STL Science Center

STL Science Center

30 April 2012

Sinosauropteryx on Film

In the modern day three-fourths of all land animals have the ability to fly. Feathers and wings gave birth to one group of animals that would evolve flight as a mode of transportation. Insects of course were flying by then, as were pterosaurs, but some animals that were to fly were in the process of being "created" through evolution during the reign of the pterosaurs. We are not talking about bats, the fourth group to take flight, but birds. Birds had to come from somewhere and the evidence that birds came from dinosaurs continues to mount; there are other arguments in the debate of bird evolution that are certainly worth considering but for our purposes today we will side with the dinosaur to bird transition. Ignoring the evolution into total flight for the moment, we have to first get our feathers and wings. Sinosauropteryx is not thought to have a wing like structure, but this is considered to be one of the earliest skeletons with actual evidence of the beginnings of feathering, which would eventually lead to wings. There are three important videos which explain the evolution of wings, feathers, and the discovery and importance of the original Sinosauropteryx fossils. Watch and enjoy these videos, in order, the discovery of the fossil:
The evolution of the feather:
The evolution of the wing:

29 April 2012

The Young Rascal's Little Rascal

Kid size dinosaurs make for an interesting antithesis to the gigantic dinosaurs. Typically it's the giants that get attention but sometimes the tiny animals get some attention too from children. Sinosauropteryx would be one of those tiny dinosaurs that gets kid's attentions. Part of it is that the feathering is wonderful to look at and mesmerizing, like a platypus is. Feathers don't go on dinosaurs, they go on birds, all children know that, but then they see a dinosaur that has feathers and it completely blows their minds! The fact that most children over 3 are larger than this ferocious little carnivore is another reason children will love to learn about it on sites like Kids Dinos, read a book about it ($0.40, that's totally worth picking up!) or color a picture of one either online or offline:
©Josep Zacarias

28 April 2012

Tiny Terrors

Image from Ji & Ji
Sinosauropteryx is one of those skeletons that has been found almost complete, which immediately tells paleontologists a lot about their body size and shape as well as providing immediate clues to their behavior and interactions with the habitat, which we thankfully know something about due to studies of the soil containing the remains and paleobotany. At any rate, the fact that the skeleton is as comprehensive as it is has, as mentioned yesterday, yielded additionally fantastic treasures in that it shows evidence of very basal feathering characteristics and has the remnants of pigmentation characteristics that paleontologists can use to determine, fairly accurately we all hope, the color of this tiny dinosaur. Tiny is a relative term, but if you remember, yesterday we discussed how this dinosaur was about half tail and as tall as a Jack Russell Terrier, so it was indeed tiny in dinosaur terms for the typical Cretaceous fauna of China at the time of its existence.

©Julius Csotonyi
The diet, speaking of its size, would have been restricted to things it could actually catch or safely scavenge. Scavenging may be looked down at in some circles for whatever reason, but no surviving meal to meal predator looks a gift horse in the mouth, and certainly not when you are the size of a lap dog! The diet, though, was probably strongly rooted in insects, the occasionally unguarded dinosaur egg or carcass, lizards, small mammals, perhaps even hatchlings. I have yet to read any of the studies done on the Sinosauropteryx, but it is my belief that animals of this size are more than likely to be heavily opportunistic hunters and willing to stomach a variety of foods. The ideal place for them to hunt down these foods would indeed, as portrayed by Csotonyi, be in the dense undergrowth of the forest where, if the coloration of the feathering filaments is correct, the reds and light bands on the tail would blend in with the browns and ruddy colors of the forest floor's low sunlight needing ferns.

©Australian Museum
Ill. James Reece
The banding is pretty universally accepted by paleontologists as being the correct coloration of the animal as far as current science can ascertain from studying the feathering filaments that were present with the skeleton and have pigmentation chemicals found within their fossils. That being said, the illustration by James Reece for the Australian Museum is not necessarily incorrect. There is no way, that I know of at present, to conclude that Sinosauropteryx remained the same color for all of its life, for seasons of the year, or even that they were not sexually dimorphic with the females lacking the banding (or the males lacking the banding since I have not looked into which the pigmented skeleton is yet). In the undergrowth of the forest any of the three scenarios is plausible and Reece's fawn coloration is a pattern seen throughout deep woodland animal's histories especially amongst the young of several species currently; this includes deer, tapirs, quoll, and even woodpeckers. It is simple camouflage at its best to be honest, and it makes a great deal of sense for an underbrush predator to have coloring like this at some point in its life or for one sex to be colored this way also.

This illustration is the one in the bunch that I have found that I do not readily adopt as plausible. The only reason for this is the lack of feathering to the entirety of the body. We know for a fact that there were basal filament based feathers on this skeleton of this animal. In fact, it here appears to be covered in more of a hair than a downy feathering or even a filament feathering. We know, we think, for a fact what the coloration of this animal was. Now, despite not following the coloration of the feathers, we can live with the Jurassic Park V. antirrhopus coloring scheme, the only feathering we see on this body is at the tip of the tail. This is a decidedly lizard like representation of an animal that seemed to be leaning much more toward birds, and we would like to see that more in the illustration. It's good in terms of overall shape, but it just does not convey an image of a paranoid, quick, underbrush predator that reacts quickly and with speed.

27 April 2012

Chinese Reptilian Wings

Image by IVPP
The 90's were a decade of plenty in Chinese paleontology, in all paleontology to be sure, but especially in China. Many new discoveries kept surfacing and one of the most important was the discovery of Sinosauropteryx. Sinosauropteryx prima, which I have to admit is not the most imaginative specific name for a dinosaur ever, was a fantastic find for a number of reasons, one of which has influenced the art and theories of a generation of paleontologists already. Sinosauropteryx was discovered possessing the filaments for simple feathers. That was not where the wonder ended either. Probing the minutiae of these filament feathers yielded evidence of the coloring of Sinosauropteryx, another paleontological first. As always in science there is a debate surrounding the feather or collagen origin of the fibers and the coloring scheme of a banded light-red-light tail has been questioned as well, but every theory has supporters as well as skeptics.

Members of the compsognathids, these were some tiny little dinosaurs, in numbers dangerous to a human sized animal for sure but a nuisance (or a ridiculously awesome pet maybe?) when they were alone. For an animal the size of a Jack Russell Terrier they had astoundingly long tails, at least the length of their body nose to hips jutting out from behind those hips. A tail that doubles your body length is clearly, if not that of a spider monkey, for balance. Sinosauropteryx is a lot like a Compsognathus really in its forma and size. I have not looked yet, but I am sure there is a theory somewhere about Sinosauropteryx being a migrated and evolved version of a Compy. As a very important find in the history of life on Earth, we will have more than a ton to talk about the rest of this week. For now, however, bask in the feathered glory of Zhao and Xing's illustration. Are they going after prey? Is it a courtship dance? A fight over territory? You decide!

26 April 2012

Famous Stegosaurs in History

Obviously we saw that Tuojiangosaurus is mentioned in both the Weirdest Dinosaurs television program as well as the National Geographic magazine edition that preceded it. It's in both sporting those crazy shoulder spikes unfortunately, but it is there nonetheless. Additionally, I can tell you that the skeletons that are mounted for sure at this time are in Chongqing's Municipal Museum and a cast is on display in London's Museum of Natural History. There are other popular culture areas which Tuojiangosaurus has populated recently. One of these places is Spore, with shoulder spikes:

Another video I found on Youtube is of an origami Tuojiangosaurus, which is just amazing to see. This woman actually has to stop for about 5 seconds in the sped up video to go change into pajamas, that's how long it took her.

There are also Dinosaur King cards that have Tuojiangosaurus featured. I can't tell you how powerful the cards are, but they look pretty mighty for a stegosaurid. They also all have the shoulder spikes. I don't really know who started that, but it's clearly out of control!

25 April 2012

What Makes This Special?

Number One: Of the two original skeletons, one was nearly half complete and the other was nearly all complete. Finding two highly completed skeletons when finding a new dinosaur is so rare that this find was better than good luck it was amazingly supreme fantastic amounts of luck playing out in China as the teams dug up these bones. A lot of information about some skeletons is educated estimation and educated guessing, but very little of that was needed with Tuojiangosaurus on account of the fact that the skeletons were so nearly complete. How does that happen anyhow? Clearly these animals were either buried very quickly when they died or died because they were covered quickly. It's sad to think that such a thing had to happen in order for us to study these magnificent skeletons, and they are magnificent in their own ways. Not everyone loves the stegosaurs but these skeletons are highly fascinating thanks to their well preserved state.

Number Two: People imagine up some fascinating things for this animal and explain them as being missing from the skeletons. When a T. rex is missing bones no one imagines that it had five fingers and a war club on its tail, but with Tuojiangosaurus which is missing some tail and leg bones on the better specimen, people have imagined up some crazy additions. National Geographic and others put giant spikes on the shoulders of Tuojiangosaurus like it was a Kentrosaurus. Gregory Paul has put six spikes on the tail instead of the customary stegosaurid four. Does that mean it is incorrect? Not necessarily, but only one other species, Dacentrurus, has multiple tail spikes represented on it. Imagination is the place where the study of dinosaurs starts though, if you remember back to childhood, so we can't really fault anyone if they want to imagine that Tuojiangosaurus wore a hat and danced the rumba if they want to.

Number Three: Finding fossils of this and other stegosaur species in Asia shows just how proficient they were at adapting to different lands throughout time. There have been stegosaurs found on every continent save Australia, South America, and Antarctica, to my knowledge, and their existence spans from the mid Jurassic to almost the mid Cretaceous which is a long time for dinosaurs, especially given that many genera seemed to have gone into extinction or radically changed at the Jurassic-Cretaceous boundary areas.

24 April 2012

One Day We Shall Find It

There are papers on Tuojiangosaurus. Are they on the internet? Some of them are. Most of the directly related papers in which only Tuojiangosaurus were studied are not, but that's okay. We have an entry from Carpenter and Currie's Dinosaur Systematics book by Dong Zhiming about Asian Stegosaurs which of course discusses Tuojiangosaurus. There is also another paper from 1980 by Zhiming about the stratigraphic positions of Chinese dinosaurs. I will not lie to you, it is a fairly dry read if, like me, you're more of a biological paleontologist than a geographic paleontologist; no arguments about which is better thank you. I just don't get that excited about the rock and mineral side of the science; I'm all about the living part and how muscles worked and what Tuojiangosaurus used its plates for and how it moved. Still, this Chinese fauna paper is a good read because it discusses where in the soil these animals are found in China. The last thing I have to share today is a Dodson on Dinosaurs article from American Paleontologist. The article discusses a lot of what has made China a hot spot for fossils, Chinese naming of dinosaurs, and he even takes a moment to remind everyone that China now has more genera than the U.S. (since 2007 actually). His article isn't about Tuojiangosaurus honestly, but it tells us a lot about how and why China is so important in the paleontological sciences these days.

23 April 2012

Little Screen Time

The Tuojiangosaurus just simply has not made its way onto television and certainly not the movies. The lack of documentaries on Chinese dinosaurs, actually, is quite sad. If anyone wants to donate a couple of million we can try to remedy that, until then, I certainly cannot afford it and we therefore have to find what we can find when we have a Chinese dinosaur as far as movies and television. The one thing we do have is National Geographic's Weirdest Dinosaurs. Granted the animal isn't correct, remember the spike conversations, but it does at least momentarily get mentioned on television at least once. We could make a long series of films on each family's evolution though if you think about it, so even a small mention is not too bad. Take a gander friends (it's in around the 25th minute of the documentary):

22 April 2012

Coloring Break

©Josep Zacarias
I would have written this about ten minutes ago, but I found an online coloring page, in French, and got into it. I colored a beautiful Tuojiangosaurus. KidsDinos is back this week with some quick fun facts for kids like how to pronounce Tuojiangosaurus (Too-oh-jee-ang-sore-uss here but toh-HWANG-oh-SORE-us according to Also, my DeviantArt acquaintance Josep Zacarias, as long as he doesn't mind, has created this very nice rendition of Tuojiangosaurus above which would make a wonderful coloring page to print off and color; notice the lack of spikes discussed yesterday, hooray for no spikes! It's too bad there's no scenery in it, but you can add your own kids! Just remember, Tuojiangosaurus most likely lived on a floodplain so you should surround it with low ferns, tall fern like trees, and little streams and ponds or a swamp like area. Either that or you can do whatever the heck you want to the background because that's half the fun of coloring and using your imagination!

21 April 2012

The Old and The New

Those of you who read Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs ought to love this first picture. Vintage art may be quite incorrect, but who can argue with its quality for the time and place in which it was originally created? Obviously living in the current general consensus that we live in on body shape and the way that shape is held, this Tuojiangosaurus looks horrendous with its identical size fore and hind legs and the overall lazy bell curve shape of the spine and body. However, at the time in which this image was painted this was a fantastic work of art showing a majestic dinosaur foraging, or looking about anyhow, in a dense forest, nevermind that an animal that size probably wouldn't be able to waddle itself into the dense forest, and that is wonderful enough to overlook some of the anatomical problems that this animals is facing, like being called a Tuojiangosaurus when it has Kentrosaurus shoulder spikes. This will also be a problem later on.

©Scott Hartman
The type specimen of Tuojiangosaurus, as noted yesterday, is well over half completed. For any dinosaur that is fairly astounding. In this dinosaur it gives us a way to refute the vintage art straightaway. Obviously, first and foremost, there is no gigantic shoulder spike jutting out from the fore limbs of this animal. Neither in Hartman's wonderfully detailed schematics nor in any museum in the world does Tuojiangosaurus have enormous shoulder spikes. The body in the modern pose is quite elegant and has an energy to it. The lack of ossified tendons in the tail, again, show a flexibility of the tail to move side to side with a narrower window of vertical motion. While the type specimen was not found with its tail spikes they are known from the composite of other specimens just as the front paws and the continuation of the ribs are known. This is the dinosaur the museums of the world will show you.

Pixeldust and Renegade 9 studios for Nat. Geographic
This, unfortunately, is what the mass media is showing the public. As I promised, the shoulder spikes show up again here. This model was created, in a correct modern pose, for National Geographic's magazine/website/documentary on bizarre dinosaurs back in 2007. Bizarre it is, correct it is not. Therefore, anyone that knows this dinosaur from National Geographic might very well go to the museum and expect to see a Tuojiangosaurus with radical spikes on its shoulders defending itself from Monolophosaurus, this is obviously not going to be the case. Does misrepresentation by the media make dinosaurs more popular or less popular once people find out that what they have come to love is all fake? It's a very interesting question to be sure and one that I certainly do not have the data to interpret at this time, though I am sure that we could find the data if we wanted, after all there is a poll for everything in the world these days.

So what should Tuojiangosaurus look like all fleshed out then? That becomes are most important question considering the misinformation that is floating around and the vintage art which surfaces now and again. What should the public be looking for when they imagine the small brained not-so-gentle-giant Chinese stegosaurid? The honest answer is that they should expect to see a fairly typical stegosaurid dinosaur but with thinner, front to back, boney plates than the namesake Stegosaurus with four spikes arranged in pairs on the end of the tail. Its head is held in a middling position with its longer hind legs lifting the tail back and up over the hips behind it. The lower front legs make a wonderful springing base of energy around which the Tuojiangosaurus could shift its weight using those tall hind legs as a fulcrum with which to whip about the tail whenever the front end sprung suddenly from one position to another allowing momentum to add great amounts of energy to the tail and delivering all of that energy in a small area at the end of each keratin sheathed boney mass of tail spike. That is Tuojiangosaurus.
©Paul Heaston
Uses Gregory Paul as a model, coloring not done by Heaston as far as I can tell.

20 April 2012

News and New Dinosaurs

First and foremost, my friends and readers, I have to share with everyone the very awesome news that I have finally gotten back into school. I've been accepted to grad school and the career change now begins. However, I know that my first masters degree will help me work on this second one, so it is still a good thing that it took me one career to realize what my dream career would be. Anyhow, on to the dinosaur for the week.

If anyone knows who this belongs to, give me a shout.
In 1977 an animal from China was named and described. This occurred exactly 100 years after the naming of Stegosaurus and as such was a rather appropriate and interesting moment in paleontology. That Chinese animal, Tuojiangosaurus multipsinus, has a name that means "Tuo river lizard." Fairly similar to the contemporary Stegosaurus, this is the best known of the Chinese stegosaurids and is known originally from two skeletons; one nearly complete and one that is comprised of about half the skeletal material. The musculature of Tuojiangosaurus is different from that of Stegosaurus and this is used as evidence of different feeding habits. Also, the vertical plates on the back of Tuojiangosaurus are much different from those found on the back of a Stegosaurus or even a Kentrosaurus. The "thagomizer" (thank you very much Mr. Gary Larson), the four spikes on the end of the tail, is very much, in contrast, like those of Stegosaurus and Kentrosaurus. The apparent lack of ossified tendons in the tail lends itself to the idea that worked toward other stegosaurids using the tail as a weapon. Lacking these ossified tendons the animal is able to swing its tail in a highly flexible arc (compared to dinosaurs with stiff rigid tails) that, pivoting on the center of balance, give the animal a wide range of defensive striking distances which, in Kentrosaurus at least, included up to swatting at attackers standing near the ribs of the animal. Whether or not Tuojiangosaurus had that exact amount of flexibility remains to be seen, but wouldn't that be a fun thing to test?

19 April 2012

Silent Stars

Monolophosaurus is one of those animals I like to think of as a "silent star" or a supporting cast member. Monolophosaurus has not appeared in any documentaries as the main animal and does not have fifteen million toys modeled after it, but it is popular enough that it does show up in popular culture. The coloring page from Sunday was featured in a coloring book and there were actually two pages, the second wouldn't load. There is a coloring book somewhere that shows Monolophosaurus twice instead of the one page one dinosaur rule of typical coloring books. Dinosaur King, which almost always has managed to represent the dinosaurs we discuss here, features at least three distinct cards of Monolophosaurus as well as including it in the Japanese fighting game shown below.

Now, granted that this clip only shows it for a mere moment, but the fact is that it is in the game so if one wanted, they could play as Monolophosaurus instead of whipping it about with a water attack like that Patagosaurus did. Home model kits exist, and you can even find more toy like models if you scour the internet, but they are usually custom made and therefore more expensive; Shane Foulkes owns a studio that at one point had a large model/toy at one point.

18 April 2012

No One Ever Knows the Chinese Scientists

Monolophosaurus is not the most complete fossil ever found. It is also not the least complete. Additionally, it is not the only fossil found and named by a very prominent Chinese paleontologist that many people have never heard of despite having a career that has now spanned four decades. Three of his discoveries were named with other scientists, two with Currie and one with fellow Chinese paleontologist Young Chung Chien, but by himself, Zhao Xijin has named another fourteen species of dinosaur and found what is considered one of if not the largest dinosaur quarry in the world; a 985 foot long pit filled with over 3000 bones. He named Monolophosaurus jiangi with Philip Currie in 1994 after its crest and an "abandoned desert inn" called Jiangjunmiao near which the fossil was unearthed. The original paper of Zhao and Currie tentatively called Monolophosaurus a megalosaur, but subsequent studies and Zhao's own 2009 paper put Monolophosaurus in the area of a basal tetanuran; though others still claim allosauroid and even tyrannosauroid or ceratosauroid familial lines for Monolophosaurus. Missing as much of the skeleton as it is, it is hard to make a completely accurate assessment of the place in dinosaur history of Monolophosaurus. Another curious fact about that skeleton is that the 10th and 11th cervical vertebrae appear to be fused together, and their neural spines look as though they were fractured. Additionally, marks on the dentary bones of the animal appear to be tooth scrapes as though the animals was fighting or had been bitten near or after its death. The repairing of the vertebrae indicates that the fractures of the spines were not the actual cause of death however; you have to be alive to repair your body.

17 April 2012

Tuesday Edition of the Paper

Monolophosaurus; unique, Chinese, studied off and on, much debated. It is strange how little people seem to agree on where to place this animal in the spectrum of life. The original paper by Zhao and Currie, which is not available online, did a good job of describing the animal and made the wise concession that with much of the post-cranial skeleton missing it was difficult and nigh on impossible to precisely place Monolophosaurus taxonomically. They did however go on to say that the dinosaur was much closer to Allosaurus than it was to most other theropods. Sadly, as noted, this paper is not free to the public due to copyright restraints and is not hosted anywhere as more than the abstract. Brusatte, Benson, Currie, and Zhao decided to try to tackle  Monolophosaurus and where it fit in 16 years later, in 2010, by analyzing the impact that the animal has had on what we know of theropod evolution. In attempting this task you have to assign it a place either in the beginning or in the end of your reasoning else you cannot state how its skull, the main evidence in debate, influenced later theropods. If it was a Ceratosaur, an Allosaur, a Megalosaur, or a Tetanuran it becomes highly relevant to what animals may have been affected by the existence of Monolophosaurus; these by the way are the placements that are debated over still for Monolophosaurus. In the end, after a very detailed, long, and in depth study of the skull of Monolophosaurus and what it means for theropod evolution, the paper concludes that...

That Monolophosaurus is indeed dangerous.

I'll just let you read the paper and find out their conclusion!

16 April 2012

Trying To Be a Star Since 1984

When a dinosaur like Monolophosaurus is pulled out of the ground these days the internet speeds that news like nobody's business (whatever that really means). Back in 1984 that kind of news stayed within the general field, some books here and there, and if it was local the television news. Not many Chinese broadcast stations reached globally at the time. Since then this decorated dinosaur has been able to reach out and gain some fans the world over, but not too many. Due to this slow acceptance of our friend Monolophosaurus, the videos for movie Monday are quite limited down to fan created videos and no documentaries. This has happened before, not a huge deal really when you come down to it. So what do you get to see today in videos? How about the classic "tribute" video first?
I also want to include another video that's the same idea because I think overall this guy does a pretty good job putting videos together of this nature.

15 April 2012

Somedays You Have No Luck

Children get the raw end of the deal in dinosaurs sometimes I have noticed. If anyone would like to work on a website aimed at bringing dinosaurs to children, let me know; though I cannot promise I will have a ton of free time coming up as I have just been accepted into a grad school and will go back to being a student after five years in August. I would like to see a site dedicated to bringing all species of dinosaurs to children one day instead of just the most popular dinosaurs which we always find. That being said, there are only two links I have for today. One is to an Encyclopedia Jr. article on Monolophosaurus which basically takes some of the science out of the standard encyclopedia entry and I am only going to link this coloring page. The reason for doing that is that the illustrator of the page was commissioned to draw the page for a coloring book two years ago so, while it is still his property it also the property of the coloring book publishers and next month could roll around before I get permission to actually post the picture itself.

14 April 2012

The Many Monolophosaurus

©Scott Hartman
Skeletal Drawing

The skeleton of the type fossil of Monolophosaurus is clearly not complete. This does happen. The sadness behind that is that there is no other fossil known at this time. As you can see, Scott Hartman has filled in a lot of the skeletal details the way he does for other animals by using existing animals as reference, though he still left the tail unfinished, it gives us a good idea of the animals. The fact that Monolophosaurus had a complete skull is very important because without that characteristic and amazing skull ridge, we would have no idea that these fossil remains actually belong to an individual of a distinct species rather than a species that was previously known. The skull is, itself, the distinguishing and most interesting feature that exists of the skeleton and where the name of the animal came from initially, making it that much more important to the remains.
©Paul Heaston

That crest on Monolophosaurus is open to interpretation. Some crests that will be illustrated are small things, just the ridges of the actual bone covered in skin. This is not necessarily incorrect. Then there are interpretations which extended the crest a little, such as this one, so that the skin has shown some extra personality in addition to what the bone has done on the skeleton. Considering the use of this crest was most likely for display, as is assumed in the makeup of many other crests such as those sported by Cryolophosaurus and Ceratosaurus, individuality would have been more the norm than the exception. The crest itself would have marked the species but the individual hues and bumps would have marked an individual and allowed that individual to show itself as impressive and frightening or, dare we say it, sexy.

©Michael Skrepnick
Monolophosaurus was definitely a predator. The assumption, because of the timeframe, and body build it seems to have had, is that it had Allosaurus like claws. The argument could also be made, though, that it may have had Ceratosaurus like claws. The difference between the two is strength and number. Allosaurus claws were stronger and three digits were expressed whereas Ceratosaurus had four weaker claws. The strength of Ceratosaurus, however, was in its jaws. The jaws of Monolophosaurus do not exhibit the same shearing teeth of Ceratosaurus, so perhaps that is why the illustrations favor the Allosaurus body type with a good balance of speed, claws, and jaws. We know, of course, that the ridge on the skull is not used in fighting or hunting, however, the risk of breaking any bone does exist and should that bone be broken during a conflict I could only imagine the pain that would be involved for an animal of that size considering how thick the bone seems to be, for a relatively thin bone as it is, but thick as far as something being broken and the amount of stress that that would require to break. Most likely, the Monolophosaurus probably raced down its prey and used strong slashes of claws and quick bites to take down prey without exposing itself to any injury crest or otherwise.

©Alain Beneteau
I don't think I want to say much about feathering. Feathering is the big thing these days because we have been finding so much evidence of dinosaurs having feathers, which is awesome. This illustration shows up the feathers and downplays the crest as though it was not nearly as important which is both kind of interesting and a new take on it which makes this rather large animal look a great deal like the dromaeosaurs and very avian. It even has a tiny little wattle like a turkey, which is neat.

13 April 2012

One Crest To Rule All China

©Jordan Mallon

In Middle Jurassic China there were many animals like those found all over the globe. I believe we will spend some time in the Chinese landscape of the Jurassic for the next few entries. The first will be of this guy here: Monolophosaurus jiangi, also known once as "Jiangjunmiaosaurus" which is now not used. Only one known fossil, the type fossil, exists of this, possibly, 16 foot predator. This animal is not considered a foreign Allosaur, as we have seen in the past, but neither is it a foreign Ceratosaur, which would also make sense for its time frame of life which is about 168 to 161 million years ago. Resting in the "Super"family of the Megalosauroidea Monolophosaurus appears to have been consigned to the role of basal Tetanurian, or "stiff tailed" dinosaur as it has not been placed within the Megalosaur family or any other significant family. There has been mention, and this was honestly my first opinion, that Monolophosaurus might be considered an early Ceratosaur or Allosaur based on the head crest and basic skull design. The paper that details this point of view will be discussed on Tuesday as I find it fairly interesting.

12 April 2012

Gastonia in the Popular World

Gastonia has managed to hit a few popular areas in its short time as a discovered species. In part, that is due to the surroundings in which it was found and the predators with which it was lying the quarry. If Gastonia had been found with a flock of Coelophysis then maybe its discovery would not have been such a big deal and its impact on the popular culture may not have been so large. Actually, that's not true, a Cretaceous herbivore of that size showing up in the same level as a Triassic animal would have been alarming at the very least to pretty much every scientist in the world. Regardless, Gastonia was discovered relatively near Utahraptor, one of the larger and more deadly appearing dromaeosaurs of the Cretaceous. Gastonia's defensive make-up may have been enough even, actually, to make it a star, but the speculation that this predator and prey may have exchanged beatings proved too exciting for scientists and the general public to dismiss. Robert Bakker used Gastonia to populate his world in the story Raptor Red and described its behaviors and the world it lived in. Though not the titular character or a pivotal character necessarily, the Gastonia portrayed in the book has a club like tail, which is not completely known to have been present also.

Another place Gastonia appears is in the creature creator for Spore
and also in Jurassic Fight Club where a fight between a Gastonia and a Utahraptor is depicted in which both animals die of their wounds shortly after the battle.
Gastonia appears a few other places including an article I found enjoyable about the science of dinosaur weapons. It's got some pretty good animals and suggestions in there, not too many though.

11 April 2012

Robert Gaston and Gastonia

Robert Gaston, founder of Gaston Design, a dinosaur replica producing company, found Gastonia in the shifting earth of Utah. The replicas that they produce look to be very fine pieces of sculpture, basically, which is nice for collectors, though not for poor people like me for sure. Regardless, the Cedar Mountain formation yielded the original specimen at a time described as approximately 126 million years ago and the animal was named by James Kirkland after Robert Gaston. There has been more material collected on Gastonia than all other single species of ankylosaur dinosaurs thus far. In fact, there was so much disarticulated bone about the skeleton there was no assured count of the number of spikes that Gastonia should have on its upper body when it was found. The restorations done so far are pretty much educated guesses, but very good ones that are highly reliable, so they are probably spot on or extremely close as far as we can tell. Perhaps one day the fully articulated skeleton of a Gastonia will emerge and we can successfully answer that question, but not for the moment at least.

10 April 2012

North Carolina Gets In the Way

Every time I look up Gastonia without clearly mentioning that it's a dinosaur I get heavily annoyed. Even today, looking for scientific papers, I had to weed out articles on North Carolina! It's crazy, but what am I to do? I have, however, found a nice article put out by the state of Utah which discusses the site, the finds, and the meaning of the finds at the site. So far it is the most informative piece I have yet to come across. It was written by James Kirkland, the naming and describing persona behind Utahraptor and Gastonia both. I believe he is still employed by the state as a paleontologist. I have never had the pleasure to speak with him, but everything I have seen him talking in makes him appear to be a very jovial and fun guy, which is always nice. James Kirkland is also responsible, with Kenneth Carpenter, Donald Burge, and John Bird, for an article on fauna present in the Cedar Mountain formation of Utah. It mentions not only Gastonia, but all the fauna found in the formation including other ankylosaurs as well as predators. Both papers are worth a quick read, and hopefully you will get more information about Gastonia from them.

09 April 2012

Movie Monday

Whether you like Jurassic Fight Club or not, Gastonia figured rather largely in an episode with Utahraptor.
Unfortunately the entire episode is not online anywhere, so we will just have to deal with clips. Some may like it better that way since so many have complained about the show in the past. No comments about feathers or lack thereof at this time please; we would like to keep things civil around here.

Another video that we can share is Dinosaur George answering a question about Gastonia. There really isn't anything else available documentary wise, so today is kind of a short day to begin with. However, enjoy what you have!

08 April 2012

It's the Easter Gastonia!

I could, but I will not, put bunny ears on Gastonia today. If there were a picture of it laying eggs I would certainly contemplate decorating those eggs however. There are, though, a few Gastonia links for the kids today if the decided to get away from their high sugar intake. No coloring pages today, but a few links and maybe the Easter Bunny could have brought a Gastonia toy as well. Children should be sure when they search Gastonia, though, that they search for the dinosaur (e.g. "Gastonia dinosaur") and not just Gastonia or they will find themselves in a slew of websites referencing Gastonia, North Carolina. Once those are weeded out there are plenty of books that mention or show Gastonia available. There are also toys, though this particular one was custom made by the poster on the forum. Our typical children friendly fact pages do not return any results, however, does feature a page for Gastonia as does Sheppard Software's dinosaur site. The Sheppard Software site is a little less educational, but it's a good short version of Gastonia.

07 April 2012

The Skeleton of Amazement

©Andrey Atuchin
Gastonia, named for Robert Gaston the man who uncovered the bones for the first time, was definitely a biological tank of the Early Cretaceous. Unlike his later cousins Euoplocephalus and Ankylosaurus, he was nearly completely defensive with only shoulder spikes and lateral spikes to serve as offensive weapons; though one could suppose that any dinosaur that could build up a little steam could simply "bar-room brawl" its enemies to the ground like a linebacker should they appear otherwise defenseless. However, sometimes patience and spikes are fabulous defensive weapons and strong enough to frustrate as well as injure any predator trying to get a bite out of you. Oh, and let's not forget that general body stature sometimes plays a part in staying alive. Gastonia was built like a tank, and it was also barely off the ground, for a dinosaur. This general configuration gives it a fantastic center of gravity that, should it play into the mind of a predator to tip over Gastonia, they would expend a massive amount of energy before they succeeded. Being able, with this body design, to keep your attacker in your sights and to ward off thrusts with spikes and by lowering your soft belly, more often than not most likely won out the day and would have allowed Gastonia to continue its lawnmower activities.

Speaking of which, what does the dental battery of a Gastonia look like? It actually just looks like a the teeth of a file have been very carefully inserted into the mouth of Gastonia. It also appears as though there was plenty of space for a cheek, which is a wonderful adaptation for an herbivorous animal to possess. The sharp edged beak in front could sheer off plant matter and, with the help of the tongue and lips, pass that plant matter back into the grinder of teeth which could tear the plant matter further. Notice that the teeth are actually sharper than they are flat. Without the ability to mash the vegetation with flat teeth the Gastonia would have most likely possessed an active gizzard full of stones to smash the vegetation up as needed. Gastonia possessing a cheek would then allow for this mashed mixture to be passed back up, as in cows and other ruminants, to be gnashed at by the teeth again with the cheek and tongue working in conjunction with the teeth to hold and move the mixture as it is chewed up again for further digestion. No cheek means no ability to keep the plant matter in the mouth, which would make chewing cud completely futile for this animal and if that is the case then all essential digestion would occur in the stomach and/or gizzard.

Gastonia's entire skeleton is jaw dropping really. The mouth and skull are great in their very turtle-like solidness; very anapsid like of Gastonia to have a skull like that actually. That is not the only part of the anatomy which has been recovered though. The remainder of the skeleton paints a rather interesting picture as well. The pelvic or sacral armor girdle is a sheet of solid bone. I have not actually checked to see if it is many fused bones or one enormous bone, but either way it is a sod mass of strong bone protecting the hips, the base of the tail, and the middle of the torso. The tail itself has little to no protection of its own. The spikes and armored plates on the upper torso and shoulders are impressive as well though. The tallest spikes are actually near the center of the back with two slightly shorter thumbtack like spikes above the shoulders and facing out from the lateral surface of the shoulders. Along that line down the side of the animal more spikes protrude and, if flexible enough, could certainly been overlapped by Gastonia in a scissor-like gesture; more on this idea later. The solid plates of bone without spikes were obviously more for deterring teeth and claws than for use as an offensive weapon, but their use was important as well.

06 April 2012

Back in North America

Technically, I know, we have been talking about North America a lot lately, but in the subject of pterosaurs, not dinosaurs. A great deal of the past few months of dinosaurs have been African, which is all well and good, but this dinosaur is American again. Obviously that means I am not tossing myself mercilessly upon the back of the Yutyrannus bus that is screaming out of the station right now.

No, what I'm talking about this week is Gastonia burgei. Gastonia is a nodosaur that runs approximately 125 million years old as the fossil record goes. In my mind I remember Gastonia just like I remember Kentrosaurus; as the prickly older cousin of Ankylosaurus in the same way that Kentrosaurus is Stegosaurus' prickly contemporary cousin. Why would I need to equate the two? I cannot really be sure either, but I guess in part of my mind I lump "prickly" dinosaurs together in a separate category from armored dinosaurs (I guess that makes horned ceratopsians prickly armored dinosaurs doesn't it?). Gastonia was plucked from the same quarry in Utah as Utahraptor and was named in 1998 by James Kirkland who also named Utahraptor. Despite being a cousin of Ankylosaurus, the most famous of the Ankylosauria, it is not as closely related to Ankylosaurus as it is animals like Polacanthus which also features a pelvic or sacral armor girdle and shoulder spikes like Gastonia. Gastonia is an herbivore and as such its main enemies during its lifetime would have been predators like Acrocanthosaurus and Utahraptor. It has been mentioned in literature that the male Gastonia may have competed in leks for mates and that they may have wallowed in shallow pools to keep cool during the mating competitions, though this is, of course, speculation as no solid evidence for either has yet been found in the fossil record.

05 April 2012

The Wing King

Gliding over South Bank
Quetzalcoatlus has been everywhere we have looked this past week. Soaring through coloring pages, gliding across television screens in cartoon and serious form, diving as models to test aerodynamics, and even loping curiously across the plains as statues and toys. They have been used to inspire military programs, decorate the Royal Society's 350th Anniversary, and even served as the basis for a Smithsonian based project. This entry could last all day if I shared all of the popular culture links to Quetzalcoatlus. The question then becomes, what have we not mentioned even once this entire week that would be completely new and exciting information? What can we discuss today that has not been discussed yet? What are we missing? A history lesson.

You don't want to see him when he's angry!
Perhaps a history lesson is not exactly exciting, but if you like history this will be enjoyable. Quetzalcoatlus, for those that do not know, was not a name snatched out of the air and does not mean anything excitingly funny like "ugly faced bat creature" or anything of that nature. Quetzalcoatlus is simply a name that honors another reptile based ancient of southern North America. The name actually comes from the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl whose name means, in Nahuatl, Feathered Serpent. The various depictions of Quetzalcoatl show that, generally speaking, the god had the face of a dragon, but also had arms and legs. In true Aztec fashion he was always decked out in a ton of accessories that showed he was ready to fight, protect, feed hummingbirds, charm snakes, or give you the middle finger. Quetzalcoatl was too cool to care what puny mortals thought of him because he had an important job to do; he was the boundary and protector of the boundary between earth and sky (kind of like some giant flying reptile that could also walk on land). Quetzalcoatl was also a creation force, the wind, a year (1519 or One Reed) that just happened to see Cortes land in Mexico- who was taken as Quetzalcoatl in human form according to legend/history- and start his pummeling of the native Aztecs, and an official priestly title.

I wasn't lying.
He also possessed the ability to turn into a giant feathered serpent and eat men. Whole. No chewing involved. While still wearing some of his eccentric "god wear." There are many interpretations in Aztec literature, yes it does still exist, as well as in Western literature including missives by the Latter Day Saints. The Mormons compared Quetzalcoatl to Christ and said they are the same. That is an interesting standpoint, and certainly not one I am about to refute, the reason why being that I am not overly convicted to any single religious belief and also, I have a zanier theory for you right here; not that I'm calling Mormons zany. Something to think on the rest of the day: What if a few animals, and this has been put forth before, managed to survive the last great extinction before man, just an ever dwindling number of dinosaurs or pterosaurs and they just happened to survive just long enough for the earliest settlers to thrust into the Americas came along? Wouldn't it make some sense that some of these animals may have just happened to adopt more feathering or bristling, just maybe, to survive the ice age but were still very slowly over many millions of years, dying out and may have looked like feathered serpents? Ponder that crazy what if scenario!

04 April 2012

The Diet of A Giant


Douglas Lawson found the first Quetzalcoatlus remains (that we know of; it is rather convenient that Mesoamerican mythology has a "feathered serpent god") and three years later rejected the idea of piscivorous diet. He, instead, opted for a scavenger's diet spotting carcasses from kills and natural death from the sky and gliding down to commandeer the animal from others in order to take a fairly easy meal. This, in turn, was rejected by Lehmann and Langston in 1996 who suggested that with a toothless beak and a certain configuration of the cervical vertebrae Quetzalcoatlus made for a competent skimmer. They proposed that the giant pterosaur flew over bodies of water at wave top heights picking out fish and anything else that wandered too close to the surface. A study in 2007 showed that drag and energy consumption in fighting drag would have been too large for the animal to sustain flight and get a worthwhile meal in this fashion however, and the idea was, again, rejected.

I kid you not, that heron really ate a rabbit!
In 2008 Witton and Naish put forth the idea that has been presented here using one of Witton's own illustrations. The idea was that Quetzalcoatlus, gliding along, found small prey items- lizards, baby Alamosaurus, small mammals, amphibians- and then landed and scooped them. They presented information that showed that Quetzalcoatlus was comfortable on the ground as well as in the air and that the remains of the animal were almost always found inland where there was no water of sufficient size for this large animal to skim the surface of. All of these studies in addition to what very little is known of the actual flight properties of this pterosaur point toward Witton and Naish's latest study as the most probable diet for Quetzalcoatlus. Additionally, taking examples from the modern world as we do, it is not so difficult a theory to accept as there are certainly birds that, while they do spend a good amount of time being graceful aerial acrobats, do spend the majority of their time on the ground stalking small food items. Just look at these guys eating over here.

03 April 2012

It's Everywhere!

I could wave my hand and find for you fifteen papers on Quetzalcoatlus. I woke up late and haven't had time to read any, however. Because of this, I am going to post links to the searches, read them this afternoon and during free spaces in my work day, and then recommend some this evening. I hate doing it this way, but it makes the most sense to do this job the best possible way for me to do it this way.
Google Search
PlosOne Search
I will update this sometime after 3:15 (CDT) today, promise!

I did not, during my work day, have much time for reading. However, I would like to note some papers that intrigued me by title alone, if I may. The first one is not so much a paper as it is a poster presentation in pdf by Atanassov and Strauss from Texas Tech that deals with methods of estimating body weight in Quetzalcoatlus as well as in Archaeopteryx. I like how well thought out their idea is, great details. That is a lot for a poster I will admit; I would much rather talk to the gentlemen than read all of that if I were at a conference, but of course, that's not the case and so I am happy to read the poster. Another paper I will take some time to read based on abstract and title is Witton and Habib's On the Size and Flight Diversity of Giant Pterosaurs, the Use of Birds as Pterosaur Analogues and Comments on Pterosaur Flightlessness, which is a mouthful, but is also a topic I find very interesting (in case my readers have failed to notice somehow my occupation with the idea of pterosaur flight in the last month). One more piece I would recommend reading is a download provided by Mark Witton from his website. Since it downloads directly, I can only link its location on Google to accurately bring you to it (he has a great deal of publications listed on his site and finding it can be more time consuming than this). It is well thought out and I did get a chance to sit and read this, and it is worth the five minutes or so it takes to read and more if it takes more!

02 April 2012

Where Should I Stop Writing Today?

There are videos everywhere! I haven't had these many videos to sort through since we highlighted T. Rex and Allosaurus type dinosaurs; animals with much larger profiles than we have delved into of late. I hate to call any documentary inaccurate, especially with pterosaurs because we know those are not my area of specialty, but let us not forget that Discovery's production companies have a history of embellishment at times; I believe it was Matt Wedel who warned that Dangerous LTD., the production company for Clash of the Dinosaurs, had edited out interview segments to deliver science they wanted to deliver for the biggest entertainment value not necessarily the best science documentary. That grain of salt added to your dish, there are two clips available on that came from Discovery's program Clash of the Dinosaurs.

There have been attempts at documenting the ability of Quetzalcoatlus' flight capabilities recorded and saved, thankfully, from a 1984 trial by Paul MacCready who had a model built and flown to test the aerodynamics of the pterosaur. It's a grainy video, but one cannot really expect much from an almost thirty year old video no matter how well kept in the basement of a museum or library.
Another show, Sky Monsters, is a 2005 National Geographic produced program that examines pterosaurs as an entire group. NatGeo's CG budget is notably lower than Discovery's, but there is a lot of work put into the science here. I am only going to post the first of four videos, so it is up to the readers to continue on to the other three parts of the video, but I assure everyone that it is very much worth the clicking on links at the end of the video!

01 April 2012

Children Love Airplane Size Reptiles

First and foremost, no April Fool's jokes today. I seriously considered trying something, but I didn't want to in the end. Second, now that March is officially over I would again like to thank all the readers and other blogs that have connected with us here at Dinosaur of the Week like Love in the time of Chasmosaurs in making this past month the most successful month we have had here in sharing our love of dinosaurs, flying reptiles, and other paleo-critters. The final tally for March was 5,122 views, shattering our highest view tally of 2,000ish.

That said and done, on to the children's links for the week! This week we have a veritable forest of links. In part due to Quetalcoatlus' size the amazement this flying reptile has brought to the world has captured enough imaginations that it has become a much sought after subject for all mediums in the wide range of "dinosaur paraphernalia" that one can find in toy stores, coloring books, television and other places. Obviously museums have done their share of sharing this grand animal, see my photo from Houston as one example. There are coloring pages all over including the one shown above, which I thought was a fantastic rendition of both simple coloring fun and an anatomy lesson on the bone placements of Quetzalcoatlus; subliminal learning at its finest for the wee little ones! Instead of linking every individual coloring page I found, check out the first five or so results from this search and I think you will be satisfied.

Returning to us today is Kid's Dinos as well as Kid's Dinosaurs, two different sites, two different formats of learning facts for Quetzalcoatlus, and nice timeline/map graphics for those visual learners. Additionally, there are two episodes of Dinosaur Train, I am saving other documentaries for tomorrow, that feature Quetzalcoatlus. The one that features this animal most prominently is titled "The Wing Kings" and has Mr. Q and Quincy Quetzalcoatlus as its main characters outside the Pteranodon family. That episode should come straight up if you have Netflix and click on this link, but if not, well, if you have Netflix you should be able to navigate from there anyway I would imagine. There are also books and toys, but seeing as how this has been a long enough entry for Kid's Day Sunday, I think I will save those for Thursday!