The 2015 Dinosaur Gift Guide

The winter solstice rapidly approaches, and the advertising world's constant hum has risen to an insistent howl. If you've got an enthusiast of prehistory in your life and are looking for something special to give them, Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs has you covered. Last year, I posted a three-part guide to independent paleoartists (parts one, two, and three) who all deserve attention and patronage, and whose work would delight fans of paleontology. Since most of those listings are still active, go check them out.

This year, I'm featuring a fresh assortment of individual products, some from paleoart veterans, some from new names. As usual when I do list-y sort of stuff, I'm not pretending to enshrine a definitive List To Rule All Lists. These are cool dinosaur gift ideas that caught my fancy, and I think they have a fair chance of catching other fancies, so let's let the fancy-catching begin.

Ricardo Delgado's "Age of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians"

Ricardo Delgado has returned with a new batch of Mesozoic comics, this time focusing his eye on Cretaceous Egypt. The collected Age of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians is now available for preorder, with a release date of January 19.

Fred Wierum's "The Amazing Age of Dinosaurs" coloring book

Fred Wierum has been on an impressive paleoart streak this year, with a bunch of great work for #drawdinovember, his tyrannosaur resting in golden light, and a recent stunning tribute to Pixar's The Good Dinosaur. So pick up a copy of his coloring book!

Levi Hastings' "Claws, Spikes, and Dinosaur Stripes" coloring book

Since one totally excellent dinosaur coloring book is never enough, purchase a copy of illustrator Levi Hastings' tribute to mesozoic fauna, Claws, Spikes, and Dinosaur Stripes. More abstracted in style than Wierum's work, it's full of dynamic compositions begging for pigmentation.

John Davies' "Cucumbertops and Other Animals of the Veggiesaur Kingdom"

Even more fanciful than Hastings' work is the charming book by Jon Davies, Cucumbertops and Other Animals of the Veggiesaur Kingdom. Perfect for that vegetarian paleofanatic in your life.

Juan Carlos Alonso and Greg Paul's "Ancient Earth Journal: Early Cretaceous"

None other than Gregory S. Paul has returned to the bookshelves with his illustrations for Juan Carlos Alonso's Ancient Earth Journal: The Early Cretaceous. And if that's not quite enough GSP under the tree, grab one of his "Your Inner Dinosaur" calendars.

R.A. Faller's "Genderfluid Jobaria" illustration, from the "Pride Dinosaurs" series

This year, illustrator and character designer R.A. Faller created a series called "Pride Dinosaurs", celebrating the diversity of human sexuality. They are available on a wide variety of formats at Redbubble, but to just pick one, how about Polyamorous Prosaurolophus on a laptop skin?

Matt Martyniuk's "Ascent of Birds" illustration

Matt Martyniuk runs a Redbubble shop for his PanAves publishing imprint. I especially love the Proto-Birds and "Ascent of Birds" posters.

Brynn Metheny's "Saur" calendar

If your dinosaur-smitten loved one also nurses a serious astronomical obsession, Brynn Metheney's "Saur" calendar will do the trick, featuring a year's worth of astronaut dinosaurs.

Angela Connor's Kaprosuchus with boars illustration, from her "Copy Croc" collection

Angela Connor (ICYMI, read my April 2015 interview with her) has made an adorable set of prehistoric croc mugs, featuring Pakasuchus, Laganosuchus, and Kaprosuchus. They're fun plays on the animals' nicknames: cat-croc, pancake-croc, and boar-croc.

Gareth Monger's "Yi qi Express"

Gareth Monger has a bunch of cool stuff at his Redbubble shop, and my favorite is definitely this toon Yi qi. Hilarious, perfect, would be pretty great on a mug. A WWII bomber art-inspired depiction of a notorious weirdo of a flying dinosaur? What a time to be alive.

The cover of "Mammoth is Mopey," by Jennie and me

Finally, the children's book I published this year with my wife, Jennie, is raising money for the Jurassic Foundation, so half of your Mammoth is Mopey purchase goes to funding the researchers who make all of the delightful depictions of prehistoric life you've seen in this post possible. Every limited edition hardcover order comes with an expanded ebook. You can order them here.

Trip to the mystical North East

Trip to the mystical North East

When Travelyaari announced the winners of a Travelog contest, I could not believe that I was declared the runner-up. Such pleasant surprises do not happen often, I said to myself. The prize was in the form of an all expense paid package trip for 2 to either Kaziranga or Alleppey or a hill station at Uttarakhand. I had no doubt in my mind about choosing Kaziranga  and my wife readily agreed. This was after all my maiden visit to the North East. 

Just as my itinerary was being finalised, I thought since I am travelling all the way to the North East (about 3,000 kms), why not add mystical Meghalaya to our schedule. I had always learnt about Shillong being the Scotland of the East and Cherrapunjee as the wettest place on Earth....while here was a golden opportunity to visit these 2 places.

The trip was planned in early November, when the Kaziranga wildlife sanctuary is open to the public after a gap of 6 months. Though locals say March-April is the right time to visit the sanctuary, the cool and pleasant weather during November is conducive for extensive outdoor activity. 

Bangalore is now directly connected to Guwahati by flight and the total flight duration is about 3 hours flat. The Guwahati airport is small and congested unlike the recently privatised airports in other large cities and less chaotic too. Our chauffeur - Zakir was eagerly waiting for us and he remained our constant guide for rest of the tour. Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya (abode of Clouds) is about a distance of 100 kms from Guwahati, the capital of Assam. The road from Guwahati to Shillong is wide, smooth and extremely picturesque. It takes about 3 hours to cover the distance but as you enter Shillong the traffic gets worse. I have perhaps come across the worst traffic jams at Shillong compared to any other hill station in India due to narrow roads but people show lot of patience and follow traffic discipline.  The sun also sets quite early in this part of the world and by the time it's 4pm it starts getting dark and most of the public places remain shut. Therefore we reserved our sight seeing trip to the next day and rather explored the local bazaar in the close vicinity of our Hotel. 

Next day we set for Cherrapunjee and Mawlynnong about 80 kms from Shillong. On the way to Mawlynnong we came across a small village which hosted the Living Root Bridge, which is very unique in the world and are a sight to behold. The bridges are tangles of massive thick roots, which have been intermingled to form a bridge that can hold several people at a time. The root bridges are strong enough that some of them can support the weight of fifty or more people at a time. The bridges are alive, still growing and gain strength over time. The villagers have built a small watch tower like structure built of bamboo, overlooking the deep and vast Khasi Hills. The view from the watch tower is just breath taking. Women play a very important role in this region and can be seen managing small business, eateries, stalls etc. Most of them speak good English while struggle to converse in Hindi. Taste their local red fruit and pineapple and enjoy the trek. 

Mawlynnong village located in the East Khasi Hills of Meghalaya is also referred as ‘God’s own garden’ has won the acclaim of being the cleanest village in Asia. The village known for its cleanliness is a community based eco-tourism initiative. You can spot tree houses at every junction in this village. The village boasts of 100% literacy rate and English is the widely spoke language. We had simple lunch at Mawlynnong served in a spic and span environment costing just a few rupees. Though we felt the entrance fee to the village (Rs 50 per vehicle) was put to best use that included clean toilets.

From Mawlynnong we moved to Cherrapunjee also called Sohra, which is just about 50 kms from Shillong. Once called the wettest place on Earth (although nearby Mawsynram currently holds that record), the place was absolutely dry now. As a result we could not enjoy any of the famed waterfalls in the vicinity. The 7 sisters falls was almost bone dry while the only saving grace was the Nohkalikai falls. This breathtaking waterfall is the tallest plunge waterfall in the country falling from a height of 1115 feet and it is the fourth highest in the world. It has carved a waterhole where it falls and it's green in colour in summer.  Young children sell cinnamon and pure honey across the route and they are just too cute to be ignored. Just a distance away is the Mawsmai Cave, limestone based natural cave, where one can enjoy the rock formation and their patterns. We left Cherrapunjee for Shillong by 4pm and though the distance can be covered in less than 2 hours it took us almost 4 hours thanks to the traffic jam close to Shillong town. Somehow we could not visit some of the top sight seeing spots at Shillong like the Shillong Peak, Elephant Falls etc due to paucity of time and early sunset. But as people say, Shillong has to be enjoyed for its rolling hills and the pleasant weather which resembled Scotland to the British and hence they called it the "Scotland of the East". 

Early morning the next day, we started for Kaziranga about 250 kms from Shillong via Guwahati. On the way we enjoyed the breathtaking view of the Umiam lake, most of which is under the control of the Indian Army. There are several dhabas on the way to Kaziranga. On the way we stopped at a rustic village themed restaurant called "Choupal" for lunch, just 30 kms before Kaziranga. The break provided much needed succour from a long journey into the forests of Assam. There are several small tea gardens on the way especially on the plains, which is a marked departure from normal tea gardens found on hill slopes. We reached Kaziranga after a 6 hour drive and the resort called IORA is indeed an oasis in the jungle. It has one of the best facilities right from spa to swimming pool, though sparingly used. The food served at their in house Restaurant was of high quality while they also boast of local Assamese cuisine served in a speciality restaurant. The overall ambiance  at IORA can leave one spellbound with lot of greenery around. In the evenings they organise local cultural dance programs like the Bihu dancers who enthralled us on the first night. 

The morning after was the day we were eagerly looking forward to....the visit to the world famous wildlife sanctuary - KAZIRANGA, home to the extremely endangered one horned Rhinoceros. We had booked the Elephant safari well in advance since its the most sought after mode to catch the rhinoceros in action in the wild. There are 2 batches only in the morning and the tickets are almost always sold out days in advance. There are close to 20 elephants being used in a single batch with each seating about 2-3 people. A small baby elephant kept everyone entertained while we waited for our turn to embark on the ride. The elephant ride that started at 6am, was one of the best I have had for a long time. The ride went deep into the grassland to catch a glimpse of the elusive rhino at very close distance. We were indeed lucky to spot half a dozen of them either grazing or bathing in the pond. The Mahout told us that March-April is the right time to sight rhinos who can be found wandering freely even in the outer periphery of the jungle. Since the grass was thick and lush green it was not easy to spot them. We also came across a herd of wild buffaloes, elephants and deer but the star attraction remained the "One Horned Rhinoceros". 

We came back to IORA for breakfast and after some rest visited the famous Orchid Garden located 2 kms from the resort. The garden has a great collection of orchids and the management also organises a live dance and song program highlighting the rich culture of Assam.

After lunch, we started for the Jeep Safari at around 2pm. Since it gets dark by 4pm, you have to make best use of the daylight to spot wild animals. Unlike the elephant safari you need very sharp eyes to spot the animals at a distance.  The sanctuary boasts of Tigers but it remained elusive to us. The locals said its not easy to spot Tigers in the wild due to the thick foliage of grass, that hides even large animals like elephants. We could spot the usuals i.e. Rhinos, wild elephants, wild buffaloes, monkeys and deer. The sunset at Kaziranga was perhaps the most memorable sight for us. 

It was now time to say adieu to Kaziranga and Assam and it was with heavy heart that we left IORA for Guwahati airport. Our tour guide had in fact never seen so much of Meghalaya before and he was glad it happened thanks to us. He asked us to return again to the North East very soon and explore Arunachal Pradesh with him. With this promise we bade goodbye to Assam and the North East.

Travel Courtesy: in association with Lonely Planet and Times of India

Accommodation: Alpine Continental at Shillong and IORA Resort at Kaziranga

Airlines: Bangalore to Guwahati by Indigo Airlines and return by Jet Airways

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaur Skeletons

Regular readers will know that I can't get enough of dinosaur pop-up books, having reviewed several over the years, and 1991's Dinosaur Skeletons is a worthy addition to the canon. Intriguingly, the book's concept is remarkably similar to that of 1984's Dinosaurs - a Lost World in Three Dimensions, only with considerably more up-to-date artwork - the titular skeletons are the pop-ups, while fleshed-out dinos are confined to the 2D illustrations. Not to worry - even a skeleton can threaten to take your eye out, especially when there's a mouth full of pointy teeth thrust in one's general direction.

The cover features a quite Sibbickian Torosaurus alongside a slightly iffy rendition of its skull (orbit's too big), which still works to get our attention. Note the fetching borders and decoration, which will be put to good use inside. All of the illustrations are by Bob Cremins.

The first animal to feature is Apatosaurus, and while hardly looking all thrusting and Paulian, it's nevertheless notable for holding its tail straight out behind it (except where curled to fit the page) - and that's without mentioning that glorious colour scheme. It's refreshing to see a sauropod of any era, never mind the early '90s, decked out in such a striking striped-and-spotted livery. While the animal is depicted simply standing around eating (rather than engaged in Brontosmash or whatever is fashionable among the kids these days), the single partially raised foot adds a subtle sense of motion that was always lacking in older kids' book palaeoart. (Mostly 'cos sauropods' legs were normally hidden by a good ten feet of water, but still.)

Unlike its fleshy counterpart, the skeletal Apatosaurus is still dragging its tail along - although it was probably based on an old skeletal mount. For the most part the pop-up skeletons in this book, while being necessarily simplified, are really rather good - just check out Apatosaurus' wacky-looking cervical vertebrae, there. (The 'creation and design' credit goes to Keith Moseley.) The background, with its evocative stony texture and lovely borders (which help emphasise the skeleton without distracting from it), features a number of pleasing touches. Chief among these is the remarkably creepy human skeleton, which looks as if it was walled into the backdrop and recently exhumed. If you're going to have a scale bar, make it a good 'un.

Of course, you can't have Apatosaurus in your book without introducing its erstwhile nemesis, Allosaurus. Or in this case, ALLOSAURUS!!! Having been quite classily understated so far, bringing in a giant theropod allows the book to introduce lightning, blood, leering shiny-toothed grins and jaws that go all the way, baby (you want more teeth? Well, I'm sure we could afford to lose some muscles, no biggy). It's only missing a sound recording of maniacal laughter. 

Captain Evilsaurus is accompanied by a well-observed pop-up torso of, er, T. rex. It's especially baffling precisely because it is so well made - any dinosaur fan will instantly recognise that skull, sagittal crest and all. Still, neat mechanism (the whole thing appears to lunge forward and the jaws open as the pages are opened).

Parasaurolophus is next and, thankfully, the skeleton matches the illustration. The pop-up here is similar to that in Dinosaurs - a Lost World in Three Dimensions, only rather more detailed, and was likely based on the Parasaurolophus walkeri type specimen. It's a nice piece (and there's that human skeleton again).

The illustration's quite pretty too, and appears to show animals of different growth stages (or else sexual dimorphism, although that isn't mentioned in the text). We're certainly a long way from the retrosaurs depicted in Lost World in 3D. Interestingly, the foreground animal appears to be a better match for the skeleton, while the one in the background has a touch of the John McLoughlin 'leggy hadrosaur' look about it (although only a touch). Again, the colour schemes are very attractive (mmm, stripy) and the background birds are a welcome addition.

The backs of some of the flaps are occupied by animals that, sadly, don't get their own pop-up (I'd love to see an attempt at a Stegosaurus skeleton!). Cremins' Stego is something of a victim of a perspective fudge, although it is at least interestingly coloured and 'modern' in overall aspect. Great border, too (look! Amber! Before Jurassic Park!). Meanwhile, some sort of feathered maniraptor (presumably Archaeopteryx) scampers along the bottom. It's yet another victim of an artist taking 'clawed fingers' rather the wrong way (and it's always amusing given how hugely long the animal's fingers really were), although at least having the upper toothrow extend below the eye is keeping things consistent.

Remember Torosaurus? It's back, and this time, it wants to stick its horns in your face! And the orbit's shrunk.

The accompanying illustration is much better than the one on the cover, certainly in terms of getting the perspective right and keeping the eyes, horns etc. in their correct places. I also like the tunnel effect created by the trees in the background - there's a strong sense that the animal's rushing inexorably towards us. I'm sure it's also reminiscent of a Bakker piece, but I can't quit put my finger on it...

Much like Stegosaurus, Pachycephalosaurus appears as a 'supplementary dinosaur'. Disappointingly, this seems to be the one instance where Cremins just cribbed from the Normanpedia. Boo! We're also given the customary illustration of two pachycephalosaurs clashing heads, although in this case they look more like they're bowing. Polite pachycephalosaurs.

Thankfully, Sibbick's faintly terrifying probe-fingered, saggy-necked monstrosity of a Deinonychus from the Normanpedia does not put it an appearance here. Instead, we are treated to these none-more-'80s curly-armed fellows, mouths agog, no doubt ready to start tearing apart a doe-eyed ornithopod with a long tail. A little predictable, but that's OK, because the pop-up is awesome!

No, I don't know what's going on with that foot. Shut up. It all looks really cool when you have the page spread out in front of you, believe me.

What an excellent impression of a lean, fleet-footed predator. I'm especially fond of the way the neck and jaws protrude from the page - it's ready to snap your clammy fingers off. Great stuff.

Is Pur Minerals Epic Illusion Contour Kit Worth Its Epicness?

*Post originally written by Olivia J on The Unknown Beauty Blog. If you see this post elsewhere, it has been stolen.*
*PR samples, links provided for your convenience.*

There appears to be an invasion of highlighting and contour palettes the past year or so.  Choosing one is hard because many of the colors you might not even use or they just look too drab.  Also, if the highlighting and contouring aren’t done properly, it looks like total disaster on the face.  And, even if you do use those palettes, in real life lighting the colors can look awfully like dirt.  But, in the sea of all these palettes, there is a one which will shape, glow, and color your face.  It is by Pur Minerals.
I beg you, click to read more »

TetZooCon 2015

There can't be many conventions that have spun off from a popular zoology-themed blog and equally popular podcast about new tapirs and charging for rambling answers to questions about bipedal combat in deer, so it was very heartening that the first TetZooCon was such a success. Successful enough, in fact, to spawn a successor event, once again host to an impressive array of speakers covering an eclectic range of topics. Only at TetZooCon will you be so well informed about legendary pygmy elephants, bizarre ichthyosaurs, condom-inflated pigeon carcasses and the right circumstances to ask to use your very wealthy friend's Rolls for promotional purposes. It was, once again, a resounding success. (All photos by Niroot unless otherwise stated.)

Darren Naish once again kicked things off, this time with a brief history of the cryptozoology of sea monsters and, in particular, how it evolved during the 20th century. While the 'prehistoric survivor' paradigm was popular earlier in the century, as time and science progressed, so such creatures were ditched in favour of more imaginative beasties, often with their own highly elaborate (and quite bonkers) phylogeny. The Belgian-French author Bernard Heuvelmans, prone to all sorts of flights of fancy regarding poorly documented sightings, is regarded as the 'father' of modern cryptozoology, and rightly occupied a sizeable section of Darren's talk. All very entertaining stuff.

Next up was author and waistcoat wearer Matt Salusbury and the tiny elephants which, it transpires, probably don't exist. One might detect something of a theme, but, quite unlike the likes of Cadborosaurus, the Yellow-Belly and Bighoot, it's quite plausible that a tribe of tiny elephants could exist, and the idea has captured the imagination of explorers, scientists and circus charlatans for centuries. In fact, there are many people who still maintain that there are dwarf heffalumps out there, and when one such individual contacted Matt it spurred him on to an envy-inducing journey to exotic locales and - ultimately - to write his latest book. Matt's was a fascinating tale of the endless, slightly puzzling quest to find miniature proboscideans (non-fossilised), of specimens submitted to museums, dubious sightings rebuffed comprehensively by experienced field guides and mahouts, and PT Barnum's filthy, filthy lies.

Jessica Lawrence Wujek's favourite animals certainly did exist, but definitely aren't alive today - the ichthyosaurs. This was a very entertaining talk, taking a look not only at the bizarre anatomy of the marine reptiles in question, but also the lengths that researchers go to in attempting to collect, study and even categorise them. (Marine reptile phylogeny is quite up in the air, it would seem.) Those of us who are more into dinosaurs and, at a push, if you insist, plesiosaurs, had our 'you know, those daft dolphin ones' perception completely dashed. Who ever knew just how utterly crazy ichthyosaurs' flippers were? (Well, apart from Jessica and the three other ichthyosaur researches in the world, of course.) A pavement of tiny bones, sure - but how about 10 digits, often forking into extra digits, or even digits splitting then being subsumed into other digits? Not to mention the giant eyes and sheer variety in shape, size and dentition, from serpentine early forms to later ones with shell-crushing flattened teeth. Brilliant.

Last year, Darren discussed speculative zoology, and just had to mention the 2002 TV series The Future is Wild, a program chock full of hypothetical futuro-beasts. This year, series writer Victoria Coules was on hand to inform us in entertaining detail just how the program was made. Unsurprisingly, this involved dealing with a fair number of irritating TV network middle-management types, and attempting to make a fun family show for the Americans and a more, you know, serious programme for Europeans at the same time (as the networks demanded). An especially amusing anecdote concerned Animal Planet's demand to know exactly where all the humans had gone, something the programme makers thought didn't really matter. (In the end, Animal Planet decided quite of their own accord that they had all left for planets new on some sort of Space Ark.) The show's CGI hasn't aged especially well, but the scientific thinking behind some of the future creatures was certainly intriguing. If you haven't seen the show, in 100 million years mammals will be reduced to being farmed by spiders, and in 200 million years they'll be entirely extinct, while gigantic squid roam the forests. Of course. I hope PZ Myers hasn't seen it.

David Lindo was up next - birder, broadcaster, writer, naturalist and all-around Superb Bloke. David was full of memorable stories, from his childhood love of birding, his alarming flirting with the twitcher side, his rather poor flirting with women (who didn't much agree to being taken to bleak, windswept islands), and much more besides. Best of all, David was behind the campaign to vote for a national British bird, and had plenty of very funny tales to tell about the campaign - promoting it and people's reactions to it. And to him. Because there are a fair number of racist morons in Britain (thus also explaining the Daily Mail's sales figures). Not that that mattered - with the backing of cor-blimey celeb chef Jamie Oliver and well-meaning friends in PR with a penchant for semi-naked women in masquerade masks, not to mention the birdy NGOs, the campaign was a huge success. David's aim was to increase awareness of the wonderful birds that surround us even in what would appear to be our otherwise quite mundane, grey surroundings in urban and suburban Britain, and he succeeded with aplomb. But which bird won the contest?

This is why democracy is a bad idea.

Palaeontologist David Unwin was due to speak next, but unfortunately had fallen ill. Thus, we moved straight to the palaeoart workshop. This time, the audience were split into 4 teams, guided by Johnway, Mark Witton, Bob Nicholls and Darren. The task was to restore Pterodactylus (represented by John's quite terrible fossil casts), but each table had to do it with a particular preconception in mind; namely, that it was a mammal, lizard-like reptile, or bird. The final table could just draw whatever the hell they wanted.

Photo by Darren Naish.
Niroot and I were on the 'bird' table, which mainly produced a variety of alarming gannets and cormorants with mutant wing-supporting fourth digits (as per Niroot's artsy drawing below). Elsewhere, the mammal table largely produced bat-like creatures, while the lizard table produced sprawling, scaly monstrosities. From the freestyle table, one of the submissions appeared to simply satirise mid-20th century views of pterosaurs; in fact, as I only discovered later in the pub, it was Katrina van Grouw's quite honest attempt at guessing what the animal must have been like. You could write an article on the implications of that, I'm sure...

Speaking of Katrina, she was the final speaker, discussing her magnum opus The Unfeathered Bird, as very favourably reviewed on this blog by someone who is, I'm sure, a delight to meet in real life (and will definitely buy you a drink). I'd heard many of Katrina's tales pertaining to the making of the book before but, honestly, they'll never get old. It's a story of triumph over adversity, how the best meetings happen in pubs (true that), and why it's worth marrying Dutch people...who are good at assembling skeletons. With infectious enthusiasm, Katrina flicked effortlessly from boiling bird carcasses and inflating pigeon crops with a condom to discussing the preposterous anatomy of some of the birds covered in the book. Consider the trumpet manucode; among the birds of paradise, it may appear rather drab, with is business suit of iridescent black-blue plumage. But it can't half make a racket. How so? Why, it has an absurdly long trachea that is coiled up in its chest. Or how about the (multiple) birds with ultra-long tongues that wrap around their heads? You'd never tell from looking at them in the wild, and that's just one of a very many reasons why The Unfeathered Bird is so superb. As I was saying to people on the day, you need this book.

Photo by Darren Naish
Then we went to the pub. The same one as last year, where they have Fuller's ESB on cask. Consequently, I am now broke. Please send tins of beans and the latest dinosaur toys of respectable quality.

All in all, it was another excellent day and a credit to everyone involved. I'm very happy that not only is this evolving into a regular event, but that Darren and John have grand plans afoot to turn the whole thing into a multi-day festival of the TetZooniverse. Now that would be totally awesomebruh.