"I'm not sure when this meme began, and if it's related to the Dinosaur Renaissance when the link between birds and dinosaurs was re-established...Of course, like many paleo-memes that developed during the 1980s, the main idea seems to be using this as a flourish to make otherwise scaly dinosaurs seem more bird-like."Those who know me - even those who regularly read this blog - might be aware that I have a 'thing' for theropod feet, particularly those belonging to Manospondylus gigas. With that in mind, I thought it might be interesting, given Matt's musings, to take a look at sexy rexy feet through the decades.
One other thing - I've also decided to turn this into a (very easy) COMPETITION! Hurrah! The first person to leave a comment naming all of the artists will get a rubbish dinosaur book from my out-of-control stockpile. I'll also throw in a card featuring artwork by Niroot, which I will ask him very nicely to sign.
Right, then. For starters, here's the Real Deal - sort of. These belong to a cast of 'Stan' mounted in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, and they're really quite enormous. Check out the arctometatarsalian condition, whereby the middle metatarsal is 'pinched' between the other two.
Here's an early entry by a highly respected palaeoartist of the classic era. No sign of tarsal scutes here, but check out the rather large, apparently reversed first toe (hallux), jutting out like a spur.
This artist (signature censored, because I'm in denial) has illustrated T. rex with rather more slender, shapely toes and what appear to be weight-bearing plantar pads, in spite of also giving it a bizarre, splayed stance. The left foot in particular appears very birdlike, and the hallux is rather more stumpy.
On the other hand, this artist - working at around the same time, ish - has made the feet considerably chunkier, with soft tissue spreading much wider than the width of the bones and, by extension, the claws. No scutes here - just rounded, non-overlapping scales, like a lizard - although the artist has thought to highlight tendons.
This artist was well known for his excellently observed lizardlike scaly skin textures. The soft tissues on this tyrannosaur's feet are far more snug to the bone, with hardly any sign of fleshy pads to cushion the animal's weight.
Entering the 1970s, and there are still no scutes to be seen on this oddly rectangular-footed individual.
Finally, in the early 1970s, with the Dinosaur Renaissance underway, tarsal scutes appear on the tyrant's feet. Note also that this individual appears to be very energetic indeed - going for a jog, in fact, in stark contrast to its palaeoart predecessors.
While scutes may have started to become de rigueur back in the mid-'70s, it didn't necessarily always mean that the rest of the restoration was particularly birdlike. This model, for example, is highly crocodilian, with all manner of armour scutes covering the body - just check out that tail. The tarsal scutes, therefore, may well be unintentionally birdlike.
The same can't be said for this work; not only has clear attention been paid to the arrangement of the scutes, the general soft tissue profile of the feet (complete with skin stretching between the toes) has clearly been modelled on modern birds (see these, for example). One can obviously see appropriately huge plantar pads taking the strain and spreading as the animal walks forward; there are echoes of illustration #3, but the ankle is far slimmer.
By the time the '80s rolled around, one might have expected that all the big names would had adopted the birdlike style of illustration #8 - however, this wasn't the case. Of course, much about this illustration - from the incongruously wide stance, to the rather shapeless 'tree trunk' legs - has a distinctly retro air. However, the differences in approach are still striking; there is a complete lack of birdlike scutes and plantar pads, and the ankle joint is far less obvious.
And finally, to bring us bang up to date...a fine pair that should look quite familiar. Thoroughly modern, and yet perhaps closer in appearance to illustration #2 than illustration #8 (without the strange stance, of course).
So there you have it - my worrisome theropod foot fetish laid bare. Is this my barrel-scrapingest post yet? Not by half (have you seen some of the desperate rubbish I've come out with before?). Remember, if you can name all the artists, there's a book in it for you. Get cracking! Oh, and don't forget to buy a copy of Matt Martyniuk's superb Field Guide to Mesozoic Birds and other Winged Dinosaurs, if you haven't already - it's worth it for the beautiful artwork, with an uncommonly realistic portrayal of feathered dinosaurs, alone.