Plesiosaur skeleton put together again in England

This video from England says about itself:

23 January 2016

A rare 165 million year old plesiosaur found in Peterborough will be studied by experts at a natural history museum to see if it is a previously unknown species.

The 5.5 metre long marine reptile, nicknamed ‘Eve’, was found at Must Farm quarry by palaeontologists from the Oxford Clay Working Group in November 2014. It is now being studied at the Museum and may prove to be a previously unknown species of plesiosaur.

Plesiosaurs were long-necked sea creatures that lived during the time of the dinosaurs. They died out 66 million years ago.

The specimen, discovered at a site owned by building product manufacturer Forterra, was first spotted by Oxford Clay Working Group member Carl Harrington who noticed a tiny fragment of bone sticking out of the clay. Over the course of four days, Carl and eight others dug up more than 600 pieces of fossilised bone. Carl then spent over 400 hours cleaning and repairing the specimen.

Carl Harrington said: “I’d never seen so much bone in one spot in a quarry. As I was digging amongst the wet clay, the snout of a plesiosaur started to appear in front of me. It was one of those absolute ‘wow’ moments – I was the first human to come face to face with this reptile.”

The newly-discovered plesiosaur had a 2.5 metre long neck, a barrel-shaped body, four flippers and a short tail. Its skull is still preserved inside a block of clay, and the painstaking task of removing it will now be undertaken at the Museum.

Dr James Neenan, a research fellow at the Museum, and Professor John Hutchinson from the Royal Veterinary College have CT-scanned the block to revealthe location of the bones inside. This will aid the removal of the skull from the clay.

On 27 January, visiting secondary school pupils will get the chance to see the plesiosaur find for themselves and to ask our Earth Collections manager Dr Hilary Ketchum about it.

“We are so excited that the plesiosaur has come to the Museum where it will be used for research, education and display,” says Dr Ketchum.

From the BBC:

Plesiosaur ‘sea monster’ bones put back together

13 February 2016

A Jurassic “sea monster” found in a quarry is taking shape as scientists carry out the painstaking task of putting together hundreds of bones.

A museum team has now put 165 million-year-old plesiosaur “Eve” together, although a few bones are missing and the skull is still embedded in clay.

They hope to put her on show but admitted she is too long and heavy for any of their current display cases.

Plesiosaurs were sea creatures that died out 66 million years ago.

The “fantastic fossil” was discovered at Must Farm quarry near Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire, by archaeologists from Oxford Clay Working Group.

It has an 8ft (2.5m)-long neck, a barrel-shaped body, four flippers and a short tail.

They named the creature Eve, as it was their first major find.

Bone ‘puzzle’

However, scientists at Oxford University Museum of Natural History, to which the bones were donated, are unable to confirm the sex of the plesiosaur.

“We might never know,” palaeontologist Dr Hilary Ketchum said.

“It is very difficult to tell between males and females in the fossil record because soft parts are rarely preserved.

“The only definite female plesiosaur ever found was one that was discovered with a foetus preserved inside.”

Dr Ketchum was tasked with putting together the “puzzle” of more than 600 pieces of bone uncovered by archaeologist Dr Carl Harrington and his team.

When various pieces were glued they were left with 232 bones plus the skull, which is still preserved in a block of clay.

Gradually, using the archaeologists’ notes and Dr Ketchum’s “own knowledge of plesiosaur anatomy”, Eve began to take shape.

A number of bones are missing including the thigh bones and parts of the tail, Dr Ketchum said.

The “delicate task” of removing the skull bones could take several months.

‘New species’

The clay block which encases them was CT-scanned to help scientists extract the bones without causing damage. So far they have exposed part of the lower jaw and the back of the skull near the neck.

Eventually they hope to release a time-lapse video of the process.

Scientists have said Eve could prove to be a new species of plesiosaur, as she has anatomical features that differ from other plesiosaurs found in the Oxford Clay.

The Jurassic sediment lies under parts of England from as far west as Dorset and north to Yorkshire – taking in the Peterborough area which was Eve’s last resting place.

Eve’s upper and lower arm bones and wrist show some differences, as do parts of the neck vertebrae, Dr Ketchum said.

“It is possible this is because Eve is a new species, however, we still have lots more research to do before we can be sure.”

The museum hopes to put Eve on temporary display in the autumn, however, first they have one large problem to solve.

“Eve is the biggest and most complete plesiosaur specimen that we have. Our largest display case is just over four metres long, so it’s not quite big enough for Eve to be displayed entirely straight,” Dr Ketchum said.

“We might have to bend the neck around a little.”

Eve was donated to the Oxford museum by Cambridgeshire landowners Forterra.

Plesiosaurs (Plesiosauroidea)

66 million years ago plesiosaurs became extinct

76 vertebrae in their necks – mammals such as humans and giraffes have just seven

5mph (8.2km/h) the top swimming speed of the creature

6m the average length

660lb (300kg) the approximate weight

Dr Roger Benson/BBC Nature

Jurassic dinosaur discovery in Wales

This video about Wales says about itself:

New dinosaur: Welsh dragon Dracoraptor hanigani discovered

20 January 2016

Scientists have discovered the fossilised skull and bones of a dinosaur on a Severn Estuary beach near the town of Penarth. Report by Sarah Duffy.

From daily The Independent in Britain today:

Ancient ‘dragon’ found in Wales, named Dracoraptor hanigani

The apparently youthful dinosaur was running around Wales about 200 million years ago

Andrew Griffin

Dragons really did roam around Wales. But about 200 million years ago.

Scientists have found the skull and bones of a huge beast near Penarth. The creature has been named Dracoraptor hanigani and is one of the world’s oldest Jurassic dinosaurs.

Dracoraptor is Latin for “dragon robber”, an apparent reference to the dragon on Wales’ flag.

Flag of Wales

The rest of the name comes from Nick and Rob Hanigan, the amateur fossil-hunters who found the bones while they were looking for ichthyosaur remains.

The dragon was related to the Tyrannosaurus rex. But it was a lot less terrifying, scientists say.

The bones aren’t yet fully formed, and so the specimen probably belongs to a youngster.

The dragon would have roamed before dinosaurs took over the world, when it was instead dominated by crocodiles and mammals.

Mammals just started their evolution during the early Jurassic, and were not dominant yet.

The climate of Wales would also have been very different and much warmer.

Dinosaur scientist Steven Vidovic, from the University of Portsmouth, one of the experts whose description of D. hanigani appears in the online journal Public Library of Science ONE, said: “The Triassic-Jurassic extinction event is often credited for the later success of dinosaurs through the Jurassic and Cretaceous, but previously we knew very little about dinosaurs at the start of this diversification and rise to dominance.

“Now we have Dracoraptor, a relatively complete two metre-long juvenile theropod from the very earliest days of the Jurassic in Wales.”

Pterosaur fossil with poop discovery

The full Rhamphorhynchus specimen (Hone et al., PeerJ DOI: 10.7717/peerj.1191/fig-1 (CC-BY 4.0))

From in the USA:

Fossilized Poop is Rare, Fossilized Poop Inside a Fossilized Dinosaur is Even Rarer

This title is a bit misleading; as the article is about a pterosaur, a flying reptile which is not a dinosaur.

Fossilized feces are always interesting, and researchers may have just found an extra special example

By Marissa Fessenden

24 August 2015

Paleontologists get really excited when they find poop — or at least, fossilized feces, called coprolites. They are not alone in the research world in this regard. Finding coprolites still within the animal that created it is rare indeed, but that may be exactly what a newly discovered specimen of Rhamphorhynchus, a winged reptile, contains.

Soft things like tissue and stomach contents don’t preserve in the fossil record well, explains Shaena Montanari for Forbes. As a result, it is “often difficult for paleontologists to fully understand the diet and ecology of extinct creatures. While there are ways of analyzing tooth shape and also chemical signatures in fossils to determine diet, an easier way to see direct feeding behavior is fossilized gut contents,” she writes.

The pterosaur specimen dates back to the Late Jurassic, about 161 to 146 million years ago. Paleontologists originally found this Rhamphorhynchus  the Schernfeld quarry from Bavaria, Southern Germany in 1965. Now, the fossil is held by the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palenotology in Alberta, Canada. There, a research team recently got the chance to analyze the fossil in depth. 

The team notes in their paper, published in PeerJ, that the specimen is in good condition — some soft tissues such as wing membranes and the skin that stretch from the hindlimbs to the tail are visible. In addition, lying amongst the specimen’s guts are the bones of what may be fish. There’s also a mass of something below the creature’s sacrum, a triangular bone at the base of the spine, close to where the cloaca would be.

The possible coprolite has structures in it that look like hooks. These structures, the team hypothesizes, may be the remains of spines from some kind of marine invertebrate (perhaps a sponge or relative of a starfish). If the suspiciously-located mass really is a coprolite then it will be the first found for any kind of pterosaur.

Jurassic dinosaur discovery in Wales

This video says about itself:

New Welsh Dinosaur at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

9 June 2015

The skeleton of a new Welsh dinosaur goes on display at National Museum Cardiff.

The dinosaur is approximately 200 million years old, the oldest Jurassic dinosaur ever found in the UK. It belongs to the theropod group of dinosaurs and is related to Tyrannosaurus rex, although our dinosaur was walking the earth about 130 million years earlier than its more well known cousin.

The new Welsh dinosaur is a completely new species, previously unknown to scientists, making this discovery even more exciting.

See also here.

From daily The Independent in Britain:

The T-Rex has a Welsh cousin: New Jurassic-era dinosaur species discovered in Wales

The theropod, discovered by two brothers, dates back 200 million years

Pat Hurst

Tuesday 09 June 2015

A new dinosaur species has been discovered in Wales dating back 200 million years to the earliest Jurassic period, scientists say.

The fossilised skeleton of the dog-sized creature, a theropod dinosaur, is described as a cousin of the giant Tyrannosaurus rex and is believed to be the earliest specimen of a Jurassic era dinosaur ever to walk the Earth.

Described as the “find of a life-time” it was discovered on Lavernock beach near Penarth in the Vale of Glamorgan by two fossil-hunting brothers, Nick and Rob Hanigan after storms in spring 2014.

A cliff fall on the beach, revealed several loose blocks containing part of the skeleton of the dinosaur, including razor sharp teeth and claws.

It was analysed by experts from The University of Manchester, University of Portsmouth and the National Museum Wales who concluded it lived at the very earliest part of the Jurassic Period, 201 million years ago.

Dr John Nudds, senior lecturer in palaeontology at The University of Manchester said: “It is very rare to find this type of dinosaur at all and never before in Wales. In fact it is only the second dinosaur ever found in Wales.

“Theropods were vicious hunters who would prey on others. They were evolving rapidly at the start of the Jurassic period, but are only known from a few specimens worldwide.

“So this is a very exciting finding that could tell us a lot about how these species were evolving.”

It is thought that the fossil was from a juvenile animal as some of its bones are not yet fully formed. Research is still under way, with a scientific paper in progress which will reveal the name of this new species in the next few months.

The fossil will be donated to the National Museum Wales by the Hanigan brothers.

The new dinosaur’s name has yet to be revealed, although the Hanigan brothers revealed their idea of “RobandNick-A-Saurus” was turned down by palaeontologists.

Bank worker Rob joked: “Choosing a name was harder than picking one for my son.”

Dr David Martill, reader in palaeobiology at University of Portsmouth, said: “The new dinosaur was brought to my attention last year and I went up to Lancashire to see the specimen.

“There, laid out on the table, was the most beautiful little theropod dinosaur ever found in Europe.

Read more: Yorkshire dinosaur revealed to be 176 million years old

Palaeontologist proposes to wife in paper revealing new dinosaur

‘Strange wings’ bat-like dinosaur fossil found

“Although the bones were scattered on a few slabs of limestone, they were in excellent condition, and much of the skull appeared to be there.

“The teeth were small, but needle sharp, slightly curved and with the most wonderful steak-knife serrations on their edges.

“I then went to visit the discovery site, which showed that the dinosaur came from strata deposited exactly at the end of the Triassic and the start of the Jurassic. I now had the job to determine if this was a Triassic or Jurassic dinosaur. That took a lot of effort, but we are now convinced it is the first ever Jurassic dinosaur.”

The Welsh dinosaur was a small, slim, agile dinosaur, probably only about 50cm tall, which had a long tail to help it balance. It lived at the time when south Wales was a coastal region, offering a warm climate.

It had lots of small, blade-like, sharp, serrated teeth suggesting that it would have eaten insects, small mammals and other reptiles.

The dinosaur also probably had a fuzzy coating of simple proto-feathers, as did many theropod dinosaurs, and this would have been used for insulation and possibly display purposes. It may also have had simple quill-like structures for defence.

The rocks that contain the dinosaur fossil date back to a time immediately after the start of the Jurassic period, 201.3 million years ago.

At that time, the dinosaurs were just starting to diversify and the Welsh specimen is almost certainly the earliest Jurassic dinosaur in the world.

It is related to Coelophysis that lived approximately 203 to 196 million years ago in what is now the southwestern part of the United States of America. It also could be said to be a distant cousin of the much later Tyrannosaurus rex.

Nick Hanigan said: “This is a once in a lifetime find – preparing the skull and to seeing the teeth of a theropod for the first time in 200 million years was absolutely fantastic – you just can’t beat that sort of thing!”

The fossil will be on display at the main hall of National Museum Cardiff from June 9, until September 6, 2015.

Britain’s oldest dinosaur discovered

This American Museum of Natural History video says about itself:

How Are Dinosaur Fossils Prepared in the Laboratory?

9 October 2012

Fossil preparators are highly skilled technicians who restore the naturally fractured bones and teeth of fossil to the original state, somewhat like art conservators restore damaged paintings and sculptures.

When fossils arrive from the field, they are encased in plaster jackets, and the rock, or matrix, which was deposited around the fossils. Fossil preparation involves cutting open the plaster jacket and removing this matrix surrounding the fossil. The matrix may be soft and crumbly, when the sand or mud is poorly cemented together, or it can be extremely hard, when the sediments are well cemented. Accordingly, a wide variety of tools is required to remove the matrix and stabilize the fossil. Commonly, dental tools are used to carefully pick away sediment near the bone, along with custom-made needles composed of carbide steel. Formerly, chisels and hammers were used to remove blocks of matrix further away from the bone, but recently, smaller mechanical tools have taken their place. These include small grinding wheels, miniature jackhammers called air scribes, and tiny sand-blasters, all powered by compressed air.

When using these tools, the work is often conducted while peering through a precision microscope under high-quality lighting to make sure delicate features on the fossils are not damaged. Preparators carefully select the materials used to strengthen or repair specimens. Adhesives, glues, and fillers must stand the test of time and not become brittle or discolored, just like the materials used to conserve works of art. The types of materials used are recorded in order to aid future preparators if further preparation or repair is required.

This video is part of a series, “Dinosaurs Explained,” produced by the American Museum of Natural History. In the series, Museum paleontologists answer the most frequently asked questions about dinosaurs.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Britain’s oldest dinosaur fossil found on North Yorkshire coast

Experts say they have identified 176m-year-old sauropod from fossil backbone discovered on a beach at Whitby

Monday 1 June 2015 20.00 BST

Experts say they have identified Britain’s oldest sauropod dinosaur from a fossil bone discovered on the North Yorkshire coast.

The dinosaur backbone – which dates back about 176m years to the Middle Jurassic period – was found on a beach at Whitby after it fell out of a cliff face.

It represents the earliest skeletal record of this type of dinosaur from the UK and adds to existing evidence from Yorkshire dinosaur tracks that the creatures once roamed freely across this part of the country, say researchers at the University of Manchester.

Sauropods include some of the largest plant-eating dinosaurs that have existed and were a successful group for nearly 150m years.

They possessed distinctive long necks and tails, small heads, a large body and walked on all fours. Some species, such as the Argentinosaurus, grew up to 115ft (35 metres) long and possibly weighed as much as 80 tonnes.

The fossil is said to be an extremely rare find, given that the Middle Jurassic rocks of the world are exposed in very few areas, although dinosaur fossils of a similar age have been found in China and Latin America.

Prof Phil Manning and his team from the University of Manchester used x-ray tomography to study the fossil bone, which is now held in the collections at the Yorkshire Museum in York.

Prof Manning said: “Many scientists have worked on the amazing dinosaur tracks from the Middle Jurassic rocks of Yorkshire.

“It was a splendid surprise to come face to face with a fossil vertebra from the Jurassic rocks of Yorkshire that was clearly from a sauropod dinosaur.

This fossil offers the earliest ‘body fossil’ evidence for this important group of dinosaurs in the United Kingdom but it is impossible to define a new species based upon this single bone.”

Until more bones are discovered the team have nicknamed Britain’s oldest sauropod Alan, after the finder of this prehistoric giant, Alan Gurr.

Sarah King, curator of natural science at the Yorkshire Museum, said: “We have some of the best examples of fossils from the area in our collections and we are delighted to be able to display the vertebra of Britain’s oldest sauropod alongside them for the public to enjoy.”

The vertebra will be on show at the Yorkshire Museum from 8 June.

Dinosaur with feathers and bat-like wings discovered

This video says about itself:

A new dinosaur: Flying without feathers

29 April 2015

Birds evolved from dinosaurs – but it wasn’t a smooth transition. Plenty of creatures tried different ways to get into the air – like this newly discovered dinosaur species, Yi qi, unearthed in China. This pigeon-sized creature had elongated fingers that held a membrane wing, more like a bat than a bird. In this Nature Video, we look at what makes this fossil so special, and consider what this dinosaur may have looked like.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Is it a bird? Is it a bat? Meet Yi qi, the dinosaur that is sort of both

Incredible new find from China has both feathers and bat-like wings

Dr Dave Hone

Wednesday 29 April 2015 18.01 BST

Researchers today announced the discovery of a stunning new dinosaur fossil: a glider with wings similar to both birds and bats. It has been named Yi qi (meaning ‘strange wing’) and is a small feathered dinosaur from the Middle Jurassic age fossil beds of China that have yielded a host of important fossils in recent years. Yi qi, like so many other small dinosaurs, is preserved with a full coating of feathers and was a close relative of the lineage that ultimately gave rise to birds.

However, what sets this animal apart from numerous other dinosaurian gliders and proto-birds is the composition of its wings. In addition to some unusual feathers that are positioned on the long arms and fingers, there is a truly gigantic bone on each wrist that extends backwards, and between this bone and the fingers is preserved a membrane-like soft tissue that would have given the animal something of a wing, like that of bats.

Yi qi is not a direct ancestor of birds, and more particularly has nothing to do with the origins of the mammalian bats, but its wings are an excellent example of convergent evolution. At various times a great many animals have evolved a similar arrangement of a large bone in the wrist or hand and a supporting membrane, most obviously in numerous gliding mammal lineages. In addition to the bats that are capable of active powered flight, various passive gliders like flying squirrels, sugar gliders and the so-called “flying lemurs” have all independently evolved some extension that that helps to support a membranous wing. At some level then, this is a quite common feature, but it is a real shock to see it in such a dinosaur.

Professor Xu Xing, lead author of the study from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Beijing said “It definitely evolved a wing that is unique in the context of the transition from dinosaurs to birds.”

There are a number of feathered dinosaurs close to the origins of birds that are thought to have been some form of glider. All were small and light and had extensive feathers that would have formed the flight surface and allowed them to move effectively through the air. Yi qi is from a very odd group of small dinosaurs called scansoriopterygids, who are known from only two other specimens and little is known about their biology or lifestyle, so there is not much to go on. However, it is clearly remarkable that such an animal that had numerous other relatives with large feathers on their arms and would apparently “experiment” with different forms of flight at various times (not least ultimately producing birds) would take such a dramatically different route towards gliding, even if it was one commonly explored by other [sic] mammals.

The evolutionary implications are therefore quite incredible. There have already been suggestions that perhaps powered flight evolved multiple times in the dinosaurs and early birds, with perhaps several different groups making the final jump from gliding to a more active form of movement in the air. Given how few and far between the scansoriopterygids are as fossils, this implies that they never really got going as a group – certainly they are much more restricted in both time and space than their near relatives, so at first approximation the bat-bird combination of Yi qi did not lead to a major new radiation of dinosaurs.

However, quite how the animal may have flown is most unclear. The incomplete preservation of the wings and the uncertain position of the long wrist bone means that it could have had a very broad wing or a narrow one, and the flattened nature of the skeleton makes it hard to tell if this animal might have had the muscles and joints needed for powered flight. Professor Xu notes that “We don’t know if Yi qi was flapping, or gliding, or both”, but it does seem clear that the small size of the animal and large surface area of the wings and feathers would have permitted some form of aerial locomotion.

Dr Mike Habib of the University of Southern California, who was not involved in the study, said “All told, this is an unexpected, exciting specimen that changes our views on the evolution of flight in dinosaurs. It appears that multiple types of wing surfaces evolved within the relatives of birds, making the origins of avian flight potentially more complicated than previously thought.” That alone makes the origins of birds, already an area of intense study, a little more complicated and rather intriguing. The pathway to both birds and powered flight from small feathered dinosaurs, though with a few bumps and oddities on the way shows a relatively consistent progression but Yi qi adds a new twist with one evolutionary branch taking a dramatically different route into the air.

Xu et al., 2015. A bizarre Jurassic maniraptoran theropod with preserved evidence of membranous wings. Nature. DOI: 10.1038