It’s time for one last outing with Peter Zallinger’s tan-and-green creations (see parts 1 and 2), only this time, we’re entering the Cenozoic! Although not right away. There are some heretofore unseen ceratopsians that deserve a look, first.
Triceratops, being the ceratopsian rock star that it is, gets an entire page to itself. This is one of my favourite illustrations in the book – not only is it superbly detailed, in every aspect from the animal’s scaly skin folds to the surrounding environment, but it effectively conveys just how huge and imposing Triceratops would have been. Its huge bulk completely dominates the frame, with the animal presented from what would more-or-less be a human’s eye view; it reminds me of encountering a life-sized model in a certain Dutch zoo back in 2011. Given its tendency to be placed in images alongside the equally huge Tyrannosaurus, it’s easy to forget just how massive Triceratops was. It may not be doing anything particularly dynamic here, but in effectively giving us a sense of scale and placing the animal in a confrontational stance, Zallinger gives a vivid impression of this intimidating animal.
We’re treated to three other ceratopsians on the opposite page, including Monoclonius (a name that, as a kid, I only knew from a blue Dino Riders/Smithsonian toy), although surprisingly not Styracosaurus. They’re all green-and-tan or tan-and-green, which is dead boring, but never mind. At least Protoceratops is stripy and not completely drab, as it tends to be. Monoclonius, meanwhile, looks rather like it might actually be known as Centrosaurus apertus these days, with the head based on a skull in the AMNH. The skull in question is rather squashed, which Zallinger hasn’t quite fully corrected for here. Still very pretty, mind.
By popular demand (one comment), I thought I’d include some non-dinosaurian archosaurs in this post. Hooray for the Other Archosaurs! Here we have Pteranodon in a rather unusual white colour (it may have been modeled on a pelican) and depicted in a rather pleasing head-on view, and an early-ish attempt at Quetzalcoatlus. By this time, our modern-day image of the animal had pretty much taken shape – long neck, big head, toothless beak – and this is certainly no pin-headed nightmare demon. It still does look a little strange, mind you, the individual in the foreground especially. It’s notably missing the head nubbin that other artists (most famously, Sibbick) endowed it with around this time – I’m wondering if it might be a little too early for that.
Being as dominated by dinosaurs as it is, this book doesn’t pay a great amount of attention to croc-line archosaurs, although a few do pop up early on, Geosaurus makes an appearance, and we do at least get this lovely illustration of Leidyosuchus, although I believe the species depicted here (long-snouted) has been reassigned to the genus Borealosuchus. Those poor crocodylians and their under-appreciated diversity. Regardless, Zallinger makes fantastic work of the animal’s scales and scutes, and decks it out in a fabulous (and, for this book, unusually imaginative) white-and-brown colour scheme. It’s crying out to be turned into a model (which I’d be prepared to throw far too much money at).
Deinosuchus‘ very hypothetical skull pops up, too, the inspiration behind countless dinosaur-chomping absolutely awesomebro palaeoart pieces. Sadly, now that it turns out that it had a big bulbous clown nose, it’s lost 100 cool points in Kiddy Palaeofan Top Trumps.
On to those Cenozoic birds I promised, now (at last), and naturally the first to appear is Gastornis, here still going by the name Diatryma – which is a much cooler-sounding name if you ask me, although that may only be because the former reminds me of the name ‘Gaston’ (which is the point). “No one fights like Gastornis, no one bites like Gastornis“…etc. Rather like Greg Paul, and rather unlike most everyone else, Zallinger applies the super-slimline aesthetic associated with the Dinosaur Renaissance to his (extinct) Cenozoic birds as well; the result is a Gastornis with unusually body-hugging plumage. The pendulous wattle-thing on the neck is also unusual, and again quite Paulian. Of course, one must acknowledge that one reason this reconstruction is so distinctive is that Zallinger hasn’t simply copied Knight or Burian, as so many others did.
Speaking of junior synonyms, here’s “Phororhacos“, or Phorusrhacos as it’s now known. This piece makes much of the animal’s links with the modern-day seriema (genus Cariama), to the point of almost making it a scaled-up version of that bird, although with simplified plumage. I’m not really fond of that trope, but at least this illustration emphasises the huge size of the terror bird, as seriemas are not small birds. It’s worth mentioning that while seriemas and phorusrhacids are still thought to be related, the phylogeny mentioned here has otherwise been ditched (see also: Gastornis being related to rails).
And finally…modern birds! I don’t have too much to say on these, other than the illustrations are really very lovely, and beautifully presented on the page. Behold the living dinosaurs in all their glory! But aren’t we missing some?
Worry not – palaeognaths are given their own spread, with ghostly moa and elephant bird skeletons thrown in. I especially love the tiny tinamous thrown in in the lower right hand corner. As an aside, Zallinger (writing in 1986) notes that many scientists “doubt that ratites share a common ancestor”, a question that naturally appeared in many books I read as a kid – I was actually quite blown away when molecular studies confirmed that, in fact, they did. (Of course, everyone knows that it’s possible to spit in the face of DNA evidence if you dick around in Photoshop for long enough and build some sort of phylogenetic fantasy simulator.)
And that’s enough Peter Zallinger for now. Time to get onto some of the other stuff I have hanging around here…