Archive for April, 2012

More Lambeosaurus heads

Right at the end of last year I put up this little post of a Lambeosaur head sitting in a German museum basement. This time it’s equally exotic (more stuff from Tokyo) though this time at least visible to the public. It’s a pair of skulls, quite obviously, and I’m happy to identify them as far as Lambeosaurus, but no further than that (and no, I wasn’t smart enough to take a photo of the label, though of course that may not have been up to date or right anyway). Having put up Nipponosaurus the other day it seemed worth continuing with the hadrosaur theme and provide a rather better idea of the range of skulls for this genus.

Nipponosaurus

Trawling through a few more of my photos from Tokyo turned up a few more things I never got round to covering. Among them is this little seen hadrosaur – Nipponosaurus. This is one of the few dinosaurs known from Japan (though the number is creeping up slowly with even a sauropod having been described recently) and as far as I’m aware is known from just the one specimen, an incomplete juvenile (though with a skull) which formed the basis of this rather nice mount.

Euoplocephalus

Yet another picture pulled from the archives, but rather a nice one. Despite being really quite speciose (I was looking at a recent species list the other day and there were about as twice as many as I remembered there being), I’ve managed to give the ankylosaurs far too little coverage on here, in part because I see so few of them in museums. Europe is not blessed with ankylosaurs mounts and so this one comes from Tokyo. It’s a great mount showing off both the skeleton and major parts of the armour that make this group so distinctive and it’s nice to see it mounted alongside a stegosaur for comparison.

Brachiosaurus

And for once this really is Brachiosaurus and not Giraffatitan. Quite some time ago I put out a call for photos I could use on the Musings to help provide inspiration for new posts and provide images of things I couldn’t do myself. This series of images were kindly sent in my Michael Richmond though I must confess I have had them sitting around for about a year now without showing them off. Either Michael got bored of waiting or has been far too polite by not reminding me. Either way I apologise to him for going to the effort only to have me sit on them, but here they are now.

I understand this mount is a cast that sits in Chicago airport as an advert for the Field Museum. It certainly looks the part and there are some lovely shots of odd and interesting angles in there. My thanks to Michael and again, sorry for the delay.

Mamenchisaurus ungual

I can’t be the only person with a soft spot for certain anatomical features and I really do like unguals. They are after all, an important (perhaps the most important) between an animal and it’s environment and we see numerous adaptations and modifications to unguals accordingly. Sauropods are rather cool in this regard often having rather outsized unguals on the manus or pes that in some cases look rather more suited to a theropod. This is from the Mamenchisaurus mount in Chengdu University of Technology though as I don’t have the full original set of photos I took I have to go by memory and I think this was a pedal claw.

Dinosaurs assemble!

I have shown a couple of these kinds of photos before, but so very long ago, it’s probably a novelty for most readers. This is a framework for a skeletal mount – all the bones , well casts, are laid out on the floor ready to be bolted onto the frame. You can just about see all the little hooks and cradles to take the individual elements and at the bottom is one of the polystyrene frames that holds all the pieces, and those trays fit into the crates at the back. Basically, this really is a build-your-own-dinosaur kit. For the record I *think* this is a Shunosaurus, but it’s really very hard to make out from here and I took the picture about 6 years ago, so I really can’t remember.

New Insights into Asian Dinosaurs

The title of this post is also that of the latest issue of the Chinese journal Vertebrata PalAsiatica (Volume 50, Issue 2 for those who wanted to be exact). Guest edited by Corwin Sullivan and myself this is a collection of papers dedicated to the Asian dinosaurs though we have contributions from authors in the UK, US, Canada and Argentina as well as Japan, China and Mongolia.

There are only seven papers but there should be something for everyone. We have a new theropod named – the troodontid Philovenator curriei (nope, no clues as to how it got that name) and new information on theropod briancases. We have the ceratopsians covered with a lovely new specimen of Auroraceratops and the hadrosaurs get a look-in with a review of Wulagasaurus and while the sauropodomoprhs just sneak in there are there with some Lower Jurassic prosauropod material.

Editing volumes is no easy matter (not least when they have to fit into an existing journal’s scheduled publication patterns) but we are pleased with the outcome. There were inevitable hiccups and problems with delayed reviews and submissions and some promised papers never appeared but we now have a completed piece. On thing that will certainly delight many is that VPA is freely available online to all and can be freely downloaded from here. So go gets yourself some free dinosaur papers and enjoy them as Corwin and I get to lie back and enjoy not having to deal with the bloody volume any more.

Paulina Catabajal, A., Currie, P.J. 2012. New information on the braincase of Sinraptor dongi (Theropoda: Allosauroidea: ethmoidal region, endocranial anatomy, and pneumaticity.

Tsuihiji, T., Watabe, M., Tsogtbaatar, Barsbold, R., Suzuki, S. 2012. A tyrannosauroid frontal from the Upper Cretaceous (Cenomanian-Santonan) of the Gobi Desert, Mongolia.

Dececchi, T.A., Larsson, H.C.E., Hone, D.W.E. 2012. Yixianosaurus longimanus (Theropoda: Dinosauria) and its bearing on the evolution of Maniraptora and ecology of the Jehol fauna.

Xu, X., Zhao, Q., Sullivan, C., Tan, Q-W., Sander, M., MA, Q-Y. 2012. The taxonomy of the troodontid IVPP V 10597 reconsidered.

Barrett, P.M., Xu, X. 2012. The enigmatic reptile Pachysuchus imperfectus Young, 1951 from the Lower Lufeng Formation (Lower Jurassic) of Yunnan, China,

Xing, H., Prieto-Marquez, A., Gu, W., Yu, T-X. 2012. Re-evaluation and phylogenetic analysis of Wulagasaurus dongi, a hadrosaurine dinosaur from the Maastrichtian of northeast China.

You, H-L., Morschhauser, E., Dodson, P., Li, D-Q. 2012. Auroraceratops sp. (Dinosauria: Neoceratopsia) from the Early Cretaceous of the Mazongshan area in northwestern China.

Camptosaurus

Another super-later entry from the Oxford Museum back catalogue, this is Camptosaurus. I’m not one who is deeply into my ornithischian systematics, but as far as I’m aware this is fairly uncontroversially close to Dryosaurus and Dysolotosaurus and the like and thus in the dryosaur clade that is basal to the iguanodontians and hadrosaurs.

I’d much rather comment on the mount which is superb. It’s a shame about the wooden batten in the cabinet, but well, that’s part of the furniture. But the suspension of pieces in space like this without an obvious big metal armature is really nice to see. OK so yeah, the specimen is largely visible from only one side, but this offset by the superb way it’s put up and I really like this.

Why do dinosaurs attract such attention?

 It may seem like a trite observation but dinosaurs do seem to get an unusual amount of attention. Sure they were the dominant terrestrial clade for a good period of time, and they produced some weird and wonderful forms, and some of them were huge. But much as I love my dinosaurs, the attention they get does seem to be disproportionate to their importance and interest. You don’t see ammonites or calicotheres or fossil cetaceans or gorgonopsids attracting the same kind of attention.

The attention is double edged of course. While it means that dinosaurs do well in the literature and media, and museums obviously tend to go for great dinosaur displays, it does also attract the kind of interest you don’t want. Dinosaur researchers seem to have the near monopoly on members of the public finding ‘dinosaur bones’ in their backyard (it’s never a mammoth is it?) or tales of humor and horror of encounters with the public who are just a bit too into their dinosaurs. We get waaaay more than our fair share of ‘aquatic dinosaurs’ type-hypotheses and even academics that seem to want to dip into palaeontology always seem to head straight for the dinosaurs. And naturally the media knowing just how popular they are, are generally always ready to give a bit of coverage to the latest flawed efforts.

I’ve seen various explanations over the years but I’ve yet to come across anything backed by much evidence or that sounds overly convincing. It almost seems that dinosaurs are popular simply because they’ve always been popular and that has never faded and perhaps has even become self-fulfilling – with so much reporting on new finds, documentaries and museum exhibitions, they are always out there and being promoted. It’s clearly not going away anytime in the next decade or two, but for me at least, it’s far for clear quite how it’s been propagated so effectively for so long. Long may it continue of course, thought if a few more nutters want to start thinking more about trilobites and indricotheres (and less about tyrannosaurs) that would be good too.

Parapsicephalus

A last left-over AMNH pterosaur and again I’m most grateful to Steve Cohen for the photos. This is all there is of this little taxon (assuming you think it’s valid – Dave Unwin sank it into Dorygnathus, but Kevin Padian kept it separate in his more recent review of Dorygnathus). I don’t know where the original specimen is, but as it was from the UK I assume it’s here and that this is a cast, but if so it’s rather a good one.

The view here is dorsal, looking down on the skull (well, most of the skull) with the posterior part at the top of the picture and the snout pointing down as seen. As you can hopefully make out, this is essentially an incomplete skull which as I recall has no teeth in it. Just another incomplete pterosaur, but nicely preserved and in 3D which is always a bonus for such a basal animal.

Why zoos are good

Many years ago I ended up doing a radio debate on national radio over zoos. I’m still not sure if it was a mistake. I had a couple of opportunities to kill my opponent dead but my inexperience and nerves got the better of me. By all accounts (both neutral and partisan) I did rather well, and my failing was that I had rather expected my opponent to respond to reason, logic and data. It was not to be.

Still, the core issues have stayed with me and given my general love of good zoos (note the adjective) I’ve long thought of writing something more formal about why zoos are good. Here is that attempt.

Now first off I am perfectly willing to recognise that there are bad zoos and bad zoo exhibits. Not all animals are kept perfectly, much as I wish it were otherwise and even in the best, there might still be room for improvement. However, that some politicians and police are corrupt does not mean we should have government officials or that a group to enforce the law is a bad idea. It merely means we need to pay more attention to the bad and improve them or close them. In either case, zoos are generally a poor target – they have to keep the public onside or go bust. They have to stand up to rigorous inspections or be closed down. While a bad collection should not be ignored, if you are worried the care and treatment of animals I can point to a great many farms, breeders, dealers and private owners who are in far greater need or inspection, improvement or both.

If you are against animals in captivity full stop then there is perhaps little scope for disagreement. But even so I’d maintain that some of the below arguments (not least the threat of extinction) can outweigh any argument against captivity. Moreover, I don’t think anyone would consider putting down a 10000 km long fence around the Masai Mara to really be captivity, even if it restricts the movement of animals across that barrier. But at what point does that become captivity? A 10000 m fence? 1000 m fence? What if veterinary care is provided? Or extra food? Or the animal is left alone, but has a tracking collar attached? I’m not pretending that an animal in a zoo is not in captivity, but clearly there is a continuum from zoos and wildlife parks, to game reserves, national parks and protected areas. Degree of care and degree of enclosure make the idea of ‘captivity’ fluid and not absolute.

What I would state with absolute confidence is that for many (but no, not all) species, it is perfectly possible to keep them in a zoo or wildlife park and for them to have a quality of life as high or higher than in the wild. Their movement might be restricted (but not necessarily by that much) but they will not suffer from the threat or stress of predators (and nor will they be killed in a grisly manner or eaten alive) or the irritation and pain of parasites, injuries and illnesses will be treated, they won’t suffer or die of drought or starvation and indeed will get a varied and high-quality diet with all the supplements required. They can be spared bullying or social ostracism or even infanticide by others of their kind, or a lack of a suitable home or environment in which to live. A lot of very nasty things happen to truly ‘wild’ animals that simply don’t happen in good zoos.

So a good zoo will provide great care and protection to animals in captivity. These are good things for the individuals concerned. But what do zoos actually bring to the table for the visitors and the wider world? This is, naturally, what I want to focus on, but it is I hope worth having dealt with the more obvious objections and misapprehensions.

Education. Many children and adults, especially those in cities will never see a wild animal beyond a fox or pigeon, let alone a lion or giraffe. Sure documentaries get ever more detailed and impressive, and lots of things are on display in museums, but that really does pale next to seeing a living creature in the flesh, hearing it, smelling it, watching what it does and having the time to absorb details. That will bring a greater understanding and perspective to many and hopefully give them a greater appreciation for wildlife, conservation efforts and how they can contribute. That’s before the actual direct education that can take place through signs, talks and the like that can directly communicate information about the animals they are seeing and their place in the world.

Conservation – reservoir and return. It’s not an exaggeration that colossal numbers of species are going extinct across the world, and many more are threatened. Moreover, some of these collapses have been sudden, dramatic and unexpected or were simply discovered very late in the day. Zoos protect against a species going extinct. A species protected in captivity provides a reservoir population against a crash or extinction. Here they are relatively safe and can be bred up to provide foundation populations. A good number of species only exist in captivity and still more only exist in the wild because they have been reintroduced from zoos, or the wild populations have been boosted by captive bred animals. Quite simply without these efforts there would be fewer species alive today and ecosystems and the world as a whole would be poorer for it.

Research. If we are to save many wild species and restore and repair ecosystems we need to know about how key species live, act and react. Being able to study animals in zoos where there is less risk and less variables means real changes can be effected on wild populations with far fewer problems. Knowing say the oestreus cycle of an animal or their breeding rate, or that they don’t seem to like a crop that’s about to be planted can make a real difference to conservation efforts and to reduce human-animal conflicts.

All in all with the ongoing global threats to the environment it’s hard for me to see zoos as anything other than being essential to the long-term survival of numerous species. Not just in terms of protecting them and breeding them for reintroduction, but to learn about them to aid those still in the wild, as well as to educate and inform the public about these animals and to pique their interest so that they can assist or at least accept the need to be more environmentally conscious. Sure there is always scope for improvement, but these benefits are critical to many species and potentially at least, the world as a whole, and the animals so well kept and content, that I think there can be few serious objections to the concept of zoos as a whole and what they can do. Without them, the world would be and would increasingly be, a poorer place.

Marwell Zoo

And so to Marwell. This is probably the zoo in the UK I have been to most apart from the venerable London and despite having been since I started the Musings, it’s yet to have a write up. Fortunately this time I’ve got more interesting photos of animals than perhaps any other previous trip so I’m going to be able to get the most out of it. Moreover, this was a trip with Darren Naish, Heinrich Mallison and Sebastian Marpmann which gave great opportunity to discuss what we were seeing. It also meant Darren and i tried to explain what the place was like to the others on the drive down and in doing so gave me a new appreciation of the collections.

I’d always thought of Marwell as being ‘ungulate heavy’ – if you like your bovids and equids etc. it was the place to go, but on reflection, it really is dominated by these and is quite unlike any safari park or zoo I can think of – even other big and open parks like Chester and Longleat. Set in the South Downs, the zoo (and it is huge) is in the gentle rolling hills and grasslands which are a great setting. Pockets of woodland provide areas of cover for things like anoa and peccary while the open spaces are ideal for zebra and antelope. And these animals are massively in the majority. While there is for example a good cat collection (ocelot, serval, leopard, cheetah, tiger and snow leopard, and theoretically at least, sandcats) and a few primates, there’s tons of ungulates. Giraffe, all three zebras, roan antelope, waterbuck, scimitar horned oryx, Przewlaski’s horse, okiapi, bongo, pygmy hippo, Brazilian tapir, white rhino, nyala, sititunga, Somali wild ass, warthog, addax, Dama and dorcas gazelle, peccary, anoa, kudu, Congo buffalo and best of all, a pair of white tailed gnu.

What’s more these aren’t just present, but they are there in big numbers. There were 9 giraffe, and at least a dozen each of the waterbuck and oryx. Others were in big numbers too with a dozen ostrich and more than 20 capybara.The enclosures are typically huge since they have the space (and my one complaint would be they are too big in places, or at least accessible only from limited places so you can be a *very* long away from the animals). That space does mean they have a lot of room and several mixed exhibits – the largest of which is a new African space that must be 20 acres as a single field with giraffe, Grevy’s, waterbuck and ostrich 30 or 40 animals all sharing the space. This gives the animals a bit more scope that some other places and we saw trotting zebras, galloping giraffe and sprinting ostrich which was great.

We were also lucky enough to see lots of less common behaviours. Giraffe grazing, Congo buffalow calling, a pair of zebras really fighting, roan antelope engaged in ritual sparring, and a tiger eating grass.

Marwell doesn’t really go in for the ‘traditional’ collections. Big cats and giraffe aside, there’s few classics – no elephants, only the white rhino, no lions, no sealions, no great apes, no jaguar, no aquarium, the reptile house such as it is, is tiny with only a few species, there’s some owls but no other birds of prey and there are few birds in general. Though there are still a few ‘inevitables’ (Asian short-clawed otters, Sulawesi macaques, meerkats) there are some great things tucked away too – fossa, the stunningly rare Alotran lemur, giant anteater, weaver birds, bat-eared foxes and the like.

Collectively then this is an unusual zoo. No real reptile collection, no fish bar some cichlids, few birds, few ‘classic’ species. But what it has in spades and with both jokers is a superb layout, innovative use of space and the existing environment, some real rarities, and lots and lots of animals clearly enjoying where they are. It is, i short, a great zoo. You might not get what you expect if you’re a regular zoo go-er, but you will have a very good day.


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