Category Archives: fossil

The Harry Potter Dino – Dracorex hogwartsia

An exciting new species discovery, especially for Harry Potter fans, is officially on the books. It’s called Dracorex hogwartsia and is a plant eating pachycephalosaur.
Paleontologist, Dr. Robert Bakker, explains how he came up with the name:Dr Bakker

“The creature is a very special dinosaur that seems at home in a “Harry Potter” adventure. It was a plant-eater, only about as heavy as the war horse of a medieval knight. And it carried an armor-plated head of almost magical configuration, covered with knobs and spikes, horns and crests. I was staring at the skull last summer, and the name just popped into my head, hogwartsia.”

The full name, Dracorex hogwartsia, comes from the Latin words draco (meaning dragon), rex (meaning king), and hogwartsia (after the fictional Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry created by J.K. Rowling)

Author J.K. Rowling was delighted by the naming and wrote: “The naming of Dracorex hogwartsia is easily the most unexpected honour to have come my way since the publication of the Harry Potter books! I am absolutely thrilled to think that Hogwarts has made a small (claw?) mark upon the fascinating world of dinosaurs … I am very much looking forward to reading Dr. Bakker’s paper describing ‘my’ dinosaur, which I can’t help visualising as a slightly less pyromaniac Hungarian Horntail.”

The nearly complete pachycephalosaur skull was donated to The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis by Steve Saulsbury, Patrick Saulsbury and Brian Buckmeier, all from Sioux City, Iowa. The three friends found the fossil during a fossil collecting trip in the Hell Creek Formation in central South Dakota, and agreed the museum would be the perfect home for the specimen. Brought to the museum’s Paleo Prep Lab for cleaning and studying, it was little more than a box of parts, head banging dracorexshattered by erosion before its discovery. It took Victor Porter, the vertebrate paleontologist at The Children’s Museum, two years to patiently glue together the many fragments.

Fierce debates have raged about whether the pachy’s butted each other, but since no good neck bones had been found, conclusive evidence was lacking. The Children’s Museum Paleo Lab personnel scored a cretaceous triumph when they pieced together four nearly complete neck vertebrae for D. hogwartsia. Special anti-twist joints and enlarged muscle attachments seem to show that these dinosaurs indulged in violent kinetic exercises. “They were head-bangers!” said Bakker.

If you’d like to get a peek at this dino critter visit the The Children’s Museum ofdraco_museum.jpg Indianapolis where it is on display. The museum has also kindly hosted the scientific paper describing D. hogwartsia online and you can read it yourself here: Dracorex hogwartsia, n. gen., n. sp., a spiked, flat-headed pachycephalosaurid dinosaur from the Upper Cretaceous Hell Creek Formation of South Dakota. [pdf]

Don’t forget to check out thier page dedicated to D. hogwartsia, there’s a video of the unveiling and lots of pictures. (best viewed in IE) and you can also buy a cool t-shirt.


Pregnant and stuck under a Ping Pong table – Maiaspondylus lindoei

Back and 1971 Allan Lindoe helped dig up some ichthyosaur fossils. Somehow they ended up getting stashed under a ping-pong table in a science lab at the University of Alberta where they sat for some 25 odd years until Dr. Michael Caldwell decided to clean things up and rediscovered the fossils.

The paper describing the new species was published in the journal Palaeontology, A New Genus of Ichthyosaur from the Lower Cretaceous of Western Canada (abstract).

The new animal was named Maiaspondylus lindoei—”maia” meaning “good mother” because the fossil was found along with embryos, and “spondylus” meaning “vertebra” because the embryos were found near the spinal column. The species name, lindoei, is in honor of Allan Lindoe.

So what exactly is an ichthyosaur? The name makes them sound like a type of dinosaur, but researchers have guessed that they looked more like a dolphin or a fish. But they weren’t fish either. They were air-breathing marine reptiles. To learn more about ichthyosaurs check out Ryosuke Motani’s Ichthyosaur Page

(Painting by Heinrich Harder, circa 1916)

Canada's Northwest Territories

The M. lindoei sample was collected in Canada’s Northwest Territories and it’s speculated that it was sitting their for some 100 million years before spending the last 25 under the ping pong table. Prior to this discovery all cretaceous ichthyosaurs were classified under a single genus, Platypterygius. Scientists felt that this speciman was distinct enough to warrant a new genus.

Read more:Express News, University of Alberta: Ancient sea creature rediscovered after 25 years

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Sauropsida
Subclass: Diapsida
Superorder: Ichthyopterygia
Order: Ichthyosauria

New GIANT Dinosaur – Puertasaurus reuili

Puertasaurus reuili is the newly named gigantic sauropod that was discovered in Argentina. National Geographic has the full story: Giant Dinosaur Discovered in Argentina. They also published five images related to the story.

Puertasaurus illustrated with other dinosaurs
Lead researcher, Fernando Novas, named the titanosaur after the fossil-hunters, Pablo Puerto and Santiago Reuil, who found and prepared the fossil.

His paper, Giant titanosaur (Dinosauria, Sauropoda) from the Late Cretaceous of Patagonia [pdf], was published in the Journal of the Argentine Museum of Natural Sciences.Puertasaurus fossil

The Hairy Museum of Natural History has an excellent blog post discussing the massive size of P. reuili and comparing it to the mythical Amphicoelias fragillimus.

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Sauropsida
Superorder: Dinosauria
Order: Saurischia
Suborder: Sauropodomorpha
Infraorder: Sauropoda
Family: Titanosauridae
Genus: Puertasaurus

If you like sauropods you may be interested in two other recently described dinosaurs: the mini Europasaurus holgeri, and the long necked Erketu ellisoni

(Illustration and photo: Argentine Museum of Natural Sciences PR)

“Mini” Dino Found in Germany – Europasaurus holgeri

A dwarf sauropod has recently been described by paleontologists. Holger Luedtke, a paleontology hobbyist first came across teeth and other remains of a herbivorous dinosaur in a quarry near in North Germany in 1998.

At the time, scientists thought they may be juveniles. However, Dr. Martin Sander, who is an expert on the micro-structure of dinosaur skeletons, studied the bones and concluded that they were adults. In short, he was able to measure rings of growth in the bones. Rings are spaced further apart when the dinosaurs are young and growing rapidly. As they age the space between the rings becomes smaller.

When first found the dino was nicknamed ‘Hanna’, but has now been given the new and official scientific name Europasaurus holgeri, in honor of its discoverer. It essentially means Holger’s reptile of Europe.

So how mini was it? Well, the diagram below shows it was still pretty big compared to a human. But it was quite tiny when compared to one of its closest cousins the Apatosaurus (aka Brontosaurus) who was among the largest land animals that ever existed.

The paper describing the new species was published in Nature.

Europasaurus holgeri
Models and photo: Dinopark Münchehagen.

Europasaurus holgeri diagram
Diagram depicting the relative size between two E. holgeri (juvenile and adult) and a human by Octávio Mateus, Museu da Lourinhã

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Sauropsida
Superorder: Dinosauria
Order: Saurischia
Suborder: Sauropodomorpha
Genus: Europasaurus

Check out another recently described sauropod, Erketu ellisoni.

This Hip Snake Could Walk! – Najash rionegrina

Here’s another newly discovered fossil from Patagonia, Argentina. What makes it special is that it’s now one of the of the most primitive snakes known, and it slithered with two legs!

Researchers say the snake’s anatomy and the location of the fossil show it lived on land, and was possibly a burrowing animal.

Najash rionegrina

Scientists have long debated on whether snakes evolved from land-based or marine creatures. In general, snakes are believed to have evolved from four-legged lizards, losing their legs over time.

This snake, named Najash rionegrina, was found with a sacrum, a bony feature supporting the pelvis, that isn’t found in modern snakes. It lived an estimated 90 million years ago. Its size is unknown, but it was under 3 feet.

Researchers, Sebastián Apesteguía and Hussam Zaher, published their findings in Nature, A Cretaceous terrestrial snake with robust hindlimbs and a sacrum. You can read the abstract, and click on the link “figures and tables” to see more detailed figures.

The critter’s name comes from a Hebrew word for snake and the Rio Negro province of Argentina, where the discovery was made.

The discovery was also reported on a number of news sites, including:

CNN, Fossil suggests snakes evolved on land
New Scientist, Oldest snake fossil shows a bit of leg

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Sauropsida
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Genus: Najash

A Pack of Huge Meat Eating Dinos Found – Mapusaurus roseae

Here’s some BIG dino news for you! Fossils of a new giant carnivore have been found in Argentina. Interestingly, a group of the animals were found together leading researchers to believe they may have hunted in packs.

Paleontologists Rodolfo Coria and Philip Currie recently published their discovery of Mapusaurus roseae in Geodiversitas, A new carcharodontosaurid (Dinosauria,Theropoda) from the Upper Cretaceous of Argentina. [pdf]

Now the question is, who was bigger – Mapusaurus, Giganotosaurus, or Spinosaurus?

The genus name, Mapusaurus, means “Earth Reptile”. It comes from the Mapuche word for earth, mapu. The Mapuches are an indigenous people of Patagonia.

The species name, roseae refers to the rose colored rocks that surround the site where the fossils were found, and to Rose Letwin who sponsored expeditions that lead to the discovery.


(photo by Rodolfo Coria)

There are many sites reporting on this discovery. Here are links to a few. News: Dig finds largest known carnivorous dinosaur.
Giant dino-predators may have hunted in packs
Express News, Uni of Alberta: Huge meat-eating dinosaur uncovered

Lastly, here’s some Mapusaurus inspired Art at DeviantArt

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Sauropsida
Order: Saurischia
Suborder: Theropoda
Infraorder: Carnosauria
Family: Carcharodontosauridae
Subfamily: Giganotosaurinae
Genus: Mapusaurus

Fossilized Fish Might Have Walked on Land – Tiktaalik roseae

In two related articles highlighted on the April 6 cover of the journal Nature, Dr. Ted Daeschler of The Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, co-leader of an expedition 600 miles north of the Arctic Circle, and his colleagues announced the discovery of 375-million-year-old fossilsCover of Nature with numerous features that place them squarely at the evolutionary transition from fish to limbed animals. The new species has a skull, neck, ribs and part of a fin like the earliest limbed animals, but also has fins and scales like a fish. For about a century, scientists have been able to trace the broad outline of the millions-of-years-long transition of lobe-finned fish to limbed animals (tetrapods). The new species, named Tiktaalik roseae, however, is the most compelling evidence yet of an animal that was on the verge of the transition from water to land. It shows that the evolution from life in water to life on land happened gradually in fish living in shallow water.

T. roseae was a predator with sharp teeth, a crocodile-like head, and a flattened body that lived in what was then a subtropical climate. The quality of the fossils allowed the team to examine the joint surfaces on many of the fin bones and figure out that shoulder, elbow and wrist joints were capable of supporting the body like limbed animals. “Tiktaalik blurs the boundary between fish and land animals,” said Dr. Neil Shubin of the University of Chicago, the other co-leader. “This animal is both fish and tetrapod; we jokingly call it a fishapod.”

The fossils were recovered from the layered rock of the so-called Fram Formation, the deposits of meandering stream systems formed some 375 million years ago when North America was part of a supercontinent straddling the equator. These fossils and previously known fossil relatives suggest the evolution from fish to tetrapod occurred on this landmass. “This kind of shallow stream system seems to be the place where many features of land living animals first arose,” said Daeschler.

Tiktaalik roseae
Dr. Ted Daeschler of The Academy of Natural Sciences and his new limbed Arctic fish.
The Academy of Natural Sciences

The skeletal structure of T. roseae and the nature of the deposits where it was found suggest an animal that lived on the bottom of shallow waters and perhaps even out of the water for short periods. “The skeleton of Tiktaalik indicates that it could support its body under the force of gravity whether in very shallow water or on land,” said Dr. Farish A. Jenkins of Harvard University, another collaborator. “This represents a very critical early phase in the evolution of all limbed animals, including us.”

Instead of using the traditional Latin or Greek to name the fossil, the team consulted Nunavut residents, who suggested Tiktaalik (tic-TA-lick), the Inuktikuk word for large, shallow water fish. The second part of the name, roseae, honors an anonymous supporter.

Tiktaalik has a flattened, triangular-shaped skull reminiscent of the earliest tetrapods. Although the lower jaws and snout have fish-like features, the rear portion of the skull looks more like a limbed animal. The skull is significantly shortened behind the eye sockets and has deep notches in its rear margin. The bones that connect the skull to the shoulders in fishes are not found in Tiktaalik, also hinting at its tetrapod-like nature. An intermediate stage in the transition from fin to limb is also seen in the bones of the pectoral fins, which show robust skeletal elements indicative of powerful and mobile appendages, flexible at shoulder, elbow and wrist, while retaining a reduced set of the thin rods found in fish fins. The wide, flattened body of Tiktaalik is also tetrapod-like but is covered by scales as in fish.

Tiktaalik roseae Tiktaalik roseae diagram

Photo of fossil by Daeschler
Illustration by Kalliope Monoyios

T. roseae has already inspired artists, check out TrollArt for some funky drawings! There’s also an entire website dedicated to Tiktaalik roseae over at the University of Chicago. There’s a video interview and more information about the expedition that lead to the discovery.

Giant, bird-like Raptor – Hagryphus giganteus

Scientists from the University of Utah and the Utah Museum of Natural History have discovered the remains of a new bird-like, meat-eating dinosaur in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, southern Utah.

The new dinosaur was formally named Hagryphus giganteus, which means “giant four-footed, bird-like god of the western desert” in reference to the animal’s outward resemblance to a large land bird, its giant stature, and its discovery in the Utah desert.

hagryphus_handOnly the hands and feet of Hagryphus were found, but the scientists were able to use the animal’s close relatives in Asia to estimate it to be around 7 feet tall! It is a member of the oviraptorosaurs, a group of bird-like feathered dinosaurs with toothless beaks, powerful arms and formidable claws. They are thought by some paleontologists to have been omnivorous, feeding on a mixture of meat and plants.

The scientific paper naming and describing this critter was published in the latest issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, A new Oviraptorosaur (Theropoda, Maniraptora) from the Late Cretaceous (Campanian) of Utah (abstract only).

CNN also has a video interview with the paleontologists available online.

Hagryphus giganteus

(Illustration by Michael W. Skrepnick)

DID YOU KNOW: Oviraptorosaur means “egg-thief,” because their remains were discovered in close association with nests of dinosaur eggs, and it was thought that the raptors were eating the eggs. In more recent years, however, eggs have been found with remains of baby oviraptors inside. The adult oviraptors turn out to have been sitting on the nests, brooding the eggs just as birds do today. Thus, it appears that the adult oviraptors were protecting their future babies rather than devouring them! Nevertheless, the name has stuck.

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Sauropsida
Superorder: Dinosauria
Order: Saurischia
Suborder: Theropoda
Infraorder: Coelurosauria

A tiny new dinosaur – Juravenator starki

Juravenator starki is a small carnivorous theropod dinosaur from the Late Jurassic discovered in what is now Germany. What’s interesting about this little critter is that it doesn’t show signs of feathers.

Many sites are reporting on this newly announced dinosaur discovery, including:

National Geographic, Scaly New Dinosaur Creates Flap Over Feathers’ Evolution
The Age (AU), New dinosaur fossil ruffles a few feathers
Scientific American, Scaly Dino Find Complicates Feather Evolution

Juravenator starki

The researchers published their findings in Nature. You can read the first paragraph of A new carnivorous dinosaur from the Late Jurassic Solnhofen archipelago and see the pictures/figures. Of course, for full access check your library!

The name Juravenator refers to the Jura Mountains of Bavaria where the fossil was found, and starki refers to the Stark family that owns the fossil-bearing limestone quarry. It was discovered about 10 years ago, but took many years to prepare because of the extremely hard limestone encasing the fossil. It had been nicknamed Borsti in German, a name commonly given to bristle-haired dogs, on the assumption the creature was endowed with bristly protofeathers.

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Sauropsida
Order: Saurischia
Infraorder: Coelurosauria
Family: Coeluridae
Genus: Juravenator

Erketu ellisoni, the Looooooong-Necked Sauropod

How long was it? Researchers estimate Erketu ellisoni‘s neck to be around 24 feet long. Twice the size of its body!

It doesn’t have the longest neck. That record belongs to another sauropod, Mamenchisauris hochuanensis, which had a neck length estimated at 49 feet! However, E. ellisoni may now hold the record for the longest neck to body ratio.

Nature‘s article, Heads up: the dinosaur with the longest neck, gives a nice summary. But if you are feeling ambitious you can read researchers, Daniel Ksepka and Mark Norell’s full report, Erketu ellisoni, a Long-Necked Sauropod from Bor Guvé (Dornogov Aimag, Mongolia).

erketu ellisoni
(illustration by Jason Brougham)

E. ellisoni was found in Mongolia during an expedition in 2002. Unfortunatly, it was found without a head!

The meaning behind the name for this new species:
Erketu – In Mongolian shamanistic tradition, there are 99 Tengri (deities). Erketu Tengri is the Mighty Tengri, a creator-god who called Yesu gei, the father of Chingis Khan, into being.
ellisoni – In honor of Mick Ellison, for his contributions to ongoing AMNH dinosaur research.

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Sauropsida
Superorder: Dinosauria
Order: Saurischia
Suborder: Sauropodomorpha
Infraorder: Sauropoda
Division Neosauropoda
Subdivision Macronaria
Superfamily Titanosauriformes
Family: Somphospondyli