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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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.


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 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 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 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! 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2015: Resilience that Hits Back

"Wow!" I said to my girlfriend as we were driving in the car, earlier this month. "It's already October again!  Which prehistoric creature should I paint in pink this year for Breast Cancer Awareness?"

She stopped and thought for a long minute.  Then looked at me and said.  "Something...resilient."

The word, resilient, can describe a lot of different creatures.  Most of the most famous prehistoric creatures are the big, tough ones, after all.  I spent the next minute or so running through the countless options in my head until I finally had an idea and turned back to her.  "I know one that is resilient that can also hit back...hard."

Which brings us to this year's pink prehistoric beast.  Euoplocephalus!  It had some of the thickest armor, topped with a bony tail that was all business.  Enjoy. 

As always please click here to find out how you can actually help make a difference in fighting breast cancer! 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Medusaceratops: Beast of the Week

 Medusaceratops lokii was a plant-eating dinosaur that lived in what is now Montana, USA, during the Late Cretaceous period, between 78 and 77 million years ago.  Medusaceratops measured about twenty feet long from beak to tail and was a member of the ceratopsian family of dinosaurs, most well known for including Triceratops, its later, larger, and more well-known cousin.

Medusaceratops life reconstruction by Christopher DiPiazza.

The genus name, Medusaceratops, translates to "Medusa Horn Face" in reference to the horns over the eyes and around the frill of this dinosaur, which curved downward, and were almost serpentine in shape.  This reminded paleontologists of the mythical creature called a gorgon, the most famous of which was named Medusa, who had snakes for hair and could turn people to stone if they looked at her.  The species name, lokii, is in reference to the Norse god of trickery, whose name was Loki.  This is because the bones of Medusaceratops were believed to have belonged to another, already known ceratopsian dinosaur, called Albertaceratops,  It can be said that Medusaceratops tricked paleontologists into thinking it was Albertaceratops for a few years before finally being recognized in 2010.  The god, Loki, has also been turned into a supervillain in the MARVEL comics.  This character wears a helmet with long, curved horns on a ceratopsian dinosaur!  (Loki's horns curve upwards while Medusaceratops' curve down, though...but it's cool that a dinosaur is coincidentally named after a comic book villain so whatever.)

Loki, the villainous adopted brother of Thor, from the MARVEL comics.  

So why did Medusaceratops have those horns, anyway?  Unlike the horns of some other ceratopsians, which face up our outwards, this dinosaur's horns point...down.  Unless it was fighting giant Tremors monsters, I doubt they would have been much good as weapons against predators.  Part of me still thinks that the horns, despite this, still could have deterred a predator from biting vital areas on Medusaceratops' body, like the eyes or neck, simply by just being in the way.  However, this doesn't really hold up too much since there were so many different kinds of ceratopsains, each with unique horn arrangements.  If they were purely for defense, they would more likely converge to one, most effective anti-predator shape.  The more likely answer to these horns is that they were display adaptations, meant to intimidate and/or impress members of its own species.  If a would-be predator happened to break at tooth or two on a horn in a failed attempt to hunt Medusaceratops...then it was icing on the ceratopsian cake...which that predator would never get to taste.

Medusaceratops skeletal mount on display at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center.

Medusaceratops is the oldest known chasmosaurine ceratopsian dinosaur on the fossil record so far.  Chasmosaurine ceratopsians typically had longer horns over their eyes, and proportionally long frills.  Chasmosaurus, Triceratops, Mercuriceratops, Coahuilaceratops, and Vagaceratops were all other examples of chasmosaurine ceratopsians that have been covered on Prehistoric Beast of the Week.

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


Ryan, Michael J.; Russell, Anthony P., and Hartman, Scott. (2010). "A New Chasmosaurine Ceratopsid from the Judith River Formation, Montana", In: Michael J. Ryan, Brenda J. Chinnery-Allgeier, and David A. Eberth (eds), New Perspectives on Horned Dinosaurs: The Royal Tyrrell Museum Ceratopsian Symposium, Indiana University Press, 656 pp.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

National Fossil Day: 2015

Yesterday was National Fossil Day!  A day where we take time to appreciate fossils and all the glorious things they have to teach for me it's a pretty ordinary day.  That being said what sort of paleontology site would this be if I didn't do something in acknowledge it?

Today I will share of you some fossils I have in my personal collection.  Some of them were collected locally and others are from when I did fieldwork in New Mexico.  (All were obtained with permission and legally!)  The ones I feel would be nice to show you today, however, have been in my collection since I was in middle school.  They were given to me by my music teacher who collected fossils as a hobby.  Once he found out I was a dinosaur-nut kid, we would pass time in between me practicing songs on my trumpet talking about the latest article on some newly-discovered dinosaur or something of that manner.  He was also kind enough, as I stated, give me some fossils every time he came back from collecting over the weekends. 

The first set of fossils consists of crab claws and Horn Coral, which were found in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. Horn Coral was a kind of coral which was common during the Cretaceous.  Most of the Eastern coast of the United States was under the ocean during that time, keep in mind.  The crab claws, you can see the one large one which looks to consist of at least two parts of the limb, and the five small ones, are all missing the actual pinchy claw parts, which probably broke off sometime between now and when the little guys died millions of years ago.  So think of that meaty part just behind the claw....mmmm.

The second group consists of fossils from upstate New York. It includes some imprints from trilobites, which were VERY successful marine arthropods that lived during the Devonian Period, long before the dinosaurs, and were related to modern horseshoe crabs.  Trilobites came in many varieties from all over the world.  The ones here I believe are Phacops rana. It also includes some snail fossils, including both an imprint and positive cast of the curved shell, which I think is really neat.  The slab on the bottom includes two snails AND an imprint from a shelled mollusk, possibly a brachiopod, which came from Stafford, New York.

Happy National Fossil Day!  Remember, every fossil tells a story.  It's easy to forget that that tiny trilobite or snail you are holding at one time was a living creature that was crawling around right where you might be standing HUNDREDS of MILLIONS of years ago!  That's mind-blowing if you think about it!