (left). Stratigraphic section of the Pennsylvanian and Permian rocks exposed in the Grand Canyon area (right). Credit: Modified from Blakey and Knepp 1989.

Brazilian paleontologist Dr. Heitor Francischini, from the Laboratory of Vertebrate Paleontology, Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, and Dr. Spencer Lucas, curator of paleontology at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science in Albuquerque, New Mexico, first visited the Grand Canyon fossil track site in 2017. The paleontologists recognized the tracks as having been produced by a long-extinct relative of very early reptiles, a release from the museum said. 

"This new discovery at Grand Canyon is the first occurrence of Ichniotherium from the Coconino Sandstone and from a desert environment," the release added. "In addition, these tracks represent the geologically youngest record of this fossil track type from anywhere in the world."

Santucci said the creatures that left the tracks likely were reptiles due to the surrounding desertscape environment. Though they were not far removed from amphibians, he added.

"It's an enigmatic invertebrate, a tetrapod, four-legged animal, that was somewhere between amphibian and reptiles," the paleontologist said. "It's probably closer to the reptilian stock, but when you're only looking at the tracks, they don't know for absolutely sure. There's a group called the diadectids that are this enigmatic group that are transitional between amphibians and reptiles. A lot of people tend to think that they're probably more reptilian because of their occurrence within these arid paleo environments. Biologically, in particular we know this from modern amphibians, modern amphibians don't have the same protective skin and the egg casing that allows them to survive successfully in arid environments. They need moisture. They lay their eggs in water. Their reproductive cycle is dependent upon it."

"Although the actual track maker for the Grand Canyon footprints may never be known for certain," the museum's press release said, "the Grand Canyon trackways preserve the travel of a very early terrestrial vertebrate. The measurable characteristics of the tracks and trackways indicate a primitive animal with short legs and a massive body. The creature walked on all four legs and each foot possessed five clawless digits."

Closeup view of ichniotherium trackway/NPS

The Park Service paleontologist said the discovery will further "debate and discussion among paleontologists who are trying to figure out what this transitional diadectid animal was all about. ... It tends to lean the support towards a more reptilian stock as opposed to an amphibian."

The trackway is about 10 feet in length, and tilted from having slipped down, said Santucci. It's located below the park's South Rim, well off established hiking trails. It was found by a researcher who headed off trail to relieve herself.

The paleontologist said the tracks likely lend little additional knowledge to what is known about the environment that laid down the Coconino Sandstone, as it is well known. 

"Closer to the (Grand Canyon's) rim you get into the Coconino Sandstone fairly easily, and it's this very distinquishable, identifiable crossbedded sandstone, and those crossbeds represent dune-set facies of giant sand dunes," he said. "It was that time period where we had this really strange diversification of these early tetrapods that went all sorts of directions. Most of them were very short-lived, most of them were deadends. They didn't give rise to anything that survived into the recent, and so it's a really enigmatic group. There's enough evidence that has generated a lot of curiosity about them, but it's still a big debate as to whether these tetrapods, these four-legged creatures, were amphibian or reptile. What's important about this trackway is because it's found in clearly a dry, arid desert type of paleo environment, that it lends itself more with this particular group of organisms being more reptilian in character."


Alcmonavis poeschli: Scientists Unearth 'Most Bird-Like' Dinosaur Ever Found

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The picture shows the wing of Alcmonavis poeschli as it was found in the limestone slab. Alcmonavis poeschli is the second known specimen of a volant bird from the Jurassic period. Credit:  Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich

Researchers in Germany have unearthed a new species of flying dinosaur that flapped its wings like a raven and could hold vital clues as to how modern-day birds evolved from their reptilian ancestors.

For more than a century and a half since its discovery in 1861, Archaeopteryx—a small feathered dinosaur around the size of a crow that lived in marshland around 150 million years ago—was widely considered to be the oldest flying bird.

Palaeontologists from Ludwig-Maximilians University (LMU) in Munich and the University of Fribourg examined rock formations in the German region of Bavaria, home to nearly all known Archaeopteryx specimens.

They came across a petrified wing, which the team initially assumed to be the same species. They soon found several differences, however.

"There are similarities, but after detailed comparisons with Archaeopteryx and other, geologically younger birds, its fossil remains suggested that we were dealing with a somewhat more derived bird," said lead study author Oliver Rauhut from LMU's Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.

Manual phalanges of Alcmonavis poeschli. (A) and (B) Distal ends of metacarpals II and III and proximal phalanges of digits II and III in normal (A) and ultraviolet (B) light. (C) First phalanx of first digit in medial view. (D) Ungual phalanx of digit I in medial view under ultraviolet light. (E) Ungual phalanx of digit II in medial view under ultraviolet light. (F) Ungual phalanx of digit III in lateral view under ultraviolet light. Abbreviations as in Figure 2, and: ft, flexor tubercle; gr, groove; ks, keratinous sheath; lpf, lateropalmar flange; pl, proximal lip. Scale bars are 1 cm. DOI:

They called the new bird-like dinosaur Alcmonavis poeschli—from the old Celtic word for a nearby river and the scientist who discovered the fossil, excavation leader Roland Poeschl.

The study, published in the journal eLife sciences, said Alcmonavis poeschli was "the most bird-like bird discovered from the Jurassic".

As well as being significantly larger than Archaeopteryx, the new specimen had more notches in its wing bones that pointed to muscles which would have allowed it to actively flap its wings.

Significantly, this "flapping" trait found in Alcmonavis poeschli is present in more recent birds, but not in Archaeopteryx.

"This suggests that the diversity of birds in the late Jurassic era was greater than previously thought," Rauhut said.

The discovery is likely to fuel debate among dinosaur experts over whether birds and dinosaurs developed the ability to flap their wings from earlier gliding species.

"Its adaptation shows that the evolution of flight must have progressed relatively quickly," said Christian Foth, from the University of Fribourg, and a co-author of the research.


99-Million-Year-Old Ammonite Found in Burmese Amber

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The 99-million-year-old piece of amber from northern Myanmar. Image credit: Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology.

An international team of paleontologists has found a piece of amber containing the beautifully preserved ammonite, several marine and land organisms that lived 99 million years ago (Cretaceous period).

The ammonite-bearing piece of amber was obtained from a mine located near Noije Bum Village, Tanaing Town, northern Myanmar. It is 33 mm long, 9.5 mm wide, and 29 mm high, and its mass is about 6 g.

The specimen was analyzed by Professor Bo Wang from the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology and his colleagues from China, France, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The researchers used X-ray micro-computed tomography to obtain high-resolution 3D images of the ammonite, including its sutures, which are diagnostically important for ammonites.

They found that the ammonite belongs to Puzosia, an ammonite genus that first appeared in the Upper Albian age of the Cretaceous period (between 113 and 100 million years ago) and ranged through the Cenomanian age (between 100 and 94 million years ago).

“The ammonite is a juvenile, has a maximum preserved diameter of 12 mm, and appears to retain the original aragonitic shell, on the basis of its appearance in reflected light,” they said.

“Its presence in the amber supports a late Albian-early Cenomanian age for the amber deposit. This discovery represents a rare example of dating using amber inclusions.”

The ammonite Puzosia sp.: (A) lateral view under light microscopy; (B) flattened sutures reconstructed by microtomography; (C) microtomographic reconstruction, apparent view; (D) microtomographic reconstruction, surface rendering; (E) microtomographic reconstruction, virtual section. Scale bars – 2 mm. Image credit: Yu et al, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1821292116.

The team also found at least 40 individuals of arthropods in the amber sample from both land and marine habitats, including crustaceans, mites, spiders and millipedes, and several individuals of insects, including cockroaches, beetles, true flies and wasps.

“But how did the ammonite, an extinct sea-dwelling relative of squid, and other marine creatures get preserved in a piece of amber that also contains land-based animals? The ammonite and sea snail shells offer possible clues,” the paleontologists said.

“The shells are all empty with no soft-tissue, so the organisms were long dead by the time they were engulfed by resin. The outer shell of the ammonite is broken away and the entrance of the shell is full of sand. The amber also contains additional sand.”

“The most likely explanation is that a sandy beach covered with shells was located close to resin-producing trees. The flying insects were trapped in the resin while it was still on the tree.”

“As the resin flowed down the tree trunk, it trapped organisms that lived near the foot of the tree. Reaching the beach, it entombed shells and trapped the slaters living there.”

The discovery is reported in a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Tingting Yu et al. An ammonite trapped in Burmese amber. PNAS, published online May 13, 2019; doi: 10.1073/pnas.1821292116


Mesa Museum Adds a New Dinosaur to its Herd

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Douglas Wolfe, who co-discovered the bones of the latest dinosaur addition at the museum, talks about the creature’s likely diet and other features.  Kimberly Carrillo/Tribune Staff Photographer

The Arizona Museum of Natural History unveiled the name of a new prehistoric creature to add to its collection – a relative of the well-known Tyrannosaurus rex.

The museum, in partnership with Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, announced last week the Suskityrannus hazelae – a newly discovered tyrannosauroid dinosaur that stands at roughly 3 feet tall and 9 feet long.

More than 50 people filed into the museum’s Dinosaur Hall to listen to Douglas Wolfe, co-discoverer and CEO of Zuni Dinosaur Institute of Geo Sciences, talk about his team’s findings.

Wolfe, along with paleontologist Sterling Nesbitt of Virginia Tech, found two partial skeletons of the species in the Moreno Hill formation in the Zuni Basin of western New Mexico in the late 1990s – marking a 20-year journey to determine what they found.

The fossils date back 92 million years ago and are key pieces in understanding the tyrannosaur evolution, explained Wolfe.  

“This animal is an intermediate form between the very early Theropod dinosaurs – carnivores of the earlier protections,” he said. “And the bone-crunching giants roaming the landscape just before their extinction.”

Though the Suskityrannus is related to the massive “bone-crunching” T. rex, its body is only slightly longer than the skull of its full-grown cousin. With slender skulls and feet, it is believed to have weighed between 45 and 90 pounds.

The dinosaur’s diet most likely consisted of hunting small animals, said Wolfe, which can be concluded from features in its skull.

“There are teeth on both sides on the upper and lower jaws with little serrations on it, like a steak knife,” he said. “That’s one of the things that really make it clear it’s one of the advanced meat-eating dinosaurs.”

Another unique quirk is its feathery-like coat.

The first Suskityrannus skeleton was found in 1997 by Robert Denton, now a senior geologist with Terracon Consultants, and others during an expedition organized by Wolfe.

The second, which is more complete, was found in 1998 by Nesbitt, then a high school junior with a burgeoning interest in paleontology, and Wolfe.

While the two specimens were found within about 50 meters of each other, the researchers – whose findings have now been published in the latest online issue of Nature Ecology & Evolution – initially thought they discovered the remains of a dromaeosaur, such as a Velociraptor.

There were no known relatives of the T. rex at the time.

“We all have things in the closet we’d like to get done – this is a big thing,” said Wolfe. “This is the candles on the birthday cake for us. This is great.”

The name Suskityrannus hazelae is derived from “Suski,” the Zuni Native American tribe word for “coyote,” and the Latin word “tyrannus,” meaning king.

Wolfe said the Zuni Tribal Council granted the researchers permission to use “Suski” in the name.

‘Hazelae’ is for Hazel Wolfe, Douglas Wolfe’s wife, who made the fossil expeditions to the basin possible, he said.

At the museum, Paleo-artist Benjamin Paysnoe created a full-scale, fleshed out version of the dinosaur to be put on display, as well as a reproduction of its skeleton. The museum will also permanently house the Suskityrannus fossils.


Is Godzilla a Dinosaur?

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The first Godzilla movie, titled "Godzilla" was produced and distributed by Toho in Japan in 1954. PUBLIC DOMAIN

Godzilla has remarkable staying power. Movies about giant monsters were a dime a dozen back in the 1950s. Yet while Atomic Age classics like "The Giant Claw" or "The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms" never garnered any sequels, Godzilla forged on. The kaiju made his cinematic debut in 1954.

Since then, he's starred in more than 30 films spanning six-and-a-half decades. His newest movie, "Godzilla: King of the Monsters" debuts May 31. The character's origin story keeps getting re-written: He's usually said to be an irradiated beast of prehistoric origins, but the specifics vary from movie to movie. One thing that's remained consistent, however, is Godzilla's physical toughness. On-screen, the nuclear behemoth is practically invincible. But have you ever wondered how — or "if" — a beast with Godzilla's dimensions would function in real life? And what kind of animal is Godzilla, anyway?"

Godzilla as a Dinosaur

Here Godzilla is battling his arch nemesis, King Ghidorah, a golden dragon with three heads, no arms, and giant wings, in 1964's "Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster." PUBLIC DOMAIN

Kenneth Carpenter, a paleontologist at Utah State University, took a stab at that second question in a 1998 essay he wrote for The Official Godzilla Compendium. Traditionally, the monster has been identified as a theropod dinosaur. All known carnivorous dinos (like T. rex) are classified as theropods. So are birds.

Now, Godzilla's skull looks short and blunt for a theropod. He also tends to be depicted with four fingers per hand, and the beast's got multiple rows of bony, vertically oriented plates running down his back and tail.

Using these features, Carpenter tentatively assigned Godzilla to the ceratosauria, a primitive theropod subgroup. Like our radioactive pal, a few ceratosaurians had backsides that were littered with osteoderms: bony deposits embedded in the skin. Certain species, such as the bull-horned Carnotaurus sastrei, had shortened skulls to boot.

And there was another key feature that helped the ceratosaurians stand out. In an email, Carpenter told us that while some theropods had three, two or even one-fingered forelimbs, the more primitive varieties — like the ceratosaurians — "have four or more digits" per hand.

Maybe He's a Croc?

OK, so Godzilla must be a ceratosaurian theropod, right? Not necessarily, says Victoria Arbour. An armored dinosaur expert, Arbour is the Curator of Paleontology at the Royal British Columbia Museum. In a 2014 blog post, Arbour made the case that the King of the Monsters might not be a dinosaur at all. Maybe he's got more in common with crocodiles.

Crocs, alligators and their prehistoric kin form a reptilian clade called the pseudosuchia. As Arbour notes, osteoderms and four-fingered hands are more commonly seen in pseudosuchians than they are in theropods. So perhaps Godzilla belongs to the former group.

Speaking of digits, let's check out Godzilla's feet. In most of the original Japanese movies, the big guy has a plantigrade stance. That means he walks flat on his feet like humans. Conversely, digitigrade animals — such as dogs — walk on their toes while keeping their heels off the ground.

"Living crocodylomorphs are plantigrade, but the jury is still out on whether or not all pseudosuchians were plantigrade, especially those that were bipedal," Arbour said via email. No known dinosaur, theropod or otherwise, was similarly flat-footed.

Do His Feet Hold the Answer?

However, for the 2014 American-made movie, Godzilla's feet underwent a dramatic re-design."I think you could ... make the argument that Godzilla 2014 has tortoise-like feet, and many tortoises are also digitigrade in a manner similar to elephants, with a large heel pad supporting upright toes," Arbour said. She also points out that while "almost all bipedal dinosaurs" only had three weight-bearing digits per foot, this version of Godzilla keeps "at least four toes on the ground."

Truly huge land animals such as the long-necked dinosaurs have column-shaped, digitigrade feet. Those limbs are really efficient at supporting massive body weights. So if Godzilla were a real creature we'd probably expect him to have digitigrade hindlimbs — even though a 2017 study claimed plantigrade animals can swing their arms more forcefully in combat. (And Godzilla sure loves combat.)

But of course, it's doubtful that Godzilla could physically walk on dry land, no matter what his feet looked like. "[Getting] Godzilla to stand upright and still would be a complete non-starter," paleontologist Donald Henderson said in an email. "Its bones would not be able to support its body weight, and its heart would be unable to pump blood to the head."

This is mostly due to the square-cube law: When you scale up an object, its mass increases more sharply than its surface area. Double the height, weight and length of a wooden cube and you'll have also made the thing eighttimes heavier than it was before.

Godzilla as a Marine Animal

Godzilla rises from the depths and unleashes his atomic breath to claim his crown in the 2019 release, "Godzilla: King of the Monsters." COURTESY OF WARNER BROS.

So how would Godzilla fare underwater? Henderson works at Canada's Royal Tyrell Museum and tackles physics-related questions about extinct animals. In 2018, he used computer modeling to test the hypothesis that Spinosaurus— a theropod with a large sail on its back — was built for swimming. He found that the deep overall body shape of this fin-backed animal would have made the dinosaur prone to tipping over as it swam.

Would Godzilla's osteoderms put him at the same risk? Henderson doesn't think so. By his calculations, the back plates on Stegosaurus — a Jurassic herbivore who influenced Godzilla's design — only represented 17 percent of that dinosaur's overall body mass.

Meanwhile, Godzilla's plates appear to make up an even smaller fraction of the kaiju's total mass. He'd need to build a new digital model to prove it, but for now Henderson suspects that "the plates of Godzilla would not cause it to tip" during swim sessions.

Still, as a marine animal, Godzilla would face plenty of other problems. Seagoing creatures tend to be streamlined. With his jagged osteoderms and chunky legs, Godzilla is anything but. Therefore, he'd need to expend lots of extra energy in order to propel himself through the water.

"The best option for Godzilla to swim would be to undulate its body and tail to produce waves that travel down the body," Henderson explained. "Think of how crocodiles and salamanders swim when they want to move quickly. They fold their arms and legs close to the body, and use sideways motions ... to push back against the water and get a forward thrust."

By the way, semiaquatic behavior was — and still is — widespread among the pseudosuchians. On the other hand, there's no proof that any non-bird theropod was habitually amphibious. Yet some of them did take the occasional dip. In Utah, there's a series of 190-million-year-old dino tracks made by theropods whose toes barely scraped the ground as they paddled along.

For his part, Carpenter disagrees with the pseudosuchian identity argument. Since theropods could clearly swim, he thinks Godzilla's seagoing ways don't preclude the monster from being a bona fide dinosaur. Furthermore, as we've seen, the kaiju does share a lot of traits with the ceratosaurians. If he's not a member of that group, then his ancestors probably evolved all of those features independently. This scenario is certainly plausible (it's a phenomenon called "convergent evolution"). But Carpenter thinks the similarities between Godzilla and theropod dinos are probably too numerous to be coincidental.

"We already know that Dr. Yamane [a character from the 1954 movie] declared the original Godzilla a dinosaur," Carpenter says, "and since he was on site, I'll take his word."


New Species of Dinosaur Found in Sa Kaeo, Thailand

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Bangkok – The Department of Mineral Resources says dinosaur fossils have been discovered at Phra Prong water reservoir in Tambon Chong Kum in Wattana Nakhon district of Sa Kaeo province.

Titannosaurid fossils have been discovered and are believed to date back to the early Cretaceous period. Fossils of pelvises of large-sized carnivorous dinosaurs have been found as well as those of other creatures in the same period such as two kinds of crocodile’s teeth, three kinds of turtle, two kinds of fish scales and three kinds of shark’s teeth. Since 2002, a total of 62 bones of dinosaurs have been discovered in the compound of Pang Sida national park and found to have belonged to long-necked, long-tailed sauropod dinosaurs which might have been a new species of dinosaur. The department has planned to manage the area where the fossils have been found as a learning center and tourist attraction for Sa Kaeo province.


13 Things That Could Happen If Dinosaurs Were Still Alive

Sunday, May 12, 2019

What if Dinosaurs Were Alive TODAY?

How different would our world be if “terrible lizards” were still among us?

Well, for starters, they are

natmac stock/Shutterstock

That’s right, dinosaurs do still exist, and they are everywhere—in the form of birds. That adorable little sparrow on your windowsill? Dinosaur. The noisy blue jay disturbing your morning coffee? Dinosaur. Pigeons, geese, hawks, you name it—they’re all descendants of large, two-legged, non-avian dinosaurs called theropods. Theropods, “whose members include the towering Tyrannosaurus rex and the smaller velociraptors,” according to Scientific American, adapted certain existing dino features (like feathers) into the birds we see today. Dinosaur extinction is just one myth scientists wish people would unlearn.

We wouldn’t have recognized them


Say that species-extinction asteroid hadn’t hit Mexico 66 million years ago and life on Earth had continued apace. Well-known dinosaurs like the Triceratops “would be totally different than anything we know from the fossil record,” science writer Brian Switek wrote in The Guardian. Why? They, too, would have continued to adapt. “There might even be new groups of dinosaurs that didn’t exist during the Mesozoic era. The present Earth wouldn’t be a hodgepodge of old favorites, but an entirely different mix of unknown dinosaurs,” wrote Switek. But even extinct dinosaurs looked nothing like what most people believed when they were kids.

In fact, we might never have seen them at all


Why? It’s likely that, with a preponderance of dinosaurs remaining on our planet, humans and many other mammals would not have had the chance to evolve into existence. “Even though mammals thrived in the shadow of the dinosaurs, they did so at small size,” writes Switek. “And even though the very first primates had evolved by the end of the dinosaurian reign, they had more in common with a tree shrew than with you or me…[dinosaurs] would have undoubtedly continued to influence mammalian evolution.”

It would not look like Jurassic Park


The movie took a lot of liberties with the possible, wrote biologist Ben Waggoner in Forbes. “Dilophosaurusthe critter that spit poison in Wayne Knight’s face, lived about 120 million years and 6000 miles away from Velociraptor, the critters that ate Bob Peck. So if all the extinct dinosaurs suddenly started roaming the Earth together at the same time … well, you’d have utter ecological chaos, as the Velociraptors discovered that their tactics for hunting Protoceratops were ineffective against unfamiliar Ankylosaurus, and Triceratops found out that it had no idea how to dodge Allosaurus.”

Part of the chaos? Dead herbivores


Plant eaters like Edmontosaurus, snacking on the rich diversity of flowering plants that exist today on and in our plains, prairies, and forests, would likely have gotten sick and perhaps even died from this diet. At the very least, wrote Waggoner, they might have just spent their whole lives hallucinating. The chemical makeup of modern plants isn’t anything like what dinosaur biology was meant to handle. Other, more palatable plants might have been completely decimated by the hungry (and huge) critters.

Happy times for carnivores!

Ton Bangkeaw/Shutterstock

All those dead and dying herbivores lying around—poisoned by flowering grasses and other plants their systems couldn’t handle—would have presented a total feeding bonanza for Tyrannosaurus rexfor example, and other at-least-partial scavengers, according to Forbes. Easy pickings! You’ll be glad these 12 terrifying prehistoric monsters are extinct.

But that bounty would have been short-lived


That’s because the dead animals would run out eventually. And when that happened, what would T. rex and friends eat then? “There were mammals alive at the same time and place as T. rex, but none very big—and for all we know, modern mammal flesh might be unpalatable,” wrote Waggoner. Also likely: “A T. rex that was lucky enough to find a turkey farm would probably eat the birds like so much popcorn.”

Climate change would have mixed things up


“An event known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, 55 million years ago, saw average global temperatures reach 8 [degrees] C hotter than today, and rainforests spanning much of the planet,” according to BBC Future. “In this hothouse world with abundant vegetation, perhaps many long-necked sauropods might have grown more rapidly, breeding at a younger age and shrinking in size; several ‘dwarf’ sauropods (some little bigger than a cow) were already known from European islands in the late Cretaceous.”

So would fruit

Peter Kniez/Shutterstock

Many modern birds have adapted to eating fruit and drinking the nectar of our numerous flowering plants—in fact, these things co-evolved so that birds would disperse the plants’ seeds. Some non-bird vegetarian dinosaurs could have developed this ability as well. Some or all may have grown into gradually smaller animals thanks to the relative ease of digestion of fruits and flowering plants compared to the gymnosperms of the Cretaceous, paleontologist Matt Bonnan told BBC Future. Dinosaurs aren’t the only thing to have gone extinct—here are 16 animals that have gone the way of the dodo in the past 200 years.

Adapting to grasslands

Brian C. Weed/Shutterstock

In the absence of dinosaurs, mammals evolved—slowly—to have the ability to eat grassland plants. Vertebrate paleontologist Darren Naish speculated that surviving dinosaurs would have evolved much quicker thanks to evolutionary advantages they’d already developed, like the “batteries” of up to 1,000 teeth that hadrosaurs had in their jaws, which would have been extremely well-suited to grinding grass.

Physical changes…

Pavlina Trauskeova/Shutterstock

…to the heads and bodies of these grass munchers would eventually have evolved. As BBC Future pointed out, “Horses and cows have flattened muzzles useful for cropping tough, low-lying vegetation.” Grass-eating, duck-billed dinosaurs might have developed squared-off snouts, and “sauropod necks might have shortened to aid grazing at their feet.”

Dinos that burrow?


“It’s odd that dinosaurs didn’t really [burrow], as it’s a common way of life among lizards and snakes,” paleontologist Paul Barrett told BBC Future. “Given more time, some dinosaurs might have become subterranean specialists—the scaly or feathery equivalent of mammalian moles,” the article notes.

Furry…but probably still not cuddly


Some dinosaurs before the asteroid hit were living up above the Arctic Circle, in conditions that were considerably warmer than what was to come with various ice ages over the millennia. Naish wonders if some of them would have developed “thick and elaborate pelts, covered in fuzz and feathers all the way down to the tips of their toes and tails.” A woolly T. rex?


Students Using Drone to Map Dinosaur Tracks in New Mexico

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Students Using Drone To Map Dinosaur Tracks In New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE – New Mexico college students are using drones to help map the location of dinosaur tracks at a state park, the latest project to use drone technology to gather data from historical sites in the American West.

New Mexico State Parks recently announced it is teaming up with Central New Mexico Community College students and the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science to map out the footprints at Clayton Lake State Park, the Albuquerque Journal reports.

The park located in the northeastern part of the state contained track sites that give can give scientists key information about the ancient reptiles.

Central New Mexico Community College instructor Rick Watson says students will fly the drones from different heights to record a variety of details.

Once the project is complete, students will place the photographs, 3D models, maps and other findings on a website.

“The public will be able to access the website,” he said. “It’s designed to help people explore the track site from anywhere in the world.”

Spencer Lucas, a curator of paleontology at the museum, said the hundreds of tracks found at Clayton Lake, which is about 4½ hours from Albuquerque, are from four different species of dinosaurs and were all made within a year.

“The Clayton Lake site is a treasure,” he said. “The track sites are about 100 million years old and along an ancient sea coast.”

Clayton Lake was created when officials dammed Seneca Creek north of Clayton in the 1960s. Construction of the dam’s spillway unveiled the tracks, which were embedded in sandstone.

Rick Leonhardt, a semi-retired psychotherapist, is one of the students working on the projects. His first career, he said, was as a geologist and now practices it as a hobby.

“This will help us digitally preserve these tracks,” he said. “We are putting procedures in place to collect the data so others can duplicate the process in the future.”

The dinosaur track drone project comes as researchers from the University of Denver are using images gathered from a drone to create a 3D reconstruction of a World War II-era Japanese internment camp in southern Colorado.

Researchers last month dispatched the drone from the Switzerland-based company senseFly as part of a mapping project to help future restoration work at Camp Amache in Granada, Colorado.

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Ambopteryx longibrachium: Tiny Jurassic Dinosaur Had Membranous Wings

Friday, May 10, 2019

Ambopteryx longibrachium. Image credit: Chung-Tat Cheung & Min Wang / Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

A previously unknown species of bird-like dinosaur with pterosaur-like wings has been discovered by a team of paleontologists working with the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology and the Center for Excellence in Life and Paleoenvironment at the Chinese Academy of Science. The discovery, reported in the May 9 issue of the journal Nature, sheds some new light on the origins of avian flight.

Named Ambopteryx longibrachium, the new dinosaur lived approximately 163 million years ago (Jurassic period) in what is now China.

The prehistoric creature had a body length of about 12.6 inches (32 cm) and an estimated body mass of 300 g.

It belongs to Scansoriopterygidae, an extinct family of climbing and gliding non-avian theropod dinosaurs.

“Scansoriopterygids differ from other theropods in their body proportions, particularly in the proportions of the forelimb, which supports a bizarre wing structure first recognized in Yi qi, a close relative of Ambopteryx longibrachium,” said team leader Dr. Min Wang and colleagues.

“Unlike other flying dinosaurs, namely birds, these two species have membranous wings supported by a rod-like wrist bone that is not found in any other dinosaur, but is present in pterosaurs and flying squirrels.”

A nearly complete skeleton of Ambopteryx longibrachium was unearthed near Wubaiding Village in China’s Liaoning Province.

“Due to incomplete preservation in the only known specimen of Yi qi, the veracity of the unique wing structures and their exact function remained hotly debated,” the paleontologists said.

“As the most completely preserved specimen to date, Ambopteryx longibrachium preserves membranous wings and the rod-like wrist, supporting their widespread existence in Scansoriopterygidae.”

“These wing structures represent a short-lived and unsuccessful attempt to fly,” they added.

“In contrast, feathered wings, first documented in Late Jurassic non-avian dinosaurs, were further refined through the evolution of numerous skeletal and soft tissue modifications, giving rise to at least two additional independent origins of dinosaur flight and ultimately leading to the current success of modern birds.”


Min Wang et al. 2019. A new Jurassic scansoriopterygid and the loss of membranous wings in theropod dinosaurs. Nature 569: 256-259; doi: 10.1038/s41586-019-1137-z