It soars over the tossing waves on enormous, outspread wings. With nary a flap, the bird is soaring dynamically high above the ocean, its eyes scanning the sky around it and sea below. It may seem unremarkable to us today: the feet are webbed and extend behind it, the tail is short and blunt, the body rounded and muscular, but encased in a bullet-like shell of feathers, dark above and light below. The wings are mostly arm, the hand bones short. The feathers are short, and the arms make up most of the wing length. It looks like an albatross, but is several times larger than any living albatross; but it is otherwise unremarkable in its appearance from any other great seabird. That is, until you examine its head.
There are many types of ocean-going flyers, pelagic birds of one type or another. Those that hug the shores or feed in the shallows such as cormorants and auks, and those that make vast searches of the ocean such as boobies, and albatrosses. Examining their wings will tell you much about how they get around; and examining their jaws will tell you how they might catch their prey — together, these tell you what they might feed on, what they prefer. Continue reading
Posted in Biological Comparison, Biology, Biomechanics, Paleobiology, Paleoecology, Paleontology
Tagged Birds, Demon Duck of Doom, Hesperornis, Hesperornis regalis, Mergansers, Mergus, Pelagornis, Pelagornis spenceri, Pelagornithids, pseudoteeth
Continuing a story of the low-key, not-Spinosaurus paleontological papers recently published, discussing our bizarre Mesozoic macrofauna, this installment covers a few pterosaur tidbits.
The first of these is an amazing assemblage of scattered bones of numerous different-sized individuals that are all almost certainly a single species of pterosaur. What is remarkable about this assemblage is that there are several extremely well-preserved remains of individuals, including skulls, with further support for sexual-dimorphism of the cranial crest in some pterosaurs. The second of these is a paper on the tail of an heretofore otherwise un-tailed group of pterosaurs, Anurognathidae, and the implications of this tail relating to their phylogenetics.
A piece I’ve been mulling around for about a year, but my laziness interfered. No more.
Ignoring Spinosaurus for now, paleontology came up with a few other announcements in the last few weeks. Some pterosaurs (gotta love them) but also non-theropod dinosaurs! They do exist, they are interesting, but they receive much less press. Over the next few days I will present small posts on each of these and get away from what does tend to be an overly theropod-driven blog and the hype around #SpinoGate. Continue reading
Posted in Paleobiology, Paleontology, Science Reporting, Taphonomy, Taxonomy
Tagged Dryosauridae, Eousdryosaurus, Eousdryosaurus nanohallucis, Ornithischia, Ornithischians, Ornithopoda, Ornithopodans
There’s been a lot of news now about Thursday’s (Sep. 11, 2014) publication on a new specimen attributed to Spinosaurus aegyptiacus. A lot of hype rose up months back about the release of a photo of a mount of some unusual bones, and what that entailed. As with every fossil discovery, caution had to be carefully tended in regards this mount because we had no idea what it was based on. This mystery was spoiled, and it seems the culprit was wilier than we all thought.
I honestly don’t think I can write any more on how bad Alan Feduccia’s “science” is on the subject of bird origins than I already have, here. Briefly, Dr. Alan Feduccia has teamed up with earstwhile companion in quackery Stephen Czerkas to pen a missive on Scansoriopteryx heilmanni (named by the former in 2002) to “demonstrate” how it and all other maniraptoran theropods (oviraptorosaurs, troodontids, dromaeosaurids, and other scansoriopterygids) are not, and cannot be, theropods or, even, dinosaurs, but birds. That is, birds are not dinosaurs, and neither are maniraptorans.
(An update to this post is emmended below.) Continue reading
Posted in Art, Biology, Paleontology, Philosophy, Science Reporting
Tagged Creationism, Evolution of Flight, Intelligent Design and Bunk, Origin of Birds, Scansoriopterygids, Science, Science Communication
I tend to be very generous when it comes to labeling diets. Animals are not perfect boxes to never spill out of their strict defintions, nor are their diets, produced as they are from a variety of different sources. You’ll notice that I’ve been talking about what exactly defines some particular diets, and what they involve. These extend from my interests in determine if, in fact, it is possible to determine if an animal is an ovophage/ovivore/egg-eater. What mechanisms exactly of the jaw, animal, environment go into defining a given diet? Are they all the same for different animals? Can we use one set of parameters to then determine the result for any given animal, or are some diets just that much more special than others?