This Mesozoic Month: November 2019

This Mesozoic Month

November’s done, and it’s been a busy month here at LITC. In addition to the eight posts we’ve published, we finally joined Twitter properly, instead of continuing to sponge off of my personal account. Give us a follow! The content is very good.

You’ll notice that there’s no “Empty Wallets Club” section this time around – plenty of opportunities to rid yourself of legal tender in our 2019 Dinosaur Gift Guide. Be sure to check it out – after delving into this bountiful buffet of new discoveries, fresh insights, stunning art and more, of course!

In the News

  • Much has been made over the past few years about our growing ability to tease out the coloration of fossil animals based on the preservation of melanosomes, pigment-bearing cells which roughly correspond to hues of black, reddish-brown, and yellow. New research calls into question studies which rely solely on the morphology of the melanosomes to infer color, calling for chemical analysis to clear up the ambiguity of melanosome shape’s relationship to color across vertebrate groups.
  • The evolutionary story of pachycormidae, a clade of Mesozoic fish, received a broad overview this month, in a paper focusing on the shape of pectoral fins across the family. Read more from Brian Engh, who produced some awesome work featuring pachycormids feasting on a squidball for the Savage Ancient Seas exhibition.
  • The biota of the Morrison Formation includes many iconic Mesozoic dinosaurs, but there is still quite a bit to sort out in terms of how its eight million year span played out. There were many giant sauropods around, but exactly when and where they lived is not precisely known. A new paper takes another look at the sauropod diversity of a site in the northernmost portion of the Morrison in Wyoming. The authors find that many northern Morrison diplodocid fossils have been erroneously assigned to well-known southern taxa like Diplodocus and Apatosaurus, and that the material from this area needs an overall reassessment to determine the actual make-up of northern Morrison sauropod communities.
  • British Columbia has its first unique dinosaur species, the leptoceratopsid Ferrisaurus sustutensis. Lead author Victoria Arbour first reviewed the fossil material 11 years ago, and in this new paper, she revises the conclusions of that first paper: not a vague bipedial ornithischian, this. It’s a bona fide leptoceratopsid. It’s also the second Mesozoic animal in recent months to be named for iron, following Ferrodraco. Stick that in your mental rolodex of fun fossil facts. Read more from Victoria at Pseudoplocephalus and Fernanda Castano at Letters from Gondwana.
  • The newly described Gnathovorax cabreirai, a herrerasaurid from Brazil, is an important contribution to our knowledge of early dinosaurs. Read more from Riley Black at Smithsonian and Fernanda at Letters from Gondwana.
  • Fast-forward to Brazil in the Late Cretaceous, and we have an equally interesting place: while we’re used to the idea of predatory niches being occupied by theropods, it wasn’t the case here. The baurusuchid family of crocodyliforms has been put forth as supplying these ecosystems with apex predators. A new pre-print paper focuses on the skull of Baurusuchus pachecoi, finding that unique adaptations like ziphodont (serrated, laterally compressed) teeth and powerful neck muscles helped them fill this niche. Rather than the grip-and-hold bite you have probably seen employed in wildlife documentaries about crocodiles, the baurusuchids were adapted for puncturing and slashing flesh with their knife-like teeth.
  • A new beetle species discovered in middle Cretaceous Burmese amber, Angimordella burmitina, has given us our earliest evidence of insect pollination. Read the Indiana University press release at Phys Org.
  • A newly described clutch of likely oviraptorid eggs gives evidence for hatching asynchrony, a phenomenon well-known from modern birds in which eggs in a clutch develop and hatch at different times. The authors find that oviraptorids likely did not incubate their eggs through brooding behavior, remarking that their nesting behavior has no modern analogs and that assigning prehistoric taxa to either the “bird model” or “crocodile model” is a false dichotomy.
  • Poland has its first pliosaur, discovered among an intriguing late Jurassic marine fossil assemblage in a cornfield. The faunal make-up of the site seems to indicate an ecosystem that was transitional between warm- and cold-water environments. After this initial report comes the actual study of all of the animals held within the limestone. Read more from Bob Yirka at Phys Org and Mindy Weisberger at LiveScience.
  • Meet Fukuipteryx prima, a new early Cretaceous bird from Japan, especially notable for its three-dimensional preservation and presence of a pygostyle along with more primitive traits. Read more from Riley Black at Smithsonian, Leslie Nemo at Discover, and Mindy Weisberger at LiveScience.
  • Good news for Miragaia lovers: the questionable taxon has been given a new lease on life thanks to a new description of a collection of 60 year old fossils. They resolve the ambiguity between Miragaia and Dacentrurus, indicating that they are indeed two distinct animals.
  • Plesiosaurs were likely deep divers, according to new research that uses osteohistological analysis to infer red blood cell size. Like modern deep divers, plesiosaurs had enlarged red blood cells, allowing for greater amounts of hemoglobin and increased oxygen supply to tissues.
  • Allosaurus, Ceratosaurus, and Majungasaurus were the focus of a new study seeking to understand how often some theropods shed and regrew teeth. Majungasaurus replaced teeth at nearly twice the rate of the other subjects, indicating a bone-rich diet. Read more from Riley Black at Smithsonian.
  • Antarticavis capelambensis is a new ornithuromorph bird from (you guessed it) Antarctica. Dating to the lower Maastrichtian, it’s the oldest bird known from Antarctica.
  • At NatGeo, John Pickrell writes about an as yet unpublished discovery of ten fossil feathers at the Koonwarra fossil beds in Australia. These are the first polar feathers ever discovered.
  • A new paper does away with “Ornithocheirus wiedenrothi,” erecting a new genus for the specimen named… Targaryendraco wiedenrothi. It was bound to happen. The significance here is that a new phylogenetic analysis indicates a unique clade, Targaryendraconia, which also includes Aussiedraco, Barbosania, Aetodactylus, Camposipterus and Cimoliopterus. Targaryendraconia spanned about 33 million years of the early Cretaceous and its constituent species spanned most of the globe. Read more from John Pickrell at NatGeo.
  • Albadraco tharmisensis is the newest denizen of Hațeg Island. This azhdarchid isn’t quite as large as the famous Hatzegopteryx, and further fills in the biota of this fascinating late Cretaceous environment in which dwarf dinosaurs walked in the shadows of giant pterosaurs.
  • Some snake bites: beautiful new fossils of Najash reveal much more anatomical detail about the legged serpent and the newly described Eomadtsoia from the late Cretaceous of Argentina sheds light on the evolution of madtsoiid snakes, which also included large taxa like Sanajah and Gigantophis.
  • The Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale is about to close for renovations for three years, so if you have the chance, get in there before the end of 2019.

Around the Dinoblogosphere

  • Arguments over feathering in large theropods are evergreen, and in a post at his blog, Mark Witton lays out his case for naked giants.
  • There’s a new blog on the block, which I just learned about this month. Welcome Incertae Sedis by Tyler Greenfield by reading a recent post about where the origin of the idea that Tarbosaurus had a gular pouch or dewlap. Be sure to read the comments as well, where Mickey Mortimer provides some new information.
  • At Dino Dad Reviews, Andrew shows us The Jungle of Jojee, a picture book about a wee Microraptor learning to appreciate his small stature.
  • Darren Naish does a deep dive into dinosaur speculative evolution projects in a two-part post at TetZoo. Here’s part one.
  • Precision matters, and that’s why it’s not a good idea to try to obtain accurate measurements from a fossil cast. Matt Wedel demonstrates this at SV-POW.
  • Check out a sweet fossil of the Maastrichtian clupeiforme fish Gasteroclupea branisai and a beauty of a hadrosaur tooth from the Fossil Huntress at Archaea.
  • At the Dinosaur Toy Blog, contributor Indohyus reviews the Pliosaurus carpenteri toy exclusive to the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery, modeled after their full-sized sculpture.
  • Paleofail Explained on Tumblr has a fun post rating the various sauropod emojis on different platforms.
  • At Archosaurophilia, Val revisits a 2016 post on the origins of ornithischia in light of newer work like the ornithoscelida hypothesis.
  • Everything Dinosaur rounds up the upcoming 2020 line of CollectA dinosaur models in a series of posts: one, two, and three. Dig that Lisowicia!

Dispatches from Himmapaanland

Natee brought us more rowndness, ungulates, and of course peerless Mesozoica this month, and to my great envy took part in a trip to the NHM paleoart exhibition with UK Team Chasmo. Now, go buy some of their artwork for people on your gifting list!

The LITC AV Club

The sixth Popularising Palaeontology workshop happened a few months ago, and now the videos have been put on the web for all to enjoy. All are worth checking out, so please head over to the site to see the rest.

PopPalaeo: Liz Martin-Silverstone on Jurassic Forest

PopPalaeo: Darren Naish on Dinosaurs in the Wild

Chip Kidd on Jurassic Park cover art

I also loved this piece about T. rex from the AMNH, featuring an interview with the graphic designer who created the iconic Jurassic Park book cover.

Crowdfunding Spotlight

The Path of Titans dinosaur MMO

The Path of Titans team shares a steady stream of excellent artwork from the upcoming MMO. Their crowdfund has met its goal at Indiegogo, but it’s a flexible goal so you are still able to contribute to the effort. Pledge here.

Your Moment of Paleoart Zen

I fell in love with Stieven van der Poorten’s comic take on prehistory when I first saw him posting his art on Facebook. You may remember him from my very recent, aforementioned Dinosaur Gift Guide. He’s done several fun scenes of charismatic archosaurs. For today’s post, I chose this colorful depiction of a mother Carnotaurus with a pair of chicks. I love the strong personalities of his animals, combined with a fidelity to contemporary paleontological knowledge and an eye for the little details that make an environment live and breathe, like the little crab in its burrow and the different coloration of the wee carno bairns.

A mother Carnotaurus grumpily roars at two fleeing birds while her chicks watch from below.
Illustration © Stieven van der Poorten

Check out more of Stieven’s work at ArtStation. He sells t-shirts and prints, too!

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