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World’s Oldest Dinosaur is Discovered and Studied

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.   Recent studies of a creature known as Nyasasaurus parringtoni indicate that dinosaurs may have appeared over 240 million years ago – 10-15 million years earlier than was previously believed.  Its fossils, unearthed in Tanzania, also shed light on where dinosaurs first arose and how they spread to new environments.  I’ve also summarized some other recent paleontological surprises concerning the oldest dinosaur nest, dinosaur flea, bird, and organic molecule.

Dinosaur or Silesaur?

Nyasasaurus parringtoni lived in the Mid-Triassic period, alongside dinosaur-like reptiles known as Silesaurids (please see drawing).  The dating of its fossils to this period is significant, because true dinosaurs were likely very rare at the time. 

Some paleontologists believe that Nyasasaurus is a Silesaurid rather than a dinosaur.  However, its upper arm bone bears a bony crest that held the shoulder muscles in place.  Known as the deltopectorus crest, this structure is found in all other dinosaurs, but not in Silesaurids. Read More »

New Dinosaur Described as a “Komodo Dragon-Tiger Cross”

 Biarmosuchus Artist RenderingHello, Frank Indiviglio here.  A farm in southern Brazil’s pampas region has yielded the bones of an ancient mammal-like reptile loosely described as a terrifying cross between a Komodo dragon and a tiger.  Having worked with both of these modern-day predators, I was immediately intrigued by the newly-described creature (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dec., 2011), dubbed the “Pampas Killer”.

A Reptile, but…

The Pampas Killer, or Pampaphoneus biccari, haunted Brazil’s grasslands during the Permian Period, some 260 million years ago.  It has been classified as a Dinocephalian Theraspid, or “Mammal-like reptile”.  Interestingly, today’s monitor lizards are also sometimes described as “mammal-like” by those familiar with them. 

The Paleontologists (scientists who research ancient creatures and the history of life on earth) who are studying the Pampas Killer believe it possessed characteristics of both monitors and predatory mammals such as tigers – yikes!  It and related dinosaurs may have been an early step in the evolutionary march towards warm-blooded, furred mammals, which appeared 35 million years later.   Please see the drawings and articles below for artists’ re-creations of the Pampas Killer and its relatives.  Read More »

New Ancient Animals Found – Tiny “T Rex” and a Saber-Toothed Vegetarian

Dawn RunnerHello, Frank Indiviglio here.  Paleontologists have recently uncovered the fossils of two small creatures that defied some basic “dinosaur rules”, and which have provided unique insights into the evolution of both carnivorous and plant-eating creatures.  Eodromaeus, christened the Dawn Runner, resembled a pint-sized Tyrannosaurus, and likely gave rise to the most ferocious predator of ancient times, T rex.  Tiarajudens eccentricus, on the other hand, ate plants yet was equipped with long, pointed fang-like teeth – a “saber-toothed cow” of sorts.

The Dawn Runner, Eodromaeus,

This 4-foot-long, 10-15 pound fellow likely made up in ferocity what it lacked in size.  Pondering its image (please see photo of skeleton and artist’s recreation in article below), I can’t help but think that “prehistoric herpers” would have surely made a pet of this one!  Of course, dinosaurs and humans did not inhabit earth at the same time, but if we had… Read More »

The World’s Largest Dinosaurs – an Amazing New Exhibit Opens

Barosaurus MountHello, Frank Indiviglio here.  I’ve roamed the halls of NYC’s American Museum of Natural History since childhood, yet never come away without a sense of awe.  This week, the museum’s newest exhibit, The World’s Largest Dinosaurs, floored me.  Focusing on Sauropods such as the massive Mamechisaurus (the Brontosaurus, or “Thunder Lizard” of my youth), this ground-breaking exhibit goes beyond fossils to reveal just how these spectacular creatures moved, ate, reproduced and lived their lives.

Dinosaurs as Living, Breathing Creatures

Until recently, most of us could view and experience dinosaurs only by examining fossils in museums.  Certainly, this was more than enough to hold my attention, but there were limitations in viewing “remains” and in not being able to picture how these creatures actually went about the business of living. Read More »

New Dinosaur Resembled a Horned Lizard – On an Immense Scale

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.  Horned Lizards (Phrynosoma spp., please see photo) and odd Australia’s Thorny Devil (Moloch horridus) have always reminded me of dinosaurs – I think it was their horn-bearing skulls.  I recall sketching my pet Horned Lizards and taking the (somewhat primitive!) drawings to the American Museum of Natural History for comparisons with the Triceratops skeletons displayed there.  This month (September, 2010), fans of such reptiles and dinosaurs were pleased to learn of the discovery of 2 new dinosaur species, one of which bore 15 horns upon its head – more than any other animal, past or present.

North America’s Lost Continent

The new species were uncovered in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, southern Utah, USA.  The area lies in what was once the “lost continent” of Laramidia, formed when an ancient sea separated the eastern and western portions of North America for millions of years.  The enforced isolation gave rise to innumerable bizarre insects, fishes, amphibians, dinosaurs and other creatures, many of which, it appears, have yet to be discovered. Read More »

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