Feathered dinosaurs, new research


This video says about itself:

29 July 2015

“Anchiornis” is a genus of small, feathered, eumaniraptoran dinosaurs. The genus “Anchiornis” contains only the type species “Anchiornis huxleyi“. It was named in honor of Thomas Henry Huxley, an early proponent of biological evolution, and the first to propose a close evolutionary relationship between birds and dinosaurs. The generic name “Anchiornis” means “near bird”, and its describers cited it as important in filling a gap in the transition between the body plans of birds and dinosaurs.

“Anchiornis huxleyi” fossils have been found in the Tiaojishan Formation of Liaoning, China, in rocks dated to the late Jurassic period, 161.0–160.5 million years ago.

Given the exquisite preservation of one of the animal’s fossils, “Anchiornis huxleyi” became the first dinosaur species for which almost the entire life coloration could be determined.

“Anchiornis huxleyi” was a small, paravian dinosaur with a triangular skull bearing several details in common with dromaeosaurids and troodontids. “Anchiornis” had very long legs, usually an indication that they were strong runners. However, the extensive leg feathers indicate that this may be a vestigial trait, as running animals tend to have reduced, not increased, hair or feathers on their legs. The forelimbs of “Anchiornis” were also very long, similar to archaeopterygids.

The first fossil was recovered from the Yaolugou locality, Jianchang County, western Liaoning, China; the second, at the Daxishan locality of the same area. The deposits are lake sediment, and are of uncertain age. Radiological measurements indicate an early Late Jurassic age for them, between 161 and 151 million years ago.

From Science News:

Under lasers, a feathered dino shows some skin

Geochemical fluorescence method illuminates Anchiornis soft tissue, but some remain skeptical

By Helen Thompson

2:40pm, March 20, 2017

What happens when you shoot lasers at a dinosaur fossil? Some chemicals preserved in the fossil glow, providing a nuanced portrait of the ancient creature’s bones, feathers and soft tissue such as skin.

Soft tissue is rarely preserved in fossils, and when it is, it can be easily obscured. A technique called laser-stimulated fluorescence “excites the few skin atoms left in the matrix, making them glow to reveal what the shape of the dinosaur actually looked like,” says Michael Pittman, a paleontologist at the University of Hong Kong.

Pittman and colleagues turned their lasers on Anchiornis, a four-winged dinosaur about the size of a pigeon with feathered arms and legs. It lived around 160 million years ago during the Jurassic Period. The researchers imaged nine specimens under laser light and used the photos to reconstruct a model of Anchiornis that shows an exceedingly birdlike body, the team writes March 1 in Nature Communications.

In the crooks of its elbows and wrists, the dinosaur had what looks like taut tissues called patagia, a feature in modern bird wings. “The wings of Anchiornis are reminiscent of the wings of some living gliding and soaring birds,” Pittman says. Plus, the images capture minute details like feather follicles and scales, and confirm some characteristics of Anchiornis long surmised by scientists: that it had drumstick-shaped legs, pads on the balls of its feet and a slim tail.

Still, it’s unclear what geochemicals are actually fluorescing in the fossils because the team didn’t perform any chemical analyses to determine the organic compounds or minerals present. “The images are very cool,” says Mary Schweitzer, a paleontologist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. But, she cautions, a few hurdles remain, including testing fluorescence in different fossil types and verifying how skin glows under laser light in modern bird fossils.

Scientists normally rely on light-based methods and skeletal data to reconstruct the appearance of dinosaurs and other ancient creatures. Ultraviolet fluorescence works similarly to the new method, but the laser technique captures greater resolution. If laser-stimulated fluorescence lives up to its promise, it could help discern fossilized features that are invisible to the naked eye.

Functional form

Drawing from Anchiornis fossil specimens housed in a Chinese museum, researchers used measurements from laser-stimulated fluorescence images to create a more refined outline of the dinosaur’s body.

Major breakthrough in knowledge of dinosaur appearance: palaeontologist reconstructs feathered dinosaurs in the flesh with new technology: here.

Dinosaur soft tissue discovery


This video from the USA says about itself:

7 March 2016

Mary Higby Schweitzer is a paleontologist at North Carolina State University, who is known for leading the groups that discovered the remains of blood cells in dinosaur fossils and later discovered soft tissue remains in a Tyrannosaurus rex specimen.

From AFP news agency:

Dino rib yields evidence of oldest soft tissue remains

January 31, 2017

The rib of a long-necked, plant-eating dinosaur that lived 195 million years ago has yielded what may be the oldest remains of soft tissue ever recovered, scientists said Tuesday.

The find promises a chance to extract rare clues about the biology and evolution of long-extinct animals, a team wrote in the journal Nature Communications.

Such information is mostly missing from preserved hard skeletons, which form the bulk of the fossil record.

“We have shown the presence of protein preserved in a 195 million-year-old dinosaur, at least 120 million years older than any other similar discovery,” study co-author Robert Reisz of the University of Toronto Mississauga, told AFP.

“These proteins are the building blocks of animal soft tissues, and it’s exciting to understand how they have been preserved,” he added.

Reisz and a team scanned a rib bone of Lufengosaurus, a common dinosaur in the Early Jurassic period. Fully grown, these lizards

Dinosaurs are not really closely related to lizards.

measured about eight metres (26 feet).

The researchers used a photon beam at the National Synchrotron Radiation Research Center in Taiwan to examine the insides of the bone, specifically its chemical contents.

They found evidence of collagen proteins within tiny canals in the rib and concluded they were “probably remnants of the blood vessels that supplied blood to the bone cells in the living dinosaur.”

Most previous studies had extracted organic remains by dissolving away other parts of the fossil, the team said.

With the synchrotron method, this is not necessary, and even older remains may be uncovered without damaging dinosaur bones in future.

Does it bring us any closer to recovering DNA from which dinosaurs may one day be cloned?

“No, that is still fantasy,” said Reisz.

The previous oldest find of suspected and collagen fibres was reported in 2013, in that lived about 75 million years ago.

Proteins and other organic remains usually decay soon after an animal dies. During fossilisation, the space they occupied within bone is filled by mineral deposits carried by groundwater.

Finding fossilised soft tissue is very rare indeed.

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 Smithsonian.com 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

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‘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.