Monday, November 30, 2009

Why Dinosaurs Matter

Why bother studying dinosaurs? I ask myself this question from time to time. I was spurred to consider it again, earlier today, by a post at Archosaur Musings. In it, Dave Hone lets loose on a sloppily designed pterosaur toy. I have to admit, it's really fun to see a paleontologist rip apart a bad toy like this. I enjoy writing the occasional rant, but I'm paranoid that I'll commit a factual blunder, which would be all the more embarrassing for the righteous anger with which it was delivered. I don't actually get spitting mad over a mislabeled duckbill figurine. Seriously, I don't. Really. Honest.

Hone's post made me question why I should feel this annoyance in the first place. What does it matter to me that some kid's toy Parasaurolophus looks more like Corythosaurus? Will it really make a difference? If he cares enough to actually read the packaging, he'll probably have forgotten by the time he grows up. I know in my gut that dinosaurs are worthy of study, and of public attention. And I know that it's not just for the sake of knowledge. Especially as we've learned that birds are the descendants of dinosaurs, that they aren't just novelties. Their evolution has lasting effects on the world.

Conveniently enough, one of the next blogs on my reading list was Scott Sampson's new The Whirlpool of Life, and he was kind enough to answer this question quite eloquently. Here's an excerpt; be sure to head to the blog to read the whole post.
...dinosaurs offer an exceptional access point into the Great Story—our story. They can help us forge links between the distant past and the present day (e.g., modern birds as living dinosaurs) and insert us back into the flow of deep time (Tyrannosaurus lived closer to you in time than to Allosaurus or Stegosaurus). These ancient creatures can be used to demonstrate that every ecosystem on Earth, whether in the Mesozoic or the present day, is the culmination of millions upon millions of years of co-evolution between and among life forms.
I love his illustration of the immensity of time, comparing the time since the K-T event with the span of time between Cretaceous T. rex and Jurassic Allosaurus. Puts things in context in a handful of words. From what I've read at Whirlpool, Sampson is a fine writer and a great communicator of science. His recent book, Dinosaur Odyssey, is on its way to me and I'll be reviewing it shortly.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Questions Children Ask

I have an ever-expanding collection of vintage dinosaur art which I'm in the midst of digitizing. Most of it is in the form of obsolete children's books. I'm as big a sucker for old design and illustration as I am for dinosaurs. Mix the two, and I'm happy as a pillbug.

Here's a good one from a 1956 book called Questions Children Ask, published by the Standard Education Society (here's a Flickr set featuring other pages from the same book). It's credited to Henry Harringer (1892-1980), who seems to have been a Chicago-based illustrator who toiled away in obscurity. I can find little information about him, but everything he's connected to is out of Chicago. His only claim to modest fame appears to be a theater, proposed at the Century of Progress Exhibition, which would have brought Ziegfield Follies style shows to the Windy City.
Vintage Dinosaurs
I love this caption: "The Diplodocus was nearly 90 feet long. It had a very small brain and was clumsy and stupid." These old science books always made a point of impugning the intelligence of one dinosaur or another. I can't hold that against old Mr. Harringer, of course.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The dinosaur on your table

In the USA, today is Thanksgiving, a holiday calling for us to celebrate all of the blessings of being American by ratcheting up our everyday gluttony to extremes. What better way to prove our worth than to eat the avian theropod Meleagris gallopavo?

For a fun project, turn the carcass of your turkey into a paleontology lesson. Matt Wedel tells you how. He also has one of the best airport security stories I've heard. "Literally the bone of a cow." Hilarious.

PS. I would have turned the axe into a Quidditch broom if I wasn't so flippin' hungry right now.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

It's the little things

If I was a big-time dinosaur paleontologist, and I had my druthers, I'd sure as hell be carrying the keys to my ultra-secure fossil locker on one of these bad boys!
T. rex keychain!
Spinosaurus keychain!
I snagged these for a buck apiece at Joann Fabrics today. They were sitting with all of the other impulse-buy items in a little plastic tub marked "Animal Babies" and "Dino Babies." You want a closer look at the snout of that Spinosaurus?
Spinosaurus keychain!
Proper! I love the look on his face. Full of mischief and sass. I've got to give a hearty dollop of paleo-props to the good folks at Safari Limited, who also produce the Carnegie Collection replicas you see in finer museum gift shops across this land. They've bashed the ball out of the park with these keychains. I only had three dollars on me, so I had to leave a few dinos in the tub. When I go to sleep tonight, I'll hear them calling to me...

Maybe they'll drive me crazy enough to fork over $62.06 for a whole tub of 'em!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Aardonyx takes a bow

I've been so slammed with work that I've just now been able to dig into the details on the new prosauropod Aardonyx celestae, discovered in South Africa. Aardonyx was described in The Proceedings of the Royal Society B on November 11 and the lead author is Adam Yates, who writes the essential paleoblog Dracovenator. His excitement over the publication is obvious when you read his post. This is a perfect example of a scientist using his blog for the public benefit. His post breaks everything down into digestible bits, and without the hyperbole and knuckleheadedness the traditional media likes to throw in for extra flavor.

Aardonyx is one of those special creatures that sits somewhere in between two lineages. All dinosaurs are believe to have evolved from a bipedal common ancestor. The bipedal Aardonyx displays skeletal features which are consistent with what we would expect to see in a family of dinosaurs for whom large size is being naturally selected for. At some point, the increasing size of sauropods would have necessitated the greater weight-bearing capabilities of quadrupedalism. Aardonyx appears to be one of those dinosaurs who could employ either stance as the situation required.

Here's a video of coauthor Dr. Matt Bonnan of Western Illinois University explaining how Aardonyx was discovered and the implications:

There's a lot more great information at Western Illinois University's Aardonyx site. Also, just noticed a story in one of the Chicago papers about Bonnan.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Definitely Dinosaurs!

Definitely Dinosaurs! The classic Playskool dinosaur toys of the mid-eighties. Warning about the link: don't expect scientific accuracy. Psittacosaurus is all kinds of wrong. And after they slapped a sail on the back of their Spinosaurus, they stopped trying. The snout is waaaay too blunt. I don't understand why companies go to the trouble of making toys like this and then stop just short of making it reasonably close to the real thing in design. I mean, I don't expect perfection, but Spinosaurus should not look like Allosaurus with a sail. It should look like Spinosaurus.

Here are a couple of old commercials for the toys:

Oh, if only my parents had pushed me into child-actor auditions. I could have been one of those obnoxious little turds. They probably got paid in toys, which to me would have been worth the deep psychological scars of being a child actor.

If Definitely Dinos are a little too tame for you, alls I gotsta say is "teeth, claws, muscles and jaws!!!!"

Anyone know of any more recent toys that put feathers on their theropods? I mean toys meant to be played with, not models. I can understand video games, like the new Jurassic: The Hunted, skimping on feathers for budgetary reasons. But I don't see why we can't give the children of the world the luxuriously feathered Velociraptors they deserve.

Friday, November 20, 2009

What about "WhattaCroc?"

Araripesuchus wegeneri, from Nat Geo. Drawing by Todd Marshall.

National Geographic News is featuring a slideshow displaying the stars of their new special "When Crocs Ate Dinosaurs," premiering tomorrow, November 21 on the National Geographic Channel. Get a sneak-peak of the digital reincarnations of paleontologist Paul Sereno's RatCroc, DuckCroc, DogCroc, BoarCroc and...

Wait for it...

PancakeCroc. You know, because its head is flat. Flat like a pancake.

Seriously, it's bad enough to give these crocodiles nicknames that sound like creatures the Battletoads would kill. But PancakeCroc? Really? Really? Why not nickname Stegosaurus PlateBack? And we could just call elephants HoseHeads.

Because I don't believe that people are too stupid to handle the binomial names, let's just set the record straight.
  • BoarCroc = Kaprosuchus saharicus
  • RatCroc = Araripesuchus rattoides
  • DogCroc = Araripesuchus wegeneri
  • DuckCroc = Anatosuchus minor
  • PancakeCroc = Laganosuchus thaumastos
The University of Chicago neglects to place the blame for these nicknames, so we have to assume that it's all on Sereno. I guess I see the reasoning here. The point is to grab people's attention. But the -suchus suffix (meaning crocodile) is such a good one. It's fun to say. I'd like to believe that these ugly compound nicknames aren't really necessary.

The root of this might be Robert Bakker, who repeatedly refers to Lagosuchus as "rabbit-croc" in The Dinosaur Heresies. Though in that case, I can see exactly why he would do so: in attempting to overhaul the popular image of dinosaurs, it helped to paint the image of one of their forebears as an active creature, an counterintuitive amalgam of reptile and mammal.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Doing it the old fashioned way

I'm just going to keep rolling with the recent burst of dino-history subjects. This time, we'll look at a modern attempt to get back to the way paleontology was done in the old days...

The AMNH Scow MARY JANE, 1912

Between 1910 and 1914, after his great successes in the badlands of Montana, paleontologist Barnum Brown led an AMNH team on a series of expeditions into Alberta via the Red Deer River. A Canadian team led by Charles Sternberg also took to the river, engaging in a friendly rivalry with the Americans. Their mode of transportation was a kind of flat-bottomed boat called a scow. It was a very sensible way to search for new fossils in the days before paved roads. The river which made transport so easy also eroded away outcrops of rock, exposing fossils that had been buried for 65 million years or more. One of Barnum Brown's great discoveries during these expeditions was the tyrannosaur Albertasaurus, which thrilled me on my trips to the Field Museum pre-Sue.

A senior fossil preparation technician for the Royal Tyrrell Museum named Darren Tanke plans on commemorating the centennial of the first of these scow expeditions by embarking on one of his own. Since August, his team has maintained a blog to chronicle the project's progress. As if you needed more proof of Tanke's devotion to and knowledge of paleontological history, the scow is to be named in honor of Peter C. Kaisen, a technician on those early expeditions whose work in preserving valuable new fossils was crucial to the trips' mission - though naturally he's been overshadowed by the huge figure of Brown.

The Dinosaur Hunting By Boat 2010 Facebook page goes into greater detail about the project. It looks like they intend to stay as faithful as possible to the technology of a century ago; this isn't going to be a cushy leisure cruise. As the FB page says, "Food will be preserved with ice (or canned/pickled/dried), cooking done on an antique wood burning stove, coal lanterns for light, etc. The replica scow will be a floating museum as it will be fully equipped with period antiques or modern replicas of same." The team's boat will be modeled after the Mary Jane, pictured above.

I'm just super-impressed with this undertaking. Amazing.

ALSO: In case you haven't had enough giant-crocodiles-attacking-giant-theropods action, Dave Hone has featured a nice painting by paleoartist Bob Nicholls in this post.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

One way to mark your days

Making sense of time's ceaseless march is a real pain in the rear. But that's why we have calendars. Now that 2009 is nearly spent, it's time to think about how we'll keep track of 2010. Here's one way: an awesome toy dinosaur calendar.

It features such wicked imagery as this:

By lisbokt, via flickr.

But jeez, there really don't seem to be many dinosaur calendars. Not for 2010, at least. Here's one. And another. Maybe some more will be popping up in the next month or so. For example, the Smithsonian may announce a 2010 pop-up calendar, as they've done the last few years.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Yale's Torosaurus

I'd never seen the bronze Torosaurus statue outside Yale's Peabody Museum until Carl Zimmer used it in a recent post on his great blog The Loom, preparing for a speech there.

Peabody Museum Guardian
The Peabody TOROSAURUS, via altopower @ flickr.

The life-size statue was created by sculptor and museum preparator Michael Anderson and revealed to the public in October of 2005. Especially cool is that it's been placed within a Cretaceous-themed garden, stocked with plants related to those that Torosaurus and its kin would have been familiar with, including ferns and magnolia trees. It's a terrific, dynamic sculpture - the only minor demerit I can give is that it's missing is a saddle. Next time I'm in the northeast, I'm definitely checking this bad boy out.

If you've got a notion to, go ahead and buy a book about the statue's creation from the Peabody's poorly designed on-line store. They claim there's also DVD, but finding it on the site is harder than finding an actual Torosaurus fossil. Especially if you accept Jack Horner's assertion that Torosaurus is not a genuine genus, but is merely the most mature form of Triceratops.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Jack Horner on Skeptic's Guide

Dr. John Horner was the guest on a recent episode of the podcast "The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe." It's a really well conducted interview, which you'd expect from the Skeptic's Guide crew. It mainly deals with Horner's recently published paper which proposed that Stygimoloch, and Dracorex are not distinct species, but are younger forms of Pachycephalosaurus.

They touch on Dr. Robert Bakker's contention that this is not the case, and that he is in possession of a genuine juvenile Pachycephalosaurus that does not resemble either Stygimoloch or Dracorex. You can hear a bit of Horner's irritation as he basically dares Bakker to either publish about it or shut his trap. Juicy.

Paper Dinosaurs

Edward Drinker Cope's reconstruction of Laelaps, from PAPER DINOSAURS

The Linda Hall Library of Kansas City, MO hosts a very cool on-line exhibit called Paper Dinosaurs. It is well-worth a few minutes of your time. It's chronologically organized, and all of the images have nice, long descriptions.

From the site:

In 1996, the Linda Hall Library mounted an exhibition of original printed materials related to the history of dinosaur discovery. On view were most of the classic papers of dinosaur lore, including original publications by Gideon Mantell, Richard Owen, Othniel Marsh, Roy Chapman Andrews, and a host of others; there were forty-nine items in all. The original exhibition ran from October 17, 1996 through April 30, 1997.
There is a lot of great stuff featured here, from the iconic, such as Robert Bakker's Deinonychus, to the obscure. It's also a good primer on the colorful history of dinosaur paleontology (a subject I fully intend to write more on in the future). If you'd like to order a copy of the catalog from the original exhibition, it is available from the library for the reasonable sum of twelve US dollars.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Diplodocus Diplomacy

In 1907, the American Museum of Natural History made the remarkable gift of a Diplodocus skeleton to Kaiser Wilhelm II for display in the then-brand-new Senckenberg Museum in Frankfurt. While the Carnegie Musem had given a Diplodocus mount to the British Museum in 1905, it was a plaster cast, a replica. This AMNH gift to the Germans consisted of actual fossil bone, mounted in relief on a wood-framed slab of plaster.

From the July 1907 issue of WORLD TODAY

Here's an excerpt of an article from the July 1907 issue of a magazine called World Today about the gift - it starts on page 846 if you care to check out the original. It's a nice piece of old-timey dinosaur lore. My favorite bit describes an ingenious (if utterly silly) hypothetical function of a sauropod's tail:
One of the most remarkable structural features of the diplodocus was the whip-like and powerful tail, thirty feet long, over half the length of the body. This served the creature as a propeller, enabling him to swim very rapidly through the water when attacked and pursued by the carnivorous dinosaurs of the same period. Another peculiar function of this ponderous tail was that it acted like a lever and balanced and supported the animal when he assumed an upright position, which he is thought to have done both in water and on land.
Silly but harmless outdated thinking (the article entitled "The Negro Situation - One Way Out" is not so harmless). I'd love to know what happened to this mount. I haven't been able to find any recent pictures of it, though the Senckenberg Museum does have a free standing Diplodocus mount in their dinosaur hall, and a statue outside. Very curious.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Evidence For Dinosaurian Warm-Bloodedness

A very neat study came out today in the open source on-line journal PLos ONe. The matter of dinosaur metabolism has been long-debated. For a long time, dinosaurs were characterized as sluggish reptiles, cold-blooded and dim-witted. That thinking changed with the work of paleontologist John Ostrom in the sixties, and by the mid-nineties, pop culture had warmed to the idea of active, warm-blooded creatures. Just remember that signature moment in Jurassic Park when the raptor exhales and fogs up the window on the kitchen door.

This study, led by Washington University anthropologist Herman Pontzer, draws on the biomechanics of living animals to determine the metabolic cost of walking and running in bipedal dinosaurs. Why would an anthropologist have a unique insight into this issue? Pontzer has had previous experience in the energy cost of bipedalism and was the lead author of a 2008 study seeking to shed light on the evolutionary pressures that led to increasing bipedalism in hominids. As it turns out, the length of the leg - or distance of the hip from the ground - is a great way to determine how much energy a biped uses when walking about.

For this new paper, Pontzer and his colleagues analyzed dinosaurs ranging in size from tiny Microraptor up to giants like T. rex. In addition to the rather simple leg-length measurement, they also used a more complex method which figures up the amount of energy that would be needed to activate leg muscles for walking and running. For all dinosaurs, it was found that a slow run required more energy than cold-bloodedness can provide. To walk slowly, the results for the smaller dinosaurs were more ambiguous. But for the large ones, they still pointed clearly to warm-bloodedness. This doesn't necessarily mean that the dinosaurs possessed the kind of warm-bloodedness you and I do. It may very well be that there was a uniquely dinosaurian method of regulating temperature. But it certainly distances them from cold-blooded, sun-bathing reptiles even further.

Plateosaurus (big guy in the middle) by Luis Rey, from A Field Guide to Dinosaurs by Rey and Henry Gee

What's really interesting here is that this result doesn't just apply to the most bird-like dinosaurs, or the ones we might expect to have the most active lifestyle, such as T. rex. In fact, it held true for Plateosaurus, a familiar early ancestor of the giant sauropods from the Triassic era. this would indicate that warm-bloodedness, or something very much like it, was present down low on the dinosaur family tree. This issue is much like the bird origin issue: there's an ever-growing heap of evidence. It makes sense, really - consider that dinosaurs were the dominant form of large land-dwelling animals on the planet for nearly two-hundred million years. They occupied all kinds of niches in a great diversity of habitats. To be that widely successful, they had to have been very adaptable. Warm-bloodedness is a basic requirement for being able to take advantage of so much opportunity.

Check out Palaeoblog and Dinosaur Tracking for more info.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

From the LOC: NY Trib Sauropods

What a drawing card these fellows would make for a modern zoological garden! (LOC)
A tail draggin' Diplodocus and a pair of "amphibious" brontosaurs, published in the December 11, 1904 New York Tribune Illustrated Supplement. Via the LOC Flickr stream.

Here's a delightful excerpt from the accompanying story:
The appearance of a herd of these great monsters of past ages trooping down Broadway, uncontrolled, would cause an absolute cessation of business there. The street would be cleared with alacrity. The hallways of every building along the street would lie tilled instantaneously, and every elevator glutted with humanity fleeing for safety to the upper stories of the sky-scrapers. Those who preserved their mental equilibrium sufficiently to gaze calmly forth upon the procession of strange beasts as they passed in front of the buildings would be struck with several things. Perhaps they might think of Noah's problem with added respect...
There's a lot more where that came from, too. I may not have gotten it totally correct - the scan was full to the brim with OCR errors. Check out a PDF of the page here.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Name of the Year

I'm a huge fan of giving new species, especially dinosaurs, names relevant to the places where they're found. Though I admittedly used to recoil at the odd-looking names coming out of China, that was just me being a spoiled American brat. After all, if I could handle Parasaurolophus or Deinonychus, I should have had the moxie to figure out Tuojiangosaurus. In hindsight though, I guess I can't expect the younger me to understand the importance of engaging all kinds of people in science.

The point is, I love the name of the newly described Early Cretaceous ankylosaur out of Montana: Tatankacephalus cooneyorum. Bill Parsons, who discovered the fossils with his wife Kris, chose the name to honor Native American culture. Tatanka is the Oglala word for buffalo, and if you don't believe me, ask my friend Mike, who has pretty nearly memorized Dances with Wolves.
T. cooneyorum by Bill Parsons

Tatankacephalus is closely related to Gastonia, which featured prominently in Robert Bakker's paleofictional novel, Raptor Red. Both are basal in the ankylosaurid family; Tatankacephalus exhibits some "transitional" features which distinguish the well-known ankylosaurids from later in the Cretaceous. Unfortunately, we don't know for sure whether for not Tatankacephalus bore the familiar tail-club many of its relatives had.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Never Forget

If I was still in the midst of my ruff n' tumble, rowdy teenage days,* I'd be taggin' the "Never Forget" sauropod all over. Apparently, they almost exclusively occur in Granville Island, Vancouver.

Never Forget
By flickr user oblique

Never Forget
By flickr user mlaaker

But here's one from the UK, with a different design, a brachiosaur.
Too Late Cretaceous...
By flickr user demosthien

*Ruff n' tumble, rowdy teenage days not guaranteed to have actually occurred.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Tyrannosaur Tid-Bits

Well, guess what? There's more Tyrannosaur goodness in the news. It's about time; I was starting to fear that we'd run out of discoveries. It had been weeks since some new detail about that most iconic of dinosaur families came out. Weeks!

First up, a bit of phylogenetic housekeeping. Proceratosaurus bradleyi, a theropod of the Middle Jurassic, has been placed within the Tyrannosauroidea. The paper was first published in March, but just now came on-line, though it's unfortunately not available in its entirety. A British-German team of paleontologists created a 3D image of the skull using computed tomography technology. This new examination of the skull revealed that, like all tyrannosaurs, the bones of its skull were highly pneumatized, meaning they were chock full of air chambers. It also bears the distinctive D-shaped teeth at the front of the upper jaw as do other tyrannosaurs. Check out the BBC for an absolutely lovely little video summing up this new knowledge.

It's been a long and bumpy ride for P. bradleyi, first called Megalosaurus, then believed to be a relative of Ceratosaurus. About ten years ago, it inched a bit closer to home when a University of Maryland study placed it within the Coelurosaurs the group which contains the tyrannosaurs. This analysis makes it the oldest known of T. rex's relatives, a few million years older than the Chinese Guanlong. And it reveals that the early tyrannosaurs had a large range: P. bradleyi was found in a British quarry.

Next: Yet more evidence that Tyrannosaurs were given to rather vicious intraspecific tussles. A new paper in the journal Palaios describes a team of Northern Illinois University paleontologists' analysis of a juvenile tyrannosaur nicknamed "Jane." A series of lesions on her skull were found to have been left by the teeth of another tyrannosaur, and though they healed, the wound was serious enough that as "she" grew, her snout was warped to one side.

One of the things I love about paleontology is that though we can never hope to have a complete view of the ancient world (or worlds), we'll always have more to learn. And each discovery colors in that picture a bit more.

Proceratosaurus drawing from the British Natural History Museum.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Arctic Dinosaurs

On Monday, John Sibbick kindly supplied me with an image of one of his pieces which depicted dinosaurs below the Antarctic circle. If you're wondering what may have been happening on the other side of the globe, the NOVA episode Arctic Dinosaurs may clear it up for you.

It deals with our attempts to build an accurate picture of what life was like in Late Cretaceous Alaska, where we've found evidence of a thriving ecosystem, despite the fact that it was much closer to the North Pole than it is today. The most fascinating segment deals with British paleobotanist Robert Spicer, who developed a technique to tell average temperature in an area based on the ratio of smooth-edged to jagged-edged leaves. Spicer determines that in the Late Cretaceous, the Alaskan north slope had a climate somewhat like that of modern Canada's Pacific coast. I love the way disparate disciplines converge to increase our understanding of prehistoric life.

I was surprised that every dinosaur was depicted naked - no feathers. This despite the fact that there are plenty of animated troodons scampering around. It is very likely that Troodon bore feathers, even more likely if some of them lived north of the Arctic circle. Of course, feathers are much harder to animate than smooth or scaly skin... another reason to kick some loose change PBS's way.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Anyone remember this classic from the mid eighties? Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend. It freaked me out.

These sauropods move a bit like Snuffaluffagus. I wonder what the good folks at SV-POW would make of their rather noodly necks? Though I suppose wallaby butchering is of greater import at the moment.

Monday, November 2, 2009

An Interview with John Sibbick

A scene from Antarctic Australasia by John Sibbick

A couple of weeks ago, a brief post at Palaeoblog about Scottish geologist Roderick Murchison used an image of a sea scorpion hunting on the floor of a Silurian sea to tie into Murchison's role as the man who named the Silurian period (about 445 to 415 million years ago). That image grabbed my attention, and I embarked on a short quest to identify the responsible artist. I found that his name is John Sibbick, and I was already quite familiar with his work.

Sibbick's artwork has been seen in museums all over the world, as well as bringing life to many articles in National Geographic Magazine; wander through the galleries on his website and put a name to the work you've surely seen. Beyond prehistory, he has done work for the role-playing game series Warhammer 40,000 and has illustrated books on mythology.

Mr. Sibbick recently took some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about his work.

What was your first piece of palaeoart?

The first collaboration with a palaeontologist was in the early 80's. I was commissioned to illustrate a general book on dinosaurs and other mesozoic life. There were over 40 illustrations - most of it in colour with a limited schedule and budget. I struck lucky with the author, David Norman. The title was eventually called When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth and was aimed at juvenile dinosaur enthusiasts. The first painting was the front and back cover featuring a mature Triceratops posturing and raising dust in a Cretaceous landscape. Norman was great to work with and we developed a working routine which I still stick to: a lot of sketches and questions, back and forth until the detail and composition is right. The book was completed and immediately shelved for 4 years. Eventually it surfaced at the same time as another David Norman collaboration, which was The Encyclopaedia of Dinosaurs.

How much time do you devote to keeping up with new developments in paleontology?

My painting technique is pretty labour-intensive and up to recent years involved working long hours. I tend to collect information on new developments as they become published, and take any new data on board if it is relevant to the job in hand and question how it affects the present work. I also take note on various differing opinions and who sides with what. In general I try and keep up to speed and gather as much material as possible.

Have any recent paleontological discoveries excited you? What about a discovery makes your neurons fire?

Many things get me going, and I try to gather all I can about the fossil material and to see the evidence for myself. Of course the relentless discoveries from China are fabulous and it was a great privilege to get to see some of the actual prepared specimens a while ago at the Natural History museum in London. These are some of the most beautiful fossils I've seen.

I am fascinated by dinosaur trackways and the recent sauropod sequences in France and other European sites are astonishing. This is as direct contact as we can get with these giants and can indicate detail of posture and sometimes behaviour if enough material is revealed. I would be very interested in attempting to reconstruct the landscapes of some of these classic dinosaur highways.

A Triassic Trackway in South Wales by John Sibbick

Do you have a favorite era of Earth's history to depict?

Not really. But there are periods I would like to revisit perhaps. The Carboniferous Coal Measures in the UK interest me and it would be nice to draw a series of scenes of the same area at times of fluctuating water levels indicating the rates of decay and growth of forests and marginal plants. The Permian/Triassic boundary is also fascinating, perhaps more than the KT event...

How were you informed that the pterosaur Ludodactylus sibbicki would be named in your honor? Did you know the paleontologists already? Do you receive any sort of plaque or ribbon to commemorate the honor?

All very informal. I had worked on Arambourgiana with David Martill previously, and a crocodile illustration with Dino Frey. D.M. emailed me or phoned me to let me know of the plan, and later I met him on the Isle of Wight at a conference and he confirmed that it was published in a paper and the volume "Evolution and Palaeobiology of Pterosaurs" from the Geological Society, London 2003. There was no blue plaque or secret handshake involved - or was there?

Are there any subjects you would like to get another crack at, to incorporate new discoveries?

For some time I have hoped to focus more on marine reptiles, homing in on UK finds. I have not done much more than a few ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs up to now. The recent pliosaur skull discovered in Weymouth Bay in Dorset has drawn my attention away from dinosaurs for a while. This was an 8 ft. long skull of a proposed 60 foot long pliosaur from around 150 mya. Maybe I will try and fit it in some time next year!

Finally, are there any unsung organisms of Earth's history you'd like to bring more attention to? Some critter that doesn't have the fame it deserves?

There are so many critters that I haven't given my attention to over the last 30 years, so many. As a freelancer you don't always have a choice of subjects you want to work on. I have worked on some Burgess Shale and Ediacaran organisms and coral reef assemblages but there are great gaps. I would also like to get back to the mammal like reptiles - gorgonopsids and dicynodonts, and the evolution of whales from Pakistan. Not to mention the dinosaurs...