STL Science Center

STL Science Center

03 August 2015

News Everywhere

The videos for Asilisaurus are all news breaks on the naming and description of the new species. Sometimes, if the journalism is well thought out and the news story produced nicely, those short videos are very informative and worth watching. Often they are actually better than documentaries and almost always on par or better than feature length movies. Unfortunately, many, maybe even all, of the news stories related to the ancestor lizard have disappeared from the internet. The Quirks and Quarks program on CBC radio also did a short news story about the discovery as well. Sadly, this has also disappeared, though their short article corresponding to the program is still available.

02 August 2015

Basics for Tikes

The largest problem we run into with new-to-science fossil animals is that they take a while to gather followers in society. Asilisaurus has a few links here and there that describe the animal in a way that younger audiences could explore the near-dinosaur's history for themselves, but far fewer than most of the fossil animals that we explore here. The online dinosaur encyclopedia, or Dinopedia, includes references and quality information, but may be at a slightly higher reading level than our youngest fossil animal fans might be able to muster just yet. Mid-level readers should be fine with this page. They should also be able to easily read the About page dedicated to Asilisaurus. The top of that page is actually perfect for our youngest readers as well. Prehistoric Wildlife hosts probably the shortest page that I would consider "kid-friendly" and does not have as much information on it as the other two; however, it is still a useful tool for learning about the near-dinosaur and can be visited by younger readers. The animal in question has no coloring pages or fun little sites to visit, but these three pages should help start an interest in Asilisaurus for kids that are into dinosaurs and anything that looks like a dinosaur.

01 August 2015

Triassic Body Shapes

Triassic body shapes are generally very similar for all of the earliest Dinosauriformes. There is, as usual, a very good reason for that which is based on fossil evidence that is available.The fossil evidence, which was described in 2010, shows us a very gracile early Dinosauriforme that looks similar to its contemporary animals and near descendants like Coelophysis. Unlike these descendants, however, Asilisaurus was more likely quadrupedal regularly with the ability to act as a facultatively bipedal reptile. Additionally, like most other early Dinosauriformes, Asilisaurus was a rather small animal, as can be seen here. When anything dinosaur related ventures into the pet-sized area it is quite fantastic, and this is no exception.

31 July 2015

Silly Saurs

Asilisaurus kongwe is not actually a funny name. It comes from Swahili and means "Ancestor lizard." As a Middle Triassic Dinosauriform, Asilisaurus is in a very primitive or basal position on the phylogenetic tree. It is so far down the tree, in fact, that it appears to be very near the pterosaur and dinosaur branchings on the family tree. One of the most specific labels we can assign to Asilisaurus is actually Avemetatarsalia, the group that does include both pterosaurs and dinosaurs. This is going to be an interesting look at the bottom of the tree, a phylogenetic placement that is not often examined.

30 July 2015

I Thought You Were Likable

Regardless of how one feels about mammals and apes, we really owe a lot to the likes of Proconsul and its descendants. We are, after all, distantly related to these early apes. They may not have toys and plush animals like dinosaurs do, but they are just as important tot he history of life on this planet, and we know so very little about them, despite the treasure trove of knowledge we have concerning the genus. There are PBS specials that discuss this very important ape. There are also books and many scholarly papers in reputable journals. However, the general public, for a variety of reasons, knows very little about Proconsul and other early apes. There needs to be a lot more PBS viewership, in my opinion.

29 July 2015

African Forest Dwelling Apes

Twenty-three million years ago, give or take, the transitional ape Proconsul appeared in the fossil record as a definitive genus with four recognized species. As with all apes, these were tail-less creatures that scurried about the trees with grasping hands and feet (paws on all four limbs to be more accurate); admittedly some extant apes are not as happy in the trees as they are on the ground despite having the ability, if needed, to at the very least get into a tree's branches. The skeletal remains that have been recovered and displayed show these grasping abilities quite well in the articulated hands and wrists. The skeleton also appears to end somewhat abruptly where the tail would be on a monkey (at the end of the vertebral column, that is). This could be a feature of a line that had only recently truly lost their monkey tail characters, or it could just be how that particular ape genus was shaped. Book end genera would help to accurately describe that morphological trait, but so far I have not found any studies that explain or describe the species that may have preceded or descended from Proconsul.
Proconsul nyanzae

28 July 2015

Assertive Statements

The question of whether or not Proconsul possessed a tail has been definitively answered before. One of the most assertive statements about that tail came from Carol Ward in 1991. There are more fantastic papers about slightly more interesting topics in the history of Proconsul (not that Dr. Ward did not have an interesting paper). These topics include discussions about the skull, locomotion (also Ward), and even a Proconsul centered systematic revision. Systematics are a difficult topic, but it is papers like that that will answer the monkey or ape question concerning our furry little primate. Rather than giving the punchline for them, I recommend that reading paper be the first priority of the concerned, but uninformed, citizen scientist.