Necessary Sacrifices

Today I step away from something that has occupied my life for … over two decades now. I have no idea if I will ever return. It saved my life when I needed it to, and stepping away is almost as healthy. Paleontology (or for you Europeans, palaeontology) and the study of anatomy and biomechanics has been something I have wanted and explored but have had little in the ways of pushing myself through, given the vagaries of life. For half a decade I raised my sister and kept her safe, and for much of that time I explore my art as best I could; and all this while battling often crushing depressive lows and few highs.

To grace the pages of a publication of description of a nearly 2m pterosaur skull. So much about this skull...

To grace the pages of a publication of description of a nearly 2m pterosaur skull. So much about this skull…

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Posted in Art, Biological Comparison, Biology, Paleobiology, Paleontology, Personal, Reconstruction | 23 Comments

Nano Keeps on Slipping, Slipping…

So much has been written about Nanotyrannus, a catch-up article is hardly necessary. Indeed, many have been written, some published. The history of the name, and of the specimen that underlies it, is well-known. It behooves us, instead, to look into recent history than the past, although of course, knowing what comes before is still important.

Many decades ago, tyrannosaurs were mysterious animals, with few complete skulls, and fewer skeletons to go about. Time skips forward and we have nearly complete skulls, for many taxa, and many complete skeletons for them. And moreover, we found various different growth stages. Animals typically change as they age; they are not born as perfect miniatures, as homonculi (or animiculi?) of their greater, older selves. But what degree of differences — there’s the problem. Continue reading

Posted in Biology, Biomechanics, Morphometrics, Paleontology, Science Reporting, Taxonomy | Tagged , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Out With the New — In With the Old

Taxonomy — the art, or perhaps slightly artistic “science” by which people name things — is not an unfamiliar subject around this blog. So you will notice a few things should you click on that tag at the bottom. For the sake of this subject, let me stress I will not weigh in on politics any more than I have in the past, save to say: Taxonomy can be political, just as the people who do it are, and for much the same reason; and the sciences in which taxonomists operate are themselves political. This leaves the subject fragile, and open to incursion from non-purely scientific purposes. Be that as it may, taxonomy is wonderful, and it allows us access, in many ways cognitively, to anatomy, the maths underlying behavior and action, and the animals themselves.

So you will have noticed in recent years a resurgence in names old and new that had been otherwise relegated to the dustbins; and of the newer sent back in favor of the old. Brontosaurus is real. Nanotyrannus is real. Torosaurus is … not real. Syntarsus, one of the earliest depicted dinosaurs with feathers, is a beetle, and we gained Megapnosaurus (“big dead lizard”) instead. The cruelty of a nematode specialist made us regret the beautiful name of Ingenia for a bird-like dinosaur that has vastly deserved a more thorough description, and we’ve gained Ajancingenia instead. some of these subjects may be debated, and for different reasons. Species concepts; the role of ontogeny in discriminating specimens of species; the vagaries of not cross-checking with other taxonomists on your names; and many more other variances.

But the point of this is not to suggest some rule about how we should go about these things. While these names matter, they matter far less than the organisms they represent. More important, then, we should focus on the descriptive and sometimes even reproductive biology, research revealing the persistence of viable tissue long past the apparent destruction of it via fossilization, biomechanics, ontogenetic trends thereof, and their environment, their ecology and trophic relationships. These organisms are interesting, significant, important, and the names help encapsulate that; but at the same time less so than these organisms often seem when so much focus is spent on their names. (I’ve been guilty, too).

Step away from quibbling on subjects older than dirt and focus on the animals, and the name ultimately won’t really matter any more. And that means putting aside notions that the names you call something is a point worthy of debate itself.

Posted in Taxonomy | 2 Comments

A Brief Moment in Kulinda

Not that long ago, a new fossil locality was discovered in Kulinda, Chita (Chininskaya Oblast), Russia, and it has the potential to confirm a recent hypothesis: that the filamentous integument of many theropods, found apparently in some ceratopsian dinosaurs, may be the base state from which all dinosaurs arose. Moreover, it would strengthen the argument that “dinofuzz” may be the same as pterosaur integument (“pterofuzz,” called pycnofibres). Thus, animals like lagerpetontids, silesaurids, even tiny, scaly Scleromochlus taylori, might be fuzzy. A new dinosaur from Kulinda represents a bold entry in the debate over dinosaur integument, a popular topic on this blog and one that evokes strong emotional reactions from many.

The KO, as Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus, as illustrated by Andrey Atuchin (2012). Used in promotion of the description by Godefroit et al. (2014).

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Posted in Biology, Paleobiology, Paleontology, Science Reporting, Taphonomy, Taxonomy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Every Which Way But Spinosaurus

The Saga Continues…

Today marks the publication of a new paper describing spinosaurine material from the Kem Kem of Morocco, specifically a set of quadrate bones, the upper portion of the original tetrapod jaw joint. It’s freely available in PLoS ONE, and you can follow that link to read it now if you wish. As normal, I have something to say about this in the general context of things, which is largely parroting what others have said. So this is really not going to be much of a unique post. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

Azendohsaurus – Former Dinosaur – Recieves Makeover

There’s no shortage of fossil archosaurs now named solely from teeth, or partial jaw bones but diagnosed or described primarily on teeth. Last I checked, this number was well over 150. Most recently, some of these used to be dinosaurs, but have subsequently been removed due tot he finding of more complete cranial bits, and associated postcranial skeletons that affirm they are most certainly not what they were once claimed to be. It’s not a story uncommon in scientific disciplines: Science is an iterative process, and often begins with small bits of data; other the course of study after study, new and more complete, information is added, and rarely removed, in order to gain a better understanding of the nature and context of the data. In this case, the partial remains of an animal from the Triassic of Morocco, deemed a dinosaur for 25 years, played a role in increasing the scientific knowledge of the origin of a much more important group of now-extinct sauropsidan “reptiles.” Both that group, and Azendohsaurus itself, would receive a facelift, its hair done, mani- and pedicure — a full makeover. Continue reading

Posted in Paleontology, Science Reporting | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Very Decent Dinosaur

This past week I went to see The Good Dinosaur. As a fan of previous Pixar films, I was excited around the time of their last free-from-Disney film, Brave, to view this film, which they’d been developing for since before the takeover. So I was interested in seeing its direction after the takeover. I’d read the criticisms and the commentaries, but as a rule – especially since Dinsey basically spoiled the substance of the plot in Up with a commercial that left no doubts as to the presence and manner of “antagonist” – I avoid spoilers to Pixar films. It’s my little film vice. These movies are, in my opinion, among the best. I’d felt Pixar films have been declining since Disney began to edge itself into the creative process, and now that it’s taken over fully, I was concerned. Does The Good Dinosaur live up? Continue reading

Posted in Paleontology | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Pale Spinos–Sigilmassasaurus

In my past comments regarding the strange theropod dinosaur Spinosaurus aegyptiacus, a small storm began to brew as to how, and where the vertebrae fit in a series. An aborted project to revise this series on the basis of comparison to the cervical dorsal series in tetanuran theropods has now met with a hard–but very satisfying–thump.

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Posted in Paleontology, Science Reporting, Taxonomy | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

The Best Little Oviraptorid in Mongolia

The sweaty summers of the mid 1970s give way to cooler climes indoors, as a block of sandstone pulled from the red-and-orange rocks of the Djadokhta Formation in Mongolia’s southern Gobi Desert finds itself in Ulaanbator, the nation’s capital. Initially discovered during one of the joint Russian-Mongolian expeditions into the Gobi Desert, by a team including such notables as paleontologists Ivan Efremov, Rinchen Barsbold, the discovery was but one of the first of oviraptorosaurs in Mongolia, after a long gap since the recovery of the type specimen of Oviraptor philoceratops in 1923.

In the halls of the Geological Institute, the specimen would be extricated carefully, and then over the course of the next few years, painstakingly prepared. It would become the best preserved and freely-prepared oviraptorid skeleton (including skull) known. There are better oviraptorid skeletons now, and more complete. But none of them are mounted, or those that are mounted composed for multiple specimens, or are artificial. Originally labelled GIN (SPS) 100/42, the specimen was first attributed in late 1970s publication as Oviraptor philoceratops, but Barsbold would later express concerns over this assignment. Still, the label stuck and remained so until the mid-1990s, when new fossils recovered from the Djadokhta, at Ukhaa Tolgod, suggested that oviraptorid diversity had been staggeringly underestimated. And so that diversity increases with new finds from Mongolia and China. The specimen would be considered related to Citipati osmolskae, although not a member of that species, and thus earns the provisional name of “Citipati sp.” The specimen’s label has also received a facelift, when the Geological Institute of Mongolia changed its name, and thus its abbreviation, to the Mongolian Paleontological Center, or MPC. The specimen would become MPC-D (“d” for “dinosaur”) 100/42. Continue reading

Posted in Art, Biology, Biomechanics, Paleobiology, Paleontology, Reconstruction, Science Reporting, Taphonomy | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

The Stocky Dragon

There is much we still do not know about the ancient origins of birds and near-bird animals, dromaeosaurs and troodontids. As we find more specimens of archaeopterygid or scansoriopterygid-like animals, of Anchiornises and what not, the tree becomes more of a bush, chaotic, involuted, interesting.

The Maastrichtian of Romania reveals a series of islands in what is now eastern Europe, the last remnants of the epicontinental sea that covers Europe diminishing as Africa looms closer to the south, rotating upwards and lifting the Alps of southern Europe. These islands formed intriguing biotas, comprised of small herbivorous ankylosaurs, hadrosaurs, pro-iguanodonts, and sauropods; and large birds and pterosaurs. The largest predators of these islands were probably azhdarchid pterosaurs. But amongst them, the small cat-sized Balaur bondoc is also known.

Balaur bondoc skeleton as bird Continue reading

Posted in Art, Paleobiology, Paleontology, Reconstruction, Systematics | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments