Category Archives: Dinosaurs

Palaeontology Journal Club

Hi everyone,

Just a quick note to let people know that the Palaeontology Journal Club will be starting next Tuesday (23rd Nov.) at 5pm in Jabez Clegg. Each week we’ll be picking a new journal article, and meeting in the pub on the Tuesday to discuss it in a very informal setting. Students from any of the life sciences degrees are welcome to attend.

***as an added incentive, we’re even offering to buy the first round in***

This week’s paper is about ancient DNA. Researchers in New Zealand have tracked the decay rate of DNA in radiocarbon dated fossils of the Moa (an extinct giant ratite). They have found that, even under optimal burial conditions, DNA is unlikely to survive beyond 6-7 million years. Looks like InGen has been lying to us all these years….




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Filed under Dinosaurs, Evolution, Fossils, Uncategorized


A couple of weeks ago I described the report in Nature that suggested it was possible to determine what colour feathered dinosaurs were. Now there’s a report in Science magazine – not yet published – that does the same trick, with a different dino. Jerry Coyne has blogged on this over at The beast in question is Anchiornis huxleyi, a small (woodpecker-sized) feathered but non-flying dinosaur from about 150 million years ago. It looks cute:

Reconstruction of the plumage color of  Anchiornis huxleyi.   Color plate by Michael A. Digiorgio, from Science.

The authors say that because it was a non-flying dinosaur, these striking feathers suggest that colouration (and hence signalling or camouflage) may have been as important as aerodynamics in the early evolution of feathers. Jerry points out that you had to have feathers first, so the first appearance of feathers must have had some other advantage.

However, without wishing to be cynical, maybe this is all a big yawn. Certainly, it will be tough to get such papers published it high ranking journals again (I can’t see Nature filling its pages with pretty reconstructions of feathered dinos), so unless they can work out what colour Stegosaurs were (they didn’t have feathers. We think), or make some similar striking novel insight it I reckon that’s it.

Indeed, depending on how complicated it is to carry out these analyses (and only a few fossils apparently retain the necessary melanosomes) there may even be a decline in this kind of work, because it couldn’t be published in the likes of Nature or Science, in that it would just be one more coloured dinosaur.

However, there is another point, raised by two posters, Bex and Finch, on my previous article. Both of them yawned, for different reasons. Are they right?

Bex: Are you sure this is a very relevant issue? I mean, yes, it may be interesting … the possibility to provide some (feeble) inferences on behaviour, maybe even metabolism. But maybe this is not so amazing. Maybe it is just … cool: arresting images, nice colours, and the old stuff about charming dinosaurs. “Nature” seems to love appealing news, they are more attractive that … “tedious science”! Maybe dinosaurs had blue tails, maybe Neanderthals had red hair. Science or gossip? Once more, this is interesting, but … so much interesting?

Finch: Although interesting, I see nothing surprising in this article. It is just one of a number of “cosmetic” articles that journals like Nature love to publish. I mean there is not much science in this article, but many funny and cool things for newspapers and media, in general. Moreover, the title of this article, as well as many statements done throughout the text, are very misleading. In fact, the results of this study just show that some coelurosaurs had pigments in their (proto)feathers, while the authors use the term “dinosaurs”, which includes many many more species than coelurosaurs does. Of course, it is more cool to say that dinosaurs had colors, but this statement is not scientific and conveys the false message that dinosaurs like T. rex or Triceratops had colored feathers. Just imagine if Spielberg just read the title and decides to make a Jurassic Park 4 with a T. rex in red and blue feathers! Yes, very cool, but not real!


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The amazing “Jurassic Coast” in Dorset/Devon has thrown up another fantastic fossil – the skull of a massive pliosaur, which would have been perhaps 15m long. To be honest, the fossil isn’t much to look at (a load of rock), but it’s a pretty impressive find. Pliosaurs, in case you don’t know, were short-necked marine reptiles. Together with their relatives the plesioaurs (with long-necks, which look like the Loch Ness Monster) they ruled in the seas up until shortly before the end of the Cretaceous. There’s a great fossil plesiosaur and a model in the Manchester Museum. And no, they were not dinosaurs, which neither flew nor swam.


BBC page, includes video (probably not visible outside UK)

Adam Smith’s fantastic Plesiosaur site

Adam Smith podcast on is Nessie a Plesiosaur and other (more serious) things:

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Filed under Dinosaurs, Fossils, Oceans


November 2007

Mike Taylor, a PhD student from Portsmouth was rummaging around in the basement of the Natural History Museum – the way you do – when he came across a new species of sauropod dinosaur, now called Xenoposeidon. Or at least, one of its vertebrae.

Guardian summaryBBC summary.

Blog by Mike Taylor, including loads of material on sauropod vertebrae. One person’s nerdy obsession is another’s fascinatingly detailed account. You decide.

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Filed under Dinosaurs, Fossils


November 2007

Our very own Jonathan Codd features in this BBC news page, describing his work on the bones involved in dino breathing. The paper this was based on has just been published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society (open access).

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Filed under Birds, Dinosaurs


November 2007

Nature magazine article about a palaeontology project in Alaska, where they are blasting out hadrosaur bones from underneath the permafrost – a bit different from the normal image of people using paintbrushes under a baking desert sun… Mind you, they do end up with paintbrushes in the end.

You or your institution will need a subscription to see the page, but you can watch this video about the expedition for free.

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Filed under Dinosaurs, Fossils, Videos


October 2007

YouTube video of the stage show. A bit disappointing, I felt, like watching a bad episode of Dr Who – the monsters are just people in suits. I was particularly disappointed by the stegosaur (about 1 minute in).

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Filed under Dinosaurs, Videos