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Possible 'Baby' T. Rex Enters Dinosaurian Debate

Thursday, April 5, 2018

If this is in fact the upper jaw of a baby T. rex, it would be the most preserved and most complete specimen among those ever found in Montana's Hell Creek.  UNIVERSITY OF KANSAS

"Paleontology is a team sport," observes Kyle Atkins-Weltman, a fossil preparator at the University of Kansas. For years now, the school's paleo department has been prospecting the fossil-rich Hell Creek deposits of Montana. In June 2016, Kris Super, another preparator at KU, discovered some tiny bone fragments called "float." They were the tip of one tantalizing iceberg.

The scattered float led KU's team to a set of identifiable bones. Left behind by a mid-sized carnivorous dinosaur, the bounty included pieces of the animal's foot, skull, hips and vertebrae. A partial upper jaw loaded with teeth was easily the most eye-catching item of the bunch.

Removed from Hell Creek during the 2017 field season, the material's now being cleaned and analyzed at the university. The big discovery was announced on Thursday, March 29, 2018.

It's clear that the fossils (which are approximately 66.5 million years old) represent a member of the tyrannosaur family. The question is which species? A press release says the material probably came from a juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex. If this is true, then the poor critter died at a tender age. "We would suspect [it would have been] maybe 6 to 7 years old, possibly 8," says Atkins-Weltman.

Should the animal indeed be a young T. rex, it's part of an exclusive club. Atkins-Weltman told LiveScience that fewer than five "decently preserved juvenile T. rexes" have been found at Hell Creek. He adds that the new specimen would "probably be the most preserved and most complete" specimen among them.

Then again, it might be something else. In 1988, dino expert Robert Bakker and two colleagues looked over the skull of a smallish tyrannosaur that had been dug up in Montana. They claimed it belonged to a new species and named it Nanotyrannus lancensis. Supposedly a smaller cousin of T. rex, this thing would've co-existed with the better-known predator.

Not all paleontologists are convinced. While a few other bones have since been attributed to Nanotyrannus, skeptics argue that these remains — along with that skull — really came from a young Tyrannosaurus rex. In other words, Nanotyrannus may not be a valid genus at all. Like humans, dinosaurs changed shape as they aged. This fact might explain the physical differences between alleged Nanotyrannus bones and other T. rexremains.

"It's reasonable to assume Nanotyrannus could be valid — but we must show it's not just a stage in the life history of T. rex," says KU professor David Burnham. The University owns a lot of material from other T. rexskeletons. Burnham and his Kansas colleagues intend to compare those bones to the new remains. That should help them determine if they've got a juvenile Tyrannosaurus or a mature Nanotyrannus on their hands. And since the new specimen is so complete, analyzing it may bring us closer to putting the entire Nanotyrannus debate to rest.

Source: https://animals.howstuffworks.com

Prehistoric Reptile Pregnant With Octuplets

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Artist's depiction of the pregnant Ichthyosaur, with cutaway revealing embryos. Illustration: Nobumichi Tamura

Palaeontologists have discovered part of the skeleton of a 180 million-year-old pregnant ichthyosaur with the remains of between six and eight tiny embryos between its ribs.

The new specimen was studied by palaeontologists Mike Boyd and Dean Lomax from The University of Manchester. It was collected around 2010 from near Whitby, North Yorkshire and is from the Early Jurassic. The fossil was in the collection of fossil collector, Martin Rigby, who thought the specimen might be a block of embryos. Dean confirmed the suspicion and the specimen was acquired by the Yorkshire Museum, York.

Ichthyosaurs were aquatic reptiles that dominated the Jurassic seas. They gave birth to live young, rather than laying eggs, and did not need to return to land, even to breed. They were carnivores, feeding upon other reptiles, fish, and marine invertebrates such as the squid-like belemnites.

Ichthyosaur fossils are quite common in the UK and often found in British Jurassic rocks. However, only five ichthyosaur specimens from Britain have ever been found with embryos and none with this many. All five were collected from Jurassic exposures in the south-west of England and are between 200-190 million years old. This is the first to be found in Yorkshire. The new specimen is a star attraction in the new major exhibition, Yorkshire's Jurassic World, which recently opened on March 24.

The Jurassic rocks of Yorkshire have produced hundreds of ichthyosaur and other marine reptile skeletons, but have not, until now, yielded any reptilian embryos. The new specimen, as well as being the first embryo-bearing ichthyosaur recorded from Yorkshire, is also geologically the youngest of the British embryo-bearing specimens, being from the Toarcian Stage of the Jurassic, around 180 million-year-old.

The specimen is a small boulder that has been cut in half and polished, which exposes several large ribs (of the adult) and several strings of vertebrae and various indeterminate tiny bones. Boyd and Lomax say there are at least six embryos present, but probably eight.

Mike said: "We also considered the possibility that the tiny remains could be stomach contents, although it seemed highly unlikely that an ichthyosaur would swallow six to eight aborted embryos or newborn ichthyosaurs at one time. And this does not seem to have been the case, because the embryos display no erosion from stomach acids. Moreover, the embryos are not associated with any stomach contents commonly seem in Early Jurassic ichthyosaurs, such as the remains of squid-like belemnites."

Eight different species of ichthyosaur have been documented with embryos. By far, the most commonly found ichthyosaur with embryos is Stenopterygius. Over a hundred specimens of Stenopterygius from Holzmaden and surrounding areas in Germany have been found with embryos, ranging from one to eleven in number.

"The German sites are approximately the same age as the new specimen from Whitby and it is possible that the new specimen is also Stenopterygius, but no identifiable features are preserved in the adult or embryos. Nonetheless, this is an important find." added Dean.

Sarah King, curator of natural science at the Yorkshire Museum, said: "This is an incredible find and the research by Dean and Mike has helped us confirm it is the first example of fossilised ichthyosaur embryos to be found in Yorkshire. Its display in Yorkshire's Jurassic World incorporates the latest digital technology to reveal the embryos and to explain the significance of the discovery. It also allows us to show a softer and more nurturing side to the Sea Dragons which were the top marine predator of their time."


Story Source:

Materials provided by University of ManchesterNote: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Boyd, M. J. and Lomax, D. R. The youngest occurrence of ichthyosaur embryos in the UK: A new specimen from the Early Jurassic (Toarcian) of YorkshireProceedings of the Yorkshire Geological Society, 2018 DOI: 10.1144/pygs2017-008

    Source: www.sciencedaily.com

Study on Stones Sheds Light on How Dinosaurs Nurtured Eggs

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Study on stones sheds light on how dinosaurs nurtured eggs

Scientists have worked out the incubation style of dinosaur species by examining the type of sediment their fossilized eggs were found in.

Some are believed to have brooded their eggs, like present-day birds, while others apparently drew on solar, geothermal or fermentation heat to warm their eggs left in sandstone or mudstone.

The researchers from Nagoya University, Hokkaido University and other institutions also studied the distribution of locations where the fossilized eggs have been found.

“In addition to motor capabilities and metabolic capacity, incubating habits may also have been a key factor that affected the dinosaurs’ habitat distribution,” said Kohei Tanaka, a superlative postdoctoral fellow with Nagoya University Museum.

The scientists analyzed the sediment data from about 160 million to 66 million years ago, partly by studying available literature on the topic.

Fossilized eggs of sauropodomorphs, a group of long-necked dinosaurs that included the brachiosaur and measured up to more than 30 meters in length, have been found in sandstone.

That suggests they used to lay eggs in sand and relied on solar or geothermal heat, the researchers said.

Fossilized eggs of hadrosaurs, which looked like platypuses, have been found in mudstone, which is made of solidified soil containing fragments of microorganisms and plants.

They likely relied on heat from the fermentation of plant bodies, the researchers said.

In the meantime, eggs of oviraptorosaurs and troodontids, which resembled ostriches, have been found in equal proportions in mudstone and sandstone.

Their eggs are presumed to have been brooded by parents, regardless of the environment.

Eggs of dinosaur species that relied on solar or geothermal heat have been found only in mid-latitudes between 20 and 50 degrees north.

But fossilized eggs of dinosaur species that either relied on fermentation heat or brooded their eggs have been also found in the Arctic region, such as Siberia.

The research results have been published in Scientific Reports, a British science journal.
 

Source: www.asahi.com

Eocene Monitor Lizard Had Four Eyes: Study

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Saniwa ensidens had an atavistic pineal eye behind the third eye. Image credit: Senckenberg Research Institute / Andreas Lachmann / Digimorph.org / Nici Keil.

According to a new study, Saniwa ensidens — an extinct monitor lizard that lived in what is now Wyoming 51-49 million years ago (Eocene epoch) — had four eyes, a first among known jawed vertebrates. The third and fourth eyes refer to pineal and parapineal organs, eye-like photosensory structures on the top of the head that play key roles in orientation and in circadian and annual cycles.

“The photosensitive pineal organ is found in a number of lower vertebrates such as fishes and frogs. It’s often referred to as the ‘third eye’ and was widespread in primitive vertebrates,” said lead author Dr. Krister Smith, a researcher with the Senckenberg Research Institute in Germany.

“On the one hand, there was this idea that the third eye was simply reduced independently in many different vertebrate groups such as mammals and birds and is retained only in lizards among fully land-dwelling vertebrates.”

“On the other hand, there was this idea that the lizard third eye developed from a different organ, called the parapineal, which is well developed in lampreys. These two ideas didn’t really cohere.”

“By discovering a four-eyed lizard — in which both pineal and parapineal organs formed an eye on the top of the head — we could confirm that the lizard third eye really is different from the third eye of other jawed vertebrates,” he said.

Dr. Smith and co-authors got the idea that the fossilized lizards might have a fourth eye after other experts came to contradictory conclusions about where the lizard’s third eye was located.

“The first question to explore the ‘wacky’ idea of a lizard with four eyes was, does this unusual feature occur in more than one individual of the same age?” Dr. Smith said.

“We turned to museum specimens collected nearly 150 years ago at Grizzly Buttes as part of the Yale College Expedition to the Bridger Basin, Wyoming. And, it turned out that the answer to their question was yes.”

“CT scans showed that two different individuals of Saniwa ensidens (a fossil sister lineage of the extant genus Varanus) had spaces where a fourth eye would have been, which I certainly did not expect.”

The evidence confirms that the pineal and parapineal glands weren’t a pair of organs in the way that vertebrate eyes are.

The third eye of lizards evolved independently of the third eye in other vertebrate groups, according to the team.

“While there’s nothing mystical about the pineal and parapineal organs, they do enable extraordinary abilities,” Dr. Smith said.

“For instance, they allow some lower vertebrates to sense the polarization of light and use that information to orient themselves geographically.”

“Scientists still have a lot to learn about the evolution of these organs and their functions in living animals.”

The findings were published in the April 2, 2018 issue of the journal Current Biology.

_____

Krister T. Smith et al. 2018. The Only Known Jawed Vertebrate with Four Eyes and the Bauplan of the Pineal Complex. Current Biology 28 (7): 1101-1107.e2; doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.02.021

Source: www.sci-news.com

Jurassic World 2 Theory: The Indoraptor Has Human DNA

Friday, April 6, 2018

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom has a new genetically-engineered dinosaur – the Indoraptor – but is what makes this new horror so terrifying human DNA? The Jurassic Park franchise is predicated on John Hammond’s goal to “spare no expense,” so it makes sense that each sequel would push boundaries and explore new avenues to heighten the already-inconceivable notion of living dinosaurs. Unfortunately, the scientists in this series never seem to learn limits.

Since the very first Jurassic Park, the franchise has showcased the evolution of dinosaur hybrids. In the first Jurassic Park, it involved dinosaur and frog DNA; in The Lost World, we saw more physical proof of “life finding a way” with gender mutation and breeding; in Jurassic Park III, audiences get a look at InGen’s abandoned compound, where illegal cloning was taking place; and in Jurassic World, the first official genetically modified hybrid dinosaur not based on a real creature – the Indominus Rex – was introduced.

So, where does a franchise that has reached its fifth entry go from here? How else can the series further explore the dangers of genetic meddling? In the hands of scientists with unlimited resources, the sky is the limit (though in this case, the limit might be humanity itself).

Jurassic Park IV concept art

Before Jurassic World, a direct sequel Jurassic Park 4 was being conceived with screenwriters William Monahan and John Sayles. Both celebrated screenwriters (Monahan had just won an Oscar for The Departed around this time), their concept ultimately turned out to be a major departure from the original trilogy, delving into some daring—if not deranged—territory.

In the first half of the script, there were all the trappings of a traditional Jurassic Park experience: the return of John Hammond, revisiting Isla Nublar, dinosaurs escaping from containment. However, the plot takes a decidedly unexpected turn once a mysterious scientific facility reveals that they’ve successfully spliced together dinosaur and human DNA. The result? Dinosaurs walking on their hind legs, equipped with oversized machine guns. When Amblin Entertainment saw the concept art of these dinosaurs, it reportedly led to them shutting down the project altogether, thus forcing a new creative team to take a crack at the sequel. That said, certain details from the Monahan/Sayles script weren’t completely left on the cutting room floor.

For example, Jurassic World‘s Owen Grady (played by Chris Pratt) may as well be a carbon copy of Jurassic Park 4′s main character, Nick Harris. He’s an ex-soldier tasked with training a group of specialized dinosaurs (only in this case, they’re not velociraptors, but hybrids). Also in that early draft is an active volcano threatening to destroy the island, something that is – albeit with differing motivations – return in Fallen Kingdom. There’s also hints of a secret scientific facility on the island, which again mirrors an underground base from Jurassic Park 4 tasked with creating a new hybrid species of dinosaur. The script may be dead, but its ideas live on.

In Jurassic World, the Indominous Rex was never just a theme park attraction. It was designed to boost sales at the Jurassic World theme park, but its head creator Dr. Henry Wu made an under-the-table deal with InGen’s Security Division commander Vic Hoskins for military purposes. So, from the get-go, it was little more than a weaponized monster. In Fallen Kingdom, these morsels of information will undoubtedly come to light. Wu is last seen leaving the island with some hybrid dinosaur embryos, and before his death, Hoskins acknowledges the benefit of a smaller I-Rex—which naturally leads to the creation of the Indoraptor.

This is nothing new. The finer details are, sure, but the franchise’s overall theme has remained consistent: humans playing God, and failing. No matter the level of meddling, the results are always the same; dinosaurs go out of control and those unlucky to get in the way pay the price for scientific meddling. Despite how innovative and brilliant they all might be, they never learn. By Jurassic World, Wu is little more than Dr. Frankenstein, splicing together the “best” bits and pieces of various dinosaurs and animals to create what ultimately turn out to be abominable killing machines. What’s worse is that, despite recurring repercussions on massively violent scales, he persists, showing no signs of restraint.

With those pieces in place – and it known there are a lot of spoilers hidden by the trailers – there’s definitely the grounding to suggest that the Indoraptor is a little more “familiar”.

Source: www.screenrant.com

Prehistoric Trackways a Treasure Trove of Unique Resources

Monday, April 9, 2018

What was life like when all continents were together in one super continent? The answer to this question is complex. However, there’s a special place that holds the answer to this and many other paleontological questions. It’s called the Prehistoric Trackways National Monument and it’s accessible for the public to explore and enjoy.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is the proud custodian of this diverse and fascinating landscape just northwest of Las Cruces and Colin Dunn is the BLM paleontologist knowledgeable about its unique public land resources.

Every month on a Saturday morning, Dunn leads a three-hour hike to the Robledo Mountains. His purpose is to expose and educate the public to the monument’s important geologic history and significant paleontological and recreation features.

The hike to the Discovery Site takes visitors to the original deposit of Paleozoic Era fossilized “trackways” – footprints of numerous amphibians, reptiles, insects and plants.  While hiking the terrain, Dunn discusses the importance of this site to the scientific study of the early Permian Period and the associated animal behaviors and paleo-environments of the time, predating dinosaurs.

“The preservation quality and fossil diversity gives us a real snapshot into the paleoecosystem, more than just bones alone could do,” he said.

For the Site Flood hike, Dunn takes hikers to an area in the monument containing petrified wood. Along the way, visitors learn about the numerous marine invertebrates that lived in the ancient oceans over 280 million years ago, as well as shallow-water trackmakers that left their mark on the nearby tidal flats.

For both hikes, Dunn tells the story of how the “prehistoric trackways” was first discovered in 1987 by Jerry MacDonald, citizen-scientist of Las Cruces, and what it took to excavate and curate a unique collection of 2,500 slabs of fossilized trackways.  The collection is now part of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque, the Federal Repository for fossils in New Mexico.  However, some of these trackways are on display here in Las Cruces, at the Museum of Nature and Science

According to Dunn, The monument serves as a special outdoor laboratory for the public to learn about paleontology and geology in their backyard.

”The museums have excellent examples of the fossils found here, but there is something to be said from seeing them in their original geological context,” he said. “Many of the tracks and traces are very subtle, and until I point them out, most people just walk past them.”

The Prehistoric Trackways National Monument was established by Congress in 2009 to conserve, protect and enhance the 5,280 acres of unique and national-important paleontological, scientific, educational, scenic and recreational resources and values.

For more information on the monument and the monthly hikes, visit the BLM Las Cruces District office at 1800 Marquess Street or call 575-525-4300.  In addition, the BLM website www.blm.gov/visit/ptnm provides interactive maps on the monument’s recreation resources.

Source: www.lcsun-news.com

Liberal MLA Calls on Province to Save B.C.'s Largest Dinosaur Collection

Sunday, April 1, 2018

A dinosaur skull that is roughly 75 million years old is among the many ancient discoveries made in the region around Tumbler Ridge, B.C. (Charles Helm)

Mike Bernier argues the dinosaur discoveries in northeastern B.C. outshine Drumheller, Alta.

A B.C. Liberal MLA is calling on the province to step in after a dinosaur museum in Tumbler Ridge closed its doors this month, arguing it has the potential to be Canada's premier dinosaur display.

The Peace Region Paleontology Research Centre and Dinosaur Discovery Gallery in Tumbler Ridge idled its operations and sent layoff notices to staff after failing to secure a $200,000 funding request from the District of Tumbler Ridge, which has a population of about 2,000 people.

Mayor Don McPherson said the decision was driven by a desire to have the museum work more closely with the local geopark society, which manages Tumbler Ridge's status as a UNESCO-recognized destination for its unique geological heritage.

McPherson also said there were concerns about the fact the district has been funding the museum for over a decade with little support from other levels of government.

"We've been funding this museum to the tune of over $2 million," he said.

'It would be a huge loss for the province'

Mike Bernier, the Liberal MLA representing Tumbler Ridge, said he's been advocating for the province to start funding the museum in recognition of its unique collection of dinosaur bones and fossils, the largest in B.C.

"I believe that it's time the province steps in and helps, instead of the local government having all the burden," Bernier told CBC Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk.

"It would be a huge loss for the province."

Discoveries made through the museum and research centre include: the northernmost prints of brontosaurus; the only Tyrannosaurus trackway in the world; the only known footprints of the carnivorous Therizinosaur; and the most complete dinosaur skeleton ever found in the province.

Museum curator Rich McCrae said he's not sure there are any other facilities in B.C. that could take on Tumbler Ridge's collection, meaning many of the items could wind up in other parts of the world if the museum shuts down. 

Bernier said he believes with provincial backing, the museum could be a tourism draw that outshines what's on display at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alta.

"This is not just a typical museum that a lot of communities have to showcase their history. This has global significance," he said.

​"The paleontological finds that Tumbler Ridge has far outstretches what Drumheller has. We just need an opportunity to be able to showcase that."

Problems 'best resolved locally': province

Bernier said he has raised the issue with the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, and hoped the current closure would add some "urgency" to those discussions.

However, a spokesperson for the ministry said it had not received any request from the museum itself to assist in its funding shortfall, adding it "appears to be the result of a local issue" that is "likely best resolved locally."

McPherson said the district of Tumbler Ridge isn't opposed to funding the museum, but council wants it to first reach a memorandum of understanding with the geopark society as to how the two entities will work together.

Representatives for the museum board and the geopark society said negotiations on that memorandum of understanding are in progress.

Source: www.cbc.ca

Dinosaurs: How Long Did They Live?

Sunday, April 8, 2018

 Predators like Tyrannosaurus rex grew fast and died young. Photograph: Louie Psihoyos/Corbis

Carnivores may have lived to 30 years, herbivores far longer.

It isn't easy to tell from dinosaurs' fossilised remains how long they lived. "Traditional" estimates based on slow, reptilian growth rates, combined with the enormous size of dinosaurs, led scientists to conclude it could be up to several hundred years. However, palaeontologists today believe that dinosaurs grew much more quickly, rather like birds and mammals.

Dinosaur bones grew like those of other vertebrates, by adding new bone matter to the outside of the bone. Because of annual variation in temperature or the availability of food, periodically bone growth would slow down, and a thin layer of avascular bone would form a ring or "growth line" in much the same way that tree trunks do. By taking thin slices of bones, these rings can be viewed under a polarised light source. Counting the rings can give an idea of the dinosaur's age at death.

Growth lines in dinosaur bones were first observed in 1983 in the study of Late Jurassic sauropod bones called Bothriospondylus, possibly from the herbivorous brachiosaur family, which was discovered more than a century earlier. The study caused estimates of its age to be revised, and it is now reckoned to have died at the age of 43, when only half way to attaining its full adult length of 15-20 metres.

According to Dr John Nudds, a palaeontologist at the University of Manchester: "If you compare dinosaurs to present-day animals, we might expect that the very large herbivores - things like brachiosaurs and Diplodocus, which were comparable in size to an elephant - would have lived, therefore, for 70-80 years; maybe a bit more. Whereas the smaller, meat-eating dinosaurs would have been more comparable to some of today's larger birds, to which they are closely related. If you think of something like an eagle or raven, they live for 20-30 years, and that would probably have been the lifespan of a T. rex."

The largest and best-preserved T. rex, in the Field Museum of Chicago, is thought to have lived to almost 29 years, although it would have achieved adult size after 20 years. "Sue" is 12 metres long from head to tail, and estimated to have weighed around seven tonnes, underlining the rapid growth rate of such dinosaurs during their (relatively) short lives.

The growth lines also offer a guide to a dinosaur's growth rate at different stages of its life. It is now understood that most dinosaurs grew for a large part of their lives, with a particularly rapid spurt during adolescence.

Did you know?

In the late 1990s, two adult and one juvenile Camarasaurus specimens were found together in the United States, indicating that these sauropods travelled in family groups and possibly herds. It is thought that some dinosaurs may have migrated significant distances, notably those living near the Earth's poles, where food supplies were seasonal. Suggestions of how far they travelled vary, but one recent study estimated large sauropods might have made an 1,800-mile round trip each year.

Source: www.theguardian.com / 2009

New Robot Dinosaur Attraction Opens in Derbyshire

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Dinosaurs have arrived at Gulliver's Kingdom! (Image: Gulliver's Kingdom)

The Lost World of the Living Dinosaurs has opened at Gulliver's Kingdom.

Ancient dinosaurs have invaded Gulliver’s Kingdom theme park in Matlock Bath – and you’re invited to come and see.

The Lost World of the Living Dinosaurs attraction at the park is now home to 14 animatronic dinosaurs that can move in a realistic way.

The machines will allow children to experience a Tyrannosaurus Rex and his friends up close and personal.

Designed for children aged two to 13, these robots have been roaming the hillside nearby but are now tired and have come to rest at Gulliver's, where they'll stay for the rest of their lives.

Dean Kimberley, director of guest services at Gulliver's, said: "We are glad to have the new dinos at Gulliver's Kingdom.

“Our aim is to appeal to as many families as possible with younger children; the rides and attractions on offer, as well as the dinosaurs, are a huge hit for children of all ages - so a trip to Gulliver's is something for the whole family to enjoy this Easter.

“The dinos offer a whole new world, especially for young dino lovers (and their parents). It's an exciting new attraction for Matlock Bath; there's nothing else in the area like it!"

In its 40th year of business and celebrating its Ruby Jubilee, Gulliver's Kingdom has just opened its doors to guests for 2018.

Easter open dates for the Matlock Bath Gulliver's Kingdom site are from March 24 to April 15, but it will also be open on April 21, 22, 28 and 29.

Entry to the Lost World of the Living Dinosaurs is included in the price of the theme park ticket.

Source: www.derbytelegraph.co.uk

Montana's Best Dinosaurs: Five Finds That Have Shaped Science

Sunday, April 1, 2018

From among rocks in a stretch of badlands near Ear Mountain, Bynum paleontologist David Trexler plucked a chunk that didn't seem to match the rest.

He licked his finger and touched the striped rock. It stuck, passing the fossil lick test.

"Oh, cool!" said Carter Lusk, a 7-year-old from Seattle on a recent expedition Trexler led from the Two Medicine Dinosaur Center, as the paleontologist explained how capillary action in the fossil sucked up the moisture on his finger.

Recent rains had unearthed new parts of the ancient bone bed, and Carter discovered a duckbilled dinosaur's ankle in sediments deposited 74 million years ago. He turned the fossil over to find the lines of growth in the fossilized bone. A lick and it stuck.

When the dinosaur whose remains are in the fossil bed died, the Rocky Mountains were only halfway raised and hadn't yet reached what would someday be Montana.

"If we had been here when the dinosaurs were here, you would have seen to the east a big ocean that stretched to the Appalachians and to the west, a broad coastal plain," Trexler told Carter and his grandpa, Jerry Lusk of Kalispell.

Ice Age glaciers that scraped away a mile of sediments and the erosion that continued brought to the surface layers that encased the dinosaurs. Eventually, the badlands where fossils are best found will give way to grass.

The time between when fossils are exposed and when they're lost forever is short. In Montana, "we were almost too late," Trexler said.

But with some badlands still exposed, Montana instead became the source of some of the most important dinosaur finds ever.

Even the first documented dinosaur bone in North America came from Montana, near the Yellowstone River, Trexler said.

The same day — July 25, 1806 — that William Clark of the Corps of Discovery carved his name into Pompey's Pillar, he noted an unusual bone. It was in sandstone so Clark figured it must have been a fish bone.

"In Clark's mind, that sandstone was only a few thousand years old," Trexler said. "It was a footnote in history at that time that became an important milestone looking back."

Clark left the bone, which has long since disappeared.

Twelve years after the term "dinosaur" was coined, Ferdinand Hayden set off to explore the Upper Missouri Basin. From along the Judith River, he would bring back fossilized teeth of the first named dinosaur on the continent.

The next big Montana milestone in paleontology came in 1876, when Philadelphia paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope, a Fort Benton cowboy and another man heard forces were gathering for what went down in history as the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

His theory that his crew would have the plains to themselves proved wrong as a Blackfeet war party appeared, riding high from the battle 100 miles away. When Cope's dentures fell out as he tried to talk his way out of trouble, the Blackfeet laughed. They found his rice rations so pitiful they left him with pemmican.

But that rice would have a profound impact in the end.

When Haden picked up fossils, they shattered. To return samples — such as those of the monoclonius he discovered — through the rough country, the men had to improvise a new approach. They had the insight to spread severely overcooked rice on the bones, which hardened into a jacket.

"Worked like a charm," Trexler said. "That was the beginning of the fossil jacketing process we still use today."

Those specimens ended up in Philadelphia.

Not only incredible fossil finds but also groundbreaking ideas from Montana have impacted the world's understanding of dinosaurs.

"All the hypotheses we present here were done here," said paleontologist Jack Horner of the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman.

"Montana is very significant," Horner said. "Almost any museum in the world with dinosaurs uses hypotheses from right here."

 

Jordan's T. rex

The most storied of all dinosaurs is the Tyrannosaurus rex.

Just after the turn of the century, Dr. Barnum Brown of the American Museum of Natural History found the first Tyrannosaurus rex in the Hell Creek area north of Jordan.It was the first big meat-eating dinosaur to go on display in a major museum.

"Tyrannosaurus rex has been captivating the imagination of youngsters ever since," Trexler said.

The Montana T. rex fossil

When Rexy, as the T. rex skeleton from Jordan is called, came to life in the film "Night at the Museum," he continued his career as a lure to future fossil hunters.

"Bet you didn't know Rexy was a native Montanan," Trexler said.

Comparatively, T. rexes aren't that rare, with 30 or more specimens found, he said, but it's hard to beat their power to fascinate.

While paleontologists come to Jordan to take in the full offerings of the Hell Creek Foundation, for "kids and big kids" digging up the next great T. rex skeleton remains a dream 110 years after Brown's discovery, said Judy Lervick, PaleoWorld's Montana field facilities manager in Jordan.

"They hope to find the mighty T. rex when they come on a dinosaur dig," she said. "But there's only so many T. rexes in the world. But it's the whole lore of dinosaurs not just the T. rex."

Visitors can't see the first T. rex on display there, but Garfield County does have a full skull.

"Much has been taken out of this country, and it's on display somewhere else," Lervick said. "We do have nice triceratops."

One of the most complete T. rex skeletons ever found did remain in the state, Peck's Rex, found near Fort Peck and part of the Museum of the Rockies' massive T. rex collection. The Fort Peck Interpretive Center and Museum in Fort Peck has casts of the bones and a model of what Peck's Rex looked like when alive.

 

Maiasaura nests

As she picked through little black flakes scattered on the ground among tepee rings, Tori Yeager, 10, was at one of only about a dozen places in the world where dinosaur eggshells are known to have come from.

Not too far away, Trexler, his wife, Laurie, and his mother, Marion Brandvold, were fossil hunting when they found something that would change the world's basic idea of dinosaurs.

As the Trexlers packed up that day in 1977, Brandvold wandered off. When they saw her again, she had a big grin on her face.

"Look what I found," she said.

What she found was baby dinosaur bones.

"What we didn't know was this formation was unique in preserving what happened," Trexler said.

Maiasaura nest

Brandvold, now 100, put the dino baby bones in her Bynum rock shop, where Horner saw them and recognized how unique they are the first in North America and the first in a nest anywhere in the world.

"No one had baby bones," Trexler said.

The babies were several times too big to fit into their eggs but were still around the nest. At hatching, a creature can run off in search of food, have food brought to it or starve, Trexler said. Since these had grown at their nests, food was being brought to them.

"That changed the way the entire world understands not only dinosaurs but modern animals as well," Trexler said.

No longer could dinosaurs be categorized as "overgrown lizards," incapable of complex behavior such as forming nesting colonies, rearing young, hunting in packs and forming herds.

Three years later, a volunteer working with Horner, Fran Tannenbaum, found the first dinosaur eggs in North America at what became known as Egg Mountain.

Brandvold's find is on display at the Two Medicine Dinosaur Center in Bynum. Duckbill displays are also a signature of the Depot Museum in Rudyard.

 

Deinonychus

Its name means terrible claw, and this was one dinosaur you wouldn't have wanted to run into 115 million years or so ago.

A pack hunter with 60 teeth and retractable claws, the Deinonychus might have featured a fierce kick as part of its attack.

When paleontologist Barnum Brown unearthed the first Deinonychus in the Cloverly Formation near Billings, his discovery eventually would revolutionize the world's understanding of dinosaurs.

Skeleton of the dromaeosaurid dinosaur Deinonychus at Field Museum of Natural History. At the bottom is the skeleton of Buitreraptor.

"That was the dinosaur that demonstrated birds and dinosaurs are related," Horner said. "That is one of the most significant discoveries in the world."

Similar to the Velociraptor, Deinonychus is believed to have been up to 11 feet long, 160 pounds, feathered and active.

Though it would take years before anyone noticed, the earth around Brown's find also included fragments of what eventually would be identified as eggshells.

Three decades later, paleontologist John Ostrom found more Deinonychus fossils near Bridger that helped fill in the picture of this predator and launch a dinosaur renaissance. The bones showed marked similarity to modern birds.

The original find is at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Deinonychus fossils also are found at Yale's Peabody Museum of Natural History, Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology or closer to home at the Museum of the Rockies.

 

Triceratops horridus

Among the last dinosaurs standing, the Triceratops lived and died in what would become Makoshika State Park and the Hell Creek Formation.

A Triceratops skull discovered in Makoshika in 1990 and excavated in 1991 was the impetus for establishing an interpretive center at the state park.

Trexler remembers setting out in 1971 to find fossils to compare to some he had discovered. Ekalaka had an Anatotitan copei on display, as it does today, but that was it for the state that generated so many fabulous finds.

Tom Shoush, Makoshika State Park ranger, said East Coast museums took many of the fossils from Montana.

"Early on, pillage was the name of the game," he said.

The Museum of the Rockies has kept many of them in Montana, and with the triceratops skull, Glendive kept a big specimen from its own lands.

"It was very significant," Shoush said.

Triceratops horridus skeleton at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City

With the triceratops on display near its point of discovery, Glendive has an economic boost and Makoshika has a wonderful new way to tell its story and a draw for visitors.

"This way, when it's not extremely rare or fragile, it can be bolstering Glendive and Makoshika," Shoush said.

The Hell Creek Formation in Montana also is where the youngest fossil in the world has been found, a 65-million-year-old triceratops Yale scientists call "the last known nonavian dinosaurs of the Cretaceous."

The triceratops then butts against the Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction event, suggesting that dinosaurs didn't gradually die out, according to their findings in the "Royal Society Biology Letters."

"We refer to it as one of the last species," Shoush said.

Some posit that meat-eating dinosaurs must have come last since they would have had the carcasses of the plant eaters to feed on at the extinction event.

And recent finds in Makoshika of triceratops frills seem to support a new theory on the species and its development.

A Museum of the Rockies crew is digging up a triceratops now in the Hell Creek Formation near Jordan, Horner said. Twelve are on display at the Museum of the Rockies. Specimens show how the triceratops changed as they grew up.

"We've learned triceratops and others were very social. We know juveniles looked very different than adults," he said. "We look different so adults can tell who is a juvenile and juveniles can recognize adults."

The different aspects allow for big, social groups that can organize into safe havens such as nesting grounds.

Birds keep juvenile plumage until they're grown, humans look different than adults through their teen years and a juvenile triceratops too was different.

"That's very important for social animals," Horner said.

Two years ago, Horner and paleontologist John Scannella published a hypothesis that the triceratops and torosaurus were the same dinosaur at different ages, upending about 120 years of conventional wisdom.

The Museum of the Rockies has an impressive triceratops collection, and Makoshika State Park in Glendive has a complete skull on display.

 

Leonardo

A fossilized duckbill mummy with organs and skin intact, Leonardo once more has become an ambassador for dinosaurs in Montana and offers new insight for paleontologists.

"The thing about Leo is he's just a one-of-a-kind preservation," said Sue Frary, director of programs and exhibits in Malta's Great Plains Dinosaur Museum and Field Station.

"He's three-dimensional and has skin over 90 percent of his body — fossilized skin — and identified internal structures that could be his organs and confirmed stomach contents that give a timeline of his last day," she said. "We know what he ate for breakfast, lunch and a snack."

Meet the Museum’s Dinosaur Mummy, a fossilized imprint of the carcass of a duck-billed dinosaur Edmontosaurus. The specimen gained its nickname by virtue of the amazingly detailed traces of soft tissue—skin, flesh, and even tendons. It is one of the most complete examples of dinosaur remains ever found, and, as such, represents one of the greatest discoveries in the history of paleontology.

Leonardo also is the first full skeleton to be rapid prototyped. Ford Motor Co. white-light scanned him and then a computer sculpted a replica complete to the last detail.

"He's become known for the technology that has gone into studying him, very cutting edge," Frary said.

Leonardo has been elemental scanned to learn about the elements that made up his skin, which can help in determining what color he was.

"Now we know at least with duckbill dinosaurs how skin lay on their body, how their scales were, that they had a frill like an iguana running down their back," she said. "Everybody always thought that but with Leo, it's there, preserved in stone."

Frary is excited about what more Leonardo has to reveal.

"More will be done studying his internal structures. We'll be able to determine exactly what they are. More will be known about a dinosaur's identity," she said. "This quite remarkable specimen is still being studied."

Leonardo fundraises and promotes Montana as a dinosaur-lovers' mecca.

"Leonardo is a great ambassador for Montana in general and northeastern Montana in particular. He captures the imagination of little kids to adults," Frary said. "He really is a terrific representative for our area."

Trexler said Leonardo is an important specimen as the first large dinosaur with an intact body cavity.

The technology has not yet advanced — but someday will — to look inside him in a nondestructive way, Trexler said.

Leonardo also changed the way dinosaurs are collected and prepared. Before, people had blasted through layers convinced they couldn't be seeing skin.

"The problem is the skin impression makes a dinosaur look like a plucked chicken, and we expected them to look like a reptile," Trexler said.

While Leonardo is on tour, his exact copy is on display at the Malta dino museum.

*This story first ran in 2012.

Source: www.greatfallstribune.com

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