The Last Day of Dinosaurs in the Wild

On Sunday 2nd September 2018, the immersive, interactive time-travelling visitor attraction known as Dinosaurs in the Wild closed its doors for the last time. Yes, Dinosaurs in the Wild is now officially off-show, and if you didn’t get to see it before that fateful Sunday… where were you? I was determined to embark on one final tour, and of course I also needed to go to the grand send-off party and say those sad final goodbyes…

 Preparing to embark on a last ever tour of Late Maastrichtian western North America. Chrononaut Jasmine Arden-Brown introduces us to the world of Chronotex. Image: Darren Naish.

Preparing to embark on a last ever tour of Late Maastrichtian western North America. Chrononaut Jasmine Arden-Brown introduces us to the world of Chronotex. Image: Darren Naish.

As discussed at Tet Zoo several times already (all at ver 3, I hasten to add), I was scientific advisor for this grand project and thus very much feel that the look, behaviour and biology of the Late Cretaceous animals brought to life for the experience was and is ‘mine’, the MAJOR disclaimers being (1) that a whole team of people actually did the work that resulted in the vision coming to fruition, and (2) any ideas that I have about extinct animal biology or appearance or whatever involve the proverbial standing on the shoulders of giants, and the work and discoveries of a great many other people.

 As with any project of this size and scale, there's the long process whereby models and other props come together over time, and then there's the concept art, the explanatory diagrams, and so on. I've kept a record of as much of this stuff as I could. Image: Darren Naish.

As with any project of this size and scale, there's the long process whereby models and other props come together over time, and then there's the concept art, the explanatory diagrams, and so on. I've kept a record of as much of this stuff as I could. Image: Darren Naish.

With its fully – indeed, extensively – feathered dromaeosaurs, fuzzy-coated, muscular tyrannosaurs, terrestrial stalking azhdarchid pterosaurs (cough cough Witton & Naish 2008 cough cough), sleek, chunky mosasaurs, balloon-faced ankylosaurs and more (Conway et al. 2012), Dinosaurs in the Wild has – I really hope and feel – introduced a substantial chunk of the human public to a very up-to-date view of the Mesozoic world, and has thus gone some way towards undoing the damage of Jurassic World. No to the scaly, shit-brown, roaring monsters of the past, and yes to a more interesting, biologically plausible and often more surprising view of what these animals were like. Incidentally, Colin Trevorrow visited Dinosaurs in the Wild within the last few weeks, spoke to our associate live action director Cameron Wenn, and said really positive things (Colin and I spoke briefly over twitter).

 Here are two of the (normally nocturnal) Dinosaurs in the Wild animals seen in full illumination. At left, the metatherian mammal  Didelphodon ; at right, the small dromaeosaur  Acheroraptor  (it never stays still for long, hence the motion blur). Image: Darren Naish.

Here are two of the (normally nocturnal) Dinosaurs in the Wild animals seen in full illumination. At left, the metatherian mammal Didelphodon; at right, the small dromaeosaur Acheroraptor (it never stays still for long, hence the motion blur). Image: Darren Naish.

And did Dinosaurs in the Wild have an impact on the public? I don’t know if I’m allowed to release all the figures, but I will say that many thousands of people attended the experience during its 13 or so months of operation at Birmingham, Manchester and London. Our amazing actors and other staff all became worthy ambassadors of ‘new look’ Mesozoic animals and their biology, and the substantial amount of scientific content included in the show surely introduced the public to a great deal of information they haven’t seen or heard before. All results indicate that we certainly received the sort of feedback and accolade we hoped for: we scored really well as goes visitor feedback, indeed sufficiently well that Dinosaurs in the Wild can be regarded as a world class attraction. The palaeontologists and other scientists and experts who visited were all extraordinarily positive, and thanks indeed to those colleagues of mine who voiced their thoughts in public (Dean Lomax, Mark Witton, Albert Chen, Dave Hone, among others).

 Our final goodbye party was a solemn, quiet affair. Obviously. Thanks, Mike. Image: Darren Naish.

Our final goodbye party was a solemn, quiet affair. Obviously. Thanks, Mike. Image: Darren Naish.

Our venues were all great – Manchester’s Event City was certainly quite the sight to behold – but were perhaps not as centrally placed as might be ideal, though there are all kinds of factors controlling where and how a given exhibit can be located.

 A very dangerous box. Working in the Mesozoic is not all that easy. Image: Darren Naish.

A very dangerous box. Working in the Mesozoic is not all that easy. Image: Darren Naish.

Even now, and even after me writing that fairly substantial ‘behind the scenes’ article I published at Tet Zoo ver 3 in July 2018 (and here’s assuming that SciAm haven’t removed it due to an issue with image rights, ha ha ha), there’s a huge amount that could be said about the ‘making of’ this project. As some of you already know, the backstory to the world of Dinosaurs in the Wild is already written-up in an extensive document that we took to referring to as The Bible, but despite efforts I’ve had to give up on plans to get it published. I will be talking about much of the ‘behind the scenes’ stuff at TetZooCon this year (BUY TICKETS HERE), however, and will be bringing The Bible along for those interested in seeing it.

 There's so much to see through the windows that, even after multiple visits, I still haven't seen it all. In this sequence (seen while looking across the  Dakotaraptor  nesting colony), two female dromaeosaurs engage in a squabble. Image: Kerry Mulvihill.

There's so much to see through the windows that, even after multiple visits, I still haven't seen it all. In this sequence (seen while looking across the Dakotaraptor nesting colony), two female dromaeosaurs engage in a squabble. Image: Kerry Mulvihill.

Huge thanks to everyone at the event last night, and to everyone who made Dinosaurs in the Wild the success it was. Special thanks to producers Jill Bryant and Bob Deere, creative director Tim Haines, the team at Freeman Ryan, to live action directors Scott Faris and Cameron Wenn, to all the amazing people at Impossible, Milk VFX and Crawley Creatures, to every single one of our amazing actors, to our support staff, our sponsors and everyone else. And thanks also to Sam, Simon, Heather and the others who accompanied me on the same, final tour I took just yesterday.

 The temporal field generator is always on. Image: Darren Naish.

The temporal field generator is always on. Image: Darren Naish.

A 1996 Letter from Dr Phil Currie

I think I might get into the habit of posting short articles here: putting longer pieces together takes a while and is often difficult to do in view of other work (hint goddam hint). Let me know what you think about this. Anyway...

  Phil Currie's  The Flying Dinosaurs  (Currie 1991) . The artwork is innovative and often really interesting, even though the coelurosaurian dinosaurs are mostly shown as un-feathered. The book includes pterosaurs... which is weird but in keeping with the 'evolution of flight' subtitle. Image: Darren Naish

Phil Currie's The Flying Dinosaurs (Currie 1991). The artwork is innovative and often really interesting, even though the coelurosaurian dinosaurs are mostly shown as un-feathered. The book includes pterosaurs... which is weird but in keeping with the 'evolution of flight' subtitle. Image: Darren Naish

I used to write a lot of letters. I mean: physical, printed letters, on paper. Some of them resulted in interesting things, and others didn't. During the mid-1990s, I obtained and read Philip Currie's 1991 book The Flying Dinosaurs, richly illustrated by Jan Sovak and showing many animals brand-new at the time. And it has some weird stuff in it that had me curious (I won't start discussing that "weird stuff", as it will take me a while to find it in the book, explain it, and put it into context). I managed to obtain Dr Currie's postal address, and wrote to him. And I was thrilled to get a response! Here it is...

Philip-Currie-letter-1996-Aug-2018-Darren-Naish-Tetrapod-Zoology.jpg

Please understand that I am not, in any way, sharing this to shame Dr Currie - heavens, no. I merely opted to share it because it's (for me) an interesting piece of personal history. And it also shows what the situation was - and/or is - like for many busy academics. Today, I know this pain all too well. Modern correspondence, of course, has mostly changed from paper letters to emails. I'm not as famous as Dr Currie, but even I get so much correspondence that I either have to deliberately ignore some of it, or put it to one side such that I can 'deal with it later', only for 'later' to become 'never' as other things destroy those various other plans. I would like to remind others of this when they start sending reminder messages about the responses they'd like. Sorry: there comes a point in life when it is IMPOSSIBLE to keep up with correspondence.

Anyway, I was later to meet Phil Currie on one or two occasions and talk with him about a whole bunch of stuff. Here he is (standing) at a London-based conference that happened in May 2008...

 Image: Darren Naish.

Image: Darren Naish.

New Dinosaur Books, Part 2: Ben Garrod’s ‘So You Think You Know About… Dinosaurs’ Series

Today we press on with my brief(ish) reviews of recently(ish) published books on Mesozoic dinosaurs – I have quite a backlog – and this time it’s…. the So You Think You Know About… Dinosaurs books, by Ben Garrod. Ben is a qualified zoologist and TV presenter, perhaps best known for the BBC 2014 series Secrets of Bones. I should also add that Ben spoke at the 2017 TetZooCon, so now you know he’s awesome.

 Ben Garrod's new dinosaur books - another three are due to appear very soon. Image: Darren Naish.

Ben Garrod's new dinosaur books - another three are due to appear very soon. Image: Darren Naish.

Anyway, Dr Garrod has now made a foray into the World of Mesozoic Dinosaurs, and a pretty respectable foray it is. These small, compact books – they remind me of the Horrible Histories volumes a little – provide a huge quantity of information on the dinosaurs they cover, do so in a fun, attractive way, and are very much on-the-ball as goes the current state of our knowledge. They are very much science advocacy tools that don’t shy away from presenting and discussing such topics as complex as sexual selection and evolutionary arms races. The dinosaurian nature of birds is emphasised – dinosaurs can’t be extinct so long as around 10,000 of them are currently alive – and the books are good at conveying the phylogenetic position of the relevant dinosaurs and where they fit within geological time.

Black and white cartoons, diagrams and other images are on virtually every page. If you move in the same social media spheres that I do (I’m @TetZoo on Twitter and Instagram) – surprise! – the cartoons are by Ethan Kocak, and illustrations and diagrams by Gabriel Ugueto and Scott Hartman also appear within.

 Excellent illustrations by Gabriel Ugueto appear in each of the books. Hey, Gabriel and I actually worked together on a large poster about tyrannosaurs included in a magazine -- it was published early in 2018 but I still haven't seen it because the publishers never sent me a copy and no longer have any to provide. Huh. Image: Gabriel Ugueto/Ben Garrod/Zephyr.

Excellent illustrations by Gabriel Ugueto appear in each of the books. Hey, Gabriel and I actually worked together on a large poster about tyrannosaurs included in a magazine -- it was published early in 2018 but I still haven't seen it because the publishers never sent me a copy and no longer have any to provide. Huh. Image: Gabriel Ugueto/Ben Garrod/Zephyr.

Regarding what I said a moment ago about these books reflecting ‘the current state of our knowledge’, I’m especially pleased to see inflatable nose balloons featured in the Triceratops volume (for more on this issue see this Tet Zoo ver 3 article from 2016). The Diplodocus volume has a brief discussion of the whole trunks issue (covered here at Tet Zoo ver 3).

 Ceratopsian nose balloons go mainstream (images by Ethan Kocak). I can't take credit for this.  Or can I . Images: Ethan Kocak/Ben Garrod/Zephyr.

Ceratopsian nose balloons go mainstream (images by Ethan Kocak). I can't take credit for this. Or can I. Images: Ethan Kocak/Ben Garrod/Zephyr.

Quibbles: two or three maniraptoran silhouettes are shown as un-feathered, and I will forgive the Tyrannosaurus book for using the full binomial throughout even though the dinosaurs of the other books are only ever mentioned by their generic names. T. rex exceptionalism, we call it.

 It's nothing to with Ben Garrod's books, but I thought I'd include another image of ceratopsian nose balloons for good measure. This brilliant piece is by J. W. Kirby and the original can be seen  here at KirbyniferousRegret's deviantart page . Image: J. W. Kirby.

It's nothing to with Ben Garrod's books, but I thought I'd include another image of ceratopsian nose balloons for good measure. This brilliant piece is by J. W. Kirby and the original can be seen here at KirbyniferousRegret's deviantart page. Image: J. W. Kirby.

I really like these books and strongly recommend them for young readers (I suppose the target audience is kids between 6 and 16, or so). Ben is big on ‘embracing your inner geek’, and on encouraging young people to be proud of their curiosity and interest in science and nature, and I’m sure this is something that everyone reading this wants to see promoted and celebrated too. Three additional volumes – on Spinosaurus, Velociraptor and Stegosaurus – are finished and due to appear in print very soon (so I understand).

Ben Garrod, 2018. So You Think You Know About… Tyrannosaurus rex? Zephyr, London. ISBN 9781786697844. Hardback, 106 pp. Here at amazon. Here at amazon.co.uk. Here from the publishers.

Ben Garrod, 2018. So You Think You Know About… Diplodocus? Zephyr, London. ISBN 9781786697868. Hardback, 112 pp. Here at amazon. Here at amazon.co.uk. Here from the publishers.

Ben Garrod, 2018. So You Think You Know About… Triceratops? Zephyr, London. ISBN 9781786697882. Hardback, 108 pp. Here at amazon. Here at amazon.co.uk. Here from the publishers.

Once these book reviews are out of the way, get set for some novel dinosaur-themed content here. Here's your regular reminder that this blog relies on support via patreon, thank you to those providing support already.

For previous Tet Zoo book reviews on dinosaurs (I've now taken to adding dates to articles of the past; I find this useful)...

New Dinosaur Books, Part 1: Barrett on Stegosaurs

I’ve always reviewed books here at Tet Zoo, and here at ver 4 I fully intend to condition this fine tradition. Over the next few articles I’ll be discussing new (or newish) books on Mesozoic dinosaurs. And we start with something very special – a whole book devoted to stegosaurs. This might be a first (UPDATE: I just remembered that the late Beverly Halstead wrote a semi-fictional book on the life history of Stegosaurus).

 Cover of Barrett (2017)... perhaps the only published volume fully devoted to stegosaurs and stegosaurs alone.

Cover of Barrett (2017)... perhaps the only published volume fully devoted to stegosaurs and stegosaurs alone.

Stegosaurus: An Extraordinary Specimen and the Secrets it Reveals by Paul M. Barrett tells the story of ‘Sophie’ (initially ‘Sarah’, and technically NHMUK PV R36730), the excellent, complete Stegosaurus specimen discovered and excavated at Shell, Wyoming in 2003/4. You’ll have seen this outstanding specimen mounted on display if you’ve visited London’s Natural History Museum. Already Sophie has been the focus of a whole bunch of quality technical publications by the author and his colleagues (Brassey et al. 2015, Maidment et al. 2015, Lautenschlager et al. 2016).

 A look inside. This is an info-packed book with great graphics and loads of photos and diagrams. 

A look inside. This is an info-packed book with great graphics and loads of photos and diagrams. 

 Sophie the  Stegosaurus  - or NHMUK PV R36730, if you prefer - in person at the Natural History Museum, London. I'm sure many of us have an unreasonable number of photos of this amazing specimen. Image: Darren Naish.

Sophie the Stegosaurus - or NHMUK PV R36730, if you prefer - in person at the Natural History Museum, London. I'm sure many of us have an unreasonable number of photos of this amazing specimen. Image: Darren Naish.

The book does so much more than tell the story of Sophie: it’s also a very good review of what we know (or think we know) about stegosaur biology. The text is dense, packed with scientific content, and highly readable. Excellent images appear throughout, ranging from photos of the specimen and CT renders generated during research to life reconstructions and maps. I initially assumed – no offence intended to the author – that this would be a text-light book written for kids, with more space than text on its pages. That’s not the case at all: there’s a ton of information here and anyone interested in dinosaurs should get this book. Older kids with an interest in science or dinosaurs will enjoy it, and adults will too. Some of the taxonomic conclusions discussed in the review of stegosaur diversity – that Hesperosaurus is synonymous with Stegosaurus and Miragaia is synonymous with Dacentrurus – have been overturned in work published since the book saw print (Raven & Maidment 2017).

 A reminder that the stegosaurs of your parents or grandparents - or those of a recent terrible movie franchise - are not in keeping with the way these animals more likely looked. These drawings are old, excuse the GSP tail muscles. Image: Darren Naish.

A reminder that the stegosaurs of your parents or grandparents - or those of a recent terrible movie franchise - are not in keeping with the way these animals more likely looked. These drawings are old, excuse the GSP tail muscles. Image: Darren Naish.

In short: highly recommended for everyone, and dead cheap as well.

Disclaimer: the author and I previously worked together on another dinosaur book published by The Natural History Museum, namely Dinosaurs: How They Lived and Evolved (Naish & Barrett 2016). As some of you know, a second edition of that book – including numerous tweaks and updates – appears in print very soon, so I’ll be talking about it then.

Paul M. Barrett, 2017. Stegosaurus: An Extraordinary Specimen and the Secrets it Reveals. Natural History Museum, London. ISBN 9780565093884. Hardback, 108 pp. Here at amazon. Here at amazon.co.uk. Here from the publishers.

Stegosaurs have been covered quite a few times at Tet Zoo previously. See…

Things are going very well here at ver 4: I’m keeping an eye on the hits counter and the comments, and things are good. Many thanks to everyone who’s helping to make it work. Here’s your reminder that the more support I receive at patreon, the more time I can spend writing and publish the stuff you like to read. Thanks to those who support this endeavour already. As a Tet Zoo patron you get to see stuff coming together behind-the-scenes: there are already over 550 in-prep illustrations and pieces of text there.

Refs - -

Brassey, C. A., Maidment, S. C. R. & Barrett, P. M. 2015 Body mass estimates of an exceptionally complete Stegosaurus (Ornithischia: Thyreophora): comparing volumetric and linear bivariate mass estimation methods. Biology Letters 11: 20140984.

Lautenschlager, S., Brassey, C. A., Button, D. J. & Barrett, P. M. 2016. Decoupled form and function in disparate herbivorous dinosaur clades. Scientific Reports 6, 26495.

Naish, D. & Barrett, P. M. 2016. Dinosaurs: How They Lived and Evolved. The Natural History Museum, London.

Maidment, S. C. R., Brassey, C. & Barrett, P. M. 2015. The postcranial skeleton of an exceptionally complete individual of the plated dinosaur Stegosaurus stenops (Dinosauria: Thyreophora) from the Upper Jurassic Morrison Formation of Wyoming, U.S.A. PLoS ONE 10 (10): e0138352.

 Raven, T. J. & Maidment, S. C. R. 2017. A new phylogeny of Stegosauria (Dinosauria, Ornithischia). Paleontology 60, 401-408.