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Guest Post: Epidexipteryx, The Vampire Peacock of Daohugou

As promised here is the guest post on the new feathered dinosaur by my colleague Corwin Sullivan

In recent years there’s been no shortage of feathered theropod fossils, avian and non-avian, from the People’s Republic of China. Almost all of them come from the Lower Cretaceous Yixian Formation of western Liaoning Province, historically a part of Manchuria. The exquisitely preserved Yixian fossils, which include everything from plants to insects to mammals in addition to the famous feathered wonders, give us an astonishingly clear window into an Early Cretaceous ecosystem.

However, it must be said that dinosaurs of a feather do not always flock entirely together. The profusion of specimens from the Yixian Formation has tended to overshadow the small number of highly intriguing feathered theropods that have been collected at another locality, Daohugou in eastern Inner Mongolia. The Daohugou beds are practically across the provincial border from the Yixian of western Liaoning, and are similar to the Yixian in many respects: both are lacustrine deposits that have yielded a mixture of plants, invertebrates, non-dinosaurian vertebrates such as salamanders and pterosaurs, and feathered dinosaurs. However, the Daohugou beds are substantially older, being Middle to Upper Jurassic rather than Lower Cretaceous.

Continue reading ‘Guest Post: Epidexipteryx, The Vampire Peacock of Daohugou’

Pterosaurs flew, who knew?

Well, almost everyone of course, but that hasn’t stopped some people claiming that they couldn’t. Or at least that some of the Cretaceous giants like Pteranodon and Quetzalcoatlus couldn’t. The main ‘offender’ of late was a paper I took to task for commenting on pterosaur flight while clearly written by people who didn’t know much about them and was not refereed by pterosaur workers either. If you are going to go out on a limb and talk about pterosaurs in a paper, it might be an idea to learn a bit about them first. If not, you run the risk of making some big errors and wasting other people’s time correcting something that shouldn’t need correcting.

In this case, Mark Witton and Mike Habib have gone out there and made the case for big pterosaurs being flight capable. They also talk about the problems of scaling the giant pterosaurs from rather fragmentary remains and of comparing birds to pterosaurs. So, if you want proof (if it really were needed) that pterosaurs were flying animals, then hop over to the blog where posts are coming, or PLoS One where the paper is freely available. Enjoy.

Oh, and the media have been all over this already, though primarily focusing on the ‘pterosaurs could vault?’ bit, which of course was published in 2008 and got plenty of coverage in 2009 thanks to this. Still, if you want the media side of things then you can see here, here, and here among others (warning: this may include pterosaurs being called dinosaurs. Again).

Guest post: Birds in a flap thanks to dinosaur wrists

My latest paper is out today on the subject of theropod wrists. However, first credit must go to project leader Corwin Sullivan who has also penned this post for the Musings on our research. I’ll be adding a bit more tomorrow with my take on the paper, but for now, take it away Corwin….

Continue reading ‘Guest post: Birds in a flap thanks to dinosaur wrists’

Yes it’s more theropod photos

Well only one actually. Still, I could hardly leave out this new image of Epidexipteryx after it made it’s bow in the pages of The Onion now could I?

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No ado about much – new dinosaur footprints from China

There are great papers that get all the attention that they deserve, great papers that don’t get the attention they deserve, bad papers that get attention they don’t deserve and one that get just the right amount. This is one of the latter. Not, I would hasten to add, that it is not a good paper but simply that I would be surprised if many people outside of the dinosaur ichnology crowd would be particularly interested and perhaps not even them.

Continue reading ‘No ado about much – new dinosaur footprints from China’

Bayan Mandahu field work

fgh-383I have been promising a post on this summer’s fieldwork in Inner Mongolia since my return, but the almost immediate trip to Mexico, followed by ‘grant season’ has left me with a huge backlog of real work and distractions (not to mention things like Epidexipteryx) so I have simply not been able to get beyond those few early posts. As I have mentioned before this was my first proper time doing fieldwork so it was both eye opening and exciting, not to mention getting the opportunity to see a lot more of China close at hand. Continue reading ‘Bayan Mandahu field work’

What’s wrong with pterosaurs? – A top 10

Unsurprisingly, the poor life reconstructions and restorations of dinosaurs get a lot of attention – I certainly intend to get my mileage out of them in the future. But pterosaurs suffer just as much, if not far more.

Let’s face it, despite all those minor niggling details that we like to get upset about (the wrong orientation of tails spines in Stegosaurs, spinosaur claw shapes and rearing brachiosaurs) these are actually in the main, pretty minor points. We no longer have to deal with 1930’s style ‘kangaroo’ T. rexes, tail dragging sauropods and ‘two brained’ Stegosaurus – well, less than we used to anyway. Both the public and the scientists, artists, journalists and associated workers have adapted to the modern way of seeing dinosaurs and discrepancies are pretty minor.

But take a look at a pterosaur restored to live and in some ways we might as well be back in the 1850s! Some of them are incredible. Woefully bad. But really it’s just a function of popularity. Dinosaurs are inherently interesting and have a ‘Wow!’ factor that means new discoveries get public attention – find any crappy bit of dinosaur bone and you are guaranteed a spot in the press provided you can spin it well enough. Discover something truly incredible, new, exciting that updates, confirms, or rejects some major part of pterosaur palaeontology and you will be lucky to get ‘New flying dinosaur find’ as your headline. Great. So while the public perception of dinosaurs has changed with time and new discoveries, that of pterosaurs has not. In fact it hasn’t changed to the point that I know of other palaeontologists (who frankly should know better) who still think pterosaurs are pretty much dull brown, leathery gliders and limited to Pteranodon and perhaps Rhamphorhynchus in terms of diversity. Do they really think that we have learned nothing in the last 50 odd years?
Continue reading ‘What’s wrong with pterosaurs? – A top 10′

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