STL Science Center

STL Science Center

20 February 2018

The Turtle Papers

The history of Desmatochelys is a very well-documented one, with many of the fossils described and analyzed a variety of ways. Some of these descriptions of course include Williston 1894 and Cadena and Parham, 2015. The Cadena and Parham article is fairly long and highly detailed and, thankfully for us, hosted online by the University of California system; the article appeared in PaleoBios which is published by the University of California Museum of Paleontology. A lot of this article discusses the phylogenetics of marine turtles and these sections are accompanied by enormous colorful figures and phylogenetic trees. Much of the discussion contained therein is the result of studies that came before Cadena and Parham, allowing these authors to make the inferences that they detail in their article. Many of those arguments and discussions were originally written by Elizabeth Nicholls in the early 1990's. Nicholls, 1992 detailed an incomplete specimen of D. lowi discovered on Vancouver Island on the Pacific coast of Canada. That specimen marked the first discovery of a marine vertebrate from the Cretaceous along the Pacific coast. In her discussion of turtle specimens Nicholls argued that more specimens of marine turtles discovered in Cretaceous rocks belonged to the genus Desmatochelys and her work on the turtles is inherent in the efforts and descriptions of later marine turtles and Desmatochelys specimens specifically.

18 February 2018

Turtle Facts

Desmatochelys is a somewhat popular turtle. Being the oldest known fossil sea turtle most likely only enhances the popularity of the fossil. However, the fossil has few fact pages and videos online. One of the only human-voiced videos on YouTube is the GeoBeats News video shown below. Enjoy the video today and tomorrow we will look at some of the other videos. Later in the week we will discuss some of the facts that we know about Desmatochelys, where they came from, and how we know what we know.

17 February 2018

The Oldest Sea Turtle

©Jorge Blanco
Desmatochelys is the oldest sea turtle known to science. Consisting of two species, D. lowi Williston 1894 and D. padillai Cadena and Parham, 2015, Desmatochelys is known mostly from Colombian fossils of D. padillai recovered in 2007. However, D. lowi is known from a very well preserved specimen from Nebraska described by Williston in 1894 and potential remains recovered from Kansas in 2008. The reason that the 2007 discoveries and their 2015 description are more well-known is because they are more current, very well preserved, and the description includes an extensive list of characters and depth. All of the known specimens of this turtle genus are amazing, so it really is difficult to say any one is better than the other specimens and each has its merits. As an example, the 2008 Kansas specimen of D. lowii has a very well preserved skull and the humerus is slightly different from Williston's Nebraska specimen of 1894. Variance, preservation, and preparation could account for this, however we may never know exactly why they appear different.

Regardless of their preservational states, the specimens of D. padillai from Colombia was recovered from rocks that are Lower Cretaceous or upper Barremian-lower Aptian, approximately 120 million years old, in age. These fossils make Desmatochelys the oldest known fossil sea turtle by approximately 25 million years. All of the fossils, from all three locations, make Desmatochelys one of the most well represented fossil sea turtles as well. As the week goes on we will list out the specimens and describe this turtle. Today, enjoy this Cretaceous landscape and its giant sea turtle.

16 February 2018

Giant Skeletons

One of the best skeletal reconstructions I have ever seen is that of Futalognkosaurus as illustrated by Nima Sassani. The image is enormous and I am going to link it here rather than describe the image in great detail. Enjoy this enormous dinosaur and its enormous skeleton.

15 February 2018

Quietly Documented

The turnaround time from fossil recovery to description for Futalognkosaurus is actually fairly standard. Discovered and recovered in 200 and described in 2007, Futalognkosaurus was only unknown to the world for approximately 7 years (with the 87 million year fossilization and exposure period). In the grand scheme of fossils that is actually not that bad a return from fossil to publication; considering it includes transportation of a number of very large skeletal elements and preparation, study, and characterization as well it is actually somewhat impressive. Since that publication Futalognkosaurus has somewhat been lost in the general awe of titanosaurs instead of standing out on its own very much.

As one of the most complete large dinosaurs ever discovered, it is famous for that distinction if for nothing else. That is a point that has been highlighted numerous times on popular media like the Smithsonian's online magazine and Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week (SVPOW), a popular venue for discussing sauropods. Dinosaur books describing the landscapes of South America that were written after the description was published make mention of the giant and even detail what inferences have been made about the animal, though there are not any singularly dedicated books, for children or otherwise, available on the market at the moment. An application launched in 2013 has probably been the most active way of viewing and interacting with Futalognkosaurus for the public. In conjunction with the Royal Ontario Museum, the app Scopify created a vignette for the display piece of Futalognkosaurus in the museum, bringing the sauropod to life on handheld devices and cellphones.

For the most part Futalognkosaurus does not make a giant impact on popular culture in visible media. However, despite a lack of popular media and materials, Futalognkosaurus has appeared in murals, many illustrations, and features prominently in the Royal Ontario Museum. The name is not well known, but many may recognize the sauropod as a titanosaur in illustrations and murals.

13 February 2018

Anatomy of a Titan

When Calvo, et al. (2007) described the titanosaur Futalognkosaurus they knew that their animal was one of the most immense animals that ever lived and that it was big for a sauropod, which we can all admit is saying something. Imagine someone describing a whale as "enormous, for a whale" and you might have a good idea of the scale of intensity of describing a sauropod that was larger than others of its kind. The description that Calvo, et al. released included some nice photographs, location details, and skeletal maps of Futalognkosaurus. It is not like we do not expect this kind of thing from a description paper, it is just always fairly delightful when this kind of thing is done well and in vibrant colors, as this paper is.

12 February 2018

One Worthy Video

Perhaps because Futalognkosaurus is difficult to say, the titanosaurid sauropod has not appeared in any official film media. There are plenty of amateur images of displays from museums and other things (like illustrations that were scanned). The video from WizScience shown here makes use of both illustrations and display photos. It is also one of the only videos online that talks about Futalognkosaurus in any length.