Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Grapplers

I think about fighting theropods a lot. Since you're visiting this blog, you likely do as well: the scenario of two multi-ton predators going at it with tooth, talon and claw has long been a staple of paleoart, and remains one of the most popular subjects of dinosaur illustration. These kinds of fights certainly occurred occasionally--there's fossil evidence of some really nasty disagreements between tyrannosaurs, for example--but they've largely become either bloodless or cliche. Since I'm not personally interested in sketching gore, I thought a less-typical type of theropod fight might be fun to take a swing at.

But what sort of model to draw from? Perhaps certain big theropods settled things with showy displays and bellowing, but this doesn't always make for a compelling illustration, especially for an artist working with limited time. So I started thinking about some of the most compelling (and goofy) grapplers in the extant animal kingdom. I speak, of course, of monitors.

What's interesting about the conflict here is how quickly it's decided by weight and technique. Big dragons can easily kill each other, and sometimes they do. But mating disputes tend to be more ritualized affairs. Whether or not big theropods did something similar is hard to say--we don't really have a good analogue for the big-armed, big-clawed theropod body type anymore, since birds lack meathook forelimbs and crocodiles don't precisely wrestle. (Though as Darren Naish points out, passarine fights can get really unpleasant, and anybody who's encountered an annoyed swan is aware of how much use they get out of their wings in a scuffle.) It's possible that big theropod fights ended where most human fights do--on the ground. But I wanted to take the Monitor model of conflict for an artistic spin.

Abelisaurs were my first pick, in part because I found the idea of mostly armless dinosaurs neck-wrestling to be kind of fun. These are intended to be fairly generic, although they're based on Aucasaurus. The resulting fight is more of a shoving match, with both animals working on a fairly narrow margin of balance.

Still, it didn't seem quite right to me. So after more scribbling, I came up with a twist on the idea I liked better. Megalosaurs like Torvosaurus have big, hefty arms and powerful necks and chests: perfect for grappling dinosaurs. 

The result: two male Torvosaurs in the breeding season duke it out. Like the Komodo battle in the earlier clip, this tussle will be over pretty quickly: the male on the right is a bit smaller, likely younger, and has bitten off rather more than he can chew. I've chosen to emphasize the big, muscled forelimbs. Likely these battles would have been at least a bit bloody--everyone involved having massive claws--but I wanted to focus on the technique involved. Here's the finished sketch.

 Pretty goofy looking. But sometimes it works out that way.


  1. Great picture! probably they also used their jaws to bite the opponent. A good model could be the fight between roosters: they use their spurs and beaks to break his opponent ...

  2. Lovely! And entirely within the realm of possibility.

  3. What about Majungasaurus, do you think they head butted (or just head pushed)or somesuch?

    1. I was thinking about that! (And may do another image along those lines.) The combination of long bodies, short legs, and knobby heads does seem potentially suggestive of some kind of signalling or wrestling.

  4. It is a pretty good model for theropod conflict. I did a sketch based on that using Herrerasaurs a while ago too (


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