STL Science Center

STL Science Center

05 January 2019

Fossils and Parrots

When one searches fossil parrot two things appear. One is a report of a partial tarsometatarsus (a bone in the foot) from Siberia that was dated to 16-18 MYA. This is interesting, but it is a very small part of a parrot. A proto-parrot from Wyoming also appears regularly in the search list. This animal, shown below, does not have the familiar head shape of parrots, but does possess other features of parrots and is a whole bird; though it is in the typical bird state of a fossil which is to say that it is nearly pressed entirely flat. This fossil comes from the Fossil Butte Member of Green River Formation and has exceptional preservation, despite the crushed nature of the fossil. If you were to look closely at the neck you can see tracheal rings, the cartilage circles that keep the trachea ("windpipe") open so animals can breathe. Other fossil parrots are known to science, but many of them are associated with much older discoveries, so the papers describing these finds are not high on the search returns. These include parrots found in the Miocene of Nebraska (Wetmore 1926), New Zealand and Australia (latest paper: Worthy et al. 2011), and the Czech Republic (Mlíkovský 1998). There are other papers describing fossil parrots as well, but some describe the same finds mentioned above or are reviews of what we know about the parrot fossil record.
Cyrilavis colburnorum photo by Ian N. Cost

24 December 2018

Enjoy some Images

Today, enjoy some imagery of Temnodontosaurus. Also, enjoy some toy reviews. The second video is a model from CollectA and is particularly interesting as it includes a pup in the process of being born; it is admittedly a little odd.

Also enjoy this short clip that is said to portray Temnodontosaurus. Because there are not a lot of Temnodontosaurus videos, definitely spend some time checking out this cartoon about Mary Anning as well.

23 December 2018

Short on Facts

I always find it to be a little odd when there are few places to find facts on what should otherwise be a fairly well-known animal. Considering Temnodontosaurus' place in fossil finding history and its giant eyes, it ought to be a little bit more well-known online. However, aside from a few tribute videos and some animation tests, there are almost no videos online. There are also fewer fact pages than we would normally expect for such an important fossil animal. There is a short encyclopedia entry on KidzSearch (a site we have not used lately) and a very slightly longer entry on the Ancient Animals Wiki. A more informative source of information that includes a slightly more in depth article and a list of facts can be found on Prehistoric Wildlife, a site we have found useful to learn from for a long time around here.

22 December 2018

Celebrating Lyme Regis

©Dmitry Bogdanov
The holotype of Temnodontosaurus platyodon (originally Ichthyosaurus platyodon) is approximately 6.1 m (20 ft) long and was discovered in 1821. Although the name means "cutting tooth lizard" the fossil is best known for two radically different reasons. The first is that the orbits and the 25 cm diameter sclerotic rings indicate that the eyes were approximately 20 cm (8 in) in diameter, making these the second largest known eyes in any animal. Prior to a 2008 dissection of a rare Colossal Squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni) which has eyes approximately 27 cm (11 in) in diameter Temnodontosaurus had the largest known eyes. The second most important reason that Temnodontosaurus is well remembered is because this large ichthyosaur was one of the first fossils found by Joseph and Mary Anning in 1811; it was initially described as a crocodile. Joseph outlived Mary by a few years, but Mary was the true force in the family fossil collecting business despite being largely deleted from the literature of the time by the geologists to whom she sold her fossils. Anning also led geologists (including Buckland, Agassiz, Owen, and Conybeare among others) on expeditions, taught them how to collect fossils from Lyme Regis, and trained their field assistants and wives how to collect fossils. Temnodontosaurus may be well known for being discovered by the Annings, having large eyes, and being one of the first known ichthyosaurs, but it is not the best known of Anning's discoveries; that distinction belongs to (depending on who one asks) either her 1823 discovery of Plesiosaurus, or her 1828 discovery of what later became known as Dimorphodon. During this week we will talk a little about Temnodontosaurus and Mary Anning both every day. The reason for that, for those interested, is that many of Anning's discoveries were made or published during December and her life was actually strangely influenced by the month. Additionally, it was recently announced (14 December) that a movie based on part of her life, titled "Ammonite" will begin production in March 2019. Anning and December seem intertwined and Temnodontosaurus was her first big find. It all goes together for a fitting end to the year.

Also, I just realized this is blog post #2500. Hooray!

09 December 2018

Videos of Giant Sauropods

Invest a little time in learning a little bit about Sauroposeidon today with WizScience and Dinosaurs Unearthed:

08 December 2018

The Tallest Sauropod

Sauropods were enormous animals, for the most part. They certainly have a wide range of sizes, but the absolute largest sauropod ever known was discovered in southeast Oklahoma and described in 2000 by Wedel, Cifelli, and Sanders. Trace fossils, in this case footprints, from Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Texas have long been associated with the animal as well and, despite the holotype consisting of only a few cervical vertebrae, many more bonebeds and isolated fossils have been discovered in these states since 2000. Named the "lizard earthquake god" that was "perfect before the end" Sauroposeidon proteles was estimated to have possessed a neck approximately 11.25–12 m (37–39 ft) long based on the largest cervical vertebra of a sauropod known, which measured in at 1.4 m (4.6 ft) long. That is a fairly large singular bone; almost as tall as my mother actually! It also makes the neck about 2 m (7 ft) longer than the next longest sauropod neck (belonging to Giraffatitan).
CC BY-SA 3.0 Stephen O'Connor

28 November 2018

It's in the Name

It was mentioned earlier this week that Protarchaeopteryx, as a name, translates literally to "Before Archaeopteryx". This poses a small problem because Protarchaeopteryx is a Cretaceous archaeopterygian and Archaeopteryx itself is a Jurassic animal. Geologically speaking, Archaeopteryx predates Protarchaeopteryx by approximately 25MY; though it is important to note that the accepted span of existence for Archaeopteryx is 150MYA - 125.45MYA and Protarchaeopteryx shows up in the fossil record at 124.6MYA. This means that they are not, temporally, that distant from one another. This does not necessarily reflect their phylogenetic relationship to one another. Now, the reason that we brought up the names is that the implication of the name is not actually what the name means. What I mean, and what Ji and Ji meant by that in 1997, is that Protarchaeopteryx did not come before Archaeopteryx, but rather it possess characters which appear to place it in a phylogenetically primitive position in relation to Archaeopteryx. The justification for the name as assigned by Ji and Ji was that " [Protarchaeopteryx] is regarded as more primitive because it has a more elongated tail, more robust pelvic girdle, longer and larger hind limb, and unfused proximal metatarsals [than Archaeopteryx]." These characters, it may not require stipulating, are more derived in Archaeopteryx. To better understand the description and read the translated version of that 1997 paper, please see the reference presented below.

Ji, Qiang, Shu’an Ji, and Translated By Will Downs. "A Chinese archaeopterygian, Protarchaeopteryx gen. nov." Geol Sci Tech 238 (1997): 38-41.