Paleontologists Find 231-Million-Year-Old Fossil of Tuatara-Like Reptile

Friday, August 27, 2021

Life reconstruction of Taytalura alcoberi. Image credit: Jorge Blanco.

A three-dimensionally preserved skull of a previously unknown Triassic-period reptile from Argentina illuminates the origin of lepidosauromorphs (lizards, snakes and tuataras).

Taytalura alcoberi lived in what is now Argentina during the Late Triassic period, approximately 231 million years ago.

The ancient reptile was a member of Lepidosauromorpha, a large group that includes squamates (lizards and snakes) and sphenodontians (tuataras).

“Lepidosauromorphs and archosauromorphs represent the two main branches of the reptile tree of life that have survived to the present,” said Dr. Ricardo Martínez from the Instituto y Museo de Ciencias Naturales at the Universidad Nacional de San Juan and his colleagues.

“Today, the former mostly comprise squamates (about 11,000 species of lizards, snakes and amphisbaenians) and the latter are mostly represented by birds (about 10,800 species).”

“However, unlike for archosauromorphs, the early evolution of lepidosauromorphs remains one of the largest knowledge gaps in reptile evolution.”

Holotype of Taytalura alcoberi. Image credit: Martínez et al., doi: 10.1038/s41586-021-03834-3.

Taytalura alcoberi predates the split between squamates and sphenodontians, and is close to the origin of lepidosauromorphs.

The species is about 11 million years younger than the oldest known lepidosauromorphs from Europe, and approximately the same age as the oldest known South American lepidosauromorphs.

The skull of Taytalura alcoberi shares features with modern tuataras, suggesting that several anatomical features, presumed exclusive to sphenodontians, must have originated early in lepidosauromorph evolution.

Taytalura alcoberi suggests that the strongly evolutionarily conserved skull architecture of sphenodontians represents the plesiomorphic condition for all lepidosaurs, that stem and crown lepidosaurs were contemporaries for at least 10 million years during the Triassic period, and that early lepidosauromorphs had a much broader geographical distribution than has previously been thought,” the paleontologists said.

Their paper was published in the journal Nature.


R.N. Martínez et al. A Triassic stem lepidosaur illuminates the origin of lizard-like reptiles. Nature, published online August 25, 2021; doi: 10.1038/s41586-021-03834-3


80-Million-Year-Old Turtle Egg with Embryonic Remains Found in China

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

An artist’s impression of baby nanhsiungchelyid turtles. Image credit: Masato Hattori.

The new specimen from the Upper Cretaceous Xiaguan Formation in the Chinese province of Henan is one of the few known fossilized turtle eggs containing an embryo with anatomical details.

“Fossilized turtles from the Mesozoic are known from a high abundance and rich diversity,” said Dr. Fenglu Han from the China University of Geosciences and colleagues.

“However, their fossilized eggs, found in America, Africa, Asia and Europe, are comparatively rare.”

“In China, only a few turtle egg fossils have been found in Henan, Shandong and Zhejiang provinces, all of which are assignable to the oofamily Testudoolithidae.”

“Fossilized turtle embryos are even more uncommon than eggs, but drawing particular interest because they represent one of the most reliable means of determining egg affinity.”

“To our knowledge, our study represents the first anatomical description and taxonomic identification of a Mesozoic embryonic turtle.”

In the study, the paleontologists examined a complete, unusually thick-shelled turtle egg containing embryonic remains from around 94 to 70 million years ago (Upper Cretaceous period).

The egg, which was collected in Neixiang County, Nanyang City, China’s Henan province, is roughly spherical and large, with a diameter of about 5.4 x 5.9 cm (2.1 x 2.3 inches).

The specimen is one of the largest and thickest shelled Mesozoic turtle eggs known.

“Although the egg is generally well preserved, its surface is partially broken and a large area of the shell is missing, exposing some of the bones of the embryo,” the researchers said.

Photographs and CT images of the nanhsiungchelyid egg from the Xiaguan Formation, China: (a) macromorphological photograph; part of its external surface was broken; (b) enlarged image of the white box in (a), showing exposed embryonic bones; (c) CT image showing the interior embryonic bones; (d) enlarged image of the white box in (c), showing a closer up of embryonic remains. Scale bars – 10 mm. Image credit: Ke et al., doi: 10.1098/rspb.2021.1239.

In order to glean morphological information from the embryo without destroying the egg, they used computed tomography (CT) scanning and 3D reconstruction technology.

Based on features of the egg and embryonic remains, they were able to confidently assign the egg to the family Nanhsiungchelyidae.

“The specimen is attributed to Nanhsiungchelyidae, an extinct group of large terrestrial turtles, possibly the species Yuchelys nanyangensis,” they said.

“This family is a clade of extinct large Asiamerican land turtles and the sister group to the aquatic Adocidae.”

“These two taxa form Adocusia, the sister-group to the crown-group Trionychia, and their identified eggs significantly increase our knowledge of the early evolution of reproductive features in this group.”

The new specimen also allowed identification of other nanhsiungchelyid egg clutches and comparison to those of Adocidae.

“Despite the differences in habitat adaptations, terrestrial nanhsiungchelyid and aquatic adocid turtles shared several reproductive traits, including relatively thick eggshells, medium size clutches and relatively large eggs, which may be primitive for trionychoids,” the scientists said.

“The unusually thick calcareous eggshell of nanhsiungchelyids compared to those of all other turtles (including adocids) may be related to a nesting style adaptation to an extremely harsh environment.”

The team’s paper was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.


Yuzheng Ke et al. 2021. A large and unusually thick-shelled turtle egg with embryonic remains from the Upper Cretaceous of China. Proc. R. Soc. B 288 (1957): 20211239; doi: 10.1098/rspb.2021.1239


Carnosaurs were Apex Scavengers, New Research Suggests

Sunday, September 26, 2021

An Allosaurus and two Ceratosaurus are feeding on a carcass of Galeamopus pabsti. Image credit: Davide Bonadonna.

Carnosaurs may have been terrestrial analogues of vultures, and not predators, according to a new study published in the journal Ecological Modelling.

Carnosaurs are members of Carnosauria, a large group of carnivorous dinosaurs that lived during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.

These creatures first appeared in the Middle Jurassic epoch, around 176 million years ago, and became extinct around 66 million years ago.

The most famous and best understood representatives of this group are members of the North American genus Allosaurus.

“Allosaurs were contemporary in time and space with some of the largest herbivorous dinosaurs ever recorded,” said Portland State University paleontologists Cameron Pahl and Luis Ruedas.

“These would have included well-known dinosaurs such as CamarasaurusBarosaurusApatosaurusDiplodocusBrontosaurusSupersaurus, and Brachiosaurus.”

Brachiosaurus in particular once was considered the largest land animal to have ever lived and could have been up to 21 m (70 feet) long and 64 tons in weight.”

Supersaurus were over 33.5 m (110 feet) in length and weighed up to 40 tons.”

“If these giant dinosaurs died primarily of natural causes, such as disease, starvation, and exhaustion, as is typical of many modern herbivore populations, their carcasses would have been plentiful enough to sustain viable populations of allosaurs even without these undertaking any predatory behaviors.”

The researchers supported their hypothesis with a robust agent-based model, which simulated the relationship between carrion resources (carcasses) present in the Late Jurassic Morrison Formation and the food energy requirements of allosaurs.

They further examined morphological attributes of allosaur skulls, including the extent of binocular vision in predators versus scavengers, as well as ecological data from fossils, such as relative population numbers in predators, herbivores, and scavengers.

The relative fragility of the skull and dentition of allosaurs had already cast doubt on these dinosaurs being predators.

In addition to this shortcoming, allosaurs did not have the binocular vision required to be a successful predator: it was only 30% that of Tyrannosaurus rex, and 15% that of a modern lion’s.

“Our results may explain why carnosaurs like allosaurs did not evolve powerful bite forces, binocular vision, or advanced cursorial adaptations,” the scientists said.

“Given the enormous supply of sauropod carrion, they were under no resource-based selective pressure to overpower prey and may have evolved as terrestrial vulture analogues.”

“This also may explain why the absence of sauropods in certain environments led to more obvious predatory adaptations in theropods such as tyrannosaurs.”

“Tyrannosaurs may have been forced to meet their energy budgets by hunting, because non-sauropod carrion production was too low to support them passively.”


Cameron C. Pahl & Luis A. Ruedas. 2021. Carnosaurs as apex scavengers: Agent-based simulations reveal possible vulture analogues in Late Jurassic dinosaurs. Ecological Modelling 458: 109706; doi: 10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2021.109706


Tyrannosaurus rex’s Jaw Tip May Have Played Essential Role as Sensitive Tactile Sensor

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Tyrannosaurus rex. Image credit: Amanda Kelley.

Paleontologists have analyzed the morphology of the neurovascular canal in the well-preserved jaw of Tyrannosaurus rex using computed tomography techniques. Their results show that the dinosaur’s neurovascular canal had a rather complex branching amongst the dinosaurs and that its complexity was comparable to that of living crocodiles and tactile-foraging birds.

Tyrannosaurus rex was an even more fearsome predator than previously believed,” said Dr. Soichiro Kawabe, a paleontologist in the Institute of Dinosaur Research at Fukui Prefectural University.

“Our findings show the nerves in the mandible of Tyrannosaurus rex is more complexly distributed than those of any other dinosaurs studied to date, and comparable to those of modern-day crocodiles and tactile-foraging birds, which have extremely keen senses.”

“What this means is that Tyrannosaurus rex was sensitive to slight differences in material and movement,” he added.

“It indicates the possibility that it was able to recognize the different parts of their prey and eat them differently depending on the situation.”

“This completely changes our perception of Tyrannosaurus rex as a dinosaur that was insensitive around its mouth, putting everything and anything in biting at anything and everything including bones.”

The dentary neurovascular canal of Tyrannosaurus rex. Image credit: Kawabe & Hattori, doi: 10.1080/08912963.2021.1965137.

Using computed tomography, Dr. Kawabeto and Dr. Soki Hattori, also from the Institute of Dinosaur Research at Fukui Prefectural University, analyzed the neurovascular canal in a fossil lower jaw of Tyrannosaurus rex.

The specimen was originally collected from the Hell Creek Formation in Montana, the United States.

The paleontologists then compared their reconstruction to other dinosaurs such as Triceratops, as well as living crocodiles and birds.

“Our study reveals the presence of neurovascular canals with complex branching in the lower jaw of Tyrannosaurus rex, especially in the anterior region of the dentary, and it is assumed that a similarly complex branching neurovascular canal would also be present in its upper jaw,” Dr. Kawabe said.

“The neurovascular canal with branching pattern as complex as that of the extant crocodilians and ducks, suggests that the trigeminal nervous system in Tyrannosaurus rex probably functioned as a sensitive sensor in the snout.”

“It must be noted that the sensitivity of the snout in Tyrannosaurus rex may not have been as enhanced as that of the crocodilians because Tyrannosaurus rex lacks the thick neural tissue occupying the neurovascular canal unlike extant crocodiles.”

“Nevertheless, the sensitivity of the snout of Tyrannosaurus rex was considerably greater than that of the ornithischian dinosaurs compared in this study.”

The new results are consistent with analyses of the skull surface of another tyrannosaurid dinosaur, Daspletosaurus, and the allosaurid dinosaur Neovenator, which indicate that the facial area of all theropod dinosaurs may have been highly sensitive.

“These inferences also suggest that, in addition to predation, tyrannosaurids’ jaw tips were adapted to perform a series of behaviors with fine movements including nest construction, parental care, and intraspecific communication,” Dr. Hattori said.

The findings were published in the journal Historical Biology.


Soichiro Kawabe & Soki Hattori. Complex neurovascular system in the dentary of TyrannosaurusHistorical Biology, published online August 22, 2021; doi: 10.1080/08912963.2021.1965137


Cambrian Comb Jellies Had More Complex Neuroanatomy than Living Species

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

An artist’s reconstruction of Ctenorhabdotus campanelliformis (top) and Thalassostaphylos elegans (bottom). Image credit: Holly Sullivan.

Paleontologists have described two new species from the Cambrian period of Utah, which illuminate the early evolution of nervous and sensory features in ctenophores (comb jellies).

Ctenophores are a group of over 200 living species with a transparent gelatinous body superficially resembling that of a jellyfish.

While some studies suggest they might represent the earliest branching animals, others suggest a more traditional position as close relatives of jellyfish.

The two new species, named Ctenorhabdotus campanelliformis and Thalassostaphylos elegans, are a spectacular addition to the scant fossil record of the group.

The specimens were found in the Marjum Formation in the House Range of Utah, and represent the first ctenophore fossils ever discovered in the United States.

Ctenorhabdotus campanelliformis had a small bell-shaped body with up to 24 comb rows and a wavy mouth opening.

Intriguingly, this species had two important features: (i) a rigid capsule that protected the sensory apical organ, and (ii) a well-preserved nervous system; the nerves are long, and connect with a ring around the mouth.

“This was quite an unexpected finding, as only one species (Euplokamis) of comb jellies today has comparable long nerves,” said Professor Javier Ortega-Hernández, a paleontologist in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University.

“Most modern comb jellies have a diffuse nervous net, and not well-defined long nerves.”

Thalassostaphylos elegans had a rounder appearance, approximately 16 comb rows, and a wavy mouth opening.

It had an important feature known as the ‘polar fields,’ which can be seen as two small dots on top of the apical organ.

“These are also important for sensing the environment in living comb jellies, and finding evidence for them in the Cambrian is significant for understanding their evolution,” Professor Ortega-Hernández said.

“Interestingly, Thalassostaphylos elegans does not have a rigid capsule, indicating that the skeleton found in early Cambrian ctenophores was already lost in some representatives by the mid-Cambrian.”

Professor Ortega-Hernández and colleagues concluded that Cambrian ctenophores had more complex nervous systems compared to those observed today.

They also performed phylogenetic analysis which suggests the condensed nervous system is actually the ancestral condition and that only modern ctenophores have lost this complex nervous system and instead favored a more diffuse nerve net.

“This discovery means that there has a been a secondary simplification of comb jellies during their evolution, first losing the rigid skeleton, and then the discrete nerves observed in the fossils,” said Dr. Luke Parry, a paleontologist in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Oxford.

“These are insights that would be impossible to obtain from only studying living comb jellies, so the fossil record is providing a valuable glimpse into the evolution of these enigmatic animals.”

“In this context, Euplokamis would be showing a sort of vestigial organization of the nervous system, which are not seen in other living ctenophores,” Professor Ortega-Hernández said.

“Ctenophores have a more complex evolutionary history than what can be reconstructed from their living representatives alone.”

“Fossils allow us to understand the morphology that developed first and how it has changed through time.”

The discovery is reported in a paper published in the journal iScience.


Luke A. Parry et al. Cambrian comb jellies from Utah illuminate the early evolution of nervous and sensory systems in ctenophores. iScience, published online August 4, 2021; doi: 10.1016/j.isci.2021.102943


Jurassic World Evolution: 10 Tips For Raising Dinosaurs

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Raising a dinosaur was never going to be a simple task. Here are some tips and tricks for keeping on top of your dino's needs, and keeping them happy.

For any Jurassic Park fan, it was a glorious day when Jurassic World: Evolution launched. The game allows you to build your own park, breed your own dinosaurs, and you need to try to avoid repeating the same disasters as seen in the films. However, that's a lot easier said than done, and there are tons of things that you need to think about whilst building your parks.

Of course, the main attraction in your own Jurassic Park will be the dinosaurs - but there is a lot that you need to think about when placing and raising your star attractions. To make money, you need guests to visit you and for this, you need to make sure your dinosaurs are happy and healthy. Here are a few handy tips that will help you when raising your dinosaurs.

10 - Make Sure You Budget For Your Dinosaurs

Dinosaurs are by no means cheap to breed and they only become more expensive once they've successfully reached maturity. There are no guarantees that once you pay to incubate a dinosaur in the Hammond Creation Labs, it will actually hatch. Sometimes the dinosaurs will fail to incubate and you will have lost your money. You should make sure you have enough money to cover yourself if this does happen.

The feeding costs of each dinosaur mount up and though different species eat different amounts, they will all cost you extensive amounts of money each day. This is why it's important to budget for breeding and feeding your dinosaurs because, at the end of the day, you are trying to run a business and some dinosaurs are more difficult to obtain than others. You need to make sure you're making a profit and not going bankrupt for a Triceratops.

9 - Have Plenty Of Ranger Teams

Ranger Teams are a building that you can find under the Operations section of the side menu. They cost a lot to build but they are essential to maintaining healthy and happy dinosaurs. Also, they can come in handy when you have to deal with an escaped dinosaur, as they can work alongside the ACU team to round them up.

Rangers can be assigned tasks, or you can drive the team yourself if you want to explore your park from a different angle. They can refill the feeders for your dinosaurs and more importantly, they can medicate them when they are sick. As your park expands and you get more exhibits, it's easier to take care of the dinosaurs' needs if you have many Rangers.

8 - Be A Smart Scientist

One of the coolest features of the game is that you can fiddle with the genetics of dinosaurs before you start the incubation process. Often, this will become a trade-off situation, so you can have a dinosaur with a cool pattern on it but it reduces how likely it is for that specimen to hatch. Breeding will cost you a lot of money and fiddling with genetics can cost you your investment.

This is why you need to be smart when you're doing this. In the screen where you can alter their genetics, you will see statistics at the bottom of the screen and the Viability one is the main one to focus on. If your genetic wizardry causes this to be very low, it may be time to reconsider your plans.

7 - Attend To Sick Dinosaurs Quickly

Just like humans, dinosaurs are vulnerable to getting different diseases and this can spread very quickly between them. Different species are vulnerable to different diseases, but if you're playing through the campaign, then you will only encounter the diseases on the Island where you can unlock the cure too.

When a dinosaur gets sick, you will be notified about it and you should ideally get your Ranger Team to attend to them quickly. Whatever illness the animal has contracted, it can spread quickly to other species that are vulnerable to it too - and if you leave it too long then it can kill off your dinosaurs entirely.

6 - All Dinosaurs Need Water

This may seem obvious, but when you're building a habitat for your dinosaurs then you need to remember that every single species needs a source of water. The water needs to be accessible for them too, so don't place it overlapping the fences of your enclosure, as they need a good amount to drink.

Thirst will affect the dinosaurs far quicker than hunger will, and this can kill them very quickly if you don't rectify it. Some species will need more water than others to be comfortable in their enclosure but all of them need it in some form.

5 - Give Them The Appropriate Feeding System

When you are creating the enclosure for your chosen dinosaurs, it's important that you provide them with enough food - but also the correct type of feeder. There are Herbivore Feeders, Carnivore Feeders, and Fish Feeders. Within these three categories, there are different types of feeders that you can install, and which one you need will depend on which dinosaur you have.

Dinosaurs such as Edmontosaurus will need a Ground Herbivore Feeder but Diplodocus will need a Tall Herbivore feeder. The same applies to Carnivores - some will be happy with a normal feeder, but some like the Velociraptors will enjoy the Live Bait feeder more. It's down to you to figure out which ones that your dinosaurs need.

4 - Watch Out For Them In Storms

Some Islands are susceptible to serious Tropical Storms and as well as damaging buildings, they can make the dinosaurs misbehave. Any naughty dinosaur is dangerous but a naughty Carnivore is even worse. Often, if your Island experiences a Storm, then it's the Carnivores that will start smashing their fences to try to get out.

One of the biggest types guilty of this is the Velociraptors, as they're intelligent and just badly behaved in bad weather. When a dinosaur gets out, it can cause problems for guests but it can end up in another enclosure and get itself hurt as well. This is why it's important to use your ACU Helicopter to keep an eye on your dinosaurs during a Storm and to tranquilize them if necessary. If they really cause problems then you can always sell them.

3 - Make Sure They Have Enough Space

We all like having enough space to walk around so why think that dinosaurs are any different? They're massive creatures, so it's logical that they need a lot of space to be happy. Some species are hard to obtain, but all of them need space. You need to make sure that your chosen species have enough space to roam around in. This is extremely important if you have an enclosure of mixed species.

If a dinosaur isn't comfortable in their environment, then they can start to lash out and break the fences to escape. This is a headache that's easily avoidable before the fact, as an escaped dinosaur will lower the star rating of your park and it takes a while to recover from that.

2 - Be Careful When Mixing Species

Unless a Contract needs you to do it or you're looking to create a chaotic park, it's advisable to not mix Herbivores and Carnivores in the same enclosures. They can have separate enclosures side by side, but try not to have them in the same one as it often spells disaster and dead dinosaurs.

However, you have to be careful when mixing any dinosaurs, even if they're of the same eating habits, as some just do not like having company from other species. Ceratosaurus can and will kill any smaller carnivorous dinosaurs that are mixed in with it if they feel like it.

1 - Pay Attention To Their Statistics

When you click on a dinosaur you will see a small menu appear on the left-hand side of your screen and the front page of this will be the statistics for that specific animal. This gives you important information such as the animal's comfort level and if the environment suits their needs, such as if the amount of Forest that is present is enough for them.

If you monitor these statistics then it will become far easier to understand the needs of your dinosaurs and how you can make simple, small changes to their habitats to improve their well-being. These statistics are the key to helping you raise healthy and happy dinosaurs.


Three New Species of Primitive Ungulate Ancestors Identified

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Left to right: Conacodon hettingeri, Miniconus jeanninae, and Beornus honeyi. Image credit: Banana Art Studio.

Paleontologists have identified three new species of placental mammals called condylarths (archaic ungulates) from fossils found in Wyoming, the United States.

The newly-discovered archaic ungulates are Miniconus jeanninaeConacodon hettingeri, and Beornus honeyi.

These animals lived in what is now the United States between 66 and 63 million years ago (Paleocene epoch), just after the end-Cretaceous mass extinction that wiped out non-avian dinosaurs.

They belong to the condylarth family Periptychidae, which are distinguished from other condylarths by their teeth, which have swollen premolars and unusual vertical enamel ridges.

They may have been omnivores because they evolved teeth that would have allowed them to grind up plants as well as meat, however this does not rule out them being exclusively herbivores.

“When the dinosaurs went extinct, access to different foods and environments enabled mammals to flourish and diversify rapidly in their tooth anatomy and evolve larger body size,” said Dr. Madelaine Atteberry, a researcher at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History.

“They clearly took advantage of this opportunity, as we can see from the radiation of new mammal species that took place in a relatively short amount of time following the mass extinction.”

Dr. Atteberry and Professor Jaelyn Eberle from the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History studied the teeth and lower jaw bones of 29 fossil condylarth species.

They aimed to determine the anatomical differences between the species, and used phylogenetic techniques to understand how the species are related to each other and to other early Paleocene condylarths in the western United States.

About the size of a marmot or house cat, Beornus honeyi was the largest.

Conacodon hettingeri is similar to other species of Conacodon, but differs in the morphology of its last molar.

Miniconus jeanninae is similar in size to other small, earliest Paleocene condylarths, but is distinguished by a tiny cusp on its molars called a parastylid.

“Previous studies suggest that in the first few hundred thousand years after the dinosaur extinction (what is known in North America as the early Puercan) there was relatively low mammal species diversity across the Western Interior of North America, but the discovery of three new species in the Great Divide Basin suggests rapid diversification following the extinction,” Dr. Atteberry said.

“These new periptychid condylarths make up just a small percentage of the more than 420 mammalian fossils uncovered at this site.”

“We haven’t yet fully captured the extent of mammalian diversity in the earliest Paleocene, and predict that several more new species will be described.”

The team’s paper was published in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology.


Madelaine R. Atteberry & Jaelyn J. Eberle. New earliest Paleocene (Puercan) periptychid ‘condylarths’ from the Great Divide Basin, Wyoming, USA. Journal of Systematic Palaeontology, published online August 17, 2021; doi: 10.1080/14772019.2021.1924301


Silutitan sinensis and Hamititan xinjiangensis: Two New Species of Sauropod Dinosaurs Unearthed in China

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Life reconstruction of Silutitan sinensis (left) and Hamititan xinjiangensis (right). Image credit: Chuang Zhao & Xiaolin Wang.

Paleontologists have identified two new species of giant herbivorous dinosaurs from fossils found in the Turpan-Hami Basin, Xinjiang, northwestern China.

The two new dinosaurs lived in what is now China during the Early Cretaceous period, between 130 and 120 million years ago.

Dubbed Silutitan sinensis and Hamititan xinjiangensis, they were about 20 m and 17 m (66 and 56 feet) long, respectively.

Both species belong to Somphospondyli, a large clade of titanosauriform sauropods that lived from the Late Jurassic until the end of the Late Cretaceous.

“This is the first time that somphospondylans have been reported from the Early Cretaceous of Xinjiang,” said Dr. Xiaolin Wang from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and colleagues.

“They are also the first dinosaurs reported from the Hami Pterosaur Fauna, the largest and most abundant pterosaur fossil locality in the world.”

The fossils of Silutitan sinensis and Hamititan xinjiangensis were recovered from the Lower Cretaceous Shengjinkou Formation.

“The first consists of an articulated middle to posterior cervical vertebrae series,” the paleontologists said.

“The second consists of an incomplete articulated caudal sequence that could be assigned to lithostrotian titanosaurs based on the strongly procoelous caudal vertebrae with lateral concave surface, as well as marked ventrolateral ridges.”

The researchers also found four vertebrae and rib fragments from a third, yet-undescribed species of somphospondylan sauropod dinosaur.

Additionally, they found a small tooth of carnivorous theropod dinosaur near the fossilized remains of Hamititan xinjiangensis.

“It is the first report of a theropod dinosaur discovered in this area,” they said.

“Because no tooth mark was found on any of the vertebra of Hamititan xinjiangensis, it is uncertain whether this theropod could have fed on sauropods’ carcasses.”

paper on the findings was published in the journal Scientific Reports.


X. Wang et al. The first dinosaurs from the Early Cretaceous Hami Pterosaur Fauna, China. Sci Rep 11, 14962; doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-94273-7


The 10 Best Land Before Time Movies, Ranked (According To IMDb)

Sunday, August 15, 2021

For mostly direct-to-video kids movies, there’s a surprising amount of depth in the Land Before Time series, but will any of them beat the original?

The Land Before Time struck a chord with the children of the 90s. However, the movies aren’t just for children, but for adults too. There are a lot of adult fans that reverently gaze at the movies through nostalgia goggles, and rightly so, as the original movie is often seen as the best dinosaur movie that isn’t Jurassic Park.

However, as the movies are all very much aimed at children, the IMDb ratings of the films are generally going to be lower, as the narratives are simplified and the musical numbers are overly sweet. But for mostly direct-to-video children’s movies, there’s a surprising amount of depth in most of the narratives.

10 - The Land Before Time IV: Journey Through The Mists (1996) - 5.8

Though the original Don Bluth movie gave Disney a run for its money, the same can’t be said for half of the Land Before Time movies. With there being so many movies in the series, the quality dipped off early, as the fourth movie in the series, Journey Through the Mists, sits at just 5.8 on IMDb.

In the fourth movie, the gang of young dinosaurs has to search for a golden flower that will cure Littlefoot’s ill grandfather. It’s regarded as one of the least engaging of them all, as Journey Through the Mists is where the formula of the children going off on their own without adult supervision was starting to get old.

9 - The Land Before Time VIII: The Big Freeze (2001) - 5.9

The Big Freeze is generally considered to be one of the most middle-of-the-road entries in the series, as it’s far from the worst, but it isn’t the most charming or exciting either. The movie is more music-focused than any other Land Before Time film, as the gang creates new songs to keep them occupied during a blizzard.

But while the songs are sweet, they aren’t half as memorable as the musical highlights from the earlier movies. However, the biggest problem with The Big Freeze is that Ducky’s personality was completely changed. Where Ducky was originally positive and hyperactive, she is completely grumpy and borderline nihilistic in The Big Freeze.

8 - The Land Before Time VI: The Secret Of Saurus Rock (1998) - 5.9

The Secret Of Saurus Rock has the lowest stakes of the franchise, and there are almost none of the risks or dangers that usually come with the gang’s adventures. The film is mostly about them having to fix a chip in the titular rock. But there’s still a lot about the movie that can be enjoyed by children.

Just as Journey Through the Mists was the final film to feature the entire original cast, The Secret of Saurus Rock was another last for the franchise. The sixth movie was the last in the series to use traditional hand-drawn animation, which had given all the previous movies a unique look. The animation was the best part of the movie, along with some of the songs too, as “Bad Luck” is one of the catchiest musical numbers in the series.

7 - The Land Before Time II: The Great Valley Adventure (1994) - 5.9

Though the series grew into an episodic formula where each adventure is almost entirely unrelated, the first sequel started almost exactly at the point where the original ended. The Great Valley Adventure sees the dinosaurs building their new home in the valley. However, despite the continuation, The Great Valley Adventure was more of a sign of the direction the series would go in the future.

The franchise continued the more cutesy, adorable capers that The Great Valley Adventure started, instead of soldiering on with the emotional heft of the original. Though the second movie was a fun adventure, it took a while for audiences to get used to the new approach, as the original was still fresh in fans' minds.

6 - The Land Before Time V: The Mysterious Island (1997) - 6.0

With the Land Before Time series being a well-oiled machine that spits out movies on an annual basis at this point, The Mysterious Island was seen as the best since the original un 1997. It follows the group of young dinosaurs set out on yet another adventure to find a new home.

The plot is fairly derivative of the very first movie in the series, but the twist midway through keeps it fresh and entertaining. More exciting than anything and possibly the biggest highlight in the series is the return of fan-favorite Chomper. The gang parented the baby Sharptooth in The Great Valley Adventure, and his return is fan-service at its most perfect.

5 - The Land Before Time VII: The Stone Of Cold Fire (2000) - 6.0

As the series had long settled into a corniness that may have seemed irritating to grown-ups, The Stone of Cold Fire was the most mature the franchise had been in a long time. The movie focuses on Petrie’s uncle, who seems suspicious to everyone in the valley.

It was also the first movie to use computer animation, which could have been jarring, as the Land Before Time series is loved for the aesthetic look of the hand-drawn animation of prehistoric times. However, the difference was barely a problem, as the digital look felt like a fresh coat of paint for a series that was beginning to seem fossilized

4 - The Land Before Time XIV: Journey Of The Brave (2016) - 6.0

Journey of the Brave came after a long hiatus in the series, as the previous movie, The Wisdom of Friends, was released nine years earlier. It was a much-needed break, as Wisdom of Friends is the most disliked movie in the entire series, holding a 5.4 on IMDb.

However, the series returned as strong as ever, as the stakes were high with Littlefoot dealing with the stress of potentially losing another parent, but there was still that LBT charm. There are some fresh ideas in the movie, as Damon Wayans Jr. plays the new character Wild Arms, and the typical Wayans humor is on show, though it’s much more child-friendly.

3 - The Land Before Time XII: The Great Day Of The Flyers (2006) - 6.0

Like The Secret of Saurus Rock, The Great Day of the Flyers isn’t a tentpole movie in the series, and there aren’t any major stakes for the characters, but the 12th movie does it right. For once, Littlefoot is sidelined, and Petrie takes the reigns for an installment, as the whole movie is about the character being happy in his own skin and learning to be himself.

There are some great morals in the movie, and it’s impressive that an installment this far into the series is still coming up with new and valuable lessons to teach children. The movie is everything a Land Before Time movie should be, as it’s full of catchy songs, instantly lovable new characters, and is uplifting in a way few kids movies are.

2 - The Land Before Time X: The Great Longneck Migration (2003) - 6.2

The Land Before Time is one of the best Don Bluth films, but the tenth movie in the series gives the original a run for its money. It comes as a surprise that the tenth installment of a movie series that is mostly direct-to-video is the second best. But there’s a lot to love about The Great Longneck Migration.

The tenth movie is the most melodramatic of them all, as Littlefoot meets his father for the first time. It’s the closest the series gets to being as much of a tearjerker as the original movie. There’s even some star talent brought in for the film, as Kiefer Sutherland plays Littlefoot’s father, and his seasoned voice-acting certainly adds to the emotional weight of the relationship between him and Littlefoot.

1 - The Land Before Time (1988) - 7.4

Nothing beats where it all started. The Land Before Time series is full of fun adventures, creative characters, and is a great example of world-building, but a lot of the magic that was in the original movie had been lost due to those very things.

The Land Before Time is emotionally driven more than any other, and it features one of the saddest moments in a kids’ movie, as Littlefoot watches his mother die right in front of him. The fun quests and musical numbers take a back seat to the narrative, as opposed to those very things driving the plots of the sequels.


480-Million-Year-Old Spores of Early Land Plants Found in Australia

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Fossilized spores from the Early Ordivician deposits of Australia. Image credit: Strother & Foster, doi: 10.1126/science.abj2927.

Until now, the first fossil evidence of land plants was from the Devonian period (420 million years ago). However, molecular evidence suggests an earlier origin in the Cambrian period. In a new paper in the journal Science, paleontologists described an assemblage of spore-like microfossils from Early Ordivician (480 million years ago) deposits in Australia; these spores are of intermediate morphology between confirmed land plant spores and earlier forms of uncertain relationship.

“These spore-like microfossils fill in a gap of approximately 25 million years in the fossil spore record, linking well-accepted younger plant spores to older more problematic forms,” said Dr. Paul Strother, a paleobotanist in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Boston College.

Dr. Strother and his colleague, Dr. Clinton Foster from the Research School of Earth Sciences at the Australian National University, examined populations of fossil spores extracted from a rock core drilled in 1958 in northern Western Australia.

“We found a mix of fossils linking older, more problematic spore-like microfossils with younger spores that are clearly derived from land plants,” Dr. Strother said.

“This helps to bring the fossil spore record into alignment with molecular clock dates if we consider the origin of land plants as a long-term process involving the evolution of embryonic development.”

“The fossil record preserves direct evidence of the evolutionary assembly of the plant regulatory and developmental genome.”

“This process starts with the evolution of the plant spore and leads to the origin of plant tissues, organs, and eventually macroscopic, complete plants — perhaps somewhat akin to mosses living today.”

“When we consider spores as an important component of the evolution of land plants, there is no longer a gap in the fossil record between molecular dating and fossil recovery.”

“Absent that gap, we have a much clearer picture of a whole new evolutionary step: from simple cellularity to complex multicellularity.”

“As a result, researchers and the public may need to re-think how they view the origin of terrestrial plants — that pivotal advance of life from water to land.”

“We need to move away from thinking of the origin of land plants as a singularity in time, and instead integrate the fossil record into an evo-devo model of genome assembly across millions of years during the Paleozoic Era, specifically between the Cambrian and Devonian divisions within that era,” he said.

“This requires serious re-interpretation of problematic fossils that have previously been interpreted as fungi, not plants.”


Paul K. Strother & Clinton Foster. 2021. A fossil record of land plant origins from charophyte algae. Science 373 (6556): 792-796; doi: 10.1126/science.abj2927