STL Science Center

STL Science Center

31 July 2014

Whale's Tale

A lot of stories have been told this week about Cetiosaurus including the discovery of the Rutland Dinosaur and the original description and naming of the genus by Richard Owen. The popularity of Cetiosaurus does not hinge so much on these stories or that it is technically the first sauropod ever described. The fact that Cetiosaurus is famous at all is owed to the seemingly, these days, odd influence of natural history museums and the collected knowledge of paleontology as a science. Paleontologists have known of Cetiosaurus for a long time and it has been on display in the museums of the United Kingdom for an equally long time. These facts have led to the other important factors that influence popularity in the general public: toys, some form of marketing (usually documentaries or cartoons), and books. As usual most of these things are aimed directly at children, though the guys at the Dinosaur Toy Collector's Guide, Dinosaur Toy Blog, and the modellers at CollectA would disagree that toys are just for kids. Children's books featuring Cetiosaurus are not frequent, but one, the cover of which is shown below, features Cetiosaurus heavily. Dinosaur King and the Republic of Gabon have even hit the popularity circuit with Cetiosaurus. Why Gabon has Cetiosaurus stamps, I do not know honestly.
A book by David West

30 July 2014

Mistaken Identities

Cetiosaurus, as noted, was originally described by Owen as a large crocodile. The logic used by Owen to support this idea is that any animal as large as Cetiosaurus would require the buoyancy of saltwater to survive without its own girth crushing and suffocating it. Owen may not have been completely off considering that the remains were discovered in an ancient woodland floodplain; however, due to this error in reasoning the name, "whale lizard," was created by Owen and many other fossil remains were attributed to this genus over time. Not all of those remains were what the original descriptions proposed them to be either; some were partial remains of other species, some were entirely different animals, and all of them were subject to further descriptions divulging their true nature as so often happens to early taxonomic assignments in paleontological history. Anyone with an interest in some of the named species that no longer "exist" under the genus are advised to consult this short list. Despite its large size Cetiosaurus is considered to have been a prey item for theropods like Megalosaurus and Eustreptospondylus. In terms of what Cetiosaurus could eat, its mid-range neck appears to have allowed it to strip ground level plants as well as middle height trees and ferns, leaving the tops for larger necked and taller sauropods.
A small herd of Cetiosaurus mogrebiensis Lapparent 1955 ©2008 Raul Lunia (usually known as DinoRaul)

29 July 2014

Cetiosaurus the Career

Many paleontologists make careers centered around one species, however it is not the normal situation. One paleontologist that appears to have devoted a good amount of his time to Cetiosaurus is Dr. Paul Upchurch. Far from his entire career, he has published a decent handful of papers on Cetiosaurus with varying main topics. He has written about the Rutland Dinosaur, its anatomy, and its relationships with other sauropods of Jurassic England. He has also gone further back in the history of Cetiosaurus and written about the entire anatomy and history of the taxonomy of Cetiosaurus. These articles are co-authored with other paleontologists, but it is clear that Dr. Upchurch is drawn to Cetiosaurus and has been for a while. As someone that has published a number of papers on Cetiosaurus he is  probably one of the most knowledgeable paleontologists on the animal currently (that has published I should say). We also have at our disposal Owen's initial description of Cetiosaurus which we can compare to Upchurch's and see how far the understanding of anatomy and paleontology has taken the science behind Cetiosaurus.

28 July 2014

Cartoons Only Please

Cetiosaurus is a famous dinosaur that is not famous. It is one of the first known sauropods and has been known for nearly 200 years now. However, it has no appearances registered in major shows, movies, or documentaries. This makes it a little less well known to the public. In scraping for movies, therefore, there is only a short tribute video of English dinosaurs and a short video on the "Rutland Dinosaur" in addition to the cartoon featured Sunday. The Rutland video discusses the history of a particular Cetiosaurus. It is definitely worth watching to get the history of the individual specimen, once one of the most complete dinosaurs known.

27 July 2014

He's A Dinosaur!

HooplaKidz has struck again with a cartoon we can share with the children we know that love dinosaurs. It has been a while since we had one of those cartoons, so definitely take the time to watch the cartoon below after you read today's links. Dinosaur Jungle starts us off today with a page that includes some abbreviated information in shortened paragraph form. This makes it easy to read for confident readers. Those that do not want to read an awful lot of information can look at even more abbreviated information hosted by the NHM of London's DinoDirectory pages. As always, their page sums up the key facts about Cetiosaurus concisely and in an easy access format. Lastly, the coloring page access continues in two places. One, unofficially, on the DeviantArt page of Josep Zacarias and the other, more vague image, from Super Coloring that also features pterosaurs and an Iguanodon.

26 July 2014

Where's Your Neck?

©Nobu Tamura
As was mentioned yesterday, Cetiosaurus had a conspicuously shorter neck and tail than other sauropods. As a primitive looking member of its family it anatomically represents the lengths between even more basal and more advanced sauropods. Unbeknownst to Owen and other paleontologists of his day they were describing an animal that was neither the first of its kind nor the last. They thought it had an extremely long neck and tail despite its middle-ground length in comparison to presently known taxa. They were correct in stating that it was an herbivore, once they gave up on the idea that it was an early crocodile. Strangely, however, despite its middle-ground appearance and primitive characteristics, this animal was discovered in Late Jurassic sediments, a time during which larger and longer necks and tails were certainly evident in sauropods discovered in North and South America.

25 July 2014

Whale of a Lizard

Moving from the early days to the giants of sauropoda, we can call just about any of the large members of the group whales of the land. Obviously they are not related to whales and are rarely if ever 
discussed in terms of being whale-like, except when their weights are mentioned. However, one member of the group does exist that is often and accurately called a whale. Cetiosaurus is a genus of Jurassic sauropods of Europe consisting of 4 recognized species. In 1842 in England the first remains were recovered but were thought to belong to some kind of crocodile by Richard Owen. They were not, however, and recognizing them for what they are makes Cetiosaurus the first described sauropod in the history of paleontology. It was also a primitive sauropod as well, its neck  and tail are shorter than those of other sauropods. What is possibly the best known sauropod of England will not be a typical sauropod for the week but should prove rather unique and interesting. 

Neck vertebrae and restored skull of the Rutland C.oxoniensis

24 July 2014

Wonders of Fame

The most famous thing about Pantydraco is that it is named Pantydraco. In ways that is kind of sad, but in other ways it is simply an understatement of the value of the remains that are Pantydraco. In part, recognition of the uniqueness of the morphology of Pantydraco has aided in the modern diagnosis and definition of what exactly is a "prosauropod" and also aided in defining "prosauropod" as a paraphyletic grouping. Additionally, it is further evidence that sauropods evolved from bipedal omnivores and/or carnivores. Sadly, though, despite all of this, the internet will, because there are no toys or plush animals, always remember Pantydraco as the dinosaur with the childishly funny name because of memes like this:

23 July 2014

Two Legs

Walking on two legs and possessing a dietary regimen of basically anything, Pantydraco was probably a bit of a monster to anything smaller and slower than it. The small proto-mammals and reptiles of the Triassic would have been good snacks for Pantydraco, for example. While it was stated that animals slower than Pantydraco were probably good food items, its speed has not, to my knowledge, been measured or its gate measured. Therefore, we cannot accurately state the threshold of that speed minimum needed to outrun Pantydraco. Regardless, smaller animals than Pantydraco were probably frequently in danger of being ingested. Plants that were chosen by Pantydraco probably had absolutely no chance against the much more mobile and vicious dinosaur. Just look at how angry and mobile they were:

22 July 2014

Printed Editions

In what appears to be a borderline breach of conduct, one website hosts, in rather odd capitalization of the title in their link, a copy of Yates' 2003 paper announcing the description of a new species of Thecodontosaurus. This paper describes the new specimen and then describes how the specimen, and Thecodontosaurus in general, impact the contemporaneous systematics of the day. The most significant impact appears to have been judged to be the fact that 'prosauropods"are considered paraphyletic when Thecodontosaurus and its close relatives morphologies are taken into consideration. The history of "prosauropod" monophyly is also discussed in the paper, making it a valuable history paper as well in that regard. In respect to the newer paper that generates and announces the name Pantydraco, only the publisher's page appears to contain it, meaning that it must be purchased from them directly for reading. As always this is not beneficial to poor graduate students or anyone that cannot drop $40 on a scholarly article, but the option does certainly exist.

21 July 2014

Still Frames

Pantydraco is not an animated dinosaur by any means. We can chalk this one up to, once again, both the newness of the dinosaur's genus and the general lack of knowledge about the dinosaur in the general public. This time, however, there are not even sufficient tribute videos focused on the dinosaur. There are a few videos that discuss Thecodontosaurus or its origins, but these are slightly different circumstances from those surrounding Pantydraco. The similarities between the two do not contain enough mutual evidence to persuade me to share a video of one to address the few odd similarities with the other. Instead, prior to discussing academic papers tomorrow, I would like for all interested parties to read  a short essay by Adam Yates that addresses the confusion and occasional embarrassment of the name Pantydraco. I personally think it is a humorous name, taken by itself, but is a perfectly reasonable abbreviation of the Welsh word on which it was based. However, read his explanation of the back story and feel free to discuss it.

20 July 2014

Kids Dragons

Pantydraco is a little short on child friendly links. There are several reasons for this including the fact that it is not well known. The NHM of London has an entry in its DinoDirectory, as it does for many dinosaurs, but many of our other normal fact websites possess no information on the animal. About has a short fact page dedicated to it as well. A site that we have not used before, DinoChecker's Dinosaur Archive also has a fact page on Pantydraco. The page gives Pantydraco a roar factor of 1 out of 10, but it should really be higher than that given their rating explanations. Children may enjoy the rating system, however. Additionally, there are no coloring sheets out there, so I used a skeletal model as a basis and whipped up a (very) rough outline that can be used to color with if anyone has missed coloring dinosaurs the past month or so!

19 July 2014

Supposed Skulls

Pantydraco has a funny name. However, it also has a fragmented skull. The fragmented skull was reconstituted based on the skull of the originally assigned genus, Thecodontosaurus. The skull, therefore, is not entirely correctly, assembled. The teeth are not entirely peg-like and not flatly cusped either. Instead, they are almost predatory. The diet of the animal is not, however, completely known and is partly guessed at with some sources claiming herbivory, some omnivory, and others carnivory.

18 July 2014


The Welsh phrase "Pant-y-ffynnon" means "hollow of the spring" and is shortened in the name of the dinosaur Pantydraco caducus. This small basal sauropodomorph of the late Triassic was discovered in Bonvilston Quarry in South Wales and was described in 2003. Originally in 2003 it was named as a juvenile specimen of Thecodontosaurus by Yates, but in 2007 further study by Galton, Yates, and Kermack determined that the skeletal material was different enough and the interrelationships of sauropodomorphs had changed enough to warrant its own genus. Therefore, Pantydraco being its own unique animal, I think it ought to be an interesting animal to discuss for an entire week.

17 July 2014

Impacts in History

The life of Mary Anning was odd but influential. It was supernatural but typical also. Her impact has been lasting and any exaggerations of the myth of her life have been insignificant enough that it does not mar her story. Anning's life speaks for itself, despite all of the speaking we have done for it lately here. Instead of writing more about all of the things that have already been written about Anning, enjoy this neat little caricature:

16 July 2014

Odd Histories

Mary Anning has a very interesting story. We have had some insights into the life and times of Anning and discussed some of the items she recovered from the Blue Lias Cliffs of Lyme Regis, Dorset. We have also seen how the modern world sees Mary Anning. We have, however, not discussed her early life much, if at all. Mary was actually the fourth of four children and one of only two that survived to adulthood. A brother and a sister, who was also named Mary, died very young. Mary was actually named after her sister who died 5 months earlier at the age of four after her clothing caught fire. As if that ghost story was not weird enough, at 15 months of age a young Mary was being held by a neighbor named Elizabeth Haskings when the elm tree under which they were standing was struck by lightning. Haskings and the two women she was talking with were killed and the infant Mary Anning was revived in a tub of water. Raised as a Congregationalist (a religion highly supportive of education in the early 18th century), Mary could read and write and was introduced to geology by her reverend, perhaps indirectly, after she read an essay he wrote. This was augmented by Richard Anning, a cabinet maker by trade, urging his children Mary and Joseph, to collect fossils and sell them to beach-going tourists to earn more income for the family. The local names for fossils in Lyme Regis curio trade at the time were kind of strange, including "snake-stones" (ammonites) and "devil's fingers" (belemnites). My personal favorite is "verteberries" (vertebrae). The truth, then, is that the entire family were professional fossil sellers. In fact, after the death of their father, the family supported itself, for a time, entirely on fossil selling. This did, eventually, lead to the penning of the tongue twister "She sells seashells", supposedly about Anning, in 1908 by Terry Sullivan.

15 July 2014

A Presidential Address

In 1995 a presidential address of the British Journal for the History of Science was published. The Cambridge University Press has done a good job of making sure this address is only available through their site and it can be rented for $5.99 for 24 hours or purchased for $30. The address is important in that it is about Mary Anning and calls her "the greatest fossilist the world ever knew." The address also recognizes that her biography had initially been omitted from the national (England) dictionary of biographies of distinguished persons (known as the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). Mary Anning was included later on and her omission from the initial editions was noted. In fact, the earliest mention of Anning's biography is acknowledged as a mere 18 page pamphlet that named her "Heroine of Lyme Regis." Despite the omission and low coverage of her biography in history, it can be readily seen that any mention of Mary Anning in the public conscious has been positive and lauded her accomplishments and contributions to science. Only a few female scientists have actually been so praised, leaving Mary Anning's memory in very good company when all is said and done.

14 July 2014

Toy Theater

Mary Anning is popular enough, despite the general air of mystery around her life because of how little is actually known about her, that she has been featured in documentaries about her many times over. Usually these are short pieces that talk about her collecting and selling of fossils and other coastline oddities, like nifty shells, but occasionally they appear to be a little more in depth. Regardless of the depth and breadth of the discussion, possibly the most amusing version of a documentary about Anning is The Amazing, Mysterious and True Story of Mary Anning and her Monsters. The video tells the story from the point of view of a puppet version of Anning, which is a little creepy, admittedly. It is quite well animated, informed, and actually pretty entertaining honestly and worth 7 minutes of time. As a cautionary note, there are some "nude" puppets around the 2 minute mark (rather oddly)

13 July 2014

The British Cater to Children

The BBC did the work for us today. All that we could possibly want to to help the younger generation learn about and have fun with the facts of Mary Anning's life (those that we know) has been placed on a single website for our perusal. There is even a game. It is certainly wonderful when I can say that all of my research has been done for me and is available without any effort on my part (not that I am getting lazy or anything). So check out the BBC's Mary Anning page engineered for kids. Also, check out these children's books and the NMH of London's timeline of Anning's life as well!

12 July 2014

Anning Again

Many of you many have noticed I've missed a few days (if not then you may just be unfamiliar with how things work around here still!). I assumed I would have time to pre-publish and schedule entries for this week while I moved from Kansas to Missouri; however, I obviously did not have time to do that. Instead, I will begin today where I left off last week, with Mary Anning, and then next week we will resume discussing our normal fare (paleo-animals!).

Therefore, to continue, I think it is important to highlight the lesser known contributions of Ms. Anning. Namely, that is her discovery of remains that were to be described as ichthyosaurs (fish lizards). Anning may not have described her findings with her own pen (as far as we know) but her ability to see these fossils did great service to paleontology as well as to geology. The history of England and knowledge about its geological formation were discovered along with the remains as they were described. Anning's descriptions of the area, and those of geologists that accompanied her in revisitations of the areas, were of great use in this. Regardless of how much direct influence she had, Anning's discovery of the remains of ichthyosaurs along the English coast represented direct evidence that the ocean once covered that coastline more than in her day and that unique reptilian swimmers inhabited those waters. We now know a great deal about the myriad members of Ichthyosauria, but when they were first discovered they were extremely alien life forms. Anning, and others, must have been amazed and bewildered by the ichthyosaur fossils they unearthed. 

04 July 2014

Feminine Determination

Last week there seemed to be a varied response to a female scientist. That is okay all said and done, but there have been a lot of female paleontologists that have done a lot for the science. To discuss one that may be of more interest, or perhaps simply better known by the Western world, this week yet another, but much earlier, female paleontologist will be the topic of discussion. Born in 1799, Mary Anning was many things throughout her short life, she died in 1847, but she is mostly remembered as a prolific and influential collector of fossils. She discovered a number of fossils that were later partially used as evidence for extinction by Cuvier and included genera such as Temnodontosaurus (an ichthyosaur), Dimorphodon, and Plesiosaurus. She collected and sold fossils for the majority of her adult life. Her life was rather intriguing, however, and can not be summed up by merely looking at her fossil collecting prowess. Almost every image of her makes her appear as a quaint and proper English woman of her time, but there were many people in her time that thought it quite odd that a woman would be digging around for fossils or that one could become a "celebrated geologist."

03 July 2014

Famous In Europe

Names like Kielan-Jaworoska and Hurn are more renown in Europe than America in part because that is more their home base. It also does not help that they do not study dinosaurs, the sexy paleontology that the American public reacts most fervently to. However, Dr. Kielan-Jaworowska should be much more well known in America given her contributions to all aspects of paleontology. Her work with invertebrates and mammals as well as her actions as director of the Institute of Paleontology in Poland allowed her to be very influential throughout her career. Indirectly these efforts forwarded understandings of dinosaurs like Protocerarops and Velociraptor. Her expeditions led to discoveries like that of Deinocheirus and many of the mammals that she has studied during the second half of her career so very well. Check her work out more on your own, her career has been far more extensive than I have been able to detail here. 

02 July 2014

Rodent-esque Mammals

We know a lot about Multituberculata Cope 1884 thanks to the research of many dedicated scientists, including Dr. Kielan-Jaworowska. The second half of her career has been dedicated to mammals, in part to the Multituberculata (derived from the cusps of the cheek teeth). Denizens of mostly northern landmasses (Laurasia), these small rodent-like (rodent-esque?) mammals thrived from around the Triassic-Jurassic boundary to the end of the Oligocene when they replaced or outcompeted by rodents. They ranged from mouse to beaver size, like rodents, and ran in the same niche circles: they included burrowing ground animals, swimmers, and squirrel-like tree dwellers. They are unique in that they appear closely related to monotremes and therians, but are more closely related to therian mammals. The image from the other day of Catopsbaatar depicts one of these little mammals that Jaworowska worked on. The current taxonomy, in fact, is based on the work of Zofia Kielan-Jaworowska and Jorn Hurum. Her work on Multituberculata is so extensive, in fact that 4 families, 2 superfamilies, and 4 genera were named by Kielan-Jaworowska (2 families, both superfamilies, and a single genus have co-authors).
Skull of Kamptobaatar kuczynskii in lateral view, without lower jaw. From Kielan-Jaworowska (1971)

01 July 2014


A lot of the discussion this week has concerned dinosaurs and mammals and expeditions led by Dr. Kielan-Jaworowska. Almost the first 20 years of her career focused on invertebrates though, and they have not been mentioned at all. In fact, in the history of this blog, invertebrates have been sparse at best. The main invertebrate group that Kielan-Jaworowska studied, and that I want to present today is the trilobites. Studying trilobites was no simple task, despite their supposedly simple anatomy and the similarities of their bodies. Trilobite fossils date from approximately 540 million years ago up to the end of the Permian around 250 million years ago. Trilobites are a class separated into 10 orders and many families. Global distribution of trilobites attests to their success as a group of organisms and in part, the simplicity of their body plan allowed for that success; their body plan certainly aided in the fossilization of dead trilobites. Some members did get fairly ostentatious with their appendages whereas others retained rather simplistic appearing body plans. Regardless, all trilobites have the latitudinal cephalon, thorax, and pygidium (head, chest, tail) body  sections with three longitudinal (axial and right and left pleural) lobes that are the origin of the class' name: trilobites are literally a trilobate class of animal. Trilobites can be extremely diverse within these basic guidelines. The thorax, for example, can consist of anywhere from 2 to 103 articulated exoskeleton fragments. That means, with two legs per segment, trilobites could have had anywhere from 4 to 206 legs! Segmented exoskeletons apparently allowed trilobites to roll themselves into balls, like extant pillbugs, as some fossils have been discovered rolled up. That brings me to the fun part of today. Dr. Kielan-Jaworowska studied this animals seriously for many years and probably has seen, held, and perhaps even owned reproductions of many trilobites. Thanks to the Earth Science Club of Northern Illinois, you can make your own today: