Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Jurassic World Trailer: Thoughts

Today the trailer for the latest installment of the Jurassic Park franchise, Jurassic World, was released.  If you have not seen it already, check it out below!

I would rather not go and start nitpicking every anatomical inaccuracy about the dinosaurs in this trailer.  I have long ago accepted the fact that Jurassic Park in no way is aiming to be accurate in its renderings. Yes, the theropods don't have feathers, and the sauropod appears to have too many toes, but why are so many of my fellow paleontology nerds acting so surprised?  Jurassic Park was never supposed to be a scientific educational franchise.  Do I wish the dinosaurs looked more realistic to what science tells us so the masses wouldn't continue to get the wrong impressions about paleontology?  Of course.  The reality, however, is this idea isn't Jurassic Park's game and hasn't been since the first two movies.  (which also had flaws)  I get more upset when i see inaccuracies on shows that are supposed to be educational like on the Discovery Channel, for instance.  There is less of an excuse for error there and people watch those programs with the intent to learn facts. 

I'm still excited about this movie.  Honestly, what dinosaur fan wouldn't be?  I know Jurassic Park fans have wanted a marine reptile in a film for a long time.  There was even a plesiosaur metal figure that went with the first line of Jurassic Park toys back in the 1990s (still have mine) but nothing else ever came of it. Now, twenty years later, there is a gigantic mosasaur in Jurassic Park!


May we also please notice how there appears to be trained Velociraptors?  I wonder how long it would take to condition one of them, let alone get it to do what I wanted.  As a zookeeper i can say it takes a lot of work training modern dinosaurs.  I can only imagine what it could be like work with a large dromaeosaur!

Wonder if they used clicker-training... yeah, it was probably clicker training.

 Let's not forget about that mysterious, genetic hybrid that is no-doubt set to be this film's main antagonist.  It isn't seen in the trailer, beyond its feet and front claws a bit.  However, images of some of the upcoming lego toys to go with this movie have been released on the internet and one of them is most likely this new dinosaur.

You have no idea how many times parts of movies have been spoiled by toy companies releasing products and adds before the film hits theaters.

 That's all I really have to say about this trailer.  I may touch on it more in the future.  What are your thoughts on the trailer?  Are you going to see it?  What things are you hoping to see?  Are you disappointed the dinosaurs in the latest film are still scientifically inaccurate?  Do YOU think the Velociraptors were clicker-trained? (Cuz I do.) Let me know in the comments below!

UPDATE: I saw a tweet from one of the writers of the movie.

If I were to nitpick on what the original tweeter said I would say domesticated is not the same as trained but I get the message.  This just solidifies for me that clicker training doesn't always work, especially with Velociraptors.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Katrina Van Grouw comes to New Jersey

If you have not already please go back and check out my interview with Katrina Van Grouw, former curator of ornithology at the London Museum of Natural History, and revered author and illustrator of the amazing book, The Unfeathered Bird.  These past few weeks Katrina was traveled to the eastern United States all the way from England to give talks about her book.  I was delighted when she contacted me and told me she was going to be in the area and invited her to the Bergen County Zoo where I work to give one of her talks.  Even though I have read her book, hung out with her in person and heard the amazing story of this book's production (which took most of her adult life to do), her talk was nothing less than wildly entertaining and educational too!

We had a room packed with zoo staff, zoo volunteers, local birders, and anyone else in the area with a love and appreciation for ornithology.  Honestly, I think a person not previously interested in birds would be converted having seen this presentation, though.

One of Katrina's main points to her book was that there is so much more to be fascinated by in birds than just feathers.  We tend to focus on the plumage because it is flashy and colorful but there is so much more going on in a bird's body that is just plain fun to learn about.  Below, Katrina explains all the unique adaptations of a woodpecker that allow It to the do what it does without having its eyeballs fly out the back of its little noggin every time it smashes its bill into a tree.

 Katrina's book took so long to publish because neither science publishers nor art publishers were completely sure what to make of the idea.  The science publishers thought it was too art focused and the art publishers thought it was too scientific.  Neither was sure the book would appear to a wide enough audience.  It wasn't until a fateful night in a pub that she got a deal with Princeton University Press.  Smart move, Princeton.

This is true.

Domestic birds are just as strange.  Crested ducks actually have a hole in their craniums where the fluffy crest grows.  This crest ALWAYS matches the color of the duck's flanks, not the rest of its head.  Also, in a genetically confused attempt to make up for the hole in the skull, the duck's skull has a strange hook-shaped horn-like structure growing out of a different part of its skull.  Selective breeding is weird.

In order to get a dead pigeon to appear as if it is inflating its throat sack, sometimes you need to get creative...

Why didn't I think of that!

Thank you again to Katrina for coming down to share your incredible story with us!  If you have not already, definitely grab a copy of Katrina's book, The Unfeathered Bird.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Dawndraco: Prehistoric Animal of the Week

This week we will be checking out a new discovered species of pterosaur that was discovered way back in the 1970s.  Let's celebrate Dawndraco kanzai!

Dawndraco was a large pterosaur that sported a twenty foot wingspan and soared over the oceans that once covered what is now Kansas, USA, during the Late Cretaceous, 86 million years ago.  Back then a shallow body of salt water covered much of the mid-western United States, called the Western Interior Seaway.  During this time, Dawndraco coexisted with many marine creatures including sharks, like Scapanorhyncus, turtles, plesiosaurs, mosasaurs, like Tylosaurus, and its close relative, Geosternbergia.  Its genus and species name translates to "Dawn Dragon from Kansas".

Fossil remains of Dawndraco kanzai at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

The discovery and naming of Dawndraco is an interesting story that really starts in 1974 when scientists discovered a beautifully preserved pterosaur skeleton they identified as a Pteranodon sternbergi.  At the time, the genus Pteranodon included two species; Pteranodon longiceps, which had the pointed crests and is the most common pterosaur image in popular culture, and Pteranodon sternbergi, which possessed a wide, triangular-shaped crest.  Fast forward to 2010 and paleontologists are revisiting the Pteranodon genus.  They decided that since Pteranodon longiceps and Pteranodon sternbergi really lived a few million years apart and had very different crests, that Pteranodon sternbergi should get its own genus and so it was renamed Geosternbergia sternbergi.  While they were conducting this research, they realized that the specimen found in the 70s was actually different from both Pteranodon and Geosternbergia.  Its beak was broader longitudinally and the base of its skull was more narrow.  They quickly realized that they had yet another new genus on their hands that had been lying in the museum for decades and never realized it, and thus Dawndraco was born.

Sketch showcasing the three pterosaurs formerly all belonging to the genus, Pteranodon by Christopher DiPiazza.

Dawndraco's wings were exceptionally long and narrow, perfect for soaring over long distances.  This idea is reinforced by the fact that where it was discovered was in the middle of a sea, miles away from any shores at the time that it was alive.  It may have behaved similarly to modern seabirds that also fly long distances over the ocean like Albatross.  Dandraco's beak was extremely long, and possessed no teeth.  Some scientists suggest it hunted prey like small fish and mollusks by plucking them from the ocean's surface as it flew overhead.  Others believe it was more suited to diving into the water and using its long bill and body like a missile to ambush fast-swimming prey.  Dawndraco's skull sadly only preserved the base of the crest so the exact shape of its head ornamentation is somewhat of a mystery.

Life reconstruction of Dawndraco kanzai by Christopher DiPiazza.

That is all for this week!  As always feel free to comment below or on our facebook page!


Kellner, A.W.A. (2010). "Comments on the Pteranodontidae (Pterosauria, Pterodactyloidea) with the description of two new species". Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciências 82 (4): 1063–1084. doi:10.1590/S0001-37652010000400025.

Witton, Mark P. Pterosaurs: Natural History, Evolution, Anatomy. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Castoroides: Prehistoric Animal of the Week

This week we shall be checking out yet another R.O.U.S..  Make way for Castoroides ohioensisCastoroides was a kind of beaver that lived from the late Pliocene, about three million years ago, to late Pleistocene epoch, about ten thousand years ago.  Castroides was amongst one of the largest rodents in history, measuring as much as eight feet long from head to tail and weighing almost three hundred pounds in the largest specimens.  During the Ice Age, these bear-sized rodents would have occupied marshes and rivers all over the Western United States, Florida, and parts of Canada. In life, Castoroides would have coexisted with other prehistoric mammals like mammoths, sabre-toothed cats, Glyptodon, giant ground sloths, giant bison, and early humans.  The genus and species name of this animal translate to "beaver from Ohio"...which makes sense!

Castoroides life reconstruction by Christopher DiPiazza.  I made a slight mistake in basing the tail off that of a modern beaver's.  Many scientists believe Castoroides had a more narrow tail, more similar to that of a modern muskrat's.

Castoroides has many physical characteristics in common with modern beavers.  Like its modern relatives, Castoroides had eyes placed on the top and sides of its head.  This would have given it the ability to see in all directions except directly behind it at any one time while still staying mostly submerged in water.  Because of this it could also be assumed that Castoroides probably had webbed digits to help it swim.  Unlike it's modern cousins, Castoroides had proportionally larger feet, shorter legs, a longer tail, and longer, broader incisor teeth, whereas those of modern beavers tend to be short and chisel-shaped.  The molars were also different in Castoroides than in modern beavers.  This implies that Castoroides was not specialized for chewing trees, and would have sustained itself on a different, softer food source, like water plants.  In fact, the teeth of Castoroides, despite being a beaver, in some ways resemble those of other rodents, like Capybaras, which do eat water plants. There is also no evidence on the fossil record that suggests Castoroides ever built dams. 

Castoroides skeletal mount on display at the North American Museum of Ancient Life.

For a long time Castoroides was one of the most successful large mammals in North America, since its fossils have been found in so many different areas.  It is uncertain why they went extinct, but it may have had to do with drastic climate change at the end of the Ice Age.  Large animals, being more specialized and requiring more food and other resources in order to survive, are usually hit hardest and commonly go extinct first, when their habitat changes too rapidly.  Some also suggest that Castoroides may have been hunted too much by early humans for meat and their pelts but so far no evidence has been discovered that proves this. 

That is all for this week!  As always feel free to comment below or on our facebook page!  Have a Request?  Give me a shout out on either of those two places and i will make it happen!


Kurtén, B. and E. Anderson (1980). Pleistocene Mammals of North America. Columbia University Press. pp. 236–237. 

Korth, William W (1994). The Tertiary record of rodents in North America. Springer. p. 145. ISBN 978-0-306-44696-2.

 "Giant Beaver: Natural History Notebooks". Canadian Museum of Nature. 2011-05-02.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Olorotitan in Venice

Back in June I attended my friend's birthday celebration at a place called ArteVino in Hoboken, New Jersey.  The place takes private groups and an art instructor guides the group through creating a painting together.  You are even allowed to eat snacks and drink wine!  My friend chose for us to make our own versions of Claude Monet's famous "Sunset in Venice" piece with acrylic paints.  Below is my initial painting just before we finished.

I don't feel like I will ever really be able to compare to Monet's original painting, though.  I needed to add something personal to the painting so it would be different.  Oh, I know...

That's better!  I'm sure an Olorotitan would enjoy Venice if one ever was alive to see it.  That's it for this week, folks!  Stay tuned for this weekend for another prehistoric animal of the week!