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

Vegetarian Tyrannosaurus rex relative discovery in Chile

A reconstruction of the skeleton and external appearance of Chilesaurus. Paleontologists have labelled it “a truly odd mix”. Illustration: Gabriel Lío

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

‘Bizarre’ Jurassic dinosaur discovered in remarkable new find

Chilesaurus diegosuarezi was related to Tyrannosaurus rex, but was vegetarian and has other curious features

Ian Sample, science editor

Monday 27 April 2015 16.25 BST

Fossil hunters in Chile have unearthed the remains of a bizarre Jurassic dinosaur that combined a curious mixture of features from different prehistoric animals.

The evolutionary muddle of a beast grew to the size of a small horse and was the most abundant animal to be found 145 million years ago, in what is now the Aysén region of Patagonia.

The discovery ranks as one of the most remarkable dinosaur finds of the past 20 years, and promises to cause plenty of headaches for paleontologists hoping to place the animal in the dinosaur family tree.

“I don’t know how the evolution of dinosaurs produced this kind of animal, what kind of ecological pressures must have been at work,” said Fernando Novas at the Bernardino Rivadavia Natural Sciences Museum in Buenos Aires.

“What’s surprising is that in this locality the most bizarre dinosaur is not the exception, but the rule. It is the most abundant animal we find,” he added.

The first fossilised bones of the beast were discovered in 2004 when a Chilean couple, who are geologists, were studying rocks in the Andes to understand how the mountain range formed. The couple’s son, Diego, was playing nearby when he found a fossilised bone that turned out to belong to the new species.

The discovery prompted the geologists, Manuel Suarez and Rita de la Cruz, to team up with Novas and other scientists and return to the site, called Black Hill, in a breathtaking rocky expanse near General Carrera Lake in southern Chile.

On returning to the site, the researchers found bones from at least a dozen of the strange animals, including four nearly complete and well-preserved skeletons. The skeletons showed that the weird mix of head, neck, shoulder, rib, pelvis, leg and tail bones all belonged to the same creature.

Named Chilesaurus diegosuarezi after 7-year-old Diego, the animal belongs to the theropod group of dinosaurs, which includes the carnivorous tyrannosaurs and velociraptors. But unlike its meat-eating cousins, Chilesaurus had switched diets and become a vegetarian. Meat eaters tend to have sharp teeth and large heads supported by thick necks. Chilesaurus had a horny beak, flatter teeth for chomping plants, a small head and slender neck. “It’s a theropod that turned vegetarian,” said Novas. Details are published in the journal Nature.

Other anatomical peculiarities have surprised paleontologists. Its forelimbs were stocky, like an allosaurus, and instead of sharp claws, it sported two stumpy fingers. Most of the Chilesaurus remains belonged to juveniles, no larger than turkeys, but the team found bones from adults too that suggest the animals reached 3 metres from snout to tail when fully grown.

The remains of the animals were found alongside bones of small prehistoric crocodiles and huge herbivorous cousins of diplodocus. The researchers hope to return to the site next year to uncover more bones, including those of the predators that must have stalked the land long before the Andes had formed.

The curious form of Chilesaurus is an extreme example of mosaic convergent evolution, where different parts of an animal adapt to the environment along the same path taken by other creatures.

Paul Barrett, a dinosaur researcher at the Natural History Museum in London said Chilesaurus ranks as one of the most interesting dinosaur discoveries of the past 20 years.

“It has an unbelievably weird mixture of anatomical features. If you found isolated bones from this one animal in different places you’d probably conclude that the bones came from completely different dinosaur groups, rather than representing one unusual species,” he said.

“Some of the bones look like they belong to an early theropod, others like they belong to a group of weird plant-eating theropods called therizinosauroids and yet others look like they belong to a completely different dinosaur group, the prosauropods. A truly odd mix.”

“It shows that dinosaurs were experimenting with a wide range of body types and that some unexpected features like a vegetarian diet turned up independently again and again in the ‘predatory’ theropod dinosaurs.”

“Its relationships to other dinosaurs are really tricky to pin down because of this mix of features and it wouldn’t surprise me if its position in the dinosaur evolutionary tree changes regularly as more people see the material,” he said.

See also here.

Brontosaurus coming back to dinosaur science?

Brontosaurus as researchers imagined it in the late 1800s, on a chocolate wrapper. Photograph: Picasa

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Brontosaurus is back! New analysis suggests genus might be resurrected

Despite its relegation to a subset of the Apatosaurus family in 1903, new research suggests that the Brontosaurus is distinct enough to be a genus

Hannah Devlin, science correspondent

Tuesday 7 April 2015 12.52 BST

The Brontosaurus is famous for having been resigned to extinction twice – the second time when scientists concluded that it was another long-necked dinosaur that had been misclassified.

Now, the “thunder lizard” looks set to make a comeback, after a new analysis suggests that Brontosaurus skeletons really are distinct enough to warrant their own genus.

The scientists behind the work hope the findings will trigger the resurrection of the Brontosaurus genus, which was discarded by most academics more than 100 years ago.

“It’s a nice example of how science works. A new finding can overturn more than 100 years of beliefs,” said Emanuel Tschopp, who led the study at the Nova University in Lisbon.

The discovery of Brontosaurus dates back to the so-called “Bone Wars”, a period in the US when a wealth of new dinosaur fossils were being discovered and rival palaeontologists were racing to name as many as possible. Brontosaurus was hastily named in 1870, a few years after another bulky long-necked specimen, the Apatosaurus (deceptive lizard), was discovered.

By 1903, it had been relegated to a subset of the Apatosaurus family, but the dinosaur has lived on as a mainstay in popular culture. “It’s probably because when it was found it was one of the first really complete long-necked dinosaurs,” said Tschopp. “It also just has a really good name.”

The argument for bringing back the iconic title is entirely objective, the scientists say. “Although I was excited when I found it might be the case,” he added.

Professor Paul Barrett, a senior dinosaur researcher at the Natural History Museum in London, said he is ready to re-adopt the Brontosaurus title, based on the findings. “It’s the biggest study on this family, they martial a lot of evidence and make a very good case,” he said.

“It’s taken us a long time to convince people that we shouldn’t be using the name ‘Brontosaurus’,” he added. “Just as we’ve got to that point, it looks like we’re going to have to turn around and say ‘Actually, it’s alright again’.”

Brian Switek, author of My Beloved Brontosaurus and amateur palaeontologist based in Utah, said: “I want to believe, but I’m not sure the Brontosaurus is here to stay just yet.”

The problem, he said, is that there is no standard way of picking which anatomical traits are significant, meaning there will always be a degree of subjectivity in drawing up distinctions between closely related species. Done a different way, another analysis could easily sink Brontosaurus back into the Apatosaurus genus. The question is unlikely to be definitively agreed, Switek predicts, without the discovery of new fossils, in particular a Brontosaurus skull.

The latest analysis focussed on the Diplodocidae clade, the family containing Diplodocus, Apatosaurus and several other long-necked specimens.

The Diplodocidae dinosaurs lived from 170 to 130 million years ago, and are distinguished by their short legs (they are sometimes dubbed the “dachshund” of dinosaurs) and incredible length. The average length of an Apatosaurus was 22m, but a related species, Supersaurus, was thought to have reached 34m head to tail.

The scientists analysed around 50 skeletons and measured around 500 anatomical traits to assess the hierarchy of differences within the family. Statistically, they found there were two main groups: one containing more slender species, such as Diplodocus, and a second containing the bulkier Apatosaurus. Within the Apatosaurus group, though, there were further considerable distinctions, including the fact that Apatosaurus had a thicker neck, according to the PeerJ report.

“The differences we found between Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus were at least as numerous as the ones between other closely related genera, and much more than what you normally find between species,” said Roger Benson, a co-author from the University of Oxford.

The distinction between species and genera is without clear rules, but should at least be self-consistent, the authors argue.

Unlike with living species, there is no official procedure for creating a new genus or reinstating an old one, and whether Brontosaurus makes a comeback will depend on popular consensus within the community. “Other researchers will now need to test the evidence for resuscitating Brontosaurus,” said Tschopp.

The authors said the research was only possible due to the recent discovery of several new dinosaurs similar to both Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus, which made it possible to undertake a detailed investigation of how different they actually were.

“Our research would not have been possible at this level of detail 15 or more years ago,” said Tschopp. “In fact, until very recently, the claim that Brontosaurus was the same as Apatosaurus was completely reasonable, based on the knowledge we had.”

Irrespective of the scientific outcome, the dinosaur is likely to live on in the popular imagination. “The ghost of Brontosaurus will always be with us,” said Switek.

See also here.