Sunday, April 26, 2015

Stegosaurus: Beast of the Week

This week we will be checking out another widely-loved and recognized dinosaur.  Let's check out Stegosaurus

Stegosaurus was a plant-eating dinosaur that lived in what is now the Western United States, including Wyoming and Colorado, during the Late Jurassic Period, from 155 to 150 million years ago. (depending on the species)  Some Stegosaurus remains have also been found in Portugal.  Characterized by its distinctive plates and spikes, it is one of the most widely recognized dinosaurs to people around the world.  The genus name, Stegosaurus, actually translates to "roofed reptile" because the plates were at first believed by scientists to have laid flat on the animal's back like shingles on a roof.  As adults, most Stegosaurus hovered in size at around twenty to twenty five feet, but some individuals could have grown to about thirty feet long from beak to tail, as well.  When alive, it would have coexisted with other famous dinosaurs, including Apatosaurus, Brontosaurus, Camarasaurus, Ceratosaurus, Torvosaurus, and Allosaurus.

Life reconstruction of Stegosaurus stenops by Christopher DiPiazza.

Stegosaurus is most well-known for its plates, which varied slightly between species (there are a few recognized species) but more or less were diamond-shaped.  On average, Stegosaurus possessed seventeen of these impressive plates running down its back.  The evolutionary function of these bony structures remains somewhat of a mystery but paleontologists have come up with a few ideas.  When first discovered, it was believed that these plates were some sort of armor, but it was soon realized that in life, they were arranged sitting erect on the animal's back which wouldn't do much good for physical protection from predators.  Furthermore, the plates of a Stegosaurus are extremely thin and actually quite delicate!  A predator, like Allosaurus or Torvosaurus, would surely have had no problem biting right through them.


Stegosaurus stenops skeleton on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

A second, more likely idea for these plates was to help control Stegosaurus' body temperature.  These plates, upon close inspection, were found to have had many blood vessels in them in life.  If a Stegosaurus wanted to warm up in the morning, the blood in these plates could have been heated by the sun and then circulated to the rest of the body.  If the Stegosaurus wanted to cool off in the afternoon, the heated blood would cool off slightly when exposed to the outside air while in the plates, and like before, be circulated to the rest of the body, slightly cooling the animal down.  Many other animals use this method of temperature control, especially mammals by using large ears like elephants and rabbits, or reptiles with sails or extendable ribs.  It is very possible that Stegosaurus' plates were also display adaptations, having possibly been brightly colored to impress potential mates or intimidate rivals.  In fact, it was recently proposed in a scientific paper published just this month, that at least one species of stegosaur may have been sexually dimorphic, with plate shape differing between males and females.  This idea is still not widely accepted by all paleontologists, however.

Stegosaurus stenops skeletal mount on display at the London Museum of Natural History.

The position of Stegosaurus's plates has also been the subject of some debate over the years.  Like I stated earlier, originally, the plates were believed to have laid flat on the dinosaur's back, like shingles on a roof, for protection.  It was later realized that these plates belonged erect off of the back.  The first version of this idea showed two rows of paired plates but the most recent idea is that the plates were still in two rows, but alternating, not parallel.  Other members of the stegosaurid family, like Kentrosaurus, for instance, did actually have paired plates, however.

Stegosaurus had actual protective armor too!  Right under the chin, extending down the throat of a well-preserved Stegosaurus specimen, many small pieces of bony armor were discovered.  These small chunks of armor would have been embedded in the dinosaur's neck skin and acted like chain mail armor, protecting it from biting predators.  This neck armor is called gular armor. ("Gular" means throat.)  The actual skull of Stegosaurus was extremely small in comparison to the rest of the body.  The skull of Stegosaurus was narrow, and was tipped with a short beak, which the dinosaur used to clip vegetation.  This food then would have been mashed up with Stegosaurus' small teeth further down into the mouth.

Skeletal mount of Stegosaurus showcasing the gular armor.

At the opposite end of the body, at the very tip of the tail, Stegosaurus possessed four long spikes.  This unit, which was likely used as a weapon in life, is called a thagomizerStegosaurus would have been able to swing its tail around with deadly accuracy to keep any potential predators at bay if it was ever attacked.  Since Stegosaurus' hind limbs were so much longer than it's front limbs, its center of gravity was near it's hips.  This would have enabled Stegosaurus to use its front arms to help it rotate its body around more rapidly than one would expect from an animal of that size, greatly increasing its tail-swinging range. 

Thagomizer

 The pelvis of Stegosaurus also possessed an odd hollow section which is still somewhat of a mystery to scientists.  At first, this area was believed to be the site of a swelling of nerves, which could have acted as a "second brain" to control the animal's back half, since the actual brain was so small.  Scientists know believe this is untrue and that this area was simply for storing glycogen, a kind of molecule which animals can use for energy.  Glycogen bodies, similar to the one found in Stegosaurus' pelvis can also be found in the hips of modern birds and other reptiles.

That is all for this week!  As always feel free to comment below or on our facebook page!  Have a particular beast you would like to see painted and reviewed?  Let me know and I will add it to the list!

References

Buchholz (née Giffin) EB (1990). "Gross Spinal Anatomy and Limb Use in Living and Fossil Reptiles". Paleobiology 16: 448–58.

Buffrénil (1986). "Growth and Function of Stegosaurus Plates". Paleobiology 12: 459–73.

Carpenter K, Sanders F, McWhinney L, Wood L (2005). "Evidence for predator-prey relationships: Examples for Allosaurus and Stegosaurus.". In Carpenter, Kenneth(ed). The Carnivorous Dinosaurs. Indiana University Press. pp. 325–50. ISBN 0-253-34539-1.

Czerkas SA (1987). "A Reevaluation of the Plate Arrangement on Stegosaurus stenops". In Czerkas SJ, Olson EC. Dinosaurs Past & Present, Vol 2. University of Washington Press, Seattle. pp. 82–99. ISBN.

Lull, R. S. "The Armor of Stegosaurus." American Journal of Science S4-29.171 (1910): 201-10. Web. 

Saitta ET (2015) Evidence for Sexual Dimorphism in the Plated Dinosaur Stegosaurus mjosi (Ornithischia, Stegosauria) from the Morrison Formation (Upper Jurassic) of Western USA. PLoS ONE 10(4): e0123503. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0123503





Sunday, April 19, 2015

Apatosaurus: Beast of the Week

Since last week we covered Brontosaurus, a dinosaur that up until recently was considered a kind of Apatosaurus, it would be only fair we cover Apatosaurus, itself, this week!  Make way for Apatosaurus louisae!

Apatosaurus was a plant-eating dinosaur that lived in what is now Western North America, during the late Jurassic Period, about 152 million years ago.  It was a massive dinosaur, measuring on average about seventy five feet long from snout to tail, but there is evidence showing that some adults grew even larger than that.  Apatosaurus could have potentially grown to have been one of the largest animals to ever walk on land!  The genus name, Apatosaurus, translates to "deceptive reptile", because its bones were confusingly similar to those of other sauropods', mainly Brontosaurus.

Life reconstruction by Christopher DiPiazza showing a Brontosaurus excelsus (foreground) crossing paths with a small herd of slightly larger Apatosaurus louisae pushing down trees.  The Brontosaurus had a wider neck while Apatosaurus necks were taller.

Like its relatives, the other diplodocids, Apatosaurus would have had peg-like teeth in the front of its mouth for stripping foliage off of trees.  It then would have swallowed all of its food whole to let its digestive system do most of the work, rather than chew, since it had no teeth in the back of its mouth to do so with.  Sauropods, like Apatosaurus, also show evidence of having swallowed small rocks (by small I mean fist-sized considering how freaking huge these animals were) called gastroliths.  These rocks would aid in breaking down swallowed food inside the body by being tossed around with the plant material.  Many birds will engage in this same behavior today since they don't have any teeth for chewing, either.

Apatosaurus was particularly robust, even amongst other sauropods.  It comfortably walked around on four legs, the front two each possessed one spike-like claw, either for fighting or stability on loose ground, and the feet in the back each had three, outwards-facing claws.  However, Since Apatosaurus' center of gravity was in its hips, it was likely able to rear up on its hind legs if it needed to better reach food or knock down trees.  It may have also assumed this posture to defend itself or intimidate a rival (if Apatosaurus engaged in such behaviors at all) Apatosaurus had particularly tall vertebrae in its neck, giving it a unique profile which is unlike that of most other sauropods.  Like all diplodocids, Apatosaurus had an extremely long tail which tapered down to a thin tip, which it could have used as an effective whip-like weapon against enemies.

Apatosaurus louisae skeletal mount on display at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

You might be wondering how an animal so large and heavily built as Apatosaurus would have ever been able to support itself on land.  The secret lies in the bones themselves of Apatosaurus, and many other large dinosaurs.  You see, like modern birds, the bones of Apatosaurus had a series of air chambers in them, making them hollow.  Many birds today use this adaptation to make themselves light enough to fly, but other dinosaurs, like Apatosaurus for instance, took this adaptation in a completely different direction, to allow themselves to evolve utterly huge bodies without crushing themselves under their own weight.  In some ways, sauropod bones were a lot like cinder blocks, which can cover more space to more easily build a large structure but have holes (in the right places engineering-wise) to remain as light as possible.  These air sacs may have also helped Apatosaurus' respiration system, better spreading oxygen throughout its huge body, which birds do with their hollow bones today, as well.

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

References

Tschopp, E.; Mateus, O. V.; Benson, R. B. J. (2015). "A specimen-level phylogenetic analysis and taxonomic revision of Diplodocidae (Dinosauria, Sauropoda)". PeerJ 3: e857.

Upchurch, P. (1994). "Manus claw function in sauropod dinosaurs" (PDF). Gaia 10: 161–171. ISSN 0871-5424.

Wedel, M. J. (2003). "Vertebral Pneumaticity, Air Sacs, and the Physiology of Sauropod Dinosaurs". Paleobiology 29 (2): 243–255. doi:10.1666/0094-8373(2003)029<0243:vpasat>2.0.co;2. JSTOR 4096832.

Wedel, M. (2013). "A giant, skeletally immature individual of Apatosaurus from the Morrison Formation of Oklahoma" (PDF). 61st Symposium on Vertebrate Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy Programme and Abstracts: 40–45.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Happy Earth Day from Prehistoric Beast of the Week and the World's resident Amphibians!

   Spring. For those of us in the eastern portion of North America, it is a very welcome sign this year after the brutal winter. Spring brings with it a number of things. Fresh air, open windows, green grass and emerging perennials are among the constants. They are part of this annual ritual of kissing winter goodbye.
 
There is one more, very familiar and very important thing that welcomes us in spring. The beautiful singing of the frogs and emergence of the salamanders, sometimes, while show still covers the ground and ice sheets are still present at the edges of ponds. Arguably the most beneficial group of terrestrial vertebrates left on the planet, frogs and toads and salamanders help control pest populations, are indicators of water quality and overall environmental health. They are among the first animals whose populations will start to fluctuate due to any shifts in the balance of nature.
   The world is home to almost 6000 species of frogs and toads, collectively called Anurans. Their relatives, the caudates (salamanders) and a group of lesser known amphibians, the Caecilians add another approximately 900 species to the amphibian population.

Vietnamese Mossy Frog (Theloderma corticale)
 
There is a problem, however. These numbers are not absolute. Species are identified all the time! Some species we recognize are further split to increase the tally. There are also countless species that disappear that are never recorded. Species that are never missed by Man. They are very much missed in their ecosystem, I assure you.
 
Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra)

Why am I blabbing on a Prehistoric Beast blog about frogs and toads? Well, for a few reasons. We decided here at the Beast of the Week to open things up a bit. We want to bridge the gap between the paleontology community and associated hobbies and the hobbies and study of modern species and ecosystems. I chose today to introduce the new section of the blog as we are celebrating Earth Day this weekend. What better day, eh?
 
Amphibians are in trouble. Around the world, their numbers are dropping at an alarming rate. Diseases like chytrid, loss of habitat, over collection for the pet trade and the rampant use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers rendering animal infertile or increasing physical deformities. Really, I could write an article on each of these things. However, I think most of us reading this blog are well educated and understand this. I don't want to beat you guys and gals over the head with things we are well aware of. Instead, what I want to do is maybe help raise awareness in other ways and contribute to the preservation of these remarkable animals.

 Ever consider dedicating your yard as a wildlife sanctuary? Putting in a few safe zones and water gardens for amphibians to utilize? Adding some hiding zones so that they can avoid predators like feral cats, birds and the family dog? How about bringing nature inside your house and instead of the common fish tank, adding a thriving vivarium where captive bred amphibians can thrive, educate and entertain you and your guests? These are the things I am going to try an address over the next few weeks as we get going into spring. While you are outside redoing or wondering what to do with your yard, maybe I can talk you into adding a bit more beneficial plantings and landscaping and even walk you through it. Conservation is essential today and we can all play a part.
 
Wait! Back up there, buddy? what is a "vivarium" and how does keeping pet frogs help species survive? Well, that is hard to define as the term has popped up in common usage for any enclosure that an animal lives in. Ok, I can see that being a sufficient definition, but, I disagree with it. My definition of a vivarium is this. "A thriving enclosed ecosystem that requires minimal hands on attention to be kept healthy. Its health and balance dictated by the careful inclusion of a complex substrate, water table, appropriate populations of microfauna and carefully chosen plantings in order to avoid competition and depletion of resources before they can be replenished. Animal populations are dictated by the size of the enclosure and species kept to avoid stress, overcrowding and waste buildup." Complicated? Meh, it can be to someone just starting out, but, by no means is it something that you cannot quickly learn by understanding and not deviating from your the basic laws of nature. I am planning a series of entries addressing the construction of several types. Forest, tropical forest, swamp/bog, desert, montane and paludarium.
 
The contributions from hobbiests has been huge! Frog keepers have helped recognize breeding requirements, patterns and how to recreate the necessary biotope for difficult and rare species. Treatments for chytrid and red leg diseases have been pioneered by them. Collections in zoos that in turn are raised and kept safe for possible release have been added to by hobbiests. Countless scientists, zoo keepers, conservationists and teachers were inspired as children by captive collections or their first pet newt or firebelly toad.
 
Don't worry. I am not going to get into all that right now. I just wanted to take today to introduce a new part of this blog and tease you a bit with things coming in the future. Also, by creating an entry, there is a comments section which I ask that you use to leave some questions so that I may address them appropriately.

Paleontologists and paleontology fans/hobbiests are nature lovers. At least I assume you are since you are since you dedicate so much time to trying to understand life's history. We all admire the beautiful life restorations produced by the likes of Julius Csotonyi, Doug Henderson, John Gurche, John Conway and a score of others. We all stand in awe...or critique...of museum dioramas wondering what it would really be like to walk there. At the same time, there is a whole planet of wonders right outside and some of it harkens back to a time long lost. The environments of the past still exist here today. All of them. They are just filled with different players and have a different texture about them now. Just think, next to your fossil or casts of the newest metoposaur is a gorgeous vivarium housing a pair of fire salamanders like our buddy pictured back up to the top of this rant. How about a mist filled, fern laden, moss covered shoreline vivarium with some oddball mossy frogs that hints back to the Carboniferas coal forests?


 
Today is Earth Day. A day to celebrate our home. A day to ponder our place in its long history and to really think about what we can do to help assure a positive future and also how to better enjoy the planet and her species. Maybe ponder a few of the things here. Come back and learn more. Heck, teach me more!


Monday, April 13, 2015

Here be Dragons: Identities Revealed

Two days ago I released a cartoon I drew and painted of nine dragons based on prehistoric animals, all of which are named after dragons.  I asked you, the viewers, to try and guess which prehistoric beasts were being shown Well, boy, did you all deliver!


the comments section and facebook page had responses from many readers all guessing the identities of the mythical monsters.  Amongst everyone who commented, eventually all of the creatures were correctly identified!  As promised, I will now over them all below!

Dracorex 


The full genus and species for this dinosaur is Dracorex hogwartsia, which translates to "Dragon King of Hogwarts".  It was closely related to the dome-headed Pachycephalosaurus, and had a skull which was adorned with many horns, paired with its long snout, gave it the appearance of a mythical dragon that would be at home in the Harry Potter franchise, which is where the Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry comes in.  This dragon is depicted front and center with a golden crown since it is named as the "king" of dragons.

Dracorex skull

Despite its fearsome appearance, the real Dracorex was a plant-eater and wasn't all that large in the grand scheme of things.  Some scientists believe it is in actuality a juvenile Pachycephalosurus. (Which would be a shame since it has one of the coolest dinosaur names ever)

Dawndraco


Dawndraco translates to "Dawn Dragon" and is seen here shooting a beam of radiant light from its maw instead of fire to reflect this.(Either that or it looks like projectile yellow barf.)  In real life, Dawndraco was a pterosaur that flew over a shallow body of salt water, called the Western Interior Seaway, which covered what is now the Midwestern United States during the Late Cretaceous.

Dawndraco cast fossil that was temporarily on display at the American Museum of Natural History.

Characterized by an extremely long bill, this toothless pterosaur was probably adept at catching marine prey by plucking it out of the water as it flew.  It may have even dove for prey.

Qijianglong


Judging by the comments from readers, this was the most difficult one to identify.  Qijianglong translates to "Qijiang Dragon".

Qijianglong skeletal mount in China.

Although many Chinese dinosaurs were named after dragons, this one in particular was named so because of it's extremely long neck, which reminded paleontologists of traditional dragons from Chinese culture, which have long, serpentine bodies.  In my cartoon I drew it as such which may have been the source of confusion when it came to identifying it as a sauropod dinosaur.   I did give it teeth in the front of the mouth only, a characteristic of all sauropods!

Ikrandraco


 Ikrandraco was a pterosaur who's name translates to "Ikran Dragon".  An ikran is a kind of flying creature from the hit 3D movie, Avatar, which came out in theaters in 2010.

Ikrandraco skull

Ikrandraco had a unique crest on its lower jaw, which coincidentally made it resemble the creatures from the movie, which was made before the pterosaur's discovery.

Balaur


Balaur was a feathered dinosaur, characterized by having two enlarged claws on each of its feet.  It had two fingers on each hand and sadly no material from its head was ever unearthed. (that we know of for now!)

Balaur fossilized remains

 In Romanian folklore, however a balaur is a kind of dragon, commonly depicted with many heads.

Hippodraco


Hippodraco was a plant-eating dinosaur, closely related to Iguanodon, that lived in what is now Utah during the early Cretaceous period.

Known fossil material from Hippodraco

The name, Hippodraco, translates to "Horse Dragon" and is depicted here with hooves in my drawing to reflect that.

Guanlong


Guanlong was a small, meat-eating dinosaur, related to Tyrannosaurus, that lived in what is now China during the late Jurassic Period.

Guanlong skull

Guanlong translates to "Crested Dragon" in reference to the dinosaur's tall, but thin crest running from the tip of its snout to its eyes.

Yinlong


Yinlong was a very early member of the family of dinosaurs that would give rise to Triceratops and its kind, the ceratopsians, that lived in what is now China during the late Jurassic Period. 

Yinlong skull

Yinlong translates to "Hidden Dragon" in reference to the movie, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, which was filmed not far from where its bones were discovered by scientists.  Yinlong and Guanlong coexisted in real life and were likely natural enemies as their dragons reflect in the drawing.

Mei


Mei was a small, feathered dinosaur, related to Troodon, that lived in what is now China during the early Cretaceous Period.

Mei fossilized skeleton in sleeping pose

The full genus and species for this dinosaur is Mei long, which translates to "Sleeping Dragon".  It was named this because its beautifully preserved remains were found furled up with the head tucked under one of its arms, indicating it was sleeping when it died.  The dragon representing this dinosaur is sleeping in the same position.


Thank you all who participated in our comments section and on the facebook page!  I hope everyone enjoyed the artwork and the post to go with it.  Judging by how this went I will most likely do a similar post in the future.  Farewell until next time!

Brontosaurus: Beast of the Week

Welcome to Prehistoric Beast of the Week! (Formerly known as Prehistoric Animal of the Week)  This week we shall be reviewing a dinosaur that, next to Tyrannosaurus, is one of the most iconic in history.  Make way for Brontosaurus excelsusBrontosaurus was a heavily-built sauropod dinosaur that lived in what is now the Western United States during the Late Jurassic Period, about 152 million years ago.  It would have eaten plants and as an adult, measured about seventy two feet from snout to tail. (Although there is evidence that it could have grown even larger than that.)  The name Brontosaurus, translates to "Thunder Lizard/Reptile" in reference to the animal's immense mass, and how it must have sounded like thunder when it walked.

Life reconstruction of Brontosaurus exelsus, by Christopher DiPiazza.

Brontosaurus has one of the most interesting histories behind its discovery and naming in all of paleontology.  Back in the late 1800s, Brontosaurus was discovered alongside many other dinosaurs within several year's time, including another sauropod, known as Apatosaurus.  At first, the skulls from neither of these dinosaurs were known so they were given reconstructed heads based on closest related dinosaur they knew of at the time, Camarasaurus, for their museum mounts.  Soon after, Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus were discovered to be too similar to warrant different genus names, so the name Brontosaurus was done away with and was lumped into the same genus with Apatosaurus, becoming Apatosaurus excelsus. (This was because Apatosaurus was named first.)  Plus, a skull for Apatosaurus also was finally discovered (which was quite different from that of Camarasaurus) further pushing Brontosaurus deeper into the realm of nonexistence, and that's the way it stayed for about one hundred years.  Despite this, the name, Brontosaurus, had become so popular that people even during modern times still mistakenly use the presumed dead genus name to to refer to the iconic long-necked dinosaur.  (Let's face it, "Thunder Lizard" is a cool name.)  This would drive paleontologists and other knowledgeable people insane, constantly correcting people for using the outdated name and then in turn being called a "nerd" for correcting them in the first place ...until now.

Original, outdated, Brontosaurus skeletal mount with a Camarasaurus skull.  Frankenstein Dinosaur!

A very recent study, by paleontologists, Emanuel Tschopp, Octavio Mateus, and Roger B.J. Benson, went back and looked at every bit of Apatosaurus, and the other members of its family, called diplidocidae, again more carefully since paleontologists have found many more specimens of them since the 1800s.  As it turns out, the bones originally called Brontosaurus, were consistently not so similar from those of Apatosaurus after all, especially in the shape of the vertebrae and hips.  In fact, they were different enough to be considered a separate genus.  Brontosaurus got its name back!

Brontosaurus excelsus on display at the Yale Peabody Museum.  Check out how thick the neck vertebrae are!

The realization that the variety of sauropods during the late Jurassic was more expansive than originally thought raises more questions, however.  The environment back then was crawling (or should I say thundering?) with sauropods.  In addition to Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus, there was also the taller Brachiosaurus, the longer Barosaurus and Diplodocus, and of course there was Camarasaurus, just to name a few.  Something had to be special about that environment in order to support so many gigantic, long-necked plant eaters.  Perhaps they each preferred different kinds of plants to eat?  Maybe they migrated through different areas of the continent at different times and were never in each others way competing for food and space?  We still don't know for sure.  What we do know is that the Late Jurassic in North America was a definite hot spot for giant bodied, long-necked dinosaurs and Brontosaurus was one of them.

Brontosaurus, itself, stood out amongst other sauropods because of its sheer bulk.  It may not have been the longest member of its family, but for its size, it was extremely heavily built.  Even its neck, which is typically more slender in other kinds of sauropods, was noticeably wide and robust.  Like all diplodocids, Brontosaurus would have had many peg-shaped teeth in the front of its jaws for stripping vegetation off of trees.  It had no teeth in the back of its mouth and would have swallowed all food whole.  Its hind legs were longer than its front legs and it probably would have been able to rear up to reach higher leaves or to push over trees if it needed to.  (It would have been quite a sight!)

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

References

Gilmore, C.W. (February 1936). "Osteology of Apatosaurus, with special references to specimens in the Carnegie Museum". Memoirs of the Carnegie Museum 11 (4): 1–136. OCLC 16777126.

Riggs, E.S. (August 1903). "Structure and Relationships of Opisthocoelian Dinosaurs. Part I, Apatosaurus Marsh". Publications of the Field Columbian Museum Geographical Series 2 (4): 165–196. OCLC 494478078.

Tschopp, E.; Mateus, O. V.; Benson, R. B. J. (2015). "A specimen-level phylogenetic analysis and taxonomic revision of Diplodocidae (Dinosauria, Sauropoda)". PeerJ 3: e857. doi:10.7717/peerj.857.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Here Be Dragons...or Dinosaurs

I feel like spring of 2015 is dragon season.  Maybe it's because the classic card game, Magic the Gathering, just released their new set, Dragons of Tarkir, or because the movie, How to Train Your Dragon 2, was just made available to watch on Netflix, or MAYBE it's because one of my favorite shows, Game of Thrones, starts its fifth season on Sunday and its going to be loaded with wonderful dragons flying around burning and eating stuff like they always have been!  Regardless, I seem to have caught some sort of dragon fever and felt a need to do a a dragon-related post this week.

I have come to accept and grow proud of my nerdy side.

 You might already know that dinosaur fossils discovered by people thousands of years ago were almost certainly the inspiration behind the dragon myths from around the world so writing about dragons in the way I am about to is hardly inappropriate on a website about real animals.  Allow me to explain...

Many kinds of dinosaurs and other extinct reptiles, like pterosaurs, have been named after dragons.  For whatever reason the paleontologists in charge of naming them decided it would be appropriate to refer to them as dragons because of the dinosaur's appearance or maybe just because it's cool-sounding.  One of my most popular posts I ever wrote was around Halloween last year, where I drew cartoons of dinosaurs taking the form of what their scientific names literally translate to.  (Since it was Halloween, they were all monsters of some kind.) Since there are plenty of prehistoric beasts named after dragons, I figured I would do it again, but this time every real prehistoric animal shown in the drawing below was named after a dragon...taking the form of a mythical dragon!

Each one of these dragons I illustrated with a real prehistoric animal in mind.  Can you identify who's who?

Before I tell you exactly which dinosaur or pterosaur each one of these dragons is based on, try to do a little research and figure them out for yourself.  Two helpful hints...

1) If one of the dragons looks like its inspired by a certain country's culture, chances are the dinosaur it's based on actually lived in what is now that same country, as well.

2) If a prehistoric beast's name involves something other than being a dragon, I did my best to incorporate that too.  (look closely at some of them!)

Tell me your guesses in the comments below or on our facebook page.  I will post the answers on Monday, the day after the Game of Thrones premiere.  Good luck! 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Welcome to Prehistoric Beast of the Week!

Welcome to Prehistoric Beast of the Week!

Welcome to Prehistoric Beast of the Week!  This site was born from the widely popular, now offline, Jersey Boys Hunt Dinosaurs, which started back in 2012.  Luckily, I was able to save all of my articles, including my weekly prehistoric animal reports (which had become pretty popular with readers) and am now in charge of my own site which you see before you.  

Going to keep doing things I know are successful...

I will continue to cover a different prehistoric animal every week, each complete with an original painting by me, photograph of its fossil, and wherever possible, input from a professional paleontologist who actually works with said beast.  On the site we also will continue to interview nature artists, paleontologists, and other kinds of scientists, as well as write our own miscellaneous posts here and there.  

Going to try new things I hope are successful...

In addition, I will be doing a few new things.  Never before has there been a site that revolved around paleontology that ALSO had a strong foothold in modern animal biology, particularly endangered species conservation.  I want to change that.  At Prehistoric Animal of the Week you will start to see more posts about endangered species, the environment, and most importantly, information on how you can help save them!  In order to fully understand and preserve the world around us, we must understand its history.  This is where paleontology and modern biology marry.

Most importantly...

My main goal here is to educate you, the reader, with the help of real science directly from the source.  However, I also want you to have fun and laugh at the same time you are learning. It's really hard to learn if you aren't having fun.  I discovered this fact over my years of teaching at zoos, museums, and in formal classrooms.  Lastly I want to encourage you to reach out to us.  We love hearing input from our readers.  Do you have a favorite prehistoric animal you would like to see me review?  Do you want to know more about how you can help a particular habitat or endangered species maybe near your own home?  Ask in our comment sections under each post and we will always get back to you with as much information as we can.  Enjoy!

Sincerely,
Christopher DiPiazza 

See?  Science...fun!  It's easy.