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The Bad Hair, Incorrect Feathering, and Missing Skin Flaps of Dinosaur Art

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Bad Hair, Incorrect Feathering, and Missing Skin Flaps of Dinosaur Art

Inside the pitfalls of illustrating prehistoric creatures.

Elephants, zebras, and rhinos would all look pretty different if they were interpreted the same way dinosaurs are. 

ILLUSTRATING LONG-EXTINCT CREATURES IS DIFFICULT, but important work. With no living specimens to observe, it’s up to “paleoartists” who draw, paint, or otherwise illustrate the creatures of prehistory as we think they might’ve been. Their work is the reason that when we talk about velociraptors, stegosaurs, or even woolly mammoths, we have some idea of what they looked like.

But since all we have to go on are fossils, deciding how a dinosaur would have looked is as much art as it is science. And there’s at least one paleoartist who thinks we might be getting things wrong.

C.M. Kosemen is an Istanbul-based artist and author (along with John Conway and Darren Naish) of the 2012 book, All Yesterdays: Unique and Speculative Views of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals. A long-time creature designer, Kosemen had always had an interest in dinosaurs, but he embarked on his book with Conway after they began to realize that something was a bit off. “We were both dinosaur geeks, but the more we looked at these skeletons, and the more we looked at the pictures, we noticed that most mainstream dinosaur art didn’t look at dinosaurs as real creatures,” says Kosemen.

Most serious paleoart bases itself on the detailed findings of paleontologists, who can work for weeks or even years compiling the most accurate descriptions of ancient life they can, based on fossil remains. But Kosemen says that many dinosaur illustrations should take more cues from animals living today. Our world is full of unique animals that have squat fatty bodies, with all kinds of soft tissue features that are unlikely to have survived in fossils, such as pouches, wattles, or skin flaps. “There could even be forms that no one has imagined,” says Kosemen. “For example there could plant-eating dinosaurs that had pangolin or armadillo-like armor that wasn’t preserved in the fossil. There could also be dinosaurs with porcupine-type quills.”

How a baboon skeleton might be interpreted by future paleoartists.

Rarely do we see that type of variation in depictions of dinosaurs. In many ways, there is a certain amount of uniformity in the way we think of dinosaurs, which creates some common tropes in paleoart that Kosemen thinks could improve.

One of his main points of contention is the way that we consider dinosaur heads. “The reference has always been crocodiles,” says Kosemen. “The biggest thing is teeth and facial fat. Readers have to be aware that all dinosaurs they see in all media, and especially in popular culture, seem to have their heads flensed. They’ve always got these weird grins with only the teeth visible.” As he points out, most animals have lips and gums and lumps of facial fat that change the profile of the head, and cover the teeth. But in many predatory dinosaur illustrations, these are usually missing, making them look fierce, if improbable.

“Another trope is what I like to call the ‘roadkill hair’ trope,” says Kosemen. Some fossils show signs of hair, which Kosemen says can lead to artists illustrating their creatures with hair only on the parts where it was found on a fossil. However, it’s possible that some dinosaurs had much more hair that they are usually shown to have. “Imagine if you found a raccoon, and only half of the tail was covered in hair, so then you carry that over to a living reconstruction.”

A similar issue occurs with the relatively recent trend of giving dinosaurs feathers. While it is a good way to add some color and flare to an illustration, the placement and length of dinosaur feathers is often based more in fantasy than any past reality. “We have full-on wing feathers erupting from distinct places on the head. Or things like a raptor dinosaur jumping like a ninja and his feathers are coming out of his elbows or knee joint or those weird things,” says Kosemen. He thinks that sometimes dinosaurs are over-feathered, with plumage where it doesn’t belong, or under-feathered, being too conservative with the overall coverage.

Swans imagined as though they were featherless dinosaurs.

There is also the practice of what he calls “feather dressing,” where an artist will transfer the color palette of a living bird’s feathers over to a dinosaur. Given the diversity and unique colorations that belong to single varieties of birds, it’s unlikely that any dinosaur shared the same hues. “The feathers of a green-headed mallard exist only once in nature,” says Kosemen. “There’s no way in the world that a specific bird’s clothing would be replicated in a dinosaur in the past.”

Then there is the issue of proportion. Kosemen says that there is a tendency to exaggerate the heads and claws of dinosaurs. Certainly many dinosaurs had large claws, and fearsome heads, but in many pictures, they seem to be almost cartoonishly huge. “Artists sometimes do this semi-unconsciously because they want to depict the head and the claws, the business end of the thing,” he says.

None of this is to say that paleoart is failing at its job. Many of the more improbable aspects of current dinosaur illustration make the beasts seem rather more sensational, and in some ways more attractive, helping to keep future generations interested in paleontology. Dinosaurs look cool.

If you tried to envision a hippo based only on its bones, it might look something like this.

And the problems with depicting the creatures of the past aren’t going anywhere. It’s likely that far-future paleoartists will have similar problems with creatures we take for granted today. It’s conceivable, for example, that future paleoartists will speculate that turtles once left their shells, or that frogs, with their weird legs, used to run around upright. “There’s going to be all sorts of reconstructions with reindeer antlers having strange membranes or juvenile reindeer jumping from cliffs, using their horns as paragliders,” says Kozeman.

Short of a Jurassic Park-style clone scenario, we might never know exactly what dinosaurs looked like. But until that day, we have artists like Kozeman to continue dreaming up the endless variations of the prehistoric animal world, by taking a cue from the creatures in our own backyards. “Do not imitate them, but see what other shapes they could take.”




SUE to be Dethroned by ‘Titan’ of Evolution

Friday, September 22, 2017

SUE to be Dethroned by ‘Titan’ of Evolution

To some fans’ dismay and others’ excitement, the Field Museum of Natural History announced Aug. 30 that it will relocate iconic Tyrannosaurus rex fossil SUE from Stanley Field Hall to her own 5,800-square-foot room in “The Griffin Halls of Evolving Planet” exhibit.

That will leave room for a fossil cast of Patagotitan mayorum, aka the Titanosaur, a hulking, 122-foot-long herbivore, to assume SUE’s throne at the museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive.

“Our decision to move SUE out of Stanley Field Hall isn’t one that we made lightly,” said Kate Golembiewski, public relations and science communications specialist at the Field Museum. “We gave it a lot of thought and did a lot of research into how that would affect our visitors’ experience.”

SUE has towered above visitors since coming to the hall in 2000. She is dwarfed by the Titanosaur—the largest dinosaur ever discovered. Visitors will be able to walk under and touch the cast.

The Titanosaur’s installation is nothing short of huge—literally and figuratively—said paleontologist Paul Sereno.

“Change can be invigorating,” Sereno said. “This should be a spot for new things to happen, not just the icons of the past.”

The Titanosaur’s placement was made possible by a donation from Illinois’ richest man, Kenneth Griffin, who previously made major donations to the museum, including to the popular “Evolving Planet” exhibit.

“Visiting the Field Museum has brought tremendous joy and wonder to my children and me over the years,” Griffin said in a Sept. 5 emailed statement. “I am proud to support [the museum].”

SUE will be removed in February 2018, and the Titanosaur will be unveiled later that spring. SUE’s reintroduction at her new home is slated for spring 2019.

SUE has her own Twitter account operated anonymously by Field Museum employees; it notes that SUE prefers they/them pronouns, but the museum still uses she/her. She has since amassed more than 30,000 followers.

SUE’s persona is sarcastic and excitable; she changed her account’s name to “Private Suite Haver” as she gushed over her new digs in between penning insulting tweets about Velociraptors.

In an Aug. 30 press release, SUE said she is excited for the move and should be able to better defend herself against Velociraptor attacks in the new room.

“[SUE] has always kind of had that personality,” Golembiewski said. “She’s funny. I like when she leads [Dungeons & Dragons] campaigns.”

Sarah Marren, Field Museum member and South Loop resident, said she is excited to see the Titanosaur up close with her 5-year-old son.

“[The Titanosaur] is so much bigger [than SUE],” Marren said. “Knowing that we’re going to be able to walk under it and touch it, my son is thrilled about that.”

However, Marren said she will miss SUE’s sharp smile greeting her in Stanley Field Hall. She made sure she told her son about the move in advance, so he will not be taken by surprise when there is a new dino in SUE’s place.

SUE could not be reached for comment as of press time. She is subject to a “strict no-interviews policy,” Golembiewski said in an Aug. 31 email.


18mn yo Asexual Worm Could Unlock Secrets of Cloning Humans

Friday, September 22, 2017

18mn yo Asexual Worm Could Unlock Secrets of Cloning Humans

Scientists have revealed how an asexual worm that lived 18 million years ago has been cloning itself without sexual reproduction – solving a longstanding mystery.

The species of tiny, transparent roundworm, Diploscapter pachys, belongs to one of the oldest living lineages of asexual animals, researchers confirmed.

The research by New York University (NYU)’s Center for Genomics and Systems Biology and Duke University’s Center for Genomic and Computational Biology was published in Current Biology and revealed how the worm has lasted as an axsexual organism for so long.

“Scientists have been trying to understand how some animals can survive for millions of years without sex because such strict, long-term abstinence is very rare in the animal world,” NYU Biology Professor David Fitch, a co-author of the research said.

Fitch further explained that asexual survival is significant in evolutionary genetics as it “run[s] counter to the widely accepted view that sexual reproduction is required to eliminate deleterious mutations and for adaptation to a changing environment.”

Sexual reproduction produces offspring with copies of both parents’ genes, which, “usually provides good insurance against mutations that might kill the function of one of those gene copies – a process called complementation.”

When offspring are created through intercourse, complementation and genetic shuffling creates variation, which allows species to adapt to changing conditions. Asexual creatures tend to go extinct because they lack this adaptation strategy.

“It has been a longstanding mystery in biology how some asexual animals have survived for so many generations,” Fitch said.

Scientists used DNA to reveal D. pachys is a group of exclusively asexual species that originated 18 million years ago. They found the worm’s way of creating sperm or ova had been modified to stop recombination.

“Basically, the animals were cloning themselves,” Fitch said.

The research also revealed the worm only had one set of chromosomes. Similar species tend to have five to seven chromosomes. The only other species to have one set of chromosomes are ants and parasitic roundworms.

Researchers found D. pachys fuses six chromosomes of its ancestor into a single chromosome and skips the first division of meiosis [a type of cell division], where genes are recombined, so its offspring continues to have genetic diversity.

“Thus, the mystery of its longevity seems largely resolved,” Fitch concluded. “D. pachys overcomes the disadvantages of asexual reproduction by maintaining genetic variation, and with it, complementation.”

“Ironically, this is accomplished by making sure there is no recombination between the gene copies. If there were, the differences between the gene copies might be lost.”


Jurassic World 2: Mosasaurus, Dilophosaurus to join Rexy and Blue in Fallen Kingdom?

Friday, September 22, 2017

The franchise fans can look forward to some aquatic adventure in the upcoming Jurassic Park sequel.

Jurassic World 2, the upcoming science fiction adventure film, titled Fallen Kingdom, is darker, scarier and filled with lot of surprises. If there is something that the franchise fans are excited about the movie, it is the return of their favourite characters, including the Tyrannosaurus rex, popularly known as Rexy.

With the popular T. rex , Velociraptor Blue is confirmed to return in the new Jurassic Park sequel and the new concept art for upcoming Pez collection hints at the return of Mosasaurus and Dilophosaurus.

“A Jurassic World Gift Tin will be released June 1. This tin will feature Jurassic World Click and Play Pez and a Jurassic World board came in which the tops of the pez can be used as playing pieces. The mockups on display at the Expo feature a Tyrannosaurus, a Triceratops, a Mosasaurus, and perhaps an Edmontosaurus,” stated the company through a press release.

Meanwhile, a fansite called Jurassic Outpost stated that the Mosasaurus and Dilophosaurus are included in the collection just because of their popularity and they may not be featured in Fallen Kingdom.

“The Tyrannosaurus rex, Blue, and Triceratops also appeared on the recently unveiled Fallen Kingdom promo merch (in fact, the Triceratops sports a similar pose), and now the Mosasaurus and Dilophosaurus join them. While the first three are certainly part of the new film, as they have film renders and art, the Mosasaurus and Dilophosaurus remain unconfirmed. It’s very possible that they were simply included in the lineup due to their popularity with kids and fans alike (much like with many Jurassic World 2015 toys),” stated the website.

Soriatitan golmayensis: New 14-Metre Long Dinosaur Species Discovered in Spain

Friday, September 22, 2017

Soriatitan golmayensis by Teratophoneus on DeviantArt

A new species of dinosaur which lived between 130 to 138 million years ago has been identified by a team of palaeontologists in Spain.

Soriatitan golmayensis was a large, herbivorous animal estimated to be around 14 metres in length – larger than a double-decker bus. It belongs to a family of dinosaurs called brachiosauridae which were notable for their great size, elongated necks and tails, and relatively small heads.

The specimen was named after Soria, the region in north-central Spain where the bones were discovered.

It takes its place as the first species in an entirely new genus – a group of species within a taxonomic family – and is the first dinosaur from this family to be discovered in Europe.

“Until now it was believed that brachiosaurids had become extinct in Europe around 130 million years ago”, Rafael Royo, a palaeontologist at the Teruel-Dinopolis Joint Paleontological Foundation told Spanish newspaper El Pais.

Brachiosaurids lived around 150 million years ago in what is now Africa, the United States and Europe at a time when the continents were mostly joined together.

Then, in the early Cretaceous period – which began around 146 million-years-ago – they separated. Until the latest discovery, no confirmed brachiosaurid fossils had been found in Europe from after this time period, leading researchers to think that they had become extinct in the region.

When excavating the bones, the palaeontologists found teeth, spinal vertebrae, hip bones and leg bones, among other remains. Although some fossils which could possibly have belonged to brachiosaurids have been found in Europe before, researchers in those cases could not find enough of the skeleton to confirm the discovery.

“When you find a pair of bones it is difficult to know if it is a new species, but in this case, we have a general idea of ​​all the parts of the skeleton,” Royo told El Pais.

Soriatitan golmayensis.
Palaeontologist Rafael Royo examines a Soriatitan golmayensis femur. (Photo: Rafael Royo/Dinopolis)

Despite its size, its teeth measure just 18mm which suggests it fed mostly on leaves and other plant materials like other brachiosauridae. During the period that Soriatitan lived, the Iberian Peninsula is thought to have had a subtropical climate, with flowing rivers and plentiful vegetation, allowing the species to flourish.

The fossils were found at a site near the municipality of Golmayo where bones from three other types of dinosaur had been found before. Spain is known for being one of the richest areas in the world for dinosaur fossil hunters.


Birds’ Unique Skulls Linked to Young Dinosaur Brains

Friday, September 22, 2017

Birds’ Unique Skulls Linked to Young Dinosaur Brains

Bird skulls and brains look like those of young dinosaurs, providing clues to their unique evolution and modern success.

A new study, published today in Nature Ecology and Evolution, reveals that bird’s skulls evolved differently to their relatives and ancestors, and develop more like those of young dinosaurs and crocodiles.

Birds are the only surviving members of a group of feathered dinosaurs, and are close cousins to modern crocodilians (alligators, crocodiles and gavials). However, birds have unique skeletons, particularly their beaked skulls, which have wider dome-shaped cranial bones to accommodate proportionally larger brains and eyes.

Previously, Dr Arkhat Abzhanov, from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial, and colleagues determined that the shape of the birds’ skulls most resemble those of young non-avian (non-birdlike) dinosaurs.

This evolutionary phenomenon is known as ‘paedomorphism’ – where an adult retains features that are usually only seen at the young stages (embryo or baby) in its ancestors. Paedomorphism is caused by a change in timing of developmental events of an organism – for example growing certain body parts at later stages, slower, or not at all.

It is known to play an important role in the evolution of some new species, as the ‘young’ creatures can adopt a different lifestyle compared to their more ‘mature’-looking relatives, avoiding competition for the same resources.

Baby-face birds

To better understand the origins of birds’ unique skulls during their evolution from more primitive reptiles, Dr Abzhanov and colleagues from Yale University have now analysed the relationship between brain and skull.

They studied how the two structures change relative to each other during embryonic development, in both modern birds and their reptile relatives.

The skulls of vertebrate animals (those with backbones) are formed as a series of larger bones that correspond to particular regions of the brain. For example, the frontal bones cover the forebrain while parietal bones cover the midbrain.

The developing skulls of an alligator (top) and a chicken (bottom). Credit: Fabbri et al., 2017

As the brain grows in an early embryo, the skull closely matches the shape of the brain – the new study shows that the boundary between the frontals and parietals perfectly matches the boundary between the forebrain and midbrain across most vertebrate groups.

However, in the later stages of development in dinosaurs, crocodilians and other reptiles, the skull bones no longer mirror the brain growth as closely. Later in development cranial muscles and other tissues also begin to affect skull shape.

The team discovered that in birds, this change in the brain-skull relation never occurs, and the roof of the skull continues to match brain shape throughout development. In other words, birds retain their original embryonic brain and skull configuration into adulthood.

Dr Abzhanov said: “The skulls and brains of birds are dramatically different from those of adult non-avian dinosaurs and other reptiles, and we can show that these differences reflect how birds evolved to become species of forever-young dinosaurs.

“Our study adds further evidence that adult modern birds share much in common with juvenile (non-avian) dinosaurs, an observation which led to the revelation about a specific adjustment to the embryonic development in their ancestor.”

Developing and evolving

To conduct the study, the team used a 3D technique to analyse the skull shapes of a wide range of reptiles, including fossilised skulls of early reptilian ancestors and extinct crocodiles and dinosaurs, as well as skulls of embryos and juveniles of modern species, such as alligators and birds.

By comparing brains and skulls in both ancient fossils and throughout the early life of modern reptiles, the team were able to use the same analytical approach to look at both evolutionary and developmental aspects of brain-skull interactions.

How structures in bodies develop in the embryos have often been found to reflect how those structures changed during evolution. Embryonic humans at early stages, for example, look a lot like embryonic fish, and later in development as embryos of other mammals, betraying our origins on the evolutionary tree.

The development of the skull is a particularly complex process, where hard bony tissues have to interact with many other organs, such as the eyes and brain. Birds’ skulls appear to remain proportionally much larger and rounder than those of other reptiles through development, retaining their embryonic characteristics.

The skull bones and brain shape of achicken (top) and an Americanalligator (bottom). Credit: Fabbri et al., 2017

Evolutionary advantage

The eye sockets in birds are relatively bigger than in dinosaurs or crocodilians, allowing for larger eyes, and the midbrain is much bigger as well – an important centre for tracking movement during flight.

The larger eyes and brain, especially the midbrain portion, allowed birds to develop better visual senses and processing of visual information. These features are evident even in the earliest birds, such as the Archaeopteryx, evolving alongside the last dinosaurs – and might have helped them survive the extinction that wiped out their relatives.

The team now hope to be able to determine the exact genetic mechanisms controlling both cranial development and evolution – how does exactly the brain control skull size and shape?

Dr Abzhanov said: “Evolution is the accumulation of and selection on changes made to the developmental process. Studying birds is a fascinating subject because they retain features of ‘young’ dinosaur ancestors, while also clearly adding their own adaptations, such as toothless beaks and wings.

“Birds are incredibly successful organisms that have diversified into thousands of ecologically distinct species all over the world, across all continents and oceans. We think their paedomorphism contributed to this success, but only by knowing the underlying developmental processes can we determine how their unique adaptations actually evolved.”

Sorting by skulls

The main methodology was to generate 3D computer tomography scans of the skulls from both extinct and modern species and employ computer software to track any changes in their shapes.

The team’s 3D modelling of skulls represented some of the best (and in some cases first) characterisations for many of the species in the study. Skull bones are often used to identify animal species, to classify them into groups, and to determine courses of their evolution, by tracking the changes in certain bones across species.

Dr Abzhanov said: “One other useful outcome of this survey of skulls from across reptile evolution was a better ability to recognise the (often disputed) evolutionary fates of individual cranial bones, especially during the dramatic reptile to bird transition.”

More information: The skull roof tracks the brain during the evolution and development of reptiles including birds, Nature Ecology and Evolution (2017). DOI: 10.1038/s41559-017-0288-2

Provided by: Imperial College London


Dinosaur Poop Shows Presumed Vegetarians Also Ate Meat

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Dinosaur Poop Shows Presumed Vegetarians Also Ate Meat

Fossilized duck-billed dino droppings from Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument are full of rotten wood and crustaceans.

To dinosaur researchers, flat, grinding teeth are like neon signs that spell “plant-eater.” But the other end of the dinosaur tells a more complex story, according to new research. Fossilized feces from Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument suggests that duck-billed dinosaurs got some extra nutrition from large crustaceans living in rotten wood.

The fossilized feces, known as coprolites, came from more than 15 separate sites, some of which were apparently “latrines” where dinosaurs pooped repeatedly. All were located in the Kaiparowitz formation, a thick swath of fossil-rich rock laid down around 75 million years ago in what is now southern Utah.

The area is currently protected as part of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, although its future is uncertain due to an ongoing review of national monuments ordered by President Donald Trump. This past Sunday, the Washington Post reported that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has recommended reducing the size of Grand Staircase and several other monuments, as well as reopening them to uses such as grazing, logging and coal mining.

The specific recommendations are not yet public, so it’s still unclear what impact they would have on the regions that contain fossils. Nevertheless, several researchers interviewed for this article expressed concern over the potential loss of the land’s protection. Grand Staircase-Escalante is famous for its exceptionally diverse suite of dinosaur fossils.

In the current study, when the researchers cut thin slices from the coprolites and examined them using microscopes and other instruments, they saw the remains of wood from conifer trees. The wood had been partially broken down by fungus prior to being eaten, which would have made it easier for the dinosaurs to digest.

The researchers can’t know for sure what kind of dinosaurs made the coprolites. However, the fossils closely resemble another group of wood-filled coprolites from Montana, which are thought to be the leavings of elephant-sized, duck-billed dinosaurs known as hadrosaurs. Several kinds of hadrosaurs lived in Grand Staircase-Escalante, and the teeth of some species would have been well-suited to grinding up tough plant material like rotten wood, according to Karen Chin, a paleontologist at the University of Colorado Boulder and first author of the paper published today in Scientific Reports.

Greg Erickson, a paleobiologist at Florida State University in Tallahassee who has studied hadrosaur teeth, agrees that the coprolites most likely came from hadrosaurs — in particular, a genus called Gryposaurus. These dinosaurs had hundreds of teeth arranged in rows that were continually worn down and replaced, enabling them to pulverize almost any kind of plant matter, he said. Erickson has worked with Chin in the past, but was not involved in the new study.

The discovery of similar rotten-wood coprolites from multiple locations suggests that hadrosaurs ate rotten wood routinely, said Chin. This is surprising, since most of today’s large herbivores rarely eat wood. Cows in Chile have been seen eating rotten logs, but for the most part, today’s mega-herbivores rely on more tender plant material like grass and leaves, she said.

Even the hadrosaurs probably ate other types of plant matter most of the time, said Chin. It’s no surprise that researchers rarely find remains of more delicate meals, since wood is tougher than other plant tissues and more likely to fossilize, even after passing through an animal’s digestive tract, she added. The hadrosaurs might have turned to rotten wood at certain times of year, perhaps when other food became scarce, she said.

In addition to rotten wood, the Utah coprolites contained another surprise: pieces of crushed shell about a millimeter thick. The shells’ distinctive layered structures marked them as the exoskeletons of crustaceans, a group of invertebrates that includes crabs and lobsters.

Until now, paleontologists have generally assumed that hadrosaurs and other large herbivorous dinosaurs were strict plant-eaters, like modern-day elephants and rhinos, said Chin. But the crustaceans in their waste demonstrate that at least some of them were ingesting meat, and Chin doubts they were doing so completely by accident. The crustaceans in the coprolites would have been about 2 inches long, big enough for a 30-foot-long hadrosaur to spit out if it accidentally scooped one up with a mouthful of rotten wood.

“That animal would know it was eating something other than plant material. And it would have a choice to make,” she said.

Why did hadrosaurs supplement their diets with meat, while similar-sized herbivores today do not? Chin speculates that it might have something to do with their reproductive strategy, laying eggs instead of giving birth to live young. When a female hadrosaur produced a clutch of eggs, she might have benefited from the sudden boost of protein and minerals crustaceans could provide.

This sounds plausible to Eric Roberts, a sedimentologist at James Cook University in Townsville, Australia, who has also studied coprolites from southern Utah and was not involved in the study. And while the dinosaurs’ motivations remain a matter of speculation, their droppings clearly indicate that they did, in fact, eat meat — a behavior researchers could never have guessed from their bones and teeth alone.

“When you find evidence like this, it does require that you sort of expand your ideas about how things as large as ceratopsians and hadrosaurs may have obtained enough nutrition,” said Roberts. “It opens up the way that I think about dinosaur ecology.”

Lumbering Giants Had Agile Ancestors

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Lumbering Giants Had Agile Ancestors

The best known sauropod dinosaurs were huge herbivorous creatures, whose brain structures were markedly different from those of their evolutionary predecessors, for the earliest representatives of the group were small, lithe carnivores.

The sauropod group of dinosaurs included the largest animals that have ever walked the Earth – up to 40 meters long and weighing as much as 90 tons. Evolutionarily speaking, they were obviously very successful, giving rise to a diverse and widely distributed array of plant-eating species. These forms were characterized by a small head, a long and highly flexible neck that allowed them – like modern giraffes – to graze the tops of the tallest trees, and a massive body that made mature specimens invulnerable to predators. The sauropods survived for well over 100 million years before succumbing to the meteorite that snuffed out the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous Era.

However, the early representatives of the lineage that led to these lumbering giants were strikingly different in form and habits. For a start, they were carnivores – like Saturnalia tupiniquim, an early sauropod dinosaur that was about the same size as a modern wolf. Recent work carried out by LMU researchers in collaboration with colleagues in Brazil now confirms this scenario and adds new details to the story. Most of the evidence for the early members of the Sauropodomorpha comes from their type of dentition. Now paleontologists Mario Bronzati and Oliver Rauhut, who are based at LMU and the Bavarian State Collection for Paleontology and Geology in Munich, have used computer tomography (CT) to analyze fossil skull bones assigned to S. tupiniquim. The high-resolution images of the cranial bones provided by this technique enabled them to deduce the overall surface morphology of the brain. The results suggest that despite being capable of consuming both meat and plants, S. tupiniquim could have followed a purely predatory lifestyle. The new findings appear in Scientific Reports.

The fossil material used in the study was discovered in Brazil over 20 years ago. It comes from a geological formation that dates back to the Triassic Era, and is about 230 million years old. According to the authors of the study, these are the oldest dinosaur bones that have been successfully reassembled with the aid of computer tomography at sufficiently high resolution to permit the reconstruction of the gross anatomy of the brain.

The evolution of the so-called Sauropodomorpha, of which Saturnalia tupiniquim is an early representative, and the Sauropoda sensu stricto, is marked by a clear tendency towards extension of the neck region, which is accompanied by reduction of the size of the skull – with a corresponding decrease in the volume of the brain – relative to the skeleton as a whole. Saturnalia tupiniquim stands at the beginning of this process. But the new study reveals that, unlike the case in the true sauropods, a specific area in the cerebellum, which encompasses the two lobes known as the flocculus and paraflocculus, is particularly prominent in the brain of S. tupiniquim. These structures are known to play an important role in controlling voluntary movements of the head and neck, and are involved in regulating the oculomotor system, which stabilizes the animal’s field of view.

Bronzati, Rauhut and their co-authors therefore argue that these features enabled S. tupiniquim to adopt a predatory lifestyle. Their findings strongly suggest that, in contrast to the true sauropods, it had a bipedal gait. Moreover, it was nimble enough to hunt, seize and kill its prey – thanks to its inferred ability to track moving objects with its eyes and to execute rapid movements of its head and neck in a coordinated and precise fashion. With the aid of CT-based reconstruction of the surface anatomy of the brain, the researchers now hope to retrace other stages in the evolution of the sauropodomorphs.

More information: Mario Bronzati et al. Endocast of the Late Triassic (Carnian) dinosaur Saturnalia tupiniquim: implications for the evolution of brain tissue in Sauropodomorpha, Scientific Reports (2017). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-11737-5




Jurassic World 2 Trailer Is Coming in Late November

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Jurassic World 2 Trailer Is Coming in Late November

Jurassic World 2 is already in the can and director J.A. Bayona is currently busy getting the movie edited together for release next year. The question on the minds of many fans at this point in time is when can we expect to see the first teaser trailer for the movie? Well, we may very well have our answer and it looks like the first Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom trailer will arrive just in time for Thanksgiving this year.

We must warn right off the bat that this news isn’t coming directly from anyone at Universal or from the creative team working on Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, so it should be regarded as a rumor for the time being. That said, fan site Jurassic Outpost claims to have learned that retailers and licensing partners have been alerted to the first trailer’s release this November. It is expected to arrive around Thanksgiving time, but no specific date has been given at this time.

Thanksgiving is going to take place on Thursday, November 23 this year. For what it’s worth, the first trailer for Jurassic World arrived on November 25, 2014. That put it about seven months ahead of the movie’s release. Assuming that Universal wants to stick to a similar marketing strategy for the sequel, putting out the Jurassic World 2 teaser trailer on, or around, Thanksgiving this year would make perfect sense. The sequel will see the return of Jurassic World star Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard and B.D. Wong, with franchise favorite Jeff Goldblum set to return as Ian Malcolm. Rafe Spall, Toby Jones, Ted Levine and James Cromwell have also joined the cast.

At the present time, not much has officially been released in regards to Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. We know that the movie is going to have a volcanic eruption at its center, which means that the dinosaurs located on Isla Nublar are going to be in danger. There has also been evidence that suggests a rescue mission of some kind is going to be taking place. However, since it sounds like the dinosaurs are possibly going to be the ones in the way of this volcanic eruption, we may be seeing the humans stepping in to rescue the dinosaurs this time and not the other way around. That would certainly be something we haven’t really seen in the Jurassic park franchise before and heading into the fifth entry, we could use something fresh.

Jurassic World was a successful movie beyond anyone’s wildest predictions. The movie grossed $1.67 billion worldwide and remains one of the highest-grossing movies ever released. That being the case, Universal will very likely try to mirror that success with Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, which is set to hit theaters on June 22, 2018. So the trailer being released in November, though not confirmed officially, is something you should be able to look forward to.

Jurassic World Concept Art Reveals a Very Different Indominus Rex

Thursday, September 21, 2017

In 2015’s Jurassic Park sequel Jurassic World, the theme park was open to a new attraction, the Indominus Rex. The new hybrid creature escaped and was the most dangerous of all the escaped dinosaurs. Concept artist Ian Joyner has shared some early concept art for the Indominus Rex that never ended up being used in Jurassic World.

RELATED: Jurassic World 2 Trailer Is Coming in Late November

In Jurassic World, the Indominus Rex was a new dinosaur created by Ingen’s Dr. Henry Wu by combining different dinosaur DNA, most notably the T-Rex and the velociraptor. On his page, Joyner — a freelance concept artist who has worked on movies and video games — describes the artwork as “an early exploration for the Indominus Rex in Jurassic World. No one particular dinosaur was referenced, as it was a hybrid creation.”


Joyner’s Indominus Rex has the familiar outline of a Tyrannosaurus rex, but with some big differences. The Indominus Rex envisioned here has sort of a green and black striped look, which kind of resembles jungle camouflage instead of the white default color of the final design. The teeth are also completely black and a series of spikes run along the tail, spine, the back of the neck and the head. The hands are also larger than a T-Rex, with what looks like four fingers.

Ultimately, Jurassic World went with a different concept of Indominus Rex, but this is an amazing look at a dangerous new creature.