STL Science Center

STL Science Center

30 September 2011

Welcome to the Cenozoic!

To be exact, welcome to the Cenozoic period's Pleistocene epoch. Here we find many recognizable mammalian animals and no dinosaurs at all. Some larger birds and reptiles, but mostly this is now the time of the mammal. Our first stop on this tour is the open plains of both North and South America to visit a large predator no longer living and without any direct descendants living still on this earth. That may sound rather strange given that the animal we will discuss for the next week is a rather large cat, but it's the truth, it has no direct descendants living on Earth, but it does have many many cousins.

©Daniel Reed
Smilodon is a small genus of saber toothed cat. There are three species of Smilodon, Smilodon fatalis, Smilodon populator, and Smilodon gracilis. These three species together lived from the time period of about 2.5 million years ago to 10,000 years ago. S. gracilis is the oldest species living from 2.5mya to 500,000 years ago while S. populator is the youngest having lived from 1mya to 10,000 years ago. S. fatalis was alive during much of the same time as S. populator. An 1,100 pound beast of a cat, the Smilodon family was capable of everything we think of in a lion- running, jumping, taking down large prey- and possessed magnificent canines that... we are not sure about the exact reason of their existence. Many arguments have been made for a variety of uses over the years with models of all different size and shape being drawn up, but as to my knowledge not one specific theory has been universally accepted. Certainly this will be something we will have to explore for ourselves this week as we delve deeper into exactly what Smilodon did and how it lived.

29 September 2011

Fame and Plateosaurs

Plateosaurus has been around long enough to have been molded into a toy, mentioned, shown, and made into a robot for Walking with Dinosaurs, and really has become a highly recognizable form of dinosauria. This, however, does not necessarily mean that people recognize the Plateosaurus and know what to call it. Those that do, of course, have turned that knowledge and love of Plateosaurus into tributes and video games. Strangely, the game isn't Spore and there doesn't seem to be a Spore entry. That's the first time that has happened in many many weeks. Okay, it's not necessarily true, but the ones labeled Plateosaurus are not that spectacular and I would hate for the readers to get a healthy dose of poorly done dinosaurs. There is one hope though, and it was simply titled "Prosauropod."

Next month, October, starts on this Saturday. The month of October here at Dinosaur of the Week is not going to be about dinosaurs (one has to sometimes write about other paleo-animals to keep on one's toes!). October will be a month dedicated to the paleontology of mammals. Tune in tomorrow morning to witness the first entry in this fun filled month!

28 September 2011

Discoveries Generations in the Making

Plateosaurus is a genus of dinosaur, very early prosauropod dinosaur granted, that contains two recognized species and anywhere from three to six synonyms which are now defunct. The recognized species are Plateosaurus engelhardti and Plateosaurus gracilis. The first remains of Plateosaurus were found in Germany in 1834 by the physician Johann Friedrich Engelhardt. What he discovered in Heroldsberg were vertebrae and leg bones of an unknown animal. Nearly three years later, a paleontologist studying the find, Hermann von Meyer, described the animal as a new genus which he dubbed Plateosaurus. Over 100 individuals have been found since this all over the European continent, but the majority of finds are centered in Southern Germany, in and around the Bavaria and Baden-Wurttemberg regions; finds have been unearthed in France, Central Germany, and Switzerland as well, however.

One of these Central German areas, in Saxony-Anhalt, has proven very important, leading to the discoveries of between 39 and 50 skeletons in the 1910-1930 time frame of Plateosaurus, Liliensternus, and Halticosaurus. In one of the most important Black Forest dig sites Friedrich von Huene, amongst others over 21 years (von Heune was only present two of these years), unearthed 35 complete or partial skeletons and 70 fragmented individuals. It was during this time that the animal was nicknamed the Swabian Dragon, and also during this time that von Heune described the second species P. gracilis. Plateosaurus are still found even now as far away as Greenland and, through some kind of miracle in which an oil team drilled a core sample that was found to contain Plateosaurus bone fragments, has become the first dinosaur to be found in Norway.

27 September 2011

The News!

Plateosaurus has been known for almost two hundred years now. In that time countless studies have utilized one or more of the species of Plateosaurus to study bone growth, density, shape, locomotion of dinosaurs, dental evolution, etc. In our more recent past Plateosaurus has been the subject of computer modeling studies. A two part article was produced by Heinrich Mallison of the Museum fur Naturkunde in Berlin after a research project for the German Science Foundation on Sauropod locomotion which consisted of a great deal of digital skeletal manipulation of Plateosaurus in 2010. This entire work is extremely comprehensive and detailed. Part 1 of the paper includes videos and fantastic illustrations. Part 2 includes amazing models and even more digital representations of locomotion and bone flexibility and the skeleton than the first part of the paper.

A shorter paper of 2006 approaches the same subject as Mallison's study, though not in the same amount of rigorous detail. This research was attributed to a team led by Hanns-Christian Gunga. The paper describes some of what Mallison goes on to describe and, if read prior to Mallison's work seems like a suitable preamble to the extensive two part study. Additionally, going further back in time, David Weishampel, in 1990, worked with Ralph Chapman to do another similar study, though without the computer rendering and much more in his way and methodology of studying morphometrics and taxanomics and not so much locomotion. As with all of his work it is a technical and thoroughly detailed read which may not be as exciting to some readers who do not enjoy technical writing.

I have bundled all the links together in this one link right here for you readers: Today's Papers.

26 September 2011

On Movie Monday This Week...

Walking with Dinosaurs possesses a scene in the actual series which very very briefly includes Plateosaurus at the end of the New Blood episode. It's so brief, actually, that it only consists of about 45 seconds and then goes into credits. However, the Walking with Dinosaurs live show has a fair amount of time devoted to Plateosaurus and its contemporaries like Liliensternus. One thing that is bothersome in both the series and the live show is that the Walking with Dinosaurs team makes Plateosaurus an obligate quadruped whereas they are certainly bipedal dinosaurs or at most semi-quadrupedal. You can see this below.
Additionally, I have come across a children's show on Swedish television that mentions Plateosaurus. The show, called Bolibompa, actually, through a fairly charismatic hostess, whose name I tracked down eventually, Julia Messelt, has quite a few clips about dinosaurs and, despite being in Swedish, can be followed along reasonably well by an English speaking audience. I will have to contact the show to get more information, but the viewing list related to dinosaurs can be found here.

25 September 2011

Plateosaurus loves Kids

Today I'll get straight to the point with everyone here! Two fact pages:
Kids Dinos
Enchanted Learning (which even shows the teeth of Plateosaurus including the root; it's pretty neat)

Also, I found two coloring pages that are of good quality. They have accurate everything and show Plateosaurus in a less than boring docile pose; they're interacting with the world a little bit which is great.

24 September 2011

A General Consensus

Plateosaurus is generally seen in a fairly typical dinosaurian fashion. Unlike some of the newer models of dinosaurs with feathers and becoming more strangely posed and altered in body shape (see Corythosaurus on the last one), Plateosaurus has always been fairly gracile in its posturing and, despite the illustration revolution, the body posture of Plateosaurus has not changed much in illustration over the years. That isn't to say that the shape and posture of Plateosaurus is ancient or that it just hasn't been updated by illustrators; in fact, Plateosaurus was one of the rare dinosaurs that was already "compliant" with the general shift in dinosaur posture prior to the shift, meaning that it was already holding its tail somewhat aloft and not looking like a slowly lumbering behemoth.

artist unknown
This wasn't universally true of course. However, for the most part Plateosaurus has been one of the exceptions to the rule where older versions of the dinosaur in illustration were deplorable. This leaves me in an interesting position on the day on which I typically point out anatomical rights and wrongs and interesting interpretations. The body of illustrations surrounding Plateosaurus is fairly uniform in that it contains mainly the same body posturing, manus/forepaw details, tail construction and even facial reconstructions.

One interesting aspect that I can point out, other than the general uniform appearance given to Plateosaurus by many different artists, is that the hand is well rendered in each and every image I have found. Facial reconstruction is done brilliantly by the artists as well, of course, but the hand, with all of its fine motor skills comes across in even the illustrations as possessing these finer motor skills. In Raul Martin's work (I can never seem to get a hold of him to discuss his work so apologies sir if you stumble across this on the internet) the hand is shown as clearly aiding in the mobility of Plateosaurus, yet it is still flexible enough that you can completely discern the range of motion needed for grasping with the clawed fingers. The middle portrait is a bit harder to draw taht conclusion with, though not so bad as to be completely wrong. The illustration below does the best job of showing the flexible fingers, even if it is a little bit of a fantasy.

23 September 2011

The Broadway Lizard

Plateosaurus is often translated as broad lizard and plate lizard, but according to Wikipedia the actual translation is "broadway lizard." I tentatively disagree, not knowing any Greek personally, and I would hate to find out someone was having a good joke with the world. When originally found in Germany, Plateosaurus fossils were so common that one paleontologist nicknamed them Schwäbischer Lindwurm, the Swabian Dragon. Plateosaurus is a Late Triassic dinosaur, thus making it one of the earliest dinosaurs, like Herrerasaurus. Unlike Herrerasaurus it is not debated whether or not to call Plateosaurus a dinosaur; it is commonly accepted as a basal, or primitive, sauropodomorph, or pro-sauropod. Either name means that Plateosaurus was destined to have the largest descendants on the face of the Earth!

A middle sized herbivore that was bipedal with grasping hands, Plateosaurus was very recognizable as a dinosaur from the start as it has the classic dinosaur look to it; long S-shaped neck, long counter balancing tail, short arms with three clawed fingers designed to grasp leaves, a strong dental battery, and three toed feet. Plateosaurus is found all over Southern Germany in the same respect that hadrosaurs are found all over Montana and Canada; it was a successful and popular genus possessing two species that were in charge of their world from an herbivorous standpoint.

22 September 2011

Fame? No Thanks!

What makes most dinosaurs famous is either size or the awe in looking at their skeleton. Smaller dinosaurs have difficulty with the awe factor and most of the reason people seem to even recognize a Troodontid, as one example, is the Dale Russell conjecture about dinosaur intelligence (I thought growing up that it was an awesome theory, but creepy). The same applies to any of the dinosaurs that children and adults now recognize as a "raptor." We have the late Michael Crichton to thank for popular recognition of "raptors" even if what he was describing was Velociraptor antirrhopus (now back to its original name again Deinonychus antirrhopus) and not Velociraptor mongoliensis. In this way, Dromaeosaurus, by association, has become a recognizable dinosaur. It is, though, lumped in with other "raptors" most of the time and not distinguished by itself.

Regardless of that, we are still lucky enough to have all of those wonderful dinosaur creators in the Spore community who have, it would seem, collectively created every dinosaur imaginable and posted videos of their creation on the internet. One of these such would be this one below:

Also, I'm not a huge fan of current Nickelodeon shows, I have to give NickJr. a huge congratulations on competing with Dinosaur Train from PBS by producing the show Dinosaur Dan (a little healthy competition that leads to wider understanding in science is just fine by me!). At any rate, the NickJr. site for Dinosaur Dan possesses a clip of an episode all about Dromaeosaurus.

21 September 2011

Oh Canada!

As with many other findings of the early 20th Century, Dromaeosaurus was uncovered by Barnum Brown in Alberta, Canada's Dinosaur Provincial Park. Brown found a skull and mandible, hyoid bones, one first metacarpal and some metatarsals. Like in many other finds, this scant evidence became the holotype of an entirely new dinosaur. Skeptics abound when this happens, however, other skull and teeth fragments were found as the years progressed in both Canada and Montana, USA. In 1922 Brown co-authored a paper naming and describing Dromaeosaurus albertensis, which literally translates to "Running Lizard of Alberta," which is kind of catchy all on its own, with William Diller Matthew, a well known mammalian paleontologist who had been busy championing the idea that humans originated in Asia during much of his lifetime.

Time marched on and seven more species of Dromaeosaurus were named:
Dromaeosaurus laevifrons (Cope 1876) Matthew & Brown 1922; Dromaeosaurus? cristatus (Cope 1876) Matthew & Brown 1922; Dromaeosaurus? gracilis (Marsh 1888) Matthew & Brown 1922; Dromaeosaurus explanatus (Cope 1876) Kuhn 1939; Dromaeosaurus minutus (Marsh 1892) Russell 1972; Dromaeosaurus falculus (Cope 1876) Olshevsky 1979 and Dromaeosaurus mongoliensis (Barsbold 1983) Paul 1988.
What usually happens after a dinosaur naming fervor happened to the seven species of Dromaeosaurus as well. Today we recognize only one species of Dromaeosaurus, not to be confused with the multiple genera and species of Dromaeosaurids (11 subgroups with multiple genera and species) or Dromaeosaurines (3 genera with at least 3 species). In saying there is one species of Dromaeosaurus we are saying only one exists under the genus Dromaeosaurus. Despite being, for a long time, the best cranial evidence of any Dromaeosaurid, Dromaeosaurus skeletons, in part due to their lightweight nature, are relatively rare in their own home range, that being Alberta and Montana.

Small, lightweight bones have an unfortunate tendency to disappear while remains are being fossilized, however, the robust skull of Dromaeosaurus is often the major part of the animal found. and much can be determined by the strength and build of the jaws and other skull bones. Despite this "primitively" robust skull, as noted earlier, Dromaeosaurus owned and operated a very specific niche in the community as a small aggressive theropod hunter. Not bad for a little guy.

20 September 2011

Writing some papers

If you have a membership, or access, to JSTOR this is going to be a ton easier, yet again, today to read one of the articles. That article is from 1995 by one Philip J Currie of the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Alberta, Canada. His article reveals new anatomical information about Dromaeosaurus and makes new inferences about their relationships within their world. Unfortunately I cannot read it all either, but the introduction and abstract are pretty interesting and it would be nice if I could.

The other article I found for today is a 1969 article by Dale Russell and Edwin Colbert. Published by the American Museum of Natural History, the article is about 45 pages of pure description, and inference making about Dromaeosaurus behaviors- though lightly sprinkled, about the small Cretaceous predator. The paper starts with the history of human-Dromaeosaurus-fossil interaction and then delves into its detailed study. It's a very comprehensive paper which possesses a very good deal of references, photos, and hard science. It may be hard to read, because it's such hard science, but if you ever have a question about Dromaeosaurus, up to  the 1969 attitudes and not after, then this paper will most likely answer those questions.

19 September 2011

Dromaeosaurus Videos do the Talking

I'm going to let the videos do the talking today, starting with a very short clip narrated by John Goodman from Discovery Channel.

Then I'm going to add in another video as well, this time a clip from Jurassic Fight Club. The professional analysis of Dromaeosaurus is very well done and this segment is crazied up by the over dramatic fight sequences (not saying that I don't love the over dramatic fights in the show mind you; sometimes you just need entertainment).

18 September 2011

Dromaeosaurus for all the kids

Dromaeosaurus, strangely, has been around for a long time but never has it gotten the popularity of its smaller, and larger, maniraptoran relatives. As such, I present to you the Kids Dinos page and the Kids Dig Dinos page for facts that are kid friendly. Additionally, Dino Dan,a show on Nickelodeon- imagine that, an educational and wholesome show on Nickelodeon again after all these years of vapid entertainment!- has a page detailing many dinosaurs, one of which is Dromaeosaurus.

If you're looking to have some sort of material item to play with the kids relating to Dromaeosaurus today I cannot, sadly, share with you a quality toy this week as their aren't any really good Dromaeosaurus toys out on the market. There are, however, books that you can read with your child. Check out this book on Amazon and this list from Google. Some of the books on Google you can read online, which is great for a child that wants you to read it right this second or if you want your child to read it to you today.

17 September 2011

To Feather or not to Feather?

Sometimes you just want to be smooth all over like this guy.
Sometimes the best images are the traditional illustrations, sometimes they're the most ridiculous. Sometimes it's the newer illustrations which are ridiculous and not always because we truly feel they look crazy but because, with maniraptorans particularly, they have slowly over the past decade all gained feathers or proto-feathering. That's not to say I think feathering is wrong, but sometimes a dinosaur just looks meaner and more intimidating without any feathers and then when feathers are added your mind changes gears to something more akin to "that would make a great pet" or perhaps "I wonder if that would eat my chickens or just go in there and lay eggs with them."

There is clearly nothing wrong with the older version of dinosaurs; an exception to that rule being illustrations pre-1970. However, illustrators need to stay current and with the times, so to speak, and the times they are involving feathers whether one likes the above version or not. Personally, I like both versions for their own reasons. I'm really liking this idea here to the right. Typical feathering, nothing special there, but the "chicks" are spectacularly amusing. Whether Dromaeosaur infants looked like duck chicks with longer tails and the ability to slash at everything with their feet and chomp down hard with that strong jaw or not is irrelevant for the moment. Most feathered or down covered infant dinosaurs are usually portrayed as lightly dusted in down that is grey or brown or black. This entire family's color scheme is identical to mallard ducks. I'd like to say for a predator they should have to be camouflaged, but who is to say that there weren't some species of dinosaur which evolutionarily decided to forgo camo for species identification and more brilliant display of color? Either way, I love the "chicks."

©Andrew Minniear
Leaving behind the interesting world of infant and adult duck-like coloration, I decided, as long as my permission is not revoked, that this anatomical series had to be in this week. The skeleton is wonderfully done and a great study in this dynamic pose. The musculature is wonderfully rendered and shows, very nicely, the strength of the jaws as well as the kicking leg, though the hips and upper leg are somewhat obscured. The final pose, the feathered finished dinosaur, is also well done with the outstretched arm open mouth and the colors on the feathers are nice as well. One thing I do have to say negatively about this is that the retracted claw is held as though it was a regular claw here. Regardless of whether or not Dromaeosaurs were grappling kill with the mouth dinosaurs or slash out the belly dinosaurs, that retracted claw would not be fully flexed in a run on account of the fact that maniraptorans with highly retracted claws, such as this or velociraptor or deinonychus and utahraptor, did not put weight on that retracting digit to balance themselves. It is sort of a major issue overall, but given the quality of the remainder of the illustration it's easily gotten over and can be forgotten when looking at the piece as a whole.

16 September 2011

The Running Lizard

We're back in Alberta again this week, talking about Dromaeosaurus albertensis. Dromaeosaurus is the dinosaur which lent its name out to all the other little raptors that have become favorites of children everywhere as dromaeosaurines or dromaeosaurids. Besides that, however, Dromaeosaurus is one of the larger maniraptorans that we know of; of course all of the North American maniraptors are fairly large compared to their Asian counterparts. The size of a wolf and probably weighing in at around 33 pounds, the 65.5 million year old Dromaeosaurus was a deadly addition to the Cretaceous landscape which was already home to Tyrannosaurus, Albertosaurus, and other large carnivores and heavily armored ceratopsians. Canada and the United States, at the time, in fact, were an evolutionary battleground of weaponry and, as such, Dromaeosaurus fits in very nicely.

Dromaeosaurus fit into a much needed niche of a small dominant predator. Surely Albertosaurus and Tyrannosaurus had the market covered on large predators at the time but every animal needs the danger of predation at every stage of life in the natural world and Dromaeosaurus was very good at endangering both smaller juveniles and infants as well as full grown adults of animals, thanks to pack hunting doctrines, in the more heavily wooded areas where a large predator could not go. Built for a fair amount of speed Dromaeosaurs could also chase down some of the fleeter footed prey of the age as well. Dromaeosaurus wasn't just dangerous from its feet and hands, it also had a bite three times as powerful as its smaller cousin Velociraptor, making it deadlier all around and indicating that the claws on feet and hand were not as important as the mouth of Dromaeosaurus.

15 September 2011

Strangely absent

Corythosaurus is, as a popular dinosaur, strangely absent from culture. It has been popular enough to make it into paintings, sculpture, and children's shows, but it is missing on the internet overall. It has shown up in video games such as Jurassic Park's Operation Genesis (I wish there had been a less ridiculous version, but you live with what you can find online if you don't own the game):

There is also, of course, Spore. We see it so much here I don't really need to introduce it too heavily:
There are only a few books and there are toys as well. I'm not going to post specific links to those today.

14 September 2011

Finding Corythosaurus

Canada and the Western US along the Eastern face of the Rockies are the prime spots on our continent to find fossils. That's not to say that there aren't any anywhere else; Kansas possesses a large assortment of marine fossils while New England is home to a few significant trackways and fossils have been found in New Jersey as well. The landscape of the ancient world is what causes things to be this way with the middle of the country being an inland sea for a good amount of time in that ancient world and the Rockies therefore being the western shoreline. When Barnum Brown, with this in mind, was searching for fossils in America and Canada, it was only natural that eventually he would work his way north to what is now Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta, Canada. Whether he gathered information from locals or from scouting crews.

Either way, in 1912 Brown, who would later travel to Greece and Africa as well and spy for the US at one point even, unearthed Corythosaurus. The specimens unearthed were so plentiful, so many ages and different specimens including one with fossilized skin were unearthed that at one point seven species of Corythosaur were thought to have existed, that some were even shipped to England to be place in the British Natural History Museum. In 1916 one shipment, 22 crates of fossils in the SS Mount Temple sent by Charles Sternberg, was captured and scuttled by a German merchant raider and still to this day lies on the bottom of the ocean. Coincidentally, the Mount Temple is already famously thought to have been the "mystery ship" which ignored the distress rockets of RMS Titanic on the night which it sank as the Temple was in the area and attempted to aid in the rescue.

13 September 2011

Deciphering the Crest

David Weishampel has done quite a bit of work with hadrosaurs including Corythosaurus. Thanks to his own posting of his own research papers we have research to look at today. No one else has papers readily available on the internet pertaining to Corythosaurus. The three papers have to do with the jaw mechanics of hadrosaurs, the noise of dinosaurs, and the acoustic analyses of this noise; though the latter came long before the former in actual writing order.

Weishampel, who very kindly told me last year during my school search to get a little more experience and then get back in touch, wrote, in chronological order, the first of the papers on "Acoustic Analyses of Potential Vocalization in Lambeosaurine Dinosaurs" in 1981. In this paper he dissects the resonating chambers of a number of hadrosaurs including Corythosaurus, Lambeosaurus, and Parasaurolophus and analyzes the sounds they may have been capable of making in mathematical terms as well as anatomical terms. Extant species are compared, as are medieval instruments, to the dinosaurs in question and, though quite technical, the paper is easy to follow. Not as easy as a paleontologist blowing into a recast of the chamber, but fairly easy anyway (I swear I remember seeing Robert Bakker do this in a video when I was younger but I can't find it anywhere).

The next paper is on the hadrosaur jaw mechanics. This paper from 1983 discusses how the jaw moves during chewing and what it accomplishes. Dr. Weishampel provides a simplified version of a Corythosaurus skull in two phases of the chewing motion in order to illustrate his points on the chewing apparatus and methods of hadrosaurs. I'd be more detailed but then what incentive would the reader have to read the paper itself? The kinetic diagrams, however, are fantastic and the discussion of what they show is reason enough to be interested in this paper.

The newest paper is the one on "Dinosaurian Cacophony" from 1997. I just like the title to be honest. However, the subtitle, "Inferring function in extinct organisms" tells the reader exactly what we are about to read. Obviously if we're talking noise and dinosaurs and those dinosaurs are hadrosaurs, the paper's contents is going to have a lot to do with the ability of those animals to make noise by any means necessary and, of course, hadrosaurs sometimes have a wonderful apparatus that can be inferred to have had quite a role in making noises. Dr. Weishampel does a fantastic job of utilizing the ear to further his paper to its conclusion that... I'll leave you to read it to find his conclusion, but it's worth reading the whole paper to discover what it is.

12 September 2011

Two videos

Corythosaurus has, thankfully, landed in a sort of popular niche in dinosaur lore. This gives us pieces of art, like the first video here:

Also, it gives us Corythosaurus on Dinosaur Train. For pure science of dinosaurs, and not splashy over the top effects, diagrams, and sometimes sheer conjecture, Dinosaur Train is often a lot better than your average dinosaur documentary in the current media. It's not the dinosaurs' or the experts' faults that people are so highly revved up for ratings, ratings, ratings over pure science in documentaries unfortunately. This makes it feel better though, have a watch at some fun and science combined:

11 September 2011

Children and Duck Bills

On this day, September 11th, I'd rather not dote upon the significance of the date in America. True it's terrible, and it's something that affected our recent path and past in the world as well as our country, but for me to justify not doing my job here and bringing to you, the readers, your Sunday coloring, child friendly factoids, and toy models would be both ludicrous and incorrect. Ludicrous because I don't shut down on any other holiday, and this isn't even a holiday as yet, though I'm sure it will be made such someday. Incorrect because our children don't deserve to miss out on a day of coloring and learning just because it's an anniversary of an event most of them do not remember or even know about.

All that being said, Dinosaurs for Kids brings us our fact page for today about Corythosaurus. Enchanted Learning also has both facts and a coloring sheet for us to look at. Unfortunately the coloring sheet is done in the old style of anatomical orientation and it makes the Corythosaurus look like a 1950's coloring page. This page I have found to the side is in a strangely placed straddle over the old anatomical models and the new anatomical models; it's dragging its tail while having the semi-bipedal body arrangement but the completely bipedal manus. Also, its neck is kind of straight, but the coloring potential here is fantastic if you print this puppy out!

In the toy department we have two entries. One is an older, anatomically incorrect model in all brown plastic with what appears to be a very human looking pair of eyes (I have to admit that while many scientists do not believe dinosaurs would have had the white sclera/pupil/iris eye set up, I draw my own dinosaurs with this sort of eye because I think it conveys more emotion than the lizard set up of black sclera/pupil/iris- coincidentally, I know very little about the anatomy of the eye I realized in looking up the sclera). The second toy is anatomically correct, vividly painted, and quite nice. The pictures below are the toys I'm talking about.

Try to enjoy your day folks and remember to color your pictures brightly!

10 September 2011

Old world, popular styling, and the Greg Paul update

The old world of dinosaur illustration is always tragically bad, amazingly impressive in what it did with the science available at the time, and devoid of colors. Well, not really that devoid of color. There's always brown and green involved. At any rate, on to this particular illustration. The upright bipedal nature of the Corythosaurus here is now outdated by modern anatomical reconstructions of the dinosaur which show that it was partially bipedal in its attempt to reach foliage, but mostly quadrupedal when walking or running. The crest on the head of this animal sticks out to a greater degree than many more current illustrations as well. The dinosaur pictured attacking this Corythosaur is supposed to be an Albertosaurus. It looks a great deal more like a Tyrannosaur though its anatomical features are almost correct in the modern sense of the reconstructions. The hands of this Corythosaur are also very strangely formed; they look as though they are splayed outward permanently and not able to form the soft delicate paws that we see in modern reconstructions.

The more modern, though not brand new Gregory Paul Corythosaurus, has a much sleeker, cow-like design to it that, to me, is much more pleasing to the eyes than the first illustrations based on the radically incorrect anatomical reconstructions of dinosaurs. Here I present two versions, one done by an artist that I could not find the name of and the other done by a deviantART friend named IsisMasshiro. Both are anatomically correct and up to today's anatomical and dinosaurian illustration standards, however, the coloring of the animals differs. In both we can see that the crest of Corythosaurus has taken on the more accurate helmet shape that is associated with the dinosaur and not the audacious ornament found in the older illustrations and drawings. Another thing I like about the crest in particular is the coloration added in these illustrations to make the dinosaurs appear more as though they are using the crests to identify and ornament their species. In the older paintings the crest is the same coloration as the dinosaur; typically green or brown. Here, the unknown picture has a blue crest but no real camouflage on the dinosaur while Isis' dinosaur is heavily camouflaged with a bright yellow-orange crest. Either way, the crest was most likely used as both resonating chamber for calls and identification in the species for individuals and mating purposes. These illustrations show this quite well. The other thing they both show well is the nature of the front legs and the manus. While Isis' has more of a grasping hand, still better than the older drawings, the unknown artist has portrayed his dinosaur with a more foot like manus. Isis' dinosaur, therefore, is portrayed as more bipedal while the other as more often quadrupedal. Both are done well and the exact amount of time spent in either quad or bipedal locomotion is open to debate so both interpretations are equally well received.

The last piece of illustration I wish to share is waiting on an email from Gregory S. Paul himself. Without his permission I can only direct my readers to his Zazzle account and, I have blown up the design (Corythosaurus is just above the word "Hadrosauroidea") and have posted a link to a direct image from the site of the blown up design, a shirt that contains many, if not all, of his Hadrosaur concepts making Corythosaurus rather small and difficult to see the details of. I have to admit that part of me, which recognizes Paul as an innovator in dinosaur anatomy, was very impressed with his updated version of Corythosaurus while part of me, the traditional part that loves the illustrations I grew up with.

Paul's Corythosaurus has many of the anatomical features of the nearly modern illustrations and is very much like them in many respects. The one feature that really stands out is the neck of the newest Corythosaurus of his design. This neck is much more cow-like than even the very cow-like illustrations above. Actually, the Corythosaur's neck makes it look like a Brahmin bull. You just have to take it in and absorb it to really and truly love it. Of course, you may just not like it. Personally, I'm still a little torn on how I feel about. I think it's one version of the species, maybe not the only version available, but only time will tell if its correct, another version of the species, a combination of things, or not at all plausible.

09 September 2011


Corythosaurus casaurius was named as the single species of the genus Corythosaurus in 1914 by Barnum Brown. The name comes from the hood ornament parked on the top of this dinosaur's skull. Thinking it looked a lot like a Corinthian helmet, Brown decided on Corythosaurus, effectively calling it "Helmet Lizard" when translated from Greek. Like other advanced duck-billed hadrosaurus, Corythosaurus lived in the Cretaceous Period from about 77 million to 76 million years ago. Many examples of this animal have been unearthed in Canada's Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta, Canada. One of the earliest examples even possessed fossilized skin. The genus Corythosaurus once housed seven separate species, however, in the 1970's Peter Dodson studied the species and determined that gender and age were the only true differences in the skulls, thus making up many versions of one species which, to this day, is now the only species in the genus.

08 September 2011

Herrerasaurus in Popular Culture

Herrerasaurus, despite being around for the better part of a century now, is not the most popular dinosaur. It has made it into a video game, 2001's Zoo Tycoon, where it was an animal in the Dinosaur Digs expansion. In the past I remember having had many zoos with families of Herrerasaurus roaming about in their enclosures and laying eggs. The system off of which the game was based was fairly simplified; a scientist watches over the eggs, feeds and cares for the animal, and the animal is either happy and roams its cage or is miserable and tries to get out. Sometimes they were let out "by accident" so they could hunt in the zoo. A carnivorous dinosaur that cannot hunt is not a happy carnivorous dinosaur, after all, and we wouldn't want sad animals in our zoos. Plus it was funny to watch a Herrerasaurus chase down zoo patrons and swallow them whole after fighting them in a cloud of smoke and limbs, like in older cartoons!

Additionally, Spore is always a good place to find dinosaurs in popular culture. Enjoy the clip, and search for even more. Then you can check out the toys based on Herrerasaurus as well.

07 September 2011

Discovery and Completion of Herrerasaurus

In 1963 Osvaldo Reig named Herrerasaurus after the Andean goatherd, Victorino Herrera, who found the original fossils near the city of San Juan in an outcrop of rock in 1959 (Herrerasaurus has been out of the rocks as long as my parents!). Reig uncovered what he thought was another species, which was in the paper presented yesterday, called Ischisaurus. This is now thought to be a junior synonym, and juvenile specimen, of Herrerasaurus. Fernando Novas had the same thing happen to him in 1986 when he named a find, Frenguellisaurus ischigualastensis, which is also now thought to be a junior synonym to Herrerasaurus.

Reig contended that his find was a basal carnosaur at the time of his description and naming of the animal. Until the 1990's there was no real clear consensus on exactly what kind of dinosaur Herrerasaurus was. In the 1970's first Rodney Steel described Herrerasaurus as a prosauropod and then Peter Galton described it as an animal without classification beyond Saurischia. In later books and papers Herrerasaurus was placed with Staurikosaurus in a pre-ornithischian/saurischian split off area of evolution; basically at the ground level of the dinosaurian tree. Let's not forget that there have been those that also stated that Herrerasaurus wasn't even a dinosaur as well. Given the general consensus at the current time it's safe to disregard this last argument for the time being.

In 1988, however, the first complete skull of Herrerasaurus was uncovered and many papers were written subsequently that either supported the claim of basal theropod (Sereno and Novas 1992, Rauhut 2003, Bittencourt and Kellner, 2004 just to name a few) while others claimed that Herrerasaurus belonged to a "sister-group of Theropoda + Sauropodomorpha" (Bonaparte and Pumares 1995, Holtz 1995, Langer 2004 to name a few). There is newer literature available in both theories, and a short search will turn it up, I only chose a few for each to make for a quick reference, but the quoted section above is linked to an article that compiles a great deal of the previous research in discussing a new Herrerasaurid from northwest Argentina.

Lastly, but certainly not least, I asked a member of the expedition in 1988, Dr. Catherine Forster, if she would be so kind as to share with us a little bit of the experience of being a member of that expedition. I think that the narrative is fantastic as it is and so I won't change a thing, I'll just let the readers read:
We spent two seasons down in Argentina in the Ischigualasto Fm. and found quite  bit.  It was a  joint expedition between the Univ. de San Juan (Alfredo Monetta and his students Oscar  Alcober and Ricardo Martinez) and the Univ. of Chicago (Paul Sereno).  It was a lot of fun and I made many lasting friends- we were basically all very young graduate students and new  professors at the time.  Those two seasons turned up the nearly complete Hererrasaurus  skeleton with skull (found by Paul the first season) and the skeleton of Eoraptor (found by Ricardo the second season).  Herrerasaurus was a known dinosaur at that time, and Oscar and Ricardo had already found a really nice skeleton earlier in the first season (no skull but a great  body including hands).  The area, called the Valle de la Luna, is really beautiful, and chocked full of fossils.  Lots of small carnivorous and herbivorous cynodonts, rhynchosaurs, and various  "crocodile-relatives" such as rauisuchids. The second year geology student Ray Rogers came with us and found an ashfall tuff near the bottom of the formation, providing the first good date  for the Ischigualato.  That was a great discovery.  I remember many nights around a campfire or in the cook tent singing songs and trying to understand spanish.  Jose Bonaparte was there part of hte time the first season as well.  Some very cold nights as we were there in the austral winter- I use to wer my down jacket to bed to keep warm.  These were my first international expeditions so it was very exciting- plus very productive and a ton of fun.  I still have a red brush from those first expeditions to Argentina that I've used on all field work since then- my lucky  brush!

06 September 2011

The papers of discovery

If you have access to either JSTOR or the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology then today is a good day for you. Two articles came up related to Sereno et alia's discovery of the first complete skull in Herrerasaurus in 1988 in the Journal. Thanks to my subscription to and membership in the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology I can read those articles. Unfortunately, the copyrights and publication permissions for the Journal do not allow me to post anything more than links. That being said, if you're in college or at a good high school library you can most likely access the library's subscription to JSTOR in order to read these two articles. One is by Sereno and Novas, the other by Novas himself.

The articles are about different aspects of the find. Sereno and Novas write about the skull and neck anatomy of Herrerasaurus and what they discovered in the 1988 find. The Novas article is about the post cranial anatomy of Herrerasaurus. The article aslo discusses systematics and both articles describe Herrerasaurus as a basal theropod.

The third article I found is a translation of Osvaldo Reig's 1963 paper which names and describes Herrerasaurus as well as Ischisaurus and another animal found in the "Ischigualastian Beds" of Argentina. This article was found through the Theropod Archives on another site called The Polyglot Paleontologist. You can find and read the paper by looking down the alphabetical list for "Reig, O" and downloading the Word file. As with all naming papers it has a good description of the remains and justifies the naming of the animal.

Have a good day reading!

05 September 2011

Movies and Manus and Pes

The first clip here video is from a 1992 animated documentary on PBS called The Dinosaurs! I remember this vaguely, and thankfully someone somewhere decided to get it online. This episode features Paul Sereno (and Catherine Forster) discussing the discovery of the first complete skull of Herrerasaurus in Argentina at the beginning of it. Also, it features many other paleontologists, so it's pretty awesome.

The second clip comes to us from Paleoworld, another PBS documentary, and is not as descriptive of the entire world around Herrerasaurus as the other documentary. Enjoy both videos, then move down to talk about the hand and feet.

Video has been taken down

Now, on to those hands and feet. The hand of Herrerasaurus was elongated after emanating from a short forearm. The first three digits of the hand (including the thumb) are clawed and curved, ideal for grasping prey. The fourth and fifth digits are very small, clawless, and basically not visible in the hand itself when fleshed out. This template for hand molding would continue in the theropods until they reached their pinnacle, in this form, as the claws of Allosaurus which were both strong and sharpened into deadly claws. After Allosaurus the skulls of large theropods became longer and larger and the claws and hands became less important. The other animals to continue to build off of this basal manus are the dromaeosaurs, which retained a grasping hand able to accurately and agilely grab at their prey as they attacked and ate. If Herrerasaurus is indeed a template for the sauropodomorphs of later times, these distant descendants radically changed the manus, retaining more digits than large theropods and changing the overall function of the manus.

The feet and legs of Herrerasaurus are what set it apart from previous reptiles. The hips are no longer splayed and are built strongly enough and openly enough, to support, with the tail, the front of the body without relying upon the arms and manus for support. A fully bipedal animal has many, many advantages in locomotion over its prey and rival predators when they are all fully quadrupedal or partially bipedal. This does not only include movement speed, but the height advantage allows for a larger field of vision in all directions than does being stuck with your head in the bushes or below the bushes. Speed was, however, an advantage that Herrerasaurus did also possess over its rivals and prey. The short thigh, strong legs, and long feet indicate a quick animal (the strong, long tail also indicated being built for speed). On the pes itself digit three was the longest with two and four splayed out to help bear the weight of the animal on these three digits. Digit one was held much like the dew claw of dogs or the rear facing claw of birds with a small claw while digit five was nothing more than a nub of bone.

04 September 2011

An Ancient Ancient For Kids/Plus Some Discussion

To get the kids links out of the way really quickly here:
Dinosaurs for Kids
Enchanted Learning

And now, on to what I wanted to look at today- putting Herrerasaurus into familial perspective. Herrerasaurus is a difficult character, not because of its age, not entirely anyway, but because of what has gone into making up this creature. Any lay person, and professional degree laden paleontologists could include amateur self in this group I suppose, would almost immediately associate Herrerasaurus with dinosaurs. Why then, do the career paleontologists not always necessarily associate the two?

The basal characteristics of Herrerasaurus along with the difficulty in dating Triassic land animal bone beds accurately has something to do with this difficulty. For today we will ignore the bone bed question because that topic alone could take up months and years of study. However, the traits we can look at. Some research has placed Herrerasaurus as a basal theropod, sauropodomorph, Eusaurischia (meaning closer to the most basal of origins of the saurischian tree than true theropods and sauropodomorphs without belonging to either group), and other groupings. The reasons, regardless of which clade, family, or group Herrerasaurus is placed into is because of their very primitive skeletal traits.

The most obvious of these are the ilium and other hip area traits. The ilia of Herrerasauridae are an amazing primitive hodgepodge of traits that can be singled out extensively in singular species down the evolutionary line such as the hour glass shaped vertebral centra seen in Allosaurus, the backward facing pubis seen in dromaeosaurs and birds, and a boot like shape on the pubis end seen in avetheropods. The femoral head sat in a less open area of the bony acetabulum than it would in later dinosaurs' pelvises as well. The ilium was also very basal in that it was held to the backbone by only two sacral vertebrae where more advanced dinosaurs could possess between 5 and 10 sacral vertebrae on average. Additionally, another rather curious fact about Herrerasaurus which raises eyebrows is that fact that not may reptiles at the time at which Herrerasaurus was roaming the Earth were bipedal even part time whereas Herrerasaurus was a fully bipedal running animal thanks, in part, to that partially open femoral-ilium attachment.

Tomorrow, along with Movie Monday, a discussion of the hands and the head of Herrerasaurus!

Oh, also, regardless of what the first 30 or 40 posts were about in this blog,
 Happy 300th Post to Me!

03 September 2011


Unfortunately, with the arguments over what Herrerasaurus is and is not for almost the entirety of our knowing of its existence, the illustrations of this Triassic dinosaur have suffered by being produced by confused artists. Perhaps some aren't confused they just adhere to one version of the Herrerasaurus story or another and that causes the strange illustrations. There are plenty of truly dinosaurian illustrations to be found related to Herrerasaurus, but today I decided we should look at the inaccurate ones more than the accurate ones. The reason I decided to take this path is just to illustrate what the strange arguments and divisions on what constitutes the first dinosaurs has done to Herrerasaurus. Clearly, if you look above, Herrerasaurus is quite capable of looking like a basic theropod; it possesses three fingered clawed hands, three digit feet, the long balancing tail, a long narrow snout (which would go "out of style" on big theropods but come back into evolution prominently in the maniraptora), and,
looking at the skeleton, the large conical teeth of a theropod. The teeth of Herrerasaurus were not heavily serrated like some carnivores and did not possess the large ampullae to prevent them from fracturing like some larger carnivores. These were in part due to its basal nature but also were not as heavily needed due to the fact that the hands of this dinosaur were available to help shred its food as well as to help it kill its food.

Enough about how much of a primitive dinosaur it was though. The discussion at one point was more about how Herrerasaurus was not even a dinosaur but a large bipedal reptile. Due to that description of Herrerasaurus we see quite a few illustrations like this to the left (artist unknown). The art itself is not bad at all. The fact that makes it inaccurate is that the head of the animal as depicted is that of an overgrown lizard. Its teeth are all covered by an extended lip (did dinosaurs have the ability to possess an extended lip? All we have to go by for now for most animals is fossilized tissue attachment sites but these tell us that dinosaurs did not possess advanced facial muscles or extended lips) and the head has a general appearance of belonging to a modern day skink or gecko. This aberration can only be in response to the idea that Herrerasaurus was an overgrown lizard rather than a dinosaur. This could also, of course, simply be the artist's impression of what the animal may look like.

I'm not even sure how I'm going to get into this. I'm really hoping someone has just grossly mislabeled this picture. First and foremost, the posturing is amazingly odd. The animal is hunched over like a vulture. Second, its hands are flat, there's no articulation of the joints, as if its bones were laid out on a table and then put back into its flesh and that's how it was forced to carry them. The tail is fat and stiff, which wouldn't have worked very well in such a lithe looking skeleton. The worst part, I think, is the head. Yes, the skull does have small protuberances above the eyes and fleshed out these were probably slightly larger than they look on the skull, but here they appear as though they are horns almost and that just doesn't work well with the overall picture of ridges on the skull unless there was quite a bit of musculature passing over the eyes or some rather uncalled for osteodermal ridges present in the flesh itself.

02 September 2011


We move from the Late Cretaceous to the Middle Triassic and about 231.4 million years ago this week to explore one of the earliest and most primitive theropod carnivores that man has unearthed. Herrerasaurus comes to us from Argentina, and Argentina only, and is such a basic animal that debate has swirled it since before I used it in my Zoo Tycoon games where it was definitely a dinosaur. The reason I mention it definitely being a dinosaur in the game is because part of the debate about Herrerasaurus is centered around whether or not it even is a dinosaur! It has been called a basal theropod, a basal sauropodomorph, a basal saurischian, and a non-dinosaurian reptile. Lately, the trend has been to call it a basal theropod and a basal saurischian, according to recent literature concerning theropod evolution. It has even been given its own group, the Herrerasauridae, which includes other very early theropods or similar animals and which are also heavily debated in their pasts as to where they lay in dinosaur evolution.

Herrerasaurus, at first glance, certainly looks like an early dinosaur; it possesses large flexible claws on its hands, a long reptilian skull filled with conical teeth which clearly mark it as a predatory animal, a long flexible tail which was held horizontal from the body for balance, and even the basal ischian pubis found in later theropods (though much more primitive) which caused the femoral attachment to face directly, or nearly so, vertical and thus without having a bowed effect like we see in modern reptiles but a more mammal-like carriage of gait with the legs swinging in a nearly vertical arc of movement like we see with later theropods and other dinosaurs. Mammal-like isn't exactly the best description for the overall movement, but if you think of your own hip attachment (where I am taking mammal-like from in this instance) then you can imagine the movement of the femoral attachment site of Herrerasaurus. Compare this image if you disagree with my description or are still confused:
Herrerasaurus, as well as other dinosaurs and humans, use the femoral attachment schematic seen in the center image, reptiles use the left-most image.

There is a lot to discuss this week concerning this animal and, due to this fact, I may alter some of the days such as Sunday to discuss more of how this primitive dinosaur led to the dinosaurs we quickly recognize and love as children and adults.

01 September 2011

What a Star!

Thanks in part to that distinctive horny frill Styracosaurus is one of the most prolific of the dinosaur movie stars, possibly right behind Tyrannosaurus actually. Though they haven't been featured in any of the latest blockbusters like Jurassic Park, Styracosaurus was, for a long time, one of the most sought after creatures to add to films. This was probably due to the distinctiveness of that frill. The list of movies featuring Styracosaurus is quite amazing and runs, not even in its entirety, like this:

Notable among them are: The Son of Kong (1933), where a Styracosaurus battles the movie's heroes; The Valley of Gwangi (1969), where Styracosaurus is pitted against a carnivorous dinosaur; The Land That Time Forgot (1975) where two animals are shelled by a German U-boat; and Disney's CGI film Dinosaur (2000), where an anthropomorphic Styracosaurus named Eema has a pet Ankylosaurus.
 Styracosaurus is also present in one of the Land Before Time sequels and other movies not mentioned here as well. The influence of Styracosaurus goes into literature also, being mentioned in the novel Jurassic Park but not shown in the aforementioned movie adaptation. The dinosaur has also appeared in Calvin and Hobbes comics before as well.

Styracosaurus has also made its appearances on the small screen as well as noted here:
including Power Rangers: Dino Thunder (Bakuryuu Sentai Abaranger), Dinosaur King, Dinozaurs, "Dinosquad"Dino-Riders, Dinosaucers, and Zoids.
Additionally, the Japanese Transformer "Killer Punch" is a Styracosaurus. My favorite adaptations of Styracosaurus are shown in the following clips:

I totally forgot about Zoo Tycoon somehow! One of the biggest draws to my prehistoric zoos (guilty pleasure, not guilty pleasure; I'm not ashamed of loving that game) has been Styracosaurus. Also, they breed like there's no tomorrow!