close up view of Sara Otterstatter's Inktober illustration of a theropod sheltering inside a fallen sauropod

This Mesozoic Month: October 2019

This Mesozoic Month

Ah, October. A month of transformation in these northern latitudes, as the last green of summer is sucked from the world and a final riot of color gives way to the gray and brown of winter. It’s always a big month in paleontology as well, as the SVP annual meeting and the newer tradition of TetZooCon fill our feeds with new discoveries and insights. In the US, Earth Science Week and the attendant National Fossil Day provide copious outreach opportunities for paleontologists. So let’s get into it, shall we?

In the News

  • Ferrodraco lentoni is the most complete fossil pterosaur ever discovered in Australia. It’s also a late surviving anhanguerian, suggesting that Australia may have been a refuge for the group. Read more from Adele Pentland at Newsweek and Maya Wei-Haas at NatGeo.
  • China has a new pterosaur species as well, Nurhachius luei. Read more about this Early Cretaceous istiodactylid from Mke Walley at Everything Dinosaur and Riley Black at Laelaps.
  • From the famous Jehol Biota comes Xunmenglong yinliangis, a new and particularly small and leggy compsognathid.
  • From – you guessed it – China, a particularly large beast: Fushanosaurus qitaiensis, a titanosauriform described from a single femur with enough unique characteristics for the authors to consider it a distinct taxon.
  • The clade baenidae dominates the turtle community at Hell Creek, known perhaps to kaiju fans for Gamerabaena, a taxon named in tribute to a giant turtle who is the friend to all children. Now, a new member has been described: Saxochelys gilberti. Not only do the authors infer that the fossils’ distinct morphotypes represent sexual dimorphism, remains found above the K-Pg boundary suggest that the species made it through the end-Cretaceous cataclysm.
  • A new alvarezsaur is always reason to cheer, and just this week, the parvicursorine Nemegtonykus citus was described. Fossil material of two individuals were discovered in a multi-species assemblage containing at least one specimen of Mononykus and a bunch of oviraptorids.
  • A new episode of the PBS series Nova, Rise of the Mammals, focuses on the amazing fossils of Corral Bluffs, which document mammalian fauna over a long stretch of time after the K-Pg catacylsm. Read about the story these bones tell from Riley Black at Smithsonian.
  • How dinosaurs regulated their temperature is one of those perennial hot (sorry) discussions in paleontology. New research finds that dinosaurs used a network of blood vessels in the head to help shed excess heat – a trait especially pronounced in sauropods. Read more from Suzannah Lyons at ABC News.
  • Could sauropods have sported beaks of some sort? John Pickrell writes about sauropod oral tissue research presented at SVP. Read more from Everything Dinosaur.
  • Some neat hadrosaur integument bits this month. First, a leaked image of an apparently hoofed Edmontosaurus manus, the mummified specimen known as Dakota, made a huge splash a couple weeks back. The fossil is still in prep, and the photo does not represent its current state, so patience is a virtue. We’ll know all about it soon. Read the North Dakota Geological Survey’s tweet thread for full context.
  • Another paper takes a histological approach to examine Edmontosaurus skin impressions, finding it to have a structure very similar to modern crocodiles.
  • Arthropterygius thalassonotus is a new species of opthalmosaurid from Late Jurassic Patagonia. The genus was erected almost ten years ago; the type species A. chrisorum being reassigned from the genus Opthalmosaurus. Opthalmosaurids are of particular interest for their narial anatomy, and CT scanning of this skull allowed the authors to propose soft tissue anatomy; they surmise that “the salt glands could be evacuated underwater, while the air passage could be closed by a valvular system.”
  • A new snake from the Kem Kem beds: Lapparentophis ragei is distinguished from type genus L. defrennei by its smaller size and details of its vertebrae. This clade of snakes seems to be endemic to Northern Africa, save for the geographically younger Pouitella from France, indicating a dispersal north into the European archipelago of the Cretaceous.
  • The middle Triassic erythrosuchid Chalishevia cothurnata, from Russia, received a comprehensive redescription this month. C. cothurnata is the youngest known member of this obscure carnivorous clade of archosauriforms; they have a distinctively large head in proportion to the rest of their body. For a great primer on these beasts, check out Mark Witton’s 2016 blog post accompanying his Garjainia reconstruction.

Around the Dinoblogosphere

Dispatches from Himmapaanland

In addition to their uniformly wondrous illustration, Natee attended TetZooCon this month and tweeted some great photos from the event.

The LITC AV Club

Swim the Seaway

The Common Descent podcast takes a trip to Cretaceous North America to explore the Western Interior Seaway, providing a terrific overview of its geology, ecology, and socio-political implications.

Eons on Pterosaur Flight

I Know DiPiazza

Garret and Sabrina of I Know Dino had Chris DiPiazza on the show this month, chatting about his background as a paleoartist, his work in zoos, and more.

Crowdfunding Spotlight

A Father-Son Team’s Dino Doc

Father and son team James & Tony Pinto have embarked on a journey to manifest their love of ancient life in an original documentary exploring our collective love of dinosaurs – why we study them and why they have such a presence in our culture. Pledge at Indiegogo!

The Empty Wallets Club

  • Cover art of Asher Elbein's In the Snow, the Jungle, illustrated by Tiffany Turrill, featuring two women exploring a freaky house full of animal skulls

    So it’s not Mesozoic content per se, but I won’t pass up a chance to push LITC contributor emeritus Asher Elbein’s latest Anna O’Brien story, the novella In the Snow, a Jungle. Pick it up at Gumroad!

  • Abstract vector illustrarion of a degraded Buitreraptor skeleton on a geometric background

    I finished a piece this month that’s a little bit different: “Memories of Candeleros,” a piece of vector art in which I explore the ephemeral nature of life and the scientific effort to learn about ecosystems of the deep past. You can get prints and more at Redbubble.

Your Moment of Paleoart Zen

It’s been Inktober. Had you heard? Of course, we’ve seen some wonderful paleoart come out of it. I knew I wanted to at least include some of it here, and since I was utterly blown away by multi-talented illustrator Sara Otterstätter’s output, I had to feature one of her pieces in this spot. In a series of adventurous pieces, Sara uses a stark palette of black and white to depict dramatic moments. From these simple illustrative elements, Sara spins vivid stories of prehistoric life, as in this piece in which a theropod shelters within the corpse of a sauropod, springing from the Inktober prompt “build.”

A theropod dinosaur shelters inside the body cavity of a fallen sauropod dinosaur. Pterosaurs lurk on the corpse.

By way of caption, Sara has written “She was lucky to build her nest in this place. She will have plenty of food for the next time. And the smell isn’t that bad. It’s kind of appetizing.”

Check out Sara’s feeds on Instagram and Twitter to see even more of her awesome Inktober pieces. Even better, send some legal tender her way by shopping at Etsy, Redbubble, and Society 6. If you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan as well, you’ll definitely want to check out her Sherlock comic and support her on Patreon!

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