STL Science Center

STL Science Center

28 May 2018

Bit Role Star

Rhamphorhynchus appears in two popular films for brief periods in each. The first, One Million Years B. C. is vintage Ray Harryhausen stop motion work with a very inaccurate version of Rhamphorhynchus attacking a Pteranodon. Despite its terrible inaccuracies it is an intriguing interpretation of the animal. Also it eats the Pteranodon nestlings, which is peculiar and very much outside of its inferred diet. The second appearance of Rhamphorhynchus that is probably better known is from Walking With Dinosaurs (Ep. 3 Cruel Sea) in which it is shown skimming the surface of the water for small fish. There are a number of reasons this is a strange portrayal, and time permitting, we will get into them later this week. For now, though, enjoy these two clips:

27 May 2018

Night Flying

If a niche exists in nature, some animal somewhere is, was, or will be an expert in that lifestyle. During the Jurassic Laurasia, the northern supercontinent, was populated by a number of pterosaurs that possessed different body shapes and populated different niches. Many different characteristics of these fossil flyers have led researchers to many inferences of diet, flying style, and even time of activity; for example, the scleral rings and orbit shape of Rhamphorhynchus are a key characteristic leading researchers to infer a nocturnal lifestyle. The long-tailed pterosaur has been discovered across Europe and in parts of Africa in deposits that represent shoreline and off-shore environments. The localities, along with cephalopods and fish that have been recovered from both gut areas and coprolites (fossilized feces), point to Rhamphorhynchus as an ocean-going pterosaur. Consisting of three recognized species (R. longicaudus Münster, 1839 (type specimen) , R. muensteri Goldfuss, 1831 (originally Ornithocephalus) and R. etchesi O'Sullivan and Martill, 2015), Rhamphorhynchus was a small (1.26 m, 4.1 ft long; wingspan: 1.81 m, 5.9 ft) needle-toothed pterosaur lacking a crest and possessing a long tail, something pterydactyloid pterosaurs (the kind most people think of when they think of pterosaurs) noticeably lack. The tail, in fact, is the origin of the specific epithet of the type species, R. longicaudus.
Louis Figuier, 1863

22 May 2018

Yates Description

As with many dinosaurs, there are a number of papers that mention Dracovenator, far more than the number of papers that actually focus all of their attention on our featured dinosaur. The description of Dracovenator by Yates (2005) is detailed, including line drawings, detailed photographs, and even a character list of attributes at the end of the article. As with many descriptions, the article is a little dry, but that is the nature of descriptive paleontology, so it does not make the article bad or otherwise lacking some sort of thrill found in other papers describing fossils. I am kind of a fan of the image of the juvenile fossil displayed upright as it is not often that we are shown the flat side of fossils in papers in this manner.

Yates, A. M. (2005). A new theropod dinosaur from the Early Jurassic of South Africa and its implications for the early evolution of theropods. Palaeontologia Africana 41:105-122

20 May 2018

Dragon Hunters

Dinosaurs and fossil hunters have been referred to as dragons and dragon hunters for centuries now; however, there is only one dinosaur whose name means "Dragon Hunter": Dracovenator regenti Yates 2005. A dilophosaurid discovered in the South African foothills of Drakensberg ("Dragon's Mountain": Dutch), Dracovenator consists of cranial material from early Jurassic rocks near the borders of Lesotho, a small country contained within South Africa. The characteristic shape of a dilophosaurid skull is apparent in the remains of Dracovenator in both the adult (holotype) and referred juvenile materials (reassigned from Syntarsus to Dracovenator by Munyikwa and Raath 1999). The estimated size of Dracovenator, extrapolated from related animal sizes and the cranial material available, is between 5.5 and 7 meters (18 and 23 ft) from snout to tail and weighing upwards of 400 kg (882 lbs).

18 May 2018

Dynamic Images?

What is the most dynamic, awe-inspiring image of Tuojiangosaurus that one can find on the internet? There are a near infinite number of opinions regarding which image and why any particular image might be the most beautiful or amazing image of Tuojiangosaurus. The images could come from anywhere also. This includes skeletal mounts, 3D video game renders, ink drawings, and any other media one can think of. My personal favorite was a hard choice this week. I always love the old-fashioned (like Charles R. Knight style) sorts of drawings, but Tuojiangosaurus was not discovered until 1977. Conversely, I appreciate really well done computer generated media as well, of which there is plenty representing Tuojiangosaurus. The image I have chosen as my favorite of the lot comes from the latter category today, and specifically it is attributed to Román García Mora. Even though the artwork is attributed to Mr. Mora, it does not appear on his website, linked above. Maybe more unfortunate, the image was originally found on a fourth party site and therefore even farther from the artist's control.
©Román García Mora

14 May 2018

Fun to Type

Tuojiangosaurus is actually fairly easy to spell after the first two or three times you type it out: fun personal observational fact/opinion that I just decided upon. If anyone disagrees, I can completely understand why, but give it a few more tries before you give up. Additionally, despite searching the blog the other day to see if we had covered this animal before and for some reason nothing seemed to show up, I noticed today that we had covered it, six years ago. However, revisiting old friends now and again is always interesting and fun. An even more fun fact about that time is that I found out that I was accepted to the biology graduate program at Fort Hays, which means that Tuojiangosaurus was the first dinosaur we discussed during my non-educator focused graduate career. Pretty neat stuff there. Anyway, on to the important aspects of why anyone opens this page on a Monday: movies about the animal we are featuring this week.

Back in 2012 there were not many, if any, videos of Tuojiangosaurus on the internet, a point that I noted by sharing the one short documentary I could find at the time that discusses Tuojiangosaurus in any detail (the 9:18 clip is featured below again today and our stegosaur appears at the 3:00 minute mark). Tuojiangosaurus now, though, appears in video game clips and short movies all over YouTube, but that is hardly the end of its representation online in video format. There is a video of an animatronic version of the Chinese stegosaur from the Henry Doorly Zoo (in Omaha, NE) and Brookfield Zoo's (in Chicago, IL) Dinosaurs Alive exhibits. This animatronic dinosaur exhibit can be found at many different zoos under the same or slightly different names at different times of the year; one of the series of photos I have shared here in the past was from the Memphis Zoo's version simply titled "Dinosaurs". The Tuojiangosaurus featured in the exhibit is a little less like the actual fossil than we would like. However, it does encourage people to look up the dinosaur and see what they should really be seeing (as opposed to what they did see), which is a good place to start educating more people about our favorite fossil animals. In a similar vein, this video from the Dinosaur Quest at the San Antonio River Mall shows fossil casts rather than animatronic dinosaurs.There are countless video game videos of the dinosaur surrounding the links shared here and the short clip below, but I will leave these to the reader to discover at their leisure or desire.

13 May 2018

Small Stegosaurs

Thinking and writing about Ceratosaurus over the last week made me think about the animals that would have been food items for Ceratosaurus. One of the most prominently discussed and featured food items for Ceratosaurus and its contemporary Allosaurus was the western North American dinosaur Stegosaurus. We have written about and discussed Stegosaurus here at least once by itself and a number of times in reference to other dinosaurs. We have also discussed some of its closest relatives (such as Kentrosaurus), but we have somehow missed talking about one of its best known, Asian, cousins, Tuojiangosaurus multispinus. The name refers to both the multiple spines along this stegosaur's body and its discovery near the Tuo River of central China within the Sichuan Province (yes, where the cuisine originated from). Watch the video below to learn some more important facts about Tuojiangosaurus:

10 May 2018

Ceratosaurus Anatomy

Ceratosaurus has an interesting set of ridges and horn-like structures on its skull that gave two of the species their specific epithets: C. nasicornis ("nose-horn") and C. magnicornis ("large-horn").  The purpose of the horn was originally thought, by Marsh, to have been a "most powerful weapon" used by the theropod in both offensive and defensive matters. Many others agreed including Gilmore in 1920, Norman in 1985, and Paul in 1988. To be fair, Norman and Paul were more specific, arguing that the horns may have been used in intraspecific combat and headbutting. Rowe and Gauthier (1990) put forward a display only function for the horns, which appears to be the most popular hypothesis concerning Ceratosaurus horns.The assumption with these rugosities as display ornamentations often includes discussion of potentially brightly colored soft tissues covering and otherwise associated with the osteological structures.
American Museum of Natural History
Photo by Wikicommons user Daderot, released into public domain under Creative Commons CC0 license

08 May 2018

Balancing Papers on Horns

Ceratosaurus is the star of a couple of books (I am a fan of Charles Gilmore's description of North American carnivores from 1920). More importantly, Ceratosaurus is the star of a large number of scientific studies. The large volume of work stems in part from some of the interesting ways in which the fossils have been discovered. These studies include unique discoveries that were somewhat unexpected in places like Portugal and Africa. Possibly the largest concentration of Ceratosaurus skeletons that are known and have been recovered and prepared come from the states of Colorado and Utah; there are a number of other finds in Wyoming and other areas of the North American West as well. Reading the numerous descriptions of new finds could take one all day, but it may be worth it. I offer here a few older readings from Hay, Marsh, and Madsen that describe new finds and restorations of Ceratosaurus skeletons. Other options worth reading include Henderson's ecological study centered on skull and tooth morphology and Bakker and Bir's contribution to the book Feathered Dragons edited by Currie, et al.; a chapter titled "Dinosaur crime scene investigations: theropod behavior at Como Bluff, Wyoming, and the evolution of birdness". Though not always a popular character, their chapter is well written and an interesting interpretation of theropod feeding locations and the clues left behind.

07 May 2018

Facts and Movies

Ceratosaurus is a charismatic theropod dinosaur. Aside from how much I like Ceratosaurus personally, it is very apparent that Hollywood and other paleontologists have a great deal of affection for and interest in this genus. That has led to many podcasts, movie roles (yes, even in the Jurassic Park no one likes), and appearances in documentaries. Some depictions of Ceratosaurus shown here are almost magical; by that I mean that often Ceratosaurus is portrayed as a dinosaur with a unicorn-like horn. The facts and fossils show that the horn is not much like a unicorn's horn at all, and, as stated yesterday, was quite variable across species within the genus and individuals. In One Million B.C. Ray Harryhausen said of his Ceratosaurus, its horn, and the other dinosaurs of the movie that his creations were not for "professors... who probably don't go to see these kinds of movies anyway."

06 May 2018

Favorite Oldies

One of my favorite theropod dinosaurs is the medium sized so-called "horned lizard" Ceratosaurus. A genus consisting of three recognized species (C. nasicornis Marsh, 1884 (type), C. dentisulcatus Madsen and Welles, 2000, C. magnicornis Madsen and Welles, 2000) and one junior synonym that has been applied to the type species, Ceratosaurus was a Jurassic carnivore sharing the landscape with large sauropods, stegosaurs, and allosaurs. Known from North America, Europe and Africa, Ceratosaurus was a widely distributed and successful predator eclipsed during its existence only by the larger and equally successful Allosaurus. Though we consider Ceratosaurus to be a medium sized predator in the context of all theropods, at 5.69 m (18.7 ft) long; C. nasicornis is fairly large; the largest species C. dentisulcatus is estimated at 7 m (23 ft) long. The feature responsible for the name of this dinosaur is a large rugosity on the dorsal surface of the muzzle that appears to some to look like a horn; the type material was more horn-like than some of the later discoveries, but for the most part these rugosities are variable and can look like anything from horns to small ridges. Because we have so many remains of these animals, their ecosystems, and their contemporaries we know a lot about their life history, ecology, and the world that was around them. We also know enough about their feeding ecology that we can build awesome museum displays like this one at theNatural History Museum of Utah.

04 May 2018

The Scary Face

When the characteristic feature of your existence, as a fossil that is known and described in science, is that the entire legitimacy of your existence in our knowledge is tainted by potential theft and other impropriety you do not get overburdened with a lot of respect or investigation. Of course fossils are not people so the skull of Minotaurasaurus does not actually feel any shame, guilt, or worry about the provenance of its discovery or how it was whisked away from Mongolia (or wherever in Asia it originated). The people involved, regardless of their status as buyer or seller, are subjected to arguments from both sides of the controversy; factions do indeed exist that say that keeping the fossil in a private collection is as morally correct as it is to rescue a fossil from a private collection. Articles and opinions are everywhere online and in paper journals as well as in newspapers and magazines (two of these linked articles are about the same specimen). Not all of these issues arise in other countries either. The United States of America has its fair share of dinosaur fossil legal battles throughout its history; the ownership of Sue the T. rex being the most famous one that I can think of right away.

Minotaurasaurus is not a Tyrannosaurus and it is not a fossil of North America. Instead, it represents a real and, unfortunately, growing problem, even if we do not hear about it daily in the news. The skull is actually very interesting because it looks a lot like many other ankylosaurs we knew of previously and this has caused a lot of researchers, such as Victoria Arbour and Phillip Currie, have reassigned Minotaurasaurus to another taxon, Tachia kielanae. Another study upheld the original description and nothing else has surfaced since that time. Regardless, the skull is not in a museum where all of these researchers can look at the original material and come to a solid conclusion. Until it is they, and we, will have to make due with casts and character lists and some photographs to compare the skull to other animals. Description can be tricky though, so this description may be contentious for a some time to come, unless another animal is discovered and can be studied more directly.
Photograph of a cast of the holotype material. Borrowed from Victoria Arbour's blog here.

01 May 2018

Two Sides to Read

The description of the lone known skull of Minotaurasaurus is hosted online. Miles and Miles 2009 was published in Current Science (an Indian journal published in conjunction with the Indian Academy of Sciences), not necessarily because it was not good enough for some of the typical venues of fossil description (such as the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology), but because it was very controversial. An initial attempt to publish in a Polish journal was met with rejection. The rumor about how the skull was purchased is that one of the authors told the buyer it would be named after him if purchased and it was purchased without papers of provenance because they do not exist, not because they were lost or misplaced. The fossil is Mongolian but it was prepared in the United States of America and sold through a Japanese based fossil dealer. Nature published an article summarizing the trip that the fossil has taken to become a published fossil shortly after the description was released. The New Yorker preceded the Nature article in releasing a story on fossil dealers and the fossil trade. Their article goes into details about illicit fossil sales and discusses the seller of the Minotaurasaurus skull, possibly connecting him with another illicit fossil sale of Tarbosaurus.

29 April 2018

Possible Issues

Minotaurasaurus, whether because of legal issues or contested phylogeny, does not have a lot of presence on the internet. However, there are a few articles online written by Darren Naish and Brian Switek that cover a lot of the information that will be covered here throughout the week and present a number of facts that we have not introduced yet about Minotaurasaurus. Images labeled Minotaurasaurus can be found in many places as well, though this site has compiled a good amount of those images. Prehistoric Wildlife lists the information that we know about the dinosaur, but as that information is limited the page dedicated to Minotaurasaurus is also limited. The Dinochecker website is a bit more wordy, but presents basically the same information as Prehistoric Wildlife with some more detail.

28 April 2018

Back to Dinosaurs

It has been quiet around here lately; I have been busy working on other things that require more attention and have made it so I have not been putting much attention in here. However, I enjoy doing this and it is a welcome break from other projects. Plus, we are going to talk about dinosaurs again. More specifically, we re going to talk about large ugly armored dinosaurs again. Anything with a name meaning "man-bull reptile" can be assumed to be an ugly animal. Of course the name, Minotaurasaurus ramachandrani, is based off of the looks of the skull and Greek mythology. The way that this complete skull came to science is complicated, but the specific epithet honors the man (Vilayanur S. Ramachandran) responsible for making the fossil available to science. Because of the complicated history of this fossil, the origin is unknown, but the fossil is likely from the Gobi Desert. The legal status of the fossil is still contested, though not as visibly as it was a decade ago. These are all things that will need to be discussed this week because they are both important and still relevant on a regular basis; probably too often to be honest.
©Nobu Tamura CC BY 3.0

22 April 2018

Evolving Swine

As mentioned yesterday, there are not many links for any fossil pigs online. Instead, please enjoy a short video with facts about wild boar, which we know would have a slight resemblance to the history of the pig in question (Strozzi's Pig). Think of this history by proxy as a way to learn a bit about pigs that you may not already know.

21 April 2018

Pets Everywhere

We have discussed the origins of a large number of what are now very popular pets. We have looked at the origins of dogs, cats, rabbits, reptiles, fish, horses, turtles, and a lot of other animals. One group we have not looked at that has, at least recently, been more regularly miniaturized and taken from the farm to the living room in many areas: the domestic pig. Belonging to the family Suidae, the domesticated pig has a complicated and long lineage. The domesticated pig is in the genus Sus, a group of animals ranging back to the Miocene, though pigs of the family Suidae are certainly a considerable deal older, dating back to the Oligocene.

Picking pigs to discuss is actually a little more difficult than one mine imagine; there are variable sources of information on fossil pigs and there is actually a lot less information, in total, on fossil pigs than one might imagine as well. Many fossil pigs are known entirely from their teeth and a number are known from their skulls and teeth together. Regardless of how much is known of each fossil pig, there is not a great deal written about any fossil pigs online. There are a number of articles on Enteldonts, but these large artiodactyls are not actually a group of pigs. One pig that has a small internet presence, and we can use as a model for talking about pigs at large, is Strozzi's Pig (Sus strozzi). This pig was very porcine, pig-like, and, as is the case in many wild suids, Strozzi's Pig looked very much like a wild boar or a warthog. Strozzi's Pig was a Mediterranean animal, distantly related to the suids of Africa and closely related to its counterparts from Europe and Asia, which contributed to the displacement and eventual extinction of Strozzi's Pig.

19 April 2018

Not So Tiny

We saw earlier this week that Ray Harryhausen made a very nice stopmotion Eohippus for the film The Valley of Gwangi. The reason that the horse was so small is that it was a common misconception that the horse was the size of a Fox Terrier. Many sources have mentioned this size issue many times, but the ultimate source appears to be, according to Stephen Jay Gould, a description of Eohippus written by Henry Fairfield Osborn. It was Gould's opinion that Osborn was excited about the idea of a horse similar in size to a dog and that he was vague in his metaphors to fox hunting when describing the small horse Eohippus. Osborn's comparisons and metaphors make Eohippus out to be a 15 in tall 19 lb horse (the size of a Fox Terrier, obviously); however, Eohippus is approximately 24 inches tall and weighed approximately 50 lbs. There is a difference in the way these animals are measured as well; dogs and horses are both measured from the ground to their withers, the caudal aspect of the shoulders; however, horses typically have a little more soft tissue (muscle and/or fat depending on the breed of dog or horse) than dogs in this area. This is only a problem in comparing the two similarly sized animals in that Eohippus is lacking in the soft tissue area; either way it is still taller than a Fox Terrier. Unfortunately, this sizeable lie is the largest claim to fame, for most people, for Eohippus. It was, of course, also the first recognizable horse, making it an important fossil animal in the history of not only horses, but human beings and, arguably, a large portion of the globe and all of its life. For those more interested in the impact that the descendants of Eohippus have had on the world I recommend starting with this article from Khan Academy.

17 April 2018

The Ever Popular Shrunken Horse

If anyone has ever seen a documentary on the evolution of horses they have most likely seen or heard Bruce MacFadden. They may not have known it, but Dr. MacFadden has, for over 30 years now, been one of the premier horse evolution researchers in the world. Therefore, if one were to search for scientific articles on or mentioning Eohippus they could not, and certainly should not, be amazed when the first two results are MacFadden papers from the 1980s on the size of Eohippus and dental evolution using Eohippus as a vehicle for the discussion (and arguments for evolution based on horses too). There are more recent articles as well, of course, including Froelich's systematics paper on Eocene horses and even a description of museum mounted specimens by G. G. Simpson from 1932 (we all know by now I love reading older scientific articles so of course there was going to be at least one!).

16 April 2018

Prancing Forest Pony

Coursera is a website that has many free courses from different sources, including a number of universities. One course, on horse care, has a video detailing some of the finer points of horse evolution. This video discusses Eohippus and other early horses, so it is a good starting point for any day with a number of videos on early horses. Aside from this, Eohippus is not much of a screen start. The small horses did have one "starring" role in the 1969 movie Valley of Gwangi. Built by Ray Harryhausen, the small model horses were far smaller than they would have been in real life, but they are still adorably stop-motion animated in great detail.

14 April 2018

Dawn of the Horses

©Charles R. Knight
Possibly the most synonymized taxon in the entirety of paleontology, Hyracotherium angustidens was named by E. D. Cope in 1875. In 1876 O. C. Marsh described a similar taxon, naming it Eohippus validus. When Clive Forster noted similarities between the genera in 1932 he reassigned E. validus to the senior genus Hyracotherium. When Hyracotherium was redescribed as a paraphyletic taxon in recent years it was noted that H. angustidens and H. validus were identical species, and Marsh's specific name was considered junior to Cope's, but was considered the only valid genus of the two. Therefore, after all of these taxonomic twists, the animal considered the earliest and smallest of the equid lineage was officially renamed Eohippus angustidens. The official list of synonyms for Eohippus stands at 13 junior names, 3 of which are actually subspecies of other synonyms. Regardless, the small horses are interesting in many ways and, more importantly, are animals that have not been discussed here in full, and are therefore deserving of some time in the spotlight.

12 April 2018

People Love Cats

Pseudaelurus may be the most important cat in the entire family line that almost no one has ever heard of. Aside from ending the North American "cat-gap," Pseudaelurus is an important genus because these cats represent the last common ancestors of a diverse array of cats and "near cats." Saber-tooth cats, as a general term, technically fall out of the family line to cats before true felids. As an evolutionary grade, a group of taxa united by shared morphology, Pseudaelurus contains both felids and the true saber-tooth cats (Machairodontinae). This is why Pseudalurus is referred to as the last common ancestor to both saber-tooths and felids; the term "saber-tooth cat" can be extremely confusing because of the true and false labels in addition to the phylogenetic maze of carnivorans in which they settle out. For more information, I encourage everyone to read these articles on false saber tooths at ThoughtCo and Prehistoric Wildlife.

The genus Pseudaelurus has been separated and lumped a number of times over the years. However, the most recent phylogenetic studies (Werdelin et al. 2010 and Piras et al. 2013) have split Pseudalurus over three lineages definitively (unless someone comes along in the future to lump them again). The new genera include Hyperailurictis, Styriofelis, and Miopanther. These each represent a distinct lineage leading to the extinct lineage of American Hyperailurictis felids and the Styriofelis/Miopanther group (including both the extinct lineage of European Styriofelis felids and the extant Felinae which includes domesticated and wild cats). The third lineage retained the name Pseudaelurus and led to the extinct Machairodontinae, the true saber-tooth cats.

10 April 2018

Papers That Are Fond of Cats

Pseudaelurus is important in all lineages of felidae because it is the last common ancestor of many different types of cats, but it is also important to people that know, love, and study cats because of this as well. Additionally, Pseudaelurus is the genus of cat that bridged the so-called "cat-gap" in North American fossil history. Tom Rothwell is a paleontologist that knows a lot about Pseudaelurus and the cat-gap. Rothwell has written papers on the phylogeny of Pseudaelurus cats in North America and he has described new species within the genus as well. There are other paleontologists writing papers about Pseudaelurus of course. Papers on Pseudaelurus can be found from as far back as at least 1954 and at least one article on dentition and the skull was written in the 1930s. However, new remains of Pseudaelurus species are described on a somewhat regular basis; clearly this was a genus that was very successful and must have been quite varied to have so many different species identified.

08 April 2018

Cat Videos

The internet, it has been said, was built for cat videos. We all know that there is some truth to that statement. The internet is less built for cats as old as species of Pseudaelurus. There are videos on how cats became house pets that can stand in for some of the fact videos we are looking for, but they are just a stand in of course. There is also a German video that presents the facts that we would normally look for in a video. It is a good fact video, if you understand German.

07 April 2018

Second of the Proto-Cats

The first of the felids was known as Proailurus. The next most recent descendant is a group of cats known as Pseudaelurus. The genus Pseudaelurus is the last common ancestor of extant felines (mostly small to medium cats, including domestic breeds), pantherines (medium to large cats including lions, tigers, and leopards), and machairodonts (extinct saber-tooth cats). Pseudaelurus consists of twelve accepted species. Originating in Eurasia, species of Pseudaelurus migrated across land bridges into North America, ending what is casually known as the "Cat-gap" from 25 to 18.5 million years ago when few, if any, cat fossils were found.
Figure 3.1 from Evolutionary Dynamics ©IOP Publishing LTD

06 April 2018

Lagomorph Illustrations

The average image of Nuralagus is a rabbit looking creature with a very large body in a standing position. Some of these are on rocks and some of them are on grass, but they are all standing fairly still. Considering all of these illustrations, two are probably more useful than any of the others. Roman Uchytel and Darren Naish (I assume there may be others that have repeated this idea) both came up with illustrations of Nuralagus compared with other rabbits, or at least one rabbit, which shows not only how similar its inferred features are to rabbits, but also the size difference between Nuralagus and modern rabbits. The link to Roman Uchytel's site does not show the image I initially wanted to share; however, there is a very interesting version of Nuralagus showing the known skeletal remains superimposed onto the body, like in the Quintana, et al. 2011 manuscript. I appreciate that image though, because the comparison between the holotype of Nuralagus and the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), is quite interesting on its own (see below if you missed the image in Quintana, et al. 2011).

Figure from Quintana, et al. 2011

03 April 2018

Hopping Papers

Quintana, et al. 2011 introduced the world to the largest rabbit of all time, found on one of the smaller islands of Spain. The idea sounds funnier than it is, but after one looks into Foster's Rule, the so-called "Island Rule", it makes sense in a very interesting way and it can mean a few things:

1) Minorca was separated from continental Europe some time after rabbits had evolved into the recognizable fuzzy tailed garden thieves we know, love (or hate), and sometimes eat.

2) Minorca was a rabbit paradise. Barring any future discoveries of Nuralagus on continental Europe, we can assume that the animal evolved entirely on the island of Minorca and that it must have been a wonderful place for its ancestors to grow and prosper.

3) The unification of Majorca and Minorca caused the downfall of the rabbit Nuralagus by allowing a "cave goat" (Myotragus balearicus) to directly compete with Minorcan rabbits. This should, given adequate testing and sampling from the fossil record before, during, and after the transition provide a solid example of competition hypotheses and Foster's Rule as it relates to size due to competition for limited resources; Someone that is not me that wants to get on that, you are welcome for the idea.

It is interesting that competition with Myotragus may have ended the giant rabbit's rule. Quintana, et al. compare Myotragus and Nuralagus braincases, aerobic capacities, and locomotory characteristics to explain what happens to insular endemic species as they evolve in comparison to their continental cousins. Despite one of these taxa possibly out-competing the other and very different lineages, they had similar evolutionary patterns and morphological traits, relatively speaking.

02 April 2018

Bunny Movies

I will not lie and say Easter did not play a part in my choice of animals yesterday. Today I am sad to say there are no funny Easter related videos. We are talking about a giant rabbit, basically, so I was kind of hoping that there would be some tongue-in-cheek Easter mentions here. However, instead we have a few fact sharing videos and no documentary or movie references; it turns out giant rabbits are not ratings generating animals. So, therefore, enjoy the facts and the images of this giant rabbit!

01 April 2018

The Non-Precambrian Rabbit

In one of the more interesting stories of scientific history it is said that J. B. S. Haldane, a British geneticist and evolutionary biologist, once wrote (or said) that the only thing that could shake his confidence in the theory of evolution would be the discovery of rabbit fossils in Precambrian rocks. He also wrote a poem about rectal cancer shortly before his death, so he was likely trying to be funny with his rabbit crack as well as a little flippant toward people questioning his life's work and confidence in it. Haldane was an interesting figure regardless of negatives one might find reading about him (he was a vocal supporter of Communism and Joseph Stalin, for example). Anyhow, the question of "how old are rabbits exactly?" has really piqued my interest this week.

The oldest ancestor of rabbits is a 53 million year old fossil consisting of two recognizably lagomorphine (rabbits, hares, and pikas are lagomorphs) feet. These feet belonged to an animal the size of a hamster. However, I do not want to focus on two small feet this week. Instead, let us look at the opposite end of the size spectrum. We have all seen enormous rabbits, but have any of you seen the largest fossil rabbit? I got trapped in a Wikipedia loop of bunnies looking up the Minorcan King of the Hares, Nuralagus rex. Discovered and described in 2011, Nuralagus was approximately 0.5 m  (1.64 ft) tall and may have weighed around 12 kg (26 lbs). For comparison, the largest breed of domesticated rabbits, the Flemish Giant, has an average weight of 6.80 kg (15 lbs).

Nuralagus fossils have been recovered exclusively from the scrubland areas of Minorca, a small island of Spain approximately 402 km (250 miles) south of Barcelona. The discovery of the rabbit fossils in the scrublands indicates that the diet of these rabbits was most likely centered on roots and tubers of the small scrub plants. Some might wonder how an animal like a rabbit, surviving on roots and tubers might become so large. Foster's Rule, also called the "Island Rule" states that large animals with scarce resources tend to evolve to smaller sizes and small animals continue to be small except in the absence of predators which allows lineages to evolve to larger sizes.
Figure 3 from Quintana et al., 2011.

30 March 2018

Running Gallimimus

What does an excellent image or illustration of Gallimimus look like? There are feathered versions of Gallimimus and there are the emaciated looking taut skin versions of the dinosaur. There are also beefy versions of Gallimimus with their arms splayed outward as if they are trying to grab something and there are also interpretations of Gallimimus with the arms held tight against the body wall. Picking a favorite could be easy or difficult, depending on what one's personal preferences might be. It could also be very difficult because almost all of the illustrations of Gallimimus are vastly similar; the body is usually running, the tail is typically shown being held straight out from the body, and more often than not the legs are shown in mid-stride. The most interesting image, properly labelled, that I have found is the image below. I am interested to know if anyone can find or already knows the artist though, so it can be properly attributed, both on our website and the website I pulled found the image on.

29 March 2018

Running Into Our Hearts

Gallimimus was a relatively unheard of dinosaur in the public consciousness until the early 1990's when a certain book was written, published, and then turned into a blockbuster movie. Partly because of this short cameo appearance, Gallimimus has become a star in its own right. The dinosaur has been appearing in video games such as ARK, Zoo Tycoon, and many others for many years now. There have been books dedicated entirely to Gallimimus, some for children and some for the more sophisticated reader. Gallimimus, despite its stereotypical dinosaurian look, has become relatively famous and is, at the very least, on the same level as actors like Paul Guilfoyle (this movie is well worth watching, I promise); except anyone can probably think of the name Gallimimus when they see the dinosaur in a documentary.

27 March 2018

Running On Paper

Gallimimus was described in 1972 by Osmólska, Roniewicz, and Barsbold. This paper is available online, which is great as it consists of a highly detailed description of the initially recovered remains of Gallimimus. These remains were photographed and recreated with line drawings. These illustrations are arranged so that every angle is meticulously described and shown. Any anatomical aspect of Gallimimus that anyone is interested in is covered in this initial description. Findings concerning Gallimimus have been published since this description as well. These include descriptions of dinosaur beaks, aging of bones using x-ray microanalysis, and trackway fossils that are believed to have been made by Gallimimus. Many dietary hypotheses have been addressed as well, however, there are many of these. There is as yet no definitive answer as to what Gallimimus may have fed on, or at least there is still a lot of debate on items that Gallimimus may have called dinner.

25 March 2018

Recurring Videos

It is a lot of fun when we are able to share similar videos multiple weeks in a row. The reason is that the producers of the videos are the same, meaning the level of information we receive from the videos are similar. That also means that the information is similarly presented and has the same caveats attached to it; all information may have some misinformation as well. This week we have videos about Gallimimus from I'm A Dinosaur, a reading of information from the I Know Dino group (they have been absent lately from our video lists), and a new source, The Dinosaur Feed, which is music and image/text only and as such will require some reading and potentially pausing.

I'm A Dinosaur

I Know Dino's Big Dinosaur Podcast

The Dinosaur Feed

24 March 2018

King of Reviews

March, if everyone remembers, has been a month of review animals. Seven years ago, plus a few months because we started in January, the first animal that was featured for the week here sprinted straight onto the pages with a head full of steam. Back then our readership was a little smaller than it is today, so Gallimimus was a little less popular than many of our other dinosaurs and other fossil animals. An ornithimimid, a dinosaur that "mimics" a bird in many ways, Gallimimus bullatus was described in 1972 after initially being recovered by a joint Polish-Mongolian expedition and group of paleontologists. As with other ornithimimids, Gallimimus was a theropod dinosaur that was fairly unique within our generalized view of theropods for a variety of reasons. First of all, Gallimimus was built for running. Long legs and powerful thighs propelled the dinosaur forward in large bounds. Additionally, Gallimimus was originally thought to use its speed to chase down small mammals, reptiles, and other dinosaurs which were then swallowed. More recent reports have included insects, plants, small animals, and even filter feeding as possible dietary regimens. Skeletons of all ages of Gallimimus have been recovered so we know a fair amount about the life history of Gallimimus as well. Gallimimus was also a rather large animal, despite what its name might indicate; Gallimimus means "Chicken mimic". The name actually refers to the shape of the cervical vertebrae and not the size of the dinosaur. Gallimimus was larger than the average human, far larger than a chicken.

22 March 2018


I have been pretty sick this week and missed a lot of the week because of it. Rather than saying we will continue next week or I will scrunch all of the Apatosaurus material I have into today and tomorrow, I would like to remind everyone that we have discussed Apatosaurus before around here. The link to the search for Apatosaurus is here. Enjoy looking through a few years of old entries and seeing what kind of information has been doubled up on at different times!

19 March 2018

Movie Overload

Apatosaurus appears in hundreds of movies, feature length documentaries, animated shorts, and television format documentaries. If we consider Brontosaurus involvements in these categories the number of mentions, glimpses, and outright featuring roles of the sauropod in scientific media is well above hundreds. The first animated dinosaur, in fact, is an Apatosaurus (modeled after what was then called Brontosaurus actually, but until the argument over synonymy plays out we will keep these animals together) named Gertie. The Gertie film is the third mass-released animated film and most everyone has seen it in total or at least in part. This and other Apatosaurus videos were shared on this blog in 2013. Apatosaurus, more specifically Brontosaurus before the lumping event of the 80's/90's (more on this history later), was the inspiration for the animated dinosaur Littlefoot from The Land Before Time.
More recently Apatosaurus was used as the model for one of the protagonists of the Disney movie The Good Dinosaur. This is not the most recent featuring role of Apatosaurus though. That most recent role is one of its saddest as a movie screen dinosaur. Jurassic World's Apatosaurus herd was on screen for only a few moments and mostly consisted of dead dinosaurs. However, the behind the scenes building of the physical Apatosaurus head is pretty awesome to watch. I would go far enough to say astounding. I cannot get enough of it.
One of my favorite old, and therefore a little weird and not correct, videos that I saw a number of times growing up (and found online, lucky you folks) is the 1980s Golden Book Video featuring Fred Savage called Dinosaurs! A Fun-Filled Trip Back in Time. In retrospect, a ludicrously 80s video that has an Apatosaurus in it and contains live-action, claymation, and cartoon dinosaurs. That video can be found on YouTube here.

18 March 2018

Same Game Plan

Last week's series of videos worked very well for Sunday Facts, so I am doing the same thing today. We have two videos from the same sources as last week (I'm A Dinosaur and Story Bots). There is also a video from The Dinosaur Club that is the kind of video I would love to have the time to produce myself for this page or my own use in outreach. One thing that I have noticed watching all of these videos (both weeks) is that you will definitely find different interpretations of Apatosaurus in terms of illustration and placement of some anatomy (nostrils in the first two videos). Some of this is influenced by the skull misidentifications mentioned yesterday. Remember that the skull of Apatosaurus was originally thought to be close (or maybe exactly) like that of Camarasaurus and Brachiosaurus; sauropods that have nostrils high on the dorsal surfaces of their skulls. Unfortunately someone (it is the Story Bots video) consulted the wrong information regarding nostrils. This should not ruin your day though.

I'm A Dinosaur

Story Bots

The Dinosaur Club

17 March 2018

A Contentious Sauropod

The name Apatosaurus ajax is not very debated on its own, but it does have a history that includes the incorporation and the "re-splitting" of the genus Brontosaurus . The genus Apatosaurus also contains the referred species A. louisae, which is a second species within the genus but may or may not contain a third species, A. laticollis; presently A. laticollis is considered a junior synonym of A. louisae as described by Tschopp et al. 2015. A large number of Apatosaurus species have been assigned or reassigned since Marsh's initial 1877 description of the "deceptive lizard". Marsh did not have a complete specimen of course, the skull was unknown and confused with that of Camarasaurus until A. louisae was discovered in 1909 with a complete skull, but his description remains one of the first accurate descriptions of a sauropod dinosaur and therefore the world's official, scientific, introduction to some of the largest dinosaurs that we know today.
©Dmitry Bogdanov

14 March 2018

Anatomical Wonders

Velociraptor has some amazing anatomy. The dinosaur had theropod characteristics as well as a number of avian characteristics. Velociraptor has a number of interesting and unique characteristics that are both avian and dinosaur, or are entirely unique to Velociraptor. That anatomy has garnered a lot of attention from a lot of artists, scientists, and the general public, as we know. There is an entire scene about its feet in the original Jurassic Park movie. Before the feathers became the big news about Velociraptor it was the toe claw that everyone was intrigued by. The hollow bones of Velociraptor have also made the news a number of times because of their similarity to the bones of birds. I have to plug an artist as we are talking about a lot of anatomy here to finish up this post. Rushelle Kucala works mainly in markers, colored pencils, and digital finishing points and she is very obviously a serious student of paleontological anatomy. I would love to post some of her work on Velociraptor here, but instead I encourage everyone to increase traffic on her site, using Velociraptor as the gateway at the link here.

13 March 2018

Furculae and Descriptions

Possibly because of the bird-like characteristics of Velociraptor and also possibly because of its fame from both well-known fossils and the popular sphere, there are a lot of articles written about Velociraptor. These range from descriptions of new material, the skull in particular, and even the furcula (referred to in the title and portions of the article as a "wishbone", most likely to appeal to a wider audience). There are also descriptions of the feathers that we now know are associated with Velociraptor remains; as this dedicated study of the quills of the dinosaur shows. Personally, I am always interested in what kinds of clues we have to indicate behaviors or at least what kinds of inferences people have made about behaviors from their interpretations of characteristics of discovered remains and characters associated with those remains. This is why papers that investigate relationships between Velociraptor and its prey and how Velociraptor may have hunted that prey are intriguing to me. These papers by Hamilton, et al. and Finney, et al. model Velociraptor (and some other animals) hunting strategy using complex mathematical modeling and computer algorithms; they are a little intense, but the models in action and the results are both interesting.

12 March 2018

Dinosaur Planet

I apologize for this YouTube user's odd placement of the video, but here is a Discovery documentary entirely about a Velociraptor told as a story.

11 March 2018

Velociraptor Videos to Learn From

Here is a trio of helpful videos about Velociraptor that you can learn from this week. The videos include one from I'm A Dinosaur, a classic source of kid friendly facts in cartoon form; one from Story Bots, which is where our Triceratops video came last week from; and the final video is from the Today I Found Out YouTube channel.

I'm A Dinosaur:

Story Bots:
Today I Found Out:

10 March 2018

A Hole In Our Entries

In an amazing turn of luck, or perhaps a lack of fore-planning, I noticed that what I intended to be a review week of another favorite and beloved dinosaur actually appears to be a first full week of dedicated posts to a Mongolian dinosaur that is well heard of, if not accurately known. Seeing as how I love all of the dromaeosaurs and the wonderful array of illustrative interpretations and the varied hypotheses from the time of discovery until now surrounding the animal known as Velociraptor mongoliensis, it is hard to believe that we have yet to cover the animal. I searched in all possible ways through all the entries and we mention Velociraptor plenty of times, but we have yet to dedicate a whole week to this dinosaur. I even searched the Facebook page. I find this oversight amazing, which is the only reason I continue to go on about it.

At any rate, Velociraptor is a misunderstood dinosaur by many and it certainly deserves its time in the highlights of this site. Velociraptor mongoliensis means "Swift thief from Mongolia" and, in a happy coincidence of taxonomy contains the word raptor, which additionally implies a bird of prey. Despite common misconceptions, this violent, terribly-clawed predatory machine that inspires nightmares was huge... only in the eyes of mouse sized mammals and tiny insects. Standing at approximately the same size as a modern Wild Turkey, Velociraptor was, without a doubt, fierce and feared in the eyes of its prey, but was likely a nuisance much like a small dog to the larger animals of its time (think about how odd it would be to see a Tarbosaurus trip over a Velociraptor suddenly running out of the bushes in front of it).
Wyoming Dinosaur Center display of Velociraptor mongoliensisPhoto by Ben Townsend

09 March 2018


Here are a few of my favorite Triceratops paintings for everyone to enjoy today. Feel free to share some of your own favorites.
©Charles R. Knight
©Doug Henderson

©James Gurney

08 March 2018

One of the Most Popular Dinosaurs

Whether we are talking about video games (from Zoo Tycoon to any of the Jurassic Park games), movies (e. g. Jurassic Park) it is undeniable that Triceratops has made a massive impact on popular perceptions of dinosaurs and the way the public thinks of paleontology and science in general. Many other things help to form those opinions, but Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus, and a number of other dinosaurs have influenced the public in many ways in the past, well beyond the almost 200 years that people have studied dinosaurs. Triceratops has been the subject of books written for both adults and children and even many with an all ages audience in mind. Do you want to be a Triceratops? There is actually an app for that. Maybe you just want to see a Triceratops mounted with lasers and missiles. As a child of the 1980's I can say that I used to have a Triceratops that did just that and walked (with two C batteries of course). Out of the interest of time I will wrap this up here, but we could go on almost forever, fairly easily actually. Triceratops is immensely popular and has been for a long time. To prove it with one final send off, here is a photo I took a number of years ago of a dinosaur pillow with a dinosaur hand puppet (I do not always have to be professional, right?)

06 March 2018

Two Papers Only?

The number of papers concerning Triceratops (and by proxy of synonymy, Torosaurus) is far beyond anything that could be shared here. The first posts on this site originated in the year following the "loss" of Triceratops, as it was portrayed in the general media. However, as every paleontologist, amateur or professional, knows, the argument for synonymy of Torosaurus and Triceratops would actually be a loss of the genus Torosaurus as it was named two years after Triceratops. Strangely, the media missed this entirely, despite the paper and authors' (Scanella and Horner, 2010) assertions that "lumping" the genera together would cause Torosaurus to forever be referred to as "Torosaurus", meaning that it is a nomen dubium; a doubted name. Seven years later this "Toromorph hypothesis" is still debated within the paleontological community and a lot of rebuttal in publication (See Farke, 2011 and Longrich and Field, 2012 and Maiorino, et al. 2013) has led to a lot of disagreement. This is a common occurrence in scientific fields, but Triceratops status as a beloved dinosaur in the hearts of many makes this debate more contentious than other similar debates.

Many other papers examined other aspects of Triceratops throughout the years. Horn use, cladistic analyses, and even examinations of the manus (I would really like to call them paws here, but I think that might gather some boos from the crowd) have been published. The most popular subjects of study with Triceratops have been centered in thermoregulation and dental topics. The frill on the head of Triceratops has been studied a number of times because, as with any sail-like bodily appendage, we have many ideas as to why it might have existed, but cannot readily test those ideas without the soft tissue or, ideally, a living animal. Some hypotheses can be, and have been, tested, but there is a lot we do not know about the frills still as well. As far as dental studies are concerned, Triceratops mouth was basically a plant shredder and the teeth needed to maintain this function were unique to Triceratops and therefore warrant study apart from other dinosaurs with dental batteries (e. g. studies of hadrosaur chewing and dental batteries).

05 March 2018

Horns and Videos

The sheer number of videos that Triceratops has been featured in is absolutely astronomical; but I did warn yesterday that Triceratops is a huge fan favorite so this should certainly not be a surprise. Here are a few choice cuts from the internet to watch and share with your friends, starting with a Triceratops talking about itself in a mix between spoken word and rap. The second link goes to a clip from the Discovery series Clash of the Dinosaurs. The third and final link here will take you to one of the first times I ever saw Triceratops on a screen.

04 March 2018

Return to the Favorites

JuraPark in Solec Kujawski, Poland. Image credit: CLI / CC BY-SA 3.0
Because I have decided I want to, and because I am writing these entries, I have decided that this month is going to be a bit retro in terms of animals we are going to discuss. Due to the fact that my favorite dinosaur as a child was Triceratops, this week is going to be all about the best known and baddest three-horned dinosaur in the history of not only paleontology but also the general sphere of knowledge of dinosaurs.

The first named Triceratops was initially discovered in 1887 in Denver, Colorado and consisted of brow horns and a portion of the skull roof to which they were attached. An earlier specimen discovered in 1872 in Wyoming was sent to E. D. Cope. Unfortunately, Cope possessed only post-cranial remains which looked very much like those of a hadrosaur. The remains are currently only provisionally considered those of a Triceratops and are still referred to by the name Cope assigned to it: Agathaumas sylvestris Cope, 1872.

The Denver specimen was sent to O. C. Marsh who originally officially named the specimen Bison alticornis. Marsh reconsidered and renamed the animal after an 1888 discovery by John Bell Hatcher in Wyoming. This was the third specimen presented to Marsh and apparently finally consisted of enough skull material to convince the professor that rather than a Pliocene mammal he was looking at one of those "Ceratops dinosaurs" he had published on sometime between 1887 and 1889 when the newly minted and now official name Triceratops horridus was published. This is the name we use now, in addition to a second recognized species, T. prosus Marsh 1890. 

02 March 2018

Smug Titan

Titanophoneus was a dinocephalian therapsid. A group, as we have discussed, well on its way to possessing characteristics that we identify exclusively with mammals. It is interesting, then, that most of the illustrations that we have looked at this week possess very few characteristics of mammals and look almost like squat reptiles instead. For that reason, it is very important that we end the week looking at a version of Titanophoneus that appears more mammalian than other illustrations. This version appears mammalian mostly due to the fact that a short coating of almost soft appearing hair, maybe we could even call it fur, all along the body of this Titanophoneus. This is also possibly the calmest looking Titanophoneus we have seen this week; the majority of illustrations show Titanophoneus chasing prey, eating, or at the very least in some form of motion (i.e. walking or preparing to chase prey). Find the image at this link on Dmitry Bogdanov's DeviantArt site.

27 February 2018

Titanophoneus Written in Ink

Possessing teeth and bodies that were grotesque and enormous, by Permian standards at least, Titanophoneus has been the center of a few hypotheses (alongside Gorgonops) of how dinocephalians hunted and killed their prey. Existing before Gorgonops (Late Permian), Titanophoneus may have laid some of the behavioral groundwork, in the Middle Permian, for the slightly better known predator of the Late Permian. Barghusen (1975) discussed these hypothetical behaviors and inferred their implications for inter- and intra-species combat in dinocephalians. Some of the adaptations discussed by Barghusen were also discussed by Rowe and van den Heever in 1986 and Hopson in 1995. These two papers both discussed the evolution and characters of the manus ("hand" in some mentions in the two papers) of dinocephalians. The original descriptions of Titanophoneus are largely missing, online. Therefore, the best descriptions that we have online are in these three articles and the Tree of Life website. Lauren and Reisz edited the "Autapomorphies of the main clades of synapsids" page which covers any and all characteristics that may gave been previously overlooked or ignored in the papers on feeding/fighting and the hand.

26 February 2018

The Ancient Earth

I would like to start off today by admitting that I am an absolute sucker for documentaries about animals, not specifically fossil animals either, but animals in general. That is why, despite a large number of videos of animatronic Titanophoneus models and numerous "tribute" videos on YouTube, I want to share a somewhat lower budget documentary about the Permian today. As we should remember, Titanophoneus was a massive predator of the Permian and used its size as well as relatively large canine teeth to subdue ts prey. The producers of the show Ancient Earth, CuriousityStream, run an on demand online streaming site that shows scientific, historical, and technology content (think of it as Discovery back in the mid-90's). A free trial is available for the service and it is the only way I have found, so far, to watch the documentary Ancient Earth. This show has an episode on the Permian which features Titanophoneus and discusses the Permian mass extinction. The two clips linked here show trailers of the show that mention and show Titanophoneus as it appears in the documentary.

24 February 2018

Gigantic Murderer

The Permian landscape was filled with enormous therapsids. As we have discussed in past entries (see Moschops), the therapsids are the group of synapsids that includes mammals and their descendants. During the Permian the group of therapsids known as dinocephalians were a small, but mildly successful group for about 10 million years (270 - 260 million years ago). Some of these animals were absolutely terrifying in appearance, possibly because they look like nothing currently living on the planet. One of the more alien looking, and named, dinocephalians of the Middle Permian was the 5 m (16.4 ft) long Titanophoneus potens Efremov, 1938. The name Titanophoneus translates to "Titanic murderer" and the large carnivore prowled the Middle Permian with an 80 cm (2.62 ft) long skull and teeth to match (in that they are huge, not 80 cm long).
©Dmitry Bogdanov
Titanophoneus & Ulemosaurus

23 February 2018

A Turtley Picture

A lot of images online are non-descript turtles; sometimes freshwater turtles manage to sneak into the search results for Desmatochelys. A number of unidentified, both artist and subject, turtles also appear, making finding an accurate interpretation as well as attributing that interpretation almost impossible in some ways. Regardless, a lot of turtle illustrations are really great, for a number of different reasons. The underwater lighting in most of these images that I have looked at today is wonderfully done, which further enhances the natural majesty of these giant marine turtles. Desmatochelys in action looks, no matter the artist, like many other sea turtles as they swim through the scene in which they are depicted. This version of Desmatochelys is fairly majestic, but has a few non-majestic characteristics as well (I think it might be the angle of the head).

21 February 2018

Turtle Bits Everywhere

The 2007 Colombian skeletons that were described by Cadena and Parham 2015 consisted of at least four individuals; four skulls that are either entirely or nearly entirely complete were among these remains. The holotype from this set of remains of Desmatochelys padillai consists of one of the incomplete skulls as well as portions of the neck (hyoid and vertebrae 3-8), both forelimbs with incomplete digits, the left shoulder girdle, and most of the upper (carapace) and lower (a partial hyoplastron and hypoplastron) shell. Two additional partial shells were also recovered in 2007. The remains constitute the oldest known marine turtle at approximately 120 million years old; the next oldest fossil marine turtle is an animal known as Santanachelys gaffneyi at 95 million years old.

These turtles were not tiny marine animals either. The Colombian fossils had heads that, at their largest, measured 320 mm (12 in) long and 216 mm (8.5 in ) wide (specimen FCG–CBP 01). The known material of the carapace of this specimen measured approximately 1660 mm (2.17 ft) long and 1353 mm (4.44 ft) wide. As we can see below, this was a rather large and impressive turtle.
©Edwin Cadena

20 February 2018

The Turtle Papers

The history of Desmatochelys is a very well-documented one, with many of the fossils described and analyzed a variety of ways. Some of these descriptions of course include Williston 1894 and Cadena and Parham, 2015. The Cadena and Parham article is fairly long and highly detailed and, thankfully for us, hosted online by the University of California system; the article appeared in PaleoBios which is published by the University of California Museum of Paleontology. A lot of this article discusses the phylogenetics of marine turtles and these sections are accompanied by enormous colorful figures and phylogenetic trees. Much of the discussion contained therein is the result of studies that came before Cadena and Parham, allowing these authors to make the inferences that they detail in their article. Many of those arguments and discussions were originally written by Elizabeth Nicholls in the early 1990's. Nicholls, 1992 detailed an incomplete specimen of D. lowi discovered on Vancouver Island on the Pacific coast of Canada. That specimen marked the first discovery of a marine vertebrate from the Cretaceous along the Pacific coast. In her discussion of turtle specimens Nicholls argued that more specimens of marine turtles discovered in Cretaceous rocks belonged to the genus Desmatochelys and her work on the turtles is inherent in the efforts and descriptions of later marine turtles and Desmatochelys specimens specifically.

18 February 2018

Turtle Facts

Desmatochelys is a somewhat popular turtle. Being the oldest known fossil sea turtle most likely only enhances the popularity of the fossil. However, the fossil has few fact pages and videos online. One of the only human-voiced videos on YouTube is the GeoBeats News video shown below. Enjoy the video today and tomorrow we will look at some of the other videos. Later in the week we will discuss some of the facts that we know about Desmatochelys, where they came from, and how we know what we know.

17 February 2018

The Oldest Sea Turtle

©Jorge Blanco
Desmatochelys is the oldest sea turtle known to science. Consisting of two species, D. lowi Williston 1894 and D. padillai Cadena and Parham, 2015, Desmatochelys is known mostly from Colombian fossils of D. padillai recovered in 2007. However, D. lowi is known from a very well preserved specimen from Nebraska described by Williston in 1894 and potential remains recovered from Kansas in 2008. The reason that the 2007 discoveries and their 2015 description are more well-known is because they are more current, very well preserved, and the description includes an extensive list of characters and depth. All of the known specimens of this turtle genus are amazing, so it really is difficult to say any one is better than the other specimens and each has its merits. As an example, the 2008 Kansas specimen of D. lowii has a very well preserved skull and the humerus is slightly different from Williston's Nebraska specimen of 1894. Variance, preservation, and preparation could account for this, however we may never know exactly why they appear different.

Regardless of their preservational states, the specimens of D. padillai from Colombia was recovered from rocks that are Lower Cretaceous or upper Barremian-lower Aptian, approximately 120 million years old, in age. These fossils make Desmatochelys the oldest known fossil sea turtle by approximately 25 million years. All of the fossils, from all three locations, make Desmatochelys one of the most well represented fossil sea turtles as well. As the week goes on we will list out the specimens and describe this turtle. Today, enjoy this Cretaceous landscape and its giant sea turtle.

16 February 2018

Giant Skeletons

One of the best skeletal reconstructions I have ever seen is that of Futalognkosaurus as illustrated by Nima Sassani. The image is enormous and I am going to link it here rather than describe the image in great detail. Enjoy this enormous dinosaur and its enormous skeleton.

15 February 2018

Quietly Documented

The turnaround time from fossil recovery to description for Futalognkosaurus is actually fairly standard. Discovered and recovered in 200 and described in 2007, Futalognkosaurus was only unknown to the world for approximately 7 years (with the 87 million year fossilization and exposure period). In the grand scheme of fossils that is actually not that bad a return from fossil to publication; considering it includes transportation of a number of very large skeletal elements and preparation, study, and characterization as well it is actually somewhat impressive. Since that publication Futalognkosaurus has somewhat been lost in the general awe of titanosaurs instead of standing out on its own very much.

As one of the most complete large dinosaurs ever discovered, it is famous for that distinction if for nothing else. That is a point that has been highlighted numerous times on popular media like the Smithsonian's online magazine and Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week (SVPOW), a popular venue for discussing sauropods. Dinosaur books describing the landscapes of South America that were written after the description was published make mention of the giant and even detail what inferences have been made about the animal, though there are not any singularly dedicated books, for children or otherwise, available on the market at the moment. An application launched in 2013 has probably been the most active way of viewing and interacting with Futalognkosaurus for the public. In conjunction with the Royal Ontario Museum, the app Scopify created a vignette for the display piece of Futalognkosaurus in the museum, bringing the sauropod to life on handheld devices and cellphones.

For the most part Futalognkosaurus does not make a giant impact on popular culture in visible media. However, despite a lack of popular media and materials, Futalognkosaurus has appeared in murals, many illustrations, and features prominently in the Royal Ontario Museum. The name is not well known, but many may recognize the sauropod as a titanosaur in illustrations and murals.