A new pterosaur from the UK

An image of Vectidraco showing what bones were found. (Wikimedia, Darren Naish mail, Martin Simpson, Gareth Dyke(

An image of Vectidraco showing what bones were found. (Wikimedia, Darren Naish mail, Martin Simpson, Gareth Dyke)

A new pterosaur has been found from the Isle of Wight in the south of England. Its name is Vectidraco daisymorrisae which means daisy morris’ dragon of the Isle of Wight.

Daisy Morris is a nine-year-old girl who found the bones five years ago when on a walk with her family.

Palaenotlogists from the University of Southampton realised that it was something different and spent the next five years studying the bones. Finally they decided that they belonged to a new species.

Vectidraco daisymorrisae was a small animal in a world of giants. The fossil was a adult when it died but its wingspan was only about 75cm, about the size of a crow.

There is a lot unknown about Vectidraco as only a few bits of its skeleton was found, including its pelvis and a few vertebrae.

It lived 125 million years ago when England was a chain of tropical islands.

Bringing animals back from extinction

The Tasmanian Tiger that went extinct less than 100 years ago in 1936.

The Tasmanian Tiger that went extinct less than 100 years ago in 1936.

Animals go extinct. Animals have always gone extinct and will always go extinct. But now scientists think that in the near future some of these animals could be brought back. They are calling it De-Extinction.

On 14th March, scientists are heading to Washington to share ideas about whether extinct animals can be brought back to life or not. They will discuss how they can do it and why they should.

A prehistoric park could one day exist filled with animals that went extinct in the last few thousand years (that means dionsaurs are out). They could include animals like the passenger pigeon, dodo or Tasmanian tiger.

The secret is DNA, the body’s blueprint. It is like the instruction manual for a Lego toy. But instead of Lego bricks, our bodies are made up of millions of cells which receive orders from our DNA. If we have an animal’s DNA then we can build it again, bringing it back to life.

But scientists aren’t sure if they should bring extinct animals back. They don’t know what will happen if they did. There are a lot of questions it raises: where will they be kept? Should they be released into the wild? Could they risk other species through disease or hunting?

There are no answers to these questions, yet. But, as scientists discuss these questions on Friday, they hope to find them.

Tyrannosaurus rex

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A skeleton of Tyrannosaurus rex.

A skeleton of Tyrannosaurus rex.

Its name means the “terrible lizard king” and everyone knows its sharp-toothed smile.The star of countless books and films; it could be no one else but Tyrannosaurus rex.

Discovery: the first T.rex fossil was first found in 1902.

Height: 5.6m

Length: 12m

Weight: 7000kg

Where it lived: Fossils of T.rex have been found in North America. There is a very closely related  species found in Mongolia in Asia called Tarbosaurus

When it lived: it lived 67-65 million years ago in the Late Cretaceous.

What it ate: T.rex ate meat. Palaeontologists have debated whether it was a scavenger or if it hunted its own food. Teeth marks are found in other dinosaurs which match a T.rex tooth. T.rex likely did both like many animals do today.

Weapon of choice: a massive head with rows of teeth up to 20cm long. Despite its reputation from Jurassic Park, T.rex had excellent vision. Standing still wouldn’t save you if it had you in its sights.

Weakness: Its two small arms with only two fingers. Their only use was scratching its belly after a big meal.

Triceratops

A Triceratops skeleton. (Wikimedia)

A Triceratops skeleton. (Wikimedia)

A big dinosaur with some massive horns, Triceratops is one of the best known dinosaurs. If it was alive today, its massive size and horns would scare away any predator but Triceratops lived alongside one of the biggest predators of all time, Tyrannosaurus. Fossils show that these animals fought many battles together.

Discovery: Triceratops was first found in 1888 and was named in 1889.

Height: 3m

Length: 9m

Weight: 5500kg

Where it lived: Triceratops fossils are found in North America, both U.S.A and Canada, and are found in the Hell Creek Formation and other formations in America.

When it lived: It lived at the end of the dinosaur period, 72-65 million years ago in the Late Cretaceous.

What it ate: Triceratops was a plant eater.

Weapon of choice: Its three big horns that could measure over a metre. They used them to fight other Triceratops and its predators.

They are very common fossils which makes many palaeontologists think that Triceratops travelled in herds.

Weakness: Triceratops was big but not big enough for hungry T.rex. (although T.rex would probably have avoided a fully-grown, healthy Triceratops)

Pachycephalosaurus

The skull of Pachycephalosaurus.

The skull of Pachycephalosaurus.

Pachycephalosaurus means “thick headed lizard” and refers to their thick, dome shaped skull that could by 25cm thick, despite being a small(ish) dinosaur. It is a very rare dinosaur and is only known from one skull and a few pieces of its dome.

Discovery: Pachycephalosaurus was discovered in 1938

Height: The height is hard to work out without a whole skeleton but palaeontologists think it was around 2m tall (largest estimates are 4m).

Length: The estimate is about 4.5m long (upper estimates are 8m)

Weight:  Maybe around 430kg.

Where it lived: North America in modern day Monatana.

When it lived: It lived about 75-65 million years ago in the Late Cretaceous.

What it ate: Scientists aren’t sure. It had very small teeth so it was likely a plant eater but may have eaten insects as well.

Weapon of choice: Its thick skull. Some palaeontologists (but not all) think it used its thick skull to protect its brain as it rammed heads with other Pachycephalosaurus. That head could be dangerous against predators as well.

Weakness: Pachycephalosaurus was quite small for a dinosaur and its brain was even smaller. We can’t be sure if it was hunted by any predators but it’s likely that it was.

Ankylosaurus

Artistic impression of Ankylosaurus. (LadyofHats, Wikimedia)

Artistic impression of Ankylosaurus. (LadyofHats, Wikimedia)

Ankylosaurus means “fused lizard” and it is called this because of its bulky body armour. It wasn’t the biggest dinosaur, but it didn’t need to be as its armour of bones and plates was all the portection it needed.

Discovery: Ankylosaurus was first named in 1908

Height: 2.5m

Length: 7m

Weight: 4000-7000kg

Where it lived: It is found in North America.

When it lived: It was a Late Cretaceous dinosaur that lived 70-65 million years ago.

What it ate: Ankylosaurus was a vegetarian. It had leaf shaped teeth for cutting low lying plants.

Weapon of choice: Its big club. Ankylosaurus had a tail which ended in a club which could reach up to 60cm wide. Tests have shown that the club could easily break bone so T.rex had to watch out.

Weakness: Ankylosaurus had a very small brain even for a dinosaur but it didn’t need a big one. With its armour of spikes and plates, a heavy skull and a large destructive tail club, Ankylosaurus was almost invincible and had little to worry about even from T.rex.

Edmontosaurus

Edmontosaurus skeleton at the Ocford Natural History Museum, UK (Wikimedia)

Edmontosaurus skeleton at the Oxford Natural History Museum, UK (Wikimedia)

Edmontosaurus was one of the most common dinosaurs in America. It walked on two legs but could also walk on all fours and had a mouth packed with hundreds of small teeth except for the front of the jaws which had a beak.

Discovery: It was named in 1917. Two skeletons have been found with skin preserved.

Height: 3.5m

Length: 13m

Weight: 3400kg

Where it lived: Edmontosaurus is found throughout North America.

When it lived: Edmontosaurus lived in the Late Cretaceous of North America, about 76 to 65 million years ago.

What it ate: It ate plants. Bits of conifers have been found in its stomachs such as needles, twigs and seeds.

Weapon of choice: Edmontosaurus was big, probably too big for smaller predators but not so for T.rex. Palaeontologists believe that Edmontosaurus lived in herds and that there was safety in numbers.

Weakness: Too small and with no weaponry, Edmontosaurus was as easy as prey got for T.rex.

What is Evolution?

A cartoon of Darwin as an Ape, his theories on evolution were controversal when he was alive. (Wikimedia

A cartoon of Darwin as an ape, his theories on evolution were controversal when he was alive. (Wikimedia)

Evolution is a theory, an idea with lots of evidence. It explains why animals and plants are so good at surviving in their environments, the places where they live. What it means is that a species changes over time and can even split in two new species.

The theory of evolution was developed by Charles Darwin back in 1859. He said that evolution worked through natural selection. Natural selection means that some individuals in a species are better at surviving than others and will have more children.

Rabbit live all over, and have dark fur. But in a place where it snows a lot, white fur would be an advantage. A white furred rabbit would be harder to see and is more likely to survive and have children. These children will inherit its mum or dad’s white fur. Eventually all the rabbits living in the cold place will have white fur.

This is called ‘survival of the fittest’ because animals which are best able to survive also fit better in their homes, like a white rabbit fits better in a cold country.

Evolution also explains how one species can become two, like with the rabbits. We call this Speciation. The white rabbits are better fits where it snows but dark brown rabbits fit better where it snows less. With time, the different rabbits will become different species, both living in their own, separate environment.

Evolution says that all living things are related. This means that if will go back far enough in time, all animals, all plants and every other living thing, had one ancestor. Evolution led to that one species becoming many more until today when we have millions and millions.

Some animals are more closely related than others. The more closely related animals are, the more they look and act alike. Swans and geese look and act so similar because they are closely related. A sparrow looks very different to a swan but both still have beaks, feathers and can fly so are related but less closely than the swan is to the goose.

we look very different to a swan or a sparrow but we do have similarities. We both have two eyes, both have two legs, two arms (adapted to wings in a bird), one head, one heart, a nose and ears. We share all of these things and more with birds so, although we are very different, we are also related to birds.

Evolution is an important part of palaeontology. Many of the extinct animals found look like they have bits of different animals stuck to them. Many fossil birds are found with teeth. This is because birds evolved from Dinosaurs which do have teeth. Eventually birds lost their teeth and now no living species has them.

So evolution means we share a history with all the animals around us but also all the animals that are extinct. It means we are a part of nature and not better than it or above it. And it means that we should treasure those connections with nature and better protect them from our own, sometimes destructive, ways.

Watch this video to find out more

What is a species?

Drawing of some dog breeds.

Drawing of some dog breeds.

A species is a group of animals that all look similar and can have babies with any other member of that species. Humans are a species called Homo sapiens. We are one species because we all look very similar and can have children with each other.

But the members of a species can look very different from each other. Dogs are all one species called Canis lupus. This species includes every dog breed, from great danes to poodles and even wolves.

Cats, on the other hand, are a different species to dogs because a cat cannot have a baby with a dog.

What is an ichthyosaur?

 

Ichthyosaur skeleton in a German museum

An ichthyosaur skeleton in a German museum

An ichthyosaur looks like a fish or maybe a dolphin, but it was actually a reptile. It lived in the Mesozoic seas while dinosaurs were walking on the land. They are not dinosaurs but they are so unlike any other reptile that palaeontologists aren’t sure what they are closely related to.

Ichthyosaurs went extinct about 90 million years ago so, unlike pterosaurs or non-bird dinosaurs, they didn’t become extinct because of a large meteor. Instead, palaeontologists think they wentextinct because newly evolved species of fish were faster and harder to catch. Other marine reptiles were more adaptable and replaced them in the late Mesozoic seas before the meteor hit.

Ichthyosaurs had fins instead of legs that they used for swimming. On their back they had a dorsal fin like those on many fish, and their tails also had a large crescent (moon-shaped) fin. They lived in the sea and were incapable of returning to land.

Most reptiles lay eggs but eggs are permeable to water. This means that if an egg falls in water then the infant inside would drown. But ichthyosaurs lived in water and couldn’t get onto land so ichthyosaurs gave birth to live young, as mammals do. Some fossil ichthyosaurs have even been found with babies half way out of the body. Palaeontologists think these ichtyosaurs died while giving birth.

Ichthyosaurs could be really large. The largest so far found is about 23m long. They also had massive eyes. One species called Opthalmosaurus has the largest eyes for its body size of any animal that has ever existed.

Here is a video of an ichthyosaur from the BBC’s Walking with Dinosaurs series: