Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Dinosaurs: How They Lived and Evolved - Marc's review

As anyone who's been there will attest, the NHM (London) doesn't seem to care a jot what hideous CG imagery it slaps on the merchandise in its tack-o-rama dinosaur shop. Notably, the same few hideous stock images appear again and again; there's a Triceratops with human molars, a bunny-handed, gorilla suit Velociraptor, a T. rex with a skull that's been through a mangle and retro JP dangly-arms, and a boringly generic wide-mouth Giganotosaurus with teeth that go all the way back. Sadly, it's the latter that's found its way onto the cover of their latest dinosaur publication - Dinosaurs: How they Lived and Evolved, by Darren Naish and Paul Barrett. Thank you, marketing twonks. Fear not though, dear reader, for this is a book that one certainly shouldn't judge by its cover.

This reminds me of something from a long time ago.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Inside Dinosaurs

Hello LITC readers - Victoria Arbour signing in! After several years of enjoying vintage dinosaur art posts as a reader myself, I’m very excited to be jumping in with my own contributions here from time to time! I thought I’d start with one of my very favourite dinosaur books given to me when I was 10 years old: 1993’s Inside Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Creatures, written by Steve Parker and illustrated by Ted Dewan, and published by Scholastic Canada. Although I’ve kept this book on my shelf through grad school and now into my postdoc, I hadn’t cracked it open in many years. What a treat to revisit this book – a lushly illustrated, information-dense, modern take on dinosaurs that is utterly unique in its approach. I hope you’ll enjoy this sample!

Inside Dinosaurs is a book about dinosaur palaeobiology and covers topics that are still receiving a lot of research interest today. Most of the book features two-page spreads on specific topics with amazing cutaway diagrams that let you peer under the skin of dinosaurs. But first, we start with a great primer on the kinds of data that palaeontologists work with: skeletal anatomy, looking at gross anatomy and fine details, comparisons with modern animals, and dealing with missing data. And leading the charge is good old Iguanodon, a classic ‘intro to dinosaurs’ taxon if there ever was one. You’ll note throughout the book a couple of charming and quirky approaches to the presentation: many pages feature human-engineered structures as comparisons with biological structures, small green globular dinosaurs clamber all over everything, and our human-dinosaur size silhouettes are all musicians.

I love this rad Deinonychus, caught in a supremely dynamic leap that is marred only by the absence of feathers (forgiveable given it’s 1993 publication date). This is a great example of the kind of illustrations found throughout the book, where dinosaurs are shown in various stages of unraveling in order to showcase aspects of anatomy fitting the theme of that page. I particularly like the inclusion of the mechanical toe, and the fish-eating Baryonyx making a cameo at the bottom of the page.

Each two-page spread features at least one large dinosaur in full view, and it’s easy to overlook the smaller diagrams that highlight interesting aspects of dinosaur anatomy. It’s one of the things that makes the book so rewarding to come back to and pore over – it’s hard not to dislike this little diagram of a Protoceratops egg and embryo.

As a person who spends a lot of time thinking about ankylosaurs and animal weapons, I have to wonder if some of my interest and ideas can be traced to this particular spread. I’m pleased to note that the ankylosaurid’s tail anatomy is accurately presented: tail clubs are like mallets! I have some different ideas about how the tail muscles were arranged on the pelvis, but it’s still really cool to see this kind of detail presented in an illustrated dinosaur book for kids. We’ll come back to that sauropod tail later.

Long before CT scanners let us peer inside hadrosaur heads, artists tried their hands at reconstructing just what was going on inside those crazy nasal crests. This Corythosaurus holds up pretty well, and I like the comparison with musical instrument sounds. (Corythosaurus is a French horn, Edmontosaurus is a trumpet, and Parasaurolophus is a clarinet!)

The dinosaur that most shows its age in the book is Spinosaurus, shown here in full “carnosaur” garb with Allosaurus-like head, four-fingered hand, and a relatively short, stocky body. Whether or not you agree with the aquatic Spinosaurus hypothesis, this one is definitely wrong. The book also prefers the idea of ectothermic dinosaurs but notes that this idea was not universally accepted - overall, the book does a great job of exploring alternate hypotheses for all kinds of things, and also emphasizes that structures often have multiple functions that aren't mutually exclusive.

True to it’s title, “Other Prehistoric Animals” that are not dinosaurs make an appearance towards the end of the book: pages about marine reptiles, pterosaurs, ancient invertebrates, and this excellent Probelesodon, a Mesozoic mammal that doesn’t exactly pop up in dinosaur books every day.

One of the most fun things in the book is the Diplodocus cutaway, with bleeds across six pages and three different topics (click to embiggen for full sauropodan glory)! We first meet Dippy in a discussion about necks, move on to a page about quadrupedality in sauropods, and finish at the tip of the tail on that page all about, well, tails!

This is just a small sample of what's inside Inside Dinosaurs. It's a great book that holds up really well given its publication date, and I’d love to see an updated version done by the same author and artist and in the same style, but featuring all the new information we know today: a feathered Deinonychus, an updated Spinosaurus, all the new things we know about how dinosaurs grew, pages about dinosaur pathologies, you name it! It remains one of my favourites, and I hope you’ll check it out in person if you can. Until next time!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

TetZooCon 2016

Yes, it's still going. The third annual TetZooCon was held on October 1, 2016 in the same venue as before, the WWT London Wetland Centre, and you know Natee (Niroot) and I wouldn't have missed it for anything. I'm quite sure more-or-less every reader of this blog also reads Tetrapod Zoology, and if you don't, well, you should go and read author Darren Naish's entire blogging back catalogue right now. Don't worry, civilisation will probably still be here when you're finished. In any case, grab a beer, glass of wine or nice cup of tea, and let's take a look at what happened this year. (All photos are by Natee - see the complete gallery on the Fezbooks.)


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaurs of Canada

Five years ago (wait...what?!), I wrote a VDA post on W.E. Swinton's book on dinosaurs for London's Natural History Museum, which featured a number of artworks by Neave Parker. Professor William Elgin Swinton (for it was he) moved to Canada after his stint at (what is now) the NHM, and in 1965 he wrote the book we're looking at here - Dinosaurs of Canada. Neave Parker had, unfortunately, died a few years prior, but his influence is keenly felt in the illustrations by Paul Geraghty, which are as wonderfully stylised as they are (very) obviously dated. I don't half love a slightly concerned-looking tyrannosaur.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Book of Big Beasts

After my thinly disguised plea for new material from readers in the previous post, I've been lucky to receive a cavalcade of scanned and photographed Vintage Dinosaur Art from a number of lovely Chasmoheads. Thank you, all! I'll be featuring said submissions over the next few weeks, starting with this - Book of Big Beasts, published in 1954 in the US and written/illustrated by Bettina L Kramer and Harold V Kramer. (I'm not entirely sure who did what; do fill me in if you know.) The BBB comes courtesy of reader David Landis.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaurs (The Open Gate Library)

As you might imagine (and as I'm sure I've repeatedly said over the last three or so years), it's become increasingly difficult to find truly old books to use in Vintage Dinosaur Art posts. In recent months, all of my best eBay purchases seem to be from a single store, the aptly titled 'World of Rare Books'. When one does have the opportunity to cover a decades-old, illustration-heavy publication, it's typically full of tiresome Charles Knight rip-offs loitering around remarkably sparse backdrops, typically with all the vibrant colour of an original Game Boy screen. And I won't lie - this is pretty much one of those. However, there are just enough amusing quirks in here to make it worthwhile. Just check out that gnarly Ceratosaurus...

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Port Lympne's Dinosaur Forest

Port Lympne (pronounced like 'limb') is a wildlife park in Kent, not too far from Hythe, which along with Howletts zoo (nearer Canterbury) is run by the Aspinall Foundation. Port Lympne houses a huge variety of mammal species, and notably features safari truck rides through a sprawling 'savannah' paddock, as well as a number of very rare species that you won't see in many other parks. As of this year, it also features life-size model dinosaurs (andotherprehistoricanimals) designed by industry stalwarts Wolter Design. They're (often) huge, numerous, colourful, varied and actually rather good. Here's a selection.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Predatory Dinosaurs of the World - Part 3

Who asked for one more round of Predatory Dinosaurs of the World? No? Well you're getting it anyway. If it's any consolation, you might not have expected to see Dimetrodon and Eryops showing up in a book with such a title, and yet here they are. Pesky Dimetrodon, always sticking its giant fin in where it isn't welcome.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Recreating an Age of Reptiles: Marc's review

While recent years have seen a number of books that celebrate palaeoart for its own sake (rather than featuring it in a purely illustrative context), not enough of them feature explanations by the artists as to why they made this or that choice when restoring long-dead animals. Why that colour pattern? Why that crest of scales? Why that unusual plumage distribution? Informed speculation is an absolute necessity, but it doesn't mean that (good) palaeoartists are just pulling the lever on an extinct beastie fruit machine and cobbling together the results. Perhaps the best aspect of Mark Witton's new book, Recreating an Age of Reptiles (aka Rec-a-Rep), is that Mark consistently provides the informed thinking behind his speculative choices, as well as explaining the science that forms the foundation of all his art. It's easily one of the best palaeoart books in years, and not just because Mark's artwork is often very lovely.

Images copyright Mark Witton, used with permission. Remember, "there's a special circle of hell...located halfway up Satan's bottom" for art thievin' types. (And book pirates.)

Friday, July 8, 2016

Mesozoic Miscellany 87

In the News

Cool news regarding a shared origin of feathers, hair, and scales: Nicolas Di-Poï and Michel Milinkovitch of the University of Geneva have published research tracing them all to the shared ancestors of modern birds, mammals, and reptiles. It all has to do with placodes, thickenings of the skin in embryos which had until now not been observed in developing reptiles, though the same genes had been found to control these three forms of integument. Read more at CS Monitor and Cosmos Magazine.

Not everyday you get to see 100 millon-year-old enantornithine wings in amber! Amazing stuff. More from NatGeo, WaPo, and Earth Archives.

New research studying tooth wear patterns reveals that the Leptoceratops chewed like a mammal.

Around the Dinoblogosphere

Missed this last year, but saw it pop up on the old Facebook recently. An interview with the one and only Dr. Tom Holtz.

The conflict between private and public interests in fossils isn't going away. At the Inverse, Jacqueline Ronson writes about an important sauropod skeleton from Montana that's in the hands of a private firm, the Judith River Dinosaur Institute.

Trish Arnold offers up a slab of 1993 pop-paleontology goodness with an issue of Time magazine featuring... Mononykus on the cover, of all things.

Meet the pterosaurs of the Liverpool World Museum, courtesy Paul Pursglove at the Pterosaur Database.

She's headed for Toronto soon, and Victoria Arbour offers a tour of North Carolina geology before she leaves.

Tristan Stock is not a fan of the "Montanaspinus" prank from last month.

At Letters from Gondwana, Fernanda Castano writes about the end-Permian and end-Triassic extinctions.

Gareth Monger celebrates the humble conodont - which has been gone from this planet since the end-Triassic - in a new design riffing on the poster for Alien 3.

Crowdfunding Pick

Mongolia is undoubtedly one of the most important countries in the history of palaeontology, but too many important fossils have been taken away. A new crowdfunding effort seeks to bring the wonder of Mongolia's scientific treasures to the country's children via a moveable museum. "Kids in the communities we visit will board the moveable museum to experience the interactive exhibits, and join classroom activities about dinosaurs, fossils and the relationship of dinosaurs to modern birds." Pledge your support today!

Paleoart Pick

Mark Witton's long-awaited book of palaeoart is out now! Pick up Recreating an Age of Reptiles at Lulu. Sit back to enjoy this launch video from Mark.

I love how he expressed the idea of "credibility" in palaeoart. His point that many depictions of prehistoric life can depict equally valid hypotheses is in line with my feelings over the past few years. Wouldn't it be great if at least some palaeontology press releases or media coverage included multiple reconstructions, driving home the point that there are no concrete answers for many of our questions? Anyhow. Pick up a copy of the book.