STL Science Center

STL Science Center

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.