Archive for December, 2009

Some Limusaurus images

Obvious the wonderful little Limusaurus has gained a fair bit of attention on here this year, what with it being a herbivorous ceratosaur (and thus some interesting prospects for theropod diets), having interesting hand homology implications, and of course was collected in a rather impressive block of matrix.

Limusaurus holotype

The IVPP has now put out the holotype on display and thus since it’s free for the public to see and photograph I’m happy to join in and stick up some photos of the block. So enjoy some nice shiny new pictures of the specimen and a couple of close-ups below.

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The media, again. This time distorting dinosaurs up front.

My friend and colleague Matt Wedel is not happy. And it looks like he has every right to be since while being interviewed for a TV documentary he talked about the long discredited ‘second brain’ thing in dinosaurs. However come broadcast, the edit makes it appear as if he says this is correct. When he complains, the company admits the ‘error’ without apology or any real explanation.

Of the many, many, many times I have lambasted various media elements for general distortion and misunderstanding, I have always been able to fall back on allowing them a large measure of ignorance and innocent, (if unhelpful, unwarranted and often inexcusable) incompetence and lack of thoroughness. Here however it looks like they really knew what they were doing and did it anyway, with an on screen quote. This is very, very bad. And it’s very, very bad coming from a company who is getting expects to talk about their work. It’s bad enough when your quotes or press release or paper gets a bit mangled in translation for a short article in a newspaper but given the lengths Matt went to to explain his position and the issues at hand from people who need his help to make their TV show when they had months to prepare it, it’s rather worrying at best.

Anyway, go follow the links and read up on this, I’ll be watching with interest. For something lighter but equally relevant, try this little video about fact checking in the media (via Bad Science).

EDIT: Relatively happy ending here.

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More pterosaur blogging

Hot on the heels of Ross Elgin (whose blog has hit rather a hiatus early on as he’s here in Beijing with me, which is also why I’m so busy at the moment), Hebert Bruno Campos has begun a blog on Brazilian pterosaurs (though sadly not in English). He kicks off with a great new Ludodactylus specimen so do go and take a look.

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A very inflated opinion of Tawa

Having grabbed a few minutes to go through the Tawa paper and then finding time to put pen to paper (or in these times, fingers to keyboard) there was one thing I wanted to raise about this new dinosaur. (For those who have missed out, this not-feathered theropod was named and described this week by Sterling Nesbitt and his team and is one of the earliest known theropod dinosaurs).

The thing that interested me was the evidence for pneumatisation of parts of the skeleton (hence the awful pun in the title of this post). Those who keep up with the excellent SV-POW (or even the occasional comments on here on the subject) will know that a variety of archosaurs have (or rather had in the case of the extinct ones) extensions of the lungs called air sacs that sat alongside or invaded various bones of the skeleton. Of obvious note are the birds, pterosaurs and sauropods, but actually most theropods show at least some pneumaticy (though some, like Areosteon, more than others).

The relevant point here is that although there is some evidence to suggest that all archosaurs had at least some minor pneumaticy early on in their evolution, there remains the strong possibility that the pterosaurs, sauropods and theropods all gained their pneumaticy independently. The fossil evidence is rather ambivalent. While the idea that theropods and saruopods are very closely related is hardly troubled by the possibility that they did not inherit pneumatic bones from their saurischian ancestors, it does seem a little odd and of course causes a few problems for the ‘pterosaurs-as-ornithodirans’ idea.

Happily, while not exactly solving this, Tawa does provide some new information here. In addition to being an especially basal theropod, Tawa does have pleurocoels on some of its vertebrae – they are pneumatic (and there are pneumatic invasions in parts of the skull too). The new information that Tawa brings to the table also appears to help resolve some phylogenetic questions about early theropods and other saurischians, and another early and pneumatic theropod, Chindesaurus, can now be positioned with more confidence.

Between the two this provides quite a high level of confidence that pneumaticy was around at least in the very earliest theropods and thus closes the gap between the later pneumatic theropods and the sauropods and pterosaurs. In other words while there is still no perfect continuum of pneumatic taxa between the groups, the gap has been shrunk with this new find.

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Darwinopterus again

I’ve literally just come back from visiting Jungchang Lu who let me and some colleagues look over some of his pterosaur material.  Especially nice of him is that he said I could post up a picture of one of his Darwinopterus specimens so here it is, as fresh off the press as it’s possible to be in this digital age. So here it is:

Things are slacking off for me slowly so hopefully I can get back to some serious posts this week rather than just this succession of picture posts. However, I would think that with images this good it probably doesn’t matter how little I write.

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I try to avoid quick posts on here and lazy cross-linking to other articles in lieu of actually writing something myself. However, I’m still busy and Bill Parker has an excellent post on this exciting little critter over on his blog Chineana. Drop over and take a look. One thing I will add though (before I get the chance to do something properly myself)  is that while every life reconstruction that I have seen doing the rounds show Tawa with some kind of proto-feather covering, a number of media sites are reporting that this is a feathered dinosaur or was even preserved with feathers.

Needless to say that particular ‘F-word’ does not appear anywhere in the paper at all (or the 80-odd pages of supplementary data). One that I would therefore assume few people are reading before writing their articles. Makes a change eh?

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A far-too-big Triceratops

I’m still too busy to do proper posts, sorry, so have an absolutely massive Triceratops. In fact, it’s quite a bit bigger than the biggest known specimens so in that sense at least is none too accurate. However, while I do think it unlikely that we ever will find a ceratopsian this big anytime, I would not rule out the possibility and given thr size of some of the other giant ornithischians, its certainly not implausible.

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Pterosaur sacrum

Arrgh. Busy. Proper posts soon. Have a pterosaur sacrum.

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‘Fourteen days to seal history’s judgment on this generation’

Way out of my normal range of coverage on here, but I did need to flag this up. Given just how scathing I am on the Musings about scientific reporting in the media, if noting else this is well worth praising. This is a massive editorial as published in a staggering 56 newspapers in over 20 languages in 20 countries on the Copenhagen conference on climate change.

Aside from the general importance of the topic, two major things are clear here and should be noted:

1. The writing is phenomenally simple, accurate and eloquent.

2. There is massive and unrestricted support for the scientific evidence and the scientists that produced it.

This of course leads me to make two obvious points here, that while I can only praise this piece of work does make me wonder.

1. Why can’t you get things right the rest of the time and make complex things easy to understand and communicate them well?

2. Why don’t you accept our work over celebrity opinions, non-science, pseudo-science and more the rest of the time?

This is brilliant writing on science, now go and do it again. And again. And again….

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Species recognition and pheasants

An odd title for a post to be sure, but hopefully it will be an illustrative one. I have been writing of late of species recognition and how different species recongise each other and by extension how we ourselves recognise them. While I don’t want to drift off into an essay on species definitions fun* thought that may be, there is an issue here both for palaeoartists and biologists as a whole that I intend to illustrate with a pair of pheasants that rank among my most favourite, and certainly most beautiful, birds.

*For a given value of ‘fun’, your enjoyment may vary.

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Extrapolating behaviours – picking the right analogue

Palaeobehaviour is perhaps the hardest area of research in palaeontology, and is certainly one with the most speculation involved. If you know where and how to look, there are all kinds of evidence available in the ichnological and osteological record but of course the real issue is interpreting it correctly and tying the evidence to the right taxon in the right way. Sure you have a nice hadrosaur femur with some tooth marks, but from what? A theropod or a crocodile? And did it kill it, or just find it already dead? Was there only one animal feeding or more? Even with a good fossil record to let you know what other animals were out there, and how many, and what the environment was like, there are generally so many possibilities it can be very hard to make even vaguely reasonable generalisations about behaviour based on a single specimen or even a good collection.
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The Extant Phylogenetic Bracket

This is a topic I have been long meaning to cover on the musings as it is a pretty core part of modern palaeontology but exactly the kind of thing that never makes it from the research papers into newspapers of documentaries and thus I suspect many will not have even heard of it as a concept, let alone its application. As ever, this will be a reduced and simplified version so for those who do know better, please forgive the glossing over of details, but essentially the EPB runs as follows – if you have an unknown characteristic in an extinct species, but there are living relatives of that animal that phyologenetically are both more basal and more derived, then you can fairly safely conclude (with caveats, inevitably) that this was also a feature of your extinct organism.

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