Wednesday, March 31, 2010


One of the unique properties of mammals is their ability to produce milk, that nourishing emulsion of tiny globules of fat in water. Heck, I'm feeling thirsty just writing those words. Dinosaurs couldn't produce milk, being descended from the reptilian archosaurs, but that doesn't mean they can't be used to spread the milk gospel. For your consideration, I present a set of Canadian commercials for milk, likely inspired by the Ice Age movies.

First, a Pteranodon. Incidentally, while pterosaurs lifting humans off the ground has been around for a long time, it's not something to fear. It's not happening.

Next, some nude raptors...

And stick around for the stinger at the end of this one...

And I've saved the fart joke for last. As is customary.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

You're Thwarting My Attempt at an Alliterative Greeting, Xixianykus!

Hot on the heels of Haplocheirus, another new alvarezsaur has been announced: Xixianykus zhangyi. As you might guess by the name, it's another gift from the Mesozoic strata of China, and the first chinese alvarezsaur. Paleontologists led by Xing Xu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences announced the finding this week in the journal Zootaxa.

Xixianykus zhangyi by Matt Van Rooijen, used with the artist's kind permission.

Besides adding to our knowledge of the strange and wonderful alvarezsaurs, X. zhangyi is remarkable among theropods in general for its specialized adaptations for running. For a small critter like this - about the size of a small dog - the ability to dart around at high speed would have had obvious value. In Matt Van Rooijen's fine reconstruction, Xixianykus has been given cryptic coloring, and I can see the bugger scurrying away into the underbrush, where it would be well hidden from predators.

For more, you can head over to Archosaur Musings; Dave Hone is also one of the authors on the paper.

Monday, March 29, 2010

More Dinosaurigami

In September of last year, I featured a couple examples of Nicolás Gajardo Henríquez's dinosaur origami. Flickr user origamiPete also has a fondness for things paleo. Here are some of his.



The Mesozoic aquatic bird Hesperornis:
hesperornis - further changes

Pete has also done some other ancient creatures, including the hammerheaded amphibian Diplocaulus and the saber-toothed cat, Smilodon.

Friday, March 26, 2010

LITC on the Facebook

I finally got around to making LITC a page on the popular website Facebook. Well, finishing it. I started making it a long time ago, then stalled as I fussed over a suitable profile image. Finally settled on this little turd.

Don't be shy - join up by clicking the badge to the left or clicking here.

Vintage Dinosaur Art: High-Kickin' Allosaurus

Mosozoic Spread
Here's a two-page spread from a 1979 Scholastic book called the First Picture Encyclopedia. It's a pretty sweet piece, complete with a gaggle of erupting volcanos, anachronistic fauna, Rudolf Zallinger-inspired Stegosaurus, and one heck of a high-kickin' Allosaurus, which I find particularly amusing. Not only would it be a crazy way for a big theropod to attack its prey, the stance looks pretty implausible.

The book credits four illustrators: Roy Coombs, Cliff Meadway, Mike Atkinson, and Graham Allen, with Coombs' name most prominent. None of them are particularly visible on the web. Mr. Atkinson has a website, but the style doesn't quite match what we see here.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Preserved in Plastic

Plastic dinosaurs are a perennial inspiration for photographers, it seems. There's something comforting and nostalgic about them, and as models go, they're pretty easy to deal with. Flickr user Velvette Gypsy posted a bunch of them recently.

Too bad she didn't have a plastic Baryonyx or spinosaur! You know, because they liked the fish.

This one is described as "dinosaur riding," but if I was that T. rex, I'd be pretty nervous. I don't think Yoda has honorable intentions.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The City Museum

The other major stop of our weekend trip to St. Louis was the utterly wickedly wondrous and splendid City Museum. I won't get into the whole history of it; suffice to say that it's a giant indoor playground made of salvaged building materials, and is completely bananas. I didn't go expecting a lot of Mesozoica, but I figured there had to be at least a little. I was happily surprised at what I found.

First, there's this great sauropod staircase, leading from the entry level to the mezzanine and second floor. You can barely make out her head in the first shot...

The City Museum here's a close-up.

City Museum Staircase Sauropod

On the second floor is a small room of natural history type stuff, presumably from other institutions' defunct displays. I was thrilled to find a glass case containing a bunch of fossil casts, including Tapejara, Velociraptor and Masiakasaurus skulls, and some others I didn't get good pictures of. Not that these are hot stuff; I've never been good at snapping photos through glass.

The City Museum

City Museum Velociraptor

City Museum Masiakasaurus

Opposite the display case is a diorama containing various reconstructions, including Bambiraptor, Compsognathus, Sordes, and Anurognathus. They were created by Missouri's Fossilsmith studios; unfortunately, it doesn't look like they've done a lot in the last few years (or maybe they're so busy they haven't had time to update their site). Their work here is excellent. Seeing that extravagantly feathered bambi when I walked into the room was such a great surprise.

City Museum Bambiraptor

City Museum Comsognathus Couple

The room also has a case full of other assorted fossils and casts, including various pterosaurs and a reproduction of Archaeopteryx. Really, its a lot of paleo crammed into a pretty small room. There's also a Pteranodon hanging from the ceiling on the ground level, somewhat out of place as the rest of the area has an undersea theme. But I'm not complaining.

The City Museum

The City Museum

Seriously, this is a must-see if you're ever in St. Louis.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sighting at the Missouri Botanical Garden

As I mentioned yesterday, the little lady and I took a road trip to St. Louis this weekend. Whenever we hit the road, we party like we mean it. We hit thrift stores and antique malls. We find the illest museums. We invariably locate the top botanical gardens in the region and make sure they never forget the day we came to town. Thanks to her, the pictures actually made it to Flickr.

The Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis is a good one, dominated by a 7-story geodesic dome called the Climatron. Inside the Climatron is a simulated rain forest. It looks like this:

Missouri Botanical Garden

The Climatron is populated by a gregarious group of Silver-Beaked Tanagers, imports from South America. They look like this:

Missouri Botanical Garden

There's also an orchid exhibit going on right now, and apparently the MBG knows how to keep the children entertained while their parents soberly appreciate the flowers: a dinosaur scavenger hunt. Well, one dinosaur may not make much of a scavenger hunt, but it's something. Luckily, Jennie and I found the little sauropod, tucked away in the greenery.

Missouri Botanical Garden

I suspect that the little sauropod is also a clever way to remind visitors that beginning on May 1, the Climatron will host the traveling exhibit DinoQuest. The Climatron will be stocked with reproductions of dinosaurs, which will be accompanied by further exhibits, including an egg incubator prop from JPIII. More info at the link above; images here or at their Flickr stream. Here's a Bambiraptor model, photographed during the exhibit's time at the Denver Botanical Gardens.

Image from MBG, via Flickr.

Monday, March 22, 2010

More on Linheraptor

SWAMPED. That's how I'm feeling right now. The first spring break I've had in several years, and I wish it had never happened - better to slog through and get done a week earlier than this. Jennie and I took a little road trip to St. Louis this weekend, and as soon as I get some time, I'll be sharing some relevant photos and thoughts here. In the meantime, watch this short video by Michael Pittman about Linheraptor!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Vintage Dinosaur Art: The Dragons of Eden

I recently picked up a used copy of Carl Sagan's The Dragons of Eden, and the cover folded out to reveal this impressive painting by Don Davis, which was cropped on the fronrt cover in the first edition. You can see a few dinos, including what looks like a Ceratosaurus and two dromaeosaurs frolicking in the background. There's also a well-camouflaged sauropod munching some leaves right above "Adam and Eve."

Like George Solonevich, Davis is more widely known for his space paintings, and his work on planetary models for Sagan's Cosmos series (which is thankfully available at Hulu). More of his dinosaur paintings are on display here.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Lay Ho, Linheraptor

There's a new dromaeosaur from China, and its fossilized remains match the recently described pterosaur Zhenyuanopterus for sheer beauty. So perfect, it looks like something Hollywood might create. Its name is Linheraptor exquisitus, and it's announced in the print journal Zootaxa. There isn't a lot to say about it yet; it's superficially similar to Velociraptor, in terms of size and shape of the skull. Dave Hone promises more details to come. Head over to Archosaur Musings to see photos of fossil casts as well as a killer painting by Matt Van Rooijen. Van Rooijen also has a post about the creation of his reconstruction at his own blog, Optimistic Painting. I think it signals a welcome new voice into the paleoart world.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Love in the Time of Crinoids

As a kid, I dreamed of digging in my backyard or the sandbox at school and happening across a big honkin' dinosaur bone. The more I'd dig, the more dinosaur I'd find, until I had a dinosaur of my very own, and paleontologists from the Field Museum came by to see what I'd found. The local paper would print a picture of me. My popularity at school would skyrocket.

Then I learned that Northwest Indiana is somewhat less than a hotspot for Mesozoic fossils. Furthermore, there was so much asphalt and unconsolidated rock and soil laying around, finding fossils of any kind was rare (though there are occasional mammoth bones turned up by farmers). Luckily, this didn't squelch my interest in things ancient. I just got curious about geology and why, contrary to my fervent expectations, the ground everywhere wasn't teeming with dinosaur fossils.

When I was a teenager I finally saw the Smokies, the Rockies, the badlands of South Dakota, Yellowstone, and the Bonneville Salt Flats. Something about the exposed rock thrilled me. Heck, just driving a road cut into a hillside excited me (still does, actually). The problem was, I didn't have any exposed bedrock where I lived. Leaving Northwest Indiana became an inevitability at that point. I wanted to be somewhere that the real nitty gritty hardcore stuff the Earth is made of is easily accessible. I think that part of the excitement is that these places, where rock meets water and other weathering agents, are dynamic places where ecosystems are made.

Now my wife and I live in Bloomington, in south central Indiana, and it's lousy with interesting geology. The bedrock under my house is limestone created during the period called the Mississippian. This was the first half of the period more widely known as the Carboniferous, named for the great coal-bearing strata it contains. The coal is the compressed biomass of the swampy forests that were the dominant land ecosystem of Carboniferous Earth, a process that mainly took place during the second half of the period, called the Pennsylvanian. The Mississippian deposits underlying Bloomington are the remains of shallow seafloors, and then as now, shallow seas teemed with life.

Thanks to this, I've collected a small assortment of marine fossils, mostly fragments of sea lilies called crinoids, as well as a few brachiopods. Really, you could do a lot worse than the Carboniferous when picking a place to live. It's arguably the geological period with the deepest impact on our lives, offering up the coal on which the industrial revolution was run and limestone that went into building the Pentagon and the Empire State Building, among others. Any Indiana kid feeling left out of the dinosaur fossil jamboree of the Western US actually has plenty to be proud of.

Here are a couple photos of a some crinoid stem pieces I found last year. Get enough of them and you've got one handsome necklace.

Three Lakes Trail

Three Lakes Trail

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Headline Bait and Switch?

Discovery News is running a story on the newly discovered ancient amphibian, Fedexia striegeli. It's a cool critter with a nutty name (it was found near a "FedEx site" in Pittsburgh, whatever that is), and deserving of coverage. What caught me was the headline, "Meat-Eating Amphibian Predated Dinos." Okay, so I'll admit it. Fossil amphibians don't make me jump up and down. But I clicked on the link, because I read the word "predated" to mean "preyed upon," a valid definition of the word, not the also-valid "preceeded in time" (definitions from wiktionary). It's a weird way to write a headline. Maybe it was just an odd word choice. But based on experience in news rooms, I kind of think it was deliberate. It's clearer if I spell out the two meanings:

Meaning 1: Meat-Eating Amphibian Lived Before Dinosaurs
Meaning 2: Meat-Eating Amphibian Ate Dinosaurs

Meaning 1 is a big "so what?" Lots of amphibians lived before and after the dinosaurs. Not exactly something that screams "HEY READ THIS!" Meaning 2, however, is rich with meaning. It's visceral; it sets expectations. How large was the amphibian? How complete is the fossil? Was it found with dinosaur remains in its gut? Questions like these are what, you know, compel someone to read a story.

Was this an intentional bait and switch? I don't know. Maybe, maybe not. At the very least, the headline invoked dinosaurs pointlessly, as Fedexia had nothing to do with them. This is common, and isn't exactly heinous. It's just interesting how the media works, and how readers' minds work. Or at least, how mine works - I wonder how many other people see "predate" and associate it with predation and not chronology.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Purplest Flavor Around


My favorite flavor of Kool-Aid. It's grape lemonade. Kool-Aid actually made a commercial for it, as if the mere fact that it was the only Kool-Aid packet with a dinosaur on it wouldn't make any kid instantly grab it.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Vintage Dinosaur Art: More Rudolf Freund

A pair of Archaeopteryx by Rudolf Freund. From LIFE Magazine, October 19, 1959

Yes, more of old Rudy Freund, also featured last week. Not that I don't have a huge pile of other deserving pieces... I just haven't had much time to scan them in lately! Plus, I couldn't resist posting this lovely reconstruction of this Archaeopteryx couple. The piece was included with the sprawling Lincoln Barnett-penned "Where Evolution Stands Today" in a 1959 issue of LIFE. It was the final chapter in another of the magazine's serial epics. There are plenty of other great Freund pieces as well, including Seymouria, Icthyostega, and a particularly entertaining illustration of an australopithecine putting the hurt on a pack of baboons.

I also have to ask, though I may be betraying my ignorance of botany: WTF is that flower doing on that cycad in the background? It sure seems all kind of wrong to me. The Jurassic is way too early for flowers of any kind, and I've never heard of a flower on a cycad. I'd be deeply grateful if someone could set me straight, if set straight I need to be.

UPDATE: Ian of Other Branch had a good answer: It's not a cycad, it's a Bennettitale. I found a terrific illustration of one on this page. It's from the University of Maryland, and comes from a class taught by Tom Holtz, a paleontologist of some note. Scroll down to the bottom; it's the second to last image. Thanks, Ian.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Gigantoraptor Zoid and the Dinobots

I have no clue what a Zoid is, and I'm too pressed for time to look it up on Wikipedia. Whatever the point of zoiding is, Gigantoraptor is a great beast to zoid.

08-05-26 g 08
Image by rogerhuihk, via flickr

Sort of looks like them old Transformers toys that got made into a couple Michael Bay movies. Of course, the Transformers had their own robotic dinosaurs, cleverly called the Dinobots. A couple of nutty Autobots had the brilliant idea to make some fightin' dinosaur comrades, but make them incredibly stupid. I could try to unravel their convoluted history or let you figure it out for yourself.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Sinosauropteryx, a famous denizen of Yixian. From wikimedia commons.

It's too easy to dash down to the bakery when searching for a good geological metaphor. But I'll do it anyway. The perennially productive Yixian Formation in China can be thought of as a layer cake. Only instead of chocolate and vanilla, you get tasty alternating tiers of basalt and sandstone.

Sandstones are associated with places where rock is ground down to the coarse particles we call sand. Deserts do that, as does the erosive labor of water. The latter, in the form of lakes and streams, created the sandstones of Lower Cretaceous Yixian. Basalt, on the other hand, is a rock which comes in many forms with one shared source: volcanism. Combine the two, and you have a recipe for gorgeous fossils: adding to the day-to-day burial of bones handled by the bodies of water would be occasional volcanic eruptions which would bury the entire local environment. We have these natural cycles to thank for Sinosauropteryx, pictured above, and the other feathered dinosaurs. But feathered dinosaurs aren't the only animals the locale has to offer.

Zhenyuanopterus longirostris, a large pterosaur, is the latest beauty from Yixian. It is described by Chinese paleontologist Lu Jungchang in a new paper appearing in Acta Geologica Sinica. Bop on over to Archosaur Musings to get a nice look at one of the finest pterosaur fossils you'll ever see, remarkably complete, articulated, and sporting a set of teeth seemingly made to satisfy the universal human fascination with gnarly monsters.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Giant Reptiles of a Past Age

In February 1889, Popular Science ran an article by Dr. Otto Meyer titled "Giant Reptiles of a Past Age" (pages 466-473), an introduction to the lovable Mesozoic critters for the general public. It's an entertaining read. He begins with a patronizing comparison of Native Americans' dilemma with the "fallen" state of reptiles, forever doomed to remember past glory while those who usurped them cavort happily around them. Empathizing with those less fortunate than he, Meyer writes,
The same feelings of melancholy must enter the mind of an alligator of geological education, when, during a siesta in the sun, he thinks of the good old Mesozoic times and compares them with the pitiable present. "How beautiful were the Triassic and Jurassic periods, when numerous and powerful orders of reptiles were masters of the earth, when mosasaurus and other kings of the water were hunting the animals of the ocean, when gigantic dinosaurs reigned on the land, and pterodactyls populated the air! That parvenu, the mammal, was existing only in small species and struggling for an existence..."
It goes on for a while longer.

I've dabbled in cartooning for pretty much my whole life (there was a reason I asked Mark Witton if he doodled in the margins of his class notes), and that passage inspired me to engage in a little bit more. This is my first real go at producing something entirely digitally, and I don't claim to be Bill Watterson or anything. Watterson... there was a guy who could draw a good dinosaur.

Reptile on the Skids

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Great Tyrannosaurus: A Fossiliferous Fable

This poem is drawn from The Mirthful Lyre (1918) by Arthur Guiterman, an American poet. Here, he puts forth a novel hypothesis about the K-T extinction: T. rex ate the rest of the dinosaurs. The whole mess of 'em. It's a cautionary tale, really. And it's still relevant, every silly word.

The Great Tyrannosaurus
Lived centuries ago;
Through marshes wet and porous
He rambled to and fro.

The most tremendous Lizard
That ever browsed on meat,
His length from A to Izzard
Was forty-seven feet.

The Great Tyrannosaurus
In habitude was not
What one would call decorous—
He ate an awful lot.

Lamellibranchs in sixes,
Iguanodons to spare
And Archaeopteryxes
Comprised his bill of fare.

The Great Tyrannosaurus
Of all the world was king;
With trumpetings sonorous
He swallowed everything.

When everything was swallowed
Beneath the azure sky,
What naturally followed?—
The Creature had to die.

The Great Tyrannosaurus,
That was so blithe and free,
Hath passed away before us;
Then learn from him and me:

This earth can never nourish
An appetite like his;
So, if you hope to flourish,
Don't gobble all there is!

Drawing by Othenio Abel from his 1930 paper Plastich Rekonstruktion des Lebensbildes von Tyrannosaurus rex Osborn. Hat tip to Brian Switek for rediscovering it!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Rudolf Freund

Rudolf Freund's illustrations will be familiar to anyone who enjoys mid-century wildlife and nature drawings. He worked on his fair share of children's books in 40's and provided drawings for some editions in the ever wonderful Golden Guides series. Those are the small but mighty books that fit in your pocket, but pack a big scientific punch. Freund also did stunning work, a lot of it, for LIFE Magazine; one of my favorites is a piece on different mythological creatures in this issue.

Here's a fine Coelophysis drawn by Freund to accompany the LIFE story about the initial Ghost Ranch discovery, appearing in the August 11, 1947 issue. Ghost Ranch is one of the great fossil locales - not only in the US, but in the world. Paleontologists found so many specimens of Coelophysis there that they're still being sorted out.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Dr. Dinosaur

Michael May's Adventureblog is a consistently rewarding blog about movies, comics, and all sorts of sci-fi and fantasy goodness. Well written, too. He sends a fair amount of folks this way, so I figured it's high time I thanked him out loud.

I also need to thank him for tipping me off to Dr. Dinosaur. I don't know how I missed this the first time around. The good doctor, who may not be as much of a genius as he claims, appears to be a naked (i.e. unfeathered) Deinonychus. Dr. Dinosaur was introduced in an Atomic Robo Free Comic Book Day exclusive, and May reports that he's back for more.
I really love this mini: hilarious trash-talking between the two adversaries, with some very funny humor steeped in the pseudosciences. When Dr. Dinosaur claims that he time traveled via the power of crystals, I was downright delighted. Crystals. Freaking crystals.

Podcast Blast

Podcasts. You can count on them. They come through in the clutch. Here are some of my favorite sciencey ones. I've linked to a few of these in the past, but sometimes it's nice to compile them all in one place. Though it's definitely altered my waistline, working in an office has offered me the chance to listen to good tunes and podcasts all day, as opposed to the situation I was in as a delivery driver: trying to find something decent in between the several stations simulcasting el Rushbo.

So then, here are my top ten science podcasts (in no particular order).

Skeptics Guide to the Universe: Far and away, the best podcast. Funny, informative, and with a deep archive so if I get a hankering for it, I can indulge in a solid eight hour block of it. They cover dinosaur news often, too.

Meet The Scientist: One of the finest science writers working today, Carl Zimmer, hosts this long form interview show which lives up to the promise of its title. Focuses on Zimmer's specialty, the endlessly fascinating world of microbes. Occasionally, it takes super long to download.

Material World: The BBC delivers this weekly review of news. Good, solid reporting, and presenter Quentin Cooper is sharp as a tack and handy with the bon mots. The BBC only offers their programs as downloads for a week; after that, they're available in their streaming player. It's more convenient for me to download individual episodes (my company poo-poos streaming media), so this may only be relevant to me.

In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg: An hour of conversation about history. Every other episode seems to cover a topic in science history, which is a precious rarity in broadcasting. Bragg is a great interviewer, and does a fair job wrangling the academics who sit at his virtual round table. His recent series about the history of the Royal Society was a treat. A BBC podcast as well, so keep your eyes peeled for updates!

Dr. Kiki's Science Hour: I mentioned this one about a month ago, for an episode with Dr. Mark Goodwin. I like Dr. Kiki, I really do. She's got a few annoying quirks, though. In her last interview, she spent a fair amount of time looking at and describing pictures sent to her by the guest. That's a classic radio no-no. She also needs to pre-record her promos, rather than stumbling through them. I'm sure these minor quibbles will be ironed out eventually. In all, an entertaining hour of science talk, with good production values.

Natural Selections: Bite sized morsels of nature from the Adirondacks, dealing with the local environment and the world beyond.

Best of Natural History Radio: Another BBC product, and one of the most unique. Instead of sitting in a studio, the program usually involves one of a revolving cast of presenters accompanying a naturalist out in the field. One of my favorite episodes involved a search for the rare red squirrel, which ended in failure.

Curiosity Aroused: A brand new podcast by the folks at Apparently, they pitched a pilot to NPR but it wasn't picked up. Listening to their first two episodes, I'm kind of finding that decision ridiculous. Absolutely pro, good sound quality, solid reporting, and hosted by the ever-charming Rebecca Watson. A++++ WOULD LISTEN AGAIN!

Science and the City: Produced the New York Academy of Sciences. Mostly interviews, with the occasional lecture thrown in, which is fine except for when the audience gets to see a visual aid that you can't.

Actually Speaking: Another new podcast, and a bit different from the rest. It's not about science, but rather is about being into science and critical thinking and dealing with people who aren't. Or to put it more succinctly, how to be a skeptic and keep your friends.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

William Stout

Yesterday's post dealt with a sauropod-eating snake. This fossil is, objectively speaking, one hundred percent of wicked awesome. It's also reminiscent of a piece by artist William Stout, which depicts a huge python-like snake wrapping around a rather alarmed sauropod. You can check it out here. Stout is one of the great modern dinosaur illustrators, bringing anatomical accuracy together with a pulpy sensibility. Stout has put his stamp on much of the great genre imagery of the last couple decades, providing production design and other pre-production work for such disparate work as Jurassic Park, "Thriller," Pan's Labyrinth, Predator, Men in Black, and Disney's Dinosaur.

Stout has a bunch of books out, including a couple of recent releases. New Dinosaur Discoveries A-Z is a primer on recent discoveries in paleontology, aimed for the kids. Dinosaur Discoveries is billed for all ages, though Michael Stearns in his Amazon review notes that the text is pretty simplistic in this one as well.

His murals are the centerpiece of the Fossil Mysteries exhibition at the cute lil' San Diego Museum of Natural History in Balboa Park. Just my luck, I last visited around the holidays in 2005, and the museum was in the midst of renovating for the exhibition. It's another good reason to coax myself back to sunny, idyllic Southern California.

Coastal Dinosaurs, a Stout mural at the San Diego Museum of Natural History

Lots of Stout links out there, too. Flesk Publications puts out a bunch of Stout books, and Palaeoblog recently featured reviews of a couple Stout books. And Lines and Colors had a pretty nice post on Stout's SDMNH murals a couple years ago, and a longer profile a couple years before that. And be sure to poke around at William Stout's personal website.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Graphic from PLoS One article Predation upon Hatchling Dinosaurs by a New Snake from the Late Cretaceous of India

If you're a Cretaceous snake, and you've got a deep down hunger, you could do a lot worse than visit the local nesting ground and eat a baby sauropod. A new article in PLoS One describes a fossil which seems to depict just such an occurrence.

The title of this post sacrifices accuracy for a really stinky pop culture reference. This is in keeping with our stringent editorial guidelines here at LITC. To set the record straight, this nesting site was almost surely not on a plain. Here's why.

Whenever a fossil like this is found - seemingly preserving an interaction between two animals, a hearty dollop of skepticism is proper. There's a certain morbid romance to the thought that we're looking at the dramatic final moments of two animals, but there are many forces which could fool us into thinking this. Did the deaths occur at the same place, but at different times? Were the bones transported to the site by natural forces? Lead author Daniel Wilson believes that this is not the case, for four reasons.
  1. The remains of three other similar snakes were found near sauropod eggs, suggesting this was a common way they shopped for food.
  2. The way the snake curves around the eggs makes it more plausible that the snake was actually doing just that, rather than having been transported there post-mortem.
  3. The preservation of fine detail suggests a quick burial in deep sediment in a catastrophic event such as a mudslide rather than a slow burial in slowly settling sediment.
  4. Analysis of the sediment shows that the site was next to a hill which would have been a perfect source for such mudslides, probably coinciding with relatively common rainstorms.
Neat freakin' fossil! The standard mythology of dinosaurs is that they were the ruled the world like Olympian gods, and the "lesser mortals" like small mammals and reptiles could only quiver in the shadows. But when a snake's got to eat, a baby titanosaur would be easy pickings. This poor son of a gun was inches from a scrumptious lunch when a ton of mud fell on his head. Crummy luck, brother.

Toy-ribble Lizards and other Rotten Puns

Belly-up in heaven, from the Dinosaur Toys Collectors Guide

Just was tipped off to a relatively new site on the webs: The Dinosaur Toys Collectors Guide. Site owner Barry is quite a dedicated fellow, and the site is exhaustive. Tons of pictures arranged by dinosaur or by manufacturer. Plus, there's some good science mixed in with the sugar. Kind of the way you eat Lucky Charms for the tasty marshmallows and end up getting some wholesome cereal with it. Like the Knight book I posted yesterday, toys provide a look at our changing ideas of ancient life. It takes a guy like Barry to photograph them at the supermarket and provide corny captions.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Life Through the Ages

Charles Knight, Stephen Jay Gould wrote, was "...the person most responsible for our usual sense, our everyday 'feel,' of the nature, status, beauty, strangeness, and fascination of prehistoric life."

My copy of the commemorative edition Charles Knight's Life Through the Ages, which I ordered during the recent Indiana University Press 60% off sale, arrived today. Gould's foreword, from which the above quote comes, and Philip J. Currie's introduction are largely concerned with paying homage to Knight and explaining why his work still deserves an audience. Yes, it is an annoyance when modern artists lazily copy Knight's renderings of dinosaur anatomy. But that's hardly Knight's fault; he was going by the best information paleontology could provide at the time. Gould was a champion of the voices that are voided by progress. Having been a devoted reader of his, I've got a bit of that in me, too. What I see here are not a bunch of obsolete sketches but the work of a man who was completely in the thrall of life's evolving forms. I'm really digging this book.

The last book I ordered was Dinosaur Odyssey. It was left at a door we don't use, in a bad stretch of weather; I found it some unknown number of days after it arrived, caked in ice and frozen to the porch. The postal service must have read my enraged FB status and learned their lesson. Impotent rage expressed on the interwebs works!

UPDATED: Forgot to mention the fine Charles Knight website, located right about here. It's run by his family and is a fine place to learn more about him and see a lot of his work.