Sunday, April 28, 2013

Pygmy Tapir: Prehistoric Animal of the Week

This past Saturday was World Tapir Day.  Zoos around the world celebrated the tapir, a unique and interesting plant eating mammal native to South America and Asia that is currently endangered due to habitat destruction.  Even though they resemble hippos and elephants, tapirs belong to the order, Perrisodactyla, and are more closely related to horses and rhinos.  Did you know that tapirs have been around on the earth for millions of years?  There even used to be tapirs living in the United States!  Check out the prehistoric tapir, Tapirus polkensis.

Life restoration of Tapirus polkensis by Christopher DiPiazza

Tapirus polkensis is known by its common name, the Pygmy Tapir, because it is the smallest species of tapir known to science.  The adults were only about the size of a domestic sheep.  Pygmy Tapir fossils have been discovered in what is now Polk County, Florida (hence the species name).  There have also been many specimens discovered in Tennessee.  Pygmy Tapirs lived during the Late Miocene age about five million years ago.

Tapirus polkensis skeletal mounts at the East Tennessee State University Museum of Natural History in Tennessee, USA. 

When T. polkensis was alive its habitat would have been a swamp.  They probably were good swimmers (modern tapirs love the water, using their small trunks as snorkels) and would have been at home in their wet habitat.   

That's it for this week!  Join us next week (Cinco de Mayo) to meet a dinosaur from Mexico!  As always feel free to request your favorite prehistoric creature in the comments below or on our facebook page

References

Richard C. Hulbert Jr., Steven C. Wallace, Walter E. Klippel & Paul W. Parmalee (2009). "Cranial morphology and systematics of an extraordinary sample of the Late Neogene dwarf tapir, Tapirus polkensis (Olsen)". Journal of Paleontology 83 (2): 238–262. doi:10.1666/08-062.1

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Dino Day at the Morris Museum!


Come see us this Saturday the 27th at the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey for Dinosaur Day!  The event starts at 10am and continues till 3pm.  Jersey Boy's Chris and Gary will be there along with live animals!  Yup, that's right, Chris will be showcasing live animals in a demonstration about how dinosaurs share many characteristics with modern day animals.  We will also be giving away prizes, showcasing neat dinosaur casts, and answering your questions about paleontology.  Last year was a great success.  This year is going to be even better!
Dinosaur Day at the Morris Museum is one of our favorite events and it is always a great time.  Be sure to also stop by the New Jersey Paleontological Society's table for more interesting finds in the world of paleo.  The Morris Museum will be hosting many cool events and it is tons of fun for the whole family.  Hunt for dinosaurs in a dig pit, construct a dinosaur skeleton, create a dino magnet, make a T. Rex puppet, and create an imprint fossil are just a few of the things you can do.  We hope to see you all there and share this amazing day with us!  For more information and directions, please visit the Morris Museum's website by clicking HERE!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Concavenator: Prehistoric Animal of the Week

Concavenator corcovatus was a meat-eating dinosaur that lived in what is now Spain, 130 million years ago, during the early Cretaceous Period.  Its name translates to "Hump-backed hunter from Cuenca" because of the part of Spain in which it was discovered.  It measured about twenty feet long from nose to tail and was a relative of the much larger Acrocanthosaurus Concavenator's most striking feature was the elongated neural arches on the vertebrae over its hips that probably gave it a sort of shark fin-shaped hump when it was alive.  Concavenator is known from only one skeleton but its beautifully preserved and even has a few patches of scaly skin impressions from its foot and tail.  


Concavenator corcovatus life restoration by Christopher DiPiazza.  If it is ever proven that this dinosaur actually had arm quills I can easily add them to the painting. 

Another interesting feature about the skeleton of Concavenator is that its arm bones possess small bumps on them similar to those found on other dinosaurs like Velociraptor and birds.  We know that on modern birds these structures serve as attachment sites for the large wing feathers.  On birds and some other dinosaurs we call these attachment sites quill knobs (I have written about these before).  Some believe that, although its not that closely related to the dinosaurs that we know for sure had feathers, Concavenator would have had feathers or at least quill structures coming out of its arms.  Paleontologist, Darren Naish noted on his website, however, that the structures on the arms of Concavenator are different from those on Velociraptor and birds in that their spacing is not uniform.  They are also not on the part of the bone where feathers would typically grow from.  Because of these features it is also possible that these knob-like structures were merely for muscle attachment.

Concavenator fossil

There is also much debate over what Concavenator's shark fin hump was for.  Some say it was for thermo-regulation (helping the animal's body heat up or cool off when needed) while others think it could have been for species recognition.  I personally don't agree with either of these ideas and am a fan of the sexual display idea myself.  In my experience working with animals I have learned that if something on an animal looks unusual, chances are its to impress a potential mate.  

This week's dinosaur was made possible thanks to a request.  As always feel free to request an animal in the comments below or on our facebook page!  

References

Naish, D. (2010). Concavenator: an incredible allosauroid with a weird sail (or hump)... and proto-feathers?. Tetrapod Zoology, September 9, 2010.

 Ortega F., Escaso, F. and Sanz, J.L. (2010). "A bizarre, humped Carcharodontosauria (Theropoda) from the Lower Cretaceous of Spain." Nature, 467: 203-206. doi:10.1038/nature09181 PMID 20829793

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Come See Us at Liberty State Park on April 20th!

This coming Saturday is Earth Day.  Every year the Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey has a HUGE outdoor event in its honor.  None other than your favorite Jersey boys, Gary and Chris will be there hosting a table with dinosaur fossils and fun activities that test your dino-knowledge.  Come meet the Jersey Boys and even win an awesome dinosaur prize!



While you are there also be sure to check out the New Jersey Paleontological Society and keep an eye out for a roaming life-sized Hadrosaurus foulkii puppet operated by our talented friend, Ron Maslanka!

Ron and Chris


For more information visit our facebook event page

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Kentrosaurus: Prehistoric Animal of the Week

Kentrosaurus aethiopicus was a plant eating dinosaur that lived in what is now Tanzania, Africa during the Late Jurassic Period, 150 to 155 million years ago.  It wasn't terribly large for a dinosaur, only measuring about sixteen feet long from head to tail.  Like its close relative, Stegosaurus, it was adorned with spikes on its tail for defense.  Unlike Stegosaurus, however, the spikes on Kentrosaurus didn't stop there!

Kentrosaurus aethiopicus life restoration by Christopher DiPiazza

 The name Kentrosaurus literally translates to "Prickly lizard/reptile" and boy, was it prickly!  The neck probably had small plates, as in its relative, Stegosaurus, but on the body the shapes of the plates quickly change to broad spikes.  From the hip on towards the tail were rows of narrower, sharp spikes.  The plates and spikes of Kentrosaurus were what is called "handed", i.e., there are left and right versions of them so it is likely they were arranged in two rows down the animal's back.  Additionally there is another kind of spike found with Kentrosaurus that doesn't fit on the back or tail anywhere.  Scientists either think these spikes were on the shoulders or the hips (depending on which scientist you ask).  As in all stegosaurids, the head of Kentrosaurus was tiny in proportion to the rest of the body and possessed a beak at the front of the snout.  Inside the mouth were teeth adapted for crushing plant material but could not finely grind.

Kentrosaurus skeletal mount at the Museum fur Naturkunde in Berlin, Germany.

 Kentrosaurus, like other stegosaurids, is interesting in that its center of gravity was at the hips, farther back towards the tail end than what is normally observed with quadropeds (animals that walk on all fours).  In fact, no other kind of dinosaur has its center of gravity as far back as the stegosaurids.  This allows the animal's front half where the head and arms are to be much lighter.  There would be a number of possible advantages to this.  Firstly, stegosaurids like Kentrosaurus may have had the ability to rear up on their hind legs in order to gain access to more food.  Secondly, being lighter in the front meant the animal could rotate its body sideways more easily.  Since Kentrosaurus'  weapon was its tail, this would allow it to make fast turns to ensure its dangerous end was always facing an attacker.  A study by paleontologist Heinrich Mallison concluded that Kentrosaurus had a pretty wide range of motions when it came to its neck, legs and tail.  It was found that the tail in particular could swing in a 180 degree arc with deadly accuracy if it needed to, delivering deadly blows with the tail spikes.  

Diagram showing range of motion for Kentrosaurus's tail from Heinrich Mallison's study.

Special thanks to Dr. Heinrich Mallison for allowing me to use one of his images and for coaching me on my illustration and information for this week's post!  As always if you would like a particular creature to be reviewed and illustrated simply comment below or on our facebook page! 


References

Hennig, E. (1936). "Ein Dentale von Kentrurosaurus aethiopicus HENNIG" ("A dentary of Kentrurosaurus aethiopcius HENNIG"). Palaeontographica Supplement 7 Part II':311-312 German

Mallison, H. (2010). "CAD assessment of the posture and range of motion of Kentrosaurus aethiopicus HENNIG 1915" Swiss Journal of Geosciences online first

Mallison, H. (subm.). "Defense capabilities of Kentrosaurus aethiopicus HENNIG 1915. Palaeontologia Electronica