Yes, it's Dinosaurs! magazine yet again. But you can hardly blame me - I do have the whole anthology, after all, and it's an absolute treasure trove (not to mention a provider of handy filler while I wait for my next eBay-purchased 1980s dino book to arrive).
This week, we'll be paying special attention to one of the more unorthodox features that appeared during the magazine's run. It would seem that Dougal Dixon was quite heavily involved in Dinosaurs! - he is one of the few authors to be name-checked in the final issue - which isn't really surprising. 'Prolific' doesn't even begin to describe this guy, who has heaps of popular dinosaur books to his name - ranging from the quite conventional to the utterly bonkers. This article tends more towards the latter.
Oh yes - alternate history. Dixon actually produced a book dedicated to these specul-o-saurs, but Dinosaurs! was where I came into contact with them. Positing a world in which the Cretaceous/Palaeogene extinction didn't happen, Dixon tries to imagine how the nonavian dinosaurs would have continued to evolve. The results are...mixed. The bizarre creature above - apparently a hadrosaur descendant - doesn't get things off to a good start. Hadrosaurs relied on their large caudofemoralis muscles to propel themselves away from predators, so why has its tail evolved into a giant quill?
Still, Dixon does produce some much more plausible hypothetical dinosaurs. A fluffy, arboreal theropod with an elongated finger? Wait - didn't that actually exist? It's amusing now to think that someone's vision of a hypothetical modern-day theropod was essentially real and lived over 100 million years ago. That's palaeontology for you.
Speaking of things that are 'amusing':
A 'pandasaur' evolved from hypsilophodonts may be taking convergent evolution a little too far - particularly as it looks so much like a panda, binocular vision, stumpy tail and all. "You would almost think that [the pandasaur] was some kind of giant panda," the author notes - apparently unaware of the actual giant panda. The wasp-eater just seems a little pointless, given that the arboreal dinosaur already featured looks considerably more plausible (what's with the tiny hands?), and would almost certainly be just as capable of eating wasps. If it existed. Which it did. Sort of.
While a nonavian, flamingo-like theropod is plausible enough, it's something that could easily have evolved in the Mesozoic (alongside the filter-feeding pterosaurs) - still a hypothetical dinosaur, but not one that could only ever have existed in the Cenozoic. And, well, even if mammals hadn't become the dominant large land animals, who's to say that flamingoes wouldn't have evolved anyway? One might say that the 'Is it true?' box hints at this very conclusion...
Ah, now this is more like it. Back in the early 1990s, it was still a widely-held belief that tyrannosaurs evolved from allosaurs as part of a 'carnosaur' lineage. As such - and in the context of Tyrannosaurus rex being the largest known theropod - it seemed that as the animals got larger and larger, their forelimbs got smaller and smaller. Hence, here we have a 17-metre long behemoth, shaped like a shoebox, with no arms whatsoever. It's safe to say that it looks pretty ridiculous. The complete loss of the forelimbs is actually quite plausible (it's easy to see abelisaurs losing them given a few more tens of millions of years), but why the stumpy, columnar legs with the retroverted toes? Even the largest theropods had the standard flexed legs, and theropods weighing upwards of five tonnes evolved multiple times in separate lineages. Still, such thinking can probably be explained by the popular lumping of all large theropods as 'carnosaurs' at the time.
And finally...on the left we have an evolved troodont that plays dead in order to lure potential prey items, before striking out with its sickle claw. It doesn't take a lot of thought to discern a slight flaw in that strategy, namely that it would also likely attract any gigantic, box-shaped, toddling predators in the vicinity. Oh well - at least it's not a 'dinosauroid'. Meanwhile, on the right we have a hummingbird as reimagined in someone's terrifying, drug-fuelled waking nightmares. Brrrr.
While some of the thinking behind these creations was a little faulty even for the early '90s, what the nonavian dinosaurs might have been like had they survived into the modern day remains an interesting, if utterly pointless, thought to ponder, and Dixon was quite prescient in that at least one of his creations, it transpires, did really exist. Kinda. One thing seems quite certain - were it not for the end-Cretaceous extinction event, you and I would not be here today. Because Hitler would have won World War II. It's just science.