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Paleontologist: Dalton Wells Dinosaur Sites Threatened by Visitors, Vandals

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Moab Dinosaur Park-Museum

Utah is home to the most dinosaur fossils on the planet – and Grand is home to more fossils than any other county in the state. 

So said Dr. Jim Kirkland during a teleconference regarding Utah Sovereign Lands’ proposal for the future management of the Dalton Wells dinosaur site north of Moab near Arches National Park.

A land exchange is going through the appraisal process that will open up the site to official and monitored recreation – with official campgrounds rather than the dispersed camping currently occurring. But which entity will manage the 1,200 or so acres remains unresolved.

Whether that ultimately turns out to be Grand County or some other political subdivision is a decision that will be made later, but one fact is uncontested by anyone from the county, state or federal government: Vandalism at Dalton Wells is ongoing and threatens to do real harm to what Kirkland, the state paleontologist, considers a key part of “the most complete record of the history of life in the world.”

“We’re where it all began,” said Kirkland in a Tuesday, Nov. 27 interview. “This is an incredible resource.”

Kirkland, who just completed his 20th year with the state, said there are more than 100 different dinosaurs represented in the fossils of Utah. He named the Utahraptor in 1989, a discovery that validated the giant raptors that appeared in “Jurassic Park.” Gov. Gary Herbert earlier this year proclaimed it the state dinosaur.

While Kirkland advocates for the creation of Utahraptor State Park for the site, it was pointed out at Monday’s teleconference that some type of control has to be exercised lest vandals and others with less-than-responsible habits destroy Dalton Wells.

It was reported that acts of vandalism occur “almost daily,” and it isn’t uncommon for people to dump on the ground the black and grey water tanks from their RVs.

Grand County Council Member Evan Clapper said the county might be willing to manage the site, but it doesn’t look like a decision will be made anytime soon. 

Campgrounds – which will require a fee to stay at – would have to be built and other questions, such as whether a second entrance to Arches National Park could be constructed – need to be resolved.

In the meantime, Kirkland, who said he serves the state primarily in a scientific advisory capacity, said the importance of paleo sites in Grand County, and specifically Dalton Wells, is “extraordinary.” He said Grand County is home to over 50 species of dinosaurs, many more than have been discovered in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. 

Grand County, he said, has the “most complete lower Cretaceous dinosaur record anywhere,” one that spans a staggering 45 million years. 

There are two Basal dinosaur levels, meaning two species that never overlapped, in Grand County. This exists nowhere else in North America. The Utahraptor can be found only in Grand County.

If Grand County is a hotbed for dinosaur fossils, Dalton Wells is the heat source. The site has been excavated for 45 years and more than 5,000 bones have been removed and 10 species recovered, said Kirkland. 

Full-cast skeletons excavated at the site are on display in more than 30 museums around the world.

“The site needs to be protected. I pointed out it is vandalized every day and these fossils can never be replaced,” he said. 

Kirkland said there are other historical sites in the area that have nothing to do with fossils but still need to be preserved – and doing so would provide a wider appeal to visitors, such as the Civilian Conservation Corps site that existed in the 1930s, the Japanese internment camp in the 1940s, and the uranium mining history on display from the 1960s. 

“I’m a big believer in the local benefits of doing this,” said Kirkland. “A lot of it is waiting to see what the response is to management. Sovereign Lands doesn’t want to deal with a paleo site. That isn’t what they do.” He said he would like to see Sovereign Lands retain control of the site while Grand County manages it – particularly if the county hires a paleontologist. 

“You have a great local and active volunteer group through Moab’s Gastonia Chapter of the Utah Friends of Paleontology,” he said, “but they can’t do anything without a supervising paleontologist. I guarantee you would get 100 applicants.”

He would like to see the Museum of Moab become a repository for the site, noting that thousands of fossils have left Grand County already and they are not coming back. 

“I think it’s a great opportunity,” he said. “Let’s show the world we can care-take a world-class paleo site the whole world is interested in … we’ve got to get after it.”


Giant Siberian Rhinoceros Lived alongside Early Modern Humans

Thursday, November 29, 2018

An artist’s impression of Elasmotherium sp. Image credit: W. S. Van der Merwe,

For a long time it was believed that a giant rhinoceros called Elasmotherium sibericum went extinct around 200,000years ago — well before the Quaternary megafaunal extinction event, which saw the end of the woolly mammoth, Irish elk and saber-toothed cat. Now improved dating of fossils suggests that the species survived in Eastern Europe and Central Asia until at least 39,000 years ago, overlapping in time with the existence of early modern humans.

Today there are just five surviving rhinoceros species, although in the past there have been as many as 250 species at different times.

Weighing up to 3.5 tons, Elasmotherium sibericum — also known as the ‘Siberian unicorn’, due to its extraordinary single horn — was undoubtedly one of the most impressive.

It has long been assumed that this ancient creature went extinct well before the Ice Age. However, a new study challenges the date of this species’ demise.

“This megafaunal extinction event didn’t really get going until about 40,000 years ago,” said study senior author Professor Adrian Lister, a researcher in the Department of Earth Sciences at the Natural History Museum, London, UK.

“So Elasmotherium sibericum with its apparent extinction date of 100,000 years ago or more has not been considered as part of that same event.”

“We dated a few specimens and to our surprise they came in at less than 40,000 years old.”

The radiocarbon dating results show that Elasmotherium sibericum survived until at least 39,000 years ago, and possibly as late as 35,000 years ago.

Further study revealed more about the giant rhinoceros’ biology and possible behavior.

Professor Lister and co-authors studied the stable isotope ratios in the species’ teeth, which involved looking at the levels of different carbon and nitrogen isotopes and then comparing them to different plants, allowing them to determine what the animals were eating.

The results confirm that Elasmotherium sibericum was most likely grazing on tough, dry grasses.

Elasmotherium sibericum’s final days were shared with early modern humans and Neanderthals,” the researchers said.

“It is, however, unlikely that the presence of humans was the cause of extinction. Instead it is more probable that dramatic fluctuations in climate during this time period, coupled with the specialized grazing lifestyle and the rhinos’ naturally low population numbers pushed the species to the edge.”

The researchers were also able to extract DNA from some of the fossil. This helped to settle a debate about where Elasmotherium sibericum, along with all other members of the genus Elasmotherium, fit on the rhino evolutionary tree.

“The ancient group split from the modern group of rhinos roughly 43 million years ago making Elasmotherium sibericum the last species of a highly distinctive and ancient linage,” the study authors said.

The research appears in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.


Pavel Kosintsev et al. Evolution and extinction of the giant rhinoceros Elasmotherium sibiricum sheds light on late Quaternary megafaunal extinctions. Nature Ecology & Evolution, published online November 26, 2018; doi: 10.1038/s41559-018-0722-0


39 Baby Dinosaurs Died 125 Million Years Ago. A Fossil May Reveal Why

Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Childrens Museum of Indianapolis - Psittacosaurus skeleton cast

The intact fossil contains a group of 39 Psittacosaurus, a small dinosaur with a parrot-like beak. It has been displayed at Paleontological Museum of Liaoning province in China.

Why did a group of 39 baby dinosaurs die together around 125 million years ago? A dinosaur fossil on display in the Paleontological Museum of Liaoning province can reveal the secret.

The intact fossil contains a group of 39 Psittacosaurus, a small dinosaur with a parrot-like beak, according to Liu Sen, Director with the museum's display department, reports Xinhua news agency Each dinosaur measures between 25cm and 40cm long.

The fossil was discovered in the city of Chaoyang and is believed to have existed during the Cretaceous period.

"Psittacosaurus lived in groups and usually gathered and fed juveniles together. Adult dinosaurs sought food in turns," Liu said, adding that under this behavioural habit the juvenile dinosaurs were likely to be buried if there was a flood or mudslide.

Researchers believe such a tragedy happened.

"In this group of fossilized dinosaurs, their bodies all faced in the same direction. We believe that they had gone through a catastrophe like a flood or mudslide," Liu said.

At that time, Liaoning was rich in forest and lakes, while volcanoes occasionally erupted. Psittacosaurus ate grass and served as prey for other carnivorous dinosaurs.


How Dinosaurs Chewed without Cheeks

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Hadrosaurs such as Hypacrosaurus had specialized chewing muscles. Credit: Brian Switek

A unique anatomical setup helped some herbivorous dinosaurs crunch through their Cretaceous world.

What did extinct dinosaurs look like? We’ve been wondering this since the time before the word “dinosaur” was even coined, strange bones inspiring thoughts of creatures unlike any we see around us today. That fascination still draws our imaginations and drives scientific discovery, although this is not cumulative exercise of simply acquiring more bones and data. It’s a messy process, what we think we know and what could possibly be constantly colliding with each other. Even something as seemingly simple as whether some dinosaurs had cheeks is fertile ground for debate.

Think of a dinosaur like Triceratops. This massive, three-horned herbivore had jaws like garden shears, only with teeth instead of blades. And given this animal’s plant-munching habits, some kind of cheek would have been advantageous to keeping those clumps and shreds inside the mouth as the dinosaur chewed. But how can we tell? No one has found a delicately-preserved Triceratops skull with pristine skin impressions solving the problem for us (if such a fossil even exists). The answers, so far as the current collection of evidence goes, relies on what we know about the relationships between muscle and bone. That’s what anatomist Ali Nabavizadeh drew upon to investigate the chewing muscles of some herbivorous dinosaurs.

Nabavizadeh focused on ornithischian dinosaurs, or the major dinosaur group that contains familiar Mesozoic stars like the armored dinosaurs, horned dinosaurs, hadrosaurs, and more. (The other herbivorous dinosaurs - the long-necked sauropodomorphs and the varied theropods who evolved a plant-eating diet independently - were not part of the study.) These are the dinosaurs that seemed to be the best candidates for having cheeks, particularly the later and more derived species that had evolved their own ways of chewing plant material. If we’re going to call dinosaurs like Edmontosaurus the “cows of the Cretaceous,” then it’s worth asking if they had cheeks like cows do.

The problem, Nabavizadeh points out, is that no birds, crocodylians, or reptiles have cheeks like mammals do. If dinosaurs had cheeks, the underlying musculature would be very different. So here’s where the bones come in. Muscle scars and other clues can help reveal the anatomy and extent of musculature in extinct animals. If dinosaurs had their own type of cheek, there should be anatomical signs of it.

What Nabavizadeh found differs from what’s been proposed before. There appears to have been a “rostrally-expanded muscular support system” from the lower jaw to the cranium of dinosaurs like TriceratopsEdmontosaurusAnkylosaurus and some other ornithischian dinosaurs - that is, a muscular connection between lower jaw and cranium that reached further forward. This not only made biting and chewing more efficient from a biomechanical point of view, but would have helped contain food within the mouth without requiring a specialized and novel sort of cheek to evolve. Large, herbivorous ornithischians had their own, unique anatomical solution to chewing on plants all day, further evidence that life, uh, finds a way.


11 Awesome Dinosaur Toys & Robots For Kids

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Including a roaring dino mask and a Raptor-bodied Power Wheels racer that, yes, is a very clever girl.

Kids love dinosaurs. It is this truth that we hold self-evident. As such there are always lot of excellent dinosaur centric toys hitting shelves. But which are the ones you should consider? From pterano-drones and T-Rex play sets to roaring velociraptor masks and good ‘ole Lego sets, here are some of our favorites.

FurReal Munchin’ Rex

The latest in Hasbro’s FurReal line of interactive animals/creatures, Munchin’ Rex is an adorable baby dinosaur that eats ‘broccoli’ and caveman cookies. He also has more than 35 sounds and motions including slurping, burping, and sipping and will roar if you pet his head.



Melissa & Doug Dinosaur Party Play Set

Consider this set from Melissa & Doug a starter kit for dino lovers. It features nine mini dinosaurs and a wooden case which serves and transports them (it’s way better than using the bottom of a shaving cream can). Yes, a T-Rex, Stegosaurus, Velociraptor, and Triceratops are included. But it also includes such lesser known creatures as Parasaurolophus, Pachycephalosaurus, Ankylosaurus, Apatosaurus, and Plesiosaurus.

BUY NOW $29.99


Laser Pegs 20-in-1 T-Rex

Comprised of 403 plastic building blocks — including six light-up power bricks, three light up pegs, for a total of 15 LEDS that flash and pulse — this set lets kids construct a 12-inch tall T-Rex with glow-in-the-dark teeth that can roars and move its legs and (oh-so-short) arms. The finished product looks more like a cartoon-y Godzilla with dentures (the glow-in-the-dark teeth snap in place and look a little silly). But we say that adds to its character.



Power Wheels Jurassic World Dino Racer

Inspired by Blue, the star Velociraptor of Jurassic World, this 12-volt Dino ATV can go off-road and hit top speeds of six mph. It also offers a parental high-speed lock for beginner dinosaurs wranglers. Clever girl, indeed.

BUY NOW $249


Chomp ‘N Roar Velociraptor Masks

This mask is ideal for anyone who wants to play the part of a very clever girl. The eyes move inward so you can focus on your next meal, and the electronic jaws open to different degrees — each with its own unique roaring sound effect. So if you want to show off their intimidating set of teeth, just open wide.



Kamigami Dinosaur Robots

Built by folding and snapping together flat sheets of plastic, Kamigami robots include a bevy of sensors (3-axis accelerometer, gyroscope, etc.) and are programmed using a tablet or smartphone ⏤ so kids get those highly touted STEM skills. The Jurassic World “Blue” or Villain Dino versions come with anatomically correct legs and life-like dinosaur movements.



WowWee 14” R/C RoboRaptor

WowWee’s bionic beast measures in at more than a foot long. It can walk, run, or stalk via its included remote, or by using the app on your smart device. The RoboRaptor features multi-speed dynamic movement, plus fast, full-function arms with dual grippers. It’s even programmed to play tug-of-war with you, or your Goldendoodleasaurus.

BUY NOW $137


Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Super Colossal T-Rex

Based on the iconic beast from the JW series, this toy, one of our favorites of the year,  is a whopping three feet tall and features authentic detail, movie-inspired markings, and articulated arms and legs for realistic action. It has extra-wide jaws that, when opened, can swallow mini dino action figures without even a burp. Want them back? No problem — just open up SC T-Rex’s belly and watch them fall right out. It’s like the miracle of birth, but much less messy.



Jurassic World Pterano-Drone

A full-function, quadcopter drone married with a realistic Pteranodon, this remote control toy performs stunts and flies up to 25 feet in the air. The Pteranodon’s wings flap as it rises and falls, while an “Auto Circle” mode recreates the hunting of prey. Even better is the“Auto Land” mode, which swoops you in for the kill — or helps your kids land it without clipping the patio furniture. It charges via USB, and comes with a handful of replacement propeller parts, should it sneak up on the wrong woodpecker.



Meccano Mecasaur

If you can’t dig up a dino in your backyard, why not build one with the kids instead? The Meccano Meccasaur, which is from the same company that makes the classic Erector sets, is a 715 piece programmable robot that you build up to be your new prehistoric pal.  Once assemble this fully mobile, three-food T-Rex roars, responds to being pet, “attacks” on command, and stomps around.



Lego Jurassic World Carnotaurus Gyrosphere

This 577-piece packs a lot of punch for $80 and includes everything from a gyrosphere (those transparent balls Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard run around in during the movies), truck, and trailer, to three mini figurines, a baby dinosaur, and a not-baby Carnotaurus. And in the spirit of the Jurassic World franchise, you can mix-and-match the dinosaur parts to play God and laugh in the face of nature.




Siberian Unicorn DNA Studied For The First Time

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

An artist's interpretation of a Siberian unicorn, which is believed to have lived on the Plains of Eurasia at least 39,000 years ago. WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/DMITRY BOGDANOV

The first DNA tests on Siberian unicorns have shown that the 4-ton animal lived at the same time as modern humans, according to scientists. 

By studying fossilized bones, an international team of paleontologists concluded the Elasmotherium sibiricum rhinoceros—widely referred to as the Siberian unicorn—lived much later than previously expected and could have met our ancestors.

The authors of the study published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution believe the Siberian unicorn lived in Eastern Europe and Central Asia until at least 39,000 years ago. Previous estimates dated its extinction at around 200,000 years ago, long before the megafaunal extinction around 40,000 years ago. Scientists regard this event as pivotal in natural history, wiping out a range of beasts from the woolly mammoth to the sabre-toothed cat. This was around the time that Neanderthals died away, too.

The enormous beast likely weighed up to 3.5 tons—more than double the modern rhino—and had a large hump on its shoulder. It inhabited the open, grassy plains of Eurasia stretching from southwestern Russian and Ukraine to Kazakhstan and Siberia, living on grass.  And despite its weight, it is believed to have been able to run at speed, according to the Natural History Museum, where study co-author Professor Adrian Lister is a researcher.

Lister explained: “This megafaunal extinction event didn't really get going until about 40,000 years ago. So Elasmotherium with its apparent extinction date of 100,000 years ago has not been considered as part of that same event.

“We dated a few specimens - such as the beautiful complete skull we have at the Museum - and to our surprise they came in at less than 40,000 years old.”

Thanks to leaps forward in technology, the researchers were able to date fossils more accurately and took DNA from an Elasmotherium sibiricum fossil for the first time ever. In total, 23 specimens were assessed by teams in the U.K., the Netherlands and Russia.

“They [the individual experiments] very strongly all confirmed that this species survived until at least 39,000 years ago, and maybe as late as 35,000 years ago,” said Lister.

As for the rhino’s personality, researchers are still unsure.

Lister explained: “Modern rhinos tend to be rather solitary and spread out in their habitat. Combined with Elasmotherium's restricted geographical range, it might have been quite a rare animal.”

So why aren’t Siberian unicorns still roaming the Eurasian plains? Scientists believe massive changes in the climate at the time likely killed off the animal. This wasn’t helped by its scarcity and grazing lifestyle.

The Siberian unicorn would have been one of 250 species of rhino alive at the time. Today, there are just five.

The research follows a study suggesting male mammoths were more prone to wandering off on their own and dying than the females of the species. 

The article published in the journal Current Biology last year came about after scientists noticed there were more male remains than females among those they were studying. 

Study author and paleontologist Professor Love Dalen of the Swedish Museum of Natural History told Newsweek at the time: "Fairly early, when we started looking at this and doing the samples we had, we realized it was way more males that were killed then we were expecting." 

"It seemed very odd that there were so many males. But then we started thinking about it a bit more carefully I guess and it started to make more sense."


What the Cambrian Fossils in the Rocky Mountains of Canada Reveal

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Cambrian Fossils

Recent excavations have found fossils of new species of butterflies and fish etc of the Cambrian Period, the first geological period of the Paleozoic Era that lasted for some 55.6 million years.

The Burgess Shale, part of the Rocky Mountains in Canada, is one of the largest homes to fossils as old as 540 million years—the Cambrian period. Ever since its discovery by Charles Walcott in 1909, Burgess Shale has been a mesmerising spot for archaeologists, palaeontologists and research enthusiasts. Since 1909, with every excavation, Burgess Shale has been continuing with giving out information about unfamiliar species of the Cambrian period.

In their recent excavation this year, a team led by Paleontologist Cedric Aria of the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology, China and Jean Bernard Caron, curator of invertebrate paleontology, Royal Ontario Museum, Canada has also reported to have found fossils of archaic period. They have found the fossils of new species of butterflies, fish hyoliths (the ice cream cone shaped fossil) etc.

Why Fossils of the Cambrian Period are Important

The Cambrian period marked the most profound change in life on earth. Almost all the metazoan species made the first appearance on this earth during the Cambrian period only. Metazoans are the species that undergo development starting from an embryo having three layers of tissue, namely ectoderm, mesoderm and endoderm. Before this period of time, the majority of all living organisms, in whole, were simple, unicellular, and smaller. Actually, it is the Cambrian period when complex multicellular organisms started becoming common.

The Cambrian period, the first geological period of the Paleozoic era, lasted for some 55.6 million years. It started 541 million years ago at the end of the preceding Edicaran period and flourished the life forms till its end towards the beginning of the Ordovician period about 485 million years ago.

How Cambrian species are related to the members of the today’s animal kingdom is an important aspect of how animals have evolved in time. Scientists and researchers are engaged for many decades in deciphering the factors that triggered the Cambrian evolutionary explosion. There have been reports that many species of that period were advanced in terms of anatomy and physiology, nevertheless many of them seem to be unrelated to the advanced animals of later period. Conversely, there had also been species in the Cambrian period that are found to be related to the animals of later times.

The Burgess Shale

The Burgess Shale is referred to the rocky part found in the Canadian rocky mountain the Burgess Pass. Shale is the sedimentary rock consisting of silt and mud. Located in the Yoho National Park in British Columbia, Canada, the Burgess Shale is home to an enormous variety of metazoan fossils existing in the Cambrian Period. First discovered by Walcott in 1909, the creepy crawlies of Cambrian time buried in the Burgess Shale have stunned people with unearthing of ever new archaic species with each excavation done here.

But in recent years, many excavations have shown that the Rocky Mountains range of fossil extends much beyond what Walcott found. Among the excavators, Caron’s team is one of the leading one. Caron has shown that the area in the Burgess Shale extends many kilometres beyond Walcott’s site. His latest visit to the Cambrian tapestry was the one made this summer. Each new step had to reveal the secret of striking views of unfamiliar animals—all archaic. The little fish relative Metaspriggina, the Tokummia etc. are the few to name.

How Cambrian Species are Related to Modern Animals

Since the time of Walcott, it has been a much-debated issue how to establish the link between the Cambrians and today’s animals. Walcott classified his unknown fossils within known groups taking into account the fact that some of the Burgess Shale fossils, for example brachiopods, persisted to live after the Cambrian with some making their presence even today.  This led him to conclude that almost all creatures that resembled today’s arthropods were crustaceans.

Later on, paleontologists developed other ways of classifying and establishing the link between the ancient animals with that of the modern ones. For example, Stephen Jay Gould of Harvard University in his book “Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History” found many Cambrian animals, such as the aptly named Hallucigenia which was a worm with legs and hard spines, seemed unrelated to later animals. Gould says that species of these kinds are the forgotten experiments of evolution.

Contemporary paleontologists found another way to settle the issue. For example, consider the arthropods. In a family tree, the recent branches that signify the living arthropods like that of spiders, insects, crustaceans etc. constitute the “crown” group. But some of the fossils in the Burgess Shale probably appeared much before the crown group animals and they belong to “stem” which branched off from the family tree before the crown arthropods appeared. The stems don’t have any more descendants. Newer fossils found in the recent excavations of Caron also help support this way of classifying. Caron, in 2015, argued that his specimens of Hallucigenia have the features suggestive of the fact that the animal belongs to one such stem group of the velvet worms. The velvet worms still crawl around the tropical forests.

With the finding of ever new species with new excavations in the Cambrian tapestry, finding the link with modern animals and also finding the way the animal kingdom bloomed and finding the evolutionary aspects involved, are key challenges for archaeologists and paleontologists.


Elephant-Sized Dicynodont from Triassic Period Discovered: Lisowicia bojani

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Lisowicia bojani. Image credit: Dmitry Bogdanov / CC BY 3.0.

Paleontologists in Poland have found fossil fragments from a giant new species of mammal-like reptile that walked the Earth approximately 237 million years ago (Late Triassic period).

Named Lisowicia bojani, the ancient creature belongs to Dicynodontia (dicynodonts), a group of plant-eating, mammal-like reptiles.

“Dicynodonts were among the most abundant and diverse synapsids — early four-legged land vertebrates that gave rise to modern-day mammals — from the middle Permian (around 299 to 251 million years ago) to the early Late Triassic (around 237 million years ago),” said Dr. Tomasz Sulej from Poland’s Institute of Paleobiology and Dr. Grzegorz Niedzwiedzki of Uppsala University.

“Fossils of Triassic dicynodonts are extremely abundant in African, Asian, and North and South Americans deposits but are comparatively poorly known from the other regions like Europe.”

Lisowicia bojani fossils are the first substantial dicynodont finds from European deposits.”

The skeleton restoration of Lisowicia bojani: (A) left humerus in ventral view; (B) left radius in lateral view; (C) cervical vertebrae in posterior view; (D) dorsal vertebrae in lateral view; (E) left pelvis in lateral view; (F) left femur in anterior view; (G) left tibia in lateral view; (H) left fibula in medial view; (I) left ulna in lateral view; (J) left scapulocoracoid in lateral view; (K) fused quadrate and quadratojugal in posterior view. Scale bars – 10 cm (A) to (K), 1 m for the skeleton. Light gray bones represent missing elements. Abbreviations: il – ilium, pu – pubis, is – ischium. Image credit: Tomasz Sulej & Grzegorz Niedźwiedzki, doi: 10.1126/science.aal4853.

Lisowicia bojani reached an estimated length of more than 14.7 feet (4.5 m), height of 8.5 feet (2.6 m), and body mass of 9 tons.

It had erect-gait forelimbs, suggesting upright limb posture, like that of modern large mammals such as rhinoceroses and hippopotami. Previously, Triassic dicynodonts were characterized only with sprawling forelimbs (the gait of reptiles).

“The find of Lisowicia bojani shows that at least one dicynodont lineage also participated in the ‘push for gigantism’ at the same time as the sauropodomorphs, but also suggests that their evolutionary history in the Late Triassic is poorly documented,” the paleontologists said.

“This discovery changes our ideas about the latest history of dicynodonts, mammal Triassic relatives,” Dr. Sulej said.

“It also raises far more questions about what really make them and dinosaurs so large.”

“Dicynodonts were amazingly successful animals in the Middle and Late Triassic. Lisowicia bojani is the youngest dicynodont and the largest non-dinosaurian terrestrial tetrapod from the Triassic,” Dr. Niedzwiedzki added.

“It’s natural to want to know how dicynodonts became so large. Lisowicia bojaniis hugely exciting because it blows holes in many of our classic ideas of Triassic ‘mammal-like reptiles’.”

The research was published in the journal Science.


Tomasz Sulej & Grzegorz Niedźwiedzki. An elephant-sized Late Triassic synapsid with erect limbs. Science, published online November 22, 2018; doi: 10.1126/science.aal4853


Birds Are the Modern Dinosaur, Study Confirms

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Evolution in birds of the olfactory bulb, the part of the brain where smell information is processed, passing from a dinosaur (Bambiraptor) through early birds (Lithornis, Presbyornis) to a modern-day bird (pigeon).

Though the theory that modern-day birds evolved from dinosaurs is widely accepted by scientists today, historically, this theory has lacked evidence. But researchers at Yale and the University of Chile have begun to use embryological data to as evidence of a bird-dinosaur relation.

In a study published this month in the Nature Ecology and Evolution journal, the researchers discovered evidence that two bones found in the skulls of dinosaurs — the postorbital and prefrontal bones — can also be seen in the embryos of birds.

“Nothing like [the postorbital bone in bird embryos] had ever been mentioned,” said Alexander Vargas, a professor at the University of Chile and lead author of the study. “It was really exciting to find it in an embryo — in exactly the same position where the bone would be in ancient dinosaurs.”

According to previous evidence, in mammals, bones that were supposedly lost were actually present in the embryo but fused to other bones early on, said Daniel Smith Paredes GRD ’22, a graduate student in Yale’s geology and geophysics department and first author of the study. The researchers, however, wanted to explore if this development is also seen in birds.

To support their hypothesis, the team looked at both fossils and embryos — a unique integration of the two data sources. The postorbital and prefrontal bones are not commonly seen in modern-day birds. Yet they are prevalent in the fossils of many species of dinosaurs, such as those of the Tyrannosaurus rex. Based on this fossil data, the researchers looked toward embryonic data to explain why modern birds, which evolved from dinosaurs, do not display this skull structure.

Using special staining technologies, the researchers found that both of these bones could be seen in the early development of bird embryos. These bones had gone undetected for decades because they fused to other bones in the skull very quickly after formation — in similar fashion to mammals.

But the fusion of these bones did not occur in a vacuum. This type of development most likely occurred for an evolutionary reason.

“This fossil record shows that the postorbital [bone] was lost about the time when an important expansion of brain size occurred in the evolution of birds,” explained Vargas, suggesting that this development was instrumental in allowing the skulls of birds to accommodate a larger brain.

The development of larger brains is especially interesting to Smith Paredes, as he sees the parallelisms between mammals and birds as indicative of a larger evolutionary trend. He explained that although mammals and birds are not closely related, they both have huge brains compared to other lineages and both demonstrate the fusion of bones in embryos.

A better understanding of the evolution of birds can help illuminate why these two groups appear to have evolved along similar patterns and why those specific patterns are important, Smith Paredes added.

Vargas has dedicated his research to determining exactly how this transition from dinosaurs to birds happened, as well as the evolutionary and genetic mechanisms used along the way. Although the dinosaur-bird hypothesis is widely accepted in the scientific community, some have been distrustful of the embryological data — which has often relied on old studies and outdated techniques. By providing stronger explanations for the evolution of birds, Vargas’ overall work has been able to fill in some of the last holes in this theory.

Looking toward future research, Vargas said he hopes to be able to visualize the formation of these bones even earlier using new labeling technologies. Additionally, he wants to expand his research to the development of other structures, such as the sternum and wishbone, which are “key to discussing the evolution of flight,” Vargas added.

The hypothesis that birds evolved as a modern dinosaur was first proposed in the mid-to-late 1800s following the discovery of fossils that displayed features common to both groups.


Thanos simonattoi: A Newly Discovered Theropod in Brazil Was Named After Marvel's SuperVillain

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Reconstruction of Thanos simonattoi based on PaleoJoe abelisaur skeletal drawings (

A newly discovered dinosaur in Brazil has been named after the Marvel supervillain Thanos, thus securing another jewel in the Mad Titan's gauntlet.

In an article published in Historical Biology earlier in November 2018, paleontologists Rafael Delcourt and Fabiano Vidoi Iori outline their discovery of a new abelisaurid theropod in the Sao Jose do Rio Preto formation in Brazil. The dinosaur has been dubbed Thanos simonattoi, and while that could certainly be a coincidence, Iori confirmed to SYFY WIRE that it's not. Thanos does indeed have a dinosaur named after him now.

In the Historial Biology article, Delcourt and Iori explain the etymology as being derived both from the Greek word thanato, for death, and from the Jim Starlin character made famous worldwide in Avengers: Infinity War earlier in 2018. The dinosaur was also named for Sergio Simonatto, who discovered this particular specimen.

Thanos is a genus of carnivorous brachyrostran abelisaurid dinosaur that lived in Brazil during the Santonian stage of the late Cretaceous Period. It contains a single species, Thanos simonattoi.

The holotype specimen, MPMA 08–0016/95, was found in the São José do Rio Preto Formation, part of the Bauru Group and dating from the Santonian; in 2014 it had been dated to the Maastrichtian. It consists of an almost complete axis fused with an axial intercentrum. It is missing several processes at the front, rear and sides. The specimen is currently housed at the Museu de Paleontologia de Monte Alto, Brazil.

The length of Thanos has been estimated at 5.5–6.5 metres (18–21 ft).

Thanos simonattoi by bricksmashtv

Despite the incompleteness of the material, a number of diagnostic features are present; a well-developed keel becoming wider and deeper posteriorly on the ventral surface; two lateral small foramina separated by a relatively wide wall on each lateral surface of the centrum; and well-developed and deep prezygapophyseal spinodiapophyseal fossae. In view of these features, Thanos may have been more derived than other abelisaurids at the time.

In their phylogenetic analysis, Delcourt and Iori (2018) recovered Thanos in a large polytomy with other brachyrostrans within the Abelisauridae

Thanos shared only two synapomorphies with the Brachyrostra. The front articular facet of the axis is more than twice as high as the rear articular facet. The rear facet is inclined to the front under an angle of less than 75°.

Thanos shared its environment with an undescribed larger theropod believed to be a megaraptoran of which a vertebra, specimen MPMA 08–0003/94, has been found at Ibirá. This would imply that Thanos was not the apex predator of its habitat.

So, now Thanos joins the ranks of great men throughout history who've had legendary prehistoric creatures named after them. What more could a made space god ask for?

Source: /