Prehistoric Planet: Take Me To The River

TV review

The third episode of Prehistoric Planet provides reassurance that at least some of our favourite stars will return. Velociraptor is the first animal to make a re-appearance, this time depicted hunting roosting pterosaurs on a cliff face around a waterfall. Not content with just sticking fantastic-looking feathers on their maniraptors and calling it a day, the Prehistoric Planet team want to show us exactly how the creatures make use of their plumage. In this case, Velociraptor utilises its ‘wings’ and broad tail to cushion falls and maintain balance while hunting prey on difficult terrain. Three of the predators are shown hunting together, but it becomes clear that they are more of a loose coalition, not really displaying any sophisticated pack-hunting behaviour (thus avoiding that hoary old cliché from back in the day). It’s a thoroughly enjoyable sequence, again placing a well-known creature in a context that we haven’t seen before.

Tyrannosaurus reappears, too. Here, a battle-scarred old male (who is actually somewhat less beaten up than some real T. rex specimens – I mean, he still has most of his tail) encounters a female at the river’s edge. Although wary of each other at first, the male initiates a ritualistic mating greeting, and plenty of…copulating follows. Once again, the show’s T. rex model simply looks fantastic, and moves in a highly convincing way that belies its great size, appearing heavy and a little ‘stiff’ (as opposed to excessively bouncy). When the male lifts its head easily upon the sky, a ton of sculptured stone, the sense of sheer mass is palpable. It’s also noteworthy that, again, the tyrannosaurs aren’t excessively noisy, nor do they roar like a synchronised pride of lions. These are reptiles. I do hope we get to see them again at least one more time.

Skipping back over the globe, another giant theropod is next up, wading through fresh water – that’s right, it’s Spinosaurus! And T. rex appears and they have a Transformers-esque fight! Only kidding. It’s Deinocheirus, one of the most fantastic-looking dinosaurs to yet appear. Perhaps the presence of such a hugely shaggy coat on an elephant-sized animal living in a warm environment is a little dubious, but then again, the creature is so well-realised you won’t care all that much. Once more, the sense of scale and mass, and the careful attention to the way that the animal moves, means that you completely buy into this absurd-looking animal (absurd-looking because, well, that’s the way it really was). It’s surprisingly charismatic, to boot. Until its plant-based diet leads to it dropping a colossal turd into the water like some kind of Goosezilla.

Quetzalcoatlus appears in a less-terrifying-than-usual guise as a careful mother seeking out a suitable nesting site, only to have its nest raided by another Quetzalcoatlus after the same spot – an enjoyably nasty, but plausible speculative behaviour. That’s nature, kids! (And being so naturalistic is this show’s greatest strength.) Masiakasaurus is also a little unlucky in its parenting efforts. Drawn to mudflats by the appearance of a large number of tasty crabs, one of its tiny offspring gets careless and is promptly devoured by Beelzebufo, the “devil toad”. The latter, in particular, is an absolutely marvelous CG creation, although Masiakasaurus isn’t half bad either, and it’s a treat to see a fully-realised, animated reconstruction of it like this. Intriguingly, although predominantly scaly, it does seem to sport some wispy fibres here and there – mildly controversial for a noasaur (but probably not much more than sticking lips on certain theropods).

And finally…some elasmosaurs travel up a river estuary to feed, much as some living ocean-going animals are wont to do. Much pretty natural history photography ensues. We sigh wistfully…

Today’s All Yesterdays moment

Er…there isn’t really one. You could make a few tenuous links, but there are no direct references. I didn’t really think this through, did I? I’m sure there’ll be another tomorrow.

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  • Reply
    Zain Ahmed
    May 25, 2022 at 7:52 pm

    I’m gonna be honest and say that so far this is the least good episode of the series, simply because half the animals featured in it aren’t even adapted to live in freshwater. T rex wasn’t a semiaquatic creature that spent equal time in both mediums, and Quetzalcoatlus is only living by the river while laying its eggs instead of in it. Why couldn’t they depict lives of crocodilians and fish of the time instead?

    Did I mention the Quetz is living in Madagascar? Because that’s some serious misplaced wildlife trope at play.

    • Reply
      May 25, 2022 at 8:14 pm

      Mark Witton has stated that the Quetzalcoatlus in southern Africa is meant to showcase the long-distance travel hypothesis regarding giant azhdarchids. How solid said hypothesis is may still be up for debate, but it’s at least not arbitrary.

      I do agree with the lack of crocodylomorphs, champsosaurs, or fish, though. Especially when the Maevarano Formation has some all star crocs with varied body plans (most of all Simosuchus, the absolute weirdo). The formation also has Sahonachelys for fascinating freshwater fauna, but in that case it was found too far after the show began production to have possibly featured.

      • Reply
        May 26, 2022 at 10:01 am

        Yeah, not including more actual freshwater animals was a real missed opportunity. Simosuchus could have been awesome. I was happy to see Beelzebufo make an appearance (in spectacular fashion); to me, that was the one scene that really gave the impression of a plausible freshwater ecosystem. I would have liked to see a lot more, though.

    • Reply
      Timur Sivgin
      May 26, 2022 at 3:29 pm

      I don‘t think you can really call it a serious case of misplaced wildlife with such a large flying animal. There‘s living birds today far smaller that migrate between the North and South Pole each year.

  • Reply
    Herman Diaz
    May 26, 2022 at 6:46 am

    In reference to the Velociraptor segment, hate to disagree, but there was a very clear division of labor (I.e. “The female goes high[…]the two males stay low”), & it looked like they were about to share the kill according to some social order (probably w/the dominant female eating 1st) right before the pterosaurs started mobbing them. Based on what I’ve read (E.g. See pages 271-2: ), those are characteristics of true cooperative (I.e. Pack) hunting. Otherwise, good job describing Ep3

    • Reply
      May 26, 2022 at 10:17 am

      I think you may be reading more into that scene than is actually there. When the Velociraptors separate, it does not appear to be a coordinated move toward a common goal, but simply the individuals going after different targets. The two males play no part in the female’s capture of the pterosaur, and the female’s attack prevents them from catching any prey for themselves. As to what they were about to do before being mobbed, the show does not specify. It’s just as likely that they would have tried to steal the food from one another. Nor was there any clear “social order” to their actions, beyond the fact that the female happened to be the one who caught the pterosaur. Obviously, your interpretation is different from mine, but I don’t see anything to clearly indicate pack behavior as opposed to a pseudo-cooperative group. And given the paleontological evidence against the former (at least in Deinonychus), I think it likely that the creators were aiming for the latter.

      • Reply
        Herman Diaz
        May 27, 2022 at 5:31 am

        “I think you may be reading more into that scene than is actually there.”

        I respectfully disagree based on the evidence presented there, but to be fair, some of it is very blink-&-you-miss-it. That said, if you slow down/pause the scene at the right moment (2:30 right before 2:31 in this video: ), you can clearly see the dom female starting to dig in w/both males on standby waiting for their turn. Speaking of the males, they were clearly shown targeting the same pterosaur as the dom right before she pounced. There’s also the fact that they’re confirmed to be a pack in the May 23 post on the AppleTV+ insta ( ), but that’s besides the point 😉

        • Reply
          May 27, 2022 at 9:51 am

          You may be correct, but again, I think an alternative interpretation is still possible. “You can clearly see the dom female starting to dig in w/both males on standby waiting for their turn.” Yes, the female is clearly dominant, but does this reflect a recognized social order, or simply the males’ reluctance to tackle a larger individual for her kill. To me, it appears they are probing for weaknesses and she is beginning to try to fend them off. On the other hand, you may be right that they recognize her dominance (i.e., superior strength), but I don’t think that necessarily implies the complex social order of mammalian pack hunting. Also, there is nothing to indicate the males targeting the exact same pterosaur individual. They are about ten feet off to the left when the female pounces in the middle of a group of at least a dozen pterosaurs. As to the instagram post, that wording may not reflect the intentions of the original writers of that scene. Probably the only way to be sure is to hear from the creators. Anyway, I won’t continue to argue the point; I’m happy to agree to disagree. I appreciate your thoughts and your civil discussion. 🙂 Cheers!

        • Reply
          May 27, 2022 at 10:29 am

          To update what I said, I’ve just seen the “uncovered” segment from yesterday, which argues that pack hunting is plausible in at least some dinosaurs. Accordingly, it may be that they opted to display that to a limited extent in Velociraptor as well. In either case, I don’t think it was done in ignorance of the evidence, but on the perceived strength of it. I readily admit that there is nothing shown that is inconsistent with pack behavior, and given this perspective from the filmmakers, I am somewhat more inclined to interpret it that way. So, I believe we are now largely in agreement after all.

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