Well played, HBO. Just as Jurassic Park 3D hits theaters, the premium cable channel announced a new movie titled Bone Wars, a period comedy based on the rivalry between two nineteenth-century paleontologists. If an HBO comedy about battlin’ dino-scientists isn’t enough to pique your interest, then just wait until you hear who’s playing the paleontologists: Steve Carell and James Gandolfini, who will also produce the film.
It has come to my attention recently that nerds hate feathered dinosaurs.
Not *all* nerds, obviously, but a lot of ‘em. And why? Apparently because dinosaurs no longer look “cool” enough: they’re “fluffy”, they’re “chickens”, and most importantly, they don’t look as cool as they did in “Jurassic Park”.
I’m a casual dinosaur fan, but I am pro-feather aesthetics. Feathered saurians look both ferocious and adorable, and it dissolves the idea that dinosaurs are a symbol of obsolescence. They didn’t die out because they weren’t “good enough”: they grew and changed and adapted and are still around today.
I still like the look of “classic” dinosaurs (or really, the style where they are reptilian but sleeker and more active, as inspired by the Robert T. Bakker school of thought), but I don’t personally care that one style now is inaccurate to varying degrees.
I say “pro-feather aesthetics” because you can’t be pro- or anti-dinosaur feathers: that’s like saying you can be pro- or anti-gravity. One’s aesthetic distaste for a scientific fact does not change its legitimacy, and you can’t “decide” to accept it the way you accept or deny changes to a fictional character. It has already been decided by science: you don’t have to *like* feathered dinosaurs, but they exist.
So, there’s frequently an anti-science subtext to the hatred of feathered dinosaurs: the complaint is that science has “corrupted” dinosaurs, implying progress should not have happened. Paleontologists should never have dug deeper and found that dinosaurs beyond Archaeopteryx had feathers, or at least never spread it around, because it interferes with the popular image of dinosaurs.
It might not be what the anti-feather aesthetics folk intend to say, but how else would you “reclaim” dinosaurs but by denying what science has found? Pretending dinosaurs never had feathers is like pretending that cavemen rode them. Both have their pop culture appeal, but both can’t be considered equal to legitimate science.
What’s also eye-rolling is the way the presence of feathers is treated as an emasculation. It might be just me, but there’s an ugly sense that by having feathers, dinosaurs have now been feminized, are no longer the scaly behemoths that little boys played with in the sandbox with, but are now (choke!) “girly”.
Because of that, I’m reluctant to try to get the feather-haters to accept that feathered dinosaurs are “still badass”. It’s trying to play the game by the other person’s rules, instead of just pointing out that animals are simply animals, not “manly” or “girly”. Nor do scientifically-accurate depictions have to prove themselves, either.
It’s also strange that others keep going back to Jurassic Park as the counter to feathered dinosaurs. “Jurassic Park” had great SFX and was a fun movie (though as I get older, the anti-science preaching becomes more annoying), but its dinosaurs are essentially movie monsters who run all over facts in the name of being cool.
And yeah, I’m fine with most of that (except the T-Rex’s vision problems, which make no sense in all the wrong ways) *in a movie*. But to hold up these exaggerations of dinosaurs as the ideal counterpoint to modern science is insane. It’s like saying werewolves are the “true” vision of wolves, and all those packs in the woods are just poseurs.
I’ve got no problem with preferring the “look” of reptilian dinosaurs, whether those dinosaurs are from the eighties or the eighteen hundreds. But turning that preference into a denial of science, or a defense of dinosaurs’ implicit masculinity, doesn’t work
This just goes to show you do not need a formal education to find scientifically important specimens. If you know what to look for, and are in the right place at the right time, you can find some very extraordinary things! Also, it’s wonderful Daisy and her family did the right thing and donated the holotype to the Natural History Museum in London. Because of this, now the fossil can be studied and articles like below can then be made for us all to enjoy and learn from.
Here’s a bit of an introduction from PLOS ONE for anyone who may be curious:
Background: Pterosaurs have been known from the Cretaceous sediments of the Isle of Wight (southern England, United Kingdom) since 1870. We describe the three-dimensional pelvic girdle and associated vertebrae of a small near-adult pterodactyloid from the Atherfield Clay Formation (lower Aptian, Lower Cretaceous). Despite acknowledged variation in the pterosaur pelvis, previous studies have not adequately sampled or incorporated pelvic characters into phylogenetic analyses.
Methodology/Principal Findings: The new specimen represents the new taxon Vectidraco daisymorrisae gen. et sp. nov., diagnosed by the presence of a concavity posterodorsal to the acetabulum and the form of its postacetabular process on the ilium. Several characters suggest that Vectidraco belongs to Azhdarchoidea. We constructed a pelvis-only phylogenetic analysis to test whether the pterosaur pelvis carries a useful phylogenetic signal. Resolution in recovered trees was poor, but they approximately matched trees recovered from analyses of total evidence. We also added Vectidraco and our pelvic characters to an existing total-evidence matrix for pterosaurs. Both analyses recovered Vectidraco within Azhdarchoidea.
A research team led by the Canadian Museum of Nature has identified the first evidence for an extinct giant camel in Canada’s High Arctic. The discovery is based on 30 fossil fragments of a leg bone found on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, and represents the most northerly record for early camels, whose ancestors are known to have originated in North America some 45 million years ago….
The camel bones were collected from a steep slope at the Fyles Leaf Bed site, a sandy deposit near Strathcona Fiord on Ellesmere Island. Fossils of leaves, wood and other plant material have been found at this site, but the camel is the first mammal recovered. A nearby fossil-rich locality at Strathcona Fiord known as the Beaver Pond site has previously yielded fossils of other mammals from the same time period, including a badger, deerlet, beaver and three-toed horse.
Determining that the bones were from a camel was a challenge. “The first time I picked up a piece, I thought that it might be wood. It was only back at the field camp that I was able to ascertain it was not only bone, but also from a fossil mammal larger than anything we had seen so far from the deposits,” explains Rybczynski, relating the moment that she and her team had discovered something unusual.
Some important physical characteristics suggested the fossil fragments were part of a large tibia, the main lower-leg bone in mammals, and that they belonged to the group of cloven-hoofed animals known as artiodactyls, which includes cows, pigs and camels. Digital files of each of the 30 bone fragments were produced using a 3D laser scanner, allowing for the pieces to be assembled and aligned. The size of the reconstituted leg bone suggested it was from a very large mammal. At the time in North America, the largest artiodactyls were camels.
Full confirmation that the bones belonged to a camel came from a new technique called collagen fingerprinting that was pioneered by Dr. Mike Buckley at the University of Manchester in England. Profiles produced by this technique can be used to distinguish between groups of mammals.
Minute amounts of collagen, the dominant protein found in bone, were extracted from the fossils. Using chemical markers for the peptides that make up the collagen, a collagen profile for the fossil bones was developed. This profile was compared with those of 37 modern mammal species, as well as that of a fossil camel found in Yukon, which is also in the Canadian Museum of Nature’s collections.
The collagen profile for the High Arctic camel most closely matched those of modern camels, specifically dromedaries (camels with one hump) as well as the Yukon giant camel, which is thought to be Paracamelus, the ancestor of modern camels. The collagen information, combined with the anatomical data, allowed Rybczynski and her colleagues to conclude that the Ellesmere bones belong to a camel, and is likely the same lineage as Paracamelus.
“We now have a new fossil record to better understand camel evolution, since our research shows that the Paracamelus lineage inhabited northern North America for millions of years, and the simplest explanation for this pattern would be that Paracamelus originated there,” explains Rybczynski. “So perhaps some specializations seen in modern camels, such as their wide flat feet, large eyes and humps for fat may be adaptations derived from living in a polar environment.”
The scientific paper also reports for the first time an accurate age of both the Fyles Leaf Bed site and the Beaver Pond site—at least 3.4 million years old. This was determined by Dr. Gosse at Dalhousie University using a sophisticated technique that involves dating the sands found associated with the bone. The date is significant because it corresponds to a time period when the Earth was 2°C to 3°C warmer than today, and the Arctic was 14°C to 22°C warmer.
National Geographic: A Velociraptor Without Feathers Isn’t a Velociraptor by Brian Switek
Jurassic Park is the greatest dinosaur movie of all time. Aside from being an exceptionally entertaining adventure, the film introduced audiences to dinosaurs that had never been seen before – hybrids of new science and bleeding-edge special effects techniques. The active, alert, and clever dinosaurs that paleontologists had recently pieced together were revived by way of exquisite puppetry and computer imagery, instantly replacing the old images of dinosaurs as swamp-dwelling dullards. Despite the various scientific nitpicks and some artistic license overreach – let’s not talk about the “Spitter” - Jurassic Park showed how science and cinema could collaborate to create something truly majestic. That’s why it’s so disappointing to hear the the next Jurassic Park sequel is going to turn its back on a critical aspect of dinosaur lives. In Jurassic Park 4, the film’s director has stated, there will be no feathery dinosaurs.
I talked a bit about this yesterday in another post. Feathers are okay, they don’t bite…
But the animal its on does!
Plenty of dinosaurs donned the horns that served them some good for much of the prehistoric era, but which of them was the top contender holding the most? The culprit.. was Kosmoceratops. One look at its head and one would soon realize just why they called it the horniest dinosaur
The creature lived 76 million years ago in the warm, wet swamps of what is now southern Utah and was remarkable in bearing 15 full-sized horns on its head.
Image: The dinosaur Kosmoceratops’ 15 horns probably evolved as a form of sexual display. Reconstruction: Lukas Panzarin/PLoS
The animal, named Kosmoceratops, had an enormous two metre-long skull, was five metres from snout to tail and weighed an estimated 2.5 tonnes.
“These animals are basically oversized rhinos with a whole lot more horns on their heads. They had huge heads relative to their body size,” said Scott Sampson a researcher at the Utah Museum of Natural History.
Kosmoceratops, a relative of the more familiar Triceratops, had one horn over its nose, one over each eye, one protruding from each cheek bone and a row of ten across the frill at the back of its head.
“As far as we know it’s the most ornate-headed dinosaur ever found, with so many well-developed horns on its head,” Sampson told the Guardian.
Scientists have long speculated about the purpose of dinosaurs’ horns. In the past, some suspected that beasts like Triceratops used their headgear to fight off predators, as depicted in the prehistoric clash between a fur-bikinied Raquel Welch and a Triceratops in Ray Harryhausen’s 1966 movie, One Million Years BC. Many palaeontologists now believe that dinosaurs’ horns were often more for sexual display and fighting off other members of the same species, much like rutting deer.
“In this case, we think these horns were really about competing for mates and more akin to peacock feathers or deer antlers, where it’s males trying to attract females or intimidate other males,” Sampson said. “Sometimes it’s good to have a way of visually ranking yourself relative to other animals. You can avoid unnecessary conflicts and that is probably what they were doing with all these bony bells and whistles.”
Giganotosaurus. Sad to see you go buddy.
#ultimatedinos open for only a few more hours…
How I’d love to have a Giganotosaurus skull cast in my collection.
This is a wonderful article on such a critical topic in the palaeontology world - but it doesn’t end there. The general public’s take on dinosaurs is highly influenced by good and bad media.
“Pterodactyls” is a good example of a bad influence for a multitude of reasons. One reason is because any “flying dinosaur” is usually called a pterodactyl in the media, but in reality they are not flying dinosaurs and nor is pterodactyl the correct name for these animals. Pterosaurs is the correct term for the flying reptiles that lived in the Mesozoic Era, and the genus for the specific pterosaur is Pterodactylus. There’s also the constant error of using T-rex/T-Rex, and T Rex/T rex. I’ve seen it mostly done incorrectly as T-rex whereas it is correctly spelled T. rex. (If you look in the comments on the article, most of them say “T-Rex”). Just like pterodactyl, it has been so ingrained in the media that it’s hard to get people to listen or learn the correct way to identify an animal. When such incorrect terms are used in film, television, news, etc, viewers will then believe it is correct because they [the media] wouldn’t mess those things up, right?
Even in today’s age with so much technology, scientific studies, and fossils, CGI dinosaurs (+ others) and the general information on (but not limited to) palaeontology in the entertainment industry seem to get lost when transferred to the screen. This doesn’t happen to every feature mind you, but there is a lot out there that has a major influence on the population that is not 100% correct. Let’s face it though, it’s hard to be 100% accurate when we’re finding out new things every day, haha! Even though CGI, effects, and scenes may be impressive, people in the field will see faults whereas the general public may not. This is frustrating seeing as we want to promote correct information, not take steps backwards. Jurassic Park is such a staple in the dinosaur world, but we all know the issues… especially with the Velociraptor. Yet if you go ask someone on the street to draw or describe the dromaeosaurid, they’d most likely identify the ones you see in JP.
There is a lot going on - and not just in palaeontology - that will always need people to help bring the correct information to the table. Like the article said, looking into what most take to be accurate, how can we bounce off those and show how awesome they really are? It’s definitely possible, and it’s just finding your footing on how to go about it.
As well, no matter if it’s media or a palaeontologist’s article you’re reading, it is always good to cross check sources, read books, studies, attend lectures, speak to others, and just keep on learning. I have dozens of books on palaeontology and geology, and have read many studies as well as been involved in lectures, festivals, etc. It’s not only informative, but fun to do some detective work and learn from another.
I’d love to know how many of you have gone on fossil digs, or been to palaeontology/geology events (like lectures, festivals, fossil/mineral shows, etc).
These kinds of events can be extremely informative and fun for all that attend, and with summer coming up soon, there will be a lot more going on! Does anyone have plans to attend digs this summer, or will be going to shows and other events? If so, is it your first time or are you a regular?
For anyone curious, there is a very handy guide that lists contact information for museums/groups that host digs, tours, and featured locations called “Dinosaur Digs” (Discovery Travel Adventures) (North America). This will help you narrow down places you’d like to visit, or would want to contact to join in on a dig.
As well, get to know your local museum, volunteer, make friends, and learn the tools you’ll need out in the field.
It’s an awesome experience to go on digs with fellow enthusiasts/professionals, and it is also a lot of work, tedious, and can be frustrating, but with all that, it is extremely rewarding! Besides, when people ask how your week was, you can go, “Oh, no big deal. I was just digging up some dinosaurs. You?”
Tapeworm Eggs Discovered in 270-Million-Year-Old Fossil Shark Feces.
Article via ScienceDaily: A cluster of tapeworm eggs discovered in 270-million-year-old fossilized shark feces suggests that intestinal parasites in vertebrates are much older than previously known, according to research published Jan. 30 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Paula Dentzien-Dias and colleagues from the Federal University of Rio Grande, Brazil.
Remains of such parasites in vertebrates from this era are rare- of 500 samples examined, only one revealed the tapeworm eggs. This particular discovery helps establish a timeline for the evolution of present-day parasitic tapeworms that occur in foods like pork, fish and beef.
The fossilized eggs were found in a cluster very similar to those laid by modern tapeworms. Some of them are un-hatched and one contains what appears to be a developing larva. According to the study, “This discovery shows that the fossil record of vertebrate intestinal parasites is much older than was previously known and occurred at least 270-300 million years ago.”
The fossil described in this study is from Middle-Late Permian times, a period followed by the largest mass extinction known, when nearly 90% of marine species and 70% of terrestrial species died out.
Remember back when those dinosaur footprints were discovered on NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre? Well, those 110-112 million-year-old ichnites have been moved safely to another part of the campus until scientific study can be performed.
Biggest Dinosaurs Had Brains the Size of Tennis Balls
An advanced member of the largest group of dinosaurs ever to walk the Earth still had a relatively puny brain, researchers say.
Ampelosaurus was a kind of sauropod known as a titanosaur, many if not all of which had armorlike scales covering their bodies.
“This saurian may have reached 15 meters (49 feet) in length; nonetheless its brain was not in excess of 8 centimeters (3 inches).”
“We don’t see much expansion of brain size in this group of animals as they go through time, unlike a lot of mammalian and bird groups, where you see increases in brain size over time. They apparently hit on something and stuck with it — expansion of brain size over time wasn’t a major focus of theirs.”
For years, scientists have wondered how the largest land animals ever lived with such tiny brains. “Maybe we should flip that question on their end — maybe we shouldn’t ask how they could function with tiny brains, but what are many modern animals doing with such ridiculously large brains. Cows may be triple-Einsteins compared to most dinosaurs, but why?”
Image: 3D brain reconstruction of the plant-eating dinosaur Ampelosaurus
Ah, I love seeing Lawrence Witmer’s work going around the web. I’ve been following this exact research very closely; Witmer and his crew never fail to impress with both research and technology advances! Definitely make sure to read the article in full.
Wood sculptures by Taburin
“This Japanese sculptor carved his niche by carving out an army of clearly accurate dinosaur skeletons entirely out of wood. (…) Extraordinarily detailed, his work is not for sale, sometimes taking several months to complete one species.” paleoartistry
Alberta scientist finds massive crocodile-like fossil in Hungarian lake
It grew up to six metres long and its toothy mouth and crocodile-like body was the terror of ancient rivers and shorelines many millions of years ago.
Most mosasaurs were giant undersea predators, some growing up to 16 metres long, which breathed air but were full-time, fearsome sea creatures complete with paddle-like limbs similar to those of a whale. They lived around the same time as the dinosaurs and have been called the T. Rex of the sea.
“They were much bigger than T. Rex,” said Caldwell, an expert in mosasaurs. “They really were sea monsters.” (Tibor Pecsics)