Friday, December 18, 2015

Happy 100th Anniversary to 5027!

I'm biased.  I'm not afraid to admit it, especially when it comes to my home.

I grew up in New Jersey and traveled New York City frequently for my entire life.  One tradition when I was tiny was to visit the American Museum of Natural History with my family every Mother's Day.  My mother enjoyed looking at the exhibits about human cultures from around the world but naturally all that mattered to me was seeing the dinosaur hall on the fourth floor.  (The dioramas of modern animals were pretty cool too...and the hall of ocean life.)  This is not uncommon and since working there this summer I have witnessed many children with the same mindset.  For example, the following is an actual line I overheard a little boy (I estimate about five years old) say as his mom walked him in through the museum's main entrance one day.

"If I don't see the dinosaurs right now I am going to punch every person here in the face."

Although I am firmly against violence, I can't help but respect that little guy just a little.

So naturally my favorite dinosaur exhibit is there and my favorite Tyrannosaurus specimen is the one that has been on display there for one hundred years as of this month.  Unlike other famous Tyrannosaurus, that have been found more recently, like "Sue", "Stan", "Jane", and now "Tristan" (We will talk more about Tristan soon), the New York Tyrannosaurus was never given a name.  It is referred to as its official specimen number, AMNH 5027. (AMNH stands for American Museum of Natural History)  Simple, but no less iconic to those who know it. 5027 isn't the largest Tyrannosaurus on the fossil record (a little under forty feet long), nor is it the most complete. (although it was for a while)  What it does have to its name is being the first T. rex to ever be put on display in a museum which I think is really neat.  (Like I said, I'm biased.)  It was discovered in the early 1900s by American paleontologist, Bernum Brown in Montana.  At the time it was the most complete Tyrannosaurus on the fossil record, particularly when it came to the skull.  Other interesting things to note is this particular specimen of Tyrannosaurus has several bones, including neck vertebrae and ribs, that appear to have been broken and then healed in life.  This supports the idea that dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus were leading potentially violent/dangerous lifestyles and could bounce back from seemingly devastating injuries.  (Not unlike some of their modern relatives, crocodilians)

When it was to be first mounted in the museum, it was done so in an upright position with its tail dragging on the ground.  This made sense at the time since scientists hadn't really started connecting larger dinosaurs to birds yet and based most of their reconstructions on lizards and crocodilians.  The mount itself is actually a combination of two specimens of Tyrannosaurus that were discovered around the same time in the early 1900s, AMNH 5027, which makes up the majority of the skeleton, and AMNH 973, which was discovered first but is less complete.  The rest of the skeleton that they still didn't have anything of they used the more completely known Allosaurus for a reference, which is why it originally had three fingers on each hand, instead of two.

AMNH 5027's original pose at the museum.  That Triceratops next to it is also there today, but hasn't changed at all and is thus, really outdated in a few catagories.  This photo is available to see along with many others at the AMNH research library.

Flash forward to the 1994 which is when AMNH 5027 received a makeover and was reposed in a more horizontal position to go along with updated information about how dinosaurs carried themselves with their tails above the ground for balance.  Along with it, the Apatosaurus/Brontosaurus mount in the same hall  was reposed in the same way, and the mind-blowingly dynamic Barosaurus vs. Allosaurus display was debuted in the museum's main entrance.  This is the exhibit I have known since I was little, since before that they were either renovating it (so it was closed to the public) and before that I was too young to remember/wasn't born yet.  One vivid memory I remember when I was extremely young was seeing the Allosaurus mount intended for the entrance hall being wheeled into a back room as I passed by a hallway intended for employees only.  It has stayed with me to this day.

If you visit AMNH 5027 now, this is what you will meet.

So why talk about all this now?  Well, like I stated earlier, December 2015 marks AMNH 5027's one hundredth anniversary of being on display at the American Museum of Natural History.  I consider myself SO LUCKY to have started working there the same year and thus, was able to be present for the museum's paleontology department's birthday party for it!  Every department at the museum actually has it's own holiday party in December, but paleontology's sort of doubles as an anniversary since the T. rex was erected in December anyway.  Convenient!

The baker we used obviously doesn't know the proper way to write T. rex...or what a T. rex looked like...  It tasted good.  Photo courtesy of Rosa Luna who is the digital marketing manager at the museum.

Below are a few more pictures that were taken from that night.  It was so much fun and was a great opportunity to meet and get to know better, other people with the same passion as myself.


Follow the toothy fliers to get to the party!
Dustin Growick, host of The Dinosaur Show, and I...did not plan this.  We both have the same sense of paleofashion is all.
It was awesome to meet Dr. Mark Norell, a paleontologist I had seen on television since childhood.  It was even more awesome to hear about Dr. Norell's exciting most recent dinosaur project!

References

Dingus, Lowell. The Halls of Dinosaurs: A Guide to Saurischians and Ornithischians. New York: American Museum of Natural History, 1995. Print.

Osborn, H.F. 1913. Tyrannosaurus, Restoration and Model of the Skeleton. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History vol 32, pp. 9-12.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Probrachylophosaurus: Beast of the Week

This week we will be checking out a newly described plant-eating dinosaur.  Let's welcome Probrachylophosaurus bergei!  Probrachylophosaurus was a hadrosaurid (duck-billed) dinosaur that lived in what is now Montana, USA, during the late Cretaceous, 79 million years ago.  From beak to tail, an adult measured about twenty nine feet long.  The genus name translates to "Before the Short-Crested Lizard".  Who is this later "short-crested" guy?  We'll get to that...

Probrachylophosaurus by Christopher DiPiazza.

Probrachylophosaurus, as stated above, was a hadrosaurid, so it was related to dinosaurs like Anatotitan and Hadrosaurus, to name only a few.  That being said, it would have comfortably walked on all fours, but could have stood or ran on its powerful hind legs when needed.  It's tail would have been thick and stiffened with bony rods inside the body in life, making a nice counterbalance to it's front half, and possibly even an effective club-like weapon against predators and rivals.  With its broad beak, it would have been able to scarf down as much vegetation as possible to be pulverized thoroughly with its hundreds of tightly-packed teeth in the back of its mouth.  (Hadrosaurs had the most teeth in their mouths of any known animal!)

Probrachylophosaurus skull material from Fowler's 2015 description.

Brachylophosaurus is an important fossil because it gives us a clearer picture of a very specific instance of dinosaur evolution taking place.  In this case, Probrachylophosaurus strongly indicates that it was the direct ancestor of a different, yet closely-related kind of hadrosaur called (You guessed it!) Brachylophosaurus.  These two dinosaurs lived in the same area of North America but Probrachylophsoaurus was excavated from rocks about one million years older than Brachylophosaurus.  They both had flat, bony crests on their heads, above their eyes but Probrachylophosaurus' was shorter, telling us that natural selection shifted these animals towards longer crests as time went on.  The purpose of these crests is not totally clear, but it's always safe to say they were for display within the species, specifically mate selection.

One of the things scientists did with Probrachylophosaurus was cut open its leg bone to reveal how old it was when it died.  (You can count the rings on the inside of a femur or rib to see how many years old a dinosaur was, just like on the inside of a tree trunk.)  Turns out the Probrachylophosaurus specimen was fourteen when it died, which is still considered a juvenile, but past sexual maturity and very close to being full size going off what is known about hadrosaurs in general.  (Thanks Maiasaura!)

Cross section of Probrachylophosaurus' bone, showing the growth rings, which ultimately revealed that it was fourteen years old when it died.

So how old was the biggest known Brachylophosaurus when it died?  This could disprove the original idea that nature was selecting for longer crest lengths within that million years, if Brachylophosaurus was an older adult when it died, suggesting that the later juvenile Probrachylophosaurus simply had more crest-growing to do.  This is a question I asked Dr. Liz Freedman Fowler, who was one of the paleontologists who studied and ultimately described Probrachylophosaurus.  Turns out the original theory holds true.  Dr.Fowler explained to me that the biggest specimen of Brachylophosaurus with a longer crest, was found to have been younger than Probrachylophosaurus, with a shorter crest, when it died.  Both dinosaurs may have had a little bit more growing to do, but the crests still would have been longer, regardless, as generations moved on between 79 and 78 million years ago.

Quick doodlegram I did comparing the two.

It's always exciting when a new find ads a puzzle piece to a mystery.  Technically most organisms can be considered in the process or evolving somewhat, but rarely do we get such a clear picture of it taking place at different stages like this.  This is why paleontology is so important to biology.  It gives us a clear demonstration of evolution at work, a process that normally takes millions of years!

That is all for this week!  As always feel free to comment below or on our facebook page!  Special thanks to Dr. Fowler for talking to me before and during the making of this post!

References

Fowler, Elizabeth A. Freedman, and John R. Horner. "A New Brachylophosaurin Hadrosaur (Dinosauria: Ornithischia) with an Intermediate Nasal Crest from the Campanian Judith River Formation of Northcentral Montana." PloS one 10.11 (2015): e0141304.

Weishampel, David B.; Horner, Jack R. (1990). "Hadrosauridae". In Weishampel, David B.; Osmólska, Halszka; and Dodson, Peter (eds.). The Dinosauria (1st ed.). Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 534–561. ISBN 0-520-06727-4.




Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Behind the Painting: Therizinosaurus

I've done several behind-the-scenes posts on here about art.  Today I will give you a brief play by play of how I came to finish my Therizinosaurus painting featured on here last weekend.

Many times, if I depict a creature doing something other than just standing there, it was inspired by the behavior of a living animal I observed. (Then again, sometimes living animals just stand there too so I suppose it's always inspired by living animals at least a little bit!)  In this case, it was a Two-Toed Sloth, named Eugene, I work with.  Sloths are known for being relatively slow-moving mammals that live in trees.  This guy was no exception.  One evening as I was on my way out, I witnessed him sleeping upside down...with a half-eaten piece of lettuce in his claw that he had been munching on before spontaneously dozing off.  It was pretty cute.

Here's a photo  I snapped of Eugene munching on a nice, juicy.... ZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzz

I witnessed this years ago, but it always stuck with me.  It wasn't until I decided I wanted to paint a Therizinosaurus for the last Prehistoric Beast of the Week (actually a re-do of a post from back when I worked on the Jersey Boys Hunt Dinosaurs blog), when I thought to myself "Wouldn't it be neat to show it dozing off mid-meal just like the way Eugene did that one time?"  It seemed appropriate.  It is actually no coincidence that therizinosaurids are often compared to the now extinct, ground sloths, that used to live merely thousands of years ago, in appearance and proposed behavior.  The two kinds of animals may have filled similar niches in life.  The fact that a living sloth was my inspiration was just coincidence. 

Megatherium, a kind of giant ground sloth, skeleton on display at the London Museum of  Natural History.  These heavy mammals may have behaved similarly to therizinosaurids that lived millions of years before them.

During my lunch breaks at work I usually doodle in my monthly planner.  Many of these doodle-sketches eventually get turned into full paintings, as was the case here.

I really liked the idea of a sitting pose, with one leg partially stretched out. 

Currently, I do a lot of travelling between New Jersey and New York City, often spending nights over one place or the other.  I always pack a shopping bag with my pallet of paints, jug for water, brushes, paper, rags, and pencils (watercolor painting supplies) when I make one of these trips.  One of these days I spent working on this painting at my girlfriend's apartment in Astoria.  While there, her roommate's cat insisted on..."helping" me.  Apparently this well-meaning feline believed that giving me a close-up view of her anus was in some way a source of inspiration.

Maybe she saw the mug I was drinking from and assumed I just really liked looking at butts.

Finally, about a week later, a few hours per day, I had my finished product!  I decided to make the feathers a reddish brown color, which looks good and plausible for a large, shaggy animal.  I also made the skin and scales on the face and feet blue, with small red waddle under the neck for display.  (This individual is a male.)  This was inspired by various large ground birds like Cassowaries and turkeys.

Mmmmmmm....Ginkgooooooo

Sloths, turkeys, and Cassowaries weren't the only animal references I used for Therizinosaurus, either!  When it came to doing that quick sketch of the mating display via claws, I i turned to a living animal in which the males are characterized by having longer front claws than the females, and use those claws in courtship displays, as well.  Fresh water turtles!



Another huge coincidence is the fact that when Therizinosaurus' claws were first discovered they were thought to have been from...a turtle!

I hope you enjoyed this little post.  I sure enjoyed making the painting leading up to it!  When I remember I try to take photos of my sketches and unfinished paintings to share with you on here.  Farewell until next time!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015: Respect Your Dinosaur

As you should know, birds are dinosaurs.  Therefore the turkey you may be eating at Thanksgiving dinner is...a dinosaur.

Because of this, back in 2012, I decided to doodle a little cartoon of this and post it on my facebook page.  Here it is below.


Well I never would have guessed, this thing actually went viral as soon as a certain popular science-themed facebook group caught wind of it and posted it to their page.  I had people all over the world sharing this cartoon and laughing at it.  I started getting texts from people I know telling me they saw it on their newsfeed...but not from me! (If I remember correctly the group did credit me as the artist, as they should have.)

In case you were wondering the nonavian dinosaurs pictured are from left yo right: Dakotaraptor, Tyrannosaurus, and Dryptosaurus.  All three members of the coelurosaur group, which also includes birds.

Well this year I decided to do that cartoon again with a bit more care put in.  (a bit...its still a sketch basically with paint on it.)  Enjoy!

As you enjoy your meal this Thanksgiving, remember to respect your bird because millions of years ago, its relatives were eating ours!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Therizinosaurus: Beast of the Week

This week we will be checking out an increasingly popular, unique dinosaur.  Enter Therizinosaurus cheloniformisTherizinosaurus was a large plant-eating dinosaur that lived in what is now Mongolia, during the Late Cretaceous, 70 million years ago.  From beak to tail it is estimated to have measured about thirty three feet long and would have had feathers when alive.  The name, Therizinosaurus, translates to "scythe lizard" in reference to its long, scythe-shaped claws.  The species name, cheloniformes, translates to "turtle form" because its remains were originally believed to have belonged to a large turtle when they were discovered in the 1950s. (specifically the claws)

A lazy Therizinosaurus falls asleep while feeding.  I based this scene loosely after a sloth I worked with who I observed doing something similar, dozing off with a piece of food still in his claws.

Therizinosaurus is sadly only known from fragmentary remains, including claws, and arms, and parts of the legs.  Most of what we know about it is based on more complete remains from related dinosaurs from the same family.  Therizinosaurus, along with its family, called therizinosauroidea, all were probably plant eaters, which is unusual for nonavian theropods.  Although the ornithomimosaurs were likely at least plan-eaters part of the time, possibly along with oviraptorosaurs, too.  If Therizinosaurus was like its closest relatives, it would have had a long, thin neck, and a relatively small skull, with a small beak at the tip and small teeth in the back, for shredding plants.

Therizinosaurus hand tipped with gigantic claws on display at the Sauriermuseum Aathal in Switzerland.

The arms and claws were probably Therizinosaurus' most impressive traits.  The arms themselves were relatively long, but would have had a limited range of motion, especially when it comes for reaching upwards.  Each hand ended in three fingers, each tipped with an enormous, scythe-shaped claw.  Each of these claws were about or just over three feet long!  They also were laterally compressed, and blade-like, and at first glance appear to have been really nasty weapons.  However, it is unlikely this was their primary function. (Although I'm sure if you ticked a Therizinosaurus off enough it wouldn't hesitate to use them to hurt you.)  It is more likely they aided Therizinosaurus in either feeding, or mating.  When it comes to feeding, these claws could have played a part in better manipulating branches and chutes towards the dinosaur's mouth to eat the leaves.  Despite the fact that Therizinosaurus could reach higher up with its neck than with its arms, they still could have been useful for bending plant limbs that started growing low and had edible foliage up high, towards, the dinosaur's mouth.  These claws also may have played a role in mate selection and display.  Who knows what kind of behavior Therizinosaurus may have exhibited when it wanted to impress a potential mate with those claws?  Birds today incorporate all sorts of body adaptations in mating displays and dances.  There is a strong chance many prehistoric dinosaurs were the same.  Since the fossil material from this dinosaur is also extremely limited right now, for all we know the extremely long claws may have been a display adaptation only present in mature males, for instance.  Only new discoveries made in the future could ever tell us that, however.

Quick sketch I did of a male Therizinosaurus using his claws in an attempt to woo a female. There is no fossil evidence that suggests there was a difference in claw size between the sexes.

Therizinosaurus would have had a relatively wide body, with a low center of gravity.  It's pubis bone, which usually is facing forward in most nonavian theropods, would have been angled backwards.  These are adaptations for a plant-eating lifestyle.  Since they likely evolved from meat-eating ancestors, therizinosauroids needed to change their internal anatomy, specifically their digestive tract, drastically in order to make the change to an herbivorous diet.  This requires a bigger gut, since plants are more work to digest, and therefore need more space to ferment inside.  For modern examples, look to large plant-eating animals today, like cows.  These animals have wide stomachs, with multiple chambers to slowly break down the plants that they eat.  Other herbivores, like horses, have enlarged cecums, the section between the small and large intestines, for the same purpose.  Think of Therizinosaurus' gut as a huge, living, fermentation chamber.

If Therizinosaurus did use its claws to help it forage, this is how it could have done it.  The arms couldn't reach above the head.

Therizinosaurus' feet were wide, and each had four toes touching the ground, for extra stability.  In most theropods, the first digit is greatly reduced and doesn't touch the ground, like a dewclaw.  This stability was important since Therizinosaurus was probably extremely heavy for a bipedal dinosaur. Other heavy-bodied dinosaurs could walk on all fours to better spread their weight.  In life Therizinosaurus was almost certainly feathered, since a beautifully preserved close relative, named Beipiaosaurus was discovered with the remains of a layer of shaggy feathers preserved still intact.  Since therizinosauroids obviously weren't flying, it is likely these feathers were more for display or temperature regulation.

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

References

Barsbold, R. (1976c). "New data on Therizinosaurus (Therizinosauridae, Theropoda) [in Russian]." In Devâtkin, E.V. and N.M. Ânovskaâ (eds.), Paleontologiâ i biostratigrafiâ Mongolii.Trudy, Sovmestnaâ Sovetsko−Mongol’skaâ paleontologičeskaâ kspediciâ3: 76–92.

Lautenschlager, S. "Morphological and Functional Diversity in Therizinosaur Claws and the Implications for Theropod Claw Evolution." Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 281.1785 (2014): 20140497. Web.

Maleev, E.A. (1954). "New turtle−like reptile in Mongolia [in Russian]." Priroda1954(3): 106–108.

Perle, A., 1982, "On a new finding of the hindlimb of Therizinosaurus sp. from the Late Cretaceous of Mongolia", Problems on the Geology of Mongolia5: 94–98

Monday, November 16, 2015

Dakotaraptor: Beast of the Week

This week we will be checking out a recently published dinosaur.  Say hello to Dakotaraptor steiniDakotaraptor was a meat-eating dinosaur that lived in what is now the South Dakota, United States, during the very late Cretaceous Period, 66 million years ago.  From snout to tail it was about eighteen feet long, and was a member of the dromaeosaurid family, which also includes Velociraptor and Deinonychus, to name a few.  When alive, Dakotaraptor would have shared its habitat with many famous dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus, Triceratops, Pachycephalosaurus, and Ankylosaurus.  The genus name, Dakotaraptor, translates to "Dakota Thief/Hunter" in reference to where it was found.

Dakotaraptor chasing a pair of Anzu, a large kind of late oviraptorosaur it coexisted with, by Christopher DiPiazza.

Dakotaraptor is an exciting find because for a dromaeosaurid, it was huge!  Few dinosaurs from this family get to the size that Dakotaraptor did.  Like other members of its family, Dakotaraptor had a retractable, sickle-shaped claw on the second digit of each foot, which would have been kept up, away from the ground unless it was being used to dish out damage, in which case it cold rotate forward, like a switchblade. These talons were each over nine inches long and may have been used for piercing deep wounds into prey, or possibly for slashing wide lacerations.  Many believe they could also have been for pinning struggling smaller prey in place while the Dakotaraptor used its blade-like, serrated teeth to strip off small pieces of meat.

Photograph from DePalma's paper showing the different toe claws of Dakotaraptor.

In addition to the sharp teeth and giant claws, Dakotaraptor had a number of other important features to its anatomy.  The legs were particularly long, and lightly built.  This implies that Dakotaraptor, despite its size, was a very fast runner.  This is more similar to what you would see in smaller members of its family.  The larger dromaeosaurids, like Utahraptor, tend to be more robust, with shorter, thicker legs.  Sadly, other than teeth, none of Dakotaraptor's skull was ever found (yet) so we can only guess based on its closest relatives like Deinonychus or Dromaeosaurus, what it looked like in that region.

Dakotaraptor would have had feathers in life.  We can determine this based on the fact that multiple other members of its family have been discovered with feathers intact like Microraptor or Sinornithosaurus.  If that's not good enough evidence for you, it is important to note that the arm bone, called the ulna, of Dakotaraptor was found with evenly spaced little bumps on it.  These bumps are called quill knobs and are are present in modern birds as attachment sites for long, primary feathers.  Quill knobs have also been found on other prehistoric dinosaurs, like Velociraptor.

Diagram and photographs from the same paper showcasing Dakotaraptor's quill knobs on its ulna, proving that it would have had feathers in life.

Dakotaraptor is an important find because it helps fill out our image of the community of dinosaurs that inhabited North America 66 million years ago, by adding a fast-moving, medium-sized predator to the already diverse mix.  Before Dakotaraptor, all the predatory dinosaurs known from that area were either extra huge, in the form of Tyrannosaurus, or much smaller, like Troodon, or a smaller kind of dromaeosaurid, called Acheroraptor.  Until now we assumed that juvenile Tyrannosaurus were taking on this niche.  Now we know they had more competition!

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

References

DePalma, Robert A.; Burnham, David A.; Martin, Larry D.; Larson, Peter L.; Bakker, Robert T. (2015). "The First Giant Raptor (Theropoda: Dromaeosauridae) from the Hell Creek Formation.". Paleontological Contributions (14).

Monday, November 2, 2015

Lurdusaurus: Beast of the Week

This week, as result of a request, we will be checking out Lurdusaurus arenatusLurdusaurus was a plant-eating dinosaur that lived in what is now Niger, Africa, during the Early Cretaceous Period, between 121 and 112 million years ago.  The genus name, Lurdusaurus, translates to "Heavy Lizard" because of its unusually robust skeleton.

Pair of Lurdosaurus life reconstruction by Christopher DiPiazza.

Lurdusaurus was closely related to the more famous dinosaur, Iguanodon, and shared a number of telltale characteristics with it, such as the broad beak and thumb spike.  The thumb spike on Lurdusaurus was huge and wide, and may have been a weapon against members of its own species when fighting for dominance, or perhaps for defending against potential predators, when necessary.  Lurdusaurus, however was much more heavily-built than its relatives, possessing a very much barrel-shaped body.  Its legs were particularly short, especially below the knee, for an ornithopod, and likely was most comfortable on all fours, although it probably could still rear up on its hind legs if it needed to.  Lurdusaurus also had an long neck for an ornithopod.

Front limb bones form Lurdosaurus on display at the Belgian institute of Natural Sciences.  Note how thick they are.

Because of its unusual body plan, it is believed that Lurdusaurus must have been adapted for a slightly different lifestyle than most other ornithopods.  The most popular idea is that Lurdusaurus was spending a lot of its time in the water, where its immense bulk would be more easily supported and it probably would have even been able to move more quickly with its short legs, similarly to how modern hippos do.  It may have used its long neck to reach underwater plants to eat, or to allow it to breathe at the surface when in deeper water.

The idea of Lurdusaurus having been comfortable in the water makes more sense when its environment is taken into account.  According to what can be told about the rocks its bones were found in, which contained an abundance of fish and crocodile fossils, the environment during the Cretaceous there would have been dominated by freshwater marshes, lakes and rivers.

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

References

Taquet, P.; Russell, D. A. (1999). "A massively-constructed iguanodont from Gadoufaoua, Lower Cretaceous of Niger". Annales de Paléontologie 85 (1): 85–96.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween 2015: Thirteen More Monsters

Last year one of the most popular posts I wrote was for Halloween that featured a cartoon I sketched and painted featuring thirteen prehistoric animals that have names inspired by monsters from mythology or horror...as those monsters or horror characters.  If you still have not done so already, you can see it here.  This year, I have put together another drawing for you of thirteen more prehistoric creatures as the monsters they were named after.  Not going to lie, it was tougher this time around because there are only so many fossils named after this sort of stuff!  Because of that some of them may be a bit on the obscure side.(depending on how much you know)  See how many you can name without cheating!  When you think you have identified as many as you can, scroll down for the answers! (HINT: If you want a few cheats...check out my twitter @ChrisDiPiazza.  I've been putting up sketches of individual monsters all month.)

How many can you guess?  Click on the picture for a bigger view!

Think you got them all?  Are you suuuuuuure?  Scroll down for the answers!  Some of the names are clickable, which will lead you to their own page on this site with much more information about them.

Harpymimus


Harpymimus was an ornithomimid theropod, related to the more well-known Struthiomimus.  It was named after the harpy, a monster from Greek Mythology with the body of a bird.  Harpies are said to be unclean, loud, and generally unpleasant to be around.

Diplacodon gigan


Diplacodon was a prehistoric mammal related to rhinos and horses that belonged to a family called brontotheridae, which are characterized by having wide, sometimes double-forked horns on their snouts.  The species part of this creature's name, gigan, is in reference to the Japanese kaiju, Gigan, which was an enemy of Godzilla.  This brings us to...

Gojirasaurus


Gojirasaurus was named after the Japanese name for Godzilla, Gojira.  The dinosaur itself wasn't actually that big (by dinosaur standards), being very similar to the more well-known, Coelophysis, but Ken Carpenter, the paleontologist who named it was a huge Godzilla fan, and really wanted to name it after his childhood hero.

Gamerabaena


Gamerabaena was a prehistoric turtle, named after the Japanese kaiju, Gamera, which was essentially a giant turtle...with tusks, and can fly like a rocket from the back leg openings of his shell.

Grendelius


Grendelius was the name of an ichthyosaur, named after the monster from the famous Old English epic poem, Beowolf, named Grendel.  In the story, Grendel has his arm ripped off by the protagonist, Beowolf.  Grendelius, has actually been determined to be the same as another kind of ichthyosaur, called Brachypterygius.



Anzu was an oviraptorosaur dinosaur named after the monster from Mesopotamian mythology, Anzu, which had the head of a lion, and the wings, legs, and tail of an eagle.

Gorgonops


Gorgonops was a synapsid, an extinct kind of animal that was related to both reptiles and mammals.  Members of the gorgonopsid family typically had robust, almost dog-like snouts with sabre canines.  Because of their scary appearances, they were named after the monster from Greek mythology, the gorgon, which had snakes for hair and could turn you to stone if you looked at it.



Quetzalcoatlus was one of the largest pterosaurs known to science.  It was named after Quetzalcoatl, an Aztec God who manifested himself in a few forms, the most famous of which, was a feathered serpent.

Achelousaurus


Achelousaurus was a ceratopsian dinosaur that had a low, flat boss on its nose instead of a horn, unlike many of its relatives.  It is named in reference to Achelous, an ancient Greek river god who had one of his horns broken off during a fight with the hero, Hercules.

Tarascosaurus


Tarascosaurus was a meat-eating dinosaur that was named after the Tarasque, a dragon from French biblical folklore that had a turtle-like shell and six legs.

Ichabodcraniosaurus


This was the nickname given to a small, meat-eating dinosaur that was discovered missing its skull.  Because of this, it was named after the character Ichabod Crain from the famous story of the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow.  In the story Ichabod Crain is chased by the Headless Horseman ghost, who wants to chop off his head.  Ichabodcraniosaurus was likely really a Velociraptor.

Bradycneme draculae


Bradycneme was a dinosaur, likely a kind of troodontid, that lived in what is now Transylvania.  Its species name is in reference to the famous vampire, Dracula, because of where it was found.

Chupacabrachelys


Chupacabrachelys was a prehistoric turtle, named after the cryptid monster, the Chupecabra.  Chupecabras are said to inhabit areas around Texas and Mexico, where Chupacabrachelys was discovered, and according to legend, suck the blood out of goats at night.  The name, Chupecabra, actually translates to "goat sucker".

I hope you enjoyed my second addition to my monster-dinosaur fusion.  In case you didn't notice, this latest cartoon I made to fit right alongside last year's.  Here is the full version below.  Happy Halloween!

Click for larger view.




Thursday, October 29, 2015

Return to Backyard Terrors and Dinosaur Park


Around this time of year back in 2013, I interviewed my friend, Chris Kastner, who builds life-sized dinosaur models in his backyard!  If you haven't read that yet, go and do so now!  Well, since there, Chris has not stopped working and his dinosaur park has grown immensely.  Let's check back in on him and see how things have changed!

Chris with one of the park's Velociraptors.  Chris' park is one of the few outdoor dinosaur parks that has figured out how to present realistic feathers where necessary and still have them be weather-durable.  Other parks take note.  No excuses!

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. Dinosaurs entered my art and mind at a pretty young age. I was totally hooked on the prehistoric beasts! However it was quite awhile before I was able to express my love of them and share it with many others. I think at some point we all want a life size dinosaur. I had toys, models, books..but I really finally decided the big critters were best enjoyed in 1:1 scale. I tried saving to buy one but the best were too far out of this artist's reach. So I learned to build my own. That was in 2007. It's been many trials and difficulties but now we have an established Dinosaur Park here with 38 different species!

 
Two of Chris' guests break up a fight between the park's Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus.

Question 1: It has been two years since we last had you on! Have there been many changes to Backyard Terrors since then?

CK: Wow..2 years already? Let's see..did we have the full size Triceratops then? lol We've grown a bit all with the support of everyone who believes in our work here and what we are doing. We did move our haunted house, The Funhouse here this year and have added other events throughout the year like Dino Park in the Dark and Trick or Treat with the Dinosaurs. 

Life-size adult Triceratops in Chris' dinosaur park.

Question 2: What models have been added?

CK: I believe we have added our 25' Triceratops, we did our Apatosaurus this past winter. " Kathy" named for my mother is 67' along with two 10' juveniles. Our Terrors of the Deep exhibit which features a Nothosaurus, Plesiosaurus duo and a large animated Mosasaurus. Then we also went ahead and opened our Mesozoic Nature Trail that has Dimetrodon, Oviraptors, Minmi, Ceratosaurus, Nothronychus, Quetzalcoatlus, Edmontosaurus, Deinonychus and..whew..we are working on a 30' Stegosaurus!  Man I'm tired! lol

Life-size, animated Mosasaurus in the marine-themed section of dinosaur park.

Question 3: Have any of the models been Improved or tweaked? Do they need any sort of maintenance or upkeep?

CK: We have continued to add the taxidermy eyes to older models, some need repainting or touchups. The feathered ones that stay outdoors in particular keep losing paint on the feathers. We've had a few guests want a tooth here there I've resculpted too.


Close-up of one of Chris' Plesiosaurus, which he used taxidermy eyes intended for crocodilians to give a realistic appearance to.
Question 4: How do you fund building all these new models? Some of them are HUGE and others implement special effects now!

CK: Donations. This place and everything in it couldn't continue without the help from all those that appreciate what we doing here and support us. Not just local friends either, we have help from all over the world, people that never have even been here support us as best they can..it really touches my heart to bring fans of dinosaurs together to accomplish something for everyone to enjoy like this. 


Ceratosaurus, on the park's nature trail.
 
Question 5: When we last spoke you said your largest dinosaur in the park was either Big Al, the Allosaurus, or the Carnotaurus. Who is the biggest now and how big is he/she?

CK: Wow I guess it was a awhile back! lol We started with our 45' T. rex..but even he won't mess with our new 67' Apatosaurus! She is based on A. ajax and is around 15' tall at the top of her head.

Chris' sixty seven foot long Apatosaurus.

Question 6: Do you find Backyard Terrors has gained a lot more popularity and fame since two years
 ago? How do you advertise?

CK: It has! Jurassic World really boosted us this year, bringing dinosaurs into focus for kids again. Advertising is something we don't get to do a lot of..usually due to cost. A billboard is around 4,000.00 for a 3 month lease for example. Social media like Facebook is our biggest advertising tool, letting us keep fans updated and connect with them. 

The park's Nothronychus.  Many of the dinosaurs that Chris has built are appropriately feathered.

Question 7: What is the farthest people have traveled to see your park?

CK: Hmm..well as far as the states go we guests from just about every state. I do believe I saw Hawaii in our guestbook and I certainly saw Japan. Though I think that guest was here locally for other reasons ( family) and came to see us while here.. heh. 

Quetzalcoatlus on the nature trail.

Question 8: You also do an awesome horror-theme park with killer clowns. Do you favor one over the other? Are they open at the same time?

CK: Ah yes we do! My mom got me into Halloween big time, making costumes for us, decorating, encouraging us to be creative this time of year. In some ways it even beat out Christmas. We've done many haunt themes, Pirates, werewolves, but clowns..well clowns really let you let the crazy out..lol It's really great being able to turn that aspect loose..if only one time a year. The Funhouse actually supports the Dinosaur Park. Giving something to the older kids and adults to do. Proceeds from it are funneled back into the Park helping through the winter months when attendance all but stops. In the past our haunt had a few different venues, this year we brought it home to the Dinosaur Park, creating it's 1700 sq foot structure in one month ( Sep). The haunt is open Fri-Sat in October from 8-12am after the Dinosaur Park closes.

 A zombified elephant that Chris made for his haunted attraction, which is haunted circus-themed.

Question 9: Is Big Al still your favorite?

CK: Oh yeah! Allosaurus will always be my favorite, though every dinosaur here is special to me in some way. Many are nicknamed for friends and family. "Conrad" our Mosasaur is named after a good friend, reporter Jim Conrad who first came out and talked to me before we had gone anywhere near this far. He believe in us then and was truly interested in our efforts here. Sadly he passed away last December.

Big Al, the Allosaurus, sneaks up on an unsuspecting guest.

Question 10: Do you get inspiration from other dinosaur parks? How do you think yours hold up? Have you seen any that are more scientifically accurate than yours? (I can’t think of any off the top of my head to be honest)


CK: Things are always changing, our older/first pieces are often surpassed by newer ones. I'm always still learning and trying new things as well. A new process I've used relies on a plywood frame instead of just 2x4, it gives us a much more accurate guide to work from. Oh yeah for sure. There is at least one in Europe that has some great pieces and a few scattered about the U.S. too...never having been able to visit them myself I rely on images online..some look AWESOME! but I'm even a fan of the retro dinos too..they can show us a lot about our changing view of these magnificent animals.

Apatosaurus model being built using plywood.

If you're ever in Tennessee and feel like getting the crap scared out of you by cannibalistic clowns, or maybe you just want to take a stroll through a nature trail and see some dinosaurs, be sure to give Chris Kastner's Backyard Terrors a visit!  Check them out on facebook, too!