The Helmet Of A Titan: Ankylosaur Skull
Recently I hung out with my pals, Brian Iwama & Kevin Seymour from Palaeontology, who were hard at work reinstalling our Ankylosaurus skull back into its case. Occasionally our palaeontology staff will remove specimens from display to take quality photographs to keep their files up to date and for use by colleagues outside of the Museum.
Hanging out with this behemoth was a fascinating experience. The skull is ridiculously heavy as it still houses much of the rock bed it was buried in, within its skull. Ankylosaurus was covered in dermal scutes (essentially armour like bones), which not only added to its heft, but also made it the tank of its time. The scutes are incredibly rough. If you’re not carefully you could easily scratch your skin against the surface.
What I found most amazing was the teeth. Ankylosaurus was a huge beast, whose armour and strong, clubbed tail provided it with weapons to wield against predators. But Ankylosaurus was also a peaceful giant that seemingly preferred to eat alone. What is startling is just how small and few teeth they had. Think of a child’s molar, an Ankylosaurus’ teeth were smaller. Further these teeth wore down fast from the tough low lying vegetation it ate. Many Ankylosaurus had few to little teeth left at the end of their life. But this specimen has a nearly full compliment!
It was great getting an opportunity to hang out with Brian and Kevin while they reinstalled the Ankylosaurus skull into the Dinosaur Gallery!
Written by @kironcmukherjee. Last update: February 10, 2014.
Genuine Albertosaurus tooth. One of the most famous Canadian dinosaurs (just check out the name!) Albertosaurus was a smaller cousin of the Tyrannosaurus rex, similar to the Gorgosaurus. Check out the fine serrated edge along the tooth, similar to a steak knife. The detail is remarkable!
Partial lower jaw of the smaller Tyrannosaurus rex cousin, Gorgosaurus.
Gorgosaurus is also incredibly similar to the younger Albertosaurus. In the Walking With Dinosaurs animated movie this dinosaur played the adversary, a different villain over the familiar, though essentially same, Tyrannosaurus rex.
Liz Butler Draws The ROM: Prehistoric Mammals!
This week I visited the Reed Gallery of the Age of Mammals. It was so interesting to learn about the very different kinds of animals that used to live in North America, including the two mammals I chose to draw, a Teleoceras rhinoceros, and a mastodon.
Usually when I think of big mammals, I think of the forests and plains of Africa and Asia, but there is a history of huge mammals from much closer to home! In addition to mastodons and rhinoceros, giant sloths, dire wolves, big cats, horses, and even giant beavers formerly lived in North America. You can see examples of all of these cool creatures in the gallery!
Which ancient mammal do you wish you could still see roaming around?
- Liz Butler is an artist and teacher who loves natural history and museums. She loves drawing, painting, and making crafts of all kinds. She is happiest when she can find ways to combine art projects with science content.
- Liz’s Website – Liz Butler Draws
- Liz’s Blog – Saw Whet Studio
- More guest posts from Liz HERE!
- Do you like to sketch? Love museums? Are you a full time student in Canada? The ROM is yours to explore, FREE, every Tuesday! MORE!
Guest Post By Liz Butler. Last Updated: January 6th, 2014.
New Research from the Burgess Shale: Thorny worms that swarmed in the Cambrian seas
Hallucigenia sparsa is no ordinary animal. This poster child of the Burgess Shale biota is the ultimate weirdo, and the ROM holds the world’s largest collection of specimens. New research published July 31st in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, Series B, provides fresh new revelations about this fascinating creature.
Recreation of Hallucigenia in motion!
Hallucigenia was originally described as a creature walking on sticks. Drawings from the time showed a tubular body supported horizontally on what looked like sets of stilts.
This idea of how Hallucigenialooked was literally turned upside-down when pairs of bona fide legs equipped with sharp terminal claws on its other side were discovered. The legs, now visualized as facing down, were previously thought to be some sort of feeding tentacles projecting vertically above the body in the search for food. In this new portrayal, the “walking sticks” were reinterpreted as lethal defensive needles to ward off predators that might have been interested in snacking on Hallucigenia’s otherwise soft body parts.
Don’t be alarmed – this animal is thankfully, well, really tiny – no longer than an eyebrow. It lived 505 million years ago in a long lost world, before plants or animals lived on land, when the biggest creatures known lived in the oceans. Today’s closest relatives to Hallucigenia are the velvet worms. Unlike their spiny Cambrian ancestors, velvet worms have lost all their defensive spines and plates. Evidently these structural defenses became useless during the course of evolution, but when the modern forms lost these features is unknown. Modern velvet worms, or onychophorans, as they are commonly called by scientists today, live exclusively on land, in tropical forests. They are nocturnal ambush predators, lurking among decaying trees and feasting on arthropods and other small preys they trap with sticky slime shot out of glands near their mouths. By contrast, Hallucigenia might have lived on sponges or decaying matter on the sea floor.
It turns out that Hallucigenia had many close relatives all over the world during the Cambrian period, a fact that eluded scientists for decades. Even the species name, “sparsa,” means rare. So how did we figure out that this animal was, in fact, quite common, and had a much bigger family tree than was previously thought?
The problem, if we can find one with the Burgess Shale, is that few sites in the world preserve soft-bodied organisms. Because Hallucigenia was entirely soft-bodied, it had few chances to be preserved under normal conditions. The only exception was its spines, which are slightly more robust than the rest of the body. But even though the animals in the Burgess Shale are preserved exceptionally well, it is still only one site, representing only one place and period of time. Looking at only one site alone does not provide enough information to learn about the spatial distribution of species during the Cambrian period more broadly, or exactly when an animal like Hallucigenia might have first evolved.
What we discovered was fairly serendipitous. Using a powerful microscope called a scanning electron microscope, we saw that the spines of Hallucigenia had tiny little projections on them that formed specific and unique patterns. The spines were also constructed like a stack of ice-cream cones, with the sharp end pointed upwards.
Similar spines had been discovered all over the world in fossil sites where soft-bodied animals were not preserved. At these sites, only tiny bits and pieces of tough or mineralized body parts withstood the fossilization process (to learn more follow link). Most of these disassociated spines found at those sites remained mysterious even to paleontologists – they did not seem to belong to any known creature. In fact, nobody had a clue what these spines were before our discovery. However, because sites with these microfossil spines are relatively common, they had provided information on the distribution of species during the Cambrian period. Now that we know the spines belong to Hallucigenia or its closest relatives, we are able to piece together Cambrian ecology in even more detail.
This story emphasizes the complementary role that different types of fossil deposits can bring to our understanding of life on our planet. It also shows that, despite its exceptional preservation of soft-bodied animals, the Burgess Shale does not provide answers to all questions!
What’s next? Well, we still have lots of work to do. For instance, we still do not know for sure which end of Hallucigenia is the front and which is the back! A full redescription of Hallucigenia is currently underway, thanks in large part to the fantastic Burgess Shale collections at the ROM – the world’s largest. Surely there are more discoveries to be made, and this little critter has not yet finished surprising us. Stay tuned for more news!
On Saturday November 2nd, we’re running a special programs focusing on Jean-Bernard’s work on Hallucigenia and other Burgess Shale creatures. Jean-Bernard’s PHD student Cédric Aria will be out talking about the ROM’s latest research, as well, he’ll have rarely seen fossils out from our Invertebrate Palaeontology collections. Finally, we’ll also have art projects for the kids. More information HERE!
- Research paper reference: Caron J.-B., Smith M., Harvey T.H.P. 2013Beyond the Burgess Shale: Cambrian microfossils track the rise and fall of hallucigeniid lobopodians. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences First published online July 31st, 2013.
- A press release about this new research can be found in the ROM’s Newsroom.
- See also a National Geographic article by Ed Yong: “When hallucinations walked the world”
- Jean-Bernard Caron, Curator of Invertebrate Palaeontology (links to bio page; research page)
- To learn more about the Burgess Shale location in Yoho National Park and they mysterious creatures that were fossilised there, visit the interactive multimedia website developed by the ROM and Parks Canada.
- Original blog post can be found HERE.
- Hallucigenia sparsa (ROM 61513). Nearly complete specimen, head to the right. Approximate specimen length = 14 mm. Walcott Quarry.
Image credit: ROM.
- Historical reconstruction of Hallucigenia by Marianne Collins in Gould’s “Wonderful Life” (1989).
Image credit: Marianne Collins.
- Hallucigenia sparsa by Phlesch Bubble (2011).
Image credit: ROM.
- Elements of Figure 1 in Caron et al. 2013. (e–i) ROM 57776, scanning electron microscope image of spine showing internal cones and lineations; (g) ROM 61513, scanning electron microscope image showing lineations and a distal cone; (j–o) ROM 62269, backscatter images of several spines, showing elemental distribution of carbon (l) and phosphorous (m) and details of ornamentation near spines’ mid-length (n) and base (o). C, cone; L, lineations. Scale bars: (e,j–m) 100 mm; (f – i) 50 mm; (n–o) 10 mm.
Image credit: Jean-Bernard Caron.
- The modern velvet worm, Euperipatoides kanangrensis from the Blue Mountains, New South Wales, Australia – a distant living relative to Hallucigenia sparsa.
Image credit: By Velvet_worm.jpg: Geoff Gallice derivative work: B kimmel (Velvet_worm.jpg) [CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Guest post by Jean-Bernard Caron. Last update: October 28th, 2013.
The Abnormal Shrimp, Anomolocaris!
Anomalocaris had two long “arms” (you can vaguely see them on the left side of the fossil) which grabbed, killed & guided food into the circular mouth on the underside of this wonderful creature.
As much as I love dinosaurs, it’s great to look a bit further back and see what other special creatures lived on our amazing Earth.