Sunday, June 30, 2013

Anchiornis: Prehistoric Animal of the Week

Anchiornis huxleyi was a small, feathered dinosaur that lived in what is now China during the Jurassic period a little over 160 million years ago.  It's genus name translates to "Near Bird" in reference to its striking similarity to birds.  Its species name honors Thomas Henry Huxley who was one of the first scientists to propose birds and (other)dinosaurs were related.

Life reconstruction of Anchiornis huxleyi by Christopher DiPiazza

Anchiornis was tiny.  In fact, it may be the smallest non-avian dinosaur known to date.  From head to tail it was only about a foot long, roughly the same size as a pigeon.  It probably ate small animals like lizards and insects when alive but I wouldn't be surprised if it ate some plant material as well.  Anchiornis would have co-existed with its close relative, Eosinopteryx

Fossil of Anchiornis complete with feathers

 Like birds, thanks some beautifully preserved fossils, we know that Anchiornis was fully feathered.  And by fully feathered I mean it was fully feathered.  In fact, Anchiornis had more plumage on its body than most modern birds do!  In addition to all the regular body parts one would expect to find feathers on an animal such as this, Anchiornis also had feathers covering most of its face, long, primary feathers running all down each of its legs and it even had small feathers covering its feet and toes.  As strange as this sounds, its actually not unheard of in the modern bird world either.  Owls, for instance, have light, wispy feathers on their toes growing out from between their scales.  Certain breeds of domestic chicken and dove also have primary feathers on their legs and feet.  What Anchiornis used its interesting plumage for is uncertain.  The feathers themselves weren't the right shape for flying, despite having so many.  Because they were all down its legs and feet, running on the ground would have also been a huge hassle for this dinosaur.  It is likely that Anchiornis was mostly arboreal and possibly was able to glide or parachute short distances when it had to.

Cochin Chicken

Foot of a Eurasian Eagle Owl

Anchiornis is one of the few dinosaurs in which the feathers have preserved so nicely, that paleontologists can look at them under a microscope and actually tell what color they probably were in life (which I have written all about before on here).  They can do this thanks to the fact that tiny cells, called melanosomes, preserved.  The shape of the cells reflects the color of the structure that they are on.  All the scientists had to do was look at the shapes of the melanosomes on Anchiornis and then find a match to melanosomes on modern birds.  What they found out was that Anchiornis would have been mostly a dark gray/black on most of its body, had white wing and leg feathers with black tips and had a reddish brown crest and flecks on its head.  Keep in mind the real colors of this animal when alive may not be exactly this since there could have been other cells that have since rotted away over the past 160 million years that when added to the ones that were observed could have given off a different pigment in life.  For now, however, this is our most likely image of the animal. 

That's all for this week!  Not sure if I will be able to get a post up Thursday because I will likely be packing for Gary and I's big trip to New Mexico to take part in an excavation of Triassic dinosaur fossils!  We will be sure to keep you posted though.  As always feel free to comment below or on our facebook page.


Hu, D; Hou, L.; Zhang, L. & Xu, X. (2009). "A pre-Archaeopteryx troodontid theropod from China with long feathers on the metatarsus". Nature 461 (7264): 640–643.

Li, Q.; Gao, K.-Q.; Vinther, J.; Shawkey, M.D.; Clarke, J.A.; D'Alba, L.; Meng, Q.; Briggs, D.E.G. et al. (2010). "Plumage color patterns of an extinct dinosaur". Science 327 (5971): 1369–1372.

Xu, X.; Zhao, Q.; Norell, M.; Sullivan, C.; Hone, D.; Erickson, G.; Wang, X.; Han, F. et al. (2009). "A new feathered maniraptoran dinosaur fossil that fills a morphological gap in avian origin". Chinese Science Bulletin 54 (3): 430–435. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Rough Sketches to Finished Paintings: Part 2

Everyone seemed to really like the post showcasing some of the early drafts of my paintings I put up a few weeks ago so I decided to do another one.  Its a good thing I scan these things as I go along sometimes!

This sketch was actually done a few years ago but wasn't used for an actual painting until last month.  I originally wanted to do a painting of a Pachycephalosaurus and was playing around with some poses.  This is one sketch I made that I particularly liked but ultimately ended up ditching.

A few years later I wanted to do the newly discovered Acrotholus for a Prehistoric Animal of the Week and finally used this old sketch's pose.  The result was pretty nice I think.  I think Pachycephalosaurids are particularly interesting when viewed facing the viewer.  Its something about the unusual shape of their heads and how the dome makes a sort of roof over the eyes.

Next is a sketch of the large pterosaur, Ornithocheirus for another Prehistoric Animal of the Week.  Paleontologist, Mark Witton, was kind enough to serve as a source of professional input for me as I was making it.  Here is the initial sketch I showed him.

Awesomely, he said it was mostly good!  Just two things looked off.  1) the individual on the left's wing membrane was incorrectly folded.  It should hug the frame of the arm and finger more.  2) The flying individual on the right's body was too large (Ornithocheirus and its relatives had proportionally tiny bodies).  So then I showed him this with the modifications.

That's better!  Then I went on to add the paint and ultimately produced the painting below.  Some people mentioned to me that they weren't fans of the black color scheme for these guys.  I actually specifically wanted to do a large pterosaur in black for a while at that point and am pleased with how it came out regardless.  Its based on a living animal, actually.  Can you guess what it is?

I also did the spiky dinosaur, Kentrosaurus for a Prehistoric Animal of the Week.  Paleontologist, Heinrich Mallison, was helping me out with the accuracy of the drawing this time.  Here is the first sketch I showed him.

Not bad but there were a few changes that needed to be made.  The tail on the real animal would not have been able to twist in the way that I drew it and the last pair of spikes should be moved to the very tip of the tail.  Also he suggested moving the spikes on the shoulders to the hips.  It is unknown where those spikes attached on Kentrosaurus for certain since the bones were scattered when discovered.  One school of thought is on the shoulders, where they do indeed fit quite nicely but only if they are angled downwards which doesn't make much sense from a defensive standpoint since this animal's enemies would have been taller theropods attacking from above.  Despite this, Kentrosaurus is often reconstructed this way for some reason.   The other idea, which Dr. Mallison supports, is that those spikes were on the hips, facing behind the animal.  They fit there too and it makes more sense as a defensive weapon.  I didn't modify the sketch but instead made a whole new one.

Nice.  Now lets paint!

Last one.  Back in 2011 I decided that I really wanted to do a painting of a Triceratops baby and parent viewed close up.  This is the original idea from my sketchbook.

Here is the painting itself partially done.

And the final product.  This is one of my favorites that I have ever done.  It is also one of the few paintings that I actually sold the original of.  Since then I only sell or gift prints. 

That's all for this week!  As always feel free to comment below or on the facebook page

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Camarasaurus: Prehistoric Animal of the Week

This week we are taking a look at probably the most well documented and studied sauropod dinosaur, CamarasaurusCamarasaurus was a long-necked, plant eating dinosaur that lived in what is now the western United States during the Late Jurassic Period, about 150 million years ago.  There are currently four different species within the genus Camarasaurus according to experts.  The largest species, Camarasaurus supremus, measured about sixty feet long.  The species that is most well documented with the highest number of specimens, Camarasaurus lentus, was a bit smaller at around fifty feet long.  There is a possibility that C. supremus is actually just a large individual of C. lentus, however.  The other two species, Camarasaurus grandis and Camarasaurus lewisi were both smaller at around forty five feet long.  Camarasaurus as a genus, believe it or not, is actually on the small side considering that some other kinds of sauropods (long-necked dinosaurs) were the largest land animals of all time.  When it was alive, Camarasaurus would have co-existed with many other famous dinosaurs such as Apatosaurus, Diplodocus, Barosaurus, Brachiosaurus, Allosaurus and Stegosaurus.

Life restoration of Camarasaurus lentus by Christopher DiPiazza.

The name, Camarasaurus translates to "chambered reptile" because of the hollow spaces within its vertebrae.  This is a feature common to many dinosaurs which allows the animal to be large but not too heavy.  Some dinosaurs (the birds) even utilized this adaptation to fly.

Skeleton of a sub-adult Camarasaurus on display at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

Unlike some other sauropods, like Apatosaurus and Barosaurus, which had shorter front limbs than hind limbs, or Brachiosaurus which had longer front limbs than hind limbs, the front and back limbs of Camarasaurus were relatively equal in length.  Camarasaurus also had a much shorter snout than many other sauropods, giving its head a very distinctive boxy look.  Many Camarasaurus specimens have been discovered including some nearly complete skeletons.  There have even been multiple skeletons including adults and juveniles discovered in close proximity to each other which suggests that these dinosaurs probably lived in groups.

Join us next week for another prehistoric creature!  As always you are welcome to contact me in the comments below or on our facebook page to suggest a specific animal of your choosing!


Cope, E. D., 1877a, On a gigantic saurian from the Dakota eopoc of Colorado: Palaeontological Bulletin, n. 25, p. 5-10.

Foster, J. (2007). Jurassic West: The Dinosaurs of the Morrison Formation and Their World. Indiana University Press.

McIntosh, J. S., Miller, W. E., Stadtman, K. L., and Gillette, D. G., 1995, The Osteology of Camarasaurus lewisi (Jensen, 1988): Brigham Young University, v. 41, p. 73-116.

McIntosh, J. S., Miles, C. A., Cloward, K. C., and Parker, J. R., 1996, A New Nearly Complete Skeleton of Camarasaurus: Bulletin of Gunma Museum of Natural History, n. 1, p. 1-87.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Morris Museum "Dino Day" 2013

Back on April 27th the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey, held its annual "Dino Day".  Like past years your friends at Jersey Boys Hunt Dinosaurs were invited to host a table.  I also had the honor of presenting one of my talks on dinosaurs and was even able to bring a few of my live animals from work along!

The reason this post has taken over a month and a half to post is because we wanted to put together a really nice movie for you.  My long time friend, George, edited all of our footage from that day and put something together that is really special.  Check it out!

Now here is a less edited (much editing actually) video showcasing our friend, Ron Maslanka's Hadrosaurus puppet. 

I love that thing.  Did I mention its life-sized?

Finally here are a few photos from that day.

Elvis, the Dwarf Caiman, models as a non-dinosaur archosaur.

Luisa, the Moluccan Cockatoo/living dinosaur takes a crap on the classroom floor.

Gather round, kids!  Just try not to step in the dino crap.

Christopher DiPiazza(me), Ron Maslanka, Gary Vechiarelli.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Eocursor: Prehistoric Animal of the Week

This week we are going back farther than usual to the Triassic when dinosaurs first started to get a foothold as the dominant land vertebrates on earth.  Lets check out Eocursor parvusEocursor translates to "Dawn Runner" because it was a very early dinosaur and its extremely long legs show us that it was probably a fast runner.  This dinosaur lived about 210 million years ago in what is now South Africa and would have eaten plants when it was alive.  It was first discovered in the 1990s but wasn't formally described until 2007.

Life reconstruction of Eocursor parvus by Christopher DiPiazza

Eocursor was not large, measuring only about three feet long from head to tail.  It had no special armor, horns, spikes, large teeth or anything else that some other extinct dinosaurs had that would make it formidable but it is nonetheless an extremely important discovery.  You see, almost every other dinosaur we know of from the Triassic is either some sort of theropod, like Coelophysis or a prosauropod, like Plateosaurus.  Very rarely does anyone find a dinosaur like Eocursor which is in the same group as and likely the ancestor of the plant-eating, beaked dinosaurs like ceratopsians, thyreophorans and ornithopods.  We call this group the ornithiscian dinosaurs or "bird hipped dinosaurs" (ironic because its the other sauriscian "lizard hipped" theropods that were actually directly related to birds).  It may not look like much now, but Eocursor's lineage would evolve into some of the most successful and widespread dinosaurs of the Mesozoic!

Eocursor parvus bones

Like I said before, Eocursor had extremely long legs which would have come in handy(or footy HA!) when avoiding all those hungry meat-eating theropods and crocodilomorphs of its time.  We can tell this because its tibea(lower leg bone right below the knee) was much longer than its femur (thigh bone) which is a characteristic of swift-runners.  It also had pretty long and strong arms that would have had five grasping fingers.  This might have aided it when foraging for plants to eat.  Its head was small and possessed small teeth that look like they would have been suitable for cutting leaves and other such plant material.  Even thought the top of its skull was never discovered, I would be willing to bet Eocursor also had large eyes, which is a trait common in other small, fast-moving, plant-eating dinosaurs.


 Butler, Richard J.; Roger M. H. Smith and David B. Norman (2007). "A primitive ornithischian dinosaur from the Late Triassic of South Africa, and the early evolution and diversification of Ornithischia". Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 274 (1621): 2041. doi:10.1098/rspb.2007.0367

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Rough Sketches to Finished Paintings

I haven't done an art post in a while.  Lets do an art post!  Often times when I'm in the process of creating a painting I go through a lot of rough ideas first.  Sometimes I get ripped apart critiqued by professionals kind enough to lend me some insight on accuracy and sometimes I'm just not happy with my own ideas.  Today I will show you the early stages of some images that have appeared on Jersey Boys Hunt Dinosaurs in the past.

Lets start with the sketch for the painting that I chose to be the banner of this site featuring Jersey Boy's Hunt Dinosaurs' unofficial mascot, Dryptosaurus as well as Hadrosaurus and an unnamed nodosaur.

I ended up changing a few things including the Hadrosaurus' tail and the angle of the nodosaur.  It more or less remained the same scene, though.

A few years ago I did a painting of my favorite pterosaur, Dimorphodon that was eventually utilized on this site for a Prehistoric Animal of the Week.  Below is the original sketch I had prepared.

Looking back I sometimes wish I would have stuck with this idea honestly.  I ultimately opted for a different angle focusing on one individual with less background.  Below is the final version!

Next up is a painting I did of the small feathered dromaeosaur, Microraptor ambushing a sleeping early bird called Confuciusornis. Below is the initial sketch.

Even though I still think the original idea's angle is more dramatic, I really wanted to show more of Microraptor's wings so I ended up opting for a slightly different angle instead. Below is the final version.  It was featured on on my post about dinosaur feather colors.

This next one gave went through a lot of changes.  Its the painting of Plateosaurus males fighting for mating rights.  I did this piece for when Plateosaurus was featured as a Prehistoric Animal of the Week.  Paleo-artist, Bruce Mohn was kind enough to lend me some constructive criticism along the way.  Below is the first draft.

Not bad but all the dinosaurs in this scene are being viewed from the side. Lets change the angles a bit!

Definitely more dynamic with regards to the poses but lets make the two that are fighting closer like when modern monitor lizards fight.  Also lets make that spectating female in the background not so in a hurry to move on.  These two guys are competing for her attention, after all.  The least she could do is watch!

Almost there.   Why don't we make this fight even more exciting by adding some biting and movement in the legs.  The opportunity to mate is a big deal and a bachelor male needs to give it all he's got!

Nice!  Before finally applying paint i decided to go a little easier on the dewlaps, changed the tails so that they didn't all look so swishy, switched the movement in the feet a around and added some plants in the foreground.  Below is the final piece! 

One day when during my lunch break at my job at the zoo I decided to take my sketchpad and doodle some of the animals from life.  I noticed that the Greater Rheas sometimes would rest on their foot bones.  It made me think that maybe some extinct dinosaurs could have rested in a similar manner especially since they had long tails to help support them as well.  Here is a sketch i did applying this posture to a Struthiomimus.  

I eventually illustrated Struthiomimus for a Prehistoric Animal of the Week and went forward with this posture all thanks to the Rhea!  

That's all for this week!  As always i would love to hear feedback from you in our comments below or on our facebook page!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Vagaceratops: Prehistoric Animal of the Week

This week we will be taking a look at a strange(then again there were a lot of strange ones) ceratopsid dinosaur which was requested by a fan through last week's post!  Check out Vagaceratops irvinensis!

Life reconstruction of a pair of Vagaceratops irvinensis by Christopher DiPiazza.

Vagaceratops measured fifteen feet long and was alive about 75 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous in what is now Alberta, Canada.  It was very closely related to another ceratopsid dinosaur, Chasmosaurus.  In fact, when it was first discovered in 2001, it was originally lumped into the same genus and was named Chasmosaurus irvinensis.  Then in 2010 it was re-evaluated and given its own genus, Vagaceraops.

Vagaceratops skull at the Canadian Museum of Nature.

 Unlike its relatives like Chasmosaurus, Vagaceratops possessed a relatively shorter and wider frill which was square-shaped.  It also had a row of small horns called epoccipitals around its frill that bent downwards, over the front of the frill across the squared off top.  Vagaceratops had a horn on its nose but strangely enough, no horns over its eyes.  Some believe that Vagaceratops is actually the juvenile form or possibly the female sex of another dinosaur called Kosmoceratops (briefly mentioned on this site before) because they both had odd, downward-facing epoccipitals across the tops of their frills.  In fact, the name "Vagaceratops" translates to "Wandering Horned Face" because of it was discovered so far away from Kosmoceratops (in Utah, USA).

Skull of Kosmoceratops.  I see the connection but long-distance relationships are just so hard!

That's all for this week!  Next week we will be looking at a dinosaur that lived very early on in the Mesozoic and would have given rise to many of the most famous dinosaurs that we know and love.  As always feel free to comment below or on our facebook page.  I love getting feedback and requests from you guys!


Dodson, Peter (1996). The Horned Dinosaurs. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. pp. 49, 63. ISBN 0-691-02882-6.^ Makovicky, Peter J. (2012). "Marginocephalia". In M. K. Brett-Surman, Thomas R. Holtz, James O. Farlow (eds.). The Complete Dinosaur (2. ed.). Indiana University Press. p. 540.

Scott D. Sampson, Mark A. Loewen, Andrew A. Farke, Eric M. Roberts, Catherine A. Forster, Joshua A. Smith, and Alan L. Titus (2010). "New Horned Dinosaurs from Utah Provide Evidence for Intracontinental Dinosaur Endemism". PLoS ONE 5 (9): e12292. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0012292. PMC 2929175. PMID 20877459.

R. B. Holmes, C. A. Forster, M. J. Ryan and K. M. Shepherd (2001). "A new species of Chasmosaurus (Dinosauria: Ceratopsia) from the Dinosaur Park Formation of southern Alberta". Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 38: 1423–1438. doi:10.1139/cjes-38-10-1423.