Friday, July 1, 2011

Mesozoic Miscellany #37: Mega Turbo Research Explosion Edition

There are many weeks that see the publication (or at least, publicization) of several papers relating to those archosaurs we so dearly love. But this week, there's been a surge of research of the sort that has the potential to grab the attention of those with only a casual interest in paleontology or, heaven forbid, little at all. Dinosaur colors, tyrannosaurs, and anatomical weaponry are all topics that tend to dazzle the public-at-large, and they all got press this week.

Another method for reading feather colorsDr. Phil Manning of Manchester University is one of several authors on a Science Express paper that describes a new way to glean information about feather coloration from fossil animals. At his Dinosaur CSI blog, Manning writes, "Pigment is a critical component of colour. Our team can map the presence of pigments over whole fossils, revealing original colour patterns (but through a monochrome filter). Our findings indicate that pigment chemistry holds the future key to the ultimate goal of discovering the full colour palette of past life, from dodos to dinosaurs and beyond."

Even James Gurney hopped on this story at his blog, and for the second week, USA Today has covered a piece of dinosaur news.

Raptorex reevaluated
The embattled little theropod posited by Paul Sereno to be evidence of the tyrannosaur bauplan evolving in smaller form much earlier than expected - in the Early Cretaceous - has taken a hit this week. A team of researchers from the Black Hills Institute and Museum of the Rockies examined Raptorex kriegsteini, determining that the hypothesis that it is actually a juvenile Tarbosaurus, and not a distinct species all its own, is correct. The provenance of the fossil, obtained through private hands, was never established to the satisfaction of the paleontological community at large. "Variability in personal communications regarding the specimen makes it difficult to ascertain exact details that were known at the time of purchase, highlighting the problems of dealing with commercial specimens that have been illegally collected," write the authors. Read what Mark Wildman has to say about this at Saurian.

It's best not to be thagomized by Kentrosaurus. From Heinrich Mallison comes research, published in Palaeo-Electronica, that looks at the mechanics of the thagomizer in the stegosaur Kentrosaurus. Conclusion: it's a really, really bad idea to find yourself staring down the business end of a stegosaur. Mallison writes about it in detail, with great reconstructions from David Maas, at the Palaeo-Electro blog.

You should also avoid being headbutted by Stegoceras. How did the pachycephalosaur Stegoceras compare to modern head-butting analogs like bighorn sheep? Pretty darn well, thank you very much, report Eric Snively and Jessica M. Theodor in PLoS ONE. "The head-butting duiker Cephalophus leucogaster," they write, "is the closest morphological analog to Stegoceras, with a smaller yet similarly rounded dome." Read more from Wired UK.

But that's not all! 
There's another paper on Stegoceras published in PLoS ONE, and it's also the second this week with Jack Horner attached to it. Of course, as both deal with the taxonomic implications of ontogeny, that's hardly a surprise. The team of researchers conclude that pachycephalosaurs were indeed capable of dramatic changes in cranial structure as they grew up. This is another brick in Horner's position that Dracorex and Stygimoloch are merely juvenile specimens of Pachycephalosaurus. Jaime Headden talked about this at The Bite Stuff, as does Everything Dinosaur. Victoria Arbour is a big fan of Stegoceras, and she shares some great photos of the mount at the University of Alberta. Nice to see two papers in quick succession about pachycephalosaurs, who leave behind such fragmentary remains and sit at the center of an important debate in dinosaur paleontology.

We'll return to the usual format of the roundup next week, which will be cram-packed with excellent stuff. The dinosaur blogosphere has been hopping with interesting content lately.

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