Thursday, February 27, 2014

Science Symposium: Arizona 2014

This past weekend the Jersey Boys flew to Mesa, Arizona for a science symposium.  We were there presenting our research on a bone that our team dug up a few summers ago in Tucumcari, New Mexico.  I just updated my blogpost on our trip to Tucumcari.  I highly recommend you go there and read it first.  Go ahead...

Read it?  Good.  Okay so the bone we were presenting research on is a femur from a poposauroid.  Originally we were calling the poposaurid remains we found from that area Shuvosaurus.  After all, Shuvosaurus was alive at the time and would have been strikingly similar.  After checking out this bone more closely, however, we found out it was closer to another poposauroid called Effigia.  HOWEVER, it wasn't identical to Effigia, either.  This poposauroid might be something new.  Only more research and more good fossil finds will tell!

Ross Geller and Ted Mosby present their poster.

You may be thinking...

"How can you tell all that from just one bone?  Those little differences could mean nothing!"

Unfortunately when you work with fossils there is very little to go off of and often times we need to make the best, most logical assumptions based on the facts that we DO have.  What we have is a femur that is very similar to some known animals but not quite the same.  It is safe to say that it is definitely from a poposaurid.  Given the fact that there were likely many more species alive back then that we may never discover, it is most logical to assume this femur belonged to something new instead of something that is already named. Remember a LOT of differences can be in the soft tissue of an animal, none of which were found for this guy, let alone other bones!  So the differences that we can see in the bones are important.

From left to right: Tiger and Lion.  SO SIMILAR but we all know they are very different animals.  Related, yes, but still different.

We had some fun while there too.  As always I took every opportunity to photograph animals.  This time i got some birds.  Oooh Ground Doves!

These guys actually exhibit some sexual dimorphism.  Female is on the left and male on the right.

We also met up with our friend Andrea.  If you read this blog two years ago you would recognize her as one of our original authors

Left to right: Dr. Axel Hungerbuehler, Gary, Andrea, Chris

That is all for this week!  Join me on Sunday for a long-anticipated Prehistoric Animal of the Week! 

That bar had Nintendo 64s hooked up at all the tables and I was too distracted by the thought of playing Cruisin USA to make an adorable selfie face.  Sorry.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Brendan Schaffer: Snow Stegosaurus

Let me start out by saying that I hate the snow.  I hate it so much.  I used to like it when I was a little kid and it meant no school but now that I actually have to drive into work most of the time regardless and shovel the driveway, I have learned to despise the stuff.  Plus it's cold.  Seriously I hate this time of year.  Winter is funny.  Up until Christmas everyone loves the snow.  "Oooh Aaah!  Pretty winter wonderland!"  Then every time it snows after that it's more like "UGGGHHHHHH EVERYTHING IS WET AND GROSS WE WANT SPRING!"

Well the snow doesn't bother my friend, Brendan!  Brendan and I went to Rutgers together and took an ornithology class where we bonded over identifying birds.  He studied Ecology and Marine Science, but also paints, draws, and sculpts whenever he can, trying to capture how beautiful and colorful nature can be.  Only in the past year has he discovered that he can sculpt snow!  Whenever the forecast calls for even a light dusting, he can be found with his father and brothers out in their front yard creating the next "masterpiece".  From dragons to dinosaurs, Brendan sculpts whatever may be relevant (holidays and mascots included), sometimes what they think will look cool or funny off the top of their heads. They like to make their community happy with their snow sculptures and hope it brings joy to people during the dreary winter months.

So recently I got a message from Brendan asking for my help.  He had sculpted a life-sized snow Stegosaurus and wanted to know if there was anything he could do to make it as scientifically accurate as possible.  Needless to say, the piece was already awesome!


Now before any of you hardcore science fanboysandgirls start nitpicking every single freaking thing that could possibly be not 100% scientific for the sake of flexing your intellectual muscles and looking like a total ass pro on the internet keep in mind that snow is NOT an easy medium to work with!  If the sculpture sacrifices some anatomical accuracy for the sake of...I dunno, staying together as a sculpture then so be it.  There are some things that Brendan and I decided could be changed to make this guy even more realistic, however.

We started at the head and worked our way back.  I'd say change the shape of the head by making it more narrow and angular.  Stegosaurus had an almost wedge-shaped noggin.  Also let's add on a little throat pouch with gular armor!  The snow plates are delicate but we thought it would be good if they were made a little more broad on the bottom.  Lastly, the we decided to change the position of the spikes on the tail.  They can't be held out completely to the sides because they would fall off, however.  I suggesting using giant icicles for spikes but those are hard and dangerous to come by.  Oh well!

Check out the improved sculpture!  Brendan is standing next to it so you can see just how huge this thing really is.


It looks great!  Brendan even went so far as to paint it with water mixed with food coloring!


Now it just needs one more thing...ah!


PERFECT.

Great job, Brendan!  Want to see more?  Check out and like his facebook page.  There are really awesome pieces on there. 


That's all for this time!  Just so everyone knows Gary and I will be flying to Arizona this weekend to present a research poster on possible new species of Shuvosaurus we helped to dig up last Summer.  That being said I may not be able to do a Prehistoric Animal of the Week on Sunday.  I'll try my best though! 


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Protoceratops: Prehistoric Animal of the Week

This week we will be looking at a well known ceratopsian dinosaur.  Say hello to Protoceratops!  This little dinosaur measured about six feet long when fully grown and lived in what is now Monglolia during the Late Cretaceous, roughly 80 to 75 million years ago.  Like all ceratopsians, Protoceratops was likely a plant-eater.  The genus name, Protoceratops, literally translates to "first horned face".  Nowadays we know that Protoceratops was far from the earliest of the ceratopsians but at the time of its discovery back in the 1920s it was the oldest known.  The discovery of Protoceratops also proved to scientists that the ceratopsian family line originated in Asia, not North America, where its later-living relative, Triceratops, was unearthed. 

Protoceratops andrewsi by Christopher DiPiazza...lol sex.

Protoceratops was likely a tough little dinosaur.  It had to be since its habitat would have been a pretty arid desert-like landscape.  Protoceratops' small size in this environment is no coincidence since desert animals tend to evolve smaller.  The smaller your body is, the less food and water you require to stay alive, and the easier it is to get shelter.  The few large desert animals out there have highly specialized adaptations to compensate for living in such harsh environments.

Articulated Protoceratops skeleton on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

More evidence of Protoceratops' toughness is illustrated in a few fossils that actually illustrate it interacting with other dinosaurs.  A crushed Oviraptor skull was discovered nearby what were originally believed to be Protoceratops eggs.  Scientists thought that the ceratopsian defended its brood by pulverizing the poor theropod's head.  As it turns out, the eggs actually belonged to Oviraptor, not ProtoceratopsOviraptor's skull was still crushed though... Since that discovery scientists have actually found young Protoceratops in nests of their own.  This suggests that Protoceratops, like many other dinosaurs, cared for its young for a time after they hatched. 

Protoceratops beby to adult skulls.

An even more spectacular fossil was found during the early 70s of a Protoceratops with a Velociraptor's arm clamped in its beak.  Many say that the Velociraptor's toe claw was embedded in the ceratopsian's neck and that the two were locked in dramatic mortal combat when they perished in a sandstorm.  Whether or not this is actually how they died is truly uncertain.  One thing that is for sure, however, is that these two dinosaurs were getting very close when they died and I'm pretty confident it wasn't to cuddle.  One of the reasons why I love Protoceratops so much is because despite it having been a plant-eater, it actually proves to have been a force to be respected.  Plant-eaters always get this "gentle" label which is just plain false.  Just take a look at animals today like Buffalo and Hippos to see what I mean.  Extinct dinosaurs would have been much the same.


Ouchies!

Protoceratops is a great dinosaur to study because there are just so many specimens on the fossil record.  Scientists have found tiny babies, fully grown adults, and many life stages in between.  There is even a three-dimensional articulated skeleton on display at the Museum on Natural History in New York.  There is also strong evidence for sexual dimorphism in Protoceratops.  The males appear to be the ones with taller snouts and wider frills.

The happy couple!  Female in front, male in back.

Protoceratops is likely the original inspiration for the mythical creature, the griffin.  Griffins, eagle/lion composites, are common in many cultures around the world but the oldest depictions of them are from not far from where Protoceratops used to live.  The ancient Greeks first started writing about griffins in their stories around the exact same time that they made contact with nomads from Monglolia.  It is likely that they were discovering Protoceratops bones and the griffin was, in a way, one of the earliest attempts at paleo-art!

Griffin statue from Ancient Greece.

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

References

Carpenter, Ken. (1998). "Evidence of predatory behavior by theropod dinosaurs.". Gaia 15: 135–144. [not printed until 2000]

Choi, Charles. "15 Infant Dinosaurs Discovered Crowded in Nest". LiveScience.com. November 17, 2011.

"Protoceratops." In: Dodson, Peter & Britt, Brooks & Carpenter, Kenneth & Forster, Catherine A. & Gillette, David D. & Norell, Mark A. & Olshevsky, George & Parrish, J. Michael & Weishampel, David B. The Age of Dinosaurs. Publications International, LTD. p. 118-119. ISBN 0-7853-0443-6.

Dodson, P. (1996). The Horned Dinosaurs. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. pp. 200–234. ISBN 0-691-05900-4.

 Mayor, A. (2000). The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. ISBN 0-691-05863-6.


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Prehistoric Valentines

It's Valentines Day tomorrow!  Ever wonder what it would be like if valentines were a thing in prehistoric times?  What would an Ankylosaurus say to woo a mate?  Would Gryphoceratops say anything special to that special someone?  Well I decided to make some prehistoric themed valentines.  Feel free to print them out and give them to your loved ones...or people who you really want to creep out. 

I bet some dinosaurs would be sweet, witty, or flirty...


  
Oh Unenlagia, you could go dancing with me any day.


Linguistics joke!

I actually don't have a tail so...

Some would probably be more aggressive with their advances...

Now that's dedication.

A bit too kinky for me, thanks.

Of course, let's not forget that most animals are pretty direct when the time is right. Sometimes blunt is best.  (Although I don't think I would use any of these lines, myself.)

Honesty is a good quality!

If you want to read about how dinosaurs may have courted check out my post from last year and if you would like to know about what it would be like to date a T. rex check out Gary's post from two years ago.  Happy Valentines Day everybody!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Glyptodon: Prehistoric Animal of the Week

This week we are checking out a really heavily-protected prehistoric mammal.  Enter GlyptodonGlyptodon was a member of a family of mammals called xenarthra, which also includes modern anteaters, armadillos and sloths.  Glyptodon resembled a gigantic armadillo with a high, dome-shaped shell covering most of its body.  This beast measured ten feet long and would have lived in what is now South America during the Plestiocene era which spanned from a few million years ago up until only ten thousand years ago.  The genus, Glyptodon, translates to "carved tooth" and includes a few different, but similar species. When alive, Glyptodon would have coexisted with many other prehistoric beasties including Sabre-toothed cats, giant, flightless terror birds like Titanis, mammoths, giant ground sloths like Megatherium, and even humans. 

Glyptodon by Christopher DiPiazza.

In life, Glyptodon's shell was comprised of wide sheets of bone under the skin covered in a layer of horny keratin. (same stuff as our fingernails)  Modern armadillo armor is like this as well but varies in thickness and flexibility depending on the species.  Modern armadillos also have segmented shells with bands in the middle.  The number of bands is different depending on the species and the higher the number of these bands, the more flexible and maneuverable the armadillo can be.   



Above are two modern examples of armadillos that I work with.  On the left is the Six-Banded Armadillo (Euphractus sexcinctus) who's armor is thicker and stiffer than the surprisingly fast-running Nine-Banded Armadillo's (Dasypus novemcinctus), on the right. 

Glyptodon, however, had a shell that comprised of one solid dome covering the entire body, except for the head and tail.  When faced with a predator, Glyptodon wouldn't have been able to run away quickly.  Instead it would have simply lowered it's head and stood firm, making it's body into a seemingly impenetrable fortress. The shell was so strong and big that some believe early humans would have used hollowed out Glyptodon armor as shelter sometimes. Glyptodon also had armor on the top of its head like a cap as well as the tail which was covered in rings of armor. 

Somebody is about to get a sexy wake-up surprise!

Glyptodon's body design has evolved separately many times in other kinds of animals throughout history.  This idea of different, unrelated animals evolving similar adaptations for similar purposes is called convergent evolution.  The group of dinosaurs, the ankylosaurs, the crocodile relatives, the aetosaurs, and the testudines (turtles and tortoises) all are examples of other vertebrates that independently developed bony armor for protection.


Glyptodon skeleton.  Note the high shell and the short face.

In addition to being much larger, Glyptodon differed from modern armadillos in other ways, too.  Most notable is the skull.  Modern armadillos all posses long, pointed snouts with small teeth designed for crunching up insects and other food items.  Glyptodon, on the other hand, had a very short, robust skull with a huge lower jaw where a lot of muscle would have been attached in life.  Glyptodon teeth are also more designed for chewing grass, suggesting that this prehistoric xenarthid was a herbivore and not an omnivore or insectivore like its modern relatives.

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

References

Fidalgo, F., et al. (1986) "Investigaciones arqueológicas en el sitio 2 de Arroyo Seco (Pdo. de Tres Arroyos, prov. de Buenos Aires, República Argentina)" In: Bryan, Alan (ed.) (1986) New evidence for the Pleistocene peopling of the Americas Peopling of the Americas Symposia Series, Center for the Study of Early Man, University of Maine, Orono, Maine, ISBN 0-912933-03-8, pp. 221-269, in Spanish

Politis, Gustavo G. and Gutierrez, Maria A. (1998) "Gliptodontes y Cazadores-Recolectores de la Region Pampeana (Argentina)" ("Glyptodonts and Hunter-Gatherers in the Pampas Region (Argentina)") Latin American Antiquity 9(2): pp.111-134 in Spanish


Friday, February 7, 2014

Dinosaur Color Scheme: Modern Inspiration

Sometimes people ask me where I get the ideas for the color schemes on my dinosaur illustrations.  I'm usually not all for copying color schemes exactly but it is always a lot of fun to get inspiration from living animals.  Of course a lot of my color schemes aren't directly inspired by anything.  Others however I definitely do get some help from nature on.  Honestly, any paleo-artist who says that all of his/her color scheme ideas are 100% original all the time is lying in some form or another.  Below are some of my paintings that I have shared on this site before and the real life animal color schemes that helped me paint them. 

Here is Deinonychus.  Its colors were inspired by the Martial Eagle from Africa.  Dromaeosaurs with bird of prey colors are pretty common in paleo-art actually.  



At the zoo I work with a beautiful Wood Turtle.  I wanted to do an ankylosaur with wood turtle colors for a long time but never really got the opportunity.  Then time came for me to illustrate the armored pseudosuchian, Desmatosuchus, and I decided to apply the Wood Turtle's pallet there instead.  I think it fits him nicely. 


I used the patterns from the Australian Military Dragon on my Eocursor


My Ornithocheirus were based on the Great Frigate Bird.  I didn't give them inflatable neck pouches though.  I actually like the look of a large almost-black pterosaur. 


I keep a Fire Skink for a pet. (Her name is Ruby.)  She sometimes comes to events with me to show kids an example of a non-dinosaur reptile.  She also has GORGEOUS colors.  I really wanted to paint a dinosaur that looked like that.  Europelta was discovered soon after and I took that as a great opportunity to try it out. 


I also always wanted to do a predatory dinosaur with alternating dark and light colored bands like the Black-headed Python from Australia has.  Liliensternus has that nice long neck, tail, and legs so I decided it would be a perfect candidate to try this out on.


 When I decided to do a Tylosaurus I actually was struggling with ideas for an interesting, yet plausible color scheme that hadn't been done already.  There are a lot of whale and shark inspired mosasaurs but then I realized that there weren't many with sea snake colors.  I found this odd since mosasaurs and snakes are actually pretty closely related.  Here is my Tylosaurus with a Sea Crate pattern.
  

A lot of times when paleo-art uses modern animals as inspiration, the animals chosen usually have some sort of connection to the prehistoric creature that is being modeled after them.  Also, birds and reptiles are used more often than not when depicting dinosaurs.  The reality is, however, we still have never seen the colors on the vast majority of these creatures and there really is nothing wrong with using some more obscure models for color ideas especially if the end result still makes sense and/or looks good.  I do this also sometimes.

Using fish and amphibians as models for dinosaurs?  This guy is nuts!

Also let's be honest, if I never revealed to you that I used a Lionfish as inspiration for my Amargasaurus colors would you have noticed and/or said anything?  


I know some people who's heads explode at the thought of using mammals as inspiration for dinosaurs as well.  Camouflage is camouflage I say.  Check out Concavenator.



Another one of my pets, a Iranian Spotted Newt has the most beautiful colors of any amphibian (It toally gives dart frogs a run for their money.)  I took inspiration from that little guy's skin as well as the head of the Horned Grebe to make my Tsintaosaurus.  


That's all for today!  Keep in mind that I still do a lot of more or less original color schemes too, but sometimes nature is just too awesome to pass up on some of its pallets.  What sort of color schemes did you think certain prehistoric animals had?  Do you think they exhibited a lot of the same colors as animals do today or were they more or less completely different?