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STL Science Center
03 September 2011
Unfortunately, with the arguments over what Herrerasaurus is and is not for almost the entirety of our knowing of its existence, the illustrations of this Triassic dinosaur have suffered by being produced by confused artists. Perhaps some aren't confused they just adhere to one version of the Herrerasaurus story or another and that causes the strange illustrations. There are plenty of truly dinosaurian illustrations to be found related to Herrerasaurus, but today I decided we should look at the inaccurate ones more than the accurate ones. The reason I decided to take this path is just to illustrate what the strange arguments and divisions on what constitutes the first dinosaurs has done to Herrerasaurus. Clearly, if you look above, Herrerasaurus is quite capable of looking like a basic theropod; it possesses three fingered clawed hands, three digit feet, the long balancing tail, a long narrow snout (which would go "out of style" on big theropods but come back into evolution prominently in the maniraptora), and,
looking at the skeleton, the large conical teeth of a theropod. The teeth of Herrerasaurus were not heavily serrated like some carnivores and did not possess the large ampullae to prevent them from fracturing like some larger carnivores. These were in part due to its basal nature but also were not as heavily needed due to the fact that the hands of this dinosaur were available to help shred its food as well as to help it kill its food.
Enough about how much of a primitive dinosaur it was though. The discussion at one point was more about how Herrerasaurus was not even a dinosaur but a large bipedal reptile. Due to that description of Herrerasaurus we see quite a few illustrations like this to the left (artist unknown). The art itself is not bad at all. The fact that makes it inaccurate is that the head of the animal as depicted is that of an overgrown lizard. Its teeth are all covered by an extended lip (did dinosaurs have the ability to possess an extended lip? All we have to go by for now for most animals is fossilized tissue attachment sites but these tell us that dinosaurs did not possess advanced facial muscles or extended lips) and the head has a general appearance of belonging to a modern day skink or gecko. This aberration can only be in response to the idea that Herrerasaurus was an overgrown lizard rather than a dinosaur. This could also, of course, simply be the artist's impression of what the animal may look like.
I'm not even sure how I'm going to get into this. I'm really hoping someone has just grossly mislabeled this picture. First and foremost, the posturing is amazingly odd. The animal is hunched over like a vulture. Second, its hands are flat, there's no articulation of the joints, as if its bones were laid out on a table and then put back into its flesh and that's how it was forced to carry them. The tail is fat and stiff, which wouldn't have worked very well in such a lithe looking skeleton. The worst part, I think, is the head. Yes, the skull does have small protuberances above the eyes and fleshed out these were probably slightly larger than they look on the skull, but here they appear as though they are horns almost and that just doesn't work well with the overall picture of ridges on the skull unless there was quite a bit of musculature passing over the eyes or some rather uncalled for osteodermal ridges present in the flesh itself.