Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Paleofest Report 2019

Welcome back! It’s this time of year again where I go down the annual Paleofest Symposium, held every March at the Burpee Museum in Rockford Illinois. There’s always new discoveries, new experiences, and a lot of great talks about paleontology research. For further details, I once again recommend our MC Scott Williams, for tweets check out Dr. Thomas Holtz’s twitter, and for images ask Todd Johnson. Once again there’s no particular theme, but once again younger researchers and women researchers take the foreground on a wide variety of topics.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

New Year Special: Year of the Pig

Happy New Year! In China, it’s the Year of the Pig. Pigs have long been a mainstay of Eurasian societies since they were domesticated, proving critical protein for relatively low cost, and allowed for the Polynesians to conquer the Pacific and the Europeans to thrive in the New World.   The Egyptians considered them evil and diseased, and the Jewish and Muslim examples followed their example.   But it says something the Romans loved them so much they refused to adopt that dietary law. 

Pigs have been a success story in history.  It’s time to talk about their evolutionary story.
Pigs are basal artiodactyls-their closest relatives are the similarly Suine Peccaries, more basal camels, and more derived ungulates such as hippos, whales and extinct entelodonts, followed by camels, then by ruminants. 
So where do Suines come from? 

Monday, October 29, 2018

Happy Birthday, OC Marsh.

With apologies to Lin-Manuel Miranda:

I see what's happening here
You're face-to-face with genius and it's strange
You don't even know how I looked.
It's adorable!
Well, it's nice to see undergraduates never change

Open your eyes, let's begin
Yes, it's really me,
It's O.C.! Breathe it in
I know it's a lot:
The brain, the beard!
Being me can be kinda weird

What can I say except "You're welcome"
For all the dinosaurs you know?
Hey, it's OK, it's OK. You're welcome
I'm just an ordinary kind of Joe!

Hey, what has two thumbs and found Pteranodon
When you still learning about Iguanodon?
Me, son!
When some horns got turned up, who found the Trike?
You're looking at him, spike!

Oh, also I found the first horse
—you're welcome—
And mapped its evolution of course
Also, Apatosaurus is mine
—You're welcome—
Brontosaurus too if you’re kind

So what can I say except "You're welcome"
For the quarries you’ll use a century from now?
This isn’t a play, it's OK,
You're welcome
I just was the first one to learn how

You're welcome, you're welcome
Well, come to think of it

Kid, honestly the honor is mine
I’ve dug in strata in every layer of time
Mammal, reptile and birds
I’ve even invented some new scientific words
I found out Kansas was a sea
Found all its fish with my lunch tea
What's the lesson? What is the take-away?
I leave Cope in the dust when I’m on the break-away

And the Zallinger murals here in my U
Are filled with the genera I have found too
Look where I've been. I found fossils galore
They’ll have to come back to my quarries if they want more
Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, hey!
Well, anyway, let me say you're welcome!
For giving you a dinosaur bash

Hey, it's OK, it's OK. You're welcome!
Well, come to think of it, I could use the cash
Hey, it's your day to say you're welcome!
'Cause I'm gonna need some funds
I'm specimen myself. You're welcome!
Cope and I have long been moribund!

You're welcome, you're welcome
And thank you!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Dragon Day 2018: Top Ten Prehistoric Animals named after Dragons

Happy Dragon day, the fourth Sunday in October!  

Wait a minute, you ask yourself, why are you talking about mythical animals? Isn’t this blog about real animals? Why haven’t you posted more often? 

First of all, yes, I do need to post more often. Second, I will talk about real animals. And finally, in reverse order, dragons are still awesome and I still feel compelled to talk about mythical animals. Dinosaurs have basically become the dragons to the 20th century. Watch a dinosaur movie, look at a piece of art-these real animals get their most bizarre and fearsome qualities played up. Dinosaurs fulfill the same narrative device. Authors like Adrienne Mayor, Don Glut, and Allen Debus have all made the parallel. Dinosaur bones were indeitifed with dragons, and dinosaurs have been given dragonish qualities in art and literature from the very beginning. A big scary reptile is going to look like a dragon, period.

So, in honor of dragon day, inspired by Christopher dePiazza’s amazing blog and art, , I am going to give you my top ten prehistoric animals named after Dragons! 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Species That Don't Get Enough Publicity #14: Achillobator giganteus

Dromeosaurs are one of the last dinosaur groups to really become superstars. In the 80s, Deinonychus was the most popular dinosaur: a unique sprinter, jumper, kicker, gangster. A well-armed social hunter, Deinonychus mobbing and dismembering their prey became a defining image of the new “hot blood” look of dinosaurs as science finally came to terms with dinosaur endothermy.  When Michael Crichton gave them the name of Velociraptor and Steven Spielberg put them on screen in the most terrifying depiction of any dinosaur, they became superstars.

Immediately after the release of the film, a new giant dromaeosaur was discovered: Utahraptor. Utahraptor showed that Deinonychus was no longer the earliest or largest dromaeosaur. Earlier dromaeosaurs have since been found, but not larger ones. At over 1,000 lbs, Utahraptor remains the largest (and most famous) of the dromaeosaurs. In the 2010s, a new giant raptor has made headlines. Extremely rare, Dakotaraptor finally allows for the fantasy “Utahraptor meets Tyrannosaurus” scenarios dinosaur fans have dreamed of for 20 years.  

But there are two other giant raptors, two big dromaeosaurs that have been found and ignored by popular culture. One I will deal with later along with its family, but today I will talk about Velociraptor’s giant predecessor in Mongolia: Achillobator.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Movie Review: Dinosaurus! (1960)

Today’s movie review is about an odd little 1960 film. At first glance, it’s a typical kid’s adventure film mixed with some horror elements. On the other hand, it’s a pile of tired clich├ęs with many depressing and dark moments. It’s an odd little movie, and it’s worth a look.  It’s not part of my childhood, but it certainly was for a lot of people.  This is the Jack Harris-Irvin Yeaworth collaboration Dinosaurus! (the exclamation point is theirs). Thankfully there is a rifftrax for this film, so I’ve added their best jokes when appropriate. 

Monday, May 28, 2018

Pictures At An Exhibition 4

Today I’m returning to my Pictures At An Exhibition. In case you haven’t read part 1, here’s the link

This time we’ve moved on to the late Silurian, specifically in Chicago in Cook County Illinois about 425 million years ago. It’s only fitting that the paintings depict one of the few faunas known from the area of the museum itself, and the very brief Silurian period is well-represented in the Field Museum’s fossils. Indeed, the fossil collection began with mostly local geology from this period, and until 1990 there was a hall of Paleozoic fossils and dioramas in the museum.  As of now, they still have a corner in the Evolving Planet exhibit. Above the fossils of the Chicago region and a diorama of a Silurian reef is Charles Knight’s depiction of the city to which he dedicated this work of art. 

Like the previous Ordovician mural, this depicts a coastline, with both land and sea depicted and no animals seen swimming.  However, as the Ordovician mural, marine animals are nevertheless present. In this case, it’s the coral reefs. Despite the massive extinction event that began the Silurian and the three minor extinctions that followed, the last two during the Ludlow epoch, corals still prevailed.  In these extinctions, the temperature dropped, and with it the sea level. This is depicted in the mural as the reefs protrude from the surface, exposed to the air.

This may be the most colorful of the Paleozoic murals-the corals are maroon and white, with drifts of algae and seaweed adding green to the bright blue ocean. My knowledge of corals is limited, so I cannot comment on which species are being represented.  The background has rock formations, sea, and a cloudy sky, with a peninsula on the horizon, much like the Ordovician mural. The geological evidence does suggest that Chicago was a tropical bay with a coral reef, so this depiction is still accurate. 

It is interesting that in the Paleozoic murals, the coast is depicted and not marine ecosystems. It’s not a question of knowledge-by 1930 the fossils of the Midwest marine faunas were well-known and catalogued. It’s not a question of ability-Knight repeatedly depicted these faunas in other murals for New York and National Geographic.  It might have been time constraints-on the other hand, he had the time to depict the sea creatures of the Ordovician and the coral reefs of the Silurian. It could simply be a creative choice-there are no underwater scenes at all in this series, and he wanted thematic continuity to match stylistic and palette continuity.

One more note- the Silurian seen here represents the Thorton Quarry Reef site, dating to the Niagara formation in the late Silurian.  This quarry has provided a great deal of stone for the local area, and so local collectors have found thousands of specimens from this region, including the aforementioned collection in the Field Museum.  For more on the reef, the Milwaukee Public Museum has a website on it:

I apologize for the short essay-it comes down to my ignorance of the subject matter.