Friday, January 29, 2010

Vintage Dinosaur Art: George Solonevich

A George Solonevich Compsognathus

George Solonevich, a Russian political dissident, escaped the Soviet Union and eventually had a successful art career in the United States. He is well known for his space illustrations; here are some created for the Golden Book Planets: Other Worlds of Our Solar System.

Solonevich worked in various styles, from grotesque portraits to those subdued, technoutopian space paintings. The dinosaurs in 1965's Dinosaurs and More Dinosaurs fall on the grotesque edge of the spectrum. See the Ceratosaurus featured on the book's cover: an oily, brutish monster. You can imagine touching it and winding up with a hand smeared in grease.

Dinosaurs and more Dinosaurs
The cover model: Ceratosaurus.

These two early theropods aren't too cuddly, either. Creeping things with spindly legs and beady eyes.
Coelophysis and Podokesaurus: A pair now thought to be one in the same.

Of course, a mid-century dinosaur book wouldn't be worth the glue that binds it if it didn't include at least one submerged sauropod.
Snorklin' Dicraeosaurus
A Dicraeosaurus, snorkling. Do fish blow bubbles?

More information: Roanoke College has an online gallery of their collection of Solonevich art. For the really curious, you can check out a short video about him, dating from 1991.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Dear Melanosomes: Thanks for Fossilizing!

Over the last 24 hours, the interweb has gone all aglow with the announcement that paleontologists believe they have determined the color of the feathers on a small chinese theropod. Dr. Michael Benton and his team at Bristol University examined the fossilized feathers of Sinosauropteryx and found them to contain cells with pigment-bearing organelles (check out Benton's video here). What's more, the structure of those organelles indicate that the feathers were rufous colored. I'm reminded of the brown thrasher who lurks around my yard in the summer.

This is very cool, but it's important to note that we still don't have a comprehensive idea of how exactly melanosomes - even in living birds - relate directly to color. And, of course, this will only allow us to "color in" dinosaurs whose feathers were preserved by fossilization. Still. Awesome. And Carl Zimmer, who has been covering this since the first analysis of fossilized feathers was made public last fall, promises us more cool news to come.

Illustration by Chuang Zhao and Lida Xing. From Bristol University.

Read more:
Bristol University press release
Archosaur Musings
Dinosaur Tracking
NY Times

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Mysterious, Intriguing, Utterly Cool Alvarezsaurs

Yesterday at Archosaur Musings, Dave Hone made a brief post about what he thinks is going to be one of the dinosaur clades to receive some major light this year: the Alvarezsaurs. Today, guest-blogger Jonah Choiniere continues the alvarezsaur love with a history of the study of this strange group. Hone promises a major post tomorrow which will accompany a paper to be published in science, a paper announcing a new Jurassic alvarezsaur from China described by Coiniere.

Personally, I'd be thrilled if 2010 is as good to the alvarezsaurs as 2009 was to the tyrannosaurs. The alvarezsaurs are very birdlike group of small theropods, members of the maniraptors, found in Europe, Asia and the Americas. But, as maniraptors go, they actually aren't very closely related to birds. And the basal (more "primitive") members of the group are actually less birdlike. This means that the birdlike features the alvarezsaurs would evolve, especially the deep, keeled breastbone, were examples of convergent evolution, separately evolved for their own purposes. The reason birds have such a deep breastbone is that it's needed for the attachment of the flight muscles.

The forelimbs of alvarezsaurs, on the other hand, are not exactly winglike. They are short, strong, with a pronounced first claw. This claw was so favored that some of the alvarezsaurs, such as Mononykus, have evolved only one finger. Some, like mongolia's Shuvuuia, have drastically reduced second and third digits, which were likely useless in life. This feature, plus what seems to have been a flexible snout, has led to the widely accepted view that this group of dinosaurs were specially adapted to an insectivorous niche, using their powerful little arms to dig into termite mounds, probing for yummy little morsels with their snouts. More color added to our picture of dinosaur lives.

Mononykus reconstruction at AMNH, photo from wikipedia user Ivan Akira.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Paleo Plushies

Solid. Cartoonist, illustrator, and toymaker Megan Baehr, who runs an Etsy shop called Nonesuch Garden, has begun creating a series of dinosaur plush dolls. The first two are a Stegosaurus and a Triceratops, and she says that she is working on more, inluding a Brachiosaurus. I'd love to see how she pulls it off. They really are more works of art than toys.

Jenski the Stegosaurus, via Etsy

Tertia the Triceratops, via Etsy

Megan has crafted a menagerie that ranges across the animal kingdom and beyond, including mythical creatures. Bully to her for digging into the Mesozoic! You can also check out her creations on her Flickr stream. Her comics and illustrations also reflect a major paleo interest, so be sure to take a good, long gander.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Field Museum on Flickr

My favorite museum from childhood is on Flickr.

John B. Abbott excavating dinosaur femur
This one is supposedly of Antarctosaurus, a titanosaur sauropod, but the notes indicate that this was taken on an expedition for Cenozoic fossils. A happy accident?

Apatosaurus (Brontosaurus) skeleton

Here's a "brontosaurus" in construction in 1907.

There have been plenty of brief posts like this lately, which I'm not thrilled about, but I've started taking a french class and working seriously on my graphic design portfolio, so I have a bit less time to do the kind of research I usually like to do for LITC. But I do have some recent dinosaur papers that I'm reading to see if there's anything I feel up to sharing. And I'll be posting an interview soon, plus I've continued to find great vintage dinosaur art. So I'm not going anywhere. I just won't be pontificating over my head quite so much...

Friday, January 22, 2010

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Sinclair Dinosaur Stamps

Sinclair Dinosaur Stamps
Sinclair Oil, the petroleum company with the sauropod as its logo, used to give out sets of dinosaur stamps as a promotional gimmick. I scored four sets of three recently, in really good condition. Sinclair did many series of these; this set was apparently from 1959. Despite being labeled as "Dinosaur Stamps," they do feature other prehistoric critters such as the Permian beasts Dimetrodon and Lycaenops. I have not yet been able to figure out who the artist is.

Set 1
Sinclair Dinosaur Stamps Set 1

Set 2
Sinclair Dinosaur Stamps Set 2

Set 3
Sinclair Dinosaur Stamps Set 3

Set 4
Sinclair Dinosaur Stamps Set 4

These, and most of my other VDA images, are hosted on my Flickr account. Feel free to poke around there, as I tend to add them in batches prior to featuring them here. And some of the publications and collections have additional images I don't post here - for instance, for the sake of space, I didn't include my scan of the covers of these stamp books in this post.

I've also been doing a bit of house cleaning, and have reorganized my blogroll and links, separating them to hopefully make the lists more relevant. The links will continue to grow as I find new sites and remember old ones. If there are any that you feel should be represented here at LITC, please let me know by posting a comment or emailing me at chasmosaurs(at)gmail(dot)com.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Krentz Presentz Dot Com

If you're in the mood to see something completely solid and commendable, check out this here site. Super-talented paleoartist David Krentz is releasing instructional DVDs, aiming to teach kids art and science in one mighty blow. In the trailer for the first DVD, you'll see that as David draws different parts of his subject, dinosaur experts join in to define new terms, such as "recurve," "supination," and "stereoscopic vision." Dinosaurs are the perfect gateway drug to science, and I hope that this series takes off. The next one, which I assume is currently in production, will deal with those stalwart ceratopsians.

This is going to be the perfect gift for my nephew once he gets a few years on him. If only this had been around when I was a tyke.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Triceracopter now available for acquisition by a qualified museum, institution or individual.

In 1977, a sculptor named Patricia Renick unveiled a piece called Triceracopter: Hope for the Obsolescence of War at Cincinnati's Contemporary Arts Center. It is literally the body of a decommissioned helicopter melded with a fiberglass Triceratops head and limbs.

The meaning of the piece is pretty clear - it plays off the durable old conception of dinosaurs as failed monstrosities, the most outlandish critters on the evolutionary discard pile. A bit on the nose, and while I disagree with dinosaurs being saddled with this reputation - no group of animals who dominated terrestrial ecosystems for 120,000,000 years has much to apologize for - you can't fault the craftsmanship. And the melding of organic and inorganic, animal and machine, is always arresting. Triceracopter would look pretty imposing in my front yard. If I had the dough, I might even buy it, as it's been on the market for about a year.

Lots of info on the piece and its creator on-line. Here's a 1978 Cincinnati Magazine article about the piece. Triceracopter also has its very own Facebook page and Flickr stream. Oh, and it has a sister named Stegowagenvolkssaurus. Renick, who passed away three years ago, was interviewed in 2003 by Sculpture Magazine. Finally, here's a post about her life's work at a blog called Terrible Tiramisu.

Triceracopter now available for acquisition by a qualified museum, institution or individual.

Monday, January 18, 2010


The Weekly World News: where no half-baked joke is denied its column-inches.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Norman Nodel

Here's another obscure gem I picked up secondhand: I Can Read About Prehistoric Animals by David Eastman. The illustrator was named Norman Nodel. This site lists his real name as Nochem Yeshaya, and he passed away ten years ago. He spent much of his career doing the illustrated versions of classic books before moving on to his passion, working on titles meant for Jewish youths. Other than this book, he also did dinosaur illustrations for a book called The Giant Dinosaurs. He may have also contributed to a bizarre coloring book. As you can tell from Mr. Frowny Rex on the front cover, Nodel took a cartoony approach to his mesozoic subjects and set anatomical correctness aside.

I Can Read About Prehistoric Animals

Swimming Duckbills
"Bob. For the last time, get out of the carpool lane."

I apologize for that. I just exposed myself as a funny pages junkie.

T. rex snares a Duckbill
Here, some poor, indistinct duckbill is overtaken by a three-fingered T. Rex who gets the bright idea to trip up his prey by stepping on its ponderous, floppy tail. Mr. Duckbill collapses; seemingly he's been dreading this moment for a long time. This is a common motif in old dinosaur illustrations. Maybe I'll collect some in a future post. It is, you might guess, a very improbable situation, at least for the fact that duckbills' tails were pretty stiff, buttressed by criss-crossing bony tendons.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Maybe Dinosaurs were Stone-Age Robots?

Found this gem in an old issue of Texas Monthly. Archaeologists? Artifacts? I'd think we were dealing with a young-earther if it wasn't for the 60 million year timeline. It kind of suggests a cool theory I wouldn't mind seeing pop up in the crank literature: so-called dinosaur fossils are actually the remains of giant stone-age battle-robots. They proved to be so destructive, so dangerous, that they were dismantled and buried. Modern science unearths and studies them only at great peril...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

SGU 5 x 5 on T. rex Collagen

While rifling through the Skeptics Guide to the Universe archive, I ran across one of their 5 x 5 podcasts dealing with the dinosaur-bird link. The episode briefly summarizes the study which analyzed the amino acid sequence in collagen found in a T. rex femur and found similarities to that of chickens.

The SGU does cover dinosaur news pretty often, owing to the fact that dinosaurs are really cool and deserve of the attention. This episode contains one of my favorite SGU quotes yet. The show as a mild running feud among the hosts about which are badder, birds or monkeys. To avoid the appearance that the bird-dinosaur link might tip the scales in birds' favor, Rebecca Watson clarifies that it "...just means that some distant cousins of birds might have, at one time, been able to kick a monkey's butt."

Good quote, but I have to disagree. She's obviously never had to look one of these gnarly dudes in the eye.
The Mighty Philippine Eagle
Image by Malnino, via Flickr.

It's a Phillipine, or "Monkey-Eating" Eagle. Birds win, end of discussion.

UPDATED 2/10/10: Still working my way up through old SGU episodes, and came across number 53. Indeed, a listener has brought the Monkey-Eating Eagle to the attention of Rebecca and the late Perry deAngelis. Typical of birdists, they reject it out of hand. Disgusting.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Fighting Pterodactyl

Keeping with yesterday's post about the brand-spankin'-new, here's a bit of pterosaurian trivia.

Meet the Pterodactyl fighter plane.
This blurb comes from the November 1934 issue of Popular Science. From what I've been able to find, there were several experimental flying-wing aircraft in the Pterodactyl series, developed by Westland Aircraft. None of them went into production, though it appears that the mystery engineer cited above thought that they could be of use in battle. I'm guessing he thought wrong?

The Pterodactyl shared page 22 with another doomed idea: the piece next to this one details a plan to pave the streets of Minneapolis with triangular cast iron tiles - though this may have been an elaborate plan to fry an edible egg on a hot day. Zing!

Monday, January 11, 2010 Lives

If you want to kiss the sky Better learn how to kneel (On your knees, boy)
Pteranodon by Mark Witton, via Flickr

A group of pterosaur researchers, including Dave Hone, Darren Naish, and Mark Witton have officially launched a new website called to present the best available information on the lives of pterosaurs. It's not 100% complete (the article on flight is currently missing diagrams cited in the text) but it's got a lot of great information in accessibly written articles. Check it out.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Peter Zallinger

Here's an old Random House picture book on dinosaurs from the year I was born. That's 1977. It is by Peter Zallinger, son of Rudolf Zallinger (as confirmed by this 2007 New Hampshire Register article). Peter has done illustrations for many paleontology books over the years.


Duckbill Trio

If I was a Tyrannosaur, I'd be aiming squarely for that noodly little neck!


You probably recognize this illustration - it's inspired by a 1914 Charles L. Knight drawing of Ornitholestes. I've run across many Ornitholestes derived from the Knight original. In fact, it seems that this pose is the little Jurassic theropod's main claim to fame.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

What Was Really Missing From JP3

Jurassic Park 3, most of us are aware, is not without its flaws. One you don't hear much is the lack of sexy. Still, one enterprising fanfiction writer is working hard to fix that. Taking place immediately after the events of the film is "Soliloquy," a tale of the romance between paleontologist Alan Grant and his student, Billy. Here's a peek:
“Alan?” Alan’s sigh, which was a bit hindered by Billy half-draped over his chest, escaped before he could stop it. He ran his palm over the scar, then leaned down and kissed Billy’s forehead where two thinner, shorter white lines cut across his skin. Billy caught his mouth when he pulled back, using the hand still in Alan’s hair to hold him in place, pressing their lips together warmly and smoothly but only for a too-brief moment. He still held him there, their breaths mingling, until Alan’s eyes slid open again. “Alan.”

I bet this sort of thing happens a lot in the science community. Read the rest!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


These are all from the Flickr stream of baked creations by A Baked Creation.

Dinosaur Birthday Cupcakes

Dinosaur Birthday Cupcakes

Dinosaur Birthday Cupcakes

Plausible name for a dinosaur with a sweet tooth: Dulcisodon.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Cavemen in Space

This is a little bit off the beaten path for LITC, but I think will have some interest to some of us paleo-people. My friend Joey Weiser is a fine cartoonist and has just finished a big graphic novel called Cavemen in Space. He also publishes a weekly comic in the Athens, GA weekly Jake called Monster Isle, inspired by the kaiju movies so many of us adore ( kaiju also has a history of pulling ideas from dinosaurs). Now, he's embarking on a quest to raise enough money to self-publish his graphic novel, and I figured it might be something LITC readers wouldn't be opposed to supporting.

Joey's pledge drive is here, and hopefully a few people will be inspired to chip in a few dollars. All of the levels come with prizes that are well worth the money. You also get the rosy cheeks shared by those benevolent souls who support up-and-coming cartoonists.

To wrap things up, here's a nifty illustration of diving dinosaurs, Weiser-style.

Image from Tragic Planet

Monday, January 4, 2010

Back in Action

I've returned from England and now I'm slowly settling into being home and having my daily responsibilities to tend to. It will take a few days to get back into a groove, just as it took me some time to accept that my main concern on vacation was fun and relaxation.

It was an eventful couple of weeks, with a flood of reporting on the new paper suggesting that the small chinese dromaeosaur Sinornithosaurus may have been venomous. Well, "suggest" might not be the right word, as the paper is titled "The birdlike raptor Sinornithosaurus was venomous."

Of course, the Jurassic Park connection was pounced upon by plenty of reporters (Matt Martyniuk pointed out this beauty, which actually says the dinosaur "spit venom" into its prey). One of the best breakdowns of the topic I read was at the always dependable Dinosaur Tracking, where Brian Switek made the point that as there is not a single archosaur (i.e. crocodiles, pterosaurs, birds, and dinosaurs) known to possess this sort of venomous bite, the evidence is going to have to be overwhelming. This topic will surely be debated hotly, and hopefully a wider examination of other dromaeosaurs' teeth will help clear it up.

Part of my plane reading was the recently published Dinosaur Odyssey by Scott Sampson, and I'm really enjoying it. Sampson is really making an effort to flesh out the Mesozoic beyond the "who ate who" picture the media often sticks to. I don't want to get ahead of myself as I'll be posting a full review when I've finished the book, but I'll say that I'm very impressed and entertained by the book so far.

I unfortunately wasn't able to do anything dino-centric on the trip. We tried to make it to the Crystal Palace to see the nineteenth century dinosaur sculptures, but weather-tormented traffic around London was a mess that day and the park was closed by the time we got there (the same kept us out of Down House). I'll settle for posting this photo I took of a Baryonyx skull at the Natural History Museum in 2008.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Zallinger in LIFE

The September 7, 1953 issue of life featured as its centerpiece a huge fold-out of Rudolf Zallinger's "The Age of Reptiles." It's an earlier version than the famed mural at the Peabody Museum. According to Robert Bakker, seeing this issue of LIFE at his grandfather's house was the seed from which his career would eventually sprout.

The whole issue is available at Google books. The essay the fold-out accompanies is the fifth part of a series called "The World We Live In" that ran between 1952 and 1954, a sprawling overview of the Earth's natural history, using the best information available at the time.

Here's a handy list of links to each of the issues featuring an installment of the series. It is definitely worth reading for anyone who enjoys natural history or old-timey science writing. Zallinger also provided the artwork for "The Age of Mammals" and "The Rain Forest."

Part I: The Earth Is Born
Part II: Miracle of the Sea
Part III: The Face of the Land
Part IV: The Canopy of Air
Part V: The Age of Reptiles
Part VI: The Age of Mammals
Part VII: Creatures of the Sea
Part VIII: The Coral Reef
Part IX: The Land Of The Sun
Part X: The Arctic Barrens
Part XI: The Rain Forest
Part XII: The Woods Of Home
Part XIII: The Starry Universe