Posts Tagged 'tyrannosaur'

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.





Tyrrell tyrannosaurs

And so to the Tyrrell. Well, there’s really quite a lot to come here, from the setting of the buildings, the collections and of course the galleries. As with the Carnegie, it’s going to take quite some time, and so I really do hope people don’t get sick of it, but well, for those who have never been and may never go, I’m sure it’ll be something of a delight, and even those who know the museum well, I hope I can add some new thoughts.

Although there are life reconstructions outside the museum and various details of the building and so on, I’d though I’d begin with what is effectively the start of the museum and the entrance hall which contains four life sized reconstructions of various Albertan tyrannosaurines. They are certainly impressive, and rather appropriate, and the setting is rather well done, though I have to be picky and point that they all have rather odd heads, and given that these are (as far as I could tell) supposed to represent two or three different species, the fact that they are all the same colour and pattern is rather a disappointment.


Nitpicking aside, they really do dominate the room and are beautifully made. Everyone I saw who entered stopped to have a good look and the effect on the kids was obviously superb. They do have problems, but as an introduction to a dinosaur museum, I thought they were superb.


Project Daspletosaurus 2013


I’m sure a goodly number of readers are already aware of this as I’ve been tweeting and facebooking it quite a lot, but I have a science kick-starter project running on the Microryza site. It sounds almost too contrived to be honest, but it’s a project aimed at looking at possible cannibalism in Daspletosaurus based on material Darren Tanke has worked on at the Tyrrell.

Obviously Darren and I have form when it come to tyrannosaurs, both with our own research interests and in particular with the Gorgosaurus preparation project. Here though it’s a skull of Daspletosaurus with bite marks attributable from another large tyrannosaurine. I’m looking for funding to get me out to Alberta and check out this and related material and work to write this all up and hopefully learn something about tyrannosaur behaviour and ecology.

Daspleto rt lat edited skull

I’ll skimp on the details here because it’s all up on the Microryza site, so do follow this link and take a look. More specifically, if you can spare a small amount towards the total, it would be very much appreciated and do please blog and tweet this – the model only really works if people know about it and are intrigued or excited so spreading the wrod is very important (and free!). Obviously I’ll be blogging the project and putting as much information out as I am able, so I hope to make this as open as I can and get the audience involved.

My thanks to Microryza for supporting this, and to David Orr for the fantastic logo up top and Matt van Rooijen for help with the project video (featuring much Matt artwork).



The giant, feathered tyrannosaur Yutyrannus huali

So perhaps inevitably the fossil beds of Liaoning in China have coughed up yet another fascinating feathered dinosaur. Yutyrannus huali (which translates as the ‘beautiful feathered tyrant’) is big – as big as some of the Late Cretaceous tyrannosaurines with the largest specimen being around 9 m long and estimated to have weighted close to 1.5 tons. In short, this was big. And feathered. While they are not brilliantly preserved, they are clearly present in places and directly associated with the skeleton as should be expected.

There are a few interesting things about this and I’ll go over them in turn, though as ever the first port of call should really be the paper for the real nitty gritty. First off, the specimens themselves – there are three of them, so this is already a well known animal, and two are basically complete. There’s a lot of anatomy right there and yes, I have to confess, rather more than some other tyrannosaurs I could mention. Indeed two of them are preserved together, as a pair, which nicely hints at least (well, I’m going to say so) at the possibility of sociality (theropods being more social than previously suggested, how interesting?).  Multiple specimens are always great and animals this size being preserved at all are quite rare in the Jehol, so it’s pretty impressive we have three of them. They are also preserved in that psuedo-3D manner I mentioned the other day so there’s really quite a bit of detail there and they are not badly crushed or mashed (as you can see in the pictures below).

Now it is of course already known that tyrannosaurs were feathered, with the basal Dilong being preserved with feathers. The question is of course, did the bigger ones like T. rex have them? There’s been suggestions that they didn’t as they could overheat and there are hints of scaly, feather-less skin from impressions refereed to Tyrannosaurus. So while at least some tyrannosaurs certainly had feathers, and large ones certainly could have done, this is definitive evidence that they genuinely did. The size issue is of course interesting since indeed, very large animals tend to reduce insulation to avoid overheating (elephants, rhinos, hippos etc. are not that hairy and indeed elephants can struggle to keep cool). The obvious exception being animals that live(d) in cold climates like mammoths, and the researchers note that actually the environment Yutyrannus lived in was likely rather cooler on average than that occupied by a number of later tyrannosaurs, so this may indeed have helped them stay warm.

Below are some pictures of the various fossils. While you’ve probably seen a number of these before on all the other sides my insider contacts means I’ve been sent a few to use which were neither in the paper nor press release. So there’s something novel here for everyone, even if it’s not in the text.

Top image by Brian Choo (used with permission) and the rest courtesy of Xu Xing and colleagues.

Xu, X. et al. 2012. A gigantic feathered dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous of China. Nature. doi:10.1038/nature10906

Rex heads

Following my last few posts clearing out my archive of photos of theropod skulls here’s a couple of Tyrannosaurus heads in near ventral view. The upper one is from Oxford and has, I think, a nice background in the glass roof panels, while the lower image is from the IVPP in Beijing.

Last Zhucheng roundup

I finished this post a couple of weeks ago as part of the ‘Zucheng series’, but with Japan then looming it fell by the wayside. I’m off to the field tomorrow, so if I don’t get this up now it’ll be really dated by the time I get around to it. So here it is:

I’m pretty much done on Zhucheng for now, but there are a couple of last little bits that I wanted to show on here that didn’t really fit anywhere else so they’re getting dumped in this post. Above is the first completed building at the site, the ‘Tyrannosaur hall’. It’s build over the site where Zhuchengtyrannus was found, but I don’t actually know what’s going to be on display in there. Below is a photo from the recently described tracksite that is nearby, you should be able to see a couple of medium-sized theropod tracks in association with H. sapiens.

Finally, waaay back when with the original description of Zhuchengtyrannus came it, we were rather reliant on photos and casts of the maxilla because of some quite horrendous damage to the bone that can be clearly seen here (3rd image done, part A). However, extensive repair work has now taken place and it’s now close to it’s former glory (as much glory as an incomplete maxilla can have anyway….). And here is a picture of the restored piece. It’s of the medial side and while that’s not the prettier one, it should be clear that the major and minor pieces have been stitched back together and the teeth restored and so on.

Obviously it’ll never be quite as good as it once was, but it’s now considerably better than when I last saw it and a perfectly respectable specimen as they go. That it, it is certainly better than a few holotypes I can think of, and that’s a start.

Darren Tanke’s Gorgosaurus preparation 30: turning the block 2

The block is lifted off the table by a large overhead crane (it runs on tracks mounted near the ceiling and can move 4 directions) and lowered onto a pallet jack. Then it was taken to a larger empty work area nearby. The red lifting straps are readjusted so when the block is lifted it now stands vertically, then the whole crane is moved over and simultaneously the cable lowered so the jacket comes to rest “upside-down”. Actually it is now in its original field orientation. The flipped block is put back on the pallet jack, wheeled over to the work desk, the straps readjusted a final time and the block lifted back onto the table. This work is always done with others helping for safety reasons.

Once the block was on my work table I was able to refind the holes I drilled through days ago and “connect the dots” with a red marker pen. Now I  know exactly where the skull is positioned inside. Now the manual labor of pulling the jacket off begins!

Darren Tanke’s Gorgosaurus preparation 26: numbers

The skull block was numbered again numerous times. Numbers on jackets have a way of fading, getting cut or rubbed off, etc, so it is better to overnumber a jacket. Note how the numbers were written on upside down- this was done so when the block is turned over the numbers will be correctly oriented. Low spots on the body were also covered in wet toilet paper and infilled with plaster, but these infillings were done in sections with care taken that they are not in contact with each other for ease of removal in the future should it ever be necessary.

At this point in time we think no, but some future technician will be grateful if he/she has to turn the specimen over yet again and remove these infillings. Each is outlined in red felt marker so they will know where one section ends and another begins. As some of the low spots on the skeleton are wider at the bottom than the top, these plaster infillings are now “locked” in place and will need careful airscribing to break them up for removal.

The plan is to keep the skull block inside the jacket when it is flipped over, so we will have a “jacket inside a jacket”. Therefore it is necessary to separate the jacket skull from the jacket for the whole specimen (which will be made soon). I used a garbage bag cut in half and covered the skull with that. Then I filled in the areas where I had dug around the skull with old rags and put paper on top of that, thereby filling the void.

Darren Tanke’s Gorgosaurus preparation 25: completing the skull jacket

The skull was then jacketed. A picture of the skull (without separator) shows the bandaging (jacketing) material used. It is a hospital product of cloth impregnated with dry plaster. It is used there to set and hold broken bones in place, but is also ideally in the lab or field for collecting and stabilizing a fossil specimen. [I have few posts on this on the Musings – here, here and here]. You simply soak it in a pan of water for about 5-10 seconds, squeeze out excess water and then apply it to the item being jacketed. It can be cut into pieces as shown or dispensed right off the roll. About 6 layers were used.

The wooden frame was put back on the jacketed skull and more hospital-type bandages used to attach it. I typed up the specimen number in enlarged font, printed it off, then cut the number out and glued it in place with white glue. It looks messy at first but the glue dries clear, sealing the number inside.

Guest Post: Illustrating Zhuchengtyrannus:

Yes another guest post and yes we’re back on the tyrannosaurines again. While I’ve already talked somewhat about the impact of the artwork (that by now everyone is familiar with) I’ve not talked process. Here is a chance to make that up as Bob Nicholls returns to the Musings again (see here, here and here for starters!) to talk about how he created this piece. My thanks once again to him for his superb work:

Being the first artist to illustrate a new species of extinct animal is a great honour.  The series of events that are required to successfully fossilise a dinosaur and for that individual to be revealed to the world millions of years after death is an epic story.  In brief, the dinosaur first died in a location where its remains were covered by sediment rapidly.  The animal’s remains then hid within the Earth and lay undisturbed for a length of time we cannot imagine.  During this vast period the dead creature’s species will evolve out of existence and new life forms will survive catastrophes to colonize our planet.  Eventually a species of energy hungry ape developed an interest in investigating planet Earth’s history and against the odds our fossilised dinosaur was discovered. One of the apes, let’s call him Dave Hone, then decided to reveal the dinosaur to his entire ape species and asked a friend, let’s call him Bob Nicholls, to illustrate the wonderful discovery.  It may sound like a simple tale, but if you really think about it, it is astonishing.  To be a small part of it makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.  There is no greater honour for a palaeontologist than to be the first to show the world what a long extinct animal looked like.  Especially a tyrannosaur!

Sketch for the life reconstruction of Zhuchengtyrannus. Courtesy of Bob Nicholls.

The illustration of Zhuchengtyrannus took me about eight hours in total, from the first preliminary drawing to e-mail delivery.  The first sketch was a satisfactory pose but four re-draws were required to make small adjustments to the teeth, snout, nostril and eye.  When Dave was happy for me to render the colour artwork I painted it with acrylic paint on illustration card.  I chose to paint the colour scheme of a show-off male with an eye stripe and blood red patches for impressing the tyrannosaur ladies.  I wish Dave and I could have worked on the piece a little longer but it was an excellent and most enjoyable day’s work.  Zhuchengtyrannus is dead, long live Zhuchengtyrannus!

Zhuchengtyrannus life reconstruction by Bob Nicholls

Zhuchengtyrannus is here!

Zhuchengtyrannus life reconstruction by Bob Nicholls

So, as probably everyone knows by now, I have a new paper out and this is the first dinosaur I have named (as a first author) so welcome please, Zhuchengtyrannus magnus. This is a very large tyrannosaurine theropod that is comparable in size to that legendary source of all dinosaur comparisons: Tyrannosaurus rex. Yep, Zhuchengtyrannus, (or ZT as I’ve been informally calling it) is a big guy with a skull over a metre in length, in the 10 metre range for total length and thus also probably around 6 tons or so.

Obviously this is a big deal for me so there’s lots more to come on this over the next few posts and so don’t panic if this first introduction doesn’t give you all the details you were hoping for. Despite the apparent paucity of the available material (as will become clear) there is a lot that can be said about this and other things that are mentioned in the paper.

First off is that name. Those who are long time readers will know I’m not at all fond of ‘place-name-saurus’ type names but some of us are born with bad names for dinosaurs, some achieve bad dinosaur names, and (in this case) some have bad names thrust upon them! Anyway, if you’ve not guessed the genus name Zhuchengtyrannus simple means ‘tyrannosaur from Zhucheng’ and the species ‘magnus’ refers to the large size. Zhucheng, if you don’t know, is a small town in eastern China and has recently achieved fame for the huge amount of dinosaur fossils that have been found there and this is the latest of a number of new taxa. It’s can be pronounced as either ‘Zoo-cheng-tie-rannus’, or with more of a ‘Joo’ for the first syllable. The latter being closer to the formal Chinese pronunciation of the name, the former a less formal anglicised one.

Locality map for Zhuchengtyrannus. From Hone et al., in press

On that note, while 2010 was celebrated as the year of ceratopsians by many, it should not be overlooked the huge number of tyrannosaurs that have cropped up in the last year or so. Teratophoneus, Raptorex, Xiongguanlong, Sinotyrannus, Bistahieversor and others have all come through recently which adds massively to the number of tyrannosaurs of various ranks in the literature. That’s quite an increase for a clade known from only about 15 species or so as little as 3 years ago and now you can rack up two more. Yes, two.

Zhuchengtyrannus maxilla (bone above, cast below). From Hone et al., in press

As for Zhuchengtyrannus itself, I’m a few paragraphs in and have yet to talk about the thing yet. It is, sadly, represented by a less than complete specimen – we have a near complete maxilla (above) and a dentary (below), both with most of the teeth intact. The maxilla is one of the main bones of the face that makes up most of the side of the snout and holds most of the teeth for the upper jaws, while the dentary is the main part of the lower jaw that again, holds the teeth. That’s not much, but happily (as I’ll be covering in a later post) tyrannosaur maxillae are full of important taxonomic characters and as a result we are quite happy with this being diagnostic as a new genus and species. While that’s not much the material we do have is in great condition (well, more on that too). As noted it is a big one and comparisons to the maxillae and dentaries of other tyrannosaurs show that it’s bigger than anything out there except Tyrannosaurs and Tarbosaurus and it’s comparable in size to both of them. Obviously there’s just one specimen here and there are bigger specimens of Tyrannosaurs at least, but this is right in the mix. There’s nothing really odd or unusual about ZT so we it is ‘basically’ just another giant tyrannosaurine in the mould of these two more famous giants.

Zhuchengtyrannus dentary. From Hone et al., in press

But it’s not the only one. While we don’t describe it or figure it, we do mention in the paper that ZT is one of, what we think, are two new tyrannosaurs at the site. In addition to the elements of Zhuchengtyrannus, there are a variety of teeth and postcranial elements including vertebrae, femora and various metatarsals. Significantly there are also another maxilla and another dentary, neither of which match ZT or those of other tyrannosaurs meaning there are probably two taxa here. However, it also complicates that postscranial material – with these pieces being isolated and there being two genera present, it’s not possible to assign them to one or the other reliably at the moment. Thus there quite probably is a lot more of Zhuchengtyrannus already in our possession, but we can’t prove it, limiting us (for now) to just the skull pieces that were found together.

Between these new taxa and others recently described Asia now seriously rivals north America in the tyrannosauroid diversity stakes. While that’s perhaps not a big surprise in the basal tyrannosauroid stakes which already had a strong Asian base and were not that big in the Americas, that the tyrannosaurids and tyrannosaurines are catching up in diversity is rather more notable. No longer is Tarbosaurus the only Cretaceous giant tyrannosaurine in Asia, so once more I must ask you to please welcome Zhuchnegtyrannus to the world and do come back, there’s lots more to say.


Hone, D.W.E., Wang, K., Sullivan, C., Zhao, X., Chen, S., Li, D., Ji, S., Ji, Q. & Xu, X. 2011. A new, large tyrannosaurine theropod from the Upper Cretaceous of China. Cretaceous Research, in press.

DOI: 10.1016/j.cretres.2011.03.005


And of course, my thanks to Bob Nicholls of Paleocreations for the magnificent artwork. And thanks to those bloggers who have held off on their own posts on this before I was ready, it’s very much appreciated. I should also make a final extra point that once again a journal has stuck up an uncorrected proof of a paper – I can see already that a rather critical part of one table has been cut off and there are a couple of errors that need fixing which is why I don’t like these things.

Guest post: a new tyrannosaur – Alioramus altai.

Those of you at SVP will have already been aware of this new critter and I get to be smug and say that Steve Brusatte (formerly a guest poster on here with Shaochilong) showed me the photos months ago. However the paper is now out and Steve has been kind enough to write up another post for the Musings on his next groovy Asian theropod. Take it away please:

Continue reading ‘Guest post: a new tyrannosaur – Alioramus altai.’

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