October 13 is National Fossil Day, according to the U.S. National Park Service. It’s an under-celebrated event, IMO. Want to join the fun? Here’s how:
- Put together a dinosaur Halloween costume. I mean really, who doesn’t want to be a T. rex? Don’t forget to wave your hands and practice your roar.
- Go local with this interactive database and map to find out what ancient creatures lived near you. I bet it’s something totally cool.
- Take a for-real or virtual trip to a natural history museum or other attraction. Here’s a few.
- Gawk at sketches of fabulous discoveries like:
- Carnotaurus: a horned relative of T. rex that hung out in Patagonia.
- Australotitan cooperensis, the biggest dinosaur ever found in…well, I think you figured out where.
- Everybody’s favorite armored ankylosaurs including this “newcomer” from prehistoric Morocco.
- Do some bird watching. Yes, birds are avian theropods and thus the descendants of one line of dinosaurs.
- Find still more fun ways to celebrate the day with paleontologists, educators and students.
- Bonus idea: Read about the hunt for dinosaur DNA remnants in wonderfully preserved fossils from China dating to 125 million years ago.
I’m celebrating Cinco de Mayo (a little late) and National Dinosaur Day (hey, that’s today) by looking at fossils of a “new” Mexican dinosaur akin to Parasaurolophus. That’s my buddy above, the one with the incredible hollow tubular crest that produced sound when air passed through its chambers.
The newcomer on the scene is Tlatolophus galorum. Angel Ramírez Velasco and Ricardo Servín Pichardo recently published all the marvelous deets about this creature after years of painstaking work. They found an extremely well-preserved skull (80% complete) that provides a great sense of proportion. So often, bones are shattered, bent, or crushed, making it quite difficult to ascertain what an animal actually looked like.
Seventy two million years ago, did these great beasts use their impressive crests to vocalize? I’d love to think so. Maybe one day, paleontologists will have an answer. For now, I’m envisioning them calling to their mates, or prospective mates. Perhaps they issued warning calls when predators lurked. Then again, they might have given a shout to their gang when they found some tasty food.
You don’t want to miss Louis Rey’s colorful depiction. Oh, and it’s great to see that when paleontologists had studied the fossils and determined they constitute a new genus and species, they created its unique name using the indigenous Nahuatl language, with a nod to local people who assisted in the work.
If you follow new developments in dinosaur research (doesn’t everyone?) you probably heard or read that an estimated 2.5 billion (yes billion with a “b”) Tyrannosaurus rexes roamed the Earth. That’s at least 127,000 generations over two million years. Nevertheless, that’s (gulp) rather a lot of tyrant lizards to contend with. But wait, how many might you be apt to encounter if you lived (tried to live?) in their territory?
This is where the figures get less definitive because they are based upon several estimates: longevity, growth rates, body mass, metabolism rate, geographic range of their habitat, acreage required to sustain a full-sized T. rex, population density for post-juvenile individuals, total length of time the species endured, etc. Some of these calculations are based on extrapolations from modern-day figures for large predators. Kudos to Charles Marshall (UC-Berkeley) and his team for tackling this question and putting together some figures appearing in Science, which they acknowledge could be off by two orders of magnitude.
Suffice to say, there may well have been around 3,800 of them roaming around an area as big as California. This comes down to two for some place the size of Washington, D.C.
Now here’s the question for today: If you could go back in a time machine to the Late Cretaceous of say 68 million years ago, where there was a risk/opportunity to see one of these great uber-carnivores, would you? There could be no guarantees as to your own personal safely or an actual sighting.
This question formed the basis for my interactive adventure novel, T-Rex Time Machine. You can take my time machine out for a spin and see how you fare during the heyday of the dinosaurs. No need to fret about a bad outcome, just play it again. I’d love to hear how you did!
Nope, I’m not going to foist on my faithful readers some cheesy rendition of a T. rex with a leprechaun hat clutching a pint of green beer. I mean, it couldn’t even raise the brew to its mouth. Besides, no self-respecting tyrant lizard would be caught dead in a hat like that. Can I offer you a pair of Irish dinosaurs instead?
But first, pop quiz: Name two dinosaurs that lived in what would become modern day Ireland.
Time’s up! Give yourself about a thousand gold stars if you got even one because…(drum roll) the first dinosaurs determined to have tromped across Ireland were only announced toward the end of last year. You’d think there would have been a herd of other dinosaur finds in Ireland long before that, right? I mean, scientists have been unearthing various specimens in England for well over 200 years. Not to be outdone, Scotland and Wales have also contributed dinosaur fossils to the paleontological record. Here’s a flashy map of dinosaur discoveries in the British Isles.
So why did Irish dinosaurs prove elusive?
It’s all due to the age of the rocks. Large swaths of Ireland are geologically too young or old to have dinosaur remains.
Thankfully, we can now celebrate having not one but two Irish dinosaurs dating to the Early Jurassic of 200 million years ago. One is a little-known plant muncher, Scelidosaurus harrisonii. It’s an “armored” Ornithiscian, and it needed all the protection it could get, seeing as the second Irish dinosaur from this time period is a predatory theropod akin to Sarcosaurus.
Not surprisingly, fossils representing Scelidosaurus’ kinfolk have also been found along England’s “Jurassic Coast” as far back as the mid-nineteenth century. David Norman recently published a thorough description and analysis of Scelidosaurus harrisonii.
But like as not, you’re more interested in the three-meter long meat-eater, right? Sarcosaurus skeletons found to date are far from complete. Nonetheless, it is recognized as a “small” theropod, likely sporting a mouth full of respectable fangs. It’s easy to envision it using powerful thigh muscles to dart across the Irish countryside in pursuit of its prey and sink in its claws and teeth.
Personally, I’m rooting for those armored Irish Ornithiscians.
This being Valentine’s Day, here’s my second monthly post featuring a new dinosaur discovery. Astute readers know that Protoceratops andrewsi, which is a predecessor to the ever-popular Triceratops, is hardly a newly unearthed species. However, a recent study of thirty specimens of these intriguing, sheep-sized dinosaurs looked at a specific physical trait that these dinosaurs might have found attractive in a mate. Like other Ceratopsians, Protoceratops possesses a distinctive and elaborate neck frill whose function is not immediate apparent.
The new study relied on 3D scans to document growth patterns of Protoceratops’ neck frills, and included specimens ranging from day-old hatchlings all the way up to full-sized adults. The evidence established that the neck frills grew at a faster rate than the dinosaurs’ skulls, thus ending up disproportionately large. While it is difficult to ascertain the onset of sexual maturity in an extinct dinosaur, the rapid growth of the neck frills appeared to be a sexually-selected trait.
Of course, anatomical features can serve multiple purposes, Previous hypotheses have suggested the neck frill served to protect the dinosaur’s vulnerable neck from predators such as Velociraptors found in the same environment. It’s also possible the neck frill helped in regulating internal body temperature, thereby preventing over-heating. Another idea is that the frills permitted individuals to more easily recognize one another, perhaps from a distance where there is a clear line of sight. Perhaps the frills enabled Protoceratops to appear bigger and fiercer than they were, thereby prompting those Velociraptors to go after smaller and less intimidating prey.
Where does this leave us? I, for one, am rather drawn to the idea that seventy five million years before Valentine’s Day was a thing, the Laurasian Protoceratopsians were eying each other’s neck frills.
Come back next month for my St. Patrick’s Day dinosaur.
How many dinosaurs are there? People ask me this from time to time and it’s a harder question than you might think. Do they mean how many individual critters trod the Earth or how many different species of dinosaurs were there? Those aren’t easy questions either, given that they reached every single continent, including Antarctica. Also, vast areas were not conducive to preservation. While we know quite a bit about some species in certain regions and time periods, more are discovered every year. In fact, dozens of “new” species are announced, named, analyzed, and/or sketched every year.
Yes, I said dozens, which means I can’t keep up! However, I can focus on some neat new discoveries. With that, I am launching a regular (here’s hoping!) new feature of Blogging the Mesozoic: a monthly post about a neat new discovery. Here’s the first one:
Ubirajara jubatus hails from Brazil. I picked it because South American dinosaurs simply don’t get nearly enough love despite being some of the largest dinosaurs ever found. But not this one, which is about the size of a turkey. It’s a carnivorous compagnathid from the Crato Formation 110-120 million years ago.
What makes it cool?
- It’s the first South American non-avian dinosaur fossil to show indisputable evidence of fluffy feathers, or perhaps proto-feathers. Plus it had spike-like projections from its shoulders.
- The coloration is rather a guess, but it might have been as brilliantly plumed as parrots or macaws, Or possibly it was more sedate. Until we have traces of pigmentation, it’s hard to say.
- We don’t know which direction those stiff filaments pointed. Here’s a neat article with illustrations as to some possibilities. I’m fascinated by how paleontologists and illustrators work together to develop various alternatives from crushed and incomplete fossilized remains.
- The name combines the indigenous Tupi word for “lord of the spear” with the Latin word for “maned” or “crested.”
What makes it controversial?
The specimen was exported from Brazil to Germany for study in 1995, where it still remains. The legality of the export is under investigation.
Dear Readers, The marvelous Catherine Schaff-Stump prodded me into revealing a few of my tricks for bringing dinosaurs to life in your imaginations. Hears hoping the writers among you may find something useful in creating wonders of your own. Oh, and hey, if you’ve never checked out Cath’s Abigail Rath series, you are in for a treat!
I’m thrilled to say that my interactive fiction game, T-Rex Time Machine is but one of a double handful of science fiction and fantasy works written by Taos Toolbox alums in the past year or so. Hope you’ll check out the wealth of reading featured on Walter Jon Williams’ blog. They all make great last-minute gifts for yourself or someone else!
Memorial Day Weekend, come hear me read from one of my dinosaur stories and talk about time travel, shopping at Target in Middle Earth, critiquing, writing methods, predatory business practices, anthropomorphism, and who knows what else! Here is my schedule for Balticon:
Friday, May 25
6pm Anthropomorphism in SFF
Learn how to tell stories from an animal’s unique perspective without resorting to writing humans in fursuits.
Saturday, May 26
11am Stopping the Clocks: Time Travel in Writing
In 1888, H.G. Wells wrote his first time travel story, “The Chronic Argonauts.” 130 years later, the concept is as popular as ever , with people still trying new takes on it. Why is time travel so perennial a theme? What are some of the different rules we’ve seen, and how do they make for good storytelling?
1pm You Can’t Shop at Target in Middle Earth
In your original fantasy setting, everything the characters own has to come from somewhere. Let’s talk about how to build a believable material culture for your world.
2pm Recognizing Predatory Business Practices
How to look for signs that you might not be dealing with a legitimate company – including common tactics such as pay-to-play, signing over derivative works, and others.
Sunday, May 27
12pm Readings: Sarah Avery, Rosemary Claire Smith, Carl Paolino
Authors Sarah Avery, Rosemary Claire Smith, and Carl Paolino read from their work.
5pm How to Incorporate Critique
What do you do when you have two readers giving you different or even contradictory feedback? How much are you willing to let the feedback change your work?
Monday, May 28
10am Outlining vs. Pantsing
Some storytellers require a detailed outline to start fleshing out their story, but others prefer to write by the seat of the pants. What are some techniques to help you get better at one when you prefer the other? Authors and gamemasters welcome!
Hope to see lots of you there!
Cath, Chris, George & Chia (a/k/a the Unreliable Narrators) interviewed me about T-Rex Time Machine for their podcast! It was great fun talking to these talented writers about dinosaurs, creating an interactive fiction adventure, and much else. Have a listen.
While you’re at it, have a look at my game. It’s your chance to take your best friend back millions of years to see living dinosaurs.