Monday, December 10, 2018

Life restoration by Emily Willoughby, 2014

Utahraptor (meaning "Utah's predator" or "Utah's thief") is a genus of theropod dinosaurs. It contains a single species, Utahraptor ostrommaysorum, which is the largest-known member of the family Dromaeosauridae. Fossil specimens date to the upper Barremian stage of the early Cretaceous period (in rock strata dated to 126 ± 2.5 million years ago).

In 2018, it was proposed that Utahraptor be the Utah state dinosaur, an act that was approved by the Senate. Initially Utahraptor would have replaced another dinosaur, the Allosaurus, as the state's official fossil, but it was decided that Utahraptor would be another symbol of the state.

The holotype specimen of Utahraptor is fragmentary, consisting of skull fragments, a tibia, claws and some caudal (tail) vertebrae. These few elements suggest an animal about twice the length of Deinonychus. Like other dromaeosaurids, Utahraptor had large curved claws on their second toes. One claw specimen is preserved at 22 centimeters (8.7 in) in length and is thought to reach 24 cm (9.4 in) restored.

Size of the largest-known individual of Utahraptor, compared with a human

The largest described U. ostrommaysorum specimens are estimated to have reached up to 5.7 meters (19 ft) long and somewhat less than 500 kilograms (1,100 lb) in weight, comparable to a grizzly bear or polar bear in size. However, the 2001 Kirkland discovery indicates the species may be far heavier than previously estimated.

It is thought that Utahraptor is closely related to the smaller Dromaeosaurus and the giant Mongolian and North American dromaeosaurid genera Achillobator and Dakotaraptor, based on cladistic analysis.

Although feathers have never been found in association with Utahraptor specimens, there is strong phylogenetic evidence suggesting that all dromaeosaurids possessed them. This evidence comes from phylogenetic bracketing, which allows paleontologists to infer traits that exist in a clade based on the existence of that trait in a more basal form. The genus Microraptor is one of the oldest-known dromaeosaurids, and is phylo­genetically more primitive than Utahraptor. Since Microraptor and other dromaeosaurids possessed feathers, it is reasonable to assume that this trait was present in all of Dromaeosauridae. Feathers were very unlikely to have evolved more than once, so assuming that any given dromaeosaurid, such as Utahraptor, lacked feathers would require positive evidence that they did not have them. So far, there is nothing to suggest that feathers were lost in larger, more derived species of dromaeosaurs.

Size of Utahraptor (5) compared with other dromaeosaurs

In a 2001 study conducted by Bruce Rothschild and other paleontologists, two foot bones referred to Utahraptor were examined for signs of stress fracture, but none were found.

The first specimens of Utahraptor were found in 1975 by Jim Jensen in the Dalton Wells Quarry in east-central Utah, near the town of Moab, but did not receive much attention. After a find of a large foot-claw by Carl Limoni in October 1991, James Kirkland, Robert Gaston, and Donald Burge uncovered further remains of Utahraptor in 1991 in the Gaston Quarry in Grand County, Utah, within the Yellow Cat and Poison Strip members of the Cedar Mountain Formation. Radiometric dating has shown that these parts of the Cedar Mountain Formation were deposited about 124 million years ago. The type specimen, CEU 184v.86, is currently housed at the College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric Museum, although Brigham Young University, the depository of Jensen's finds, currently houses the largest collection of Utahraptor fossils.

The type species (and only known species of Utahraptor), Utahraptor ostrommaysorum, was named by Kirkland, Gaston, and Burge in June 1993 for the American paleontologist John Ostrom from Yale University's Peabody Museum of Natural History, and Chris Mays of Dinamation International. Originally, in the specific name, the singular genitive ostrommaysi was used but, in 2000, this was emended by George Olshevsky to the plural. Earlier, it had been intended to name the species "Utahraptor spielbergi" after film director Steven Spielberg, in exchange for funding paleontological research, but no agreement could be reached on the amount of financial assistance.

Utahraptor is a member of the family Dromaeosauridae, a clade of theropod dinosaurs commonly known as "raptors". Utahraptor is the largest genus in the family, and belongs to the same clade as some famous dinosaurs such as VelociraptorDeinonychus or DromaeosaurusUtahraptor is classified in the subfamily Dromaeosaurinae, which is found in the clade Eudromaeosauria.

Cast of the foot bones, Dinosaur Museum Aathal

According to the authors of its description, Utahraptor had an "important [ecological] role as a major carnivore of the fauna of the present-day Arks region in the early Cretaceous", and could probably attack prey larger than itself. Group hunting of individuals of at least 3.5 m and 70 kg, if proven, could have killed 8 m prey of a weight of one to two tonnes. According to paleontologist Gregory S. Paul, Utahraptor was not particularly fast and would have been an ambush hunter that preyed on large dinosaurs such as the contemporary iguanodontians and therizinosauroids it shared its environment with. Its robust build and large sickle claw indicates it was well suited to hunting such prey. Like other dromaeosaurine dromaeosaurids, it may have also relied heavily on its jaws to dispatch prey more than other types of dromaeosaurids such as those in the velociraptorinae.

Utahraptor lived in the lower part of the Cedar Mountain Formation, which during the Barremian was a semiarid area with floodplain prairies, riverine forests, and open woodlands. There is believed to have been a short wet season. Other fauna that were contemporaneous with the dromaeosaurid in the Yellow Cat and Poison Strip Members included the therizinosauroids Falcarius and Martharaptor, the sauropods CedarosaurusMierasaurusVenenosaurus and Moabosaurus, the iguanodonts IguanocolossusPlanicoxaCedrorestes and Hippodraco, the hadrosauroid Eolambia, and the ankylosaur Gastonia. Fellow dromaeosaurid Yurgovuchia, the troodontid Geminiraptor and the ornithomimosaur Nedcolbertia also dwelled here. Birds, fish, mammals, turtles, crocodiles, and pterosaurs are also known from the formation, creating a diverse fauna.

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Monday, December 10, 2018

Artistic reconstruction of Neovenator salerii. Author: Fred Wierum

Neovenator (nee-o-ven-a-tor) which means "new hunter" is a genus of allosauroid dinosaur. At the time of its discovery on the Isle of WightUnited Kingdom, it was the best-known large carnivorous dinosaur from the Early Cretaceous (Hauterivian-Barremian) of Europe.

Neovenator measured approximately 7.6 metres (25 ft) in length, and was of a gracile build, weighing 1,000 to 2,000 kilograms (2,200 to 4,400 lb). Specimen MIWG 4199 indicates an individual with a possible length of about 10 metres (33 ft), but it only consists of a toe phalanx and its position in Neovenator is dubious.

Estimated size based on the holotype.

The various scientific descriptions of Neovenator have indicated some distinguishing traits. The nostril is twice as long as it is high. The praemaxilla in the snout bears five teeth. The maxilla is pierced by a large maxillary fenestra, the diameter of which equals a sixth of the length of the tooth row. The tooth crown equals a quarter of the tooth length, thus including the root. The toe claws have a groove on top. Both praemaxillae are connected by an extra pen-in-socket connection. The front joint surface of the intercentrum of the axis, the second neck vertebra, is transversely widened. The odontoid process of the axis has small openings along the side edge of the front facet. The neural process of the axis has a single small opening in the side. The rear neck vertebrae are fused with their neck ribs. On the eighth and ninth neck vertebrae, at the parapophysis, the lower rib joint facet, the internal camellate structure of the bone is visible. At the front neck vertebrae the undersides are formed as sharp keels which are not inset from the lateral sides. At the front back vertebrae, the hypapophyses, the lower swellings of the front facet edges, are formed like low mounds. On the rear back vertebrae the facets of the joint processes are continued sideways as curved flanges. The shoulder joint is wider transversely than long, measured from the front to the rear. The notch on the underside of the front blade of the ilium has a shelf at the inner side. The "feet" of the ischia are connected at their fronts but diverge at their rears. The head of the thighbone is obliquely directed to the front, to above and to the inside. On the thighbone the lesser trochanter has a robust ridge on its outer side. On the thighbone the fourth trochanter has a depression in the form of a thumbprint located to the outside of its upper limit. The front underside of the thighbone is nearly flat, only showing a short vertical groove between the lower condyles. The lower shinbone shows an oval rough area at the inner side. The top of the outer malleolus of the shinbone is pinched from the front to the rear. The outer front bulge of the top surface of the shinbone has a spur pointing to below. In the foot, the outer side of the second metatarsal has a hollow surface to contact the third metatarsal.

In 2015, it was reported that the front of the snout of Neovenator contains a complex system of neurovascular canals, functioning as sensory organs. This trait is also known from Spinosauridae and was there explained as an adaptation for searching prey in water. It was doubted however, whether Neovenator used its system for the same purpose.

The first bones of Neovenator were discovered in the summer of 1978, when a storm made part of the Grange Chine collapse. Rocks containing fossils fell to the beach of Brighstone Bay on the southwestern coast of the Isle of Wight. The rocks consisted of a plant debris bed within the variegated clays and marls of the Wessex Formation dating from the Barremian stage of the Early Cretaceous, about 125 million years ago. They were first collected by the Henwood family and shortly afterwards by geology student David Richards. Richards sent the remains to the Museum of Isle of Wight Geology and the British Museum of Natural History. In the latter institution paleontologist Alan Jack Charig determined that the bones belonged to two kinds of animal: Iguanodon and some theropod. The "Iguanodon", later referred to Mantellisaurus, generated the most interest and in the early 1980s a team was sent by the BMNH to secure more of its bones. On that occasion an additional theropod tail vertebra was discovered.

Reconstructed skeleton, World Museum Liverpool

In 1996, Steve Hutt, David Martill and Michael Barker named and described the type species Neovenator salerii. The generic name Neovenator means "new hunter" from the Greek neo~, "new" and Latin venator, "hunter". The specific name salerii honours the land owners of the site, the Salero family. In view of the large number of individuals involved in the discovery process, it was considered improper to single out one of them as discoverer. The holotype is the skeleton accessioned as BMNH R10001 and MIWG 6348.

In 1999, Hutt dedicated his (unpublished) master thesis to Neovenator.

In 2008, Stephen Louis Brusatte, Roger Benson and Hutt redescribed the species in great detail.

In 2014, teeth indistinguishable from those of the holotype of Neovenator were found in the Angeac lignitic bone bed, France, dating to the Barremian.


At the time that it was described, by Steve Hutt, Martill and Barker in 1996, it was considered the only known allosaurid in Europe. However, further studies suggested it had more in common with the advanced carcharodontosaurid group of allosaurs, and several studies including a detailed examination of the species by Benson, Carrano and Brusatte in 2010 suggest that it is closely related to the Carcharodontosauridae (in a group called Carcharodontosauria), but is actually closer to the megaraptorans, together with them forming the family Neovenatoridae. Other studies have supported Neovenator being a carcharodontosaurid, and megaraptorans being tyrannosauroids.



The holotype of Neovenator salerii had many pathologies. The authors of the genus list them as "midcaudal vertebrae fusions, healed fractures of mid-caudal vertebra transverse processes; osteophytes affecting pedal phalanges, healed gastralia rib fractures, some forming false joints... [and] scapula fracture."

Fossil remains of Neovenator have been found on the Isle of Wight off southern England, and were first discovered in the 20th century. Neovenator perhaps existed alongside other dinosaurs found in the Wessex Formation of the early Cretaceous period, such as BaryonyxPolacanthus and Iguanodon. The holotype bones were mixed with those of the plant-eater Mantellisaurus and in the dig site also remains of fishes, amphibians, lizards, pterosaurs and Goniopholididae were present. Neovenator was one of the apex predators of its day.

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Spiclypeus shipporum: New Dinosaur Species Identified in Montana

Friday, May 20, 2016

An artist’s rendering of Spiclypeus shipporum. Image credit: Mike Skrepnick.

A new species of ceratopsid (horned) dinosaur has been identified from bones discovered a decade ago in the Judith River Formation in Montana.

The species, named Spiclypeus shipporum by Dr. Jordan Mallon from the Canadian Museum of Nature and co-authors who documented it, lived in North America about 76 million years back.

Spiclypeus is a combination of two Latin words meaning ‘spiked shield,’ referring to the impressive head frill and triangular spikes that adorn its margins,” the scientists explained.

“The name shipporum honors the Shipp family, on whose land the fossil was found near Winifred, Montana.”


Spiclypeus shipporum belonged to a group of dinosaurs called ceratopsids (Ceratopsidae), which were herbivorous dinosaurs with horns and huge neck frills.

“Ceratopsidae is a clade of megaherbivorous dinosaurs that arose during the Late Cretaceous and rapidly diversified in Asia and North America to become one of the most speciose dinosaur groups of their time,” Dr. Mallon and co-authors said.

“Ceratopsids are most easily distinguished by their horned crania and expansive parietosquamosal frills, which were typically ornamented for display.”

About half of Spiclypeus shipporum’s skull, as well as parts of the dinosaur’s legs, hips and backbone had been preserved in the silty hillside that once formed part of an ancient floodplain.

What sets this species apart from other ceratopsids such as Triceratops is the orientation of the horns over the eyes, which stick out sideways from the skull.

There is also a unique arrangement to the bony ‘spikes’ that emanate from the margin of the frill — some of the spikes curl forward while others project outward.

“This dinosaur is special because of the shape of its horns and frill. The sideways projection of the brow horns is uncommon, and the arrangement of the frill spikes is unique: near the midline they curl forward, while the others radiate outward,” the paleontologists said.

Spiclypeus shipporum is transitional between more primitive forms in which all the spikes at the back of the frill radiate outward, and those such as Kosmoceratops in which they all curl forward,” Dr. Mallon said.

Skull reconstruction of Spiclypeus shipporum: the darker color indicates the portions of the skull that preserved and were collected. The skull is 2.54 m long x 1.22 m wide x 1.16 m high. Image credit: Mallon J.C. et al.

The remains also tell us much about this individual’s life history, which was rife with suffering — an upper arm bone shows significant deformities from arthritis and osteomyelitis (bone infection).

“If you look near the elbow, you can see great openings that developed to drain an infection,” Dr. Mallon said.

“We don’t know how the bone became infected, but we can be sure that it caused the animal great pain for years and probably made its left forelimb useless for walking.”

Despite this trauma, analysis of the annual growth rings inside the dinosaur’s bones by the team suggests it lived to maturity. The dinosaur would have been at least 10 years old when it died.

“There are now nine well-known dinosaur species — including Spiclypeus shipporum — from Montana’s Judith River Formation,” the scientists said.

“Some are also found in Alberta, which has a much richer fossil record, but others such as Spiclypeus shipporum are unique to Montana.”

“None of the species are shared with more southerly states, suggesting that dinosaur faunas in western North America were highly localized about 76 million years ago.”

The results were published online May 18, 2016 in the journal PLoS ONE.


Mallon J.C. et al. 2016. Spiclypeus shipporum gen. et sp. nov., a Boldly Audacious New Chasmosaurine Ceratopsid (Dinosauria: Ornithischia) from the Judith River Formation (Upper Cretaceous: Campanian) of Montana, USA. PLoS ONE 11 (5): e0154218; doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0154218



Sunday, December 9, 2018

Utahceratops by NTamura

Utahceratops is a genus of ceratopsian dinosaur that lived approximately 76.4~75.5 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous period in what is now UtahUtahceratops was a large-sized, robustly-built, ground-dwelling, quadrupedal herbivore, that could grow up to an estimated 7 m (23 ft) long.

Utahceratops has been classified as a basal chasmosaurine ceratopsian. It has been found to be in a clade of basal chasmosaurines with Pentaceratops.

Utahceratops gettyi by Teratophoneus

The holotype specimen UMNH VP 16784, consists of only a partial skull. This genus is known from six specimens, including two partial skulls, which when taken together preserve about 96% of the skull and 70% of the postcranial skeleton. Utahceratops are estimated to have measured on average 2 metres (6.6 feet) in height, 6 to 7 meters (19.7 to 23 feet) in length, and between three and four metric tons in weight.

According to Sampson et al. (2010), Utahceratops can be distinguished based on the following characteristics: the nasal horncore is caudally positioned, almost entirely behind external naris; the supraorbital horncores are short, robust, dorsolaterally directed, and oblate in shape with a blunt tip; the episquamosals on the mid-portion of the lateral frill margin are low and extremely elongate (some >10 cm long); and the median portion of transverse bar of the parietal bone is rostrally curved.

Reconstructed skeleton, Natural History Museum of Utah

The genus name Utahceratops, means "horned face from Utah", and is derived from the state of Utah and Greek words "keras" (κέρας) meaning "horn" and "ops" (ὤψ) referring to the "face". The specific name gettyi, is derived from the name of Mike Getty, who discovered the holotype and has played a pivotal role in the recovery of fossils from the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM). It was first named by Scott D. Sampson, Mark A. Loewen, Andrew A. Farke, Eric M. Roberts, Catherine A. Forster, Joshua A. Smith and Alan L. Titus in 2010, and the type species is Utahceratops gettyi.

Reconstructed skeleton of Utahceratops with known elements in yellow

The only known specimen of Utahceratops was recovered at the Kaiparowits Formation, in Utah. Argon-argon radiometric dating indicates that the Kaiparowits Formation was deposited between 76.6 and 74.5 million years ago, during the Campanian stage of the Late Cretaceous period. During the Late Cretaceous period, the site of the Kaiparowits Formation was located near the western shore of the Western Interior Seaway, a large inland sea that split North America into two landmasses, Laramidia to the west and Appalachia to the east. The plateau where dinosaurs lived was an ancient floodplain dominated by large channels and abundant wetland peat swamps, ponds and lakes, and was bordered by highlands. The climate was wet and humid, and supported an abundant and diverse range of organisms. This formation contains one of the best and most continuous records of Late Cretaceous terrestrial life in the world.

Chasmosaurine distribution

Utahceratops shared its paleoenvironment with other dinosaurs, such as dromaeosaurid theropods , the troodontid Talos sampsonityrannosaurids like Teratophoneusarmored ankylosaurids, the duckbilled hadrosaurs Parasaurolophus cyrtocristatus and Gryposaurus monumentensis, the ceratopsians Nasutoceratops titusi and Kosmoceratops richardsoni and the oviraptorosaurian Hagryphus giganteus. Some fossil evidence suggests the presence of the tyrannosaurid Albertosaurus and the ornithomimid Ornithomimus velox, but the existing assessment of the material is not conclusive. Paleofauna present in the Kaiparowits Formation included chondrichthyans (sharks and rays), frogs, salamanders, turtles, lizards and crocodilians. A variety of early mammals were present including multituberculates, marsupials, and insectivorans.


Can You Find Dinosaurs in Ireland?

Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Megalosaurus was the first dinosaur to be officially named, following its discovery in Oxfordshire in 1824 (Image: Shutterstock)

Only two dinosaur bones have been discovered in Ireland. What is it about the island's geology that makes dinosaurs such a rare find in this part of the world?

Dinosaurs were massively successful land animals that existed for more than 170 million years and lived across all continents. So you might expect to find fossil evidence of them everywhere you look.

But palaeontologists are at the mercy of time, chance and geology when they go searching for suitable rocks to find dinosaur fossils in.

Dr Mike Simms, Senior Curator of Natural History at National Museums Northern Ireland, explains why so few dinosaur fossils have been unearthed in Ireland. Read on to explore the reasons in more detail.

Summary of Irish geological history

  • Most of the rocks that make up Ireland are from earlier than the time of the dinosaurs, so they hold no dinosaur fossils to be discovered.
  • Only in northeast Ireland are there significant deposits of rocks of the right age to find dinosaur fossils in. But even within this time interval there is a gap of 100 million years in which is no rock at all has been preserved and so no dinosaur fossils either.
  • Ireland was underwater for significant portions of time during the age of the dinosaurs, so there is less chance of land animals such as dinosaurs being preserved in the rocks that are of a suitable age.

Northern Ireland geo-map

Most rocks from the time of the dinosaurs can be found in northeast Ireland, where they have been preserved under later basalt rocks. The map shows Triassic and Jurassic rocks in pink and purple, where they are exposed around the edge of the basalt, shown in light grey. (Cat Ref: P947841)

Ireland during the time of the dinosaurs

Dinosaurs existed for a vast amount of time, from 245 to 66 million years ago. During this time, called the Mesozoic Era, the area of the Earth's crust that we now call Ireland underwent many changes.

It started out as part of a supercontinent called Pangea, at a latitude similar to modern-day Egypt, but as it drifted slowly north it broke up. Over this time the environment across this precursor of Ireland would have changed from desert conditions to periods of partial and total immersion under water.

Where are all the rocks?

Precious little of this history is recorded in the rocks that make up most of Ireland, since most of them are more than 250 million years old. Only about 1% of Ireland's rocks date from the time of the dinosaurs.

Rocks from the correct period may once have existed but since been eroded away, or perhaps the conditions across most of Ireland weren't right for them to form in the first place.

What little Mesozoic rock we do have is found in the northeast of Ireland, but much of it is buried beneath younger rocks. After the end of the age of the dinosaurs, intense volcanic activity caused lava to flow over the surface, forming hard basalt layers that preserved the rock underneath from erosion.

You can find Triassic and Jurassic rocks at Waterloo Bay, near Larne.

Burials at sea

Most of Ireland's Mesozoic rocks were deposited beneath the sea - these include chalks, limestones and mudstones.

Dinosaurs are land animals, so to have been preserved in these types of rocks they would have had to be washed into the sea. While large marine reptile fossils such as ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs have been found here, dinosaur fossils are much rarer.

Dinosaur discoveries

Only two dinosaur fossil bones have been found in Ireland, both from the same location on the Country Antrim coast. The bones are from the hind legs of two animals that lived around 200 million years ago: a herbivore called Scelidosaurus and a carnivorous Megalosaurus.

The fossils can be seen in Ulster Museum, Belfast, where they are currently on display with Dippy.



Saturday, December 8, 2018

Restoration showing bipedal posture, as indicated by a fossil trackway

Scelidosaurus is a genus of herbivorous armoured ornithischian dinosaur from the Jurassic of England.

Scelidosaurus lived during the Early Jurassic Period, during the Sinemurian to Pliensbachian stages around 191 million years ago. This genus and related genera at the time lived on the supercontinent Laurasia. Its fossils have been found near Charmouth in Dorset, England, and are known for their excellent preservation. Scelidosaurus has been called the earliest complete dinosaur. It is the most completely known dinosaur of the British IslesScelidosaurus is currently the only classified dinosaur found in Ireland. Despite this, a modern description is still lacking. After initial finds in the 1850s, comparative anatomist Richard Owen named and described Scelidosaurus in 1859. Only one species, Scelidosaurus harrisonii named by Owen in 1861, is considered valid today, although one other species was proposed in 1996.

Scelidosaurus was about 4 metres (13 ft) long. It was a largely quadrupedal animal, feeding on low scrubby plants, the parts of which were bitten off by the small, elongated head to be processed in the large gut. Scelidosaurus was lightly armoured, protected by long horizontal rows of keeled oval scutes that stretched along the neck, back and tail.

One of the oldest known and most "primitive" of the thyreophorans, the exact placement of Scelidosaurus within this group has been the subject of debate for nearly 150 years. This was not helped by the limited additional knowledge about the early evolution of armoured dinosaurs. Today most evidence indicates that Scelidosaurus is the sister taxon to the two main clades of Thyreophora, the Stegosauria and Ankylosauria.

Scelidosaurus Size Comparison by PaleoGeek

A full-grown Scelidosaurus was rather small compared to most later non-avian dinosaurs, but it was a medium-sized species in the Early Jurassic. Some scientists have estimated a length of 4 metres (13 ft). In 2010, Gregory S. Paul gave a body length of 3.8 metres (12.5 ft) and a weight of 270 kilogrammes. Scelidosaurus was quadrupedal, with the hindlimbs longer than the forelimbs. It may have reared up on its hind legs to browse on foliage from trees, but its arms were relatively long, indicating a mostly quadrupedal posture. A trackway from the Holy Cross Mountains of Poland shows a scelidosaur like animal walking in a bipedal manner, hinting that Scelidosaurus may have been more proficient at bipedalism than previously thought.

The most obvious feature of Scelidosaurus is its armour, consisting of bony scutes embedded in the skin. These osteoderms were arranged in horizontal parallel rows down the animal's body. Osteoderms are today found in the skin of crocodilesarmadillos and some lizards. The osteoderms of Scelidosaurus ranged in both size and shape. Most were smaller or larger oval plates with a high keel on the outside, the highest point of the keel positioned more to the rear. Some scutes were small, flat and hollowed-out at the inside. The larger keeled scutes were aligned in regular horizontal rows. There were three rows of these along each side of the torso. The scutes of the lowest, lateral, row were more conical, rather than the blade-like osteoderms of Scutellosaurus.

Scelidosaurus skeleton

Scelidosaurus harrisonii, named and described by Owen, is currently the only recognized species, based on several nearly complete skeletons. A potential second species from the Sinemurian-age Lower Lufeng Formation, Scelidosaurus oehleri, was described by David Jay Simmons in 1965 under its own genus, Tatisaurus. In 1996 Spencer G. Lucas moved it to Scelidosaurus. Although the fossils are fragmentary, this reassessment has not been accepted, and S. oehleri is today once again recognized as Tatisaurus.

Scelidosaurus was an ornithischian. It was the oldest ornithischian known until the description of Geranosaurus in 1911. During the twentieth century, it has been classified at different times as an ankylosaur or stegosaur. Alfred von Zittel (1902), William Elgin Swinton (1934), and Robert Appleby et al. (1967) identified the genus as a stegosaurian, though this concept then encompassed all armoured forms. In a 1968 paper, Romer argued it was an ankylosaur. In 1977, Richard Thulborn of the University of Queensland attempted to reclassify Scelidosaurus as an ornithopod similar to Tenontosaurus or Iguanodon. Thulborn argued Scelidosaurus was a lightly built bipedal dinosaur adapted for running. Thulborn's 1977 theories on the genus have since been rejected.

This debate is still ongoing; at this time, Scelidosaurus is considered to be either more closely related to ankylosaurids than to stegosaurids and, by extension, a true ankylosaur, or basal to the ankylosaur-stegosaur split. The stegosaur classification has fallen out of favor, but is seen in older dinosaur books. Cladistic analyses have invariably recovered a basal position for Scelidosaurus, outside of the Eurypoda.

Skeletonof a young specimen, Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery

Like most other thyreophoransScelidosaurus is known to be herbivorous. However, while some later ornithischian groups possessed teeth capable of grinding plant material, Scelidosaurus had smaller, less complex leaf-shaped teeth suitable for cropping vegetation and jaws capable of only vertical movement, due to a short jaw joint. Paul Barrett concluded that Scelidosaurus fed with a puncture-crush system of tooth-on-tooth action, with a precise but simple up-and-down jaw movement, in which the food was mashed between the inner side of the upper teeth and the outer side of the lower teeth, without the teeth actually touching each other as shown by very long vertical wear facets on the lower teeth alone. In this aspect, it resembled the stegosaurids, which also bore primitive teeth and simple jaws. Its diet would have consisted of ferns or conifers, as grasses did not evolve until late into the Cretaceous Period, after Scelidosaurus was long extinct.


Hunting for Dinosaur Bones in the Digital Age

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Researchers at the Mongolia Institute of Paleontology examining a fossil from the Gobi. KESHIA NAURANA BADALGE

I’d never seen large animals look so small, or move with such a cinematic stillness, as I did in the Gobi. A dozen of us arrived at Gurvan Saikan airport, in the south of the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, just in time for the break of dawn. As we left the airport and traveled the hour-long drive through the great Mongolian steppe to our campsite, specs of motion in the distance slowly transformed into a caravan of camels or a flock of sheep following each other towards a knoll.

I have traveled here with members of the Explorer’s Club and researchers from the Mongolian Institute of Paleontology and Geology on a mission: to look for evidence of some of the largest animals to roam the Earth. I couldn’t help but think that maybe, in the Gobi, even dinosaurs wouldn’t seem so big.

The Gobi in fact encompasses both desert and steppe, both barren sand and lush greenlands. It’s the world’s largest unfenced rangeland, bounded only by natural features like the Altai mountains in the north, and the Tibetan plateau to the south. Here, native two-humped Bactrian camels, wearing throws of shaggy hair, share space with scorpions, hawks, snow leopards, and Gobi bears. It’s also littered with the remains of prehistoric creatures that, millions of years ago, swarmed the land.

Bones found by drones.

Our path to the south of the Gobi retraced the route of Roy Chapman Andrews, an unorthodox American explorer who led a series of expeditions here nearly a century ago. With a team of scientists, he took a fleet of open-topped Dodges—the first automobiles seen in the region—and scoured sand and rock in search of fossilized bounty in the 1920s. They called him a fool at that time, for the only proven way to get around the Gobi was on light-footed camels—and the Dodges’ feeble totter did not cut an impressive image compared to the humped animals’ elegance. Andrews was not exactly known for his scientific finesse either: while his paleontological counterparts dusted bones off with feathers, he could be found hacking away at the same earth with rock, hammer, and gusto.

It didn’t matter, in the end, whether Andrews looked like a paleontologist or not. In 1922, here in the Gobi, he came upon the richest dinosaur boneyards in the world. His landmark discovery of a nest of fossilized dinosaur eggs in the Flaming Cliffs here changed paleontology forever by proving dinosaurs were reptilian, and opened up Mongolia for future investigations as well as in our collective imagination. Andrews later became the director of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and many speculate Indiana Jones was modelled after him.

In our search for fossils this summer, we were aided by a breakthrough technology modern to our times: satellites and drones. Prior to our departure, satellite imagery narrowed our search by scanning large swathes of land for sandstone, mudstone, and shale deposited during the Cretaceous period, between 145 and 65 million years ago, when dinosaurs are believed to have existed here.

A Mongolian researcher leads the group down the Flaming Cliffs, the same region where Roy Chapman Andrews first found a nest of dinosaur eggs. KESHIA NAURANA BADALGE

After these hotspots were identified, Scott Nowicki, the lead scientist at Florida-based geospatial data firm Quantum Spatial, led the second step of the search using modified DJI Phantom quadcopter drones. Nowicki had previously worked with NASA to use similar drones to study rock surfaces on several explorations to Mars. Here in the Gobi, Nowicki flew drones with thermal and spectral cameras over hundreds of square miles to create high-resolution, three-dimensional maps accurate down to the inch. The process identified 250 likely new locations to find fossils.

Leading the expedition was Badamkhatan Zorigt—or “Badmaa” for short—a cherubic paleontologist from Mongolia. Badmaa received his doctorate at the University of Montana under the training of Jack Horner (the technical advisor for all the Jurassic park films), and now heads the division of vertebrate paleontology at the Mongolian Institute of Paleontology and Geology. He told us how difficult it would have been to execute effective fossil excavations without those high-res maps. “We just wouldn’t have the resources to go out to look,” he said, “It is very time-consuming, as you will see.”

Scouting by Eye in the Flaming Cliffs

After a sleepless night of travel and a quick breakfast of tsuivan (a traditional stew of stir-fried noodles and meat and suutei tsai (milk tea), I took the wheel of an Infiniti SUV. Other members of the team piled into what was certainly an upgrade from Andrews’ 1920s Dodge.

Our destination: the Flaming Cliffs, a sprawling basin of pink sand and bleached rock that earned its name from how its rocks glow like fire in the setting sun. “Fossils are everywhere here,” Badmaa assured us, “you just have to learn how to look.”

The author holding a bone found in the Ömnögovi province. KESHIA NAURANA BADALGE

Drones equipped with advanced imaging equipment can find a fossil beneath the earth, but they can’t do the painstaking work of picking out bone from the rock. The ravines and gorges which were, in Andrews’ words, “studded with bones,” are now peppered by red herrings: wind-strewn rock of similar size and color, and the bones of modern species such as cows, camel, and sheep. The best places to look for fossils, I learned from Badmaa, were at the sides of rock outcrops, where erosion would have uncovered fossils and then left them exposed.

On the surface of rocky slope awash with pebbles, Badmaa found the skull of a Protoceratops—an Upper Cretaceous-period herbivore, which as a mature adult reached about six feet (1.8 meters) long and 400 lbs (180 kg)—skull awkwardly jutting out. Badmaa predicted that the dinosaur’s body sits somewhere inside the slope. It would take a long time to fully excavate the slope and uncover the body, so the team from Mongolia will have to return again later in the year.

In just 20 days, the team of paleontologists, geologists, and Explorer Club members was able to survey the same amount of land it took Andrews multiple years to cover. Among the hundreds of fossils found were the hind leg of an ostrich-type dinosaur from 65 million years ago, a 70-million-year old intact turtle, and the first Velociraptor ancestor uncovered in the Öösh mountain range. The search also yielded a primitive horned dinosaur never before seen in the Ömnögovi province of the Gobi, a rare Theropod dinosaur egg, and a velociraptor rib cage.

Then there were the discoveries of the vertebrae, ribs, skull, and tail fragments of a Tarbosaurusthe Mongolian cousin of the T. rexas well as the longest mature Tarbosaurus tooth ever found. Chinzorig Tsogtbaatar, a researcher with the Institute of Paleontology and Geology in Mongolia, said that the tooth might have belonged to “possibly the largest carnivorous dinosaur found in the southern region of Mongolia.”

Base camp in the Gobi desert. KESHIA NAURANA BADALGE

The Future of Dinosaur Fossil Hunting

In 2011, on NPR’s program Talk of The Nation, three members of the National Geographic Society grappled with this question: “What do explorers do in the 21st century?”

At a time when Google Maps can call up a picture of a remote village, and satellites can zoom in on contours of the seafloor 12,000 ft (3,650 meters) under the ocean’s surface, exploration has lost some of its allure.

Robert Ballard, explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society and a guest on the NPR program, argued that digital exploration tools are a cause for celebration, not dismay. Explorers in the past had the propensity to leave a trail of damage in their wake. More “remote” exploration, through drones and satellites, provide a less intrusive alternative. This certainly applies to paleontological exploration in Mongolia. The land here is fragile; one wrong step or chisel hack could cause a million-year-old fossil to crumble to dust. The satellite and drone maps are able to delineate areas that are safe for walking, as well as areas that require an extra-cautious approach.

We may soon even be able to advance paleontology from our bedrooms. After the data from the three-dimensional maps is processed, the Mongolia team plans to open them up to the public for “virtual scouring.” Because the maps are so detailed, the researchers think that people anywhere in the world could virtually walk through the land and look for fossils on their screens. Horner says he already searches for fossils on his computer via drone photos. The combination of thermal and spectral cameras could add a new dimension of specificity. This would open up a new era for citizen science and allow for more people, who do not have the means or access to fossil hotspots, to contribute to paleontology. Call this the new era of virtual paleontology.


Copper Dinosaur Appears in Aberdeen Shopping Centre

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Welcome to Jurassic nark: Coppersaurus “unearthed” as UK grows frustrated with prehistoric broadband

A copper dinosaur has been unveiled at Aberdeen’s Union Square shopping centre as part of a national broadband campaign.

The Coppersaurus is touring the UK as part of the CityFibre’s national campaign to make “misleading broadband adverts extinct”.

It will be making its way to the Bon Accord Centre tomorrow.

Will Brayne, director of marketing and communications at CityFibre, said: “The Coppersaurus represents the UK’s neglected digital infrastructure and its equally redundant advertising rules. Copper is masquerading as fibre across the UK, leaving us stuck with a relic from the past rather than focusing on the digital connectivity of the future.”

The Coppersaurus at Union Square in Aberdeen

At present, the UK’s advertising rules – enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) – do not require advertisers to distinguish between full and part fibre services.

The city has been selected as the first location in Scotland to benefit from a complete full fibre transformation as part of CityFibre’s strategic partnership with Vodafone, which aims to deliver full fibre to five million homes and businesses by 2025.


New Dinosaur Species Discovered in Australia: Weewarrasaurus pobeni

Friday, December 7, 2018

An artist’s impression of Weewarrasaurus pobeni. Image credit: James Kuether.

Paleontologists in Australia have found a fossil fragment from a new species of ornithopod dinosaur that walked the Earth approximately 100 million years ago (Cretaceous period).

The new Australian dinosaur, named Weewarrasaurus pobeni, was about the size of a large dog.

The ancient creature was an ornithopod dinosaur, part of a group of small plant-eating species that moved around on two legs and that were particularly abundant on the Cretaceous floodplains of eastern Australia.

A fragment of the jawbone of Weewarrasaurus pobeni was found deep in an underground mine at the Wee Warra locality close to the Grawin/Glengarry opal fields, approximately 25 miles (40 km) southwest of Lightning Ridge, central-northern New South Wales.

The fossil was analyzed by a team of paleontologists from the Australian Opal Centre and the Universities of New England and Queensland.

“Like all fossils from the Lightning Ridge opal mines, the lower jaw of Weewarrasaurus pobeni is preserved in opal,” said University of New England’s Dr. Phil Bell and co-authors.

“Lightning Ridge is the only place in the world where dinosaur bones routinely turn to opal.”

The lower jaw of Weewarrasaurus pobeni. Image credit: Bell et al, doi: 10.7717/peerj.6008.

Lightning Ridge is a world-class fossil resource because it preserves a unique suite of Cretaceous fauna.

“If these fossils were in surface rock, like those found in China and Mongolia, it would be an absolute treasure-trove,” Dr. Bell said.

“Unfortunately, the fossil remnants we see are almost always part of mining spoil, because they sit in rock strata that lie up to 100 feet (30 m) underground.”

“The mining process breaks the fossils into fragments — but on the other hand, we would never get to see even those fragments if it wasn’t for mining.”

“The jawbone of Weewarrasaurus pobeni is a supremely rare and unlikely discovery,” said Dr. Jenni Brammall, manager of the Australian Opal Centre.

“This incredible little object is both the 100 million-year-old jaw of a new dinosaur species and a precious gemstone.”

The discovery is reported in the journal PeerJ.


P.R. Bell et al. 2018. Ornithopod diversity in the Griman Creek Formation (Cenomanian), New South Wales, Australia. PeerJ 6: e6008; doi: 10.7717/peerj.6008


Strangers Replace Boy's Toy Dinosaurs Burnt in California Fire

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Riley Wooten, 4, with some of the dinosaurs strangers sent him after his collection burned with his Paradise, Calif., home in the deadly Camp Fire. (Tanya Renfro)

Four-year-old Riley Wooten literally ran from his house in Paradise, Calif., with his grandmother and his dog as their home suddenly erupted in flames.

He grabbed his favorite toy, a dinosaur named Chompy, but left behind everything else, including his prized collection of other dinos.

He and his family made it safely out of town that day last month to relatives’ homes, dodging fire raining around them in the Camp Fire blaze that killed almost 90 people and scorched about 14,000 homes. In the aftermath, friends and family kept asking Riley’s family: What can we do to help?

In response, Riley’s great aunt, Tanya Renfro, posted on Facebook that maybe someone could send Riley a toy dinosaur, as he sorely missed his collection. She added a photo of Riley on Halloween dressed as a Triceratops. Within days, boxes and boxes of dinosaurs, dino-themed blankets, pillowcases, movies, books and lamps started appearing at their doorstep.

Riley Wooten, 4, with some of the dinosaurs strangers sent him after his home in Paradise, Calif., burned and he lost his collection. (Tanya Renfro)

There were walking Velociraptors, talking Pteradons, light-up Triceratops and a roaring T-Rex.

“All my friends shared my Facebook post and people were like, ‘Oh my gosh, give me that baby’s address,’ ” Renfro said. “Some days, we’d get five packages.”

Riley’s collection has been replenished to about 100 different dinosaur toys. But the boxes keep coming — and about half of the packages are from complete strangers.

“The outpouring has been amazing,” Renfro said. “I can’t even describe how much the community has come together to help. Everybody lost everything, nobody had time to get their things.”

Riley’s family is grateful for the many dinosaur toys people have sent, which are helping Riley as he deals with the trauma of watching his home and all his belongings go up in flames.

“My old school burned down,” Riley said in an interview with The Washington Post, and he also described how he left his favorite blue helmet in his old house, and now it’s gone.

“Sometimes he’ll cry and say ‘I want to go home,’ ” Renfro said.

But he excitedly talks about his new toys.

Riley has been raised by his grandmother, Teri Shesson, 58, with the help of other family members since he was just a few weeks old, when his parents couldn’t care for him and they wanted Riley to be raised in a stable, loving home.  “He’s the sweetest boy and he’s very smart,” Renfro said.  He and his grandmother are now living with Riley’s aunt, Jenny Benson, 34, in the town of Gridley, which is about 30 miles from Paradise. Riley and Shesson are sleeping in a room with Benson’s son, who is roughly the same age as Riley.  It has been a bit of a challenge at times, but Benson said they all feel extraordinarily fortunate because they are aware that many people were not able to escape the fire, or if they did, have nowhere to go.  [This family fled the Camp Fire. Then they learned their garage became a makeshift hospital.]  Benson gets excited with Riley every time a package arrives. She has also been helping him set aside some of his new dinosaur toys for other kids in need.  “He’s bagged up some to give to kids who really don’t have anything,” Benson said, adding there is a local shelter in town where she can bring them. “It’s a good lesson for him to pay it forward.”

“I got dinosaur blankets, I got a pillowcase with my name on it and a dinosaur that poops other dinosaurs out,” he said in the phone interview.

Riley has been raised by his grandmother, Teri Shesson, 58, with the help of other family members since he was just a few weeks old, when his parents couldn’t care for him and they wanted Riley to be raised in a stable, loving home.

“He’s the sweetest boy and he’s very smart,” Renfro said.

He and his grandmother are now living with Riley’s aunt, Jenny Benson, 34, in the town of Gridley, which is about 30 miles from Paradise. Riley and Shesson are sleeping in a room with Benson’s son, who is roughly the same age as Riley.

It has been a bit of a challenge at times, but Benson said they all feel extraordinarily fortunate because they are aware that many people were not able to escape the fire, or if they did, have nowhere to go.

Benson gets excited with Riley every time a package arrives. She has also been helping him set aside some of his new dinosaur toys for other kids in need.

“He’s bagged up some to give to kids who really don’t have anything,” Benson said, adding there is a local shelter in town where she can bring them. “It’s a good lesson for him to pay it forward.”