Friday, October 31, 2014

Thirteen Monster Dinosaurs

Since today is Halloween I feel it would be appropriate to focus on something spooky...like monsters.  Monsters are cool since they can pretty much look like anything your imagination wants them to.  Many dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals are names after famous monsters, or have horror-themed aspects to their names.  Some are pretty obvious, others need to be translated in order to be understood.  Some of these names are featured in my post from 2013 about interesting dinosaur names.  I have illustrated a fun little painting of thirteen prehistoric animals all taking the physical forms of whichever monster or horror aspect they are named after.  Can you name them all? 


Once you think you have been able to identify as many as you can I put the answers below, starting with the monsters at the top of the page, working down from left to right.

Dracorex hogwartsia: This plant-eating dinosaur's name means "dragon king from Hogwarts" because its skull resembles that of what a dragon from the Harry Potter universe's could look like.

Gryphoceratops: This small ceratopid's name translates to "gryphon horn face".  Gryphons were creatures from folklore of various ancient Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cultures which were half eagle and half lion.  The first ceratopid fossils found by people thousands of years ago are believed to have sparked the myth of the gryphon. 

Gargoyleosaurus: Name means "gargoyle reptile".  This was an armored dinosaur that reminded the paleontologists who named it of a stone gargoyle. 

Anthracosuchus balrogus: This crocodile's genus and species name translates to coal crocodile balrog.  A balrog is a demon, often associated with fire that wields a whip made of flames, from the Lord of the Rings universe.  The character, Gandalf, the grey wizard, battles one in The Fellowship of the Ring.   

Diabloceratops: Name means "devil horn face" because this ceratopid's horns bear a resemblance to those of demons in pop culture.

Beelzebufo: Name means "devil frog".  This prehistoric amphibian was the largest frog known to science.

Terataphoneus: Name means "monstrous murderer".  This was a tyrannosaurid and therefore was likely survived by killing other animals for food...therefore it was a murderer and a monster.  The name is really cool-sounding, okay?

Lythronax: Name means "gore king".  This was another tyrannosaurid predator that, since it also ate meat, was probably exposed to some gore now and again.  Is the name obvious?  Yes.  Is it cool enough to make this fact excusable?  I'd say so.

Minotaurosaurus: Name means "minotaur reptile" this was an armored dinosaur which was named after the minotaur, a monster from Greek Mythology with the head of a bull and body of a human, because of it's horns.

Medusaceratops: Name means "Medusa horn face".  This ceratopid dinosaur was named after Medusa, a monster from Greek mythology called a Gorgon.  Gorgons had snakes for hair, the source of inspiration for this dinosaur's name since its horns were particularly curved and almost wavy like snakes.
Styxosaurus: Name means "Styx reptile".  This plesiosaur was named in honor of the River Styx from Greek mythology, which separates the land of the living from the underworld.

Charonosaurus: Name means "Charon reptile".  This duck-billed dinosaur was named after Charon, the being from Greek mythology who carries the dead across the Styx to the underworld.

Stygimoloch: Name means "demon from the river Styx".  Named because its impressive horn arrangement makes it resemble a demon that might lurk in the river of death in a Greek myth.

Hope you enjoyed my little monster-dinosaur fusion!  Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

How To Appreciate Fossils Without Ruining It For Science

[Big thanks to @BlackMudpuppy for both the post and title idea! Go check out his comic!]

I had so many posts planned before this particular topic. Tyrannosaur trackways. North America's earliest known bird footprints. You know, real science-y stuff that I have been directly working on since the start of the summer. Instead, my muse must be directed towards the ever contentious issue of the commercial fossil trade.

I wanted my next post on the commercial fossil trade to focus on the positive role that a fossil shop in France played in reuniting the skull and feet of Deinocheirus (which had been illegally removed, or poached, from Mongolia) with the rest of the specimen. Happy ending stories can and do happen, but unfortunately they are outweighed by the stories of greed and lack of forethought.

ThinkGeek, a popular online store that boasts an impressive array of geek-targeted wares (from home decor to cubicle toys) recently posted a product: people can buy real dinosaur bone. Go see for yourself. This is one of the few times I recommend reading the comments section. I'll wait here with my tea.

As you read in the comments section, a few paleontologists and fossil enthusiasts have voiced their concerns over the ethics of treating fossils, an irreplaceable, non-renewable (in our lifetime) natural history heritage resource, as a "product". In response to a comment left by paleontologist Jim Kirkland, a ThinkGeek representative stated this:


There are issues glaring out at us from this paragraph:
1. Who exactly verified these fossils? Contrary to what this statement would have you believe, there is no third party oversight body or committee that verifies fossils for legal or ethical issues before sale. No paleontologist has come forth to state that they checked over these fossils and that they are OK to sell. There is also no way to know if the dealer/supplier is conducting their work legally or ethically. Unfortunately, ThinkGeek to date has not supplied the information on their dealer, which does not allow the fossil consumer to decide if they are making an ethical purchase.
2. If they are so weathered and out of context, how do they know this is hadrosaur bone? If there are identifying features on these bones that allow us to know they are hadrosaurid, that's science. That material is important to some researcher somewhere. There are a couple of scenarios: that the material is just being guessed at as hadrosaur based on size, or that there is associated material that is complete enough to identify as belonging to a hadrosaur. If the latter is the case, what is the fate of that more complete material?
3. Appeals to emotion as logic. What we see here is a marketing ploy: the way to appreciation and inspiration is direct ownership. There is the appeal to emotion hidden not so subtly in here as well of "Won't someone please think of the children?" These are the tired tactics of commercial fossil supporters, and that is the main point I want this post to address.

Now that the background reading is out of the way, let's focus on ethical fossil love.

How to Ethically Love Fossils

You are a fossil enthusiast, and you want to develop a closer and deeper connection with the life of the past. You also want to make sure that your interests are not directly or inadvertently supporting shady doings (e.g. poaching and illegal fossil export, accidentally removing scientific access by buying a fossil, etc.) You are in luck. There are so many ways in which the Fossil Lover can support science, science education, and a sustainable use of fossil heritage resources!

1. Donate your time to your nearest natural history museum! Museum activities such as educational outreach, fossil archiving, fossil preparation, and even fieldwork thrive when there is a strong, dedicated volunteer base. Volunteers made field discoveries, lab discoveries, and inspire countless children with their enthusiasm and dedication. This is a great way to become part of the story of the fossils you love!

2. (If you are financially able) Donate funds to your nearest museum! In these times of budget cuts and downsizing (particularly focused on research and collections of museums) museums are expected to rely more heavily on external donations. These donations pave the way for renovations and research chairs (guaranteed funding for paleontology research), which are necessary to bring the story of fossils to life. Imagine this: a new dinosaur is discovered because you funded an endowed research chair, or funded an ongoing field project. You have the power to enable these advancements.

3. Support public outreach events: attend talks at your local museum! Fossils are a great gateway to exposing people to science and nature. Fossils are not just a remote part of our past from which we are disconnected: the story of fossils is our story. I recommend checking out the outreach work of Dr. Scott Sampson (yes, Dr. Scott from Dinosaur Train): he makes fantastic connections between fossils and science outreach. The more information you gather, the better you can promote your own love of our past life!

4. Purchase fossil replicas instead of fossil heritage resources! There are several places where museum-quality replicas of your favorite dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures can be purchased. Fossil replicas are great: they are renewable, they are durable, and they are much less expensive than an original fossil. Here is a small (and not complete!) list of companies who sell fossil replicas of dinosaurs, and their replica work can be viewed in natural history museums worldwide. [DISCLOSURE NOTE: some companies also sell original fossil material. I want to encourage and promote the sale of fossil replicas whenever I can.]

Gaston Designs - We have two of their ankylosaur skeletons (Gastonia and Animantarx) in our display gallery.
Triebold Paleontology, Inc. - A large selection of replicas of dinosaurs, marine reptiles, flying reptiles, and more.
Black Hills Institute - A cast of their Acrocanthosaurus is in our display gallery, menacing the Gaston Designs ankylosaurs.

There is also a growing trend of 3D digital sharing, where, if a person has the right equipment, can download a 3D image file and print off their very own fossil replica. As more museums are able to secure the funds to digitize and publicly upload their collections (this takes a great many staff hours and equipment upgrades, and is a slow process - I'm in the process of getting just 2D images of our collections online, and even that takes time), and as the technology becomes more accessible, I see 3D digital fossil replicas being an ethical alternative to purchasing original fossil material. Check out these sites for downloadable 3D digital replicas and information:

africanfossils.org - featuring artifacts and fossils from West Africa
Digital Morphology - information on their scanning work and digital files of several animals
University of Arkansas Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies

5. Are you a private land owner who has fossils on their land? Contact your local schools and work with classrooms to help them create their own teaching collections. Better still, involve a paleontologist from a nearby museum - that K-12 driven display could be a great collaborative project that is displayed in a museum, or become part of a student's museum studies project.

6. For private land owners: if you charge museums to prospect on your land, please be aware that museums cannot afford the same access fees or the "market value" of vertebrate fossils that commercial businesses can afford.

7. Are you a K-12 educator? There are many ways in which to inspire children in paleontology that do not involve the purchase of a single fossil. Contact your local museum, or your closest university: there are many researchers and student-researchers who are passionate about science education, and who would love to work with you to develop a natural history-themed curriculum.

8. Are you a heavy equipment or technology company? You can make a huge impact by donating equipment time and your own expertise to field, display, and archiving projects! Much of our helicopter time and crane operator time has been donated, and we would not have been able to complete many projects without such in-kind donations.

9. Are you often out of doors on public lands? Be aware of what fossil heritage resources are around you, and keep a sharp eye out for poachers and vandals. Report any suspicious activity to the local state/provincial public land authorities. The same goes for fossil discoveries on public lands: report these right away to the land management authorities. Many people make the well-meaning but ill-advised mistake of trying to remove new discoveries to protect them. This ends up damaging the fossils and surrounding data. It's hard to say "I'm sorry" to 110 million year old information.

This is just a small handful of ways in which you can express your appreciation for fossils without having to purchase them. It is my great wish to see appreciation and respect for fossils not expressed in terms of ownership of fossil heritage resources. One does not have to own a thing in order to love it, and the ethical alternatives to fossil ownership have the potential to provide meaningful, lasting connections to the life of the past. How you will influence the future of paleontology remains to be seen, but the best way to start is to get involved. That chapter of Earth's history is waiting to be written.

(This post and the information contained within would not have been possible without great info and links from Andrew Farke, John Steward, and yes, even ThinkGeek. Without their sale of vertebrate fossils online and their tissue paper thin reasoning behind said sales, the inspiration for this post would have come in the unforeseeable future.)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Disney Princesses Reimagined as Dinosaurs

One of the most popular Halloween costumes you will no doubt see every year is Disney princess.  They are everywhere.  (FYI: This year get ready for enough kids in Frozen costumes to literally invade a country.) If you happen to use the internet on a fairly regular basis you might notice that there is this creative fad going around where an artist will illustrate Disney princesses as...something different.  It's really popular actually.  They change their race, sex, costumes, they show them as superheros, villains, high school students, steampunk...the list goes on.  It started off as "wow that's clever!" and now its been going on for a while and I am starting to get really annoyed.  I'm annoyed because NOT ONCE HAS A DISNEY PRINCESS BEEN REIMAGINED AS A DINOSAUR.  Well this artist got out his handy dandy sketch pad and did something about it.  I shall now share with you a few doodles I did of Disney princesses if they suddenly poofed into a dinosaur (or other prehistoric beast) right in the middle or during the climax of each of their movies.  You're welcome.

First up we have Cinderella as a Sauropod.

You can't know for sure it won't fit until you try.  Go ahead...try.

 Then we have Ariel, from The Little Mermaid, if she were a Liopleurodon

More like the Lio Mermaid!  Get it?  ...Yeah you do.

It's Princess Jasmine, from Alladin, if she were a beautiful titanosaur! 

C'mon, carpet!  She want's to be shown the world!

Here is Mulan as a Yutyrannus!

I'll make a tyrannosauroid out of you.

You didn't honestly think I was going to leave out Frozen, did you?  Finally, here is Queen Elsa as a wooly mammoth. 

I wonder if that ice staircase she used would need to be reinforced a bit now...

There now Disney Princesses as dinosaurs (and other prehistoric beasts) is a real thing.  It exists.  I feel better now.  Maybe next year I will do even more, who knows?  Hope you all enjoyed this little Halloween-themed post.  Stay tuned, though!  I have one more much spookier Halloween-themed post up my sleeve for Friday! 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Diabloceratops: Prehistoric Animal of the Week

Halloween is almost upon us!  Let's continue the theme from last week by checking out another dinosaur with a truly devilish flavor.  Enter Diabloceratops eatoniDiabloceratops was a centrosaurine ceratopid dinosaur, related to Styracosaurus, Nasutoceratops, and Pachyrhinosaurus, that lived in what is now Utah, USA, about 79 million years ago.  It measured about eighteen feet long from beak to tail and would have eaten plants.  The genus name, Diabloceratops, translates to "Devil Horn Face" in reference to this dinosaur's amazing horn arrangement, similar to those of depictions of devils in pop culture.  When alive, Diabloceratops shared it's habitat with the tyrannosaurid, Lythronax. (Which may have been an enemy in life!)

Life reconstruction of Diabloceratops eatoni by Christopher DiPiazza.

Diabloceratops is one of the the oldest large ceratopid found to date.  All ceratopids that have been found from older times are much smaller, like Protoceratops.  Not surprisingly, paleontologists suspect that despite it being classified as a centrosaurine ceratopid (large variety with thick noses) it also shared some characteristics with, and likely had a closer family history with its smaller relatives, like Protoceratops amongst its larger centrosaurine peers.  

Diabloceratops skull on display at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

Diabloceratops' horn arrangement is truly amazing and nothing like it exists on any other dinosaur.  Most prominent were the two upturned horns above its eyes which are relatively short on the fossilized skull but in life would have had a layer of keratin covering them, making them significantly longer.  On either side of its tall, harp-shaped frill, sat another pair of long, curved horns.  Diabloceratops also had small, almost unnoticeable horns on its nose.  It is likely these horns were a form of communication, or possibly sexual display, amongst DiabloceratopsDiabloceratops' snout was particularly short, and down-turned, even amongst the other members of its family, of which short, deep snouts are a defining characteristic.

Hope you enjoyed our devilishly dark dinosaur for this week!  The Halloween fun isn't over yet, though!  Stay tuned all this week up through Friday for a few more scary treats from Jersey Boys Hunt Dinosaurs!

References

Kirkland, J.I. and DeBlieux, D.D. (2010). "New basal centrosaurine ceratopsian skulls from the Wahweap Formation (Middle Campanian), Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument, southern Utah", In: Ryan, M.J., Chinnery-Allgeier, B.J., and Eberth, D.A. (eds.) New Perspectives on Horned Dinosaurs: The Royal Tyrrell Museum Ceratopsian Symposium. Bloomington, Indiana University Press, pp. 117–140

J. I. Kirkland and D. D. DeBlieux. 2007. New horned dinosaurs from the Wahweap Formation, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, southern Utah. Utah Geological Survey Notes 39(3):4-5

Friday, October 24, 2014

Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2014: Ancient Mother Goes Pink

As you should know, October is national breast cancer awareness month.  The official color for breast cancer awareness is pink so for the past three years, in its honor, I have illustrated a different prehistoric animal in pink.  You may remember in 2012 Pachycephalosaurus was the first to rock the look and in 2013 Deinotherium was adorned in pink.  This year, I decided to paint a powerful meat eater which also shows evidence of being a mother according to a recent discovery of eggs in Europe.  I give you Torvosaurus in pink!


As always, make sure to check out this site to learn how you can actually make a difference in the fight against breast cancer.  Simply liking a painting won't make cancer go away.