STL Science Center

STL Science Center

27 May 2018

Night Flying

If a niche exists in nature, some animal somewhere is, was, or will be an expert in that lifestyle. During the Jurassic Laurasia, the northern supercontinent, was populated by a number of pterosaurs that possessed different body shapes and populated different niches. Many different characteristics of these fossil flyers have led researchers to many inferences of diet, flying style, and even time of activity; for example, the scleral rings and orbit shape of Rhamphorhynchus are a key characteristic leading researchers to infer a nocturnal lifestyle. The long-tailed pterosaur has been discovered across Europe and in parts of Africa in deposits that represent shoreline and off-shore environments. The localities, along with cephalopods and fish that have been recovered from both gut areas and coprolites (fossilized feces), point to Rhamphorhynchus as an ocean-going pterosaur. Consisting of three recognized species (R. longicaudus Münster, 1839 (type specimen) , R. muensteri Goldfuss, 1831 (originally Ornithocephalus) and R. etchesi O'Sullivan and Martill, 2015), Rhamphorhynchus was a small (1.26 m, 4.1 ft long; wingspan: 1.81 m, 5.9 ft) needle-toothed pterosaur lacking a crest and possessing a long tail, something pterydactyloid pterosaurs (the kind most people think of when they think of pterosaurs) noticeably lack. The tail, in fact, is the origin of the specific epithet of the type species, R. longicaudus.
Louis Figuier, 1863

22 May 2018

Yates Description

As with many dinosaurs, there are a number of papers that mention Dracovenator, far more than the number of papers that actually focus all of their attention on our featured dinosaur. The description of Dracovenator by Yates (2005) is detailed, including line drawings, detailed photographs, and even a character list of attributes at the end of the article. As with many descriptions, the article is a little dry, but that is the nature of descriptive paleontology, so it does not make the article bad or otherwise lacking some sort of thrill found in other papers describing fossils. I am kind of a fan of the image of the juvenile fossil displayed upright as it is not often that we are shown the flat side of fossils in papers in this manner.

Yates, A. M. (2005). A new theropod dinosaur from the Early Jurassic of South Africa and its implications for the early evolution of theropods. Palaeontologia Africana 41:105-122

20 May 2018

Dragon Hunters

Dinosaurs and fossil hunters have been referred to as dragons and dragon hunters for centuries now; however, there is only one dinosaur whose name means "Dragon Hunter": Dracovenator regenti Yates 2005. A dilophosaurid discovered in the South African foothills of Drakensberg ("Dragon's Mountain": Dutch), Dracovenator consists of cranial material from early Jurassic rocks near the borders of Lesotho, a small country contained within South Africa. The characteristic shape of a dilophosaurid skull is apparent in the remains of Dracovenator in both the adult (holotype) and referred juvenile materials (reassigned from Syntarsus to Dracovenator by Munyikwa and Raath 1999). The estimated size of Dracovenator, extrapolated from related animal sizes and the cranial material available, is between 5.5 and 7 meters (18 and 23 ft) from snout to tail and weighing upwards of 400 kg (882 lbs).

18 May 2018

Dynamic Images?

What is the most dynamic, awe-inspiring image of Tuojiangosaurus that one can find on the internet? There are a near infinite number of opinions regarding which image and why any particular image might be the most beautiful or amazing image of Tuojiangosaurus. The images could come from anywhere also. This includes skeletal mounts, 3D video game renders, ink drawings, and any other media one can think of. My personal favorite was a hard choice this week. I always love the old-fashioned (like Charles R. Knight style) sorts of drawings, but Tuojiangosaurus was not discovered until 1977. Conversely, I appreciate really well done computer generated media as well, of which there is plenty representing Tuojiangosaurus. The image I have chosen as my favorite of the lot comes from the latter category today, and specifically it is attributed to Román García Mora. Even though the artwork is attributed to Mr. Mora, it does not appear on his website, linked above. Maybe more unfortunate, the image was originally found on a fourth party site and therefore even farther from the artist's control.
©Román García Mora

14 May 2018

Fun to Type

Tuojiangosaurus is actually fairly easy to spell after the first two or three times you type it out: fun personal observational fact/opinion that I just decided upon. If anyone disagrees, I can completely understand why, but give it a few more tries before you give up. Additionally, despite searching the blog the other day to see if we had covered this animal before and for some reason nothing seemed to show up, I noticed today that we had covered it, six years ago. However, revisiting old friends now and again is always interesting and fun. An even more fun fact about that time is that I found out that I was accepted to the biology graduate program at Fort Hays, which means that Tuojiangosaurus was the first dinosaur we discussed during my non-educator focused graduate career. Pretty neat stuff there. Anyway, on to the important aspects of why anyone opens this page on a Monday: movies about the animal we are featuring this week.

Back in 2012 there were not many, if any, videos of Tuojiangosaurus on the internet, a point that I noted by sharing the one short documentary I could find at the time that discusses Tuojiangosaurus in any detail (the 9:18 clip is featured below again today and our stegosaur appears at the 3:00 minute mark). Tuojiangosaurus now, though, appears in video game clips and short movies all over YouTube, but that is hardly the end of its representation online in video format. There is a video of an animatronic version of the Chinese stegosaur from the Henry Doorly Zoo (in Omaha, NE) and Brookfield Zoo's (in Chicago, IL) Dinosaurs Alive exhibits. This animatronic dinosaur exhibit can be found at many different zoos under the same or slightly different names at different times of the year; one of the series of photos I have shared here in the past was from the Memphis Zoo's version simply titled "Dinosaurs". The Tuojiangosaurus featured in the exhibit is a little less like the actual fossil than we would like. However, it does encourage people to look up the dinosaur and see what they should really be seeing (as opposed to what they did see), which is a good place to start educating more people about our favorite fossil animals. In a similar vein, this video from the Dinosaur Quest at the San Antonio River Mall shows fossil casts rather than animatronic dinosaurs.There are countless video game videos of the dinosaur surrounding the links shared here and the short clip below, but I will leave these to the reader to discover at their leisure or desire.

13 May 2018

Small Stegosaurs

Thinking and writing about Ceratosaurus over the last week made me think about the animals that would have been food items for Ceratosaurus. One of the most prominently discussed and featured food items for Ceratosaurus and its contemporary Allosaurus was the western North American dinosaur Stegosaurus. We have written about and discussed Stegosaurus here at least once by itself and a number of times in reference to other dinosaurs. We have also discussed some of its closest relatives (such as Kentrosaurus), but we have somehow missed talking about one of its best known, Asian, cousins, Tuojiangosaurus multispinus. The name refers to both the multiple spines along this stegosaur's body and its discovery near the Tuo River of central China within the Sichuan Province (yes, where the cuisine originated from). Watch the video below to learn some more important facts about Tuojiangosaurus:

10 May 2018

Ceratosaurus Anatomy

Ceratosaurus has an interesting set of ridges and horn-like structures on its skull that gave two of the species their specific epithets: C. nasicornis ("nose-horn") and C. magnicornis ("large-horn").  The purpose of the horn was originally thought, by Marsh, to have been a "most powerful weapon" used by the theropod in both offensive and defensive matters. Many others agreed including Gilmore in 1920, Norman in 1985, and Paul in 1988. To be fair, Norman and Paul were more specific, arguing that the horns may have been used in intraspecific combat and headbutting. Rowe and Gauthier (1990) put forward a display only function for the horns, which appears to be the most popular hypothesis concerning Ceratosaurus horns.The assumption with these rugosities as display ornamentations often includes discussion of potentially brightly colored soft tissues covering and otherwise associated with the osteological structures.
American Museum of Natural History
Photo by Wikicommons user Daderot, released into public domain under Creative Commons CC0 license