Check this out! On the heels of their book, All Yesterdays, John Conway and Memo Koseman are hosting a contest for illustration much in the spirit of that book. (Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs is also hosting a contest, one in which style matters, less photorealism, more impressionistic — or whatever.) The premises follow that the convention of art has constrained us in the past, but we’ve not drawn enough inspiration from Nature to capture the possible range of appearance of far-extinct animals. Chief among these criticisms have been issues relating to the “skin-wrapping” of animals, or of fantasizing the behavior of predatory theropods and herbivorous ornithischians/sauropods and “dominant” and “submissive” roles in ecology: Ornithischians and sauropods are but food for the theropods. Defiance of convention is the norm, and a warning rattle is shaken by extending the premises of some modern paleoart to non-dinosaur animals, to show how patently ridiculous such techniques might be. Behavior typically doesn’t fossilize, which has led to some rather dated and static interpretations of extinct animals today, or has led to a bizarre range of assumed possible behaviors based on extant animals, by simply copying-and-pasting. When reconstructing life appearances, it is even common to transfer the patternings of living animals onto extinct: The present informs the past.
This isn’t a criticism of this book, of the conventions they impeach or implore against, or the nature of the contest, though I might say some things. I certainly won’t be able to review the book or its contents, or criticize them in any fashion, for some time. I was struck, however, by a recent illustration by excellent artist Julio Lacerda, one in which two of the Hell Creek oviraptorosaur snuggle against one another, affectionately; yet both are male. The convention in behavioral reconstruction for animals on display is almost universally for male-female pairs, or lekking, with polygamous males, following the “typical” conventions of Nature. But they are not the ONLY such relationships: Homosexuality, seemingly such a human thing, is present in Nature, and extends far beyond the mores of humanity. It is, indeed, so widespread in Nature that one might not be forgiven for taking into account the association of same-sized adult pairs of animals. Indeed, when doing so, paleontologists typically associate the pairs as male-female, and assume some breeding component. If there is information that might presume the same sex between the two, it is either associational or agonistic.
But such things are not always true., and it is a convention of our two-complementary-sex, heterosexual majority that we tend to focus on that as a more reasonable, parsimonious, and likely result than were the alternative: male-male/female-female pairs. Yet, the alternatives do happen, and more than incidental, social structure-reinforcing, or bisexual exhuberance (bonobos come to mind; sex for its own sake). We’re talking about exclusive sexe-sex pairings, forgoing pairing even for reproductive purposes, or pairing with the opposite sex only during times of mating for breeding, but preference of company with one’s own sex, even pair-bonding. These things happen most strongly in mammals and birds, but have been reported in other groups. Braithwaite (1981) notes on the amazing 1 in 4 male-male pairs of black swan, which even produce an ecological benefit, despite need for sexual relationships with females. The term “homosexuality” may not be the best term for these associations or relationships, but it seems effective for now to encapsulate same-sex pairs. And there is no reason to assume this would not occur in dinosaurs, pterosaurs, dicynodonts, ichthyosaurs, you name it.
If I were to submit to the contests held by these fine fellows, I might me tempted to claim my entire body of work substantiates the premises of All Yesterdays, from the reconstruction of fleshy heads:
to the reconstruction of elaborate facial tissues:
or even the reconstruction of elaborate biomechanical behavior:
The thing is, I’d not limit myself if I could; my entire body of work beginning around 1999 has been to challenge the premises of reconstruction, up to and including the nature and arrangement of facial integument, including whether or not dinosaurs had “lips,” or ornithischians “cheeks.” Might my blog itself be a potential entry? What a range of submissions to sift through!
Edit: No later than writing this, I decided to join the submitters for the LITC style contest, and created a piece unusual for my purposes, one in which I also explored colors in a way I’ve not since abandoning use of color pencil. This one is all digital, but predictable: It depicts a Citipati osmolskae, and is as colorful as a peacock.
Braithwaite, L. W. 1981. Ecological studies of the black swan III – Behaviour and social organization. Australian Wildlife Research 8:134-146.