STL Science Center

STL Science Center

31 May 2012

Popularity Ruins Dinosaurs Anyway

Sinraptor, again like other Chinese dinosaurs, is just not that popular in the regular mediums; there are no dedicated children's books, no documentaries where it is considered a key player, and it is only mounted as a full skeleton in a very small number of museums. It has however, made it into the realm of toys
From the Carnegie Collection
and also into the collectable card game market, as we mentioned before here on Monday.
Where he looks fairly awesome
One of the the most important things to remember about this Late Jurassic predator is that, even though not particularly popular, they are the ancestors to more known theropods such as Giganotosaurus and Carcharodontosaurus which makes it quite a big deal even if Sinraptor itself isn't very popular.

June is Bird Month, so be prepared tomorrow for a lot of feathers!

30 May 2012

500th Post!

I know I said that once before, but I erased some none dinosaur posts, so this is officially the 500th dinosaur post.

Sinraptor's body is typical, we have gone over that, for a theropod. The adult was about 10 feet tall, 25 feet long and was pretty lithe as far as its belly is concerned meaning that it most likely did not weigh a whole lot like an herbivore the same height and length would have. The original skull was found to have "a variety of gently curving tooth drags or gouges, shallow, circular punctures and one fully penetrating lesion." The teeth were not anything particularly special, they were fairly expected to be what they are when you look at them. The fact that this dinosaur has three decent claws indicates that these claws may have been used fr either grasping or slashing. They are not the enormous attacking claws of an Allosaur but neither are they the tiny underpowered hand claws of a Ceratosaur. There is not too much extraordinary about it, I am sad to report, so today seems like a really short entry. Oh well, it happens!

29 May 2012

Trying to Read Papers is Difficult

Some days you have better luck finding truffles in a city park than you do a full length scientific paper (see LitToC article here). I have a few good abstracts to share though, and that is far better than nothing as it gives you a fairly good idea what the papers are about. Additionally, I wanted to note that I was re-examining the new Paul book, as I often do, and found it interesting that not only does he not recognize Y. hepengensis, Y. magnus, and Y. shangyouensis as separate species, but he places Sinraptor into the Yangchuanosaurus genus effectively eliminating the Sinraptor genus entirely. Interesting for sure. The abstracts that I wanted to share today are from Currie and Zhao's original naming paper
A new carnosaur (Dinosauria, Theropoda) from the Jurassic of Xinjiang, People's Republic of China and from another paper, which really only mentions Sinraptor, but is interesting in that it is about finding a fossil in Thailand that dates from around the same time. This new animal was placed in the sinraptorid family and thus may be very closely related to Sinraptor and Yangchuanosaurus so this paper would make a rather interesting read if we could access the entire paper as well. Perhaps someday we will be able to find more open sourced material, until that time we will have to make do with what we have. I'd be more in depth but I have to go do adult things today as someone hit my parked car yesterday.

28 May 2012

Motion Monday

I know I typically call it Movie Monday, but there are not, as I have noticed many times the past month, actual movies and very few documentaries which mention Chinese dinosaurs. Additionally, I would like to once again welcome new readers and thank profoundly all of the old readers as we have, for the first time ever here at Dinosaur of the Week, had an 8,000 plus viewing month! There still being four days in the month I would not be amazed if we got well over 9,000 but I am amazed and happy that I have reached that much of an audience already in the past month.

Monday though. We have a lot of short little user made videos that show very different interpretations of Sinraptor and we also have a few "tribute" videos we can choose from today. The good things about these "tributes" is that they have a lot of different illustrations of the animals, the bad thing is usually that the music is usually some type of numetal horror story that I cannot stand, sorry video makers, I do not like the music you usually pick, I admit it. That said, let us look at a few good examples of Sinraptor videos, "tribute" or otherwise.
It's rare that a dinosaur does not make it into a Dinosaur King reference. It may not be everyone's favorite anime, but it does happen to cover an enormous spectrum of paleo-animals. The first half of this video is a Sinraptor animation, the second half is being mean to a ceratopsian.
Again, the music is not to my taste, but if we're trying to find something I don't like about lots and lots of visuals of a dinosaur than all I am going to complain about is the music. Maybe I'm just stuck in the 90's when it comes to heavy music... and rap... and some other kinds of music.
As far as the tribute videos go, one of the most prolific makers of these videos is this guy: Archosaur King. I think, actually, he's one of the few people that uses music I can't complain about and I like that he finds a lot of images that are not your typical images from a Google search. It's worth the 6 minutes though to see all the different representations.

27 May 2012

We All Need To Learn Somedays

My longest posts are usually Saturdays because I do the illustration thing and I have time to look them up, but I have recently contemplated switching Tuesday and Saturday... but I may not do it. Regardless, I learned some things this morning about yesterday's post and that's what we are here for; to learn and grow together, as PBS as that may sound to some people. I am not, yet at least, a "professional" paleontologist and I have not until summer before last followed academic papers and such, so I am thankful that the paleo community is filled with such nice people that don't throw my occasional oopsy back in my face but show me why I was wrong and where the correct info is.

That's important to address today because I always devote Sundays to family time. Learning about something new with your children or other young relatives and even just taking the time out to sit back and color or read a book online or that you find at the store thanks to our ability to find it online and share it with one another on here. Anything really, so long as the involvement with the blog today is stressing relaxation and casual learning and fun as a family, no matter what kind of family you have. I guess we should get into it today then. Sadly Dinos for Kids and Kids Dinos do not have pages up for Sinraptor, which is okay. There is an abbreviated children's encyclopedia entry that everyone can read together though. I found a neat 3D coloring book as well, and it's not too expensive, but you'd have to order it online. Supposedly there's some Sinraptor in there, but even if it's just dinosaurs in general, that's a good present for your younger family members (or yourself!). As far as actual coloring sheets are concerned, they just don't really exist, so I recommend searching Google for black and white images or just following the search I did works too. There are a number of books and toys, but the books are all encompassing and I'll wait until Thursday to share toys with you. Have a good day relaxing and learning everyone!

26 May 2012

The Faces of Sinraptor

©Currie and Zhao (to the best of my knowledge)
Sinraptor is a theropod. There, I have almost completely summed up the entire illustrative world surrounding Sinraptor. All kidding aside though, Sinraptor has always been portrayed as a general dinosaur. Very typical lines and hands and face, never anything truly unique about it. In fact, the illustrations I did find that are unique took me a good deal of searching deep down in the bowels of the internet. The hands on the model here are a little broken looking honestly, but they are not that bad. The other images I dragged out are intriguing for a variety of reasons which I will get into shortly. The artists featured this week are Brett Booth and Brian Engh. I like finding artists new to our little community here and this week, I have succeeded very well. Plus all that delving into the fathoms of the internet trying to find something atypical and interesting for Sinraptor led me to new websites I have yet to mine for dinosaur gold.

©Brian Engh
Let's start with the face of Brian Engh. The face of Sinraptor by Brian Engh, I mean. I trudged around his site a bit this morning to get a feel for his art and that's normal routine for me. I know I do not really talk much about getting to know the artists unless we have a good conversation about the art (like I did with John Bindon a while back) but I felt that Mr. Engh's Sinraptor deserved a bit of justification because I know a lot of purists may balk at the eyes of this dinosaur. The nasal/prefrontal ridge is a wonderful character addition, as the skeleton does not imply its existence, and its inclusion here simply makes for a much more interesting and individual theropod as opposed to the usual variety that the word theropod creates in our mind. The same goes for the quill like protuberances about the neck and bottom of the mandible. The eyes, however, are right in line with Mr. Engh's other work and, though not the normal version of eyes we see in dinosaur illustration, convey emotions beyond the simple reptilian eat to live and lack of empathy and sympathy and even intelligence standpoint from which dinosaurs are often viewed.

©Brett Booth
Brett Booth, on the other hand, gives us a fairly normal body for a theropod, but as I said before, there is a specific reason I chose these two illustrations for today. I'm not knocking his illustration, not in the least bit. The eyes and head and body are very dinosaur, not much emotion, but the mechanics of it are what I want to highlight here. The typical running pose we see everywhere, but there are few times we see it from anywhere but from the side on and the times when we do see a theropod from either front or back, they are typically standing still or walking and frozen in a moment where the feet are on or about to leave/touch the ground. Regardless, the toes are already splayed and ready to meet the ground (linked image is ©Gregory Paul from a discussion by Scott Person on tail depiction found on Art Evolved). Here, however, Mr. Booth has given us an image of an active predator which is certainly interested in something or tracking some morsel and has picked up its foot allowing the feet to relax enough so that the toes are no longer splayed out. Your own feet do this to a much lesser extent, in case you haven't ever looked at your toes when you walk. It's a balance thing and relaxing the toes when they lift, if it does anything specifically, allows them to easily clear objects and not kick the dinosaur's own leg with its massive toe claws. Seeing it as we rarely do in an illustration is wonderful and shows a range of mechanics in this Sinraptor which we typically do not see in dinosaur illustration, which is wonderful and worthy of our praise and admiration as well.

25 May 2012

Chinese Thieves

Quick question: is it possible to have a more sinister translation of a name than "Chinese Thief"? I believe the answer is yes, when the name not translated is Sinraptor, you are already sounding pretty devious. A carnosaur, Sinraptor dongi, and purported second species Sinraptor hepingensis, make up a rather small genus of Chinese Late Jurassic animals which have also lent their name to a family distinction, the Sinraptoridae, which also includes the genus Yangchuanosaurus. These large theropods are not related to the little dromaeosaurs often referred to as "raptors" or any other dinosaur with raptor in the name such as Oviraptor. Few remains have been found and those that have been found are on display or stored in China and have been such since their discovery in 1987.

24 May 2012

Never Popular Chinese Dinosaurs

Majestically posed on a rock
Despite being a Chinese dinosaur, which does seem to be a handicap to the popularity of many animals that we have seen from China in the past, Huayangosaurus actually does seem to have a bit of a following out in the world in different places. There are toys, video game references, books, even an independent animation, which looks like it may have been a school project but is very well done, and of course papers and illustrations of Huayangosaurus. The only good toys I could find are made be Kaiyodo and can be found on ebay if nowhere else. I did find about a million shots of that one toy though.
Overhead shot, Huayangosaurus on far right. Look at those spikes
 I also found Zoo Tycoon references for Huayangosaurus on Youtube. I would rather link it today so it goes directly to the Huayangosaurus. Finally, I have for you, the short animation sequence. As I said before, very well done, and it looks like it was done for a class, but awesomely done for a class if that be the case. The sound is a little much, I won't lie, but it looks good.

23 May 2012

Huayangosaurus Was Discovered When I Was Discovered

The twelve original specimens were unearthed in 1982, the same year I was born, that is pretty interesting and a small fun fact. Unfortunately, none of those twelve individuals consisted of complete specimens. The fact that twelve were found all together is, in itself, quite intriguing. Typically we don't see Stegosaurus traveling in herds in the fossil evidence or in the documentaries we have available, however, is it possible that Huayangosaurus was a herding animal? I wonder if this has been looked into or if it is considered a washed out area where bodies collected during a flood or something. Then again, if it was a wash out from a flood there would be other dinosaurs present too, so I may have just answered that question for good. Regardless, they collected for some reason and sudden death in a flood or mudslide or avalanche could account for this, I cannot tell anyone what it was because I have not found mention of the soil particulates that made up the rocks of the find, and this collection, I am willing to bet, was, if not herding behavior, at least a giant get together for the purposes of little stegosaurian love.

A note about the anatomy of this basal stegosaur. Huayangosaurus was placed within its own family on account of its rather basal skeleton, which we previously glossed over vaguely. The spikes on the shoulders I think we have covered more than enough of this past week. The skull, though, to the right, we have barely mentioned other than to state that it is very basal and almost resembles that of a nodosaur. After I made that comment I checked the group's tree and realized, though I still have not found an "official" opinion which backs up my assertion, that the head probably looks this way in part because it is so basal that it represents the first species on the stegosaur branch of the tree after stegosaurs and ankylosaurs began to evolve away from each other. Should that prove correct, and anyone that can back me up or disprove it is more than welcome to chime in, then I would feel pretty darned awesome about it. However, there is more than a neat theory behind the skull. The skull itself has premaxillary teeth, a trait not found in stegosaurs. Early nodosaurs also have some small evidence of premaxillary teeth prior to the beak adaptations of ankylosaurus and later nodosaurs showing in the fossil record.

22 May 2012

Paying for Publications

Huayangosaurus does not believe in free publication. Actually, that is not completely true at all. scientific journals do not believe in free publications and pretty much all of the quality papers on Huayangosaurus are in scientific journals; you cannot really fault company for wanting to protect the rights of its authors and to cover its publication costs. That explained, let us share the abstracts today and if you have your own subscription or want to buy a single article, well you don't need me to tell you that it's okay obviously. The first one I found I can actually look at and I have shown everyone the edition of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology that the paper resides in; a paper on Germanodactylus shares its pages which we discussed previously. If you're not a member of the SVP you can still read the abstract here but if you are, and this is my personal opinion, I recommend opening the PDF via BioOne rather than Taylor and Francis. I always seem to have trouble with T&F telling me I didn't pay for the article even though I'm signed into the SVP site and got there from the SVP site. Basically what you're looking at there is a revamped description of Huayangosaurus done in 2005-2006 which redefines the skeleton a little bit, tweaking previous observations and making new inferences pertaining to the structure of Huayangosaurus' body. In a slightly older, about 14 years older actually, paper also in the JVP, which I cannot get my hands on because they are not backdated online that far, Paul Sereno and Doug Zhimin took a look at the skull of Huayangosaurus and analyzed the clade diagnosis of all of stegosauria using Huayangosaurus as the basal model. That's my impression at least, without reading the entire paper we cannot say for certain of course. If anyone has a copy feel free to let me know, or write in your own opinion of it and we can share!

21 May 2012

Moving Huayangosaurus

Apparently Australia loves animatronic dinosaurs. I found two videos of Huayangosaurus in Dinosaurs Alive! exhibits in two separate locations; Sydney and Adelaide for anyone keeping track.
My favorite part of the one above is the kid at the very end yelling "There's a dinosaur! There!" The other video is the same thing, obviously, but at a different angle, which is helpful if you want to see the details of the model that was created for the exhibit. It's only the head that is shown, however. Great details in the skin and face though, so it's worth a minute of your time.
There really are no actual documentaries which mention Huayangosaurus, again I say we should call for a series on Chinese dinosaurs, and, to my knowledge, there is no mention of them that I can find on Dinosaur Train, the Nickelodeon dinosaur show, or videos of appearances in the Dinosaur King cartoon. Once again, however, I certainly welcome updated information like I received Thursday last week, so if anyone knows of a good video, send it to us to update this entry!

20 May 2012

I Get Smarter

Yes kids of the world, yours truly can learn to do things a new way some days even after two years of doing things the hard way. First, our friends at Kid's Dinos have a page to share on Huayangosaurus for your reading pleasure. I still love their little maps and graphs for the kids to look at. I also found an excerpt available online from the National Geographic "Dinopedia" that was designed for kids that is all about Huayangosaurus. Now, on to what I thought of. I really shouldn't say learned, because I knew how to do this before, I just never thought to do it before today. In my search for coloring pages for the family to have fun with I finally had the brilliant idea to search the images on Google in black and white. Why this never occurred to me before today, I do not know, but I found some good ones to share with everyone today! Bear in mind that Huayangosaurus is not really a high demand dinosaur, so the pages I have that you can color today 1) belong to another person and 2) is not very professional.

©Harrison Cooper


19 May 2012

Skeletal Blueprint

Huayangosaurus is a tiny bit of a mystery. Some sources state that there are spikes held horizontally at the shoulder (and most illustrations go with this model) while some say they are held horizontally at the hips. Gregory Paul has drawn skeletals with and without spikes attached at the shoulders as well. The thing that gets me here, however, is that I have yet to find a displayed skeleton with a prominent spike at either position. There is, in some instances, a visible extension of the scapula which may or may not constitute the core of this rear facing and not entirely horizontal spike. If that is what the idea of the spike is based off of, I accept that completely, but I do not see the giant spikes jutting out enormously that we see in illustrations. In fact, the spike looks tiny and even with an outer keratin sheath while alive the spike would not have added to the frontal girth of the animal much. Any thorn can hurt, as most anyone can attest to, but this certainly does not look as dangerous as it does when illustrated. The skull of H. taibaii is very basal in its likeness to what we think of when we hear the name Stegosaurus. Their skull almost looks more like that of a nodosaur or ankylosaur at the angle presented above than it does like any other stegosaur. It's not a case of wrong head wrong body though, that is simply how far back down the line Huayangosaurus is on the stegosaur family tree. The plates are also smaller than other stegosaurs, though not small and eccentric like in the African Kentrosaurus, and this gives the animal the look of being a juvenile Stegosaurus. However, we know quite well that this is not the case, that it is in fact just the smaller (15 feet as opposed to 30 feet) adult of Huayangosaurus. Such an evolutionary pattern makes sense in a world in which the predators were evolving larger stronger frames over time to grapple with the larger sauropods. Had the stegosaur family not followed suit by bulking up and growing longer and taller, they would have been too easy to pick off for predators such as Allosaurus and Yangchuanosaurus. Gasosaurus, a 13 foot long predator of Huayangosaurus, attests to this proportionality battle between predator and prey (another prey item at the time in China which was large and heavily populating the land was Shunosaurus at 31 feet and 3 tons which is small for a sauropod). One more thing that is key to identifying Huayangosaurus is the tail. Unlike Stegosaurus, which had its tail spikes oriented more toward the lateral line of the tail and extremely rear facing, the spikes of Huayangosaurus are more central and vertical. A small bony club nodule also ends the tail of Huayangosaurus whereas later stegosaurs do not possess this bony nodule. This is one more instance of evidence of the divergence in evolution of stegosaurs from their cousins the nodosaurs and ankylosaurs.Personally, I am much more of a marginocephalian (horns, frills, and domed skulls) person typically, but looking at stegosaurs and ankylosaurs a lot since I have started this blog has made me really come to love their families (also known as the thyreophora) as well.

18 May 2012

Newly "Invented" Species

Basal stegosaurids. Not really "invented" so much as evolved, but a new family, even through evolution, is technically an invention of life and in China was born a new family, the stegosaurids, and their first member appears to be Huayangosaurus. Huayangosaurus taibaii is named after a poet, specifically, and an alternative name to the province of Sichuan which is Huayang, generically. This, like many other Chinese stegosaurs, is often portrayed with shoulder spikes. I am looking into this. Huanyangosaurus lived 20 million years before Stegosaurus in the heart of the Jurassic of China. He was a tiny guy, 4.5 meters (about 15 feet), and had a unique tail arrangement. His plates were smaller than other stegosaurs and the spikes mentioned are typically portrayed at the shoulders but have been mentioned as being on the hips as well; we all love a little mystery.

17 May 2012

Popular Culture Day

Yangchuanosaurus has many popular culture outlets borrowing its image detailing its facts. Some not in a very detailed way; for instance Dinosaur Train so far has only used the animal as part of its alphabet song. Dinosaur King, as almost always at least, has also used Yangchuanosaurus as the basis for five cards in the card game as well as appearing in the after school cartoon. They also figure into the Dinosaur King video game as well. speaking of video games, there is an entry from Spore, as we typically see. I think this one is done fairly well. There are toys and books as well, as we have seen, the books I mean. Safari's Yangchuanosaurus is peculiarly scratching it's face (or trying to smell his hand, I'm not sure). There are a ton more toys and books out there to find, and more popular culture references, but these lot above I think are the best available to us to share today!


The Dinosaur Train A To Z/Classification Picnic was recently put on TV and I did not know it, sadly. Yangchuanosaurus sounds a lot like George Takai, and that makes me happy. You can watch it in four parts on PBS' website.

16 May 2012

For the first time ever on the Dinosaur of the Week blog, we want your input as to which animal we should cover next week! Vote now and be heard!

Species of a Sinraptor

Y. shangyouensis came from a skull and assorted skeletal bits, as most dinosaurs do unfortunately. Y. magnus was nearly the same, but much larger. Y. hepingensis is not even considered a species by some that belongs to Yangchuanosaurus, but is considered to be a second species of the genus Sinraptor; which for the moment only contains definitively Sinraptor dongi. There are conflicting arrangements of Y. hepingensis in many places. Gregory Paul considers it a distinctive species of Yangchuanosaurus in his newest publications with the other two species representing one species in different stages of growth while many others have taken to calling it Sinraptor hepingensis. It's rather astounding how much confusion there is. There may very well be an official answer, and it does look as though that answer ends in the Sinraptor genus, but if it does, no one told all of the websites and even some official sources. Paleontology just has too many squabbles over ideas and theories without ways to prove some of them definitively, and that is okay in the end.

15 May 2012

Late Post

Today I woke up nearly 45 mins late, so I apologize that I am just now sitting down to post today. However, I have a good paper and a "vintage" book. It was published in 2009 but the art looks somewhat vintage. The paper I found names and describes the new species, doubted by Paul, Yangchuanosaurus hepingensis. This is a very descriptive paper that has a lot of good illustrations and goes into good detail about the new species. The book is called Dinosaurs Through Time and is by Nicholas Harris. The book is factual, but a little vintage in the art department, but it looks pretty good and engaging for young readers. I suggest looking at both of them though.

14 May 2012

China, A Documentary Please!

Yangchuanosaurus suffers from the same fate as nearly every dinosaur from China. Save a few megastars like Velociraptor and the early birds found in China, there are very few Chinese dinosaurs that actually make it into key performances in documentaries. That does not mean that Yangchuanosaurus has never been talked about on film. In the Brookfield Zoo a few years ago there was a campaign run to vote for the most likeable dinosaur statuary in the zoo. The contest was labeled "Mesozoic Idol" and launched mainly through Youtube videos. Therefore, we have one from the Brookfield Zoo available to us. They dressed up the statue in 80's leg warmers, it's a little strange and they did happen to mention the song I keep thinking of when I say Yangchuanosaurus, so enjoy the minute of fun.
The other video I found is very short on information and then has about a minute's worth of info on TerraNova, the short lived Fox show. Sad that it's gone, buuuuuut it wasn't the best cancelled scifi show I've ever watched, so on with the dinosaur information:

13 May 2012

Mother's Day in the Dinosaur World

Yangchuanosaurus, if she was anything like we believe Allosaurus and other large theropods were like, probably cared for her young until they could at least hunt for themselves; less than a year most likely. Now, of course, that does not take into account the idea that theropods may have acted as modern birds do in some ways with flocking habits which would incorporate the young into the flock as soon as they were able to join the general movements of a flock, but who knows for sure if theropods were like geese or hawks? They may have been like either or neither; someday maybe we will get to find out, but perhaps not. I hope they're more like geese, but still, who knows.

Anyhow, what I have for today is sadly devoid of coloring, which may be okay because, it being Mother's Day, you kids may not have much time today to sit and think about dinosaurs. So what I do have to share is three child friendly, quick and easy to read sites for learning. They are:
1) Kids Dinos
2) Kids Dig Dinos
3) Enchanted Learning

12 May 2012

The Yangchuan Lizard's Profile

A lot of characteristics come together here
Yangchuanosaurus has a skull open to interpretation, let us start off by saying that. The ridges and bumps on the top of the nasal, frontal, and parietal bones in particular have evoked ideas of similarities between this animal and Ceratosaurus while simultaneously evoking images of the brow ridges of Allosaurus and its closest relatives. The snout itself is not elongated but somewhat stubbed, like that of Carnotaurus rather than either Ceratosaurus or Allosaurus, however, its body form is much more like that of Allosaurus than either Carnotaurus or Ceratosaurus. Yangchuanosaurus is somewhat of an enigma thanks to all of these slight similarities. However, unlike all of these previously noted similarities, it seems to also possess high vertebral spines, in one mounted skeleton at any rate,
No high spines here
compared to these animals which evokes more of an Acrocanthosaurus type image, further enhancing our enigma. In the end it is an entirely unique animal which has characteristics from all over that had either evolved already or were evolving throughout the development of this genus. What we have is a member of the sinraptoridae which is obviously related to allosaurs and later animals but took its own course at the same time. It is a truly interesting animal as it was well developed for its niche in the Chinese environment in which it lived, taking the position in the niche which Allosaurus, rather than Ceratosaurus, held contemporaneously in North America. This was certainly an animal at home with attacking stegosaurs and sauropods and, like Allosaurus, most likely hunted in packs when it needed to if not always.

©Mark Hallett
This illustration goes for exactly what I was just saying. Actually, this is only a pair as far as we can tell from this exact image in the scene, but it is quite clear that they are working on isolating a sauropod, which is certainly not Mamenchisaurus given the neck length shown here, from its herd. Not that the sauropod, Shunosaurus, has a tail club with a few spikes represented on it. That sort of hunting environment, where the sauropods as well as the stegosaurus wielded clubs must mean that Yangchuanosaurus must have been quite a robust animal to survive. I have not seen any braincase studies but looking at the prey items available I feel it is safe to say that Yangchuanosaurus more than likely had a solid skull and that its bones were heavy things able to withstand some of the punishment its prey could dish out. If they were not, this would not have been a very successful animal. It does certainly have the teeth and claws needed for inflicting grave injury, but to get in that close it would have needed both speed and the ability to absorb a punch to the face. I have a feeling that we are going to find this animal to be quite a prize fighter.

The general consensus with illustrations appears to give Yangchuanosaurus bumps and ridges more like a Ceratosaurus than the prominent sustained brow ridges of Allosaurus. Either way I am okay with this because I think a little bit of raggedness to the silhouette of a dinosaur is fairly awe inspiring and makes it look much more like a real animal. Imperfections and individual bumps and ridges which can identify an individual are, after all, hallmarks of most living animals today across the spectrum. Though we generally do not see differences in one ant as opposed to another, say, they are there and they make them what they are, and that is quite interesting. Therefore, I think rather that the ridges and bumps found on the skulls of Yangchuanosaurus are probably highly distinct and because of that they can be illustrated any number of ways in order to show this individuality.

11 May 2012

This Makes Me Think of an 80's Song

©Dmitry Bogdanov
Yangchuanosaurus is a genus of Chinese sinraptorids that consists of two species; Y. shangyouensis (type) and Y. magnus; Paul includes Y. magnus in Y. shangyouensis and names another species Y. dongi. The generic name means Yanchuan's lizard while the specific names mean "of Shangyou" (it was found during construction of the Shangyou Reservoir Dam in 1978) and "great" respectively; Paul's recognized Y. dongi is named after the paleontologist who described the first species of the genus.  Paul notes that that species, Y. dongi, barely differs from Y. shangyouensis and that Y. magnus is a growth stage of the latter rather than a distinct species. A new species was recognized in 1992 called Y. hepingensis, but has not been considered anything more than a growth stage of the type species in recent years. Sinraptors tend to be very Allosaur-like (and at times Megalosaur-like) and therefore Yangchuanosaurus is very much like an Allosaur in appearance. It's tail is robust and larger than its body, it has a large set of jaws and teeth and three fingered hands with large claws. Despite all of these features, it also possessed a ridge on its nose not unlike that found in Ceratosaurus or a very small version of what we found on the head of Monolophosaurus. The narrowness of the skull seems to indicate that their eyesight may have had some overlapping regions and thus some depth perception, though I cannot say for certain as I have not yet found a skull view which I can make an assured educated guess with.

10 May 2012

Mamenchisaurus and the Pop Culture Caper

©Hirokazu Tokugawa
1/30 scale model
I always find it strange to report that a dinosaur as extraordinary as Mamenchisaurus has very little to offer us on a popular culture day. There are a few books, though no preview is available online of these books, and there is at least one toy, though it seems this may be the only toy that has been "reviewed" online and that others are certainly out there. There are also scale models, as seen here, which are always neat for dinosaurs, but I personally do not have the space for models of dinosaurs. Perhaps one day I will have a glorious office with space enough for all kinds of dinosaurs on shelves in my office. That day has not yet come though. There are also bigger sculptures that are immobile and jut out of buildings as well as mounted skeletons in museums and models in those museums also. The neck coming out of the building is rather interesting though, for some reason. There is also this awesomeness from the Czech dinosaur park that I sometimes share here:

09 May 2012

Species Rundown

If I go according to Greg Paul on this list there will be a lot of quotation marks and questioning of the genus. I do not recall reading in his newest book, The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs, where he feels they belong, but I do remember a lot of quotation marks, which he was using to signify what he thought may be dubious specific or generic names. I know there's a theory in there somewhere. Regardless, at the moment the generally accepted viewpoint is that Mamenchisaurus is a valid genus and its holotype is M. constructus which was found at a construction site for a Chinese highway and consists of a very small amount of skeletal material which does not include the skull. Wikipedia gives a nice rundown of the species and where or how they were found which, today, because I am short on time, I am going to pilfer, with acknowledgement:
  • M. anyuensis He, Yang, Cai, Li & Liu, 1996. Approximately 21 meters (69 ft) in length. Known from both the Suining Formation and Penglaizhen Formation.
  • Young, 1954: (Type species) The holotype specimen, represented by a partial skeleton and was 13 m (43 ft) long.
  •  ?M. fuxiensis Hou, Zhao & Chu, 1976: Partial skeleton, include parts of a skull. It was originally named Zigongosaurus, and may be a different genus.
  • M. hochuanensis Young & Zhao, 1972: Four partial skeletons. Known from Shaximiao Formation and 22 m (72 ft) in length.
  • M. jingyanensis Zhang, Li & Zeng, 1998. Known from Shaximiao Formation and estimated between 20 to 26 metres (66 to 85 ft) in length.
  • M. sinocanadorum D. Russell & Zheng, 1994: Partial skull, isolated bones. Known from the upper part of the Shishugou Formation (about 160 Ma ago), it may have been the largest, estimated up to 26 meters (85 ft) in length.
  • M. youngi Pi, Ouyang & Ye, 1996: Mamenchisaurus youngi (pronunciation YOUNG-eye) was unearthed in Xinmin County, Zigong City in Sichuan Province, China, in 1989. The species was named in honour of Young. It was a very complete and articulated specimen presvering all the vertebra from the head up until the 8th tail vertebra. It had 18 neck vertebra. At 16 meters (52 ft) long with a 6.5-meter (21 ft) neck, is relatively small among various species of Mamenchisaurus.

08 May 2012

Finding Chinese Papers

Original Chinese studies of dinosaurs are very hard to find online. There are probably many reasons for this, but I certainly do not want to enter the realm of conjecture and stereotyping their government this morning; as many conversations about secrecy in China often end up doing. Regardless, some studies have had papers published that I can find that are about, or at least mention Mamenchisaurus. The first paper I found is a description of one of the newer species to be placed in the Mamenchisaurus genus, M. jingyanensis. If it will allow you to download, I did not check this morning, you will have a paper that describes a new species, we know what those are like, so it will not harbor any enormous surprises.

I also found the abstract, and I wish you could download this one without buying it, a paper on a study of the tail club found in Mamenchisaurus and the supposed function of that club. The fact that the club exists is interesting in a sauropod, the fact that I cannot read someone's findings on the club is a little sad.

Another paper, which also must be purchased it appears, that I found interesting through the abstract, is about the classification and evolution of Mamenchisaurus by Liu Kui and Cai Kaiji. Given the title, it may be a dry scientific paper, but I am interested in it all the same as it appears to be the first study including all the species of Mamenchisaurus found to 1997; which we know is not every species since the first paper names a species found in 1998. If we had both papers drawing a conclusion between the evolution as seen by Kui and Kaiji and the newly found specimen could prove interesting.

All of the other papers which briefly mention Mamenchisaurus which I have found are actually about vastly different topics or animals and as such I will not present them here today. I would like to have the original naming paper so as to share how such scant remains came to be regarded as a sauropod and one with an extremely elongated neck at that, but today, it is not in the cards.

07 May 2012

Movie-less Mamenchisaurus

It is kind of amazing that we don't see all kinds of movies about Mamenchisaurus' long neck, or at least one. I am of the mind that every dinosaur deserves their own starring role in a documentary though, so I am a little biased. Not even every living animal today has its own high production documentary; I have yet to see a Discovery special on the horse, for example. There are cheap videos on how to raise your horse or how to care for horses, how to learn to ride horses, but even these cheaper straight to home video versions of documentaries do not exist for Mamenchisaurus, which is said. Instead, I have found some tours caught on tape of exhibits, which will still give a nice view of the skeletons and overall shape of the dinosaur, which is what we want from a documentary in part. This is a substitute, but it is still pretty wonderful.
You have to love Japanese museums and their fixation on robotic dinosaurs.
Mark Norell oversees some fantastic exhibits as well at the AMNH.

06 May 2012

Children Love "Long Necks"

They may indeed love them, but their love is not reciprocated heavily here. Mamenchisaurus has somehow lost out on the children's industry a little even though it is a spectacular looking dinosaur. That being said, there is an entry on Kid's Dinos, our, so far, most in depth child related site. There is also an Enchanted Learning page with a picture to color which is, as always, very inaccurate. Kids won't mind for the most part though. There is no mention of it on Dinosaur Train or any other child related television show, and this makes me sad. I am borrowing another Josep Zacarias piece for you readers to feast your eyes, and crayons, on though.
©Josep Zacarias

05 May 2012

What An Exceedingly Long Neck You Have!

©Scott Hartman
This generation of paleontologists grew up on the skeletons of Gregory Paul but his art is getting harder and harder to find online even without purchasing copyrights. I understand a man has to eat and in that pursuit I have always tried to ask permission before, or been willing to take down art after it is posted if asked to do so. I can't even get in touch with Mr. Paul most of the time and therefore I have to turn to the equally brilliant and accurate work of Scott Hartman, who I can ask for permission from and if I have ever forgotten to do so I apologize to him and everyone that that affects. Regardless, Mr. Hartman's skeletals are for the generation coming up, what Paul's were for the current generation and that is due in part to the fact that I find them all over the internet in papers, on his sites, and embedded in dinosaur stories and art collections made independently. The fact that he has produced a very diagnostic specimen of Mamenchisaurus will help in viewing other artist's illustrations of the long necked sauropod. This particular Mamenchisaurus appears in Mr. Hartman's blog on an update concerning tail rigidity and flexibility and, as you can see, the tail of Mamenchisaurus does not possess the bony rods that have come to be associated with rigid balancing tails and therefore must have some side to side flexibility, which we can discuss with the illustrations shortly.

©Stephen O'Connor
This illustration is an exact copy, though the positioning is obviously contrary and then somewhat rotated, of Scott Hartman's skeletal. The brachiosaurid nature of the skull presented in the actual skeleton and in the above skeletal drawing is well represented here, remember that for the next illustrations. The tail here is visibly flexing and has a little of the whip-like structure that we will talk about in a moment also. This is an attribute given to diplodocids, if you remember that old entry, but has been transferred to many sauropods with longer tails that taper drastically like Mamenchisaurus. The illustration is a good fleshing out of Hartman's skeletal, and it uses the brachiosaur-like skull of M. youngi, but not every illustration has done that in the past. One thing about the tail which this and all of the other illustrations are "missing" is the supposed tail club found with M. hochuanensis. The purpose or the and the extent of use of the tail club are as yet unknown.

©Mark Hallett
I think the most iconic of Mamenchisaurus images belongs to Mark Hallett. Hallett clearly did not use M. youngi as a model as we can tell by looking at the skulls of the juvenile and the adult. The fact is that not all of the skulls have been fully found or pieced together for every species of Mamenchisaurus. This is problematic for a number of reasons and one of those would certainly be that older illustrations, like this masterpiece, may have been partly inspired but what was assumed to be a very diplodocid or apatosaur like body and the related assumption that skull formation would then be very Diplodocus or Apatosaurus like in appearance.
©Raul Martin
Finding the majority of the skull in M. youngi may have been an amazing stroke of luck, but it does also make fantastic illustrations like this make the head look rather strange if the M. youngi brachiosaurid skull is template for all skulls in the genus. The horizontal apatosaur holding of the neck would then look a little out of place because we are so used to seeing brachiosaur skulls vertical and apatosaur skulls horizontal to the ground. Since I have not seen all the remains, and not all of the species had full skulls including M. constructus (which had no skull), M. hochuanensis, M. sinocanadorum (partial skulls), M. jingyanensis (majority of skull), and M. anyunensis (no mention of skulls), though, I cannot just toss about theories today on what all of the skulls looked like. Paul has illustrated the M. hochuanensis as having a skull which is intermediate between the skulls of apatosaur-like Mamenchisaurs like shown by Hallett and Martin and the brachiosaur-like skull of M. youngi.

One last thing to notice before I leave it alone for the rest of the day is that the skull of M. youngi clearly was magnificent regardless of whether it is the actual template or the intermediate skull of M. hochuanensis is the template for the genus. Just look at those robust teeth! This thing probably could have eaten mammals and lizards with ease to be honest. I am sure that they probably ate mainly tough plants by stripping the leaves or ferns, but those teeth could be a weapon or an omnivore's teeth to a degree for sure. They wouldn't be as good as a theropod's teeth, but they're pretty fantastic.

04 May 2012

Highway Bridge-Like Dinosaurs

In 1952 in Sichuan, China, a dinosaur was found in the path of a highway. Like a giant opossum in the road it blocked construction until someone could be called to figure out what it was and move it safely. 14 incomplete vertebrae were discovered and the studied skeleton that was removed was named Mamenchisaurus constructus. Clever, getting the construction site of the highway into the name there. Twenty years later another species with 19 neck vertebrae was discovered and named M. hochuanensis. The list does go on, Mamenchisaurus is a genus made up of seven species, but the general agreeing attribute of all of the Mamenchisaurus finds was an extremely elongated neck. The tail is also fairly long, though nowhere near as  exaggerated as the neck is; the neck making up half the length of the animal in the same way that the tail of Sinosauropteryx made up half of that dinosaur's length. These peaceful giants lumbered through the Jurassic Chinese plains for nearly 25 million years, as a genus. This week will be filled with discovering what their world was like, what adaptations they may have had, and what exactly they needed that enormous neck for.

03 May 2012

Popular Culture is for Other Dinosaurs

Strangely, despite three documentaries which I sampled on Monday, there is no other television mention of Sinosauropteryx which has made any kind of waves. This is okay honestly, but strange. We know some about its diet of mammals and lizards. We have an educated guess pertaining to how it laid eggs, two at the same time, thanks to some fossilized eggs found in the abdomen of one specimen in a place that is much more conducive to the eggs being un-layed rather than undigested eggs.We have also seen the evidence for coloring and feathering as presented and debated many times over in many scholarly papers. Evidence from the rocks around where the fossils have been found indicate a fern covered forest, a freshwater lake, and periodic death by volcano. The temperatures this little fellow lived in were about 50 degrees Fahrenheit as an average through the years.

But where does this leave us in terms of popular culture? Other than debates and interesting new information, what kind of impact has this dinosaur had on the human world? It has a page on Enchanted Learning, though not illustrated, thankfully as their dinosaurs tend to look awful. It also has an entry in The Theropod Database, which is about as dry as science gets in terms of reading, though it is a very useful database to know about; no offense to Mickey Mortimer who compiled the vast amounts of information. There is a very short National Geographic model which takes into account the coloring that I think I should share. Not many of the actual documentary "shots" took the coloration in to consideration.

Also, this needs to be mass marketed:

02 May 2012

Describing Tiny Dinosaurs

Admit it, you want one.
While Compsognathus roamed Europe a cousin in Sinosauropteryx was bouncing around in China. There were a number of anatomical differences, however, and additionally, a lot of strange things were found in the Sinosauropteryx fossils that have thus far been unearthed. In the list of anatomical differences the first thing that stands out is that the skull of Sinosauropteryx is about 15% longer than the femur whereas in Compsognathus the femur and the skull are about the same length. Secondly, the arms of Sinosauropteryx are shorter compared to their legs than the arms of Compys (sliding into "Jurassic Park" shortening of words, hope no one minds!). As we stated before, Sinosauropteryx had extremely long tails. In fact, the tail consisted of 64 caudal vertebrae, an enormous amount of vertebrae for such a small animal. They also had enormous hands which were about half as long as their feet and almost as long as their entire arms. Large first and second digits ended in large claws and were constructed of irregularly thick bones for fingers. Its teeth were even strange with the front teeth acting more as incisors while the further back in the mouth one goes we start to find teeth that are serrated as we expect in most theropods. This dinosaur was already a conundrum before the feather debate came about and erupted and certainly before traces of what are thought to be soft organs and last meals were found.

John Ruben described a pigmented smear within the rib cage of a Sinosauropteryx as the remnants of its liver and went on to describe the liver as existing in a crocodilian form which would have been used to help the animal breathe as a "hepatic piston." Another study determined that the flattened nature of the skeleton means this pigment could be any organ that had been squashed along with the skeleton and therefore identification was not possible. Additionally, pigmentation thought to represent the eye was found in the ocular cavity of the animal. Finding a dinosaur eye would be fantastic and I do not even know what it would mean for science right now. Additionally, there have been reported instances, though not highly publicly available, of the fossils being found with eggs in the body prior to laying and also with lizards in the stomach. Why these are not well known quite yet I cannot fully comprehend, but if the little flashes of information that I have seen about them is all true, these would be an amazing boon for the knowledge of this one genus at least. Part of the reason for this secretive nature may lie in the Chinese government, who, if they are hiding some fossil evidence, is acting like a bunch of hoodlums in depriving paleontologists the ability to study and disseminate information about the skeletons. I am not about to take on the Chinese today though!

01 May 2012

Hotly Debated Topics

I almost hit the goldmine for papers today, but sadly, the links on one of my favorite paper collections, The Theropod Archives, have been taken down since posted. That is very sad for the scientific community and for our group specifically because there were a good number of hard to find articles on there that just are not hosted online anymore most likely due to copyright problems.

Anyway, there are a number of the papers that are available online in part because this is such a highly debatable dinosaur find that it has drawn many scientists into the fray and they have published their individual studies. There are a good number of angles represented in the three papers and one article that I have for today. The first paper is the paper which names the animal genus and species and describes the fossil. Ji and Ji do a very good job of describing the animal from its fossil and consider it to be a small primitive bird rather than a small dinosaur. That is perfectly fine and it takes away from absolutely nothing about the animal in terms of dinosaur or bird structuring of the skeleton. They state assertively, as most scientists tend to do in their papers, that this is definitively a bird and belongs in the class Aves; therein starts the debate that is still going on unresolved.

Larry Martin, an opponent of the dinosaur to birds theory, believes that another branch of reptile in the Triassic led to birds independently from dinosaur routes and that feathered dinosaurs are in fact giant flightless birds. Last I checked at least, feel free to update me. Regardless at the moment, we have a paper from Dr. Martin which discusses the evidence of feather evolution in the fossil record. His assertion related to Sinosauropteryx is just as stated above; he sees the "dinosaur" as a flightless bird of the Cretaceous. This is well and good and it gives another unique side to the bird-dinosaur debate and thereby, typically, leads to interesting conversations. It is a side worth reading and entertaining even if you are a solid bird-dinosaur person.

In a slightly similar to Martin paper by Lingham-Soliar, Feduccia, and Wang the argument is made that these are not feathers at all but degraded collagen that is present in the Sinosauropteryx fossils. What does that mean to us? It means that these scientists are saying that these "feathers" as viewed by Ji and Ji, Martin, Currie, and others, are actually support structures which existed to toughen up the skeleton and not actually feathers at all. I think this paper is interesting and certainly a good read. It's an interesting take on the debates over Sinosauropteryx for sure.

The last article today is by Unwin in a January 1998 volume of Nature (if he has since reversed his opinion on Sinosauropteryx and feathering I cannot say). In the article he describes some of the interesting finds in the many Sinosauropteryx finds to that date including eggs, meals, and the feathering. Also, he differs from Martin in comparing Sinosauropteryx to, as he calls it, its relative, the dinosaur Compsognathus. Though dated, this is a good article to read not just about Sinosauropteryx, but to get a better picture of the history of feathering and other structures in a small convenient article.