Category Archives: Archosaurs

Wandering Ponies #1

In an effort to generate more content here while Sara and I are too busy working/raving/generating content elsewhere to write proper posts, we’ve decided to throw up (not literally) a bunch of links to stuff that has amused and/or intrigued us during the week. This will hopefully a) make your visits here a little more worthwhile, and b) ease our considerable guilt for not updating this blog more often. (And just by the by, if anyone’s worked out how to survive on less than four hours sleep per night without accidentally passing out in front of their laptop on a Thursday evening halfway through an ill-considered bout of sleepy dubstep, be sure to let us know, okay?)

* First up is brand new blog, Dragons of the Air, which Dave Hone mentioned on his site a few weeks back. Focussing on the flight mechanics and biology of pterosaurs, it’s set to have some fascinating content from the Pterosaur Flight Dynamics Group in the coming weeks.

* Then it’s over to the slingjaw wrasse, which is one of my favourite sea creatures ever (for the obvious reasons), and a clip found by the boys at Deep Sea News. The jury’s still out on whether this particular, erm, talent will help him score with the ladies, but at least he’ll always be well-fed.

* And speaking of sea creatures, the Census of Marine Life site is an endless joy filled with picture/video galleries, media resources, census project info and so on. Think of it as the damp cousin of Edward O. Wilson’s Encyclopaedia of Life.

* Next is the ultimate thinking man’s eye orgasm: FRACTALS. Specifically the Mandelbulb, which is the 3D version of the Mandelbrot set, and that’s pretty much all I can say about it right now because I’m bad at maths and stuff. But unlike me, this site is wonderfully thorough. All I know is I want to live in whatever that thing is below, so this weekend I’m gathering together a bunch of alley cats to help me drag a couch and tv in there so we can eat apple pie and watch something with Ted Danson in it (but not Becker) all afternoon.

* The Dinosaur Toy Blog has something I bet will end up on most of our Christmas lists (or perhaps just ten times on mine): the Feathered Dinosaurs Toob. As soon as I get mine I’m going to empty them into the sink and make them fight each other. There’s also the Mega Dino Toob, which really isn’t as obscene as it sounds, I promise.

* And finally, the new Nazi Dinosaur game that Laelaps’ Brian Switek mentioned via Twitter. I guess my only concern with “Dino D-Day” is that if you insist on fighting a fascist dinosaur with nothing but your puny man-fists, it’s fairly unlikely you’ll get the chance to make a “Tyranno-sore” joke before it breaks you, tiny human.

– bec

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Filed under Animals, Archosaurs, Science, Sea Creatures, Video

Oh My God, Whoever Invited the Tyrannosaurs Over is in SO MUCH TROUBLE…

Unusual lesions and puncture marks found on tyrannosaurid skulls have had a major impact on our understanding of the lives of the tyrannosaurs, as detailed by two recent studies coming out of the US. In a paper published in this month’s Palaios, a team from the Northern Illinois University and the Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford have focussed their attention on “Jane,” a 7-metre-long Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton with a slightly asymmetrical snout and four partially-healed oblong lesions along the left side of its skull. Discovered in 2001 in the Hell Creek Formation, Montana, Jane could be evidence of intraspecific aggression amongst juvenile tyrannosaurs, most likely competing for dominance, territory, or perhaps resources.

How the team came to this assumption was by comparing the positioning and orientation of the lesions along Jane’s nasal and maxilla regions to the jaw shape of the only fossil vertebrates found in the Hell Creek Formation that would have been large enough to inflict such wounds – theropods and crocodilians. They found that the size, shape, and spacing of juvenile theropod teeth corresponded convincingly to the positioning of Jane’s lesions, unlike those of a crocodilian jaw (see pic below). Evidence of face-biting is not uncommon in the tyrannosaurid fossil record, but this is the first indication that this kind of behaviour was not just restricted to fully-matured adults. As Jane’s age has been estimated at 12-years-old, two years prior to the age of sexual maturity for the Tyrannosaurus Rex, the possibility that this was strictly part of courtship-related behaviour has been ruled out.

Further, in their examination of Jane’s puncture marks, the team found indications of partial healing through bone repair, which suggests that this face-biting was not typically fatal, however could cause a slight warping of the muzzle as it remodelled itself. “Jane has what we call a boxer’s nose,” Joe Peterson, lead author of the study told Science Daily. “Her snout bends slightly to the left. It was probably broken and healed back crooked.”

But if all this talk of tyrannosaurid face sores leaves you with a distinct feeling of déjà vu, Peterson is careful to point out that Jane’s are a different type of lesion to those found on the famous 13-metre-long Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil, nicknamed “Sue,” which have recently been attributed to a parasitic infection (see pic above). “The parasite that has been described causes lesions on the lower jaw,” he notes. “With Jane, the lesions are on the actual face and are not the same type of structures we see on Sue.”

The other kind of face lesions which appear on many tyrannosaurid specimens, including Sue, indicates that the tyrannosaurs faced a far more serious threat than aggressive, face-biting peers. In a recent study published in PLoS One, Ewan Wolff from the University of Wisconsin describes a parasitic infection which causes severe erosion of the jaw bone and ulceration of the mouth and oesophagus, ultimately leading to death by starvation. Of the 61 tyrannosaurid specimens Wolff examined, 15% of them have the tell-tale signs of this infection – several smooth-edged pits in the lower jaw bone – as opposed to the more rough-edged bite marks found in Jane’s skull. However, in many of the specimens examined both kinds of lesions are present, suggesting that the infection could have been transmitted through intraspecific face-biting in much the same way as the cancer currently threatening to drive Tasmanian devils to extinction.

What Wolff also found is that the lesions in the jaw bones of these tyrannosaurid specimens are remarkably similar to those found in the beaks of modern birds such as turkeys, chickens and pigeons which have been infected by a protozoan called Trichomonas gallinae. These modern birds can pass trichomonosis on by simply touching each other on the beak, which can lead to a severe ulceration of the upper digestive system and then starvation. This shared affliction is yet further evidence of how closely related birds are to their dinosaur ancestors.

So all of this fighting and infection pretty much means the Tyrannosaurus Rex is the grossest dinosaur ever and woe betide anyone who invites one or more of them into their house to hang. Like one aftermoon Pteranodon would be over at Euhelopus’ house having Fruitloops and expensive dessert wine because Euhelopus’ parents are away for the weekend and Pteranodon is all like, “Dude. I cannot believe you didn’t tell me your parents were going away. What’s the fucking matter with you? We have got to have a party.”

And Euhelopus is like, “I guess I just forgot. Yeah, we could have a few people over. So long as they mind the carpet and shit.”

And with that Pteranodon goes a bit nuts and invites half the year (the cool half) to a party at Euhelopus’ place. Then they go to the bottle shop with Euhelopus’ little brother and their fake ID’s to pick up some Jager, (but Euhelopus’ little brother has to wait in the gift shop next door because he’s too little to have a fake ID) and Pteranodon’s all, “He doesn’t expect to come, does he?” expressing concern that he might spread his tweenaged uncoolness everywhere and make them look uncool by association. Euhelopus is like, “Well yeah, we can’t kick him out of the house, plus we have to keep him happy or he’ll call mum.”

“Fuck that. I’ve got an idea.”

So they sit Euhelopus‘ little brother down and Pteranodon’s all like, “So we’ve got a special job for you at the party. We need you to wait at the front door and make sure no one who isn’t on the list comes in. Sound good?”

“I guess.”

“Cool. And just remember one thing – it’s very important that you don’t let the Tyrannosaurus Rex twins in.”

“Why not?”

“Because they have gross skin problems and they’re always fighting. They’re fucked. If you have to choose between the Tyrannosaurus Rex twins and a homeless leper, we’d rather you choose the leper. But obviously don’t, because they’re fucked too.”

“Don’t swear in front of my brother.”

“Sorry.”

So a few hours into the party and Euhelopus has already gotten properly drunk and is slurring to the Diplodocus about assignments or something in the kitchen, while Pteranodon has disappeared altogether (although someone said they thought they saw him sneaking off to the park with some lady Pterodactyl under his wing). Suddenly Euhelopus’ little brother runs into the kitchen all panicky like, “Erm, promise you wont be mad…?”

And Euhelopus is all, “Ugh. Can’t speak. Not mad. I think I threw up in mum and dad’s shower.”

“In that case… I accidentally let the twins in and… Hey are those two girls making out? They need more alcohol. You’re not going to finish this, are you? Cool.”

Lucky for his little brother, Euhelopus is too drunk to care and/or comprehend, and manages to wander out onto the front lawn to pass out instead, but not before Pteranodon saunters over all like, “Dude.”

“Ugh… Hey where’s the girl?”

“She needed to pee, so I walked her to the bathroom, but then she passed out.”

“Damn.”

“Nah it’s cool. She let me touch her boobs first.”

“Damn.”

“Yeah. Erm, you know your brother let the Tyrannosaurus Rex twins in, right? Euhelopus? The twins…? Euhelopus..?”

Meanwhile the twins are stomping around the largely deserted living room with a bag of wine grasped in each little hand, taking generous gulps before spitting it out on the walls and carpet because it hurts too much to swallow.  Then one of them is like, “Whoa, your face herpes looks fully gross in this light.”

And the other one responds, all like, “Bullshit, it’s not face herpes and you know it. Plus yours is way worse anyway. Which is just as well because it takes the focus away from your ugly.”

“Ha. I’ll show you ugly!” And with that an all-out face-biting brawl errupts, their tails swinging violently into Euhelopus‘ mum’s vases, the Diplodocus’ bottle of Jack, and Euhelopus‘ little brother’s fish tank, sweeping them all onto the floor in a sharp, soggy, and occasionally twitching mess that would likely result in an enormous stained patch of carpet no one could walk on in bare feet for months.

At that moment Euhelopus‘ parents return home early and start furiously kicking everyone out, just as Pteranodon is stumbling into the loungeroom with a lady Pterodactyl (a different one) under his wing all like, “I can’t believe you just showed me your… Shit.”

Pteranodon, OH MY GOD, who let tyrannosaurs in our house, why is the carpet covered in wine and goldfish, and did someone give our budgie face herpes?!”

PLoS One (open access) // Palaios // Second illustration by Erica Lyn Schmidt.

– bec

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Filed under Archosaurs, Fossils, Museum Stuff, Science

Give Up, Seahorse.

seahorse-fossil

Two years after the preserved proteins of a 68-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex were published by NCSU paleontologist, Mary Schweitzer, and her team, they’ve come back to describe the discovery of some 80-million-year-old femur bone proteins belonging to the duckbilled hadrosaur, Brachylophosaurus canadensis. The specimen’s deep burial within a block of sandstone gave it optimal protection, so even though it was twelve million years older than the Tyrannosaurus rex femur, they were still able to find double the amino acids in the hadrosaur protein sequence.

By using these protein sequences to reconstruct ancient evolutonary trees, Schweitzer’s team have become the pioneers of a new area in palaeontology known as palaeomicrobiology. Comparing the dinosaur proteins with living bird and reptile samples, they were able to demonstrate the close relationship between dinosaurs and modern birds, their sequences far more similar to those of chickens and ostriches than they were to those of modern alligators and lizards.

Also worth a mention because it’s, you know, a SEA CREATURE: a fossil of the oldest preserved seahorse has been uncovered in Slovenia by researcher, Jure Žalohar, when he was washing his hands in a stream after a jog. The 13-million-year-old specimen reveals the only known extinct species of seahorse, known as the Hippocampus sarmaticus.

Now I don’t want to be all, “Seahorse, this is a competition, and you lose,” because I really do enjoy seahorses, especially the pygmy ones, but it kind of is a competition and Seahorse, you kind of did lose. I mean, shit, all hadrosaur had to do was hand over one lousy femur bone to produce a better news story than you. What, my advice, Seahorse? Well gosh, I hadn’t really thought about it. I guess for one thing, you should probably stop harping on about your decision to stand up 25 million years ago, because the dinosaurs already had that idea eons before you. Yes, Seahorse, eons.

Maybe you should just stick to what you’re good at. Don’t try and beat the dinosaurs at the fossil/being upright game, because trust me, you won’t win. Perhaps just concentrate on being dainty and and making those trumpeting sounds with your snout. Remember, Seahorse, the dinosaurs might be way more news worthy, but no one can comb a mermaid’s hair quite like you.

– bec

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Filed under Archosaurs, Fossils, Sea Creatures

Happy (Belated) Velociraptor Awareness Day

Velociraptor mongoliensis * Velociraptor Mongoliensis picture courtesy of John Conway (http://jconway.co.uk)

Not sure what we’re supposed to be “aware” of, but whatever, here are some fun Velociraptor links for your amusement:

How Long Could You Survive Chained to a Bunk Bed with a Velociraptor?

I’d last 19 seconds because I’m not very tough and have barely a month’s worth of boxing training under my belt.


Erotic Jurassic Park Fan Fiction – Raptor Rape Reversal

Not the kind of link you’d want to email to your parents with the subject title: LOL – Oh how the rape tables have turned!

Dino Run (Like a Raptor)

Send this to them instead.

And for those of you who want to, you know, learn something, go here for a discussion on whether or not Velociraptors could’ve opened doors like in Jurassic Park, based on actual scientific evidence, and here to read about some adorable tiny Passerine birds who have a tendency to claw each other to death Velociraptor-style.

Enjoy.

– bec

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Feathers, Tianyulong? Really?

tianyulong-bristly-dinosaur

So the recent discovery published in Nature last week by researchers from the Institute of Geology in Beijing of an apparently bristly 130 million-year-old ornithischian fossil has had quite the rapturous reception by the international media. The palaeontologists, however, prefer to keep their excitement cautious, quietly asserting, “Whatever, man, I already knew about this like twelve months ago,” and “Haven’t we already done all this like seven years ago? LOL.” Paraphrasing with nonexistent LOLs as I might be (because I dream of scientists who say LOL), the point is that according to the experts, there is far more to this story than just, “Holy shit, this particular bitch is not supposed to have feathery bits, is it? So all early dinosaurs were covered in feathers now?”

tianyulong-specimen-480

But before we get to the cautionary part, a bit of background information first. The features of the fossilized specimen in question, dubbed Tianyulong confuciusi, that have everyone talking are the three distinct patches of long, hollow filaments at the base of the tail, suggesting the presence of a kind of “dinofuzz” coating. Of course feathered dinosaurs and dinofuzz are nothing new, one of the more famous examples of this being the plumaged Velociraptor, but what is remarkable about this new fossil is that the cat-sized Tianyulonh was an ornithischian and that is something.

The significance of this discovery lies in a fundamental separation in dinosaur types, having split at the base of the Dinosaurian family tree into two groups, the saurischias, which include the carnivorous bipedal theropods such as the Tyrannosaurs and Laelaps etc, and the lovely sauropods, and the ornithischians, which were quadrupedal herbivores such as the various horned, armoured, and duckbilled dinosaur varieties. Within the saurischias group is the coelurosauria clade containing theropods such as Raptors and the Archaeopteryx etc who, with their upright stance, birdlike hand postures and feathery coats, have long been considered the ancient ancestors of today’s birds. But for the distinctly unbird-like ornithischians (not to mention a basal species like the Tianyulong) to be found with dinofuzz when they were assumed to have been strictly scaly, and therein lies the peculiarity of this discovery.

But as exciting as this Tianyulong fossil is, it’s certainly not as ground-breakingly unique as the accompanying hype would have you believe, a controversial precedent having been discovered some seven years earlier. The first ornithischian fossil to show signs of filamentous integumentary structures was discovered in 2002, a Psittacosaurus, displaying sparsely distributed examples at the base of its tail. Rife with controversy due to the questionable legality of its export and the possibility that the bristles were in fact well-positioned leaves, it has been relatively left alone by palaeontologists. Until now, of course.

But this is the only example amongst a number of fleshy and skeletal Psittacosaurus fossils to show signs of dinofuzz, and together with the Tianyulong it raises the question: have we not seen more fuzzy ornithischian fossils because soft tissue rarely survives in the fossil record? Or did the ornithischians outgrow their fuzz, like a kind of “reverse kitten,” thereby effectively reducing their potential fuzzy fossil representatives to merely those in the short-lived juvenile state? Alternatively, was their fuzz selectively distributed, ie in crest or ridge-form, and therefore managed to avoid appearing in the fossils uncovered so far? Perhaps, but only more fossilised fuzzy ornithischian specimens will tell.

Visit Dave Hone’s Archosaur Musings and SV-POW! for much better explanations of all this, and thanks, Not Exactly Rocket Science.

– bec

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Filed under Archosaurs, Fossils, Museum Stuff, New Species!

Bulk Up, Tyrannosaurus Rex

plesiosaurr_468x472

It’s times like these when you’re fully within your right to be all, “What’s up, T-Rex? Why so lame?” because researchers at the Natural Museum of Oslo have discovered a new pliosaur that could eat a four wheel drive. At 50 feet long and a suggested 45 tonnes, the so-called Predator X (nerds!!), whose 10-foot jaw filled with 12-inch teeth had a 16-tonne bite force, well and truly shits all over the Tyrannosaurus in size, force and name. Oh way to be outdone, T-Rex. You’re nothing without your claim to being the Ultimate Predator. Raptors might be kinda little, but at least they’ve got caché. You’ve got nothing. My advice is you start writing your tell-all autobiography now and get it published fucking fast because people are losing interest in that sub-par 4-tonne bite force and clappy forelimbed shitfest you’ve got going on. If your book does well (positive thinking, T-Rex), you can totally come live in my backyard. I’ll quit my job and we’ll drink Long Island iced teas before noon and yell obscenities at the neighbours till tea time and once or twice you’ll try and eat my cat, and the first time it’ll be kinda funny because holy shit, you should have seen his face, but the second time it’ll be like, “Haha ohh… no more iced teas for you, Mister. Go make us some macaroons.” Now come on, it doesn’t sound that bad…

– bec

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Filed under Archosaurs, Museum Stuff, New Species!

Now You Can Judge Them

dinosaur

Very quickly, because I have things to do,* but Wired Science has just posted a Dinosaur Illustration Competition, which pits those found in the public domain against each other in a battle of popularity. Go here to vote for your favourite, be it the pouncing laelops, the weeny Hesperonychus elizabethae, (which I’ll possibly discuss later), or the above, a 1930’s WPA Federal Art Project poster which appears to be advocating the use of a friendly sauropod as a cure for syphilis. Or something. And you can submit your own illustrations if you really want, but I’m pretty sure the prize is more honour and glory than large riches, so personally, I don’t know why you’d bother.

* And this time I don’t just mean eating cookies and refreshing my browser whilst staring out the window at that aggressive Dalmatian across the street. Okay okay, I do.

– bec

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Filed under Archosaurs, Art