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Silutitan sinensis and Hamititan xinjiangensis: Two New Species of Sauropod Dinosaurs Unearthed in China

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Life reconstruction of Silutitan sinensis (left) and Hamititan xinjiangensis (right). Image credit: Chuang Zhao & Xiaolin Wang.

Paleontologists have identified two new species of giant herbivorous dinosaurs from fossils found in the Turpan-Hami Basin, Xinjiang, northwestern China.

The two new dinosaurs lived in what is now China during the Early Cretaceous period, between 130 and 120 million years ago.

Dubbed Silutitan sinensis and Hamititan xinjiangensis, they were about 20 m and 17 m (66 and 56 feet) long, respectively.

Both species belong to Somphospondyli, a large clade of titanosauriform sauropods that lived from the Late Jurassic until the end of the Late Cretaceous.

“This is the first time that somphospondylans have been reported from the Early Cretaceous of Xinjiang,” said Dr. Xiaolin Wang from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and colleagues.

“They are also the first dinosaurs reported from the Hami Pterosaur Fauna, the largest and most abundant pterosaur fossil locality in the world.”

The fossils of Silutitan sinensis and Hamititan xinjiangensis were recovered from the Lower Cretaceous Shengjinkou Formation.

“The first consists of an articulated middle to posterior cervical vertebrae series,” the paleontologists said.

“The second consists of an incomplete articulated caudal sequence that could be assigned to lithostrotian titanosaurs based on the strongly procoelous caudal vertebrae with lateral concave surface, as well as marked ventrolateral ridges.”

The researchers also found four vertebrae and rib fragments from a third, yet-undescribed species of somphospondylan sauropod dinosaur.

Additionally, they found a small tooth of carnivorous theropod dinosaur near the fossilized remains of Hamititan xinjiangensis.

“It is the first report of a theropod dinosaur discovered in this area,” they said.

“Because no tooth mark was found on any of the vertebra of Hamititan xinjiangensis, it is uncertain whether this theropod could have fed on sauropods’ carcasses.”

paper on the findings was published in the journal Scientific Reports.


X. Wang et al. The first dinosaurs from the Early Cretaceous Hami Pterosaur Fauna, China. Sci Rep 11, 14962; doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-94273-7


The 10 Best Land Before Time Movies, Ranked (According To IMDb)

Sunday, August 15, 2021

For mostly direct-to-video kids movies, there’s a surprising amount of depth in the Land Before Time series, but will any of them beat the original?

The Land Before Time struck a chord with the children of the 90s. However, the movies aren’t just for children, but for adults too. There are a lot of adult fans that reverently gaze at the movies through nostalgia goggles, and rightly so, as the original movie is often seen as the best dinosaur movie that isn’t Jurassic Park.

However, as the movies are all very much aimed at children, the IMDb ratings of the films are generally going to be lower, as the narratives are simplified and the musical numbers are overly sweet. But for mostly direct-to-video children’s movies, there’s a surprising amount of depth in most of the narratives.

10 - The Land Before Time IV: Journey Through The Mists (1996) - 5.8

Though the original Don Bluth movie gave Disney a run for its money, the same can’t be said for half of the Land Before Time movies. With there being so many movies in the series, the quality dipped off early, as the fourth movie in the series, Journey Through the Mists, sits at just 5.8 on IMDb.

In the fourth movie, the gang of young dinosaurs has to search for a golden flower that will cure Littlefoot’s ill grandfather. It’s regarded as one of the least engaging of them all, as Journey Through the Mists is where the formula of the children going off on their own without adult supervision was starting to get old.

9 - The Land Before Time VIII: The Big Freeze (2001) - 5.9

The Big Freeze is generally considered to be one of the most middle-of-the-road entries in the series, as it’s far from the worst, but it isn’t the most charming or exciting either. The movie is more music-focused than any other Land Before Time film, as the gang creates new songs to keep them occupied during a blizzard.

But while the songs are sweet, they aren’t half as memorable as the musical highlights from the earlier movies. However, the biggest problem with The Big Freeze is that Ducky’s personality was completely changed. Where Ducky was originally positive and hyperactive, she is completely grumpy and borderline nihilistic in The Big Freeze.

8 - The Land Before Time VI: The Secret Of Saurus Rock (1998) - 5.9

The Secret Of Saurus Rock has the lowest stakes of the franchise, and there are almost none of the risks or dangers that usually come with the gang’s adventures. The film is mostly about them having to fix a chip in the titular rock. But there’s still a lot about the movie that can be enjoyed by children.

Just as Journey Through the Mists was the final film to feature the entire original cast, The Secret of Saurus Rock was another last for the franchise. The sixth movie was the last in the series to use traditional hand-drawn animation, which had given all the previous movies a unique look. The animation was the best part of the movie, along with some of the songs too, as “Bad Luck” is one of the catchiest musical numbers in the series.

7 - The Land Before Time II: The Great Valley Adventure (1994) - 5.9

Though the series grew into an episodic formula where each adventure is almost entirely unrelated, the first sequel started almost exactly at the point where the original ended. The Great Valley Adventure sees the dinosaurs building their new home in the valley. However, despite the continuation, The Great Valley Adventure was more of a sign of the direction the series would go in the future.

The franchise continued the more cutesy, adorable capers that The Great Valley Adventure started, instead of soldiering on with the emotional heft of the original. Though the second movie was a fun adventure, it took a while for audiences to get used to the new approach, as the original was still fresh in fans' minds.

6 - The Land Before Time V: The Mysterious Island (1997) - 6.0

With the Land Before Time series being a well-oiled machine that spits out movies on an annual basis at this point, The Mysterious Island was seen as the best since the original un 1997. It follows the group of young dinosaurs set out on yet another adventure to find a new home.

The plot is fairly derivative of the very first movie in the series, but the twist midway through keeps it fresh and entertaining. More exciting than anything and possibly the biggest highlight in the series is the return of fan-favorite Chomper. The gang parented the baby Sharptooth in The Great Valley Adventure, and his return is fan-service at its most perfect.

5 - The Land Before Time VII: The Stone Of Cold Fire (2000) - 6.0

As the series had long settled into a corniness that may have seemed irritating to grown-ups, The Stone of Cold Fire was the most mature the franchise had been in a long time. The movie focuses on Petrie’s uncle, who seems suspicious to everyone in the valley.

It was also the first movie to use computer animation, which could have been jarring, as the Land Before Time series is loved for the aesthetic look of the hand-drawn animation of prehistoric times. However, the difference was barely a problem, as the digital look felt like a fresh coat of paint for a series that was beginning to seem fossilized

4 - The Land Before Time XIV: Journey Of The Brave (2016) - 6.0

Journey of the Brave came after a long hiatus in the series, as the previous movie, The Wisdom of Friends, was released nine years earlier. It was a much-needed break, as Wisdom of Friends is the most disliked movie in the entire series, holding a 5.4 on IMDb.

However, the series returned as strong as ever, as the stakes were high with Littlefoot dealing with the stress of potentially losing another parent, but there was still that LBT charm. There are some fresh ideas in the movie, as Damon Wayans Jr. plays the new character Wild Arms, and the typical Wayans humor is on show, though it’s much more child-friendly.

3 - The Land Before Time XII: The Great Day Of The Flyers (2006) - 6.0

Like The Secret of Saurus Rock, The Great Day of the Flyers isn’t a tentpole movie in the series, and there aren’t any major stakes for the characters, but the 12th movie does it right. For once, Littlefoot is sidelined, and Petrie takes the reigns for an installment, as the whole movie is about the character being happy in his own skin and learning to be himself.

There are some great morals in the movie, and it’s impressive that an installment this far into the series is still coming up with new and valuable lessons to teach children. The movie is everything a Land Before Time movie should be, as it’s full of catchy songs, instantly lovable new characters, and is uplifting in a way few kids movies are.

2 - The Land Before Time X: The Great Longneck Migration (2003) - 6.2

The Land Before Time is one of the best Don Bluth films, but the tenth movie in the series gives the original a run for its money. It comes as a surprise that the tenth installment of a movie series that is mostly direct-to-video is the second best. But there’s a lot to love about The Great Longneck Migration.

The tenth movie is the most melodramatic of them all, as Littlefoot meets his father for the first time. It’s the closest the series gets to being as much of a tearjerker as the original movie. There’s even some star talent brought in for the film, as Kiefer Sutherland plays Littlefoot’s father, and his seasoned voice-acting certainly adds to the emotional weight of the relationship between him and Littlefoot.

1 - The Land Before Time (1988) - 7.4

Nothing beats where it all started. The Land Before Time series is full of fun adventures, creative characters, and is a great example of world-building, but a lot of the magic that was in the original movie had been lost due to those very things.

The Land Before Time is emotionally driven more than any other, and it features one of the saddest moments in a kids’ movie, as Littlefoot watches his mother die right in front of him. The fun quests and musical numbers take a back seat to the narrative, as opposed to those very things driving the plots of the sequels.


480-Million-Year-Old Spores of Early Land Plants Found in Australia

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Fossilized spores from the Early Ordivician deposits of Australia. Image credit: Strother & Foster, doi: 10.1126/science.abj2927.

Until now, the first fossil evidence of land plants was from the Devonian period (420 million years ago). However, molecular evidence suggests an earlier origin in the Cambrian period. In a new paper in the journal Science, paleontologists described an assemblage of spore-like microfossils from Early Ordivician (480 million years ago) deposits in Australia; these spores are of intermediate morphology between confirmed land plant spores and earlier forms of uncertain relationship.

“These spore-like microfossils fill in a gap of approximately 25 million years in the fossil spore record, linking well-accepted younger plant spores to older more problematic forms,” said Dr. Paul Strother, a paleobotanist in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Boston College.

Dr. Strother and his colleague, Dr. Clinton Foster from the Research School of Earth Sciences at the Australian National University, examined populations of fossil spores extracted from a rock core drilled in 1958 in northern Western Australia.

“We found a mix of fossils linking older, more problematic spore-like microfossils with younger spores that are clearly derived from land plants,” Dr. Strother said.

“This helps to bring the fossil spore record into alignment with molecular clock dates if we consider the origin of land plants as a long-term process involving the evolution of embryonic development.”

“The fossil record preserves direct evidence of the evolutionary assembly of the plant regulatory and developmental genome.”

“This process starts with the evolution of the plant spore and leads to the origin of plant tissues, organs, and eventually macroscopic, complete plants — perhaps somewhat akin to mosses living today.”

“When we consider spores as an important component of the evolution of land plants, there is no longer a gap in the fossil record between molecular dating and fossil recovery.”

“Absent that gap, we have a much clearer picture of a whole new evolutionary step: from simple cellularity to complex multicellularity.”

“As a result, researchers and the public may need to re-think how they view the origin of terrestrial plants — that pivotal advance of life from water to land.”

“We need to move away from thinking of the origin of land plants as a singularity in time, and instead integrate the fossil record into an evo-devo model of genome assembly across millions of years during the Paleozoic Era, specifically between the Cambrian and Devonian divisions within that era,” he said.

“This requires serious re-interpretation of problematic fossils that have previously been interpreted as fungi, not plants.”


Paul K. Strother & Clinton Foster. 2021. A fossil record of land plant origins from charophyte algae. Science 373 (6556): 792-796; doi: 10.1126/science.abj2927


Prehistoric Crocs Had Glossy Skin Like Modern Day Dolphins, Say Experts

Thursday, August 12, 2021

An illustration by German scientists shows a primeval crocodile with soft skin instead of rough scales. (Dinosaur Museum Altmu?hltal:Zenger)

A prehistoric crocodile did not have scaled armor but instead had soft skin similar to that of dolphins, a team of American and German scientists say.

The research, led by a team of experts at the Dinosaur Museum Altmühltal in Denkendorf, Germany, examined several previously unpublished fossils from Bavaria that were estimated to be around 150 million years old.

After evaluating fossils from the Altmühltal and Wattendorf sites, study leader Frederik Spindler said: “These reptiles must have felt something like today’s dolphins, taut and supple.”

The fossils belonged to a primeval crocodile from the Dakosaurus genus, which is an extinct genus of crocodylomorph in the family Metriorhynchidae that lived during the Late Jurassic and Early Cretaceous periods. The species had a dinosaur-like head and primitive rear flippers.

Evidence from American and German scientists suggests that primeval crocodiles did not have rough scales but were covered by smooth skin. (Dinosaur Museum Altmu?hltal:Zenger)

Dakosaurus, which was large and had serrated teeth, was a carnivore that went after larger prey. It spent much of its life at sea, where it most likely mated. Since no eggs or nests have been discovered referring to the genus, it is still unknown how it delivered its offspring.

Spindler said after evaluating the evidence under normal and ultraviolet light, the researchers discovered the extinct family of aquatic crocodyliforms called metriorhynchidae were entirely smooth and scale-free.

The same characteristics were found in ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs, which represented a group of large extinct marine reptiles and had limbs shaped like flippers, according to previous research.

The particularly smooth skin made it easier for these marine reptiles to move around in the water.

Spindler was satisfied his team managed to almost completely recover a tail fin that belonged to a 3-meter-long (9.8-foot) sea crocodile that was bent at the bottom part, while the upper part consisted of soft tissue, which remained fossilized.

Together with the skin surface, the fin represents an evolutionary find that shows how marine reptiles were completely different before they transformed into land-dwelling crocodiles with scales and armor, researchers said.

The museum said this is the first time the characteristic has been observed in prehistoric crocodiles, which resembled dinosaurs.

The research team comprised Spindler from the Dinosaur Museum Altmühltal; Lauer Foundation for Paleontology, Science and Education curator Rene Lauer from Chicago; Helmut Tischlinger from the Jura Museum in the Bavarian town of Eichstatt; and Matthias Mauser from the Natural History Museum Bamberg, Germany.


Catastrophic End-Cretaceous Extinction Was Not Dramatic for Sharks, Study Shows

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Bazzi et al. found that shark-tooth diversity remained relatively constant across the mass extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous period. Image credit: Karen Carr / CC BY 3.0.

Paleontologists have examined tooth morphologies in multiple lineages of sharks that lived during the 27.6-million-year interval around the end-Cretaceous mass extinction event.

Sharks are iconic marine predators that have survived multiple mass extinctions over geologic time.

Their prolific fossil record is represented mainly by isolated shed teeth, which provide the basis for reconstructing deep time diversity changes affecting different shark lineages.

Approximately 66 million years ago, the end-Cretaceous mass extinction eradicated roughly 75% of the animal and plant species on Earth, including whole groups such as non-avian dinosaurs, ammonites, and large marine reptiles like mosasaurs and plesiosaurs. But what happened to the sharks?

In the new research, a team of paleontologists from Uppsala University and the University of New England analyzed the morphology of 1,239 fossil shark teeth, including species in eight existing orders and one now-extinct order.

“These groups include the following: the Galeomorphii orders Carcharhiniformes, Heterodontiformes, Lamniformes, Orectolobiformes; the Squalomorphii orders Echinorhiniformes, Hexanchiformes, Squaliformes, Squatiniformes; and the extinct Synechodontiformes,” they said.

The shark teeth span a 27-million-year period from the Late Cretaceous epoch 83.6 million years ago to the early Paleogene epoch 56 million years ago.

The researchers found that shark dental diversity was already declining prior to the end-Cretaceous, but remained relatively constant during the mass-extinction event itself.

Some groups of apex predators, particularly those with triangular blade-like teeth, did suffer selective extinctions during the period studied, which may have been linked to the extinction of their prey species.

However, other shark lineages increased in dental diversity after the end-Cretaceous.

For example, sharks in the Odontaspididae family, which have narrow, cusped teeth adapted for feeding on fish, showed increases in diversity that coincided with the rapid diversification of finned fish in the early Paleogene.

“This pattern of selective extinctions may reflect an ecological shift from specialist tetrapod predators to more general bony fish diets,” the scientists said.

Their paper appears in the journal PLoS Biology.


M. Bazzi et al. 2021. Tooth morphology elucidates shark evolution across the end-Cretaceous mass extinction. PLoS Biol 19 (8): e3001108; doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3001108


Ypupiara lopai: New Feathered Dinosaur Species Revealed

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

An artist’s reconstruction of two individuals of Ypupiara lopai foraging in an alluvial river, the setting of the Marilia Formation during the Maastrichtian age of the Cretaceous period. Image credit: Guilherme Gehr.

Paleontologists in Brazil have unveiled a new species of unenlagiine dromaeosaurid dinosaur from the Maastrichtian age of the Cretaceous period.

The new dinosaur species walked the Earth between 72 and 66 million years ago (Late Cretaceous period).

Named Ypupiara lopai, it was a type of unenlagiine, a subfamily of feathered theropod dinosaurs in the family Dromaeosauridae.

“Dromaeosauridae are present in all continents during the Mesozoic Era,” said Arthur Brum from the Museu Nacional-Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro and his colleagues from Brazil.

“In Gondwanan landmasses, the Unenlagiinae lineage constitutes a diversification of dromaeosaurids, comprising five species recovered from Argentinean localities.”

“These dromaeosaurids are diagnosed by numerous teeth, which lack denticles and both carinae, and which have longitudinal grooves on the crown.”

“Among all unenlagiines, only two species — Buitreraptor gonzalezorum and Austroraptor cabazai — have cranial elements, including maxillary and dentary teeth, which limits the study of dental traits in the group.”

“The presence of Unenlagiinae specimens in Brazil is restricted to a single dorsal vertebra from the Campanian-Maastrichtian sequences of the Adamantina Formation.”

The specimen of Ypupiara lopai was recovered at Peiropolis, a rural district of Uberaba municipality, in the Brazilian state of Mina Gerais.

“Our study presents the first evidence of unenlagiines in the Maastrichtian Marilia Formation (Bauru Group, Brazil) and the second confirmed evidence of this clade in Brazil (as well as the first cranial remains referred to the Bauru Group in the country),” the paleontologists said.

The specimen they examined consists of a partial upper jaw bone with associated teeth and a portion of a lower jaw.

Ypupiara lopai provides new information on the evolution of Gondwanan dromaeosaurids, and its preserved teeth provide new data to enable the assignment of isolated dromaeosaurid teeth from the Bauru Group,” they said.

The discovery is reported in a paper published in the journal Papers in Palaeontology.


Arthur S. Brum et al. A New Unenlagiine (Theropoda, Dromaeosauridae) from the Upper Cretaceous of Brazil. Papers in Palaeontology, published online August 5, 2021; doi: 10.1002/spp2.1375


Paleontologists Find Frog-Legged Beetle Fossil in Colorado

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Pulchritudo attenboroughi. Image credit: Krell & Vitali, doi: 10.1002/spp2.1398.

A new species of leaf beetle that lived nearly 49 million years ago (Eocene epoch) in what is now the United States has been named after Sir David Attenborough.

Beetles are sturdy when they are alive, but they do not easily fossilize as a whole beetle. They float on water, and when they sink and reach the sediment, they often fall apart.

Usually, only single wing cases are found in the fossil record.

Some deposits with a fine-grained sediment and particularly favorable conditions provide us with very well preserved, often almost complete fossils. These deposits are called Lagerstätten.

The Eocene-epoch Green River Formation in northwest Colorado is one of them.

“I was delighted to have the opportunity to work on such a magnificent and unique fossil,” said Dr. Francesco Vitali, a curator at the Luxembourg’s National Museum of Natural History.

“We looked at all the preserved details. It was the beetle’s crooked legs — its curved hind tibiae — that gave away its true identity: a frog-legged leaf beetle (subfamily Sagrinae).”

The new beetle species is the second known fossil representative of the subfamily Sagrinae from North America.

“This is one of the most magnificent beetle fossils ever found,” said Dr. Frank-Thorsten Krell, a curator at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

“The patterning is preserved in unsurpassed clarity and contrast, making this one of the best-preserved beetle fossils. It is most definitely deserving of its name.”

Digital reconstruction of Pulchritudo attenboroughi, based on part and counterpart of holotype. Image credit: Krell & Vitali, doi: 10.1002/spp2.1398.

The beetle needed a new genus name, because it did not fit in any existing frog-legged leaf beetle genera.

Because of its beauty, Dr. Krell and Dr. Vicente chose the name Pulchritudo, which is Latin for beauty.

Scientists often dedicate new species to colleagues who have contributed significantly to science, or to people who are special to them.

For Dr. Krell, one person immediately came to mind: Sir David Attenborough, English broadcaster and naturalist, who has inspired him, his family and millions of others through his documentaries on the natural world.

“Nobody imparts the grandeur and beauty of nature more impressively than Sir David,” Dr. Krell said.

“This fossil, unique in its preservation and beauty, is an apt specimen to honor such a great man.”

The discovery of Pulchritudo attenboroughi is reported in the journal Papers in Palaeontology.


Frank-Thorsten Krell & Francesco Vitali. Attenborough’s beauty: exceptional pattern preservation in a frog-legged leaf beetle from the Eocene Green River Formation, Colorado (Coleoptera, Chrysomelidae, Sagrinae). Papers in Palaeontology, published online August 5, 2021; doi: 10.1002/spp2.1398


Jurassic Park: 9 Things That Still Hold Up Today

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Steven Spielberg's groundbreaking dinosaur-infested '90s blockbuster Jurassic Park remains just as thrilling and mind-blowing to this day.

Apparently discontented with having only broken the record for highest-grossing movie ever made twice (with 1975’s Jaws and 1982’s E.T.), Steven Spielberg went and did it a third time with 1993’s Jurassic Park, one of the greatest and most influential blockbusters in Hollywood history.

Almost three decades later, Jurassic Park remains a timeless gem. Its re-releases still draw huge crowds looking to see the dinosaur-infested masterpiece on the big screen. From John Williams’ score to trailblazing CGI effects, the dinosaur movie doesn't get old.

9 - Jeff Goldblum’s Irresistible Dr. Ian Malcolm

Sam Neill and Laura Dern anchor the cast of Jurassic Park as Drs. Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler, but they have strong support from Jeff Goldblum as the irresistibly charismatic Dr. Ian Malcolm.

Goldblum steals every scene he’s in as the eccentric, wisecracking mathematician, delivering some of the movie’s most memorable lines, from “Life, uh, uh... finds a way,” to “When you gotta go, you gotta go.”

8 - The Groundbreaking CGI Effects

A lot of the CGI effects from the 1990s – and from the 2000s, for that matter – have aged horribly, because the technology is always advancing and the early stuff is primitive and clunky by comparison. But the groundbreaking effects in Jurassic Park still hold up today.

Spielberg pioneered CGI technologies to bring the film’s dinosaurs to life, but used it sparingly (as all blockbuster filmmakers should). Most closeups of the dinosaurs use state-of-the-art animatronics which, unlike most CGI, are timeless.

7 - The Thrill Of The T. Rex’s Escape

The first big action set piece in Jurassic Park arrives somewhere around the halfway point. Disgruntled employee Dennis Nedry shuts off the tour vehicles going around the park right next to the T. rex’s enclosure. Spielberg masterfully builds up to the T. rex’s escape with moments like water dripping in the cup.

The appearance of the monster doesn’t disappoint because of this tense build-up, and because Spielberg frames its gargantuan size from the perspective of the puny humans it’s targeting.

6 - Laura Dern’s Empowering Turn As Dr. Ellie Sattler

Laura Dern’s Dr. Ellie Sattler is one of the great feminist icons of ‘90s cinema. When Dr. Malcolm says, “God creates dinosaurs, God destroys dinosaurs, God creates man, man destroys God, man creates dinosaurs,” she adds a couple more steps: “Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the Earth.”

When the power goes out in the park, Ellie takes matters into her own hands – and before doing so, she points out John Hammond’s outdated view of gender roles and “sexism in survival situations.”

5 - John Williams’ Sweeping Score

John Williams has composed a lot of Steven Spielberg’s most memorable scores, from Jaws to E.T. to the Indiana Jones movies. His score for Jurassic Park is one of his most understated works, but also one of his greatest.

The main theme in particular – one of Williams’ most hummable themes – captures the grandiose ambition of the story and the loftiness of the thought-provoking subtext.

4 - The PG-13 Sensibility

A faithful adaptation of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park novel would’ve been ultraviolent hard-R fare, but Spielberg aimed for a PG-13 rating and the resulting movie is much more accessible than its source material.

While a blood-soaked version of Jurassic Park would certainly be fun, it would have a narrower appeal. Spielberg’s movie is a crowd-pleasing blockbuster that’s fun for the whole family.

3 - Dr. Alan Grant’s Character Arc

A lot of contemporary reviews of Jurassic Park criticized it for favoring special effects over story and character development, but Sam Neill’s Dr. Alan Grant has a real arc.

At the beginning of the movie, it’s made clear that he hates kids. So, when he’s lumbered with Hammond’s grandkids at the park, he thinks it’ll be a nightmare. Then, he’s suddenly thrust into a survival situation where the kids’ lives are in his hands. Under these extreme circumstances, he becomes endeared to Lex and Tim and has a change of heart.

2 - The Tension Of The Kitchen Sequence

Jurassic Park’s climactic set piece, in which the raptors attack the T. rex – essentially showing nature course-correcting itself and life finding a way – is certainly a glorious finale. But the most thrilling set piece in the third act is when the raptors stalk Lex and Tim in the kitchen. This scene is a masterwork of Hitchcockian suspense.

From tight framing to using shiny metal doors as mirrors, Spielberg uses all kinds of cinematic techniques to wring as much tension out of this sequence as possible.

1 - The Cautionary Message About Playing God

As the story of a egocentric genius playing God and facing the consequences, Jurassic Park is a classic Frankenstein story. John Hammond is a modern-day Victor Frankenstein: the embodiment of corporate hubris.

Ian Malcolm sums up the story’s themes perfectly when he says, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”


Thapunngaka shawi: Fossil of New Crested Pterosaur Discovered in Australia

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Life reconstruction of Thapunngaka shawi. Image credit: Richards et al., doi: 10.1080/02724634.2021.1946068.

Paleontologists in Australia say they have discovered the fossilized skeletal remains of a new species of flying reptile that lived between 113 and 100 million years ago (Cretaceous period) and had an estimated wingspan of 7 m (23 feet).

Pterosaurs were highly successful reptiles (not dinosaurs, as they’re commonly mislabeled) that lived between 210 and 65 million years ago.

Some pterosaurs, such as the giant azhdarchids, were the largest flying animals of all time, with wingspans exceeding 9 m (30 feet) and standing heights comparable to modern giraffes.

Pterosaur fossils from Australia are exceptionally rare, comprising fragmentary and predominately isolated bones from the Cretaceous of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia.

Since the discovery of the first Australian pterosaur fossils almost four decades ago, fewer than 20 specimens have been described.

From these, only three species have been named: Mythunga camaraAussiedraco molnari, and Ferrodraco lentoni. They come from the mid-Cretaceous rocks of the Rolling Downs Group, part of the Eromanga Basin in Queensland.

“The new pterosaur, which we named Thapunngaka shawi, would have been a fearsome beast, with a spear-like mouth and a wingspan around 7 m,” said Tim Richards, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Queensland.

“It was essentially just a skull with a long neck, bolted on a pair of long wings.”

“This thing would have been quite savage. It would have cast a great shadow over some quivering little dinosaur that wouldn’t have heard it until it was too late.”

Thapunngaka shawi belongs to a group of crested pterosaurs known as Anhangueridae.

“What was particularly striking about this new species of anhanguerian was the massive size of the bony crest on its lower jaw, which it presumably had on the upper jaw as well,” said Dr. Steve Salisbury, also from the University of Queensland.

“These crests probably played a role in the flight dynamics of these creatures, and hopefully future research will deliver more definitive answers.”

A partial mandible of Thapunngaka shawi was found by local fossicker Len Shaw in June 2011 at a site known as the ‘water pond’ near Richmond, North West Queensland, Australia.

Originally developed as a quarry for road dressing, this site exposes a heavily weathered 4-5 m (13-16-foot) thick sequence of marls and coquinas of the Toolebuc Formation.

“It’s quite amazing fossils of these animals exist at all,” Richards said.

“By world standards, the Australian pterosaur record is poor, but the discovery of Thapunngaka shawi contributes greatly to our understanding of Australian pterosaur diversity.”

“It is only the third species of anhanguerian pterosaur known from Australia, with all three species hailing from western Queensland.”

The discovery of Thapunngaka shawi is described in a paper published today in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.


Timothy M. Richards et al. A new species of crested pterosaur (Pterodactyloidea, Anhangueridae) from the Lower Cretaceous (upper Albian) of Richmond, North West Queensland, Australia. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, published online August 9, 2021; doi: 10.1080/02724634.2021.1946068


The "Sexual" Truth Behind the Steven Spielberg Classic 'Jurassic Park'

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

One of Steven Spielberg’s most ambitious projects, this 1993 sci-fi action thriller had a seminal impact on the discourse of popular culture during the ’90s. Jurassic Park is Spielberg’s unforgettable attempt to illustrate how dangerous it is to mess with the natural order. The film documents the disastrous consequences of bringing dinosaurs back to life in order to amplify the machinations of commercialism.

“I really believe that when I read Michael Crichton’s book, I flashed back to Jaws and I flashed back to Duel… I’d wanted to make a dinosaur picture all my life because I was a huge fan of Ray Harryhausen,” Spielberg admitted. “Jurassic Park was the first movie where the entire success or failure of the story was dependent on these digital characters.”

A major reason behind the unprecedented success of Jurassic Park was its efficient use of special effects, ranging from computer software that animated the dinosaurs as if they were stop-motion puppets to a great sound design. Spielberg wanted this to be the first film with digital sound, funding the development of the Digital Theatre System. In addition, the sound effects team worked under the supervision of George Lucas.

Throughout the film, a significant part is played by the velociraptors who assert their terrifying presence on the screen as well as in the minds of the audience. Their on-screen depiction is unique, evoking fear even though their design deviated from the physical characteristics of the genus in question. Discoveries that were made after the release of Jurassic Park led experts to believe that dinosaurs from this specific genetic family were probably covered in feathers, a fact that was taken into account in the sequels.

As for the sound of the velociraptors, the sound crew went to great extents to get it just right. According to sound designer Gary Rydstrom, a mixture of various animal sounds was formulated to simulate the hypothesised vocal features of a velociraptor. Those individual soundbites included the hissing of geese, the bellowing of walruses, dolphin screams, mating calls of birds and even human voices. However, one of the sources of the sounds definitely stands out: tortoise sex!

“It’s somewhat embarrassing, but when the raptors bark at each other to communicate, it’s a tortoise having sex,” Rydstrom explained. “It’s a mating tortoise! I recorded that at Marine World…the people there said, ‘Would you like to record these two tortoises that are mating?’ It sounded like a joke, because tortoises mating can take a long time. You’ve got to have plenty of time to sit around and watch and record them.”

Adding, “The bark that (the velociraptor) makes. When it comes in the kitchen and it barks. ‘Arp! Arp!’ That’s the sound of a tortoise that is mating. The male tortoise would go up, and then fall off, and then go back again. It’s riding on the back of the female tortoise. So it’s climbing up her shell basically, and then it falls off. It’s a little sexual.”

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