STL Science Center

STL Science Center

31 October 2016

Astronaut Hadrosaur

©Lisa Andres
The October dinosaur of the month was Parasaurolophus. This week counts as the last week of the month but we have missed two days, so October's monthly dinosaur will have a somewhat shortened spotlight. That works out just fine considering that we have discussed Parasaurolophus once in the past; check the Facebook page for the week of October 29, 2010. It is an interesting convenience that Parasaurolophus is kind of having a six year anniversary this week. As many dinosaur enthusiasts know, Parasaurolophus is an interesting hadrosaurid dinosaur. The crest of this dinosaur has been used to estimate many things about hadrosaur crests, including its noise making ability and the potential for endothermy via warming turbinates within the nasal passage. Possibly the most recognized of all the hadrosaurs, Parasaurolophus is one of the dinosaurs that most readily and entirely embodies the phrase "charismatic megafauna" and we will see why and how in the next few days, or at the very least be reminded of that in the near future.

27 October 2016

Undergrad Adventures

Our undergraduate researcher, a junior (3rd year) did a phenomenal job with her poster this evening. She presented it to a lot of prominent researchers and really held her ground when prodded for more information about her methods and interpretations of her results. She would be a great researcher if she continued on in science (she wants to be a veterinarian, for now at least) and any of us would be pleased to continue working with her in the lab or as a colleague elsewhere.

Hybridizing Post

The museum here (Natural History Museum of Utah) is fantastic. I recommend starting at the top and slowly meandering down the ramps. The geological areas are filled with interesting displays as are the straight up biology areas with cells and DNA and wildlife dioramas. The real gem of the museum, as would be expected, is the fossil area. Rather than explain all of the mountings piecemeal, I ca offer a bit of a photo tour of that area and join this post with the post for my photography. I am almost sad to say that my phone makes a competent camera, but I think the differences between my real camera and my phone should be somewhat evident.

26 October 2016

First Day of SVP

Welcome to SVP if you are here, and it is okay if you are not, I have some interesting observations from the day so far. Most of the sessions I sat in were bird related today. There was a lot of discussion of bird evolution, recreation of skulls digitally, and mapping of shape changes of the ear. Particulars about these talks can be found under #2016svp on Twitter; I think that my recounting exact talk details is a little hypocritical as I advocate for an opt-in rather than an opt-out system AND this has already been done, so why waste the time, honestly? However, I can say that there is no shortage of dinosaur casts represented here and the museum reception will be glorious. At the end of the week I will post all of the photos (yes, even the awful ones) that I take this week. I am sure tonite will have a glorious showing. I wish I had a real camera with me!

23 October 2016

A Short History Lesson

Paleontology  was not really recognized as a science for over a century after naturalists began to originally pull fossils, in a concerted and organized effort, out of the earth. Natural historians, as the first paleontologists were typically referred to as once there was a recognized practice of discovering and describing fossils, have been studying the animals of the past in ever increasingly nuanced and complex ways for many years now. Paleontology has taught us a lot about the way the world used to be. Everything from the air and rocks to the plants, vertebrates, and invertebrates have been described by a variety of paleontologists and natural historians over the years. Over the course of history paleontologists have formed societies, often beginning with groups that consisted of scientists of multiple disciplines coming together, and culminating, within the last century, with the formations of multiple paleontology specific groups. The most prominent in North America is certainly the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP), though it is not the only society on the continent. The SVP was organized in 1940 as a non-profit organization. Though based mostly in North America, the SVP reaches globally and has members from all continents that attend annual meetings. As the name states, SVP is an organization for, and run by, vertebrate paleontologists, meaning that a large portion of the paleontological record is not represented by the society's members, however, topics at meetings and in the journal often broach non-vertebrate topics because they have to in order for the vertebrate history of the fossil record to make sense.  Anyone wanting to learn more about the history of the society can visit the society website here.

22 October 2016

History for Today

This week is going to be a lot different from any other week that we have done here. A good portion of this week is going to involve a conference, and therefore it will be difficult to dedicate this week to a single taxon and do it justice at the same time. Rather than giving a fossil animal a short shrift on purpose, this week will be peppered by history notes on the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, a little background to my research (without giving away anything), and maybe some highlights from talks that do not have limitations on tweeting and social media sharing. This is the first time that I will do anything of this sort at a conference and it will not be in realtime (this is mostly because I prefer to gather notes during talks rather than using my phone the whole time, no hard feelings people always on their phones!), but there will be some interesting notes I am already sure. Plus everyone gets to hear about my research; who doesn't want to know what I have been doing the whole time I've been writing this blog? This will be an exciting week, so try not to be too sad that we are not discussing a specific dinosaur or other fossil!

21 October 2016

A Skipped Dog

I skipped yesterday's post entirely. The lack of popular reference materials for borophagine canines makes writing a post on the popular reference materials moot prior to placing pen on paper, or fingers on keys in this instance. Borophagus may not have been overly popular in the culture, but it makes many appearances in many illustrations and, as we saw on Tuesday, it has been rather well studied prior to and after the lumping of several genera into the singular Borophagus. This is in part due to its odd capability to crack bones in a style similar to hyenas but it also because this bone-cracking dog is recognizably a dog. The combination of the animal's feeding ability and our human ability to recognize the animal as a dog make it intriguing and wondrous, and that makes us want to see more and more art and discover more and more secrets about the canid. One thing that is known for sure about the canid, by both science and artists, is that the shortened face, large molars, and novel bone-cracking surface (4th instead of 3rd molar as in hyenas) of Borophagus has painted a readily identifiable picture of the animal. The shortened face also immediately contains notes that, in the United States at least, brings up thoughts of some of the most fierce dogs that are regularly bred, like pitbulls (we are told time and again by different outlets that these dogs are aggressive and can be violent). This and the penchant for paleo-artists to paint the hunting activities of carnivores may explain why there are not many cuddly dog images associated with Borophagus.

19 October 2016

Spots and Stripes

(Getty Images)
We do not know the coat color of Borophagus in any particular species of the genus. Using what we know about dogs, wolves, and extant megacarnivores (bears and felids mostly), there are a number of hypothetical fur patterns we could assign to Borophagus. Living on open plains, as we typically see in illustrations of Borophagus, we expect to see the kinds of camouflage and fur patterns that we see in hyenas, leopards, and tigers. These are the types of camouflage we do often see in these illustrations. It is nice to see what you expect. Would that be the case if we had a living Borophagus? We do not actually know, of course, but we can make informed inferences from clues from the environment and the reasons that the illustrations appear as they do are often related to these kinds of inferences. What would people like to see in terms of Borophagus coat colors? My "official" opinion is that the spotted and striped Borophagus is interesting, but perhaps a little convergent on hyenas for the sake of tying in their fantastic bone-cracking capabilities with that kind of fur patterning. There are also plenty of wolf-like patterns illustrated, but tonite is about the spotted bone-cracking dog shown here.

18 October 2016

Finding Papers Under Old Names

Some of the best papers about Borophagus were written prior to the lumping of several other genera into Borophagus. Rather than describing multiple papers and mentioning which obsolete names they are attributed to, here is a handy list of papers and taxa:
Borophagus: Tseng and Wang, Rensberger and Wang
Osteoborous: Wederlin, Johnston
Porthocyon: Wang, Tedford, and Taylor
Hyaenognathus: Stock, Martin

17 October 2016

Looking At That Jaw

As stated earlier, there are no videos of this animal, despite how amazing Borophagus appears to be. Perhaps a dog that can break open the bones of the mega mammals of the Late Pliocene. The mammals we are talking about include mastodons and gomphotheres as well as large birds like Titanis. The mandible of Borophagus is a robust mandible and can be seen in the only video that exists that is accurately dedicated to the animal. It is not much, but appreciate this single mandible and the teeth that remain in the mandible.

16 October 2016

Bone-crushing Facts

Borophagus is less famous as a genus than it ought to be given its representative fossil record and its hyena-like abilities despite being a coyote sized canine. As it stands, there are only a very few sites, fact pages, and absolutely no videos sharing facts about the fossil dog. We have only a few sites including our trusted About site with some short facts and a short paragraph penned by Bob Strauss and the online children's encyclopedia KidzSearch to use as information sheets today. KidzSearch is actually a bit disappointing in this venture and Prehistoric Wildlife actually provides a more informative encyclopedia-like page for the day. There are no coloring sheets; we have not had those often in the past few months anyway it seems, to be honest. The lack of videos, considering this dog was rather derived in its ability to crack through bones and the cranial morphology that went along with this behavior, is a little surprising. Why are there not more videos about bone-crushing dogs? Perhaps that is a question that we cannot answer for some time.

15 October 2016

Bone Eating Dogs

The role of hyenas in their environment is, partially, to break down carcasses by using their strong jaws to break open bones. This role in the environment has been occupied by a number of different animals over the history of life on this planet. One animal that once filled that role was a medium-sized canid known by a number of names since its discovery. The current name it is known by is Borophagus (Gluttonous eater). The genus has been described as a group of bone-crushing hyena-like dogs and is populated by 8 species. The dogs were about the size of modern coyotes but possessed jaws capable of crushing bone. Despite filling the role of bone-crushing scavenger, recent studies have note that the population of fossils and estimated population of the animals extrapolated from the number of fossils was large enough that experts believe Borophagus was actually an apex predator in its environment.
©Charles R. Knight

13 October 2016

Skimming Fame

Despite being one of the few sauropods known mostly from cranial material, Abydosaurus is not exceptionally famous. One would imagine that the consequences of its discovery and the nature of the remains alone would make the fossils a little bit extra famous actually. We know that it did not, for one reason or another. The lack of popular cultural materials that exist, or do not exist, are unfortunate. We do have a few quality materials that have been seen many times over during this week. One that we have not explored well yet is the National Park Service's page for Dinosaur National Monument. This page does not have a lot of information, but as one of the few sites we have not used, it is a good day to feature it. Please support the parks and visit Dinosaur National Monument if possible.

12 October 2016

Like African Dinosaurs

Giraffatitan is a little bit older than Abydosaurus (approximately 45 million years older) but these two sauropods are quite similar. Extricated from 104 million year old sandstone, Abydosaurus possess a small head with narrow sharp teeth, for a sauropod. Three skulls have been recovered, making comparisons of variation possible in this genus. The nose of Abydosaurus is smaller than many other sauropods and is, like other brachiosaurids, located on the dorsal aspect of the cranium straddling the midline; as we generally expect a nose to do. The nostrils of that nose are noticeably smaller than most other sauropods, so much so that they have been used to diagnose the cranium of Abydosaurus.
©Nobu Tamura

11 October 2016

A Sauropod with Phylogeny

Abydosaurus was written about in 2010 as one of the most complete sauropod crania and one of the few sauropods known almost exclusively, originally at least, from its cranium. That original description paper is the only paper worth showing today. As with any description paper, this includes quality photographs that include area maps and tracings and line drawings of the specimen. Considering the lack of papers and the fact that the description is the most useful type of paper often, this is the only link I will share today. Read, observe, and enjoy!

10 October 2016

Videos About Abydosaurus

There are a number of videos that feature Abydosaurus. These are all amateur videos that are compilations of illustrations, computer generated videos, and short fact files read over illustrations. The single exception, and probably one of the more important videos is a news story focusing on the dinosaur. There is actually a very short version and a longer story. Here is the longer story:

09 October 2016

Facts on the Green River

Abydosaurus is a unique dinosaur for a number of reasons. Perhaps one of the more unique reasons is that the dinosaur is named after an Egyptian city despite being recovered from the western part of North America. This fact is mentioned in many different fact pages and some of the short videos that show illustrations of and discuss Abydosaurus. A new page, to us, called Facts Legend shares 10 important facts for every dinosaur enthusiast to know about Abydoasurus. This augments our normal sites like About and Prehistoric Wildlife quite well. Additionally, there is a video from WizScience that relays a great deal of the same information:

08 October 2016

Splitting Lumps

Many individuals that appear to be closely related to other taxa are often lumped together or split apart for one reason or another. Often these species are different in ways that could possibly be accounted for by natural variation, but there are times when the differences are significant for multiple reasons. One of the reasons that Abydosaurus mcintoshi is significant and different from other sauropods is that it is one of very few North American sauropods that is known almost exclusively from cranial material. A later brachiosaurid, the teeth of Abydosaurus and its nose are different from other brachiosaurids including Giraffittan. Described in 2010 from Dinosaur National Monument materials, the type material of Abydosaurus consists of a nearly complete skull and mandible with the first four neck vertebrae associated. The remains were found near the Green River and the name refers to the Egyptian city where the head of Osiris was buried.
©Wilson and Whitlock, National Park Service

07 October 2016

Italian Style English Dinosaurs

©Fabio Pastori
Proceratosaurus occupies the lower left quadrant of this study of proceratosauridae. The similarity in the interpretation of the skulls is expected, but the variation in those similar structures is well portrayed and expertly accentuated with shadowing and the hints of fossae and ridges within the the nasal ornamentations. The orbits are slightly exaggerated for general interpretations of dinosaur anatomy (other than Guanlong) but the feathery necks and heads are wonderfully modern. It is not necessarily accurate that every dinosaur was feathered, but there is enough proof in the theropod line that these tyrannosaurids could have reasonably had feathers. Unfortunately other, more recent and derived, members of the tyrannosaurid family do not possess elaborate ornamentations on their skulls.

06 October 2016

Proceratosaurus at the Museum

Proceratosaurus consists of a single specimen of cranial remains. That cranium consists of mainly the mandible and ventral half of the skull plus an almost full rostral/premaxilla area. This area is what led Woodward to compare the Bathonian skull from the reservoir of the market town of Minchinhampton in western England with Ceratosarus. In terms of fossils, Proceratosaurus is a rather complete skull. The internal structure and the braincase are largely missing or unknown in Proceratosaurus, but given its typical theropod anatomy, these could be reassembled from other known remains to recreate the dorsal half of the skull. These sorts of recreations have been undertaken for years by paleo artists in portrayals of the dinosaur.
Figure from Rauhut et al. 2010

04 October 2016

Paper and Phylogeny

As promised, there is discussion about Proceratosaurus and its phylogenetic position; there is actually a great deal of discussion pertaining to the position of Proceratosaurus within the theropod family tree. The most recent edition of this phylogenetic discussion was published in the Linnean Society's journal of zoology by Rauhut, Milner, and Moore-Fay in 2010. Other papers also discuss phylogeny in relation to Proceratosaurus from a variety of angles including overall theropod evolution, coelurosaur relationships, and discussions of tyrannosaurid skeletal design. These papers would all be important and informative, but the paper linked here is the most comprehensive and useful (currently) in regards to the current position of Proceratosaurus in the dinosaur tree.

03 October 2016

Motionless Proceratosaurus

Proceratosaurus deserves more movies than it has. It deserves at least more documentary notes than it has garnered if not actual movie roles or even shorts. There are a pair of tribute videos, one with cut outs and the other with a montage of pictures, but other than that the pickings are very slim on this movie Monday. There are a couple of other videos that show up later on the search page that may be of more interest. One of these is a review for a toy and the other is a WizScience video, the kind with the computer reading facts over a stream of pictures.

02 October 2016

Proceratosaurus Abridged

There are few Proceratosaurus fact pages online and even fewer videos that I would suggest viewing to get more facts. I would suggest reading two sites to gather facts and share them with the younger paleontology enthusiasts out there. The KidzSearch encyclopedia has a very short entry on Proceratosaurus that conveys very basic information on the dinosaur. CoolDinoFacts has slightly more information than the aforementioned encyclopedia entry. This information is still not extensive, but does have a little more to offer.

01 October 2016

Small Jurassic Carnivores

Relegated to the area that now makes up the majority of England, small carnivores roamed the lands of the Middle Jurassic and did not need to be enormous because sauropods of the time had reached considerable, but not gigantic, sizes. Even if they had, smaller theropods have been hypothesized to have hunted in packs from time to time. Such may have been the case for Proceratosaurus bradleyi. Originally described by Arthur Smith Woodward in 1910 (as Megalosaurus bradleyi) and von Heune in 1926 as an early ancestor to Ceratosuarus with both dinosaurs belonging to the coelurosaurian group of theropods. Proceratosaurus was kept in this group whereas Ceratosaurus was removed and placed within its own, ceratosaurid, group of theropods. Proceratosaurus, known from fragmentary cranial remains, has an estimated size of between 2 and 3 meters in length, making it small and almost pet-sized (by enormous dog standards).