30 November 2014
29 November 2014
|Robert Broom's 1926 reconstruction|
28 November 2014
To begin this journey we will look, not in chronological order, but in the order of what I personally find most interesting (unless I get some good suggestions for the future as time goes on). This week, therefore, I have decided that the first ancient mammal to be discussed during December is the genus Moschops. Moschops consists of 4 recognized species, 2 of which are considered questionable. The remains of Moschops species have been recovered from the Karoo Basin of South Africa, long known and famous for its mammalian riches. Moschops was a large, hefty Therapsid Dinocephalian herbivore that possessed a uniquely opened elbow joint that allowed Moschops to move much more like a modern mammal and less like a crawling, sprawling reptile. The skeleton of the animal has led to the inference that Moschops used this newly adapted joint system to move the massive body that the skeleton represents as it fed, seemingly without end, on the low nutritive quality of the cycads and ferns that grew around it. Overall, it is a squat, but gigantic animal. It looks almost uninteresting, but I promise it has many more interesting characteristics to be seen over the week to come.
27 November 2014
26 November 2014
25 November 2014
1905 was a big year for Megacerops. Richard S. Lull, of the Massachusetts Agricultural College (presently UMass Amherst), published his description and plates of a fossil he named Megacerops tyleri in the Journal of Geology for the first time. Thirty five years before that the genus Megacerops was originally named and described by Joseph Leidy. Osborn discussed Leidy's description in his 1902 discussion on the Oligocene titanotheres. Either way, Lull's plates depict a skull and forelimb of the animal, far more than Leidy had in his initial descriptions. Prior to this, in the same compile volume, Lull detailed the restoration of the animal. This restoration was effected in clay and features a photograph of the skull, as opposed to the line drawings in the plates of the description. Papers and studies continue to be published, of course. The last well detailed description of a new specimen that I would recommend reading was published in 1995 in the Journal of Paleontology and introduced the new species Megacerops kuwagatarhinus from the White River beds of Montana.
24 November 2014
Walking with Beasts features a battle that is pretty interesting to watch. The confrontation is between Brontotherium (as they are calling it in the show) and Andrewsarchus, an animal known from an enormous solitary skull and thought to be related to pig-like omnivores and potentially whales as well. Regardless, the fight alone can be seen here, with background on Brontotherium. The entire episode is hosted on a different site. However, it may be worth watching to see what other information the BBC presented on these two animals and the other animals that lived at the same time.
23 November 2014
Megacerops, under either that name or Brontotherium is a popular fossil mammal. Multiple sites exist that host lists or paragraphs of facts. About continues to use the more popular Brontotherium on their site while Planet Dinosaur acknowledges the switch, somewhat begrudgingly since they use both names on the title of the page. Brontotheres as a group are addressed on a page dedicated to the fossils of the White River Badlands rather than any single genus in the group. This wider angle approach is good at times and is helpful for viewing all of the animals related to this animal rather than just looking at our target animal. It is always good to look at the bigger picture once in a while.
22 November 2014
|Menodus (junior synonym to Megacerops), |
Field Museum, Chicago.
21 November 2014
Though not a rhinoceros and much more closely related to horses, Megacerops was a very rhinoceros-like relative of horses and is therefore a bit confusing on first glance. Known more popularly as Brontotherium, Megacerops Leidy 1870 was far larger than any modern horse or rhinoceros. Its distinctive look, two large bony protuberances above its nose, make it look slightly more like a rhinoceros, but are significantly different from any known rhinoceros horn as well. The use of these protuberances is well documented, as we shall discuss. This animal is yet another North American Eocene mammal.
|Robert Bruce Horsfall, 1913|
20 November 2014
After having more than a few handfuls of information written about Paraceratherium and an entire episode of the Walking With Series about one of them, this magnificently large mammal has certainly shown that it has a great deal of popular culture credit. The animal has been shown in video games as well, particularly where it can be modded in, like in Zoo Tycoon 2. It has also shown up in a non-modded form in Jurassic Park Builder as well, to be fair, as a Glacier Park animal. In both games it is seen under the popularized name Indricotherium. There are toys out there, but I would stress caution with buying them under the impression that they are accurate models. Many of the toy images I have seen show extremely muscular giraffe-like animals or emaciated camel-like animals. Considering all of the attention that this animal has received in the last decade, it is very difficult to figure out why the toy models are so ridiculously off base.
19 November 2014
The head of Paraceratherium on the cover of that book yesterday got me thinking. What does the head of a giant rhinoceros ancestor look like exactly? Is it fantastical to have elephantine ears? The simple answer is that we will never really know and artistic license can do whatever it wants to the head. The fact that the illustrator of that book cover went with the head design he did, maybe at the behest of Donald Prothero, only backs up that point. To be fully honest though, that idea is much more innovative than the rhino-on-a-giraffe-neck design that is typically depicted. There is nothing wrong with the usual interpretation because it is usually aligned to the paleontological interpretation of the skull, but with the ears not being preserved on any specimens, to my knowledge, and they could have looked like anything. The open mouth and down-turned lip is sort of mandatory, because of the skull, so the interpretation of that does not often change. Regardless of whether you liked it or not, the new and old interpretations both have merits and you have to admit the idea of a rhinoceros head on a giraffe sized neck is interesting. Seriously though, look at that rhino head on a giraffe neck!
|Paraceratherium herd: Elizabeth Rungius Fulda 1923|
18 November 2014
I love original descriptions. That has probably been said many times over. I hate when they are not available for free to anyone and everyone (because it is hard to get articles for some of our younger readers). Despite that happening, there is an absolute mountain of work out there on Paraceratherium. This is due in part to the fact that there are more than a handful of junior synonyms for this animal, meaning that there are a fair number of initial description papers for these now dubious names. There are also new remains still being discovered and described under the currently accepted generic name as well. Rather than listing out hundreds of papers today though, I am encouraging the audience to instead check out, inter-library loan, or even buy a book! This is not because I love mammal paleontology or specifically the work of the author (though anyone into fossil mammals knows the name Prothero), but because anyone that is really interested in Paraceratherium and its family would enjoy and get a lot from Donald Prothero's book Rhinoceros Giants: The Paleobiology of Indricotheres. The first link to the book is a Google powered preview, but this link right here goes to the Indiana University Press. Why would I encourage anyone to buy directly from the publisher instead of shopping around (assuming that purchasing is the intent)? The answer is actually a matter of savings. The publisher is offering the book electronically for $8 less. I love the smell and feel of a new book (almost as much as an old book), but sometimes less is more. You can carry an electronic copy more easily as well. Regardless, I cannot say I have read through this entire book, but the reviews I have seen and the snippets I have previewed point to it being part historical, mostly technical, but very informative overall. As a collector of subject literature (e.g. I get books about birds and dinosaurs whenever I can to compare the information presented regardless of author) I have to say, even if you do not agree with the author, this is a comprehensive work on the animals we have been discussing all week and well worth the investigation on your part! Plus, check out the head on the Paraceratherium on the cover. Pure gold!
17 November 2014
16 November 2014
Most of the time when a name changes it takes a few years for the internet and sometimes even technical literature to adopt, accept, and print that change. Some of the pages of facts for younger readers today never changed their information and still list animals under their junior synonyms like Indricotherium and Baluchitherium. Any way you pull them apart though, these are all the same animal, Paraceratherium. Enchanted Learning is the biggest offender in that regard, but if one were to go through all of the synonymous names and read the descriptions there would be a wealth of information at their hands. About and the BBC have their naming conventions better put together than Enchanted Learning does however, which is a bit nicer and vastly more convenient. The BBC, of course, uses stills and information from the Walking With Series while About does an even shorter version of what we take all week to do here; integrating technical science and popular sources as much as possible to make the information readable.
15 November 2014
|©Roman Uchytel 2010|
14 November 2014
|Henry Fairfield Osborn, 1923|
13 November 2014
I may not have said this this week, but Teleoceras means "Long Horned One". As one of the most common large mammal fossils of North America, Nebraska especially, Teleoceras is also one of the more popular of the "Ice Age" megafauna with the general public. As such, it does appear in a few popular cultural areas including Spore and Zoo Tycoon. The rhinoceros does not appear in many books, strangely enough, and it also does not appear in any documentaries or other video programs. Small rhinoceros toys have been altered by collectors to look like Teleoceras. Unfortunately, that is the extent of the toy presence. Most of the wonderful things about Teleoceras that we have seen this week are exactly how we have seen them; online and in the world of physical fossils only.
12 November 2014
Teleoceras is considered the most common fossil in Nebraska's Ashfall Fossil Beds. Considering that, one would imagine that the information around Teleoceras would be more plentiful. Wikipedia's page is less than a printed page. Regardless, the point today is that the fossil amount in Nebraska is copious enough that the building housing the fossils is called the "Rhino Barn". The state park is home to largely complete specimens, which is even more amazing than simply stating that there are so many remains that there is a building dedicated to housing them. The story of the Ashfall Beds is detailed very well on the park's website. The site is maintained by the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, which may explain why the site is well maintained, in part at least.
11 November 2014
|Scan from the Time-Life book North America (Jay Matternes)|
10 November 2014
Unlike last week's popular Elasmotherium that has charmed its way onto television (and then the internet), Teleoceras has somehow not managed to do so as yet. In fact, it has not managed to make it into any motive media at all. The only mention of it is in a short video of someone showing a Teleoceras molar. It probably is not worth viewing for anyone unless one is that interested in the molars of extinct rhinoceroses (I say this knowing someone that is in fact that interested in that very subject).
09 November 2014
Teleoceras, as mentioned, was an extremely short built rhinoceros. The hippo-like qualities make it much more accessible, or likeable at least, to children, I have found. Regardless, the education component of this post is taken care of in these two PDFs below (Yay for educational material when it is available!). They are actually quite short, but they give students/children something to think about in terms of Teleoceras and extant rhinoceroses rather than just having them color a picture or watch a video. It is a quality endeavor and different versions are available for up to 3rd grade and up to 6th grade. There is one other resource that I like today. The East Tennessee State University Natural History Museum has a neat little page on their site where one can look at the bones of a rhinoceros (labelled Teleoceras sp.). It gives some information about the bones that are being looked at and is generally pretty interesting and worth a few moments of time.
08 November 2014
07 November 2014
06 November 2014
|E. sibiricum ©Dmitry Bogdanov, 2006|
|E. caucasicum ©Dmitry Bogdanov, 2009|
|First published restoration (1878) of E. sibiricum, by Rashevsky|
|E. sibiricum ©Philip72, 2002|
|E. sibiricum ©Stanton F. Fink, 2011|
05 November 2014
Black Rhinoceros and with some Indian Rhinoceroses in the not too distant past that gives us a much better image of the height of an extant rhinoceros next to a human being. Obviously they are large animals and their overall size dwarfs ours, but Elasmotherium would have done a much better job of making us look miniscule when standing next to it. The horn alone was particularly enormous, and fortunately we have materials that allow us to make inferences into what that horn looked like. One such piece of material is the skull at the Natural History Museum of London. This skull has a well preserved base for the horn that allows for well informed extrapolation of the structure. The length of the horn based on that extrapolation may not be entirely correct, but that is a question of math and inferences and topics that I am honestly not well-enough versed in to describe. Either way, these enormous horns would probably have caused Elasmotherium to become endangered just as fast or faster than their extant cousins because of the wealth they would have represented. They would have been pretty awesome to see roaming the plains though, that cannot really be denied.
|NHM London specimen User: Ghedoghedo|
04 November 2014
A multitude of Elasmotherium studies have been conducted since the naming and describing of the initial materials. Limb bones have been described and there have been ecological studies conducted. Geographic populations have been described for areas like China and Kazakhstan. The phylogenetics of the genus have even been studied, probably multiple times to be honest. The original description of the Moscow Mandible and Fischer's inferences about the ancient rhinoceros are lost to the internet, as far as I can tell. That is, of course, rather unfortunate given how important naming and describing articles are to the history of any fossil species and the study of them. Fortunately, however, Zoya Bessudnova recently tackled the history of Fischer in 2013, describing his scientific endeavors in Russia and upholding his fame as the "Russian Cuvier", a term for Fischer I was not familiar with. The most interesting fact about that statement is that Johann (Grigory) Gotthelf Fischer Von Waldheim was German born (1771 in Saxony) and moved to Russia in 1804. Either way, his description of Elasmotherium sibiricum is not in our hands today, but many other quality papers about the animal are available for reading!
03 November 2014
02 November 2014
Dinosaur Jungle hosts a page describing Elasmotherium that looks fairly whimsical. However, it also looks fairly accurate, so there are not any really large complaints about this either. Even more important, Enchanted Learning has a short synopsis and a coloring sheet. It is not the best, as we typically expect from Enchanted Learning, but it is a rather nice thing to have all in one place.
01 November 2014
|Moscow mandible, J. Fischer|
|Heinrich Harder, 1920|
Over the decades many things changed surrounding the knowledge of Elasmotherium, including the addition of many more complete, but still fragmentary, specimens of all three species of the genus. The shape of the body and the giant horn took shape. The horn, easily explaining some forms of unicorn legends (though of course these are probably not localized to any one region or type of animal), was enormous and, despite recognizable placement on the skull, was often illustrated in a much more unicorn-like posture. Newer images, we will see during the week, have become much more reminiscent of extant rhinoceroses but older images were significantly horse-like in appearance. This could be partially because of the then emerging knowledge of the relationships between horses and rhinoceroses or it could also be because the body simply appeared that way to earlier illustrators and scientists. Either way, the first full body illustrations were rather interesting because of the horse-rhinoceros cross over of the body shape.
Fischer, J. (1809). "21. Sur L'Elasmotherium et le Trogontothérium". "Memoires de la Société Impériale des Naturalistes de Moscou". Tome II. Moscou: Imprimerie de l'Université Impériale. p. 255.
MacFadden, Bruce J. 2000. "Origin and evolution of the grazing guild in Cenozoic New World terrestrial mammals". In Sues, Hans-Dieter. Evolution of Herbivory in Terrestrial Vertebrates: Perspectives from the Fossil Record. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 223–244