Dinosaurs on stage


This video says about itself:

13 November 2014

A behind-the-scenes look at how the cast and crew of Walking – The Arena Spectacular with Dinosaurs brings life-size dinosaurs to life in an theatrical setting.

From Science Friday:

Nov. 13, 2014

How to Build a Dinosaur

by Julie Leibach

The Brachiosaurus lowers its long neck, creased with wrinkles, and briefly surveys the human crowd staring back at it.

“That thing looks so realistic,” says a young voice from the audience.

The dinosaur settles back on its massive haunches and lets out a low bellow, as if saying, “I sure do.”

This dino is a high-tech puppet and one of the stars of Walking With Dinosaurs, a live production that grew out of a BBC television series by the same name and that’s currently on a six-month North American tour.

In the show, the only human character—based on the British biologist Thomas Henry Huxley—time travels through prehistory, starting with the Triassic period. Over the course of two hours, or the theatrical equivalent of 165 million years of evolution, 10 types of dinosaurs make appearances, from the herbivorous Plateosaurus, to the armored Ankylosaurus, to the iconic Tyrannosaurus rex. (See them in action in the SciFri video.)

“We wanted to find some emblematical, representative creatures in each of the three major periods of dinosaur evolution,” says Sonny Tilders, creative director of The Creature Technology Company, which designed and constructed the puppets.

Totaling 20 dinosaurs in all, the creatures are approximately life-size. While the larger ones are motorized, such as the Allosaurus, suit performers embody the smaller ones, including Utahraptors.

Admittedly, this writer’s mouth dropped a little when a curious Liliensternus stepped out on stage early during a show at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, New York. Granted, no one’s seen a live dinosaur (unless you count birds), but these puppets evoke a convincing “dino-ness.”

“I’ve worked with gators, crocodiles—all manner of beasties,” says Phil Manning, a professor of natural history at the University of Manchester who was invited to see the show in Northern Ireland about a year ago, where he got up close and personal with one of the T-rexes, “and [the puppet] installed the same fear as an 800-pound gator did in me in Florida a few years ago.”

For inspiration, The Creature Technology Company team pored through scientific and popular science literature to understand, generally, what various dinosaurs might have looked like. They also observed the way large, living animals, such as elephants and giraffes, move.

Constructing the puppets required working “from the inside out,” as Tilders puts it. Autopsy one of the behemoths, and you’ll find architecture somewhat similar to a real animal’s. For starters, the larger puppets have a skeleton made of steel, complete with points of articulation that allow their bodies to move in a way that seems natural.

The dino’s bulk consists of a system of custom-made muscle bags, constructed from netting and filled with styrene beads. “They stretch and contract like real muscles would,” says Tilders, “so you get all this subtle movement that transfers through the creature.”

On top of their bulging muscles, the puppets wear a special skin made of lycra, “but with a trick that I can’t tell you about,” adds Tilders. Hand painting lends a prehistoric veneer.

But for these dinosaurs to really convince audiences, they’ve got to walk like they’re flesh and blood. Indeed, the puppets’ lifelike natures are based largely on the success of a critical illusion: a sense of hefty mass. Many of the dinosaurs we know and love weighed tons, so “every puppet has to look balanced and grounded,” says Tilders, otherwise “we would lose that sense of mass.”

In fact, while the dinosaurs appear to plod, their limbs don’t actually bear weight. Rather, in the case of the larger puppets, a sturdy rod anchors each body to a motorized chassis, shaped like a ship’s anchor and painted to match the floor, and a driver inside steers the creature around the stage. The puppets’ steps are preprogrammed to coincide with the speed and direction of the vehicles’ speed and direction.

The drivers communicate via radio with so-called “voodoo puppeteers,” who stand out of sight in a balcony, using several devices to control multiple aspects of dino dynamism (see the video above). For instance, a puppeteer wearing a robotic arm-like instrument can operate up to 25 axes of mobility, while a colleague manipulating a joystick controls finer movements, such as eye blinking or teeth gnashing, as well as sounds. (Meanwhile, the suit performers control their puppets’ movements and sounds and provide the legwork.)

A system of passive hydraulics lends fluidity to the larger puppets’ movements. “You can actually go up to one of our creatures and grab his nose and push [it] out of the way, and [it’ll] slowly come back to position,” says Tilders. In other words, these aren’t your typical amusement park animatronics that shudder and shake. “That’s probably one of the things that I’m proudest of,” says Tilders.

Paleontological nitpickers might quibble with certain dino details. For instance, the puppets roar, growl, and grunt. But scientists can’t definitively say what sounds real dinosaurs made—if they uttered any at all, according to Lindsay Zanno, a paleontologist at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences who was hired by the show to promote its educational merits. Birds—which Zanno refers to as living dinosaurs—have a “really sophisticated vocalization system,” she says, “but we don’t know how far down the tree that goes.” But, she adds, “how could they not [make sounds] in a show?”

“You will be able to find a pile of paleontologists who I am sure will give you a list as long as your arm on what is ‘wrong’ with the [puppet] reconstructions,” wrote Manning in a separate email. “However, they would generate equally long lists when comparing their very own ‘scientific’ reconstructions with each other.”

Consensus in the paleontological community did inspire an updated look for some of the puppets for their North American tour—feathers. A combination of real and manmade flair, plumes adorn the T-rexes (there are two), the Liliensternus, and the Utahraptors.

While the new ’dos may look a bit kitschy, they’re a nod to our ever-evolving picture of dinosaurs, based on more than 150 years of research.

Perhaps a few audience members will grow up to add their own discoveries. “I always say dinosaurs are the gateway drug to science,” says Manning. “We need more shows out there that inspire kids about science, evolution, and life on earth.”

*This article was updated on November 13, 2014, to reflect the following corrections: An earlier version stated that the human character in the show depicts an Australian archaeologist. The character is actually based on the British biologist Thomas Henry Huxley. The article also stated that the live show covers 180 million years of evolution. It actually covers 165 million years if birds, which make an appearance at the end, aren’t counted. If they are, then it covers 230 million years, according to paleontologist Lindsay Zanno.

Birds, dinosaurs, eggs and evolution


This video is called Hundreds of Dinosaur Egg Fossils Found in Spain.

From Wildlife Extra:

Egg shapes could be key to explaining evolution of birds

Research by scientists suggests that bird egg shape could be key in explaining their evolution

Next time you sit down to your breakfast of hard-boiled egg, you might want to take a moment to stop to consider why it is so perfectly ‘egg-shaped’. Evolutionary biologists have been studied [sic] the difference in the eggs of modern day birds compared to those of their extinct relatives, Theropod dinosaurs. The difference in their shape could be the key to explaining why some birds were able to survive the extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs.

Researchers from University of Lincoln examined eggshells looking at the transition of Theropods into birds based on fossil records and studies of modern birds.

Their findings suggest that the early birds from 252 to 66 million years ago laid eggs that had different shapes to those of modern birds. This might suggest that embryonic development was different in the earliest birds, so could have implications for how some birds survived while the dinosaurs perished.

The author of the study was Dr Charles Deeming of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences. He explains, “These results indicate that egg shape can be used to distinguish between different types of egg-laying vertebrates. More importantly they suggest Mesozoic bird eggs differ significantly from modern day bird eggs, but more recently extinct Cenozoic birds do not. This suggests that the range of egg shapes in modern birds had already been attained in the Cenozoic.”

The origin of the amniotic egg, which is an egg that can survive out of water, is one of the key adaptions underpinning the vertebrates’ transition from sea to land over 300 million years ago.

Dr Deeming suggests that the different egg shape of birds both past and present could be associated with different nesting behaviours or incubation methods, but points out that not much research has been carried out into this due to insufficient fossil data. “We hope that future discoveries of associated fossil eggs and skeletons will help refine the general conclusions of this work,” he says.

Weird dinosaur discovery in Mongolia


This video says about itself:

22 October 2014

This computer animation shows Deinocheirus mirificus walking. Deinocheirus had unusually large forearms and several features that seem cobbled together from a variety of other dinosaurs.

From daily The Independent in Britain:

Fossils reveal very awkward dinosaur once roamed the Earth

Christopher Hooton

Thursday 23 October 2014

Palaeontologists in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert have discovered new fossils that allow them to create a picture of what one of the most unusually-shaped dinosaurs looked like.

Deinocheirus mirificus, which means “unusual horrible hand” in Latin, was a bipedal dinosaur with a hump-back and a big belly that stood almost as tall as the Tyrannosaurus rex.

The fossils were described in a study in the journal Nature, with vertebrate palaeontologist Thomas Holtz, Jr commenting: “This is definitely an unusual animal.

“It had more of a ‘beer belly’ than your typical ornithomimosaur.”

Palaeontologists recovered fossils from three individuals from the species in the Gobi Desert, and were able to combine them with some previously stolen by poachers to create a 95% complete skeleton of the dinosaur.

Its unusual combination of features has scientists puzzled.

“This creature wasn’t built for speed,” said Stephen Brusatte a palaeontologist at the University of Edinburgh. “That’s pretty obvious.”

Deinocheirus had wide hips and large toes, which made for an awkward gait as seen in the animation above.

Stegosaurus killed allosaurus, 147 million years ago


This video says about itself:

The Smell of Prey – Walking With Dinosaurs – BBC

An insight into the hunting habits of one of the most successful breeds of Dinosaur, the Allosaurus.

From Science News:

Stegosaurus landed a low blow in dino brawl

Fossil shows that allosaurus was maimed by tail spike attack

Thomas Sumner

3:19pm, October 22, 2014

VANCOUVER — In a story worthy of CSI: Jurassic Period, researchers have solved the mystery of what killed a predatory allosaurus dinosaur 147 million years ago.

The allosaurus fossil contains a circular hole in its pelvis flanked by a well-preserved, fist-sized abscess where the infected wound spread. The only murder weapon around that time that would create the circular hole is a tail spike on a stegosaurus.

The plant-eating dinosaur used its flexible body to whip its barbed tail into the allosaurus’s crotch during a fight, proposed paleontologist Robert Bakker of the Houston Museum of Natural Science on October 21 at the Geological Society of America‘s annual meeting. The allosaurus didn’t die right away, probably limping for weeks expelling pus, Bakker said.

The research could help scientists learn the fighting styles of the two dinos and reconstruct how the two species might have interacted.

Tyrannosaurs, what we don’t know


This video is called Tyrannosaur Rivalry – Planet Dinosaur – Episode 3 – BBC One.

From the Things We Don’t Know blog:

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Ten Things We Don’t Know about Tyrannosaurs

Tyrannosaurus rex and its closest relatives, the tyrannosaurs, are among the best known and most popular dinosaurs – and yet there is still plenty we don’t know about these fascinating creatures…

1. What age could T. rex live to?
It’s possible to work out how old a tyrannosaur was when it died, by looking at growth rings inside its bones – just like counting the rings of a tree. The oldest T. rex yet examined in this way has been nicknamed Sue, and is on display at the Field Museum. It’s thought that Sue was 28 years old[1] when it died. Only about a dozen skeletons have been cut up to determine their age, and there are other T. rex’s that look like they might be older than Sue, but haven’t had their growth rings counted. This means that we really don’t exactly know the maximum age of T. rex; it’s possible that it will turn out to be much more than 28 years once the sample of adults has increased.

2. How were tyrannosaurs related?
Evolutionary trees are diagrams that can be drawn to show how animals are related to each other. Researchers gather data and use this to try to reconstruct the evolutionary history of a group of species – but it isn’t always simple. At the moment there are two versions of the evolutionary tree of tyrannosaurs[2][3] which differ in which species they include, and where they appear on the tree. As more data is collected, trees produced by different groups of researchers usually become more similar. It is likely that with more time and research we will, eventually, find a history that all of the available data supports. Until then though, how tyrannosaurs evolved remains something we don’t know.

3. What did their eggs, embryos, & hatchlings look like?
Despite the popularity of tyrannosaurs, we don’t know anything about the earliest growth stages of any tyrannosaur species. Currently, there are no skulls or skeletons of embryos or juveniles up to a year old. We don’t even know what a tyrannosaur eggshell looks like – very few embryos have been discovered inside fossilised eggs, which is the only way we could be certain of the species the egg belonged to, so the number of dinosaur species identified in this way is very low. It could be that tyrannosaur eggs have already been collected (among those that currently lack embryonic bones) but we just haven’t realised it yet! Hopefully this situation, at least for eggs and embryos, will change very soon as dinosaur eggs are being discovered all the time in places such as China.

4. Were there two groups of Tyrannosaurs in Laramidia?

It has been suggested that tyrannosaurs in the Late Cretaceous of western North America (Laramidia) can be divided into a northern group and a southern group[3]. However the fact that the fossil record from that period is incomplete throws doubt on this hypothesis. The far north and the far south of this region are virtually blank slates in terms of tyrannosaur fossils, and no fossils have yet been found from the 20 million years following the split of North America into the subcontinents of Laramidia and Appalachia. Once specimens have been found to fill the gaps, there is a chance that the proposed two groups will lose support and be replaced by something more complex.

5. What Tyrannosaurs lived in Appalachia?
It is extremely rare to find tyrannosaur fossils in the eastern region of North America, which existed as an island continent called Appalachia during the Late Cretaceous. In fact, only two species have been found, we only know of one skeleton for each of them, and neither is complete. We can tell from these that the eastern tyrannosaurs are more primitive than their western counterparts; they have shallow snouts and large arms, in contrast to the deep snouts and short arms seen in the Laramidian and Asian species. Finding out more about these animals would give clues as to what the ancestors of tyrannosaurs looked like in North America before it was split into two, but the rarity of these fossils means that Appalachia may remain the ‘dark continent’ of tyrannosaur history.

6. How long ago did the Nemegt species live?
The Nemegt Formation in the Mongolian People’s Republic is a rich source of fossils, and includes well-known tyrannosaurs such as Tyrannosaurus bataar (Tarbosaurus) and Alioramus. It is clear from looking at these fossils that they are closely related to those found in Laramidia, which suggests animals moved from one area to the other. Currently, however, we don’t know when, or in which direction, the exchange occurred. It is thought the Nemegt fauna occurred close to the end of the age of dinosaurs, but before the last slice of time that included T. rex. Often, the age of rocks can be determined by looking for the presence of certain radioactive materials, but unfortunately this hasn’t been possible in the Nemegt Formation as the materials aren’t present. This means we only have a rough idea of how long ago the rocks formed[4]. To narrow it down from the current estimate of 80-66 million years ago, we need to find a new area of rock that is possible to date but, unfortunately, this seems unlikely.

7. Did advanced tyrannosaurs have scales?
We have all seen pictures and models of T. rex looking like a giant lizard, but in reality we don’t know what covered the skin of advanced tyrannosaurs. More and more types of dinosaurs, and their relatives the flying pterosaurs (including Pterodactylus), are being found with feathers and hair-like structures on their skin, which would make them appear very different to the images in popular media. However, in some lineages such as sauropods, duckbilled dinosaurs and horned dinosaurs, feathers were lost, and scales reappeared. When it comes to tyrannosaurs, the picture is less clear. The most ancient tyrannosaurs were feathery in species big (Yutyrannus) and small (Dilong), but the presence of scales is known from patches in a handful of specimens of advanced tyrannosaurs, although these have only been reported in passing without detailed description[5]. Most specimens aren’t well enough preserved to get a full picture of their external appearance. If, however, tyrannosaur mummies are found one day, this would cast light on this aspect of their appearance.

8. What happened in the middle Jurassic period?
Unfortunately, we can only discover what the fossil record allows, and there are periods of time where there is little to work with. One of these is the Middle Jurassic, which was between 176 and 161 million years ago. This means there is a gap in our knowledge of tyrannosaur evolution, and it is difficult to determine how they developed from so called ‘basal’ forms to the more ‘advanced’ tyrannosaurs, or if these forms are even related. Hopefully, the discovery of more fossils from this interval will help fill in the gaps and give us a better picture of the history of tyrannosaurs.

9. Why did the alioramins have such long, low snouts?
Tyrannosaur workers have recently seen the addition of a new lineage, the alioramins[6]. The species in this group, Alioramus and Qianzhousaurus, have long and low snouts, in contrast to the short and deep snouts seen in, say, T. rex. T rex used its snout to deliver powerful bites to its prey, so while it is likely the longer snouts of the alioramins are an adaptation to a different kind of prey, its exact function is presently unknown.

10. Were there any tyrannosaurs in Siberia?
So far, fossils of several types of Late Cretaceous dinosaurs have been found in the far northeast of Russia, but no tyrannosaurs[7]. It is thought that dinosaurs dispersed across Northeastern Siberia and the north slope of Alaska, when moving between between Asia and Laramidia during the Late Cretaceous, so it is likely there are specimens here waiting to be found. Whatever tyrannosaur species are found in Siberia, they will be entirely new to science and they will certainly jostle the family tree.

This article was written by Dr Thomas Carr PhD, a vertebrate paleontologist who specializes in the growth and evolution of tyrannosaurs. He has named three new genera of tyrannosaurs, namely Appalachiosaurus (Alabama), Bistahieversor (New Mexico), and Teratophoneus (Utah), and he was part of the team who named Alioramus altai (Mongolia). Dr. Carr was the first to publish growth series of dinosaurs using cladistic analysis, a method usually used for recovering evolutionary relationships, for Tyrannosaurus rex and Albertosaurus sarcophagus. He collects dinosaur fossils with his students and volunteers each summer on federally regulated lands in southeastern Montana. Dr. Carr is an Associate Professor of Biology at Carthage College (Kenosha, WI), the Director of the Carthage Institute of Paleontology, and the Senior Scientific Adviser to the Dinosaur Discovery Museum (Kenosha, WI). You can visit Dr. Carr’s blog, Tyrannosauroidea Central, and follow his tweets at @Tyrannosaurcarr.

References
why don’t all references have links?

[1] Erickson, Gregory M et al. “Gigantism and comparative life-history parameters of tyrannosaurid dinosaurs.” Nature 430.7001 (2004): 772-775. doi:10.1038/nature02699
[2] Brusatte, S. L., Norell, M. A., Carr, T. D., Erickson, G. M., Hutchinson, J. R., Balanoff, A. M., Bever, G. S., Choiniere, J. N., Makovicky, P. J., and Xu, X. 2010. “Tyrannosaur paleobiology: New research on ancient exemplar organisms.” Science 329: 1481-1485.
[3] Loewen MA, Irmis RB, Sertich JJW, Currie PJ, Sampson SD (2013) “Tyrant Dinosaur Evolution Tracks the Rise and Fall of Late Cretaceous Oceans.” PLoS ONE 8(11): e79420. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0079420
[4] Shuvalov, V. F. 2000. “The Cretaceous stratigraphy and paleobiogeography of Mongolia.” In Benton, M. J., Shichkin, M. A., Unwin, D. M., and Kurochkin, E. N. (eds.) The Age of Dinosaurs in Russia and Mongolia, pp. 256-278. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
[5] Currie, P. J. 2004. “Theropods, Including Birds.” In Currie, P. J. and Koppelhus, E. B. (eds.) Dinosaur Provincial Park: A spectacular ancient ecosystem revealed; pp. 367-397. Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis.
[6] Lu, J., Yi, L., Brusatte, S. L., Yang, L., Li, H., and Chen, L. 2014. “A new clade of Asian Late Cretaceous long-snouted tyrannosaurids.” Nature Communications 5, article number: 3788. doi:10.1038/ncomms4788
[7] Weishampel, D. B., Barrett, P. M., Coria, R. A., Le Loeuff, J., Xing, X., Xijin, Z., Sahni, A., Gomani, E. M. P., and Noto, C. “Dinosaur Distribution.” In Weishampel, D. B., Dodon, P., and Osmolska, H. (eds.) The Dinosauria Second Edition, pp. 517-606. University of California Press, Berkeley.
[8] Horner, John R.; Weishampel, David B.; Forster, Catherine A (2004). “Hadrosauridae”. In Weishampel, David B.; Dodson, Peter; and Osmólska, Halszka (eds.). The Dinosauria (2nd ed.). Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 438–463. ISBN 0-520-24209-2.

Dinosaur with big nose discovery


This video is about hadrosaurs.

From North Carolina State University in the USA:

Hadrosaur with huge nose discovered: Function of dinosaur’s unusual trait a mystery

September 19, 2014

Call it the Jimmy Durante of dinosaurs — a newly discovered hadrosaur with a truly distinctive nasal profile. The new dinosaur, named Rhinorex condrupus by paleontologists from North Carolina State University and Brigham Young University, lived in what is now Utah approximately 75 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous period.

Rhinorex, which translates roughly into “King Nose,” was a plant-eater and a close relative of other Cretaceous hadrosaurs like Parasaurolophus and Edmontosaurus. Hadrosaurs are usually identified by bony crests that extended from the skull, although Edmontosaurus doesn’t have such a hard crest (paleontologists have discovered that it had a fleshy crest). Rhinorex also lacks a crest on the top of its head; instead, this new dinosaur has a huge nose.

Terry Gates, a joint postdoctoral researcher with NC State and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, and colleague Rodney Sheetz from the Brigham Young Museum of Paleontology, came across the fossil in storage at BYU. First excavated in the 1990s from Utah’s Neslen formation, Rhinorex had been studied primarily for its well-preserved skin impressions. When Gates and Sheetz reconstructed the skull, they realized that they had a new species.

“We had almost the entire skull, which was wonderful,” Gates says, “but the preparation was very difficult. It took two years to dig the fossil out of the sandstone it was embedded in — it was like digging a dinosaur skull out of a concrete driveway.”

Based on the recovered bones, Gates estimates that Rhinorex was about 30 feet long and weighed over 8,500 lbs. It lived in a swampy estuarial environment, about 50 miles from the coast. Rhinorex is the only complete hadrosaur fossil from the Neslen site, and it helps fill in some gaps about habitat segregation during the Late Cretaceous.

“We’ve found other hadrosaurs from the same time period but located about 200 miles farther south that are adapted to a different environment,” Gates says. “This discovery gives us a geographic snapshot of the Cretaceous, and helps us place contemporary species in their correct time and place. Rhinorex also helps us further fill in the hadrosaur family tree.”

When asked how Rhinorex may have benefitted from a large nose Gates said, “The purpose of such a big nose is still a mystery. If this dinosaur is anything like its relatives then it likely did not have a super sense of smell; but maybe the nose was used as a means of attracting mates, recognizing members of its species, or even as a large attachment for a plant-smashing beak. We are already sniffing out answers to these questions.”

The scientific dewscription of this new species is here.

See also here.