Published on December 20th, 2013 | by admin
The Dinosaurs Are Coming!
The eagerly anticipated Walking With Dinosaurs movie in stunning 3D is almost here. Before then, however, the Post Office Shop is giving everyone the chance to familiarise themselves with the amazing array of prehistoric animals that once roamed our planet by showcasing some of these fascinating creatures featured in the issue of a range of dinosaur stamp collectibles.
We spoke to Mike Walley of Everything Dinosaur about the historic background of these stamps, which were designed to highlight the UK’s contribution to palaeontology. Below is an introduction to the creatures featured on each stamp, along with some historical context from Mike. Mike’s full analysis of the stamps can be seen here.
Known from fossils that date from the Early Cretaceous, the heavily armoured Polacanthus was protected from predators by a host of spikes and studs. Polacanthus means “many spines” and this herbivorous dinosaur measured around 4 to 5 metres in length and may have weighed up to 2,000kg.
A common sight in Early Jurassic marine environments, Ichthyosaurus superficially resembled a modern dolphin, but it was a marine reptile. The name Ichthyosaurus means “fish lizard” and these fast swimming predators were very well adapted to life in the ocean existing on a diet of fish, octopus and other sea creatures. Ichthyosaurus weighed around 90kg and gave birth to live young in the water.
Mike Walley explains how Mary Anning (1799-1847) is credited with finding the first Ichthyosaurus skeleton to be correctly identified as an ancient marine reptile and for finding the first Plesiosaur fossils. Sadly her contributions were not recognised until after her death, because of now outdated social values.
The Plesiosaurus was another type of marine reptile that is associated with the Jurassic seas. Known for having a long neck, it propelled itself through the water with its strong, wing-shaped flippers. The sharp teeth that lined the jaws were ideally suited for catching small, slippery prey such as fish and squid. Most of the Plesiosaur fossils associated with Mary Anning indicate that these creatures grew to between 2 to 3 metres in length.
The pair of Iguanodons, illustrated on one of the stamps, is a reminder of the role played by this country in fundamentally changing scientific thinking about prehistoric life and the history of our planet. This dinosaur was one of the first to be reconstructed both as a mounted skeleton and as a representation of a living animal, Mike states.
With fossils of Iguanodonts having been found in many parts of the world, Iguanodon is a member of a group of dinosaurs that are regarded as one of the most successful of all the Dinosauria. Reconstructions of the herbivorous Iguanodon indicate that some species may have weighed up to 5,000kg and some specimens may have been more than 10 metres in length.
Regarded by many palaeontologists as one of the largest flying creatures known to science, this Pterosaur may have had a wingspan of around 12 metres. The name Ornithocheirus means “bird-like hand” and despite its enormous size, because of its hollow bones it probably weighed less than an adult human being.
Although only known from fragmentary fossil material, this flying reptile was superbly adapted to a life in the air and was probably capable of soaring and gliding over huge distances.
In contrast, Dimorphodon was a much smaller Pterosaur, whose fossils are associated with Lower Jurassic strata. Dimorphodon featured two distinct types of teeth in its jaws as well as large claws on its forelimbs. It had a large head and pointed teeth and its name means ‘two-form tooth’. It is usually depicted as a fish-eater, a consequence of fossils having been discovered in rocks laid down in marine environments, however, Dimorphodon may have fed mainly on insects.
Sir Richard Owen, a Lancastrian, who first coined the term Dinosauria, was responsible for erecting the Dimorphodon genus in 1870 but it was Mary Anning who discovered the first Dimorphodon specimens in the Lower Lias of southern England’s famous “Jurassic Coast”. (she was prolific, to say the least!)
Deriving its name from its distinctive high-ridge tooth, Hypsilophodon was a relatively small dinosaur of the Early Cretaceous, perhaps only weighing up to 25kg. Early 20th Century reconstructions of the foot and five-fingered hands of Hypsilophodon led scientists to believe that this dinosaur could climb and perch and it was often depicted as living in trees like a primitive tree kangaroo. However, more recent studies have shown that this dinosaur was a fast running, ground dwelling creature.
With a length of up to 18 metres and weighing perhaps in excess of 20,000kg, the equivalent of 20 small cars, the giant, plant-eating Cetiosaurus certainly lives up to its name (whale lizard). This primitive, long-necked dinosaur lived during the Middle Jurassic and one of its distinguishing features are its more solid and proportionately heavier vertebrae than later long-necked dinosaurs.
Fossil finds suggest that this herbivore lived in Europe (England and Portugal) and possibly northern Africa (Morocco).
Meaning ‘big lizard’, Megalosaurus was a fearsome carnivore of the Middle Jurassic. It was probably an apex predator hunting and killing other large dinosaurs. It is estimated to have reached lengths of around 9 metres and weighed over 1,000kg.
Megalosaurus has the distinction of being one of the first dinosaurs ever to appear in a work of fiction when Charles Dickens name-dropped this species in his novel Bleak House.
This dinosaur was the first to receive a formal scientific description. The Reverend William Buckland was assigned to this task. Buckland was also presented with a number of fossil specimens found by Mary Anning, including the Pterosaur fossil material which was later to become classified as Dimorphodon.
Featuring a mouth shape very similar to that of a crocodile and weighing around 2,000kg, Baryonyx may have been an ancestor of some of the largest meat-eating dinosaurs described to date (Spinosaurs). Named after its enormous thumb claws, (Baryonyx means “heavy claw”, scientists have a good idea about what this Early Cretaceous dinosaur may have hunted. Scales from a large, prehistoric fish were found in close proximity to the ribcage along with the remains of a baby Iguanodon.
Fossils found to date indicate that Baryonyx was around 10 metres long, but the most complete fossil material is now known to represent a sub-adult so this dinosaur could have been a lot bigger.
The first fossils of Baryonyx were found in 1983, by an amateur fossil collector who was exploring a Surrey clay pit. Palaeontologists from the Natural History Museum (London) were given the task of removing the remains of this dinosaur, it took the team three weeks to excavate the skeleton but many years to prepare and reconstruct the specimen.