Posts Tagged 'dinosaur'

Sauropod digestion suggestion

I do not normally go in for speculative pieces on the blog and when I have ideas about Mesozoic biology I tend to try and get an excuse to write a paper about them or consult with some colleagues and see what merit the ideas may have. But something popped into my head the other day and it’s been rattling around and I thought it would be fun to put it out there into internet land.

First off, I’ll preface what follows with the important point I’m no real expert on the details of sauropod physiology and digestive biology. So it’s quite possible that I’ve missed some major discussions on this in the literature (or online) be it that the idea is already out there and this isn’t new, or it’s already been discussed and dismissed. I’d also add that while I’ll discuss sauropods here, the central issue may also apply to sauropodomorphs, various other ornithischians and potentially even the bigger herbivorous theropods. I’ll try and boil down the argument as simply as possible, though of course I’m deliberately skipping a lot of nuance.

In short:

Big sauropods would need to eat a lot but allowing for thermal inertia, long digestion times with higher efficiency, and reduced metabolism at large size they have the potential to function without eating 24 hours a day.

For juveniles though, they lack some of these benefits and especially would not have the benefits of long digestion times to break down tough plants. They’d have (proportionally) higher metabolisms and would be getting less return from what they ate.

One solution to this would be coprophagy. And yes, that is what you think it is.

Elephants are a good example here (well without the XXXXeating bit) since they eat a lot of rough material like dried grasses and tree bark. They are bulk feeders cramming everything in, stripping out the nutrition they can and moving on. I was warned years ago when working at a zoo that if offered an apple when visiting the elephant house not to take it. Apparently these occasionally passed through untouched and then would be handed out to unknowing guests. The point is, elephant dung contains a lot of undigested material. If you are a young sauropod, something like that which has already passed through your system and is starting to be broken down could, second time round me a lot more nutritious. And you don’t have to go anywhere to find it, it’s a ready source of calories right there.

That really is the limit of my suggestion. As I say, I suspect I’ve missed something important but I can see an obvious few benefits from this and there’s a good few animals that go in for this practice so it has plenty of precedent. I recognise that reptile and bird waste is often very different from mammals, but then we don’t have many 5 ton lizards that eat ferns around for a comparison and the waste of large tortoises certain can contain plenty of grass shards.

Thoughts below, and if I’ve stumbled across a good idea here I’d be happy to try and expand on it.

Social behaviour in the dinosaurs

So yesterday I looked at the groups of Protoceratops specimens and the inference that at least one population of P. andrewsi tended to form groups throughout ontogeny. I also commented on how this was put in really conservative terms – I carefully avoided using the term ‘social’ and didn’t extrapolate up to other populations, species or genera, let alone entire clades. This is an area I’ve commented on before, but in this paper take a more detailed look at social behaviour and what we can and cannot say about extinct dinosaurs.

The first point to make is about the terms themselves. Look through the literature and discussions of dinosaur behaviour and you will see the term ‘social’ especially thrown around but often without a specific definition or context. Unfortunately this is really unhelpful as, although there is no strict definition out there, it does cover a multitude of different magnitudes of behaviour and seems often to be used to mean little more than ‘in a group’. This really needs cleaning up, and we need to be much more careful and specific – you can find a whole group of grizzly bears together fishing out salmon, but I’d not call them social (if anything they are antisocial the vast majority of the time) and this is a far cry from the social groups formed by say chimps or meerkats which are almost always together and have constant interactions. A group of dinosaurs together does not inherently mean some form of social group with say hierarchies, social bonding, shared responsibilities etc. and could be a simple as asocial animals coming together to breed, migrate, avoid some natural disaster or other effect. Separating out say truly eusocial animals like molerats from bears or some crocs which will tolerate each other under some circumstances is going to be hard given the limitations of the fossil record, and is probably impossible most of the time.

On top of that, individuals can form groups for part of their lives, switch between solitary and group living at different stages (ontogenetic or annual), and can be wildly different between populations of a single species, let alone other members of the genus or family. Groups can be all male, all female, equal ratios, harems, mixed adults and juveniles, or all of single cohorts. The net result of course is that conservatism I mentioned before. Taking a trackway or a mass mortality event or set of nests and saying “hadrosaurs were social” is a terrible idea, and I think most of the time the best we can and should say is “this species has some gregarious tendencies”.

Now I should make clear two things. First off, I don’t think that this means we have no evidence for sociality in dinosaurs or that many were not social, merely that (as with a great many behaviours) the evidence is profoundly limited in the fossil record. Given how diverse dinosaurs were and the sheer number of mass mortality sites etc. many species I am sure were social or at least tended to aggregate into groups, but picking an individual genus and saying “this is the social one” based off one or two mass mortalities that probably span different species, times, places etc. is probably a poor inference. Secondly I also think we can make good inferences for some species – multiple mortalities that are from different seasons, evidence of strong social interactions like display structures or intraspecific combat, inferences from other very close relatives showing similar patterns can probably build up to make a pretty strong pattern, but this would still not rule out some individuals being solitary or complex switches between different systems.

So, if we are at least seeing some degree of gregariousness within some populations (and as before, I think we can make a decent case for Protoceratops) why might this be happening? Another interesting aspect of this is that when we do have mass mortalities of dinosaurs they are very often exclusively of juveniles. Given how rare juvies are generally, it should be a bit odd that a rare event of a mass mortality should trap juveniles. There are adult only groups and mixed groups for various dinosaurs, but there are plenty that are of only subadults, or younger animals, and these may have multiple mixed age groups, while still all being juveniles.

Now both juveniles and adults would come together for some reasons like feeding, migration, natural disasters like drought, or perhaps long-term parental care. We would also expect to see adults come together to breed and nest, but that won’t apply to the little ones, so what effect might drive juveniles together but not adults? One obvious factor is predation. Yes, again this is an area I have heavily trodden before but juveniles of almost all species are much more vulnerable to predators that are mature animals. Adults are better at recognising threats, forage in better areas and for less time, and are typically either faster or better equipped to fend off attacks too.

One thing that can really benefit juveniles however is vigilance. Their long foraging times in poor areas means they are often not spending much time looking out for threats. Hanging around in a group though means that at least someone is generally keeping an eye out, (and as a bonus if you are found, at least the predator may eat the guy next to you, rather than attacking you). Adults may even keep juveniles away from them since as well as competing for food, but actually drawing in predators and so creating danger, so we might expect juvies to bunch up, when the adults may be less fussed. I would expect juvenile ankylosaurs for example to hang around in groups when their armour is little protection against a big tyrannosaur, but the adults might be largely immune and so would not need this effect to help them. Plenty of studies on extant species show that groups form, or increase in size, when there are more predators around and so this would fit the patterns we see here – juveniles are likely to stick together at times when adults may not because they want to avoid being eaten.

So overall we suggest that juveniles of dinosaurs might have formed aggregations, (and in some species where the adults were largely solitary) as a defence against predation (or at least as a major driver of it) but that this does not necessarily imply strong social interactions, merely the formation of groups. We need to separate out much more carefully what we mean by the term ‘social’ and start being much more specific about what that word means and degrees of social interactions, group formation, gregariousness and the like. Conflating multiple different terms (or leaving them so broad and undefined as to cover almost anything) does no one any favours – we can’t compare and contrast different specimens or make meaningful statement about what they might have been doing. We can call migration, group hunting, group formation, nesting together, and parental care social behaviours if we want to, but it’s worth separating them out and we need to do just that if we want to have meaningful discussions about what these animals did and did not do.



A block of baby Protoceratops

C skull IIMy new paper is out today and it describes a wonderful new specimen of four baby Protoceratops together in a single block. Unlike many other groups of exceptionally preserved specimens from the Mongolian Gobi, the animals are effectively stacked on top of one another and all facing in different directions and importantly, their inferred age is different to other Proto specimens.

This specimen was actually collected in the early 1990s, something I hadn’t realised when I saw it in 2011 in the Hayashibara museum in Japan. This was my second trip to the museum after having been in 2009 (that led to the Tarbosaurus bite marks paper) and this was the specimen that really grabbed me and I am obviously most grateful to co-author Mahito Watabe for allowing me to lead the paper on this.

The preservation is superb, and although there’s been some erosion and damage (especially to the uppermost animal) at least one of them is brilliantly exposed and almost immaculate in condition. At this point I must praise the preparator for his incredible work here, this is a huge block (close to a metre cubed), the matrix is exceptionally soft and brittle and the organisation of the specimens must have made the whole process extremely difficult and the result is both beautiful and impressive.

Block view upper front 10cm

There are two major aspects to the paper (which is in PLOS ONE so for all the details and tons of pics so you can read it all there) and I’ll deal with them in separate posts. The first one is the block itself and the implications for Protoceratops generally. There are a number of groups of this dinosaur known already – several sets of adults, a pair of subadults (also briefly covered in the paper – and shown below) and a set of very young animals that were described a few years ago as something close to hatchlings in a nest. In the paper we actually suggest that these were not in a nest, but free living, but the wider point is that we have similar sized animals (that are probably of a similar or the same cohort) together at multiple different life stages, and we don’t seem to see mixed cohorts as with many other dinosaurs.

Fg 3

The block here slots into this pattern beautifully, the animals are about twice the length of the smallest ones, and about half the size of the subadults. That means we can put together a sequence of specimens at four pretty distinct life stages where we have groups of animals together at different times of their lives. That is something we have not been able to do for any extinct dinosaurs before – we do often have groups together and often of adults or juveniles or the two mixed together, but we are not aware of a so many obviously different cohorts of a single species showing this. Wonderfully, these are not all just Protoceratops, but all P. andrewsi and even better all of these are from a relatively narrow time and space window.

As non-avian dinosaurs go, that’s about as close to a single population as you are really going to be able to find, so collectively we are inferring that this was a pretty normal behaviour for this population. That sounds like a pretty conservative approach (can we not apply it to the genus or species as a whole?), but I think it’s something we really need to do a lot more of in palaeontology. The sheer variety and plasticity of many behaviours, especially when it comes to forming groups, means that is probably dangerous to extrapolate without some good supporting evidence and that sets things up quite nicely for the second post which will follow tomorrow.

Fg 7

A population of Shantungosaurus, the largest ornithischian

Hone Fig 2

Sadly I have to report that after many years working on various diapsids and having published plenty of papers on dinosaurs generally and theropods specifically, and yes even sauropods, I’ve gone and published two papers on ornithischians. I hang my head in shame, obviously, and I hope too many readers won’t think too little of me (though I doubt Tom Holtz will ever return my calls now). The first is on the wonderful Protoceratops and delves deep into dinosaur behaviour (and should be out on Wednesday), but this time it’s the monstrous hadrosaur Shantungosaurus, which has not really had anything like enough attention given just how much material is floating around.

The paper is a chapter in the new ‘Hadrosaurs’ volume that has been long in the making (and indeed publishing, since it as basically done a year ago) and if at this point effectively out. Actually I’m not sure quite how available things are, but the volume has appeared on Google Books (with the incorrect date of 2015 on it) and copies are apparently in mail, plus at least some coverage of various chapters is already out. As a result, I don’t think I’m jumping any particular embargo. though I appreciate not everyone may be able to read it in the next few days. Anyway, onto colossal hadrosaurs.

After the initial excavations of the 1960s, not much happened in the quarries where the remains of Shantungosaurus were first found. It was identified as a giant hadrosaur, plenty of isolated remains were collected and distributed to various collections and then, well, not much. The new digs over the last decade or so have seen a raft of new finds, but all the attention has really been on the other things coming out of the quarries, namely the new tyrannosaurs, ceratopsians and other beasties. That’s a shame as there are literally thousands of elements available to study and these are coming out in multiple quarries.

Over several visits, my good friend and longtime collaborator Corwin Sullivan and I went over the largest of the three main sites at Zhucheng, the Kugou Quarry, and took note of every bone that we could find and identify. The quarry maxes out at some 300 by 30 m, so it’s truly giant, and both ends are missing thanks to the erosion of the hill and it’s not clear how deep it might be. We also could not access every part of it safely and thus although we noted some 3000 elements, we estimate there are closer to 5000 exposed, and there could be huge numbers still to find. Out of these, barely a handful belonged to anything other than Shantungosaurus – a tyrannosaur tooth, a couple of tyrannosaur bones, a croc osteoderm and a bit of turtle. (And, oddly the near complete and articulated Zhuchengceratops, though I suspect it is from a different horizon). In short, this entire area and material essentially represents just one genus and probably a single aggregation.

All the material is essentially disarticulated and while basically every part of the skeleton is there, it is horribly jumbled. There’s no evidence of scavenging or trampling, and little sorting either, so this looks like a pretty major event that led to a rapid burial of the remains. We don’t dwell on what might have done this, but bearing in mind the size of these animals and how many there were and this is clearly something big, and also probably quick (this is not a long term accumulation of material).

Already 5000 elements is quite a bit, but the bones are also big. Shantungosaurus is well known as being a really large hadrosaur, but more than that, it’s absolutely colossal. While femur length is not the best size proxy out there, neither is it that bad, and was the only thing we could reliably measure for large numbers of the elements preserved that would give a decent size estimate. The largest femur we could accurately measure was 172 cm long – bigger than the largest specimens of Diplodocus and comparable to many big sauropods like Apatosaurus and Antarctosaurus. While they do have very different builds as animals, don’t forget that hadrosaurs were not pneumatic, so it’s quite reasonable that these animals had similar masses to those huge sauropods. Similarly that also means that  perhaps many sauropods were not as heavy as the largest hadrosaurs which does have implications for how we look at things like the reasons sauropods did get so large. Mass estimates that are available or can be calculated for Shantungosaurs are extremely varied and this is perhaps due to it being so much larger than anything else known when it comes to hadrosaurs or even other ornithischians. Is is basically off the charts (few ornithischians have femora that exceed 1 m in length, and the smallest specimens we measured were bigger than this) and it probably needs to be tackled with a specific rigorous analysis to get a good estimate. Still, I’d be very surprised if the larger individuals were under 10 tons, and it is probably the heaviest ornithischian known and by extension, probably the heaviest terrestrial biped, since I didn’t see anything in the available material to suggest it could not walk bipedally.

Femora were also measured as they are large elements that are relatively easy to identify correctly and were in relatively decent condition, and so go some way to determining a minimum number of animals in the quarry. We counted 110 and so there is a minimum of 55 animals here, and I would be stunned if there were not very considerably more than that in reality (or indeed many more femora in there that are simply not exposed). But any measure then, this is a lot of animal – over 50 individuals, the smallest of which had a femur over 1 m long, and many of which were large sauropod sized. Indeed, the distribution of the femora actually tells us something too.

Hone Fig 4The range of sizes seen is actually really narrow: almost 85% of them fall between 135 and 175 cm and aside from three small ones that were little more than a meter, the rest form an almost perfect normal distribution. In short, this looks like a natural population of adult animals and we can infer they are adult both on the general size and the fact that all the elements of things like sacra in the quarry were fully fused. It has been suggested before that hadrosaurs form separate groups and that adults may have aggregated without juveniles, and with juvies and /or subadults forming separate groups, and that fits well with what we see here (and this also fits with the ideas covered in the forthcoming Protoceratops paper).

Collectively then the remains from this quarry do look something close to a natural aggregation, representing a pretty massive accumulation of biomass (over 50 animals and likely closer to 100, and probably over 10 tons each). It’s hard not to think about just what this means for a Mesozoic landscape, even a big Zhuchengtyrannus would be pretty much outclassed by one of these, let alone dozens together, and they would presumably have been able to strip huge swathes of vegetation clear as they foraged. For me at least it’s a nice evocative image, though perhaps not a long lasting one given that something massive rather dismembered and buried them shortly afterwards. Happily for palaeontologists we have now found this graveyard and there’s a massive amount of material available on these massive dinosaurs, and I hope that there is much more to come now that it is becoming available for study.


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.

Interview with Julius Csotonyi and Steve White

Fans of palaeoart will have kept up with the various interviews I have done over the years with a wide variety of artists who favour the realm of long-dead organisms. Today, however this is more directed to the specifics of the big new book in this field: The Paleoart of Julius Csotonyi. This obviously follows on from the popular ‘Dinosaur Art‘ of 2012, and like that, this is published by Titan and is edited by Steve White. Since I have written a few lines for the book and some of the work is based on things Julius and I have collaborated on, it seemed inappropriate to write a review (though it is great, honest), but being no strangers to answering my questions, Julius and Steve were kind enough to give me some of their time to be interviewed, and of course this is beset with images from the new book, and my thanks to them both for providing the words and images. (As ever, everything is copyright to Julius, so no taking it now).


So, what is in the book?

 JC: Some words and lots of pictures (snicker, snicker). Lots of new stuff, actually. I created some of the artwork (nearly two dozen paintings) specifically for the book, and these have not previously been published in museum exhibits or books. There’s also a large complement of images that were commissioned by researchers for press releases on newly described taxa or novel research within the past couple of years. Many of these have only sparsely been seen before. What I’m really happy about, and which differs completely from Dinosaur Art (2012) is the enormous number of pieces that have only appeared in museum exhibits around the world, making it highly unlikely for the average person to have seen them all. These include the life-sized murals for the Royal Ontario Museum (the “Ultimate Dinosaurs” exhibit, 2012) and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (Dinosaur Hall, 2011), a wide array of traditional and digital drawings for several different exhibits at the Royal Tyrrell Museum (2007-2012), the unusual Permian landscapes for Gondwana Studios in Australia (2013) and the broad interval of time (Devonian to Pleistocene) covered by murals for the Hall of Paleontology at the Houston Museum of Natural Science (2012). Close to three quarters of the pieces have been published since 2012. I’ve also updated several older pieces to agree better with available information.

SW: Without wanting to sound crass, pretty much what it says on the cover. It’s a career-spanning retrospective of Julius’ paleoart career; again, we’ve tried to include a certain amount of factual material, focusing, as with did with DA, on perhaps the lesser known or more unusual creatures that might not be too familiar to the casual enthusiast.


Steve, how is this different to Dinosaur Art, either conceptually or overall, aside from featuring just one artist?

SW: Well, the very obvious difference is the myopic focus on the actual work of a single artist this volume afforded us. DA was a little more generic in feel; in this one, Julius was able to go into considerable depth on his style and methodology. The previous volume didn’t really give us room for that.


To Steve, with the contributors to DA, what led to focusing on Julius first in terms of the next run in this series? And Julius, did you approach this differently to DA with more scope? Was there anything you wanted to show?

SW: The theory behind Julius’ volume is the hope that it will be the launch for a possible library of titles. There was some discussion after DA came out over where we go next (I was told I had put Titan in the ‘dinosaur business’) and I had thought we’d go for another multi-artist volume but it was decided to adopt the single-artist approach. That was followed by conversations on who would be the initial illustrator, which fell roughly into two camps; those who wanted an artbook and those who wanted a dinosaur book. it was felt Julius spanned both arguments. From a purely commercial perspective, lots of dinosaurs is going to be a big pull; this isn’t a true dinosaur book, so to speak, the science being pretty incidental in the text, but there is enough to make any enthusiast pick it up, which they will just for the art. And, of course, with Julius’ work, is very driven by the science anyway, as he stays very close to developments. So, I’m hoping that if this volume does well, I’ll be allowed to go after someone who have perhaps seen perhaps in more ‘artistic’ terms. Anyone who knows anything about Paleoart will probably be able to hazard guesses on who I mean…

Julius also had the advantage of a backlog of work capable of filling a volume of the size we anticipated!

JC: Compared to Dinosaur Art, I had a chance to create a considerable amount of new work. Unlike for commissions, I had more freedom to decide on the subject matter and to experiment with artistic style and format of presentation. There were a few different kinds of scenes that I wanted to explore, unusual kinds of interactions between species – more of them hypothetical, if plausible, than would generally be the case with commissions – and to play around with portraying scenes from unusual angles. Many of these new experimental pieces were inspired by conversations with paleontologists such as yourself. The encounter scene between Sinornithosaurus and Liaoningosaurus (below) stands out as a good example, as does the Apatosaurus tree-tipping scene [Ed: this last one will be getting its own post shortly].


Is there some kind of theme to the book?

 JC: The book is separated into four sections: a Q&A section followed by the artwork, which falls into three broad temporal intervals: Palaeozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras. This allows there to be a way of organizing the work that is familiar to many paleontology enthusiasts while keeping the media and styles of the artwork sufficiently shuffled to maintain an ever-changing presentation.

SW: We did want to do a sort of temporal/geological approach so that casual readers could immerse themselves in a visual representation of the evolution of life on Earth. This was largely because Julius had done enough art from throughout Time and it was this that very much drove the layout and look of the book.


Julius, how have you developed since DA came out, either in style, technique or interest?

JC: When DA came out, I was in the height of applying the technique of photographic compositing. Since then, I’ve felt an increasing interest to move back toward manual painting (at least digitally, but also some more traditional non-digital artwork). I still do a lot of photographic compositing, and a lot of new material appears in the book, but I’ve also taken the opportunity offered by the book project of creating noncommissioned work to flex my traditional painting muscles some more, and a lot of the newest material in the book is digitally painted. I’ve received some favourable responses to this kind of artwork, but traditional painting has also always given me more of a thrill to do than does building up a scene photographically. In terms of interest, I think that my interests have broadened since the publication of DA, and I am currently involved in producing more pre-Mesozoic work than I did before. It’s a time interval that I’ve neglected earlier, and I’m eager to explore some of the earlier, weirder points in earth’s history.


What is your favourite part of / picture in the book?

JC: Like any artist, I look at older pieces and I find myself frowning at things I would now do differently as my knowledge changes and new information is published, However, from an artistic standpoint, there are quite a few new pieces that have given me a lot of enjoyment to produce. There’s a Sinornithosaurus piece that was absolutely fun to create because of the freer, more expressive style of paining that I used in it than I’m used to. Certainly one of my favourite new pieces to create was a painting of a group of Apatosaurus feeding on trees that they have toppled using their bulk. This one was fun from its inception – it was generated from a lively discussion that you and I had in Dinosaur Hall at the Royal Tyrrell Museum last year – through to its design and completion. It features a very unusual perspective, demonstrating what we would see from ground level through a bug’s eyes, showing the full 360 degrees of rotation and the entire range of sky to horizon. It was a challenge to generate the appropriate amount of distortion in the trees and dinosaurs, but I’m reasonably happy with the final result, both in the composition and the amount of detail that it contains.

SW: I have to say, my fave images are the very newest. I think those are the ones where you really see everything that he has learnt as an artist really come together. I am thinking particularly of the Acheroraptor piece, which I really loved, and the Sinornthiosaur one as well.


What is next for each of you?

SW: I’m actually just wrapping up my third artbook as editor, although this one is somewhat different, thematically, as it focuses on aviation art. This isn’t a multi-artist volume though, but the work of Adam Tooby, who’s very much on the cutting age of this particular discipline, using digital art in an otherwise very traditional medium. I guess in some ways there is a slight crossover with paleoart in that they are both very much at the edge of Fine Art (in my opinion anyway); but they both produce artwork of incredible quality but largely overlooked. I am very happy with this one and looking forward to seeing the final result.

In the meantime, my comics day job keeps me pretty busy, but I am wondering about future artbooks. They are a lot of work for me on top of my full-time editor job and I couldn’t do them without my line editor in Titan Books, Jo Boylett, who’s the real power behind the throne. But we have discussed future titles. DA has done so very well for us so another multi-title volume could be a possibility; I even have a theme for it, but we’ll see. And, as I mentioned, if Julius’ book does as well as we expect, it could hopefully allow me to do another single artist book.

Meanwhile, I wouldn’t mind actually do some of my art now and then. Still want to do my shark book…

JC: At the moment, I am working on a number of museum exhibits, book contributions and research press release images. I think that even aside from the book, 2014 will probably be a pretty productive year for new artwork. Some of this will come from collaborative work between myself and my wife, Alexandra Lefort, who is not only an accomplished planetary scientist, but also a talented artist herself, focusing mainly on wildlife (hence the opportunity for collaboration) [see the above picture]. A major overhaul/update of my art website is also in the works (also largely due to Alexandra’s skills and efforts), and I will be making a lot of my pieces available as prints on my growing print website. As time permits (sigh…), I also want to post new entries to my science blog, Evolutionary Routes.

In terms of the direction of my artwork, I mentioned an increasing interest in painting (both traditional and digital) over photographic compositing, and I think that quite a few of my upcoming pieces will reflect this attraction to a somewhat more painterly style. I’ve also become increasingly interested in using my artwork to promote biological conservation efforts. One of the ways in which I wish to apply traditional painting techniques is to generate original artwork to help raise funds to protect vulnerable to endangered organisms such as sharks, or fragile ecosystems. There are many possible avenues to explore in this arena. And as time permits, I’d really like to get out on some paleontological digs and get dirty.



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.




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.

Nasutoceratops art

Well the new ceratopsian Nasutoceratops has been named and the paper is out. If you want to read a bit about it, I have a post up over on the Guardian here. Since that’s already written, I wanted to do something a bit different here and thanks to Mark Loewen, I’ve been supplied with a series of nice images and art of the beastie and it’d be a shame not to use them here.

Nasutoceratops skeletal drawing by Lukas Panzarin
Here’s Lukas Panzarin’s skeletal of the animal (note that most of the skull is known).

Nasutoceratops stipples by Sammantha Zimmerman
Here’s Samantha Zimmerman’s lovely scientific illustration of the skull in two views which really shows off the shape and pattern of the horns well.

Nasutoceratops titusi on black by Lukas Panzarin
Lukas Panzarin is back again with this life reconstruction of the head.

Nasutoceratops titusi by Raul Martin 300 dpi
Next we have a Raul Martin piece of the whole animal, making its way through a swamp.

Nasutoceratops titusi by Andrey Atuchin
And finally Andrey Atuchin’s effort, another life reconstruction, this time with a nice tyrannosaur half hidden in the background.

All in all some beautiful stuff, but I had no room for it on the Lost Worlds, so I’m pleased to get it up somewhere. Thanks to the team for sharing and great stuff from all the artists.

Another incredible Gorgosaurus


Gorgosaurus has had a lot of love on here thanks to the huge series of posts on the preparation of a specimen by Darren Tanke, but also with this recent effort. Despite the awesome quality of those, this one is arguably better. While not complete (almost no tail dang it) and with a little bit of squishing to the skull, this one clearly retains an awful lot of the 3D relationships between bones and it overall rather uncrushed. This is a rarity to say the least and really helps show just how, well, big these things were. As you can see from the images, the animal is really barrel-chested and chunky. Obviously restoring muscles and fat layers etc. is another issue entirely, but I think it’s fair to say that this animal should really not be slim.

Obviously there’s a ton of just beautiful detail here and some lovely nuances (like the interlocking gastralia, the massively retracted left leg, the ilia tight to the neural spines of the sacrum, and the rugosities on the snout). It may not have quite the visual impact of the last one, but there’s really a lot to be gained from this and palaeoartists out there should be (t0 quote a friend of mine) onto this like a starving chihuahua on a pork chop.







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.


More Tyrrell Tyrannosaurs

As you might have already guessed, the Tyrrell is not short of tyrannosaurs and this blog is going to be heaving with them by the end. I mean, this is the second post and I’m still on all the life reconstructions! (and no, we’ve not got to the murals yet, let alone the actual mounts and specimens). First off is this great rendering which stands outside at the main entrance, and it’s one I really like and probably prefer to the set I covered in the last post. The pose is really cool and a colours are great (though perhaps a bit faded in the sun), but it really is a great way to welcome people to the museum and stands atop the Tyrrell logo which is, well, you guessed.


The second one is not easy to see as it’s in the education centre and so not always visible to the average visitor, which is a shame as it is absolutely great. It looks like a bronze statue from a distance, but in fact appears to be made of metal plates welded together, with the details picked out with blobs of metal that I assume were welded or soldered on. It’s mounted on a plinth with seats built into one side, and a glass case containing a partial skull on the other. While it’s a shame not everyone gets to see these, I’m sure it’s a real thrill for the kids that they get to see some bonus stuff the adults can’t and it’s a superb sculpt. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything quite like it, and welding can’t be the easiest medium, yet the result is brilliant.

IMG_2408Coming next? Oh, I don’t know. I still have several hundred images to sort through and much exam marking to complete. I’m sure I can find something exciting though. Probably with tyrannosaurs, whether I intend to or not.

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