Monday, November 21, 2016

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaurs of the Southwest - Part 2

Following my previous post on the dinosaurs featured in the McLoughlin-illustrated 1970s quirk-fest Dinosaurs of the Southwest, I received, oh, at good handful of requests to follow up with a post on the book's otherprehistoricanimals. So here they are, starting with the only pterosaur that ever seems to matter, Pteranodon! But what's going on with that neck?

While otherwise a fairly average reconstruction for the time (although the pterofuzz is a nice bonus), this Pteranodon is unusual in having a very obvious 'strong tendon' joining the back of the head to the base of the neck, with what appears to be a flap of skin in between. This is only really made possible by the neck being both considerably shorter and noodlier than it was in reality, but it's an intriguingly different take nevertheless. Over on the right, McLoughlin has illustrated both a Fantasia-esque cliff-clinging colony of Pteranodon and an individual skimming for fish. This was long presumed a viable lifestyle for ocean-going pterosaurs, until the actual biomechanics of such a feeding technique were examined. Apparently, pretty much all known pterosaurs' skulls wouldn't fare too well in such a scenario. Rather than catch a fish, they'd probably lose a jaw.

From around the same time as Pteranodon, it's Hesperornis! Which, yes, is a dinosaur, but is naturally grouped apart in a 1970s book, so...that's my excuse. Hesperonitheans are especially fascinating because they're a clade of birds, secondarily flightless and adapted for an aquatic lifestyle, that existed well before the end of the Cretaceous period. It raises all sorts of interesting points about evolutionary ecology. But I digress. This illustration is...pretty average really, especially when compared with that Pteranodon. Obvious modern analogues help. Quick, onto something more unusual!

Ratkevich's text is littered with oddities (limb-regenerating dinosaurs, anyone?), so it probably shouldn't be too surprising to see the mosasaur Tylosaurus described as "an archosaurian reptile". I can't say I've done my homework on this, so I'm going to have to ask - is this an idea that people have ever seriously entertained? Regardless, McLoughlin's Tylosaurus is...unusual. While a low, spiky crest along the back was just considered good ol' artistic tradition for decades following Charles Knight's early restorations, this might be the only mosasaur I've seen with a sail supported by spines starting halfway down the back, akin to modern basilisk lizards. The jet black eyes are terrifying. I'm starting to wish I hadn't quoted that line from Jaws so many times before.

Back to the Devonian now (why not?), and an illustration depicting Eusthenopteron, which desperately wishes it was as cool as Tiktaalik, but just isn't. Sorry, Eusthenopteron. In any case, I love the use of an overhead perspective in this picture; it almost places the viewer directly at the water's edge, observing the early stages of tetrapod evolution firsthand. While it's scientifically dated in some respects, it's also evocative and throught-provoking; the inclusion of an apparently dead individual especially so. Perhaps the idea is that this is an environment in which these animals are on the brink, and only evolving into tetrapods could possibly save them now. Don't do it, guys! We'll only end up with Donald Trump after a few hundred million years.

Skipping the Permian (because what interest has there been in Dimetrodon lately?), and a herd of the dicynodont Placerias emerges from a lake to nibble on some sparse vegetation. While they are suitably squat and dumpy, McLoughlin appears to under-emphasise the famous tusks, which barely protrude here. I am rather fond of the impressionistic skyscape and horizon, mind you.

Also quite fantastically Triassical was Ornithosuchus, a croc-line archosaur that was commonly held to be a basal dinosauromorph for decades although not, funnily enough, by Ratkevich. While including the armour plates (you might have to squint a bit), McLoughlin may have restored the animal as a little too leggy and theropod-like here, albeit with very short, five-toed feet. Of course, it's still got nothing on the Bernard Robinson version. The abrupt transition from the cracked ground to the rather flat-looking forest makes it resemble a theatre backdrop, an effect that's surprisingly pleasing. As with the Placerias, the combination of quasi-realistic animals with more impressionist backdrops is quite intriguing, and it's something I wouldn't mind more palaeoartists having a crack at. It would be a good way of livening up a 'spotter's guide' type illustration.

So here's a Rutiodon. It's the animal that so wanted to be a crocodile, only it wasn't, of course. This is a decent effort as they go - the jaws should perhaps be a little longer and more gharial-like, but it's a difficult animal to get wrong. As an aside, I always find the nostril-craters on phytosaurs rather amusing. At least they had a way of wearing glasses.

Skipping right the way back to the Late Cretaceous future, and here's a dinosaur-murdering squirrelbeast looking suitably nefarious as it prepares to feast on gooey goodness of a partially-developed reptile embryo. While the caption suggests that Ratkevich might seriously have considered these smelly pipsqueaks to have played their part in the downfall of the nonavian dinosaurs, the text suggests otherwise; rather, he seems to believe that rapid climactic change snuffed them out. They couldn't live without their precious swamps, you see. To be fair, climate change is essentially what did for them, although nowadays, of course, we're also aware of the involvement of a big lump of rock from outer space. At least they were spared an Aerosmith soundtrack.

And finally...bonus-o-mimus! No excuse this time. McLoughlin's slight tendency to distort the proportions of his theropods is evident again here - there's simply no getting away from the fact that that neck is too short, foreshortening or no. To his credit, though, this restoration is a notable improvement on the frequently terrifying, toothpick-limbed, tiny-handed, Slenderman versions that appeared in books in the decades prior. It looks more like a theropod, less like something that should be wielding twin rocket launchers and advancing on you menacingly in Doom. Nice one, McLoughlin.


  1. I've always had a soft spot for Rutiodon. I couldn't tell you how it differs from any other phytosaur, all I know is that it's the best one.

  2. Struthioviraptor? This is odd, has anybody depicted Struthiomimus as an egg-thief before?
    That Tylosaurus looks quite in pain. Not surprising given how its hands bend. Metacarpals should not do that. Ever. Ouch.

    1. Oh yeah, for a while back in the 70s and 80s, you were just as likely to see Struthiomimus depicted raiding a nest as Oviraptor. (Specifically Struthiomimus, too. It was occasionally another ornithomimid.)

    2. Yup. What Andrew said. Most of the dinosaur books of my childhood put forward the idea that ornithomimosaurs were egg-eaters. (Sometimes I think it's because they had trouble imagining what an animal with a toothless beak might eat, but that could be unfair) I don't remember Struthiomimus dominating in that regard, but then it was a while ago.

      Here's one of my favourite depictions from back then. It's also got a big lump of rock from outer space, but don't worry, no Aerosmith soundtrack.

  3. The way he fills out the proportions makes McLoughlin's work quite distinctive (though Tylosaurus looks a bit undernourished). Eusthenopteron clambering about on the land used to be an almost obligatory depiction.Little Taeniobalis looks like a squirrel with a nut. I pity the dinosaur that had to lay an egg of that shape.

  4. Not the first time I've been described as a handful! But much appreciation.

  5. I don't recall mosasaurs ever really being considered Arcus sores, so perhaps he was confusing them with marine crocodiles, could that even the excuse that nonsense?


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