Sunday, August 24, 2014

Neochoerus: Prehistoric Animal of the Week

This week we will be looking at one of the largest rodents to ever live.  Check out Neochoerus pinkneyi!  Neochoerus was a species of giant capybara that lived during the Pleistocene epoch, as recently as 11 thousand years ago, in what is now the Southern United States.  Like its modern relatives, this massive rodent would have probably eaten water plants.  It measured about six feet long from snout to rump and could have weighed as much as two hundred pounds!  The genus name, Neochoerus, translates to "new pig".  It wasn't a pig was a I already said.

Neochoerus herd.  Reconstruction by Christopher DiPiazza.

Even though the Pleistocene is famous for being an ice age, filled with woolly beasts majestically roaming snowy tundras, parts of the world, especially near the equator like Neochoerus' habitat, were still relatively warm.  In fact, the area of the Southern United States that Neochoerus was roaming around in at the time was mostly floodplain, similar to the everglades in Florida today.  This makes sense for a giant capybara since we know their modern relatives thrive in wet environments.  They are adept swimmers and even have semi webbed toes.  Neochoerus would have coexisted with many other giant beasts like Glyptodon, giant ground sloths, mammoths, giant bison, a species of giant beaver, and even humans!  Back in the Pleistocene, seeing a R.O.U.S. wouldn't really have been unusual at all!

Modern capybaras are known to be social animals and are often found in large groups.  Unlike those of many animals, capybara jaws can chew side to side, which helps since they eat so much tough plant material.  Capybaras are also commonly hunted by all sorts of predators.  Jaguars, anacondas, and even humans frequently rely on the large rodents for food on a regular basis.  Back in the Pleistocene, Neochoerus may have been preyed upon by many predators as well.  Pumas and sabre-tooth cats are known to have lived during that time.  Prehistoric humans also likely hunted them.

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


Baskin, Jon A.; Thomas, Ronny G. "South Texas and the Great American Interchange". Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies Transactions 57: 37–45.

Kurtén, Björn and Anderson, Elaine. 1980. Pleistocene Mammals of North America. Columbia University Press, New York, p. 274. ISBN 0-231-03733-3

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Reunited: Crested Dragon Hidden Dragon

Remember on Sunday we noticed that that my Guanlong painting appeared to be searching for something?  Here he is again.

Well here it is!  It's the Yinlong I painted that was Prehistoric Animal of the Week last year!  She has some babies with her too!

If you have not figured it out by now, they are actually from the same painting.  Mystery solved!

Jeez, Guanlong, it's taking you a over a year to find those guys.  I guess they're called "Hidden Dragons" for a reason!  SEE WHAT I DID THERE??? 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Guanlong: Prehistoric Animal of the Week

Guanlong wucaii was a meat-eating dinosaur that lived in what is now China during the Late Jurassic Period, 160 million years ago.  It measured about ten feet long from snout to tail and would have sported feathers in life.  The genus name, Guanlong, is Chinese for "crested dragon" in reference to the animal's bony crest and the fact that dinosaurs are commonly referred to as dragons in China.  ("long" is basically the Chinese equivalent of "saurus".)  The species name, wucaii, translates to "five colors" in reference to the multi-colored rock formations where this dinosaur's remains were unearthed.

Life reconstruction of Guanlong wucaii by Christopher DiPiazza.  It appears as if he is looking for something...but what?

Guanlong became very popular when it was first discovered in 2006 because of where scientists believe it is placed on the dinosaur family tree.  At first Guanlong is pretty unique looking.  It was small for a dinosaur, and had long arms with three fingers with curved claws on each hand.  Its head was adorned with a flat oval-shaped crest that ran from its nose to just before its eyes.  The crest was too thin to have been a weapon and was likely a display adaptation within the species.  When scientists examined the teeth of Guanlong, they realized that this dinosaur was actually a kind of tyrannosauroid, and thus the earliest known relative of the famous Tyrannosaurus.  Tyrannosaurid teeth are more curved and D-shaped than those of other theropods.  Guanlong shared more in common with more basal tyrannosauroids that sported longer arms like Dryptosaurus, however.

Part of a Guanlong skull.

Guanlong is known from two well preserved specimens that scientists believed to be of different stages in life.  (An adult and a juvenile most likely.)  They were both found practically on top of each other along with a few other kinds of dinosaurs that would have coexisted with them in life, including the oldest known ceratopid, Yinlong.  160 million years ago, the site of these fossils was a pit of loose mud that would have trapped small animals like Guanlong and Yinlong.  As the they struggled to escape, the poor little guys would have been sucked deeper in the mud and eventually died.  Sad for the individual dinosaurs but great for fossilization!  These pits are a rich source for dinosaur fossils in China and have provided paleontologists with a lot of important information about what animals used to live there and where they fall on the dinosaur family tree.  I personally think it's really cool how the oldest members of the two most famous dinosaurs, Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops, were both found at the same time in the same place over 90 million years prior to the Late Cretaceous.  Those tyrannosauroids and ceratopids just can't seem to get away from each other!  Late Jurassic, China was ground zero for the most well-known evolutionary arms race in dinosaur history!

That is all for this week!  Feel free to comment below or on our facebook page as always!


Eberth, D. A., X. Xing, and J. M. Clark. "Dinosaur Death Pits From The Jurassic Of China." Palaios 25.2 (2010): 112-25. Web.

Xu X., Clark, J.M., Forster, C. A., Norell, M.A., Erickson, G.M., Eberth, D.A., Jia, C., and Zhao, Q. (2006). "A basal tyrannosauroid dinosaur from the Late Jurassic of China". Nature 439 (7077): 715–718. doi:10.1038/nature04511. PMID 16467836.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Interview with Artist: Luis V. Rey

Luis V. Rey is a Spanish-Mexican artist residing in London. Visual Arts MA from San Carlos Academy (UNAM), Mexico. Professional Surrealist multi-media illustrator and also amateur paleontologist for more than 35 years. He is currently devoting most of his time to accurate but daring paleontological reconstructions. He has recently collaborated with authors like Henry Gee ("Field Guide To Dinosaurs") and Palaeontologists Thom Holtz (Random House’s “The Most Complete Up To Date Dinosaur Encyclopedia") and Robert Bakker ("Golden Book of Dinosaurs").

Luis V. Rey has been one of my favorite paleo-artists since I first saw his work.  He could always be counted on to reconstruct dinosaurs in a totally unique and out-of-the-box way yet still staying within the realm of scientific accuracy.  Icing on the cake is his work is freakin beautiful.  Nobody uses color like Luis V Rey.  He was definitely a big inspiration for me when making my own art and serves as a beautiful example of how paleo-art is a perfect marriage of science and imagination.

At what age did you become interested in dinosaurs?  Were they always a subject of your art?

LR: I was interested in dinosaurs all my childhood (to start with)… but I didn’t really get into serious dinosaur restorations until the Dinosaur Renaissance (specifically end of the 1980’s)…. and no, they were not always a subject of my art. Being what they were (part of my childhood), at the beginning I integrated them in my surrealism once in a while!
Only later I decided to study palaeontology and get serious about it.

Luis V. Rey's rendition of a very happy Carnotaurus couple.

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

LR: If you talk about “paleoartists”(a term unknown until fairly recently)… I would have to say that Burian and Zallinger were my main inspiration… but during the Dinosaur Renaissance that switched me to Robert Bakker, Greg Paul, John Sibbick… and the lot!

Luis Rey's rendition of the famous theropod, Spinosaurus, based on the most recent discoveries made about the animal.

When did you decide to pursue a career in illustration?

LR: When I was 21 I took my leave from being dependent from my father and became full time professional illustrator. That was after I started  three years earlier studying in the San Carlos Art Academy in Mexico (when I was 18). But the Art thing was always running high in the family’s father side. I’ve been painting, sculpting and drawing all my life.

Luis Rey's recent depiction of Triceratops.

What medium do you most prefer to use for your art?  Any particular reason why?

LR: It has changed through the years. Now I combine drawing with pencils on paper and finishing the whole thing in veritable “orchestra mood” in the computer.

Luis Rey's depiction of Protoceratops and Velociraptor based on a real fossil found of the two in very close quarters to one another.
You recently started working a lot more with digital media.  How do you like that compared to actual paints?  Is one particularly better than the other in your opinion?

LR: They are completely different mediums. And as long as you have developed you own style you can use both without any problem… it has been almost a “prefect” sequence. The main thing is tho continue to be “you” and don’t let the tools take over..,. that is a danger with computers… if you haven’t developed a style beforehand you become victim of repeating what the computer tells you.
Everything I do is “handmade” one way or another!

Ouranosaurus being threatened by the large crocodile, Sarcosuchus.  This scene was created with the help of a computer but the artist's work still shines through clearly.

Your paleo-art has always known to be bold and certainly unique.  You are not afraid to think outside the box on a lot of reconstructions.  What is your mentality behind this?

LR: Apart from the obvious influence that my upbringing and my cultural background has provided me, my main inspirations are  the natural world and  thorough  research to back my restorations. It is important to build your own criterio and style based on these two things.

Luis Rey's portrait of a dynodont, a reptile with some mammalian features.

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

LR: I’m used to it. The only thing I can say… there’s no obligation to like what I do! But I can’t let that put me down… and I have had PLENTY of criticism all these years! As long as my “homework” is done (that is, the anatomy of the animals is correct)… at least I can’t be accused of not trying to do my best !

Luis Rey's rendition of a Tyrannosaurus family enjoying Sunday dinner.

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?

LR: The same I was talking before: develop your own style and be passionate about what you do. Be bold and try to think out of box… never try to copy for the sake of copying. Be original in your approach!

What is your favorite part about creating paleo-art.  Is there anything you don't like about it?

LR: Favourite things? Well, the thrill of doing a new reconstruction like nobody has done before for starters…
And the main thing I don’t like is bureaucracy.  In the late nineties I put a stop of being handled by publishers or academics. If they wanted to blacklist me, go ahead… but I’m not painting my Deinonychus without feathers or compelled doing things in “John Sibbick's Style” (for good or bad I have my own)! Yes, I understand that I’m never going to be “rich” in this profession!

Luis Rey's depiction of Deinonychus with a strong turkey influence which is perfectly plausible much to the dismay of all the Jurassic Park fanboys.

You have illustrated some great dinosaur books written by very knowledgeable paleontologists like Dr. Thomas Holtz's dinosaur encyclopedia or, more recently, Dr. Robert Bakker's remake of the Big Golden Book of Dinosaurs.  How much artistic freedom do you usually have working with scientists like them?  Do you ever bounce ideas off each other or collaborate?

LR: We try as much as possible to collaborate… but there were moments that each side just went on “our own”… sometimes It was chaotic (special with Dr. Bob)… but he is also an artist… and at the end we understood each other. Academics are difficult to pin down because they are always busy with their own things… tell that to Dr. Holtz… we have TWO great projects hanging in there for at least four years! ... One day they will happen.

Luis Rey and the DOCTOR Thomas Holtz showcasing their wildly successful book, Dinosaurs: The Most Complete, Up-to-Date Encyclopedia for Dinosaur Lovers of All Ages.  This book is also one of my favorites to the point where I drove down to Maryland to have Dr. Holtz sign it in person back in 2012.

What was your favorite dinosaur growing up?  How about today?

LR: Obviously it has to be Tyrannosaurus rex… today there are too many to count… most of the feathered!

Luis Rey's rendition of a pair of Tyrannosaurus (feathered as they should be) making some new Tyrannosaurus.

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?

LR: Jurassic Park was obviously the catalyst, but suddenly I understood that dinosaurs were NOT monsters of film land as Spielberg would try to show… too many mistakes and too much fiction. I like TV series best… and there have been some good recent ones. I simply adore the work of David Krentz (but NOT with Disney!).

Allosaurus feeding her family a sauropod leg.

Dinosaurs and the animals that lived at the same time as them were amazing creatures. Why do you feel dinosaurs continue to fascinate us?

LR: We all have a child inside and the first thing those skeletons in the museums do to you is to fill you with awe. The next thing is: how did they look? How did they live and where and when. The detective inside is immediately triggered. Then there’s the other factor (that I talk quite a lot about in my presentations), the “Icon” factor. We have certain images that go beyond time and space and become symbols in the collective mind. Dinosaurs are one of these. To change these images (that in time foster prejudices) and give them different meanings and ways of looking at them is also a task and a challenge for the artist, specially considering you are depicting REAL animals… not just icons in a museum.
How  do you convince people that dinosaurs are NOT extinct? A marriage of Science with Imagination is the key.

Utahraptor and Troodon from Dr. Robert Bakker's book, Raptor Red.

What is your favorite time period?

LR: If you count the amount of dinosaurs that exercise more fascination in me, it has to be the Cretaceous… but the Jurassic is perfectly OK too!

Deinocheirus and Tarbosaurus.  Luis Rey did NOT make up the spoon bill nor the hump, by the way.  The animal actually had those.

Do you have any other hobbies or interests (paleo or non paleo related)?

LR: All sorts of Arts and art crafts, Psychology, Social Sciences and… Music… specially Music!

and don't forget dinosaur cosplay!

Thank you so much Luis V Rey!  Be sure to check out Mr. Rey's blog and online gallery.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Carcharocles: Prehistoric Animal of the Week

Welcome to Shark Week 2014, the one week per year the masses educate themselves by watching programs such as Sharknado and Sharknado 2: The Second One! (The second one actually was really fun to watch...but not educational)  Starting last year, I have been reviewing a prehistoric shark as Prehistoric Animal of the Week to go along with the trend.  Since there were so many cool sharks throughout prehisroric history, I decided to open this year's up to a vote on our facebook page.  Well the people have spoken and this week goes to Carcharocles angustidens!

Life reconstruction of a large Carcharocles angustidens attacking the Miocene dinosaur, Madrynornis.  The penguin will escape though.  How do I know that?  I freaking made the painting.  That's how.

Carcharocles lived in oceans all over the world, including what is now North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Eastern Asia, Australia, and New Zealand, during the Oligocene through the Miocene epoch.  The oldest fossils are about 26 million years old.  Carcharocles is mostly known from teeth and a few other isolated vertebrae. (Remember, shark skeletons are mostly made of soft cartilage so they rarely fossilize except for the teeth.)  Judging by the size of the teeth, which were triangular-shaped with very distinct serrations, it can be estimated that the largest specimens of this shark could grow to over thirty feet long.   That is larger than the biggest modern Great Whites!

Tooth from Carcharocles angustidens.

Carcharocles would have been very similar to a Great White Shark in life if you go off of the teeth.  The teeth of Carcharocles are a bit narrower in the middle, however.  Carcharocles was likely an open water predator, hunting large prey like fish, small cetaceans (whales and dolphins), penguins, and seals.  It likely hunted this prey the same way many large marine predators do, by cruising deeper waters, using its superior senses to target its future meal and ambushing it from below to deliver a crippling bite.  Sharks with teeth like Carcharocles' do not have crushing power to dish out damage to prey.  (That's more crocodilian style.)  Instead, they rely on the extreme sharpness of their teeth, aided by their serrations to slash and cut, removing body parts and causing severe bleeding instead.  When you see sharks bite into large food items, you will notice them shake their heads from side to side.  This is them using their teeth like the serrations on a knife to cut a bite-sized chunk off.  To see this behavior in action by a modern shark, check out the video I linked below from a Shark Week special on Discovery Channel that aired six years ago. 

There is some dispute as to exactly how closely related Carcharocles angustidens is to modern Great Whites to the point where some scientists argue it should belong to the Carcharodon genus with them, which would change its full name to Carcharodon angustidens.  The very famous, megalodon shark, also belongs to Carcharodon, but some scientists believe it belongs in the Carcharocles genus.  See how we went full circle there?  Taxonomy is annoying! 

That is all for this week!  Hope you enjoyed our Shark Week contribution!  Just like I said last year, you don't have to stop loving and learning about sharks and science when Shark Week is over!  In fact, it's encouraged to keep learning!  As always comment below or on our facebook page!


Acosta Hostpitaleche, Carolina, Claudia Tambussi, and Mariano Donato. "A New Miocene Penguin from Patagonia and Its Phylogenetic Relationships." Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 52 (n.d.): 299-314. Print.

Gottfried M.D., Fordyce R.E (2001). "An associated specimen of Carcharodon angustidens (Chondrichthyes, Lamnidae) from the Late Oligocene of New Zealand, with comments on Carcharodon interrelationships". Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 21 (4): 730–739. doi:10.1671/0272-4634(2001)021[0730:AASOCA]2.0.CO;2.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Giant Bison: Prehistoric Animal of the Week

Hear that rumbling?  It's this week's prehistoric beast stampeding in!  By request, let's make way for Bison latifronsBison latifrons, or commonly referred to the "that giant prehistoric bison", lived in many parts of the United States during the Pleistocene as far back as 200 thousand years ago.  It went extinct rather recently, only about 20 to 30 thousand years ago.  This woolly mammal was similar in many ways to the modern bison we can observe around us today except for the fact that it was bigger...quite a bit bigger in fact.  This beast was over eight feet tall at the shoulder and weighed over two tons!  Its horns were particularly impressive.  The width of the skull of one of these mega-mammals could be up to seven feet across!  With stats like that, Bison latifrons may have been the largest bovid (family that includes buffalo, bison, cattle, goats...double-hoofed mammals with horns that say "moo" or "baa".) that ever lived.  It probably needed to be, too.  Remember, this animal had some pretty scary neighbors, including mammoths, rhinos, giant sloths, glyptodonts, sabre-tooth cats, short-faced bears (biggest bear...ever.) and even humans.

A male Bison latifrons having an intellectual conversation with a heron over some still water 30,000 years ago in what is now Texas, USA.  Reconstruction by Christopher DiPiazza.

I kind of have a soft spot for bison.  I get to see them every day when I go to work at the zoo.  I have gotten pretty close to them, as well when the veterinarian comes for their yearly check ups.  When I was in college, I got the amazing experience of volunteering at an actual bison farm.  (Yes, it was in New Jersey.)  Just like cattle, the bison had to be rounded up every so often so they could be weighed, measured, and given vaccines or any other sort of medication each individual may need.  If you have ever worked on a farm, you know that rounding up domestic animals like cattle or pigs is difficult enough.  Now imagine doing it for an animal the size of a bison!  These guys were tough.  I remember my job was to pull a rope tied to a giant metal door behind each animal as it ran through a chute.  I needed to make sure only one bison at a time went through.  If one decided to stop in the middle, there was really nothing I could do until the bison decided to move on her own!  Manually pushing a cow works just fine but a bison will turn you into mush if you do so much as get in there with one, especially if they are already stressed from being rounded up.  When one would kick the metal door, the whole structure shook and my hand, which was gripping the rope attached to that door would feel just a tad tingly for a good while after that.  Also keep in mind these beasties were all female (about 1,000 lbs each).  The males are even bigger (roughly 2,000 lbs).  Now imagine their relative, Bison latifrons, which was even bigger than that!

Bison latifrons skull on display at the North Dakota Heritage Center.  Check out how wide those horns go!

Unlike today's American bison, which live in herds by the thousands (and at one time in recent history much more) there is no evidence that Bison latifrons lived in such large herds.  Another difference is that Bison latifrons lived in places pretty far south like Texas and Southern California.  This was a mammal that didn't mind it a little on the warmer side sometimes.  It definitely wasn't just a bigger copy of its modern relatives.  The giant horns, present on both males and females could have been used to deter potential predators if need be but their primary function was probably for within the species.  Fighting by locking horns for dominance is common, not just with bison, but with bovids in general.  Another way Bison latifrons may have displayed was by what we call wallowing.  This is when a bison will roll on its back in a patch of dry dirt, creating a large dust cloud around it.  The bigger the dust cloud, the bigger and more powerful the bison making it is.  This behavior can be observed in modern bison.  They also do this to rid themselves of surface parasites, and to help shed their winter wool as they molt.  If you would like to see what this looks like in action simply check out that youtube video down there.

Oh, and one last thing.  A bison is NOT the same as a buffalo.  Huge pet peeve of mine is when I overhear zoo visitors call them buffalo.  White American settlers used to refer to bison as "American Buffalo" because the closest animal they could compare them to was an actual buffalo, which live in Africa and Asia.  The two bovids, although related, are not the same animal.  Remember that!

Water Buffalo from Asia.  Not a bison.

American Bison from America.  Not a buffalo.

That is all for this week!  Feel free to comment below or on our facebook page


Bell CJ (2004). "The Blancan, Irvingtonian, and Rancholabrean mammal ages". In Woodburne, M.O. Late Cretaceous and Cenozoic Mammals of North America: Biostratigraphy and Geochronology. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 232–314. ISBN 0-231-13040-6.

Kurten, B; Anderson, E (1980). "Order Artiodactyla". Pleistocene mammals of North America (1st ed.). New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 295–339. ISBN 0-231-03733-3.

Scott E, Cox SM (2008). "Late Pleistocene distribution of Bison (Mammalia; Artiodactyla) in the Mojave Desert of Southern California and Nevada". In Wang X, Barnes LG. Geology and Vertebrate Paleontology of Western and Southern North America. Los Angeles: Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. pp. 359–82.

Systematic relationships in the Bovini (Artiodactyla, Bovidae). In Zeitschrift für Zoologische Systematik und Evolutionsforschung, 4:264–278., Groves, C. P., 1981. Quoted in Mammal Species of the World. A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed), Don E. Wilson & DeeAnn M. Reeder (editors). 2005. Johns Hopkins University Press: "Bison".