Mesozoic Miscellany 79

In the News

Dakotaraptor has stepped into the limelight. A giant Hell Creek dromaeosaurid with prominent quill knobs and wicked sickle claws, Dakotaraptor would have been a stout competitor for juvenile tyrannosaurs. More from A Dinosaur A Day, Theropoda, and Krankie. Beautiful paleoart has also been popping up, with particularly stunning work from RJ Palmer and Emily Willoughby (which is hardly surprising).

Gorgeous fossils are coming out of an important fossil site in Utah colorfully called the "Saints and Sinners Site." Learn more about it from this interview with Dan Chure of Dinosaur National Monument at KUER. Honestly, I want a large framed print of "the triplets" for my wall.

Mesozoic mammal news! A new spiny critter, aptly dubbed Spinolestes xenarthrosus, has been described. Brian at Laelaps and Liz at Musings of a Clumsy Paleontologist, and Amar Toor at The Verge have the skinny.

The story of the spinosaurs continues to twist and turn as more research comes out. New work on Sigilmassaurus brevicollis and Spinosaurus maroccanus has been published, responding to last year's major-publication-slash-National-Geographic-media-event. Jaime Headden at the Bite Stuff and Mark Witton both have good takes on the research.

Help out Phylopic and nab a spiffy tee shirt! Mike Keesey, creator of the site, is holding a campaign on to support the costs of maintaining the site as well as further development. Providing free-to-use, Creative Commons licensed silhouettes of a huge variety of lifeforms, it's a terrific source of images for scientists and other science communicators.

Around the Dinoblogosphere

We'll start with a roundup-within-a-round up of posts about the annual Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting that went down a couple weeks ago in Dallas, TX.

At the Theropod Database Blog, Mickey provided four days of commentary: day one, two, three, and four. Duane Nash wrote about the meeting at Antediluvian Salad. Victoria Arbour chimed in at Pseudoplocephalus. John Tennant wrote about his experience at Green Tea and Velociraptors. Albertonykus was there for the first time ever, and wrote about it at Raptormaniacs.

Speaking of Victoria, she talked about ankylosaur evolution on a recent episode of the great Palaeocast.

Fossil Day 2015 has come and gone, and Chris DiPiazza shared his personal fossil collection at Prehistoric Beast of the Week.

Curious about what we will see when the revamped dinosaur hall at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, opens? Ben Miller has something that may interest you.

At Dinosaur Postcards, Denver Fowler shared Iguanodon footprint casts.

Want to explore the Triassic via computer simulation? Head to Everything Dinosaur to learn about a new project that aims to do just that.

Not terribly recent, but I missed sharing it back in April. Brian Engh talks paleoart at a Bay area Nerd Nite event.

Paleoart Pick

Finding Julio Lacerda's recent painting of Pteranodon and Hesperornis squaring off underwater was a breath-taking moment. Golden Age of Paleoart, folks! Enjoy.

"Fish Theft: Subaquatic Edition," © Julio Lacerda. Shared here with the artist's permission.

Redbubble shop!

After receiving some requests for merchandise of my Cartoon Guide to Vertebrate Evolution, I decided to open a Redbubble shop.

Suggestions for other designs to include are welcome. (However, I will not upload any of my fan art of copyrighted works as designs.)

Perot Museum of Nature and Science

In addition to the Dallas World Aquarium, I visited the Perot Museum of Nature and Science during the course of SVP. The museum had made admission free for SVP attendees while the conference was going on, which was a treat.

Being accustomed to the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and the American Museum of Natural History, the Perot Museum's exhibit halls appeared much smaller in comparison. However, size does not translate to quality, and the Perot made good use of its space. On top of that, it is very architecturally interesting.

The museum takes visitors straight to the top floor and has them work their way down. As additional enticement, the top floor is where the dinosaurs are. The centerpiece of the fossil hall is a Tyrannosaurus pursuing an Alamosaurus. (There is also a mounted mountain lion and a deer as a modern example of a large-bodied predator-prey duo.)

The sign says Hypsilophodon, but this dinosaur will probably get its own genus.

Tenontosaurus, without a Deinonychus in sight!

They had a nice series of mosasaur mounts, including this Tylosaurus.

In museums, Archelon and other large turtles can fly.

To represent the North American-Asian biotic interchanges in the Cretaceous, we have the skull of Tarbosaurus...

... and the skull of Gorgosaurus.

The skull of Protohadros.

So that's the way they're swinging. Hmm.

The giant beaver Castoroides.

Adult Edmontosaurus and juvenile Ugrunaaluk.

Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum, whose trivial nomen shares the same namesake family as the museum.

Skulls of Torosaurus and Styracosaurus.

A flight of stairs leads to the museum's bird exhibits, which was nicely symbolic. They open with a display on avian evolution. There's Deinonychus!

Here's Archaeopteryx.

A life restoration of... Flexomornis? Interesting choice considering it is known only from fragmentary limb bones, but it all falls into place when one remembers that it was discovered in Texas. I don't buy the beak or the foldable tail fan.

Hesperornis, among few marine dinosaurs of the Mesozoic.

Representing modern birds is a pelican.

I like how the alternative phylogenetic positions for Archaeopteryx are shown here. It hasn't turned up as a non-avialan in a while, but it was presumably still a hot topic when these exhibits were made.

Though we didn't have time to explore the rest of the museum for long, getting to see the fossils was enough to satisfy me for the time being. On the whole, I had a great time in Dallas!

Dallas World Aquarium

While in Dallas for SVP, I took the chance to visit some nearby attractions. I was accompanied by my friends Ben Giraldo and Mustafa Malik, the latter of whom I'd met in person for the first time. One of places we went to was the Dallas World Aquarium. It does not look spectacularly large on the outside (it takes up a single block on its own, and not a particularly large one), but, on the inside, it is quickly revealed that it makes very efficient use of its space, though not always in ethically sound ways.

Visitors can view a series of aviaries even before they reach the ticket booth. This one contains some red-tailed black cockatoos.

A Pesquet's parrot. It is easy to see how it received its alternate common name of vulturine parrot.

Past the ticket booth, there is an exhibit for a Matschie's tree-kangaroo.

A shoebill.

The main display area starts as one goes up a flight of stairs. Even though this institution is nominally an aquarium, most of the exhibits are not strictly aquatic-themed. Its biggest and probably most impressive display is an immersive exhibit simulating a tropical South American rainforest. A variety of birds are free to roam here and a few other animals have at least the illusion of such freedom. There are also smaller, enclosed displays set along the path throughout.

One of these enclosed displays contained a number of small birds. This blue-naped chlorophonia aptly demonstrates why the display is known as "Jungle Jewels".

I neglected to take a picture of the sign for this one, but I think it is a swallow tanager. I wasn't a fan of the touchscreen signs they had at this aquarium. In my experience, the average visitor ignores typical signs frequently enough as they are, let alone signs that require you to click through multiple menus to find what you are looking at. Even I couldn't be bothered at times to read the exhibit signs here, which is saying something.

Some golden-headed manakins.

A helmeted curassow with its striking casque.

Sharing its enclosure were two giant anteaters (only one visible in this photo) and many other bird species. This exhibit was extremely tall (making it difficult for visitors to see most of the birds), but the ground space looked far too small for the anteaters. Sadly, this is a recurring problem with this aquarium.

Some white-faced sakis. They are confined to an island in the midst of the immersive habitat, but the tall trees and dense foliage probably make up for limited horizontal space.

On the flip side, some pied tamarins were kept in a glass-fronted display that didn't appear to provide much room for them. Though they are small, they are also very active, and would almost certainly appreciate more opportunities to burn off their high energy.

Below them was a (small-looking, yet again) pond for giant otters, the first ones I've ever seen in life. (In typical otter fashion, they were too active to photograph easily.) Despite its flaws, the Dallas World Aquarium is arguably worth a visit for the impressive number of rarely-seen species it has.

A curl-crested aracari. There are likely more toucan species housed here than anywhere else I've been to.

A pygmy marmoset in much the same situation as the pied tamarins.

A three-toed sloth! Another first for me, as two-toed sloths are much more common in captivity.

An emperor tamarin, from a view that doesn't fully show off its distinctive mustache.

An Orinoco crocodile, likely yet another first!

A Cuvier's dwarf caiman, sadly in yet another tiny exhibit.

The descending pathway leads to an underwater view of the lake surrounding the monkey island visible from earlier in the tour. This tank houses many Amazonian fish and a West Indian manatee.

The rainforest gives way to the part of the aquarium that actually focuses on aquariums. Ultimately a minor part of the facility in terms of space, but not without gems like this mandarinfish.

There were your "standard" leafy seadragons and weedy seadragons, but I had never seen ribboned pipefish before then. Their seaweed-mimicking appendages are probably convergent with those of the better-known seaweed-mimicking pipefish. (Yes, seadragons are pipefish, not seahorses!)

A sea cucumber. I frequently see this species in pictures, but its name escapes me.

A small outdoor detour took us to a series of displays with African animals, including some black-footed penguins. Penguins are wonderful, but I was more taken by this white-crested turaco.

The last third of the aquarium was devoted to Mesoamerican animals and their roles in Mayan culture. This part starts off with a series of terrarium-style exhibits before making way for another immersive rainforest display, though it is smaller than the one that came before.

Some Mexican beaded lizards. They were being fed while they were there, hence why one of them has a baby mouse in its mouth. Prior to the discovery that the presence of venom is widespread in squamates, beaded lizards and the Gila monster were widely said to be the only venomous lizards (naturally, excluding snakes in those pre-phylogenetic-nomenclature days). Behind them were some rattlesnakes (which I didn't get pictures of), separated by glass but giving off the illusion of sharing the same exhibit.

A Morelet's crocodile.

A jaguar playing with a log. Although there is an outdoors portion of its enclosure (only visible to visitors through a video camera), this exhibit still suffers from limited space.

A harpy eagle. Cool.

An ocellated turkey, the species of turkey we North Americans are not familiar with.