Monday, April 30, 2012

Vintage Dinosaur Art: The evolution and ecology of the Dinosaurs: Part 1

Here we have one of those rare occasions where I manage to get hold of a book that is historically interesting, rammed with art and that doesn't stretch the definition of 'vintage' to breaking point. Hooray! Even if you've never looked inside this book, the cover is probably instantly familiar - I didn't know where I'd seen these two oddly rubbery-looking brachiosaurs before, but was quite sure that I at least had. It's a striking enough image, especially given the impressive contrast between the big guys and the tiny theropods flitting around them, which almost look like doves. With extra fingers. (Yes, unfortunately Giovanni Caselli had that issue with Archaeopteryx we shall see.)

The book, from 1975, is a pretty comprehensive tour through the Mesozoic history of that archosaurian clade we've come to know and love (words courtesy of the slightly enigmatic 'Dr L.B. Halstead', a person far too cool to reveal their first name). In other words, it lives up to its title. Once again, there is an odd, uneasy melding of new and old ideas here, both in the text and in the art. Yes, there are tail-dragging, swamp-bound sauropods (including some very old-fashioned 'brontosaurs'), but theropods and even ornithopods are described (and often illustrated) as being active and fast-moving. Cavelli's illustrations can be a little odd-looking and are heavily stylised, which is particularly notable given that the book trumpets his specialism in natural history and "accurate reconstructions". It's also very fun to spot the instances where he's ripped off other artists. Like this one:

It's the bird-grabbing Ornitholestes again, a la Charles Knight, here nabbing one of those pesky five-fingered Archaeopteryx. Of far more interest, however, is the very strange creature on the left hand side, dubbed "Compsognathus corallestris". Based on a mistaken interpretation of a specimen that's now been referred to Compsognathus longipes, it has little flippers for hands and just looks utterly, utterly ridiculous. I love its angry little face. Not surprising, really.

While we're on the topic of tragically mistaken reconstructions, this sad-looking Stegosaurus has got to warrant a mention. It's wilted! The text rationalises this plate arrangement on the basis that, if upright, the plates would have offered very little protection for the animal, and you can sort of see the line of thought. On the other hand, other stegosaurs (like Kentrosaurus) are shown with armour as erect as ever - and, well, Marsh actually originally envisioned the plates this way (or near enough - hence the animal's name) but the idea was abandoned. At least they got the bit about the forelimbs right, and as such the animal isn't shown with its head nearly scraping along the ground, as was typical for decades.

Here we see Tyrannosaurus on its morning jog. The upright posture is certainly a bit strange, but at least the animal is active, mobile and emphatically not dragging its massive tail around behind it. In spite of the creature's pretty dynamic representation in the illustration, the text makes it sound plain rubbish - we're told that the big lug "waddled along rather like a goose" and that its teeth would have been wrenched from their sockets in a struggle. For my money, Caselli comes off rather well here - much as his T. rex looks like it's taking part in a fun run, it's clearly muscular and agile for its size, making for a prescient vision all round. That said, there is an illustration in the book that more befits the vision of a toothless tyrant with a huge arse like a farmyard fowl. And here it is.

That's certainly an, uh, unusual perspective. Credit is due for depicting Tyrannosaurus and Alamosaurus together though - a scenario that is, bafflingly, hardly ever depicted in palaeoart. They're not up to much in particular here, mind. I think Alamosaurus is just bending over and laughing at T. rex's gigantic rear end.

As far as odd restorations go, I think Caselli's Spinosaurus takes the cake in this book.

Blimey. "Unlike other large flesh eaters," we are told, "Spinosaurus had strong front legs...walking on four legs does not use up as much energy as walking on two, and when it was wandering in search of food, it would go on all fours." Now just a minute - this was 1975, for crying out loud. They hadn't even found Baryonyx yet, and Spinosaurus' arms are notoriously missing. So where was this information coming from!?! Of course, based on other spinosaurs, we now know that Spinosaurus' arms would have actually been considerably more robust than those in the picture, although completely unsuitable for quadrupedal locomotion.

And finally...for now. I love this picture. Love love love. Yes, the animals look rather weird, and the T. rex looks like it's sprouted a mohawk. But...there's a man in a suit and bowler hat! And he's carrying an umbrella and briefcase! And staring up at them! I'm sure I don't have to explain why that's quite brilliant. I think the brachiosaur should be wearing a bowler hat too.

Oh, OK then, you got this far. Have some Iguanodon pr0n (someone's clearly been taking yoga classes). The evolution and ecology of the Dinosaurs will return!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Shake your Caudipteryx!

In all the swirling tumult of the last few months, I somehow neglected to share a recent piece of merchandise I made available in my paleo-themed design shop, Orogenic Design. You'll recognize the illustration if you indulged in the ART Evolved gallery of Feathered Dinosaurs in February. It's good ol' Caudipteryx, the little fan-tailed oviraptorosaur of the Early Cretaceous Yixian formation in China. A decidedly cartoony take on the critter, available on all manner of tee shirt sizes. Plus, it's complete with a pun that will gain the wearer puzzled glances from normal folks and instant fistbumps from fellow paleo nerds who are hip to the etymology of the genus.

Shake Your Caudipteryx

This is only meant to be a pun, and not intended in any way to make light of the possibility that Caudipteryx suffered from osteoarthritis, which would have made such activity rather painful.

You may recall that in January I launched the shop with a big line of "I left my heart" tees dedicated to various geological periods. Since then, I have made the shirts available in black, and added my current favorite dinosaur, or at least ornithischian, to the mix.

I left my heart in the Cretaceous

Diabloceratops, of course. I'm planning on Prestosuchus for the Triassic to complete the Mesozoic era, but I'm not sure when that will happen. If you do have a few spare monetary units burning a hole in your wallet and happen to buy a shirt, take a photo of yourself wearing it and I'll totally share it here!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Down the pub with Mantell

Down one of the local boozers yesterday I was thrilled to discover this - a beer dedicated to none other than Gideon Mantell. (You'll have to forgive the photo - my phone's flash has a very blue hue that I had to try and correct...)

It turns out that Harveys of Lewes have been brewing this ale seasonally (it's out this month to coincide with St George's Day on April 23) since 2010. It's only fitting that Harveys should pay homage to Mantell, whom they describe as "the original Father of Paleontology [sic]", as he hailed from the East Sussex town. Mantell's hugely signficant work in the fledgling fields of geology and palaeontology, as well as his ultimately very tragic life story, are described at length in Deborah Cadbury's The Dinosaur Hunters, a book that I really recommend you grab a copy of if you haven't already.

One can only presume that that illustration is meant to look like it's from the 19th century - I love the skull! Mantell orginally restored Iguanodon, very speculatively, as being essentially a massively scaled-up lizard. By the time the Crystal Palace models were commissioned, he'd come to realise that the animal's forelimbs were much less robust than its hind limbs, but the far more powerful (and often ruthless) Richard Owen had other ideas.

Naturally I had a pint and, well, it wasn't bad - rather fruity, but not a complex taste and it didn't really grab you. A shame, as naturally I wanted it to be a beer that I really loved. Still, if you're interested in giving it a go and can't find it on draught, you can buy bottles from the Harveys website.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Spinosaurids Arrive in Asia

This week in the journal Naturwissenshaften, we have the advance online publication of research describing a new spinosaurid, which the authors, led by Ronan Allain, dub Ichthyovenator laosensis: the Laotian Fish Hunter.

Ichthyovenator is described from portions of the spine and pelvis. Unfortunately, it's headless, but based on the postcranial remains, the authors are confident that it belongs to the baryonychine tribe of spinosaurids, allied with Suchomimus and Baryonyx. It possessed elongated neural spines, as is common in the family. In Ichthyovenator, these created a "sinusoidal" shape; that is, it rose and fell like a sine wave when viewed in profile, with a dip at the base of the tail enclosed by two peaks. Concerning the sail's function, the authors favor species recognition and sexual display over a thermoregulatory use. When trying to sort out who's who, a spinosaur would identify potential rivals or mates by the shape of their sail.

Baryonyx profile
Baryonyx walkeri, a close relative of Ichthyovenator, illustrated by Mark Witton. Shared via Flickr.

Spinosaurids have been represented by notoriously scrappy material; the discovery of Baryonyx in England about thirty years ago shed more light on their anatomy (Baryonyx may not be as flashy as its bigger, more extravagantly ornamented cousins, but it's the one who delivers the goods). Now, Ichthyovenator is the first definitive spinosaurid from Asia, living during the Early Cretaceous, like most of its described relatives. Teeth found elsewhere hint to a few stragglers persisting into the Late Cretaceous, and Allain et al's phylogenetic analysis places the poorly understood late Cretaceous theropod Chilantaisaurus in the spinosaurids, making it the youngest member of the clade - as well as a second one from Asia.

Tantalizingly, the authors reappraise a single finger bone from the Late Jurassic Morrison formation of the US, previously thought to be from a Torvosaurus, a member of the closely related megalosaurids (also known as the villain in the second episode of Dinosaur Revolution). Allain et al maintain that the proportions of this ungual phalanx - the bone to which that big thumb claw attached - fit better within the baryonychines. They are one of the only theropod groups known to have such an outsized first digit (you'll see the spinosaurines reconstructed this way as well, but this is inferred from baryonychine material). The Allosauroid megaraptorids also possessed an enlarged "thumb," though their claw is so recurved they were first thought to come from the foot of a dromaeosaur. As usual, this hypothesis depends upon the serendipity of new fossil discoveries.

The reason the authors mention this single phalanx is because of its implications for the early geographical distribution of spinosaurids. They are known from Europe, Africa, South America, possibly Australia and now Asia. It's likely that in the middle-to-late Jurassic as Pangaea slowly splintered, early spinosaurids enjoyed a distribution over much of the globe. If new finds can sort out the owner of this finger, Allain writes that it "may not only be the first record of Spinosauridae from North America but also the oldest known spinosaurid specimen," showing that they had indeed lived across Pangaea, and giving crucial insights into their origins. It would just be nice to have something relatively complete. As productive as the Morrison has been over the years, it's amazing to think of what wonders it still hides.

I'm a sucker for the -venator suffix; it just sounds cool. But of course, without cranial material for this animal, it's being named by the spinosaurid fish-eating reputation alone. If a head of Ichthyovenator turns up, there's the possibility it may have had a different diet, which would be a pretty interesting kink in this kinky-sailed dinosaur's story.

Revised 4/26/12 to include the bits on megaraptorids and Australia. Thanks to Mark Robinson and Tony Martin for catching these goofs.

More on Ichthyovenator:
Domain of the C-Rex
Dinosaur Tracking

Also of interest: Baryonyx, illustrated by Jim Conaway, made an appearance in an old post in the Vintage Dinosaur Art series

Monday, April 23, 2012

Vintage Dinosaur Art Repost: Lou Bedford's Mesozoic Menagerie

I thought it would be a good idea to share an older Vintage Dinosaur Art post again to help this train keep chugging along. It's a brief one, but I have a soft spot for the odd little dinosaur news stories I find in old magazines. I have a brief update to this one, following the original post.

Here's a charming little story I found in a 1941 issue of Pop Sci, available at Google books. I'm really curious about what happened to old Lou Bedford's fanciful dinosaur models. Mouldering in an basement? Auctioned off in an estate sale? Destroyed in a tragic inferno?

The article says that he worked in Hollywood as a special effects man, but the only Lou Bedford on IMDB is an actor born in 1930. Either this guy had a bad case of the Benjamin Buttons, or it's a different Lou Bedford.

About a year after this post, I received this email from a descendant of Lou's, his great grandson Kit.:
You are correct in that it is a different Lou Bedford. He was my great grandfather. My brother found this searching Google. He even looks like my dad and his father, who as a boy used to run around his grandpa Lou's place in the Hollywood hills (1930's). He would wear the masks on halloween and at other times, which Lou had made for the studios.

He also told us Lou came up to San Francisco to ask my dad, who was a teenager then (1940's), to do a sort of road show with him. My dad said it was kind of like a flea circus with little moving things. Thanks to you, I now see this was probably the exhibit he had in mind. He wanted my dad to be the barker, and I think it was to be in a big truck or something, however my grandfather forbade his son to do it.

There is also one of the Three Stooges movies, possibly one where there are ape suits or something, where they mention "Mr. Bedford" -probably a nod to him. He would have been born in the late 1800's as my grandfather was born around the turn of last century. Thanks again for posting this.

Thanks for writing in, Kit! I'd love to have seen this dream come true. A traveling prehistoric "flea circus." So cool. It's hard to think of a job for a teenager that would be more fun than a barker for a tiny motorized dinosaur show.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Please don't tase the Ichthyosaurs

While browsing Flickr recently, I came across this postcard, shared by Jordan Smith. Ichthyosaurs get no respect. Either they're seen as nothing more than Mesozoic dolphins or overlooked as less spectacular than the pliosaurs or mosasaurs. But this has to be the most undignified treatment yet.

Prehistoric Gardens - Port Orford, Oregon

At least it's received a new paint job since then. The postcard is an advertisement for the Prehistoric Gardens, a roadside attraction in Port Orford, Oregon. It features the work of sculptor Ernest V. Nelson, who held firm that his work was "scientifically correct." Well, it's certainly not bad for mid-century paleontological thought. I love this psychedelic Dimetrodon and laughing Triceratops.

More Prehistoric Gardens
Photo by Vintage Roadside, via Flickr.

Their T. rex is appropriately old-school, and seems to be quite happy about it.

t-rex @ prehistoric gardens
Photo shared by Jaysonphoto, via Flickr.

Another highlight: the giraffe-patterned Psittacosaurus.

Vacation V- Prehistoric Gardens 14
Photo by Michael Hanscom, via Flickr.

I also found this great old map, which apparently still reflects the layout of the attraction.

Prehistoric Gardens Shared by Chango Blanco, via Flickr.

If slideshows with elevator music are more your speed, well, fullscreen this puppy and crank the volume.

I need to get to this place, if only to get a better look at that Eryops, which looks like a Simpsons character. But what I'd really love to see happen would be for some roadside attractions to start popping up which feature more up-to-date ideas. Any pretense to accuracy aside, it would be fun to see the wacky ways people would handle therizinosaurs, alvarezsaurs, and the host of other feathered theropods. Not to mention bringing in some of the wild variety of ceratopsids we've been treated to recently. Of course, if one of these lottery tickets would pan out one day...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Walking through a prehistoric garden

As Marc noted in Monday's Vintage Dinosaur Art post, I've once again become swamped with school. My semester is winding down, which means I'm rushing to get everything done. I realized that I hadn't yet shared some photos from my Spring Break trip though, so here's a quick photo post.

Prehistoric Garden

Whenever we travel, Jennie and I always look for botanical gardens to visit. San Francisco's own, located in Golden Gate Park, is one of the best we've seen. As an added bonus, it features a "prehistoric garden" which showcases the evolutionary history of today's plants, in five sections ranging from the Devonian era to the Eocene epoch, a span of about 365 million years.

Prehistoric Garden

Prehistoric Garden

Of course, most of these plants are long gone, so instead we are presented with plants which are superficially similar to ancient plants, as in the Devonian section, or modern relatives. The didactic panels presented at each stop on this virtual time traveling trip are informative, and at the very least, they have visitors consider paleobotany for perhaps the first time. It could certainly push the evolutionary relationships of flora and fauna, but it may be a bit much to present on the limited number of panels.

Prehistoric Garden, Cycad

Prehistoric Garden

Prehistoric Garden

The Mesozoic is well-represented, with a Jurassic and Cretaceous area. The Jurassic highlights the dominance of gymnosperms, with a passing reference to the cycadeoids. The Cretaceous mainly highlights the emergence of angiosperms, or flowering plants, and is thankfully free of herky-jerky animatronic hadrosaurs nipping at the magnolias.

Prehistoric Garden

It wouldn't be complete without a monkey-puzzle tree, would it? The staple of Jurassic landscapes is represented by a surviving member of the family.

Prehistoric Garden

Of course, I had my eyes and ears on high alert for avians while we walked. Particularly charismatic were the Anna's Hummingbirds, which we saw all over San Francisco. It's a rare treat to see a hummingbird at home, so the ability to watch them perching, singing, and taking advantage of the nectar buffet was much appreciated. While not Dan Ripplinger quality by any stretch, I snagged one decent photo, too.

Anna's Hummingbird

It was also nice to see Juncos, which are only winter visitors in southern Indiana.

San Francisco Botanical Garden

The real prize, big surprise here, was the chance to observe a Red-Shouldered Hawk for a good fifteen minutes or so. My initial thought, as it usually is, was that I was seeing a young Cooper's Hawk. I was soon corrected on this by my friend Laura from the Indiana Raptor Center. I'll know a Red-Shouldered Hawk when I see one from now on, though it's rare in Indiana.

Red-shouldered Hawk

It's about seven bucks to enter the garden, but it is well worth it, especially if you won't have the opportunity to visit any of the natural areas surrounding the city.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Purnell's Revisited

Apologies for the lack of content recently - David's been very busy, I'm told, and I've just been feeling plain uninspired because I'm a massive grumpy miseryguts (or something like that). To tide the blog over until David can return and/or I get my mojo back, let us return to Purnell's Book of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals, a book that I simply did not do justice to with my previous post. I must've been having one of those grumpy misery days.

Unlike a lot of similar books - in which dinosaurs utterly dominate the content, and a few other prehistoric beasts are tacked on - Purnell's actually features quite a lot of content on non-dinosaurs, even if the big lugs do tend to dominate the Mesozoic chapters. This is undoubtedly a Good Thing, as the (beautifully photographed) models of non-dinosaurs have (mostly) aged a lot better than the rather retrotastic renditions of Tyrannosaurus, Iguanodon and the rest. One of the more 'quirky' in the lineup is the above Dimetrodon, mostly because - gasp! - it has 'lips' covering its teeth. Which got me thinking - is there any reason why Dimetrodon is always depicted with protruding fangs, other than it looks cooler that way? (Any synapsid experts in the audience...?)

One of my favourite photos of the bunch is of this Pterygotus model, simply because it genuinely looks like something taken by a beachcomber who just happened upon it. Whether Pterygotus ever actually emerged onto land is another matter, and certainly the posture suggests that this one isn't dead. Whatever the case, it's a nice pic.

Ah, Eryops - you've got to love it. Just a preposterous-looking creature by modern standards, with its sprawling limbs, huge, solid-looking head and low-slung body - like an overgrown toad trying to impersonate a crocodile. Accordingly, it's often shown in art as being pathetic Dimetrodon-fodder, when in fact it's a very interesting animal in its own right and especially interesting in the context of tetrapod evolution. So there. Plus, it's been given a very natty colour scheme in the above photo. I definitely approve.

A brief interlude for some monochrome artwork featuring Mesozoic ocean-going fauna, if you please. That's obviously Pteranodon on the right, with an unnamed plesiosaur and what looks to be a young Xiphactinus on the left (although the fish, too, is left unnamed). Unlike the dinosaur illustrations in the book, this is actually pretty well done, and I really like the composition with the pterosaur's wings enveloping the scene. Unfortunately, however, the artist decided to give Pteranodon a set of very tiny and numerous teeth in its beak. Maybe they had this book to hand when researching for Jurassic Park 3 (if they bothered with research for that one)...

Back to the models. This Smilodon is notable as the model is still on public display today, alongside a mounted skeleton of Smilodon fatalis in London's Natural History Museum (it's hanging around at the bottom of this photo). That said, in the book it's simply described as a 'sabre-toothed cat'.

This scene is gorgeous, and it's puzzling as to why it's such a tiny image in the book - they easily could've had it completely fill a page and got away with it. Obviously it's intended to represent a prehistoric tar pit a la La Brea, and it's a wonderful artistic achievement, combining fine sculpting, painting, atmospheric lighting and miniature photography. It really is a shame that it's so small, as it'd be fantastic to examine the finer details of the tiny animal models in this scene.

I couldn't resist including a couple more dinosaurs - it is Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs after all. This Compsognathus is one of the more forward-thinking ones among the tail-dragging fatty sauropods and Godzilla-suit tyrannosaurs. Of note are the modern-style posture and three claws per hand (not two, as was often erroneously assumed).

And finally...Allosaurus. What often bugs me about old palaeoart is that, when it comes to large theropods, the artists seem to ignore much of the shape of the skull in favour of something a little simpler and more like a monitor lizard. Allosaurus had two not insignifcant horns stuck on its face (not to mention a pair of bony ridges), and while ideas about posture and soft tissue appearance have changed over the decades, there have always been skulls to look at. Even the greats - like Zallinger - did it. It's no wonder that for a long time Allosaurus was just 'T. rex, but with three fingers' in the popular imagination.

Still...nice colours.

And that's all for now! More books are on their way, and I'll be off on my travels in May to see yet more atrocious fibreglass dinosaurs from the 1970s (it's the kitsch, I think). Hurrah. Don't worry, David will be back with more soon I'm sure...

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Bittersweet news on two injured raptors

On Tuesday, I shared the story of a male turkey vulture with a broken wing whose retrieval I took part in. I talked to Laura from Indiana Raptor Center yesterday, and I'm sorry to say that he had to be euthanized. Unfortunately, the amount of dead tissue in the bone was too great. However, he will have a worthy second life, as he is to be mounted and presented to a local nature center for use in their interpretive programs. He lives in my memory, too. After years of watching these birds as they soared on thermals or congregated around a carcass, I was able to see one up close, to touch it, to watch as it greedily accepted a meal of raw beef. I hope I'm not too sentimental in supposing that I saw some avian form of joy in him as he ripped off pieces of meat, flinging it back and forth and spraying us with the gatorade it had been dipped in. Birdspeed, momentary friend!

Turkey Vulture rescue
Patti cradling the turkey vulture as she places him in a box for a nap.

But I save a bit of news that, while not entirely happy, has a little more sweet than bitter, I think. On Monday, I also got to see a Bald Eagle in the center's flight barn. I had previously been in the barn with Great Horned Owls. This was a totally different experience. Eagles are a LOT louder than owls, and this bird watched me more intently than the owls did. When the center received the eagle, he was in terrible shape, emaciated, with an enlarged heart and liver. Patti and Laura's skills have brought him back to flight-readiness, and though he doesn't have many days ahead of him because of the condition of his liver, he will get to live them in the sunlight, on the shore of whatever nearby lake he chooses. You can't ask for much more than that.

Bald Eagle
A soon-to-be-released bald eagle in the flight barn.

To have an eagle fly less than four feet away from me and feel the wind off of his wings was a thrill.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Bow to Yutyrannus, your great feathered overlord

Yutyrannus huali, illustrated by Brian Choo.

In what is undoubtedly the dinosaur news of the year, we finally have a giant theropod sporting unmistakable feathers. Described in Nature, Yutyrannus - so new Google tries to correct it to Eotyrannus - hails from Early Cretaceous China, and destroys Beipiaosaurus's claim as the largest feathered dinosaur. It's going to take a massive story to top this one this year. Which, naturally, I hope happens.

This is a paleontological jackpot already, but add to it the fact that there are three individuals and they are quite complete and the importance of this discovery is greatly magnified. "Multiple specimens are always great and animals this size being preserved at all are quite rare in the Jehol, so it’s pretty impressive we have three of them," writes Dave Hone.

Creating an image that's sure to inspire paleoartists everywhere, Ed Yong relates an hypothesis on the use of Yutyrannus's feathers from paleontologist and lead author Xu Xing:
Xu speculates that Yutyrannus’s feathers might have been a winter coat. While most giant tyrannosaurs enjoyed warm climates during the late Cretaceous, Yutyrannus lived at a time when the average yearly temperature was a nippy 10 degrees Celsius. Maybe it was the tyrannosaur equivalent of woolly mammoths and woolly rhinos, whose shaggy coats protected them during the Ice Age. “The idea of woolly tyrannosaurs stalking colder climates in the Cretaceous is kinda mind-blowing,” says Witmer.
This is that rarest of stories in which it's actually appropriate to invoke the name of T. rex in a headline, as now we have much better evidence that the giant tyrants at the end of the Cretaceous could very well have worn plumage of their own. This will further alienate those who can't stand the thought of the scales of their favorite Mesozoic monsters giving way to feathers, but as someone who has devoted a lot of time over the last six months to studying feathers, I'd encourage you to look at it this way: feathers are by far the most amazing integumentary structure ever evolved. There's no comparison. The tyrant lizards deserved nothing less.

Now excuse me as I go lose myself in Mesozoic reverie. Endorphins, take me away...

More on my new favorite dinosaur:
Green Tea and Velociraptors
Tetrapod Zoology
Archosaur Musings
Nature News
Not Exactly Rocket Science
Carl Zimmer
Why Evolution is True
Brett Booth
The Independent
LiveScience by way of HuffPo

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Indiana Raptor Center update

I've written here before about my occasional work with the Indiana Raptor Center, helping spread the word about conservation and rehabbing injured birds of prey so we can keep this proud branch of the dinosaur family going strong. There's been a bit of activity lately, so I figured I'd round it all up in this post.

Vulture Rescue Squad!
Turkey Vulture roundup
There's a vulture in there, honest!

This week, I visited the center to talk shop and hammer out some details about a couple of design projects, detailed below. As soon as I pulled in the driveway, they had a surprise for me: my first rescue trip. A nearby landowner had reported a turkey vulture with a broken wing. Center founders Patti Reynolds and Laura Edmonds weren't sure if it was a good ID; wild turkeys are sometimes confused for vultures. But we had to go check it out.

We bounced up and down the hills and dales of Brown County, and after several minutes were at the location. We found that the ID was good: it was a small Turkey Vulture, with an obvious wing injury. Volunteer and master taxidermist Marcus donned some heavy gloves, Patti grabbed a towel, and I took a large net, with my camera hanging from my neck. Forming one point of an enclosing triangle, it was my job to keep the vulture out of the road. Patti and Marcus approached from their points, and within five minutes of us pulling up, Marcus lunged, pinned the bird, and scooped him up. Patti wrapped him in her towel.

Turkey Vulture rescue

Luckily for the bird, he had managed to scrounge some nutrition. Luckily for us, it hadn't been too recently. The vulture tried to defensively vomit, but since he had an empty tank, we kept clean. After a chat with the homeowner about the bird's possibilities for rehab, we delivered him to the Raptor Center's facilities where Laura was ready to do an evaluation.

Turkey Vulture rescue

Turkey Vulture rescue

He had a pretty bad break right at his wrist joint (seeing vulture pus is marked off my bucket list), which Laura cleaned and wrapped. After hydrating him and feeding him raw beef dipped in gatorade, she gave gave him a shot of painkiller and returned him to his box for a much-needed nap. Next, he'll visit their veterinarian who will determine the chances for recovery, and his ultimate fate will be decided. If the wing can be healed, he'll eventually be released. If not, he'll have to be euthanized. Fingers crossed for a good prognosis.

Turkey Vulture rescue

UPDATE: Sadly, the bone was too far gone and the bird had to be euthanized. He is going to be mounted for a local nature center's educational programs. But I'll always remember him like so: a creature joyful to be fed fresh meat, whipping it back and forth in his beak and spraying us with gatorade. To a second life as a teacher of curious minds.

Conserving a Jurassic Legacy
I'm always excited to work in a new production medium, and when Laura recently asked me to think about a design for a patch depicting a Mesozoic dinosaur with an extant bird of prey, I was stoked to work on it. I recently submitted this design of Velociraptor and a Red-tailed Hawk, which everyone at the Raptor Center gave the thumbs up to... next step is production. I'll be talking to a manufacturer to find out if I need to tweak anything to make sure the small detail is preserved once it jumps from screen to thread. I cannot wait to get the embroidered final product. I'll snap some photos for sure.

Certified Dinosaur Rehabber Patch

Red-Tailed Hawk Conservation
We've had a rash of protected bird shootings in Indiana over the last several months. Luckily for our birds, Patti and Laura know that a method to combat this has been tried and proven in other states: simply, put birds in front of school children and get the population of outdoorsmen to pay attention. I'll be helping with both efforts, but first up I'll be doing a poster aimed at the latter group. I'm really excited that we've received permission to use one of William Zimmerman's Red-Tailed Hawk paintings! My task: to drive home the point that while a hawk will occasionally nab a chicken or two, your friendly neighborhood raptors save you thousands of dollars in the long run by eating up the rodents that covet your grain stores. I'll share this here as well.

Birds are dinosaurs, blah blah blah...

Monday, April 2, 2012

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Purnell's Book of Dinosaurs

First of all, I must announce the winner of last week's caption competition. Now, there were many sterling entries, but in the end I'm going to have to hand first prize to the one that made me snort loudly because, well, I hadn't thought of it. And that would be Marko Bosscher's "Ouch, glass door!". Yes, some (well, many) of the others were more clever-clever, but I'd already envisioned the dinosaur as some sort of camp dancer. Marko's made me laugh because it made me look at the picture in an entirely different way. And that's profound, man.

And now for this week's eBay find. Purnell's Book of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals (to give it its full title) dates from 1977 (with this edition from 1979), and is chock full of gloriously colourful prose and laughably outdated, but still very nicely sculpted models of prehistoric animals. That said, there are also some illustrations that are just plain laughable, even for the time.

A rather Gwangi-esque tyrannosaur graces the cover, but isn't seen again inside. Weird. The inside cover features instead a dinosaur ensemble. It wouldn't quite fit in my scanner, so I decided to focus on the model that doesn't appear anywhere else in the book - namely, the snaggle-toothed, sprawling, lizardy Protoceratops. Which is actually quite adorable.

Moving on to the title page, and two very retro saggy grey sauropods are being menaced by a disapproving Ceratosaurus. Although ol' grumpychops has an hilarious face, the horizontal pose and long stride are notably forward-thinking for the time; indeed, and in spite of the fact that the other theropod models are man-in-suit style, the text (by the brilliantly named Simon Goodenough) at least describes them (even Tyrannosaurus specifically) as active, fast-moving animals.

Some of Goodenough's (tee hee) finest words/most spurious remarks are reserved for everyone's favourite, Sexy Rexy.
"Tyrannosaurus Rex [sic] was the terror of its times, a tyrant in deed as well as in name. Its energy was tremendous and it was active for three-quarters of the day, searching for victims, waiting to surprise them, chasing after them or battling with them."
The model of T. rex depicted is of the curiously crocodilian 1970s school, tail-dragging and adorned with scutes. It closely resembles the Invicta T. rex and another model still resident in London's Natural History Museum. Like them, it has also had its ears shifted forward into its temporal fenestrae for some reason.

By far my favourite image in this entire book is the scale diagram for Tyrannosaurus, in which it appears to be pitted against a team of gymnasts (including a lone woman in a leotard and at least one man with a deformed hand). More of this sort of thing, please! A troupe of acrobats beats the Pioneer Dork any day.

This Iguanodon is typical - crosspatch lizard face, permanently flexed and rather humanoid arms and a bloody great wattle because Neave Parker. Still, I really like the model's colours, especially the rosettes on the flanks and the bright red flush of the bloody great wattle.

This Styracosaurus is just here because I once had a toy that was pretty much a straight knock-off. It's very brown. Yes.

It seems there was a trend back in the day - a rather lazy trend, I might add - for ceratopsians to all have the same body with interchangeable heads. This was often literally the case with life-size fibreglass models, which gave rise to the gigantic elasmothere Styracosaurus models that now blight the world (but especially the UK) - which reminds me, I still need to write an article on those at some point. Anyway, Triceratops therefore appears identical to Styracosaurus but, er, with a different head. Of course, by far the best aspect of this page is the barely competent illustration, featuring as it does quite serious perspective and anatomy failures and a Chaz Knight rip-off.

Ah, but I've saved the best illustration until second to last. I'm not sure I've seen a Deinonychus quite this bad since the Dessicated Zombienychus won that silly contest I concocted last year. It's just superb - basically a 1970s allosaur except for the OMG HUGE TERROR CLAW, and comes complete with miniature anachronistic Parasaurolophus prey. Love it.

And finally - retro ankylo-wrong. The usual sort of thing - super-squat semi-sprawling limbs and no neck. No ears this time, though.

Until next time, dear friends, until next time! Proost.