Meet Xenoceratops: Canada’s Newest Horned Dinosaur

Nov. 8, 2012 — Scientists have named a new species of horned dinosaur (ceratopsian) from Alberta, Canada. Xenoceratops foremostensis (Zee-NO-Sare-ah-tops) was identified from fossils originally collected in 1958. Approximately 20 feet long and weighing more than 2 tons, the newly identified plant-eating dinosaur represents the oldest known large-bodied horned dinosaur from Canada
Research describing the new species is published in the October 2012 issue of the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences.

“Starting 80 million years ago, the large-bodied horned dinosaurs in North America underwent an evolutionary explosion,” said lead author Dr. Michael Ryan, curator of vertebrate paleontology at The Cleveland Museum of Natural History. “Xenoceratops shows us that even the geologically oldest ceratopsids had massive spikes on their head shields and that their cranial ornamentation would only become more elaborate as new species evolved.”

Xenoceratops (Xeno + ceratops) means “alien horned-face,” referring to the strange pattern of horns on its head and the scarcity of horned dinosaur fossils from this part of the fossil record. It also honors the Village of Foremost, located close to where the dinosaur was discovered. Xenoceratops had a parrot-like beak with two long brow horns above its eyes. A large frill protruded from the back of its skull featuring two huge spikes.

“Xenoceratops provides new information on the early evolution of ceratopsids, the group of large-bodied horned dinosaurs that includes Triceratops,” said co-author Dr. David Evans of the Royal Ontario Museum and University of Toronto. “The early fossil record of ceratopsids remains scant, and this discovery highlights just how much more there is to learn about the origin of this diverse group.”

The new dinosaur is described from skull fragments from at least three individuals from the Foremost Formation originally collected by Dr. Wann Langston Jr. in the 1950s, and is currently housed in the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, Canada. Ryan and Evans stumbled upon the undescribed material more than a decade ago and recognized the bones as a new type of horned dinosaur. Evans later discovered a 50-year-old plaster field jacket at the Canadian Museum of Nature containing more skull bones from the same fossil locality and had them prepared in his lab at the Royal Ontario Museum.

This dinosaur is just the latest in a series of new finds being made by Ryan and Evans as part of their Southern Alberta Dinosaur Project, which is designed to fill in gaps in our knowledge of Late Cretaceous dinosaurs and study their evolution. This project focuses on the paleontology of some of the oldest dinosaur-bearing rocks in Alberta, which is less intensely studied than that of the famous badlands of Dinosaur Provincial Park and Drumheller.

“This discovery of a previously unknown species also drives home the importance of having access to scientific collections,” says co-author Kieran Shepherd, curator of paleobiology for the Canadian Museum of Nature, which holds the specimen. “The collections are an untapped source of new material for study, and offer the potential for many new discoveries.”

Xenoceratops was identified by a team comprising palaeontologists Dr. Michael J. Ryan, curator of vertebrate paleontology at The Cleveland Museum of Natural History; and Dr. David Evans, curator, vertebrate palaeontology of the Department of Natural History at the Royal Ontario Museum; as well as Kieran Shepherd, curator of paleobiology for the Canadian Museum of Nature.

How Could Dinosaurs Weigh Up to 80 Tons? New Research On Sauropod Gigantism

Jan. 14, 2014 — Sauropods, the largest land animals in Earth’s history, are still mightily puzzling the scientists. These plant-eating dinosaurs with their long necks and small heads could reach a height of 10 meters or more and dominated all other land vertebrates in terms of size. They could weigh up to 80 tons, more than any other known land vertebrate. One question that has been intensely debated is how these giants of the animal kingdom regulated their own body temperature.

According to the calculations of the Mainz-based ecologist, the body temperature of these animals did not increase with body weight. Her estimates indicate that sauropods may have had an average body temperature of some 28 degrees Celsius. The upper limit for the body temperature that can be tolerated by vertebrate species living today is 45 degrees Celsius. The body temperatures that Griebeler postulates for the sauropods are thus well below those of today’s endothermic vertebrates but consistent with those of ectothermic monitor lizards. Her calculations of sauropod body temperature take into account the relationship between the maximum rate of growth and the basal metabolic rate of an animal, whereby the latter is largely determined by body temperature.

Griebeler’s work is part of a collection that brings together the results of recent research into sauropod gigantism. The gigantism of these vertebrates, unique in the history of Earth, raises many questions, such as why no other land creatures have ever achieved this size and what their bauplan, physiology, and life cycle would have been like. The collection put together by the leading open access journal PLOS ONE consists of 14 contributions from the fields of ecology, morphology, animal nutrition, and paleontology that all address the fundamental question of how the sauropods managed to become so extraordinarily massive.

“We are pleased that this new research is freely accessible not only to other scientists, but also to sauropod fans,” said PD Dr. Eva Maria Griebeler. She and Dr. Jan Werner are members of the research group “Biology of the Sauropod Dinosaurs: The Evolution of Gigantism (FOR 533),” funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). The collection was initiated as a result of a related international conference on this subject. Both scientists from the Ecology division at the Institute of Zoology at Mainz University have been working for more than six years within this research group. They have written three of the 14 contributions in the collection.

In one article, Jan Werner and his colleague Koen Stein of the University of Bonn describe a new method of determining the density of bone tissue and juxtapose sauropod data and results extrapolated for comparable endothermic mammals. Although the bone structure and the density of certain tissues of sauropods were similar to those of today’s mammals, the results do not conclusively demonstrate that sauropods were also endothermic animals. Other functional aspects, such as similar weight-bearing stresses, could have resulted in the development of convergent forms of bone tissue.

Another article looks at the reproductive biology of sauropods. Here Werner and Griebeler discuss the hypothesis that a high rate of reproduction contributed to the gigantism of the large dinosaurs. They discovered that the reproductive pattern of most dinosaurs was similar to that of modern reptiles and birds. The reproductive pattern of theropods, i.e., ancestors of the modern birds, turned out to be comparable with that of birds, prosauropods, and sauropods rather than reptiles. However, contrary to the assumptions of previous studies, the calculations of the Mainz scientists did not corroborate the hypothesis that the large dinosaurs would have laid a particularly large number of eggs. In terms of total eggs produced annually, this number could not have exceeded 200 to 400 eggs for a sauropod weighing 75 tons. Today’s large sea turtles are known to lay clutches in this range.

First Dinosaurs Identified from Saudi Arabia

Jan. 7, 2014 — Dinosaur fossils are exceptionally rare in the Arabian Peninsula. An international team of scientists from Uppsala University, Museum Victoria, Monash University, and the Saudi Geological Survey have now uncovered the first record of dinosaurs from Saudi Arabia.

What is now dry desert was once a beach littered with the bones and teeth of ancient marine reptiles and dinosaurs.

A string of vertebrae from the tail of a huge “Brontosaurus-like” sauropod, together with some shed teeth from a carnivorous theropod represent the first formally identified dinosaur fossils from Saudi Arabia, and were found in the north-western part of the Kingdom along the coast of the Red Sea.

The remains were discovered during excavations conducted by a team of scientists working under the auspices of the Saudi Geological Survey, Jeddah.

The dinosaur finds were recently published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE and jointly authored by participating researchers from Sweden, Australia and Saudi Arabia.

“Dinosaur fossils are exceptionally rare in the Arabian Peninsula, with only a handful of highly fragmented bones documented this far” says Dr Benjamin Kear, based at Uppsala University in Sweden and lead author of the study.

“This discovery is important not only because of where the remains were found, but also because of the fact that we can actually identify them. Indeed, these are the first taxonomically recognizable dinosaurs reported from the Arabian Peninsula” Dr Kear continues.

“Dinosaur remains from the Arabian Peninsula and the area east of the Mediterranean Sea are exceedingly rare because sedimentary rocks deposited in streams and rivers during the Age of Dinosaurs are rare, particularly in Saudi Arabia itself” says Dr Tom Rich from Museum Victoria in Australia.

When these dinosaurs were alive, the Arabian landmass was largely underwater and formed the north-western coastal margin of the African continent.

“The hardest fossil to find is the first one. Knowing that they occur in a particular area and the circumstances under which they do, makes finding more fossils significantly less difficult” says Dr Rich.

The teeth and bones are approximately 72 million years old.

Two types of dinosaur were described from the assemblage, a bipedal meat-eating abelisaurid distantly related to Tyrannosaurus but only about six metres long, and a plant-eating titanosaur perhaps up to 20 metres in length.

Similar dinosaurs have been found in North Africa, Madagascar and as far away as South America.

Fossil Pigments Reveal the Colors of Ancient Sea Monsters

Jan. 8, 2014 — During the Age of the dinosaurs, huge reptiles, such as mosasaurs and ichthyosaurs, ruled the seas. Previously, scientists could only guess what colours these spectacular animals had; however, pigment preserved in fossilised skin has now been analysed at SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden and MAX IV Laboratory, Lund University, Sweden. The unique soft tissue remains were obtained from a 55 million-year-old leatherback turtle, an 85 million-year-old mosasaur and a 196-190 million-year-old ichthyosaur. This is the first time that the colour scheme of any extinct marine animal has been revealed.

“This is fantastic! When I started studying at Lund University in 1993, the film Jurassic Park had just been released, and that was one of the main reasons why I got interested in biology and palaeontology. Then, 20 years ago, it was unthinkable that we would ever find biological remains from animals that have been extinct for many millions of years, but now we are there and I am proud to be a part of it,” said Johan Lindgren about the discovery of the ancient pigment molecules.

Johan Lindgren is a scientist at Lund University in Sweden, and he is the leader of the international research team that has studied the fossils. Together with colleagues from Denmark, England and the USA, he now presents the results of their study in the scientific journal Nature. The most sensational aspect of the investigation is that it can now be established that these ancient marine reptiles were, at least partially, dark-coloured in life, something that probably contributed to more efficient thermoregulation, as well as providing means for camouflage and protection against harmful UV radiation.

The analysed fossils are composed of skeletal remains, in addition to dark skin patches containing masses of micrometre-sized, oblate bodies. These microbodies were previously interpreted to be the fossilised remains of those bacteria that once contributed to the decomposition and degradation of the carcasses. However, by studying the chemical content of the soft tissues, Lindgren and his colleagues are now able to show that they are in fact remnants of the animals’ own colours, and that the micrometre-sized bodies are fossilised melanosomes, or pigment-containing cellular organelles.

“Our results really are amazing. The pigment melanin is almost unbelievably stable. Our discovery enables us to make a journey through time and to revisit these ancient reptiles using their own biomolecules. Now, we can finally use sophisticated molecular and imaging techniques to learn what these animals looked like and how they lived,” said Per Uvdal, one of the co-authors of the study, and who works at the MAX IV Laboratory.

Mosasaurs (98-66 million years ago) are giant marine lizards that could reach 15 metres in body length, whereas ichthyosaurs (250-94 million years ago) could become even larger. Both ichthyosaurs and mosasaurs died out during the Cretaceous Period, but leatherback turtles are still around today. A conspicuous feature of the living leatherback turtle, Dermochelys, is that it has an almost entirely black back, which probably contributes to its worldwide distribution. The ability of leatherback turtles to survive in cold climates has mainly been attributed to their huge size, but it has also been shown that these animals bask at the sea surface during daylight hours. The black colour enables them to heat up faster and to reach higher body temperatures than had they instead been lightly coloured.

“The fossil leatherback turtle probably had a similar colour scheme and lifestyle as does Dermochelys. Similarly, mosasaurs and ichthyosaurs, which also had worldwide distributions, may have used their darkly coloured skin to heat up quickly between dives,” said Johan Lindgren.

If their interpretations are correct, then at least some ichthyosaurs were uniformly dark-coloured in life, unlike most living marine animals. However, the modern deep-diving sperm whale has a similar colour scheme, perhaps as camouflage in a world without light, or as UV protection, given that these animals spend extended periods of time at or near the sea surface in between dives. The ichthyosaurs are also believed to have been deep-divers, and if their colours were similar to those of the living sperm whale, then this would also suggest a similar lifestyle, according to Lindgren.

Functional Importance of Dinosaur Beaks Illuminated

Dec. 2, 2013 — Why beaks evolved in some theropod dinosaurs and what their function might have been is the subject of new research by an international team of palaeontologists published this week in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

Beaks are a typical hallmark of modern birds and can be found in a huge variety of forms and shapes. However, it is less well known that keratin-covered beaks had already evolved in different groups of dinosaurs during the Cretaceous Period.

Employing high-resolution X-ray computed tomography (CT scanning) and computer simulations, Dr Stephan Lautenschlager and Dr Emily Rayfield of the University of Bristol with Dr Perle Altangerel (National University of Ulaanbaatar) and Professor Lawrence Witmer (Ohio University) used digital models to take a closer look at these dinosaur beaks.

The focus of the study was the skull of Erlikosaurus andrewsi, a 3-4m (10-13ft) large herbivorous dinosaur called a therizinosaur, which lived more than 90 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period in what is now Mongolia, and which shows evidence that part of its snout was covered by a keratinous beak.

This new study reveals that keratinous beaks played an important role in stabilizing the skeletal structure during feeding, making the skull less susceptible to bending and deformation.

Lead author Dr Stephan Lautenschlager of Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences said: “It has classically been assumed that beaks evolved to replace teeth and thus save weight, as a requirement for the evolution of flight. Our results, however, indicate that keratin beaks were in fact beneficial to enhance the stability of the skull during biting and feeding.”

Co-author Dr Emily Rayfield, Reader of Palaeobiology at Bristol said: “Using Finite Element Analysis, a computer modelling technique routinely used in engineering, we were able to deduce very accurately how bite and muscle forces affected the skull of Erlikosaurus during the feeding process. This further allowed us to identify the importance of soft-tissue structures, such as the keratinous beak, which are normally not preserved in fossils.”

Co-author Lawrence Witmer, Chang Professor of Paleontology at the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine said: “Beaks evolved several times during the transitions from dinosaurs to modern birds, usually accompanied by the partial or complete loss of teeth and our study now shows that keratin-covered beaks represent a functional innovation during dinosaur evolution.”

This work was funded by a research fellowship to Stephan Lautenschlager from the German Volkswagen Foundation and grants from the National Science Foundation to Lawrence

CT and 3-D Printers Used to Recreate Dinosaur Fossils

Nov. 20, 2013 — Data from computed tomography (CT) scans can be used with three-dimensional (3-D) printers to make accurate copies of fossilized bones, according to new research published online in the journal Radiology.

Fossils are often stored in plaster casts, or jackets, to protect them from damage. Getting information about a fossil typically requires the removal of the plaster and all the sediment surrounding it, which can lead to loss of material or even destruction of the fossil itself.

German researchers studied the feasibility of using CT and 3-D printers to nondestructively separate fossilized bone from its surrounding sediment matrix and produce a 3-D print of the fossilized bone itself.

“The most important benefit of this method is that it is non-destructive, and the risk of harming the fossil is minimal,” said study author Ahi Sema Issever, M.D., from the Department of Radiology at Charité Campus Mitte in Berlin. “Also, it is not as time-consuming as conventional preparation.”

Dr. Issever and colleagues applied the method to an unidentified fossil from the Museum für Naturkunde, a major natural history museum in Berlin. The fossil and others like it were buried under rubble in the basement of the museum after a World War II bombing raid. Since then, museum staff members have had difficulty sorting and identifying some of the plaster jackets.

Researchers performed CT on the unidentified fossil with a 320-slice multi-detector system. The different attenuation, or absorption of radiation, through the bone compared with the surrounding matrix enabled clear depiction of a fossilized vertebral body.

After studying the CT scan and comparing it to old excavation drawings, the researchers were able to trace the fossil’s origin to the Halberstadt excavation, a major dig from 1910 to 1927 in a clay pit south of Halberstadt, Germany. In addition, the CT study provided valuable information about the condition and integrity of the fossil, showing multiple fractures and destruction of the front rim of the vertebral body.

Furthermore, the CT dataset helped the researchers build an accurate reconstruction of the fossil with selective laser sintering, a technology that uses a high-powered laser to fuse together materials to make a 3-D object.

Dr. Issever noted that the findings come at a time when advances in technology and cheaper availability of 3-D printers are making them more common as a tool for research. Digital models of the objects can be transferred rapidly among researchers, and endless numbers of exact copies may be produced and distributed, greatly advancing scientific exchange, Dr. Issever said. The technology also potentially enables a global interchange of unique fossils with museums, schools and other settings.

“The digital dataset and, ultimately, reproductions of the 3-D print may easily be shared, and other research facilities could thus gain valuable informational access to rare fossils, which otherwise would have been restricted,” Dr. Issever said. “Just like Gutenberg’s printing press opened the world of books to the public, digital datasets and 3-D prints of fossils may now be distributed more broadly, while protecting the original intact fossil.”

New Evidence for Warm-Blooded Dinosaurs

July 17, 2013 — University of Adelaide research has shown new evidence that dinosaurs were warm-blooded like birds and mammals, not cold-blooded like reptiles as commonly believed.
In a paper published in PLoS ONE, Professor Roger Seymour of the University’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, argues that cold-blooded dinosaurs would not have had the required muscular power to prey on other animals and dominate over mammals as they did throughout the Mesozoic period.

“Much can be learned about dinosaurs from fossils but the question of whether dinosaurs were warm-blooded or cold-blooded is still hotly debated among scientists,” says Professor Seymour.

“Some point out that a large saltwater crocodile can achieve a body temperature above 30°C by basking in the sun, and it can maintain the high temperature overnight simply by being large and slow to change temperature.

“They say that large, cold-blooded dinosaurs could have done the same and enjoyed a warm body temperature without the need to generate the heat in their own cells through burning food energy like warm-blooded animals.”

In his paper, Professor Seymour asks how much muscular power could be produced by a crocodile-like dinosaur compared to a mammal-like dinosaur of the same size.

Saltwater crocodiles reach over a tonne in weight and, being about 50% muscle, have a reputation for being extremely powerful animals.

But drawing from blood and muscle lactate measurements collected by his collaborators at Monash University, University of California and Wildlife Management International in the Northern Territory, Professor Seymour shows that a 200 kg crocodile can produce only about 14% of the muscular power of a mammal at peak exercise, and this fraction seems to decrease at larger body sizes.

“The results further show that cold-blooded crocodiles lack not only the absolute power for exercise, but also the endurance, that are evident in warm-blooded mammals,” says Professor Seymour.

“So, despite the impression that saltwater crocodiles are extremely powerful animals, a crocodile-like dinosaur could not compete well against a mammal-like dinosaur of the same size.

“Dinosaurs dominated over mammals in terrestrial ecosystems throughout the Mesozoic. To do that they must have had more muscular power and greater endurance than a crocodile-like physiology would have allowed.”

His latest evidence adds to that of earlier work he did on blood flow to leg bones which concluded that the dinosaurs were possibly even more active than mammals.

Big-Nosed, Long-Horned Dinosaur Discovered in Utah: Dinosaur in Same Family as Triceratops

July 17, 2013 — A remarkable new species of horned dinosaur has been unearthed in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, southern Utah. The huge plant-eater inhabited Laramidia, a landmass formed when a shallow sea flooded the central region of North America, isolating western and eastern portions for millions of years during the Late Cretaceous Period. The newly discovered dinosaur, belonging to the same family as the famous Triceratops, was announced today in the British scientific journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
The study, funded in large part by the Bureau of Land Management and the National Science Foundation, was led by Scott Sampson, when he was the Chief Curator at the Natural History Museum of Utah at the University of Utah. Sampson is now the Vice President of Research and Collections at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. Additional authors include Eric Lund (Ohio University; previously a University of Utah graduate student), Mark Loewen (Natural History Museum of Utah and Dept. of Geology and Geophysics, University of Utah), Andrew Farke (Raymond Alf Museum), and Katherine Clayton (Natural History Museum of Utah).

Horned dinosaurs, or “ceratopsids,” were a group of big-bodied, four-footed herbivores that lived during the Late Cretaceous Period. As epitomized by Triceratops, most members of this group have huge skulls bearing a single horn over the nose, one horn over each eye, and an elongate, bony frill at the rear. The newly discovered species, Nasutoceratops titusi, possesses several unique features, including an oversized nose relative to other members of the family, and exceptionally long, curving, forward-oriented horns over the eyes. The bony frill, rather than possessing elaborate ornamentations such as hooks or spikes, is relatively unadorned, with a simple, scalloped margin. Nasutoceratops translates as “big-nose horned face,” and the second part of the name honors Alan Titus, Monument Paleontologist at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, for his years of research collaboration.

For reasons that have remained obscure, all ceratopsids have greatly enlarged nose regions at the front of the face. Nasutoceratops stands out from its relatives, however, in taking this nose expansion to an even greater extreme. Scott Sampson, the study’s lead author, stated, “The jumbo-sized schnoz of Nasutoceratops likely had nothing to do with a heightened sense of smell — since olfactory receptors occur further back in the head, adjacent to the brain — and the function of this bizarre feature remains uncertain.”

Paleontologists have long speculated about the function of horns and frills on horned dinosaurs. Ideas have ranged from predator defense and controlling body temperature to recognizing members of the same species. Yet the dominant hypothesis today focuses on competing for mates — that is, intimidating members of the same sex and attracting members of the opposite sex. Peacock tails and deer antlers are modern examples. In keeping with this view, Mark Loewen, a co-author of the study claimed that, “The amazing horns of Nasutoceratops were most likely used as visual signals of dominance and, when that wasn’t enough, as weapons for combatting rivals.”

A Treasure Trove of Dinosaurs on the Lost Continent of Laramidia

Nasutoceratops was discovered in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM), which encompasses 1.9 million acres of high desert terrain in south-central Utah. This vast and rugged region, part of the National Landscape Conservation System administered by the Bureau of Land Management, was the last major area in the lower 48 states to be formally mapped by cartographers. Today GSENM is the largest national monument in the United States. Sampson proclaimed that, “Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is the last great, largely unexplored dinosaur boneyard in the lower 48 states.”

For most of the Late Cretaceous, exceptionally high sea levels flooded the low-lying portions of several continents around the world. In North America, a warm, shallow sea called the Western Interior Seaway extended from the Arctic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, subdividing the continent into eastern and western landmasses, known as Appalachia and Laramidia, respectively. Whereas little is known of the plants and animals that lived on Appalachia, the rocks of Laramidia exposed in the Western Interior of North America have generated a plethora of dinosaur remains. Laramidia was less than one-third the size of present day North America, approximating the area of Australia.

Most known Laramidian dinosaurs were concentrated in a narrow belt of plains sandwiched between the seaway to the east and mountains to the west. Today, thanks to an abundant fossil record and more than a century of collecting by paleontologists, Laramidia is the best known major landmass for the entire Age of Dinosaurs, with dig sites spanning from Alaska to Mexico. Utah was located in the southern part of Laramidia, which has yielded far fewer dinosaur remains than the fossil-rich north. The world of dinosaurs was much warmer than the present day; Nasutoceratops lived in a subtropical swampy environment about 100 km from the seaway.

Beginning in the 1960’s, paleontologists began to notice that the same major groups of dinosaurs seemed to be present all over this Late Cretaceous landmass, but different species of these groups occurred in the north (for example, Alberta and Montana) than in the south (New Mexico and Texas). This finding of “dinosaur provincialism” was very puzzling, given the giant body sizes of many of the dinosaurs together with the diminutive dimensions of Laramidia. Currently, there are five giant (rhino-to-elephant-sized) mammals on the entire continent of Africa. Seventy-six million years ago, there may have been more than two dozen giant dinosaurs living on a landmass about one-quarter that size. Co-author Mark Loewen noted that, “We’re still working to figure out how so many different kinds of giant animals managed to co-exist on such a small landmass?” The new fossils from GSENM are helping us explore the range of possible answers, and even rule out some alternatives.

During the past dozen years, crews from the Natural History Museum of Utah, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science and several other partner institutions (e.g., the Utah Geologic Survey, the Raymond Alf Museum of Paleontology, and the Bureau of Land Management) have unearthed a new assemblage of more than a dozen dinosaurs in GSENM. In addition to Nasutoceratops, the collection includes a variety of other plant-eating dinosaurs — among them duck-billed hadrosaurs, armored ankylosaurs, dome-headed pachycephalosaurs, and two other horned dinosaurs, Utahceratops and Kosmoceratops — together with carnivorous dinosaurs great and small, from “raptor-like” predators to a mega-sized tyrannosaur named Teratophoneus. Amongst the other fossil discoveries are fossil plants, insect traces, clams, fishes, amphibians, lizards, turtles, crocodiles, and mammals. Together, this diverse bounty of fossils is offering one of the most comprehensive glimpses into a Mesozoic ecosystem. Remarkably, virtually all of the identifiable dinosaur remains found in GSENM belong to new species, providing strong support for the dinosaur provincialism hypothesis.

Andrew Farke, a study co-author, noted that, “Nasutoceratops is one of a recent landslide of ceratopsid discoveries, which together have established these giant plant-eaters as the most diverse dinosaur group on Laramidia.”

Eric Lund, another co-author as well as the discoverer of the new species, stated that, “Nasutoceratops is a wondrous example of just how much more we have to learn about with world of dinosaurs. Many more exciting fossils await discovery in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.”

Tooth Is ‘Smoking Gun’ Evidence That Tyrannosaurus Rex Was Hunter, Killer

July 16, 2013 — Tyrannosaurus rex has long been popular with kids and moviemakers as the most notorious, vicious killing machine to roam the planet during the age of the dinosaurs.


So, it may come as a shock that for more than a century some paleontologists have argued that T. rex was a scavenger, not a true predator — more like a vulture than a lion. Indeed, a lack of definitive fossil proof of predation in the famous theropod has stirred controversy among scientists — until now.

“T. rex is the monster of our dreams,” said David Burnham, preparator of vertebrate paleontology at the Biodiversity Institute at the University of Kansas. “But ever since it was discovered in Montana and named in the early 1900s, there’s been a debate about whether these large carnivores were scavengers or predators. Most people assume they were predators, but the scientific evidence for predation has been really elusive. Yes, we’ve found lots of dinosaur skeletons with tooth marks that had been chewed up by something. But what did that really prove? Yes, these large carnivores fed on other dinosaurs — but did they eat them while they were alive or dead? That’s where the debate came in. Where was the evidence for hunt and kill?”

Now, Burnham is part of a team that has unearthed “smoking gun” physical proof that T. rex was indeed a predator, hunter and killer. In the Hell Creek Formation of South Dakota, Burnham and colleagues discovered the crown of a T. rex tooth lodged in the fossilized spine of a plant-eating hadrosaur that seems to have survived the attack. The team describes the find in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Burnham’s KU co-authors are Bruce Rothschild and the late Larry Martin, along with former KU student Robert DePalma II of The Palm Beach Museum of Natural History and Peter Larson of the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research.

“Robert DePalma was a student here at KU doing his master’s thesis in the Hell Creek formation,” said Burnham. “He found a specimen that represents the tail of one of these hadrosaurs. It had a distorted-looking bone growth. He came to me and said, ‘What do you think is causing this?’ So we cleaned it and could see a tooth embedded in one of these duck-billed dinosaur vertebrae. Then we went to Lawrence Memorial Hospital and used a CT machine to scan the bones — and we saw all of the tooth.”

Previous evidence for predation included T. rex fossil discoveries with preserved stomach contents that included the bones of a young ceratopsian (e.g., Triceratops or one of its kin). However, there was no evidence to conclude whether the ceratopsian was alive or dead when the T. rex made a snack of it.

By contrast, Burnham said the tooth was definitive evidence of hunting, after carefully measuring its length and the size of its serrations to ensure that it came from the mouth of a T. rex.

“Lo and behold, the tooth plotted out just exactly with T. rex — the only known large theropod from the Hell Creek formation,” he said. “We knew we had a T. rex tooth in the tail of a hadrosaur. Better yet, we knew the hadrosaur got away because the bone had begun to heal. Quite possibly it was being pursued by the T. rex when it was bitten. It was going in the right direction — away. The hadrosaur escaped by some stroke of luck. The better luck is finding this fossil with the preserved evidence.”

Because T. rex regularly shed its teeth, the predator went away hungry, but otherwise no worse for the encounter. It would have grown a new tooth to replace the one left behind in the hadrosaur’s tail. This could have been a typical example of T. rex’s hunting efforts, even if it didn’t result in a meal.

“To make an analogy to modern animals, when lions go attack a herd of herbivores, they go after the sick and the slow,” Burnham said. “Most of the time, hadrosaurs traveled in packs. This hadrosaur may have been a little slower, or this T. rex may have been a little faster — at least fast enough to almost catch a duck-billed dinosaur.”

This concrete proof of T. rex’s predation continues a long relationship between KU paleontologists and the theropod, which lived in North America during the Late Cretaceous, some 65 million years ago. KU graduate Barnum Brown discovered the first documented remains of the dinosaur in Wyoming in 1900.

High Diversity of Flying Reptiles in England 110 Million Years Ago

June 12, 2013 — Brazilian paleontologists Taissa Rodrigues, of the Federal University of Espirito Santo, and Alexander W. A. Kellner, of the National Museum of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, have just presented the most extensive review yet available of toothed pterosaurs from the Cretaceous of England. The study features detailed taxonomic information, diagnoses and photographs of 30 species and was published in the open access journal ZooKeys.


Pterosaurs from the Cretaceous of England were first described by British naturalists Richard Owen and Harry Seeley in the 19th century, when little was known about the diversity of the group, resulting in the description of dozens of species, all based on very fragmentary remains, represented mostly by the tips of the snouts of these animals. However, more recent findings of pterosaur fossils have challenged views on their diversity.

Results show that these pterosaurs had a remarkable diversity in their appearances. Some species had head crests of different sizes and shapes, while others had none. Most had large teeth at the tip of their snouts and were fish eaters, but others had smaller teeth, suggesting different feeding preferences. The paleontologists were able to identify fourteen different species, belonging to at least five different genera, showing a greater diversity than previously thought.

Most of these fossils were found in a deposit known as the Cambridge Greensand, located in the eastern part of the country. This unit, one of the most important for the study of flying reptiles, records a past marine environment where the bones that were already fossilized and buried, were eroded, exposed to weathering, and then buried again. Cycles of erosion and burial must have taken place during several years. Due to this peculiarity, the pterosaur assemblage from this deposit probably presents temporal mixing of faunas, thus explaining the high diversity found.

Another find was that these English flying reptiles turned out to be closely related to species unearthed in northeastern Brazil and eastern China. According to Dr. Rodrigues, ‘This is very interesting, especially because the continents had already drifted apart. If these animals were migratory, we would expect to find the same species in all these deposits.’ Instead, the scientists have discovered that England, Brazil and China all had their own species and genera.

Analysis of fossils from other continents showed that this group of pterosaurs was already widespread in the whole planet 110 million years ago, and must have been important faunistic elements at this time of the Cretaceous period, being early bird competitors, before they went extinct a few million years later.