STL Science Center

STL Science Center

31 March 2015

Scholarly News

Comparisons of diet, tooth wear, and taphonomic analyses are among some of the more modern popular topics concerning research into the lives and history of Sivatherium. These are all interesting topics and, coupled with classic and modern description, makes Sivatherium one of the more comprehensively studied mammals of the fossil record. There are certainly more well studied mammals, but Sivatherium research is not lagging behind the leaders. One of my favorite topics to see a paper on is the more historically aimed paper that asks if the ancient Sumerians were acquainted with Sivatherium. That could be my bias as an historian reaching over my scientific side though. The paper is from 1936, but it is still an interesting question to probe. The comparison is made by Colbert of a Sumerian artifact that bears a vague resemblance to a Sivatherium.
comparison drawing by Margaret Matthew Colbert

30 March 2015

Moved Movie

There are a couple of links that say they include some sort of information about Sivatherium but there are no actual good quality videos of the strange giraffid. The best is probably the video that I shared yesterday on here. The short videos that use the name Sivatherium or claim to have something to do with the animal are completely lacking or just straight out inaccurate. This happens a lot unfortunately but one would think that such a strange mammal would have made a high quality animal for at least the Walking With... series if not any other documentary series. To make up for this lack of a movie for the day, please enjoy this wonderfully colorful version of a Harder piece:

29 March 2015

Facts About a Giraffid

There are a number of both old and new websites as well as old and new books and sources of information regarding Sivatherium. The animal has even gone pretty hi-tech. It is actually only a little bit bi-tech in that it can be colored online (it is the Lydekker image). Some of the better sites for facts are Prehistoric Wildlife and About, as usual. The short powerpoint here is also fairly informative.

28 March 2015

Newer Illustrations

The newer illustrations, such as that seen yesterday, show Sivatherium as a rather giraffe-like creature with similar proportions and what appear to be nearly identical cranial elements. The adornments of the modern version of illustrated Sivatherium are very different from those that were illustrated when the original materials and descriptions were being publicized and discussed in the scientific community. The original depictions of Sivatherium showed an animal very much like a moose. Due to the proportions of the bodies of these animals those types of illustrations make a great deal of sense as biologists or naturalists of the time would have compared the animal in front of them to those in their living ecosystems and very few animals of the interior of Africa were known and well understood. The okapi, still elusive today, was probably not even known of at the time by the majority of illustrators and paleontologists like Heinrich Harder. A giraffe would have been only barely comparable to Sivatherium because of the proportions in question and the nearest living animal of the time in shape would have almost certainly been the moose. This, at least, has the appearance of a logical deduction as to why Sivatherium looks like a giant moose with horns in pre-1950's illustrations. I, if readers remember correctly, love anachronistic art pieces like this. Heinrich Harder is definitely one of my favorites, and this illustration is not an exception to the quality of his work.

27 March 2015

Age of Mammals

The diversity of this blog is about to really take off now. As we venture into random directions and sometimes talk about dinosaurs and sometimes not, I will probably ask people what their favorite animals are to get ideas for future directions. Today is one of those instances. That means that we will sometimes have similar taxa back to back and sometimes not. Sometimes we may not even discuss dinosaurs for an extended period (I might want to change the name of the blog I realize as I type this).

Either way, this week's fossil animal comes to us from the heart of the age of mammals. An extinction date as recent as 8,000 years ago makes this fossil artiodactyl an astonishingly young fossil taxa for a site typically discussing taxa millions of years old. There are a number of reasons that this animal is wonderful and intriguing though. First of all, rock paintings in the Sahara Desert are thought to resemble this animal, though perhaps they are simply terrible drawings of one of their living descendants. Those living descendants, okapi and giraffes, look very similar to Sivatherium giganteum Falconer and Cautley 1836. Sivatherium was an odd "giraffid" that had a known range from Northern Africa to the Indian subcontinent; the type species material was discovered in a valley at the feet of the Himalayas. This odd looking animal is nestled, in height, between giraffes and okapi at around 2.2 m (7 ft 4 in) tall at the shoulder. The head of the animal was considerably well built, far more robust than either of its living relatives, and the neck, accordingly, was extremely muscular to support the head.
Museum of Evolution of Polish Academy of Sciences By Hiuppo (Own work) [GFDL (httpwww.gnu.orgcopyleftfdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (httpcreativecommons.orglicensesby3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

26 March 2015

The Most Famous Fossils

Eurypterids, despite being a group and not a single organism, have been a fun set of discussions this week. We could easily venture into each species over a great length of time, and perhaps we can revisit some of them in the coming years. Until then though, enjoy the riches of eurypterida that has flowed out into the world thanks to their massive biomass in the fossil record and the Walking With series... probably moreso the second than the first. Regardless of where you turn, whether it is books, television, or the internet, everyone that loves eurypterids should own one of these:

25 March 2015

What Is That Body?

Jaekelopterus rhenaniae
We have made mention many times this week of the general morphology of eurypterids. These sea scorpions are what they sound like they are, in all honesty. Like other arthropods eurypterids are thought to have moulted a carapace that was probably chitin based. These insect-like creatures were segmented, having three main body segments composed of a head, body, and tail. The tail is hypothesized to have been able to inject venom into prey items in a similar fashion to the way that extant scorpions perform that function. Unlike modern arachnids eurypterids possessed three pairs of legs like extant insects with at least one pair better suited to swimming than walking. Eurypterids are considered one of the first potential terrestrial animals because of their ability to use their legs both in and out of the water. Possibly helping to adjust to the air after leaving the water, eurypterids possessed two pairs of eyes with the smaller ocelli residing between the larger compound eyes. As the first animals hypothesized to reach land, Protichnites being the first of the first, eurypterids were also uninhibited when it came to growth. This applies to growth in the water as much as it does to growth on land without any competition or natural predators initially following them out. To that end, they could grow to be quite enormous and the largest on record, Jaekelopterus rhenaniae, was a monster. The largest claws that have been discovered to date measure approximately 46 cm (18 in). The smallest eurypterid on record was about a quarter of the size of the claw!

24 March 2015

Early Papers, Recent Papers

At the turn of the 20th century eurypterids were being described and re-described because they were still quite new to science. Descriptions like this Silurian description of a eurypterid by Malcolm Laurie is preserved as an abstract but shows all the makings of a classical description complete with anecdotal evidence. The actual article is not available online, but the abstract appears to be chock full of 19th century scientific goodness. The lack of that article's full text is compensated for by the vast expanse of articles available on the subject. The topics range from Ordovician evidence of book-lungs to paleoecology and moulting of carapaces. Ocean-going animals are more capable than many other taxa, save those traveling through mud, to leave behind trackways as ichnofossils. These have, of course, been studied in some detail when they have been found. How one species of sea scorpion trackway can be differentiated from another is a question for Braddy and Almond who studied the fossils in South Africa. One of the most interesting studies is one that centers on functional morphology. Braddy and Dunlop explore the mating of sea scorpions in the Silurian seas. Mating is always a topic of interest in science and inferences that can be made about mating in eurypterids, as with any ancient taxa, are an awesome topic simply waiting to be uncovered.

23 March 2015

From Kokomo to London

The Indiana State Museum has a Eurypterid that has a story. The story starts with the organism, 140 million years ago, and takes a detour that lands it on a porch in Indiana for 30 years before the fossil found its way to the museum. The story is fantastic and interesting.
London, specifically the BBC, also has many stories concerning Eurypterids. We saw clips of them yesterday. There obviously more stories than those short clips. In that vein I encourage readers to find the Walking With... series but I also recommend this short video on Eurypterids that supplements information that can be learned from the BBC. This video, though, is not associated in any way, shape, or form with the BBC; it is actually an Animal Planet produced video.

22 March 2015

Walking the Ocean Floor

More than likely we have the Walking With... series to thank for the popularity of a lot of non-dinosaur fossil taxa. This is mostly evident in the fact that the vast majority of fact pages, and there are a great many for eurypterids, that are out there refer to the Eurypterida as "sea scorpions". I mentioned on Friday that the term sea scorpion is a misnomer as these large predators were discussed as being distantly related to scorpions at best. The University of California Museum of Paleontology, however, notes that they are very closely related to arachnids (spiders as well as scorpions). The UCMP has a treasure trove of information on the eurypterids and makes a great source. Some other quality sources include a nice gallery of actual fossils on the Fossil Guy's website and BBC Nature's short blurb and two clip page that celebrates the use of the animals in their fossil taxa documentaries and fake nature shows (Nigel Marvin's shows are far more accurate than some other mockumentaries we can mention). There are so many varieties of eurypterids that covering all of them may not be plausible, but we also may not have a choice. Taxa like eurypterids are often, unfortunately, lumped together as an order or family and attempting to tease out genera and species is difficult and sometimes simply impossible. It does tend to give us a large number of images that can be used for entertainment (read: coloring!) such as this one:
Drepanopterus sp.

21 March 2015

Thanking Charles Knight

©Charles R. Knight
Usually whenever I post the artwork of Charles R. Knight it is to make a point of how much the artistic interpretation and scientific opinion of dinosaurs has changed his turn of the century artwork became popular and extensively used in museums and scientific works. In some organisms, however, the work of Charles R. Knight persists in its validity remotely at the very least. The wide winged bodies of eurypterids have changed so little in our interpretations that the illustrations of Knight remain quite true to the form of the creatures. For the most part, eurypterids of all sizes appear to resemble scorpions superficially, hence the common moniker of "sea scorpions" and Knight has captured this shape wonderfully and for all time. More modern illustrations, which we shall see, do exist and are equally wonderful if not better in some regards, but , as I tend to do, I am rather happy with the anachronistic illustrations of the early 20th or late 19th centuries.

20 March 2015

First Deviation

Ernst Haeckel
The first in a line of deviations is going to be an exploration into the strange Ordovician and Permian seas of the "early days" of  multicellular life. Early is a somewhat relative term given the length of time that the earth had existed and the time since that multicellular life has existed in the fossil record and in extant species. At any rate, the group that we will explore this week is not a single taxon. We have done this sort of investigation before. However, this week that investigation will center on a group of invertebrate animals we collectively know as the Eurypterida. This order consists of two recognized suborders with a multitude of families in each. The animals are large "sea scorpion" like animals. Their body shape resembles scorpions despite no close relationship with the extant invertebrates. The accompanying illustration should dispel all confusion about what these animals look like!

19 March 2015

Winding Down the Week

Gobisaurus is not the most popular dinosaur. Lost in the museums for a couple of decades and then described and again forgotten, it would seem, Gobisaurus is a very important dinosaur. A lot of the information about Gobisaurus is still not known. The more that we find out about it the more important the position and compiled information will become because it will enhance our knowledge of Chinese, ankylosaurian, and Cretaceous dinosaurs. Gobisaurus is another one of those dinosaurs that does not have a lot of popular outlets.

The popularity of many of the dinosaurs on the page in the last few weeks have been much lower and lacking in links than previous entries. Because of that, we are going to open our doors a little to even more paleo-fauna. This will cause us to rebrand a little bit. It will also force me to do a little bit more learning outside of my comfort zone. I am okay with this. I hope everyone here is okay with branching out from dinosaurs as well.

18 March 2015

Modified and Borrowed

The compiled image here takes images from the paper that was shared yesterday. As mentioned previously, the palate of Gobisaurus is unique among ankylosaurs and this image captures that. Unfortunately it is a little small here, but the bones can be viewed in a larger version of the image if the picture is enlarged. The angles are not ideal, but the angle of the palate can be seen and the lack of fusion between basipterygoid and pterygoid is also evident. This character coupled with the length of the maxillary tooth row, which could be measured here, separate Gobisaurus and Shamosaurus. Comparisons of the two crania should be made, but not right here, because I cannot find two images of the taxa in question that I am happy with!

17 March 2015

The Strangest Thing About Science

Quite possibly the worst thing about modern science is the fact that scientists get upset about public interpretations and conceptions of their work and the journals demand that the general public either pay for subscriptions to journals or pay prices like $50.00 per article. There are many different reasons that these things happen including publishing costs and intellectual properties rights, but the simplified version of the story is that people want their research stories told and not everyone can get access to them. Understanding of the science is a completely different topic, but is equally important, unfortunately it is part of bit of a vicious cycle. The point of all of that is that the remains of Gobisaurus that have been discussed as known cranial portion actually consist of a nearly complete skeleton, which has not been shown, photographed, or drawn out anywhere to my knowledge aside from the published description of the dinosaur. This sort of thing is neither unique or new, but it is a little sad that the dinosaur has not been properly shown to the public at any point in time because the images are shelved behind journal copyrights. Those that have access or want to purchase access are free to do so through the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, but sadly I cannot share images from the paper at this time.

16 March 2015

Celluloid Nullified

Gobisaurus like so many other dinosaurs as of late on this blog has no movie. What is worse, it does not even have an illustrated slideshow or a crazy music video. There are hardly any illustrations of Gobisaurus either, to be perfectly honest about the predicament in which we find ourselves now. There will be papers tomorrow, but no movies today! One thing can be said today about Gobisaurus. The dinosaur was an early ankylosaur, but it was a large ankylosaur. The justification of the placement of the dinosaur is based almost entirely on the morphology of the pterygoids in relation to the dinosaur's teeth. I hope to get some good images of this for discussion on Wednesday.

15 March 2015

Kids Facts in the Desert

Gobisaurus is a dinosaur that has been overlooked for a good amount of time, not counting that first 30 years or so that it was ignored in a museum collection. It does not, therefore, have the best track record of websites either, but it does have a few good quality links that are of use to us. I am going to list them below rather than discussing each because unfortunately I was super busy yesterday all day and did not write this on time to post Sunday (the entry is backdated).
Prehistoric Wildlife:
Find the Data:

14 March 2015

Ankylosaur Head

The only remains that have been seen, for sure and to my knowledge, of Gobisaurus are partial cranial elements. The inferred body shape of Gobisaurus is comparable to the bodies of other early ankylosaurs. That, not too surprisingly, looks rather plain, or as plain as an armored dinosaur can look at any rate.
©Andrey Atuchin

13 March 2015

Desert Ankylosaur

In 2001 Vickaryous et al. named and described a somewhat small ankylosaur. The dinosaur was called Gobisaurus domoculus (Gobi Lizard, "hidden from view"). The name refers to the desert in which it was found and the specific epithet is a nod to the fact that the dinosaur was left in storage for almost 30 years after the Sino-Russian expeditions of the 1950's. The early 1990s saw the dinosaur come out of hiding as the Chinese and Canadian joint tour of Gobi fossils. The remains went on world tours during the 1990 to 1997 time period prior to the published description. The dinosaur is a somewhat typical ankylosaur, but there will be some information that needs to be mined to understand what makes it different from other ankylosaurs.

12 March 2015

Most Popular Outlet

Marshosaurus has had an interesting "career" as a known dinosaur, as we have seen quite well this week. The last thing I want to share this week is actually slightly different from the normal Thursday fare. The dinosaur is, despite being relatively unknown, a beautiful specimen. Fleshed out this week we have seen it angry, quite wonderful, and even a bit scary at times. This work in progress montage with the final product is, most definitely, my favorite view of the dinosaur.

11 March 2015

More Phylogenies

Carnegie Museum of Natural History ©John St. James
Phylogeny is a fun pseudo-buzzword in science and popular media. To sound more educated discussions of newly found dinosaurs often have words like phylogeny tossed around in the popular outlets. They are put there by educated scientists who know what they're saying, of course, but the word is used like a shiny toy by journalists trying to entice the masses. Thankfully the word is not used enough to have become overused by popular articles, but I have seen it enough to be sure. The phylogeny of Marshosaurus has been a little troubled since it was discovered and described. James Madsen did not place Marshosaurus definitely in any single clade below Theropoda. The material, he thought, did not possess enough distinguishing marks to separate it from any single lineage surely enough that it could be assigned to one more specific. It was not until 2009 that the evidence for a definitive lineage was put forth and described by Roger Benson using characters that had surfaced in revised accounts of the Megalosauria from specimens of all kinds and ages.

10 March 2015

Literature Reviews

Madsen 1976 names and describes Marshosaurus bicentesimus and the location it was taken from in fairly nice detail. The paper also includes some nice photographs and illustrations of the bones being described. While Marshosaurus has been referenced and mentioned in numerous other papers regarding Megalosauroid phylogenetics as well as the Cleveland-Lloyd Quarry, this paper is much more informative than those other papers. All of the recorded specimens up to 1976 are detailed in the Madsen paper. Despite being lower in quantity than some specimens, there are still quite a few substantial fossils attributed to Marshosaurus in the initial description. The publication in the journal Utah Geology probably did not help the popularity of the dinosaur, but it put it out there to be discovered by other scientists, which is most of the battle with some papers.

09 March 2015


Movies are not in the wheelhouse of Marshosaurus as yet. Being a dinosaur that was discovered nearly 40 years ago there is still plenty of time. For the first time in a long time I actually can, and have to if I want to show a movie of it at all, share an illustration compilation set to music. Watch it, enjoy it, mute it if you have to!

08 March 2015

About Marshosaurus

Marshosaurus is, as was stated previously, a charismatic dinosaur that has been somewhat neglected in popularity. As such, there are varied level of fact pages that are available. Quickly, though, the fact pages for the day that should be consulted are About, one of the dinosaur wikis, and a dinosaur data site I found today. This is a short entry, but there is a lot of information here and it is well organized, which is nice. In coordination with yesterday's illustration, today's information ir very nice and helpful.

07 March 2015

Beautiful Infographics

©Robinson Kunz
A more modern and fantastic representation of every dinosaur deserves to be seen now and then. Marshosaurus in the style of Robinson Kunz is very interesting, modern, and has an adequate amount of feathering. It is a welcome addition to the wall here and it possesses some nice information as well. The large hands and powerful arms look almost out of place, though, considering the typically gracile and miniscule hands of most other North American mid to large sized theropods. However, as it is thought to be related to the bigger armed Megalosauroids of Europe and Africa, the beefy arms are not much of a stretch.

06 March 2015

Marsh's Dinosaur

©Danny Ciccheti
Marshosaurus bicentesimus was namd and described in 1976 (its specific epithet referring to the American bicentennial). Casts and replicas of its skull are in museums throughout the country and its genus is named after one of the most prolific paleontologists in American history. Why, then, is it a dinosaur that few have heard of? Possibly it is due to the fact that this is another Late Jurassic Rocky Mountain carnivore that blends into the backgrounds of its contemporaries (Allosaurus and Ceratosaurus specifically). It could also be due to the fact that the dinosaur looks like a dinosaur. It does not have spectacular frills and horns and cranial protuberances, unless you count the large teeth. Marshosaurus was not larger than Allosaurus or any other carnivore of the time. The stand out characters of Marshosaurus are that it does not truly stand out, except that it is a Megalosauroid in North America; most Megalosauroids are Palearcitc/Afrotropic in origin.

05 March 2015

African Dinosaurs Are Well Known

Dicraeosaurus is as famous as any other African dinosaur, even if it does not feature in documentaries and movies and all kinds of other places that other African dinosaurs do. Dicraeosaurus should be a lot more popular than it is though given its unique cranial anatomy. Toys could abound with the diversely illustrated nostril arrangements that have been portrayed, especially the rather interesting trunk and bifurcated nares versions. We saw, on Monday, a small sculpture that was well done. That is the limit of the toy department though unfortunately. The strongest popular culture references concerning Dicraeosaurus is in the realm of illustration. There is a German language version of a Dinosaur King card so it does appear that the dinosaur has made an impact outside of artwork and paleontology proper. Probably one of the best interpretations of Dicraeosaurus' size and role in its habitat was illustrated by Sergey Krasovskiy.

04 March 2015

Paleontology and Ecology

Dicraeosaurus in the Museum fur Naturkunde, Berlin
The bridged study of paleontology and ecology, paleoecology of course, allows us to look at how dinosaurs like Dicraeosaurus lived in and around its surroundings. One of the most interesting things about it, in my opinion, is knowing that Dicraeosaurus was possibly the tallest dinosaur in its habitat. Fossils from the geological formation (the Tendaguru of Tanzania) where the majority of Dicraeosaurus remains have been recovered are typically of much shorter stature. Giraffatitan and Kentrosaurus populated the countryside with Giraffatitan growing to a much larger size than Dicraeosaurus in terms of height.

03 March 2015

German Dreadnought

As small as Dicraeosaurus is in relation to other sauropods the original literature by Walter Janensch is enormous. Mike Taylor keeps Janensch's publication hosted on his website in the original German. I have not been able to read the text in its entirety as yet, mainly because I do not read German well or fast. Either way, it is a great piece of original literature to add to any collection. That is not the only research that has been conducted with Dicraeosaurus of course. In more recent times pneumaticity and feeding mechanisms have both been researched in this moderately sized African/Gondwanan sauropod.

02 March 2015

Video Storage

Apparently the videos featuring Dicraeosaurus are almost all streams of stock photos of artwork that also features Dicraeosaurus. There is a short video that shows a small sculpture of Dicraeosaurus that is fairly interesting, though not exciting.

01 March 2015

Trunks and Facts

Trunked dicraeosaurid, illustrated in 1975 by Gregory Irons for the 1990 book All New Dinosaurs and Their Friends. Retrieved from Tetrapod Zoology.
Dicraeosaurus may or may not have had a trunk, but the image here makes for a great coloring sheet. It goes well with the fact pages that are hosted on About and KidsDinos. There are other sites as well, but today is a very snowy day and I have to do a lot of shoveling and reshoveling, and I am pooped at the moment. I suggest we all just enjoy some hot chocolate and color a picture before I have to go out to shovel once more.