STL Science Center

STL Science Center

31 January 2012

The Scholarly Majungasaurus

Majungasaurus on the internet lacks a few things, like coloring sheets for kids, a consensus on illustrations, probably a few other points which I really cannot think of at the moment (there is always something else in contention or not well understood). However, Majungasaurus makes up for any contentions and shortcomings by being an almost literal treasure trove in scholarly papers. Scouring the internet as I am wont to do for papers, articles, and facts, I have come across, in part thanks to the popularity of theropods, in part the work of David Krause and the Malagasy-American dig teams of the past decade, and in part to Larry Witmer's lab at Ohio University, there are copious amounts of literature to scour through. For today, rather than picking one or two great articles or papers that I have perused or had time to read and review I decided that I will stick them in categories and link them as bundles through bitly and you readers can sift through the topics that most interest you. I have only included full papers today, not any abstract only JSTOR articles or any from the JVP that you would need to purchase.

Majungasaurus History, Taxonomy, etc.
Majungasaurus Skull, Nasal, Brain Studies, etc.
Majungasaurus Pathology
Majungasaurus and Biogeography

Hopefully there will be something in these areas that will be enjoyable to study.

30 January 2012


Despite yesterday's meek showing Majungasaurus does have some more popularity left in it in the realm of film. In fact, one documentary even has a cannibalistic showing in it, which is interesting considering many documentaries shy away from the really strange things in the animal world like cannibalism. The two main sources are BBC's Planet Dinosaur and the History Channel's Jurassic Fight Club. Jurassic Fight Club details a more territorial and juvenile safety issue as causing a fight between adults and uses the bright waddle on the face model of Majungasaurus while Planet Dinosaur uses the pebble faced mask version and details a situation like that described in Rogers and Krause's paper mentioned last week. from Scientific American. It is very interesting to compare the two takes on the dinosaur as well as the two altercations as portrayed by different animators. The BBC fight is much shorter also. Check them out if you enjoy the clips below:

29 January 2012

Not a Total Lack of Majungasaurus Support

Unlike last week, this Madagascar dinosaur has a few kid friendly links. There is still no Kids Dinos link, but we can make do without. There are some good facts that are fairly accurate that may get kids attention on the Dinosaur King wiki page (wiki passes spell check these days, can you believe it?!). There are copious videos that show or discuss at the very least Majungasaurus and there are some that describe its behaviors. All said and done, though, there's very little, but not a total lack of, linkage to Majungasaurus that are child friendly.

28 January 2012

Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes

Depending upon the source there are at least two popular models for the head of Majungasaurus. The two versions of the head only differ in external details of course, the skull itself is not hotly debate because there are pretty reliable and high quality specimens. It's all the knobs and gouges and pits in the skull that inspire different adornments in the illustrations. The illustration above, which was featured in Jurassic Fight Club, by the way, shows one theory of the ornamentation of the Majungasaurus skull which is still thought of as potentially accurate. Looking like a giant turkey, Majungasaurus prowls the night with a waddle dangling off of his nose. Not too scary an idea honestly and seemingly senseless, but there is much about this dinosaur which appears somewhat senseless so there is no point dawdling on this one point. Id anything, it probably would have been use as a signal for how beautiful the animal was to others, or how frighteningly large his esteem and abilities, as in territorial disputes.

©Heraldo Mussolini
The other version of the head illustrated takes away that waddle and instead focuses on the solitary horn and what could certainly be described as a face that looks as though it is covered in a rough tumor-like growth. The dermal ridges and bumps would probably have served the same purpose as a waddle; warning others and intriguing mates. The mask-like appearance of the bumps and ridges also looks as though it may have acted as padding somewhat during pushing contests or head butting competitions. Despite proof of cannibalism it is much more likely that the majority of Majungasaurus fights were more about showing power than killing encroachers and rivals. The mask itself may have been colored just the same as we envision a turkey's waddle, or maybe it wasn't colored anything other than a useful camouflage color to aid in concealment. Perhaps we will find out one day.

The skeleton of Majungasaurus also has an important strangeness to it. The arms of Majungasaurus are held backwards as opposed to hanging down or pointing forward, the consensus seems to be. Some skeletons do indeed show the arms pointing at the very least downward toward the ground, however, the majority of accepted skeletons now show the arms pointing backwards toward the tail end of the dinosaur. The skeleton above still points backwards but the arms hang down as well, seemingly a compromise between the backwards and hang down arms camps of skeletal drawings. Either way, at least the skeletal drawings do not resemble this crazy thing here:
Which is clearly the most generic dinosaur drawing ever. In a very odd coincidence it comes from an article posted on SUNY Stonybrook's website discussing how their team helped discover many of the skeletons and their anatomical science group then posts this image of a skeleton right next to it almost:

27 January 2012

Eaters of Rapetosaurus

Abelisaurids are theropods with short snouts, short forearms, and longer stocky legs. This Madagascar theropod, known as Majungasaurus crenatissimus, had a wider skull and more teeth than many other  abelisaurids. The number of specimens and the recent surge in study in both the Southern Hemisphere and Madagascar specifically have led to a great deal of knowledge about this animal and science is beginning to understand it as a rather peculiar animal. As opposed to other large theropods the arms on Majungasaurus (once known as Majungatholus) are situated in a way that makes them appear almost as fins on a fish more than arms as they are angled backwards along the body. It had a bony head that was wide and short with one short horn situated on top of it.

By all accounts, regardless of the source, it was most likely a very ugly animal and, by some accounts, may have suffered some of these strange characteristics as a side effect of being an island dinosaur with a contained breeding pool because of the island. Madagascar is rather large, fourth largest island in the world, but animals this large would have taken up a lot of space and territory so there may be some merit to this cousins-marrying-cousins viewpoint. Whatever the viewpoint, one thing that is certainly not debated is that one way or another Majungasaurus could turn cannibal in situations that required cannibalism to survive. Tomorrow we will look at the skeleton of this animal as well as a few renditions of the head of Majungasaurus.

26 January 2012

The Impact We Suspect

The discovery and subsequent study of Rapetosaurus has led to many interesting findings including the storage space for minerals and the like found in those large osteoderms. The implications for such a discovery are fantastic and will inspire many very interesting life models and portrayals of Rapetosaurus in its own time. Its Diplodocus like skull differs from the Camarasaurus like skull of most titanosaurs and has therefore opened up that line of inquiry as well that seeks to find what kinds of variation exist exactly in titanosaurs. I'm looking forward to toys and other items that get children excited about the animal myself because the facts that this dinosaur presents to paleontology will be the kinds of facts that bring in future paleontologists and inspire children by showing them pretty much anything is possible in the world, even a dinosaur that stores vitamins and minerals in its bones!

25 January 2012

Check Out This Email.

Below is the email from Kristi Curry Rogers that I found in my inbox yesterday morning. I have taken some bits out because they are not relevant to today and I mentioned them yesterday. At any rate, this is a lot of info and it corrects some things I said Saturday, so read and absorb some good knowledge: you put the osteoderm discovery into the environmental context that helps support our hypothesis about mineral storage (a camel's hump isn't quite the right analogy, since what we found is a big bone that is very similar to the osteoderms of living crocodilians --- except ours hollowed out over the course of the animal's lifetime).  In the Sci Am paper Ray and Dave reconstruct a drought-prone nasty place to live (that resulted in the carnivorous Majungasaurus resorting to cannibalizing the carcasses of it's own species). 

It's also kinda cool that Rapetosaurus is the first titanosaur to really be found with osteoderms associated that give us a clue as to how many  and where they may have been positioned on the body - there weren't as many as shown in any of the posted illustrations, and the few that were there were relatively large. 

I've attached a couple images that might help you!  The first is a mounted skeleton of Rapetosaurus from the Field Museum of Natural History (Chicago) - the specimen is a small juvenile, like most of the animals that we've recovered from Madagascar.

The second is a shot from more recent field work - that's me standing next to an extraordinarily long cervical rib from an adult Rapetosaurus.


Best wishes,

 These are the photos mentioned:

24 January 2012

Sometimes I Get Lucky

Typically Tuesday mornings involve an exhaustive search and the reading of untold numbers of abstracts to find relevant high quality papers that are not too biased one way or another. One solid source today, however, I do not have to track down, thankfully. Unfortunately the article, titled "Tracking An Ancient Killer," is not available to everyone everywhere for free, I just happened to get an email that contained it, along with some very helpful corrections to past statements and analogies made here, but it can be found online or in magazine archives given that your library or a library near you has a copy of Scientific American from 2007 or access to it online. I would recommend, if an archive is not available to you and you are interested, going directly to the magazine's site and purchasing the article.

The article, written conjointly by Raymond Rogers and David Krause, details conclusions drawn from the unearthing of several veritable bloodbaths in Madagascar; areas of ground literally littered with the dead and gnawed on by everything from carrion beetles to cannibalistic carnivores. The article paints the picture of a semiarid Madagascar that I would liken to the edges of desert in the Southwest US (that being my main personal experience with deserts of course) where the vegetation grown sparsely and watering holes are few and far between and very small if existent during times of drought.

The pools of stagnant water in Cretaceous Madagascar, evidence from the article contends, may have been toxic to the animals during the times of drought which seem to have created these congregations of death so it is little wonder that an animal like Rapetosaurus would be found covered in the remains of even Majungasaurus which had been eaten by one of its own kind. Both animals, dehydrated, come to the small watering hole to drink and either toxicity of the water, dehydration itself, or fights break out and leave dead animals. More Majungasuarus are attracted by the smell of blood and eat whatever they can, friend and prey alike, go to drink to wash it all down, and fall victim to the same toxic water. It's a fantastic and scary theory much like the one found in the death quarry discussed way back with Allosaurus, Camarasaurus, and Ceratosaurus in Utah, but that was a mud mire which trapped the animals and starved them to death rather than toxic water, cannibalism, and dehydration.

23 January 2012

Another Short Day

The long and short of newer dinosaurs is that you just don't often find much on them in many different categories. Whenever a dinosaur find is less than twenty years old there is not much to always find to share. Rapetosaurus suffers from this tragedy of the internet. One notable appearance so far in its short "known of" period has been a stint in a newer documentary series called Dinosaur Revolution. Unfortunately one episode as a costar of the episode does not make for a full wealth of knowledge, but something is always better than nothing! Do not forget, however, that this is the series that, a while back, I warned has some cartoon inspired silliness to it as well.

22 January 2012

Scouring the Internet, So You Don't Have To

And finding basically nothing! Children have not been introduced to Rapetosaurus in a big way by the internet as yet. Neither Dinosaur train nor Dinosaur King have episodes featuring the animal and Dinosaur King's games, both video and card, lack the rather long necked herbivore as well. There are no coloring pages. There are not any fact files. I am sad to say there is an absolute dearth of information available to children on this dinosaur! Actually, that is not all true. An acquaintance of mine a while back was working on illustrations for a dinosaur book and I asked if I could use his uncolored pieces as coloring book pages when I couldn't find anything else. I believe he had a Rapetosaurus page posted... and here it is!
©Josep Zakarias (

21 January 2012

One Mischievous Sauropod

The now Dr. Curry Rogers with her Rapetosaurus skeleton
When Rapetosaurus was originally unearthed and described it was hailed as one of those moments when human beings gain an amazing insight into something that was mostly poked and prodded by educated guesses and conjectures. A nearly complete titanosaur with a skull was basically unheard of but obviously not impossible, as seen above. The fact that it was found in Africa, on the island of Madagascar, made it that much more of an important find as a majority of the more heard about titanosaurs had to that point originated in South America.
©Mark Hallett
That sense of Africa was taken by Mark Hallett and made into an almost stereotypical African water crossing, except with dinosaurs. The fact that we think of this as a stereotypical image of animals in Africa is based on the fact that life for a lot of migrating African herbivores is ended in the jaws of crocodiles and therefore it lends a lot of validity to this image. Crocodiles, even though this is Majungasuchus, have lived in African waters and waylaid African herbivores migrating across their waters for millions of years, why would it have been any different in the Cretaceous? Therefore, I have to say that this image of a Rapetosaurus migration across Majungasuchus infested rivers is, more than likely, based, though Mr. Hallett couldn't have known for sure, one hundred percent on something that has happened identically to this in the past of our planet. I love the image and I honestly did not think twice of including it in today's post.

©Angie Rodrigues and Mark Hallett
There are so many images of sauropods and Rapetosaurus included, however, a lot of them really are not that great and a lot of the skeletals convey no sense of uniqueness to Rapetosaurus. Today, therefore, I have kind of short listed the images today. I had to include Curry Rogers with her bones and that wonderful African river crossing, but I also decided that one I really wanted in was this one. This image takes an artwork from Angie Rodrigues and overlays Mark Hallett's skeletal drawings onto it (edit 1-22-12: Mr. Hallett has informed me that he feels the skeleton is entirely too inaccurate due to new estimates on titanosaur rib dimensions and he pointed toward Paul's newest book, which I have but do not have permission to reproduce; the correct page can be found on the internet however). It came from the Buffalo News via the Minneapolis Star Tribune and was published December 18, 2011. The story itself includes an interview with Dr. Curry Rogers in which she states that her theory on the osteoderms in question are that they were used in much the same way that a camel uses its hump, to store nutrients and vital minerals such as calcium. I believe we may need to attempt to get a hold of her and discuss this further this week...

20 January 2012

Bad Jokes Will Not Be Welcome.

©Nobu Tamura 2007
I will try to keep bad jokes to a minimum, but it is hard to control your friends and readers sometimes. This week's dinosaur was found in the not so distant past by a student from SUNY Stonybrook by the name of Kristina Curry Rogers. Dr. Rogers was with a team in Madagascar working toward her doctorate researching titanosaurs and one of the fruits of the team's labor just happened to be the skeleton of a new titanosaur later realized to be the largest Cretaceous titanosaur which was named Rapetosaurus. Rapetosaurus krausei (Krause's mischievous giant lizard- named after the dig team's leader David Krause) is one of the most intact titanosaur finds man has ever found including a complete skull and a nearly complete post cranial skeletal structure. This titanosaur discovery revolutionized the study of these animals in many ways. Notably, the skeleton can now serve as a baseline for estimates and can answer many questions about the evolution and role of titanosaurs in their environment that were merely conjecture prior to this based on incomplete skeletons. Titanosaurs were the equivalent herbivores in the southern continents of the hadrosaurs in the norther continents. This discovery and the ongoing research around titanosaurs will help to better understand their exact nature as the dominant herbivores of the Cretaceous Southern Hemisphere.

19 January 2012

That Bird of Feathers

Worth a whopping 10 Euros!
Almost every discussion this week has had some level of popular culture introduced into it, that is just how darn popular Archaeopteryx is. In all actuality most of the popularity that Archaeopteryx emits is due to that controversy surrounding its very existence. However, There are points in our world where Archaeopteryx has thrust its little feathers and its tiny head that are not so controversial. One such place is in Germany where a coin has been minted to commemorate the Berlin Specimen. The 150th anniversary stamp along the rim of the coin tells you that it was created last year. It's a wonderfully nice gesture for an animal so steeped in controversy that it seems that people lose sight of the fact that all the theories are just theories because we cannot prove one way or another exactly who is right at this point in time. Personally, it doesn't affect me much. I'd love to think of the Archaeopteryx as the first shift from dinosaur to bird, but if it turns out I am wrong I certainly will not lose any sleep over it.

Archaeopteryx has made its way to logos as well (a pretty stylish Archaeopteryx actually for quite expensive clothing), a confusing 1897 French play (It was made into a movie in 1981, but why an Archaeopteryx figures into a play about a cuckolded character as an independent own character I cannot say), and even has an asteroid named after it.

18 January 2012

Finding Urvogel

Today, with the encyclopedia blackouts and everything in protest of Congress... which I suppose could shut down this site as well which would be a terrible thing and therefore I'm fully into backing the cause against the SOPA and PIPA bills sitting in Congress I cannot really check the English encyclopedia to double check facts there easily.

Now, Urvogel, Archaeopteryx, sorry, I have to read the German encyclopedia today to check my facts, was discovered initially around 1861, give or take a few months since it is not known exactly how it ended up in the hands of a physician named Karl Haberlein. Haberlein sold the specimen, the initial fossil animal to the Natural History Museum of London where Sir Richard Owen described it and gave it a name borrowed from the name given to the initial feather fossil described by Hermann von Meyer a short time before. I think we've discussed most of this before on here. Archaeopteryx, ever since the Owen and Meyer descriptions, has been a hotbed of hoax theories, flight theories, and intense debate about the origin of birds and dinosaurs' roles in that origin. Some scientists have abandoned the bird dinosaur link altogether even and judged that an early relative to the line that began the dinosaurs is actually the line that started birds, not dinosaurs at all.

Archaeopteryx, however, remains at the heart of most debate and discussion concerning the origin of birds as the thecodont evolution theory, while supported by Larry Martin and Alan Feduccia, does not have anywhere near the same level of support. Archaeopteryx, in part, had the fortunate timing of being found by man to coincide with the rising popularity and circulation of Darwin's Origin of Species, which may account for why it has stayed so central to the transitional fossil debate of birds and dinosaurs. The book was gaining popularity in the scientific community of the world as this feathered dinosaur was dusted off and described for the first time.

Scott Hartman has pointed out in his description of the Thermopolis Specimen, as an example of counterpoint to the Archaeopteryx as a bird viewpoint, that the legs of Archaeopteryx in the Thermopolis Specimen are of a more theropod ratio of proportion to the rest of the body showing that Achaeopteryx was more dinosaur than it was bird. In Mr. Hartman's own words, "The legs are a tad longer than average for the genus, and the arms noticeably shorter, adding to the (largely correct) impression that it's 'just another' feathered theropod rather than 'a bird'."

17 January 2012

Papers About Birds

Many papers mention Archaeopteryx, but many of those more modern papers do not solely relate to information about Archaeopteryx; the animal is mentioned only in passing. However, thanks to the compiling of information in the digital age, we do have a good number of papers about Archaeopteryx at our disposal still. John Ostrom wrote a few papers himself about Archaeopteryx and the origin of flight as well as the origin of birds. The only copies I know of are in JSTOR and therefore cannot be read in their entirety without an account, but it would be worth a try to read both. His first paper from 1974 was on the origin of flight and his second paper on the origin of birds was from 1976 and his third paper was written in 1979 about how the first flights were oriented, tree to ground or ground to tree. All three discuss Archaeopteryx in great detail and, actually, I have managed to find a copy of the 1976 article in its entirety!

A 1999 article by Phillip Burgers interested me in that it discusses the primary thrust abilities of Archaeopteryx; in other words its capability to power itself off the ground with its wings. The mechanics discussed and the modeling are well done and the article itself is very interesting to read. The brevity of the paper is the only drawback that I see in Burgers and Chiappe's notions, though I cannot attest to my professional capacity to assert the validity of their findings myself either.

16 January 2012

Archaeopteryx on Film

There are many religious arguments on the internet in documentary form. That's not going to show up here, because this is not a religious forum. Therefore, I do not wish to offend anyone, but there will be no arguments for or against Creationism and therefore, I shall not show any videos that argue for or against the theories. Please, in searching for videos of Archaeopteryx, be very careful what you watch and take in as fact because there is, in fact, a great deal of argument between both camps and, as with any religion based argument, there is a great deal of bigotry and condescending speech on both sides of the argument.

Archaeopteryx, the much discussed and debated proto-bird, or dinosaur, or just a plain old bird, depending on the viewpoint, has shown up on countless reels of film now. It has been discussed by various sources so many times that it's a knee deep pool of video I have to wade through to bring out the real gems. There are plenty of so-so, and even awful, documentaries on Archaeopteryx. During July of 2011, however, to start with, one particular study buzzed that Archaeopteryx was no longer considered the oldest bird by the researchers. Xing Xu of Linyi University in China explains the research in this clip from The Guardian paper. What it claims, in the end, is that Archaeopteryx was just another feathered dinosaur and that the oldest true bird, or proto-bird, was actually one of three possible candidates: Epidexipteryx, Jeholornis or Sapeornis and that Archaeopteryx is actually nothing more than another deinonychosaur. Should that prove to be the case, it would be an amazing discovery and shake the family tree like an earthquake! This earlier clip shows the opposite opinion that Archaeopteryx is, indeed, an early bird.

Months before Xing Xu and Larry Witmer's article in The Guardian Uwe Bergmann, a scientist working at Stanford's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, gave a lecture on Archaeopteryx for the public. Dr. Bergmann's role in studying 2 of the 11 specimens was in working with x-rays and looking for chemicals in the fossils, as discussed on Saturday's post. Dr. Bergmann's lecture, a little over an hour long, is extremely educational and fascinating and well worth watching, if you can stomach lecture:

Just to finish, Pete Larson does a really good job in describing the Thermopolis Specimen which is housed at his place of employment, the Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis, Wyoming.

15 January 2012

Archaeopteryx for Children

I have to echo Matthew Martyniuk in criticizing the way Archaeopteryx is portrayed in popular content. The reason I have to raise my voice today is because, in searching for content for children like I do every Sunday, I could only find a very very small amount of scientifically accurate illustration to share with children. Most of those were actually connected to sites that were more scientific, and thus not of great use to children. Unfortunately, that means I have to share some inaccurate drawings with my young audience or share nothing at all. I'm not willing to share nothing at all with young inquisitive minds, so, to start, take a nice look at KidsDinos today. KidsDinos uses an image that is not terrible, but the Archaeopteryx on the page is pretty naked from the waist down. He's missing all the feathers from the belly down except some pennaceous, or contour, feathers. Anyhow, let's get on to the coloring pages. Now, all of these pictures are so-so to not good. I tried to weed out all of the absolutely terrible pages, but they do have a bad habit of creeping up, so I apologize for that in advance:

This first on can be colored online or printed, so I'm offering a link to it instead of showing the picture. This image looks like the one on KidsDinos.

The second one has a similar image issue as the last one and prints in a PDF from About.

This last one suffers from extra wing feathers and naked legs as well, a little more error than the other three. The other three have a small gap between wing and body, which is accurate, this one does not, which makes it a bit more inaccurate:

Also, there's a Dinosaur Train episode with Arlene Archaeopteryx. Unfortunately the episode itself shows her feathers coming off of her wrist and has those pesky tertiary feathers, the feathers between the body and wing that Archaeopteryx does not actually have. It's a good episode though, despite the little inaccuracies, so enjoy it if you have Netflix or if you get lucky and it lands on TV again.

Oh yes, there's also this very inaccurate song from another PBS show from Colorado called Big Green Rabbit. It's fun, but it's not anywhere near perfect.

14 January 2012


©Alain Beneteau
Archaeopteryx, known in German as Urvogel- First Bird- had a good 150th anniversary last year. Thanks to science and laser x-ray technology in particular along with scanning electron microscopes, the holotype feather of Archaeopteryx yielded a discovery of fossil melanosomes. This discovery makes Archaeopteryx drawings like Alain Beneteau's black and white bird with chicks almost reasonably well colored despite the lack thereof. Melanosomes are cells containing melanin, a dark pigment that makes up the coloring in darker skin and darker plumage. The research that led to this on the holotype feather depends heavily on the notion that this solitary feather is indeed an Archaeopteryx feather and the indications are very favorable that it is, but every theory has detractors. Most of these arguments are found, strangely enough, in Christian Science and Creationist publications.

©Nobu Tamura
To truly see what the raven colored Archaeopteryx would look like we have to venture no further than the work of Nobu Tamura, whom we have seen work by in the past. Personally, I feel that if all the plumage were of a raven's color, it would be one sleek shadowy proto-bird and, despite it's small size, would be a scary, yet beautiful and intriguing, animal to watch in the wild. Actually, considering Tamura's image, I'd probably want to try to keep one as a pet. The only downfall to having an Archaeopteryx as a pet, other than the typical problem with owning birds (foul smelling droppings being tops on my list of why I don't keep birds in my apartment next to "my wife is scared of birds") is that it has functional teeth and the nasty claws on its feet. I wouldn't be too afraid of the wing claw as that was well on its way to being as useful as my appendix, but the feet and the teeth make it a dangerous little chicken.

©Vladimir Nikolov
Speaking of those feet, Vladimir Nikolov's Archaeopteryx shows off those claws fantastically. They're small, the toothed beak (I use beak the same way people might say its nose, I'm not inferring that it possessed a horn covered beak like modern birds) is small too but that's no less of a reason to fear what damage it could do to you or I were this animal still alive and roaming about with its own free will, but they are quite deadly I am sure. I like how he has gone away from the typical, and this was done before the study that announced the melanosomes, coloration of bright reds and greens and dark hued blues. The cool grey, almost blue, of this animal looks perfect. An animal like this, even though not a darker color, could hide in the shadows just as well if not better and would probably make a very good underbrush or arboreal hunter, depending on one's take of the mechanism of flight exhibited by the Archaeopteryx.

©Mette Aumula
This, of course, brings us to those wings. I love how simplistic yet beautiful Mette Aumula's proto-bird is. The simple color scheme reminds me of a tern, and I love watching terns fly for some odd reason that I cannot explain. The wings are colored in the way of many modern coastal birds in existing species. In my personal opinion, that lends itself to images in my mind of Archaeopteryx gliding silently through the forest on wings meant to fly, though the legs designed to run are still there as well; I suppose Archaeopteryx, in my full imagination, is a lot like the roadrunner and a chicken combined, a chicken that could at the very least climb a tree and glide out of it to the ground or another tree. That wing, that ancient wing, was useful one way or another, though. The claws on it, seen only in Hoatzin in modern birds and then only as chicks, were of little use to the living animal. The feathers, if carefully noticed, come off the fingers and not the wrist, which is accurate with the fossils.

13 January 2012

Of A Feather

©M. Reichel 1941
Archaeopteryx (Ancient Wing)
Housing over fifteen names as specific synonyms and five generic synonyms, Archaeopteryx (sometimes Archeopteryx) is one of the most astounding holotype fossils ever found and amongst the first animals considered to be a bird. In 1861 a fossil feather was pulled out of a quarry in Germany, which it is debated may not actually belong to Archaeopteryx, and less than a year later an entire skeleton below the neck, the skull was missing, was taken from the ground near Langenaltheim, Germany and given to a physician named Karl Haberlein who, in turn, sold it to the London museum for about seven hundred pounds. This fossil, with feather impressions, was studied by Sir Richard Owen who named it Archaeopteryx marcura, the original feather described by von Meyer being called Archaeopteryx lithographica, because Owen was not sure that the feather and the skeleton fossils were identical species of the proto-bird. This specimen, The London Specimen, was the second of eleven that have been recovered. The other nine also have specific names given to them to differentiate them from one another based upon where they were found or where they reside now. They are the Berlin, Haarlem, Solnhofen, Eichstatt, Maxberg, Daiting, Munich, Burgermeister-Mullen, and Thermopolis specimens. The Thermopolis Specimen is the only specimen with a permanent residence in the United States at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center. The eleventh specimen is privately owned and has not been given a name nor has it been fully described after being found in 2011, though it is supposedly one of the more complete specimens.

Archaeopteryx, as we shall see, is thought to be a transitional fossil between birds and dinosaurs by some, and the debate surrounding the issue is one of the more heated and talked about debates in paleontology these days. As one of the most highly studied of dinosaurs, or birds, or dino-birds, or neither, Archaeopteryx is a virtual wealth of knowledge and the topic is bloated with opinions from nineteen different angles including that the original fossils were a hoax and a forgery. However, we shall attempt to see all the angles that we possibly can and discuss them without ridiculing any side, which may seem very difficult when we look at all the opinions, because there are some extreme opinions surrounding this ancient feathered animal.

12 January 2012

Building A Following

Chasmosaurus is actually a pretty famous genus of dinosaur. One can, but certainly people do not always, tell apart the two species based on their frill shape, their horns, and a number of other reference points, however, liking the dinosaur seems to mostly be liking the genus. Plenty of people like this genus too. Chasmosaurus has appeared in no significant documentaries for any length of time to this point in history. However, it has made it into video games
and it has even had books written entirely about it (as well as books that mention it or contain large sections which discuss Chasmosaurus and its general family). Toys are actually very plentiful for this dinosaur and come in a wide variety of styles. There are discussions about a family unit of Chasmosaurs as well as one for an opened mouth screamer that looks like a Triceratops with an elongated frill, not too accurate. My favorite has to be the one that supposedly came from Oriental Trading (it's no longer in their collection of dinosaur toys) that was labeled as a Styracosaurus. It's my favorite because it has some really interesting coloring and design on the frill that I enjoy.

11 January 2012

Chasmosaurus of Canada, Again

Once again, a Lambe/Sternberg (including his sons) collaboration brings us another dinosaur. There is nothing at all wrong with that. In fact, had Cope and Marsh worked together they would have been an even more famous team, instead of famous rivals; much better to be a team I say. A number of other species existed in the genus beside the two valid species at one time or another including C. brevirostris and C. irvinensis. Other dinosaurs entirely were found to be Chasmosaurs, as is happening again now in paleontology but seems to be creating a much larger uproar than in the past. These include animals like Eoceratops and one of our poor Monoclonius species.

Chasmosaurus was one of those strangely in between dinosaurs. They had enormous heart shaped frills, larger than most ceratopsians except animals like Styracosaurus and the late Torosaurus, however, they had teeny tiny horns for such a big head. One of the main differences in the species, actually, is their horns. In C. belli the horns curve slightly forward in their tiny arc of existence while in C. russelli they curve up and back toward the top of the frill.

10 January 2012

Making up For Monday

©Nobu Tamura
Chasmosaurus more than makes up for its lack of documentary appearances by appearing in massive amounts of documentation. This genus appears in everything from papers on combat in Triceratops to papers on predation habits in tyrannosaurs. Truth be told, however, about half of the papers I could read in their entirety have one source in common other than geographic localities of the remains of Chasmosaurus: Catherine Forster. Dr. Forster is right on up there in the starting line up of paleontologists working with marginocephalian dinosaurs. That is only the papers I have found on the internet of course, however, it is very apparent that she has done a great deal of research within the genus and so a few of the papers I have to share today contain her name.

The one thing I cannot find that I would really love to have are the papers that resulted from the work of Lambe and Sternberg, the original description and naming of the genus and the species within that. I did come across a JSTOR version of Sternberg's 1940 Ceratopsians of Alberta, unfortunately I can only read the front page of the paper. Two of the papers that are available, A Complete Skull Of Chasmosaurus Mariscalensis... and New Horned Dinosaurs From Utah... describe species no longer considered individual species of Chasmosaurus and, in the latter, contain the naming of a new genus from an old species of Chasmosaurus. Forster's pen inked part of the paper which named that species a Chasmosaurus as well; obviously that alone proves how long she has studied Chasmosaurus and Vagaceratops remains since it was a species of Chasmosaurus from 2001 to 2010 before becoming Vagaceratops. We even have at our disposal papers renaming C. mariscalensis as it is now known as Agujaceratops after reviewing the evidence at hand. There is even an article, which pops as its own PDF and thus I can only link the search results, about sexual dimorphism in Chasmosaurus. I enjoy articles like these because I was never one of those people that assumed all dinosaurs in a species were identical. I always enjoyed the idea that dinosaurs were distinctly male and female in one way or another the way most birds are. Anyhow, I haven't had time to read this one yet, but I am really looking forward to it so I'll share it with you readers.

09 January 2012

Watching Chasmosaurus Strut

In all actuality, there are no videos of Chasmosaurus strutting on the internet. There aren't many videos of this dinosaur at all online. The animal did not make it into any of the Walking With series or any other major documentaries in the past few years. There are so many ceratopsian dinosaurs out there I suppose the documentary makers figure if they put in one they have covered all the dinosaur bases and, typically, the one they go for is Triceratops because it is instantly recognizable. However, the an animal like Chasmosaurus would be fantastically entertaining to watch so it is very unfortunate that there are no videos of this dinosaur online that amount to much of anything. I did find an interesting early 2010 video, before C. irvinensis was renamed, about said species as well as a short video someone in the Czech Republic filmed of the dinosaur park there. I have actually heard a lot about that park, so it's fairly interesting.

08 January 2012

Coloring the Frill

Facts friendly to children and KidsDinos today as well as our other normal source, Enchanted Learning. As far as coloring is concerned, we have the traditional coloring sheet below which can be printed out as well as an online painting on Enchanted Learning that can save parents the time to clean up and make their kids clean up.

07 January 2012


Top Image: ©Robert F. Walters
Bottom Image: Sampson SD, Loewen MA,
Farke AA, Roberts EM, Forster CA, et al
Chasmosaurus is a wonderful subject for art. It's a majestic animal in both species, C. belli and C. russelli. I start, therefore, with the plainest image I could find that struck me as interesting. Robert Walter's illustration is good, but fairly plain. Clearly he used the skeletal from Sampson et al.'s paper of C. russelli as inspiration and added life and meat and energy to the dinosaur and he did a very good job. However, me personally, when I think of dinosaurs with ornamentation I think of birds and lizards and mammals and fish that have amazing ornamentations on their bodies. A frill like a Chasmosaur's was more than likely both a defensive body structure as well as it was a billboard much in the way that a Frill-Neck Lizard uses its frill both to defend itself and to show its prowess during the mating season. I'm quite sure plain faced dinosaurs existed, but later ceratopsians, I think, were more of the billboard type either in the real of mating or defensive strategy or both.

©Tuomas Koivurinne
To that end I present an illustration by an often featured illustrator, Tuomas Koivurinne. Here we have some of that fancy ornamenting of the frill. The tiger stripes are also a very nice addition to the back of the animal and, all things considered in the modern world, I would not doubt that many dinosaurs had evolved that sort of camouflage at any given time during the Mesozoic. The thing I like is the spots on the frill. Here they are not eye spots as they are in other illustrations but they would serve the same threat out to predators and mating rivals alike. Eye spots, for whatever reason, have always been appealing to me in a variety of animals, especially in fish like the Twin Spot Goby and insects like Owl Butterflies. Here, however, they accent the Chasmosaurus very well and, I imagine, that an animal with a frill that large was sporting some interesting color scheme or eye spots to appear larger and stronger and more confusing all at the same time. I cannot think of a much better reason for evolving a giant shelf off the back of your head.

©John Conway
Back to the plain for a moment, however, because John Conway has done with that frill exactly what I imagined it being used for, eye spots or no. Whether Chasmosaurus used the frill in deflecting predatory or rival blows, in Conway's illustration, it is very clearly using that frill in a way in which the Daspletosaurus can tell that it is an enormous angry buffalo of a dinosaur. Even though Conway's Chasmosaur has very small, almost non-existent, horns, the size of the frill makes it look like a scary beast to that Daspletosaurus. The fact that all 4 tons are barreling down on his gracile predator's body at full speed probably does not add comfort to the predator's mind either.

©Julius Csotonyi, 2006
The final illustration I wanted to share today is a dynamic set of pieces put together by Julius Csotonyi for the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Alberta, Canada. The series explores different configurations of horns on Chasmosaurus species- C.russelli, C. belli, C. irvinensis (as of 2010, now known as Vagaceratops, a close relative of Kosmoceratops) from top to bottom respectively, which, in all honesty, is a very serious matter to contemplate on considering that there are two species of Chasmosaurus from two nearby to one another, yet different, landscapes in what are now considered the Canadian badlands of Alberta. Those two species could have had any odd number of configurations of growth patterns that have not as yet been discovered, however, the adult formations of those horns, are known now. The inclusion of the now separate genus Vagaceratops, which at the time was considered a species of Chasmosaurus, is related to the date of the illustration, not the artist's fault in any sort of way. Actually, Mr. Csotonyi is one of the premier paleoartists of our time and has, to tout his other Chasmosaurus works, created murals in the Houston Museum of Natural History in not one, but two areas of the dinosaur hall!

06 January 2012

Chasmosaurus of Canada

©Paul Heaton
Taking another stroll in the Canadian quarries, our esteemed colleague Lawrence Lambe fished out dinosaur after dinosaur and this time found himself the frill of a large ceratopsian. Years later Sternberg would find more complete skeletons with his sons and then, in their true back and forth relationship, Lambe would describe the new genus and species from these remains. Chasmosaurus belli and Chasmosaurus russelli make up the two recognized species of Chasmosaurus as we know them today. Lending their name to the group of large frilled ceratopsians, the chasmosaurines, Chasmosaurus has a long distinctive heart shaped frill with two large fenestrae in the frill bones (or it can be described as possessing squamosal fenestrae). Chasmosaurus, unlike Torosaurus, is indeed its own animal and not the adult form of a previously named animal, as far as I am aware, so no one need get too excited. These herbivores have been found time and again and a good deal of information is known about them. There are even good skin impressions in at least one fossil find.

05 January 2012

What a Popular Guy

Gorgosaurus is one of the more popular dinosaurs out there that doesn't have a huge instantly recognizable name. This is perfectly okay. Their skeletons have revealed a lot about dinosaur injuries and the ability to live with some seriously bone crushing life situations. They've shown disease. If you cannot make it to Indianapolis any time soon you can hear the display information from their severely injured and tumor filled Gorgosaur which is pretty interesting.

Let us not forget the mighty video game industry either friends:
Then, of course, there's always the toy industry as well. This review of Safari Ltd.'s Gorgosaurus should suffice as evidence for today I think.

04 January 2012

Juggling Canadian Scientists

It's just a baby!
As with many Canadian dinosaurs discovered named and described in the late 19th and early 20th century, Lawrence Lambe and Charles Sternberg had their hands all over the Gorgosaurus skeleton. This time, unlike so many other times, Sternberg is the one that discovered the skeleton and Lambe described it. It was an odd reversal of the typical order between those two where Lambe would find something and Sternberg, if not Lambe, would end up describing it. The holotype belongs to the Canadian Museum of Nature, not a very big surprise there given the discoverer and its natural Canadian habitat, and resides in Ottawa. The Canadians were not alone in their own backyard however as the Brown led American teams were still publicly making off with chunks of Canadian soil whenever they possibly could! Brown recovered three Gorgosaurus skulls with their skeletons and one skull without. All four were said to be complete skulls, no word on the completeness of the skeletons. The juvenile above is one of Brown's "finds," he bought it from Sternberg in 1917, that now resides in the American Museum of Natural History. Brown originally named this specimen after Sternberg until it was agreed upon that this is a juvenile Gorgosaurus and not a new species.

It might be a tumor!
Dozens of other specimens have been dug up since then and more and more is becoming known about the animals. One Gorgosaurus was dug up with a Maiasaura and a Bambiraptor and the speculation is that the Bambiraptor was waiting its turn at the carcass when the trio died. Whether or not that is true, the Gorgosaurus itself revealed a wealth of knowledge about itself as many injuries were discovered on the dinosaur that had healed including two broken legs and what is thought to be a brain tumor. Several other skeletons have been recovered with broken limbs and one has even been found with evidence of some pretty nasty bites to the face suffered during a fight with another predator. Broken toes and even a broken dentary that had healed were found in other specimens. Apparently Gorgosaurus was capable of handling and living through a great deal of stress.

03 January 2012

Gorgosaurus Gets A Name

Lambe named Gorgosaurus in 1914. His nine page article appeared in The Ottawa Naturalist in that year and described in detail, with measurements and sadly without any illustrations, the dinosaur in question. As with all naming papers, this is a good source on Gorgosaurus. In 1955, during the height of the Russian and Polish discoveries in Mongolia Maleev named a new Gorgosaurus species, Gorgosaurus lancinator. This Gorgosaurus was smaller than the North American version. It had larger lacrimal ridges, though. He named another species on the same trip as well, Gorgosaurus novojilovi. Both animals are now considered to be juvenile specimens of Tarbosaurus (often known as Tyrannosaurus bataar).

02 January 2012

The Many Injuries of Gorgosaurus

The first thing I would like to share on this wonderful movie Monday is a very old looking stop motion looking documentary called March of the Dinosaurs. I kind of wish it was stop motion and old, but it is from the past summer. At any rate, there are many parts with Gorgosaurus in it, but I think starting with this night time chase is a good place. Other links to the full episode show up at the end, so feel free to watch it all of course, afterwards.
This other video shows Pete Larson describing the injuries found on the Gorgosaurus from the Children's Museum of Indianapolis using a cast replica in Houston. Pretty self explanatory and it shows that Gorgosaurus was a resilient old beast:

01 January 2012

Happy New Year Kids

While mom and dad are still sleeping off their very late night, here are some Gorgosaurus links for kids. There is no KidsDinos links this week, but the Children's Museum of Indianapolis is filling the gap very well. They have a lot of amazing information and even teach about the bones and show evidence of a brain tumor their specimen probably possessed at her death! Next is Enchanted Learning, which is pretty reliable for us. They don't have great information, but it's worth a read. Now, on to the things kids love the most:
Coloring Page A
Coloring Page B

There is no Dinosaur Train Gorgosaurus episode yet, however, there are many types of Gorgosaurus found in the Dinosaur King video game. Here are a fire spitting and a venomous type. The venomous one has really long arms for some reason.