Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

Dinosaurs Monster Families

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Even people living in London may not know the Horniman Museum which sits in south east London, just a few miles from the famous Crystal Palace dinosaurs. The Horniman is a small museum with an excelletn and old-fashioned natural history section full of bones and taxidermied material but with some great illustrations of development, variation and evolution. There’s a section on human cultures and especially tribal artefacts, a small aquarium in the basement and  a petting zoo and gardens. It’s well worth a visit anytime, but they also regularly have special exhibitions and right now it is the above titled one on dinosaur eggs, nests and babies.

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The exhibition is not large but it is excellent. I’ve only included a few snapshots here but hopefully it’s clear that there’s some wonderful specimens (almost all casts, but very few are of specimens or even species I have seen before and none will be well known in the UK), with interesting mounts, excellently presented information and lots of detail. There are some looped videos of researchers talking about major discoveries like the brooding oviraptorosaurs and also lots of top Luis Rey artwork. Luis was actually integral to the origin of this traveling exhibit (it’s also been in Spain and Italy but I don’t know where it’s headed next) and hence the liberal splashing of his works.

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Given the theme it’s perhaps no surprise that most of the material is based on Mongolian and northern Chinese specimens – Protoceratops and oviraptorosaurs feature heavily as does Tarbosaurus and innumerable eggs and nests. Again though, while this might in one respect be a bit same-y, you’d have to pay close attention to notice and it’s not played as a central point, merely that so much accessible material is from there so it features. Still there’s stuff from Argentina and North America and lots of key sites and specimens get a mention.

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In a nice touch, the last case is a collection of modern specimens from the Horniman’s own collections showing off various bird and their eggs and some other goodies. There’s also a very special ‘guest’ that is quite remarkable to see but I won’t spoil the surprise for anyone going.

The museum also has an excellent record of using these temporary exhibits to carry out additional activities and outreach events, bringing in artists and experts to talk about them to various groups and creating extra activities and presentations. Somewhat inevitably therefore I got roped into this and in the opening week look along a gang of students and colleagues to talk dinosaurs and their biology and evolution and I’m back again in a couple of weeks for another talk.

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Overall this is a superb little exhibit, there’s a lot to see, it’s well laid out and there’s some interesting and exciting specimens. It’s well labeled and there’s a lot of information to potentially digest and I can highly recommend it.

Why Jurassic Park III is objectively* the best of the franchise

Every film in the Jurassic Park / World franchise has plenty of problems, but it is actually quite simple to work out which is the best of the four films to date.

Do you know what I want to see in a dinosaur film like Jurassic Park? Dinosaurs.

Do you know what I don’t want to see in a dinosaur film? Annoying children.

So, which of the films has the the most amount of dinosaur footage (absolute, and especially relative to run time) and the least amount of annoying children? Yes, Jurassic Park III is in fact quite clearly the best film to date. Simple. Case closed.

* For a given value of ‘objectively’

Archosaur Musings 2015 Roundup

For the first time I’m breaking away from the previous annual awards and I’m writing something that is more of a general roundup of the year. I already had found I needed to heavily alter my previous series of awards last year with my changing interests and responsibilities and finding that I’d need to make even more drastic edits this year I though it time to finally shelve the awards and move to a more general summary of the year.

As with last year my blogging has been even more sparse. In part this is down t having less and less time available and also the fact that I have now written close to 2000 pieces between the Musings, the very old (and now apparently no longer online) Dinosaur index on Bristol University’s system, my Guardian blog and various other outlets. That’s on top of the 1000+ questions I’ve answered on Ask A Biologist as well and it all means that I’m somewhat worn down by blogs. Not that I don’t have a desire to continue, but it’s hard not to rehash existing issues and the most popular areas (bird origins, new species) are very well covered and I struggle to bring anything new or find the enthusiasm a lot of the time.

Still, things are continuing. People might have noticed that the Guardian blog in particular has been in hibernation for around 6 months now. It was originally my intention to quit as while I liked it, there were ever increasing pressures to cover the very areas I had least interest in but a solution was stumbled upon – to draw in additional bloggers and expand this from just dinosaurs to all palaeontology. As such there was a call out for people to apply and the editors are close to making a decision on who will be asked to join me and the whole thing should restart in the new year – stay tuned.

My own new year for 2015 saw me taking a trip to LA for a long overdue break, to see the LACM and its collections, visit La Brea and its tar pits and in particular catch up with Mike Habib and try to finish off some papers. Our work on a new and exceptional Rhamphorhynchus held in Canada is now out, as is out collaboration with artist Matt van Rooijen on wingtip curvature and what that means both ecologically and perhaps systematically for pterosaurs.

Sadly for me this summer lacked any meaningful trips – I’ve been out of the field far too long, and I desperately need to get back to China to finish several projects, but the late summer saw a flurry of activity. First off, rising artist Rebecca Gelernter joined me in London for several months to work on a series of projects as part of her scientific illustration degree. Some of her work (both life reconstructions and skeletal work) will be appearing very shortly in a number of papers for me and John Hutchinson has also put her nose to the grindstone for some illustrations too. If you’ve not seen her stuff before, do take a look at her website and she recently joined Twitter too.

Next was an obvious highlight of back to back conferences: Flugsaurier in Portsmouth and SVPCA in Southampton. The former was the latest in the running series of pterosaurs conferences and saw a superb collection of talks as well as the obvious benefit of getting together people from all over the world to talk pterosaurs. Seeing colleagues and experts you may only otherwise rarely or never see makes it an extremely valuable gathering, even if there were no talks and posters. Still, much was exchanged and much got done and a great time was had by most who survived the weather. As is also becoming a pattern, a volume of papers will also be published from this meeting, and well follow the link if you want more.

SVPCA was a bit more cosmopolitan than usual as several pterosaur delegates stayed on for the second meeting (as had been hoped, each meeting encouraged some people to the other when they would not normally attend) but was also an excellent meeting and gathering of vertebrate palaeontologists. There were some format changes (with more to come) but none the worse for it, and for me it is probably the best annual meeting out there and I love it. Long may it continue, though sadly I look set to miss the 2016 meeting owing to being in Canada.

One other thing that needs a mention for 2015 is the Daspletosaurus paper. This started as a crowdfunded platform that took me to Alberta to work on a very chewed-up skull with Darren Tanke. It took a while but the paper was eventually completed and published and I’m very pleased with the final, detailed study. A lot of people contributed their time as well as cold, hard cash and I’m extremely grateful for all the help that allowed me to complete this research.

Looking ahead, I’m working on what are hopefully the final edits on the Tyrannosaur Chronicles that will be my first book, and there’s a paper on sexual selection in dinosaurs now in press that should be out in the next few weeks. There’s a couple of other works in submission and I’m contributing to the Flugsaurier volume too, so fingers crossed that I’ll have a couple more pieces out next year. That pretty much wraps it up for now. This blog will continue sporadically I’m sure so keep an eye out for new posts.

The Archosaur Musings 2014 awards

Time for another end-of year summary and roundup, though this year I’ve modified the format a little. With my changing habits and responsibilities, I don’t keep up with and get involved to the same degree with some areas of outreach and research that I used to, so I thought to keep things running I should adjust the setup a bit to better reflect what I’m up to and interested in.

Other than talking about my papers and research generally, I don’t tend to talk much on here about my career, however it’s been both an odd and important year for me. I had a brief secondment back in Bristol for the five months in the middle of the year and then had a big event in being offered a permanent position at Queen Mary. I am well aware of how lucky I am t have had this opportunity when so many other very talented and able colleagues have, and continue to, struggle for employment and there is still a very long way to go (I’ve still got to pass my academic probation for starters) but 10 years after I finished my PhD and after chasing postdocs and short-term contracts round the world, as far as I’m concerned it’s about time.

With all the to-ing and fro-ing between cities and jobs and the new dinosaur course, it’s been a hectic time but my research has rather fallen behind of late. Happily however, several long-term projects are coming to fruition now and so I do hope the next 18 months will see a good increase in submissions and publications. One of the things I’ve been keeping relatively quiet is that I’m writing a book on tyrannosaurs which is provisionally scheduled to come out in the summer of 2015. It will very much be a popular science book and not too technical, though there should be some nice photos and Scott Hartman will be providing skeletals for it, so the illustrations at least should be accurate.

Right enough of the generalist stuff, let’s get onto some specifics.

 

Most important new archosaur discovery

Although Kulindadromeus is an obvious and very cool candidate here and does bring some new data and ideas to the feather-holomology party, with my pterosaur hat on, the two (yes two!) new bonebeds full of pterosaur material is really big news. Apart from Pteranodon and Rhamphorhynchus (both tending to be too flat) we don’t have major datasets for pterosaurs, so lots of basic things like growth series, dimorphism and intraspecific variation are really hard to look at with much confidence. These discoveries should really chance this and with eggs and young juveniles clearly present at one site too, there’s plenty more scope on both basic biology and also ecology.

 

Best newly discovered archosaur specimen

It is rather inevitable, but yeah, I’m delighted to see the new Deinocheirus too and unlike some other sail-based theropods, the two specimens here actually have lots of elements and articulated bits so there’s no arguing about the detailed anatomy. It’s big, it’s cool, it’s really, really odd.

 

Best named new archosaur

No one seemed to like Dreadnaughtus much and while it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, the etymology behind it is really neat. Still, I do like the short and snappy and so I’ll plump for Anzu which just sounds neat to me.

 

Worst named new archosaur

Rhinorex should be a cool name indeed it IS a cool name, but really, that’s not much of a horn or nasal expansion for this to really be the animal with the king nose. It just doesn’t fit right for me.

 

The ‘Similicaudipteryx’ award for least original archosaur name

This is probably one I’ll drop in future years, as pretty much every year I plump for yet another Placenameraptor or Placenamevenator. Yeah, not every name needs to be super original and clever and yes, having consistent names for various clades does help you remember them, but there are still too many Placenameasaurus things out there.

 

 Favourite palaeoart piece this year

The standards of palaeoart seem to go up and up with new animals, new techniques and new information getting around more easily online with people sharing ideas and data making a huge difference. It’s also way easier to find new artists and images and so it’s great to see so much appearing online and seeing things develop. Despite the wealth of cool stuff though, I simply have to go for Julius Csotonyi’s amazing sauropods with a fish-eye view. Not only did it win a Lazendorf this year, but it really does combine some nice behaviour, multiple species in a realisitic ecosystem, and superb accuracy but it adds a level of artistic brilliance with an approach I don’t think has ever been taken before and that I know has really caught the imagination of plenty of people. Great job.

 

The website I’ve been most getting into this year

A new entry but a worthwhile one. These days I do tend to read more of fewer sites, but I occasionally stumble across ones I’d not seen before, or have only ever seen occasionally, and then start reading more heavily and they become a regular part of my browsing. Heavily featuring this year is Why Evolution is True. There’s lots on there that I’m not a huge fan of and tend to skip over, but much I can devour and so do drop in every few days and see what’s been posted.

 

Best personal achosaur-related moment of 2014

Aside from the obvious delight of having of a job and finally getting a decent website up, there’s been a few highlights this year. First of all, my Protoceratops paper came out which included not only some magnificent specimens but some extended discussions on dinosaur social behaviour. As with my previous big papers on behaviour (bone use in feeding and the mutual sexual selection papers) this went through some torture over various submissions and extended periods of writing so I’m pleased to finally have it out. The best thing however was taking a group of undergrads out to Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta to go prospecting for dinosaurs. A number of friends and colleagues turned out to join in the fun and it was incredibly rewarding and the feedback from the students was superb, and I’ll be doing it all again this year too, and hopefully for many years to come.

 

Long time no see award

I’d not seen Jonah Choiniere since my later days in China, and then combined with his move to South Africa didn’t think I’d run into him again anytime soon, but happily he was going through London on the way to SVP so we were able to catch up a bit which was very nice.

 

The ‘about time’ award for slow publication

Well the Hadrosaurs volume is out a full year after all the manuscripts were finalised and proofed, though my copy hasn’t even arrived yet, so I won’t get to see it till 2015 now. I know some of these volumes take forever, but a full year delay from the publishers end after the great work but the editorial team to have it all done to a good deadline was not welcome.

 

Ridiculous prediction for 2015

Ending as ever on a note of improbability, here’s something I would love to appear next year but probably won’t. At various places online people have discussed the fact that plenty of animals that we would consider dedicated herbivores occasionally consume small animals and it’s fair to assume dinosaurs were no different. So my prediction is for something like a hadrosaur or sauropod to turn up with stomach contents of some nicely chewed bones.

 

Kulindadromeus images

While I’m sure huge parts of the internet are currently going mad over the new ornithischian Kulindadromeus and the implications for fuzzy dinosaurs (or otherwise) there current crop of pictures available isn’t that great. Inevitably those in the paper are small and crammed into the limited space (in the main paper at least, I’ve not yet got hold of the supplementary files and am writing this before the paper is released) and the press images are focused on the beautiful life reconstructions. However, Pascal Godefroit was kind enough to pass onto me a pile of images that he said I could use. Many have made their way onto my Guardian piece on the subject, but even there they have to stay small to fit the website’s style and some of the detail is lacking, so I’ll put them up here instead.

Obviously these images come directly from Pascal and are copyright to him and his team and should not be reproduced without his direct permission. Anyway, they do show some nice details of various parts of these specimens and the different integumentary structures (both scales and filaments) rather well and I imagine will be of some interest. I won’t add any more description here since I’ve already written a couple of thousand words on this animal today and I suspect most readers will be angling for the paper to do their detailed reading anyway. Enjoy.

feathers on femur 3Multiple filaments associated with the femur

 

SONY DSCMultiple filaments associated with the humerus.

 

foot + scalesSmall scales associated with the pes.

 

head+integumentSmall filaments associated with the skull.

 

integument on proximal tibia 2Filaments at the proximal tibia.

 

scales on distal tibia 2Scales on the distal tibia.

 

SONY DSCClose up of tooth series.

 

Huge thanks to Pascal for lending me these images and letting me put them online and obviously my congratulations on the discovery.

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.


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