Why Do Kids Love Dinosaurs? Their Obsession Isn't Going Extinct Any Time Soon

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images News/Getty Images

There was a period of time when my son was little that I had so many predators in the house, I should have feared for my life if they weren't all plastic. Hours of Dinosaur Train and Dino Dan were the norm of my life. Every time my son got in the car, he'd announce "Next stop! The Cretaceous time period," and make the noises of a passenger train. At preschool, it was essentially all dinos all the time. Every single child was obsessed with the giant reptiles of old. But why do kids love dinosaurs to a point well beyond fascination?

It turns out that there is a real, psychological reason why children are so fanatical in their love of dinosaurs. Kelli Chen, a pediatric psychiatric occupational therapist at Johns Hopkins, told The Cut that the confidence boosting skills acquired by knowing so much about one thing is a big deal for kids. Dinosaurs aren't just fascinating — the information about their lives and histories is accessible to young children in various formats. You can read books, listen to podcasts, watch myriad children's programming, and go see their bones at the museum. Not to mention that the merchandise in the children's dinosaur industry is so detailed and wonderful.

This is nowhere near a new phenomenon, it's only that the programming has become so much more sophisticated. Millennials were raised with the cute dinosaurs of The Land Before Time and Ice Age, not to mention the weird, but wildly addictive television show Dinosaurs. (Which we can all still quote — "Not the mama!") But current kids' shows have actual facts and an educational aspect that our films and television shows did not. They're also decidedly less depressing than The Land Before Timeso ostensibly there's also less emotional damage inflicted in their viewing.

Chen told The Cut that “asking questions, finding answers, and gaining expertise is the learning process in general,” and that is a big factor in why it's all just so fascinating, and why children develop what's known as an "intense interest" in dinosaurs. We are creating the optimal environment for this interest to grow by encouraging this level of self-directed learning by teaching our children how to find more information, and how to learn more. Chen said it should be encouraged.

I contacted an expert in children's learning, children's librarian (and blogger) Nancy Schimmel, and she tells Romper that children are also drawn to the logic of dinosaurs. Yes they're huge and terrifying, but there's nothing otherworldly about them, so they're more easily understood. Plus, the fact that they're extinct makes them a more abstract idea that can titillate their imaginations without scaring them.

For a long time, I thought that my child's absolute obsession over dinosaurs had to do with my son being autistic. It was just one more thing to add to his list of obsessions, right up there with car wheels and watching the weather. Until I had my daughter. She was also obsessed with all things extinct, and could tell me all about how alligators and birds are really just dinosaurs and how the tardigrade is "basically a dinosaur water panda."

Brian Switek has a much simpler response for the question of kids loving dinosaurs. He wrote in The Guardian that dinosaurs are impressive and scary, and they've been dead for so long, they no longer pose any threat. "We first meet Tyrannosaurus and Diplodocus as children, their bones inspiring dreams, nightmares, and some of our earliest connections to science," he wrote. Those dreams grow and become curiosities in tiny minds that explode when given more information. It's the enrapturing connections that children make in their minds between what was, what is, and what could be, and to me, that's the biggest joy of being a parent — watching my children become enriched and excited. Even if you have the Dinosaur Train theme song stuck in your head for three years straight.


Mnyamawamtuka moyowamkia: Long-Necked Dinosaur With a Heart-Shaped Tail Discovered in Tanzania

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Mnyamawamtuka moyowamkia. Image credit: Mark Witton / E. Gorscak & P.M. O’Connor, doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0211412.

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

The new dinosaur, named Mnyamawamtuka moyowamkia, is a member of Titanosauria, a diverse group of sauropod dinosaurs that includes species ranging from the largest known terrestrial vertebrates to ‘dwarfs’ no bigger than elephants.

“Although titanosaurs became one of the most successful dinosaur groups before the infamous mass extinction capping the Age of Dinosaurs, their early evolutionary history remains obscure, and Mnyamawamtuka moyowamkia helps tell those beginnings, especially for their African-side of the story,” said team leader Dr. Eric Gorscak, a researcher at the Field Museum of Natural History and the Midwestern University.

The partial skeleton of Mnyamawamtuka moyowamkia — including teeth, elements from all regions of the postcranial skeleton, portions of both limbs — was recovered from Cretaceous-age rocks of the Galula Formation in southwest Tanzania.

“The wealth of information from the skeleton indicates it was distantly related to other known African titanosaurs, except for some interesting similarities with another dinosaur, Malawisaurus, from just across the Tanzania-Malawi border,” Dr. Gorscak said.

Titanosaurs are best known from Cretaceous-age rocks in South America, but other efforts by Dr. Gorscak and colleagues include new species discovered in Tanzania, Egypt, and other parts of the African continent that reveal a more complex picture of dinosaurian evolution on the planet.

“The discovery of dinosaurs like Mnyamawamtuka moyowamkia and others we have recently discovered is like doing a four-dimensional connect the dots,” said Ohio University’s Professor Patrick O’Connor.

“Each new discovery adds a bit more detail to the picture of what ecosystems on continental Africa were like during the Cretaceous, allowing us to assemble a more holistic view of biotic change in the past.”

“This new dinosaur gives us important information about African fauna during a time of evolutionary change,” said Dr. Judy Skog, a program director in NSF’s Division of Earth Sciences, which funded the research.

“The discovery offers insights into paleogeography during the Cretaceous. It’s also timely information about an animal with heart-shaped tail bones during this week of Valentine’s Day.”

The discovery is reported in a paper in the journal PLoS ONE.


E. Gorscak & P.M. O’Connor. 2019. A new African Titanosaurian Sauropod Dinosaur from the middle Cretaceous Galula Formation (Mtuka Member), Rukwa Rift Basin, Southwestern Tanzania. PLoS ONE 14 (2): e0211412; doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0211412


New Dinosaur-Dedicated Water Theme Park Opening in Istria

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Paleo Park (Photo: Mon Perin)

A new dinosaur-focused water theme park is set to open in Istria, halfway between Pula and Rovinj near Bale.

The new Paleo Park, located near the famous paleontological sites in the Mon Perin campsite in Bale, is a combination of a theme water amusement park and an educational facility which will promote this archaeological site on the coastline of Bale. 

Paleo Park (Photo: Mon Perin)

The 16,200m2 water park features a dinosaur-shaped pool, relax pool, children’s pool, family pool, hydromassage pool, hot baths, jacuzzi, indoor restaurant, covered outdoor bar area, sunbathing area and a souvenir shop. There will also be various-sized replica dinosaur models around the park showcasing the fascinating history of dinosaurs. 

Paleo Park (Photo: Mon Perin)

“Dinosaur bones, including a back vertebra of Histriasaurus, the world’s oldest known member of the strange sauropod (long-necked plant-eating dinosaur) group Rebbachisauridae, were found in the Bay of Colona in Bale in 1992. Remains of meat-eating dinosaurs and a large sauropod related to the giant Brachiosaurus have been discovered as well,” the park states. 

This amazing discovery put Bale on the World List of Paleontological Sites at the World Congress of Paleontologists in Beijing in 1995.

As far as is known, Bale is the only site in the world to preserve the fossils of these extinct reptiles under the sea. Dinosaur fossils at Bale are about 130 million years old.

Paleo Park (Photo: Mon Perin)

Including species known from footprints found elsewhere in Istria, at least ten dinosaur species are believed to have lived in the area.  

The park will focus on educating the youngsters by establishing co-operation with kindergartens and primary and secondary schools, thus enabling them to find out more about this unique site by taking a walk though the theme park. 

Paleo Park (Photo: Mon Perin)

The will be able to accommodate around 4,000 people when it opens in this summer with over 20 people employed at the park. 

More details on the website here.

Paleo Park (Photo: Mon Perin)


Paleontologists Have Found Traces of Multicellular Organisms Age 2.1 Billion Years

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Until now, the oldest traces of motility (an organism's ability to move independently using metabolic energy) dated to about 600 million years ago. But now, newly analyzed fossils suggest that motility dates back to 2.1 billion years ago. (Scale bar: 1 centimeter, or 0.4 inches.) Credit: A. El Albani/IC2MP/CNRS - Université de Poitiers

Organisms lived on the bottom of the sea 2.1 billion years ago.

Paleontologists from France and Canada discovered in Gabon traces of macroscopic organisms that lived at the bottom of shallow seas approximately 2.1 billion years ago. It is 600 million years before the time of life previous record.

It should be noted that skeptics argue that found by researchers of the samples were traces of colonies of bacteria or inorganic entities, for example, the nodules of sulphur.

The researchers conducted a series of analyses of the chemical composition of fossils, which confirmed that the organic traces of them still there, and traces of sulfur no. Moreover, scientists have discovered a series of fossils that can be interpreted as traces of crawling.

The discovery by researchers means that multicellular organisms appeared on Earth almost at the moment when its atmosphere began to contain appreciable amount of oxygen biogenic origin. However, it is likely that the detected multicellular soon became extinct and left no descendants.


Jurassic Park’s Sam Neill and Laura Dern Reunite Amid Rumours They’ll Return for Jurassic World 3

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Laura Dern and Sam Neill in Jurassic Park (Picture: Universal)

Sam Neill and Laura Dern have staged a mini Jurassic Park reunion amid rumours they’ll both return for Jurassic World 3.

The pair played Dr Alan Grant and Dr Ellie Sattler respectively in Steven Spielberg’s 1993 classic, with the former reprising his role for the slightly-less-classic Jurassic Park III in 2001. Posting to Twitter, Neill uploaded a picture of the pair united once more, writing: ‘And then a happy reunion with that lovely pal of mine @LauraDern. ‘Ok, a @JurassicPark flashback if absolutely insist.’

Their reunion follows rumours they could appear on screen together in Jurassic World 3 helmed by director Colin Trevorrow. Speaking to MTV, Trevorrow previously explained how he believes bringing back legacy characters, like the return of Dr. Ian Malcolm in Fallen Kingdom, is important to the franchise.

In regards to Fallen Kingdom, Trevorrow said: ‘We felt like this was Malcolm’s return. This was his… let him have his moment. I feel that way about everyone, especially Laura [Dern], in that she never got to have her own movie.

Jurassic Park was released back in 1993 (Picture: Universal Pictures)

‘That identified as being something that’s important. I feel like this moment with Goldblum, because he had this very clear set of ethical questions that he was able to pose for everyone, we just wanted to put the spotlight on him.’ Dern and Neill have not been confirmed for Jurassic World 3, but it perhaps would bring the franchise full circle if it is the last outing for the franchise. Jurassic World 3 has a scheduled release date of 11 June 2021.


Jurassic Park FOR REAL — Dinosaurs 'Clever as HUMANS' Nearly Evolved

Sunday, February 10, 2019

BRAINIAC: Thought experiments indicate dinosaurs might have evolved smarter (Pic: DS)

DINOSAURS would have evolved to become as intelligent as humans if they had not been cheated of their destiny by an asteroid, it is claimed.

The reptile-like creatures reigned the planet for 150 million years, until an asteroid slammed into the Gulf of Mexico with the force of a billion nuclear bombs.

The only dinosaur survivors of this apocalypse are the birds we know today, which evolved from a group of theropod dinosaurs.

But the collision — the biggest ever extinction event — was a freak accident of minute probability and should never have happened, according to research.

In fact, if the asteroid Chicxulub had struck almost anywhere else on Earth it is thought the non-bird dinosaurs would have survived.

Kunio Kaiho and Naga Oshima at Tohoku University in Japan suggested only 13% of the Earth’s surface contained the fatal mix of materials which could catalyse a mass extinction.

Writing in the journal Scientific Reports, the pair pointed out it was the cloud of light-blocking dust which helped seal the dinosaurs’ demise.

If not for their untimely end, dinosaurs might have developed intelligence to rival humans.

STRANGE CREATURE: Feathered dinosaur model in the Vienna Natural History Museum (Pic: GETTY)

“They were still thriving, still hugely diverse when the asteroid hit,” palaeontologist Steve Brusatte told Colin Barras in an essay for New Scientist’s The Universe Next Door.

“If the asteroid had never hit then, then the non-bird dinosaurs would still be here today and would probably be very diverse.”

It is thought the reason us humans became so intelligent was to cope with climate change.

The challenge of a cooling planet led us to develop sophisticated hunting techniques to cope with food shortages and to build increasingly complicated structures.

So facing these same problems, might the dinosaurs have gone on to invent the wheel, nuclear power, and artificial intelligence?

The dinosaur Troodon had a surprisingly big brain for its size and even rudimentary opposable thumbs — the evolutionary trait that allowed humans to use tools.

Palaeontologist Dave Russell went as far to suggest dinosaurs would even have ended up looking like humans.

The “dinosauriod” was modelled with two long legs, arms, green scaly skin, and three-digit hands and feet.

SMARTEST DINO: Troodon was a small carnivorous dinosaur (Pic: GETTY)

The model was panned by many in the scientific community, but more for its sci-fi alien head and humanoid body than its supposed smarts.

And avian dinosaurs did reach an intelligence to rival great apes — crows and parrots use tools and have complex language skills.

Some species have an IQ comparable to a human three-year-old.

Perhaps when humans are wiped-out, it will be birds that rule the roost.

BIZZARE: Sketch of Russell's 'Dinosauroid' (Pic: NC)


Chris Pratt Promises Fans Won’t Be Disappointed In ‘Jurassic World’ 3

Saturday, February 9, 2019

The end of 2018's Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom saw the dinosaurs that had been shipped to the United States free and roaming the wilderness. Chris Pratt, who stars in the series, has now explained that Jurassic World 3 will feature a significant time jump so as to examine the consequences of that twist.

In an interview with MTV News, Pratt revealed that he knows what will happen in the upcoming sequel. "When I heard the pitch, I was blown away," he said. "I can't believe they found a way to deliver on the promise of the end of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom... The island is blown up. The animals are out. We can't put 'em back in the box. What are we gonna do? How is -- not only these dinosaurs, but this technology moving forward -- going to affect the planet? And we jump forward, it's like, 'oh! oh right! Oh damn!'"

Although exactly how much time will pass remains unclear, the actor's answers indicate that the film will take audiences into the middle of humanity's attempt to deal with issue of dinosaurs. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was set three years after the events of Jurassic World, which is also the real time between the movies. It's entirely possible that Jurassic World 3's time jump will be similar and based off the film's release date.

Pratt also reiterated that director Colin Trevorrow is intending to bring everything "full circle" with this third film in the Jurassic World series. Otherwise. Pratt didn't divulge many other details. In December, Trevorrow also claimed that dinosaurs will not terrorize cities in the third film, so we know that, at least.

There are few details available for Jurassic World 3, which is slated for a 2021 release. The movie will see the return of Chris Pratt as Owen Grady and Bryce Dallas Howard as Claire Dearing.


Redefining Dinosaurs: Paleontologists are Shaking the Dinosaur Family Tree to its Roots

Friday, February 8, 2019

The current dinosaur family tree, which is fundamentally based on differences in hip morphology, has been in use since 1887. Scientists have recently proposed reorganizing some of the tree’s biggest branches. Credit: K. Cantner, AGI.

What traits distinguish one dinosaur from another? For many, that question probably conjures characteristics like the massive jaws of tyrannosaurs, the distinctive horns and plates of ceratopsids and stegosaurs, and the exceedingly large bodies of sauropods and their kin. But for paleontologists looking to classify different dinosaurs, it’s all about the shapes, or morphologies, of the animals’ bones.

With a knowledge of the morphological traits of dinosaur bones and enough of a fossil skeleton, paleontologists can broadly identify where on the dinosaur tree a specimen fits. Then they can look to other traits — specifically those shared by subsets of dinosaurs — to figure out where the animal belongs in more detail.

The dinosaur family tree we use today was first published in 1887. After studying the orientation of the bones that make up dinosaurs’ hips, paleontologist Harry Seeley proposed that all dinosaurs fit into one of two groups, based on the structure of their pelvises. As in all tetrapods, the dinosaur pelvis, where the hips attach to the spine, is made up of three bones: the illium, the ischium and the pubis. He found that, in some species, like the sauropods, the pubic bones point toward the front of the body, while in other species, such as the duck-billed hadrosaurs, they point toward the back, running parallel to the ischia. Seeley called the former group Saurischia, meaning “lizard-hipped,” because of the resemblance of the orientation of these animals’ hip bones to those in lizards; animals in the latter group became Ornithischia, meaning “bird-hipped,” because of the similarity of their hip structure to that of modern birds. From those two broad branches in Seeley’s classification sprung more specialized groups of dinosaurs, including the theropods — saurischians that include tyrannosaurs, dromaeosaurs and birds, among others.

The skeleton of the Tyrannosaurus rex named “Sue” at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History displays the forward-facing pubic bone in its hip. Theropods like T. rex have traditionally been considered part of the dinosaur group Saurischia, meaning “lizard-hipped,” because of the resemblance of the orientation of these animals’ hip bones to those in lizards. Credit: Connie Ma.

This split between bird-hipped and lizard-hipped dinosaurs has been entrenched among dinosaur researchers since Seeley’s days. But in a 2017 study in Nature, a team led by paleontologist Matthew Baron of the University of Cambridge in England proposed a radical reconfiguration of that arrangement. Baron and his team suggested that the ornithischian-saurischian classification should be set aside in favor of a revised tree in which the dichotomy in hip structure is not all-encompassing. This new classification combines theropods with ornithischians in a new group called Ornithoscelida, while the sauropods and herrerasaurids — an early group of carnivores that died out in the Triassic — remain as the saurischians (technically sauropodomorphs).

Such a reorganization, involving branches near the base of the dinosaur family tree, represents a major overhaul — one that challenges an orthodoxy built on roughly a century and a half of research. Among the many implications, the new classification suggests that carnivory in dinosaurs evolved independently at least twice, in herrerasaurids and theropods. With both of those groups previously considered saurischians, it appeared carnivory had evolved just once. Also, feathers, once thought to occur across multiple dinosaur lineages, now seem to have evolved in only the theropods — the line that led to the birds. Additionally, it was unclear from Seeley’s long-standing family tree whether the last common ancestor of all dinosaurs was lizard- or bird-hipped, or how many times the evolutionary transition from one to the other conformation might have happened. The new tree implies that the first dinosaur was lizard-hipped and that bird-hipped morphologies evolved later in multiple ornithoscelidan lineages, specifically among the ornithischians and several theropod groups.

But many paleontologists are not ready to accept the revised tree; such a big shift in our understanding of dinosaur evolutionary history is a steep proposition, and some researchers are calling for caution and more study.

All About the Bones

The key to differentiating dinosaur groups is anatomical data, specifically related to bones. However, those data, because they can be somewhat subjective, are not always easy to define. A paleontologist looking to distinguish one dinosaur species or group from another logs differences in bone morphologies. If enough differences are logged, a picture emerges of how dinosaurs are distinct animals — from the clade level all the way down to individual species.

Left: The traditional dinosaur family tree, with Ornithischia and Saurischia separated based on differences in hip-bone morphology. Right: The dinosaur family tree proposed by Matthew Baron and his colleagues, in which Ornithischia forms a new group with Theropoda called Ornithoscelida. Credit: K. Cantner, AGI.

Broadly, dinosaurs as a whole are distinguished from other reptilian groups like pterosaurs by the presence of a hole in their hip sockets. Although hip bones have been the major focus, there are numerous other bones to consider as well: femurs and teeth, for example. While sauropods like Apatosaurus had relatively straight femurs resembling the columns that support ancient Greek temples, theropods like Tyrannosaurus rex had femurs with more of a bowed shape. Within sauropods, meanwhile, there are distinctions in tooth morphology: Some have spatula-shaped teeth while others have more peg-like teeth.

This is essentially what Baron and his team did in their 2017 study: They assembled a dataset of morphological features that they thought best distinguished dinosaurs, including everything from unique openings in the skull to the varying shapes of different limb bones. In total, they looked at 457 traits from 74 different dinosaur taxa, with most of their data coming from previously published scientific literature. Although the researchers didn’t set out to fundamentally reshape the dinosaur family tree, Baron explains, their findings led them to do just that.

A Gnarly Tree Trunk

The exercise of parsing features to distinguish dinosaur species gets trickier the closer you get to the base of the dinosaur evolutionary tree, where the major groups diverge. The early species that are known all tend to look somewhat similar, and paleontologists often have a hard time telling who’s who. That is the root of the debate, because those early dinosaur species — called dinosauromorphs — are key to deciphering the base of the dinosaur family tree, says Steve Brusatte, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, who co-authored a response in Nature rebutting the Baron team’s revised tree.

One of those early species is the Late Triassic Eoraptor lunensis, known from a nearly complete skeleton found in the Valley of the Moon in northwestern Argentina. Eoraptor was a bipedal dinosaur that lived about 230 million years ago on the supercontinent Gondwana. About the size of a dog, it lived before dinosaurs were the top predators on the landscape, and before they diversified into the many famous forms known today.

The Late Triassic Eoraptor is known from skeletons found in Argentina, such as this one. Credit: public domain.

Eoraptor lunensis had forelimbs that appear adapted for grasping, and it looks like it is the “perfect, standard-issue basal dinosaur,” Baron says, because it appears it could be almost any dinosaur’s ancestor — which is a problem when it comes to figuring out which dinosaurs might be its direct descendants. “Eoraptor is a nightmare … there are as many opinions on what Eoraptor is as there are workers in the field,” Baron says.

Deciding What’s Most Important

But before they can define anything, scientists have to come to an agreement on how important or relevant various morphological characteristics, such as thumb shape, are compared to others when it comes to deciphering relationships. And how should these characteristics even be assessed? It’s all too subjective, Sereno says.

Sereno says that the current way dinosaur paleontologists assemble and use datasets, and thus how they build evolutionary trees, needs to change. “You can make a hypothesis and literally ignore a huge part of the data that somebody else used to look at the same group,” he says.

Like Eoraptor, Heterodontosaurus tucki (above and below) is one of the early dinosaurs discovered in the last few decades that prompted some paleontologists to rethink the dinosaur family tree. Credit: top: Tyler Keillor; below: Funk Monk, CC BY-SA 3.0.

When researchers assess bone morphology, for example, they might describe a particular part of a bone as being round or square-shaped, but that assessment is up to each researcher. Furthermore, if someone can’t decide whether the morphology is round or square, they might simply note the characteristic as “absent.” But, Sereno explains, absence or presence has nothing to do with shape — the quality of interest — so describing a shape as absent obscures the meaning or relevance of the characteristic with respect to deciphering evolutionary relationships.

Standardizing the assessment of dinosaur characteristics and the use of datasets is one of the only ways to get around the issue of researcher subjectivity, Sereno says. “We need more rules.”

How those new rules might take shape is unclear, but until standardization occurs, different results and different evolutionary trees will continue to emerge whenever different researchers run analyses. Following the proposal to revise the dinosaur tree in 2017, for instance, Brusatte and his co-authors studied the same set of characteristics that Baron’s team had used in its study. They went through each morphological trait considered in the study and reinterpreted them based on their own expertise. What they came up with was a tree that supported the traditional ornithischian-saurischian arrangement. Brusatte says subjectivity is “just the nature of the game.”

Much in paleontology is left to subjective descriptions and assumptions, such as whether Eoraptor’s “grasping forelimbs” more closely resemble those of later theropods or later sauropods. Credit: James Kuether.

What everyone involved in the debate seems to agree on is that “we really need more fossils: especially new fossils of Triassic dinosaurs from near the base of the dinosaur family tree that can help untangle the relationships of these lineages,” Brusatte says. “[The debate] has revealed that something we thought was a certainty is actually a mystery. And so that mystery has to be solved.”

Baron agrees: “It could be that two or three discoveries make all the difference.”

For now, which version of the dinosaur family tree — the traditional or revised — comes closer to the truth remains unclear. Meanwhile, to surmount differences in opinion and create a standard set of metrics with which to parse fossils, “we need a lot more collaboration” among researchers, Baron says.


These Fuzz-Covered Flying Reptiles Had Catlike Whiskers

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

This pterosaur (seen here in an illustration) was covered in different sorts of hairlike fuzz. Their structure is the same as the protofeathers that covered some dinosaurs.  YANG ZHANG

Delicate fossils reveal a new look for pterosaurs.

Pterosaurs were not dinosaurs. These prehistoric flying reptiles belonged to a family all their own. But scientists now report that pterosaurs (TAIR-oh-sors) and dinosaurs shared one important trait. Both had protofeathers.

The dinosaurs in Jurassic World may be as smooth as any modern-day lizard, but real dinos would have looked much different. Many were covered in protofeathers. These are the forerunners of the feathers found on birds today.

Paleontologists had long known that pterosaurs were as fuzzy as kittens. In 1831, paleontologist Georg August Goldfuss wrote about a pterosaur with fibers on its body. He likened them to hair. Experts called them pycnofibers [PICK-no-fy-burs] and thought they differed from protofeathers.

Michael Benton is a paleontologist at the University of Bristol in England. He and his colleagues have just examined fossils from two pterosaurs found in the Daohugou region of northern China. Both were small, about the size of a brown bat. They had lived some 165 million years ago, during the Jurassic period.

Fuzz was clearly visible on both fossils. But to learn more, the scientists turned to a scanning electron microscope. Its beams of electrons produce very-high resolution images. These turned up different fuzz types. Chemical analyses revealed that wisps of the fuzz contained microscopic structures related to color. They would have made the pterosaurs reddish brown.

Each of the boxes in this image highlights places on this pterosaur fossil where protofeathers can be seen. Z. Yang et al/Nature Ecology & Evolution 2018

Different types of fiber-like fluff covered various parts of both pterosaurs. Single filaments covered the head, neck and shoulders, for example. Parts of the arms and tail had brush-like bundles of fuzz. These reptiles even hosted what appear to be whiskers. That could have helped them sense insects and other small prey. These also look just like filaments found on dinosaurs.

Benton and his colleagues described their new findings December 17, 2018 in Nature Ecology & Evolution.  

On the evolutionary path to feathers

Elizabeth Martin-Silverstone is a pterosaur expert who works at the University of Southampton in England. She was not involved in the new study. “Looking at these structures, they really look like protofeathers,” she says. 

The new discovery could change when scientists think feathers first evolved.

Many dinosaurs have been found with protofeathers. The new findings indicate that the fuzz found on many pterosaur fossils is much the same. In fact, it’s structure is the same as dino protofeathers. If both dinosaurs and pterosaurs had protofeathers, the common ancestor of both groups probably did, too. “That would push the origin of protofeathers to well over 200 million years ago,” Benton says. That’s more than 40 million years earlier than previously thought.

Paleontologists will be looking for more fossils preserved with fluff. “What would be more convincing is if we found some early dinosaurs and pterosaurs with feathers, and some more groups of dinosaurs with feathers to support this idea more,” Martin-Silverstone says.

Then, of course, they’ll need to get the moviemakers on board.


Gobiraptor minutus: New Species of Oviraptorid Dinosaur Unearthed

Friday, February 8, 2019

Gobiraptor minutus. Image credit: Do Yoon Kim.

A new species of oviraptorosaur has been unearthed in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia.

Named Gobiraptor minutus, the new dinosaur is thought to have lived between 80 and 70 million years ago (Cretaceous period).

The ancient creature was a member of Oviraptorosauria (oviraptorosaurs), a diverse group of feathered, bird-like dinosaurs from the Cretaceous of Asia and North America.

Its incomplete skeleton, including both cranial and postcranial elements, was discovered in the Nemegt Formation of Altan Uul III, Ömnögovi Province, Mongolia.

The specimen was analyzed by a team of paleontologists from Seoul National University, the University of Cape Town, China’s Institute of Geology and Mongolia’s Institute of Paleontology and Geology.

Gobiraptor minutus can be distinguished from other oviraptorosaurs in having unusual thickened jaws,” said Seoul National University’s Dr. Yuong-Nam Lee and colleagues.

“This unique morphology suggests that Gobiraptor minutus used a crushing feeding strategy, supporting previous hypotheses that oviraptorosaurs probably fed on hard food items such as eggs, seeds or hard-shell mollusks.”

Histological analyses of Gobiraptor minutus’ femur revealed that the specimen likely belonged to a very young individual.

“The finding of a new oviraptorosaur species in the Nemegt Formation, which consists mostly of river and lake deposits, confirms that these dinosaurs were extremely well adapted to wet environments,” the researchers said.

“Different dietary strategies may explain the wide taxonomic diversity and evolutionary success of this group in the region.”

The discovery was described in the journal PLoS ONE.


S. Lee et al. 2019. A new baby oviraptorid dinosaur (Dinosauria: Theropoda) from the Upper Cretaceous Nemegt Formation of Mongolia. PLoS ONE 14 (2): e0210867; doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0210867