STL Science Center

STL Science Center

31 August 2014

Small Tyrannosaurs for Small Humans

As a well known member of the dinosaur community, Alectrosaurus has become a popular internet dinosaur as well. That in turn leads to more websites hosting appropriate reading materials for all ages. Since goal number 1 around here is to make dinosaurs and the science around them more accessible to all ages and all backgrounds, having more links dedicated to different reading abilities and interest levels always makes us happier people! We have today some of the typical websites that are definitely geared toward quick and easy access of facts for any reading ability like the NHM of London's Dino Directory, which happens to sport an outdated but absolutely awesome illustration of Alectrosaurus, and an updated and spiffy looking new About page complete with an updated and energetic looking Alectrosaurus pair from Sergey Krasovskiy. Lesser used pages also include pages on Alectrosaurus such as this one at Dinosaur Jungle and the wiki space for the pseudo-documentary Planet Dinosaur. What is lacking for such a well known dinosaur, actually, are coloring pages specifically dedicated to the small tyrannosaur. That is actually quite surprising!

30 August 2014

Alectrosaurus is Short

In looking at illustrations and discussions the past 24 hours or so I have noticed that there has been a lot of debate around where in the family tree Alectrosaurus belongs. Some say it is an albertosaur, some say it is not. Some say it is not even a tyrannosaur. Most of that is either because of the low number of remains attributed to Alectrosaurus or because the remains point to an extremely short species of tyrannosaur. Regardless, the hypothesized extrapolation of the length and height of Alectrosaurus does indeed appear to indicate that this dinosaur was quite short. Relatively speaking, of course. However, compared to other tyrannosaurs that are well known (e.g. Tyrannosaurus, Tarbosaurus, Nanotyrannus), Alectrosaurus is a very short taxon. The height hypothesized is approximately 2 meters and length is approximately 5 meters. To put that in perspective, Nanotyrannus is approximately 2 meters tall and 5.2 meters long while Tyrannosaurus rex is approximately 4 meters tall and 13 meters long. The overall body design is usually typically tyrannosauroid, but little beyond the feet, tibia, femur, and referred skulls and hindlimbs are known. The referred material has not been assigned without doubt to Alectrosaurus, but that only means that any illustrations of the head and hands, like this one, are somewhat hypothetical, depending on how much assurance there truly is in the referred materials. Regardless, Alectrosaurus is still a rather sleek and dangerous looking tyrannosaur.

29 August 2014

Trudging Through Mongolia

In the 19th Century England, Germany, then North America were centers of paleontological discovery. North America still is, but much of the world has joined the fossil hunt and there have been other centers of discovery as time has gone on.  Different parts of Africa were huge fossil hunting magnets over the past few decades. South America has really come into its own over the past few decades as well. For a time, multiple times actually, China and Mongolia have been big. One of those times was during the roaring 20's, pun certainly intended. In 1923 Walter Granger led the importantly titled Third Asiatic Expedition of the American Museum of Natural History. A young man named George Olsen spent the weeks around April 25 - May 4 of that trip digging in a small area and recovered the bones of what is now known as Alectrosaurus olseni. A couple of years later, during the same expedition, Olsen would find a dozen dinosaur eggs with his colleague, the slightly better known, Roy Chapman Andrews. However, the discovery of Alectrosaurus is much more interesting as it is one of the first Asian tyrannosaurs described. At times Alectrosaurus has been hypothesized to be an Asian albertosaur, but a rather long list of autapomorphies compiled by Charles Gilmore in 1933 and subsequent researchers concerned with tyrannosaurs seems to have cemented Alectrosaurus' place in the tyrannosaur family tree.

From now on Fridays will also include some taxonomy (better late than never?):
Kingdom:                                           Animalia
Phylum:                                              Chordata
Clade:                                               Dinosauria
Suborder:                                          Theropoda
Superfamily:                          Tyrannosauroidea
 Genus:                 Alectrosaurus (Gilmore 1933)
 Specific Epithet:                                        olseni

Alectrosaurus from Planet Dinosaur

28 August 2014

Never A Cast

Aralosaurus has not, as yet, been singled out in dinosaur toy assemblies. It has been written about in scholarly papers, as we know, and Aralosaurus has been mentioned in much of the larger scale technical tomes as well such as The Dinosauria. It has not, though, been the subject of other popular outlets such as made for kids books, popular encyclopedias (think National Geographic rather than the more technical type), or magazine articles. Movies and documentaries are completely lacking Aralosaurus. Kids shows, even Dinosaur King and Dinosaur Train, have ignored the dinosaur. How or what has made its name popular then? The sole reason that I think we have been able to come up with this week is that this dinosaur is from Kazakhstan and very few dinosaurs have been discovered and described from Kazakhstan. Hopefully that number will swell in the future and more examples of this dinosaur will be discovered and described. Until that time, however, hopefully what has been discussed this week will cause Aralosaurus to become better known in the near future; that is kind of the goal of an educational blog like this after all!

27 August 2014

Elephantine Chewing

Aralosaurus has been reported as elephant-sized based on extrapolations from the skull. The most recently updated (2011) appendix for Dr. Holtz's Dinosaurs encyclopedia lists Aralosaurus as rhino-sized. To differentiate the two, using this appendix's weight ranges, rhino-sized is between 1 and 4 tons while elephant-sized is between 4 and 8 tons. The discrepancy, on Rozhdestvensky's part, is most likely due to simple size extrapolation without regard to the actual weight of an elephant. It is quite possible that an Aralosaurus could have been nearly elephant size but in the same weight range as a rhinoceros. Of course, that could be a difficult thing to have happen: squeezing the weight of a rhino into an elephant sized package and not having extra unused space. 

The nasal protuberance, meanwhile, is not an indication of weight, as far as anyone can tell. The wideness and extension of the protuberance has led to speculation that it may have been useful in intraspecific combat and other mating or display rituals. How the protuberance was formed exactly determines how correct the hypothesis of intraspecific combat could potentially be. If the protuberance is more of a horn than a wide, flat, stable surface for butting, than butting could be lethal. If the protuberance is actually a fractional element of a hollow resonating chamber neither hypothesis above would be correct as the structure would be too fragile for any kind of combat. As a resonating chamber it would definitely be significantly useful in display though. My official opinion is that more evidence would be ideal but the evidence present is very inconclusive.
"Aralosaurus skull" by I. Reid (User:Reid,iain james) - Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

26 August 2014

Paper Days

Rozhdestvensky's original papers were written in Russian. Cyrilic is hard to read for non-Cyrilic readers typically. Thankfully, then, we have polyglot paleontologists that are willing to translate and post articles that have been translated! The Hadrosaurs of Kazakhstan is hosted on a site called DinoChecker and describes not only Aralosaurus but all of the other hadrosaurs that Rozhdestvensky discovered or described from Kazakhstan. Since that time, I vaguely mentioned before, many authors have revisited Aralosaurus for one reason or another. Godefroit and Alifanov (2004) revisited Aralosaurus for the sole purpose of describing the dinosaur again. Their redscription declared that Aralosaurus remains a valid taxon and discusses the distribution of the dinosaur during their existence. Averianov (2007) mentions Aralosaurus briefly in a discussion on theropods of Kazakhstan, but as they are not the focus of the paper they are only briefly treated. Two papers are particularly interesting from a cranial anatomy standpoint. Maryanska and Osmolska (1979) and Hopson (1975) both discuss hadrosaur cranial morphology with different emphases, but they also both mention Aralosaurus and discuss the known cranial anatomy of the dinosaur. Maryanska and Osmolska are overall more focused on certain aspects of the cranium and focus most of their descriptions and discussions on Saurolophus, but they do discuss characteristics of Aralosaurus in reference to hadrosaurs in general as well as Saurolophus in particular. Hopson, however, discussed the evolutionary trends of hadrosaur display structures of the cranium. While the majority of Aralosaurus' cranial displays are not known for certain, some inferences are made by Hopson of the Lambeosaurine group in general that could possibly be applied to Aralosaurus. There is a lot of good reading material here if one can access it. The Hadrosaurs of Kazakhstan is available for everyone and should definitely be on the reading list of anyone interested in Aralosaurus.

25 August 2014

Aralosaurus Stagnant

Aralosaurus does not have any movies or even tribute videos. That is okay though. Instead, let us look at Aralosaurus geography today. Aralosaurus is one of very few known and described Kazakhstani dinosaurs. Present day Kazakhstan is a mountainous steppe country that lies in both Europe and Asia; the Ural mountains that separate Asia and Europe pass through the western portion of the country. This, in part, explains why the range of Aralosaurus, though found only in Kazakhstan, is described as existing in both Europe and Asia. Kazakhstan during the Cretaceous, the time of Aralosaurus was quite a bit different from what it is like today. Fossil seeds that have been discovered in Kazakhstan include members of the Magnolia family, particularly Liriodendroid (tulip tree) seeds. These types of trees typically inhabit temperate and tropical areas of Asia, suggesting that Kazakhstan was probably home to either a temperate or tropical climate during the Cretaceous. Overall, Kazakhstan's sites are not as heavily studied as many dinosaur fossil sites in other areas of the globe and this leaves a rather large gap in the known and hypothesized biology of Aralosaurus. However, with the knowledge that flowering trees existed in the general area of Aralosaurus it is not too much of a jump to hypothesize that the primitive lambeosaur may have been eating flowers!

24 August 2014

Children's Kazakhstani Hadrosaurs

Aralosaurus has an absolute plethora of links for the interested children of the world. There are links for all levels of reading ability from the youngest with very brief and easy to read facts to much more involved and longer winded fact pages with more advanced readers in mind. Middle of the ability tree skill levels are also represented in a number of quality pages. Depending on how much your little readers want to read today there are longer paragraphs or there are shorter paragraphs available. Regardless, the interested younger reader is definitely well supplied today by websites catering to different reading abilities.

23 August 2014

Hunted by Fragments

©Nobu Tamura
This illustration depicts what appears to be a tyrannosaurid attacking Aralosaurus tuberiferus. As two of the very few recovered remains of dinosaurs from Kazakhstan, this tyrannosaurid and Aralosaurus probably had significant contact during their species' time spans. Here the body of Aralosaurus has been detailed as very typically Lambeosaurine, which it should be, by all rights, if the assigned phylogenetic positioning proscribed to the fossils are correct. The most interesting aspect of this illustration is the interpretation of the wide protuberance of the nasal area. Many of the illustrations I have seen of this fossil animal "fleshed out", and even the fossil "blueprints" that included hypothetical extensions of bony and fleshy boundaries, show this as a part of a ridge that caudally slopes downward into the neurocranium rather than depicting it as a spiky protuberance, as seen here. These usual illustrations follow the illustrations of Rozhdetvensky's 1968 Hadrosaurs of Kazakhstan. Tamura's illustration is one of the few that strays from this in a way that is subtle and flowing rather than depicting it as a spike on the nose.The tyrannosaurid depicted in the attack is also based on fragmentary evidence, but was probably related to Tarbosaurus in some fashion; the closest discussion I have found in Rozhdestvensky's papers thus far are a few mentions of Tarbosaurus from Asia, but not Kazakhstan specifically. Eventually, as I hopefully mentioned yesterday, these dinosaurs will excite more investigation and these dinosaurs from Kazakhstan will become better known. For now, these are some of the best interpretations of the known remains.

22 August 2014

Punishment Via Hadrosaur

Fragmentary hadrosaurs are recovered all over the globe. Therefore, deciding to discuss a fragmentary hadrosaur is a difficult and rather peculiar choice a lot of the time. However, it is always possible that the next dinosaur we discuss here may become the favorite of some young paleontologist who will devote their life to finding more and and may potentially make some earth shattering discovery. I am optimistic about the future today. There really is not any specific reason, given that Aralosaurus tuberiferus ("Aral Sea lizard") is one of those fragmentary hadrosaurs. As a primitive Lambeosaurine hadrosaur Aralosaurus was actually quite advanced compared to more primitive hadrosaurs and the known skull bears this out with approximately 30 rows of teeth numbering near a total of 1,000; the total number is not known as only the singular skull has been unearthed to this point in time. Discovered in 1968 and described by Anatoly Konstantinovich Rozhdestvensky, the skull is composed of a portion of the neurocranium, the maxilla, and a limited amount of the nasals and other components of the snout. Not much is known about the dinosaur, but it has been "revisited" a number of times, possibly due to both its primitive characteristics and its wide and prominent nasal protuberance. We will look at these bones in greater detail tomorrow.
©Brian Franczak

21 August 2014

Sometimes Popularity Escapes the Popular

Aside from being much talked about, many times illustrated, and even vaguely represented in a single movie/documentary (it is a loose documentary), Unenlagia and Neuquenraptor do not seem to be very popular potential synonyms. No books are devoted to either, though portions of a healthy number of different books are devoted to either one or the other with very little overlap of the two being mentioned in any single given volume. Strangely, and perhaps it is because it is an IMAX movie, there is not a lot of tie-in material to the vague mention of the "raptors" in the loosely based documentary either. No plush toys or anything! Obviously Unenlagia has made it around the museum circuit, as skeletal displays and reconstructions that have been shared this week show. However, models do not appear to have made it around that are labeled as Neuquenraptor. This may simply be an artifact of the more popular name just being popular. Regardless, Neuquenraptor and Unenlagia are widely known dinosaurs, potential synonyms, and the first South American dromaeosaurs; all important positions for the dinosaurs to occupy in the world of dinosaurs.

20 August 2014

First Not Worst

The first dromaeosaur discovered in South America was Neuquenraptor. The key dromaeosaur characteristic that was evident with the unearthing of Neuquenraptor was its dromaeosaur foot claw, though the other bones that were discovered also possess dromaeosaur characters. Unenlagia possesses many of the characters of other bones, including the pelvis, that are indicative of the familial relationship between Unenlagiinae and other dromaeosaurids. More important than the anatomical connections between these South American "raptors" and North American and Eurasian genera/species is the geographical implications that were made more apparent by the discovery of Neuquenraptor and cemented by subsequent discoveries like Unenlagia. While the geological implications do not, as yet, appear to be concretely established, the presence of dromaeosaurs in South America points to a land connection between the two Americas after Pangaea split apart. North America at the time would have been part of Laurasia and South America would have been part of Gondwanaland. Prior to the presence of dromaeosaurs on both Gondwanaland and Laurasia there has been no evidence, to my knowledge of hypothesized bridges between northern and southern continents during the Mesozoic post-Pangaea (this is something I definitely want to be kept aware of or corrected on if need be!). Alternatively, however, convergent evolution could be proposed for the occurrence of two groups of animals very much alike on vastly separated continents, though I do not know that anyone has proposed such a hypothesis in regards to dromaeosaurs of South America and North America and Eurasia.

Edit: To look at the map in a larger view, right click and choose view image. It works better than just clicking on the map.
Map of fossil sites of Dromaeosauridae taxa reported on the Paleontology Database

19 August 2014

All Kinds of Papers

Mackovicky et al. (2005) described Buitreraptor and proposed that Neuquenraptor and Unenlagia were potentially synonyms with the older Unenlagia holding preference. We know, from previous discussions, that Novas and Pol (2005) disagreed by naming Neuquenraptor when they described it, since it was described a full 8 years after Unenlagia. If Neuquenraptor had been described shortly after it was unearthed rather than a decade later its name would have preference over Unenlagia. The original tentative name may have been used instead, however, so we might be having this debate between Araucanoraptor and Unenlagia instead. Novas and Angolin (2010) retained the individual genera, which I think makes it quite apparent that Novas does not agree with either the Mackovicky or Gianechini and Apesteguía (2011) interpretation of synonymy. It probably helps cement his viewpoint that he coauthored the paper describing and naming Unenlagia as well in 1997. Thankfully for anyone interested in entering in on the debate, though, we have this wealth of papers available online.

18 August 2014

Tributes And Nothing Else?

Unenlagia has a couple of tribute videos to its name, but none of them are wonderfully accurate or informational. Again, I am not responsible for any of the images used in the tribute, found here, or the choice of music that is associated with the video. Either Unenlagia or Neuquenraptor appears in the 3D IMAX movie Dinosaurs: Giants of Patagonia, however, they are usually referred to as "raptors". The attribution as either one or the other depends on the review that is read, but Unenlagia is credited more than Neuquenraptor as the source dinosaur. This may be due to the fact that Unenlagia is slightly more well known, as the creators of the movie do not cite precisely what dinosaur the "raptors" are modeled off of for the film in any interviews or sources that I have been able to find. The entire movie is hosted on Youtube (including a version in Spanish, I believe) on a couple of channels, including this one, but are probably not endorsed by the studio or IMAX. Donald Sutherland has a pretty good narrating voice though, regardless of which dinosaur the model is supposed to be. Hopefully more of the fossils attributed to both species will be discovered and increased interest and knowledge will cause there to be more good scientific documentaries developed on these animals. However, we can make do, even if unhappy about the popular documentary format, with Giants of Patagonia for the moment at least.

17 August 2014

Double Day

There are fact sheets for both taxa this week, yet another testament to the fact that the hypothesized synonymous nature of the two has not been cleared up quite yet. The About pages recognize both taxa equally hosting pages and well organized fact records for both Neuquenraptor and Unenlagia. There is not a single website other than this that hosts facts of both taxa, but the other sites that do have facts about the respective dinosaurs have pretty thorough facts listed on their pages. The majority of them address Unenlagia instead of Neuquenraptor. The most generous sites, typically, are among those that discuss only Unenlagia and ignore or omit Neuquenraptor. These include the NHM of London and Enchanted Learning.

16 August 2014

Feet, Hands, Maybe Some Ribs

Fernando Novas and Neuquenraptor foot
Gianechini and Apesteguía (2011) further discussed the synonymy of Neuquenraptor and Unenlagia. Their paper discussed the skeletal remains and the amount and quality of that material. The phalanges are compared but the authors determined that the proposed synonymy is not possible to ensure based on the comparison of phalanges alone and there we have the main reason that Neuquenraptor and Unenlagia are still both considered valid taxa. The remains of Neuquenraptor also include the tarsals and metatarsals of the left foot, ribs, a radius, and a few cervical vertebrae. Gianechini and Apesteguía (2011) do not compare all of these elements in their discussion of the two genera in part because the remains of Unenlagia, both species, actually lack many of these elements. I considered posting the image from the above paper that best exemplifies the remains of Unenlagia on here, but I think that posting a link to another discussion of these taxa rather than just posting a second image is more beneficial to everyone. In fact, Jaime Headden's article treats not only the two taxa in question, but the entire tribe of South American dromaeosaurs. The remains available do not fit together in a peg and socket fashion, but the missing elements from each species do seem to coincide with present elements of the other species, which may or may not be a sign of the relatedness of the three species we are considering. Presently, however, the synonymy remains in question at this time despite the fragmentary nature of the animals.

Gianechini, F. A. and Apesteguía, S. (2011). Unenlagiinae revisted: Dromaeosaurid theropods from South America. Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciências 83(1):163-195.

15 August 2014

A Little Something Crazy

Unenlagia comahuensis ©Nobu Tamura

I want to do something crazy this week. I am going to discuss 2 (3 if we include a tentative name) dinosaurs that may or may not be the same dinosaur. "Like that hasn't happened before" some of you are probably thinking. In the search for a dinosaur for the week during my granola bar feast at lunch, I found a dinosaur name that led to a completely different dinosaur that has been mentioned as a potential junior synonym of a longer known dinosaur. All 3 dinosaurs have been questioned, placed in a subfamily known as Unenlagiinae, and have been described or redescribed a few times. Incidentally, or coincidentally as the case may be, all 3 are small theropods consisting of fragmentary skeletal evidence. Technically the first name, Araucanoraptor argentinus, was only a tentative name attached to the remains that were later named Neuquenraptor argentinus (Thief of Neuquen, Argentina) officially by Fernando Novas (Bernardino Rivadavia Natural Sciences Museum) and Diego Pol (Ohio State University) in 2005. The remains had been unearthed in 1995, the tentative name applied in 1997, and a familial relationship with the Troodontidae considered in 1999. In 2005, shortly after the remains were described and named as holotype of the species, a paper announcing the earliest dromaeosaur, Buitreraptor, from South America was published that suggested the two taxa Neuquenraptor and Unenlagia were similar in time and geography and may represent the same species but are too fragmentary to certainly tell apart. Oddly enough, La Buitrera, where Buitreraptor's remains were unearthed, is in Neuquen province. This matter appears to have not been definitively resolved as yet.

What about Unenlagia? Unenlagia comahuensis (Half-bird of Comahue) and U. paynemili (Half-bird of Maximilo Paynemil) were named in 1997 an 2004 respectively. The animals are both very similar to Neuquenraptor in that they appear to represent very fragmentary dromaeosaurid theropods. Initially Unenlagia was considered by Novas et al. (1997) to be a sister of extant birds, but Norell and Mackovicky (1999) disputed this claim and placed Unenlagia into the Dromaeosauridae where it rests today. I hope to dig up more on these two dinosaurs during this coming week, including some comparisons of the photographed material and maybe, if we are lucky, some commentary from some of the paleontologists involved.

Makovicky, P.J., Apesteguıa, S., and Agnolın, F.A. (2005). The earliest dromaeosaurid theropod from South America. Nature 437: 13.
Norell, M.A.; Makovicky, P.J. (1999). Important features of the dromaeosaur skeleton II: information from newly collected specimens of Velociraptor mongoliensis. American Museum Novitates 3282: 1–45.

Novas, F.E., Cladera, G. & Puerta, P. (1997) New theropods from the Late Cretaceous of Patagonia. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 16, 56A
Novas, F.E.; Pol, D. (2005). New Evidence on Deinonychosaurian Dinosaurs from the Late Cretaceous of Patagonia. Nature 433 (7028): 858−861

14 August 2014

That Popular Canadian

Leptoceratops has appeared in many interesting and popular culture items and websites. reader information has even pointed us to pretty awesome information that I had missed. One avenue I have not mentioned this week is the popular literature. Academic literature we know has treated Leptoceratops well, but the popular books have somewhat ignored Leptoceratops. Technical volumes, not papers or journals, like The Dinosauria have at least mentioned the dinosaur, but that is not the type of book we usually look for on Thursdays.

Toys have appeared claiming to be Leptoceratops, but as usual they are more than likely based on Protoceratops. That does not take away from the fact that toy companies are trying to make Leptoceratops known to their markets and, consequently known to the next generation. Sadly none of the toys possess the cheek-less quality. That would probably either scare kids or change the face (literally) of the way that kids and the general public view dinosaurs.

13 August 2014

Generalist Body Shape

Leptoceratops, along with many other dinosaurs, has a body shape that appears very general overall. This kind of body shape can be fitted to nearly any dinosaur from its family, like when someone draws a rather non-descript sauropod and it is subsequently labeled with any one of 50 different names. The small horns, for example, that contribute to the name Leptoceratops are actually present at different levels in almost all other protoceratopsians. The post-squamosal body of Leptoceratops is also quite general; a ceratopsian family "trait" could be said to be the lack of post-cranial skeleton resulting in exceedingly similar post-cranial bodies throughout the clade. This body is based on partial remains of numerous ceratopsians but might be said to be equal parts fact and fiction. Additionally, the "cheeks" are in question, as they are and have been throughout the history of descriptions of many animals within Ornithischia. There are some of us out there that grew up with dinosaurs with cheeks and that did not and there are some that have drawn conclusions based on evidence either for or against. My stance is that I take no stance because I have not actually thought it out independently for myself, though I have heard arguments against cheeks that make a lot of sense, so I may be slanting in that direction now despite having grown up with dinosaurs with enormous hamster-like cheeks around me. Leptoceratops without a cheek may have looked like the Yale Peabody Museum's cheek-less Triceratops (which was brought to my attention only very recently; no I have not been to the Peabody Museum, shame on me...). Regardless of the cheek situation, the post cranial body suffers from what I call "ceratopsian body disorder" that leaves it so that if you covered the head there would be almost no possibility of guessing the right dinosaur on the first try without firsthand knowledge of the small traits of its recovered skeletal remains. This can allow me to say, regardless of what dinosaur it was actually based on (Protoceratops, as usual), that the little dinosaur sidekick Pepperoni in Turtles in Time #1 is a Leptoceratops like dinosaur without being too far off. If you have yet to see Pepperoni, feast your eyes on this:
Available on many sites, but property of IDW Publishing and the talent of Ross Campbell

12 August 2014

The Written Works of Leptoceratops

Paleontology has looked kindly upon Leptoceratops in the past. I sure that there are at least two parts to that phenomenon: 1) Leptoceratops is a ceratopsian and they always seem to capture interest and 2) Leptoceratops is a protoceratopsian-like creature but is in a very advanced position within that branch of ceratopsians. Regardless, a lot of papers have been written about Leptoceratops or its familial affiliations. Some of the best ones involve skeletal reconstruction and a fairly in depth discussion of the dinosaur by John Ostrom. Ostrom's description of Leptoceratops is not anywhere near as in depth as his description of Deinonychus, however, it is still well written and nicely detailed. There is also a paper, more widely encompassing Ceratopsia, that discusses Leptoceratops and the ceratopsian syncervical and how understanding its structure helps to understand the structures of the anterior cervical region of basal amniotes. This paper is a little closer to a "read it or you'll never understand it" than is usually presented here. However, as I usually state on Tuesdays, the most entertaining, but not always the most informative, papers are the original naming and describing papers that were published. Sometimes that is because of the antiquated language used and sometimes it is because of the imagination displayed by the author(s). This week, Barnum Brown's description of Leptoceratops is available to read. It includes many illustrations of the bones (see left) in addition to his detailed description of the remains.

11 August 2014

Animated, Just Not on Film

As seen yesterday, Leptoceratops can be a very animated and is actually a fairly well known dinosaur. Unfortunately (trust me when I say I HATE starting sentences with that word) there are no documentaries available online that expressly mention Leptoceratops. There have been dinosaurs that appeared in documentaries I remember from when I was younger that appeared to resemble Leptoceratops and were "Canadian dinosaurs" but they were never referred to as Leptoceratops with a doubt. That sort of vague terminology haunted many dinosaur shows of the 1980's and 1990's; thankfully there were also more informative documentaries at the same time to make up for this. However, that leaves us in the peculiar place of having a well known dinosaur that does not appear in documentaries. We have been here before. In lieu of good animations of Leptoceratops images of Protoceratops could stand in but the habitat would have to be imagined a little differently. Leptoceratops may have also spent more time on two legs than Protoceratops, a characteristic that is a little harder to picture when viewing the linked video, but an interesting prospect that can be seen in Saturday's post featuring the work of Tuomas Koivurinne.

10 August 2014

Destructive Leptoceratops

The Leptoceratops in the I'm A Dinosaur video is destructive and likes to show off her muscles. That is quite okay, because it is probably fairly accurate to state that Leptoceratops was a strong ceratopsian.
 That strength of the animal is not expressly mentioned in either the Enchanted Learning or KidsDinos fact pages. It is also not exemplified in either the accurate or inaccurate scientific illustrations that could be used for coloring or as visual guides for drawing your own Leptoceratops to color. Remember, if you use these to color ask permission before you try to post your artwork online!

09 August 2014

Quills and Ceratopsians

The news of the potential pushing back of the origin of quills and feathers in recent mass media outlets is not really news to most paleontologists. While the evidence was not there until recently, the quills and potential feather shafts of ceratopsians have pointed paleontologists in that hypothetical direction for quite some time. Leptoceratops has, as a matter of familial traits if for not other reason, been portrayed with tail quills in the most recent illustrated versions of the dinosaur. Those quills have been popularized on Asian ceratopsians like Pentaceratops and Psittacosaurus. However, it makes perfect sense that the North American Leptoceratops, just a little further down the family tree, might have them also. Leptoceratops does look rather dashing with a tail full of quill knobs we have to admit. Evidence for them for this particular dinosaur does not exist to my knowledge, but with remains discovered from Alberta to Wyoming, there are probably many more remains out there to be uncovered and the evidence may simply be laying just under the surface of the stones.
©Tuomas Koivurinne

08 August 2014

Forgotten Ceratopsians

©Nobu Tamura
Possessing a name that means small, insignificant, and meager all in one word is kind of sad. However, when the second part of your name means horned face, the small, insignificant, and meager horns seem a little less awful. When that name is in Greek it sounds even better: Leptoceratops. In Alberta's Red Deer Valley in 1910 Barnum Brown and his team unearthed what would be the first smaller ceratopsian dinosaur named and described. The small horns on the face aside, this dinosaur was already well established on the family tree, we just did not know it quite yet. Beak, teeth, and hypothesized cheek as well as a clearly defined head shelf (the meaning of "marginocephalia") were only a few characteristics of Leptoceratops that would be improved upon by later members of the family as they had been up to the time of Leptoceratops' roaming around in Alberta. That time, the Late Cretaceous, was certainly the heyday of the ceratopsians. The fact that these "advanced" but middle-of-the-family-tree characters were still displayed could mean a couple of things, one being that these smaller members of the family tree were beginning to splinter off in a new direction and another being that the cranial anatomy was well suited to dinosaurs of all sizes in the family. Small ceratopsians were, in fact, still doing well in the evolutionary scheme of things and Leptoceratops was the most advanced member of that branch of the family tree. Specializing in getting close to the ground to eat, these smaller ceratopsians could probably have foraged in denser forests than their larger cousins, eating all of the bushes, ferns, and flowering plants growing between the trees. Shearing teeth and a parrot-like beak with a powerful bite most likely meant that Leptoceratops was nearly as fearsome a defender of the dense forest as Triceratops was in more open areas, but with far fewer horns on its head.

07 August 2014

New Dinosaur Smell

Eodromaeus is famous for being new. So many dinosaurs are more famous for being new than they are famous because of a great story or because it intrigued many generations of museum goers or paleontologists. It is such a new dinosaur, in fact, that toys and documentaries and the other venues of dinosaur fame have not really had enough time to take hold in the popular psyche. The videos shown on Monday detailed the news impact and the number of hosted copies of the naming paper also attest to the popularity of the animal right now. More importantly than any other outlet or popular culture characteristics is the idea that Eodromaeus helps us understand the origins of dinosaurs just a little bit more. Brian Switek's article for the Smithsonian covers this topic very well and deserves to be read. It would be a shame to rehash his arguments when his own words are available online, so I will not today. Eodromaeus is an early branch on the family tree, but a very important branch.

06 August 2014

Shortening and Reducing

The forelimbs of Eodromaeus are shorter than the forelimbs. We expect as much when we are told that an animal is bipedal. We also expect it in theropods, regardless of how basal they might be. As we know and have seen over the past few years here, reduction of digits and shortening of the forelimb in theropods are common evidences in the evolutionary history of theropods. Eodromaeus, despite its rather basal placement on the theropod family tree, was no exception. Digits IV and V on the hands of Eodromaeus were noticeably shorter than the other digits and the forelimbs themselves were noticeably shorter than the hindlimbs. The center of gravity of the animal was shifted backwards toward the hips even further with the long balancing tail extending behind Eodromaeus. All of these characteristics, in addition to a "runner's leg" point toward an animal that may have been rather quick on its feet. Estimates of that speed, however, have not been made at this point through functional studies. Conservative estimates, though, have assumed that a speed of approximately 30 kph (19 mph) is acceptable. This is pretty impressive given its size of approximately 5 kg (11lbs) and 1.2m (3.9 ft) in length and that it was only about as tall as a Border Collie.

05 August 2014

Separating News and Science

There are a lot of news stories that come up under Eodromaeus even on scholarly search engines. The paper of interest, and at this point in time there really is only one paper of interest, also comes up in those searches. It also has 18 internet sources, a rather high number for any scholarly paper to be honest. The number of, probably illegal, pdfs available is extremely high also. We as a group probably would not complain about that, however. Today I am inclined to allow the reader to choose their own version of the pdf to read by presenting the list of search results. Regardless of which pdf is chosen, the paper remains the same. It is a paper that presents a short 6 page description of the skeleton of Eodromaeus and compares it to other basal theropods (Herrerasaurus, Eoraptor) and Heterodontosaurus to determine its correct placement in the dinosaur tree. Figure 2 of the paper is my favorite. It shows an illustrated skeleton and the placement of the described bones in that skeleton. I would copy it here, but I think it would make a better surprise image. We know the outcome of the research, but it is an interesting read to see how Martinez, et al. got to that point.

04 August 2014

The Experts

Today there are a couple of videos that I want to let do the talking. I think these days are typically very nice because it means we have interviews or quality news stories that address our paleo-fauna (if I ever address paleo-flora I would be amazed to find the plethora of videos we have found). Two good news videos exist that we can watch today. The two together may take up about 6 minutes of your time. The first is an interview with Paul Sereno posted by the University of Chicago's News Office.

The second is National Geographic's announcement of the naming of Eodromaeus. National Geographic does not have an embedding option on their video, but it does include the pretty awesome time lapse sculpting video within its video despite using some of Chicago's interview as highlights. I think these two videos are almost enough dinosaur for a day (is there ever enough paleontology in a day really?).

03 August 2014

A Childish Post

Eodromaeus is a dinosaur that will eventually become a favorite. Having been named in 2011 it is still a little young to be capturing the imaginations of most of the younger generation of dinosaur enthusiasts and potential paleontologists. That does not mean it is not know about, only that the resources we have for younger readers are fewer than normal. The Dino Directory of the NHM in London, for example, has Eodromaeus listed, but does not have an actual entry for the small dinosaur. There is, as usual, an About fact page, but in all fairness to the rest of the internet they do have a staff writer assigned to dinosaurs, so they probably should have a page on every dinosaur (and we are very happy that so far there has not been one dinosaur/prehistoric beast where we could not have used About as a resource). Unfortunately, the lightweight dinosaur is a lightweight on the internet as well and has not made much of an impact past that page, in terms of short and easy to read facts that are kid friendly.

02 August 2014

Running At Dawn

©Nobu Tamura
Eodromaeus has a typical looking dinosaur body plan. It diverges from what would become the body plan of theropods in a number of small ways including the number of digits present on both hands and feet. The primitive trait of 4 to 5 digits on hands and feet is exemplified in this primitive dinosaur, one of those traits that clearly allies this animal with the base of the theropod tree. This is not an animal at the base of the dinosaur tree, there are animals on lower brnches that are even more primitive including Herrerasaurus and other basal saurischians as well as the basal-most ornithischians. Like its cousins, the family Coelophysidae, and other theropods as well, Eodromaeus possessed a long counterbalancing tail that allowed it to maintain its balance while running on two legs. We know that most basal members of dinosaur clades started their evolutionary paths as bipedal animals, and theropods were no exception as their earliest forms, such as Eodromaeus prove. Theropods were fairly unique, of course, in that they as a group remained bipedal throughout their evolutionary line (arguments have been made to the contrary before).

01 August 2014

How Was I Missed?

Somehow I managed to miss a rather interesting South American theropod dinosaur. The small theropod lived in the Late Triassic approximately 232 million years ago and is considered a basal dinosaur, some have even gone so far as to call it the "Eve" of dinosaurs. The skeleton was discovered in 1996 in Argentina by Ricardo Martinez and Jim Murphy in the Valle de la Luna Member of the Ischigualasto Formation. Initially the remains were thought to belong to a new species of Eoprator, previously discussed on this blog, but Paul Sereno, Martinez, and others that have looked at the remains determined that the animal was not a species of Eoraptor but a new species belonging to a new genus was named as Eodromaeus murphi. Like the "Dawn Thief" the "Dawn Runner" was an early dinosaur but unlike its near cousin, it is still considered a theropod; subsequent papers have named Eoraptor as an early sauropodomorph though this is still questioned.