Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

A new website

banner-v5Longtime readers will know that the Musings is in not so much hibernation as torpor, roused occasionally with some small titbits, but mostly sitting around with relatively little action. I still have posts on pterosaurs over at Pterosaur.net blog and most of my output now is via the Lost Worlds, and continue to put things up on other sites, especially Ask A Biologist.

However, for all my output online, and the sites that I have created and invested in, something for me, has always been left on the side. For years I never had a personal site at all, or just a few lines on the homepage of whichever institute I was at, but recently I’ve had an ugly google sites page that was just black on white text and a few images. It was horrible to update and format and an all round pain. As you’ve already guessed from the above picture, I now have a new online home: davehone.co.uk

This doesn’t supplant any of my outreach efforts, although there’s a blog and twitter feed, it’s there basically as a one-stop-shop for various things. There’s pages for my research, outreach, a gallery is coming, and there’s a full list of my papers and PDFs too. It also looks really nice, and finally I have something that actually looks professional associated with my work. There may not be that much of interest there for many readers, but I’m rather proud of it (I had a hand in the design of the site and the banner, though credit of course goes to David Orr for what is up there) and it’s hopefully worth a look.

 

 

Gobivenator

So the near endless procession of incredible and incredibly preserved dinosaurs from the Cretaceous of Mongolia continues. This time it’s a troodontid, newly named Gobivenator mongoliensis by Taka Tsuihiji and colleagues in Naturwissenschaften. Although the paper concentrates on the issues of palatal evolution (alongside a short description), the thing for me is just how exquisite the specimen is. It’s one of the best preserved things I’ve seen from Mongolia, and given things like the fighting dinosaurs, nesting oviraptorosaurs and the rest, that’s saying something.

I have actually seen this specimen firsthand while visiting Japan back in 2011 and it really is superb. Also worth nothing is the quality of the preparation – although at one level it’s quite easy, a nice fine and fragile sandstone with strong and well-preserved bones – the delicate nature of the specimen (especially an intact skull with all the palate, braincase etc. intact and in situ) is something you don’t want to damage. Handling the material to take photographs was fraught with panic trying to avoid damaging anything.

And on that note, yes there are photos. Taka has generously said he’d let me publish a few of mine online, and show some non-standard views. However, he is planning a monograph on this (and so he should!) so he asked I not reveal too much, so I’ve stuck to a general shot of the prepared pieces, back by a shot of the tail (so nearly complete and yet not quite, curses!) and a shot of the dorsal ribs. Nothing too incredible, but whether or not you’ve seen the paper, I think this gives a better impression as to the sheer quality of the preservation and the state of the material, it really is a beauty.

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The Archosaur Musings 2013 Awards

It’s getting harder and harder for me to write these sadly, with my ever increasing teaching loads, and broader than ever outreach commitments, I don’t have much time to read as many blog pieces and media coverage as I used to, and a look though a few end-of-year reviews suggests there’s a few discoveries and papers I’d missed which is rather annoying. Still, it is good to at least try and look back over the last year and give a bit of a personal perspective and try and have a bit of fun.

Continue reading ‘The Archosaur Musings 2013 Awards’

The filamented Psittacosaurus

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By now most people with even a passing interest will be aware of the fact that there are now a number of specimens (and indeed species) of ornithischian dinosaurs that are preserved with some form of filament-type structure which, superficially at least, bear some resemblance to primitive feathers. However when the first candidate was announced, this specimen of Psittacosaurus housed in Frankfurt, it inevitably causes something of a furore with many suspicious of the data and suggestions that the filaments were simply coincidentally preserved plant stems or something similar.

The discovery of multiple specimens of Tianyulong inevitably make this rather more plausible as a real find, though of course a few more filamented Psittacosaurus would be nice. A third taxon is apparently now know but sadly illness led to a no-show at SVP so few have seen anything of this new find. Still, the original find is an impressive specimen, but doesn’t seem to have really been thoroughly described or illustrated too well and as I’m in a position to at least partially rectify that, here’s some photos I took of the specimen on my recent trip.

I have actually seen this before years ago but extremely briefly, and have also seen a superb cast of it in the Carnegie (my photo of which actually popped up in a dinosaur text book recently, [with permission I should add] such was the quality of the copy). However, I’d never really *looked* at it properly and actually spending a few minutes (even through a glass case) reveals some lovely details.

First off, it’s big. The biggest specimen I’ve seen by far for this genus, though the head is not that large compared to the rest of the body. Then there is skin pretty much everywhere – this does turn up in Liaoning not too infrequently, but rarely to this extent or quality. It covers large chunks of the animal and even completely covers large chunks of the bones in places (just look at the femur) and it looks like there’s a pile of gastroliths in the gut that are also covered.

While I’d be very cautious about interpreting the extent of the skin as being directly linked to other soft tissues, the extensive ‘flap’ behind the hindlimb would correspond with what you might expect from large retractor muscles there and so might well be genuine. Not only that, but there’s quite a bit of texture to the skin and in a couple of places it appears to have a different surface texture to others (see the underside of the base of the tail, and the area around the toes), which could also be genuine. On top of that, both the individual scales are clear in some places, and are even coloured differently (the larger ones are black) implying at least the possibility of this representing a pattern on the animal, and this changes along the body (look a the concentration in the tail, compared to the legs) though again:caution. It does look rather like this little patch that I featured years ago which is rather neat. Finally, this pattern also extend onto bones that are not obviously covered with skin (see the distal forelimb for example) with apparently the stains or some other taphonomic artefact of the scales left on the bones themselves.

And yes, then there are the filaments. Sprouting up off the base of the tail and extending most of the way along its (incomplete) length. They are rather thick and clearly somewhat stiff, but also flexible enough to bend under their own weight. While not a common reference, they look a lot to me in terms of  their apparent properties like the tail hairs of giraffe (though much, thicker). It’s a real shame they are at least in part cut off the edge of the slab, but certainly appear to have stopped appearing well short of the end of the tail, so their full extent does appear to have been preserved.

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I think that’s everything I can reasonably (or even unreasonably) speculate about this specimen without, yknow, actually going back and reading the original paper and associated commentary. However, the really key thing is of course that here’s some nice pictures of this and it gives a welcome opportunity to revisit this important and interest specimen.

Yet More Archaeopteryx – Chicken Wing, Haarlem and Maxberg

I’ve just returned from a brief trip to Germany taking in the Jura Museum, Solnhofen Museum and a quick run up to the Senckenberg in Frankfurt. I was poking around with pterosaurs, birds and dinosaurs and while actually Archaeopteryx didn’t feature in the agenda, I did of course catch up with a few things as it were. As a result, the ever growing Archaeopteryx archive can now be filled in a little as there were some awkward gaps and problems and while still not perfect, I do now have things much better covered than before.

First off, some replacement images for the ‘chicken wing’ specimen in Solnhofen. My previous photos were all out of focus but these should be rather better.IMG_7376

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Next we have a cast of the Haarlem specimen from the Jura Museum, and this is backed by a cast from the Senckenberg below. Neither is ideal, I’d still love to see and shoot the original, but between them they have some good coverage of the specimen.

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Finally, here is a series of photos of casts of the lost Maxberg specimen – again from both Jura (first) and Senckenberg. Neither the Maxberg or Haarlem have featured on here before and so while still only covered by casts, really does flesh out the archive rather well.

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Jehol-Wealden conference

Just a quick alert for some interested people. Bit short notice I know but just a month from now there is a Jehol-Wealden conference in Southampton, including a fieldtrip to the Isle of Wight. I’m sure it will be of interest to dinosaur researchers and dinophiles in the UK and likely beyond so is worth taking a look at. Here’s the link.

 

Book review: Salsa Invertebraxa

A few weeks ago I got an invitation for a copy of something akin to a graphic novel on insects that I could review. The invitation was by the author, Mozchops, and although I really had no idea what it was, but it looked superb so of course I said yes. When it arrived I started devouring it avidly, but then got interrupted and it’s been sat next to my bed for weeks glowering at me and reminding me of the fact that I was enjoying it and hadn’t finished it, let alone reviewed it. So this evening I sat down and went through the rest.

The whole thing is beautifully illustrated and is done (as far as I can tell) digitally, but with a flourish that looks a lot more like real painting than most. While largely bright and colourful, there’s some wonderfully dark images (and tone) in places that provides a superb contrast and there is also a great mix of huge closeups right the way through to vast landscapes.

The whole thing is narrated by some sparse text which is all in rhyming couplets. There is, as far as I can tell, no real story, it’s more a set of little scenes or settings with various animals going about their business – feeding, growing, mating, killing. At this point I should mention that it is all set in a slightly offset world. It’s familiar, but clearly not quite the world we know – you’ll recognise termites, centipedes, stalk-eyed flies, caterpillars, beetles and plenty of others but they are all fictional extensions of what we are used to giving it a fantasy twist.

I do have to confess that frankly I have pretty much no understanding of what the book is about, assuming it is actually supposed to be specifically about anything at all. That may have been the author’s intent, it may be my ignorance. What it does do though, is make you think – the art is beautiful and presents perhaps more an impression of how we think of the insects and various terrestrial invertebrates illustrated as opposed to their ‘real’ appearance.

Did I ‘get’ this book? Quite possibly not.
Do I like it? I’m genuinely not sure.
Is it unique and quite beautiful? Certainly.

The book can be ordered here, where there’s also lots more artwork and details, and Mozchops also has a site here with still more stuff so go take a look.

An appeal for data on dinosaur tail data

Regular readers should be familiar with my 2012 paper on the lengths of tails in non-avian dinosaurs (those who you who missed it, for shame! can catch up with my post here). In this I looked at the general lack of complete tails in the fossil record, but also showed that tail length varies considerably in dinosaurs, and thus should not be included in length estimates or mass estimates derived from length.Collecting data for the paper I scoured a number of museum collections, went through as much of the dinosaur literature as I felt able, and also contacted numerous researchers and curators to ask for any ideas and things I might have missed or undescribed specimens hidden in basements and drawers. Many people were generous with their time and knowledge and by the end of it, I was really pleased with what I had in terms of a dataset.

Almost inevitably though, without hours of publication and my blog post on the subject, people started contacting me with new leads. Many were things I had looked at and decided were not complete, but some were things I had missed and represented additional data. Great though this was, there was not a lot I could do with even a handful of new data – the paper was done. However, inspired I did dive back into the literature and had another look and did find a few more and as you may have guessed, have now got as far as I, or rather we, can. This time out I’m collaborating with Scott Persons (who has been doing a lot of his own tails stuff) and a mathematically inclined colleague Steve Le Comber.

Scott and I have pooled our resources and have now found nearly 50 dinosaur specimens with complete tails, though we have this time out also been including specimens with ‘nearly’ complete tails. Obviously subjective, but we’re working on that.

Anyway, we’re appealing for more data. If you are aware of a dinosaur that has a truly complete (every single caudal vert, down to the last nub) tail, that’s not on the list, then do please let us know. If you know of something that’s near complete (maybe just a tip missing, or a couple in the middle or similar) do also let us know. Please be as specific as possible – “I think I saw a hadrosaur with a good tail in the AMNH” isn’t going to win you any prizes or get us anywhere, and we have at this point checked out a lot of material. On that note, all we can really offer is a mention in the acknowledgements for good leads that yield datapoints, and this may also include some limited measure of gratitude, or even a pint at the next conference where you catch us. Maybe.

Here are the lists of what we have to date.

Complete tails:

Othneilosaurus SMA 0010
Jeholosaurus IVPP V 12529
Scleidosaurus NHM R1111
Scutellosaurus MNA PI. 175
“Saichania” MPC 100/1305
Pinacosaurus PIN 614
Dyoplosaurus Arbour et al., 2009
Dryosaurus YPM 1884
Tethyshadros Dalla Vecchia, 2009
Edmontosaurus Lull and Wright, 1942
Lambeosaurus ROM 1218
Corythosaurus ROM 845
Hadrosauridae indet TMP 1998.58.01
Centrosaurus Brown, 1917
Psittacosaurus Sereno, 1987
Psittacosaurus IVPP V 120888
Coelophysis AMNH 7229
Sinocalliopteryx JMP-V-05-8-01
Gorgosaurus Currie, 2003
Gallimimus Osmólska et al., 1972
Ornithomimus TMP 1995.11.001
Caudipteryx IVPP V 12430
Nomingia Barsbold et al., 2000
Microraptor IVPP V 13352
Mei Xu and Norell, 2004
Jinfengopteryx CAGS IG 040801
Archaeopteryx Wellnhofer, 1974
Epidexipteryx IVPP V 15471
Lufengosaurus Young, 1941
Camarasaurus Gilmore, 1925
Opisthocoelicaudia Borsuk-Bialynicka, 1977
Protoceratops Fastovsky et al. 2012
Protoceratops Fastovsky et al. 2012
Leaellynasaura Herne pers comm
Chasmosaurine Mallon, 2010
Stegosaurus SMA 0092
Archaeoceratops IVPP V11115
Parksosaurus ROM 804
Anchiceratops CMN 8547
Microraptor Li et al 2012
Anchiornis IVPP
Sinusonasus Xu & Wang 2004
Spinophorosaurus Remes et al 2009
Kentrosaurus Holotype
Ornithomimid TMP 90.26.01
Tenontosaurus OMNH data

Near complete tails:

Epidendrosaurus IVPP V 12653
Sinornithoides IVPP V9612
Ceratosaurus USNM 4735
Khaan IGM 100/1127
Corythosaurus Lull & Wright, AMNH 5240
Anatosaurus Lull & Wright 8399
Anatosaurus lull & wright
Tianyuraptor Zheng et al 2009
Apatosaurus Gilmore 1936
Juravenator Chiappe & Goehlich, 2010
Sciurumimus Rauhut et al 2012
Psittacosaurus sinensis IVPP V 738
Psittacosaurus IVPP V14341.1
Psittacosaurus IVPP V14341.2
Psittacosaurus IVPP V14341.3
Psittacosaurus IVPP V14341.4
Sinocalliopteryx Ji et al 3007
Sinosauropteryx Currie & Chen 2001
?Heterodontosaurus MCZ 4188

Any other suggestions (specimens or papers), please do add them to the comments below. All help is most gratefully received.

Science communication and fossil preparation

As part of my travel to Canada for the Project Daspletosaurus work, I attended the Fossil Collections and Preparation Symposium hosted at the Tyrrell. Obviously I’m not much of a preparator, but after getting through the mammoth Gorgosaurus prep stuff with Darren Tanke, there was obvious scope to talk about sci comms in general and what we’d done with the field of preparation specifically and how me might go about improving that. All of the talks were recorded and have now gone up on line. There’s some cool stuff like removing old consolidants  or microvertebrate screening, so hunt around on the Tyrrell’s YouTube channel, so it’s well worth having a look around, there were a ton of talks.

Near perfection with Gorgosaurus

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This is the famous Gorgosaurus specimen at the Tyrrell that is pretty much perfection when it comes to tyrannosaurs. It’s as complete a skeleton as you are every likely to see, in wonderful condition, articulated pretty much perfectly and in an iconic posture. I loved simply looking at it, and it’s a hell of a thing.

I did not however love taking a photo of it, the position it has been put it, combined with the lighting in the hall makes it extremely hard to photograph. Now while museums can’t cater to the requirements or demands of every single visitor (some want it light, some dark, some want things high up, others low down, some want chairs, some want spaces etc.) it is frustrating that what is possibly their best specimen on display is annoyingly hard to photograph and hence this single decent shot which really doesn’t show off the feet properly, or indeed the complete (yes, actually really complete) tail.

Even so, it’s a magnificent specimen and I think the photo does it a decent amount of justice and at least lets you see the real quality of the preservation and indeed the preparation to get it out like this. Enjoy.

The live fauna of Dinosaur Provincial Park

In addition to the actual fossils, I do have a decent record of seeing live animals while out in the field, and the DPP and environs of the Tyrrell were no exception. The dinosaurs are of course, awesome, but it’s nice to see some wildlife too. Mark Graham had mentioned in his guest post that I’d been snapping some of the fauna, so now seemed a good time to bring them out

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First off is the easy one, these ground squirrels infest the area around the Tyrrell and this guy was literally sat on the front steps begging for food. While I didn’t give him any, the pot belly on this one and those that were hanging around make it quite obvious that plenty of people do, though just a few yards away other locals were much more shy and sveldt.

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Just traces here, but quite cool that you have coyote and deer (presumably mule deer given their abundance) going in opposite directions, though of course who knows how far apart in time. The canid also has some nice overprinting going on such that the two feet have left what appears to be one large, but rather odd, footprint.

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And here’s a pronghorn. A male rather obviously, and something I’d long wanted to see. I didn’t realise their range was this far north, so were a complete surprise to me when we came across a small group and I’ve got some nice photos of them mooching around.

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And here are some of those mule deer. This was part of a herd of a dozen or so, though there were plenty of odd ones or pairs seen from time to time in various places both around the museum and out into the wilds. I did see white-tailed deer too, but didn’t get any great photos.

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A real prize for me, a nice big bunny. I assume this is a jackrabbit, but I don’t actually know. I really like rabbits in general and have seen desert hares a couple of times in the wilds of China, but they tend to explode out of cover and vanish over the horizon before I realise I’ve spooked one, whereas this one was kind enough to move not too fast and stop a couple of times allowing me to get decent snaps (though out of tons that are out of focus or suffering from motion blur).

IMG_2807And finally a chipmunk, one of many hanging around in the woods near Don Henderson’s house, though I was also surprised to see them out in boulder fields too. I saw traces of activity from beavers and porcupines on several trees (and a couple of roadkill of the latter) but sadly no live ones were around. I think pretty much all of these bar the chipmunk were new to me, not just in the wild, but in zoos too. Perhaps as they are considered too ‘boring’ or ‘normal’ for most collections, and if the US doesn’t bother, then they’re not too likely to end up in Europe or Asia either, so this was really a pretty good haul by my standards.

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Ankylosaur!

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This place is going to be Theropod Central for a bit (until the huge volume of ceratopsians kick in), so here’s an ankylosaur to keep things ticking over. As usual, enthralled though I was with the exhibitions, I didn’t pay that much attention to the various signs or details of some of what I was looking at. As a result I don’t know all the identifications exactly and when it comes to things like these guys, well it’s hardly my best subject either.

Happily however, Victoria Arbour has just published a monster paper with Phil Currie on the taxonomy and identity of North American ankylosaurs and is also furiously blogging about it. So hop on over to her blog and start reading up on them. Handily there’s guides to the various parts of the skulls and rings of armour on the neck too which will really help out here. So while I’m obviously being too lazy to look it up myself, I’ll claim I’m inspiring readers to learn how to do it themselves.

Late edit: Victoria has joined in the comments to point out this is a nodosaur, and thus not in her review. D’oh. Still, go read her series anyway, it’s ace, and look at the pretty nodosaur skull (also ace). It is Edmontonia.

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