STL Science Center

STL Science Center

31 August 2011

By Now....

We have researched almost every high profile paleontologist from the era of the Bone Wars. Thankfully, Styracosaurus' story of discovery barely involves those big names. Instead, it involves a man named C.M. Sternberg, who was a big name in his own right, and has been mentioned a few times, but not really gone over in detail. Charles Sternberg discovered many dinosaurs in Alberta, Canada in an area known now as the Dinosaur Park Formation in Dinosaur Provincial Park in Canada. Sternberg worked with Lawrence Lambe who named Styracosaurs, but how did he stumble upon this crazy looking animal?

In 1913 Sternberg was working in the quarries of Dinosaur Provincial Park when he found the first fossil remains of Styracosaurus. Not a lot is detailed about what he first found, but in 1915, the AMNH found a nearly completely articulated skull and a partial skeleton. Given this knowledge it's safe to assume that Sternberg found a good amount of the entire Styracosaurus skeleton. A number of other sites existed for finding the other two species which have, in the past, been included in the Styracosaurus genus (S. parksi, now recognized as another specimen of S. albertensisand S. ovatus) and these were found much in the same way as the original species with one coming from Alberta again, and the other from Montana ("S. parksi" and S. ovatus respectively).

30 August 2011

Always About the Frill

The papers I have found for today are all about that crazy frill of Styracosaurus, well, mostly about the frill. The first paper appeared in a 2007 JVP issue (be sure you read the republication warning on the front page and do things all legal-like) and examines the Styracosaurus genus almost three years before Paul's account placed Styracosaurus in the Centrosaur genus. This paper, however, retained the Styracosaur genus and even claimed that a second species, Styracosaurus ovatus, was a legitimate species separation from S. albertensis. The paper contains well detailed and labeled skull diagrams as well.

The second article and third article are by Peter Dodson and McDonald and Horner, respectively. Both papers discuss comparative craniology, anatomy of the skull, of Styracosaurus and other ceratopsian dinosaurs. McDonald and Horner are a bit more specific in discussing new material, as of 2010, attributed to S. ovatus. Their overall conclusion is fairly interesting and it's worth reading, but I'll leave it as a surprise for your reading pleasure. Dodson's 1993 paper on comparative anatomy of the skull discusses, or attempts to as it is a big family, the whole of ceratopsia but achieves a fair level of intimate detail on each species, Styracosaurus being one of those species. As a discussion on the cranial morphologies of these animals it is a very good paper to read and highly educational. If you are not into the bone structure of dinosaurs as much as I am, you may find it a little less interesting though.

29 August 2011

Only two videos today

I found two small videos that I'll use today. The first one is really just an overview actually a review done by someone of Papo's Styracosaurus model for 2011 and, while not presenting many pertinent facts, it does show a fairly accurate representation of the animal and has quite good detail. The second video is a 5th grader's project about Styracosaurus which is very well detailed and has a great amount of basic detail. It's got its highs and lows and as a teacher it's hard not to criticize a school project, but it was rather well done overall in the end.

28 August 2011

Kid friendly places on the interenet.

Styracosaurus is going to show up all over the place as we continue looking into it. There is, of course, my favorite fact file for the younger folks in our life here. There's also the normal Enchanted Learning coloring page and facts here, but I personally like the coloring page off to the side a lot better for this dinosaur. It could be because there's also a Triceratops, but I don't know for certain. The last thing I want to mention is the National Geographic Kids Dinopedia entry at the beginning of the post. It's not bad at all though it is a little short, but I think kids will relate to it quite well given that most cartoons look similar to this animation these days.

27 August 2011

Styracosaurus images

Styracosaurus is all about the skull. As with most ceratopsian dinosaurs, whether neoceratopsia, centrosaurines, or even chaoyangosaurs, the most definitive element of identification and awe inspiring gasps is the skull of the animal. In Styracosaurus, this is especially true given the amazingly unique configuration of the sub-dermal horn structures which grow out of the post-orbital/squamosal frill structure. The above skull is found in the American Museum of Natural History. In examining illustrations and comparing them for today's presentation I used the AMNH's skull as a point of reference.

©Craig Brown
According to Gregory Paul Styracosaurus belongs in the Centrosaurus genus and not as its own separate genus. He also lumps in Pachyrhinosaurus, Monoclonius, Einosaurus, Achelousaurus, and of course Centrosaurus into his new definition of Centrosaurus. I honestly have not looked at the evidence enough myself to definitively agree, disagree, or partially bridge both states in regards to Paul's theory. The traditionalist in me disagrees, of course, but the scientist in me wants to figure out exactly how he came to this conclusion and make my own decision. Regardless, images like Craig Brown's Styracosaurus make it hard to equate these animals, in my mind, with the solid frilled Centrosaurs and the ramming-plate-nosed Pachyrhinosaurs, and this makes me feel skeptical. The nasal horns of the left and center, Styracosaurus do, however, match Paul's theory that Einosaurus may have been closely related because of the shape of these horns, but the nasal horn on the right-most dinosaur is straight up and down, which can be accounted for in many different ways such as sexual dimorphism, age, and the results of traumatic injuries during growth even. The frill, however, remains uniform to what we expect.

©Tucciarone and Poling
I have two different animals that involve the hand of Joe Tucciarone, who is a fabulous artist, that I wanted to share. The first is this animal to the left who is rearing up in quite the dramatic pose which he constructed with Jeff Poling. The important thing to notice in this and the following illustration is that not only is the pose remarkably similar in both illustrations but the horns coming from the frill are both incredibly accurate in reference to the AMNH skull and they are just about identical, the lower piece having the horns at a more vertical angle near the center of the horned frill, in both pieces that Tucciarone painted meaning that he is highly consistent which is a wonderful thing to see in any artist. The second image shows a Styracosaurus warding off a Daspletosaurus and I have used that image before in an article on Daspletosaurus. Both of Tucciarone's Styracosaurs have identical bodies as well, which, with all large ceratopsians is basically the equivalent to an elephant on growth hormones. This does not mean it is easier to draw the bodies of large ceratopsians, but it does mean that Tucciarone has shown the great amount of both girth and muscle mass found in these almost literally tanks of the Cretaceous. Styracosaurus, as shown in these rearing postures, is a force to be reckoned with almost as much as Triceratops is shown to be, albeit with less of a forward facing armament of death.

©Ryan Valle:
Just to show that Styracosaurus does not have to be all about the violence of predator versus prey I received permission to use this illustration from Ryan Valle, an independent freelance artist. His anatomical awareness is phenomenal, and the placement of the dinosaur in the scene is wonderful. As far as a fantastical piece goes and the idea of dinosaurs living and working with humans in the spirit of the Dinotopia books, which was not the exact aim of the artist based on his own description of the work, this illustration speaks volumes. The idea that such a violently portrayed or, conversely, docile and stupidly portrayed, animal can be so intelligent and well enough respected to be relied upon as a steady working animal is one of the heights of imagination. The interaction between the animal and the child exhibits curiosity which, given most predator versus prey works, is not usually readily shown in paleoart. Not that we can say that this is how a Styracosaurus would behave in the street, but we could hope, easily, that these animals would be such gentle giants and the portrayal of one of these animals as such is a wonderful addition to the illustrations we look at.

Let's have, before we dismiss for the day, a look at what a frill might look at with some color on it finally! All of the above Styracosaurs were devoid of color, but, for most animal behaviorists, almost any surface like the frill of a ceratopsian dinosaur would be a billboard for sex and intimidation. What would a drab brown or green frill be in either role as an intimidating weapon to frighten off predators or rivals or as a fashion statement to attract mates without a splash of color like the frill below? I will leave you to ponder that question!
©Ahrkeath (

26 August 2011


Whenever I think of Albertosaurus I think of the fight of predator and prey. Whenever I think of that prey I think of Styracosaurus. Unfortunately, that timeline may be just a hair off, but I'm using my imagination to begin with, so I don't see any harm in that at all. Besides, what's five or six million years between friends? Styracosaurus, anyhow, loves being a top actor in the plays in my mind, but we'll see more of the accolades of Styracosaurus as the week goes on.

Styracosaurus, as an animal, is one of the most distinct of the Centrosaurines and of all Ceratopsians as well. According to convention and tradition only one species exists, Styracosaurus albertensis. However, some published books place Styracosaurus in different company and make it one of the Centrosaurs, more about that later as well. The thing that most distinguishes Styracosaurus from other Centrosaurine and Ceratopsian dinosaurs is the nature of its frill which is in possession of juts of horn, interesting shapes of the extreme frill and just generally a provocative display of grotesqueness; it's an awe inspiring animal and strangely beautiful. The enormous horn on the nose is one source of the debate to include it in the Centrosaur genus and our study this week will take that into account and explain why. Happy Trails for today though!

25 August 2011

Popular Guys

As far as Albertosaurus is concerned, it is a very popular guy amongst his friends and family, since they appear to have lived in packs. However, they are also popular amongst paleontologists and many dinosaur enthusiasts for multiple reasons. Number one is that there is a lot of studying and researching topics that can come from such well known animals. Having over thirty individuals identified in varying age groups makes an entire lifeline feasible to postulate. Events from birth to death could be sewn together from many different individuals to make an educated guess at the typical life of any Albertosaurus male or female.

Aside from the lifeline of Albertosaurus being easy to research, there have been quite a few instances in popular culture in which Albertosaurus figures prominently. Spore, of course, provides us with the ability to create our own versions of Albertosaurus, like this one here:
There is also the possibility to find Albertosaurus in your toy department, as previously shown, and in the bookstore, as shown here.

24 August 2011

Discovering Albertosaurus

Albertosaurus, as noted yesterday, was a small note on the paper naming T. Rex. by Osborn in 1905. Albertosaurs was found, though, alongside a river, the Red Deer River, in Alberta Province Canada. According to excerpts from Wikipedia
The type specimen is a partial skull, collected in 1884 from an outcrop of the Horseshoe Canyon Formation alongside the Red Deer River, in present-day Alberta. This specimen and a smaller skull associated with some skeletal material were recovered by expeditions of the Geological Survey of Canada, led by the famous geologist Joseph B. Tyrrell. The two skulls were assigned to the preexisting species Laelaps incrassatus by Edward Drinker Cope in 1892, despite the fact that the name Laelaps was preoccupied by a genus of mite and had been changed to Dryptosaurus in 1877 by Othniel Charles Marsh. Cope refused to recognize the new name created by his archrival Marsh, so it fell to Lawrence Lambe to change Laelaps incrassatus to Dryptosaurus incrassatus when he described the remains in detail in 1904.
This is what led to Osborn also looking at the remains and creating a new generic and specific name for this animal. Unfortunately for Albertosaurus, it took nearly 30 years to be its own unique animal and for science to acknowledge it as such. All told, more than 30 specimens of Albertosaurus have been unearthed and studied. They represent many different age groups from juvenile to adult.

23 August 2011

A Rare Occurrence

Today I am very pleased and proud to bring to you, thanks to The Theropod Archives, Henry Fairfield Osborn's original paper in which he names Tyrannosaurus Rex and Albertosaurus. The scholarly paper describes T. Rex and then goes on to describe Albertosaurus in very concise details. Osborn states that Albertosaurus was originally thought to be a Dryptosaurus based on its skulls but was a "somewhat more primitive character" overall. The description relies heavily on Canadian paleontologist Lawrence Lambe's original description of  the remains of Albertosaurus. A detailed account of where the remains are most often found was also included in the paper.

Additionally, Philip Currie has written a paper, back in 1998, that describes gregarious behaviors found in tyrannosaurids as a group. The paper goes into specifics of finds of many different tyrannosaurids in what appear to be species specific groups that are not engaged in fighting one another or otherwise harming one another and thus imply gregarious intentions. He states that a lack of herbivorous dinosaurs also rule out the idea of predator trap, such as the one found in Utah at the Cleveland-Lloyd Quarry. Currie presents a vivid and detailed account of major evidence for pack hunting and socialization in tyrannosaurids and, in our day and age, Currie's voice on theropods is well respected because of detailed, in depth, hard science papers like this.

22 August 2011

Documentaries anyone?

Some dinosaur documentaries are just fun, like the content of Prehistoric Park. It's typically accurate, but it's also made to be fun and entertaining. It's kind of like watching Steve Irwin's old shows but with CGI dinosaurs instead of real animals. The Albertosaurus here is acting in a pack also, important to note. Check out this clip:

Another good for entertainment, and quite accurate in the individual science of the animal, documentary is Jurassic Fight Club. The fight may be pure conjecture and guesswork, but the analysis of the animal itself is very accurate and in depth. Check this one out:

21 August 2011

For the Kids

Albertosaurus, like Tyrannosaurus, is a big draw for kids; kids that know it exists at least. Partly due to the fact that it so resembles a T. Rex that it is often mistaken, but the allure is also due to the fact that it was a massive predator of large size that children are typically in awe of. The size of dinosaurs alone often impresses young children and Allosaurus, with its large teeth and thick muscled body look just as enormous to a young child as a T. Rex does. Thankfully, other sites on the internet agree with me and have fact files for children, coloring pages mixed in with facts, and even unrealistic, but pretty awesome anyway, pages to color. There are also toys, there usually are, and static models of Albertosaurus that are quite fantastic. One thing I found that I wasn't expecting when looking for things children might find entertaining about Albertosaurus was that the dinosaur comic Les Dinosaures has featured a short strip from their upcoming release introducing the Albertosaurus into their second volume of comics.

20 August 2011

Albertosaurus images

I picked out two images today and a third which is a reconstruction of the jaws of Albertosaurus. Unfortunately, this is the best I could do on finding examples of the teeth. You cannot see the ampullae from here very well on the top reconstruction, however, if you look at the bottom you can see what I believe are the ampullae that were discussed yesterday in these teeth quite clearly. The ampullae would be barely visible with gums and, even though tiny, with the amount of lips that the dinosaur had. However, it is quite an important innovation in saving the Albertosaurus, and other animals that possessed them, from shattering all of their teeth every time they bite into something.

I decided we should look at two different body types of Albertosaurus. Here we have a very lizard like body with birdlike ornamentation along the head and a total lack of camouflage for anything other than a solidly yellow plain, much like what a lion wears as their camouflage on the savannah. Given that the artist has included trees in the background it seems as though this Albertosaurus is quite ill suited to hunt in this environment unless we assume his prey is much slower and that he therefore can easily run them down without too much of an ambush. The ornamentation on the skull is clearly multipurpose just like ornamentation is in extant animals and it was most likely for mating, intimidation, and recognition within the pack; if we go along in agreeing that Albertosaurus was a pack animal.

©Raul Martin
This painting, by Raul Martin, shows the relationship of Albertosaurus and Tyrannosaurus quite clearly. The tyrannosaurid features of Albertosaurus are unmistakable in this painting. The small arms with the manus only possessing two digits as well as the large long legs with powerful muscles and the boxy head and strong jaw muscles clearly mark a tyrannosaurid dinosaur. The coloration is much more suited to hiding and waiting for an opportune time to strike at prey as well. Coincidentally, being a pack hunter as well as being the largest predator of their home area, would almost make ambush senseless to these animals. Here, though, we can see that this animal is solitary and has brought down an animal, or is perhaps scavenging the carcass of another's kill. In this case the ability to prepare an ambush would have been very important to making the kill regardless of the size and power of the Albertosaurus in comparison to the Lambeosaurus on the ground.

19 August 2011

Albert the dinosaur

©Jim Robins
Albertosaurus is one of those Tyrannosaurid dinosaurs that I grew up knowing of but not knowing about. A lot like Allosaurus actually. So now, I'm going to delve into the depths of knowledge about Albertosaurus with our interested readers here. Albertosaurus comes from Alberta, Canada, hence the name, along the area of outcroppings that saddle the Red Deer River throughout its journey through Alberta. Albertosaurus sarcophagus mean "Alberta lizard flesh eater" when you put it all together and, though a slightly smaller Tyrannosaurid than Tarbosaurus and T-Rex, Albertosaurus was most definitely at the top of its local food chain. Albertosaurus is one of the few dinosaurs, let alone one of the very few large dinosaurs, to have been found in mass graves which suggest pack or herd mentalities. In one location up to 22 individual Albertosaurs were found to have died together. Adults and sub-adults have been found but, as of now, no infants have been recovered. It is believed there was a high infant mortality rate in Albertosaurs but that their small fragile skeletons were not preserved.

Albertosaurus was a pretty advanced tyrannosaur despite its smaller stature. It possessed the general tyrannosaur form and is thought to have run at speeds 8 and 13 miles per hour thanks solidly built leg and foot with long third digit (middle toe) on its feet and average sized second and fourth digits (first and third toes) with toe number one being held behind the foot and not in contact with the ground. Another interesting bit of Albertosaurus anatomy is an ampulla (a round hole) built into its teeth that helped to prevent them from cracking when great tearing forces were exerted on the thin serrated fronts of the teeth. This design is even used in airplanes to help prevent important parts of the planes from cracking while under duress during flight. One mystery we will have to visit is the relationship to Gorgosaurus libratus, an animal that many think is the second Albertosaurus species incorrectly named (Phil Currie is an important opponent of this idea and many side with his research on the matter).

18 August 2011

Popular Dinosaurs

Even more toys? Yes, it's possible. Even more videos? It is possible, certainly, but since I've shared all the documentaries I found I'll share a Spore creation video today, right below. Also, check out how popular they were even a little while before they got to be known through Walking with Dinosaurs by checking out this entry about an older game about Australian dinosaurs and these videos associated with it.

17 August 2011

Finding Muttaburrasaurus

A lot of names are associated with the 1963 discovery of Muttaburrasaurus. First of all, Muttaburrasurus was found in 1963 at Rosebery Downs Station near the Thomson River outside of Muttaburra in Queensland. The bones were originally found by a rancher named Doug Landon. After contacting the appropriate people, entomologist Edward Dahms and paleontologist Alan Bartholomai came out to extract the bones from the earth and preserve and transport them. The fossils were prepared for study, studied, and described and named by Dr. Bartholomai and Ralph Molnar in a 1981 scientific paper published in a scholarly journal. The dinosaur was given the name of the town near where it was found generically and the discoverer specifically and thus became Muttaburrasaurus langdoni.

The grouping and familial connections of Muttaburrasaurus have been debated, assigned, reassigned, and questioned off and on since 1981. At the moment it resides, in most sources, in the Rhabdodontidae family of ornithopods. Only the lone species of M. langdoni fits into the genus at the moment, but there's never any telling what other skeletons the earth may house.

16 August 2011

Feet in the mud

Articles about Muttaburrasaurus are somewhat rare it would seem. This is okay, but it does hamper our understanding of the animal and it does make it difficult to compare theories (like mine and Ralph Molnar's assertions that the thumb spike is not present in Muttaburrasaurus) because it is hard to prove someone wrong or right without any ability to locate evidence. Of course, papers exist, there wouldn't have been an official name accepted without a description and naming, but these are not readily available online. What I have found to share, however, is of interest anyhow. It is an article on an assessment of the dinosaur tracks found in Lark Quarry in Queensland. I hope that everyone enjoys the photos included and either finds the conclusions agreeable or enjoys coming up with their own theories off of the illustrations and photographs.

15 August 2011

Some clips for you to love

Muttaburrasaurus has been in a few documentaries. Check out the clips below. Number one is from Walking with Dinosaurs. Number two is, unfortunately, dubbed in an Easter European language so you can't really understand the woman talking under the dub at all. The third clip is a short informational bit about the skeleton. It includes the giant thumb spikes on the skeleton.

14 August 2011

It's nice out, go, play!

It's nice out in middle America at least. If it's nice out in Australia right now (the weather says it's supposed to rain tonite in Perth) you can go play around a big statue of Muttaburrasaurus with your youngin's like this one here:
You can also go to Lake Quarry if you're in Australia and try to decipher out tracks that may belong to Muttaburrasaurus on the preserved trackway. If it's too late, or not as nice where you are, you can read to your children from the fact files, and you can also read to them while they color this slightly odd looking Muttaburrasaurus. Don't forget the Muttaburrasaurus toys either though. Parents probably hate that I tell them to buy more and more dinosaur toys every week!

13 August 2011

Onto those teeth... and thumbs... and noses

©H. Kyoht Luterman
Muttaburrasaurus is, as stated, an interesting animal with an interesting name. Unfortunately, it has also become the butt end of a few incorrect beliefs about its anatomy as well as the relinquisher of interesting facts that are correct about its anatomy. Let us start with incorrect fact number one by studying the following image:

Bipedal capabilities, but probably wouldn't stand
like it was confused all the time.
Now, technically, this anatomical faux pas is debatable depending upon the source you consider. Muttaburrasaurus is, after all, a rhabdodontid or iguanodontid (depending, again, on your source) and therefore the way you feel about thumbs may be affected in either direction. Myself, I tend to agree with Ralph Molnar in the idea that the thumbs of Muttaburrasaurus were most likely not held out at angles like railroad spikes despite their placement in the iguanodont group. I suppose there may be some who believe that all iguanodonts held their thumbs out in this way, but I, myself, am not among them. Gregory Paul also shows the thumb held like a spike but he doesn't place Muttaburrasaurus in either group previously mentioned; he lists them as Ankylopollexia Miscellanea which are iguanodontians with thumb spikes that are not clearly related to Camptosaurs or other iguanodonts. The problem is, mainly, that the thumbs of these animals have not been reliably recovered as undeniably the first digit of the manus and that leads to some speculation which can then be segregated into two camps; those that believe there are thumb spikes and those that believe there are not thumb spikes. If I am wrong then the illustration above has a wonderfully accurate foreleg and manus. If I am right, it is wrong. I'll tell you know why I believe as I do that there are no thumb spikes.

Look at those teeth!
The teeth of a Muttaburrasaurus are totally out of whack when compared other iguanodonts. That doesn't mean it isn't an iguanodont, so much as it means that it is much more basal in its dental battery than other iguanodonts. Iguanodonts have a battery of teeth which are set up to be replaced over and over again. This is true with Muttaburrasaurus as well. However, the teeth of Muttaburrasaurus, while possessing this and a number of other traits akin to other later iguanodonts, the teeth replacement system was strangely different. Other ornithopods replace teeth at constant rate it is believed, allowing for multiple generations of teeth to exist in the mouth at any point in time. It was found in Muttaburrasaurus that the replacement teeth grew directly under the exposed teeth in such a way that only one generation of teeth was exposed at any given time. This system made chewing nearly impossible for Muttaburrasaurus. In continuing its strangeness, Muttaburrasaurus lacked a primary ridge that its cousins had on their teeth. This led Ralph Molnar, and Gregory Paul still describes it this way, to state that he believed Muttaburrasaurus may have scavenged corpses by shearing off meat. He later changed his mind and stated that he believed it more likely that the teeth acted like those in ceratopsian dental batteries which shear off vegetation and chop it up.

No one scares a Sage Grouse!
The reason I said before that this makes me believe there would be no thumb spike is that these are basal iguanodontid traits. The thumb spike was a basal iguanodontid trait in North America, but we have little to no proof that iguanodontids living in the Southern Hemisphere were developing or carrying on the development of thumb spikes (the exception being Lurdusaurus of Niger which dates from the same era as Muttaburrasaurus approximately but lived in Africa, an area completely separated from Australia at the time by an ocean thus negating travel between the two as far as we know meaning that Muttaburrasaurus probably did not evolve directly from Lurdusaurus). Looking at it as a characteristic taken from known iguanodontids prior to the isolation of Australia and Antarctica it is feasible to say that the thumb spike may exist, however, I feel that the Muttaburrasaurus would have either relied on its large size and herd practices, like zebra and wildebeest, or intimidation (like the Sage Grouse) to scare away predators. To intimidate we would have to look at that nose, in addition to their sheer body size, and what kind of fleshy thing could have covered it.

Walking with Dinosaurs covered the nose in a way you wouldn't really expect. I've seen trunks and all kinds of other things placed on dinosaur heads during the course of my personal research into dinosaur anatomy and biology. Eventually you think you've seen it all then something as unassuming and peaceful looking as the WwD Muttaburrasaurus comes along and frightens the life out of you. First of all, while I'm not a fan of the thumb spike thing I also don't believe in the grappling hook scenario that's off to our right here. I acknowledge the idea that the hands had limited motility, like a thumb spiked hand would have, but I don't believe they were hoofed either. I think my mental image is somewhere near four toes lightly on the ground with the ability to pull vegetation. This hand has five fingers and looks like it could reach out and grab you by the ear delicately if it needed to. I think there's too much articulation. Anyhow, back to that nose, WwD had a big surprise for us stored on the nostrils of its Muttaburrasaurus which, in all honesty, could be accurate. I don't like to debate skin flaps, as anything within reason could be acceptable and therefore not worth arguing over, so if anyone has any ideas on the subject they're welcome to pitch an idea for conversation purposes.

Here's what Walking with Dinosaurs did for their Muttaburrasaurus skin flap over the nostril idea (which is also where the intimidation idea comes in):

12 August 2011

A big ugly

Muttaburrasaurus almost looks like a Skeksis at this angle.
The second most well known Australian dinosaur has a rather interesting name. The absolutely most known dinosaur in Australia is Minmi, the only other dinosaur we have looked at from Australia was called Leaellynasaurus. This week, our study buddy is Muttaburrasaurus. Australia loves the interesting names for their dinosaurs.

Muttaburrasaurus was found in the northeastern corner of Queensland in northeastern Australia. It dates from the early Cretaceous between 100 and 98 million years ago. This may seem like a very short window, but it has been said (by Bakker though I know I'm not quoting him exactly) that most dinosaur species only survived as a species for a few million years, maybe up to five million at the extreme end of that range of survival. I cannot even fathom humans existing five million years at the moment so that is an interesting dinosaur fact to me. Anyhow, our friend the Muttaburrasaurus is even more interesting in name taht his name does not mean anything poignant in Latin or Greek; the first remains were found near the town of Muttaburra in Queensland, Australia. The name simply means "Muttaburra's lizard" and the species name, M. langdoni, is, as happens, named after the initial discovery maker, a grazier (a fancy name for a rancher) named Doug Langdon.

Muttaburrasaurus, beside having a fantastic name, also possesses a fantastic skull. Though some of the original skull is not well known, possessing only the mandible and the lower side of the skull, other skulls have been found and a distinctive ridge has been found consisting of the nasal, premaxilla, and a bit of the prefrontal and maxilla as well. This ridge, it has been speculated, played much the same role that other large skull crests played in later hadrosaurus and the thought is that Muttaburrasaurus possessed large flaps of skin which could be used, thanks to the ridge from which they could hang, as enormous resonating chambers for species discussion and alarms. Even the teeth in the skull are special and unique, but that's another topic for another entry!

11 August 2011

Interesting status of a dino-avian

I am on the fence with what to believe about Caudipteryx. My childhood and heart tell me dinosaur on evolutionary path to being a bird but a part of me wants to remain open enough to accept and review and make judgements on the other two arguments surrounding the bird origin. For now Caudipteryx is a dino-bird. It covers the majority of all three theories in a small, totally incorrect, but easy to use label. Considering all of the debate about what a Caudipteryx is one would imagine there would be more interest in it in popular culture. However, we only have a few scant toys, some books like this one, t-shirts, and Spore videos like the one below to show for one of the more debatable animals in the fossil record. I hope this improves as we learn even more about Caudipteryx.

10 August 2011

Origin Stories

Caudipteryx came from China. More specifically
All Caudipteryx fossils were recovered from the Yixian Formation in Liaoning, China. Specifically, they come from a small area of the Jianshangou bed, near the town of Zhangjiakou. They appear to have been fairly common, though isolated to this small region. The specific region in which Caudipteryx lived was home to the other feathered dinosaurs Dilong and Sinornithosaurus.
Discovering this pair of species has spark large debates within paleontology and caused many different theories to be bounced around, subscribed to, refuted, heralded, and even vehemently ignored. However, all said and done we can describe three camps that have come to exist after the discovery and description of Caudipteryx which had existed in some form or another before but were "reborn" in the sense that they have become noticeable rifts in the paleontology community to this day since the discovery of Caudipteryx and other small feathered animals in China.

The divisions are:
1) The Consensus View: Caudipteryx is a basal non-avian theropod of the clade Oviraptora in the group Maniraptora and therefore a dinosaur through and through. This standpoint usually asserts also that birds came from dinosaurs within the maniraptoran family in terms of origins of evolution.
2) Osmolska, Paul, Lu, and Maryanska's View: Collectively this group of paleontologists, and their assistants, associates, and various other supporters believe that Caudipteryx and other oviraptorids are actually birds. They state that oviraptora is a family of birds, not dinosaurs, and that the oviraptora is a result of an earlier divergence from theropod evolution into the origins of the class aves. Oviratporids, by this view are, therefore, large flightless birds that have come to exhibit some re-evolved traits which make them appear as dinosaurs despite being, basically, large chickens, emus, and ostriches.
3) Martin, Feduccia, Czerkas' View: Larry Martin and a number of other paleontologists feel that birds were never dinosaurs at all and that, at most, they share a common ancestor in the archosauria (before true dinosaurs had evolved) at which point dinosaurs went one way and birds went another, though staying close to their cousins by remaining on the ground and having some features alike. This view states that all maniraptorids- velociraptor, utahraptor, dromaeosaurus, caudipteryx, etc- are actually large flightless birds and never were, nor could be, dinosaurs. (see below image)

1 Maniraptoriformes, 2Ornithomimosauria, 3 Maniraptora, 4Therizinosauroidea, 5 Therizinosauridae, 6Alvarezsauridae, 7Oviraptorosauria, 8Oviraptoridae, 9Ingeniinae, 10 Paraves, 11 Avialae, 12 Aves, 13 Ornithurae, 14Deinonychosauria, 15Troodontidae, 16Dromaeosauridae, 17Unenlagiinae, 18Microraptoria, 19Dromaeosaurinae

09 August 2011

Article Face-off

Two kinds of articles are going to face-off today on the issue of what Caudipteryx is. On one side we have one article discussing Caudipteryx as a stage in evolution from dinosaur to bird, or, as the abstract ends; "These new fossils represent stages in the evolution of birds from feathered, ground-living, bipedal dinosaurs." On the other side we have the reverse argument which states that Caudipteryx is not related to birds and is, in fact, only a theropod dinosaur. This article states that "there is no reason—phylogenetic, morphometric or otherwise—to conclude that Caudipteryx is anything other than a small non−avialan theropod dinosaur." For your reading pleasure I am also including an article on the origin of birds which examines both viewpoints and mentions many feathered dinosaurs such as Caudipteryx and Archeopteryx.

08 August 2011

No videos?

Apparently Caudipteryx has not figured in any documentaries. Therefore, the only videos to be shown today would be tributes and Spore videos. Also, I'm back to work after summer vacation today so some of the entries may be smaller than they were during summer or I may just do them after work if I have a lot to say on any given day.

07 August 2011

Items for the kids

Sites for kids and families to look at together today:

Kids' Dinos: Nice fact card, the timeline looks a little off, but it's a nice place to get some kid friendly info.

There are toys for Caudipteryx. Carnegie Collection models from Safari are really well rendered and usually you can find them at Target and Hobby Lobby as well as toy stores, if you can find one these days. Safari went with the split tail feather design on this model and some very bright colors; it looks quite nice actually.

The most important part of family day for me is always going to be the coloring pages though. School is coming up around the bend and the homework will pile in. In the meantime, you may as well sit and enjoy the weekends with your children, educate them, and take some time out of adulthood to color a picture.

06 August 2011

The Faces of Caudipteryx

Caudipteryx is the size of a bird, has feathers like a bird and even looks a bit like a bird. What does that all add up to? Some very bird-like illustrations!

Stephen Czerkas, © 2005.
First, let's get the dullest one I've found out of the way. This is actually a sculpture that was found on the Arizona Museum of Natural history website. Dull does not necessarily mean bad and that is true here. Anatomically this sculpture is perfect and the feathering is quite detailed head to toe with the exception of the chicken legs and hardened beak being bare of feathers. Here the tail possesses one fan of feathers directly at the end of the tail pointing, if the tail were straight, directly backward or away from the body of the animal. The coloring of the animal is also unique in regard to other representations of the dinosaur. Personally, while I love the idea of these animals wildly colored and highly tropical looking, I believe that this color scheme would provide more camouflage and thus be more likely, unless Caudipteryx is like modern birds and this color scheme was a strictly feminine trait while the outlandish colors and brightness in the next illustrations were more of a masculine thing to tote out into the world.

©Luis Rey
Luis Rey had a very different approach to Caudipteryx. He made the animal very noticeable in a green world. In this background, because of the flowers, it is less noticeable even with the brilliant colors. This is a very likely evolutionary step, in all actuality, because flowering plants had only come about a million years prior and therefore, with flowers suddenly arriving on the scene, it would be to any animal's benefit if they could manage to hide in plain sight with the new flowers. Feathers adapting to be brilliantly colored in like the flowers would have made for an amazing set of fauna during this time period. Even the face of the animal is heavily colored and is also quite avian in appearance, not unlike the faces Oviraptors appear with. However, I am going to stick with the male/female coloration traits as my theory because I believe that birds and dinosaurs are related closely and we can back up that coloration theory heavily with examples from our time; birds from the peafowl to the cardinal to wood ducks are heavily dimorphic species. Here, also, we find the tail of Caudipteryx is shown in a fan pattern, but split in a "V" down the middle of the tail on the top side of the tail. This could, though, be an aggressive or mating posture of the tail feathers, or could even be, like the coloring, a male trait that would not exist in female Caudipteryx.

©Australian Museum
Illus. James Reece
This illustration, done for the Australian Museum by James Reece, shows the non-split tail fan and less feathering than most other illustrations. The tail fan here is held rigidly out and up like a peacock's tail. The arm feathering is also a great deal smaller than most of the other illustrations that turn up in a search. Both of these add up to artist's choice, as does the way the skull was portrayed. Like in the previous illustration, this face is mostly bare rather than heavily feathered, however, this skull has an earthy coloration to the skin of the face and is more reptilian than bird-like. The lock of black feathers behind the eyes makes the face almost mammalian actually, as though it were a balding man maybe, or covered in the same way that other primate's heads are covered even with the face bare. It still has chicken legs as well.

©Joe Tucciarone
This last illustration for today accentuates the avian nature of Caudipteryx. Tucciarone's illustration possesses many avian qualities that have been shown in other illustrations- namely feathering, the chicken legs, the tail fan, and a wing-like arm- but also possesses reptilian qualities in the head at the same time. Here, though, we have an animal in the midst of a hunt for insects. The very attack on the insect, which looks like a cross between a dragonfly and a common house fly, is very avian in nature and not reptilian, which is what most dinosaurs are depicted as during the hunt, though as more active reptiles than simple ambush hunting reptiles. This Caudipteryx, however, is leaning in, actively chasing the insect and has spread its arms or wings and tail fan for balance while giving chase which, growing up with chickens, I have seen many times in birds at a full run (or waddle, chickens running look funny and it's more of a waddling motion). The posturing of this piece is fantastic if it is agreed that Caudipteryx was heavily avian, though, as we know, not everyone sees things that way.

05 August 2011

Beware the peacock!

A peacock sized maniraptoran theropod is taking over this week. Mixing up, like many maniraptorans, the traits of dinosaurs and birds, the Caudipteryx is a unique and strangely interesting animal. Possessing the mouth, tail, hands, and feet of primitive birds Caudipteryx is very nearly a missing link that would prove definitively that birds and dinosaurs are 100% related; since it is not stand alone proof there are still some in the science that do not believe dinosaurs and birds are that closely related. For the most part Caudipteryx looks like a peahen, perhaps only because no proof has been found that they possessed peacock like feathers. Imagine that, a dinosaur with peacock feathers. That would be something special to see.

©Jim Robins
Caudipteryx is thought to have been an omnivore as it possessed small teeth and gastroliths, stones swallowed to aid in digestion in a gizzard, have been found within the abdomen area of skeletons of Caudipteryx. As a fact on that point, Caudipteryx consists of two species, Caudipteryx zoui and Caudipteryx dongi, and, as the names of the species mildly suggest, both species were found in China with the first, C. zoui, being found in 1997.

04 August 2011

The Tallest Mounting

According to Wikipedia:
A famous specimen of Giraffatitan brancai mounted in Museum für Naturkunde (Berlin) is one of the largest, and in fact the tallest, mounted skeletons in the world, as certified by the Guinness Book of Records. Beginning in 1909, Werner Janensch found many additional G. brancai specimens in Tanzania, Africa, including some nearly complete skeletons, and used them to create the composite mounted skeleton seen today.
This famous specimen of Giraffatitan was repositioned, i.e. remounted, after Paul's 1988 revision of the posturing of Brachiosaurus/Giraffatitan to fit the non-tail dragging models of active dinosaurs. You can compare the mounts in the images here. The significance of this fossil mount is not so much in the positioning as it is in the height of the thing. Guinness has recognized it as the world's tallest mounted skeleton and describes it in the following manner:

The tallest mounted dinosaur skeleton is that of the Brachiosaurus brancai, which measured 13.27 m (43 ft 6 in) high on 1 June 2007. The 150-million-year-old dinosaur skeleton went back on permanent display at the Museum für Naturkunde der Humboldt Universität zu Berlin (Berlin Natural History Museum), Germany in 2007, having been displayed originally in 1937. 
Notice that Guinness has not changed the name to Giraffatitan for this fossil because they measured it before the "official" name change was opened for debate in 2009. Either way, 43 feet is an amazing height for a skeletal mount; looking down that far makes my insides tingle unpleasantly so I for one am glad that the MFN (the acronym the museum uses) does not appear to have a top down sight line for the fossil.

03 August 2011

Mr. Janensch

Werner Janensch unearthed the bones of what he then called Brachiosaurus brancai between 1909 and 1912, described and named it in 1914, in Tendaguru formation near Lindi, in what was then German East Africa, today Tanzania. Five partial skeletons and three skulls have been recovered in the past hundred years and studied extensively in the past twenty years. Janensch was a German who gained his fame searching in Africa for fossils with Edward Hennig in modern Tanzania in the Tendaguru formation.

02 August 2011

The only article that matters... for now anyway.

The only article I think we need today is the article which explains why Giraffatitan should be its own separate genus. I wish I could also put up a refuting article, but there isn't one that I can find to put up there. However, the first result in this search will allow you to download the Mike Taylor article if you don't subscribe to the JVP. I won't critique it as I have laid out arguments from both sides in a variety of ways the past few days already.

01 August 2011

Just a short clip

There is not much in the video realm that differentiates Giraffatitan from Brachiosaurus. There is this Spore video that I found, but if you really want a video of the way it would have moved, you might want to watch the beginning of Jurassic Park over again. As for information, there just is not that much that has been differentiated between on account of the fact that most of what science has taken from the animal is attributed to Giraffatitan but still labeled as Brachiosaurus, if that makes sense.