Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Chicken-Sized Dinosaur Discovered in Alberta (Canada)

Tiny Dinosaur May have Been Nocturnal
Details of the research undertaken to identify and describe a new type of North American dinosaur has just been published in the scientific journal "Cretaceous Research". This dinosaur, at only 75 cm long and standing less than a metre tall is claimed to be the smallest dinosaur every discovered in North America.
Albertonykus borealis
- New Species Named
This new species has been named Albertonykus borealis
(northern clawed beast of Alberta), the fossils of this animal were discovered in the Red Deer Formation of Alberta and it is believed to have been a fast running, insectivore with a similar lifestyle to the Alvarezsaurids - dinosaurs such as Mononykus and Shuvuuia from Asia.
Found by Expedition to Red Deer Region of Alberta
The 70-million-year-old bones (Maastrichtian faunal stage), were found during an expedition to the Red Deer region to excavate the fossils of an Albertosaurus in 2002. The leader of that dig, Philip Currie removed the tiny fossil bones that had been found in association with the larger Tyrannosaur and put them into storage at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller. There the bones remained until University of Calgary palaeontologist Nick Longrich discovered them in one of the many storage draws and begun to work out just what sort of animal the bones represented.
We know from experience that one of the best places to find a new species of dinosaur is not out in the field but in the storage areas of museums. For example, we once calculated that given the dinosaur material stored in plaster jackets at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, it would take our team hundreds of years to prepare them all.
Specimen is Described
In the journal article, the two authors describe the specimen and use the strong forelimbs, "s" shaped, flexible neck, agile long necks and pick-like claws as evidence to indicate a diet of insects such as termites and other burrowing creatures depicting a lifestyle similar to modern-day anteaters and pangolins.
The small dinosaur looks like a creature from a Dr. Seuss book, said Longrich, who called the findings "pretty cool."
Dinosaurs are not normally found this far north in Alberta, although fragmentary evidence indicating a small dinosaur may have lived in this region towards the end of the Cretaceous geological period, it was the finding of this specimen that gave palaeontologists something more tangible to study.
A Feathered Member of the Dinosauria
This little dinosaur has been depicted in illustrations created by artists under the guidance of the scientists involved with the study. It is depicted using its shortened forelimbs to dig into tree stumps and fallen logs in search of insects such as termites. Albertonykus is often shown with a covering of downy feathers, this is in recognition of analysis of Alvarezsaurid fossils from Mongolia that show traces of the chemical beta keratin which is found in feathers. A downy coat would help insulate this small, active animal and keep it warm.
Nick Longrich believes this discovery is important as it sheds light on the existence of smaller dinosaurs in the Red Deer River formation. It is very likely that small dinosaurs such as Albertonykus made up a large portion of the Dinosaur fauna. However, it is the large bones of the bigger animals that have a greater preservation potential. Small delicate bones are less likely to be fossilised and indeed, many small carcases are eaten by predators.
Part of the Alvarezsauria
This dinosaur is believed to a member of the Alvarezsauria, a group of small, bipedal dinosaurs with stunted forelimbs and reduced digits. The Alvarezsaurid fossils from Mongolia have been dated to between 80 and 75 million years ago (Campanian faunal stage). The Alberta remains have been dated to approximately 70 million years ago. Although, it is not possible to build a relationship diagram based on these remains the presence of Albertonykus in younger strata may indicate that like the Tyrannosaurs, the dinosaur ancestors of Albertonykus migrated into North America from Asia.
The dinosaurs found in Mongolia are estimated to be about 75 to 80 million years old, while the Alberta version is about 70 million years old.

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Contents of Dinosaur's Last Meal Preserved As Fossil

Eats Shoots and Leaves
Occasionally a dinosaur is so well-preserved that extraordinary amounts of information can be gleaned from the fossil. One such example is the wonderfully well- preserved fossil of a duck-billed dinosaur from the Judith River Formation of Montana, USA.
An analysis of the probable gut contents from this fossilised dinosaur reveal that its diet at the time of its demise consisted mainly of leaves. The leaves had been well-chewed, with many of the pieces less than 5mm in size.
Plant-Eater Described in Detail
The fossil is of a Hadrosaurine duck-billed dinosaur called a Brachylophosaurus (Brachylophosaurus canadensis)
an immature sub-adult that would have grown to a length in excess of 7 metres - not bad on a diet made up of leaves. This dinosaur fossil, in common with a number of other articulated specimens has been given a nick-name. It is known affectionately as "Leonardo" although the sex of the animal is unclear. The Brachylophosaurus got this nick-name as when the fossil hunting expedition found it in the summer of 2000, close by carved on a rock was some graffiti - "Leonard Webb loves Geneva Jordon 1916".
Rare Prehistoric Animal Found
The fossil record indicates that Brachylophosaurs were relatively rare compared to other Hadrosaurine Hadrosaurs. Only a few specimens have been found compared to the many hundreds of fossils of other Hadrosaurs found in Upper Cretaceous strata of the Western USA and Canada.
Brachylophosaurus means "short-crested lizard", the crest implied in the scientific name consisted of a flat plate on the top of the head. This duck-billed dinosaur did not have much of a duck-bill either, rather than the typical broad duck-like bill of a typical Hadrosaur, the horny beak of Brachylophosaurus was down-turned and flattened from side to side. Perhaps this is indicative of an adaptation for a particular type of browsing or other feeding behaviour. Further analysis of the gastric tract may provide more information about the type of plant material this animal ate.
Other dinosaur fossils have been analysed to establish diet, but finding fossil evidence of this nature is extremely rare. The analysis of the gastric tract was carried out by Justin Tweet, a graduate student at the University of Colorado, working in conjunction with other students and supervising palaeontologists.
Analysis of Preserved Stomach Contents
The team focused on trying to analyse the constituents of the fossil in the area believed to represent the gut of the animal. Microscopic study identified quantities of pollen, this could then be examined to reveal the types of plants this dinosaur had been eating. Although pollen grains are very small, they are abundant and exceedingly resistant to decay. Fossil pollen grains can be released from rock by dissolving the matrix in hydrofluoric acid. This powerful acid, in a high concentration is capable of etching glass, but the fossilised pollen survive this process and can be studied to indicate the plants that were being eaten, as different plants have different shaped and sized pollen grains.
Grazed on a Variety of Plants
It seems that "Leonardo" had grazed on a variety of plants including flowering plants and ferns. Pollen could also enter the gut if it had been ingested as the animal drank, and indeed there are other contaminants associated with this particular fossil. Only about 12% of the fossil material studied is organic, the rest is clay and grit, which possibly entered the animal's digestive tract as the body was covered, or perhaps this indicates that Brachylophosaurus was a low browser and picked up soil and other debris as it pulled out plants with its strong jaws, although the relatively high concentration of inorganic matter would cast doubt on this theory - surely this dinosaur was not that messy an eater!
The dentition of these dinosaurs is very formidable with rows of self-sharpening teeth and a jaw mechanism that allowed the tooth surfaces to grind together, an excellent way to break down tough vegetation. With the plant matter partially broken up this was then swallowed and the strong acidic gastric juices and microbes inside the gut would have continued the digestion process.
Skin Also Preserved on Specimen
Much of the skin of this dinosaur is also preserved, and this has revealed more information about Brachylophosaurus and its way of life. The skin around the shin and ankle is especially thick, perhaps acting as protection as the animal made its way through the undergrowth.
The discovery of "Leonardo" has certainly helped palaeontologists learn more about this unusual dinosaur, even gaining an insight into its diet. It also led to the discovery of another Hadrosaur fossil in the same location, when a media co-ordinator found a new fossilised dinosaur at Leonardo's site when rehearsing a visit to view the excavation of the original specimen.

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Ancient Aussie Mega-Fauna Wiped Out by Early Settlers

Giant Wombats and Kangaroos Wiped out by First Settlers
The debate over the impact of human migration as humans encounter indigenous species has been fuelled once more with the publication of a new paper speculating on the demise of the mega-fauna that once lived on the island of Tasmania.
The research, carried out by a joint Australian and British team, has been published in the prestigious American scientific journal - Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research team have concluded it was the impact of human settlement and hunting that led to the extinction of many of the large animals on Tasmania, not climate change as had been previously argued.
It was the chance discovery of the remains of a giant prehistoric kangaroo that proved to be the catalyst for the study. The researchers postulate that it was the human settlers who hunted to death this slow-breeding animal and other very large mammals that lived on Tasmania at the time.
Hunting and Settlement Did for the Indigenous Prehistoric Fauna
For a long time the fauna and flora of Tasmania had been isolated from the rest of Australia but as sea levels fell a land bridge formed between this island and mainland Australia, permitting people to settle in this area. The arrival of such a proficient and capable predator such as man, would have had a major impact on the local ecosystem.
The debate regarding the significance of human settlement on the island's mega-fauna centres on the skull of a giant kangaroo found in a cave in the thick rain-forest of the rugged northwest of Tasmania eight years ago.
Scientists dated the find at 41,000 years old, some 2,000 years after humans first began to live in the area. A spokesperson for the research team commented that up until this recent research, scientists had thought that the Tasmanian mega-fauna had become extinct before modern humans arrived, but that does not seem to be the case.
Professor Roberts who led this research and his team, considering the date of the skull, had concluded that it was likely that hunting not climate change and resulted in so many extinctions. Large animals that perished around this time included the giant kangaroo, a wombat (another marsupial), the size of a cow and the fierce marsupial lions that were the top predators on the island prior to the arrival of man.
The Marsupial Lion
The marsupial lion or Thylacoleo was perhaps the largest mammalian predator of the Australian Pleistocene, it terrorised Australia until extinction approximately 40,000 years ago. Tasmania may have been one of the last places that a size-able population of these carnivores existed - although some people believe that marsupial lions still exist. There have been a number of mysterious sightings and reports of large, four-footed animals across Australia, could the Thylacoleo still exist?
Discussing the potential influence of climate change on the Tasmanian ecosystem of 40,000 years ago, Professor Roberts, acting as spokesperson for the research group stated that the idea relating sudden climate change to the extinction of many of the large animals was disputed by the fact the area had a very stable climate over this critical time period. Climatic studies had shown that the climate around Tasmania was very stable, yet many prehistoric animals become extinct. The scientists postulate that if climate change was not significant then the extinctions could have been caused due to the influence of early settlers.
Large Mammals Slow To Reproduce
Roberts said because the large animals were slow to reproduce it would not have required an aggressive campaign to see them quickly die out, however, frequent predation over a sustained period would eventually put pressure on a species to survive. The large herbivores of Tasmanian would have not encountered humans before and would not have had any natural defences or instinctive responses towards them. Animals rapidly declining in the face of a new threat is quite common amongst isolated, island populations. The Dodo for example, was wiped out in just a few years following the first human visitors to the island, there was some hunting, but rodents and dogs that arrived with the settlers were perhaps the main cause of this huge bird's demise. It was not a case of mass hunting and mass slaughter of the indigenous species. With slow-breeding animals occasional hunting with a few animals each season being killed could have been enough to set a species into terminal decline.
Man Responsible for the Demise of Mega-Fauna
Professor Roberts said the Tasmanian results back up the theory that man was responsible for the death of the mega-fauna on mainland Australia, estimated by some to have occurred shortly after human occupation about 46,000 years ago.
The reasons behind the mass extinction of giant animals, which took place around the world towards the end of the last Ice Age, has been hotly contested with theories ranging from climate change to human and extraterrestrial impacts.
The finding of the latest study has already been contested, with Judith Field of the University of Sydney saying the idea that humans killed the giant creatures was "in the realms of speculative fantasy".
Some other palaeontologists contest the findings, stating that humans had not reached Tasmania in enough numbers to significantly affect the mega-fauna.
Debate is Set to Continue
It is likely that the debate over the impact of human arrival and settlement on other species will continue. H. sapiens
in various parts of the world and at various times, may have had a significant impact on habitats and ecosystems. Whether it is the debate over the effect of Clovis man in North America, or the influence of the Cro-Magnons over European fauna, scientists will continue to theorise over the actual significance of a human population over the rest of the ecosystem. Certainly, there is no doubt that today, humans are having an enormous impact on the planet's other inhabitants. At 6.7 billion we are the most common large mammal on Earth and our exploitation of resources and demands for food and living space are having a serious impact on virtually ever other species. Indeed, some scientists have claimed that this is the period of the "sixth great mass extinction" of the Phanerozoic (visible life), with an estimated 50 species a day becoming extinct.
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Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Dinosaur That Looks Like a Dragon - Amargasaurus

Amargasaurus - Dinosauria Member that was a Bit of a Show Off
We have recently been looking at some drawings and designs of dragons and other mythical creatures and the comment was made about how fanciful these animals looked with their wings, spines, spikes and frills. The designers had really gone to town letting their imaginations run riot to produce prototypes for a model series that was to feature dragons and other mythical beasts.
Palaeontologists have their own "Dinosaur Dragon"
However, sometimes the truth can be stranger than fiction and a number of prehistoric animals including dinosaurs are believed to have had bizarre ornamentation, spines, frills and crests. Scientists are still unsure as to the exact purpose of many of these odd appendages, but the fossil record is clearly as capable of revealing any number of bizarre and odd looking animals, a match for the imagination of the sculptors and artists behind many of the dragon models. Unless we have interpreted the fossil evidence incorrectly, these strange features evolved as they gave the animals an advantage in some way.
Amargasaurus - Extinct Show Off
An example of a dinosaur with a bizarre appearance is Amargasaurus (Amargasaurus cazaui),
a Diplodocid dinosaur related to the better known (and larger) Diplodocus. This Sauropod had a disproportionately short neck when compared to other members of this group of dinosaurs but its most striking feature were the rows of spines and spikes that ran along the body from behind the neck to the end of the tail, although spines on the tail is conjecture as the only specimen of this animal discovered to date lacked a tail. It is not known what colour this structure might have been, although since palaeontologists think that dinosaurs had excellent colour vision, it is quite possible that this frill was brightly coloured.
Rows of Spines
The spines are extensions of the vertebrae, what they were used for is unknown, although several theories have been put forward. The spines may have supported a sail-like structure which may have been used for communication amongst herd members or for temperature regulation. A sail may have helped this animal warm up quickly in the morning and, by facing towards the noon sun, exposing only a minimum part of their body's surface area, they may have been able to regulate their temperature during the hottest part of the day.
Thermo-regulatory Device?
A large sail-like structure on the neck would have inhibited movement of the neck, not a good idea if you are a browsing herbivore. It has been suggested that any sail on the neck did not cover the full expanse of the spines, but in reality the tops of the spines were tipped with horn and were actually defensive spikes to protect a vulnerable part of this animal. An examination of the skull and teeth of Amargasaurus in conjunction with an examination of the length of the neck vertebrae permits us to speculate that this animal browsed on low-lying vegetation. With its head craned towards the ground to eat, it would make sense to have spikes on the neck to prevent a predator grabbing the neck in a surprise attack.
Whatever, the reason for the strange neck-frill, this dinosaur, whose fossils are known from South America has been referred to as the "dinosaur dragon" by many palaeontologists.

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Dinosaur Age Meets Space Age

Dinosaur Footprint Discovered at NASA Campus
Scientists at the NASA complex located at Greenbelt, Maryland have a more down to Earth scientific distraction to study as it has been revealed that a fossilised dinosaur footprint has been discovered in the grounds. For the scientists and support teams that work at the Goddard Space Flight Centre the elephant foot-sized trace fossil has afforded them a glimpse into the environment approximately 112 million years ago (Aptian/Albian faunal stage of the Cretaceous) when huge, heavily armoured, herbivorous dinosaurs roamed the area.
Trace Fossil Indicates Nodosaurs Roamed Maryland
The trace fossil, a single footprint is slightly eroded, the back of the foot, the heel area is crumbling away but a careful examination reveals four distinct toe marks at the front, a print of a dinosaur walking over soft mud back in the Cretaceous geological period. It is not just natural processes that have caused the print to become less than pristine, palaeontologists and ichnologists (scientists who specialise in studying fossil tracks and track-ways), have remarked that parts of the footprint seem to show damage from a recent encounter from a grass strimmer. It seems one of the gardeners may have clipped the thirty-five centimetre wide trace fossil when they were cutting down weeds.
Contribution Made by Local, Amateur Fossil Collector
The fossil was found by Ray Stanford, an expert in finding dinosaur tracks on the eastern side of the United States. For Ray, finding this particular specimen came after a hunch to explore a part of the Goddard site, where previously he had found tantalising evidence of a dinosaur footprint. The fragment of a print he had found a few years ago, represented an unknown type of fast-running but small meat-eating dinosaur. That fossil indicated to Ray that the conditions had been right for permitting footprint preservation, so it was simply a question of returning to the area to explore the site a little more carefully to see what might turn up. His chance came when he and his wife were at the Goddard Centre's cafe enjoying lunch back on June 25th, when Ray made his excuses and set out to examine the grassy, overgrown bank where the previous fossil discovery had occurred.
Left Foot of a Nodosaur
The print is believed to have been made by the back left foot of a Nodosaurid, a member of the dinosaur clade known as the Thyreophora - armoured dinosaurs. Nodosaurids are generally similar to the better known Ankylosaurs. However, they were more primitive and lacked the club-like projection on the end of their tails. Most of these types of dinosaurs had body armour that consisted of spines and spikes and their narrow snouts indicate that Nodosaurs were specialised low browsers. Fossils of these types of dinosaur have been found in Europe (including England) and North America. The largest of these dinosaurs may have reached lengths in excess of seven metres and weighed as much as an African elephant.
Ray Stanford has made a specialism out of studying dinosaur track-ways on the eastern side of the United States, however, he has a special affinity for finding Nodosaur remains. This type of plant-eating dinosaur was not known from the strata of Maryland, however, Stanford has found a number of Nodosaur tracks indicating that these elephant-sized animals were present in the region and he and colleagues from Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, Maryland) discovered the fossilised remains of a baby Nodosaurid near to the University of Maryland Campus. This baby, the first juvenile Nodosaur fossil to be found represented a new species and it was named Propanoplosaurus marylandicus.
This unique dinosaur fossil is now part of the fossil vertebrate collection at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (Washington D.C.).
NASA Officials Study Fossil Location
A team of NASA officials and representatives of the media were taken to the see the single footprint on Friday by Stanford. It has been speculated that from the shape and deformation of the print the dinosaur was moving relatively quickly when it left the impression of its back left foot in the soft sediment. Ray speculated that this dinosaur could have been running away from a meat-eating dinosaur.
For Alan Binstock, the Goddard site's Architect and Facility Manager, the print might cause him something of a headache. As far as he could recall no dinosaur fossils had ever been found on any of the other nationwide NASA locations but plans would be put in place to ensure that no trophy hunters or curious amateur palaeontologists could remove the print from the location.
Jennifer Groman, NASA's federal preservation officer, more used to dealing with space age issues was part of the inspection team last Friday. Â It is going to be her responsibility to safeguard the footprint whilst it remains on NASA property.
She commented that NASA did not want to make this site a focus for tourists and casual observers at this point. She did not want unauthorised people trying to excavate the fossil print or indeed whatever else may be lying there waiting to be discovered. Concerns have already been raised about the fossil being taken off the NASA property by trophy hunters.
Plans in Place to Explore the Site Properly
The site will remain secure for the time being. Officials at NASA are working with a team of palaeontologists who intend to undertake a more thorough and protracted examination of the location to see what else might be found there. Who knows, as NASA's mission to Mars searches for signs of life on the amongst the Martian rocks, on a grassy bank at Goddard Flight Centre, a team of palaeontologists assisted by NASA's space scientists might be shedding light on the exotic yet long extinct life forms that once roamed the eastern coast of America.

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Duck-Billed Dinosaurs Grew Up Fast to Avoid T Rex

Scientists Reveal Hadrosaur Survival Strategy
Being a 30 foot long, relatively slow-moving plant-eating dinosaur at the very end of the Cretaceous spells trouble when you share a habitat with Tyrannosaurus rex
. Without horns or body armour for protection such animals might find themselves vulnerable to attack from one of the most formidable predators ever to roam the planet. However, new research from a team of American scientists have come up with an interesting survival strategy, simply grow quicker and mature faster than the animals trying to eat you.
Scientific Paper
In a scientific paper recently published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, the growth rates of a duck-billed dinosaur called Hypacrosaurus was compared to three carnivorous dinosaurs. The study revealed that the peaceful plant-eater grew faster than the Tyrannosaurs and was able to breed at a much younger age, two evolutionary attributes that may have helped balance the scales in terms of survival for this relatively primitive Lambeosaurine (the term given to describe duck-bills with ornate crests).
Hypacrosaurus - Plant-eating Dinosaur
At least two species of Hypacrosaurus are known from the late Cretaceous of Canada and the USA (Maastrichtian faunal stage), a number of good, well-preserved specimens have been found and crucially they include eggs and youngsters in various stages of growth. By having a number of specimens of different ages to study palaeontologists can work out something of this animal's ontogeny (growth and development).
Drew Lee, a postdoctoral fellow in Ohio University's College of Osteopathic Medicine and co-author Lisa Noelle Cooper, a doctoral student at Kent State University and a researcher with the Northeastern Ohio University's College of Medicine examined the fossilised bones of Hypacrosaurus and three meat-eating Theropods that were contemporaries of this Hadrosaur - two Tyrannosaurs, T. rex
and Albertosaurus plus the much smaller Troodon.
The research suggests that it took 10 to 12 years for Hypacrosaurus to become fully grown, reaching a maximum size of 10 metres in length. Tyrannosaurs, however, reached adulthood at an older age, indicating slower growth rates. The study indicates that T. rex
for example, would have reached adult size after 20 to 30 years.
The research shows that some duck-billed dinosaurs grew three to five times faster than any potential predator that shared the environment. As a duck-billed dinosaur reached maturity, the Tyrannosaurs were barely half-grown. This huge size difference may have given the plant-eaters an advantage when it comes to survival.
The Hypacrosaurus seems to have reached sexual maturity at an earlier age, perhaps at only two or three years of age, being able to breed quickly is an effective survival strategy for a species. If a species can reproduce quickly this can help with survival when faced with intense competition and attacks from fearsome predators.
Measuring the Growth Rings on Fossil Bones
Lisa conducted the original analysis of the Hadrosaur while an undergraduate student at Montana State University. Working with scientists Jack Horner and Mark Taper (both extremely knowledgeable with regards to late Mesozoic vertebrates). She looked at thin sections of the long leg bones of a specimen of Hypacrosaurus and counted and measured the growth rings, within the fossilised bones which each represent one year of life, or at least changes in growth rates to reflect dry and wet seasons. The scientists were surprised by their own findings. They could not believe how quickly these dinosaurs grew. These dinosaurs were very quick growing indeed.
Hadrosaurs - Typical Prey of Tyrannosaurs
Drew Lee described Hypacrosaurus as a typical prey species for the large predators around North America at the end of the Age of Reptiles, comparing Hypacrosaurus to a common antelope of the African plains "the Thomson's gazelle of the Late Cretaceous".
An Extremely Successful Group of Prehistoric Animals
The fossil record indicates that the Duck-Billed dinosaurs were an extremely successful group which is surprising as their fossilised bones don't really give many clues to how these animals would have flourished in such a harsh environment. The other common group of large plant-eaters, the horned dinosaurs or Ceratopsians had horns and bony shields to protect them from the fierce carnivores, on first sight the Hadrosaurs seem to be very vulnerable. One factor in the Hadrosaur's survival could be that it grew up faster than the meat-eaters and it was faster growing when compared to the other large herbivores around at the time as well.
Report Findings Reflected in Animals Alive Today
At least one study suggests that living animals employ this survival strategy as well, Lee said. Scientists have found that Killifish, a tiny freshwater fish found mainly in the Americas, mature faster when predators lurk. Anecdotal evidence suggests that creatures such as African ungulates (hoofed animals) grow big to create an advantage over lions, cheetahs and hyenas, he said. And researchers also see signs of this phenomenon in butterflies, toads, salamanders, guppies and some birds, Cooper added. The presence of predators may increase the pressure on a population of prey animals to survive and this may lead to faster growth rates and a decrease in the age of sexual maturity. In a population, those animals that possess the genetic qualities to be able to extract nutrients from their diet more effectively and to grow bigger may give them an edge over other animals that may not be able to compete as effectively. It is these "weaker" animals that fall prey to meat-eaters and the stronger animals go on to breed and pass on their genes to the next generation. In this way, the genetic health of the population is improved and the ability to produce quickly and grow fast becomes a trait within the entire population over time.
Learning More Thanks to the Growth Rings
Although palaeontologists are careful to preserve dinosaur fossils, they've also learned much more about growth rates, life spans, behaviour and sexual reproduction of dinosaurs in the past decade by cutting up the bones and taking a closer look at the clues they contain. Such research has offered a much more detailed picture of the relationships between different dinosaur species, including predator and prey. This has helped scientists to understand a little more about the relationships between different genera that co-existed.
This work on the internal structure of fossil bones is a relatively new technique, only possible through the advances made in the study of fossils and in fossil preservation techniques. Interpreting the evidence can prove difficult, but as more specimens of certain types of dinosaur are discovered, this does allow scientists to form theories as to their growth rates and age of maturity. The Hadrosaurs were an extremely successful group of Cretaceous dinosaurs, which along with the Ceratopsians dominated the plant-eating mega fauna of the late Cretaceous. Many species formed vast herds (evidence from trackways and bone beds), living in large herds would have been another effective survival strategy, just as is seen in herds of hoofed mammals such as caribou and zebra today.
Recent work on another type of Duck-Billed dinosaur, a Hadrosaurine nick-named Dakota
by the research team working on the fantastically well-preserved specimen, has provided another clue as to how these animals were able to survive the attentions of the Tyrannosaurs.
Palaeontologists Make Use of Technology
CAT scans on the nearly complete fossil have revealed that this Hadrosaur had larger hind quarters than previously thought. The powerful back legs would have helped this animal take up a bipedal posture and run quicker than earlier studies had shown, perhaps helping to escape from predators such as Tyrannosaurus rex. Being bigger and growing up fast may have helped these animals to escape the attentions of a pursuing predator. Without any body armour or horns to protect them, being able to outrun a meat-eater would have been a tremendous advantage.

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Monday, 15 October 2012

How To Get Your Kids Excited About Science

One of the things missing in much of today's homeschool and public school science curricula is the promotion of excitement, wonder, discovery and exploration. Many teachers don't understand science very well and it's difficult for them to make the subject fun when they are struggling to teach it. However, in order to provide deeper understanding of the topics and help kids retain the information they learn, it's important to help them get excited about it.
Experimentation versus Demonstration
Much of the science curricula on the market today focuses more on demonstration than experimentation. Textbooks usually include lots of color pictures, which make them visually stimulating, but they just portray the concepts of science rather than allowing kids to explore those concepts themselves.
Research has shown that in order to truly understand science, students must use hands-on experimentation and compare the results to existing preconceptions. This allows them to take the information they've already acquired - much of it false or misleading - and find out for themselves why it doesn't hold up to scientific fact.
Kids need to analyze and reflect on what they witness firsthand, which helps them fit each piece of the puzzle into the bigger picture that represents our world. In fact, according to research shared on Project 2061, "Effective education for science literacy requires that every student be frequently and actively involved in exploring nature in ways that resemble how scientists themselves go about their work."
The majority of mainstream science curricula presents lots of facts - too many, in fact. The focus is on quantity, not quality. Not only is the amount of information overwhelming to young students, it isn't connected to the everyday events and objects children find in their own backyard. Once again, scientific facts are presented in demonstration format; telling rather than showing via questions and examples.
A Better Way To Teach Science
Promoting science literacy is much easier when students are allowed to actively and frequently explore nature in the same way that scientific researchers do. Doing rather than just reading or seeing is the way most humans learn - and learn in a way that provides better retention and comprehension. It's important to allow students time for exploring, observing, testing and discovering. Rote memorization is not only boring, it's largely ineffective.
Kids get excited when they can perform experiments themselves. They enjoy doing and observing. They learn through the process of discovery, by asking "what if" questions and putting those theories to the test. Coincidentally, that's how "real" science works. Scientists develop a hypothesis based on known information, then put it to the test in order to discover new and fascinating facts about the world.
In order to get your homeschool students excited about science, use experiments as a way to stimulate their natural curiosity. Make this a regular part of your teaching so that kids look forward to science class. Let them do in order to grab their attention, then allow their inquisitive minds to take over and ask questions about what they witnessed. Those inquisitive responses are a great way to stimulate real understanding and keep them excited about learning more.
The more you can challenge your kids to explore and discover based on what they see and do and hear and smell, the better your chances of producing a scientist for life!

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Sunday, 14 October 2012

Fossil Thefts From the Western United States

Dinosaur Fossils Stolen from Utah
Officials from the American Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are blaming the Internet and the web auctions for an increase in vertebrate fossil thefts from public land in the United States.
Federal officials from the BLM in conjunction with the local law enforcement agencies are investigating another incident of stealing fossilised dinosaur bones in what has been termed a "brazen theft" from what was thought to be a secret location in Central Utah where a team of scientists were excavating a number of specimens.
Sadly, such incidents are becoming increasingly common as amateurs and other fossil prospectors try to extract fossils, either for their own collections but more likely to sell on at a huge profit.
Experts say the raid on the Utah location is another glaring example of fossil theft, a widespread problem in the age of the Internet, where auction sites and specialist forums for fossil sales are common place. This problem has recently hit the headlines when a Tarbosaurus exhibit put up for auction in New York was seized after the sale as it is suspected that this specimen was removed illegally from Mongolia.
Speaking on behalf of the BLM, paleontologist Scott Foss stated that thefts were now very common and that any such activity for commercial gain from unscrupulous individuals was extremely sad.
Secret Locations
Foss doesn't want to reveal exactly where the theft occurred, he did not want to give away this location as more excavation work at the site is likely to take place. However, he was prepared to meet reporters at a separate location, where a team of scientists are working on another dinosaur discovery. At this site, he explained to journalists how the palaeontologists carefully excavate the precious fossils and then protect them with burlap and plaster jackets to protect the exposed parts of the fossil from bad weather and as preparation for lifting and removal.
Stolen or Vandalised
Commenting on the fossil theft Mr Foss stated that thieves had discovered the burlap wrapped fossil in their protective jackets and broken some open to remove the fossil bones. Other bones at the site were vandalised, whether this was deliberate or simply the result of very poor fossil excavation technique is hard to determine.
What would somebody do with stolen dinosaur bones? Sadly there are plenty of people around ready to pay large sums of money to get their hands on a rare specimen. Prices of upwards of $20,000 dollars have been reported for individual dinosaur bones. It seems there is plenty of money to be made from the sale of vertebrate fossils.
Stolen from Public Land
Fossils are commonly sold on eBay, on private collector Web sites, and sites run by commercial companies. But the BLM suspects much of the merchandise is stolen from public land.
Under U.S. legislation, collecting fossils is allowed on public land for personal use if the fossils are remnants of plants, such as petrified wood, or of invertebrate animals, such as trilobites, ammonites or belemnites.
However, collecting with the sole intention of selling is not allowed.
Against the Law to Collect Dinosaur Fossils on Public Land
For dinosaur-related fossils on public land, even dinosaur footprints, it's against the law to collect them at all.
The BLM says many Internet buyers either don't realise or don't care that they're encouraging theft of treasures owned by the public. Such acts not only deny scientists the opportunity to carefully remover and study a fossil, but also deny the public from ever seeing that fossil on display.
On private land there are no laws against collecting and selling fossils. Buying fossils on sites such as EBay can be fraught with problems, especially for the unwary. Although there are a number of genuine and legitimate retailers, our own team members at Everything Dinosaur have come across incidents of fossils not turning out to be quite what they seem. Crocodile teeth have been readily passed off as Spinosauridae and some of the descriptions given have at the very least been very misleading.
Harsh Penalties from the Authorities
Thieves can expect harsh punishments from the U.S. if they are caught and the same can be said for the dealers and sellers too.

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Evolution of Physics

Physics has originated from a word in Greek. It is Archimedes who first analyzed and presented the physical laws. His careful observations like buoyancy and forces were the first ever recorded in human history. So in a way he was the first intellectual to study the natural laws in a comprehensive way. Archimedes was a genius to recognize such things and his meticulous observations were incredible known till date. He even helped built some mechanical devices to help his empire army to ward off the ships in the battle, like a concave lens to focus entire sunrays to the ships as focal point to burn off the ships. It was his ideas that lay the foundation for the future discoveries of the physical natural laws. As a famous saying goes a minute spark can burn the entire forest in the same way his ideas were remarkable that set the light for upcoming scientists to discover what lies in the dark of unknown knowledge.
Astronomy had always been used by humans to know the patterns or cycles of seasons. The sailors used the positions of stars for navigation while farmers want to know the season. The science developed up to a stage where astronomical observations were in crude stage or used for day-to-day life or for mystical reasons. The first detailed records for the astronomy collected by Tyco Brahe were-passed on to Johannes, the man who invented the first heavenly laws. It was these laws that would be later used by newton to discover the gravitational laws of motion.
Ptolemy was the first person to put forward the structure of the universe with the major idea that earth is the center of the universe and star fixed across in the black area of the universe. This was in due compliance with the sayings of the Catholic Church. It was not wrong on the part of the church to accept the model as the idea agreed with the bible. But major upheaval happened when the center of the universe shifted to sun from the earth. This heliocentric idea of Copernicus set turbulence in the thinking of many and the church. The idea was further carried on by Galileo whose support led him to trial before the church which he supported until his last breath. He is-said to have uttered the words "and it still moves".
Continuing the legacy of Aristotle and Archimedes Galileo continued to study the laws of motion. It was his work on these laws that throw some light on the nature of force and velocity. He verified and formulated laws through experiments. The laws of motion were further studied by newton and he crafted laws of motion out of his understanding and the predecessor's' work. Because newton was the first person on earth to have formally articulated and presented the ideas in a book called Principia, he is considered-as the discoverer of these laws of motion. These laws would form the bedrock of mechanics.
Now continuing with the astronomical progress the discovery of gravitation was further refined into general theory of relativity by Einstein. It gave altogether a different picture of the universe explaining it in terms of space-time warp. The Hubble's discovery lead to the conclusion that universe is expanding. This discovery would give rise to the discovery of the Big Bang theory, a theory that propounds that everything originated from a cosmic fireball.
Well discussion till now showed the-evolution of major areas of physics that is the Astronomy and the Mechanics. What about other major areas of electricity, magnetism and quantum mechanics, the physics of the very small? A famous experiment done by Faraday demonstrated that when a magnet goes through a to and fro movement inside a magnet a current is-induced in the coil, is the phenomenon called electromagnetic induction. This phenomenon when used in larger scale generated electricity. Reverse also happens when an electric current is-passed through, a magnetic field is-produced. This showed that there should-be some relationship between electricity and magnetism. This relationship was first observed by James Maxwell when he showed through his equations that electric and magnetic fields when moving with each other produces the ordinary light. Both the phenomenon are-caused by fields that is why the terms coined are known as electric and magnetic fields. The same term came to- be used for gravitational field.
The theory of blackbody radiation enabled max plank to propound the plank's law that energy radiated by hot body occurs in packets of energy called photons. Instead of continuous emission of energy the energy came out in photons of a certain frequency. Light was-considered as a wave until when photoelectric effect experiment proved that light is-made up of particles. So light was both a wave as well as a beam of particles. This dual nature of light gave rise to quantum mechanics.
Quantum Mechanics is the most recent development in the field of physics. It came into existence with the Heisenberg uncertainty principle that the momentum and place of the particle cannot be defined simultaneously with precision. If we want to measure place of an electron precisely than we have to forgo precision of its momentum and when we want to measure the momentum of the particle precisely than we have to forgo precision in its place in a way both place and momentum cannot be determined simultaneously with great accuracy. The nature of determinism of the natural laws now gave rise to the uncertainty of the outcome of these laws. Uncertainty ruled the field in most part of the 20th century. Einstein ignoring the theory said that god does not play dice but it was he only who indirectly supported the theory with the photoelectric effect and special theory of relativity. Quantum theory applied on the very small and its principles denied common sense.
The major focus of the 20th century physics has been the study of particles. It's amazing how many new particles of different sizes and nature got discovered. Some particles have lifetime of a microsecond and evolve at very high energies. Various experiments carried out at very high energies are-used to detect these particles. A Large hadron collider in Switzerland is use to study these particles and their properties. The particle discovery journey has amazed from atom to nucleus, from nucleus to nucleons, from nucleons to quarks and from quarks to strange quarks. The quest for last secrets of nature is still going on.
An interesting thing to happen at the beginning of the 20th century was that the focus shifted from discovering the deterministic laws to the finding of the very small and understanding the quantum world. Scientists instead now focus on finding the theory of everything and the last building blocks of the universe. Recently the discovery of the boson so-called God particle was remarkable in the sense it could offer an answer of to the various mysteries of the universe. Now scientists are trying to explain the universe and nature with the help of microscopic world. The number of particles found in the recent century was proportionally very high and now and then Nobel prizes were given for finding them. Quest for finding the theory of everything by unifying gravity with quantum mechanics and other research going on quantum field is awesome.
It is interesting how far the study of nature called physics has journeyed about two centuries ago to present world. From the study of very large to the study of very small the journey had been very interesting. When one would build a model of some building or some other theory one would start with the smallest components and then arrange them systematically to form the model? We would form the modules first and then integrate them to form a model that would solve our query. But the way the physics has developed since the time is completely reverse, it started from the model itself saw how the model works then try to find out the components and see how they interact with each other. It seems we have found how the model works but have yet to find out how the different components interact with each other and what the forces are and sub components forming those components. If it is our quest to finding the theory of everything than progress should had been the other way around from the small to the big but destiny had something different written. It should-not be long enough to disassemble the modules and find out how interaction takes place between those modules.
In fact it was god only who built the model of the universe with the constituents and he set out the rules of how different constituents should interact with each other. We just saw the model as was already created and tried to find out how the model came into existence and how it works. We first tried to find out working of model and deduce laws based on how model behaves. Then we find out the constituents that make the model and make the model works. Now to end the puzzle we need to find out few more constituents provided they are not infinite in number and then study the interactions and then finally come out with the structure together with the working of the model.
The quest for knowledge is unending in the human beings. It is just that once we complete the understanding of one frontier of knowledge we yearn for more. The curiosity for knowledge is unending and it continues forever. Knowledge is power that helps build our life and understand the nature. It is the last thing without which existence of human beings is not possible. We pass knowledge from one generation to another we discover some knowledge in our lifetime and then pass it on to our children who then continue the legacy. Hence knowledge is our destiny. Similarly the quest for finding the last theory is not an end but means to an end and if there is such a theory of everything then it should-be the end of physics.

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