Thursday, October 31, 2013

Dinosaur Pumpkins

Its Halloween!  Unfortunately I didn't get to decorate a prehistoric-themed pumpkin this year.  I did a few years ago, however.

Hope everyone has a safe and fun holiday!  Also, never forget who the original "monsters" were!  Dinosaurs! 

Have a prehistoric pumpkin or costume you would like to share?  Post it up on our facebook page.  We would love to see!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Gargoyleosaurus: Prehistoric Animal of the Week

Halloween is just a few days away so how about we look at a dinosaur with a particularly spooky name?  Do you know what a gargoyle is?  I bet you don't!  Were you thinking of something like this?

famous gargoyles from Notre Dam.
The term, "gargoyle", is more specific than a stone monster on a building (which are officially called grotesques).  True gargoyles, however, are the statues that act as water spouts like this.

And when the water freezes they look hilarious.

lol butt

They were also the subject of the most bad-ass franchise Disney has ever made.

This show was my life when I was seven.

Gargoyles are interesting because there are really no rules or guidelines for what they are supposed to look like, unlike a lot of other popular monsters.  Well, our dinosaur this week must have inspired something spooky in paleontologists because it is named after these fantastic stone guardians of the night...that also barf rain.  Check out Gargoyleosaurus parkpinorum!

Gargoyleosaurus parkpinorum life reconstruction by Christo[pher DiPiazza.

Gargoyleosaurus lived during the Late Jurassic period about 150 million years ago in what is now Wyoming, USA.  It measured about ten feet long from snout to tail and was an ankylosaur, which means it had heavy bone armor all over its body like its relative, Ankylosaurus.  What is interesting about Gargoyleosaurus, however, is the fact that it lived during the Late Jurassic period (typically ankylosaurs lived during the Cretaceous, millions of years later). 

Gargoyleosaurus skeleton.

Gargoyleosaurus had a long, narrow snout, it's body was adorned with triangular spikes running down its sides, and had almost flat armor plates on its back.  The tail had some small spikes running down the sides as well but it had no bony club.  Later on during the Cretaceous, we can see two distinct kinds of armored dinosaurs, the ankylosaurids, which had short snouts, horns on the backs of their robust skulls and bony tail clubs, and the nodosaurids, which had small heads but commonly had sharp spiky plates running down their sides with no club.  Gargoyleosaurus has physical characteristics from both of these families.  It looks as if an ankylosaurid head was placed on a nodosaurid body.  Gargoyleosaurus may be the common ancestor that would later branch out into these two distinct families millions of years later.

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


Carpenter, K., Miles, C. and Cloward, K. (1998). "Skull of a Jurassic ankylosaur (Dinosauria)." Nature 393: 782-783.

Killbourne, B. and Carpenter, K. (2005). "Redescription of Gargoyleosaurus parkpinorum, a polacanthid ankylosaur from the Upper Jurassic of Albany County, Wyoming". Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie, 237, 111-160.

Foster, J. (2007). "Appendix." Jurassic West: The Dinosaurs of the Morrison Formation and Their World. Indiana University Press. pp. 327-329.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Chris Kastner's Backyard Terrors and Dinosaur Park

Halloween is just around the corner so for today I thought it would be cool to share with you the work of my friend, Chris Kastner, who has experience building props and models for Halloween attractions. Chris has also put together something else that is truly extraordinary and it's right in his own backyard!  It is a walk-through dinosaur park with life-sized models of many impressive dinosaurs (which he makes all himself).  What I like the most about his park is the fact that Chris actually does the right homework and ends up making models that are really accurate to science (which is more than I can say about so many other, more famous dinosaur attractions out there!).   

 Chris and his park have even been on the news!

Chris and one of his louder creations, a Parasaurolophus.

My name is Chris Kastner.  I think I've always been into art of some form. I believe I started drawing from a desire to capture what I saw on tv, movies and other places. I felt a need to make them mine and possess them perhaps ? Probably a part of why I collect things come to think of it. 

I'm not sure exactly when Dinosaurs became a main staple of my art but I believe my first one was a plush toy of some sort my mom gave me. Then it was models, t-shirts, Halloween costumes..a genral interest in the past also developed in me.  I was an average student in school, things like math didn't interest me. It was science, art and reading I enjoyed..though I found a way to draw in every class much to my teacher's ire. My mom's passing had a profound effect on me in 98' . She was my ever constant supporter of whatever I chose to do. After being taken in by my grandparents there was of course a sense of loss and depression I still feel to this day. So  I dove head first into my art, books, and anything I could express myself in.

When I graduated I didn't really feel drawn to any particular area..I had always considered being a paleontologist, but my weak ankles and flat feet pretty much prohibited the field work I would have preffered.  So I continued to draw, and sculpt a little doing odd jobs.  Me and some family members put togehter a haunted yard event each Halloween which continued to get more elaborate each year. Finally we were asked to assist a local pro-haunt and created things for them til I actually took over the event for 5 years. When the time came and that was over I knew I still wanted to create things that were big and impressive. We went out and joined up with another haunt and created our own branded show, The FUNHOUSE Haunted Attraction. I also decided to go into business for myself and thus Backyard Terrors was born. We're still starting out but we can create or put together anything one might want.  This also leads me to the Dinosaur Park. I created our first life size dinosaur in 2007. I had always wanted a 1:1 dinosaur of some size for my own and finally got up the nerve to try it. Of course being a HUGE Jurassic Park fan I picked a JP Raptor.  He took 6 months to build and finish. Then I made a couple pteranodons and a dilophosaur. 

The first dinosaur Chris ever made, a Jurassic Park III male Velociraptor.  Here you can see it terrorizing the local boys.  Pretty normal.

It wasn't long after that I noticed a decay in my I had to find a new way to make them.  With a new material  almost literally stumbled across I now had free reign to make more dinosaurs without the worry of their quick decline outdoors.  My next dinosaur was the Brachiosaur juvenile and then the styracosaurus and so on..this past year we have added 7 new species to our Park, including a small  giftshop.  The really cool thing I've been told is that the Dinosaur Park is totally free admission. We do accept donations if offered but it's not required.  The choice to do this came from my experience as part of a low income family. I didn't want to charge 8.00 and have a family of four not be able to enjoy this place because they only had 25.00 on them.  I think every kid of any age should be able to see a big impressive exhbit regardless of how much they earn. So this Park is always available for afternoon stops after school, weekend trips combined with other local attractions birthdays parties for small donations and even school field trips who are always hard pressed to find something affordable to do.  We plan to keep adding to the Park and even do events like a Trick or Treat with the dinosaurs, easter egg hunt, Christmas lights, even a Dino Park in the Dark event next summer.  We've had so many people thank us for providing something of this nature for everyone and it's been our pleasure to do it. My desire to keep growing and building for as long as I can and share my creations with everyone.

How long on average does it take to complete a dinosaur ?
CK: It depends on the size of dinosaur and complexity of course..our first one took 6 months. But I have the process now down to about a month, month and a half.

A very colorful juvenile Spinosaurus

 What is the biggest one you have ever done?
CK: Most of our dinos average 20' or so...many in the sub-adult or juvenile range.   I think the largest would either our Allosaurus, Big Al or our cannibal Carnotaurus.  Certainly the biggest will be our upcoming 1:1 T-Rex .

A Cannibalistic Carnotaurus is one of the more aggressive residents of the Backyard Terrors Dinosaur Park.

Which is your favorite one you have ever done?
CK: That would have to be our mascot, Big Al..I've been partial to Allosaurus since I was a kid. He was like T-Rex but had boney bumps on his head and three figures instead of two...clearly superior to this kid. lol

"Big Al", the Allosaurus and jewel/mscot of the park.
What are they made of?

CK: We start with a treated wood frame, sometimes using metal or fiberglass to strengthen it.  Then we used heavy gauge steel fencing to get the rough shapes. That's covered with poultry fencing aka chicken wire to round out the forms and give us larger scale patterns.  Finally the skin itself is a type of heavy duty vinyl material that has to be super heated to piece together and shrunk to the framing. 
Nothing says relaxation like manual labor in the snow.  It's dinosaur manual labor though, so its worth it.

So if you are ever in Tennessee be sure to swing by Chris' place and check out his Backyard Terrors and Dinosaur Park!  Also be sure to check them out on facebook

Tune in Sunday for a Halloween-related dinosaur of the week.  (nobody guessed it yet by the way)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Balaur: Prehistoric Beast of the Week

It's getting closer to Halloween and I don't know about you but it seems I can't flick on the TV without seeing at least one horror movie.  Werewolves were always my favorite horror monster and there are certainly no shortage of those in pop culture.  There are also a lot of undead, especially vampires.  Did you know that Romania, the country where a lot of the stories for these famous monsters originally came from, was also home to a completely different (but equally intimidating) kind of "monster" millions of years ago?  Yup, prehistoric dinosaurs used to live there.  One of the most interesting was Balaur bondoc!

Balaur bondoc life reconstruction by Christopher DiPiazza.  Here it is depicted exhibiting either predatory behavior or possibly play behavior on an unlucky baby crocodilian.

First described in 2010, Balaur was a five-foot long theropod that lived during the late Cretaceous roughly 70 million years ago.  The most striking feature about this dinosaur is the fact that the first claw on each of its feet, which is normally very short in most theropods, was actually very large.  It is similar to the long, sickle-shaped claws that are the second toes on dromaeosaurids, like Velociraptor and Deinonychus.  In addition to this first foot claw, Balaur's second digit toe also had a long, retractable it had two giant sickle claws on each foot...neat!  When alive Balaur would have been covered in feathers.

The exact identity of Balaur has undergone a few changes over recent years.  At first it was believed by most to be a predatory dromaeosaurid, like Deinonychus, or Velociraptor, due its foot claws.  However, more recently it has been suggested that Balaur was actually a kind of large, flightless bird, more closely related to dinosaurs like Archaeopteryx.  Furthermore, it has also been suggested that Balaur was either an herbivore or omnivore, hunting small animals occasionally, like modern galliform birds (chickens, pheasants, turkeys...) do.  This is due to it only having two fingers instead of the normal three on each hand, a much wider and stockier body, and the fact that the bones that have been discovered resemble those of other, more completely known prehistoric birds that are known to have been either herbivores or omnivores, when inspected closely.  It is difficult to tell exactly what Balaur was eating because no part of its skull, including the teeth, have ever been found, however. As for the function of the two giant claws on each foot, some speculate it may have been to help Balaur support itself on the ground, since it was pretty stocky for its size, or perhaps it was a light climber, like many modern ground birds are, and used them to help perch on low branches.  Lastly, if Balaur was actually a meat-eater at least some of the time, the claws would have definitely been useful for pinning small prey down to be eaten.

Sketches of the foot of Deinonychus compared to that of Balaur.

Since Balaur was was so stocky and robust compared to its more lightly-built relatives, It likely would have relied more on strength than speed to survive.  Its full name, Balaur bondoc, actually translates to "stocky dragon".  Some have compared Balaur to the more recent Dodo Bird, having evolved to be slower and heavier in response to being genetically isolated, and perhaps having fewer predators given its habitat.  This is because Romania was actually an island back during the Cretaceous when the sea level was much higher.  Whenever you have animals that live on islands, they evolve differently because they are living in a unique environment.  For modern examples check out all the unique creatures living today in places like the Galapagos Islands or New Zealand.  Nowhere else in the world will you find Marine Iguanas, flightless cormorants, Kakapos, or Kiwis!  The animals Balaur co-exitsted with were also unique, including miniature or "dwarf" forms sauropods and a hadrosaurs (two kinds of dinosaurs which are known for having been very large everywhere else on the globe).

Fossil remains of Balaur.  You can see the double "killer claws" in the lower right corner of the photo.

That's all for this week!  As always comment below or on our facebook page!  Have a creature you want painted and reviewed?  Just let me know and I will make it happen!  Tune in next weekend for another dinosaur that has a connection to Halloween!  Can you guess how?


Brusatte, S. L. et al. (2013). "The Osteology of Balaur bondoc, an Island-Dwelling Dromaeosaurid (Dinosauria: Theropoda) from the Late Cretaceous of Romania" Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 374: 1-100. doi:10.1206/798.1

Cau, Andrea, Tom Brougham, and Darren Naish. "The Phylogenetic Affinities of the Bizarre Late Cretaceous Romanian Theropod Balaur Bondoc (Dinosauria, Maniraptora): Dromaeosaurid or Flightless Bird?" PeerJ 3 (2015): n. pag. Web.

Godefroit, Pascal; Cau, Andrea; Hu, Dong-Yu; Escuillié, François; Wu, Wenhao; Dyke, Gareth (2013). "A Jurassic avialan dinosaur from China resolves the early phylogenetic history of birds". Nature. in press. doi:10.1038/nature12168.

Z., Csiki; Vremir, M.; Brusatte, S. L.; and Norell, M. A. (2010). "An aberrant island-dwelling theropod dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous of Romania". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 107 (35): 15357–15361. doi:10.1073/pnas.1006970107. PMC 2932599. PMID 20805514.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

National Fossil Day 2013

It's National Fossil Day!  It is important to remember the scientific importance of fossils and why we study them.  There are many reasons for this but the reason that is most important to me, as someone who works with living animals, is that fossils help us understand the world around us today.  Its important to know your past and the pasts of the living things that you co-exist with as well.

So would you like to see some of the fossils in my personal collection?  I actually don't have that many.  All of the fossils I'm about to show you I obtained when I was in New Mexico this past summer, working with the Mesalands Dinosaur Museum.  Don't worry!  I had permission from the museum to keep each one of these. 

First up are three Redondasaurus teeth. 

When alive the animal that these teeth belonged to looked something like this.

Redondasaurus life reconstruction by Christopher DiPiazza.

Here is a section of armor plating from the aetosaur, Typothorax.

Typothorax life reconstruction by Christopher DiPiazza.

 Finally, check out this piece of bone!  It was split and you can actually see that it is hollow on the inside!  This means that it had to have come from a dinosaur like Coelophysis or possibly a poposauroid, like Shuvosaurus

White material is bone.  You can see the hollow cavity which is filled in with brown rock on the inside.
Some fossils are impossible to completely get out of the rock because they are just so delicate.  That was the case with this one.  I actually tried to get as much rock off of it as I could until I noticed that little pieces of the bone were starting to flake off as well.  I then covered it in a light layer of thin glue and left it as is.  I think it has a nice little stand this way anyway.

Outside of the bone.

Happy Fossil Day!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Shuvosaurus: Prehistoric Animal of the Week

This week we shall be checking out one of the animals that Gary and I had the joy of digging up this past summer in New Mexico!  Check out Shuvosaurus inexpectatusShuvosaurus lived in what is now North America during the Triassic Period between 215 and 200 million years ago.  It was about ten feet long from snout to tail and would have coexisted with Postosuchus

When Shuvosaurus was first discovered in the early 90s, scientists thought it was a kind of dinosaur that was related to the ornithomimid family like Struthiomimus ("ostrich dinosaurs").  Therefore, this was considered a really important find since ornithomimids were only ever known from the late Cretaceous, over 100 million years later than Shuvosaurus!  It's not hard to see why they thought this way.  Just look at the little guy.  It would have ran on two slender, powerful legs, had a long neck, a small head, large, round eyes and a toothless beak.  Looks like an ornithomimid to me!

Shuvosaurus life reconstruction by Christopher DiPiaza.

As it turns out, Shuvosaurus wasn't an ornithomimid at all.   In fact, it wasn't even a dinosaur!  The answer to this creature's identity lies in its ankle bones.  You see, all true dinosaurs, including birds, have an ankle joint that only rotates one way, much like the hinges on a door.  Other animals can swivel their ankles around.  Well, Shuvosaurus had a swiveling ankle and therefore wasn't a dinosaur.  Its hip bones also weren't totally consistent with those of dinosaurs either.   Scientists later realized all of this thanks to the discovery of more bones from an animal belonging to the same family as Shuvosaurus called Effigia.

So what was Shuvosaurus if it wasn't a dinosaur?  It was assigned to a branch of reptiles called Poposauroidae.  These creatures were still related to dinosaurs but weren't quite dinosaurs themselves.  They were actually more closely related to crocodiles and other crocodile-relatives like Desmatosuchus and Postosuchus (which also was bipedal!).  During the Triassic a lot of archosaurs (group of reptiles that includes dinosaurs and crocodiles) were evolving the same sort of lightweight, fully erect, bipedal body design.  At the end of the Triassic, however, the dinosaurs were the only ones left standing (get it...standing?  tee-hee!) with this design.

Shuvosaurus skull

Shuvosaurus, despite its resemblance to ornithomimid dinosaurs, was just an example of convergent evolution after all.  It's strange to think of an animal related to crocodiles that had no teeth!  Scientists are unsure as to what exactly Shuvosaurus was eating but it probably wasn't a serious predator.  It may have consumed vegetation and/or small animals like invertebrates. 

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


Chatterjee, S. (1991) An unusual toothless archosaur from the Triassic of Texas: the world's oldest ostrich dinosaur? Abstract, Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 8(3): 11A.

Rauhut, O. W. M. (1997). "On the cranial anatomy of Shuvosaurus inexpectatus (Dinosauria: Theropoda)." In: Sachs, S., Rauhut, O. W. M. & Weigert, A. (eds) 1. Treffen der deutschsprachigen Palaeoherpetologen, Düsseldorf, 21.-23.02.1997; Extended Abstracts. Terra Nostra 7/97, pp. 17-21.

Nesbitt, S. (2007). "The anatomy of Effigia okeeffeae (Archosauria, Suchia), theropod-like convergence, and the distribution of related taxa." Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, 302: 84 pp.

Friday, October 11, 2013

A Belated Birthday Present from Niroot Puttapipat

So I'm just minding my own business checking my facebook this morning and then BAM a beautiful painting of my favorite animal by my good friend and fellow artist, Niroot Puttapipat is jumping out at me on my news feed accompanied by this caption. 

"A much-belated birthday Triceratops (yes, another!) for Christopher DiPiazza of Jersey Boys Hunt Dinosaurs. The original is 147 x 103mm, roughly postcard size, with the Triceratops itself being about 70mm long.

Please visit this post and click on the images for better quality:

Belated happy birthday, Chris!"

As you may know Niroot is an extremely skilled artist with one of the most unique styles that makes him stand out amongst the rest in a most wonderful manner.  This watercolor painting is no exception.  Check it out!  

Not only is the Triceratops amazing but check out how beautiful the environment is too!  Nothing short of amazing (as usual).  Thank you, Niroot! 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Amargasaurus: Beast of the Week

This week we will be checking out a sauropod with a truly striking style!  Introducing Amargasaurus cazauiAmargasaurus was a plant-eating dinosaur that lived in what is now Argentina during the early Cretaceous roughly 130 million years ago.  It only measured about thirty three feet long and like all sauropods, was a plant-eater.  It's name translates to "Amarga reptile"....not good enough of a description?   Sorry.  La Amarga is the name of the geological formation as well as the town near where this dinosaur's bones were discovered in Argentina.  "Amarga" in Spanish means "bitter". 

Amargasaurus cazaui life reconstruction by Christopher DiPiazza.

The most unique and striking feature about Amargasaurus is the fact that it had two rows of upward-facing spines down its neck and part of its back.  These spines were actually parts of the animal's vertebrae!  The spines growing out of this dinosaur's neck were pointed and spike-like.  As they go further down the back, they become blunter and flatter.  Nobody is exactly sure what purpose these structures would have served in life.  It was most likely some sort of intraspecies display (when in doubt, just say display).  There may have been some sort of skin covering them or part of them forming a fin-like look.  Perhaps they were adorned with bright colors?  It is also possible that they could have been a defensive adaptation to deter large predators from biting the neck. 

Amargasaurus skeletal mount.

Other interesting features about Amargasaurus is that it actually had a relatively shorter neck proportionally when compared to other sauropod dinosaurs.  Like its relatives, however, it likely possessed a set of teeth concentrated at the front of the mouth that were peg-shaped.  This is a good mechanism for raking leaves and other foliage off of branches while feeding. Only part of the skull was found, unfortunately.  This is common for sauropods; big bulky bodies, tiny, delicate heads that are easily destroyed during fossilization.

That's it for this week!  As always feel free to comment below or on our facebook page!  Have a creature in mind you want reviewed and painted?  Just ask!


Novas, Fernando E. (2009). The age of dinosaurs in South America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-35289-7.

Upchurch, P., Barrett, P.M, & Dodson, P. 2004. Sauropoda. In: Weishampel, D.B., Dodson, P., & Osmolska, H. (Eds.). The Dinosauria (2nd Edition). Berkeley: University of California Press. Pp. 259–322.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: A Prehistoric Pink Pachyderm

If you tuned in last year around this time you remember that I painted a Pachycephalosaurus in pink in Breast Cancer Awareness Month's honor...which is now...October.  If not here it is!

Pink Pachycephalosaurus.  Isn't she beautiful?
A few weeks ago I asked you guys on facebook what you would like to see in pink for this year.  We got a few requests but the most numerous was for Deinotherium, a prehistoric relative of elephants.  It's a pink prehistoric pachyderm.  Say that five times fast.

Pink Deinotherium.  Lovely gal.
If you would like to donate to help research to find a cure for breast cancer (not just promote it, actual research for a cure) click here.