The Fate of Burian’s Styracosaurus

Among the most recognisable staples of popular prehistoric animal books is the multi-spiked North American ceratopsian dinosaur Styracosaurus albertensis, discovered in Alberta in 1913 and described and named later that same year by Lawrence Lambe.

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One of my several memorable childhood encounters with Styracosaurus was in the 1975 movie The Land That Time Forgot, a World War I adventure film based on a 1918 novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs. If you haven’t seen The Land That Time Forgot, it revolves around the discovery of a lost land called Caprona by the crew of a German U-boat. The main cast are not all German, since they’ve taken aboard a bunch of British people and even an American, all rescued from their own sinking merchant vessel. Doug McClure is the main star.

Screengrab from  The Land That Time Forgot , showing the styracosaur that doesn’t get shot.

Screengrab from The Land That Time Forgot, showing the styracosaur that doesn’t get shot.

At least some of my childhood takes on prehistoric animals and their world were inspired by that film, and one scene I remember in particular is a night-time segment in which two unlucky styracosaurs are fired upon by the U-boat. One is hit (one of its characteristic frill spikes is blasted off) and dies, a symbolic tear trickling from its eye. It was thus a great thrill for me to recently see this model, at the 2019 Portsmouth Comic Con. Yes, it’s the intact one of the two The Land That Time Forgot styracosaurs.

Roger Dicken’s  Styracosaurus , as seen at Portsmouth Comic Con in May 2019. Note the massively wide, deep snout and prominent depressions on the frill. Image: Darren Naish.

Roger Dicken’s Styracosaurus, as seen at Portsmouth Comic Con in May 2019. Note the massively wide, deep snout and prominent depressions on the frill. Image: Darren Naish.

Why was this model at Portsmouth Comic Con? Because movie model-maker Roger Dicken was there, and I got to speak to him. Roger’s IMDB page gives some idea of how many movies he’s been involved in during his long and illustrious career: he made the original Alien chestburster, among many other things. In speaking with him, I was finally able to confirm something I’d always suspected: the styracosaurs in the movie were based very specifically on the ones illustrated by famous Czech palaeoartist Zdeněk Burian (1905-1981) for his grand 1972 book with Zdeněk V. Špinar, Life Before Man (Spinar 1972). Burian illustrated Styracosaurus several times during his career, but this painting (actually produced in the 1940s, not the 70s) is the most familiar and most reproduced. The animal is broad across the muzzle, has distinct sunken regions on the frill, and the spikes on the frill (in the background individual) closely follow the contours of the shoulder and back.

One of so many beautiful and hugely influential scenes of ancient life by Zdeněk Burian. High-quality reproductions of this image reveal far brighter colours than those normally obvious in books (like a red ring around the eyes), and extra details like a scaly fringe to the side of the upper beak. Though best known for versions published in the 1970s, it was produced in 1941. Image: (c) Zdeněk Burian.

One of so many beautiful and hugely influential scenes of ancient life by Zdeněk Burian. High-quality reproductions of this image reveal far brighter colours than those normally obvious in books (like a red ring around the eyes), and extra details like a scaly fringe to the side of the upper beak. Though best known for versions published in the 1970s, it was produced in 1941. Image: (c) Zdeněk Burian.

Burian’s art was – and arguably still is – highly influential, not just because it’s wonderful and looks amazing but also because it was just about the only palaeoart accessible to a large sector of the interested public during the 1960s and 70s. It’s no surprise that the look he favoured for a given animal often became the standard template for the species concerned. But how did Burian himself work out what ancient organisms looked like? He was working at a time when information was scant, experts were few and hard to communicate with, and literature non-existent or highly technical. We know that Burian consulted extensively with Špinar, and also that he used measurements and images of fossils to inform the reconstruction process.

But…

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As recently realised and brought to my attention by Mark Witton, it turns out that Burian’s take on Styracosaurus wasn’t exactly unique. Look at this image (above) by Vernon Edwards, apparently made during the 1930s. Edwards made a huge number of dioramas depicting prehistoric animals in landscapes, many of which are depicted in books of the early 20th century (my main source for these images being the 1941 The Miracle of Life, which I’ve written about before [images now removed from article, well done SciAm]). The similarities between the Burian and Edwards scenes are many. The composition and landscape is similar, the animals are posed the same way as goes the angles we see, and there are lots of anatomical similarities. All those features I mentioned above are visible, and note also the bulging neck creases visible on the animal we see in profile.

See that dated signature at bottom? The date is ‘41’, and if you’re not convinced, look below…

See that dated signature at bottom? The date is ‘41’, and if you’re not convinced, look below…

A detail of Burian’s best known  Stegosaurus  painting, again showing ‘41’. Image: (c) Zdeněk Burian.

A detail of Burian’s best known Stegosaurus painting, again showing ‘41’. Image: (c) Zdeněk Burian.

So - is this a case of Burian basing his work on that of a previous artist? As noted above, Burian’s styracosaur scene is from 1941 (the date is obvious in good versions of the image; see above). Edwards’s scene is supposedly from the 1930s, but the oldest published version I’ve seen is from 1941. Could it be, then, that Vernon Edwards produced this image in 1941 - not during the 30s - and that it was based on Burian’s scene, not vice versa? I honestly don’t know and haven’t been successful in working out the exact details on what happened.

If Burian did base his work on the image by Edwards, this might be - as Mark stressed in a twitter exchange - the only case in which Burian based his work on that of another palaeoartist. It’s not as if we’re saying that he was a regular plagiariser or anything.

At left, the two Ladybird books discussed below. My copy of the 1974  Dinosaurs  has a bright pink scribble across its cover. At right, a bonus Burianesque styracosaur depicted on the cover of another Ladybird book. Images: Darren Naish,  Arran Alexander Collection .

At left, the two Ladybird books discussed below. My copy of the 1974 Dinosaurs has a bright pink scribble across its cover. At right, a bonus Burianesque styracosaur depicted on the cover of another Ladybird book. Images: Darren Naish, Arran Alexander Collection.

As mentioned earlier, Burian’s work was so influential that it was widely used by other artists. At this point I could write a great deal about Burian-inspired images of this dinosaur, but I’ll finish by discussing one in particular. I don’t know how familiar Ladybird books are outside of the UK (non-UK readers, let me know), but – in the UK – they’re among the most beloved and cherished of books to people who grew up between the 1950s and 90s. My favourite was always, and still is, the 1974 Labybird leader book Dinosaurs, authored by Colin Douglas and illustrated by Bernard Robinson (Douglas 1974). And there on page 38 we find this striking image, featuring a stormy sky and a totally anachronistic Tyrannosaurus (Styracosaurus is some millions of years older than Tyrannosaurus)…

Image: Ladybird/Bernard Robinson.

Image: Ladybird/Bernard Robinson.

Such was the popularity of this book that an enlarged and augmented edition – titled Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals – appeared in 1978, with extra illustrations and much more text (Wellfare 1978). It enabled the art to be shown at larger size but features many of them in cropped form such that their relationship to larger scenes is unfortunately ruined. Anyway, here’s the spectacular styracosaur again. It has a fantastic eagle-like glint and hint of simmering rage in its eye. The spines around the edge of the frill look to be based on Burian’s painting more than on an actual styracosaur fossil, and the scaly edge to the beak - again, inspired by what Burian depicted - is an interesting touch since it shows that the artist was seemingly unaware of the presence of keratinous beak tissue in these animals (a thing they surely had).

Styracosaurus  from the 1978  Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals . Image: Ladybird/Bernard Robinson.

Styracosaurus from the 1978 Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals. Image: Ladybird/Bernard Robinson.

How has the Burian-esque view of Styracosaurus fared in more recent decades? Our improved understanding of ceratopsian musculature and skin texture – combined with our rather more dynamic view of what Mesozoic dinosaurs were like overall – means that any good modern take on Styracosaurus shows a more active beast with more erect limb carriage and more elevated head and neck. The snout shouldn’t be massively wide and turtle-like as Burian (and Edwards) showed, but narrower and deeper, and it should also be more obvious that the spikes around the edges of the frill are distinct, independent structures, not outgrowth of the frill’s main body.

I included a section on Styracosaurus in my 2009 book on the history of our building knowledge on dinosaurs, The Great Dinosaur Discoveries (Naish 2009). It’s a decent potted history of what we know of Styracosaurus, culminating with the revision and redescription of the styracosaurs published by Ryan et al. (2007). Ryan et al. (2007) recognised two Styracosaurus species but the second of these – S. ovatus, named in 1930 – is currently regarded as belonging to the distinct genus Rubeosaurus.

The  Styracosaurus  skeleton AMNH 7372, originally named as the distinct species  S. parksi  in 1937 (but now regarded as synonymous with  S. albertensis ). Image: AMNH/public domain.

The Styracosaurus skeleton AMNH 7372, originally named as the distinct species S. parksi in 1937 (but now regarded as synonymous with S. albertensis). Image: AMNH/public domain.

Little known away from the ceratopsian research community is that the lower jaw and skeleton of Styracosaurus wasn’t collected from the field until 1935 (remember: this dinosaur was named and described in 1913). The nasal horn of the original skull was broken. Lambe thought that this break had occurred half-way along the horn’s length, and reconstructing the missing tip accordingly, the result being a ceratopsian with a very long and straight nasal horn perhaps 60 cm long. More recently discovered specimens show that his assumption – while sensible – was incorrect, and that the horn was actually shorter and blunter than he’d concluded, and that 30 cm would be a more realistic length (Ryan et al. 2007) (caveat: I’m talking here about the bony core of the horn, not the keratinous covering). Old reconstructions therefore exaggerate the length of that horn.

The skull of  Styracosaurus albertensis , as seen from the front. The beak section is narrow and deep, not wide and rounded. This is AMNH 7372 in New York, collected from what’s now Dinosaur Provincial Park by Barnum Brown in 1915. Image:   Claire Houck  , CC BY-SA 2.0 (original   here  ).

The skull of Styracosaurus albertensis, as seen from the front. The beak section is narrow and deep, not wide and rounded. This is AMNH 7372 in New York, collected from what’s now Dinosaur Provincial Park by Barnum Brown in 1915. Image: Claire Houck, CC BY-SA 2.0 (original here).

That’s where we’ll end things for now. There’s tons more to say about how ceratopsians have been depicted in life and on what we think we know about their anatomy and biology. I’ve written a lot about these issues in the past, but nearly everything has been ruined due to the removal of images at ScienceBlogs and SciAm.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to see me do more, please consider supporting this blog (for as little as $1 per month) at patreon. The more support I receive, the more financially viable this project becomes and the more time and effort I can spend on it. Thank you :)

For other TetZoo articles on ceratopsians and related palaeoart-themed issues, see…

Refs - -

Douglas, C. 1974. Dinosaurs. Ladybird Books, Loughborough.

Naish, D. 2009. The Great Dinosaur Discoveries. A&C Black, London.

Ryan, M. J. Holmes, R. & Russell, A. P. 2007. A revision of the late Campanian centrosaurine ceratopsid genus Styracosaurus from the Western Interior of North America. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 27, 944-962.

Špinar, Z. V. 1972. Life Before Man. Thames and Hudson, London.

Wellfare, G. 1978. Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals. Ladybird Books, Loughborough.


A postscript…

I’ll just leave this here. The image at top is (c) Robert Bakker, and was produced in 1971. The image below it is by Burian and is dated 1976. Montage from here at Earthling Nature.

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Recollections of Dinosaurs Past and Present, the 1980s Exhibition

As a regular reader here, you should be familiar with my interest in the portrayal of dinosaur life appearance, and indeed in palaeoart in general. It’s now trite to explain how the iconic, well-drafted, anatomically rigorous illustrations of Robert Bakker, Greg Paul, Mark Hallett and others were integral to the popularisation and dissemination of the ‘dinosaur renaissance’ that occurred between the late 1960s and 1990s, and few interested in prehistoric life will have failed to notice how quickly and frequently reconstructions of extinct species – often good, accurate and innovative – appear today, typically in the digital medium. Palaeoart remains relevant, essential, and with a huge fanbase.

Robert Bakker’s 1969 sprinting  Deinonychus , produced to accompany John Ostrom’s seminal article on this amazing dinosaur. Artistic depictions like this one cement the idea that art has conveyed scientific concepts to the public... but you’ve heard all that before. This is one of several Bakker images included within the exhibition discussed in this article. Image: (c) Robert Bakker.

Robert Bakker’s 1969 sprinting Deinonychus, produced to accompany John Ostrom’s seminal article on this amazing dinosaur. Artistic depictions like this one cement the idea that art has conveyed scientific concepts to the public... but you’ve heard all that before. This is one of several Bakker images included within the exhibition discussed in this article. Image: (c) Robert Bakker.

During the late 1980s and early 90s, a remarkable thing happened. A team at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, assisted by funding from the Natural History Museum Foundation and fronted by guest curator Sylvia J. Czerkas, created a travelling palaeoart exhibition titled Dinosaurs Past and Present. Opening in Los Angeles in February 1986, and accompanied by a symposium that featured talks on dinosaur science and artwork, the exhibition featured a selection of historical illustrations, paintings and sculptures as well as the very best of contemporary work.

The entrance to what might have been the best palaeoart-themed exhibition of all time, as seen at London’s Natural History Museum in late 1990 and early 1991. A better quality version of this photo will be uploaded to TetZoo in the near future (thanks to Spike Ekins for permission). Image: Spike Ekins.

The entrance to what might have been the best palaeoart-themed exhibition of all time, as seen at London’s Natural History Museum in late 1990 and early 1991. A better quality version of this photo will be uploaded to TetZoo in the near future (thanks to Spike Ekins for permission). Image: Spike Ekins.

Accompanying literature does little to shed light on the backstory of the project and how it all came together – maybe this information is out there and I just haven’t seen it – but the final exhibition essentially functioned as a ‘who’s who’ of late 1980s palaeoart. Credits and acknowledgements show that work was loaned from museums and publishers, but overwhelmingly from private collections, mostly those of the artists themselves. This is interesting for several reasons, one being that the curators and organisers clearly had good relations with the artists, another being that the vast majority of iconic 1980s palaeoart was – as of 1986 at least – owned by its creators and not by the sort of wealthy socialites often associated with niche art. Alas poor palaeoart and its lack of reliable patrons (can someone get that printed on a t-shirt please).

After its Los Angeles opening in 1986, the exhibition toured North America, stops including the Smithsonian, the AMNH, the Tyrrell and the Field. It then crossed the Atlantic for showings in Edinburgh, Cardiff and London, where it finished its run in the January of 1991. Sorry, non-English-speaking nations.

London’s Natural History Museum is an amazing building, decorated inside and out with images of plants and animals. The pterosaur at left is one of several visible on the outside of the museum. Images: Darren Naish.

London’s Natural History Museum is an amazing building, decorated inside and out with images of plants and animals. The pterosaur at left is one of several visible on the outside of the museum. Images: Darren Naish.

I didn’t visit London’s Natural History Museum all that often during my teenage years, but I did get to go there several times as special birthday trips. It was on one of these that – in 1990 – I got to see Dinosaurs Past and Present. This was a total accident, by the way, and not due to clever planning. I didn’t even know about the exhibition beforehand, or that it would be on show during my visit.

Two accompanying volumes – edited by Sylvia J. Czerkas and Everett C. Olson – were produced for the exhibition (Czerkas & Olson 1987a, b). They’re must-haves for serious students of palaeoart, containing many articles that provide invaluable background, discussion and commentary. Those by Mark Hallett, Greg Paul and Dale Russell are especially good. They also, it has to be said, contain several articles that are less valuable, are not especially relevant to palaeoart, and could well have appeared elsewhere.

The covers of volumes I and II of  Dinosaurs Past and Present . Both were initially published (in 1987) in hardback, and later (1989) released as softback. My copies are softbacks. Images: Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County/University of Washington Press.

The covers of volumes I and II of Dinosaurs Past and Present. Both were initially published (in 1987) in hardback, and later (1989) released as softback. My copies are softbacks. Images: Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County/University of Washington Press.

An introduction by John M. Harris (1987) provides some background to the exhibition and its accompanying symposium. Harris’s article, incidentally, includes that specific statement where ‘reconstruction’ and ‘restoration’ are explained to mean different things (p. 4), so it might be this article – rather than the one by Mark Hallett in the same volume – that is best cited as the origin of this concept.

As one of the few people who (a) is of the right age and (b) writes regularly about palaeoart, I’ve been feeling increasingly duty-bound to discuss my recollections of seeing Dinosaurs Past and Present in London in 1990. What, then, do I remember?

First things first: photos were not allowed. You might like to decide among yourselves whether this is a good thing or not. So, despite having a camera with me (a Canon 35 mm of some sort, I think) I didn’t take any photos, except a few sneaky, illegal shots of Stephen Czerkas’s Allosaurus model. More on that model below.

Here’s the only photo I’ve seen that shows what the exhibition looked like. Behind the Czerkas  Allosaurus , framed illustrations on the wall include pieces by Ken Carpenter (at left) and Greg Paul (at right). I can definitely see Paul’s  Styracosaurus  vs  Albertosaurus  image. A better quality version of this photo will be uploaded to TetZoo in the near future (thanks to Spike Ekins for permission). Image: Spike Ekins.

Here’s the only photo I’ve seen that shows what the exhibition looked like. Behind the Czerkas Allosaurus, framed illustrations on the wall include pieces by Ken Carpenter (at left) and Greg Paul (at right). I can definitely see Paul’s Styracosaurus vs Albertosaurus image. A better quality version of this photo will be uploaded to TetZoo in the near future (thanks to Spike Ekins for permission). Image: Spike Ekins.

As goes the exhibition as a whole, I recall it being in one of the galleries that are perpendicular to the marine reptiles corridor (though I could be wrong). The illustrations were hung on white panelling erected to cover the walls (as confirmed by the photos here, by Spike Ekins), there also being a white partitioning wall, reaching to chest- or shoulder-height, erected along the middle of the gallery. Illustrations were hung from either side of this partition as well. There must have been a shop somewhere, since I distinctly recall the two volumes of Dinosaurs Past and Present being on sale. I was able to buy one of them during my visit (I went for Volume II), eventually obtaining Volume I some years later on a separate trip. I recall these books as being cripplingly expensive and my buying of Volume I consuming essentially all of my Natural History Museum trip budget, so it’s embarrassing now to see how (relatively) inexpensive they actually were.

My copies of the  Dinosaurs Past and Present  books still contain their original price labels. Oh, not as expensive as I remembered, then. Whatever. Image: Darren Naish.

My copies of the Dinosaurs Past and Present books still contain their original price labels. Oh, not as expensive as I remembered, then. Whatever. Image: Darren Naish.

Volume I of Dinosaurs Past and Present includes a checklist of all the art featured in the exhibition. No less than 144 pieces were included, the majority being paintings and drawings. They were arranged chronologically, pieces by the likes of Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, Charles Knight and Richard Swan Lull being nearest the entrance and the more contemporary work of Mark Hallett, Ely Kish, William Stout, Greg Paul and so on being encountered later on.

Charles Knight’s  Dryptosaurus  painting of 1897 was included in the exhibition and was loaned from the American Museum of Natural History. It’s 58 cm long, 40 cm tall. Image: public domain, wikipedia (original   here  ).

Charles Knight’s Dryptosaurus painting of 1897 was included in the exhibition and was loaned from the American Museum of Natural History. It’s 58 cm long, 40 cm tall. Image: public domain, wikipedia (original here).

Among the older works, I recall seeing the 1879/1880 ‘Pleasures of Science’ piece by Arthur Lakes, and the Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins depictions of Iguanodon, Hylaeosaurus and Megalosaurus. Weirdly, I have no firm recollection of seeing the works of Charles Knight, Rudolph Zallinger or Peter Zallinger, which is distressing given how influential they’ve been.

Rudolph Zallinger’s incredible mural at Yale’s Peabody Museum is virtually never shown in published photos, and most of the images you’ve seen - like this one - are from the prototype ‘Study’, in which the animals look quite different. Image: (c) Rudolph Zallinger/Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University.

Rudolph Zallinger’s incredible mural at Yale’s Peabody Museum is virtually never shown in published photos, and most of the images you’ve seen - like this one - are from the prototype ‘Study’, in which the animals look quite different. Image: (c) Rudolph Zallinger/Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University.

In fact, most of what I remember is decidedly contemporary. Of the Mark Hallett originals on show, I remember the montage images that show representative members of assorted clades. My strongest memory is of the ornithopod group, partly because I recall noticing that a hadrosaur originally meant to be a Tsintaosaurus (and shown with the classic, erroneous ‘unicorn’ crest*) had been ‘corrected’ such that it was now an Edmontosaurus. Hallett’s ‘Iguanodon studies’ is also allotted to memory (perhaps because I always liked his idea that iguanodontian beak tissue might have a serrated, pseudotoothed look), as well as his large Morrison Formation panorama of 1975.

* Tsintaosaurus, it turns out, was neither unicorn-crested, nor flat-headed (as has been argued), but instead equipped with a tall, bulbous crest (Prieto-Márquez & Wagner 2013). No more phallic jokes then.

Mark Hallett’s ‘Crossing the Flats’ was at the exhibition. It’s a big piece, more than 1.2 m long. Today we don’t think that  Mamenchisaurus  looked quite like this (Mark was basing his reconstruction on the idea that  Mamenchisaurus  was a diplodocid). This painting always interested me because of the bipedal, narrow-chord pterosaurs as much as the sauropods. Image: (c) Mark Hallett.

Mark Hallett’s ‘Crossing the Flats’ was at the exhibition. It’s a big piece, more than 1.2 m long. Today we don’t think that Mamenchisaurus looked quite like this (Mark was basing his reconstruction on the idea that Mamenchisaurus was a diplodocid). This painting always interested me because of the bipedal, narrow-chord pterosaurs as much as the sauropods. Image: (c) Mark Hallett.

I also recall Ken Carpenter’s illustrations of Sauropelta and ‘Velociraptor’ (proof that Ken was following Greg Paul’s nomenclature; the ‘Velociraptor’ here actually being Deinonychus).

The Greg Paul Years. I make no secret of the fact – it’s mentioned in most books and articles I’ve written or contributed to on dinosaurs and palaeoart (Naish 2009, Conway et al. 2012, Naish & Barrett 2018) – that I consider Greg Paul one of the most influential and important of palaeoartists, and this is true even if you disagree with various of his contentions. Indeed, Greg’s significance in palaeoart is demonstrated by the fact that a full 24 of his pieces were included within the exhibition, more than any other artist.

Greg Paul’s 1987 article from  Dinosaurs Past and Present, Volume II  remains one of the best guides to the life appearance of extinct archosaurs, even though it’s now substantially dated. John Conway and I aim to produce a volume that ‘replaces’ it at some point; meanwhile there’s Mark Witton’s excellent  The Palaeoartist’s Handbook  (which will be reviewed here at TetZoo soon). Image: Darren Naish.

Greg Paul’s 1987 article from Dinosaurs Past and Present, Volume II remains one of the best guides to the life appearance of extinct archosaurs, even though it’s now substantially dated. John Conway and I aim to produce a volume that ‘replaces’ it at some point; meanwhile there’s Mark Witton’s excellent The Palaeoartist’s Handbook (which will be reviewed here at TetZoo soon). Image: Darren Naish.

Unsurprisingly, then, my main recollections concern his pieces. His black and white artwork is mostly small (say, 40 x 40 cm or so), numerous corrections and edits being visible where they were made either with paper whitener (we tend to call it tipex in the UK due to one specific brand) or with pieces of card that have been stuck over the relevant areas. I distinctly recall the tail of one of the tyrannosaurs in his ‘Monoclonius albertensis Fending Off Albertosaurus libratus’ (“Monoclonius albertensis” = Styracosaurus) revealing obvious signs of having its angle corrected (a familiar issue to those who’ve drawn dinosaurs). His ‘What Happens When Apatosaurus ajax Seeks Aquatic Refuge from Allosaurus fragilis’ originally had the riverbed too high, a correctional piece of card allowing him to position it further down the canvas, thereby allowing more space for the swimming sauropod’s feet.

I’m pretty sure I also recall looking at his iconic Giraffitan scene, at his G. brancai muscle study, and at the scene showing Iguanodon and Mantellisaurus (I. atherfieldensis at the time) foraging alongside one another.

Greg Paul’s art is among the most influential dinosaur-themed palaeoart ever produced. Today we know that his feathered non-bird theropods aren’t feathery enough but, hey, you have to start somewhere. This painting was featured in the exhibition. Image (c) Greg Paul.

Greg Paul’s art is among the most influential dinosaur-themed palaeoart ever produced. Today we know that his feathered non-bird theropods aren’t feathery enough but, hey, you have to start somewhere. This painting was featured in the exhibition. Image (c) Greg Paul.

I also recall a few colour Greg Paul paintings. I definitely remember the ‘Resting Velociraptor antirrhopus Pair’ painting, perhaps in part because Greg’s ideas on feathered dinosaurs, and his taxonomic argument that Deinonychus should be considered a species of Velociraptor (which he’s since abandoned), were novel to me at the time. I think that the Allosaurus vs Diplodocus scene was there but my recollection is hazy. I’m far more confident about seeing Paul’s painting of the Pentaceratops herd. I remember it being pretty big, a metre or so in width. To, again, my disappointment, I have no recollection whatsoever of seeing the ‘Tyrannosaurus torosus in a Fast Run’ (for “Tyrannosaurus torosus” read Daspletosaurus). Shocking, because this is another iconic image of the Dinosaur Renaissance.

Greg Paul’s running  Daspletosaurus  - here on the cover of   Lauber (1989)   - is one of his most famous paintings, yet I don’t remember seeing it. Oh well. Image: Darren Naish.

Greg Paul’s running Daspletosaurus - here on the cover of Lauber (1989) - is one of his most famous paintings, yet I don’t remember seeing it. Oh well. Image: Darren Naish.

Enough with the Greg Paul. What else do I remember? I do distinctly remember seeing colour pieces by John Gurche. Gurche has the most incredible style, his colour pieces looking like photos and very often including a marked contrast between a brightly lit, extremely sunny portion and a pitch-black area of deep shadow.

Some of Gurche’s paintings are surprisingly small. On seeing the 1982 Archaeopteryx piece, I was struck by its small size (around 20 x 30 cm). I don’t remember seeing his 1985 Daspletosaurus vs Styracosaurus piece, but it was definitely there. Again, what is wrong with my memory?

A John Gurche painting of 1985 appeared on the cover of an especially famous and influential book (  Bakker 1986  ). Image: Penguin Books.

A John Gurche painting of 1985 appeared on the cover of an especially famous and influential book (Bakker 1986). Image: Penguin Books.

On that note: bizarrely, I don’t remember seeing pieces by Doug Henderson, Robert Bakker or Ely Kish, even though they were definitely there too. Weird. Swiss cheese memory. Nor do I remember seeing the original egg tempera study of Zallinger’s Yale mural, Hallett’s ‘Crossing the Flats’, or a hundred other significant pieces that were there. The more I think about this, the angrier I become. Maybe all that drinking and recreational drug use is to blame. Ha ha, kidding, kidding, kidding.

For its stint at the Royal Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, publicity for Dinosaurs Past and Present included this photo-shoot, involving the late palaeontologist Beverly Halstead and Ron Seguin’s troodontid and dinosauroid models. Halstead is at far right. I don’t know if Halstead is goofing around (he has his arm around the dinosauroid’s shoulders), but it looks like he is. Image: (c)  New Scientist .

For its stint at the Royal Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, publicity for Dinosaurs Past and Present included this photo-shoot, involving the late palaeontologist Beverly Halstead and Ron Seguin’s troodontid and dinosauroid models. Halstead is at far right. I don’t know if Halstead is goofing around (he has his arm around the dinosauroid’s shoulders), but it looks like he is. Image: (c) New Scientist.

Finally, what about models? Yes, the dinosauroid and the accompanying Stenonychosaurus were both there, and oh does it hurt to not have any photos of them. You’ve surely seen colour photos of both of these models (created by Ron Seguin in co-operation with Dr Dale Russell): they’re reproduced in many books. Large potted plants (including parlour palms and cycads) were arranged around the models to create a slightly greener vibe. You can see all of this in the black and white photo reproduced above, taken to show the late Beverly Halstead with the models while Dinosaurs Past and Present was on show in Edinburgh.

One of several books that were highly inspirational if you encountered them at the right time.   Wallace (1989)   includes both exciting artwork as well as cutting-edge news ( Protoavis ?! Wtf!, I thought). And on the cover? Yes, it’s Czerkas’s allosaur, portrayed as a dark and sinister predator: “ the Darth Vader of animals ”, to quote John Conway. Image: Darren Naish.

One of several books that were highly inspirational if you encountered them at the right time. Wallace (1989) includes both exciting artwork as well as cutting-edge news (Protoavis?! Wtf!, I thought). And on the cover? Yes, it’s Czerkas’s allosaur, portrayed as a dark and sinister predator: “the Darth Vader of animals”, to quote John Conway. Image: Darren Naish.

Nearby, Stephen Czerkas’s half-life-size Allosaurus model was on show. As mentioned above, this is the one exhibit I have photos of (though I can only find one of my photos today, dammit). At half life-size, it stands perhaps 1.5 m at the top of the head. It was browner than I always imagined: based on the cover of Joseph Wallace’s 1989 The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaur* – an influential book for the young Darren Naish – I always thought it was dark grey or black. Like all of Czerkas’s models, it included a spectacular and really impressive amount of detail and was a joy to look at.

* I find it a bit annoying that Steve Brusatte’s new book has essentially the same title. Steve didn’t know of Wallace’s book until I told him about it, so not his fault. Did no-one think to say anything?

Stephen Czerkas’s brilliant  Allosaurus  model at the Natural History Museum, London (as demonstrated by the accompanying stonework) in 1990. Note that the model is in a different position relative to where it is in Spike’s photos shown above. Image: Darren Naish.

Stephen Czerkas’s brilliant Allosaurus model at the Natural History Museum, London (as demonstrated by the accompanying stonework) in 1990. Note that the model is in a different position relative to where it is in Spike’s photos shown above. Image: Darren Naish.

Several smaller models, made by Stephen and his wife Sylvia Czerkas, were also on show and on top of white, rectangular display stands. I remember Sylvia’s hatching Protoceratops and, I think, Stephen’s 1986 Stegosaurus, controversially constructed with the single row of plates that Stephen thought correct (Czerkas 1987).

For completist reasons I should note that I did get to meet Stephen, once, at the Denver 1999 Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting. We spoke briefly about ‘Archaeoraptor’, later unveiled as a composite but thought by Czerkas at the time to be a long-tailed early bird, but I never did get to talk to him about his art.

Anyway, that about wraps things up. Clearly, my memory of a truly momentous and significant exhibition is alarmingly deficient, and the fact that I don’t really have any photographic record of what I saw just makes it worse. What I do remember was, however, thrilling. There have, of course, been a good number of palaeoart-themed exhibitions since 1991, but I think it’s fair to say that none have been as grand, culturally significant or momentous as Dinosaurs Past and Present. Could its like ever occur again? Maybe time will tell, or maybe I’m nostalgic for a Golden Age which has long since passed.

What has happened in the world of palaeoart since the days of Dinosaurs Past and Present? Quite a lot… Image: Darren Naish.

What has happened in the world of palaeoart since the days of Dinosaurs Past and Present? Quite a lot… Image: Darren Naish.

We will finish with the usual reminder that I basically have an infinite number of articles I want to write for TetZoo, but workload and the quest for solvency prevents me from being more productive. If you like what I do, you can help by supporting me at patreon. Thank you!

Palaeoart and changing ideas on the life appearance of Mesozoic dinosaurs have been covered at TetZoo many times over the years. Many of the older articles are now useless because malfunction at the hosting sites has removed their illustrations. Anyway, see…

Refs - -

Bakker, R. T. 1986. The Dinosaur Heresies. Penguin Books, London.

Conway, J., Kosemen, C. M. & Naish, D. 2012. All Yesterdays: Unique and Speculative Views of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals. Irregular Books.

Czerkas, S. A. 1987. A reevaluation of the plate arrangement on Stegosaurus stenops. In Czerkas, S. J. & Olson, E. C. (eds) Dinosaurs Past and Present, Volume II. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County/University of Washington Press (Seattle and Washington), pp. 82-99.

Czerkas, S. J. & Olson, E. C. 1987a. Dinosaurs Past and Present, Volume I. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County/University of Washington Press, Seattle and Washington.

Czerkas, S. J. & Olson, E. C. 1987b. Dinosaurs Past and Present, Volume II. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County/University of Washington Press, Seattle and Washington.

Harris, J. M. 1987. Introduction. In Czerkas, S. J. & Olson, E. C. (eds) Dinosaurs Past and Present, Volume I. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County/University of Washington Press (Seattle and Washington), pp. 1-6.

Lauber, P. 1989. The News About Dinosaurs. Bradbury Press, New York.

Naish, D. 2009. The Great Dinosaur Discoveries. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles.

Naish, D. & Barrett, P. M. 2018. Dinosaurs: How They Lived and Evolved. The Natural History Museum, London.

Prieto-Márquez, A. & Wagner, J. R. 2013. The 'unicorn' dinosaur that wasn't: a new reconstruction of the crest of Tsintaosaurus and the early evolution of the lambeosaurine crest and rostrum. PLoS ONE 8 (11): e82268.

Wallace, J. 1989. The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaur. David & Charles, Newton Abbot, London.

The Life Appearance of Sauropod Dinosaurs

If you’re a regular TetZoo reader you’ll be familiar with my several articles on the life appearance of Mesozoic dinosaurs, an issue in which I have a special interest. Alas, several of these articles were published at TetZoo ver 2 – the ScienceBlogs years – and hosting issues at the site concerned mean that they’re currently appearing sans all of the many images I so lovingly uploaded. Which is a pain.

A really nice, life-sized model of a titanosaurian sauropod, on display in Romania and constructed by Brian Cooley. Image: Darren Naish.

A really nice, life-sized model of a titanosaurian sauropod, on display in Romania and constructed by Brian Cooley. Image: Darren Naish.

Partly as a consequence, and partly because the issue is on my mind due to several concurrent projects (he says, cryptically), now is a good time to talk once more about the life appearance of Mesozoic dinosaurs, and I’m going to start with sauropods. Sauropods have been covered quite a few times on TetZoo before, as you can see from the list of links at the bottom of this article.

The head, and face especially. We’ll start with the head. Sauropod skulls were proportionally small compared to the overall size of the animals, but not comically so. It’s also worth saying that their eyes – while pretty big in absolute size (based on the size of the eye socket and the sclerotic rings preserved in fossils) – are easy to over-emphasise in illustrations. If you’ve heard that sauropods might have had trunks and thought it reasonable or plausible… well, it’s a poor idea that’s neither reasonable nor plausible, and has a lot counting against it, as covered in the ver 3 article here.

Did sauropods have trunks? NO. It’s the dumbest idea ever, and every piece of evidence counts against it. Several authors have independently explored this idea, including Robert Bakker (upper right) and Bill Munns (lower right). The two images at left are from Knoll  et al .’s (2006) paper refuting the trunk idea. Images: Knoll  et al . (2006),   Bakker (1986)  , Bill Munns ( original here ).

Did sauropods have trunks? NO. It’s the dumbest idea ever, and every piece of evidence counts against it. Several authors have independently explored this idea, including Robert Bakker (upper right) and Bill Munns (lower right). The two images at left are from Knoll et al.’s (2006) paper refuting the trunk idea. Images: Knoll et al. (2006), Bakker (1986), Bill Munns (original here).

Trunks are a no, but did sauropods have ‘lips’ or ‘cheeks’? A whole article could be written on this issue. For now, I’ll summarise things by saying that sauropod skull bone texture indicates that they likely did have extra-oral tissues that mostly covered their teeth (Witton 2018), meaning that they were facially similar to lizards and kin.

A suggestion that some titanosaurs had blade-like cutting sections in the posterior sections of their jaws – so-called ‘guillotine crests’ (Apesteguía 2004) – looks unlikely given that it would require the animals concerned to do their food procurement at the sides of the jaws, rather than at the front like all other sauropods and other dinosaurs. It’s more likely that a mistake has been made here and that the jaw segments thought to support those blade-like, keratinised sections were, while sharp-edged, covered in normal lip tissue. The possibility that diplodocoids and maybe other sauropods too might have had true beaks at the font of the mouth has recently been put forward, but so far only in preliminary fashion.

Apesteguía (2004) argued that some titanosaurs - this is the rhino-sized  Bonitasaura  - had keratinised ‘guillotine crests’ on the edges of the jaws. I think that this is likely a mistake. Image: Apesteguía (2004).

Apesteguía (2004) argued that some titanosaurs - this is the rhino-sized Bonitasaura - had keratinised ‘guillotine crests’ on the edges of the jaws. I think that this is likely a mistake. Image: Apesteguía (2004).

The nostrils and nose. As is now widely known, and near-universally accepted, the external or fleshy nostrils of sauropods were almost certainly not located way up on the forehead, far from the front of the snout, as was long thought based on the retracted position of the bony nostril openings. A more ‘normal’, anterior position for the nostrils was demonstrated by Witmer (2001) who pointed to evidence from blood vessel and nerve impressions and associated cranial hollows, all of which are located on the anterior part of the snout. These indicate the most likely position of the fleshy nostril and associated blood vessel clusters.

The soft dinosaur revolution comes to Sauropod Town. At left, an image by Matt Wedel which shows why we need more soft tissue on our sauropods. At right, Larry Witmer’s (2001) depiction of the different possibilities as goes nostril position in sauropods. (a) is the most likely option based on anatomical data. Image: Mathew Wedel, Witmer (2001).

The soft dinosaur revolution comes to Sauropod Town. At left, an image by Matt Wedel which shows why we need more soft tissue on our sauropods. At right, Larry Witmer’s (2001) depiction of the different possibilities as goes nostril position in sauropods. (a) is the most likely option based on anatomical data. Image: Mathew Wedel, Witmer (2001).

There are also reasons for thinking that the giant, cavernous bony nostril openings and tall nasal bars of some macronarian sauropods supported, and were surrounded by, dome-shaped soft tissue convexities, superficially recalling the bulging nasal regions of some living monitor lizards. Part of my reason for saying this comes from the nasal anatomy of the exquisitely preserved South American titanosaur Sarmientosaurus. Here, an anteriorly projecting bony spine located along the midline and associated bar-like structures on the lateral edges of the large narial fossa – the big bony opening surrounding the bony nostril – indicate that a wide, convex mass of tissue connected the forehead with the sides and front of the snout’s upper surface (Martínez et al. 2016). Sarmientosaurus isn’t unique in this respect but is a particularly good example.

The skulls of some sauropods - this is the titanosaur  Sarmientosaurus  - indicate that there were bulbous nasal structures covering much of the snout region. Image: WitmerLab.

The skulls of some sauropods - this is the titanosaur Sarmientosaurus - indicate that there were bulbous nasal structures covering much of the snout region. Image: WitmerLab.

Indeed, skull openings in general were almost definitely not sunken in appearance or otherwise all that obvious, something that’s being said of archosaurian faces in general as artists and anatomists have learnt to take better attention of the conditions present in living animals (where cranial openings are just about never obvious in the live creature).

Accordingly, sauropod faces were seemingly ‘softer’ and more ‘padded’ than convention would have it, at least some of – perhaps all of – the nasal and forehead region being convex and fleshy, rather than shrink-wrapped and covered in thin skin alone (Witton 2018).

Were sauropod necks mostly semi-horizontal and with a limited range of motion, as argued by Martin (1987) and illustrated at left? Nope; it’s more likely that the necks were often held aloft and far more flexible, as argued by  Taylor  et al . (2009)  and depicted at right. Images: Martin (1987),  Taylor  et al . (2009) .

Were sauropod necks mostly semi-horizontal and with a limited range of motion, as argued by Martin (1987) and illustrated at left? Nope; it’s more likely that the necks were often held aloft and far more flexible, as argued by Taylor et al. (2009) and depicted at right. Images: Martin (1987), Taylor et al. (2009).

The neck. The most remarkable feature of sauropod anatomy is the neck. As goes how the neck was held and how flexible it was, several possibilities have been put forward, some workers arguing that it was held in a mostly horizontal attitude for much of the time and with only a limited range of lateral and vertical flexibility. I’m part of a group who argue for mostly elevated habitual neck poses (even in diplodocids) and a wide range of flexibility (Taylor et al. 2009). Arguments that sauropods must have been horizontal-necked do not take account of the flexibility permitted by cartilage, or – in living animals of all sorts – the ranges of motion that happen at zygapophyseal junctions and at the neck base and head-neck junctions.

There are good reasons for thinking that sauropod necks were habitually inclined upwards, as is typical for terrestrial tetrapods in general, and several fossils are actually preserved with the neck in this orientation. This montage by Greg Paul shows several of the fossil concerned. Image: Paul (1998).

There are good reasons for thinking that sauropod necks were habitually inclined upwards, as is typical for terrestrial tetrapods in general, and several fossils are actually preserved with the neck in this orientation. This montage by Greg Paul shows several of the fossil concerned. Image: Paul (1998).

It's been convention to show the sauropod neck as a featureless tubular structure, like a hose. This is mostly wrong, in part because the shapes of the vertebrae reveal a more unusual cross-sectional shape that varies from one sauropod group to the next. In some sauropods (like mamenchisaurs), the vertebrae are quite narrow and the neck would have looked laterally compressed in places, as it is (for at least some of its length) in giraffes. In diplodocoids – apatosaurines in particular – the neck is narrow close to the head but wide for much of its length, and subtriangular in cross-section, being widest across the neck’s underside. A neck that was quite narrow in its anteriormost quarter or so but was markedly wide for the rest of its length seems to have been the case in brachiosaurs and at least some titanosaurs.

The necks of some sauropods - a good example is the ultra-long-necked  Omeisaurus , photographed at Zigong Dinosaur Museum - are somewhat laterally compressed for at least part of their length. Image: Darren Naish.

The necks of some sauropods - a good example is the ultra-long-necked Omeisaurus, photographed at Zigong Dinosaur Museum - are somewhat laterally compressed for at least part of their length. Image: Darren Naish.

Indeed, the very base of the neck is remarkably broad in some sauropods – Camarasaurus is the classic example, where the neck base is not that different in width from the front of the chest – meaning that the neck would taper gradually along its length if you were looking at the animal from the front or back, or from above or below.

The neck bases of some sauropods - this is the  Camarasaurus  replica on display in London’s NHM - are shockingly broad. It would be wrong to show the neck as a narrow, hose-like object with parallel sides. Image: Darren Naish.

The neck bases of some sauropods - this is the Camarasaurus replica on display in London’s NHM - are shockingly broad. It would be wrong to show the neck as a narrow, hose-like object with parallel sides. Image: Darren Naish.

The vertebrae themselves are very complicated with large hollows on their sides, projecting neural spines on the apices and so on. In the most extreme version of the shrink-wrapping meme promoted by one or two palaeontologists and palaeoartists, sauropod necks have been depicted as if these structures should be visible in the live animal, Ely Kish’s apatosaurines from 1983 being the ultimate example. This was definitely not the case. It remains uncertain how much musculature and soft tissue surrounded the vertebrae, but it was almost certainly (based on the anatomy of living animals) enough to obscure the form of the vertebrae, their bulbous junctions perhaps being visible in sauropods of some or many sorts.

The brilliant, late Ely Kish, one of the best palaeoartists of all time, constructing a scale model of  Apatosaurus  (in preparation for a large painting). Partly on the advice of palaeontologist Dale Russell, she depicted great lateral concavities on the sides of the neck. Image: Russell (1987).

The brilliant, late Ely Kish, one of the best palaeoartists of all time, constructing a scale model of Apatosaurus (in preparation for a large painting). Partly on the advice of palaeontologist Dale Russell, she depicted great lateral concavities on the sides of the neck. Image: Russell (1987).

Necks as display banners. The unprecedented form of the sauropod neck makes it plausible – perhaps even likely – that the neck was used as a display structure. Phil Senter’s suggestion that the size and length of the neck was driven, in evolutionary terms, by its use as a display structure (Senter 2007) is not supported by evidence (Taylor et al. 2011). However, this doesn’t discount co-option of the neck in display, so it really is – while wholly speculative right now – worth taking seriously the possibility that display structures of various kinds could well have adorned sauropod necks. These could include wattles, dewlaps, spiky frills, spines, filaments, inflatable pouches or distensible flags or flaps. A few artists have explored these possibilities, most notably Brian Engh and Emiliano Troco.

As weird as it might seem, it is at least plausible that the sauropod neck was decorated with weird soft-tissue display structures, as depicted here on a diplodocid. Image: Emiliano Troco.

As weird as it might seem, it is at least plausible that the sauropod neck was decorated with weird soft-tissue display structures, as depicted here on a diplodocid. Image: Emiliano Troco.

 Hands. Sauropod hands are extremely odd, and very different from the rounded, elephant-style structures, edged with big nails and/or several claws, shown so often in artistic reconstructions and museum models. Indeed, they’re sufficiently weird and interesting that I’ve written whole articles about them before but, as I said above, these are currently lacking all of their relevant illustrations and are thus all but useless.

Sauropod hands are essentially unique. They’re weird, semi-tubular structures with pillar-like metacarpals. At left, a brachiosaur hand. At right, the hand of the turiasaur  Zby . Images: Anthony Maltese, Darren Naish.

Sauropod hands are essentially unique. They’re weird, semi-tubular structures with pillar-like metacarpals. At left, a brachiosaur hand. At right, the hand of the turiasaur Zby. Images: Anthony Maltese, Darren Naish.

The sauropod hand is essentially a semi-tubular structure formed of elongate metacarpals arranged, pillar-like, in a semi-circle. The posterior surface – corresponding to the palm – was hollow, the consequence being a semilunate area of contact with the ground. We’ve known since at least 1940 that sauropod hands had this very unusual form thanks to fossil tracks (Falkingham et al. 2014), which makes it all the weirder that people have ignored this information and merrily continued giving sauropods elephant-like hands across the decades.

Roland T. Bird’s sauropod track illustrations from the 1940s - shown here - clearly show the true, highly unusual form of the sauropod manus. Shame on those who ignored this information in the following decades. Image:  Falkingham  et al . (2014 ), CC BY 4.0.

Roland T. Bird’s sauropod track illustrations from the 1940s - shown here - clearly show the true, highly unusual form of the sauropod manus. Shame on those who ignored this information in the following decades. Image: Falkingham et al. (2014), CC BY 4.0.

Tracks also show that nails and claws were absent from the hands, except on the thumb where a pointed claw – which varied considerably in exact shape and size from one group to the next – projected inwards and slightly backwards. The thumb claw was lost within Titanosauria, meaning that at least some members of this group lacked nails and claws on their hands altogether. I will concede that poorly defined convexities corresponding to manual digits were present in at least some sauropods, but they still wouldn’t have looked like distinct digits.

Some tracks appear to show that tough semi-conical tubercles projected from the skin on the front and sides of the hand, perhaps giving part of the hand a spiky or tuberculated appearance (Milàn et al. 2005). Maybe these structures had a role in foraging, digging, display or combat, since it’s plausible that they made the hands gnarlier and harder than they would have been otherwise.

Vertical scores associated with sauropod hand prints indicate that at least some of them had tuberculate hand skin, as depicted here (at right) in this modified version of a Greg Paul illustration. Image: Milàn  et al . (2005).

Vertical scores associated with sauropod hand prints indicate that at least some of them had tuberculate hand skin, as depicted here (at right) in this modified version of a Greg Paul illustration. Image: Milàn et al. (2005).

Feet. Three large, curved claws projected anterolaterally from the inner three toes. At least some sauropods possessed four such claws. The outer two toes projected as blunt, rounded convexities in some, most or all sauropods. This is obvious from at least some Brontopodus tracks (Meyer et al. 1994). They might have had nails but were more likely lacking horny structures of any sort and essentially continuous with the rest of the foot’s outer surface. In contrast to the hand, the foot did have a massive fatty pad at its back.

Until recently it was thought that the metatarsals were held at a high angle, the consequence being a short foot shaped like that of an elephant but for the claws (Paul 1987). Data from articulated skeletons and tracks, however, show that the metatarsus was not as erect as argued, in which case the toes were longer and flatter than depicted by some artists.

Tschopp  et al . (2015)   used data from complete  Camarasaurus  hands and feet to produce the skeletal and soft-tissue models you see here (in 1 and 2), and then used these to generate tracks (3). The tracks are an exact match for real fossil tracks. Image: (c)  Tschopp  et al . (2015) .

Tschopp et al. (2015) used data from complete Camarasaurus hands and feet to produce the skeletal and soft-tissue models you see here (in 1 and 2), and then used these to generate tracks (3). The tracks are an exact match for real fossil tracks. Image: (c) Tschopp et al. (2015).

On the subject on feet and limbs, trackways also show that sauropods differed in how they placed their hands and feet, some walking with a very narrow gait (the hands and feet being placed close to the midline), others using a wide gait (where there was some short distance between the hands and feet of the left side versus those of the right), and others being intermediate. It should be remembered that even the widest-gauge sauropods did not walk with their feet all that far apart, but that the legs were almost certainly angled inwards, as is typical in living animals. For more on this issue see Scott Hartman’s article here.

Sauropods were variable in cross-sectional shape and in whether they walked with narrow-gauge or wide-gauge gaits, as depicted here by Scott Hartman. Image:   Scott Hartman’s skeletaldrawing.com

Sauropods were variable in cross-sectional shape and in whether they walked with narrow-gauge or wide-gauge gaits, as depicted here by Scott Hartman. Image: Scott Hartman’s skeletaldrawing.com

The body and tail. Sauropod bodies were variable in cross-sectional shape, length and other details. Diplodocoids, for example, were relatively narrow, deep-bodied and with a tall ridge formed from their neural spines running along the back, while titanosaurs were extremely broad across the hips and must have been just about flat across the back. The thorax may have sloped down ever so slightly in diplodocoids (in part because their forelimbs were shorter than their hindlimbs) whereas the thorax was angled upwards slightly or even markedly in some macronarians, like brachiosaurs and some titanosaurs.

Articulated skeletons show that the tail mostly projected horizontally from the pelvis (a subtle arch at the tail base is present in diplodocoids and some others, in fact), but the macronarians with the upward-sloping bodies also had a downward-sloping tail. A real curiosity is provided by the tails of some mamenchisaurs which seem to have projected upwards at an angle. This has been discussed and illustrated by Paul (2010) and more recently by Hallett & Wedel (2016), but has otherwise gone undiscussed as far as I know. It sounds so odd that surely some mistake has been made… though I really don’t think it has.

Tall neural spines, massive, wing-shaped transverse processes and other structures show that an enormous quantity of musculature would have been obvious along the proximal part of the sauropod tail. This is the tail of … ugh .. Dippy, the cast of  Diplodocus carnegii  until recently on show in London. Image: Darren Naish.

Tall neural spines, massive, wing-shaped transverse processes and other structures show that an enormous quantity of musculature would have been obvious along the proximal part of the sauropod tail. This is the tail of … ugh .. Dippy, the cast of Diplodocus carnegii until recently on show in London. Image: Darren Naish.

As is typical for non-bird dinosaurs, the musculature at the base of the tail was (so we can say from the relevant bony attachment points) evidently enormous and bulky, the proximal part of the tail likely being similar in width to the pelvis and thighs combined.

The integument. We know for definite that sauropods of all groups were scaly animals, since scaly skin impressions and actual preserved skin patches are known for diplodocids, Camarasaurus and titanosaurs at least. A few skin folds here and there were almost certainly present (say, where the limbs met the body, at the limb joints, and at mobile zones in the neck) but a fissured, wrinkled or scored elephant-like skin is a big fat no and every effort should be made to avoid it in artistic depictions.

Haestasaurus  from the English Wealden (shown at left) and a few other sauropods preserve polygonal scales that vary somewhat in size. Image: Darren Naish, Czerkas (1994).

Haestasaurus from the English Wealden (shown at left) and a few other sauropods preserve polygonal scales that vary somewhat in size. Image: Darren Naish, Czerkas (1994).

Polygonal – specifically, pentagonal, hexagonal and heptagonal – scales are known for the macronarian Haestasaurus and some diplodocids, while rounded scales possessing a papilliform texture of tiny bumps are also preserved in a diplodocid specimen (Czerkas 1994). The polygonal structures varied in size somewhat, those present in more mobile parts of the skin (say, the inner crease of the elbow) being smaller than those present in non-mobile sections. Even so, the largest scales were, at most, 60 mm across, which is not large at all on an animal more than 15 m long. This is pretty common in non-bird dinosaurs, by the way. The scales were often so small that they wouldn’t be readily visible from any distance greater than a few metres. The papilliform texture on those diplodocid scales seems to have been widespread across sauropods and means that sauropod skin would have been rough to the touch.

A diplodocid specimen from Wyoming that has scaly skin preserved also preserves tall, conical dermal spines (note: they are not horn-covered bony structures) that must have been arranged along the dorsal midline (Czerkas 1992). These are variable in height (the biggest are 18 cm tall) and seem to have formed a single row along the top of the tail’s proximal part at least. This specimen was originally implied to belong to Diplodocus but is of indeterminate identity. It might belong to Kaatedocus, since remains of this dinosaur come from the exact same quarry.

Large, laterally compressed conical and semi-conical dermal structures lined the upper surface of the tail (at least) in some diplodocids, and perhaps in other diplodocoids and sauropods too. Image: Czerkas (1994).

Large, laterally compressed conical and semi-conical dermal structures lined the upper surface of the tail (at least) in some diplodocids, and perhaps in other diplodocoids and sauropods too. Image: Czerkas (1994).

The conical and semi-conical dermal spines of some diplodocids were variable in height, breadth and shape, as illustrated here. Image: Czerkas (1994).

The conical and semi-conical dermal spines of some diplodocids were variable in height, breadth and shape, as illustrated here. Image: Czerkas (1994).

Were these structures present across all diplodocids, all diplodocoids, all neosauropods or even all sauropods, or were they exclusive to one small clade, perhaps even just to Kaatedocus itself? In the absence of further information we can’t say, but it’s appropriate to depict them on diplodocids and their close kin at least, in the absence of further information. The possibility that shorter and/or taller dermal structures of this sort were present elsewhere on other sauropods exists.

The discovery of those conical and semi-conical spines in a diplodocid led Stephen Czerkas to produce this new look for these dinosaurs. It might be correct, but it is not clear whether the structures were as extensive along the animal’s length as shown here. Image: Czerkas (1992).

The discovery of those conical and semi-conical spines in a diplodocid led Stephen Czerkas to produce this new look for these dinosaurs. It might be correct, but it is not clear whether the structures were as extensive along the animal’s length as shown here. Image: Czerkas (1992).

Horn-covered osteoderms - that is, lumps and nodules with a bony core - were arranged across the backs and flanks of some titanosaurs, specifically the members of the clade Lithostrotia. These structures were variously rounded or oval, sometimes quite flat and sometimes slightly or strongly domed. They appear to have been numerous and prominent in some of the relevant species and would have given their backs and sides a pebbly, armoured appearance.

Colours. There’s a traditional view stating that big dinosaurs were likely grey and plain because big living mammals are, as is the Komodo dragon, I suppose. I’m going to be bold here and say that there’s no reason whatsoever to take any notice of this. Sauropods were not mammals or Komodo dragons. While an argument could be made that camouflage would have been beneficial, and that certain pigments and patterns would have been helpful or necessary for physiological reasons (heat-shedding, heat retention, UV protection and so on), bold and complex patterns and bright, even vibrant colours are all consistent with the ecophysiological demands of being a sauropod, and the good colour vision and complexity of sauropod integument, and likely reliance on visual display, mean that they very likely could have been more like gigantic lizards or birds than elephants. In any case, giraffes, perenties and others show that big, terrestrial animals don’t have to be bland and grey as has often been stated.

The idea that big terrestrial animals have to be bland never was correct. Perenties  Varanus giganteus  might not be that colourful, but they help emphasise the possibility that striking patterns can be present even in very large terrestrial reptiles. Image: (c) Stephen Zozaya.

The idea that big terrestrial animals have to be bland never was correct. Perenties Varanus giganteus might not be that colourful, but they help emphasise the possibility that striking patterns can be present even in very large terrestrial reptiles. Image: (c) Stephen Zozaya.

In the absence of any direct evidence, it seems reasonable to me to reconstruct barred, striped, reticulated or dappled colour schemes, to depict bright colours on faces, necks or other areas considered relevant to display, and to imagine any colours reasonable for big, terrestrial animals associated with woodlands, parks, scrubby places, mangroves and all the other habitats frequented by this long-lived, diverse group of animals.

Want to know more about sauropod life appearance? It sometimes surprises people that there are scarcely any good books dedicated to specific Mesozoic dinosaur groups. For sauropods, the main must-have volume is   Mark Hallett and Matt Wedel’s  The Sauropod Dinosaurs   . It’s really good.    Dinosaurs Past and Present Vol II    is also worth getting, in part because it includes Greg Paul’s (now quite dated, but still useful) article on dinosaur life appearance. Images: amazon ( here  and  here ).

Want to know more about sauropod life appearance? It sometimes surprises people that there are scarcely any good books dedicated to specific Mesozoic dinosaur groups. For sauropods, the main must-have volume is Mark Hallett and Matt Wedel’s The Sauropod Dinosaurs. It’s really good. Dinosaurs Past and Present Vol II is also worth getting, in part because it includes Greg Paul’s (now quite dated, but still useful) article on dinosaur life appearance. Images: amazon (here and here).

If we really want to imagine sauropods as living animals, there is – of course – so much more to say. Body language, posture, gait, social life, anti-predator responses, feeding behaviours, digestive function, sleep and so much more are all things that need to be considered. But that’s where I’ll stop for now. I hope you found this interesting, and we’ll be looking at dinosaur life appearance again sometime soon.

Articles like this are possible because of the support I receive at patreon. Please consider supporting my research and writing if you don’t already, thank you so much.

For previous TetZoo articles on sauropods, see…

 Refs - -

Apesteguía, S. 2004. Bonitasaura salgadoi gen. et sp. nov.: a beaked sauropod from the Late Cretaceous of Patagonia. Naturwissenschaften 91, 493-497.

Bakker, R. T. 1986. The Dinosaur Heresies. New Theories Unlocking the Mystery of Dinosaurs and their Extinction. William Morrow, New York.

Czerkas, S. A. 1992. Discovery of dermal spines reveals a new look for sauropod dinosaurs. Geology 20, 1068-1070.

Czerkas, S. A. 1994. The history and interpretation of sauropod skin impressions. Gaia 10, 173-182.

Falkingham, P., Bates, K. & Farlow, J. 2014. Historical photogrammetry: Bird’s Paluxy River dinosaur chase sequence digitally reconstructed as it was prior to excavation 70 years ago. PLoS ONE 9, 4: e93247.

Hallett, M. & Wedel, M. J. 2016. The Sauropod Dinosaurs: Life in the Age of Giants. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

Knoll, F., Galton, P. M. & López-Antoñanzas, R. 2006. Paleoneurological evidence against a proboscis in the sauropod dinosaur Diplodocus. Geobios 39, 215-221.

Martin, J. 1987. Mobility and feeding of Cetiosaurus (saurischia, sauropoda [sic]) - why the long neck? In Currie, P. J. & Koster, E. H.(eds) Fourth Symposium on Mesozoic Terrestrial Ecosystems, Short Papers. Boxtree Books (Drumheller, Alberta), pp. 154-159.

Martínez, R. D. F., Lamanna, M. C., Novas, F. E., Ridgely, R. C., Casal, G. A., Martínez, J. E., Vita, J. R. & Witmer, L. M. 2016. A basal lithostrotian titanosaur (Dinosauria: Sauropoda) with a complete skull: implications for the evolution and paleobiology of Titanosauria. PLoS ONE 11, 4: e0151661. 

Meyer, C. A., Lockley, M. G., Robinson, J. W. & dos Santos, V. F. 1994. A comparison of well-preserved sauropod tracks from the Late Jurassic of Portugal and the western United States: evidence and implications. Gaia 10, 57-64.

Milàn, J., Christiansen, P. & Mateus, O. 2005. A three-dimensionally preserved sauropod manus impression from the Upper Jurassic of Portugal: implications for sauropod manus shape and locomotor mechanics. Kaupia 14, 47-52.

Paul, G. S. 1987. The science and art of restoring the life appearance of dinosaurs and their relatives - a rigorous how-to guide. In Czerkas, S. J. & Olson, E. C. (eds) Dinosaurs Past and Present Vol. II. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County/University of Washington Press (Seattle and London), pp. 4-49.

Paul, G.S. 1998. Terramegathermy and Cope’s rule in the land of titans. Modern Geology 23, 179-217.

Paul, G. S. 2010. Dinosaurs: A Field Guide. A & C Black, London.

Russell, D. A. 1987. Models and paintings of North American dinosaurs. In Czerkas, S. J. & Olson, E. C. (eds) Dinosaurs Past and Present, Volume I. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County/University of Washington Press (Seattle and Washington), pp. 114-131.

Senter, P. 2007. Necks for sex: sexual selection as an explanation for sauropod dinosaur neck elongation. Journal of Zoology 271, 45-53.

Taylor, M. P., Hone, D. W. E., Wedel, M. J., & Naish, D. 2011. The long necks of sauropods did not evolve primarily through sexual selection. Journal of Zoology 285, 150-161.

Taylor, M. P., Wedel, M. J. & Naish, D. 2009. Head and neck posture in sauropod dinosaurs inferred from extant animals. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 54, 213-220.

Tschopp, E., Wings, O., Frauenfelder, T. & Brinkmann, W. 2015. Articulated bone sets of manus and pedes of Camarasaurus (Sauropoda, Dinosauria). Palaeontologia Electronica 18.2.44A: 1-65.

Witmer, L. M. 2001. Nostril position in dinosaurs and other vertebrates and its significance for nasal function. Science 293, 850-853.

Witton, M. P. 2018. The Palaeoartist’s Handbook: Recreating Prehistoric Animals in Art. The Crowood Press, Marlborough.

Heilmann, Thompson, Beebe, Tetrapteryx and the Proavian

Many people familiar with ideas on the early evolution of birds and of bird flight will know of the Proavis or proavian, a hypothetical bird ancestor illustrated and discussed by William Pycraft (1868-1942) in 1906 but made better known by Gerhard Heilmann (1859/1861-1946) during the 1910s and 20s. Versions of this creature were later illustrated in colour by Zdeněk Burian for popular books of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. In the article that you’re about to read, we’re predominantly interested in Heilmann’s take on the Proavis.

Fighting, gliding and climbing proavians, depicted in a cluttered woodland environment, by Gerhard Heilmann. This is typical of Heilmann’s many excellent scenes. He used posed plaster models of the creatures before drawing. This illustration was used in the 1916 Danish version of the book (it first appeared in one of his 1912 articles) but does not appear in the 1926 English version. As we’ll see below, the decision to exclude some images from the 1926 version might have served to make it seem more scholarly than its predecessor. Image: Heilmann (1916).

Fighting, gliding and climbing proavians, depicted in a cluttered woodland environment, by Gerhard Heilmann. This is typical of Heilmann’s many excellent scenes. He used posed plaster models of the creatures before drawing. This illustration was used in the 1916 Danish version of the book (it first appeared in one of his 1912 articles) but does not appear in the 1926 English version. As we’ll see below, the decision to exclude some images from the 1926 version might have served to make it seem more scholarly than its predecessor. Image: Heilmann (1916).

Heilmann was an artist and graphic designer by profession but his interest in bird evolution and anatomy was such that he published a series of articles on the subject for the Danish Ornithological Society between 1912 and 1916 (Nieuwland 2004, Ries 2007).

Self-portrait of Gerhard Heilmann, produced in 1902. Heilmann was an argumentative man often in conflict with “various forms of authority”, and at loggerheads with his own family   (Nieuwland 2004)  . This illustration was included in     Nieuwland (2004)  .

Self-portrait of Gerhard Heilmann, produced in 1902. Heilmann was an argumentative man often in conflict with “various forms of authority”, and at loggerheads with his own family (Nieuwland 2004). This illustration was included in Nieuwland (2004).

Compiled, these articles described Heilmann’s take on the diversity of ancient fossil birds, embryological development in birds and reptiles, and bird anatomy, with the last in the series explaining what these data meant for the appearance and lifestyle of his Proavis, an imagined animal older and anatomically more archaic than Archaeopteryx. These articles were published together in a Danish-language book Vor Nuvaerende Viden om Fuglenes Afstamning (Heilmann 1916), the title meaning Our Current Knowledge of the Descent of Birds.

Heilmann’s The Origin of Birds. This body of work was sufficiently impressive that – while Heilmann was mostly shunned in Denmark – it was well received elsewhere, and he was encouraged by scientists in Germany in particular to translate it into English. The result was the 1926 The Origin of Birds (republished in the USA in 1927), a scholarly and well-illustrated book that was well received internationally and almost immediately deemed the most authoritative work on bird origins. The 1926 volume is quite different from that of 1916 in the illustrations it includes (as we’ll see below), but also in how scientific and speculative the text is, some more fanciful sections on palaeobiology being absent from the English version.

It has been said several times that Heilmann’s work was deemed so impressive that, rather than inspire new work on the subject, it effectively bought research on bird origins to a halt. Most relevant workers (albeit not all) now considered the question of bird origins to be resolved. As noted by historian Ilja Nieuwland, things might not have gone this way had the English-speaking readers of Heilmann’s book known that he was an amateur scientist and an artist by trade (Palm 1997, Nieuwland 2004).

Heilmann’s draftmanship was superb. This illustration (fig. 140 from   Heilmann 1926  ) shows thigh feathering on the chicks of various birds, with 8 being a gliding gecko. “The animal with which we may best compare the bird-ancestor, is the Fringed gecko” [sic] (p. 197). Image:   Heilmann (1926)  .

Heilmann’s draftmanship was superb. This illustration (fig. 140 from Heilmann 1926) shows thigh feathering on the chicks of various birds, with 8 being a gliding gecko. “The animal with which we may best compare the bird-ancestor, is the Fringed gecko” [sic] (p. 197). Image: Heilmann (1926).

Heilmann thought that bird ancestors were likely quadrupedal gliders, similar superficially to living gliding geckos (Heilmann 1926, p. 197). This statement is somewhat odd in view of his endorsement elsewhere of a more cursorial view of these animals, but it seems that he imagined them adopting very different poses when on the ground versus when climbing. Heilmann also argued that birds were not dinosaurs – despite his good understanding of the compelling anatomical similarity between theropod dinosaurs and birds – but were instead the descendants of a group closely related to – and supposedly ancestral to – dinosaurs, termed ‘pseudosuchians’*. This was because of his adherence to ‘Dollo’s Law’ – the (erroneous) idea that a lost anatomical structure cannot be regained – and his mistaken contention that dinosaurs lacked clavicles. If dinosaurs couldn’t be ancestral to birds, the true ancestors must have been another group, hence Heilmann’s use of the more archaic ‘pseudosuchians’, already mooted as possible bird ancestors by Robert Broom in his 1913 description of the South African Euparkeria.

* The term pseudosuchian is today applied to the archosaur lineage that includes crocodylians and all of their extinct relatives. Given the historical baggage that comes with the term, I personally don’t think that this is a good idea at all and would prefer it if another name were used for the lineage concerned (like Crurotarsi)… but that’s an issue for another time.

Euparkeria capensis  has long been intimated as a sort of bird ancestor by those looking for such creatures outside of theropod dinosaurs. Not only is this animal only very distantly related to birds, it’s not even part of the crown-archosaur clade. Image: Taenadoman, CC BY-SA 3.0 ( original here ).

Euparkeria capensis has long been intimated as a sort of bird ancestor by those looking for such creatures outside of theropod dinosaurs. Not only is this animal only very distantly related to birds, it’s not even part of the crown-archosaur clade. Image: Taenadoman, CC BY-SA 3.0 (original here).

By combining features common to Archaeopteryx as well as to the ‘pseudosuchians’ Aetosaurus, Euparkeria, Ornithosuchus and Saltoposuchus, Heilmann (1916, 1926) described how he invented a creature that looked somewhat like a theropod but had a more archaic skull and foot, retained a fourth metacarpal, and had a smaller pelvis with far shorter pubic and ischial bones.

Heilmann’s skeletal reconstruction of Proavis, as depicted in the 1916 Danish version of the book… but not in the 1926 English version. Note the lack of long feathers on the hindlimbs. Incidentally, note also that Heilmann was partly responsible for encouraging the belief that forelimb feathers did not cover the hands during the earliest stages of bird evolution. Image: Heilmann (1916).

Heilmann’s skeletal reconstruction of Proavis, as depicted in the 1916 Danish version of the book… but not in the 1926 English version. Note the lack of long feathers on the hindlimbs. Incidentally, note also that Heilmann was partly responsible for encouraging the belief that forelimb feathers did not cover the hands during the earliest stages of bird evolution. Image: Heilmann (1916).

Heilmann, Thompson and D’Arcy Thompson grids. It’s a matter of some interest that Heilmann didn’t just guess what the imagined morphology of the proavian would be, as might be assumed given the English edition of his book. Instead, he used a technique whereby the relevant anatomical regions were mapped on to a grid and then distorted to mimic the evolutionary process. This grid-based deformation process was pioneered by D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson (1860-1948) and was explained most thoroughly in his 1917 book On Growth and Form (Thompson 1917). It was actually put forward beforehand in 1915 (Thompson 1915).

Thompson applied his Cartesian grid technique to many animal lineages, his aim being to show that mathematically predictable transformation in one or more anatomical regions could result in profound anatomical change. Here’s one of my favourite examples: how you can derive a molid sunfish ( Mola  was known to Thompson as  Orthagoriscus ) from a porcupinefish. Image: Thompson (1917).

Thompson applied his Cartesian grid technique to many animal lineages, his aim being to show that mathematically predictable transformation in one or more anatomical regions could result in profound anatomical change. Here’s one of my favourite examples: how you can derive a molid sunfish (Mola was known to Thompson as Orthagoriscus) from a porcupinefish. Image: Thompson (1917).

By placing grids on top of diagrams of related animals (say, the skull of a human and a chimp), Thompson showed how the skewing of the grid in a certain direction “would result in the sort of changes that would allow the emergence of a new species” (Naish 2017, p. 116). These grids are generally termed D’Arcy Thompson transformation grids, Cartesian transformations or Cartesian grids, and their use was quite popular in the evolutionary literature of the early 20th century. Heilmann was inspired to use the technique after Thompson wrote to him about bird evolution in 1915, and the two wrote to each other on many occasions about the technique and its application to ideas on the evolution of horses, hominids and birds. They also discussed how the resulting illustrations could be used in Thompson’s On Growth and Form (Ries 2007).

Heilmann included these Cartesian transformations in the 1916 version of his book, but they weren’t included in the 1926 English version. His take on Proavis was not, therefore, simple guesswork. Image: this montage is from Witmer (1991) but the originals are from Heilmann (1916).

Heilmann included these Cartesian transformations in the 1916 version of his book, but they weren’t included in the 1926 English version. His take on Proavis was not, therefore, simple guesswork. Image: this montage is from Witmer (1991) but the originals are from Heilmann (1916).

Heilmann’s commitment to the technique is demonstrated by the fact that the 1916 Danish edition of his book includes grids that depict the inferred evolution of the avian skull, forelimb and pelvis (I don’t own a copy of the Danish edition, but the diagrams are included in both Witmer (1991) and Ries (2007)). With Ornithosuchus and Euparkeria as ‘starting points’ and Archaeopteryx and modern birds as ‘end points’*, Heilmann used the grids to create relevant intermediates, the results allowing him to generate, piecemeal, his Proavis (Heilmann 1916). A lateral view of the hypothetical animal – showing it in a neural, non-dynamic walking pose – was included in the Danish edition (Heilmann 1916, Ries 2007).

* It should be noted that Heilmann’s Archaeopteryx was not accurate, some of its details (in the skull especially) being semi-hypothetical and informed by Heilmann’s interpretation of ‘pseudosuchians’ like Aetosaurus.

The more dynamic, climbing version of Heilmann’s Proavis skeletal reconstruction, the only version of the reconstruction included in the 1926 English version of his book. Image:   Heilmann (1926)  .

The more dynamic, climbing version of Heilmann’s Proavis skeletal reconstruction, the only version of the reconstruction included in the 1926 English version of his book. Image: Heilmann (1926).

Remarkably, none of this was included in the English edition at all, this creating the impression that Heilmann simply invented the proavian via intuition and guesswork. He didn’t: it was generated via a testable, repeatable method (albeit using flawed anatomical data). Furthermore, the fact that Heilmann’s skeletal reconstruction of Proavis included in the English edition (Heilmann 1926) is the more dynamic climbing version of the creature gives it a less scientific, more speculative, artistic air than the walking version of 1916.

Heilmann, Beebe and Tetrapteryx. When it came to feathering and other aspects of the integument, Heilmann noted his thoughts on another Proavis-type animal, this time the one invented by Charles William Beebe in 1915. Beebe (1877-1962) was an interesting person. He was a naturalist, ecologist, ornithologist, marine biologist, author and explorer, among other things. Today, he might be best known for the deep-water observations he made while in a bathysphere off the coast of Nonsuch Island off Bermuda during the 1930s.

William Beebe’s hypothetical tetrapteryx creature. A pre- Archaepteryx  glider. You’ll note that Beebe was a pretty good artist [UPDATE: this is an error. The illustrations in this publication were by Dwight Franklin, not by Beebe!]. Image: Beebe (1915).

William Beebe’s hypothetical tetrapteryx creature. A pre-Archaepteryx glider. You’ll note that Beebe was a pretty good artist [UPDATE: this is an error. The illustrations in this publication were by Dwight Franklin, not by Beebe!]. Image: Beebe (1915).

When it came to bird origins, Beebe thought that birds originated via a ‘tetrapteryx’ phase where large feathers on the proximal hindlimb were present and functioned in slowing descent during leaping and gliding (Beebe 1915). Both the fossils of Archaeopteryx and the nestlings of living bird species demonstrated the antiquity of these ‘pelvic wings’, Beebe (1915) said. Heilmann (1926) disagreed. His own examination of bird nestlings pertaining to bird lineages across the family tree resulted in his “complete disappointment, for what I found was wholly negative; there was not in any of them the slightest trace of a “pelvic wing”” (p. 194).

As for Archaeopteryx, Heilmann (1926) argued that the hindlimbs were arranged such that they could never have had an aerodynamic function, nor was there evidence for long hindlimb feathering of the sort consistent with ‘pelvic wings’. Ergo, Heilmann illustrated Archaeopteryx without long hindlimb feathering, and he didn’t think that Proavis had them either: his skeletal reconstructions (both the 1916 walking version and 1926 climbing one) lack them (the 1926 climber has short hindlimb feathers, similar in length to those elsewhere on the body) and the gliding proavians included in his various drawings clearly lack them as well. His most famous proavian figure – the semi-erect one standing in a conifer tree (shown below) – does have long feathers on the rear edge of the thigh, though they certainly aren’t as long as they should be as per Beebe’s tetrapteryx model.

The iconic tree-dwelling proavian. The iconic tree-dwelling proavian I have in mind here is one of Heilmann’s best-known and most frequently reproduced illustrations. It has what appears to be great symbolic significance if you’ve read the English version of The Origin of Birds since it’s the very last image in the entire book (Heilmann 1926, p. 199), thus appearing as a visual metaphor for an imagined phrase: “Finally, I can reconstruct the real ancestor of birds, and it looked like this”.

Heilmann’s most iconic version of his Proavis. Note the long feathers on the back of the thigh and how they’re invisible and thus not deemed important in the gliding individual in the background. Heilmann said that the long feathers close to the base of the tail would produce the required lift in this region. Image:   Heilmann (1926)  .

Heilmann’s most iconic version of his Proavis. Note the long feathers on the back of the thigh and how they’re invisible and thus not deemed important in the gliding individual in the background. Heilmann said that the long feathers close to the base of the tail would produce the required lift in this region. Image: Heilmann (1926).

I was surprised to learn that Beebe produced what looks like his own version of this illustration, and inserted it as a plate in a book published in 1915. However, the image itself is not dated 1915 and does not definitely pre-date Heilmann’s illustration. My suspicion – and that of Paul Stewart, who kindly brought my attention to the image – is that Beebe copied Heilmann’s proavian for his own personal use (the illustration was not intended for publication*). This in itself is interesting since it could mean that Beebe personally endorsed Heilmann’s view of Proavis and regarded it as a ‘descendant’ of his tetrapteryx creature… which it wasn’t, given that Heilmann rejected Beebe’s idea, as we saw earlier. Again, my thanks to Paul Stewart for sharing this image with me and permitting its use here.

* Thanks to Jonathan Kane, I’ve learnt that it was previously published in Tim Berra’s 1977 William Beebe: An Annotated Bibliography.

William Beebe seems to have produced his own take on Heilmann’s iconic proavian scene. We’re presuming that it was produced some time after Heilmann’s illustration was, but this hasn’t yet been fully confirmed. The illustration appears here courtesy of Paul Stewart.

William Beebe seems to have produced his own take on Heilmann’s iconic proavian scene. We’re presuming that it was produced some time after Heilmann’s illustration was, but this hasn’t yet been fully confirmed. The illustration appears here courtesy of Paul Stewart.

Today, the significance of Beebe’s tetrapteryx idea is a bit uncertain and, frankly, depends on who you ask. Archaeopteryx probably did have long feathers on the hindlimbs (Longrich 2006), and they perhaps had an aerodynamic role if this animal indulged in aerial locomotion (which it likely did). Furthermore, the discovery of prominent ‘hindlimb wings’ in other feathered dinosaurs (most notably the Chinese dromaeosaur Microraptor) has led some experts to note the predictive power of Beebe’s suggestion (Kane et al. 2016) and to favour the presence and importance of hindlimb feathers in the earliest birds (Longrich 2006, Chatterjee & Templin 2007, Zheng et al. 2013, Xu et al. 2014). However, it’s not at all certain that large, aerodynamically ‘functional’ hindlimb feathers were present consistently across the lineages concerned or that they had the role that Beebe imagined (O’Connor & Chang 2015).

Recent work shows that  Archaeopteryx  really did have long feathers on the proximal portions of its hindlimbs (these reconstructions are by Longrich (2006)), though they weren’t as long as the feathers Beebe imagined for his tetrapteryx stage creature. Image: Longrich (2006).

Recent work shows that Archaeopteryx really did have long feathers on the proximal portions of its hindlimbs (these reconstructions are by Longrich (2006)), though they weren’t as long as the feathers Beebe imagined for his tetrapteryx stage creature. Image: Longrich (2006).

As always, there’s more to say and this article is already longer than intended. I also wanted to talk about Pycraft’s initial concept of the Proavis, and also Burian’s depiction, since he didn’t simply copy Heilmann’s illustrations but actually produced yet another hypothetical creature. These things will have to wait to another time. Also worthy of further discussion is the point made earlier about Heilmann’s influence happening despite his status as a ‘mere’ artist, a theme that has parallels elsewhere in the history of vertebrate palaeontology and is relevant to my writings on meme perpetuation, the scientific acceptance of feathering in non-bird dinosaurs and much else besides. I aim to explore these topics (and others) in future articles.

Before Heilmann, there was Pycraft’s proavian of 1906. We’ll have to discuss this creature and its backstory another time. Image:   Pycraft (1910)  .

Before Heilmann, there was Pycraft’s proavian of 1906. We’ll have to discuss this creature and its backstory another time. Image: Pycraft (1910).

On which note, please consider supporting this blog at patreon if you don’t already do so. The more support I receive, the more time I can spend generating new content. Thanks so much.

For previous TetZoo articles relevant to the issues covered here, see…

Refs - -

Beebe, C. W. 1915. A tetrapteryx phase in the ancestry of birds. Zoologica 2, 38-52.

Chatterjee, S. & Templin, R. J. 2007. Biplane wing planform and flight performance of the feathered dinosaur Microraptor gui. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104, 1576-1580.

Heilmann, G. 1916. Vor Nuvaerende Viden om Fuglenes Afstamning. Unknown publisher, Copenhagen.

Heilmann, G. 1926. The Origin of Birds. Witherby, London.

Kane, J., Willoughby, E. & Keesey, T. M. 2016. God’s Word or Human Reason? An Inside Perspective on Creationism. Inkwater Press.

Longrich, N. 2006. Structure and function of hindlimb feathers in Archaeopteryx lithographica. Paleobiology 32, 417-431.

Naish, D. 2017. Evolution in Minutes. Quercus, London.

Nieuwland, I. J. J. 2004. Gerhard Heilmann and the artist’s eye in science, 1912-1927. www.PalArch.nl., vertebrate palaeontology 3, 2.

O’Connor, J. & Chang, H. 2015. Hindlimb feathers in paravians: primarily “wings” or ornaments? Biology Bulletin 42, 616-621.

Palm, S. 1997. The Origin of Flapping Flight in Birds. Svend Plam, Ballerop.

Pycraft, W. P. 1910. A History of Birds. Methuen & Co, London.

Ries, C. J. 2007. Creating the Proavis: bird origins in the art and science of Gerhard Heilmann 1913-1926. Archives of Natural History 34, 1-19.

Thompson, D. W. 1915. Morphology and mathematics. Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 50, 857-895.

Thompson, D. W. 1917. On Growth and Form. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Witmer, L. M. 1991. Perspectives on avian origins. In Schultze, H.-P. & Trueb, L. (eds) Origins of the Higher Groups of Tetrapods: Controversy and Consensus. Cornel University Press (Ithaca, London), pp. 427-466.

Xu, X., Zhou, Z., Dudley, R., Mackem, S., Chuong, C.-M., Erickson, G. M. & Varricchio, D. J. 2014. An integrative approach to understanding bird origins. Science 346 (6215), 1253293.

Zheng, X., Zhou, Z., Wang, X., Zhang, F., Zhang, X., Wang, Y., Wei, G., Wang, S. & Xu, X. 2013. Hind wings in basal birds and the evolution of leg feathers. Science 339, 1309-1312.

Up Close and Personal With the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs

Like many of us, I have long enjoyed looking at the Crystal Palace dinosaurs and other prehistoric animal models, created in 1854, still on show more than 160 years later, and providing a remarkable showcase of ancient life as it was imagined at the time. But I’ve only ever seen them from afar. How fantastic would it be to examine them up close? Well…

You’ve seen the Crystal Palace dinosaurs before (or images of them, anyway), but you might not have seen them up-close like this. Neither had I prior to this very special visit. Image: Darren Naish.

You’ve seen the Crystal Palace dinosaurs before (or images of them, anyway), but you might not have seen them up-close like this. Neither had I prior to this very special visit. Image: Darren Naish.

Way back in September 2018, I was fortunate enough to attend the Crystal Palace Dinosaur Days event, part of the Heritage Open Days weekend occurring across the UK on the weekend concerned. I gave a talk and also led a tour around the prehistoric animal models (focusing on the reptiles and amphibians alone). Adrian Lister (of mammoth and Megaloceros fame) led a tour too, Mark Witton gave a talk on ‘Palaeoart After Crystal Palace’, and much else happened besides. I also have to mention the 3D-printed models of the dinosaurs made by Perri Wheeler. How I would love for these to be commercially available: I’m sure they’d be a success. So, it was a great event; well done Ellinor Michel and everyone else involved in the Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs group (follow them on Twitter at @cpdinosaurs) for putting it together.

Perri Wheeler’s brilliant models of the three Crystal Palace dinosaurs (from back to front:  Megalosaurus ,  Hylaeosaurus ,  Iguanodon ). As a pathological collector of model dinosaurs, I sure would like to own a set - but I also sure would like for these models (or a set very similar to them) to be commercially available. Image: Darren Naish.

Perri Wheeler’s brilliant models of the three Crystal Palace dinosaurs (from back to front: Megalosaurus, Hylaeosaurus, Iguanodon). As a pathological collector of model dinosaurs, I sure would like to own a set - but I also sure would like for these models (or a set very similar to them) to be commercially available. Image: Darren Naish.

The real thrill, however, was not the talks nor the presence of the amazing and sometimes spectacularly good speakers but the fact that we were awarded special, up-close access to the prehistoric animal models. A dream come true. As you’ll know if you’ve visited Crystal Palace or read about it, the models are located on islands surrounded by a snaking waterway. In other words, they aren’t readily accessible. For the duration of Dinosaurs Days, however, a temporary bridge had been erected and – like Lord Roxton striding across a felled tree to Maple White Land – we made the crossing and stepped into a bygone era.

The amazing, enormous head of the  Mosasaurus . Many of the scales on the body were recently repaired as the entire skin across the body was in a poor state. More on the mosasaur below. Image: Darren Naish.

The amazing, enormous head of the Mosasaurus. Many of the scales on the body were recently repaired as the entire skin across the body was in a poor state. More on the mosasaur below. Image: Darren Naish.

Why erect a bridge to the islands in the first place? Both so that crucial landscaping and gardening can occur, and so that the models can be examined and evaluated for repair. They’re not in the best of shape, you see, and much work needs doing. Indeed, right now there’s a major push to get funding for a permanent bridge that will allow the continual access that’s required. This project only has a few days of fundraising left and there’s some way to go before the target is reached: go here and chip in if you can. You might have heard that the Mayor of London agreed to partly fund the project… as has legendary musician and song-writer Slash, since it turns out that he’s a big fan! I should add that Slash seems to be quite the fan of science in general, his twitter account revealing a definite tendency to use his powers for good.

The standing  Iguanodon  was given renovation and a new paint scheme within recent years. Unfortunately, further repair work is already required. Image: Darren Naish.

The standing Iguanodon was given renovation and a new paint scheme within recent years. Unfortunately, further repair work is already required. Image: Darren Naish.

The reason I’m writing this article is not just to bring attention to this push for funding, but also to discuss and illustrate various of the remarkable details I got to see thanks to this up-close encounter. Before I start, be sure to read (if you haven’t already) the August 2016 TetZoo ver 3 article on the Crystal Palace models. Thanks to the Dinosaur Days event, I should add that I’ve been able to get hold of the guide that Richard Owen wrote to accompany the exhibition, or the 2013 reprinting (Owen 2013) of this 1864 publication (Owen 1854), anyway. It provides at least some background information on why the animals look the way they do.

Head of the reclining  Iguanodon . Only a privileged few have seen the head from its left side. Image: Darren Naish.

Head of the reclining Iguanodon. Only a privileged few have seen the head from its left side. Image: Darren Naish.

Again, relatively few people will have seen the reclining  Iguanodon  from this side. It’s striking how natural, realistic and well-proportioned the model looks in this view - very much like a real animal. Image: Darren Naish.

Again, relatively few people will have seen the reclining Iguanodon from this side. It’s striking how natural, realistic and well-proportioned the model looks in this view - very much like a real animal. Image: Darren Naish.

Hylaeosaurus  was thought by Owen and Hawkins to be an iguana-like reptile with a “lofty serrated or jagged crest, extended along the middle of the back”, though many aspects of the reconstruction were noted as being “at present conjectural” (Owen 2013, p. 18). Image: Darren Naish.

Hylaeosaurus was thought by Owen and Hawkins to be an iguana-like reptile with a “lofty serrated or jagged crest, extended along the middle of the back”, though many aspects of the reconstruction were noted as being “at present conjectural” (Owen 2013, p. 18). Image: Darren Naish.

I’ll avoid repeating here the same points I made in my 2016 article but I will repeat my primary take-homes. Namely, that it’s disingenuous and naïve to criticise the models as outdated or as inaccurate, laughable follies, as is sometimes done. They have to be seen within the context of what was known at the time, there has to some acknowledgement of the fact that scientific knowledge has improved over time, and there should also be recognition of the fact that the models are more up-to-date than, and superior in technical accuracy and craftmanship to, the vast majority of modern efforts to portray prehistoric life. In the interests of correcting a mistake made in my 2016 article I should also point out that Crystal Palace is not in Sydenham as I stated, but in Penge. With that out of the way…

The pachydermal, vaguely bear-like  Megalosaurus  is actually a composite of information compiled from both Jurassic and Cretaceous theropods. The tall shoulder hump was included because Owen erroneously regarded the tall-spined  Altispinax  (previously  Becklespinax ) vertebrae as belonging to the shoulder region of  Megalosaurus  (Naish 2010). Image: Darren Naish.

The pachydermal, vaguely bear-like Megalosaurus is actually a composite of information compiled from both Jurassic and Cretaceous theropods. The tall shoulder hump was included because Owen erroneously regarded the tall-spined Altispinax (previously Becklespinax) vertebrae as belonging to the shoulder region of Megalosaurus (Naish 2010). Image: Darren Naish.

A lot of detail was added to the megalosaur’s face - some of it is superficially crocodylian-like. Note the ominous cracks at the tip of the nose and along the side of the lower jaw. Image: Darren Naish.

A lot of detail was added to the megalosaur’s face - some of it is superficially crocodylian-like. Note the ominous cracks at the tip of the nose and along the side of the lower jaw. Image: Darren Naish.

It was a real thrill to see the remarkably detailed appearance of the three Crystal Palace dinosaurs: Iguanodon, Megalosaurus and Hylaeosaurus. Each has a very different skin texture, the Megalosaurus being the most unusual in that it doesn’t have the tile-like scales of the other two. Instead, it’s decorated with a crazy-paving-like covering. It’s not clear what Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (the designer and model-maker) was trying to achieve here since this is a rather non-reptilian look. Perhaps the aim was to give the animal a fissured skin texture vaguely like that of elephants.

View of the interior of the standing  Iguanodon , with and without flash. The light at the far end of the image is coming in through the  Iguanodon ’s mouth. Image: Darren Naish.

View of the interior of the standing Iguanodon, with and without flash. The light at the far end of the image is coming in through the Iguanodon’s mouth. Image: Darren Naish.

Holes on the undersides of the Iguanodon and Hylaeosaurus mean that their insides can be inspected. As you can see from my photos, the models look like weird gabled roofs from the inside, numerous metal struts and poles helping to provide support. The hylaeosaur’s original head was removed since its weight was causing the model’s neck to break, and was replaced with a fibreglass copy. So, peer inside the hylaeosaur from beneath and you see the translucent interior of its face.

A view of the hylaeosaur’s interior! Image: Darren Naish.

A view of the hylaeosaur’s interior! Image: Darren Naish.

Cracks, fissures and damaged sections are visible everywhere, moss invades and covers parts of the hylaeosaur’s flanks (not good if you want the models to persist) and sections of the megalosaur’s nose look like they could fall off at any moment. Similar damage is present on some of the other models, their skin and scales flaking or cracking or looking to be in imminent danger of breaking or falling off. Some substantial (expensive) repair work has been done by the Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs, but much more is required.

Looking into the mouth of the  Mosasaurus . “The large pointed teeth on the jaws are very conspicuous; but, in addition to these, the gigantic reptile had teeth on a bone of the roof of the mouth (the pterygoid), like some of the modern lizards” (Owen 2013, p. 11). Image: Darren Naish.

Looking into the mouth of the Mosasaurus. “The large pointed teeth on the jaws are very conspicuous; but, in addition to these, the gigantic reptile had teeth on a bone of the roof of the mouth (the pterygoid), like some of the modern lizards” (Owen 2013, p. 11). Image: Darren Naish.

In my previous Crystal Palace article, I discussed the fact that the models reveal a great many complex anatomical details, some of them involving details only familiar to specialists. When you see the models up close, even more such details become apparent. I’m not sure I knew that the mosasaur is equipped with accurate palatal teeth, for example. Owen specifically referred to this feature in the guidebook (Owen 2013). The temnospondyls (‘labyrinthodonts’) have big palatal teeth as well, as they should.

Anterior view of one of the temnospondyls. Check out the accurate palatal teeth. To Owen and Hawkins, this animal was  Labyrinthodon salamandroides , a sort of composite based on temnospondyl bones and teeth, and inferences made from croc-line archosaur footprints, thought by Owen and those who followed his work to be made by  Labyrinthodon . Image: Darren Naish.

Anterior view of one of the temnospondyls. Check out the accurate palatal teeth. To Owen and Hawkins, this animal was Labyrinthodon salamandroides, a sort of composite based on temnospondyl bones and teeth, and inferences made from croc-line archosaur footprints, thought by Owen and those who followed his work to be made by Labyrinthodon. Image: Darren Naish.

Like the dinosaurs (except the megalosaur), the surviving pterosaurs are fantastically scaly (today, we think that pterosaurs were covered in a filamentous coat, except on their wings, the distal parts of their hindlimbs and their snouts and faces). Unfortunately, the pterosaur with folded wings has recently been damaged, its smashed snout and lower jaw meaning that you can see right inside its head. This reveals a complex internal ‘anatomy’: another reminder that the models weren’t all built to the same plan or in the same style, but that very different approaches were used for each.

The two large Crystal Palace pterosaurs represent the species known to Owen and Hawkins as  Pterodactylus cuvieri  (though the possibility that more than one species is represented is raised by Owen’s remarks in the accompanying guide). Unfortunately, one of the models is now badly broken. The two smaller pterosaur models are not currently on display and have had a really unfortunate history: they’ve been vandalised, broken and stolen several times. Image: Darren Naish.

The two large Crystal Palace pterosaurs represent the species known to Owen and Hawkins as Pterodactylus cuvieri (though the possibility that more than one species is represented is raised by Owen’s remarks in the accompanying guide). Unfortunately, one of the models is now badly broken. The two smaller pterosaur models are not currently on display and have had a really unfortunate history: they’ve been vandalised, broken and stolen several times. Image: Darren Naish.

Both big pterosaurs stand atop a small rocky ’cliff’. Like all the geological structures in the park, this is an installation specially created as part of the display. It looks, at first sight, to be made of nondescript grey rock. While looking at it, I began wondering about its specific composition, since we know that the other chunks of rocks in the park aren’t just random lumps of local geology, but transplanted sections of the specific geological unit the respective animal’s fossils come from.

As per usual, the model up-close - this is the  Pterodactylus cuvieri  posed with open wings - is a remarkable bit of craftmanship.  Pterodactylus cuvieri  was named for bones that have more recently been included within the genera  Ornithocheirus  and  Anhanguera , and have most recently been awarded the new name  Cimoliopterus . Image: Darren Naish.

As per usual, the model up-close - this is the Pterodactylus cuvieri posed with open wings - is a remarkable bit of craftmanship. Pterodactylus cuvieri was named for bones that have more recently been included within the genera Ornithocheirus and Anhanguera, and have most recently been awarded the new name Cimoliopterus. Image: Darren Naish.

And here’s a close-up of that detail. I absolutely adore the work here; check out all those individual scales. It seems remarkable now to think that Owen and Hawkins really imagined pterosaurs to look like this, but here’s the evidence. Image: Darren Naish.

And here’s a close-up of that detail. I absolutely adore the work here; check out all those individual scales. It seems remarkable now to think that Owen and Hawkins really imagined pterosaurs to look like this, but here’s the evidence. Image: Darren Naish.

What, then, are these pterosaurs really standing on? Mark Witton and I examined some freshly broken fragments of the cliff – the rock is chalk! This really shouldn’t have been a surprise given that the fossils these reconstructions are based on come from the English Chalk (Owen 2013), but it was great to see it confirmed. There’s even a line of dark flint nodules, just as there is in real chalk cliffs. These details are surely known to specialist researchers but were news to me.

Broken sections of the ‘pterosaur cliff’ reveal that we’re looking at chalk… which isn’t a surprise, and is exactly what we would expect, but here’s confirmation. You should be able to see a few of the dark, shiny flint nodules too. Image: Darren Naish.

Broken sections of the ‘pterosaur cliff’ reveal that we’re looking at chalk… which isn’t a surprise, and is exactly what we would expect, but here’s confirmation. You should be able to see a few of the dark, shiny flint nodules too. Image: Darren Naish.

Look – below – at the photo of the teleosaurs. Notice how the arrangement of scales and scutes is highly detailed, and how the animals have been given a scute arrangement that very much resembles that of living crocodylians. As it happens, the arrangement they’ve been given is dead wrong for teleosaurs but it is absolutely accurate for living crocodylians (where dorsal scute arrangement is – mostly – diagnostic to species level). What I’m saying is that I think that Hawkins looked at living Saltwater crocodiles Crocodylus porosus when designing these amazing models, since their dorsal scute pattern specifically matches this species (and, surprisingly, not gharials).

The two  Teleosaurus  of Crystal Palace. While compared by Owen with gharials, it’s interesting that the dorsal scute pattern they were given is very clearly based on living crocodiles. As per usual, look at the remarkable amount of well-rendered detail. Image: Darren Naish.

The two Teleosaurus of Crystal Palace. While compared by Owen with gharials, it’s interesting that the dorsal scute pattern they were given is very clearly based on living crocodiles. As per usual, look at the remarkable amount of well-rendered detail. Image: Darren Naish.

As usual, there’s stacks more I want to say, but time is up. I had such a great time seeing the models up close and I can’t wait to do it again. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the Crystal Palace prehistoric animals are among the most scientifically and historically important renditions of ancient creatures ever created, and they’re amazing pieces of art, construction and craftmanship to boot. A full, thorough discussion of their ‘anatomy’, backstory, construction and history has, even today, never been published – McCarthy & Gilbert (1994) is the closest thing to it – and much remains to be compiled and discovered.

These models must be preserved for the future. On that note, don’t forget to pledge your support for the bridge project. Crystal Palace and its models will be covered here again at some point in the future, and various relevant projects will be discussed here in 2019 – watch this space!

CP-Sept-2018-Darren-and-Iguanodon-1000-px-tiny-Dec-2018-Darren-Naish-Tetrapod-Zoology.jpg
As should be obvious from these photos, the entire area has become somewhat overgrown recently, and much maintenance is needed. The   Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs group   are doing what they can, but help is needed. Image: Darren Naish.

As should be obvious from these photos, the entire area has become somewhat overgrown recently, and much maintenance is needed. The Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs group are doing what they can, but help is needed. Image: Darren Naish.

For other TetZoo articles on the Crystal Palace prehistoric animals and other relevant issues, see…

Refs - -

McCarthy, S. & Gilbert, M. 1994. Crystal Palace Dinosaurs: The Story of the World’s First Prehistoric Sculptures. Crystal Palace Foundation, London.

Naish, D. 2010. Pneumaticity, the early years: Wealden Supergroup dinosaurs and the hypothesis of saurischian pneumaticity. In Moody, R. T. J., Buffetaut, E., Naish, D. & Martill, D. M. (eds) Dinosaurs and Other Extinct Saurians: A Historical Perspective. Geological Society, London, Special Publications 343, pp. 229-236.

Owen, R. 1854. Geology and Inhabitants of the Ancient World. Crystal Palace Library and Euston & Evans, London.

Owen, R. 2013. Geology and Inhabitants of the Ancient World. Euston Grove Press, London.

The Second Edition of Naish and Barrett’s Dinosaurs: How They Lived and Evolved

Regular readers of this blog should know that 2016 saw the publication of the Natural History Museum book Dinosaurs: How They Lived and Evolved, co-authored by this blog’s humble overlord… that might be an oxymoron… and the Natural History Museum’s Paul Barrett (Naish & Barrett 2016). Dinosaurs has been well received and pretty successful in terms of sales, and so it came to pass that there was the need for a modified, softback version that included updates and corrections. Officially, the new version is a ‘fully revised and updated’ version, but it’s very literally a second edition, and that’s what I’m calling it.

Naish and Barrett, second edition   - with a new cover!

First off, the production of a second edition – we’ll call it Dinosaurs 2nd ed (Naish & Barrett 2018) from hereon – allowed the correction of assorted typos and poor word choices. It never ceases to amaze me how much stuff we miss even when a given piece of text is checked, double-checked and checked again. Big thanks to fan of the book Klinsman Hinjaya for noting a number of required corrections. More importantly, said second edition also allowed us to update or modify various aspects of the science covered in the book. New data and new interpretations mean that our ideas on the biology and evolutionary history of extinct animals are constantly changing, and this was a great opportunity to get some of the relevant changes incorporated.

Some of you – especially those in possession of the first edition – are keen to know what’s different about Dinosaurs 2nd ed, so – without giving too much away – let’s take a look…

Some of Emma’s drawings feature in the book. No, I’m kidding - they don’t.  Or do they . Credit: Darren Naish.

Some of Emma’s drawings feature in the book. No, I’m kidding - they don’t. Or do they. Credit: Darren Naish.

A new cover. Personally, I think that Dinosaurs: How They Lived and Evolved is a pretty good book, and I hope you agree. But I never much liked the cover, and I know I’m not alone. Given that it portrays a roaring monster that’s showing us the inside of its mouth and what biiiig teeth it has, it might be construed as being contrary to the message otherwise promoted throughout the book: that non-bird dinosaurs were animals, and not the monsters of Hollywood and popular fiction.

New cover art by Bob Nicholls of   Paleocreations  . I own a full-sized print of this amazing piece. Damn… I own a lot of Bob Nicholls art now. Credit: Bob Nicholls.

New cover art by Bob Nicholls of Paleocreations. I own a full-sized print of this amazing piece. Damn… I own a lot of Bob Nicholls art now. Credit: Bob Nicholls.

The plan for Dinosaurs 2nd ed was thus to produce a brand-new cover that better represented modern thinking on dinosaurs. Paul and I opted to have either a feathered theropod, or an unusual ornithischian, and we ended up going with the latter for reasons I can’t recall (I think because it might look weirder and less familiar: feathered theropods are so passé, after all). Our chosen artist – Bob Nicholls – came up with a bunch of test sketches, all depicting the Chinese heterodontosaur Tianyulong in various poses and behavioural settings. We chose one, and Bob went to extraordinary trouble to get the contrast, lighting and composition right. There’s much more to it than that but… ladies and gentlemen, I give you… our new cover.

New artwork. Moving now to the insides of the book, we’ve also replaced a few other images that were used in the first edition. Bob has a few more of his excellent images in the book, we swapped out the (now defunct) diagrams on diplodocid jaw movement with a new reconstruction of a ground-feeding diplodocid (though illustrated without the keratinous beak recently proposed for this group), and Matt Martyniuk’s Anchiornis replaces a previous image with a problematic forelimb configuration. I also replaced a bunch of small images used in various of the cladograms.

Some of the cladograms of  Dinosaurs 2nd ed  have been tweaked a little. This one depicts Theropoda, the predatory dinosaurs. Credit: Darren Naish.

Some of the cladograms of Dinosaurs 2nd ed have been tweaked a little. This one depicts Theropoda, the predatory dinosaurs. Credit: Darren Naish.

Necessary coverage of the Ornithoscelida thing. Currently, one of the most talked-about issues within the study of Mesozoic dinosaurs is Matt Baron et al.’s (2017) proposal that the main branches of the dinosaur family tree be rearranged, such that sauropodomorphs are outside a theropod + ornithischian clade termed Ornithoscelida. I wrote about this proposal when it was brand-new, back in March 2017. It has been hotly contested by several teams of authors and there are already a few publications saying how reanalysis does not support Baron et al.’s model, or at least does not support it preferentially above the others that are available.

Obviously, we just had to cover this issue for Dinosaurs 2nd ed – especially so given that Paul is one of the study’s authors – and a few new paragraphs of text and new diagrams summarise the area for our readers. Our coverage of the Ornithoscelida issue resulted in various knock-on changes elsewhere in the book. New phylogenetic positions, for example, have been favoured for herrerasaurids, Eoraptor and so on.

The Baron  et al . model, as depicted in   the 2017 article I wrote about it for TetZoo ver 2  . Credit: Darren Naish.

The Baron et al. model, as depicted in the 2017 article I wrote about it for TetZoo ver 2. Credit: Darren Naish.

New taxa, new names, new phylogenetic possibilities. The world of Mesozoic dinosaur phylogeny and systematics move fast – remember that an average year right now sees the naming of between 30 and 50 new non-bird dinosaur species. We’re at a stage where phylogenetic models are never really ‘overturned’, but they certainly undergo regular tweaking, modification and augmentation. In view of this, Dinosaurs 2nd ed includes references to Stenonychosaurus, Latenivenatrix (sorry, Troodon) and halszkaraptorines, and I subtly changed the wording on the megaraptorans…

Pisanosaurus is no longer bigged-up as a possible early ornithischian given data indicating that it’s a non-dinosaur.

Revising thoughts on the origins of flight. Those familiar with discussions on both bird and flight origins within dinosaurs will know all about the ‘trees down vs ground up’ argument, and also with the contention that it might be utterly wrong to polarise things in this way. Nevertheless, there remain – for all those attempts to point to shades of grey – extremes in the debate. My take on the earliest phases of maniraptoran flight has mostly involved a weird sort of hybrid whereby the animals concerned are deemed predominantly terrestrial but also capable of climbing, their leaping, fluttering and gliding in arboreal settings being antecedent to flight. Like many people, I was originally enthused enough by WAIR (wing-assisted incline running) to think that it might be a plausible explanation of how maniraptorans first came to exploit arboreal settings and, from there, evolve flight.

Dececchi  et al . (2016)   showed that at least some non-bird maniraptorans do not have the right combination of anatomical features to benefit from WAIR as originally envisioned. This work affected our thinking on flight origins in  Dinosaurs 2nd ed . Credit:   Dececchi  et al . 2016  ,  PeerJ

Dececchi et al. (2016) showed that at least some non-bird maniraptorans do not have the right combination of anatomical features to benefit from WAIR as originally envisioned. This work affected our thinking on flight origins in Dinosaurs 2nd ed. Credit: Dececchi et al. 2016, PeerJ

The diversity of non-bird maniraptorans is such that it looks likely that these animals practised all sorts of behaviours during the long time that they were around, and thus that various different acts and adventures could have contributed to their ability to leave the ground. Having said that, recent studies indicate that at least some of the relevant animals could likely leap into flight from a ground-based start (Dececchi et al. 2016), and – at the same time – that arboreal behaviour was unlikely in such species. The possibility that flight could well have evolved without any arboreal component is interesting (and even shocking to some), and sufficiently so that we’ve alluded to it (briefly) in Dinosaurs 2nd ed.

Dinosaurs , the Russian edition. Now I know what my name looks like in Russian. Yes, the title is not the same as the English one.

Dinosaurs, the Russian edition. Now I know what my name looks like in Russian. Yes, the title is not the same as the English one.

And that’s it. I should also add that Dinosaurs: How They Lived and Evolved has also recently appeared in Australia (where it’s published by CSIRO), and that a Russian translation is now out as well. My thanks to everyone who’s bought this book, to those who commented on or said nice positive things about the first edition, and to everyone involved in its production and publication.

For those who haven’t purchased a copy, it’s available here from amazon, here from amazon.co.uk, and here from the publishers.

For previous articles relevant to this one, see…

Refs - -

Baron, M. G., Norman, D. B. & Barrett, P. M. 2017. A new hypothesis of dinosaur relationships and early dinosaur evolution. Nature 543, 501-506.

Dececchi, T. A., Larsson, H. C. E. & Habib, M. B. 2016. The wings before the bird: an evaluation of flapping-based locomotory hypotheses in bird antecedents. PeerJ 4: e2159.

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

Naish, D. & Barrett, P. M. 2018. Dinosaurs: How They Lived and Evolved. The Natural History Museum, London.

Brian Switek’s My Beloved Brontosaurus: A Belated Review

I’ve posted a few reviews of recently-ish published dinosaur books here lately, aaaand I have a few more to publish yet – the backlog is long. So.. it seemed as good a time as any to recycle this review from five years ago, pertaining to a book published in 2013. The review was written for the website produced to accompany the 2013 Walking With Dinosaurs movie but… for reasons that I’m sure make sense to someone, this review and in fact the entire site was later removed from the internet (yeah yeah yeah... nothing is ever really removed, blah blah blah IT’S GONE FOR NORMAL PEOPLE, OK?). I here republish it in full, unmodified form since those far-off, halcyon days of 2013. Which is kind of ironic, given what’s happened to Brontosaurus since 2013 (see links below for more on that)…

The brilliant cover-art to   Switek (2013)  , by Mark Stutzman. Image:   Switek (2013)  .

The brilliant cover-art to Switek (2013), by Mark Stutzman. Image: Switek (2013).

Dinosaurs are popular. We seem, in fact, to be at an all-time high in terms of our hunger for new dinosaur news, the frequency with which new discoveries are announced, and in the sheer volume of dinosaur-themed books, TV shows and movies.

Brian Switek’s My Beloved Brontosaurus describes the author’s personal journey as he visits various dinosaur-bearing fossil sites and dinosaur-themed museums and other institutions across the United States, all the while discussing the fast-changing pace of our knowledge, the new insights we have into dinosaurs and their biology, and the fondness we retain for the big, fat, swamp-dwelling, pea-brained version of the dinosaur that almost refuses to die. Herein lies the explanation for the book’s title: the concept of ‘Brontosaurus’ embodies a defunct stereotype, a name that ‘shouldn’t’ be in current use [UPDATE: OH THE IRONY] and which remains associated with a version of the dinosaur that pre-dates the Dinosaur Renaissance.

The iconic diplodocid specimen (AMNH 460) on display in the American Museum of Natural History, New York, with its semi-imaginary skull. Long labelled as  Brontosaurus excelsus , and then  Apatosaurus excelsus , it’s currently of indeterminate status. Image: AMNH, in public domain ( original here ).

The iconic diplodocid specimen (AMNH 460) on display in the American Museum of Natural History, New York, with its semi-imaginary skull. Long labelled as Brontosaurus excelsus, and then Apatosaurus excelsus, it’s currently of indeterminate status. Image: AMNH, in public domain (original here).

The book reads like something of a road trip, arranged such that Switek tells the story of the dinosaurs’ Triassic origins and gradual rise to dominance, explores ideas about their sex lives and reproductive and growth strategies, looks at their evolution of giant size, at dinosaur social lives, at feathers and featheryness, at pathologies and illnesses, and, eventually, at the end-Cretaceous extinction event. It’s a well-written, flowing narrative; the chapters are connected, both to one another and to Switek’s journey across the country, though the connections do sometimes seem a bit contrived. Notes at the back point the reader to technical sources for the information included, illustrations appear throughout, and the book is fully indexed.

Front cover of   Switek (2013)  . Some apatosaurines truly were gargantuan - the individual shown here might be overly gargantuan, but the image is brilliant anyway. Image:   Switek (2013)  .

Front cover of Switek (2013). Some apatosaurines truly were gargantuan - the individual shown here might be overly gargantuan, but the image is brilliant anyway. Image: Switek (2013).

I really like Mark Stutzman’s cover art so was especially thrilled to see that the dust jacket folds out into a double-sided poster. Extra dino-geek points if you know the inspirations behind either of Stutzman’s illustrations.

By and large the volume is up-to-date and factually accurate, but there are a few things I take issue with. The name Brontosaurus is of course a major fixture throughout the book, the obvious reason for this being that the name loomed large in virtually every single popular dinosaur book prior to... well, prior to some surprisingly recent date. As Switek explains, it’s not true to say – as people sometimes do – that “Brontosaurus never existed”; rather, the species that the name Brontosaurus is tied to was shown in 1903 to be so similar to species included in another genus (Apatosaurus) that separate status for Brontosaurus was no longer defensible. If Brontosaurus ‘died’ in 1903, why has it persisted until so recently? [UPDATE: AGAIN… OH THE IRONY. For the one or two of you that don’t know, the name Brontosaurus was resurrected from synonymy in a comprehensive analysis published in 2015 (Tschopp et al. 2015)].

Another fantastic apatosaurine: this is  Apatosaurus louisae , photographed at the Carnegie Museum. You might be wondering what the deal is as goes those massive club-like processes on the cervical vertebrae. Yeah, we’re working on that. Really… we are. Image:  Tadek Kurpaski  CC BY 2.0 ( original here ).

Another fantastic apatosaurine: this is Apatosaurus louisae, photographed at the Carnegie Museum. You might be wondering what the deal is as goes those massive club-like processes on the cervical vertebrae. Yeah, we’re working on that. Really… we are. Image: Tadek Kurpaski CC BY 2.0 (original here).

Switek’s answer is that this choice was essentially arbitrary: he suggests that New York’s American Museum of Natural History stuck with the name in their massively popular museum display because they maybe “thought the old name sounded better, or were unsure about rebranding one of the most famous dinosaurs in their halls”.

However, as explained in Paul Brinkman’s 2010 book The Second Jurassic Dinosaur Rush, there’s a good reason why Brontosaurus persisted for so long. That reason: Henry Fairfield Osborn, president of the AMNH between 1908 and 1933. Osborn was hugely influential and highly opinionated, and his insistence on sticking with the name Brontosaurus ensured the use of the name well beyond its time as a popular (rather than technical) moniker. The 1903 sinking of Brontosaurus was suggested by Elmer Riggs. Riggs did good work, but he simply lacked the academic clout to make Osborn change his mind.

Another excellent volume on the history of Mesozoic dinosaur palaeontology:   Paul Brinkman’s 2010  The Second Jurassic Dinosaur Rush   .   My review of this book can be found here   (at the paywalled and utterly useless no-man’s land that is the SciAm blogs site). Image:   Brinkman (2010)  .

Another excellent volume on the history of Mesozoic dinosaur palaeontology: Paul Brinkman’s 2010 The Second Jurassic Dinosaur Rush. My review of this book can be found here (at the paywalled and utterly useless no-man’s land that is the SciAm blogs site). Image: Brinkman (2010).

Something I think we need to do more when writing about scientific discoveries and hypotheses is discuss the social dimension to science: that is, the reception said discoveries and hypotheses received within the academic community. New and radical notions and proposals are – despite the impression you might get from TV shows and magazine articles – typically not embraced with open arms. Instead, they initially receive cold and even harsh treatment. Since scientists are human, the way they react to such ideas may be influenced by their personal feelings, the research environment they were trained in, who their friends and enemies are, and so on. In the world of palaeontology, it seems that we’re entering a phase where we’re increasingly analysing the work and ideas of the last few decades: in other words, charting the socio-political background to the science.

It is important, I feel, that we document the history of our changing ideas, something I tried to do in    The Great Dinosaur Discoveries  (Naish 2009)  . Image:   Naish (2009)  .

It is important, I feel, that we document the history of our changing ideas, something I tried to do in The Great Dinosaur Discoveries (Naish 2009). Image: Naish (2009).

I tried to do this myself in my 2009 book The Great Dinosaur Discoveries (Naish 2009), and Switek often does it in My Beloved Brontosaurus since he quotes experts and reports the conversations he has with them. People interested in the history of palaeontology, and in the history of science in general, should read the book for this reason. It helps make the book a snap-shot of where we are now in the world of dinosaur science – it covers the issues we’re currently interested in; the questions and discoveries that we’re talking about.

All in all, My Beloved Brontosaurus is both a fun and absorbing read as well a good, popular guide to our current understanding of dinosaurs and their evolution.

Brian Switek, 2013. My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science, and our Favourite Dinosaurs. Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 256 pp. ISBN 978-0-374-13506-5. Hardback, index, illustrations.

For previous TetZoo articles relevant to this one, see…

Refs - -

Brinkman, P. 2010. The Second Jurassic Dinosaur Rush. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Naish, D. 2009. The Great Dinosaur Discoveries. A & C Black, London.

Switek, B. 2013. My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science, and our Favourite Dinosaurs. Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York.

Tschopp, E., Mateus, O. & Benson, R. B. J. 2015. A specimen-level phylogenetic analysis and taxonomic revision of Diplodocidae (Dinosauria, Sauropoda). PeerJ 3:e857; DOI 10.7717/peerj.857

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.