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.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Paleofest 2018 Report

Two months ago, I had the privilege of attending Paleofest, the yearly Paleontology symposium at the Burpee Museum in Rockford, Illinois. The Master of Ceremonies remains Scott Williams, now at the staff of the Museum of the Rockies, and once again there was an excellent variety of speakers. There was no particular theme this time, predominantly dinosaurs but with a fair amount of other paleolontology.  While there was mostly American paleontology, other continents were represented in some talks. Unfortunately, my camera malfunctioned, so if you want pictures, please contact my and Scott’s friend Todd Johnson for his excellent photojournalism.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Top Ten Dinosaur Movies Never Made

As you’ve noticed, dinosaurs have been featured in a lot of terrible movies. From Lost Continent to Jurassic World, from King Dinosaur to Ice Age 3, not to mention any Asylum movie on the Sci Fi Channel, it’s easy to put a dinosaur on screen, but it’s hard to make the experience worthwhile. Sometimes the effects are terrible. Sometimes the dinosaurs are cliched. Sometimes the film is just plain badly written and shot.  So it’s a shame to find out about great movies that were never made. 

In Hollywood, it takes a lot of luck for a project to see work, especially one with an ambitious 
 premise or one demanding expensive special effects. Even filmmakers like Kubrick or Spielberg have had projects die before seeing light.   Fortunately, big ambitious projects are remembered, especially if they’re by people who have made other hit films but somehow were thwarted other times.  In this case, Mark Berry’s excellent Dinosaur Filmography came very much in handy.

These projects all sound like a lot of fun-it’s not often dinosaur movies get made, simply because of the limitations in budget, writing ability, and marketability inherent in the genre. Frankly, if we had these made, they would have turned out far superior than most dinosaur films that actually saw light. These were dream projects, vast in scope and ambition. Some of them were salvaged and recreated into excellent films. Some of them turned out into disasters. But it’s fascinating to learn about them, and dream about what could have been. Who knows? We may see them someday even after their originators have long been dead. Anything can happen in Hollywood, and they love to remake and revisit. Maybe someday these will be made. 

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Happy 30th: The discoveries of 1988

This weekend, I turned 30 years old. It’s a milestone for me, of course, but it reminded me about how much can change in 30 years.  30 years ago the dinosaur film was Land Before Time, when dinosaurs were inspired by the works of Charles Knight and William Stout before the Jurassic Park paradigm took over.  30 years ago,  the Berlin Wall still stood dividing Germany, the first Bush became president coasting in on Reagan’s popularity, and computer graphics in film were limited to a short by Pixar. 

There were many milestone in paleontology as well-new species were described, that would become iconic many years later.  So, I’ve decided to showcase all the fossil tetrapods described in 1988.  I can’t go into any depth about each, but there will be quite a few of them, so hold on your butts.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Book Review: Starring T.rex

As you’ve probably guessed by now, I’m fascinated by pop culture’s views on dinosaurs. Fortunately, I’m not alone. Allen Debus, Don Glut, and many others have documented our obsession with prehistoric creatures, and today I’m going to look at one of these documents.