nandi's blog

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.


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.



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.



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.


‘1 in 100 Million’ Discovery: 7-Year-Old T. Rex Found in Montana

Saturday, March 31, 2018

The full 'baby' Tyrannasaurus Rex fossil unearthed in Montana. (Credit: KU News Service)

Paleontologists excavating in Montana’s famous Hell Creek Formation have uncovered the score of a lifetime—one of the most preserved and complete juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons ever found.

Although digging up remains of a T. rex in the area is not an uncommon feat, what makes this find unique is the quality of the fossil, and the age of the dinosaur in question. According to Kyle Atkins-Weltman, an assistant fossil preparator at the Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum at the University of Kansas, there have been fewer than five “decently complete juvenile T. rexes” discovered in the formation, which has produced a massive cache of dinosaur fossils since it was first excavated by famed paleontologist Barnum Brown in the late 1890s.

Just how rare was it? As Atkins-Weltman told Live Science, “This is a 1-in-100-million specimen.”

The young dinosaur, which is believed to have been 6 to 8 years old when it died, was originally discovered by Kris Super, an assistant student preparator from the Natural History Museum in June of 2016, but his team didn’t have time to unearth the entire skeleton, so they couldn’t say for certain what kind of dinosaur they’d found. The following summer, they returned and realized just how extraordinary their discovery had been.

There are still many questions that remain to be answered about this discovery. Is it really a young T. rex, which lived during the last 2 million years of the Cretaceous period, from about 67 million to 65 million years ago. Or could it be another example of the controversial—and potentially bogus—Nannotyranus (a small genus of the tyrannosaurid family first catalogued in 1946)? With a specimen this complete, perhaps the answers will soon be revealed.


Rare Eggs From a 15-Foot-Tall, Chicken-like Dinosaur are Unveiled at NC Museum

Friday, March 30, 2018

Eggs from a 15-foot-tall, chicken-like dinosaur are unveiled at museum | Triangle Today

They look like oversized yams, potatoes on a campfire or even small footballs.

But the pair of oval-shaped fossils unveiled Thursday at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences date back 97 million years, eggs from a feathered dinosaur that stood tall as a rooftop.

"Picture a 15-foot-tall chicken," said Lindsay Zanno, the museum's head paleontologist.

Before a crowd of school-age fans, Zanno showed off her team's 2016 discovery: the only clutch of oviraptorosaur eggs ever found in North America. Recovered from a rugged patch of Utah desert, the eggs offer a rare chance at understanding the reproductive life of reptiles dating to the Cretaceous period.

More than an egg, a dinosaur nest helps explain prehistoric behavior: whether eggs were buried, for example, or exposed to open air, Zanno said.

"There could be dinosaur bones in there," she said, "or something we're not expecting."

Oviraptorosaurs sported feathers, beaks and parrot-shaped heads and walked on two legs, so birdlike in their appearance that some scientists call them true birds. They typically weighed a few dozen kilograms — roughly 50 pounds — and grew a few meters long, though larger species could weigh more than a ton. The creature that laid the clutch of eggs now at Raleigh's museum represents a new species, one of several discovered in Utah that are yet unnamed.

The most complete specimens come from China, and records in North America are sparse by comparison. Zanno, whose wanderings as a paleontologist have led from Tanzania to Montana, described her 2016 Utah find as a discovery with world-class potential. Nesting sites rarely come complete with eggs, and this one is expected to produce fresh insight on the biology of birdlike dinosaurs.

Zanno's team had spent six years hiking over a portion of Utah that once stood at the edge of the Western Interior Seaway, a vast inland waterway that stretched from Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico. Though desert today, in Cretaceous times it would have supported a variety of reptiles.

Near the end of a day when temperatures flirted with 120 degrees, Terry Gates decided to inspect the knob of a hill that caught his eye. Gates, a lecturer at N.C. State University and postdoctoral scholar with the museum, found pieces of eggshell poking out that suggested whole, perfect eggs inside.

The problem soon arose of how to retrieve eggs sandwiched between two 1,000-foot mountains in the Utah wilderness. So the team returned with a helicopter in October, chiseled the "clutch" out of the hillside and carried them through the air encased in a plaster shell.

The original two that Gates spied had been freed from much of the surrounding rock, but as many as 10 likely remain inside the cluster. Over the next year, they will be visible in the museum's glass-walled laboratory, where visitors can see further study.

That casing hadn't been cut away until Saturday, making the children in the front row of the museum's unveiling some of the first eyes to glimpse the pair of eggs — Raleigh's prehistoric guests.


Jeff Goldblum Has Teased Secret Cameos For Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Friday, March 30, 2018

Beloved actor Jeff Goldblum has teased audiences regarding potential cameos for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, among other details.

Jurassic World was one of the biggest surprise hits in recent Hollywood history. The film was always going to do well but no one expected it to become one of the highest grossing movies of all time.

The pressure is certainly on Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom as a result, not only to live up to its predecessor but also to not spoil the party before the already announced third film arrives.

Jurassic Park alum Jeff Goldblum will be returning as Dr. Ian Malcolm for the sequel but has kept tight-lipped about certain plot details, including whether there will be any secret cameos.


When asked on What What Happens Live (via THR) about rumours of Laura Dern returning to the franchise, Malcom responded: “Maybe she will.”

And regarding if he will be back for the third instalment, Goldblum remained coy by teasing: “I can’t divulge anything, but maybe…maybe”, and then adding, “There’s gonna be another one that some people may or may not be in. That’s all I can say.”


Gigantic Ice Age Lions Used to Roam Africa, 200,000-Year-Old Fossil Reveals

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Scientists studying a giant fossilized lion skull think it could be evidence of a previously unknown population of lions.

As big as those of the largest cave lions, researchers think the partial skull belonged to an ancient lion far larger than any known to have lived in Africa.

An analysis of the skull was published in the Journal of Paleontology.

The 200,000-year-old fossil was found at a site in Natodomeri in northwest Kenya. The researchers think the gigantic lions may have lived during the late Middle to Late Pleistocene epoch.

The researchers compared the skull to those of modern lions from Africa. The average modern lion skull stretched about 10.5 inches, while the longest measured just over 12 inches.

At nearly 15 inches long, “the fossil [was]about 20 percent longer than even the largest lion skull I have had access to,” Lars Werdelin, a professor of paleobiology at the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm and one of the study authors, told Newsweek.

The partial lion skull is pictured and labeled with a 100mm (4 inches) marker to scale. The skull measures about 15 inches in length. Fredrick K Manthi et al/Journal of Paleontology

He thinks the skull is very unlikely to simply be an outlier from known lion populations in Africa.

“It really is all about the remarkable size,” Wederlin said. “The skull is so much bigger than that of any living or fossil African lion that the probability that it could come from a population with a mean size and variability similar to those is very, very small.”

While he did not estimate exactly how tall this lion would have stood, the data, Werdelin said, could be generated.

One explanation for the big lions might come from their hefty diets. Megafauna—big animals weighing about 100 lb and larger—roamed far and wide in the Pleistocene era. An abundance of large creatures like the giant buffalo Syncerus antiquus might have sustained these mega lions, the authors wrote.


Finding the Missing Link in Land Vertebrates' Emergence From Sea

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Life restoration shows Youngolepis (top) swimming in the sea in the Devonian Period. Drawing by courtesy of Brian Choo

After half a century of studying prehistoric fish fossils, Chinese paleontologist Chang Meemann has a favorite: Youngolepis.

Living about 400 million years ago, Youngolepis was first thought to be very close to a type of rhipidistians, a possible link in the long evolution from fish to tetrapods, or in other words land vertebrates, including humans.

But after careful study of its small cranium in the 1980s, Chang concluded that Youngolepis had no internal nostrils, a key adaption to allow land vertebrates to breathe out of water.

The discovery overturned mainstream views at the time and led to a decade-long debate and re-consideration on phylogeny of lobe-finned fishes, whose descendants left the water and conquered the land.

Chang is still lauded for her academic contribution and her courage to challenge the dominant view more than 30 years later. The 82-year-old was named the 2018 L'Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science Awards laureate "for her pioneering work on fossil records leading to insights on how aquatic vertebrates adapted to live on land".

The awards, jointly founded by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the L'Oreal Foundation, began 20 years ago and are given each year to five outstanding women scientists for their accomplishments in scientific research and commitment.

"Of course, I am happy. It's a great encouragement. But I don't think I am well qualified," Chang told Xinhua before she went to Paris for Thursday's ceremony.


Born in Nanjing, east China's Jiangsu Province, in 1936, Chang wanted to become a doctor early on, due to the influence of her father, who taught human physiology at a medical college. "There were many diligent and well-educated doctors at my father's workplace," Chang recalls.

Her father often took her and her little brother to net shrimps, catch worms and observe ants. "We could express opinions freely to our father or even argue with him. He was always amiable."

But at 17, Chang changed her mind and chose to study geology at college.

"Everyone had a zeal to serve the country," she recalls.

About 200 other women students enrolled the same year and most went on remote geological surveys after graduation. Chang was selected to do scientific research and went to Moscow to study paleontology.

At the suggestion of Wu Hsienwen, a leading Chinese ichthyologist who was then visiting the Soviet Union, she focused on fish fossils. She often wandered along the rivers in Moscow to collect fossils from Holecene sediments and compare them with modern fish.

In 1960, she returned to China and entered the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP). She spent three months each year accompanying geological prospecting teams to collect fossils in the field, a practice she maintained till the age of 80.

Walking 20 kilometers a day was routine, and every member of the team would eat like a wolf. Chang set a personal record of eating 500 grams of rice in a meal.

"Once I set a goal, I never give up," she says.


Colobops noviportensis: Paleontologists Put the Bite on an Ancient Reptile From New England

Sunday, March 25, 2018

An artist’s rendering of Colobops noviportensis, a new species of reptile from prehistoric Connecticut. (Michael Hanson)

Scientists have identified a new species of reptile from prehistoric Connecticut and, boy, does it have a mouth on it.

Named Colobops noviportensis, the creature lived 200 million years ago and had exceptionally large jaw muscles -- setting it apart from other reptiles at the time. Even compared to the wide diversity of reptile species today, Colobops noviportensis had quite the bite.

"Colobops would have been a diminutive but plucky little beast, part of a little-known menagerie of small animals that lived among the first dinosaurs," said Bhart-Anjan Bhullar, assistant professor and assistant curator in geology and geophysics at Yale, and senior author of a new paper about the discovery in the journal Nature Communications.

"Its tiny frame hid some big secrets," Bhullar said. "Despite its lizard-like aspect, it is in fact an early branch-off of the lineage leading to dinosaurs and birds. Also, its little jaws could bite harder than anything else its size. Perhaps that big bite allowed it to feed on tough, armored prey impervious to weaker mouths."

The lead author of the paper is Adam Pritchard, a former member of Bhullar's lab who is now at the Smithsonian Institution.

Reconstructed skull of Colobops noviportensis. Three-dimensional volume rendering of the skull of Colobops noviportensis (YPM VPPU 18835) produced in VG Studio Max 3.0 in a dorsal, b ventral, c left lateral, and d anterior views. Gray portions indicate portions of the skull of uncertain homology. Scale bar equal to 1 cm. Abbreviations: cp, coronoid process; fo, fontanelle; pf, parietal foramen; sc, sagittal crest

Additional Yale authors of the paper are Jacques Gauthier, professor of geology and geophysics and curator of vertebrate paleontology and vertebrate zoology at the Peabody Museum; and Michael Hanson, a graduate student in geology and geophysics.

"This project was a great example of the process of science," Pritchard said. "The skull was initially discovered in the mid-1960s. In the 1990s, the skull was subject to initial study in which it was identified as a cousin of a modern lizard-like reptile called a tuatara. Our study ups the ante again, using advanced CT scanning and 3D modeling to reveal all kinds of new features of the skull. The features are very distinctive, allowing us to establish a new species."

The specimen is a quarter-sized skull discovered in Meriden, Conn., during roadwork in 1965. It has been part of the collections of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History for decades. The specimen's new species name derives from Novus Portus, a Latinized version of New Haven -- a reference to the New Haven Arkose geological formation.

The Yale team took a new look at the specimen. The researchers did a 3D reconstruction of the skull and discovered that it showed specialization in the jaw that was unprecedented in any other known small tetrapod, juvenile or adult.

"Comparisons with modern reptile dissections showed that it had incredibly well-developed jaw muscles for its size, suggesting an exceptional bite, even compared to the diversity of modern reptiles," Pritchard said. "It's a great illustration of the critical importance of fossils big and small for understanding the diversity of organisms."

The researchers said the discovery means modern vertebrates originated in a world that was already populated by small and large-bodied physical extremes, in terms of how animals physically adapted to their environment.

The National Science Foundation and the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History supported the research.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Yale University. Original written by Jim Shelton. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Adam C. Pritchard, Jacques A. Gauthier, Michael Hanson, Gabriel S. Bever & Bhart-Anjan S. Bhullar. A tiny Triassic saurian from Connecticut and the early evolution of the diapsid feeding apparatusNature Communications, 2018 DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-03508-1


Fossils of Carnivorous Tratayenia Dinosaur Unearthed in Patagonia

Friday, March 30, 2018

The newly discovered predatory dinosaur, Tratayenia rosalesi, is shown in this handout illustration crossing a stream in what is now Patagonia, Argentina, roughly 85 million years ago. PHOTO: REUTERS

On a semiarid Patagonian landscape 85 million years ago, a formidable meat-eater called Tratayenia rosalesi reigned as the apex predator, part of an enigmatic dinosaur group that menaced South America and Australia for tens of millions of years.

Scientists on Wednesday (March 28) described Tratayenia, a two-legged beast up to about 9 metres long, based on fossils unearthed in Argentina's Neuquén province, adding another impressive dinosaur to the list of those that inhabited Patagonia during the Cretaceous Period.

It was a member of a group called megaraptorids that lived in the Southern Hemisphere from about 105 to 85 million years ago.

The group was recognised by palaeontologists only in the past few years, and all of its members - including Tratayenia - are known only from incomplete skeletons.

"Megaraptorids, although still mysterious, seem to have been a pretty badass bunch of predatory dinosaurs," said palaeontologist Matt Lamanna of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh.

"Using the remains of different species, including Tratayenia, we can make something like a 'police composite' of a megaraptorid skeleton," Dr Lamanna added. "Megaraptorids had long, low skulls that were crammed with lots of small but sharp and serrated teeth, bones that were riddled with air cavities, and powerful forelimbs that were tipped with absolutely ginormous, wickedly hooked claws on the innermost two fingers."

For Tratayenia, the researchers found about half of the back vertebrae, all its hip vertebrae, some ribs and a fair bit of the pelvis, but none of the skull, limbs or tail.

Study lead researcher Juan Porfiri (left) and students excavate vertebrae of the newly discovered dinosaur Tratayenia rosalesi at the Tratayén site in Neuquén Province, Patagonia, Argentina. Credit: Photo courtesy Juan Porfiri/Universidad Nacional del Comahue

Patagonia boasted some of the most impressive dinosaurs ever found, including the giant predator Giganotosaurus and the immense long-necked, four-legged plant-eaters Patagotitan, Argentinosaurus and Dreadnoughtus.

"Tratayenia was the largest-known predator about 85 million years ago in Patagonia and perhaps one of the last in its group," said palaeontologist Juan Porfiri of the National University of Comahue's Museum of Natural Sciences in Argentina.

It lived in an ecosystem that included smaller carnivorous dinosaurs including Viavenator, large herbivores such as Traukutitan, snakes similar to boas, crocs, turtles and birds, Dr Porfiri added.

The best known member of Tratayenia's group is Megaraptor, which lived slightly earlier in Patagonia and wielded 40cm-long claws.

"Megaraptorids certainly would have been terrifying to encounter in life: big, heavily armed and powerful, but also probably lighter on their feet than really giant meat-eaters such as Giganotosaurus or T. rex," Dr Lamanna said.

The research was published in the journal Cretaceous Research.


Paleontologists Discover New Dinosaur Species That Lived 252 Million Years Ago

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Life reconstruction of the new species Teleocrater rhadinus, a close relative of dinosaurs.  CREDIT: Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales

Among more than 2,000 ancient fossils found in an African excavation, paleontologists have discovered new species of some of the earliest dinosaurs. 

Paleontologists didn't know much about the early Triassic below the equator before conducting this research. Through a decade of research, nine different month-long digs in two countries, and partnerships across several institutions, paleontologists now better understand how life on earth existed as the first dinosaurs evolved. 

The scientists published a series of papers detailing discovered and studied fossils found across Tanzania and Zambia from 252 million years ago. During this time, the Triassic, both countries were part of one enormous landmass called Pangea, consisting of all the continents squished into one.

The skull of a gorgonopsian, a distant mammal relative and top predator during its pre-dinosaur era about 255 million years ago. This fossil was collected in 2009 in Zambia. This is not a dinosaur. CHRISTIAN SIDOR/UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON

On Wednesday, a team of researchers published 13 new studies, as part of a project now totaling 37 papers. Detailed in this research were more than 2,000 new fossils, information about the ancient environment, and fossils of Teleocrater, an early dinosaur relative that was discovered in 2017, according to Discover magazine.

Researchers also found a lizard-like reptile called procolophonid, as well as some very early dinosaurs, according to a press release. By comparing the finds to others made in the southern hemisphere, including Antarctica, researchers were able to draw a more complete understanding of the Triassic world. They published their findings in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

"These papers highlight what a regional perspective we now have—we have the same fossils from Tanzania, Antarctica, Namibia and more," Christian Sidor, a University of Washington biology professor and curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture said in a statement. "We're getting a much better Southern Hemisphere perspective of what's going on in the Triassic."

Two hundred and fifty-two million years ago, the time to which the fossils are dated back, was an important time in earth’s history. After the End-Permian mass extinction event, much of life on earth had gone extinct, and the few, unremarkable animals that remained were starting to diversify. It was from these early-Triassic animals that mammals and dinosaurs would eventually evolve.