What? Another All Your Yesterdays mention?
You remember when I asked you all what this might be? Someone got the right answer, although I’d love to speculate how they came about it. I have a clue, and it might be for the sake of perversity, or because I’m a predictable schmo (read: Yiddish, “I’m an idiot”).
See, I wanted to take some time and work out a possible speculation myself, but those guys at Irregular Books have done this with their own book, and whilst some drawings were made, the total thrust of things was sidetracked and instead, I went a tad over into fantasy. The use of a loaded term in this realm might annoy people, maybe provoke a rolled eye or three, but it helps. It helps because, ultimately, it is. Dinosaur reconstruction isn’t “fantasy” in the sense of 50 foot mumakil or TOHO’s Gojira franchise and the wonderfully silly, campy and adventourous spin-offs (I might temporize and call it “science fantasy” instead, as it has a basic science premise behind it, but otherwise these are fantasies in modern(ish) times, as much as Gaiman’s works are).
So, as Mickey Mortimer accused me earlier when I revealed the previous Guessing Game’s answer of Masiakasaurus knopfleri, I went and took a notable animal and “hid” it underneath plausible flesh. This is if anything a response to Mickey’s accusation. It tells me (and you) that there is truth in the argument, even when you don’t intend it. It also helps you frame how outrageous you might get while staying “plausible.”
Not that long ago, I was also in a discussion on what it might be to hide away an incredibly noticeable skull behind flesh. I was even asked once if I felt this particular animal was lipped or not. I have been curious about the answer, because while it is possible, I did not have the tools to assess it. I still do not. But I felt an excercise was in order.
So what is it? Well, what do you think it could be? Seems obvious it’s a dinosaur. A theropod one at that, and reasonably close to birds. Feathers and everything? Some suggested Eoraptor. That’s actually a nice answer, and one I didn’t expect, but it’s not correct: I wouldn’t think Eoraptor lunensis would have pennate feathers. If not that, then closer to birds. Well, putting several facts together, you might arrive at my answer:
1. I really like oviraptorosaurs (duh).
2. There are some strange oviraptorosaurs.
3. I am fascinated by the evolution of tooth loss.
4. I don’t apparently think there are “lips” in oviraptorosaurs (well, most of them).
5. I actually think many dinosaurs were a lot more ordinary looking than you might imagine. That is, I’d like to hope people don’t think of dinosaurs looked as outrageously as possible, but more or less “normal.”
I’ve you’ve seen one theropod head, then, you’ve seen ‘em all. There would be slight distortions in proportions, relative size of the eye, head to body, etc. But it’s all more or less the same. When fine bone details change, the underlying structure doesn’t This helps explain how many bird heads look so similar despite often drastic cranial disparity underlying it, or the muscle patterns of the jaw, wing, or neck being diagnostic despite similar relations. Applying this principle across dinosaurs means that a noasaurid wouldn’t look very different from a typical “raptor” head — until it opened its mouth. The shapes of an elmisaur ankle are diagnostic to them, but you’d never know the details from a fleshed specimen, and the same is true for most birds, whose tarsal morphologies can be used to diagnose subgroups among typically-lauded “species.” But these structures relate to the overlying tissues in the same general way, and they can tell you how “thick” a “knee” might be in a thicknee, how much a jugal bone relates to the line of the jaw, or position of the muscles attaching to the mandible. Regardless of the size or number of holes in the skull, the structure underneath all that flesh is basically the same, and so the head is basically the same. Skulls don’t really lie, but head shape and features related to it aren’t as dependent on skull-features as many might think.
So my argument then is that making your animal look like the concept of that animal that is most known is pushing it too far. You’re trying too hard. You probably wouldn’t see the high cheekbones in Nigersaurus; nor would you see the gap in the “gap-snouted” Dilophosaurus, Coelophysis, Baryonyx (incl. Suchomimus), and Spinosaurus. The humongous external bony naris of Jobaria is pretty noticeable, as it is in Camarasaurus, but visible from the fleshed head? Probably not. If you’ve got a flange of bone that sticks into the orbit to support the eyeball, it wouldn’t be noticeable. Skulls aren’t shrink-wrapped, and because of this, teeth aren’t visible. Oh, sure, in crocodilians you can see the teeth when the jaws closed, and there are no “lips.” But crocs may not need them. There are tissue conservation aspects that mayb be at play: crocs employ a LOT of neurosensory tissue to the multitude of facial electrosensory organs that help them hunt. They don’t even have facial scales anymore; it’s all skin. “Lips” — as we might imagine them on sauropsids rather than synapsids, the line stemming towards crocs, birds, lizards, snakes, and turtles rather than to mammals — might just get in the way, and they can ill-afford that development when the need is not there, given they are aquatic hunters. So, one might speculate, feeding into my thesis that virtually all terrestrial (at least) sauropsid tetrapods have “lips” until proven otherwise (including early birds), one can just suggest that the lips I show up there are hiding something noticeable.
Got it yet? The clues are dripping so far.
Incisivosaurus gauthieri (or Protarchaeopteryx gauthieri, if you prefer, but it matters little).
This is actually inspired by the “lipped” lepidosaurs Uromastyx and the tuatara. I even went further and speculated before about the rather unassuming “life” appearance of rhynchosaurs for this reason. Both of these taxa have beak-like features on the tips of their jaws, including a sharpened blade in portions, but retain a full extra-oral fleshy integument, complete with scales (which I’ve omitted here — that’s all bare skin). A large pair of teeth in both are the first premaxillary teeth, and they are noticeable when the jaw opens … yet there is no indication of them when the jaw shuts. We might apply this more readily were it not for the need to identify dinosaurs by their oddity, rather than by their commonality.
Oh, yes, there’s also something in that image about feeding behavior and use of the teeth, for processing large seeds or hard-rind fruits. Like parrots, the eternal comparison to oviraptorosaurs. The tongue doesn’t hurt the the comparison, but I am sad to say it is among the least fact-based aspects of this entire illustration, as such a tongue would require a large, bony basihyal, and frankly the hyoid apparatus of dinosaurs doesn’t fossilize well.