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THE PALEO KING



* THE place for Dinosaur and Prehistoric art. Hi-fi and humane digital dissections of the huge and extinct. Elegant and high culture Paleo-portraits. * DON'T use the King's artwork without asking his majesty first. As for images that are not my work, I do



Updated: 2018-01-15T09:43:19.474-08:00

 



The Chubut Monster is officially named!

2017-08-10T00:27:46.283-07:00

Today the Chubut Monster, possibly the largest dinosaur known, has been published.There are apparently six specimens from the same site. The largest of them may have exceeded 120 feet in length, and though the paper proposed a maximum mass of 82 tons, I suspect that when restored with the correct rib curvature and soft tissue levels, this animal may have exceeded 110 tons.The AMNH mount, which is entirely made of fiberglass replicas, appears to be based on the holotype and a few similar-sized specimens. These are still smaller than the individual represented by the gigantic femur on the forklift pallets.Patagotitan mayorum is build like something between Argentinosaurus and a lognkosaur, with traces of Malawisaurus-like features as well. Though the cladistic analysis in the paper is odd to say the least (taking Rinconsaurus and most other aeolosaurs out of Saltasauridae and making them sister-group to lognkosauria, and throwing Argentinosaurus into lognkosauria, while throwing Malawisaurus into a derived lithostrotian cluster!) it does make two very interesting points; not only is the new Chubut Monster Patagotitan related to Argentinosaurus, but Ruyangosaurus is classed as a titanosaur more derived than Andesaurus.It seems ironic that the paper does not draw a closer relation between Patagotitan and Ruyangosaurus, because the morphology of their posterior dorsal vertebrae appears almost identical. The oddly leaf-shaped neural spines, the many shallow and thin laminae, and V-shaped prezygapophyses so recently having lost the hypantrum, are very similar to those of Patagotitan, which still retains a small hypantrum in a few of the mid-dorsals. The slender neural spines of the caudal vertebrae recall Mendozasaurus. The centra of the dorsals resemble Malawisaurus to some extent, and Argentinosaurus from certain angles. It's looking like Patagotitan occupies a node on the titanosaur family tree somewhat more derived than Argentinosaurus, a direct descendant of the fork in the road between the "Malawisaurs" (Malawisaurus and Savannasaurus) and more derived groups such as the true lognkosaurs.The biggest specimen of Patagotitan is known from a femur that both has the unusual proximal curvature of that of Ruyangosaurus, and a size exceeding the (reconstructed) length of the Argentinosaurus femur.A terrible skeletal of Patagotitan. In reality the neck and back would have been steeper, and the tail likely less kinked downward.[...]



Were the scaly T. rex paintings of the 90s right after all?

2017-06-08T17:12:55.607-07:00

Well, I have to admit it.It was tempting to draw large tyrannosaurs with a heavy coat of feathers. It proved VERY tempting. But I stuck to my guns and held out on it. Why? I wasn't convinced the evidence would favor it.I had already seen pictures of skin impressions attributed to the neck and chest of T. rex, and they were scaly. But this wasn't published and therefore people were casting doubt on it (I wonder if they did the same when Yutyrannus photos showed feathers, before it was formally published and described?). Now some may ask what I have against feathered tyrannosaurids, since that is the new orthodoxy in much of paleo-art (just as lizard-like restorations were orthodoxy in the time of Knight and Burian). The answer is actually: nothing. But when talking about giant tyrannosaurids there was no actual evidence of feathered skin. Not only that, but being roughly 1.5 times the length of the still taxonomically controversial Yutyrannus, the largest T. rexes at 12 meters were over twice the mass, and in addition they were living in a time with warmer global temperatures and increased SO2 and volcanic activity.I maintained for years that if T. rex had any feathers as an adult, they would probably be in very limited areas, for display. Something that big would not need them for insulation, and as a warm-blooded predator in the Maastrichtian epoch with rising global temperatures, it would likely overheat with a heavy coat of downy insulation feather, and obviously had no use for long-quilled flight feathers.Now we have a paper just out confirming that big tyrannosaurids were probably scaly over the majority if not all of their body surface - and that feathers were lost relatively early in the evolution of true Tyrannosauridae.rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.or…And this isn't some fringe paper in a fake journal by creationists or BANDits. It's Royal Society, and Phil Currie, Bob Bakker, Darren Tanke and Pete Larson are all among the co-authors. You don't get more solid in credentials than that. I don't even think Jack Horner would take issue with their scaly conclusion, given his historically conservative approach to dinosaur biomechanics and metabolism.Interestingly, not only are the skin impressions scaly, but the scales are tiny. Bead-like, almost. So most likely these are from a softer part of the body, possibly the undersides, but due to decomposition the skin may have become desiccated or detached, and rolled around to the dorsal portions of the body, which are apparently the positions in which the skin impressions were found.Now I can imagine some people having nightmares over their entire post-dotcom idea of a poofy T. rex being overturned. So what does this really mean for the big picture of tyrannosaurs?Does it suddenly mean they were cold-blooded overgrown alligators? NO. Warm-bloodedness is not dependent on feathers or fur, especially not at those sizes.Does it mean that they were unrelated to birds and we need to rip up the theropod family tree? NO. The paper states that the tyrannosaur lineage lost their feathers, not that they never had them.Does it mean that all the old pre-Bakker images of sluggish tail-dragging T. rexes were correct? NO and no. These certainly weren't the only unfeathered tyrannosaurs ever drawn or painted, and definitely not the most anatomically informed (Burian was even famous for notlooking at fossils or estimating proportions). There's no reason to throw out 40 years of gathered evidence of warm-blooded, fast-growing bone texture in tyrannosaurs. Tyrannosaurs were still active, fast, warm-blooded hunters. They just weren't drowning in feathers at 40 feet long.  But this doesn't mean that I favor Jurassic Park's ugly monsters either. And simply favoring scaly T. rexes doesn't make you some obsessive JP fanboy. It simply means you listen to the evidence - several scaly impressions in 5 different tyrannosaur genera, and not one feathery impression from any of them. Interestingly, none of these impressions match the big, bulky crocodile-like scales and h[...]



Another Torosaurus feature you won't find on any Triceratops

2017-05-26T14:39:59.432-07:00

We've seen different snouts, different beak shapes, different frill stud counts, different frill shapes, different squamosal shapes, and different horn shapes in the biggest and most mature specimens.But guess what we haven't seen? Different details IN the horns.This is the skull MOR 1122 - one of the two huge "boss-nosed" Torosaurus skulls, both of which are in Jack Horner's own Museum of the Rockies.See anything odd about the brow horns? Anything sidesplitting that doesn't appear in any Triceratops?Those deep chasms in the horns are real. Only the horn tips and the beak have been restored.Lets look at some well-known Triceratops skulls:Cast of T. prorsus holotype at the NHM, LondonThe "Kelsey" Triceratops - a very old individual of T. horridus.the very mature TMP T. prorsus skull - no epoccipitals left here!The "Homer" skull, another elderly T. horridus - seriously who picks these names?couple of young T. prorsus skulls at Seckenberg museumThe Torrington skull - old individual, appears to be T. horridus, NOT the same skull as "T. eurycephalus".Dakota dinosaur museum T. prorsus skull.Another, younger T. prorsus - there is a slight groove that expands at the horn tip, but no huge chasm in the midshaft of the horn. Additionally, this short-faced skull is one of the LEAST Torosaurus-like out of all the Triceratops specimens known.NONE of them have those deep chasms you find in Torosaurus.So now we can see that not only do the horns of most Torosaurus skulls have a different shape than one would expect for a mature Triceratops, but even the anchoring surfaces of the bone cores that held the horn sheaths in place were different - namely that Torosaurus had deep clefts in the bone cores that the outer sheath would have hooked into - something completely absent in Triceratops.Now not necessarily every Torosaurus would have had these natural gashes, but the ones we have complete or near-complete horns for, do show them. The odd thing is, the most mature Triceratops skulls don't have such gashes in the horns, not even smaller ones.  [...]



'Toroceratops' is BUSTED. Conclusively.

2017-05-17T15:42:17.432-07:00

Q: I have heard that the Jack Horner theory about Torosaurus being nothing more than old individuals of Triceratops is getting a lot of pushback. Paleo King, what are your views on the theory, and what does the evidence actually say?  A: They are arm-waving. Horner actually has a pattern of doing this, it isn't the first time. Remember the “obligate scavenger T. rex”? Every piece of evidence Bakker, Currie, Weishampel, etc. looked at, Horner basically ignored or dismissed or even denied – even things as basic as eye socket shape – just to preserve his precious theory. Later Horner confessed that he “never liked T. rex anyway” (he was always primarily a duckbill specialist, whose best work was with the Maiasaura nests) and never took the “100% scavenger idea” seriously, he simply went on TV and made these claims because he wanted to stir debate and knock T. rex down a few pegs. But making an argument you know is weak simply to stir debate, is the most unproductive sort of debate there is. Paleo-trolling before there were tumblr and buzzfeed.You'd think his fans would have learned from that whole fiasco. Most of them don't even know it happened. Score? Hornerite groupies: 0. Horner: 1As for the “Toroceratops” theory – although Horner (but moreso his former student John Scannella) actually published academic papers and piling up skulls on this new idea, unlike with the scevenging T. rex theory, the line of argument in the papers is hardly any stronger, and the piles of Triceratops and Torosaurus skulls he cites as proof, do not actually support his claims. The theory basically runs like this: Triceratops and Torosaurus are found in the same rock layers and general region, they look very similar, both have metaplastic bone in their frills indicating bone remodelling, hence “obviously” one must be a growth stage of the other. Except that there's no real conclusive proof for that argument. The fossil evidence in their papers is either circumstantial or not in support of their theory, and some of it is even heavily altered with plaster. The make conclusions about the skulls, which the skulls themselves actually contradict! Same can be said for much of their Pachy-stygi-dracorex theory, which makes a ton of assumptions based on casts, stress fractures, and artifacts of preservation rather than native features of the fossils, as well as for Fowler's "Haplo-Suuwa-Bronto-Diplodocus" faux-pas, where downright bizarre fictions like "weighted characters" and "selective parsimony" had to be invented to turn sauropods that are clearly NOT diplodocids into good little juvenile diplodocids (just ignore the fact that Haplocanthosaurus is also known from non-bifurcated adult neck remains too, right?).Don't you get all bifurcated on me too now....There's no way to prove that Torosaurus was simply an old adult Triceratops. There are some VERY irreconcilable differences and between the two, and some gaping holes and assumptions in their hypothesis - even if you use ontogeny to "rationalize away" some of the variation. How Jack Horner and his team can hope to bridge these holes in their theory, I honestly have no clue: 1. The changes required are too radical for an animal that is no longer juvenile and has no growing left to do in the postcrania. Such an extreme and late change in facial geometry is unknown in any ceratopsid.2. Torosaurus is far rarer than Triceratops, too rare to simply be the same animal a few years older. 90% of Hell Creek's large herbivores are Triceratops, Torosaurus forms less than 1%. Some may argue that this is only because few herbivores survived to old age, or that older individuals were more vulnerable to be eaten rather than fossilized – but this is pure speculation, and reason # 4 forces us to discard this idea.3. Torosaurus has many more epoccipitals than Triceratops - and not only that, their numbers are far more variable in Torosaurus (from 30 to 37[...]



Don't judge a dinosaur by its ankle.

2017-04-26T14:17:51.929-07:00

A change of pace from the sauropods for a bit: after a few questions from a follower of my work, I looked at Hutchinson (2011) again - the paper that estimated Sue the T. rex at 9 tons; I can't tell you how many times over the years I've had to point out the flaws in that extremely chubby model. (It's not that I don't like plump dinosaurs - when they're titanosaurs, they're downright gorgeous. It's plump predators that don't make sense - their survival depended on catching another dinosaur as fast as possible, and at any size, especially multi-ton megafauna, extra weight was exponentially costly).It seems one of the reasons why Jack Horner and John Hutchinson don't accept a fast Tyrannosaurus is because the lower leg (i.e. ankle) supposedly aren't all that proportionately large, limiting its top speed (and that of other animals). While Horner isn't as hardcore in pushing the "T. rex was mainly a scavenger" theory as in the past, it's clear that this idea still informs much of his thinking and that of his proteges and colleagues.Hutchinson basically relies on under-exaggeration. He makes arguments like "T. rex metatarsals are proportionally much shorter than those of ostriches, therefore T. rex can't run". Well nobody claimed T. rex was topping 70mph like a cheetah, but acting as if shorter metatarsals imply it can't run at all, is a red herring. And in large part it has to do with the Hornerites' love of straw men. They take Bakker completely out of context, and pretend that paleontology today is full of people claiming that dinosaurs were supercharged cyborgs outracing hurricanes and crossing dimensions. That simply is not the case. Even the most radical paleontologists don't believe that, nor did Bakker ever make such bizarre claims. He simply stated the case for dinosaurs being warm-blooded, and at least as active as most mammals today (which shouldn't be such a big deal - lions are lazy, dogs are lazy, most mammals sleep a lot... there just don't get torpid like lizards and crocs can). There's nobody claiming that T. rex was running fast all the time - like most predators, it likely only hunted for a small portion of the day. All that we're saying is that a big 'rex was easily capable of 35mph when the time came to actually hunt and kill prey. Which is actually slower than an ostrich.We're not saying this:We're actually saying this:Greg Paul 1988. Used for educational purposes only.Yes they're fast, but not too fast to track mud or keep at least one foot on the ground for most of the stride. Again, not such a big deal when you consider how T. rex legs were actually built (long toes, huge muscle crests, metatarsals far longer than in any modern mammal over 2 tons, plus they had a built-in shock absorber with the interlock and the 5th metatarsal splint was basically a spring-loader for the outer ankle tendons to make running much more energy-efficient).Why the "short ankle" problem isn't really a speed-killer:What Hutchinson fails to pay attention to, is that tyrannosaur metatarsals are actually VERY long as juveniles, and shorten a bit as they grow into adults - they are not going from ostrich proportions to elephant proportions. In fact the "shortness" of T. rex adult metatarsals doesn't get anywhere near as short as in "elephant proportions". They're a lot longer in T. rex, and the actual toes are immensely longer than those of elephants. The toes of T. rex are about as long as the metatarsals themselves! Hutchinson seemingly ignores the impact of long toes and huge cartilage anchor surfaces on boosting speed and stride length. This is what I call the "blind men and the elephant fallacy" - where you look at one part of an animal and make big sweeping assumptions about the animal based on just that one part, largely ignoring how it works together with the other parts. Ostriches have more elongated metatarsals but much shorter toes, whereas tyrannosaurs gradually shorten the me[...]



How big was the French Monster?

2017-04-12T00:31:52.472-07:00

Earlier you may have heard of a truly colossal sauropod species known as the French Monster. First it appeared to be a titanosaur, though now it looks to be a basal somphospondyl, along the same lines as Chubutisaurus and Paluxysaurus.It's a massive creature no doubt, but one thing severely lacking from the announcements of the finds several years ago (besides a description paper and a name!) was a set of proper measurements for the bones. We do have some good pics though, from the dig site in Angeac-Charente, which is apparently wine country. It's tempting to think that fossil-rich soils make for top-quality grapes... lots of minerals there. And tannins... look at how dark those bones are, surely from all the tannins, it must be. Most significant were two femurs from different individuals, one of which was well-photographed and appeared to be about 2.2m long, the other being considerably larger. Below you see the smaller one:Photos of the larger femur, estimated at 2.6m, did not materialize.However there were some rare glimpses of other gigantic bits.Some of the biggest caudal vertebrae ever found, and quite possibly the biggest toe bone ever found (the darker bone near the center).Then we have this gem, which it the lower end of either a tibia or a very worn-down femur. Again, huge.The foot claws are just enormous. This one is as big as a sewing machine. And the toe bones... well just look for yourself. That same dark one you saw above is a cinderblock! The caudal centra also outclass those of Futalognkosaurus, Paralititan, and "Antarctosaurus" giganteus. And unlike those specimens, these French Monster centra are mostly mid-caudals, NOT proximal caudals. Anyone still keeping score? And why are the neural arches seemingly cut off on most of these? Were they sutured and still growing ????One toe bone from this sauropod (right) is more massive than the whole femur of a theropod found at the same site (left).Toe bones as big as cinderblocks.There are also some big teeth from the site, with the same black mineralization as the first femur, and encrusted with some sort of comglomerate. They look similar to brachiosaur teeth, which is not surprising given that the unique features of the femur put it closest to the Chubutisauridae, which are only a couple steps removed from brachiosaurs.We also know that a cast was made of the 2.2m femur. For some years, little more was known.Gunnar Bivens gave me this link to some sources: dml.cmnh.org/2017Apr/msg00032.… which include information on the French Monster. Not only do they verify the size of the 2.2m femur known, as well as the other materials, but they also verify the estimate of the larger femur at 2.6m long when complete - surpassing the femur of Argentinosaurus.Given that the French Monster appears to cluster closest to Paluxysaurus and Sauroposeidon and shares several diagnostic femur features in common with both of them (there is a juvenile Cloverly Formation femur from the latter), a good place to start when scaling the French Monster is the already existing Paluxysaurus skeletal from Steve O'Connor:Assuming you use the Paluxysaurus proportions as seen here, and a GDI based on the mounted skeleton, the "adult" Sauroposeidon from Oklahoma would scale up to 26.9m 47.5 tonnes, as per Franoys. The same model yields dimensions for the two French Monster specimens known from the 2.2m and 2.6m femurs at [28.5m and 56.5 tonnes] and [33.5m and 85 tonnes] respectively. Yes, I said 85 tonnes. That's up in Argentinosaurus territory, and for a dinosaur that almost certainly had a slimmer rib cage - which would require it to be a hugely tall animal, and in lateral view its slimmer torso would actually have to look bigger and deeper than that of Argentinosaurus to get the same volume and mass.Paluxysaurus mounted cast. Note the relatively narrow brachiosaur-like rib cage. The fat rib cages of derived titanosaurs appeared far further up the ev[...]



How much time did sauropods need to spend eating?

2017-03-21T15:25:48.677-07:00

This is a question we hear a lot, especially from dino-fans in awe of the size and scale of some of these creatures, which can only go up after seeing one in a museum.However huge you think they are, they always look bigger in person.We've all heard they needed outrageous amounts of food just to stay alive (and that they shook the earth with each step...) but how much time did these giants really need to spend eating each day?The answer is, a lot less than you might think, even with being warm-blooded... but it depends on the species. A lot of people imagine that sauropods were so big that they had to spend all their time eating, or that a warm-blooded metabolism would demand more food than they could ever possibly take in. But this simply isn't true! Now of course sauropods didn't all have the same energy requirements, but most would have been in a similar nutrient/tissue conversion range, and in general the worst-case formula goes like this:A big warm-blooded herbivore needs to eat about 2% of its mass in food per day to keep going. (A 5 ton elephant = 5,000kg, needs minimum 200 pounds or 100kg of food per day, that's 2% or 0.02 of the elephant's mass). Now this is a very high estimate of the minimum intake - it assumes sauropod digestion was as bad as that of elephants or horses, but it was likely much more efficient, this is just a worst case scenario to show how much easier feeding was for sauropods than we often imagine.Going by a similar measure for sauropods, we get the following:We'll use the Berlin Giraffatitan HMN SII (subadult) as a test case, since we actually have a complete mouth and most of the skeleton: Since we have the basic 2% formula already, we just need to know (1) the animal's mass, (2) the volume of its bite, (3) the time it took to swallow each bite.So how heavy was it? Now if you look at the subadult Giraffatitan, as restored by Paleo-King, it's ~33 tons (lean mass). We could use another skeletal restoration that estimates it lighter or heavier, but since this one is the best, most detailed, most beautiful, most thoroughly researched and lifelike, and likely will not be surpassed for another Cosmological Decade or so, this restoration is the gold standard to use.So, 33 tons or 33,000 kg x 0.02 = 660kg of food = 1320 lbs of food required per day, or around 6/10 of a ton, minimum.So how big was each bite?The mouth of HMN SII (skull HMN S116) is big. Very big. Here's where most paleontologists get lost - they assume based on modern mammal rates of feeding that sauropods needed many hours to feed - not true, since despite having proportionally small heads, sauropods had much bigger mouths than modern mammals. The skull of SII/S116 (left column, second skull down) was at least 0.8m long, that's pushing 3 feet - with the toothy portion of the mouth being about 0.4m long, and just as wide, and about a foot deep. So its volume is about 1.47 cubic feet, bigger than a laundry basket = Big enough to bite off 70 pounds of conifer leaves/needles. Though lets be conservative and say it was on average 50 pounds per bite because not every bite was on full branches.Heck, even the smaller HMN t1 skull looks like it could gobble up close to 50 pounds without much effort!So how long did feeding take?Each ~50lb bite takes 30 seconds max to hack off and gulp down, probably it was much faster, since these animals didn't chew, but we don't know if their brain stem could coordinate breathing independently of swallowing (most reptiles and birds can pull it off, some mammals can't) so worst case we'll give him 30 seconds per bite for a breather. So that's 2 bites or 100 pounds of food per minute. 1320 pounds daily requirement, divided by 100 pounds per minute,  = 13.2 minutes to eat the minimum food to stay alive, assuming elephant-like digestion (which is, again, far less efficient than we'd expect for any sort of archosaurs)[...]



I am now "officially" as famous as Dr. Bakker!

2017-01-14T13:55:03.217-08:00

I just came across this little paper, not about any particular dinosaur species, but about Paleo-art itself. Link is:http://digital.csic.es/bitstream/10261/120877/1/Manuel_ejip%202015.pdfAlthough this came out a couple of years ago, it's still an interesting read. A survey (likely not a terribly scientific one, due to the small number of respondents) was sent to 115 paleontologists and "naturalists" (not sure how they defined that) in different countries, and apparently these are just the PhD professors in the field. This was carried out by a group (apparently in Spain) known as the Meeting of Early-Stage Researchers in Paleontology.One of the questions asked is to name up to three paleo-artists whose work one recognizes. The results are on page 9 of the paper.Interestingly Mauricio Antón got the most "recognitions" in the survey, 60 in total - apparently because he had illustrated papers for many of the scientists (Raúl Martín, in second place, got only 20 recognitions). I suspect this exponentially leading score may also be a bit biased, since Antón helped with the production of the paper, being among a few "special thanks" individuals who provided "bibliographic recommendations and for sharing their paleoartistic knowledge." Knight, Burian, and Zallinger rank high because they were the early pioneers of dinosaur art, so their age and niche exclusivity for so many decades did make them famous - but their work is woefully outdated now, and was far less scientific than it could have been, even in its own time (consider all of those dislocations), so it is odd why so many scientists would recognize their art as scientifically relevant in our time. Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins was mentioned for some odd reason, even though he was less an artist than an exhibit builder, and his work is even more outdated. But more interesting still, was how few people mentioned some of the other "greats" in Paleo-Art. Andrey Atuchin, Felipe Elias, Dr. Robert Bakker (himself a prolific illustrator), Bob Nicholls, James Gurney of Dinotopia fame, William Stout, and Dr. Mark Witton all got only one (1) recognition each - from among over 115 respondents. And guess what - yours truly also got one. I was not part of this survey so I can at least say with total confidence that someone else "voted" for me. Also, some established artists of the pre-internet age who are still around, such as John Gurche and Mark Hallett, only got 2 votes, despite their work being in so many National Geographic issues.Interestingly there was no mention by the respondents of Andrea Cau, Brian Franczak, Larry Felder, Donna Braginetz, Ely Kish (I sort of expected that), Michael Skrepnick, John Bindon, Fabio Pastori (good riddance) or Berislav Trcic. Skrepnick has illustrated papers as well as popular articles in NatGeo and elsewhere so his absence from the minds of paleontologists seems odd. Also Wayne Barlow wasn't mentioned, which I suppose makes sense as he never collaborated with paleontologists on anything more than a children's book, though his skill easily surpasses many of the people on the list.The list is hardly a measure of skill (and there are some people on the list who have less skill than any of these names, or are complete unknowns to me) but it is a measure of the impact of one's work on the field, at least as can be gleaned from the paper's small sample size (seriously, they should do this survey at SVP meetings, they will get a lot more than 115 people). And now I am apparently just as important as Dr. Bob Bakker, the Godfather of the Dinosaur Renaissance himself. And James Gurney, world-renowned creator of "dinosaurs meet steampunk before anyone knew about steampunk". And the digital Grand Master, Andrey Atuchin. All of whom got one point each. Yay.[...]



Giraffatitan's weird head gets even weirder

2016-07-09T15:04:58.015-07:00

In the last post on Giraffatitan, we focused on just how strange the head is, and explored some hints about the ontogeny of the animal's face.However after a deeper exploration of the actual fit of the skull bones, dumping all stylizations and previous conventions of illustrating this iconic brachiosaur, a few things started dawning after being hidden and dissociated for mission of years. Giraffatitan is even weirder than I thought last time.Not that it's easy to tell from three fragmentary skulls and a fourth that, while largely complete, has undergone massive distortion from crushing. That skull, HMN t1, which was reconstructed in the 1930s, was cast in fiberglass recently by Research Casting International (RCI) in their 2007 revamp of the Humboldt Museum's dinosaur hall - one that was long overdue. The cast was scaled up by around 15% or so on a 3D printer to match the body of the larger HMN SII, whose associated (and far less complete) skull SMN S116 was significantly larger than HMN t1. Apparently an earlier cast of HMN t1 existed as far back as the 30s and stood in a glass case in front of the old mount.The problem, of course, with HMN t1 is the crushing and distortion, which results in an asymmetric skull today.From the sides the distortion is more apparent. Left: moderate vertical crushing in the upper jaw. Right: more severe crushing in upper jaw, including lateral splaying of the lip region and artificial progmathism and splaying of the premaxilla and snout tip. This actually results in a different observable lip line on one side than on the other.  Of course the teeth are seriously falling out of their sockets here. They did not extend out that far in life.Another problem is that the warping and crushing is in more than one direction, so that you are literally getting a different face looking at it from different angles. Judging the ideal "shape it should be" from a few photos at odd diagonal angles is asking for trouble. So how do you reliably uncrush this thing evenly, without photographic distortion on top of physical distortion, and get an idea of what the skull originally looked like?Well you can go based on photos by amateur photographers from slightly off angles in a small cramped basement room, or go by professional drawings from the past, or use published photos. I prefer published photos from the paper, but for Janensch (1935) these are rather old and grainy, and I assumed a better result could be had from bigger, newer, sharper full-color photos, or from supposedly well-measured professional drawings of the skull in its hypothetical pristine form.BIG mistake.Initially the design for the Giraffatitan skulls in the skeletal redux went like this:insane....So I literally redesigned the skull four different ways before getting something that I could feel reasonably satisfied wasn't based on distortions and actually looked natural, like the interior of a living face, not some emaciated plastic toy. Something that didn't look out of place on an appropriately fleshed out Giraffatitan.The first version was on the old Giraffatitan skeletal I posted. The drawing I used for inspiration (artist unknown) was rather grainy, and I ended up exaggerating the proportions and the shape of the teeth somewhat. On a 1950s brachiosaur drawing this head may have looked okay, but the shape of the nose and the jaws just seemed contrived based on what I had seen of the skulls - and the snout was a bit too beak-like in profile.The second version came to me after hunting down a photo from a not-quite-profile angle on the web. Upping the contrast and then editing out the further premaxilla yielded a good snout profile, and this time with the nasal arch editing looking much better. The nasals of HMN t1 do appear a bit flattened so will need to be edited each time. Here the angle itself helped counteract th[...]



Giraffatitan's head is just WEIRD.

2016-01-31T23:13:24.717-08:00

The Jurassic weirdness continues! The last post on Giraffatitan focused on the torso, and how it had often been inaccurately restored. But I didn't appreciate just how strange this animal's spine was until I got down to business, and started articulating images of the bones to see exactly how the centra and zygapohyses actually fit together. In the process I discovered that the actual 12th dorsal, though published by Werner Janensch in his 1950 monograph, was never scaled or reproduced in the mounted skeleton, nor was it used by any of the previous artists who had done skeletals of Giraffatitan. Greg Paul, Scott Hartman, Stephen Czerkas and or course (ironically) Janensch himself had left it out of their full-body skeletals. In addition it appears that they all changed the bizarre proportions of dorsal 9 - which has a relatively compact neural arch but a hugely elongated centrum - in order to make it fit in sequence such that the spine was more or less straight. But D9 (as heavily restored in plaster by Janensch anyway) has to be tilted upwards by around 40 degrees in order to have the short hyposphene reach far back enough to properly lock into place with D10, which indicates that their angle of articulation is anything but straight, and that D9 probably fits into the dorsal column like an upward-pointing wedge of sorts. The result is a bizarre double-kink in the lower dorsals which both reinforces the lower back and makes the torso shorter and more compact. The fact that D10's centrum (again, going off of Janensch's restoration) has a condyle that is tilted up and back further reinforces this tilted angle of articulation demanded by the hyposphene of D9, as does the resulting snug fit of the neural spines of D9 and D10, without an excessive gap between them. Oddly Janensch doesn't carry over the weird shapes of both bones to his own full-body skeletal, though he does illustrate them individually in his paper, odd shapes and all, just it as his team restored them.But this is far from the only strange thing about Giraffatitan that has been overlooked for decades.Nearly every part of its body turned out to have unexpected features not included in ANY previous restorations. And one of the most commonly oversimplified, blurred, or just flat-out distorted parts in many restorations is... the head.That's right, Giraffatitan's head is truly weird. A marvel of natural engineering and stress distribution through struts that in some places appear thinner than a human finger. The skull was light and hollow, yet could get up to a meter long (estimated size for adult individuals such as HMN XV2). And yet it was packed with big teeth resembling a cross between spoons and railroad spikes, built to crunch through hard branches high in the ancient conifers.As you can see in the above picture, the skull is partially reconstructed with plaster, including one of the eye struts and the region just below the base of the nasal crest.But there are in fact four skulls in existence. At least that is how many Janensch mentioned.Three of them are missing a great deal of material, but the most well-known one, HMN t1, is nearly complete. We know this skull very well. Anyone who has seen photos of the Berlin mounted specimen (mostly based on HMN SII) has also probably seen this t1 skull, which is actually from a smaller individual. A scaled up cast of this skull was mounted on the skeleton itself in 2007, replacing an older crude sculpted skull.The skull you see at the feet (or rather hands) of the Giraffatitan in these photos is actually only a cast of HMN t1. The real skull is stored in a museum vault and is (supposedly) off limits to the public.Now at one point this face was cute.Then it got fossilized and crushed. A few pieces such as the upper part of the eye socket are missing or broken. The upper jaw i[...]



Dreadnoughtus - the Truth and the Myth

2014-09-14T10:49:44.076-07:00

I knew this day was coming!Lacovara's titanosaur has been described, named, and even 3D imaged! Dreadnoughtus schrani, read about it here: http://www.nature.com/srep/2014/140904/srep06196/full/srep06196.html .I saw this animal in preparation at the lab in Carnegie Museum long before it had a name, and I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Lacovara himself at SVP 2010 and 2011 about this animal's morphology and likely lineage, so seeing the fruits of the Drexel team's work is personally satisfying. And unlike many instances of new dinosaur names, this one fits the bill perfectly. Dreadnoughtus is indeed a dreadnought of the dinosaurs. Not the only one by any means, but it's about time sauropods got some really imposing-sounding names, not just predatory theropods like T. rex. At some point sauropods really do get too big for any predator to mess with.Now as usual with these giant dinosaur discoveries there are a number of myths floating around with the facts. Some of the most common rumors media reports that we can scrutinize are as follows:1. This is the biggest dinosaur yet found.Actually, no it's not. Argentinosaurus, Alamosaurus, Puertasaurus, Ruyangosaurus, the Chubut Monster, "Huanghetitan" ruyangensis, and maybe even Paralititan and Argyrosaurus sp. likely outclass it for raw size and mass. And there are a few brachiosaurs which also might be larger, including a very big referred specimen of Brachiosaurus itself. Of course neither specimen of Dreadnoughtus is fully grown (unfused scapula-coracoid suture is a dead giveaway of immaturity) so perhaps an adult Dreadnoughtus could rank higher in the "top 10 biggest". It is however among the biggest dinosaurs that are actually complete enough to reasonably estimate their size without much room for guesswork. But nobody is officially claiming it to be the "biggest" - we know based on general large titanosauriform proportions that most or all of the aforementioned animals are larger, even if estimating just how much larger is a bit more tricky.2. This is the most complete giant titanosaur found.This is technically true. Although it's missing most of the neck and ribs, which are largely present in Futalognkosaurus, the other contender for "most complete giant titanosaur". The fully tally of bones from the two Dreadnoughtus specimens adds up to more, especially considering the limb material, but the published diagrams and 3D scans still look less complete than Futalognkosaurus - when you composite all 3 specimens of Futa together, anyway. Surface area-wise, Futa's huge and deep neck bones at least make it appear more complete. And the referred juveniles contribute some limb material. Both animals appear to be similar in size.3. This animal is a lognkosaur, as the paper seems to imply.What's funny is that when the fossils were still under preparation back in 2010-11, both Dr. Lacovara and myself thought it might be something much more derived, like a record-sized Aeolosaurus-grade saltasaurid, due to the forward-slanted, antenna-like prezygapophyses in the tail. Of course to be fair, most of the fossils were in fragments at the time and had to be painstakingly glued back together, and when part or all of a caudal neural spine is broken off, many unrelated titanosaurs can look deceptively like "aeolosaurs". However, after analyzing the paper I can say that a lognkosaur-like position is indeed more plausible. This animal however isn't quite a lognkosaur. Close, but not quite.  The upper humerus bulges upward medially, much more like Argyrosaurus and Quetecsaurus, which has a very Argyrosaurus-like hand shape. Unfortunately hand material is missing for Dreadnoughtus, but the arm bones look Argyrosaur-like enough. The femur is very wide and robust with a large, midlevel 4th trochanter, convex-curved uppe[...]



Is the French Monster a Euhelopodid?

2014-07-10T09:39:31.865-07:00

One of these days we may see a paper come out about this. France, as you may know, contains a dinosaur of truly gigantic proportions (and no, I'm not talking about the Algerian species "Brachiosaurus" nougaredi which seems to have disappeared into a black hole somewhere in Paris). No, this one's a local. A new "titanosaur" known only as the French Monster, or the giant of Angeac, has turned up in the past few years in a bone bed which contains a huge jumble of Early Cretaceous dinosaurs of various sizes - everything from baby abelisaurs to massive hundred-foot sauropods.Except it's not really a titanosaur, is it? The French Monster is another one of those legendary or semi-legendary sauropods which should have a name and a formal description, though it's unlikely most of them ever will. Even the pictures evoke something rarely seen in the fossil record.Mainly the image that sticks in your mind is the very long and oddly blackened right femur, over 2.2m long, with which everyone seems to be "doing the Jensen" though none of them come close to getting it right.But there is much more to the Angeac-Charente site where this bone was found. There appears to be part of a second femur also recovered at the site, and possible rib fragments. And different individuals of this species have been found, with the fossils in different shades of mineralization.GIGANTIC tail vertebrae and toe bones. Over a foot in length or diameter. Note the cheesy scaled-up mid-90s "Brachiosaurus" skeleton model designed by Dale Russell and Ely Kish - these things originally came in a screw-cap plastic egg, and were the highlight of every kid's otherwise dull-as-doorknobs trip to T.J. Maxx. Some of you may be too young to remember... The model isn't 6 feet tall like it may appear, it's on the shelf, not the floor!The heavy toe bones and caudals. These may be from multiple individuals.Some teeth were found, very well preserved and encrusted with mineral deposits formed in fossilization.These teeth have a very basal appearance, and so the labeling of this animal as a titanosaur is unlikely. The teeth could easily pass for Brachiosaur teeth. But there is more than just this first indication what what we are seeing may not be a true titanosaur.The femur and the other pieces were apparently packed and shipped to a museum. It's not clear if this is in Paris or elsewhere. The femur is crushed and snapped in a few places but its total length is still preserved. A cast and wall mount were rapidly made. And this is the peculiar part.Here you see the femur, fragments of another, and a rib. Apparently this is a part of the full wall mount you see in the background of the previous picture. It's evident both that there was crushing and that very little erosion has happened. The most unusual things about this femur are the very long femoral head, and the odd lower end, with its inner condyle extending lower than the outer one. This is the exact opposite of when you see in derived titanosaurs. But is is a classic femur morph in a group which is close to basal titanosaurs.Between brachiosaurs and basal somphospondyli (creatures like Chubutisaurus, Ligabuesaurus, and some would say, Paluxysaurus and Sauroposeidon) and true titanosaurs, there was an amazing radiation of transitional forms. These appear to form at least two major families: Euhelopodidae, and Acrofornica (tall-arches). Both are characterized by extremely long necks, high cervical counts, and bifid neural spines in the neck. The Acrofornica are further distinguished by very tall neural arches, high diapophyses, and nearly no neural spine in the dorsals. They tend to have well-separated sacral ribs, whereas those of euhelopodids tend to be extensively fused together. And whereas euhelopodids (or at least some of t[...]



More on the Chubut Monster

2014-06-15T07:48:17.973-07:00

A few more pieces of information have been trickling out about the new giant titanosaur found in Chubut province, Argentina. While it may be anyone's guess when the paper will be out (and I would rather they take their time and get it right, instead of rush the process and end up with wrong measurements or figures) there are some important things we can already tell from the existing pictures.First of all, the pictures are not comprehensive of the whole find. The news reports mentioned the discovery of up to 8 individuals at the site. The pictures that have so far appeared show at most the remains of two or three. However there is more of the site that was excavated, a portion that barely shows in any of the pictures.But first, a few new looks. This appears similar in many aspects (the position of the cracks mainly) to the huge femur that Pablo Puerta posed (or planked) next to on those pallets in the last post. But it just looks too small to be the same one. Nobody here looks unusually tall, yet the bone looks a bit more modest than the one with Puerta in the picture. That said, this thing is still definitely "family sized". *Lucky kids. I never got to be that close to a dinosaur at their age.*But there's more to decipher at the site.Look at that high, pointy lateral bulge (foreground).  If anyone had doubts about lognkosaurian affinity, this should squash them like the creature itself. Only two lineages of sauropods have such high and angular lateral bulges on the femur - lognkosaurian titanosars, and some euhelopodids and acrofornicans. This odd placement may have evolved other times, but so far we don't know of any more. (Also note the top of the pubis with its deep base and pinched foramen... that's about as close to Futalognkosaurus in shape as these parts ever get.)The same femur and pubis from a different angle. Most of the other remains here were plastered and ready for removal by this point.The field at its densest point. Shoulder, hip, rib, femur and spinal material is all present here.Another view of the bone bed. Notice the scapula, femur, and one of the thickest ribs are easily visible.But then of course someone has to make a map. A field map of the site may yield further clues, but for now we have to settle for color-coding what's there. Color coded maps are probably the most convenient for easily identifying parts of the same individual, as in this one of Bonitasaura:So based on the photos of the Chubut finds, we come up with this (forgive the psychadelic craziness of the neon colors, there aren't that many other ways to get bones to stand out in heavy shaded angles and similar-colored rock):Red = ribs, blue = scapula, turquoise = coracoid, orange = vertebrae, yellow = probable vertebrae , light green = femora, deep green = humerus, magenta = pubes, purple = ilia (?)The most complete view of the site - note the large eroded femur at front, a bigger individual that that of the two other more complete femurs, and the large area at back, with plaster casings. There is far more to the site than just these few bones in the foreground, there's a whole pile of bones further back which were barely photographed aside from here.One of the two smaller femurs at this location, the left femur. The disarticulated pubes and the shoulder material are probably from this same individual, note that the coracoid is not fused to the scapula so clearly this animal was immature at death. The femur flipped over during burial, pointing head-down. It's possible the pelvic area was scavenged.The same femur, in that angle that shows off the sharp lateral bulge. The same bones (here largely plastered in a later dig phase) are colored in. There appears to be the centrum of a vertebra jammed in the matrix bet[...]



Hot News! RECORD-SMASHING titanosaur just discovered!

2014-05-18T18:04:25.902-07:00

News flash: we have a new biggest dinosaur.Yes, I know you've got cause to be skeptical. Ever since a number of somewhat dubious contenders took the title from Brachiosaurus in the 80s, it's been very rare that something touted as "the biggest dinosaur" ends up keeping that title for long.Not always because something bigger gets found a few years later, but because most of us are far too prone to exaggeration. Except, of course, when you speak of my talent as an artist and my knowledge of dinosaurs - then there can be no exaggeration no matter how hard you try :)What noises our friends at SVP made upon seeing this, we are not at liberty to say!But when it comes to fossils, scientists are often prone to exaggerating the size of their finds to make their reputations... which makes it even more remarkable that what you're about to see looks like the real deal. No more over-exaggerated wimp-o-sauruses. No more crazy sky-high estimates based on a handful of grainy photos, terrible hand drawings, and mysteriously lost fragments that nobody bothered to excavate for 30 years. No more "sort-of giants" that actually turn out to be a bit smaller and slimmer than what we knew before. What you're about to see is quite possibly the biggest dinosaur yet found, and the better news is that the evidence is very well-preserved, AND they found MORE than one of them.Are you $&!##!^* me Private Pyle? That bloody thing out-jensens Jensen by at least half a meter!!!Say hello to Pablo Puerta. That's the guy next to the bone, not what they named the dinosaur. You may have heard of him before... he's the namesake of the colossal Puertasaurus, which since 2005 has been (most likely) the largest dinosaur known from existing fossils, a very stout titanosaur that probably even outclassed Argentinosaurus. The literature originally named Puerta as a farmer, who along with a friend, Santiago Reuil, originally located the bones of Puertasaurus on a ranch in southern Argentina.Well now apparently he's back, as mechanic and field engineer on Dr. Jose Luis Carballido's dig team. The site they found in Chubut Province is about as high-quality as you can hope for with these monster bones. And that femur is so huge (do I see three forklift pallets?!) as to put Jim Jensen's original "Ultrasauros" and Supersaurus scapula poses back in the 1980s to shame.Of course this isn't all they found.This is literally the first time that creatures so big have been found in a herd assemblage together. Apparently there were as many as 8 individuals discovered (this picture doesn't show the whole site). And we're talking about some of these femurs approaching 10ft. (3m) in length. This may really be the biggest dinosaur we have right now. I don't care how big you think Argentinosaurus is, there's no way that the missing ends of its femur shaft would have added enough length to make the bone 9-10 feet long. 8 feet maybe, but not 10. The giant Alamosaurus remains (the neck centrum found by Fowler and Sullivan and the tibia found in Mexico) may be in the same league as these new Chubut specimens. But almost nothing else is. Even Ruyangosaurus and the French Monster don't come close.   Femurs from different-sized individuals, all of them huge, some pubes and other hip elements (similar or even  larger than Futalognkosaurus, with the same tight pubic foramen).  Even the bulldozers start to look small.A lot of stuff happened here. This spot probably had 3 or 4 of these giants literally get drowned on top of each other by a big flood.. All of the bones are very well-preserved, which is unusually rare for sauropod remains this big. Just to left of center, there's a large flat shoulder blade. The site appears [...]



New sauropod discoveries... held hostage.

2014-05-07T13:55:40.039-07:00

Just got a nice little heads up from one of my loyal watchers. Two new sauropods have just been discovered and described. Zby atlanticus, a basal Turiasaurid from Portugal, and Vahiny depereti, a derived titanosaur from Madagascar, just hit the press.The problem is which press. No, not a breath of fresh open-access air like PeerJ or PlosOne. It's one of the usual suspects. Taylor and Francis. And the articles are both paywalled. We have been here before. NOBODY can access the paper. Both papers. Unless you fork out $15 bucks per article. Which can be as much as $2 per page for some papers. Or a hundred bucks for the whole issue. Or a few grand for a subscription. I am sick from this. The people who wrote these papers are some of the smartest minds in Paleontology. But they are still doing something extremely foolish with their research - giving it away for free to a closed-access paywalled publisher that keeps the exclusive rights!Now I'm not sure what sort of attractive perks/bribes they are offering professors and researchers in order to keep privatizing the fruits of their publicly funded labor, but Taylor and Francis should not be getting first dibs on fresh discoveries like this. Is a professor of Kristina Curry-Rogers' clout somehow unable to scrape together the grant money to publish in an open-access journal like PlosOne or even cheaper, PeerJ (just $200 for lifetime membership)? And did any of the authors of these papers bother to sign the petition? Science is supposed to be about free exchange of ideas, not some bureaucratic oligarchy hoarding information and selling it at exorbitant prices. These are PDFs, not even print copies. This is publicly funded scientific research, not a privately funded novel. The public pays taxes, they deserve to see the fruits. And the open access model allows the researcher to make and distribute unlimited copies themselves, the paywall model doesn't, as the publisher reserves ALL rights!These multi-billion dollar publishers (Taylor & Francis, Wiley, Elsevier, Springer) never went bankrupt and never needed a bailout. Yet they are still claiming exclusive profit rights and publishing rights off the work of scientists that WE the public fund through our taxes (government grants, public university money, etc.) And why does this happen? You can blame politicians, or lobbyists, or their corrupt bills like the RWA, but ultimately the author has more control over this process than you think. The author can choose which journals to publish in. Some of the supposedly smartest scientists are GIVING their work away to these privateering publishing crooks. And despite the presence of a better and more sustainable model, they still do it. It doesn't wake a PhD to realize that you and the public are being scammed. And yet I still see PhDs making the same mistake of giving their work to a private for-profit publisher instead of using PeerJ and making it available to the public which funded their research. I don't know whether to head-butt the wall or start quoting Forrest Gump here.How many times do we have to say this? Taylor & Francis is privatizing profits and socializing costs.Taylor & Francis is privatizing profits and socializing costs.Taylor & Francis is privatizing profits and socializing costs.Exterminating polio and smallpox was considered a great victory for science. So why keep feeding today's publishing parasites which are far easier to quarantine? Abandon them, if a true scientist ye be.*** [...]



Name that Dinosaur! (#2)

2014-04-21T14:36:10.118-07:00

Recently I saw some pretty impressive dinosaur remains that evade description. These are tough. They're even stumping me, believe it or not.Of course they are hips.Sauropod hips are usually pretty easy to identify. The basal ones are pretty simple, relatively small ilium and the ischium and pubis of similar length and lightly built.Eomamenchisaurus yuanmouensisThen you have diplodocoid hips, which have big rounded ilia and very tall sacral spines:Diplodocus longusCamarasaurs have similar ilia but much squatter and even more completely fused sacrals.Camarasaurus supremusBrachiosaur hips are relatively rare in the fossil record (or at least complete described and published ones seem to be). Overall they are wide and extensively fused in the sacrals to support more weight, and have tall ilia with the front end much larger and taller than the back end.Brachiosaurus altithorax (sacrum). Note the hypantrum gap at the front of the sacrum, and flat-topped prezygapophyses on either side of it. This will be useful later.Brachiosaurus altithorax (right ilium)And then you have titanosaur hips, which always tend to be super-wide (in this case even wider than they are long) and super-heavily fused. The ilia are flared out to a downright crazy extent, so the rib cage would have been easily twice as wide as most of the earlier sauropod types. These giants just seemed to be getting fatter and fatter every few million years as the Cretaceous ground on.Futalognkosaurus dukei complete pelvis (ventral view)Futalognkosaurus dukei complete pelvis (front view)And then of course you have the stuff that can only border on fantasy:not sure if this ever was a dinosaur sacrum, or just a weird rock...Okay, so on to the star attraction. A few pics from Heinrich Mallison's blog caught my eye, I had never seen these before and apparently they are from the Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum in Vernal, Utah. We're talking basement vault stuff, locked away far out of view of the museum visitors.two whatchamacallits... seriously these are weird.Neither one of these two specimens have been formally described or assigned to any known species. The pelvis on the left, on the green-tinted forklift pallet, is obviously the taller and less squat of the two. The ilia still flare out a bit and it appears rather front-heavy, so this may be a brachiosaur or a basal titanosaur. The Potter Creek ilium discovered by Jensen (1985) in Utah also seems to have a mix of features from both groups, and may belong to an intermediary family.The pelvis on the right is far flatter and more interesting. Its  neural spines look a bit Giraffatitan-like but that's where the similarity ends. This pelvis is very wide with super-flared out ilia. Most likely a titanosaur. But lets look closer (keep in mind there's only one species of true titanosaur known from Utah, or the entire United States for that matter).The squat pelvis from the front. Note the tight space between the prezygapophyses, and the fact that it's a good bit above the neural canalThis thing definitely looks like a titanosaur, but not any that I've seen. A tight, high hypantrum with enough clearance above the neural canal to accommodate a real hyposphene from the final dorsal vertebra (basal titanosaur trait), yet extremely wide hips  with super-flared ilia  (derived titanosaur trait).How does it stack up?Alamosaurus sanjuanensis (referred big bend specimen - pelvis cast, dorsal view. Note the neural spines are separate at the tip - beware that this may be a speculative reconstruction because in many drawings you see them looking fused)Trigonosaurus pricei partial pelvis, dorsal view[...]



Giraffatitan's dorsals are just WEIRD.

2014-04-14T07:38:40.700-07:00

Some really interesting stuff here. First off, the last "name that dinosaur" contest was a good one, Zach Armstrong won. It was indeed the La Invernada titanosaur, a relatively small species that doesn't have a name but is pasted all over South American paleontology websites. The reasonably complete foot allows us to place this animal at the hub of lithostrotia, close to Epachthosaurus.Second, the bizarre derived titanosaur Yongjinglong datangi has been described in PLoS One. A crowning moment for both Chinese paleontology and open-access research. So long Cretaceous Research, Acta Geologica Sinica and other paywalled journals.This odd creature is from the Hekou Group, so it was probably in the same ecosystem as Huanghetitan and Daxiatitan. Details here.But the craziest thing to come to my attention is from an old favorite.  I just realized while looking at revising my Giraffatitan skeletal that most previous restorations seem to have either botched the shape of some of the dorsals to look too generic or followed Dr. Werner Janensch's rather hasty full body skeletal instead of his far more detailed engravings of the actual fossil material of the primary specimen, HMN SII.Here's my original reconstruction, which you can see on DeviantArt:This uses SII as well as a number of other specimens to fill in the hindlimbs, shoulders, hips, head and tail. Lets take a look at the dorsals.There's a bit of uncertainty as to which dorsal was truly the last. However, the last two shown in this reconstruction right before the sacrum (the ones whose neural spines seem to neatly interlock with each other) are fused at the centrum joint. HMN SII was a subadult individual (judging by the lack of fusion in the coracoid, and unfused scapula found in similar-sized individuals) that either was getting near puberty or had some unique pathologies such as DISH or ankylosing spondylitis (this pair of bones shows some ossified ligaments on the neural spines which may also have fused together given enough time). This pair of fused rear dorsals is labeled as D11 and D12 (the final two dorsals) by Taylor (2009), but if you follow Janensch (1950) they should actually be D10 and D11. D12 on the other hand, looks as illustrated on the left in the image below.Last 3 dorsals in Giraffatitan, from HMN SII and the even larger HMN fund no. (which also includes the caudal series that Janensch frankensteined onto the rear end of SII).It's from a larger individual (the centrum, is thicker while the top of the neural spine is eroded off), but clearly not the same bone as either of the two fused ones. And it looks far more typical in shape for a terminal dorsal that hooks into the front end of the sacrum. So my original skeletal as well as all the others by Greg Paul, Scott Hartman, etc. are probably wrong and will have to be revised.However the main point to take note of isn't even this discrepancy, but rather the bone that sits in front of the fused pair in the SII specimen. Note the red box around this bone. The dorsal vertebra in front of the fused pair has a long centrum. In fact, it looks freakishly long because of vertical crushing. I have "uncrushed" it a bit. The original is so bizarre it looks like it came from a totally different species, but it was found together with the rest of the same specimen.Giraffatitan HMN SII Dorsal 9 (per Janensch, 1950) or 10 (if you follow Taylor, 2009), reversed. Arrows show direction of geological crushing. The centrum used to be deeper in life, the lower neural arch was taller and not smushed into the centrum, and the neural spine tilted rearward instead of forward. The prezygapophyses al[...]



FAQ

2013-06-09T23:19:13.103-07:00

The Paleo King's Frequently Asked QuestionsI figured that after having been around on the blogosphere this long, it is worth posting a brief FAQ section so that some of the emails I get can be easily answered in advance. This is far from a comprehensive list. If you have a question you think should appear here, drop me a line at Paleo_King@hotmail.com.Who are you?I'm an artist and researcher with over a decade of study of dinosaurs and other extinct life. I draw dinosaurs and aim for both accuracy and a visually attractive product (in the live scenes anyway).What's your favorite dinosaur?That's a tough question at the best of times! For a long time it was Brachiosaurus – though later on it turned out the particular species I liked was actually Giraffatitan. Then I got into mamenchisaurs and titanosaurs, and right now my favorite dinosaur would probably be either Euhelopus or Daxiatitan, both of them Early Cretaceous forerunners of the shape of things to come. Among non-sauropods my favorites are Tarbosaurus, Lambeosaurus, and Pentaceratops.What's with all the ads? Some of them aren't even dino-related!They're there to generate some extra income to make things a little easier to run around here. See, in the Paleo Kingdom, our currency has been depreciating and inflating for millions of years, so every little bit of $$$ helps keep the economy afloat and finance research and upgrades, as most commission-based projects generally do not cover travel costs and the like, and also time is valuable. Google puts up the ads, so their relevancy is up to them.What are your interests besides paleo-related stuff/extinct animals?Too many to name. I like history, biology, social psychology, medicine, astronomy, history of technology and economics, movies that make you think, most kinds of music as long as it actually requires real talent and originality, building models, a select few computer games/video games, and maybe about 1% of the anime that's out there. That's just scratching the surface.What is your experience with paleontology?I've done my own research and read many scientific papers for over 10 years, and studied dinosaurs usually on my own time and dime, independently of any particular institution. I've amassed a good working knowledge of many dinosaur species, including many very rare ones that are seldom mentioned in books and never covered by the press. I have also attended the annual conference of the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology, though I have drawn some extinct invertebrates as well. I'm currently researching giant titanosaurs and may produce a paper or two soon.Why do you do it?Because I love dinosaurs and the history of life on earth – and I want to make that knowledge accessible to people in a visual sense and let you SEE the creatures as they probably looked. Other artists and “experts” will talk about that dream of “bringing them to life”. I look at it from the opposite end – forget about bringing them to life, I want to take you back to their times and places and put you in their world. So you see not just the dinosaurs but the whole diverse habitats they interacted with – at which point you don't even need to mix animals from different periods to make the thing interesting.Why do your dinosaurs look so different from Jurassic Park? They just don't seem believable to me.My dinosaurs are not based on Jurassic Park or any Hollywood movies – they are based on independent research and often repeatedly revised as I get better information. Jurassic Park's dinosaurs had many anatomical errors (aside from the obvious mistakes like oversi[...]



Name that Dinosaur! (#1)

2013-03-13T20:55:33.070-07:00

While more Forgotten Giants articles are in progress, let's take a look at the odds and ends that often turn up in the more interesting corners of paleontology.

Every once in a while we see something that's mysterious, bizarre, or just unknown, and yet keeps popping up on the internet. And yet it's good enough to warrant a description, or at least a nickname. And many of you, I am in no doubt, fancy yourselves true experts on dinosaurs after having seen just a few episodes of Primeval or the "Walking With" series. But perhaps some of you, seeking earnestly after knowledge, truly are more than just fanboys or fangirls, and can truly call yourselves walking talking museums. Some of you have corrected Wikipedia's dinosaur pages, and been "de-corrected" - and you knew Wikipedia was wrong.

Think you can test your dino-knowledge against the Paleo King, and come out unscathed with not even one intellectual raptor slash to your mental encyclopedia?

Well then this series is for you.

So here's a real stumper (paleo-bucks on the line here): what do you think this is? Does it have a formal scientific name? What family does it belong in? Or is it still an undescribed curiosity - and what name is it known by anyway?... so without further ado... Name that dinosaur!

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FORGOTTEN GIANTS, #3: Andesaurus

2012-06-18T21:00:34.218-07:00

Well after a LONG time, the Andesaurus project is finally finished - for a while at least. While the open-access issue has been very important, it's time to get back to what this blog is all about - dinosaur art and the science behind it. And Andesaurus is one of the few titanosaurs often touted as being record-breakers which have never gotten a decent restoration until now. This dinosaur is still pretty obscure though it's been known longer than Argentinosaurus, Paralititan, Sauroposeidon, and most of the other new favorites among giant sauropods. Strange, that this animal is literally the demarcation line at the base of titanosauria, universally acknowledged (though not necessarily correctly) as the most basal true titanosaur, extensively used as a key phylogenetic reference taxon in all sorts of papers, every paleontologist studying sauropods knows about it, and yet it's so little known in the public.A rather fanciful drawing of Andesaurus delgadoi with a not-so-possible serpentine tail pose, and a very flat Diplodocus-like head (basal titanosaurs should actually be restored with large nasal crests, similar to Euhelopus and Malawisaurus).  Artist unknown.Oh, and another thing. It's BIG.Correction....Well maybe not that big. One of the first things you notice about Andesaurus (assuming one of those rare times when you do come across it) is that it's a titanosaur from Argentina. The second thing you notice is that like some other, far more famous titanosaurs from Argentina, its length is listed as over 30m or 100ft in those few books that actually bother to mention it (the only mass-published "layman's author" who seems to give it any attention is Dougal Dixon, in The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs). Andesaurus should be famous, then, if for no other reason than its size - any titanosaur a hundred feet long is pretty high up in the running for both longest and heaviest dinosaur. But don't hold your breath - this is all WRONG.That's right, you heard me. DEAD wrong. Andesaurus isn't 100 feet long. Not even close. That length has been repeated in many places, Wikipedia among them (at least a few months ago). I don't know how many people have actually read the scientific literature on Andesaurus (which now includes the description paper, Calvo & Bonaparte 1991; the titanosaur comparative anatomy paper Salgado et. al. 1997; and an extensive redescription, Mannion & Calvo, 2011). And the number of people who have actually seen and measured the fossils, I could probably count on my hand. The dorsal vertebrae (what's known of them anyway) are absolutely dwarfed by those of Argentinosaurus - a bit odd for two creatures that were supposedly around the same size. Even plain old Brachiosaurus has bigger dorsals. Andesaurus is a lot smaller than we've been led to believe. Comparison of dorsal vertebrae of Andesaurus delgadoi and Argentinosaurus huinculensis in posterior and right lateral view, to the same scale. Seriously Mr. Dixon, one is only about half the size of the other!Not that I knew that when I started drawing it. That's why I decided to make Andesaurus # 3 in my Forgotten Giants series (I'm starting from the biggest titanosaurs, in no particular order, then working my way down). In fact I assumed (before I was able to get my hands on the description paper) that Dixon's estimates would suffice for at least mapping out rough proportions. Not that it matters these days when you can digitally re-scale your sauropod, but it does get very confusing to check your measurements when everythin[...]



Pulling out the Rug from under Elsevier - sign your name on the petition!

2012-03-11T09:37:02.150-07:00

Apparently despite all the negative attention and criticism of Elsevier's abuse of wealth and power to stifle scientific knowledge behind steep paywalls, the executives of the corporate academic publishing giant have no regrets and simply have not gotten the message, despite their precious RWA bill being D.O.A. in congress.David Clark, the incurably arrogant and patronizing senior Vice-President of Elsevier's physical sciences division retorted contemptuously to his company's critics:  There is little merit in throwing away a system that works in favour of one that has not even been developed yet......access to journal content has never been better. Despite difficult economic times, Jisc Collections, which represents more than 100 UK universities, entered into new five- year agreements with Elsevier and Wiley Blackwell in December, welcoming the new and improved terms offered by both publishers. This is a different world from the 1990s, when journal articles were only available in the print libraries of major research universities.This is an outrage - the "system" Clark speaks of only "works" for him and his corporate cronies. For the scientist who is forced to sign away the rights to his research FOR FREE to Elsevier, only to have Elsevier turn around and charge 33% profits on the same article, the system is broken and insanely unfair. And you expect us to believe that access to journal content has never been better, Dave? Don't you mean to say that your shareholders' bottom line has never been better? It's certainly bounced back since 2009, though unless you're a billionaire owning untold scores of their class-A stock, the actual percent return on investment is pretty ho-hum and blue chip-ish.Furthermore, there IS an alternative system to Elsevier, and it works just fine - plus it's been around for quite a while. Ever heard of PLoS, David? Of course you don't talk about it, because it's the vanguard of the new open-access academic publishing wave of the future. The wave which will bury Elsevier's outdated and feudalistic business model. This business model is indeed fantastically strange: 'Write, edit and review articles for us for free, and we will then sell them back to you at enormous cost'. It should make anyone with a shred of justice and ethics want to vomit all over Elsevier.If you have not yet signed the petition to boycott and divest from Elsevier over at The Cost of Knowledge, please head on over and do so. I've done it already, and as of today over 8,000 scientists and concerned citizens have done so.Also be sure to sign the Alliance for Taxpayer Access petition. You pay taxes, you deserve to have access to taxpayer funded research! It's only logical. Don't let corporate publishers steal science. And if you have any news on the hypocrisy of El Serpiente executives, feel free to post it in the comments here. If Elsevier wants to steal the fruits of our labor, lets make it a burning, painful theft they will sorely regret.[...]



The Satanic Science Publishing Mafia EXPOSED! Are they racketeering your research?

2014-05-07T13:22:50.536-07:00

Hot on the heels of the (now temporarily down) PIPA-SOPA bill debacle, comes another nasty threat this time specifically geared towards the free exchange of information.  Lets break it down more simply this time.The entire world RELIES on science. More specifically, the world relies on science for the free exchange of knowledge and new discoveries, which are often vital to people's livelihoods and lives.If scientists can't get access to papers without giving up an arm and a leg, they will not have the most current information available to publish their own research, and this will hamper their ability to get grants and other funding in the future. Science itself will become stifled by the restriction of access to information by non-scientist corporate bureaucrats who run most of the for-profit journal publishers.And for a while now, a wave of rage has been roiling the professional blogs of scientists regarding the emergence of the vile, disgusting Research Works Act, a congressional bill written by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-New York) and sponsored by the likes of Elsevier, Springer, Wiley, and other corporate academic publishing goliaths. The RWA is a bill that virtually calls for the death knell of all independent and unbiased science research available to the public. Up until now, any research papers that were funded by government grants (translation: YOUR taxpayer dollars) have to be made available as free open-access papers to the public that funded them! That's only fair, and that only makes sense. RWA would remove the federal requirement of making all publicly funded research accessible to the public, and force the public to pay up to thousands of dollars per person just to access the articles that were funded with their own tax money! Talk about privatizing profits and socializing losses...Congressman Darrell Issa. Corporate lackey and political Snake of Sacramento. As a California resident myself and having never voted for him, I'd love to see this career crook impeached.Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney. Corporate lackey and mealymouthed bribe-swallowing New York Gumbata to the textbook and academic journal publishing Mafia (my apologies, no digital manipulation here - I'm not sure how you could make her look any more ugly or asinine)P.S. If she were younger I guess she could probably get away with that half-hearted Dr. Blight hairdo.But those of you in the Paleo-Sphere may ask, "I know that if this bill passes I won't be able to access my favorite titanosaur ontogeny papers, but how does this affect the wider world beyond dinosaur researchers"? Well it affects EVERYTHING. Consider medical journals. These days the medical journals of America (many of which are controlled by the same publishing conglomerates - Wiley, Elsevier, GSW, BioOne, and Bentham - that own most of the paleo-journals) are becoming ever more restricted in terms of access. If doctors already chafing under years of student debts have to cough up even more money just to access the latest research on life-saving new medical procedures for their patients, the prohibitively high costs of doing do for every relevant journal will mean that patients' lives are literally being profiteered to death. Today there are so many journals in which someone, somewhere in Iceland or Croatia, has pioneered a radical new natural cancer treatment or a highly effective remedy for slowing the progression of MS or Alzheimer's, but thanks to the absolute and often INTERNAT[...]



WARNING: ACT NOW OR FACE CENSORSHIP!

2012-01-18T10:25:54.827-08:00

PLEASE READ THIS VERY CAREFULLY.I decided when I started this blog that it would be devoted to science, not politics. But politics has interfered in the future of the blogosphere in a very nasty way. And no other paleo-bloggers seem to be speaking out on this.The good-for-nothing U.S. congress with its self-serving members and their 80% public DISapproval ratings is trying to ram through two bills into law which would decimate the freedom of the internet under the deceptive auspices of stopping piracy. ANY site or blog which links to other sites that contain copyrighted material could be falsely banned or shut down under the draconian provisions of the PIPA and SOPA acts, and bloggers like myself and many of us in the Paleo-blogosphere may be forced to shut down because of over-reaching government meddling in private rights of citizens. ANY activity relating to links to another site or posting material from other websites for mere educational non-profit purposes could be construed as a "copyright infringement" even if properly attributed to its authors, and may result in lawsuits, harassment, and even indefinite arrest under false charges of "piracy" without access to any legal representation.In addition, many internet programmers and companies will be crippled by all the convoluted clauses of these bills which allow government to interfere at any point in the delivery of online content to consumers. It will damage the economy even further than foolish wars and corrupt bank bailouts, to the point that most businesses that advertise or sell online will end up having to spend even more money on lawyers to cover their backsides and fight arbitrary censorship, this time against unscrupulous FCC cronies and their Wall Street paymasters. That’s why AOL, EBay, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Mozilla, Twitter, Yahoo and Zynga wrote a letter to Congress protesting the bills, saying these bills “pose a serious risk to our industry’s continued track record of innovation and job-creation.” And small businesses, which make up the bulk of the private sector, will be forced to close their doors or suspend their websites altogether due to prohibitively high legal costs of warding off frivolous government accusations of "piracy", laying off millions more employees in the long run. More than 200 entrepreneurs have slammed these bills as dangerous to the economy and destructive to innovation and job growth. And the brain-dead pork barrel congressmen and women (who seem to keep getting re-elected despite their dismal track records) want to tell us that THIS is the freedom that we need to export to the rest of the world on the back of tanks and Apache helicopters? I didn't vote for this Orwellian crap. Nobody was given a choice.And the worst part is that these bills were written by ignorant lazy media conglomerate shills who don't even have a clue how the internet works. You can tell just based on the vague language of the things how these politicians are totally behind the times and are trying to police the web based on intrusive stone-age protocols. Half of them don't even know what twitter is and are trying to convince the country that dinosaurs and humans lived together in Eden. And they're trying to claim they know better than you and me what needs to be done with technology. What's more, their sad excuses for anti-piracy legislation are USELESS at stopping online piracy.For those of you outside of America, [...]



Rethinking "Brouhaha-saurus" - what if it were real?

2012-01-07T17:25:06.237-08:00

The previous post on Bruhathkayosaurus has given me some thoughts on an interesting possibility: what if this animal were indeed real?It's no secret that I'm seriously skeptical of the remains that Yadagiri and Ayyasami found in 1989 and labeled as "Bruhathkayosaurus". First they identified it as a very large predator, then later on others suggested it must be a plant-eating sauropod, and probably a titanosaur at that. Most of these theories are pure conjecture. But from the size of the remains it really only makes sense that if this animal were real, it would have to be a sauropod.But how should we interpret these remains, which are now the lost victims of a monsoon flood? The discoverers are notorious for describing stuff that isn't what seemed at first. Dravidosaurus, the supposed Late Cretaceous "lazarus" stegosaur, really turned out to be a very badly eroded and fragmentary plesiosaur. The alleged stegosaur back plates were really the sternals of a marine reptile, so weathered as to be barely identifiable at all.Is Bruhathkayosaurus similarly misidentified? Might it be a chimera of unrelated animals, or, as was the case with Dravidosaurus, not a dinosaur at all? Some have suggested it might even be petrified wood. And sole testimony of its authenticity rests with Dr. Sankar Chatterjee, who himself has incorrectly described (and some might even say largely invented) a number of extinct creatures known from very poor and dubious material (notably Protoavis).But what if? What if Bruhathkayosaurus really was authentic and a titanosaur at that? What might it look like?The photos reveal little, and need some guesswork to interpret. Here's Steve O'Connor's take:The red-tinted areas are the bones. The top of the hip socket it easily visible (if a bit oddly triangular) in the second photo. The front end of the ilium is broken off, but would be to the left of the second photo (regardless of what the confusing and likely incorrect captions seem to say - there should not be hip socket processes sticking out of the top or rear of an ilium!).Here is the material without tinting, and with my own interpretation of the outlines and corrected captions under the original ones: And finally with tinting of different areas: There seems to be some sacrum material in the photos that wasn't initially identified. Sacral ribs at least. The green area is an unusual bit of bone or some other substance which is not part of the hip structure. The ilium, unusually, has a very long posterior shelf. It's elongated almost into a cylinder. There are few sauropods that have hips like this, and the one that immediately comes to mind is an undoubtedly bizarre one - Opisthocoelicaudia.Opisthocoelicaudia skarzynskii - skeletal by Jaime HeaddenThe ilium shelf in Opisthocoelicaudia is strangely similar to that of a tyrannosaur in general shape - long, low, and with a substantial rear process not seen in many titanosaurian sauropods. This may have something to do with Yadagiri and Ayyasami's initial identification of the material as a giant theropod.T. rex skeletal (based on AMNH specimen) by Greg Paul. Posted for informational purposes only.Indeed there IS a bizarre parallel between the rear shelf process in that T .rex ilium and the one for Bruhathkayosaurus. But I doubt "big Bru" was anything other than a plant-eating sauropod. the anterior process of the ilium's hip socket is elongated similarly to Alamosaurus, and most titanosa[...]



The Giant that Never Was: All your Bruhathkayosaurus questions answered!

2012-01-07T13:15:41.900-08:00

Happy New Year, everyone! A lot of new dinosaur discoveries in 2011, and 2012 promises to be even better. BHI's dueling dinosaurs (a large Nanotyrannus and a previously unknown chasmosaurine ceratopsid) await description, and there several remains of Chinese theropods contemporary with the Ruyang/Liudian sauropod fauna that have yet to be described. "Xinghesaurus", "Liaoningotitan", and "Nurosaurus" round out the list of sauropods mounted but not formally described or named, and of course there are those colossal French titanosaurs popping out of the hills of Champagne. But for all the new discoveries coming out of the woodwork, there is one that must be laid to rest and buried. For all the fans of giant sauropods, this is disappointing news, but not altogether unexpected. Bruhathkayosaurus, long considered the biggest or second-biggest dinosaur, is NO MORE. Whatever little evidence of it there was, is now completely gone, and so barring the discovery of another specimen, it will never be studied and its purported dimensions can't be verified. I have a lot of people asking me "what about Bruhathkayosaurus?!" since I posted my list of obscure giant dinosaurs, and I also get that question every time I say "Puertasaurus (and now Alamosaurus too) is the biggest dinosaur we have rock-solid physical evidence for as of NOW." So I'm doing this post on Bruhathkayosaurus to clear up all the questions about this bizarre case of skullduggery and sasquatch-sensationalism trumping hard science. Personally I am beyond skeptical about this animal's validity, (in my view it's a hundred times more dubious than even the long-lost Amphicoelias fragillimus) but before I explain my reasons, take a look below at Matt Martyniuk's blog post on this mythical super-sauropod from December 21. (reposted below): Bruhathkayosaurus is Dead. Again. Bruhathkayosaurus is Dead. Again.   Above: Working sketches for a speculative B. matleyi reconstruction by Steve O'Connor. Click here for Steve's final drawing.I don't know how common this knowledge is, but this is the first I've heard of it so humor me while I mourn the possibility of ever re-assessing the intriguingly large sauropod specimen known as Bruthathkayosaurus matleyi.B. matleyi was known from fragmentary remains of the pelvis and limb bones found in the Tiruchirappalli district of Tamil Nadu, India. It was first described by Yadagiri and Ayyasami in 1989 as species of giant allosauroid. This classification was widely doubted online, but little follow-up work was ever done. The initial description is widely regarded as exceedingly poor in quality and not much can be discerned about the specimen due to poorly detailed drawings and insufficient text. Tom Holtz has even stated that "the hypothesis that this is no more than petrified wood has not been falsified yet to my satisfaction." However, Mickey Mortimer later noted that the tree trunk hypothesis "is questionable given the non-cylindrical bones preserved such as the ilium. Additionally, Chatterjee has personally examined the fossils, and while he has a bad record of misidentifying taxa, I give him enough credit to not confuse a tree for a limb bone."Sankar Chatterjee did indeed apparently examine the material and told George Olshevsky and Tracy Ford that he believed it to be a titanosaur, as reported in 1999 here. Holtz responded to these appeals by noting that "no[...]