Would You Like to Know More About the Prehistoric World?
By now, you’ve likely seen Safari Ltd’s 2020 Prehistoric World Dinosaur Collection reveals, but maybe you’d like to know a little more about these extinct ancient animals. We’ve got you covered! Let’s take a look at some of the unique and interesting creatures of the distant past that Safari is offering in toy form for 2020.
You may be asking yourself: Shringasaurus? What’s that? Is Shringasaurus a dinosaur? Well, we’ve got some answers. Shringasaurus was NOT a dinosaur, but it was a fascinating prehistoric creature in its own right.
Shringasaurus was a “stem archosaur” meaning it was an early relative of archosaurs, the group of reptilian animals that would eventually grow to include dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and crocodilians. Shringasaurus lived in the middle of the Triassic Period, around 240 million years ago, and its fossil remains were found in India and first described in 2017.
What makes Shringasaurus so special? Well, it belonged to a group of animals called Azendosaurids, a ground of heavy bodied reptiles with long necks and very small heads that likely munched on plants. Shringasaurus appears to be a typical Azendosaurid except for one unique feature – two prominent, forward facing horns on its brows, like those of Triceratops. Despite their horn similarity, the two reptiles were separated by hundreds of millions of years and weren’t related at all.
These animals’ horns seem to be an example of convergent evolution, which is when two similar features develop in two totally unrelated animals.
Once again, we hear you asking that oh-so-common question: Was Ichthyosaurus a dinosaur? Well no, like Shringasaurus, Ichthyosaurus is a prehistoric reptile who lived during the time of the dinosaurs, but wasn’t included in their group. Unlike Shringasaurus, Ichthyosaurus lived in the oceans and seas, swimming around like a modern day dolphin, chomping up fish in its long, tooth-filled beak.
Ichthyosaurus lived during the Late Triassic and Early Jurassic Periods, roughly around 200 million years ago. It was one of the earliest complete fossil animals to be discovered, found by fossil hunter and paleontologist Mary Anning in the early 1800s.
Though Ichthyosaurus was built much like a modern day dolphin, with a long beak, pectoral flippers and a triangular dorsal fin, the two animals are completely unrelated, as Ichthyosaurus was a reptile and dolphins are mammals. Why do Ichthyosaurus and dolphins look so similar? It’s another example of – you guessed it – convergent evolution!
Have we finally gotten to a dinosaur yet? We have indeed! Dilophosaurus was a theropod dinosaur from the Early Jurassic, 193 million years ago. It is easily identifiable by the two side-by-side crests atop its head, which give it its name (Dilophosaurus means “double-crested lizard”).
Dilophosaurus was made famous by the movie Jurassic Park, but the movie took some liberties with this meat-eating dinosaur. What did Jurassic Park get wrong on Dilophosaurus? Well, for starters, they made it shrimpy. The movie Dilophosaurus is about the size of a large dog, while in reality Dilophosaurus could grow to 20 feet long.
Additionally, the filmmakers completely made up some aspects of their movie dino, including a large frill similar to the frilled lizard, and the ability to spit venom like a spitting cobra. Neither of these features is present in the fossil record, but thanks to the popularity of the movie, the idea persists in many other incorrect depictions of Dilophosaurus.
Jumping ahead to the Early Cretaceous Period, 130 million years ago, we encounter Concavenator, another meat-eating theropod dinosaur. Like Dilophosaurus, it could grow about 20 feet long. However, instead of twin head crests, Concavenator had a different unique feature – two of the vertebrae (back bones) near the hips were unusually tall, and scientists believe these bones may have supported a crest or hump on the dinosaur’s back.
What purpose did Concavenator’s hump serve? No one is quite sure. Some believe it may have been used for display, to attract other Concavenators for mating, or perhaps to scare them away from their territory. Or it may have been used to help regulate the animal’s temperature. Without more complete information from the fossil record, we may never know.
Another dinosaur from the Early Cretaceous, this time around 110 million years ago, is the Deinonychus. Deinonychus was a close relative of another dinosaur made famous by Jurassic Park – the Velociraptor. While Velociraptor was only about six feet long and lived in Mongolia, Deinonychus could grow up to 11 feet in length and lived in what is now the United States. Its remains have been found in Utah, Montana, Wyoming and Oklahoma.
Like its smaller cousin, Deinonychus was thought to be a fast and efficient hunter, using the enlarged claw on each of its feet to bring down much larger prey like Tenontosaurus (a relative of Iguanodon). Some paleontologists even believe that Deinonychus hunted in packs, behaving cooperatively like modern day wolves or lions.
The raptors of the movies are often totally scaly, but fossil evidence shows that members of the raptor family (Dromaeosauridae) sported a fluffy coat of feathers. Feathers have been found on Microraptor fossils, and Velociraptor is known to have quill knobs (structures on the bone that indicate feathers). Was Deinonychus also covered in feathers? While no skin or feather evidence of Deinonychus has been found, the fact that its older relatives like Microraptor and younger relatives like Velociraptor sported feathers makes it a near certainty that Deinonychus did as well.
Sticking around in the Early Cretaceous, we encounter an ancient relative of today’s crocodiles known as Sarcosuchus. Sarcosuchus remains have been found in both Africa and South America, which indicates that once these continents were connected and not separated by vast oceans like they are today.
Sarcosuchus was quite large, reaching up to 30 feet long. It had a very long snout, with a large rounded structure on the end known as a bulla. Today, these features around in males of the gharial, a modern Asian species of crocodilian. Male gharials use these structures to attract mates. However, in Sarcosuchus, bullas are thought to have occurred in both male and females, so its purpose remains a mystery.
Sarcosuchus was once thought to be among the largest crocodyliforms, a group that contains modern crocodilians and their ancestors. Earlier size estimates put Sarcosuchus at nearly 40 feet in length, though more recently it has been suggested that it likely measured around 10 feet shorter. Without complete skeletons, it can be difficult to determine the size of ancient animals.
Jumping ahead now to the Late Cretaceous Period, around 70 million years ago, we come across the Edmontosaurus, one of the largest of the hadrosaurs (duck-billed dinosaurs). Edmontosaurus lived right up until the end of the age of dinosaurs, around 66 million years ago. Found in what is now western North America, this dinosaur is known to have contended with the likes of Tyrannosaurus Rex, which preyed on the plant eating hadrosaur.
Edmontosaurus has been known for over a hundred years, but many recent discoveries have shed more light on how these dinosaurs looked in life. So-called “mummies” of Edmontosaurus have been known for many years, which contained fossilized skin and other important elements. But even more recently, in 2013, a specimen was discovered that showed at least one species of Edmontosaurus featured a fleshy “comb”, like that of a rooster, atop its head.
Many duck-billed dinos, including Parasaurolophus, have large and ornate crests. But these are almost always made of bone, while the comb of Edmontosaurus was made of soft tissue. While much of our understanding of dinosaurs comes from fossilized bones, many soft tissue structures do not get preserved in the fossil record, thus giving us an incomplete idea of the dinosaur until a more well-preserved fossil is found.
Next we come to the dome-headed Pachycephalosaurus. This dinosaur lived in the Late Cretaceous and lived in what is now North America, alongside Edmontosaurus and Tyrannosaurus Rex. All three of these dinosaurs, as well as many other dinosaurs and prehistoric animals including Ankylosaurus, Anzu, Dracorex and Triceratops, were found in the Hell Creek Formation. This area of ancient rock encompasses parts of Montana, North and South Dakota, and Wyoming.
Speaking of Dracorex, it has been observed by many that this dinosaur is quite similar to Pachycephalosaurus. Were Dracorex and Pachycephalosaurus the same dinosaur? While it was originally believed they were only related, now many scientists think they might belong to the same species. While both dinosaurs have bony knobs on their head, Dracorex features a flatter head, while Pachycephalosaurus is more rounded. Additionally, Dracorex’s knobs are more pointed and spike-like, while those of Pachycephalosaurus are more blunted and. The theory is that as the dinosaur grows older, its head becomes more convex and domed, while the spiky knobs become more dulled and rounded.
What did Pachycephalosaurus use its strange head for? Paleontologists have many theories, but the most prevailing idea is that they used their bony domed heads for combat with each other. The domed areas of their skulls are very thick, and remains of these dinosaurs have been found with depressions and holes in their skulls that would be the likely result of trauma associated with whacking two dinosaur heads together.
Why did Pachycephalosaurus butt heads? Probably to battle over a mate. This practice occurs today in modern animals during mating seasons, with male moose, elk, deer and many other horned animals engaging in combat to claim their mates.
Last, but certainly not least, we have the Qianzhousaurus, a dinosaur that lived right up until the end of the Mesozoic Era, about 66 million years ago, in what is now southern China.
If this dinosaur looks familiar, it may be because Qianzhousaurus was related to one of the most popular dinosaurs of all time - Tyrannosaurus Rex! Qianzhousaurus is also known by its nickname - Pinocchio Rex - which refers to its cousin T. Rex and its long, slender snout, which resembles that of the wooden puppet boy of the classic story of Pinocchio, whose nose would grow when he lied.
Qianzhousaurus was overall more slender than its larger relative. At 30 feet long, it was also quite a bit smaller than T. Rex, but it was still close to being one of the top predators in its home turf.
Interestingly, Qianzhousaurus was not the only slender-snouted member of the tyrannosaur family in Asia during the Late Cretaceous Period. Another dinosaur, called Alioramus, was closely related to Qianzhousaurus, and may indicate that there were many such species of long-snooted meat eaters roaming around back then.
And there you have it! We hope you’ve enjoyed this journey through the Mesozoic showcasing our 2020 Prehistoric World figures! Now go bring them home and create your own adventures!
What's your favorite species from the prehistoric world? Share with us on the comments below! 👇