Sunday, March 30, 2014

Nanuqsaurus: Prehistoric Animal of the Week

This week we shall be checking out a newly discovered and described dinosaur, Nanuqsaurus hoglundiNanuqsaurus was a tyrannosaurid, closely related to Tyrannosaurus, Tarbosaurus and Lythronax, that lived in what is now Alaska during the late Cretaceaous about 69 million years ago.  Even though only parts of the skull have been discovered, it can be estimated that Nanuqsaurus would have measured around eighteen to twenty feet long from snout to tail and like all known tyrannosaurids, it was a meat-eater.  The genus name, Nanuqsaurus, translates to "Polar Bear Lizard" because it was discovered in Alaska...where Polar Bears live.  It sounds cute.  Go ahead say it out loud...Nanuqsaurus.  Aw.

A Nanuqsaurus pair overlooks a herd of Pachyrhinosaurus (probably too big to be prey). By Christopher DiPiazza

Every time a new species of dinosaur is covered in the media, it is given some flashy description to grab the attention of readers.  In the past the media, and in some cases the paleontologists themselves, have referred to new dinosaurs as "vampire-porcupine" (It was a plant eater and no quills were found on the actual specimen.  A related dinosaur had feather-like quills which were not sharp in life...stretch much?), a "chicken from hell" (It was from an area called the Hell Creek Formation but basically most biggish feathered dinosaurs are compared to chickens for some reason.), and if it's a large theropod you better believe it will be compared to T. rex in some way especially if there was even the slightest chance it could have been bigger.  So what have they dubbed poor Nanuqsaurus?  A "dwarf tyrannosaurus from the arctic"

Is this nickname another annoying headliner or is there truth to it?  Well let's start with the arctic part.  It was definitely living in Alaska which we can agree is cold right now but was it during the Cretaceous?  Well back then, just like now, there were long periods of continuous night and long periods of continuous day in the poles.  There were also seasons back then in certain parts of the world but they weren't as dramatic as they were now.  Where Nanuqsaurus was, during the winter time, it definitely got cold, but it probably wasn't as frigid or snowy as it is now in Alaska and the summers would have been pretty warm, even hot.  That brings up another question: was Nanuqsaurus even staying in what is now Alaska all year round or did it migrate south to warmer areas during the winter?  The answer to that question is uncertain but the scientific paper describing the new species seems to favor the idea that Nanuqsaurus stayed there all year round even through the long, dark winters.  The reason for this has to do with the second part of the nickname, "dwarf".

Hey Nanuqsaurus, maybe you should just...let it go.

Let me just say that I personally don't see Nanuqsaurus as a "dwarf" tyrannosaur.  Yes, it was much smaller than its close relative, T. rex... but is that really saying much?  Tyrannosaurus was amongst the biggest meat-eating dinosaurs at over forty feet long!  Other close relatives of both of these animals are around the same size as Nanuqsaurus, but were never referred to as dwarfs.  Dryptosaurus, Alioramus, and Teratophoneus(assuming it was not a juvenile) were all about the same size as Nanuqsaurus.  There are also many tyrannosaurids that were only slightly larger than that.  Maybe it's because that despite all this, Nanuqsaurus is considered even closer to the giant tyrant lizard than other tyrannosaurids were.  The new scientific paper describing Nanuqsaurus by Anthony Fiorillo and Ronald Tykoski states that the remains of Nanuqsaurus that were found were from an adult, and not a juvenile that still had growing to do, according to the pieces of the skull that were examined closely.  I briefly spoke with paleontologist and friend of the site, Dr. Thomas Holtz, who is an expert on tyrannosaurs, about Nanuqsaurus' proposed dwarfism.  He is still speculative of the discovered Nanuqsaurus being an adult.

"I don't think we can confidently say that this is really even a dwarf tyrant. They didn't have that much material, and certainly not the bones (limb bones) you would want to truly say it had reached full size.)"- Thomas Holtz

The known remains of Nanuqsaurus from the paper by Fiorillo and Tykoski.  Despite the fact that it isn't much, they were able to determine after close examination that this is indeed a new genus and species.

 If we give the paper the benefit of the doubt and say that just looking at the skull, we're assuming it was an adult until legs are found, what does being small have to do with toughing out long winters?  According to the paper, Nanuqsaurus evolved a smaller body size so it could survive on less food which would have been more scarce during the winter.  HOWEVER, looking at modern animals, a larger body size is actually more common in animals that inhabit cold environments.  A larger body means less surface area to volume ratio and therefore more heat conservation.  This is called Bergman's Rule.  You can see examples of Bergman's Rule in things like polar bears (larges species of bear), lots of the giant ice age mammals, and the largest, cold-blooded reptiles which can remain active for longer periods of time without heat than their smaller cousins.  In fact, there is another dinosaur, a still unnamed species of Troodon that lived in the same relatively cold time/place as Nanuqsaurus that was bigger than all of its relatives (Troodontids are typically pretty tiny)!  So what's the deal with Nanuqsaurus?  Bergmann's rule doesn't always hold true, especially if there are other factors to take into consideration.  In the case of Nanuqsaurus, like the paper said, it would have needed to eat during the winter and being slightly smaller than its giant southern cousins could help as long as it wasn't too small to the point where it couldn't keep warm anymore.  Remember, like I said earlier, Nanuqsaurus wasn't really that small at a whopping twenty feet long!    It appears that Nanuqsaurus and the giant Troodon had both evolved towards a middle range that was best suited for whatever it was like in Alaska back then.  Nanuqsaurus also probably had feathers to help with insulation so there's that too.
Famous last words.

So what do we get out of all of this?  Was Nanuqsaurus truly a "dwarf tyrant from the arctic"?  It was definitely living in an environment that was cold-ER part of the year but not nearly as cold as modern winters...and the specimen that was dug up would have been around twenty feet long.  Whether you consider that a dwarf or not, the length is what it is.

Join us next week for another Prehistoric beast!  As always feel free to comment below or on our facebook page. Also special thanks to Dr. Holtz for taking the time to speak with me about this animal and giving the whole post his expert approval!


Fiorillo, A. R.; Tykoski, R. S. (2014). "A Diminutive New Tyrannosaur from the Top of the World". PLoS ONE 9 (3): e91287. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0091287.

 Fiorillo, Anthony R.; Gangloff, Roland A. (2000). "Theropod teeth from the Prince Creek Formation (Cretaceous) of Northern Alaska, with speculations on Arctic dinosaur paleoecology". Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 20 (4): 675–682. doi:10.1671/0272-4634(2000)020[0675:TTFTPC]2.0.CO;2.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Dinosaurs Described By Kids... Acted out By Adults

I just found a youtube channel where adults lip sync and act out what little kids talk about and imagine.  It's hilarious.  They even have some videos with dinosaurs!  Watch them!

There are a LOT of videos on this channel and they are all pretty awesome.  Check out the page here

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Anzu: Prehistoric Animal of the Week

 This week we will be looking at a newly described species of dinosaur, Anzu wylieiAnzu was a theropod dinosaur, related to Oviraptor, that lived in what is now South Dakota, USA, roughly 66 million years ago.  It was pretty large for an oviraptorosaur, measuring about eleven feet long from beak to tail and standing over five feet tall.  Anzu's diet is a bit of a mystery.  Scientists guess it could have been an omnivore judging by its toothless, yet powerful beak.  When alive it would have coexisted with dinosaurs like Triceratops, Ankylosaurus, Pachycephalosaurus, Dracorex, Edmontosaurus, and Tyrannosaurus

Poor Anzu is technically a "new" species...but we have known about if for over a decade.  There has even been a mounted skeleton of it on display in the Smithsonian Museum in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania...and it's been there for years but wasn't given an actual name until last week.  Up until that point everyone just referred to it as "that oviraptorosaur from the late Cretaceous of North America".  Sheesh!

Anzu life reconstruction by Christopher DiPiazza

Anzu belonged to a family within oviraptorosauria called Caenegnathidae.  Caenegnathids were very bird-like in appearance due to their beaks, long necks and feathers.  They had lightweight bones with holes where muscles and air sacs would have attached in life.  They also had strange toothless beaks with ridges on the inside.  As I stated above, scientists have always been puzzled as to what exactly these dinosaurs ate, but it appears that at least some of them could have been specialized feeders.  Anzu also had a tall, disc-shaped crest running from it's nose to the back of its head.  This was most likely a display adaptation.

Skeletal mount of Anzu on display in Pittsburg.

Up until its official naming last week, scientists referred to Anzu as the "chicken from hell".  (Everyone loves comparing feathered non-avian dinosaurs to chickens for some reason)  In fact, its genus was originally intended to be a translation of "hell chicken".  Eventually it was named after a demon from ancient Mesopotamian culture (called Anzu) which looked like a bird with the head of a lion.  Even World of Warcraft has a boss monster, named Anzu which coincidentally actually looks a bit like the real dinosaur!

Anzu from World of Warcraft.

That's all for this week!  Join us next week as we checkout another newly (for realz) discovered dinosaur!  As always feel free to comment below or on our facebook page!


Currie, P. J., S. J. Godfrey, et al. (1993). "New caenagnathid (Dinosauria: Theropoda) specimens from the Upper Cretaceous of North America and Asia." Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 30(10-11): 2255-2272.

Lamanna, M. C.; Sues, H. D.; Schachner, E. R.; Lyson, T. R. (2014). "A New Large-Bodied Oviraptorosaurian Theropod Dinosaur from the Latest Cretaceous of Western North America". PLoS ONE 9 (3): e92022. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0092022.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Mean Dinosaurs: Education through Humor

Two weeks ago in my Prehistoric Animal of the Week post about Ceratosaurus I included a cartoon I made for fun merging paleontology and one of my favorite movies, Mean Girls.  It had to do with the fact that Ceratosaurus remains are always found somewhat isolated from those of other dinosaurs.

Ceratosaurus, you're eating an ornithopod.  It's Monday.

 It received a lot of positive feedback from you all.  So much, in fact, that I decided to make two more!  Each one, despite being silly, brings across a real science-related point.  It's knowledge through humor!  Enjoy!

Back in the Triassic, there were a lot of different kinds of archosaurs running around in addition to the dinosaurs, which ended up being the most successful probably due to their upright posture hollow bones.  By the end of the Triassic, about 200 million years ago, there were actually a few kinds of archosaurs that each independently evolved the same adaptations.  Evolution is sort of like he fashion industry in a way.  If you are in style you survive, if not, extinction!  Full story here.

Aw poposauroid!  You are really beautiful no matter what you do...until yo go extinct of course.

One pet peeve of mine is that lots of people assume that all dinosaurs, especially the popular ones, co-existed with each other.  It's easy to forget that the Mesozoic lasted many millions of years, much longer than we have been around.  In fact, dinosaurs that lived during the late Cretaceous, like Tyrannosaurus actually lived closer in time to us than they did to dinosaurs like Stegosaurus, which lived during the Jurassic.  Click on the cartoon to read the dialogue better.

I had a lot of fun making these and I hope you all enjoy them too.  It's also healthy not to dig too deep into them! (Don't worry, science fanboysandgirls, I am aware dinosaurs didn't actually hold meetings about feelings or eat on tables and trays.)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Ichthyosaurus: Prehistoric Animal of the Week

This week we shall be looking at a reptile that once called the oceans over what is now Ireland, in addition to a lot of other places, home.  Enter IchthyosaurusIchthyosaurus was a genus of marine reptile that lived during the early Jurassic, about 190 million years ago, in the oceans that covered much of Europe at the time.  Many good Icthyosaurus remains have been found in Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, and England.  A few have also been found in Ireland!  This animal measured only about six feet long from snout to tail and its diet consisted of fish and cephalopods.  The genus, Itchthyosaurus, translates to "fish lizard" and includes several species.

Ichthyosaurus communis life reconstruction by Christopher DiPiazza

The first Ichthyosaurus fossils were discovered by a twelve-year old girl named Mary Anning during the early 19th century in England along with many other important Jurassic marine fossils.  We know a lot about Ichthyosaurus thanks to a myriad of well-preserved remains of it and its close relatives that have been unearthed since then over the years.  We know that Ichthyosaurus would have had a dorsal flipper and vertical tail fluke, much like a fish, thanks to some fossils that preserved a soft-tissue outline of the dead animal.  We also know, thanks to the remains of a closely related ichthyosaur, that these animals gave birth to live young rather than laying eggs like most reptiles do.  Scientists used to assume that all prehistoric marine reptiles would have hauled out on land to lay eggs like sea turtles do prior to this discovery.  We also know what they ate belemnite (squid-like cephalopod) and fish thanks to remains found in Ichthyosaurus stomach cavities and coprolites. (fossilized poop)

Ichthyosaurus communis skeleton.

Ichthyosaurus was very similar looking to fish and modern dolphins.  This is yet another excellent example of convergent evolution- unrelated animals evolving similar body plans and adaptations to suit similar lifestyles.  Because of this we know Ichthyosaurus was likely a very fast swimmer.  Unlike fish, however, Ichthyosaurus would have needed to come to the water's surface to breathe air since it was a reptile with lungs.  The eye sockets on Ichthyosaurus were very large so this animal likely had superb vision, especially in the dark.  This could mean that Ichthyosaurus was either mostly active at night, and/or it was able to hunt in lower depths where it was dark.  In some specimens, the skulls even preserved scleral rings, which are bony rings inside the sockets that supported the large eyes.  Similar to some dolphins, it also had a long, skinny snout lined with many cone-shaped teeth for catching swift-swimming prey. 

That's all for this week!  Hope you enjoyed our St. Patrick's Day Irish (and the rest of Europe pretty much) creature!  If you want to see me review and paint a particular beast feel free to comment below or on our facebook page.  Also special thanks to Dr. Adam Stuart Smith for helping me out with this post!

Works Cited

Martill D.M. 1993. Soupy Substrates: A Medium for the Exceptional Preservation of Ichthyosaurs of the Posidonia Shale (Lower Jurassic) of Germany. Kaupia - Darmst├Ądter Beitr├Ąge zur Naturgeschichte 2: 77-97

Smith, Adam S. "Rare Ichthyosaur and Plesiosaur Material from the Lower Jurassic of Ireland." Irish Journal of Earth Sciences 28 (2010): 47-52. Web.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Interview with Sculptor and Toy Designer: David Silva

Today we have a really fun interview!  David Silva is one of my favorite sculptors mainly because he does dinosaurs and all things beastly so well. 

After graduating art school with a BFA in both Sequential Art and Illustration at the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2003, David Silva began working in the toy industry just three weeks later as a freelance designer for McFarlane Toys. A year and a half later this design job would lead to an in-house sculpting job which would last until David left in 2008 to go work for Hasbro as both a temporary in-house sculptor and a freelance sculptor. During this time, David completed his first dinosaur sculpt for what would later become Creative Beast Studio- a small side business of prehistoric and fantasy model kits. In January of 2010, David cut ties with Hasbro to sculpt in-house at NECA where he still remains today. All the while, Creative Beast Studio has continued to grow with new products and a supportive fan base.

David Silva surrounded by some of his creations at Wonderfest 2013.

Question 1: At what age did you become interested in dinosaurs?  Were they always a subject of your art?
DS: While I don't remember the exact age, I do recall dinosaurs being an influence as far back as I can remember. Seems like I always had a little bag of plastic dinosaurs with me when I was younger. I probably drew my first dinosaurs in preschool back when I first discovered my love for creating art. However, I got away from dinosaurs for a while as a teen as I became more interested in comic books and super heroes. That lasted until my adult years. It wasn't until working on the McFarlane Dragon toys did I rekindle my passion for prehistoric reptiles.

David's Scavenger Dragon design and sculpt for McFarlane's huge line of dragon figures.

Question 2: What medium do you most prefer to use for your art?  Any particular reason why?  Do you ever try digital sculpting or do you prefer to work with actual materials?

DS: I almost exclusively work in castilene wax clay for all of my sculpting work- personal or professional. It's a material that is very common in the toy industry and it's what I had to learn when I began sculpting for McFarlane Toys back in 2005. I have dabbled a little with digital sculpting and while I can appreciate it's benefits, I am very partial to traditional methods.

David's sculpt of Leo for McFarlane's zodiac line.

Question 3: Is there any particular artist who particularly inspired you growing up?  How about today?

DS: My artistic influences have varied depending on age and what I was into at the time. I think the first time I felt inspired by another artist was when I got a dinosaur calendar as a kid - I think I was eight maybe nine years old. I didn't know who's artwork was on the calendar at the time but I later discovered it was John Sibbick, who's work I still greatly admire today. These days I am very much inspired by the paleoart of James Gurney, Shane Foulkes, David Krentz, and Sean Cooper just to name a few.

Question 4: When did you decide to pursue a career in art?  How did it happen?

DS: I suppose it was around third or fourth grade. Ever since then, a career in art seemed inevitable and was the only path I'd considered since. The short of it is, I went to art school with a focus on comics and illustration, earned a job as a freelance toy designer three weeks after graduating, and that led to sculpting toys. The rest just fell into place.  (Include some design work- cyber spawn)


Question 5: Have you ever received any negative feedback on any of your work?  How do you respond to that?

DS: Occasionally yes- but who doesn't? I think I've always dealt with criticism fairly well outwardly, but when I was younger it was much harder to deal with inwardly. These days I welcome the negative feedback and critiques. Having your mistakes pointed out to you not only offers a fresh perspective but I've found that it is also the fastest way to grow as an artist.

Predator Dog sculpted by David Silva.

Question 6: Art and illustration is such a diverse field.  It has also changed dramatically within the past decade or so.  What advice would you have to give an aspiring artist today?

DS: Do what you genuinely love, find what you want to say and be humble when you are shown how to say it. Commitment and persistence are essential to effective creative productivity. Expect to make mistakes along the way- this is the best way to learn. And know that your greatest obstacles will likely be created by your own ego, not others. Once these things are understood and mastered, success is sure to follow.

David's Jabba the Hutt sculpt for Hasbro's Star Wars line.

Question 7: Out all of the sculpts you have done do you have a favorite? 

DS: My favorite sculpt is often, and should be, my most recent. Right now I am finishing up my second Acrocanthosaurus sculpt. I'd have to say it is my favorite dinosaur sculpt to date. I can tell how far I have come since my first Acro sculpt back in 2010. I am also very fond of my Dragolina Dinosaur Slayer piece. It was a great experience because I created that character back in high school, even sculpted her a few other times. So finally bringing that character to life properly with the skills I have now felt like the end of a journey. I'm very please with how that tuned out. 

Dragolina.  I guess the Masiakasaurus oogled her a bit too much.

Question 8: You have sculpted for many well-known companies in the field of toys.  Was there a particularly fun experience with any of these that stands out? 

DS: There have been a lot of great projects that I've had the pleasure of being a part of. No particular one stands out as my favorite but there are a few that come to mind. With McFarlane Toys it was the Scavenger clan dragon from series 6. That was great because I got to design and sculpt it. It was a very vulture-like dragon design. With Hasbro it was easily Jabba the Hutt for obvious reasons. And with NECA so far, I guess my favorite would be the Pacific Rim kaiju- Axehead, Knifehead, and one more yet to be announced. I'm a huge Pacific Rim fan so working on the toys was a dream for me. I'd love to do more, but time will tell.

Pacific Rim kaiju figures sculpted by David Silva.

Question 9: You are famous for portraying lots of subjects in addition to dinosaurs.  Do you prefer any over the others?  Why?

DS: 'Famous'? Wow. Well although I was trained in human anatomy studies, I've always had a preference for animals and creatures. At McFarlane I would always try to get my hands on the animal-like creature designs like the dragons and fantasy creatures. At Hasbro my favorite projects were again the more creature oriented ones- the dewback and Jabba the Hutt come to mind. The Jurassic park projects were cool as well, but a bit constricting. At NECA I've really enjoyed working on the predator figures as well as the occasional kaiju (Pacific Rim or Godzilla). 

Dewback from Hasbro's Star Wars line of toys, sculpted by David Silva.

Jurassic Park!  I wonder if anyone reading this would be interested to know more about that?  How was sculpting for them restricting? 

DS: In my particular case, I had sculpted two dinosaurs that we're not in the movies (Pachyrhinosaurus, and one that shall remain anonymous ). In both cases I was made to follow line drawings done by the Hasbro design team. I am not familiar with the process they went through for creating these designs, but they were to be followed by me explicitly, to the point that the images of the sculpt had to line up the the drawing when overlapped in Photoshop. I found this to be very constricting because the drawings were not scientifically accurate - I can only assume that modifications were made to appeal to a younger audience, though some details seemed to simply be incorrect. In either case, already having knowledge of these beasts actually worked against me. Most of the revisions I had to make were due to me attempting to make a more accurate a realistic dinosaur. However if it contradicted anything in the drawings, it had to be changed. Eventually I had to resign to the fact that I wasn't sculpting a dinosaur, but a dinosaur-like fantasy creature. The experience left me feeling disappointed and exhausted, but it also made me realize how important my own personal work really is to me.

David's prototype of a fantasy creature loosely based on a real genus of dinosaur, Pachyrhinosaurus.

Question 10: What was your favorite dinosaur (or other prehistoric creature) growing up?  How about today?

DS: I've always liked the large meat-eating dinosaurs best and at the risk of sounding predictable, T. rex was my favorite growing up. Now days I'm more of an Acrocanthosaurus guy. Dilophosaurus is way up there for me as well (sans neck frill).

Acrocanthosaurus sculpted by David Silva.

Question 11: Jurassic Park and Land Before Time (opposite ends of the spectrum I know) were the movies I remember as a kid that fueled my passion for dinosaurs. What was your most memorable movie?

DS: I don't recall too many dinosaur movies growing up, but Land Before Time may have been my earliest dinosaur influence as far as movies go. Jurassic Park was great as well. As a kid though, I think what got me most excited about dinosaurs was the Dino Riders toy line. I had a lot of the toys and the VHS cartoon for it as well. Someday I hope to get all of those back- they were so cool!

Question 12: Dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals were amazing. Why do you feel they continue to fascinate us?

DS: Most likely it's the large scale of the creatures that grabbed peoples attention initially but despite all of the recent discoveries, there is still a lot of mystery surrounding these animals. And now that we all know that dinosaurs weren't just giants but came all sizes, I think it's this mystery that is now the most intriguing aspect. It's just really fun to try and imagine how each one may have looked, sounded, or behaved. No matter how much information is uncovered, there will always be unknown variables and that's very exciting.

"Dragon vs Raptors" sculpted by David Silva.

Question 13: What is your favorite time period?

DS: Nothing really beats the Cretaceous period for me. It's when dinosaurs were in their evolutionary prime and were the most diverse. Permian and Triassic are of interest as well, but I always come back to the Cretaceous.

Question 14: Do you have any other hobbies or interests? 

DS: While I try to sculpt as often as I can, professionally and for myself, I also enjoy drawing as well. But as far as non-art related activities go, I really enjoy toy collecting. I have a pretty big collection of everything from vintage Transformers and He-Man, to Hot Toys. Aside from this, I'm also a bit of an exercise nut. With a job like mine it's important to find ways to stay active- it just make everything run more efficiently. And if I feel better I can work better.

Thank you so much David!  

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Opabinia: Prehistoric Animal of the Week

This week marks the very first invertebrate Prehistoric Animal of the Week after two years.  This is totally inconsistent with the biodiversity of the world considering the fact that 98% of all animals actually don't possess backbones.  I guess we are just biased towards dinosaurs.  Even so, I must admit that this week's critter is a cool one.  Enter Opabinia regalis!

Opabinia lived all the way back 500 million years ago during the Cambrian age in what is now Canada.  Most of the world, including Opabinia's habitat, was in the ocean at the time.  According to the fossil record, it is during this time that the first multi-celled animals flourished...a lot.  In fact there was such a boom in biodiversity from what paleontologists can tell during this era, it has been nicknamed the "Cambrian Explosion".  Opabinia was one of the products of this...explosion.

Opabinia regalis reconstruction by Christopher DiPiazza.  Seriously, why has there not been a pokemon based on this yet?
This critter was small, only about 2.5 inches long, and would have swam around using paddle-shaped lobes lining the sides of its flattened body.  It also had six lobes surrounding its tail which may have helped it steer.  On its head it possessed five, large, spherical eyes and its mouth was underneath...and faced backwards. (evolution was in one of its weird experimental phases I guess)  Finally, in the front of this animal's body, there was a long tube that ended in a little grabber which was probably used to forage and bring food to the mouth.  H.P. Lovecraft would be all over this thing.

So we know what it looks like, we know where it lived, when it lived, and we know what it's called.  Still...what was it?  Well scientists were wondering that too.  There is some debate as to where exactly Opabinia falls on the family tree but most scientists can agree that it is at least closely related to arthropods. (jointed legs, exoskeleton...horseshoe crabs and scorpions for example)  Opabinia doesn't actually show any real evidence of having an exoskeleton or real jointed legs itself, though.  It does, however, have a segmented body, which led other scientists to think that it may be more closely related to annelids. (segmented worms like earthworms and leeches)  Finally, another group of scientists believe Opabinia is most closely related to a group of animals called tardigrades.  The most famous kind of tardigrade is called the Water Bear. (They are actually pretty bad-ass. Look them up after you read this)  Soooooo where does that leave Opabinia?  Latest research puts it at the base of the arthropod branch. 

Beautifully preserved Opabinia fossil from British Columbia, Canada.

Hope you enjoyed this week's Prehistoric Animal of the Week!  Not only was it the first invertebrate, but it is also the oldest animal, and probably the weirdest one we have reviewed to date.  It was also a request!  If you have a request of an animal you would like to see me review and paint leave a comment below or on our facebook page!


Budd, G. E. (1996). "The morphology of Opabinia regalis and the reconstruction of the arthropod stem-group". Lethaia 29 (1): 1–14. doi:10.1111/j.1502-3931.1996.tb01831.x.

Whittington, H. B. (June 1975). "The enigmatic animal Opabinia regalis, Middle Cambrian Burgess Shale, British Columbia". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 271 (910): 1–43 271. Bibcode:1975RSPTB.271....1W. doi:10.1098/rstb.1975.0033. JSTOR 2417412. Free abstract at Whittington, H. B. (1975). "The Enigmatic Animal Opabinia regalis, Middle Cambrian, Burgess Shale, British Columbia". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 271 (910): 1. Bibcode:1975RSPTB.271....1W. doi:10.1098/rstb.1975.0033.