STL Science Center

STL Science Center

29 February 2012

Mobile Devices Erase My Nearly Done Posts

Afrovenator is a somewhat new dinosaur and, like many of the past month's dinosaurs, comes to us from the rock formations of Niger. Sereno et al's paper in 1994 named and described a new genus and species of dinosaur. Remarkably this brand new dinosaur came from the soil with a nearly complete skeleton and skull. A few bones are missing, to be sure, but overall there is not much missing. The skull, in fact, is only missing its lower jaw or mandible. The real problem faced by Afrovenator is classification. There is no real consensus or even majority agreement at this time as to where in the dinosaur family this dinosaur belongs! There are many theories, attempts to place it, and inquiries into where it belongs, but none of them whole heartedly agree with one another. Some of the theories are as follows: 1) Most analyses place Afrovenator within Megalosauridae. 2) Afrovenator is a basal megalosaurid. 3) Recent studies show Afrovenator in a subfamily of Megalosauridae with Eustreptospondylus and Dubreuillosaurus. 4) In Sereno's original description, Afrovenator was found to be a basal spinosauroid (he uses the name "Torvosauroidea"), outside of Spinosauridae and Megalosauridae (which he calls "Torvosauridae"). 5) Another recent study places Afrovenator outside of Megalosauroidea completely, and instead finds it more closely related to Allosaurus (Rauhut 2003).

28 February 2012

Okay friends, short entries the next few days. I am in the midst of some important doings and am therefore posting from a mobile device. It's exciting stuff, but more about that later. Today, however, I do have the pleasure of linking the original naming paper by Sereno, et al. and another paper by Sereno, Wilson, and Conrad. Tomorrow I will have little time until the evening to write, but I will, promise!

27 February 2012

Youtube Star!

Afrovenator has not made many movie appearances in any form. No documentaries exist and not one made for television or the big screen movie mentions or shows even so much as a skeleton of the African hunter. There are some amateur videos of the skeleton
but these don't show much that we have yet to see in static pictures. People in the comments question it being a Giganotosaurus, but I would trust that the person taking the video read the nameplate before putting the video up and the Australian Museum in Sydney certainly does have an Afrovenator in the first dinosaur gallery. It's present position does not necessarily mean that it wasn't in this position before. The only other luck you will have in finding videos of Afrovenator is in tribute videos and videos to be shared on Thursday.

Tuesday through Friday I will be here and there with some travel plans, so check in, but if I have not had the time to post on any given day until the evening, I apologize in advance to all.

26 February 2012

Hunting Through Mesozoic Africa with Children

Afrovenator is one of the least known and least recognized dinosaurs in the world. Things look as though they will stay this way for a long time to come, unfortunately. There are some child friendly sites. I ought to start one for all these dinosaurs I find with little to no available resources for children. There is no Dinos for Kids link today, instead I have the wiki for Dinosaur King and a page called Science Kids, which is a good page overall. There are, unlike for many animals in the past, CollectA figures available. Many dinosaurs haven't had any figures available, but the CollectA collection is noticeably smaller than other toy companies and, in this instance, the only model I could find of Afrovenator anywhere. The real winner this Sunday is Paul Carter, who I am waiting to hear back from, but has drawn a very nice uncolored version of an Afrovenator pair which I present as a coloring page for all you readers who love to color!
©Paul Carter

25 February 2012

Sadly Bland Afrovenator

©Mariana Ruiz Villareal
I like a good typical theropod running at me with a snarling face as much as the next dinosaur junkie, but let's face it here and now together boys and girls: we like a little variety in our illustrations as well. The Ruiz Villareal illustration alongside this paragraph is a very good example of a typical pose in which we find theropods like Afrovenator. The illustration is good and the pose is taken from one of the assembled and displayed castings on the Project Exploration website, but that is probably more the issue than artists drawing theropods in a threatening forward lumbering pose like this. The scientists keep putting them in poses like this! Many skeletons of theropods are posed in this manner and we there fore see many illustrations posed in this way. I think it is a very good illustration, but I also believe it is quite overused in both the artistic and the scientific community alike. We need some creativity.

Artist Unkown
We need more swimming Afrovenators. I really cannot complain about the unique quality of this illustration. How often do we see a theropod swimming? I think not often enough honestly. Surely a dinosaur could swim, maybe they were not the best swimmers the word has seen but, for all the allusions to dogs swimming in our world, neither are most puppies. I do very much enjoy the look of concentration in this Afrovenator's face. I am not sure, though, if there is an attempt to show webbing between the toes of the dinosaur in this illustration, if so that is a very odd jump to make I feel, though everyone is allowed the powers of speculation and imagination!

I also wanted to share this awesome piece by Mark Hallett, but I can't save the image so I won't even bother asking him, I'll just post a link to it. It's one of those really fun to look at and imagine predator-prey images; click on it, you'll enjoy it I swear. Regardless of that sadness, this last illustration is by no means a fourth place "I guess you get in" illustration. Classic posing of the jaws and of the general body stance, but it has flair. There is some personality in this dinosaur, a little pizzazz, jazz, something that makes me want to have a coffee with this dinosaur. I think it may be the great big smile quality to its open mouth. There are teeth in there, but the facial expression seems to make the Afrovenator appeal much more to the "Hey, you are one happy dude! Let's go to Starbucks and stare at the yuppies." rather than "OH NO PLEASE DON'T EAT ME!" sentiment in me. He's a happy little dinosaur. I want to make him a dinosaur house in my backyard and feed him sheep.

I know I generally keep the writings here pretty serious, but I just couldn't do it looking at that dinosaur's face, I tried, I swear!

24 February 2012

African Hunter

At approximately 30 feet long, Afrovenator, which has a troubled descriptive history, is a fairly large theropod. Three clawed fingers and toes exist on this mid-Jurassic African carnivore which existed at roughly the same time that Allosaurus was busy taking control of the Western Hemisphere. Its full name, Afrovenator abakensis, is an allusion to the place where the large predator was discovered. Another product of Niger, Afrovenator's one discovered skeleton comes from In Abaka, the Taureg name for the region. Jobaria, a sauropod found relatively nearby is one known neighbor, and most likely at some stage of its life cycle, and food item available to Afrovenator. This should be an exciting week of discovery, as little is written about this dinosaur in most encyclopedias!

23 February 2012

The Greatly Known Little Known Dinosaur

Somehow all the years have gone by and Ouranosaurus, despite never achieving documentary level status (why are there not more documentaries about African dinosaurs anyhow?), is actually quite popular with the video producing crowd. There were those "tribute" videos, but almost every dinosaur has those so we are not too impressed by that. However, there are also Jurassic Park game related videos
This one is actually quite well put together with information and, I have to say, I am rather glad that the creator wrote in the information rather than speak clumsily over his video like so many people on Youtube do these days; that does not mean of course that he has a terrible speaking persona, I don't even know the guy! There are a few other Jurassic Park Operation Genesis videos on there but there are also Dinosaur King videos like this very short clip
and someone has even put in an attempt in Spore to create Ouranosaurus; an okay interpretation.
Outside of videos there are always the toys, if we can find them, such as Lego's attempt at a model Ouranosaurus one can build. There are also actual solid models from companies like Battat and Schleich.

22 February 2012

Another Taquet Discovery

©Brian Franczak
During the middle of the 20th century Philippe Taquet was digging up dinosaur species all over Niger and a lot of African dinosaur species have become known or better understood in thanks to his efforts. Ouranosaurus, the 110 million year old hadrosaur, was found near Gadoufaoua in 1965 originally. The nearly complete skeleton and skull reside in Niamey, Niger today which is appropriate since that is the country where they were found. Approximately 27 feet long and 2.2 tonnes according to Gregory Paul's number (Taquet's were 23 feet and 4 tonnes), this hadrosaur would have been rather large with a lithe figure, for a hadrosaur. Regardless of which measurements are accepted, the femur itself was 81.1 centimeters long, approximately 32 inches or 2 feet 8 inches. That makes half its leg about half as tall as I am already; the woes of being a short man.

Of that giant ridge of bone making the sail shape on its back, the first four dorsal vertebrae are not known still, though the fifth already has a significantly large neural spine growing from the top of the back. This continues to the 17th dorsal vertebrae where the tall neural spine is longer than those of the sacral vertebrae (there are 6 over the hips) and then, after the hips and on toward the tail, the vertebrae again possess tall neural spines which gradually shorten down a short length of the tail. Ouranosaurus had a longer face than its cousin Iguanodon at 67 centimeters long. The average length of the skull of a horse is about 60 centimeters long, to put that in perspective. The skull of Ouranosaurus fitted 88 teeth, imagine a piano made of dinosaur teeth!, whereas that horse's head only manages about 44 teeth.

21 February 2012

Remember Yesterday?

Remember how I said it would be awesome if I could find papers with opposing views on the purpose of the high spiked vertebral column of Ouranosaurus? I was excited at the prospect, finding two differing opinions on why there was such a large ridge of bone extending upward from the backs of these animals sounded like a pretty intriguing debate. I did find one article that debates it, but it is stored on JSTOR which means there is no entire article version available for free where I found it. It raises the question in its title of sail back versus buffalo back for this dinosaur. JB Bailey's proposal is not highly looked upon by all scientists at any rate, such as Brian Switek, who wrote about it a while back in his own blog Laelaps. My personal opinion is that the large hump idea, while it has merit for a desert dwelling animal which sees little to no rain for greater parts of the year, as is surmised for Rapetosaurus with its intriguing vertebrae, I do not believe it has been proven that either Spinosaurus or Ouranosaurus lived in conditions which would merit the need for the hump over the growth of a sail and additionally, the bones are quite different from an animal with a hump:

20 February 2012

Trying the new Interface on Movie Monday

Until I get used to the new posting interface on Blogger please excuse any grievous mistakes I make in posting. I hope it won't take more than a day or two to get used to it. That said,
Original ©Rachel K. Clark, everything else, me.
It's not really a holiday or anything (I know it's a federal political holiday), but it's a day off of work for a lot people in America and that's usually a cause for celebration in and of itself.

As far as movies are concerned here today, not much on our Ouranosaurus, which is sad. Some "tribute" type videos can be found on Youtube here and here, but nothing else significant. At least I got to share some more artwork and even add to it a little. I was really hoping for a video on how some scientists think that the spines on Ouranosaurus' back were more likely used to support a fat and water storing hump than a sail like Spinosaurus had. I like the sail representation myself, but the other view also has merit, and that is always good as well. Perhaps tomorrow I can find good opposing papers!

19 February 2012

Kids and Ouranosaurus

Our favorite kids fact page finally comes back to us this week with Ouranosaurus. It's about time too. Dinos for Kids was slacking a little on our other African dinosaurs, but it's a helpful aide and child friendly, so I like when it has information to share with us on the dinosaur of the week. Additionally, there are a good number of coloring pages available to children today. I think hadrosaurs are just easier to draw for coloring book artists or something, considering I find them so easily when I am looking for coloring pages. Anyhow, there are a few good and a few so-so coloring pages, take your pick today:

Enchanted Learning has 5 year olds draw their dinosaurs I think.

18 February 2012

Artistic Africa

©Julius Csotonyi
As we all know, I am a big fan of well done ornamentation coloration. Something with a sail with no color to it tends to make me a little sad. Evolution and the artist both have a huge canvas in a good sized ornament on a dinosaur's body whether it's a neck frill, a Stegosaur plate, or a sail like the one Ouranosaurus bears. Of course, the artistic representation of a body ornament with no camouflage is perfectly feasible, a solid color, I mean. Though I find animals that have giant appendages that are a simple solid color less fascinating than those with camouflage and eye spots and the like. However, in images like this one those solid colors can also be camouflage on their own or, perhaps, sometimes the dinosaur was just too big to require camouflage. The predators in Africa at the time of the roaming about of Ouranosaurus were big enough to take this animal down however, so I do not believe that is the case here. Though Csotonyi's Ouranosaurus certainly has the ability to blend in with the drab surroundings it has with its simple single color hide.

©Craig Brown
Craig Brown's Ouranosaurus has gone with the just as popular tiger stripe camouflage. Also, with the background showing in his illustration, this color scheme would be acceptable camouflage. Though, of course, a little green wouldn't hurt in this exact setting, the assumption I make here is that the stripes are more well adapted to life between the oases. Desert camouflage is not, after all, very showy and assuming that this dinosaur lived mostly in a desert environment while trekking back and forth between the oases of the desert means that the camouflage that would have adapted would make much more sense if it had a very desert theme to it overall as it does here. Additionally, Brown's illustration of the animals looks a little more reptile in the face than some other illustrations of hadrosaurs that I have seen. That is not in any way a negative thing, but it is interesting to note.

©Walter Meyers
I saved Walter Meyers' Ouranosaurus for last for a very good reason. First of all, Meyers' Ouranosaurs have some interesting marking going on. One, possibly marked as a male by more traits which I will get to in a second, has ruddy orange brown striping on a green body background. The other two animals have darker gray striping on their background body color of green. Additionally, the male has a large grouping of osteoderms or perhaps large skin protrusions along the upper ridge of his nasal and and orbital bones on his skull. This and the fact that he is clearly a slightly larger built animal lead me to assume he is being portrayed as male. Female reptiles, and some believe dinosaurs as well, are typically larger than the males, so why assume that the largest is male and not female? The reason is that typically a pack or herd oriented under a male animal with females around the central "bull" is common but herd mentality under matriarchal leadership is typically devoid of males who are included in the group only during mating season once past the age of maturity, in all the examples I can come up with at any rate. Please share if you can think of examples that disprove this!

17 February 2012

Brave Monitor Lizard

©Nobu Tamura
Ouranosaurus makes it a fact; African dinosaurs toward the end of the Mesozoic loved having ostentatious ornamentations. This is mostly true of the entire globe though with the exception of a few dinosaurs here and there. However, this makes them even more intriguing to humans these millions of years later with their giant horns, frills, skull shapes, interesting mouths, toes, and arms, and even large vertebral spines which could only have made a sail like apparatus on their backs.

Ouranosaurus, meaning Brave Monitor Lizard (which is a pretty neat name anyhow), was one such sailed dinosaur. Discovered in Niger in the 1960's and 70's, it was described in 1976 by the French paleontologist Phillipe Taquet, who, as we know from previous discoveries, was very fond of Niger and its dinosaurs. The name comes from Taureg and Arabic words which are related to one another. In Taureg "ourane" means monitor lizard while in Arabic the related "waran" means brave. The dinosaur is a basal hadrosaur dinosaur placed in the Iguanodontid branch of the ornithischian family.

16 February 2012

Appearance Is Everything

We tell children every day that no one will remember what shoes they wore a hundred years from now because appearances are not as important as who you are... then we unearth dinosaur bones and all we talk about are the features that make them odd and make them stand out more. That's just an interesting societal note. This is a toy representing Bucky from the Dinosaur Train episode featuring Masiakasaurus:
Head on is a silly angle to look at this character from, but I believe it's accurate to the show if not the dinosaur with the exception that the teeth come together perfectly from what I can tell in this figure and they really shouldn't have. Moving along, however, Masiakasaurus is famous enough to show up in books for children, as shown on Sunday, as well as that piece in National Geographic on bizarre dinosaurs which really helped knowledge about the dinosaur reach the public. Once a dinosaur reaches a certain level of popularity the next place to look is always the Spore creators that place things online. In this instance there are a few, but the model by tyranitararmaldo is the best one out there. Have a look.
The teeth are a little exaggerated, but that is quite alright given the alternative models posted online. That is the popular culture extent of Masiakasaurus for the moment, but I have a feeling that there are more of them to discover in the earths of Africa and that they will be uncovered and more and more people will learn about and like this strange dinosaur.

15 February 2012

Finders of the Spikey Teeth

The paleontologists responsible for finding, naming, and describing Masiakasaurus are well known in the scientific community, though I suppose not to everyone outside the scientific community. The first skeleton was 40% complete, found near a village called Berivotra, and though missing a greater amount of bones than were found was made up of bones from all over the small ceratosaur body including a portion of the lower jaw's dentary bone which held the forward jutting teeth. Scott Sampson, who seems to be one of the most friendly guys on the planet, was included in that team which found the remains in the Maevarano formation of rock. He, Matthew Carrano of the Smithsonian, and Catherine Forster now of George Washington University, noticed that this dinosaur fit into the category known as noasaurs (small abelisaurid theropods closer in relation to Noasaurus than Carnotaurus) under the ceratosaur family but revealed very little about ceratosaur evolution or that of noasaurs to be honest.

Since the original discovery new materials have brought the bone representation in the skeleton up to around 65% and have included the braincase, tibia, vertebrae, scapular elements, phalanx, unguals, and other fragments. The bones show pneumatic functioning as well, like other theropods. Among the theories of diet that include fish eating, based on the front set of heterodont teeth, the rear teeth being more like its larger cousins on the island Majungasaurus and other theropod teeth, as well as diets based on fruit, small invertebrates and vertebrates, and scavenging. The bones also indicate what may be a case for sexual dimorphism in the animals, though without complete skeletons this is difficult to prove at this time.

14 February 2012


The paper that named Masiakasaurus and described it is not open source anywhere; it was published in Nature and is available only there pretty much. That's okay, it does happen, but it's sad. You can read the abstract without buying the article but that's about all you can read anywhere. I could have my acquaintance at The Theropod Archives pass along the paper to me, but there is still no way to host it without breaking a thousand copyright issues, so that is sad for us all. Unfortunately, the only other mainstream paper on the dinosaur is also under copyrights that require subscriptions, however, this one is in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology and therefore can be read if you have an SVP membership. Not everyone can of course, it's an expensive club to get into honestly. This second paper is titled The Osteology Of Masiakasaurus Knopfleri, A Small Abelisauroid (Dinosauria-Theropoda) From The Late Cretaceous Of Madagascar. The purpose of the paper is pretty self explanatory given that the title says it is going to discuss the osteology of the animal; meaning that it talks about the research done specifically on the bones, their forms, and their composition.

13 February 2012

Movie Lacks

Despite Dinosaur Train and quite a buzz of interest in the strangeness of Masiakasaurus there is not much available for viewing on the dinosaur. There are not many good quality videos. There's an interview with Matthew Carrano about his research and everything, but Masiakasaurus is barely mentioned in the first minute and not at all after. The best that can really be done is a "tribute" video with a lot of illustrations. The only problem that I and anyone commenting seem to have with the "tribute" videos is that no one has been clever enough to put a Dire Straits track on the videos. The best we can do for now, though, is this one. One day there will be more to choose from!

12 February 2012

Scott Sampson, Animated Paleontologist

Dr. Scott talks with his hands a lot on Dinosaur Train, nothing wrong with that, he's excited about dinosaurs, but he's not the animated character of the week, that's his dinosaur find Masiakasaurus. He describes it for the kids watching Dinosaur Train in this clip from PBS. Unfortunately it hasn't made it anywhere else, like the episode it came from, meaning you can only watch it on PBS or Netflix. At least it's available though. Some things just are not available at all. There are some good sources for children to go to to learn more about Masiakasaurus, but only one built for kids fact page which, thankfully, does not have its typically bad illustrations. There are also books available, which is pretty fantastic considering that Masiakasaurus is such a new dinosaur to science. I'm also a little surprised but glad that Dinosaur Train has put out that episode to show kids about the dinosaur. Although, Bucky, the dinosaur in the episode, is kind of ridiculous.

11 February 2012

The Special Look of A Bizarre Dinosaur

©Matthew Carrano
Madagascar. This bizarre island is just made for dinosaur extremes. Situated as an island off the coast of Africa for millions of years since its separation from the African and Asian continents, the animals that have lived and gone past on that island are all unique, interesting, and extremely well adapted to their lives on the island. The dinosaurs were no different; consider three that have been discussed lately: Majungasaurus, Masiakasaurus, and Rapetosaurus. They all have unique features making them well suited to perform admirably in their environmental niche and they thrived on their small island for a good amount of time. Masiakasaurus was pretty average compared to the other two dinosaurs until its lower jaw, the dentary bones, were discovered.

The body overall is pretty darn typical until you get to that skull, then there is that jaw full of teeth which are astoundingly strange and interesting. The teeth come nearly straight out of the lower jaw at the extreme front and make a basket like structure with the front top teeth. This unique tooth type and arrangement is seen in spinosaurs and to a lesser degree in the dinosaur Baryonyx; all of which are thought to be piscivorous dinosaurs. Comparing the jaws there is one other aspect of the Masiakasaurus which sticks out other than its front teeth. The jaws of Baryonyx, Spinosaurus, and the crocodile skull at left are much longer than they are deep and, though they all contain a certain amount of robustness to their physique, they are generally fairly thin top to bottom with the general shape of a heron type beak if we were to compare it to birds which makes it a near perfect shape for stabbing into water to catch fish, frogs, whatever else. We know crocodile diet is not entirely fish, and I assume Spinosaurus and Baryonyx were also not entirely fish eating all the time. However, the skull of Masiakasaurus, though not all has been found still, is clearly much more robust top to bottom and is shaped more like your average theropod's skull. It is elongate to a degree, though the degree of elongation is nowhere near as prominent as the other assumed fish eating dinosaurs.

10 February 2012

Masiakasaurus, Spell Slowly!

Described in 2001 by Scott Sampson, Matthew Carrano, and Catherine Forster, this is Masiakasaurus. In Malagasy it means "Vicious Lizard" but looking at it from an English language standpoint it appears to be a conundrum of the spelling world. Masiakasaurus knopfleri, named after the guitarist from Dire Straits because that was the band the team was listening to at the time of discovery, if there's a thought that that is most ludicrous reason for naming an animal something I am willing to bet you just haven't searched hard enough quite yet because there are a ton of absolutely silly names out there. Masiakasaurus, aside from being impossible to pronounce correctly the first time, was, itself, a highly improbable animal. The teeth of this dinosaur were amazing. Much smaller than its far to the north cousins the spinosaurs, Masiakasaurus had a mouth that was arranged much like the spinosaurs' mouths, then drastically overdone and taken beyond over the edge. The first known fossils of the dentary area, the lower jaw, possess teeth that come pretty much straight out of the front of the mouth and barely, if at all, close together with the top jaw's front teeth that are jutting out of the mouth. It's quite the snare for small animals, as I am sure we will see in the upcoming week!

09 February 2012


Nigersaurus has the distinction of being one of very few dinosaurs featured in National Geographic in recent years. The magazine did a spread of bizarre dinosaurs including Nigersaurus alongside Dracorex and number of other strangely ornamented dinosaurs. Additionally, a skeleton of Nigersaurus was erected in the National Geographic Museum's main foyer. Toys exist of the animal and it has been shown in documentaries produced by National Geographic as well. Entities such as the New York Times and CNN have carried articles on the dinosaur and interviewed Sereno and others about its teeth and strange skull. The dinosaur has not yet made it to media like Dinosaur King or anything else of that nature, but it has been "speedpainted."

08 February 2012

Little Known Frenchmen

Phillipe Taquet's very short stub of a biography available online claims that he
is a French paleontologist who specializes in dinosaur systematics of finds primarily in northern Africa. He is a member of the French Academy of Sciences since November 30, 2004. He has studied and described a number of new dinosaur species from Africa, especially from the Aptian site of Gadoufaoua in Niger (such as Ouranosaurus). He also researches the Lower Cretaceous stratigraphic relationship between western Africa and Brazil by reconstructing the paleobiology from fossil floras and faunas. He was president of the French National Museum of Natural History from 1985 to 1990 ("Philippe Taquet." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 22 Jan. 2012. Web. 08 Feb. 2012. .)
The fact that so little is available is not anything new when discussing paleontologists. There is no mention of how he came to find it, why he was in Niger, or the exact time. The only thing we know for certain from online sources is that Taquet found the formation, the Elrhaz Formation, Gadoufaoua, in the Niger Republic, and described the formation and its contents very loosely in a paper in 1976. Thankfully, however, scientific interest in the formation did not die away. and the story of how Paul Sereno's team found, cleaned, studied, and described the nearly translucent, highly pneumatic, and fragile bones of this dinosaur was all summarized in a 1999 paper. Without that paper and the since continued efforts in understanding this dinosaur we would have had nothing to discuss all week. Also, we have this because of all the efforts of paleontologists:

07 February 2012

Changing the Face of Nigersaurus

©Sereno et al. 2007
The original inference made here, and made by the originally discovering community of paleontologists was that the teeth of Nigersaurus were well suited to stripping trees in moments. However, and I had read this at the time but decided to present that old inference as the obvious bit to notice with a sauropod and the dental battery of Nigersaurus, the paper by Sereno et al in 2007 stated that the neck of Nigersaurus was not meant to soar like a crane boom scouring the trees and shearing needles and leaves from Cretaceous branches, but was aimed downward, held in a neutral position, and meant to clip grasses in a wide arc determined by the neck's side to side motion before the dinosaur had to move on to a new patch of grasses. It has been found, in studies such as that conducted by Michael Taylor, Matthew Wedel, and Darren Naish, that the necks of certain animals can be guessed at by looking at living species. Their study came to the summation that Sereno et al's 2007 figure (left) was a possible feeding position for Nigersaurus, but not its normal resting position.

To that end it is stated that the neck did not normally rest in that position during locomotion and that the head and neck of the sauropod may be revisited in the living equestrian genera as they too are animals which feed off the ground and have downward sloping skulls, but that they hold their necks high at rest, not neutral or downward sloping. John Whitlock, in an independent paper looking at the indications snout shape make on diet, agreed with the 2007 paper of Sereno in that grasses were the most likely diet due to both microwear on the teeth and the shape of the snout as it indicated downward feeding habits. That this agrees does not prove the Taylor study invalid, it in fact makes the likelihood of the analogy to horse neck posture even more accurate as it confirms that an animal could have the head, teeth, and angle of attack to eat at ground level but still possess qualities which cause it to carry its head high while walking. One last paper, by Sereno and Wilson- 2005, looks at the teeth and dental battery of Nigersaurus as well in comparison with and as part of sauropod dental evolution. This paper is six years older than Whitlock's and came out prior to the 2007 paper (obviously), but agrees with points in both and sets up the case for grass eating habits.

All of this scholarly debate on head position and tooth wear and downward angles of heads can seem perplexing and tedious, but what evolves from all of these papers, if we take the parts they agree on, or maybe even their strongest points only and mesh them together carefully, is that Nigersaurus was most likely a sauropod of modest size which walked with its head held high and alert with its brow facing slightly downward and ate, as Sereno says, in the fashion of a "Mesozoic cow."

06 February 2012

Bizarre Dinosaur Monday

Most of the videos that one will find for Nigersaurus online at this moment come from National Geographic and the research of Sereno et al. along with some of the models of the Witmer Lab at Ohio University. In 2007 Nat. Geo. did a spread on bizarre dinosaurs, of which Nigersaurus was one. They produced a few short videos about the animals in the spread talking to the scientists where available such as this one with Paul Sereno.
Tyler Keillor uploaded a clip from another Nat Geo video which featured the model he helped to create in Sereno's fossil lab. This clip also has Sereno and Larry Witmer discussing the CT scans done at Ohio in his lab.
There are so many other clips that I could spend all day posting them up here. The only other one I will post for now other than the search results from yourtube is from National Geographic Live which is just a short interview with Paul Sereno about the animal and some other things. There is a much longer interview with him on there as well, but I've chosen the short one for you.

05 February 2012

Places to be Youthful

Not often, but sometimes, we run into a fantastic place for kids to look at dinosaurs on the internet. Today there is a very in depth and, as he always does things, playfully done review of Safari Ltd's Nigersaurus figure. It is posed just like the skeleton as assembled per Dr. Paul Sereno's vision and looks to be highly accurate. Kids do not typically want to read a review for a toy as much as they want to play with it, but be warned, Safari Ltd. toys are typically strangely expensive.

The important piece for today comes from Sereno and Gabrielle Lyon's young scientist program started in 1999 called Project Exploration. The young team has put together, and maintained, over the past few years a website dedicated to Nigersaurus. If seeing kids closer to their own age doesn't get kids interested in working with dinosaurs I'm not sure who else could, but I will certainly continue to try my best. Their website has pages describing Nigersaurus and image galleries and all kinds of other places to look. I am sharing their site directly on the coloring pages however, as I know I'd want to color this crazy animal. The coloring pages use the two images created by Todd Marshall, so that makes them a lot more accurate and fantastic than most coloring pages.

04 February 2012

Interesting Photos of an Interesting Dinosaur

©Todd Marshall
Nigersaurus really looks unique. There are no two ways about it, this is a special dinosaur. The portrait by Todd Marshall, that is no exaggeration, that is exactly what this dinosaur looked like, vacuum attachment face and all. What is really special about the mouth is the teeth, which we will get to momentarily. Notice, however, that the head is shaped almost like its slightly older family members and a lot like all other diplodocid dinosaurs. There really is not much deviation from the successful body plan of Diplodocus even millions of years later and continents away except in the area of this dinosaur's dental battery. The nose is situated in a very similar position as are the eyes, though a total side view will give the reader a much more clear understanding of the amazingly short length of the skull in comparison to those older diplodocid cousins. The tail is even remarkably similar as shall be seen.

What numerous teeth!
The dental battery of Nigersaurus is nearly unfathomable. Literally over a hundred teeth sit in the upper and lower edges of the hadrosaur like mouth and, in all actuality, appear to be much more like the mouth of a baleen whale than of a large dinosaur. The teeth, as in other diplodocids, were most likely used in a similar fashion to the baleen whale's giant mouth comb system. The teeth were there more to help strip small leaves and needles from the food trees than for chewing and crushing plant matter. A mouth like this, while efficient at stripping a plant down to twigs and bark would be useless in actual mastication and therefore it would be a safe bet to assume that there was a rather hearty and equally efficient gizzard system present in this animal.

©Sereno et al. 2007
The skeletal to the left was designed using four partial skeletons. The ribs on this animal, we can see, were enormous and most likely had to be in order to contain that elaborate and efficient gizzard system housed within in addition to protecting the soft underbelly of the giant from predators to some degree. Notice also that the tail, extrapolated from size estimates and the presence of a few of the smaller tapering bones, was whiplike just like in other diplodocids, though not as long as Diplodocus itself, as a measure of length. Stout and stocky legs held the animal and its body, overall, was not exceptionally tall like some sauropods.

03 February 2012

Welcome to Niger!

Too many names to reiterate the copyright above, sorry folks
The ridiculous older cousin of dinosaurs like Rapetosaurus, Nigersaurus was also a diplodocid sauropod from Africa. Living during the middle Cretaceous in what is now the Niger Republic in central Africa, Nigersaurus was far away from Madagascar and the time period of Rapetosaurus as well and had, in fact, gone extinct before Rapetosaurus is thought to have shown up in the fossil record. The skeleton of this dinosaur was found in Niger in 1976 by one Philippe Taquet, a French paleontologist and was described in 1999 by Paul Sereno and others. Why the hold up in identifying the remains as a dinosaur as yet undiscovered you may ask yourself. It honestly isn't that Taquet had not described it; in truth, he did in 1976 in a paper. The reason is much more that this dinosaur, one of the richest genera in the geological formation in which it is found, was subject to a great deal of scientific inquiry between 1976 and 1999 and the results of all of that science coming together over all of those years demanded that a second description be entered into record to document all of the new things known about Nigersaurus.

One thing that is truly odd about Nigersaurus is its face. This dinosaur looks like it was trying to be born a Diplodocus or a Rapetosaurus but had a few DNA splicing errors at some point in the egg. What may have started as some sort of bewildering mutation, and most likely did not but was evolved over time to accommodate the food sources of the region better and allowed the dinosaur's species to survive, ended up shaping the very strange face of a dinosaur that walked about Africa for a good 20 million years. This adaptation/bizarre mutation that resulted in Nigersaurus left us with the remains of a diplodocid with an extremely shortened face and a much wider mouth than its cousins. In fact, that mouth looks like a vacuum attachment. Inside that bizarre mouth is a dental battery consisting of over 100 small sharp teeth at a time, making the animal more like a wood chipper than a gentle herbivore. Nigersaurus puts all of the amazing hadrosaur dental batteries to shame faster than a young Mike Tyson (there was a faster knockout on record, but I cannot find a reliable source)

02 February 2012

Majungasaurus Continues!

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The prevalence of toys of Majungasaurus is not, at this time, so heavy that it would make anyone scream, but there are a few from both serious collections and related to kids links like Dinosaur King. We know that it has infiltrated both the History Channel and the BBC in the recent past, which isn't too big a deal, but documentaries that are fairly accurate are the number one way to spread ideas about dinosaurs and introduce dinosaurs to people not generally involved in paleontology aside from visitation to museums. Besides, if I can pretend to be a Majungasaurus (Majungatholus here) and take out another dinosaur, I'm all for a little playing around. There is still much to learn about Majungasaurus and much that we have not had time to discuss such as the air pathways of Majungasaurus that have been theorized and deduced, but, being self explanatory really, I can post a diagram that can serve as a discussion starter to that end:
If there are any questions that we haven't covered let me know, as always, and I'll dig up an answer!

01 February 2012

Finding and Refinding

Majungasaurus has had an interesting past. Like many dinosaurs Majungasaurus has sported many names over its history as a known species of dinosaur. First, when the French found its skeletons in 1896 with Deperet leading their dig it was described and named Megalosaurus crenatissimus like so many other dinosaurs in the 19th century. In fact, there have been so many dinosaurs initially named Megalosaurus that there could be a museum just dedicated to the history of the erroneous naming of dinosaurs into this genus. 1955 saw the first use of the name Majungasaurus by Rene Lavocat, another French scientist, but that was not the end of the names. In the 1970's the name was revamped a little with what was thought to be an entirely new genus and species thought to be a pachycephalosaur being found which turned out to be partial remains of a Majungasaurus. The name given to this remains was Majungatholus atops. Finally, for a few brief years recently, the past two decades primarily, Majungasaurus was known to the public as Majungatholus atops the abelisaurid rather than M. atops the pachycephalosaur thanks to a 1996 discovery of a very well preserved skull and subsequent redesignation in a 1998 paper. Science, obviously, has named Majungatholus a synonym junior in age to Majungasaurus and kept the latter while relegating the former to a footnote.

That skull of Majungasaurus has an interesting bony look, as mentioned before, but something even more interesting about the animal is that its legs, built extra stocky for even an abelisaurid, even stockier than Carnotaurus' weight lifter's legs, had a very prominent crest on its knee. It also had depressed cervical ribs to decrease its weight something like the fuller on a sword. Majungasaurus also had strange hands, as we have mentioned, but what was not mentioned was that if you look closely only two fingers should be shown, like a tyrannosaur, but with no claws and it is important to note that the hand bones were fused together, making them essentially useless for anything except the doggy paddle!