STL Science Center

STL Science Center

16 July 2011

Artistic Ventures

Camptosaurus. One of those dinosaurs that there are major questions surrounding on all sides. Did it walk on all fours? Or did it walk mostly upright? Were those hands good for grasping things and pulling them to its mouth? How did it defend itself from danger? These and many more questions remain to be answered and hopefully will someday, but the fossils can only tell us so much to begin with, so there are certain to be gaps in the record and the understanding of this animal. For now, the images we have are of a docile looking, very cow-like animal that is typically shown on all four feet, though sometimes can be seen reaching and pulling on branches and leaves to pull them down to its mouth. The above statue is definitely of an animal that walks on four legs, as seems to be the overall consensus, but to me that tail looks very suspicious. It's not that it is short or awkward looking, in fact it appears to be at the correct angle and stiffness, but the tail ends rather abruptly. The shortness of it takes away any semblance of weaponry and would not counterbalance the animal well on two legs. The tail being this stiff is likewise odd because Camptosaurus lacked the diagonal struts found in its far-down-the-line descendants the Hadrosaurus. The conclusion from that is that this version of the animal could certainly neither stand nor run on two legs for very long if at all.

This Camptosaurus version is strangely Iguanodon-like. The thumbs pointed straight up with the spike-like attachments of the later Iguanodonts including Iguanodon. The flimsy tail, while good for getting out of the way when it rears up to search trees for vegetation would have provided no weapon still and now no real balance for the animal as it moved around the Late Jurassic forests. In fact, this tail is so thin top to bottom that it appears to be lacking key elements of the caudal vertebrae including the ventral facing slats or ribs attached to the vertebrae in this region. This model, clearly, is not accurate in any way, means, or shape then. Let's move onto the next image and see if it is any better.

This Camptosaurus is much better than the previous, older, illustration and so has more accuracy to it. Still, it has the Iguanodon thumbs. The skeletal reconstructions based on Bakker's 1969 drawings (also bipedal) do not include this thumb spike. Other drawings and reconstructions vary depending on the artists, but the skeletal displays I have found in the majority of museums displaying C. dispar do not have the thumb jutting outward as if to indicate a spike. The two leg locomotion here is unique in the illustrations present but shows the ability of the animals to  walk on two legs if for only short distances. This is as plausible as quad locomotion for this animal so the debate really cannot be solved by artistic interpretation or even the fossil record; wear on the front legs could indicate quadruped locomotion or biped locomotion with inclusion of the front legs at key times. Without a living model we will likely never definitively know the answer. The tail here is flimsy as well but this time looks as though the caudal ventral ribs are still accounted for.

©John Bindon
John Bindon's art has been shown before here when we discussed Cryolophosaurus. Here we have his version of Camptosaurus and Allosaurus, contemporary dinosaurs of the Late Jurassic. Mr. Bindon has opted for the quadruped pose and low vegetation, thus leaving out the need for those front legs to stretch out at all. Quadruped or bipedal, any animal looks for the easiest meal to conserve energy while adding to their store of energy. Obviously if stretching out and reaching in a bipedal stance is more straining on the dinosaur then remaining on all fours would conserve more energy. The tail is also accurate here; enough room for the ventral caudal ribs, not stiff, and not dragging either. The shape overall of the dinosaur is clearly going to inspire Hadrosaurs and that has been captured very well here. Also, something that has been altered from previous illustrations is the length and shape of the neck. The neck has been drawn behind the shoulders slightly and straightened minutely to avoid the giant S-curve found in other dinosaurs. The only really strange thing here is that the Allosaurus is roaring right in their faces and only one of the Camptosaurs seems even minutely alarmed. Maybe they were a lot more like big cows than we thought!

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