STL Science Center

STL Science Center

31 December 2012

Not A Surprising Lack of Movies

Not surprisingly, with a lack of general public awareness and the entire mystery surrounding Amphicoelias, there have not been any fantastic movie, cartoon (as noted yesterday), or computer graphics modelling done with Amphicoelias. Personally, I think that some computer modelling to answer whether or not Amphicoelias could reasonably do this task or another task would be a wonderful thing. Modelling the impact of the feet as Amphicoelias simply walked based on the described dimensions from Cope would be an amazing thing to see. Dinosaur George was asked a question about Amphicoelias two years ago and answered it in a video, but I have not seen anything more in depth from him about it since then. I know more information would be needed than Cope's dimensions to go through with the computer modelling accurately; however, I can dream that it can be done accurately now as much as I can hope that more of the remains are found some day either on purpose or by happy accident.

30 December 2012

The Mystery That Eludes Children

The mystery around Amphicoelias is elusive to children. Unfortunately they do not have the resources to join this debate unless they can read the technical specifications of the specimen; that is that they can understand the published Cope paper or follow the encyclopedia/technical blog entries that discuss it. That is not to put down kids, but I am talking about my normal aim on Sundays, the 2-8 year old group, approximately. A 7 year old may be able to read "neural arch" and understand an explanation of it, but it just is not the same as the quick easy to read fact pages that I like to post for younger kids. Really I should get off my "lazy" (I write every morning, go to school, teach, and do a couple other things that take up a lot of time so I consider myself relatively lazy compared to some other people at least in this world) butt and start a child oriented website or blog. Maybe I should start a poll on who thinks I should do that...

Anyhow, back to topic! There are no Amphicoelias websites for children, which is sad. There are also no coloring pages that seem readily available. Strike that, there are a couple of suitable sketches that could be used as coloring pages, but that was not their intended purpose. I have a couple of requests to use artwork here as coloring sheets pending, so check back later today and hopefully I will have updated or at least provided a link. Dinosaur Train and Dinosaur King do not cover the dinosaur, so I have no cartoons to share either. Darren Naish, in two blog entries (one here) used an image from a Jaanese website that proposes new "zoids" for the anime and model kit franchise under the same name. It was aired for a little while back in the late 1990's in America under the titles Zoids and Zoids Sagas, but I cannot say if the image used by Darren Naish and featured on the Japanese site was ever turned into a model or used in the anime. That is, unfortunately, the best cartoon-related information we have for Amphicoelias this week. Just for kicks actually, here is that image from the Naish/Japanese websites:
Update #1 from
His caption: Anonymous request: an Amphicoelias rearing up to munch on some trees.

Since I figured Amphicoelias probably didn't need to rear up if it felt like feeding on a tree (if it even ate from them), I just did this silly thing instead.

29 December 2012

Enormous Imaginations

©Charles R. Knight
No matter how outdated a Charles Knight illustration, I still love them. When drawing Amphicoelias Knight borrowed from the descriptions of the time and from Cope's description of Amphicoelias as well as descriptions of other sauropods, notable Diplodocus. The aquatic life of Amphicoelias, if it had been able to live such a life and raise its head like a periscope, there is no telling if the vertebrae of this animal would have allowed for such range of motion because we do not have them to look at, it would have been safe from almost every predator that could have lived in the water. In fresh water its size would have granted it near immunity from the crocodilians (Deinosuchus even probably) and in the marine world, has it ventured there with this once popular lifestyle idea, it most certainly would have been safe from the so called ginsu sharks (Cretoxyrhina) and the largest Mosasaurs (seeing as how they were more of swallow whole predators only parts of Amphicoelias would be on the menu anyhow). However, Knight's depiction is sorely outdated by modern science and so, as much fun as it is to look at, we know that they would not have lived in such an environment. It is still a very interesting illustration.

What about those pesky land predators, the theropods? Yesterday's image compared the two species of Amphicoelias to a human being, this image, however, is comparing Tyrannosaurus rex and Amphicoelias fragilimus to one another. Clearly the largest predator of all time in North America would have had trouble taking down a monstrous behemoth like Amphicoelias. This introduces an interesting quandary: What was the ecological impact of Amphicoelias? Certainly other Jurassic hunters would have had issues with taking down the adults if a T. rex was this much smaller than A. fragilimus. Even a pack of ravenous Allosaurus probably could not muster up the killing ability to take down a healthy adult. The herds of Amphicoelias could not have grown unchecked or the other herbivores of the Jurassic would have found themselves under a great deal of pressure to find vegetation because the sheer size of this animal would have forced it to eat ridiculous amounts of vegetation itself. I think we must have an animal here that roamed alone and, more than likely, in small numbers at best. This is the type of animal that more than likely laid hundreds of eggs so that 2 or maybe 3 individuals could grow to adulthood. Hatching day was probably a banquet for smaller predators and mammals.

From Carpenter 1995
The sheer bulk of Amphicoelias was its best defense. Think of it in terms of elephants, other than a high power rifle handled by some jerk after ivory (sorry, I try to keep my personal opinions to a minimum around here but I find it very hard when mentioning poachers), an elephant has few if any predators to worry about; when an elephant is sick or when it is young it is at its most vulnerable and even then the herd is typically fairly protective. Amphicoelias, with a vertebra this large, probably only had to worry about predators until it was about the size of your average Diplodocus, and even then the only predators that it would worry about would be packs of Allosaurs and the occasional desperate family of Ceratosaurus. Past that size there really is almost nothing to worry about except stubbing a toe, a sickness that makes defense (i.e. standing up and looking ridiculously tall), or maybe stepping on the Amphicoelias equivalent of a splinter; which in this case would probably be an entire log. The fact that a full grown man, someone taller than myself (I'm 5'5" on a good day in boots), could be so much shorter than just a backbone makes this animal almost unfathomable to the imagination. However, I think that paleontologists as a group are probably the most imaginative scientists aside from anyone dealing with space in one form or another. This allows us to let science do the talking, but allows our brains to picture this behemoth of dinosauria to walk down our street (in about two steps probably) and to flesh out the details of its life. Educated guesses based on imagination and science; that is the best we can do for Amphicoelias at this point, but perhaps someday we will get very lucky and find another of these enormous creatures.

28 December 2012

You're Gonna Want A Bigger Boat

Had this week's dinosaur been one of those at Jurassic Park, or the second island where, in The Lost World, dinosaurs were being captured to be part of an attraction in California, they would have needed an enormous boat for this dinosaur. Our guest this week is quite possibly the longest dinosaur and a contender for the heaviest dinosaur ever, the genus Amphicoelias; composed of two species A. altus and A. fragilimus.
Courtesy of Matt Marytniuk via Wikipedia
 As with many dinosaurs this week's guest is somewhat of a mystery tale as well as a super sized dinosaur. Many, even dinosaur enthusiasts, may not have ever heard of Amphicoelias.Some sources report it as a real find, others as a hoax, and some others as a myth of paleontology. The fact is that a paper was published and a description presented by E.D. Cope in 1878 after being discovered by Oramel Lucas in 1877. Cope may have famously blundered in his past, but I have yet to see proof that he ever outwardly lied for attention. The problem with proving that he saw what he saw and drew what he drew from a real vertebra and femur is that no one can find the bones! There are a number of theories about where those bones may have gone ranging from lost in collections (this has happened in the past and, in fact, one skull split in two pieces by poor collecting was thought to be half lost until it turned up that the pieces were in different European museums in different countries) to the idea that the bone was simply too fragile and crumbled while being figured and inspected by Cope. The second idea explains why we only have one view drawn of the vertebra; Cope was very good at drawing multiple views of a specimen. Regardless, the proportions reported by Cope of the partial vertebra and femur indicate an animal with a complete vertebra that would have been approximately 8 feet tall standing on end. The amount of sediment required to preserve a single bone would have been monstrous let alone the entire animal! Whatever happened to them many paleontologists have regarded Cope's figures and descriptions as true citing the use of them by H.F. Osborn and others as well as the lack of a rebuttal by Cope's rival O.C. Marsh (Marsh's spies probably reported what Lucas was digging out of the mudstone for Cope, meaning that Marsh knew the size of the bones to be true) as facts for Cope's assertions about the bones.

27 December 2012

How To Increase One's Popularity

First and foremost, be comprised of more bone! The lack of bone leads to doubts, by some, in the scientific community and that in turn leads to a lack of publicizing the existence of some animals. That cannot be held as a universal truth as many animals even, when based on tiny amounts of evidence, are thrust into the media spotlight and heralded as the next great discovery. Dryptosaurus, had it been discovered last week and not almost 150 years ago, would be a media sensation given the almost utter lack of New Jersey, and East Coast, fossils found in America to date. That sort of attention, and its basal tyrannosauroid features, would make it a star. The painting of Charles Knight already made Dryptosaurus a star and the name Laelaps appears here and there on the internet when you search dinosaurs; mainly this is on account of Brian Switek's blog Laelaps on Wired (you may have to chase him down here these days) and now on National Geographic's site. Sadly, we really do not have much popular culture associated with Dryptosaurus (or under the name Laelaps) that can be shared. There are popular websites and projects, as mentioned, but there are no toys, no books, no cartoons, and no movies that heavily feature, let alone mention, Dryptosaurus. This lack of an early tyrannosaur is sad, but given its lack of constituent skeletal parts, it is also understandable as it never became one of the highly displayed and venerated museum pieces or "dinosaur safari park" denizens. A truly unfortunate circumstance for now for this dinosaur, but there is always the hope of finding new skeletons someday!

26 December 2012

Look At That Manicure

The claw at lower right belongs to Dryptosaurus aquilunguis. The photo is courtesy of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA.
Typically when we think of large claws, at least for me, on a large theropod a few dinosaurs come to mind. On the foot the claw evokes images of dromaeosaurs of the "raptor" persuasion. On the hands large claws remind us of Baryonyx, Allosaurus, and other earlier theropods. Rarely do we think of tyrannosauroid dinosaurs having large three fingered hands on adequately long arms for using large 8 inch claws as weapons against their prey (or intra-specific heated discussions). This, for me, brings about an interesting question; How related are Tyrannosaurs to Allosaurs? If the last large clawed theropod we happen to see on our continent, other than Therizinosaurs, that was a prominent predator was way back in the Jurassic and named Allosaurus, could there be some sort of long ancestral line linking Tyrannosaurs directly with Allosaurs? I know this line of questioning is making someone somewhere cringe, but remember, we are leading an academic adventure here, we have to explore a lot of questions that seem out there or totally wrong!

E.D. Cope's figure drawings
Using Thomas Holtz's complete phylogenetic tree (I am borrowing from his class handouts online as a road map) we can see that Allosaurs and Tyrannosaurs are related somewhere in the past, but not directly related as Allosaurs branch off the theropod family tree prior to the incorporation of adaptations which created the Coelurosauria, of which the Tyrannosaurs are a subgroup. Powerful arms, though, existed before the Allosauroids and large hands even before that as diagnostic characters; perhaps Allosaurus and its family were not far enough back. Then again, we have evidence of traits in animals being redesigned and emphasized eons after their ancestors adapted in different ways to erase those traits. As an example of this consider Mosasaurs; predatory reptiles thought to be related to existing snakes and monitor lizards were related to land reptiles and, at some point in their development as a family, re-expressed traits conducive to living in marine environments which had been lost to reptiles since they had adapted to terrestrial living, namely the development of highly successful extremities designed to move through the water and not on land. If Mosasaurs could become successful and basically repurpose the legs of a terrestrial animal as paddles akin to a fish's fins (fish to land reptile to fish-like, in some ways, reptile is a minor miracle of evolution I would say!) then certainly a basal Tyrannosauroid dinosaur could develop large hands with long powerful claws. If Allosaurs were not their direct ancestors, nor were Baryonyx or Megalosaurus with their large claws and powerful arms, than what was the direct ancestor of Dryptosaurus and how does that ancestor explain these enormous claws?

From the Eyewitness Visual Dictionary of Dinosaurs
The use of claws like that is typically fairly easy to infer (or at least to make some kind of educated guess and paint an interesting scenario with) and they lend themselves to two scenarios of use, one of which we cannot prove with the tiny fragments of jaw that have been thus far collected. One is that they were purely for slashing at victims; disembowling and the like. The second is that they were for grasping while the mouth, a typically Tyrannosaur weapon of mass destruction, inflicted serious injury with large teeth and a powerful bite. We are missing almost the entire skull, so proving number two would be rather difficult. Having only one claw makes both theories difficult to prove; what if that claw was singular on each hand, like in Baryonyx for example? What if the writer over at Animal Planet is correct and Dryptosaurus "may have been like the African lion that feeds on a carcass rather than chasing an antelope."? I rather hope not. I like the majority of my Tyrannosaurs to be active predators rather than scavengers, unless forced to scavenge.

25 December 2012

The Christmas Post

I know most of us have much more to do today than read about dinosaurs; however, I want to share a few papers on Dryptosaurus that you can read at your own leisure during this week dedicated to Dryptosaurus.
2011: Brusatte, Benson, and Norell; The Anatomy of Dryptosaurus aquilunguis (Dinosauria: Theropoda) and a Review of Its Tyrannosauroid Affinities
1877: Marsh; Notice of a new and Gigantic Dinosaur (Marsh's renaming of Dryptosaurus)
1866: Academy of Natural Sciences (Philadelphia); Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia (Initial description as presented by E.D. Cope of a new "gigantic extinct Dinosaur")

The two older sources are hosted by The Theropod Archives site, to which we typically owe the hosting of older documents.

24 December 2012

Constant Topic of Discussion

First of all, Happy Holidays from me! Have a look at my holiday dinosaur:
I draw cartoon-esque dinosaurs
Second, allow me to share some Dryptosaurus videos. Dryptosaurus has made it into the animatronic dinosaur parks of the world including the Field Station: Dinosaurs in Seacaucus, NJ, which is tied to a number of sponsors including the New Jersey State Museum. An important note for my East Coast readers; Field Station: Dinosaurs is closed for the season and reopens on April 5 for its second season (which is why some of you in NJ even may not have heard of it before now!). Here is their Dryptosaurus exhibit:
Also, whether you have seen it before or not, I am sure that Tyler Keillor still needs support on his digital Dryptosaurus sculpture, so be sure to at least listen to his project description on Kickstarter. Obviously during the holiday season it is a lot harder to afford something like this, but he has a good aim and he has done quality work so he deserves the support he has gotten so far. There are no other high quality videos that I would recommend today, so, enjoy your Christmas Eve if that is your thing, and if not, have a good Monday!

23 December 2012

The Tyrannosaur Kids Don't Know

Dryptosaurus has kind of flown under most radars the past 140-ish years. As such, only a handful of professionals and amateur paleo-enthusiasts really truly know what Dryptosaurus was and can imagine it accurately. This is a problem that needs fixing (no need to tell Gary Vecchiarelli) and it needs to start with the youth of the world; as many solutions must. Ask any kid out there for the name of a tyrannosaur and Tyrannosaurus Rex is probably the first and almost only name you will hear. That is not a problem, however, the teacher in me wants the kids to know that there is a whole wide world out there populated by uncles, aunts, distant cousins, and sisters of T. Rex that are just as interesting. Dryptosaurus is one of those relatives and searching as I do on Sundays for adequate kid related materials I have come up with a rather short list of goodies today. Most importantly, I did find a fact sheet that sums up the dinosaur fairly well on Enchanted Learning, and that is a good place to start. Secondly, I found pretty much zero toys/books with which to educate and play with the youngsters, which I find to be most sad. However, the desperate artist in me is placated today by a couple black and whites by Brett Booth on his blog; which has the wonderful subtitle "The Brett Booth Dinosaur Blog, dealing with pointy teeth on bitey things". As with any images online (and because I did not ask Brett specifically this morning to post the images found in posts from September 2012 and October 2010) remind yourself, and loved ones, that you can print out an image and color it in your home, most artists I know are not upset by that idea, but you cannot put someone else's art online without asking (it is never too early to teach a child about respecting another person's ideas and hard work).

22 December 2012

The Amazingly Empty Skeleton

Dryptosaurus, as we can see here, was not exactly a complete skeleton. We have, however, seen fewer bones used to identify a species, and as such we cannot really say "Cope, what were you thinking?" Besides, Cope has had enough embarrassment, the poor fellow. The fact that, throughout the years, Dryptosaurus has stood up on such little leg evidence (puns? Oh yes!) as well as small amounts of fossil evidence from elsewhere in its body shows how little the remains have in common with other dinosaurs; that is to say that the few bones we have of Dryptosaurus retain their distinctive characteristics enough that we have not dropped the name as yet as a synonym of another species. Dryptosaurus has, however, been placed into a number of families over the years, starting out in the Megalosauridae and, through a rather laborious sloshing through Coelurosauria and Tyrannosauroidea (placement here was based on the closely related and more complete Appalachiasaurus- come back in two weeks for more on them) and finally in Dryptosauridae thanks to Kenneth Carpenter. Dryptosauridae is considered a subfamily of the Tyrannosauroidea these days.

©Nobu Tamura
Dryptosaurus, as a tyrannosaurid, is subject to the laws of feathering, as it has been applied to other tyrannosaurs. Nobu Tamura's Dryptosaurus has a nice mohawk of feathers and, very happy as it seems with itself, is brandishing the enormous claws which led to its specific epithet (aquilunguis meaning eagle clawed). Having stated my feeling on scaly dinosaurs a week or two ago, I like Charles Knight's scaly Dryptosarus; however, the feathered dinosaur version of Dryptosaurus looks equally valid and quite fantastic. The feathering on this version is not ostentatious and plays very well into the camouflage of the animal which must have been true, to a point, in order to aid in hunting; that is unless Dryptosaurus did not bother to hide at all and just simply ran down and clawed its prey. Feathering would, of course, keep Dryptosaurus a bit warmer than just being scaly, but was it necessary and did it really exist are two questions we cannot answer assuredly for Dryptosaurus at this time.

©Josep Asensi
Feathering, and coloration, as I stated just a moment ago, have to be considered in coordination with the practicality of their use in every day life for an animal. A peacock does not camouflage itself well and sometimes pays the price, but most of the carnivores that live in our day and age, feathered, furred, or scaly, tend to blend in a bit better with their environment to aid in the success of the hunt. Great Whites mimic the surface from underneath and the deeps from above; tigers blend in to the grasses of India; bears in the woods mix with the shadows of the trees and bushes; hawks tend to have white ventral surfaces which at least vaguely look like clouds to the rodents below. Dryptosaurus, therefore, probably blended into its environment at least a little bit in order to hunt effectively. That said, I think the only thing in this version of Dryptosaurus which may be a little disagreeable would be a bright red face. The unfeathered body certainly blend in with the landscape of the Cretaceous grasses and even the shadows of trees, as would the dark feathers along the back. The white perhaps not so much and the red, unless dinosaurs were uniformly color blind (why bother having colors in that instance when patterns would probably be enough), would not help camouflage the dinosaur while it was stalking prey. That is my opinion, certainly feel free to develop your own!

21 December 2012

Laelaps or Megalosaurus, Perhaps Dryptosaurus!

©Charles R. Knight
In 1866 New Jersey was about to have its first dinosaur mounted, in about two years, as the first skeleton to be mounted in the world (in Philadelphia, but still). The world had no idea what other amazing things were about to come out of New Jersey. Westward expansion had not yet shown Americans and the land they were occupying to be of much consequence in the world of paleontology as the East Coast had turned up little evidence of the age of dinosaurs to this point in time. New Jersey's Haddonfield find had set more eyes to being careful when they dug in the ground, however, and a mere 8 years later such careful eyes in a quarry would halt work before destroying what would later be identified as the world's first tyrannosaur. A primitive tyrannosaur, still in possession of a fairly useful arm with a three fingered hand and some nasty claws, Dryptosaurus aquilunguis (literally: to tear lizard eagle-clawed), was the fourth North American dinosaur described and lived in relative obscurity as far as the popular world is concerned for a long time. Initially given the generic name Laelaps (meaning storm wind and the name of a dog that never failed at hunting in Greek mythology) by E.D. Cope in 1866, the name change came about in 1877 courtesy of O.C. Marsh due to the preoccupied status of Laelaps by a mite!, Dryptosaurus actually suffers from a quite poor fossil record. The reason that people have heard the names Laelaps and Dryptosaurus is the painting above by Charles Knight. It's a classic given that it was painted during a time when most researchers were convinced dinosaurs were slow and given to soaking in the sun to get the energy to even lifting their heads. Knight's work is pretty fantastic.

20 December 2012

The Everyman's Dinosaur

Hadrosaurus is popular in that everyone knows what a "duck-billed dinosaur" is. It is not so much popular as Hadrosaurus as it is popular for being a Hadrosaur, if you follow my meaning. Whenever anyone thinks of "duck-bill"  they think of an animal that closely resembles what the artistic impression of Hadrosaurus has always been; that lack of a skull not allowing its head to to be diagnostically different from other Hadrosaurs is a real bummer for Hadrosaurus. The Hadrosaurus display that initially made it famous, being the first museum mounted skeleton on the face of the earth, we discussed has been remounted and the exhibit has been entirely rebuilt around it (it was reopened in 2008). Haddonfield, as was noted, is proud of their dinosaur as well. During that 150th anniversary (in 2008) Haddonfield had a pretty big celebration around the town's sculpture along King's Highway. They even had a birthday cake.
As with many other dinosaur Hadrosaurus has also made its mark in the animatronic area of dinosaur display, which is fairly special, given that lacking a skull thing. There are at least three books (this one has a misleading cover) about Hadrosaurus that are aimed at children; one of them is rather rare though so do not expect to go digging that one up at the bargain bin.

19 December 2012

Yes There Is A Hadrosaurus

Courtesy of Hidden NJ
Given the internal debate we witnessed with yesterday's articles, it is fairly understandable how some paleontologists think that Hadrosaurus is a viable name and others say that it is not a viable name. Regardless of that argument, the people in Haddonfield, New Jersey are not about to relinquish their town's sculpture of the Hadrosaurus that was found in their backyard. The second article yesterday stating that there are some characters available in that small mixed bag of bones which constitute the type specimen of Hadrosaurus I still have not been able to read, but the fact that a detractor had a second look and changed his opinion means that there must simply be quite a bit of evidence that was overlooked the first time (I highly doubt that the people of Haddonfield were beating down his door to restore the validity of the name of Hadrosaurus). Of course, as I stated before, the only sure way to really save Hadrosaurus from this debate would be to find more skeletal elements that possess the same traits that Prieto-Marquez was going to explain in that newer article as allowing Hadrosaurus to retain its validity as a scientific name. That would require the people of Haddonfield, or some investigative spirit on the East Coast at least, to begin poking and prodding all around New Jersey and other likely states with outcroppings or erosion sites of similar geological age to the marl pit that contained Hadrosaurus' type specimen remains. The characters in the leg, arm, vertebrae, and other associated bits can be used to identify other remains of the animal and then those characters can be used to more fully describe and differentiate Hadrosaurus from other dinosaurs. Our wish for Hadrosaurus then is more fossils!

18 December 2012

Hadrosaurus Reevaluated, Twice

©Sergey Krasovskiy
I asked if I could use this image earlier in the week without the background. He sent it to me like this with a background. I thought it would be nice to head up this column today. What I really aimed to present today were papers that have come out recently (within the 6 years) that discuss reevaluation of Hadrosaurus. It seems like just about any mention of a reevaluation these days also has Jack Horner as a footnote if not a second, or in this case third, author. Albert Prieto-Marquez and David Weishampel, along with Horner, reevaluated the position and description of Hadrosaurus in 2006. Their determination, to sum up a longer article very briefly, was that the type specimen of Hadrosaurus has no characters which distinguish it from any other animal and that the name is therefore defunct. They made special mention of the idea that it is not synonymous with any other animal and that phylogenetically it belongs in the Euhadrosauria to an undetermined species.

The second paper I found is a short correspondence (if anyone has the full length correspondence that would be nice to find) authored by Albert Prieto-Marquez alone, dated 2011, in which he somewhat refutes his own previous paper and reevaluates Hadrosaurus yet again. He argues that Hadrosaurus actually is diagnosable "based on a combination of plesiomorphic and derived appendicular characters." I am interested to read the full length of this paper. I still have some of the first paper to read ahead of that anyhow though.

17 December 2012

Hadrosaurus In The Afternoon

I have two videos showing Hadrosaurus which we can look at and briefly discuss today. The first is of a remounted version of Hadrosaurus at the Academy of Natural Science in Philadelphia. In the same venue that Hawkins mounted the first bipedal dinosaur skeleton cast of Hadrosaurus there has been an adjustment of the display and a remounting to agree with modern theory. It is not too much of an action pose, but it looks much more life-like and much more of what we would expect than Hawkins' version did.
There is also a video that details the history of the Haddonfield site and describes the general site's current status. I really do not believe it needs much more of an introduction than that.
The final video clip I saved is actually a little humorous without intending to be so. It is a walking model of Hadrosaurus in three dimensions. The reason it appears a little humorous is that the legs look very slender and almost unstable. I will let the model do the talking (or walking).

16 December 2012

Hadrosaurus For The Family

Hadrosaurus brings us back to two of our favored children friendly information sites for dinosaurs; KidsDinos and Science for Kids. It is a little humorous that KidsDinos places Hadrosaurus within a group simply titled "duck-billed dinosaurs." I know that typically Enchanted Learning is considered one of the most horrendous places to find dinosaur likenesses (I honestly do not remember where I read that or I would quote it, but see for yourself what I mean), but they do present themselves as good coloring pages and have information besides, so I still like to share their pages, this week they have one for Hadrosaurus, so that the children have something to color. They can color it online or print it out and color it the old fashioned way (which I prefer). There is also this guy to print out and color:
Found at:

15 December 2012

Cretaceous Cows

Courtesy State of New Jersey
I think it is funny that Hadrosaurus, as are Hadrosaurs in general as a family, is thought of, maybe just by myself and no one else, as Cretaceous Cows. Cattle never roamed the earth in such a way as did animals like Edaphosaurus and Hadrosaurus, as great enormous herds, but were in more manageable numbers even before domestication and selective breeding gave us the cattle we see herded in cowboy movies and, in Kansas, lying around in milo fields (what some call grain sorghum). Hadrosaurus was obviously much larger than a cow, but as far as large herbivorous dinosaurs go, it was as cow-like as any dinosaur could be. The small section of the jaw and teeth that were included in the type fossils were indicative of an intense battery of vegetation grinding teeth, as seen in so many other Hadrosaurs, and are quite similar to the teeth (molars especially) of cattle. Why am I so adamantly comparing cows and Hadrosaurus?

Courtesy of Walters and Kissinger Complete Dinosaur Art Studio
The reason is that, all fleshed out, and with a dental array that is like a cow (except for the front teeth because Hadrosaurus had a keratin rich beak), Hadrosaurus was an animal that, in its ecosystem, held the same niche responsibility as cows do in our ecosystems. Cows are invasive, though we do not think of them as such, in many lands, so maybe a more just comparison is between Hadrosaurus and Bison, which would have held a similar niche as Hadrosaurus during the prime of their day in the Great Plains of North America. The herds of Bison probably rivaled the numbers of the Hadrosaurus herds during the Cretaceous also.  Additionally, for comparison, Hadrosaurus is one of the least ornamented of the Hadrosaur family; this can be partially explained by the fact that not many remains of the skull have been found either, leading to a lack of any evidence of ornamentation. This lack of skull has actually led to many considering a nomen dubium or a name that is no longer valid because it cannot be more clearly classified within the Hadrosaur family.

Permission pending artist approval
I think that all that might be missing from the skull, should we discover a complete skull, is ornamentation that further classifies Hadrosaurus. Personally, I hope that if anyone ever discovers a complete skull that it has absolutely no ornamentation, such as we have seen today in the illustrations. I think Iguanodon is lonely in the Hadrosaurs (for everyone: Iguanodon does belong to the Hadrosauriformes clade within the Ornithischia despite being in its own family) because it has no ornamentation and, other than maybe Parasaurolophus, it is the first dinosaur many people think of when they hear "duck-bill" or "Hadrosaur" in a conversation. Hadrosaurus, plain or later discovered to have some kind of interesting skull adaptation, is for now, one of the greatest and earliest discovered Cows of the Cretaceous.

14 December 2012

To Hadrosaur or to Hadrosaurus?

From one family to another. For this family we come back to American soil and we venture to a part of the country that is not generally known as having a wealth of dinosaur bones of note in its soil. Typically dinosaur finds in America are detailed in the western half of the continent, but this dinosaur comes to us from the East Coast. In fact, it comes to us from the woods of New Jersey. In 1868 Hadrosaurus foulkii (sturdy lizard of Foulke) became the first ever mounted dinosaur skeleton. Discovered by John Estaugh Hopkins in 1838 and taken home and displayed, they were rediscovered in Hopkins' home in 1858 by William Parker Foulke who, in his interest, had the remainder of the skeleton dug out from the marl (a lime-rich mudstone) where Hopkins found the original bones. Joseph Leidy helped to dig out the find which consisted of a pelvis, 28 vertebrae, parts of the feet, some teeth, parts of the jaw and nearly complete left limbs. Leidy named the skeleton Hadrosaurus with the specific epithet honoring Foulke (leaving Hopkins in obscurity despite his role in the find). The first mounting was designed with the help of Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, the  English sculptor responsible for the Crystal Palace sculptures, and placed within the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences as a bipedal dinosaur; Leidy described Hadrosaurus as bipedal in contrast to the quadrupedal common view of dinosaurs at the time. Hadrosaurus is one of the least adorned of its family (it is competing with Iguanodon for most cow-like of the Cretaceous herbivores) and is the embodiment of the word Hadrosaur in the imaginations of many school aged children. The mount, coincidentally, is still available for school aged children, and adult aged children, to view in Philadelphia, though the mount has changed a little and now shows casts of the bones highlighted in the image below (This image is from Haddonfield, NJ).

13 December 2012

Abelisaurus As A Video Game Character

I think this week we have looked at Abelisaurus from a good many angles this week. I saved for today the video game snippets. There are not many popular outlets that we have not touched for Abelisaurus to exploit. As far as dinosaur popularity, though, Abelisaurus has most definitely become one of those dinosaurs that is known but not too well known that we see it everywhere (such as in the way Velociraptor and Triceratops are). Regardless, Abelisaurus has shown up in Spore creations
(notice the not so Abelisaurid-like forearms) and it has also appeared in Dinosaur King games.
 Abelisaurus has become popular enough that it was also modified into Zoo Tycoon. The dinosaurs that have been modded into that game are somewhat few and far between; however, many dinosaurs have been modded into the game so it was not really a unique dinosaur to be in there. It looks fairly generic as well, I have to say, but it is pretty neat that it made it into the modded files of some talented computer modder.

12 December 2012

Not A Normal Wednesday

Typically on Wednesday I go over some aspect of the skeleton that sticks out or something special about the people that discovered the fossil (Roberto Abel in this case) or the people that described it (Bonaparte and Novas) but seeing as how information on Abel is few and far between and Bonaparte and Novas have been discussed before I do not really want to rehash that information. The skull has few characteristics that have not been mentioned or previously highlighted also. It is truly too bad that the skull is the only bit that has been unearthed so far in relation to this rather large theropod. One thing that Abelisaurus has not gone through, so far as I am aware, is the feathering process under which almost all theropods now find themselves. I am as much for detailing the soft downy dinosaurs that have been discovered with downy elements as the next progressive person, but a part of my brain agrees with Mark Wildman's comment very much when it comes to feathering. While I certainly acknowledge that some theropods, and even some other dinosaurs outside the theropods, may have had feathering or quills or any other number of soft tissue adaptations which were not preserved, sometimes I simply prefer a scaly dinosaur. In respect to Abelisaurus I prefer this scaly dinosaur model. As I stated above, I have not seen a feathered Abelisaurus as yet, and I do not expect to see one unless there is evidence for it that arises in the future. There is a lot of talk right now about how to portray dinosaurs (feathered or not) and I do not want to get in the middle of that whole mess. I just wanted to mention that Abelisaurus is a scaly dinosaur at the moment and that it is beautifully portrayed as it is. Look at this guy and think about what he would look like feathered (I am using the original work by Jordan Mallon, not the updated versions subsequently placed on Wikipedia):

11 December 2012

Translations of Descriptions

Many thanks must go out to Matthew Carrano for translating so many works into English for so many paleontologists worldwide that do not know more than one language or, like myself, know a handful but only in enough detail to hold conversation for a bit. For those of us that do not know enough of other languages to read long scientific papers, his Polyglot Paleontologist site saves us all a lot of troubles. For people like me, who took French, German, Latin, or Japanese but never Spanish, today that site and Carrano's translation allow us to read Bonaparte and Novas' paper naming and describing Abelisaurus from a lone skull discovered in the Allen Formation (Rio Negro Province) of Argentina. As we know from the past papers we have read from Bonaparte, a lot of his work has been done in Argentina and he has become the modern day South American equivalent of a Cope, Marsh, or even a Brown or Sternberg (because he's out there finding things himself sometimes). In the abstract the new family is already proposed based on differences from Tyrannosaurs and "other Cretaceous carnosaur families"; Bonaparte and Novas leave us no empty space to conjecture through by coming straight out and telling us why they propose a new family. Though that is often the case with abstracts, leaving it as the closing sentence is equivalent to leaving us with a cliffhanger because they do not give us the differences or explain why they merit a new family until page 3 where it is again lightly touched upon and then definitively comparing the new skull to previously known skulls on pages 7 through 9.

I have uncovered a second paper of interest today written by Roberto Ebner, a medical doctor, and Leonardo Salgado. In this paper Ebner and Salgado used CT scans to measure the optic canal of Abelisaurus. They note in the paper that the scanning has led them to think that Abelisaurus had only a few hundred grams of brain matter and that, despite poor preservation on one side of the skull, the optic canals were scanned and imaged quite nicely; though it does not say to what purpose beyond scanning them. The scan appears below.
Arch Ophthalmol. 2003;121:294-295

10 December 2012

Abelisaurus Movies

Abelisaurus shows up in quite a few "movies". There are some from video games and there is the cartoon I showed yesterday. Today, though, I can share another of those "how to draw" videos that I shared a few weeks ago on a Sunday when I could not find anything for the kids to color

as well as a Dinosaur George answer session (there are numerous episodes with Abelisaurus questions)

and a German voice-over of a Discovery documentary. I think it is Planet Dinosaur, but feel free to correct me on this.  Of course, the actual show may just be say it is an Abelisaurid, but the German voice-over says Abelisaurus for certain, so we shall see which is correct.

09 December 2012

The Children's Abelisaurus

Abelisaurus pops up a lot for children's pleasures. There are a few good places to get facts, such as the NHM of London. There are a number of interesting things online from Dinosaur King to video game references and some books. There is a group on YouTube, and probably other places online, called HooplaKidzTV that is educational for children. One of the little episodes features a talking Abelisaurus who introduces and describes himself. Not very accurate looking, but educational nonetheless.

He has a cold and a powerful sneeze also. There are a couple of suitable coloring pages as well. I'll post them just below (except for this one from Josep Zacarias, which you can ask his permission to use). I hate to cut it short today, but I have a Biostatistics final tomorrow, so I need to run along and study! Have fun coloring today folks. I may take a moment out to color a sheet myself later!

08 December 2012

Afternoon Terrors

This skull is not an exact replica of the skull originally unearthed and described under the name Abelisaurus. That skull was missing a good amount of the right side of the skull and the palate, the roof of the mouth, was fragmentary at best. Above the orbits where the eyes would be housed and along the nasal bone, however, we can see the rugosities and places where keratinous hornlets may have protruded upward from the skull. The mandibular fenestration visible here would have made the closing actions of the jaws extremely powerful as the muscles running through would have added additional strength to the closing of the mandible. An alternative theory, or perhaps secondary use, for a fenestra that large would be for thick bundles of nerves to be threaded through the hole. Why any animal would need that much nervous tissue in that exact placement in its skull I could not say though. Neither of these observations is published, to my limited knowledge of the moment, but it is quite possible these theories have been put forth by others as well.

Illustration Citation wanted
As mentioned yesterday, the lack of post cranial material makes designing the body of Abelisaurus in illustrations a special kind of difficult. Abelisaurus has been argued to be a middle of the family Abelisaurid and it has been argued to be a basal Abelisaurid; a third argument has potentially made it a closer relation to Carcharodontosaurus, and thus not an Abelisaurid at all, which presents an interesting reordering of the family. We do not want to worry about that sort of thing today though. Instead, let us look at the arms, one of the most characteristic and diagnostic post-cranial features of the Abelisaurids that we know of (including Aucasaurus, Carnotaurus and Majungasaurus). The arms of the known post-cranial skeletons are typically very reduced with the palms facing the ribcage of the animal and the fingers pointing toward the tail. That is not to say that this is the only way in which the hands of Abelisaurids were constructed and, if it is a basal member of the family named after it, Abelisaurus may not have arms like other Abelisaurids.

Illustration Citation wanted
If it did it would probably look a lot more like this version. The arms here are not very reduced, but they could be the start of the family trend of evolution where extreme reduction and a rear facing hand become common. That small arm could have been reduced in many other animals that we have yet to unearth or that we also only have the skulls, or very little post-cranial material for, with which to describe the animal. The legs on this illustration have an interesting ball of muscle at the calf, but a muscular calf is not as important to us in this discussion as the speculation about which way the arms faced and how they were held in relation to the body.

07 December 2012

Father of the Family

It is not often that we have a head of the family with a week dedicated to them. This week, however, is different from other weeks. Instead of tackling a species whose name appears only at the generic level we are tackling one that has an entire family, and subfamily, named after it. It appears as follows taxonomically (I simplified it a little):

Bonaparte & Novas, 1985
Bonaparte & Novas, 1985
† A. comahuensis

As we can all see the dinosaur in question this week is Abelisaurus. Abelisaurus is, somewhat obviously I think, characteristic of the Abelisaurids in specific areas. These characteristics are mostly found in the skull, as that is the only known material; the skull shares many characteristics, though not diagnostic characters, of the Tyrannosaurs. The skull possesses rugosities which may have once supported keratin hornlets along the nasal and supratemporal horns are probably. The skull itself bears many resemblances to Carnotaurus and indicates that the two were fairly closely related. The lack of post cranial skeleton, however, makes it difficult to ascertain total length, skull estimates of 85cm in length indicate a body length from 7 to 9 meters (25-30 feet) making it a rather large theropod of South America, and the posture of the body. Many Abelisaurids are known to have reduced forelimbs, another trait reminiscent of Tyrannosaurs, which are often held facing posteriorly (that is rearwards in layman terms) with the palms against the ribcage. Abelisaurus, though, not having forelimbs associated with its remains, is a bit of a mystery in the posturing of its forelimbs, and as such it is not known if it conforms to this behavior. Knowing that information could shift the placement of Abelisaurus within its own family, a topic which we will discuss in the coming days.

06 December 2012

Digging Into Popular Culture

A contest was held quite some time ago in the Spore forums to recreate an Oryctodromeus, but it does not seem to have happened. Additionally, there is no Dinosaur King episode or card that sports an Oryctodromeus. I think Dinosaur King cards are divided, in much the same way other fantasy games/books/etc. are, into elements and Oryctodromeus would certainly make a good earth related dinosaur what with all the burrowing and such. I am actually quite amazed that this has not yet happened. No cartoons, aside from Dinosaur Train, exist or documentaries with crazy CG dinosaurs running around or anything like that. Toys exist. Dinosaur Train toys were shown earlier in the week. The fact that the first dinosaur to be seen in evidence of burrowing and thus conclusively known to be a burrower is not more popular is quite sad. Perhaps in the near future something will happen that will make Oryctodromeus even more popular. However, popularity is not the only important thing in the world and, in fact, Oryctodromeus is far more than cool enough without being popular, so, therefore, let us just continue to love our burrowing friend without it being popular.