STL Science Center

STL Science Center

31 January 2015


Copyright Michael Skrepnick 2002
Liaoceratops probably had many reasons to be upset like it appears in this image. It was certainly not the smallest of the "pre" Triceratops Ceratopsians (Liaoceratops is technically considered one of the basal most neoceratopsians which includes Triceratops), but it was still living in an area of the world populated by early maniraptorans and tyrannosaurids; Tarbosaurus and Velociraptor were still approximately 60 million years in China's future at the time of Liaoceratops. The fact that Liaoceratops was not as heavy or as heavily armored as its later descendants is reflective of the predators that it lived with. Its predators were probably just as dangerous to it as Tyrannosaurus was to Triceratops or Tarbosaurus was to Saurolophus (unfortunately a hadrosaur and therefore a different type of comparison). However, seeing that it was lighter and certainly lightly armored compared to later Ceratopsians, we can infer that the predators of the time, without knowing what they were (Raptorex fits into this time frame), were probably smaller than later Cretaceous predators.

30 January 2015

More Horned Faces

©Nobu Tamura
130 million years ago in what is now China's Liaoning province a basal Ceratopsian dinosaur was doing what Ceratopsians did: eat, sleep, and other things that living creatures do. In 2002 a Chinese (Chinese Academy of Sciences based) and American (University of Chicago based) team uncovered and described a dinosaur they came to name Liaoceratops yanzigouensis (Horned face of Liaoning from Yanzigou). This small Ceratopsian is considered one of the basal most members of the line leading directly to larger horned dinosaurs like Triceratops and Styracosaurus. Some of the morphological traits that would be enhanced and highlighted in the larger descendants are obviously evident, to a degree, in Liaoceratops, as we would expect with a founding member of a lineage.

29 January 2015

Popularity and the Bird Mimic

Being a bird mimic is apparently a reward enough in itself in the world of gaining popularity for dinosaurs. Avimimus appears in more than a handful of books, dozens of websites, and as many illustrations and coloring sheets. The skull has been replicated and sold many times over as well, though there are not many models sold as toys in the general market (a hotspot for popularity amongst children and some adult enthusiasts we know, of course). The dinosaur has even appeared in World of Warcraft (as have many other dinosaurs) as a named artifact of clothing or gear (a belt in this case).

28 January 2015

Feathered Beaks and Heads

Avimimus is, with sufficient confidence, known to be a feathered Caenagnathid theropod. Caenagnathids include theropods from the basal-most Avimimus to the most derived members Conchoraptor and Khaan (not a Star Trek reference despite my personal hopes) and also includes Oviraptor and Citipati. As we saw yesterday in Kurzanov's description paper, Avimimus is considered to be a more direct ancestor to modern birds than Archaeopteryx. This is obviously not the majority rule, but given the rather interesting bird mimicry discovered in the skeleton of Avimimus, the ideas of Kurzanov regarding the origin of birds in relation to Avimimus are rather intriguing and could be considered compelling. The image accompanying this entry is not as avian as the Conway illustration shown before, but it does solidly represent the avian traits of Avimimus.

27 January 2015

The Eighties

In 1981 Sergei Kurzanov returned from Mongolia with the remains of Avimimus. The initial description was included in a series of short descriptions but, as it was rather unique amongst the remains, Avimimus gathered some individual attention and was partially singled out. Kurzanov visited the remains again in 1983 with an eye on the dinosaur's relationship with the origin of birds. The ecological aspect, in particular, was of interest to Kurzanov in the paper and makes for a rather interesting paper. A review of the dinosaur in the Chiappe and Witmer edited Mesozoic Birds also included Kurzanov (this time without having to be translated and hosted on Paleoglot). The best thing about the preview is that the entire chapter is available online.

26 January 2015

Find the Bird Mimic

Supposedly, in one of Discovery Channel's last realistic documentaries, Avimimus is mentioned and discussed because of its relationship with the origin of birds. Unfortunately, since the last time I found that documentary, the quality copies of it have been rather quickly disappearing from circulation on the internet. One of the remaining copies is still online, in pieces, and it is a good show, but it does not directly discuss Avimimus for an extended amount of the show. Regardless, it is the only documentary that shows Avimimus or discusses it, to my knowledge, and therefore works for this week's watching.

25 January 2015

Links Aplenty

Avimimus facts are everywhere on the internet. Part of the reason that it is so popular is that it is a fairly charismatic animal, has a name that means "bird mimic", and a readily recognizable body plan (much like that of its relatives). The fact files range from the somewhat simplified (Enchanted Learning) to the much more complex (Dinosaur Jungle). There are also intermediate websites full of fun facts (including About and KidsDinos). As has happened in the past, the best coloring page available is a line drawing by Josep Zacarias (do not forget to ask for his permission to post any coloring of his images!).

24 January 2015

Shades of Yellow

©John Conway
A lot of paleoartists are known for their wonderfully energetic and colorful illustrations of dinosaurs in action. Avimimus could be, and has been many times, portrayed in a very vivid color scheme in an extremely active manner. One of my favorite paleoartists, John Conway, went the opposite way with his interpretation of this dinosaur. His version of Avimimus is much calmer and subdued compared to many of the other interpretations. The colors of the dinosaur, its chicks, and the scenery are all soft earthy tones. Feathering of the dinosaurs is minimal but effective. If this Avimimus possessed large display feathers in this color scheme it would look somewhat ridiculous. As things are though, the smaller, less ostentatious feathering on Conway's Avimimus is both effective and appropriate. To my knowledge neither long nor short feathers would be accurate right now as we do not have concrete evidence of the determinant growth length of Avimimus' feathers.

23 January 2015

Bending the Rule

There are technically no rules in the order of entries around here, however, typically the animals discussed oscillate between carnivore and herbivore with an omnivore mixed in here and there. Standing between the heights of extant Turkeys and Emus, Avimimus portentosus was one of those potentially omnivorous species that is, this week, wiggling its way into the rotation. A theropod averaging approximately 1.5 meters (5 feet) long including its tail and just under 1 meter (3.3 feet) tall when not standing completely erect and stretched out. Discovered in Mongolia in 1981, Avimimus was thought to be an insectivore, as many oviraptorid dinosaurs usually are, but is now hypothesized to have been more omnivorous. Evidence indicates that this may have been a semi-gregarious dinosaur that dabbled at the edges of marshlands and collected in large flocks or herds throughout the year.

22 January 2015

Walking In Toy Land

Saltasaurus has been immortalized many times over since its description in 1980 in many different ways that have gained it popularity in the general public. This includes the rather strange headed Carnegie model pictured here. Saltasaurus also has been featured in various dinosaur parks as both a static and animatronic model. Saltasaurus has also made an impact in video games, card games, and even in electronic encyclopedias and cartoons. This is definitely one of those weeks when links could fill up the entire page and one could visit websites on just Saltasaurus for the rest of the week. It has been modded into Spore and Zoo Tycoon as well. One of my favorite links is from the cartoon Dinosaur King, enjoy the episode.

21 January 2015

Welcome to Salta

The amazing find of a titanosaurid sauropod with osteoderms growing along the length of its back would cause the assumption that its generic name would refer directly to those osteoderms. Instead, the specific epithet does refer to those osteoderms (loricatus means armored) while the generic name referred to the town (Salta) in the Lerma Valley of Argentina nearest to the dig site that turned up those osteoderms and the other high quality fossils included in the original description. A lesser known importance of Saltasaurus is its impact on the ever changing perceptions of the world of paleontology. Saltasaurus was name and described during a time in which it was becoming readily clear that sauropods still maintained a dominance in the southern half of the world as the largest group of herbivores. In other parts of the world sauropods had clearly been replaced by better adapted herbivores and as these were the most collected areas of the world it was assumed by many, if not all paleontologists at one point, that sauropods had declined in the non-collected areas as well. The discoveries of Saltasaurus and many other sauropods in the last 30 years in the southern half of the globe has, and still is, turned those assumptions completely upside down and repainted the Cretaceous world completely. Thankfully. It is a wonderful dinosaur and a wonderful world that it once lived in.

20 January 2015

Armoured Sauropods

Probably the most important feature of Saltasaurus, as mentioned previously, was the presence of osteoderms along the neck, back, and tail of this enormous sauropod. This was a fact that was not lost on the discoverers of the fossil or Jose Bonaparte who wrote the original description of the dinosaur (excluding von Heune's description of similar material that did not possess the osteoderms later discovered). Those osteoderms have been the center of attention concerning Saltasaurus for many years and, not entirely to the detriment of the entire animal, many studies of them have been conducted. In fact, histological studies have been conducted relatively recently that shed even more light on the dinosaur, the growth of the osteoderms, and their development in an animal where they are not typically expected to be found.

19 January 2015

Discovery Suite of Clips

Saltasaurus makes its most major documentary appearance in Discovery's Dinosaur Planet series. Discovery, in their normal fashion, has released clips of the show on their own website and, though it shows up from time to time without their permission, has not aired the entire show anywhere online. Regardless, the small clips that are present online, officially, are well received segments of the show and have not, to my knowledge, been too heavily debated. Either way, here they are for your perusal!

18 January 2015

A Grain of Saltasaurus Before Bed

In the majority of the reading area it is not bed time. It is in part of it though and I recognize that my later in the day entries do not always allow people time to read and visit all of the sites I link to on Sundays before they go to bed. Because Saltasaurus has many links, I thought it would be a good idea to address the timeliness (or lack thereof) of those links today. Every kid-friendly website today has some facts about Saltasaurus and most of them have an image or two that is actually the right dinosaur (always something to be on the lookout for). My favorite images are those used by The Dino Directory (NHM London) and Bob Strauss on About. These are probably my favorite because of the old-fashioned art (London) and the nice Alain Beneteau piece that Bob Strauss highlighted. KidsDinos used a toy for their image, but regardless of that, their fact file is well put together, as always, and is rather concise. A rather short description accompanies Mariana Ruiz Villareal's illustration (shown here Saturday) on New Zealand based Science Kids website. The most extensive link of the day belongs to Dinosaur Jungle though, which has an acceptable image but a lot of facts along with it. There are a lot of ads to navigate around however. If there is time in your schedule today for art, I recommend asking the always nice Josep Zacarias if you can use his line drawing of Saltasaurus to color or Enchanted Learning's black and white drawing. Mr. Zacarias' work is, of course, more scientifically accurate, so it is worth checking out his version of the dinosaur.

17 January 2015

Any Old Sauropod

©Mariana Ruiz Villarreal
Saltasaurus, like any true sauropod, was a quadrupedal giant. The ability of these enormous dinosaurs to rear themselves up onto their hindlimbs has been debated for years with views alternating and swaying with every new discovery. There is always a contingent that holds to obligate quadrupedality and a contingent that holds to facultative, but short, bursts of bipedality. Regardless of camps of thought, the vision of a sauropod like Saltasaurus rearing back on its hindlimbs and using its tail as a prop is commonplace in the annals of sauropod illustration. This illustration is classic for sauropods but also specifically detailed for Saltasaurus with the addition of the many rows of osteoderms along the neck, back, and tail. These osteoderms may not have been entirely useful to the enormous adults, but their protection, no matter how small, would have been of great use to juveniles and sub-adults.

16 January 2015

I Could Have Sworn...

©Harrison Zhao
I really thought that I had covered this topic before, but a thorough search of the Dinosaur of the Week archives turns up only three mentions of Saltasaurus loricatus. Those three instances are all made in the same context and mention Saltasaurus as a prey item. Saltasaurus was a respectable size for a Late Cretaceous Gondwanan Titanosaurid, though, at 12 meters (39 feet), it is certainly not the largest of the Titanosaurs to have been recovered from South America. Diverging slightly from many other Titanosaurs, Saltasaurus had a very distinctive skull shape that was much more reminiscent of the North American Diplodocid dinosaurs of the Jurassic. The shape of the head was not the only similarity, Saltasaurus also possessed peg-like teeth that were blunt and present only in the rostral half of the mouth. Saltasaurus, when discovered in 1980, was also an extremely unique sauropod in that it possessed clearly defined osteoderms like those seen on crocodilians and, later, other sauropods.

15 January 2015

Forgotten Dinosaur

©Alain Beneteau
Tarascosaurus has been one of those dinosaurs that has somewhat escaped the limelight of the dinosaur world. Its inclusion in Dinosaur Planet made it better and more widely known. The dinosaur never gained enough renown to make an impact on the toy or model market, the video game market, or the children's book niche. Tarascosaurus is simply not that well known to the outside world. It is very unfortunate for people that like Abelisaurids, insular dwarves, or Late Cretaceous apex predators like Tarascosaurus. Alain Beneteau clearly likes the dinosaur,as he sketches them often, including the wonderful illustration below and a painting that was shown earlier this week.

14 January 2015

Feeling Femurs

Tarascosaurus femur
The femur of the holotype of Tarascosaurus is only about 22 centimeters (8.7 inches) long. That is approximately the size of the average hand from thumb to little finger when both are extended! Fortunately for the dinosaur that bone is only a partial specimen and does not, alone, reflect the height of Tarascosaurus. The estimated total length is not much more impressive, however, and tops out, supposedly, at 35 centimeters (14 inches). This length, though, amounts to a dinosaur that has been estimated at approximately 2.5 meters to 3 meters (8.2 to 9.8 feet) tall at the top of the pelvis. While not as tall as some other contemporary dinosaurs (e.g. Tyrannosaurus, Carnotaurus), Tarascosaurus was most likely the largest predator in its ecosystem, especially in the archipelagos of the Tethys Ocean that covered the majority of Europe during this time. As such, the dinosaur deserved its association with its namesake, an Ibero-Gallic dragon-like monster of lore known as both Tarasque and Tarasca.

13 January 2015

In Any Language...

Perhaps one of the most interesting things about international science, aside from making the globe a happier place, is the fact that it usually exists in more than one language. Le Loeuff, the man responsible for describing Ampelosaurus, also described Tarascosaurus around the same time and his original paper is available in his native French as well as in English. The translation was given to the internet by Matt Carrano in 1997 in coordination with its uploading to the Paleoglot and Dinochecker websites in more recent times. Either way one enjoys it, the original paper is a good paper to read.

12 January 2015

Two Options

Tarascosaurus can be seen in the Discovery Channel's documentary Dinosaur Planet. The dinosaur can therefore be seen in the documentary itself, not easily available online, or in this short highlight reel. I recommend seeing the full length episode, Pod's Travels, by searching the name of the episode. Ideally I could share the old link for the episode that I used many years ago, but the video has been taken down from YouTube. The only strange thing about the documentary is that Tarascosaurus in the episode is considered a dwarfed variant that may have inhabited islands of the Tethys Ocean.

11 January 2015

Single Fact Page

The only page presenting facts about Tarascosaurus that can be shared today is, somewhat ironically, About. The questionable nature of the remains and the unsettled taxonomic position of Tarascosaurus means that there are not an awful lot of sites out there presenting facts related to the dinosaur for all ages. Associated materials are also vacant, making today a ludicrously short post, unfortunately.

10 January 2015

When Abelisaurids Are Not

©Maurizio Morosan
The image yesterday was of Tarascosaurus as a Ceratosaurid theropod with very few to little Abelisaurid characteristics. The questioned nature of the relationship of the remains to Abelisaurids makes that sort of interpretation a valid envisioning of the anatomy of the dinosaur. The little material available leaves either an interpretation favoring or disagreeing with an Abelisaurid taxonomic assignment entirely up to the discretion of the artist as they illustrate Tarascosaurus. The illustration appearing here today favors an Abelisaurid body plan even more, with reduced forelimbs and a short boxy skull. The illustration presented is not presented to argue for or against taxonomic descriptions, but instead is intended only to show another interpretation of the dinosaur as it may have appeared if it belonged to the Abelisauridae.

09 January 2015

Welcome to Tarasque

Tarascosaurus salluvicus is an uncertain Abelisaurid that inhabited the Late Cretaceous of Europe. It is solidly considered a Ceratosaurid theropod and is hypothesized to have hunted our previous dinosaur of the week, Ampelosaurus. The holotype femur and a maxilla are attributed to the animal at the present time and indicate that the theropod was approximately 30 feet (9 meters) long. The taxa has been considered valid, invalid, and uncertain by a number of different researchers since it was first described in 1991.

01 January 2015

Amply Represented

Sauropods make quite a few appearances in video games for a variety of reasons, the number one reason probably being that a basic sauropod model is easy to manipulate into any number of slight variations in size, shape, or color. Ampelosaurus's version of those models appears in the Dinosaur King arcade game and the show and card game. Previously this week we saw that there are toy/models of Ampelosaurus. Liberia even made Ampelosaurus into a stamp!