Illustration by © JULIUS T. CSOTONYI

Illustration by © JULIUS T. CSOTONYI

A new paper published this month in PeerJ biological and medical sciences journal describes a specimen of the small pterosaur (flying reptile) Rhamphorhynchus. The specimen is noteworthy due to the spectacular preservation of soft tissue, stomach contents, and what’s considered to be coprolite (fossilized poop).

Research featured in the journal was the collaborative effort of Drs. David Hone (Queen Mary University of London), Donald M. Henderson and François Therrien (Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology) and Michael B. Habib (Natural History Museum of Los Angeles).

Numerous pterosaur specimens had been found previously, preserving fish remains in their gut, indicating these animals lived near water bodies and fed on fishes.  This particular Rhamphorhynchus specimen is the first to preserve the remains of a fish, shark, and potential tetrapod (i.e., a four-legged animal) in its stomach, and a coprolite filled with strange hooklets. Although the identities of the material preserved in the stomach and coprolite could not be determined, they reveal that Rhamphorhynchus did not feed exclusively on fish. This spectacular specimen gives researchers unique insight into dietary and ecological traits of this small Late Jurassic pterosaur.

The specimen is housed at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Midland Provincial Park, Alberta.


To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology and its contribution to scientific research, the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences released a special edition in August. Included in this special volume is the paper Marine Turtles from the Late Cretaceous of Alberta, Canada, a result of collaborative research with renowned scientists including Donald Brinkman, Royal Tyrrell Museum; Michael Densmore, Harvard School of Dental Medicine; Márton Rabi, University of Tubingen, Institut für Geowissenschaften; Michael Ryan, Cleveland Museum of Natural History; and David Evans, Royal Ontario Museum and University of Toronto.

Cheloniid turtles from the Late Cretaceous of Alberta are described in this paper. Members of this group of marine turtles, that includes the living green turtle, are thought to have originated in the Western Interior Seaway that covered the interior of North America 130-70 million years ago. Although this group is well known from localities in Kansas and Alabama, only a few specimens are known from Alberta.

At least two kinds are present, one previously new and one described in this paper. The new turtle is represented by two dentaries (lower jaws), one of which was found by the Southern Alberta Dinosaur Project group. Although known only from a lower jaw, this turtle is distinctive and was described as a new genus and species.The holotype specimen Kimurachelys slobodae was discovered by Wendy Sloboda during the Southern Alberta Dinosaur Project, which has discovered and described more than a dozen new dinosaurs and turtles from Alberta in the past decade,” said Dr. Michael Ryan, Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology, Cleveland Museum of Natural History. The generic name, Kimurachelys, honours Marilyn Kimura, who has made significant contributions to the preservation of Alberta’s fossils and the specific name slobodae honours the discoverer.

The marine turtles described in this paper provide new insights into the early evolution of cheloniid turtles. “The specimens are about 75-73 million years old, which is younger than the well-known marine turtle assemblages from Kansas, Alabama, and South Dakota. This assemblage fills in a gap in the record of marine turtles from North America,” says Dr. Donald Brinkman. There is evidence that the marine turtles from this time are distinctly more advanced than the ones from Kansas and South Dakota. Other groups, particularly mosasaurs and fishes, also show a faunal shift. This demonstrates that there was some kind of change in community structure at about this time; however, further research is needed to determine what this change was.

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Fossils in Focus Entrance

The Museum’s collection of fossils is vast and diverse. The majority of specimens have been found right here in Alberta, the most remarkable place in the world to find fossils from 80 – 55 million years ago. Only a fraction of our collection is on display throughout the Museum. This rotating exhibit will highlight some of our most remarkable and scientifically significant fossils, chosen from the tens of thousands of specimens in our collection.
New specimens reflecting current research will be added as the science of palaeontology moves forward.

Current Specimens 2015

Regaliceratops peterhewsi

The Frill of Discovery
Regaliceratops peterhewsi
(ree-GAY-lih-SER-uh-tops peter-HEWS-ee-eye)
• Regaliceratops peterhewsi is a newly described genus and species of ceratopsid (horned dinosaur) that lived during the Late Cretaceous 68.5 – 67.5 million years ago and is a close relative of Triceratops
• Ceratopsids are divided into two groups: chasmosaurines (e.g., Triceratops) and centrosaurines. Centrosaurines went extinct several million years before the chasmosaurines, that went extinct at the end of the Cretaceous along with all the other dinosaurs
• Characteristically, chasmosaurines have a small nose horn, large horns over their eyes, and shield-like frills with simple scalloped edges. Regaliceratops is unexpected because it shows the exact opposite pattern with a large nose horn, small horns over the eyes, and elaborately decorated frills similar to centrosaurines. This demonstrates that at least one group of chasmosaurines evolved ornamentation similar to centrosaurines following their extinction
• Discovered by Calgary resident Peter Hews, a geologist in the petroleum industry, in 2005. He found the snout sticking out of a cliff along the Oldman River in southwestern Alberta, Canada where horned dinosaurs have not been found before
• Nicknamed after the comic book character “Hellboy” due to the difficulty collecting the specimen and for the challenging preparation process to remove it from the very hard rock in which it was encased


Mini Meat-eater
• Protictis was a small, primitive mammal that probably resembled living weasels
• As a meat-eating mammal, they have a specialized set of teeth for shearing flesh
• This is the best-preserved and most nearly complete specimen of Protictis found in Alberta
• Ongoing research on Protictis, as well as other fossil mammals, continues to give us a better understanding of the ancient mammal communities that existed in Alberta 60 or so million years ago

Plesiadapis and Phenacolemur

Monkeying Around in Alberta
Plesiadapis and Phenacolemur
(PLEES-ee-ah-DAPP-sis) and (fenn-ah-COLE-eh-myur)
• The earliest primates first appear in the fossil record soon after the extinction of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago
• These are distant relatives of living primates that were small and squirrel-like
• Western Canada has one of the densest fossil records of early primates
• Plesiadapis and Phenacolemur are two of the more common early primates that lived in Alberta during the Palaeocene Epoch (66 – 55 million years ago)

Castle River Hadrosaur

Like Water off a Duckbill ’s Back
Castle River Hadrosaur
• Lived 80 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous
• Discovered by a Calgary area father and his two sons fishing along Castle River in southwestern Alberta in August 2014
• Since this specimen is older than other hadrosaur fossils found in southern Alberta, and comes from an area without prior dinosaur discoveries, it could represent a new species
• A helicopter was needed to lift the 1300 kg block from its precarious location in the river

Bird Feather Fragment in Amber

Fine Feathered Friends
Bird feather fragment in amber
• A visiting researcher to the Royal Tyrrell Museum, Ryan McKellar of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, discovered three-dimensional, near-perfectly preserved feathers in several pieces of 80-million-year-old amber (tiny drops of fossilized tree resin)
• The exquisitely fossilized specimens range from simple protofeathers of dinosaurs to much more complex feathers that resemble those
of modern birds
• Study of pigments in several of the feathers revealed a range of colours that is consistent with that seen in modern birds

Centrosaurus and Styracosaurus

Horns through time
Centrosaurus apertus and Styracosaurus albertensis
(SEN-troh-SORE-us ah-PUR-tus and STYE-rack-oh-SORE-us al-BURR-ten-sis)
• Both Centrosaurus and Styracosaurus lived in Alberta, but not at the same time. Centrosaurus lived 77 – 76.6 million years ago and Styracosaurus lived 76.6 – 76.3 million years ago
• The question of the evolutionary relationship between Centrosaurus and Styracosaurus remains an important topic of our ongoing research
at the Museum
• The horns at the back of the Styracosaurus skull are small compared to other specimens, indicating this animal was not fully grown when it died

Stangerochampsa mccabei

What’s In a Name?
Stangerochampsa mccabei
(STAIN-jurr-oh-CHAMP-sah mick-CABE-ee-eye)
• Lived 72 million years ago and is Alberta’s first known alligator
• Is one of only three early alligators known from the Late Cretaceous of Alberta
• Named for landowner Ron Stanger (Stangerochampsa), and Museum technician Jim McCabe (mccabei) who discovered it on a weekend hike in Horsethief Canyon, Drumheller

Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences
Direct link to issue
Ottawa, ON (5 August 2015) – Canadian Science Publishing and the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology are pleased to announce the release of a special edition of Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences in recognition of the Museum’s thirtieth anniversary on September 25, 2015.

The insatiable curiosity of the Royal Tyrrell Museum scientists has driven its research program for the past thirty years, and has positioned the Museum as a leader in furthering our understanding of the evolution of life on Earth. The Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, an NRC Research Press journal (a division of Canadian Science Publishing), has been publishing current research in all aspects of Earth sciences, including geology, geophysics, and palaeontology, since 1964.

This special issue presents a collection of papers that highlight the breadth of research conducted by current and former Museum scientists, as well as by long-time colleagues and collaborators. The thirteen papers are a mix of review and original research papers, all focussed on the geology and palaeontology of Alberta, and the research work supported by the Museum.

“Like many institutions of its kind, the Royal Tyrrell Museum has little official documentation of its history,” reflects Dr. Jim Gardner, Curator of Palaeoherpetology and Senior Guest Editor of the special issue. “This year will likely be the last major milestone for which the original generation of Museum staff are still working and available to share stories about their research and fieldwork; and as one of the flagship journals for geology and palaeontology in North America, the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences was the right fit to do just that.”

“The Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences is so pleased to be a part of this significant anniversary for the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology and to recognize its enormous contributions to palaeontology, especially in western Canada. This special commemorative issue fits perfectly within the scope of CJES because the journal’s primary concern is the study of the history of Earth and life on this planet,” says Dr. Hans-Dieter Sues, Senior Scientist at the Smithsonian Institution and an Associate Editor of the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences. “The special issue documents the Museum’s history and work but also showcases new research and new discoveries through which we hope to inspire the next generation of Earth scientists.”

The Special Issue is now available to journal subscribers on the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences website. The introduction, written by three of the museum’s researchers (Drs. Jim Gardner, Don Henderson, and François Therrien) and two additional articles (below) are freely available to all readers.

Introduction to the Special Issue commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, with a summary of the museum’s early history and its research contributions
By James D. Gardner, Donald M. Henderson, and François Therrien

Dinosaur trackways from the Upper Cretaceous Oldman and Dinosaur Park formations (Belly River Group) of southern Alberta, Canada, reveal novel ichnofossil preservation style
By François Therrien, Darla K. Zelenitsky, Annie Quinney, and Kohei Tanaka

Hadrosaurid (Edmontosaurus) bonebeds from the Horseshoe Canyon Formation (Horsethief Member) at Drumheller, Alberta, Canada: geology, preliminary taphonomy, and significance
By David C. Evans, David A. Eberth, and Michael J. Ryan

Media Contacts

Rebecca Ross, Manager, Communications, Canadian Science Publishing

Carrie-Ann Lunde, Head, Marketing & Public Relations, Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology

About Canadian Science Publishing

Canadian Science Publishing (CSP), head-quartered in Ottawa, Ontario (Canada) is an independent, not-for-profit scholarly publisher dedicated to serving the needs of researchers and their communities, not only by publishing quality peer-reviewed journals but also by supporting the knowledge-sharing activities of scholarly societies and other key partners through events, awards, and other exchanges.

About Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology

Owned and operated by Alberta Culture and Tourism, the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology is located near Drumheller, Alberta, approximately 1.5 hours northeast of Calgary.  It houses one of the world’s largest displays of dinosaurs and is Canada’s only museum dedicated exclusively to the science of palaeontology. For more information visit or call 403-823-7707.


Canadian Science Publishing publishes the NRC Research Press suite of journals but is not affiliated with the National Research Council of Canada.  Papers published by Canadian Science Publishing are peer-reviewed by experts in their field.  The views of the authors in no way reflect the opinions of Canadian Science Publishing. Requests for commentary about the contents of any study should be directed to the authors.

Painting by Donna Sloan, scientific illustrator at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology.

Painting by Donna Sloan, scientific illustrator at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology.

Illustraion by Bob Nicholls (c) 2014.

Illustraion by Bob Nicholls (c) 2014.

In the scientific community, art serves as a visual source of influential enlightenment, sparking the curiosity of the general public and researchers alike. The palaeoart entitled “Double Death” by Bob Nicholls depicts an exciting contest between two large theropod dinosaurs, Carcharodontosaurus saharicus, fighting over which one will get to eat a medium-sized sauropod dinosaur.

The concept for this picture originally stemmed in the late 1990s when Nicholls watched two birds jointly holding a piece of food. He then translated this idea into a dramatic piece of fleshed out digital art using dinosaurs. The dynamism in the resulting illustration prompted Dr. Donald Henderson, Curator of Dinosaurs, to ask “Could these two theropod dinosaurs REALLY lift a dinosaur almost as big as themselves and not fall over?”

To answer this question, Dr. Henderson conducted a biomechanical analysis using three-dimensional digital models to assess whether a pair of C. saharicus could successfully lift a medium-sized sauropod and not lose balance.

“I calculated how heavy each of the participants were, the two C. saharicus and the sauropod.  I also had to know where their centre of weight was.”

With the body mass and centre of mass determined for the C. saharicus, it turns out that a single animal weighing six tonnes could lift two and a half tonnes and not fall over. This two and a half tonnes represents about 40% of the body weight; however, the limb bones of animals in general can easily experience forces equal to two to three times total body weight when walking or running, so the additional 40% is well within the capacity of the limbs. It would appear that two C. saharicus could, between them, lift a five-tonne dinosaur without difficulty.

This led to two more questions: “Are the neck muscles strong enough to hold up a tonne or two of weight?” and “Are the jaw muscles strong enough to hold up a tonne or two of flesh?”

Estimating the jaw and neck muscle strengths of extinct dinosaurs begins by looking at the sizes of the attachment areas of the various muscles on the fossilized bones. Estimates of the cross-sectional areas of the muscles of interest are then determined. From looking at the muscles in living backboned animals today, we can see that skeletal muscles all have about the same force generating capacity, and the total force is related to the cross-sectional areas of the muscles. Applying these observations and a known muscle tension factor, we can calculate a probable lifting/holding force for the muscles of interest.

The jaws muscles were found to be able to exert sufficient force to hold 512 kg, but the neck muscles would only have been able to support 424 kg. This leads to the neck muscles being the limiting factor, and that two C. saharicus could only lift an animal weighing about 850 kg. The apparent excess capacity of the jaw muscles suggests that a high bite force was important for puncturing and pulling apart large prey items. The large body size of C. saharicus, in comparison to the smaller holding and lifting abilities of the neck and jaws, would have provided a stable, not-easily-toppled platform for manipulating small, struggling prey items.

“The animal ended up being a little bit smaller than the one Bob had done in his illustration, but the basic idea is fine. I just used basic first-year physics to work that out.”

The research conducted by Dr. Henderson was published in the August issue of The Anatomical Record along with the scientific illustration by Bob Nicholls.

“Our ideas have changed, but we still need the artists to bring these things to life, to make them more than just a collection of bones. These were real animals that lived in a real environment.”

This morning, at 10:30 MST, the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology unveiled a new species of horned dinosaur in our latest exhibit, Fossils in Focus. This particular specimen is the most impressive horned dinosaur discovery since the Triceratops.

Regaliceratops peterhewsi (68.5 – 67.5 million years) is a newly described genus and species of ceratopsid (horned dinosaur) from the Late Cretaceous, St. Mary River Formation, published in Current Biology today.

Ceratopsids are divided into two groups based mostly on their head ornamentation. Chasmosaurines have a small nose horn, large horns over their eyes, and shield-like frills with simple scalloped edges. Centrosaurines have a large nose horn, small horns over their eyes, and frills that are often elaborately decorated with large spikes and hooks.

Generally, when new dinosaurs are found, they are only known from single bones or small parts of the skeleton. In this case, nearly the entire skull was preserved three-dimensionally, making scientific diagnosis relatively easy. Regaliceratops peterhewsi is a chasmosaurine, but it surprisingly shares some features of centrosaurines. What makes it different is the small size of the horns over the eyes and the large triangular and spade-shaped bony projections from the frill; features that are unexpected given that this new animal is closely related to the chasmosaurine Triceratops.

The name Regaliceratops is a combined name with the Latin regalis meaning “royal” and the Greek word ceratops meaning “horned face.” The “royal” refers to the crown-shaped frill on Regaliceratops and the royal appellation of the Museum. The species name honours geologist, Peter Hews who first discovered this new horned dinosaur in the south bank of the Oldman River near a popular fishing and camping location in 2005, and reported his find.

Nicknamed “Hellboy” due to the combination of difficult excavation conditions and hardness of the rock surrounding the skull, and the small horns over the eyes, it took nearly ten years from discovery to display. Immediately recognizable as something that had never been seen before, the location it was discovered in, and its unique features were such that they could not have been predicted. The research completed on this specimen by Royal Tyrrell Museum scientists Dr. Caleb Brown, Post-doctoral Fellow, and Dr. Donald Henderson, Curator of Dinosaurs, has greatly increased our understanding of the evolution of horned dinosaurs.

For more information on this new species, follow this link.

Located in the mountain parks of British Columbia, the Burgess Shale provides some of the best information about the early evolution of complex life 540 to 485 million years ago. The basic body plans of most animals alive today, including vertebrates like ourselves can be traced back to this period.

Highlighting new discoveries, Dr. Jean-Bernard Caron from the Royal Ontario Museum discusses the discovery of the exciting new Marble Canyon site, located in Kootenay National Park, and the way it has greatly increased our understanding of the evolution of ancient life.


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