Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Predatory Dinosaurs of the World - Part 2

It's back - Greg Paul's 1988 magnum opus, Predatory Dinosaurs of the World. As we established in the first post, it's long deserved its prime position in the Palaeoart Hall of Fame, having been not only highly prescient but also hugely influential on almost everyone interested in reconstructing Mesozoic theropods. It was stuffed with the sort of truly fantastic and uniquely observed artwork you just didn't see anywhere else - theropods fighting ritualistically, having a nap, and gathering in family groups around a carcass.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Mesozoic Miscellany 86

In the News

The most complete ctenochasmid pterosaur to date has been described in PLoS One, a juvenile specimen of Gladocephaloideus.

Two new (but pretty scrappy) theropods from Patagonia have been described: the carcharodontosauroid Taurovenator and the megaraptoran Aoniraptor. Check out the PDF here. These come from "a single locality located in northwestern Río Negro province, Patagonia, Argentina. This theropod association is composed of abelisauroids, two different-sized carcharodontosaurid allosauroids, a coelurosaur of uncertain relationships, a megaraptoran tyrannosauroid, and a possible unenlagiid paravian."

Around the Dinoblogosphere

Darren Naish has been writing a series on our current understanding of that beloved clade, Maniraptora. Start there, and then hit parts two and three. Oh yeah: like cassowaries? Darren wrote about them, too.

At the PLoS One paleo blog, Jon Tennant writes about sexing a T.rex.

"With a little help from his knife-wielding Grandmother Maribel, and friends Starlee and Captain Jim, Nate opens a restaurant that secretly serves dinosaur meat." So... read more from Prehistoric Pulp.

Brian Switek interviewed Victoria Arbour about her recent investigation into "Ankylosaur Fight Club," the paleoart depictions of battlin' tank-o-saurs and the physical evidence that exists for such interactions.

Beyond Bones, the Houston Museum of Natural History blog, told the story of the Chicxulub crater recently.

What the heck were dromaeosaurs doing with their wingy-army-thingies? Duane Nash has some ideas.

I recently priced tickets for a trip to New York City to see the "Dinosaurs Among Us" exhibition. I'm hoping it moves to a closer museum! For a preview, Albertonykus just visited and has a report for us at Raptormaniacs.

Check out Rebecca Groom's plushie Dakotaraptor, a perk in the Saurian Kickstarter at the $600 pledge level (currently sold out).

Speaking of Saurian, check out their recent post on the Hell Creek hadrosaur, and their reasoning for what they're calling it (even though I'll be whispering "Anatotitan" when I encounter it).

At Expedition Live!, Dr. Lindsay Zanno has been chronicling this summer's field work, including the not so hellish Hell Creek and a very good day which may have seen the discovery of a beauty of a Triceratops skull.

Crowdfunding Pick

On the crowdfunding platform Walacea, you can help Stephen Durham of the Paleontological Research Institute in Ithaca, New York fund his lab's work in Amino Acid Racemization geochronology, which can help us learn more about past climate change through mollusk shells. There is just a bit over two weeks left on the campaign, with about a third of the goal reached.

An update on another campaign from Walacea: The Virtual Museum of Natural History did not reach its initial funding goal, but the team is rethinking some aspects and keeping the campaign open-ended. So the more they get, the better they can make the app! Head over and kick in some money to help the team make this very cool educational tool.

Paleoart Pick

Check out Fred Wierum's Brontosmash animation. Gloriously retro depiction of a contemporary behavioral hypothesis.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Grapplers

I think about fighting theropods a lot. Since you're visiting this blog, you likely do as well: the scenario of two multi-ton predators going at it with tooth, talon and claw has long been a staple of paleoart, and remains one of the most popular subjects of dinosaur illustration. These kinds of fights certainly occurred occasionally--there's fossil evidence of some really nasty disagreements between tyrannosaurs, for example--but they've largely become either bloodless or cliche. Since I'm not personally interested in sketching gore, I thought a less-typical type of theropod fight might be fun to take a swing at.

But what sort of model to draw from? Perhaps certain big theropods settled things with showy displays and bellowing, but this doesn't always make for a compelling illustration, especially for an artist working with limited time. So I started thinking about some of the most compelling (and goofy) grapplers in the extant animal kingdom. I speak, of course, of monitors.

What's interesting about the conflict here is how quickly it's decided by weight and technique. Big dragons can easily kill each other, and sometimes they do. But mating disputes tend to be more ritualized affairs. Whether or not big theropods did something similar is hard to say--we don't really have a good analogue for the big-armed, big-clawed theropod body type anymore, since birds lack meathook forelimbs and crocodiles don't precisely wrestle. (Though as Darren Naish points out, passarine fights can get really unpleasant, and anybody who's encountered an annoyed swan is aware of how much use they get out of their wings in a scuffle.) It's possible that big theropod fights ended where most human fights do--on the ground. But I wanted to take the Monitor model of conflict for an artistic spin.

Abelisaurs were my first pick, in part because I found the idea of mostly armless dinosaurs neck-wrestling to be kind of fun. These are intended to be fairly generic, although they're based on Aucasaurus. The resulting fight is more of a shoving match, with both animals working on a fairly narrow margin of balance.

Still, it didn't seem quite right to me. So after more scribbling, I came up with a twist on the idea I liked better. Megalosaurs like Torvosaurus have big, hefty arms and powerful necks and chests: perfect for grappling dinosaurs. 

The result: two male Torvosaurs in the breeding season duke it out. Like the Komodo battle in the earlier clip, this tussle will be over pretty quickly: the male on the right is a bit smaller, likely younger, and has bitten off rather more than he can chew. I've chosen to emphasize the big, muscled forelimbs. Likely these battles would have been at least a bit bloody--everyone involved having massive claws--but I wanted to focus on the technique involved. Here's the finished sketch.

 Pretty goofy looking. But sometimes it works out that way.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Tyrannosaur Chronicles competition: the winners

So who wins a copy of Doctor Dave's magnum opus? Predictably, we had a slew of excellent entries for this competition (eventually), but in the end we did have to pick that half dozen. And so, in no particular order (because they all win the same prize, after all), here they are - with commentary from Niroot and I.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Tyrannosaur Chronicles competition: the contenders

Like undergraduate students everywhere, you lot submitted a flurry of entries for our Tyrannosaur Chronicles competition right before the deadline. But no matter! You still got in. While the final six winners will ultimately be decided by us, I thought (as with previous competitions) it'd be fun to put up a gallery of all the entrants and gather some of your opinions before we dole out the books. So, in no particular order, here's a gallery of T. rex...TRIUMPHING!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Mesozoic Miscellany 85

In the News

Two new ceratopsid taxa debuted simultaneously in PLoS One recently. Meet the new centrosaur Machairoceratops cronusi and new chasmosaur Spiclypeus shipporum, AKA Judith. Machairoceratops joins Diabloceratops as the second ceratopsid described from the Upper Cretaceous Wahweap Formation (though the two did not overlap in time), while Spiclypeus hails from farther north in the Judith River Formation. Read more on both from Liz Martin-Silverstone.

Spiclypeus is the subject of a gaffe by one science news site, which noted that the dinosaur "sported beautiful coloring akin to butterfly camouflage." Not everyone groks that paleoart relies on speculation and inference, I suppose. Maybe Mike Skrepnick's beautiful restoration is just that persuasive. Speaking of paleoart, see also Mark Witton's Machairoceratops and Brett Booth's Spiclypeus.

Recent research into Pawpawsaurus published by PLoS One looked inside the early Cretaceous nodosaurid's noggin to study its sensory capabilities. Read more at Earth Archives and Everything Dinosaur.

Jack Horner has retired from the Museum of the Rockies. The museum bid him farewell with a big public party, at which folks could check out field equipment and meet field crews. Good luck in retirement, Jack!

Around the Dinoblogosphere

Mark Witton trains a skeptical eye on the popular theory that Protoceratops was the origin of the griffin myth.

Meet Dr. Marina Suarez, who along with her twin sister is namesake of Geminiraptor suarezarem.

At Inverse, Jaqueline Ronson profiles one John Conway, a paleoartist of note.

Emily Willoughby tells the amazing story of the avian eye at GotScience.

Brian Switek and Laelaps have a new home. You can now read his excellent work at Scientific American.

Tails and wing feathers were in Matt Martyniuk's crosshairs at DinoGoss recently. He discusses the repeating meme of giving Microraptor-style tail fans and Caudipteryx-style mini-wings to feathered dinosaurs that probably would have looked more like Archaeopteryx, with lozenge-shaped tails and large wings. Not the end of the world but I'd probably rework a dromie I drew last year if I could.

Here's Scott Potter of Thagomizers on... the world of Awesomebro.

Crowdfunding Spotlight

Well, there certainly has been a lot going on since the last time I had the time to do one of these! We've seen Beasts of the Mesozoic and Saurian destroy their funding goals, providing more evidence that there is a decent market for scientifically-minded dinosaur media.

While the BOTM campaign is closed (finishing with enough money to greatly expand the original set of raptors), Saurian still has a few weeks. They've passed the "Post-impact Survival Mode" stretch goal, and it's certainly conceivable that they'll hit more of them. Head over to check out the pledge levels if you haven't already. I'm really excited about their field guide book, which is employing many paleoartists to illustrate the world of Saurian.

Meanwhile, on the research side of things, there have been a nice batch of recently funded paleo projects at Experiment. One that needs support now is Dean Lomax's effort to track down errant British ichthyosaurs in American museums. As Dean says, "This project will enable me to complete my ongoing study revising the genus, something that has been required for a very long time. Some specimens have been examined by a colleague but in order to critically evaluate them we must examine and assess eachothers findings together – like good scientists should!"

The deadline is June 19, so hop to!

Paleoart Pick

Pawpawsaurus gets the nod here, and not just because the generic name reminds me of a certain smelly native tree 'round my parts. I just love Julio Lacerda's reconstruction, head down in mid-sniff on a rainy evening - perhaps getting a nice whiff of Actinomycetes.

Pawpawsaurus by Julio Lacerda, used here with the artist's permission.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Predatory Dinosaurs of the World - Part 1

It is widely documented - not least by this blog - that a very few popular dinosaur books published over the last century stand out as real 'landmarks'. Books that are incalculably influential, for good or ill (and often a bit of both), giving rise to countless copycats and wannabes and spreading peculiar styles and memes far and wide in the world of palaeoart. Greg Paul's infamous Predatory Dinosaurs of the World is undoubtedly one such book, arguably doing more to spread the Paulian style than any other of his works. It's so well known that, for a long time, it seemed like a bit of a waste of time covering it; surely it's already been done to protofeathered death? I'm glad I changed my mind.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Guest Post: The Pocket-Sized Crystal Palace Dinosaurs

Today we welcome back guest blogger Rohan Long of the University of Melbourne, who joined us in February for a look back at Crichton's The Lost World novel. This time, he shares some cool relics from paleontology in the Victorian era.

Every reader of this blog must surely be familiar with the Crystal Palace dinosaurs. These were the life-size dinosaur models made around 1854 by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins in collaboration with Richard Owen and placed in a naturalistic, outdoor setting in Crystal Palace Park. They were the very first dinosaur models ever made. The story of these magnificent and ground-breaking models has been told extensively elsewhere, but I’d like to share with you slightly lesser known versions of these famous sculptures.

From their inception, Hawkins and his supporters saw the sculptures as being primarily educational and accessible to everyone – not just the educated elite. Hawkins thought of his dinosaurs as ‘one vast and combined experiment of visual education’. The sculptures were envisioned not as mere spectacle, but as a public educational resource to improve the mind, for all classes of Victorian society. The dean of Hereford, Richard Dawes, a cleric and educator, suggested to Hawkins that small-scale models of the dinosaurs be made for the purpose of scientific studies in schools and other educational institutions. In the spirit of inclusiveness, Dawes said:

‘He should be glad to see those models multiplied at a price which would enable them to be introduced into village and ordinary school, as every one could not visit the Crystal Palace, and he therefore hoped that specimens like those before them might be rendered attainable by those in remote and secluded districts, who would not have the advantage of witnessing the splendid and gigantic illustration of the extinct creation of the early ages of the world which would be there exhibited.1

Knowing a good merchandising deal when he saw it, mineralogist James Tennant struck an agreement with Hawkins to produce the models, along with a series of six posters depicting the prehistoric animals that had been sculpted. Tennant, capitalising on the lucrative market of well-to-do gentlemen naturalists, and had built up a successful business selling fossils, shells, minerals and the tools needed to collect them. (By 1854, Tennant laid claim to the impressive and unique title of ‘Mineralogist to her Majesty’). Small- scale models were produced of the dinosaurs Megalosaurus and Iguanodon, the aquatic reptiles Ichthyosaurus and Plesiosaurus (combined as a tableau), the pterosaur Pterodactylus, and "Labyrinthodon," an obsolete name for the temnospondyl amphibian Mastodonsaurus.

Hawkins' Iguanodon in miniature, held by the Tiegs Zoology Museum. Photo by Lee McRae.
Hawkins' Iguanodon in miniature, held by the Tiegs Zoology Museum. Photo by Lee McRae.

In addition to these models, replicas were made by Henry A. Ward, an American professor of natural science and dealer of in fossils, bones and other scientific specimens. Ward was advertising the models from at least 1866 and sold them from his business, Ward’s Natural Science Establishment, in Rochester, New York. According to Ward’s catalogue of the time, a full set of the five models could be purchased for $30, or individually from $5 to $10.2

We have two of these small-scale models in our Tiegs Museum Zoology Collection at the University of Melbourne, an Iguanodon and a Megalosaurus. They were donated to the collection sometime between 1916 and 1921 by trail-blazing zoologist Associate Professor Georgina Sweet. Due to the university’s historically close association with the British scientific establishment, I suspected our models were Hawkins’ originals rather than Wards replicas. After some detective work I found that although the two model types are very similar in their shape, there are differences in the models’ colouration. Ward’s models are a coppery-brown colour, with a green plaster underside. Our models, and all of Hawkins’ originals, are painted a glossy black, while the exposed plaster underside is a mottled white, grey and green.

Hawkins' Megalosaurus in miniature, held by the Tiegs Zoology Museum. Photo by Lee McRae.
Hawkins' Megalosaurus in miniature, held by the Tiegs Zoology Museum. Photo by Lee McRae.

While I was researching these models, I visited the collections of the Melbourne Museum to see their own Iguanodon (also a Hawkins’ original). A geologist friend of mine was there with the collection manager. He heard about my project and scoffed cheerfully; “Why are you interested in those things? They’re wrong!” This is a common reaction to these dinosaurs and I think it’s short-sighted. If I was writing this in the eighties, I’d be correcting Hawkins’ assumption that Iguanodon was quadrupedal and reconstruct it instead as the awkward, kangaroo-postured biped we all know and love. But paleontological research has brought us full circle and Iguanodon is again considered predominantly quadrupedal, albeit more lightly built than the Victorians had envisioned. Any student of the history of paleontological illustration should be wary of the notion that current reconstructions aren’t every bit a work in progress as their predecessors. Imagine how silly all of these featherless dinosaurs are going to look to the next generation of dinosaur devotees.


1. Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, ‘On visual education as applied to geology’, Journal of the Society of Arts, (London), vol. 2, 1853–54.

2. Henry A. Ward, 1866, quoted in Jane P. Davidson, ‘Catalogue of casts of fossils (1866) and the artistic influence of Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins on Ward’, Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science, vol. 108, nos 3–4, Fall 2005, pp. 138–48.

You can catch up with Rohan on Twitter @zoologyrohan and listen to his new musical project, Bronzewing, at

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Dave Hone's The Tyrannosaur Chronicles: at last, a review

A mere several weeks behind everyone else's, here it is - my review of The Tyrannosaur Chronicles, a book dedicated to the lives and times of the tyrannosauroids, as written by Dave Hone (for it is he). As a rare addition to the canon of popular books on dinosaur palaeobiology aimed at an adult audience, it's already quite an exciting prospect for us mere enthusiasts - but can Dr Dave do Sexy Rexy and friends justice? Of course he can.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Animals of the Past Stamps - Part 2

Having had a look at the dinosaurs in Animals of the Past Stamps (1954), I asked our lovely readers if they'd be at all interested in seeing some of the stinkin' Cenozoic mammals. A handful of people were, so here we are. Unfortunately, I don't know half as much about prehistoric mammals as I do dinosaurs (in spite of being a descendant of some of them), so you'll have to forgive me when I fail to spot the bleedin' obvious. I mean, more so than usual. In any case, let's start at the Palaeogene beginning!