nandi's blog

Evolution Of Dinosaurs: Faster Than Previously Believed

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Honey, who shrunk the dinosaurs? Study traces dinosaur evolution into early birds

Dinosaurs were in decline for tens of millions of years before the Earth was struck by an asteroid, ending their dominion over the planet. What was killing off dinosaurs near the end of their reign?

Scientists previously thought that dinosaurs evolved from their smaller ancestors over a period of at least 10 million years but findings of a new study suggest that the evolution occurred in less than five million years.

For the new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Dec. 7, 2015 Randall Irmis, from the Natural History Museum, and colleagues used radioactive isotope measurements for dating the zircon crystals that were found in the sediments of the Chañares Formation, which is known for its fossils of early dinosaur relatives.

The analysis revealed that the formation is between 234 million and 236 million years old from the Late Triassic period, which means that the fossils of the dinosaur’s reptile predecessors, the early dinosauromorphs, that were sandwiched in the rock layers are of the same age.

The early dinosauromorphs were like the dinosaurs sans some key features such as the former having a ball-and-socket hip that rotates easily and an additional vertebra at the end of their spine.

FOSSIL BED Early dinosaur ancestors like the pair on the right were thought to evolve around 10 million years before dinosaurs. But new dating of fossil layers in Argentina cuts that time in half, to about 5 million years. IMAGE COURTESY OF VICTOR LESHYK

Scientists have already studied dinosauromorphs but there were uncertainties about their age since biostratigraphy, the technique used to date their fossils, were not as accurate as other dating methods such as the one employed in the new study.

The findings provided evidence that the early dinosauromorphs lived between five to 10 million years earlier than previously believed revamping the long held timeline of the early dinosauromorphs evolving into dinosaurs. The study likewise offered proof that the dinosaurs evolved much faster than previously thought.

“We constrain the rate of dinosaur origins, demonstrating their relatively rapid origin in a less than 5-Ma interval, thus halving the temporal gap between assemblages containing only dinosaur precursors and those with early dinosaurs,” Irmis and colleagues wrote.

The researchers said that although the dinosaurs may have evolved rapidly, the prehistoric animals appear to have dominated paleo-Earth in a smooth and gradual manner.  It took quite a while for the  prehistoric giants to spread globally as it took them millions of year after their origin to gradually dominate the mid to high-latitude regions of the Earth.

“You don’t seem to see dinosaurs showing up and immediately taking over,” Irmis said. “It really emphasizes that there wasn’t much special about the first dinosaurs. They were pretty similar to their early dinosauromorph relatives and probably doing very similar things.”


Jaws to Ears in the Ancestors of Mammals

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Ancestors of Mammals

All the animals you see on this evogram are synapsids, the group that gave rise to the mammals. Sometimes synapsids are called “mammal-like reptiles;” however, that is misleading because synapsids are not reptiles. Synapsids and reptiles are two distinct groups of amniotes, animals that produce young that are enveloped with a membrane called an amnion that prevents desiccation. All reptiles (including birds) have eggs with amniotic membranes (which some lay and others retain inside their bodies until hatching). And of course all mammals (the clade of synapsids still alive today) reproduce using an amnion, and those that lay eggs (e.g., the platypus and echidna) produce amniotic eggs.

Mammal evogram

Like birds, crocodiles, turtles, snakes, lizards, amphibians, and most fishes, the earliest synapsids had a bone in the back of the skull on either side called the quadrate that made the connection with the lower jaw via a bone called the articular. But mammals today, including humans, use two different bones, called the squamosal and the dentary, to make this connection. How did this new jawbone configuration evolve?

For reasons we don’t fully understand, several lineages of synapsids — including the one that would eventually give rise to the mammals — began to evolve changes in the jaw joint. Originally the quadrate and articular bones formed the jaw joint, but these synapsids (e.g., Probainognathus) evolved a second pair of bones involved in the jaw articulation. The squamosal bone was positioned alongside the quadrate in the upper jaw, and the dentary was positioned alongside the articular in the lower jaw.

Skull of Probainognathus, an early synapsid.

This unusual paired condition did not last long, though. Soon, the quadrate and articular lost their function in jaw articulation and even their position in the jaw as they evolved. They became increasingly smaller and eventually migrated into the ear region, where they became the “hammer” and “anvil” of the ear. So, over time, the synapsids’ quadrate-articular jaw joint (which the rest of the tetrapods possess) was replaced by a dentary-squamosal joint (which all living mammals possess), while the quadrate and articular migrated, shrank, and became part of the complex of middle ear bones.

Evolution of the jaw joint in synapsids. Abbreviations used: a-articular, d-dentary, q-quadrate, s-squamosal.

Only in recent years has it become apparent that several lineages of synapsids, including mammals, replaced their quadrate-articular jaw joint with a dentary-squamosal joint. We don’t fully understand why these changes happened. Some evidence suggests that the change in the quadrate-articular complex improved hearing. Other evidence suggests that these changes were a byproduct of early mammals’ increasing brain size. These ideas are not mutually exclusive, of course, and more research is needed. Whatever the functional advantages may have been, the pattern of evolution in these features clearly shows another example of exaptation: the incorporation of the dentary and squamosal bones into the jaw joint, originally alongside the quadrate and articular, eventually allowed the latter two bones to acquire a completely different function and to leave the jaw articulation altogether.


Jurassic World and Indominus Rex

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Indominus Rex Attack!

What do you do when you want to boost visitor attendance to your dinosaur-dominated, Jurassic World theme park? Use DNA, from four different dinosaurs, and “in the Hammond lab” create something entirely new and fearsome.

Then … give the new creature a name which signifies its awesome power: Indominus rex. At least … that’s how the story theme works in the 2015 film “Jurassic World.”

So … let’s travel back in time, to the age of the dinosaurs, and meet the four interesting creatures whose DNA led to this new and ferocious predator:

If—contrary to plan—Indominus rex becomes a killing machine, we have to ask: Did she “inherit” that trait from her “ancestors?” Let’s examine the question, starting with Rugops (ROO-gops).

Rugops skull at the National Geographic Museum Spinosaurus Exhibit. Author Ryan Somma

What we know about this theropod, from a physical standpoint, comes from a single, nearly complete and fossilized skull. With its weak but gaping jaw and skull, Rugops—which means “wrinkle face”—is not a predator like the Cretaceous Period Spinosaurus.

Instead, Rugops is a natural-born scavenger, likely waiting in the wings for what’s left of a Spinosaurus-caught, Cretaceous-era fish known as Onchopristis. Living off the scraps of meals, killed by another creature, could be enough for a Rugops.

What does the DNA from Rugops contribute to Indominus rex ? Probably … a massive, gaping jaw. In other words … she isn’t getting the killer streak from Rugops.

How about Carnotaurus  (CAR-no-TOR-us), the “Meat Eating Bull?” 


This Late-Cretaceous theropod, measuring around 25 feet long, likely roamed the plains of South America. At least, that’s where palaeontologist Jose Bonaparte found amazingly in-tact fossilized remains—in Argentina—during 1985. Even its skull and skin impressions were visible once the creature’s skeleton was unearthed.

Those skin impressions have caused palaeontologists to believe that Carnotaurus had bumps across its body. It also had projections on its skull, resembling horns, which led to its “bull” name. It is this physical feature—the two horns—which Carnotaurus “passed-on” to Indomitus rex.

From whom did Indomitus rex inherit her size? Giganotosaurus  (jig-a-NOT-o-SOR-us) can take credit for that.


This “Giant Southern Lizard” lived, in South America, during the Mid-Cretaceous period. Around 40-45 feet long, the Giganotosaurus  weighed around 8 tons and walked—upright—on two powerfully large legs. With its thin and pointed tail providing balance, the creature was likely able to make quick turns while running.

Because of its size, Giganotosaurus likely had no natural predators. Living before T. rex, it probably fed on herbivore dinosaurs. If so, it could have easily sliced through the flesh of its prey.

Because no complete skeleton of this creature has ever been found, paleontologists (and artists) can only speculate about this massive creature (including whether gigantic carnivores and herbivores lived at the same time.)

That leaves Majungasaurus (ma-JUNG-ah-SORE-us), the last of the four DNA-contributing dinosaurs. Once roaming Madagascar, in the late-Cretaceous period, this theropod likely contributed its teeth and lower torso to the lab-developed Indominus rex.

Fearsome teeth

We know about this predator from spectacular fossils located in the Berivotra area of northwest Madagascar. Long before lemurs lived on that island, Majungasaurus grew to around 21 feet in length. It is the best-known of the muscular abelisaurids (which dominated the southern hemisphere just as the tyrannosaurids dominated the northern hemisphere).

Majungasaurus had an unusual body. Its short-but-powerful hind legs were far different from its very small front “legs.” While paleontologists are not sure about the function of those forelimbs, there is little doubt about how a Majungasaurusused its sharp and knife-like teeth!

Plus … scientists believe this dinosaur may also have been … a cannibal. What is the evidence for that?

During 2003, in Madagascar, paleontologists found a fossilized tail bone from a Majungasaurus. That bone contains some interesting marks which paleontologists compared with the denticle spacings of Majungasaurus.

Guess what? They matched … almost exactly!

So … now you know the history of a 43-foot long, 18-foot high hybrid dinosaur called I. rex !

Jurassic World – Indominius Rex


Saturday, March 25, 2017

Rugops - BBC

Rugops (meaning “wrinkle face”) is a genus of theropod dinosaur which inhabited what is now Africa approximately 95 million years ago (Cenomanian stage of the Late Cretaceous). The discovery of a Rugops skull in Niger in 2000 was a crucial breakthrough in the understanding of the evolution of theropods in that area, and demonstrates that this landmass was still united with Gondwana at that stage in history.

Rugops by Prehistoric Wildlife

Though known only from a skull, Rugops was estimated as being 6 metres (19.7 ft) long and 750 kilograms (1,650 lb) in weight based on comparisons with its relatives. Later estimates suggest a revised length of 4.4 metres (14.4 ft). The skull bore armour or scales, and other bones had many blood vessels, causing Paul Sereno, who led the team that discovered the fossil, to say, “It’s not the kind of head designed for fighting or bone-crushing”, suggesting that it may have been a scavenger. The skull also bears two rows of seven holes, each of unknown purpose, although Sereno has speculated that they may have anchored some kind of crest or horns.

Rugops skull at the National Geographic Museum Spinosaurus Exhibit. Author: Ryan Somma

Like other abelisaurs, Rugops probably had very short arms. These were probably useless in fighting. They may have only been balance tools, items to counterbalance the dinosaur’s head.

Holotype and only know specimen : MNN IGU1. A partial skull missing the posterior region, preserving the maxilla, frontals, lacrimals, prefrontals, nasals, parietal, and premaxillae. Full restored skull length is 31.5 centimeters, suggesting an animal significantly smaller than Majungasaurus crenatissimus, Aucasaurus garridoi, and Carnotaurus sastrei. Author: Crizz30

The type species is R. primus (meaning “first wrinkle-face”), discovered in the Cenomanian-age Echkar Formation. Rugopsis believed to be an abelisaurid, and is related to Majungasaurus.

‘Jurassic World’ Easter Eggs: 8 Hidden References To The ‘Jurassic Park’ Movies

Friday, March 24, 2017

Nedry’s Plan Goes Awry

Keep your eyes peeled in “Jurassic World” for these eight hidden references to the 1993 first movie:

1. That Music 
If you grew up with “Jurassic Park,” that inspirational John Williams score will bring back all the warm memories of the original. “Jurassic World” does the unforgettable theme justice and includes it in the movie several times, including the closing credits. Here, you can see Williams conducting the Boston Pops in the famous tune.

2. Jurassic Park Merchandise 
Lowry (Jake Johnson) is a Jurassic World employee with a morbid love of the park’s dark past. On the day everything goes awry, he is reprimanded by Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) for wearing a Jurassic Park T-shirt to work.

A Jurassic Park board game (which has beautiful box art, by the way)

3. DNA Mascot 
Mr. DNA also makes a comeback as a mascot for safety and the cloning process in “Jurassic World.” Just as he did in 1993’s “Jurassic Park,” Mr. DNA can be found on the “Jurassic World” website explaining what the scientists do to create the dinosaurs for the park.

Jurassic Park – Mr. DNA Sequence

4. Abandoned Jurassic Park Building
When the two young boys, Grey (Ty Simpkins) and Zach (Nick Robinson), of “Jurassic World” veer off course and right into the path of Indominus Rex, they seek shelter in an abandoned building, which many will recognize as the old hub of Jurassic Park. Using the banner that falls at the end of “Jurassic Park” as a torch, the pair discover the painted walls of the original park building like abandoned cave paintings. Easter eggs abound in this scene.

5. Old School Wheels 
In their search for a way back to the civilized part of the island, the two boys find abandoned 1992 Jeep Wranglers from the original Jurassic Park. They manage a quick repair (the cars haven’t been started for more than 20 years) and it’s back to the temporary safety of Jurassic World.

Original Jurassic Park Jeep Front

6. Dilophosaurus! 
Remember when Nedry (“Seinfeld” actor Wayne Knight) tries to escape the park with dino DNA in “Jurassic Park”? This frilly fella shows up with poisonous spit and brings down the curtain for this bad guy.

Nedry’s Plan Goes Awry

7. InGen 
The cloning company founded by Dr. Hammond returns to the island after the death of its sitting CEO Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) in an effort to recapture its latest creation gone wild, Indominus Rex. Well, their return to the “Jurassic Park” series could have gone better (they’re never the heroes in the franchise). A bit more of an obscure Easter egg, but one that will be recognizable for fans of the franchise.

8. And T-Rex! 
From the iconic park logo to one of the final shots of Steven Spielberg’s 1993 movie, Tyrannosaurus Rex has been a major part of the “Jurassic” franchise. Its appearance in “Jurassic World” is the stuff of dinosaur fan fiction, but that didn’t stop the audience from cheering at the screening at an ending not too dissimilar from “Jurassic Park.”

Jurassic World ending – Trex roar footage


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Sarcosuchus by Frank Lode

Sarcosuchus (meaning “flesh crocodile”) is a genus of crocodyliform and distant relative of living crocodylians that lived 112 million years ago. It dates from the early Cretaceous Period of what is now Africa and South America and is one of the largest crocodile-like reptiles that ever lived. It was almost twice as long as the modern saltwater crocodile and weighed up to 8 tonnes.

S. imperator, Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, Paris. Photo by Shadowgate

The first remains were discovered during several expeditions led by the French paleontologist Albert-Félix de Lapparent, spanning from 1946 to 1959, in the Sahara. These remains were fragments of the skull, vertebrae, teeth and scutes. In 1964, an almost complete skull was found in Niger by the French CEA, but it was not until 1997 and 2000 that most of its anatomy became known to science, when an expedition led by the American paleontologist Paul Sereno discovered six new specimens, including one with about half the skeleton intact and most of the spine.

Sarcosuchus was a giant relative of crocodiles, with fully grown individuals estimated to have reached up to 11–12 m (36–39 ft) in total length and 8 tonnes (8.8 short tons) in weight. It had somewhat telescoped eyes and a long snout comprising 75% of the length of the skull. There were 35 teeth in each side of the upper jaw, while in the lower jaw there were 31 teeth in each side. The upper jaw was also noticeably longer than the lower one leaving a gap between them when the jaws were shut, creating an overbite. In young individuals the shape of the snout resembled that of the living gharial but in fully grown individuals it became considerably broader.

Some of the extinct crocs


At the end of its snout, Sarcosuchus presented an expansion, known as a bulla, which has been compared to the ghara seen in gharials. However, unlike the ghara, which is only found in male gharial, the bulla is present in all Sarcosuchus skulls that have been found so far, suggesting that it was not a sexually dimorphic trait. The purpose of this structure remains enigmatic. Opinions from researchers range from it being an olfactory enhancer to being connected to a vocalization device.

The Snout of Sarcosuchus Ended in a “Bulla”. Photo by LadyofHats


The osteoderms, also known as dermal scutes, of Sarcosuchus were similar to those goniopholodids like Sunosuchus and Goniopholis, they formed an uninterrupted surface that started in the posterior part of the neck up to the middle of the tail like is seen in Araripesuchus and other basal crocodyliforms, different from the pattern seen in living crocodiles, which present discontinuity between the osteoderms of the neck and body.

Scutes of S. imperator. Photo by Ghedoghedo


A common method to estimate the size of crocodiles and crocodile-like reptiles is the use of the length of the skull measured in the midline from the tip of the snout to the back of the skull table, since in living crocodilians there is a strong correlation between skull length and total body length in subadult and adult individuals irrespective of their sex, this method is preferred for Sarcosuchus due to the absence of a complete enough skeleton.

Sarcosuchus skull comparison

Two regression equations were used to estimate the size of S. imperator, they were created based on measurements gathered from 17 captive gharial individuals from northern India and from 28 wild saltwater crocodile individuals from northern Australia, both datasets supplemented by available measurements of individuals over 1.5 metres (4.9 ft) in length found in the literature. The largest known skull of S. imperator (the type specimen) is 1.6 m (5.2 ft) long, and it was estimated that the individual it belonged to had a total body length of 11.65 m (38.2 ft), its snout-vent length of 5.7 m (19 ft) was estimated using linear equations for the saltwater crocodile and in turn this measurement was used to estimate its body weight at 8 tonnes (8.8 short tons). This shows that Sarcosuchus was able to reach a maximum body size not only greater than previously estimated but also greater than that of the Miocene Rhamphosuchus, only the Late Cretaceous Deinosuchus and the Miocene Purussaurus may have achieved a comparable maximum body size.

Size commparison of a sarcosuchus to an argentinosaurus, BBC

Sarcosuchus is commonly classified as part of the clade Pholidosauridae, a group of crocodile-like reptiles (Crocodyliformes) related but outside Crocodylia (the clade containing living crocodiles, alligators and gharials). Within this group it is most closely related to the North American genus Terminonaris. Most members of Pholidosauridae had long, slender snouts and they all were aquatic, inhabiting several different environments, some forms are interpreted as marine, capable of tolerating saltwater while others, like Sarcosuchus, were freshwater forms, the most primitive members of the clade, however, were found in coastal settings, zones of mixing of freshwater and marine waters. Sarcosuchus stands out among pholidosaurids for being considered a generalist predator, different from most known members of the clade which were specialized piscivores


The remains of S. imperator were found in a region of the Ténéré Desert named Gadoufaoua, more specifically in the Elrhaz Formation of the Tegama Group, dating from the late Aptian to the early Albian of the Early Cretaceous, approximately 112 million years ago. The stratigraphy of the region and the aquatic fauna that was found therein indicates that it was an inland fluvial environment, entirely freshwater in nature with a humid tropical climate. S. imperator shared the waters with the holostean fish Lepidotus and the coelacanth Mawsonia. The dinosaur fauna was represented by the iguanodontian Lurdusaurus, which was the most common dinosaur in the region, and its relative Ouranosaurus; there were also two sauropods, Nigersaurus and a currently unnamed sauropod while the theropod fauna included the spinosaurid Suchomimus, the carcharodontosaurid Eocarcharia and the abelisaurid Kryptops.

Sarcosuchus imperator vs Suchomimus by Raúl Martín

Meanwhile, S. hartti was found in the Reconcavo basin of Brazil, specifically in the Ilhas Formation of the Bahia series, it was a shallow lacustrine environment dating from the late Aptian, similar in age to the habitat of S. imperator, with similar aquatic fauna, including Lepidotus and two species of Mawsonia. The dinosaur fauna is of a very fragmentary nature and identification does not go beyond indeterminate theropod and iguanodontid remains.



Wednesday, March 22, 2017


Deinocheirus is a genus of large ornithomimosaur that lived during the Late Cretaceous around 70 million years ago. In 1965, a pair of large arms, shoulder girdles, and a few other bones of a new dinosaur were first discovered in the Nemegt Formation of Mongolia. In 1970, this specimen became the holotype of the only species within the genus, Deinocheirus mirificus; the genus name is Greek for “horrible hand”. No further remains were discovered for almost fifty years, and its nature remained a mystery. Two more complete specimens were described in 2014, which shed light on many aspects of the animal. Parts of these new specimens had been looted from Mongolia some years before, but were repatriated in 2014.

Deinocheirus size compared to a human by Matt Martyniuk

Deinocheirus was one of the most mysterious dinosaurs to have ever been found by paleontologists. It was originally found in 1965 in Southern Mongolia—actually, not the whole dinosaur was found but only its gigantic hands. And for the next 50 years, that is all that scientists would have of this elusive dinosaur. That is probably why its name means “terrible hand”.

Deinocheirus mirificus.  a, MPC-D 100/127. b, MPC-D 100/128. c, Composite reconstruction of MPC-D 100/127 with a simple proportional enlargement of MPC-D 100/128. Scale bar, 1 m. The human outline is 1.7 m tall.

When Deinocheirus was only known from the original forelimbs, its taxonomic relationship was difficult to determine, and several hypotheses were proposed. Osmólska and Roniewicz initially concluded that Deinocheirus did not belong in any already named theropod family, so they created a new, monotypic family Deinocheiridae, placed in the infraorder Carnosauria. This was due to the large size and thick-walled limb bones, but they also found some similarities with Ornithomimus, and, to a lesser extent, Allosaurus. In 1971, John Ostrom first proposed that Deinocheirus belonged with the Ornithomimosauria, while noting that it contained both ornithomimosaurian and non-ornithomimosaurian characters. In 1976, Rhinchen Barsbold named the order Deinocheirosauria, which was to include the supposedly related genera Deinocheirus and Therizinosaurus. A relationship between Deinocheirus and the long-armed therizinosaurs was supported by some later writers, but they are not considered to be closely related today.

Deinocheirus compared by Prehistoric Wildlife

Deinocheirus was around 30 feet long, almost 15 feet high and weighed about 6 tons. It was a bipedal dinosaur—from a species called Ornithomimids, which are sometimes called ‘ostrich dinosaurs’ and was the biggest of these dinosaurs. However, it probably didn’t move like an ostrich. Due to its large size and weight, it more than likely lumbered along and didn’t run very quickly. I

It is believed that this dinosaur was a scavenger of sorts. It is believed to have eaten a variety of different things such as fish, invertebrates, plants and maybe even insects. It probably didn’t hunt prey like a predator. However, an interesting fact about this dinosaur is that it was probably frequently hunted by tyrannosaurus dinosaurs, as bite marks on its skeleton would suggest.

Deinocheirus hands: Holotype specimen MPC-D 100/18 on exhibit in Barcelona. Photo by Jordi Payà


‘Jurassic Park’: 25 Things You Didn’t Know

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Jurassic Park, 1993

Maybe you think of “Jurassic Park” as the movie that surpassed “E.T.” to become the biggest Steven Spielberg film ever, as well as one of the biggest hits of all time. Or maybe you think of it as the film that, through its landmark CGI dinosaurs, helped usher in the age of digital film making. Or maybe you just think of it as the movie that scared the pants off you when you saw it in theaters over two decades ago and every time you’ve watched it since on TV.

However you regard it, “Jurassic Park” has seemed a ubiquitous, inescapable fixture of pop culture for 20 years. And yet there are still things about it you may not know, such has how Spielberg chose his cast, how several teams of effects artists came together to build those pioneering dinosaurs, and whether or not it would really be possible to clone dinosaurs from ancient DNA as the geneticists in the movie did. Read on to unearth these and other not-quite-fossilized secrets from “Jurassic Park.”

1. Spielberg, a lifelong dinosaur enthusiast who preferred the prehistoric lizards in “King Kong” to the big gorilla, learned about Michael Crichton’s dinosaur-cloning tale from the author himself a year before he published his 1990 bestseller. The pair had been developing a screenplay based on Crichton’s own early medical career. That project evolved into the long-running TV drama “ER.”

A Whole Bunch of People On FB thought Steven Spielberg Killed A Real Dinosaur

2. That preexisting partnership with Crichton helped Spielberg to win the bidding for the movie rights to “Jurassic Park.” Several other directors were in the running, including Tim Burton, Richard Donner (“Lethal Weapon”), Joe Dante (“Gremlins”), and (according to Spielberg) James Cameron.

3. Laura Dern, who played Dr. Ellie Sattler, recalled in Entertainment Weekly’s recent oral history of “Jurassic Park” how Spielberg pitched her the movie: “I know that you’re doing your independent films, but I need you to be chased by dinosaurs, in awe of dinosaurs, and have the adventure of a lifetime. Will you do this with me?” Her “Wild at Heart” co-star Nicolas Cage, who said he’d always dreamed of being in a dinosaur movie, urged her to say yes.

Laura in Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster Jurassic Park

4. Richard Attenborough, who played park impresario John Hammond, was best known as a director of biopics (“Gandhi,” “Chaplin”). Before that, he’d been a celebrated actor, but he’d put acting on hold after 1979, when his directing career took off. “Jurassic Park” marked his first role in 14 years, and it resuscitated his acting career at age 69, leading to prominent roles in “Miracle on 34th Street” (as Kris Kringle) and “Elizabeth,” among others.

Says he spared no expense…

5. To cast Hammond’s granddaughter, Lex, Spielberg auditioned a number of girls and asked them to record their screams. Ariana Richards recalled that she won the role because she was the only one whose taped scream was loud enough to awaken a sleeping Kate Capshaw (a.k.a. Mrs. Spielberg) and send her scurrying down the hall to see if her children were all right.

6. Joseph Mazzello, who would play Lex’s brother, Tim, had enjoyed some success as a child actor (“Presumed Innocent”), but when he screen-tested for a role in Spielberg’s 1991 film “Hook,” the director told him he was too young. He recalled that Spielberg told him, “Don’t worry about it, Joey. I’m going to get you in a movie this summer.” Looking back, Mazzello (who would go on to star in Spielberg’s World War II mini-series “The Pacific” as an adult) called the “Jurassic Park” consolation prize a “pretty good trade.”

Joseph Mazzello: The Kid from ‘Jurassic Park’ Stars in Spielberg’s ‘The Pacific’

7. For the animatronic dinosaurs, Spielberg hired Stan Winston on the basis of his work creating the alien queen in “Aliens.” Winston built the life-size lizards, including the Tyrannosaurus rex and triceratops. Spielberg hired stop-motion puppeteer Phil Tippett to animate model dinosaurs that would be superimposed in post-production, and Dennis Muren (fresh from creating the molten-metal morphing effects in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”) to see if dinosaurs could be created using computer-generated imagery.

Stan Winston and his Brachiosaurus

8. In fact, the dinosaurs Muren created on the computer were the first major flesh-and-blood CGI creatures in movie history. When he screened for the rest of the filmmakers an early test of wire-frame dinosaurs in motion, Tippett realized he was out of a job. “I think I’m extinct,” he told Spielberg, who liked the quip so much that he put it in the movie. (Actually, Tippett stayed on as an adviser to the computer animators, using his knowledge of paleontology and pantomime to instruct the effects artists in how dinosaurs should move.)


9. Spielberg also showed Muren’s test footage to legendary stop-motion monster animator Ray Harryhausen. “He was absolutely enthralled and very ­positive about the paradigm changing,” Spielberg recalled. “He looked at the test and said, ‘Well, that’s the future.'”

10. The velociraptors, however, were done Godzilla-style, with puppeteers in lizard suits. The man-sized velociraptors were much bigger than the real species, though shortly before the movie’s release, paleontologists discovered a larger related species, the Utahraptor. Winston joked, “We made it, then they discovered it.”

Dromaeosaurid parade by durbed

11. Sound designer Gary Rydstrom combined a variety of animal cries to make the various dinosaur roars. The cow-like brachiosaurus’ bellow was a blend of donkey and whale. Whale sounds were also used for the Tyrannosaurus rex, along with the sound of a tiger, an alligator, and a baby elephant. For the sound the T. rex made when it killed the lawyer, Rydstrom used a recording of his own Jack Russell terrier grappling with a rope toy, played at half-speed. The most complex was the velociraptor, a mix of tortoise, horse, goose, walrus, dolphin, and African crane.

12. For all the work that went into creating lifelike dinosaurs, the lizards got just 15 minutes of screen time in the 127-minute movie.

13. The iconic shot of the water rippling in a cup in the car as the stomping T. rex approaches was inspired by Spielberg watching his car interior vibrate as he listened to bass-heavy funk band Earth, Wind and Fire. To create the water effect, he placed guitar strings under the dashboard and had a crew member pluck them.

Cup of water ripples

14. Sam Neill, who played Dr. Alan Grant, has a scar on his left hand from the scene where he tries to distract the T. rex with a burning flare. Some flaming phosphorus fell from the flare and got trapped under Neill’s wristwatch.

As long as I’ve been a fan and as many times I’ve seen this movie, I’ve never noticed that!

15. Before the last day of shooting, Hurricane Iniki, the most powerful storm in Hawaiian history, hit the set. The cast and crew were trapped in their hotel on Kauai. Spielberg helped bide the time by telling ghost stories to the kids. Others passed the time reading the only piece of literature they could find, a Victoria’s Secret catalogue.

16. When the movie went into post-production, Spielberg was already in Poland shooting “Schindler’s List.” He supervised the effects work on his dinosaur thrill ride while filming the horrific Holocaust drama.

17. Despite the hurricane, the shoot finished 12 days ahead of schedule and on budget. It cost $63 million to make and another $65 million to market.

18. In its initial release, “Jurassic Park” earned $357 million in North America and a total of $914 million worldwide. That was enough to surpass Spielberg’s “E.T.” to take the record as the biggest hit movie of all time, a record it held for nearly five years, until “Titanic.”

Original poster

19. The film won Oscars for Best Visual Effects (shared in part by Winston, Tippett, and Muren), Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing (Rydstrom shared both of those). At the same Academy Awards ceremony, Spielberg won Best Picture and Best Director, Michael Kahn won Best Editor, and John Williams won Best Score — all for “Schindler’s List.”

Stan Winston, Phil Tippett and Michael Lantieri pose with their Academy Awards they won for Visual Effects

20. Spielberg directed a sequel “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” in 1997. Joe Johnston filmed “Jurassic Park III” in 2001.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997, Universal)

21. Even before Spielberg began filming “Jurassic Park,” Universal Studios engineers were at work building “Jurassic Park: The Ride,” an attraction at Universal Studios in Hollywood that opened in 1996 at a cost of $110 million (nearly twice what the film cost to make). Universal has since added an expansive “Jurassic Park” section to its Islands of Adventure theme park in Orlando, Florida.

22. To this day, Dern says she’s recognized as “the girl who put her hand in the dinosaur poo.” She adds that kids have refused to shake her hand, “as though I hadn’t washed.”

Jurassic Park Dino Poop

23. The CGI dinosaurs of “Jurassic Park” have had a far-reaching legacy, having convinced some of the world’s most imaginative filmmakers that the technology finally existed to put whatever they saw in their mind’s eye onto the screen. They led Winston and James Cameron to form the Digital Domain effects house, and it led Stanley Kubrick to collaborate with Spielberg on “A.I. Artificial Intelligence,” the robot fable he’d dreamed of making for decades (Spielberg would finish the film in 2001, two years after Kubrick’s death). They inspired George Lucas to make the three “Star Wars” prequels and Peter Jackson to make “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “King Kong,” and the “Hobbit” trilogy.

24. In April, 2013, Universal released a 3D version of “Jurassic Park” in theaters. The conversion from 2D cost $10 million, and it earned the 20-year-old film another $45.4 million in domestic ticket sales.

Jurassic Park 3D

25. Could scientists really clone dinosaurs from DNA in dinosaur blood found in mosquitoes preserved in amber? Probably not. For one thing, even petrified DNA would probably have degraded too much in the 65 million years since the last dinosaurs died out. Plus, there’s no contemporary equivalent to a dinosaur egg in which to incubate the embryos. Still, Jack Horner, the paleontologist who served as a consultant on the film, said he thought it might be possible to genetically modify a chicken embryo to activate dormant genes for dinosaur-like traits. Not quite the same thing, alas.


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Majungasaurus by Frank Lode

Quick Majungasaurus Facts

  • May have indulged in cannibalism
  • Was 2 car lengths long
  • Weighed as much as a Rhinoceros
  • Ran on two legs
  • Was one of the last dinosaurs to have lived

Majungasaurus by Prehistoric Wildlife

Majungasaurus (“Mahajanga lizard”) is a genus of abelisaurid theropod dinosaur that lived in Madagascar from 70 to 66 million years ago, at the end of the Cretaceous Period. The genus contains a single species, Majungasaurus crenatissimus. This dinosaur was briefly called Majungatholus, a name which is now considered a junior synonym of Majungasaurus.

Head reconstruction by Bill Parsons, body reconstruction by Nobu Tamura

Like other abelisaurids, Majungasaurus was a bipedal predator with a short snout. Although the forelimbs are not completely known, they were very short, while the hind limbs were longer and very stocky. It can be distinguished from other abelisaurids by its wider skull, the very rough texture and thickened bone on the top of its snout, and the single rounded horn on the roof of its skull, which was originally mistaken for the dome of a pachycephalosaur. It also had more teeth in both upper and lower jaws than most abelisaurids.

Known from several well-preserved skulls and abundant skeletal material, Majungasaurus has recently become one of the best-studied theropod dinosaurs from the Southern Hemisphere. It appears to be most closely related to abelisaurids from India rather than South America or continental Africa, a fact that has important biogeographical implications. Majungasaurus was the apex predator in its ecosystem, mainly preying on sauropods like Rapetosaurus, and is also one of the few dinosaurs for which there is direct evidence of cannibalism.

Majungasaurus crenatissimus, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Ontario, Museum. Photo by D. Gordon E. Robertson

Majungasaurus is classified as a member of the theropod clade Abelisauridae, which is considered a family in Linnaean taxonomy. Along with the family Noasauridae, abelisaurids are included in the superfamily Abelisauroidea, which is in turn a subdivision of the infraorder Ceratosauria. Abelisaurids are known for their tall skulls with blunt snouts, extensive sculpturing on the outer surfaces of the facial bones (convergent with carcharodontosaurids), very reduced (atrophied) forelimbs (convergent with tyrannosaurids), and stocky hindlimb proportions, among other features.

An interesting fact about this dinosaur is that due to the pro ponderous of skeletal material, this dinosaur is currently one of the most studied dinosaurs of all time. It is believed to have been the apex predator of its ecosystem.

Dinosaur Sex

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Interesting quote from paleontologist Kenneth Carpenter: “[A]ssuming you were stupid enough to sneak up under a T. rex and pull the cloaca open, the last thing you would ever see during the last moments of your life would be a penis if it was a male, probably similar to that seen in a crocodile.”

That’s quite an image.  Now that some of you are shaking your head in puzzlement, I’ll explain why this is interesting.

It’s easy to forget that dinosaurs were real animals.  They were born (or hatched), grew from juveniles into adults, wandered around the landscape, ate, slept, pooped, and had sex (just like most of us).

Dinosaurs, of course, are known to us because of their fossil bones preserved in Mesozoic Era sedimentary rock strata.  While we can obtain a lot of information from these bones, as well as some other types of trace fossils such as track ways, there is still a lot they can’t directly tell us about the animals themselves. Those of us fascinated by dinosaurs also want to know the details of what they looked like (what color were they, for example) and how they behaved. Some paleontologists are even interested in how dinosaurs had sex (as the joke about porcupine sex goes, “very carefully”).

Ceratopsians in action…

One very basic question is whether or not dinosaurs (the males ones) had penises. We know that the group of reptiles we call dinosaurs evolved from an earlier group of reptiles called archosaurs. Another group of reptiles evolved from the archosaurs as well and they’re still around – the crocodilians. We also know that birds evolved from one of the lineages of dinosaurs.

Crocodiles and birds create what paleontologists call an extant phylogenetic bracket for the dinosaurs. What this means is that whatever characteristics are present in both crocodiles and birds were probably also present in the dinosaurs as well.

One of those features is the cloaca (cloaca comes from the Latin word for “sewer”).  A cloaca is a vent or slit  beneath the tail with one exit for the reproductive, urinary, and intestinal tracts of the animal. Since crocodiles (all modern reptiles actually) and birds have a cloaca, it’s reasonable to assume that dinosaurs did as well. These organisms have sex by engaging in the charmingly-termed “cloacal kiss” which is pretty much what it sounds like. They touch cloaca, sperm transfers, and fertilization ensues. So did dinosaurs tenderly exchange sweet cloacal kisses when mating?

Well, maybe not. Some birds (like male ostriches, cassowaries, kiwi, geese, and some species of swans and ducks), for example, actually have a penis which is used for reproduction.  All of the bird groups which exhibit a penis are lineages near the base of the bird family tree. It appears to be an ancestral feature.

It also turns out crocodilians have a form of penis inside their cloaca as well (not well studied, surprisingly enough).

Given this, dinosaurs very likely had a penis inside their cloaca.  After reading this article, I’m not sure I’d want to be too close to a T. rex‘s cloaca.

Original article appeared on