20 September 2014

Old Art Like New Art

©Lancelot Speed 1905
The most recent illustrations of Anchisaurus resemble the 1905 interpretation of Marsh's line drawings alarmingly. Most dinosaurs have changed extensively in the past 100 years or so, but not so much Anchisaurus. The dinosaur has not been portrayed with feathering and the posture has not changed much at all from this illustration. Coloration of dinosaurs is always at the artist's discretion, so we cannot really critique the coloration too much. The hands of this illustration are markedly different from more modern illustrations, but this may also be an artifact of the lacking detail in the chest area of the dinosaur. It appears that the dinosaur is holding some sort of vegetation also, which obscures the hands even more. Probably the most disturbing thing about the old illustration aside from the little that has changed in modern renditions of the dinosaur is the snout on that crocodylomorph-like animal in the lower right-hand corner of the image.

19 September 2014

Messy History

O.C. Marsh
Nineteenth century dinosaurs from North America are often confusing and jumbled. There are quite a few good reasons for that and the major reason that pretty much always sums up what caused such confusion hovers around the names Marsh, Cope, and Leidy (Leidy is not often between the others but was close to Cope). This week's dinosaur, however, was only confusing because it was massively confused, not because of infighting between paleontologists. Edward Hitchcock initially described this East Coast sauropodomorph and named it Megadactylus polyzelus in 1865. Twenty years later O.C. Marsh recognized the name as previously occupied and renamed the animal Anchisaurus polyzelus. Fossils recovered separately named Amphisaurus polyzelus Marsh 1882 and Yaleosaurus colurus Huene 1932 were later synonymized with Anchisaurus. The type specimen remains Anchisaurus polyzelus Hitchcock 1865. Anchisaurus is unique for a number of reasons including being an East Coast dinosaur, a sauropodomorph, and being mistaken for human remains at one point. Anchisaurus is a small bipedal dinosaur with an herbivorous diet known from Connecticut and Massachusetts with potential sister taxa discovered in Chinese and South African formations of the Early Jurassic (200 - 188 million years ago).

18 September 2014

Gaining Popularity

As was mentioned previously, many times, the popularity of dinosaurs is highly variable. There are times when the dinosaurs in question are immensely popular and there are news stories that catapult dinosaurs into the limelight or reignite their popularity. Acheroraptor flew somewhat quietly under the radar at the end of last year when it was described. No documentaries, toys, or other popular science outlets have picked up on Acheroraptor have surfaced yet. This is a dinosaur that needs more charisma and outreach to become more popular as it is so young, geologically and by means of description. As much of a cop-out as it is, to say that there is nothing to share, there is nothing. Acheroraptor will only start to be featured in books, movies, documentaries, and other media outlets if people that love the dinosaur share it and make it more popular. The ball is in the public court with this dinosaur!

17 September 2014

Pictures of the Environment

The Montana Department of Transportation hosts a rather interesting listing of geological roadsigns found in the state that discusses the Hell Creek Formation. It is a good place to start looking at the world around Acheroraptor. A lot is known about the Hell Creek Formation overall. The flora and the fauna are well documented and include some rather famous denizens of the Mesozoic. These include Tyrannosaurus rex, Triceratops horridus and Pachycephalosaurus wyomingensis. These large and well-known dinosaurs make up a good portion of the dinosaur species represented. There are also significant invertebrate, fish, amphibian, mammal, and varied reptiles (pterosaurs, crocodylomorphs, turtles, and squamates) recovered from the Hell Creek rocks. These are generally overlooked members of the representative fauna but each represents an animal that could have been prey of or preyed upon the medium dog sized Acheroraptor. The plants of Hell Creek represent a coastal/near coastal flood plain. Ferns, conifers, and mosses dominated the landscape that was evolving into a flowering plant paradise complete with palm trees, magnolias, beeches, and sycamores. This world has been described many times and the artwork depicting Cretaceous Montana is often very detailed and quite beautiful. Just look at images of Triceratops and  Tyrannosaurus in their environment. All of the images of Acheroraptor we have seen lack background, however, the Csotonyi piece that accompanies the ROM display and most announcements of the description shows a lush jungle-like scene along with a feathered Tyrannosaurus.

16 September 2014

Pleasing Post

I am always happy when I can say something like this: the description paper of Acheroraptor is available online. However, today it comes with the caveat that it cannot be obtained unless you have a way to get articles from Naturwissenschaften or are willing to pay Springer's prices. These prices are typical for scholarly articles of course, but the bad news is that they are typical for scholarly articles. The first two pages are free to read. That is always good since there is always an abstract that summarizes things. New dinosaurs deserve the whole paper though so that you can fully understand it and/or ask the right questions to clear up what you do not understand. A little background and the systematics are nice, but even nicer is the fact that the 31 pages of supplementary information is online and free. This is the nitty gritty of the paper and, while it does not tell the story as nicely as the paper, it does present us with some nice images including radiographs, trees, graphs, and matrices. As an aside, it is kind of interesting how many question marks can fit on a page (not that I have not had my share of that in the past). The recommendation for the day is to try to find the descriptive paper. Barring that, at least check out the supplementary information, because that is pretty neat as well. It is highly informative of course and anyone looking to make a career in the field ought to practice reading and interpreting that sort of information at some level.

15 September 2014

Non-motion Pictures

Usually when a dinosaur is announced there is a flurry of media coverage. There is probably a statistical study out there somewhere that has looked at certain names and their correlation to news coverage, but either way Currie is a name attached to this description that typically gathers some media references. That said, less than a year later I cannot find any television or internet video news stories of the description of Acheroraptor. This is okay also. Sometimes the best thing for a newly described dinosaur is to be largely ignored by the mass media outlets. This allows the dinosaur to be accurately discussed in the paleontology community without a dearth of misinterpreted facts hitting the street (like when Triceratops "ceased to be"). This also slows the popularity growth of certain dinosaur. Happily, we can educate ourselves by reading papers (we will do that tomorrow) and discussing the dinosaurs with others. There tends to not be much discussion here, overall, but it is certainly encouraged; I have as much to learn as anyone else around here from discussion with others. Therefore, without any kind of documentary or news story to turn to today, The education of the day really falls on everyone else to discuss. Some points that could be brought up about Acheroraptor include: How do we know from such little evidence that it is what we are told it is? How distinctive are the teeth of Acheroraptor? What kind of hands and feet did Acheroraptor have? Did it have feathers and what were they like? Think of how to answer these questions for people that are not very familiar with dinosaurs. Knowing how to explain your interests and hobbies to others is a life skill. You would not be reading this if you were not interested in dinosaurs so everyone here should know how to explain them to people that do not understand them very well!

14 September 2014

Making Our Own Kids Site

Acheroraptor is a new enough dinosaur that there are not of links designed for educating children. Even our stalwart companions (e.g. About, KidsDinos, etc.) do not have pages hosted on their sites. If you are close enough to Toronto you can spend a day at the Royal Ontario Museum and learn about Acheroraptor while seeing the holotype and, potentially, meeting Derek Larson. The ROM Discovery Corner has an activity time listed to meet Derek Larson, but I think that this is for some time in the past. Though no longer current, he could be around still the museum and the fossils certainly are. I propose a short reading assignment for young dinosaur enthusiasts. There is a concise article on Sci-News.com that would lend itself well to a short reading and discussing the dinosaur. If the time for that does not present itself today then this should suffice for today (template for today borrowed from KidsDigDinos):

Name Means
"Underworld thief"
Lived When
67 - 65 million years ago
Estimated at approximately 40 kg
Estimated at approximately 3 m
Small recurved teeth designed for cutting meat
Open woodland