STL Science Center

STL Science Center

31 May 2014

Becklespinax Interpretations

From Naish and Martill (2007)
Different interpretations of the sail/hump structure on the back of Becklespinax are represented by a number of illustrators. Typically the illustrator picks one interpretation over another and devotes the entire image to their interpretation without any variation. That type of statement can be made about any artistic representation of any subject of course. Thankfully, though, in Naish and Martill's 2007 review of basal Dinosauria of Great Britain the two major representations of the hypothesized anatomical structure are represented along with the three vertebrae type specimen. The two hypothesized structures are the pelvic sail/hump, like that of Concavenator and the full body length sail/hump that is much more reminiscent of Spinosaurus. The skull in these interpretations are entirely speculation; for all we know this dinosaur may have been much more closely related to Spinosaurus and therefore have a skull that looks more like that of Spinosaurus than the classic boxy skull of other large predatory theropods. The same can be stated about the legs, arms, and digits of the animal.

Naish, D. & Martill, D. M. 2007. Dinosaurs of Great Britain and the role of the Geological Society of London in their discovery: basal Dinosauria and Saurischia. Journal of the Geological Society, London 164, 493-510.

30 May 2014

Back in Sussex

In 1856 Richard Owen described a series of dinosaur vertebrae discovered earlier in the decade by Samuel Husband Beckles. The dinosaur came to be called Acrocanthosaurus altispinax after a long series of name changes: Owen (1856), Lydekker (1888), and von Huene (1923) all referred the material to Megalosaurus, von Huene and Kuhn (1939) also referred some of the material to Altispinax, Paul (1988) ultimately referred the materials to Acrocanthosaurus. However, the description of Paul was not definitive and a review by Olshevsky (1991) reassigned the material to the newly named genus Becklespinax.The genus Altispinax is considered a junior synonym at this time; for the purposes of this week Altispinax will be treated as such despite some illustration descriptions that appear to claim they are separated. The -spinax suffix of the name refers to the elongated neural arches of the vertebrae while the specific epithet, altispinax, refers to the fact that the arches are rather tall. This has given the large theropod a somewhat humpbacked appearance. This hump is unlike the one seen on Concavenator that sits only above the pelvis. The material for Becklespinax is minimal, but appears to indicate a longer humped area above the back; multiple interpretations have surfaced.

29 May 2014

Mystery Popularity

Jaxartosaurus is popular and has been for almost 80 years now. As an early representative of an Asian lambeosaurine lineage, it is not too amazing that its name has become well heard of; as a representative of the letter J it is also not too astounding. The literature evidence of popularity is lacking significantly in book search results. Toys are even low in volume. The toys that do supposedly exist, there are no actual images that show up, appear to be related to the Dinosaur Train character and episodes. However, modified video games do show that people do know about Jaxartosaurus and like it enough to have modeled it in Zoo Tycoon and Spore (there is one in there in the walking group).

28 May 2014

When We Lack Bones

The consensus is that the body of Jaxartosaurus is extremely similar to that of all other lambeosaurs and, more widely, hadrosaurs as a larger overall group. The facts are that Jaxartosaurus is known mainly from skull material and is differentiated on apomorphies of that skull. The skull material has been questioned, in some circles, because it is similar to other dinosaurs. Obviously, however, the description of Riabinin is definitive enough that it has stood the test of time and kept Jaxartosaurus as a valid genus. When we look at the myriad of skulls in the lambeosaur and hadrosaur lines it is acceptable to think that some ought to be lumped together, but for now this material is different enough that it is separated. Hopefully even more material will be discovered, separated, and add to the repository of what we know about this dinosaur. The crest that we do know of for Jaxartosaurus is much like that of Corythosaurus; it is a low crescent of material superior to the skull.

27 May 2014

Asian Lambeosaurs

Jaxartosaurus is a member of the larger group of dinosaurs coming out of Asia in the last 100 years that were originally considered to be body plans seen mainly in Europe and North America. The past century of fossil expeditions in Russia, Mongolia, and China have turned up a number of lambeosaurine dinosaurs, though only a small number of those are considered to be valid species. Jaxartosaurus is one of the oldest genera of Asian lambeosaurs. Maryanska and Osmolska, during their extensive work in Mongolia, named the first Mongolian lambeosaurine dinosaur in 1981. They mention Jaxartosaurus in their description of a new species (Barsboldta sicinskit). Rozhdestvensky's 1968 Hadrosaurs of Kazakhstan treats Jaxartosaurus at a respectable length. Riabinin's 1939 description is, however, noticeably absent from the internet archives of all major article sites and it is also absent from the Google Scholar searches. I am still looking for it; I mentioned I was having difficulty finding it earlier in the week.

26 May 2014

Movie Day Cancelled

The only video that exists with any mention of Jaxartosaurus is the Dinosaur Train A to Z song that was shared yesterday. The dinosaur is apparently similar enough to other hadrosaurs and lambeosaurs that the more well known animals are used more often as models in documentaries. The vast majority of documentaries that exist are, I have noted in the past, rather weak on central Asian dinosaurs. The episodes of Dinosaur Train featuring Jackalyn Jaxartosaurus are still available on Netflix. Movies are not the most important source for learning about any animal of course. Unfortunately, the books usually only mention Jaxartosaurus in passing or to fill the spot for J in the alphabet.

25 May 2014

Geography Lesson Imminent

Jaxartosaurus, like so many other dinosaurs, was named after where it was initially discovered. In 1939, when it was described, the country of Kazakhstan was a state in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The fossil was named after a river in Kazakhstan then called the Jaxartes River; it is now known as the Syr Darya (darya means river but it is occasionally known as the Syr Darya River). It is important to know where names come from and on the day that we share links for younger dinosaur enthusiasts such as the NHM of London kids page and the one on Enchanted Learning that knowledge is not well shared. The Enchanted Learning page mentions it, but few others do. Dinosaur Train definitely does not, in anything I have seen; however, the character in the A to Z episodes named Jackalyn does take the important spot of the letter J in the alphabet song.

24 May 2014

Artistically Challenged

Due to the fact that so many hadrosaurs and lambeosaurs are similarly built and possess somewhat similar crests, many illustrators stick with the few core hadrosaurs and lambeosaurs when they illustrate thee types of animals. Because of that, Jaxartosaurus is one of those dinosaurs that has been largely left out of the circles of illustrated dinosaurs. They have even been left out of recent publications entirely as well. Regardless, Jaxartosaurus looked similar to other lambeosaurine dinosaurs with a crest on its head and a cow like body. The crest of this dinosaur is not reported as being as large as that of Lambeosaurus, and when illustrated that difference is reflected well. The illustration most often used wherever Jaxartosaurus is used online is the one below. It is generally considered an accurate representation overall.

23 May 2014

Jacks With A Dinosaur?

Before this week even begins I think it is massively entertaining to share a link to illustrator Dan Sorensen's website concerning this week's dinosaur: Jaxartosaurus. Be warned, that dinosaur has beefy man-arms and looks angry. Jaxartosaurus aralensis, however, is probably not a "mean" dinosaur at all; I think the public associates "meanness" in dinosaurs with carnivorous habits. Jaxartosaurus fossils have been recovered from China and Kazakhstan. The body plan of this dinosaur is reminiscent of the North American dinosaur Corythosaurus, including a large crest on its head. The single species (J. aralensis) is recognized as valid while a second species (J. fuyunensis) is considered a nomen dubium. The type specimen was described in 1937 by Anatoly Nikolaenvich Riabinin and appears to remain the definitive work done on this animal. Despite a lack of literature, Jaxartosaurus is a dinosaur that has somehow become fairly popular, appearing in a few cartoons including the popular PBS series Dinosaur Train. This week is going to involve a bit of digging on my part, as not much is posted regarding the anatomy or history of Jaxartosaurus. Some of the information this week, therefore, may be "lost" information!

22 May 2014

Being Popular Is Easy

A good number of technical books have discussed and presented arguments concerning Neovenator. Children's books have also weighed in, especially where dinosaurs of Europe in general are concerned. Dinosaur King has also used Neovenator in some way or fashion in the not too distant past: video games, many versions of cards in the collectible card game, but did not make it into the cartoon. We can fill that void with toys and other video games, this time a modified skin for Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis (see below). Neovenator is one of the more popular English dinosaurs that no one knows about. That is quite sad given its interesting familial position and relationships. However, with all of these popular culture items out there, Neovenator may become a new favorite in the near future.

21 May 2014

Megaraptors or Allosaurs

Neovenator has been classified as both and allosaurid and discussed as a megaraptorid. Regardless, it is a large theropod, not much larger than a person, but large enough to be an important predator in its environment. The hands of Neovenator are long and the claws appear as though they are capable of grasping, always an important adaptation for predators that do not simply kill with their jaws alone. Given this interpretation of the hands, it then becomes somewhat apparent that this animal most likely grasped prey, holding it down, while inflicting mortal injuries upon it. The alternative hypothesis for the large and long claws is that they were used themselves to inflict the mortal injuries that brought down prey. The agile frame of Neovenator does not exclude either hypothesis, however, it does make the argument for an animal that wrestled prey down a slight bit weaker. Fleshed out, though, Neovenator may have been much bulkier than the fossils we have of it let on. There sounds like there is a lot of speculation in this entry today because there are a couple of hypotheses thrown out. Rather than side with one over the other, I think that both have merit and need to be looked into further.

20 May 2014

Searching For Origins

Papers by Benson, Carrano, and Brusatte (2010) have been mentioned earlier this week, in particular the paper that reassigned and named the family Neovenatoridae (halfway down this page there is a pdf that opens automatically, so I cannot link to it directly). However, two years prior (2008) Brusatte, Benson, and Hutt reexamined the fossil remains of Neovenator and discussed autapomorphies present in the remains. This paper is not available anywhere free, which is okay, but can be purchased from The Palaeontographical Society. Knowing how our knowledge got to that point is probably more important, but it is also where our paper trail somewhat peters out. The naming article is known [The first European allosauroid dinosaur (Lower Cretaceous, Wealden Group, England)] as are the names of the authors (Hutt, Martill, and Barker). We also know that the paper exists, that it named Neovenator and that it describes the fossils attributed to this new species. The real problem comes when I tried to track it down. The publisher, and the journal, have no record of the title in an online search. Strange? Very. Does it exist? It must! I will continue to look for it, but I find it strange that I have yet to find it at this point in time.

19 May 2014

Tributes and Weird Rock

Two tribute videos have been produced concerning Neovenator. The two choices are a little misspelled and a little bit Spanish. They are both typical tribute videos: so-so to awful music, stock illustrations, some illustrations that are not Neovenator and a good smattering of popular culture. Speaking of popular culture, here's a song called Neovenator by some guys in a scuba gear (I don't ask, I just deliver):

18 May 2014

The Children's Neovenator

Neovenator has a wealth of information for a slightly newer dinosaur. Thanks to that there are a large number of links for younger readers interested in Neovenator. There are pages on About and the NHM of London, as assumed because they are the most consistent reliable sources of information at a younger reader's level of abilities. Dinosaur Isle, a site not often used, is also host to a good page for younger readers on Neovenator today. The page shows a number of the fossils associated with Neovenator and discusses a lot of the description and the research that has surrounded the animal.

17 May 2014

Straying From the Line

The average Saturday post has gone from comparing a lot of art to discussing one illustration mostly because there is a general lack of material for a lot of the dinosaurs that we are getting into lately. Today's illustration is not a lot of illustrations or one generally accepted illustration for a very important reason. That reason is not that there are no good illustrations of Neovenator but because Neovenator is a strangely complex dinosaur. Fossil remains of Neovenator favor a described length of between 7 - 8 meters. As such, this dinosaur is slightly taller than the average human woman, most of the time. The problem is that there are other fossils in the recovered bones that point to a larger body size of up to 10 meters. These larger remains could potentially belong to another individual. It would be a terribly awful pathology to have only a few bones much larger than the rest of your skeleton, so assuming there is more than one individual represented or that the individual recovered has damaged bones are probably both somewhat safe assumptions.

16 May 2014

New Hunters of Europe

The Isle of Wight is famous for its fossil discoveries (and probably something that as an American I do not know about) including the allosaurid Neovenator salerii. Originally unearthed in 1978, it was not until 1989 that the majority of the fossil was excavated and not until 1996 was Neovenator officially described by Hutt, Martill, and Barker. Since that time the family of Neovenator has been assigned and then reassigned (most recently by Benson, Carrano, and Brusatte in 2010). Originally considered to be nearly related to the North African dinosaur Carcharodontosaurus, the 2010 reassignment of the family created a new grouping called the Neovenatoridae. In its currently understood clade relationships it is still considered an allosaurid, but is thought to also be closely related to megaraptors. Pathology of the known fossil remains are also evident and will provide a discussion point or two during this week. Neovenator is a new hunter, but it has many old stories to tell.
©Nobu Tamura

15 May 2014

Populating the Culture

Hylaeosaurus is partially the very definition of Dinosauria. That itself makes it a rather impacting dinosaur on popular culture. Being named a "woodland armored lizard" has not detracted from its popularity; in the scope of dinosaur names it is kind of bland we have to admit. The fact that the NHM of London has left Mantell's specimen as it was found for nearly 200 years now is a massive nod of respect to Mantell and to Hylaeosaurus itself at the same time. Aside from this distinction, and the distinction of being a part of the original definition of Dinosauria, Hylaeosaurus does not hit a lot of hot topic buttons in popular culture. CollectA, a somewhat minor player in the cast toy/model market, has released their version of Hylaeosaurus. Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs (LITC) has done a good job of compiling the popular art and literature references that mention Hylaeosaurus, so there is not much reason for me to do it when I can refer a search of their blog instead!

14 May 2014

Small Remains

Basing a description off of the limited material of the type specimen is difficult. It can be done however, and comparison of the spikes, vertebrae, and general outlay of the type specimen's slab offered a lot of clues to Mantell in 1833. Recognizing a reptilian body from that little amount of material is quite impressive as is. Considering that much of the anatomy of this dinosaur is still unknown, and that the holotype replacing the type fossil does not constitute much more than the original fossil did, the descriptions and assignment of Hylaeosaurus based on what is available is thanks to solid scientific inquiry, description, and the process of review. As mentioned yesterday, the review process has changed the systematic position of Hylaeosaurus a little, but overall the description of Mantell stating that this reptilian fossil was from a quadrupedal animal that was rather large and armored was fairly accurate. Of course, Mantell was working with a much more complete animal than had been discovered for Iguanodon or Megalosaurus at the time, and that certainly allowed him to be more detailed in his description. I may have mislabeled the holotype as the type in the past few days when I shared a picture of it. Highlighting some of the details in better detail as a drawing, enjoy the view of this 1868 pen and ink illustration of the holotype R3775 housed at NMH London.

13 May 2014

Papers Among Us

There are a few good papers to read concerning Hylaeosaurus. The original description seems to have not made its way to the internet, but it could just be hiding out rather well; it is cited in papers and referenced as such online a few times at least. A secondary observation by Gideon Mantell, a revisitation of Iguanodon and Hylaeosaurus, is available online. This second visit to the remains came about 16 years later and uses a much more in depth approach of description of the fossils than previously stated. This paper, therefore, is actually a bit more useful than the initial paper describing the animals. It also sets the stage for more recent papers describing the systematics of polocanthids and other Wealden Formation fossils. Also, I like Mantell's second description of the fossils because it is definitely a 19th century piece, and I have a soft spot for the language and prose of 19th century scientific writing.

12 May 2014

Home Video Day

As popular as Hylaeosaurus was yesterday, today it is almost unheard of. The realm of documentaries, movies, and other film adaptations is filled with popular, scary, and awe inspiring dinosaurs. A small nodosaur does not, apparently, fit this description. Instead, we get to look at a pretty good view of the Crystal Palace sculpture of Hylaeosaurus by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. There is a lot of other material in this video as well, as it looks at the entire Crystal Palace sculpture area, but the views of Hylaeosaurus start at about the 1:05 mark. It is worth looking at the whole 5 minutes though.

11 May 2014

Friendly and Happy

Hylaeosaurus was one of the first described dinosaurs and used in the determining what a dinosaur was initially. It stands to reason that it has some level of fame then. This level of notoriety means that a lot of people have heard of it and a lot of those people have willingly put in effort and time to create fact pages online for younger readers. These include the bullet pointed educational resource of The Free Resource, not so catchy but easy to remember, and the Kids Dinos page for Hylaeosaurus. The saddest page of the day is probably Enchanted Learning, not because it is sub-par but because it does not possess its normal black and white image that can be used for coloring. Still, there are a lot of facts for a lot of readers of varying reading abilities out there today.

10 May 2014

The Original Fossils

The type material for Hylaeosaurus is a confusing looking muddle of bones. Aside from the fact that the term dinosaur was not in existence at the time these were described, this jumble of very alien appearing bones was probably both confusing and somewhat alarming to Mantell and the scientific community and led to their description as saurian at best. This jumbled up fossil used as the type specimen gives both very little and a great deal of information. There is very little overall information of the entire animal presented here. The material is from the anterior aspect of the vertebral column, near to the head. These armored spikes led Mantell to add the specific epithet armatus meaning armored. There is, however, quite a deal of information in the fossil that allowed Mantell to describe a new animal that became 1/3 of the basis of Owen's description of dinosaurs.

09 May 2014

Tiny Tanks of England

136 million years ago in the Cretaceous of England a 6 meter long ankylosaurid was plodding along living its ankylosaurid life. In 1832 that animal was described by Gideon Mantell as a 7.6 meter long fossil saurian; the term dinosaur was not coined until 1842 by Richard Owen. Named Hylaeosaurus ("Belonging to the forest"), one species is currently recognized as a valid taxon: Hylaeosaurus armatus Mantell 1833. The lack of material has lead researchers studying Hylaeosaurus to assign it as a potential basal nodosaurian polacanthid rather than an ankylosaur. Mantell's original specimen, from Tilgate Forest in West Sussex, is inventoried as NHMUK 3775 in the Natural Museum History of London. Remains from all over Europe have been attributed to this genus over time. What makes it stick out as a special and unique taxon? We should be able to find some answers to that important query this week.
Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins

08 May 2014

Darling of The Toy Industry

Since its discovery and highly publicized description, Concavenator has been modeled by a number of toy makers. Safari LTD. has made the biggest splash in the Concavenator market it appears, as it shows up in reviews and, by happy accident, on our own Facebook page thanks to a courteous reader. Artists, we have seen, have done a lot of work with Raul Martin being the most published in official news stories. Usually I do not mention art as part of popular culture, but Martin's interpretation of the animal has been heavily pushed by the media; this is not a bad thing as Martin's illustrations are pretty nicely done. Robinson Kunz has not been as published, however, his interpretation on DeviantArt is very interesting and the extras (map, etc.) are a nice touch. This post could go on forever, as there are card games, video game models, some books, even more toys than I have mentioned so far, and many other parts of our culture that this dinosaur has permeated, but I would rather not go on and on about it.

07 May 2014

Differing Interpretations

Two main features of the skeleton of Concavenator have stood out to researchers. The first has been covered in many conversations. The hump above the pelvis is fairly well understood and interpreted in both manners in which it has been interpreted. Unfortunately there are no known illustrations of the hump as an anatomical signalling feature. The other structure, the quill knobs, have been questioned as well. Darren Naish has questioned these in the past, stating that they might be either tendon attachment points or they may indeed be quill knobs but extremely primitive versions of quill knobs. Skepticism in science is a good thing, and there is nothing wrong with putting different ideas out there as well. To my knowledge the knobs have not been investigated by themselves to date, so the describing authors and Naish's different views are all potentially valid argument points. Someone will some day pick up the ulna of Concavenator and publish a decision, but even that might take some intense testing to stand up against scrutiny. Time will tell, and some future student somewhere has a project waiting for them.

06 May 2014

Describing and Feathers

The most important paper is always the describing paper. Fortunately that is available online as a pdf, which is wonderful because it is already free and something that can be shared amongst the interested individuals out there in the world. Another article, free online as a Nature article by Lucas Laursen discusses the importance of the discovery of feathers on this dinosaur. Feathers on this dinosaur completely pushes back the age of feather development in dinosaurs and absolutely changes the story of feather development in all dinosaur lineages. The article mentions the quill attachment sites and briefly discusses them, but does not go into depth on them.

05 May 2014

When You're Not A Star

Somehow, despite being known and described for a number of solid years, this interesting and unique specimen of theropod life has escaped notice in documentaries and many other dinosaur video outlets. The general lack of European specific dinosaurs may in part account for this in popular culture. It is true that some European dinosaurs are featured heavily in popular culture but it is equally true that their heyday has somewhat disappeared and even the newly discovered European dinosaurs appear to suffer because of this. Often the only dinosaurs featured in documentaries are from the Western Hemisphere or from Asia. Therefore, after this long-winded apology for the lack of videos of this Spanish dinosaur, there are few videos that can be shared concerning Concavenator. Dinosaur George has been asked a few questions about Concavenator. There is also a news video that I can only assume interviews the authors but is also definitely not in English. Anyone that knows Spanish may enjoy it though!

04 May 2014

Camels of the Dinosaur World

Oftentimes drawing a comparison to living animals that young readers are more acquainted with helps them to picture and understand extinct animals much better. Equating this dinosaur to camels may not be entirely appropriate, however, it does allow for a speculative image of the animal to appear in the mind that anyone, including younger readers, can readily envision. That may be the best thing for young dinosaur connoisseurs today as there are not many links for their perusal designed specifically for the lower readers of the world. There does exist an About page. However, none of the other mainline pages used for links appear to have any information on Concavenator. National Geographic does still host its original news story announcing the discovery and describing of the dinosaur. This may be a good source of reading practice for dinosaur fans.

03 May 2014

Happily Cooling

©Emily Willoughby
Never has a theropod been this happy to cool down in the twilight air. Concavenator is hypothesized to have used the hump or sail on its back to thermoregulate. I note here that  I will continue to refer to it as either a hump or a sail because the illustrations of the dinosaur appear to address both anatomical structures as equally likely to have been present. The main difference is that a hump is generally considered to consist of fatty connective tissues whereas a sail would more likely be a thinly stretched skin supported by bony struts. In this illustration it appears safe to say that this Concavenator is sporting a fatty looking hump rather than a thinly stretched sail. The hump, however, could have potentially served as a thermoregulatory structure in addition to the other common purposes that fatty humps are used for in extant animals: storage of energy and, through metabolic breakdown of fats, the storage of some water reserves. The need for a water source in the Barremian of Spain, from which the fossils were recovered, honestly unknown to me, but having food reserves is always a good idea for any animal. Roger Benson suggested that perhaps the bones supporting the hump were more geared toward being the origin of display structures. I have yet to see this idea illustrated however.

02 May 2014

Sailing Away

©Alvaro Rozalen
The number of dinosaurs covered here continues to grow and the number of dinosaurs that have yet to be covered continues to become increasingly perplexing. For the most part this is because a lot of named species have very little referential material and documentation, making them poor subjects for a week long investigation. That simply means that forays into non-dinosaur animals may become more frequent as time goes on. This week, though, I found another overlooked but fantastically interesting dinosaur described in 2010 by Ortega, Escaso, and Sanz: Concavenator corcovatus. This medium-sized carcharodontosaur possessed a small hump or sail on its back that, as many sails and humps are thought to, have had thermoregulatory properties or abilities. This animal is even more special in that the forearm of the fossil has well preserved quill knobs, the attachments on the bone for feathers. This makes this dinosaur a feathered dinosaur with rather good evidence to support that claim.

01 May 2014

Ammonites In Spotlights

Ammonites are popular because they are well known. They show up in all sorts of pop culture arenas including the Jurassic Park Facebook game, the Walking with... series (if only as a floating shell briefly) and have even been morphed into Pokemon. Perhaps one of the most interesting areas that ammonites have flooded recently is the plush and crochet markets. Strangely, their simple body plan and the prolific fossil history have combined to allow them to be easily made into stuffed animals made from fleece and yarn. I think there is no better logical stopping point in proving how versatile and popular ammonites are.