By Kate Lunau - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - 0 Comments
University of Calgary researchers dug up an ostrich-like dino that famously appeared in ‘Jurassic Park’
For the first time, the fossils of feathered dinosaurs have been found in the Americas—dug up in the Alberta badlands, by a Canadian team. A new study from paleontologists Darla Zelenitsky and François Therrien describe three specimens of 75-million-year-old ornithomimids, two adults and a juvenile. These ostrich-like dinosaurs famously appeared in Jurassic Park, fleeing in a massive flock from a bloodthirsty Tyrannosaurus rex. According to new research, that famous film got it wrong: instead of scales, these dinosaurs would have been coated in down-like feathers, even flapping their wings.
Adult ornithomimids weighed 330 pounds or more, far too heavy to fly. These dinosaurs grew large feathers on their forearms as they matured; their armspan would have measured two metres across, or longer. “We know their wings weren’t used for flight; they’re much too big for that,” says Zelenitsky, an assistant professor at the University of Calgary. Because only adults had wings, they might have been used to show off for potential mates, or maybe to protectively cover their eggs while brooding, she suggests (it isn’t known whether these fossils are male or female). It’s hard to say what colours ornithomimids would have displayed, although Zelenitsky hopes to study that in the future.
Until now, most feathered dinosaurs have been found in China, like the recently discovered Yutyrannus huali, a massive T. rex cousin with plumage. There, feathered dino skeletons have been dug up from ancient lakes and lagoons, which seemed to help preserve evidence of their feathers; but these sorts of locations are rare worldwide. “No one was expecting to find feathers preserved in the types of rocks [in Alberta] because it wasn’t the right type of environment,” Zelenitsky says, but her work has proven otherwise. “Once the news of this discovery spreads, paleontologists will start looking more carefully at specimens they’ve already collected,” looking for evidence of feathers, she predicts. “This is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Of course, not everyone’s happy about all the feathery new dinosaurs turning up. As Maclean’s reported earlier this year, some dino fans miss the old days, when dinosaurs were big, fat, slow and scaly. Our knowledge of dinosaurs is being rewritten, and Canada has a new feathery dinosaur in its past: a large, downy, ostrich-like ornithomimid.
By Colby Cosh - Wednesday, July 25, 2012 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
Drunk vandals attacked a dig called ‘a spectacular local find’
Everybody knows Alberta’s windblown south is one of the world’s great dinosaur-hunting zones. Drumheller, where the geological record of prehistory lies exposed almost everywhere you look, is home to the Royal Tyrrell Museum, Canada’s premier independent institution of paleontology. But there are dinosaurs in Alberta’s north, too. They’re just harder to find in a land of boreal forests, says fossil hunter Phil Bell. “The only exposed areas are along riverbanks. That’s where you’ve got to go to find these things.”
Bell is head of the Pipestone Creek Dinosaur Initiative, a plan to build a paleontology centre next year near Grande Prairie. Comedian Dan Aykroyd hosted a fundraiser last year, scooping $500,000 from supporters. But Bell and his colleagues had a gruesome setback on July 5 when they went to a site near the creek to retrieve a complete hadrosaur skeleton they’d found three weeks before. It was to be a centrepiece of the new Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum. “It was not only a spectacular local find,” Bell says, “but everything I can collect myself saves money spent on copies of skeletons from other museums.”
But exploring for dinosaur bones on riverbanks comes with a hazard: weekend boaters, hunters and partygoers. Someone had vandalized the site, smashing and scattering the bones. There is a large private market for dino fossils—a legal one, but definitely black around the edges—and it is not unheard of for unscrupulous bandits to steal specimens from, and damage, sites staked out by scientists. But this incident, Bell says, is clearly just unknowing foolishness. “I’ve seen black-market, smash-and-grab paleontological poaching in Mongolia,” says the Aussie scientist. “There’s no indication that whoever did this knew anatomy. They pulled an arm right off and threw it down the hill; it was broken into a dozen pieces. No professional would destroy big, showy bones like that.”
By Kate Lunau - Wednesday, April 4, 2012 at 2:52 PM - 0 Comments
A team of paleontologists from China and Canada has discovered the fossils of a…
A team of paleontologists from China and Canada has discovered the fossils of a gigantic, previously unknown dinosaur with feathers—the largest known feathered animal ever to exist. The three 125-million-year-old fossils, which are mostly complete, were found in Liaoning Province in northeast China, the New York Times reports. This meat-eating dinosaur was at least 30-feet long and weighed a ton and a half. The species name—partly in Latin and partly in Mandarin—is Yutyrannus huali, which translates to “beautiful feathered tyrant.” The animal is 40 times bigger than any other feathered dinosaur that’s yet been found, and was probably “downright shaggy,” according to Canadian paleontologist Corwin Sullivan, who was on the team that discovered it. The creatures would have been downy, he added, with their feathers looking “more like hair than the feathers of modern birds,” which may have protected them from cooler temperatures. They would have been a fearsome predator, Sullivan added: “I wouldn’t want to meet one in a dark alley.”
By Kate Lunau - Tuesday, May 3, 2011 at 9:05 AM - 0 Comments
A scientist can discover 10,000 fossils, but that’s not what gets us talking
Mike Taylor, a paleontologist at the University of Bristol, recently announced a newly discovered dinosaur, Brontomerus mcintoshi, whose whopping thighs suggest it may actually have kicked smaller rivals out of the way. In a nod to its muscled legs, his team cheekily named it Brontomerus, which literally translates to “thunder thighs.” (The name is also an homage to dinosaur expert John McIntosh.) The story was accompanied by an illustration of Brontomerus punting a smaller dinosaur through the air, its blood spurting gorily. “Not all of our colleagues were as delighted as we were,” Taylor says. “There was a feeling in some quarters that it could give a frivolous notion of what paleontology is all about.”
The study of dinosaurs is just a small part of Taylor’s field, but it gets the lion’s share of attention. Take, for example, the current American Museum of Natural History exhibit on the “world’s largest dinosaurs,” which generated tremendous buzz before it even opened on April 16, or a new study suggesting some carnivorous dinosaurs—like velociraptors—could see in the dark and hunted by night, which was reported around the world. Meanwhile, “a scientist might harvest 10,000 fossilized molluscs, and discover things that have a great deal of significance, but they don’t grasp the public imagination like a dinosaur,” Taylor says. This can lead to competition among paleontologists, and sometimes even sour grapes. “There’s a Hollywood aspect of science,” says University of Chicago paleontologist Paul Sereno. “It’s about impressing your colleagues, and with good reason,” including funding. “But there’s some jealousy,” he says, “that goes with that turf.”
A prolific paleontologist who’s discovered dinosaurs on five continents, Sereno’s a master of making his work exciting and, he says, “accessible.” One of his splashiest finds came in 2009: he and his team dug up five species of 100-million-year-old crocodiles in the Sahara, and named them BoarCroc, RatCroc, DuckCroc, DogCroc, and PancakeCroc, whose giant head was flat as a pancake. The press release included a photo of Sereno enveloped by the spiky jaws of SuperCroc, a 40-foot, eight-ton monster he’d found on an earlier dig. “I wanted names that were evocative,” Sereno says. Researchers recently announced they’d found a new cousin of Tyrannosaurusrex, named Zhuchengtyrannus magnus, or “tyrant from Zhucheng,” for the place in China where it was found; the largest known dinosaur is Argentinosaurus, named for its place of discovery, too, which Taylor calls “a monumental failure of the imagination.”
By Brian Banks - Thursday, June 11, 2009 at 8:15 AM - 783 Comments
Pride of the Prairies
Winnipeg Folk Festival/Winnipeg (July 9-12) First held in 1974, the Winnipeg Folk Festival is now regarded as one of the country’s premier outdoor festivals. This year, for the first time, the program has been extended to five days, kicking off with a show by Elvis Costello. In all, some 250 artists will perform for 60,000 spectators at seven stages on the grounds of Birds Hill Provincial Park, 20 km north of Winnipeg. Daytime performances are informal—artists often team up to jam, giving spectators a one-of-a-kind festival experience. In the evenings, the main stage is the focus, along with an alternate venue for acts on “the edge of folk.”
Icelandic Cultural Festival/Gimli (July 31-Aug. 3) Quick, what’s the largest Icelandic settlement outside of Iceland? If you said Gimli, you’d be right. The town of 5,800, on the western shore of Lake Winnipeg, was the first community created by Icelandic immigrants who landed in the area in 1875. Visitors to this annual festival can sample music, crafts and local food and take in the New Iceland Heritage Museum. If they’re lucky, they might even bump into the president of Iceland—ties are so tight that sometimes the head of state attends. One other tip: arrive early and you can catch the Gimli Film Festival (July 24-28), a showcase for independent Canadian film.