This Mesozoic Month: August 2017

In the News

Meet Serikornis, a small troodontid whose feathers are utterly lacking in barbules. Read more at Theropoda and NatGeo. And check out the amazing Emily Willoughby illustration, featured at the end of this post as our Moment of Paleoart Zen.

Hot diggity, do I love weird Triassic stuff. Check out the twin-horned terror that is Shringasaurus! Read more at Everything Dinosaur, Letters from Gondwana, and NatGeo.

New research into the famous quad-flippered plesiosaurs looks at how they might have propelled themselves through the water. Coauthor Darren Naish writes all about it at TetZoo. And do check out the video about the research down in the LITC AV Club section of this post.

Patagotitan is the putative "largest dinosaur" now, finally getting published after years of notoriety and even display. And it's coming to Chicago's Field Museum, kicking Sue off of the perch she's occupied for two decades. Read more from Paleo-King, Ben Miller, and Ed Yong at the Atlantic.

Lemmysuchus obtusidens is a new teleosaurid on the scene, made to crush shells. And yes, it's named for Lemmy Koopa. Er, I mean Kilmeister. Read more from Sci News, the Telegraph, and WaPo.

Around the Dinoblogosphere

At Waxing Paleontological, Zach follows up last year's Hopeful Dinosaurs article in the wake of new research that puts Pisanosaurus in the silesaurid bucket.

Mark Witton writes an exhaustive post on the paleoart sin of shrinkwrapping.

Head over to the New York Times, where Asher Elbein has written a great piece on the ongoing saga of the tangled dromaeosaurs of The Utahraptor Project.

Los Angeles will be hosting next year's Flugsaurier conference, and Dave Hone has the details.

You probably like dinosaurs. Otherwise, why are you here? If you like the world-famous LEGO brand of construction bricks too, boy howdy do you want to see Gareth Monger's latest Pteroformer post.

Lisa Buckley's back with another post from the field, in which she discovers her first Cretaceous bird tracks.

Herman Diaz is on a quest to compile a list of every dinosaur natural history book, and you can add your own suggestions at ART Evolved.

Prehistoric Pulp has moved to a new location, so update those bookmarks. Check out the recent review of Michael Crichton's Dragon Teeth.

The Empty Wallets Club

Mary Sanche runs a great Redbubble shop called Thoughts Up North. If you love ceratopsians in brilliant hues, this will be right up your alley. I love her Regaliceratops. Such a frisky pose.

Hey, I got back into the dinosaur heraldry game a little while ago! Here's my Sauropoda family crest design, featuring a Brontosaurus rampant. I have some ideas for others but haven't had the time to really figure them out. But the 'pod lovers are covered. Available on tees, mugs, stickers, and more at my Redbubble Shop.

The LITC AV Club

Draw a coelocanth with Brian Engh!

Listen to Memo Kosemen and Joschua Knüppe talk paleoart!

Luke Muscutt talks about the awesome new plesiosaur locomotion research!

Crowdfunding Spotlight

We've obviously featured it on this blog in the past, but since Asher's article in the NYT has been published, I'll mention the Utahraptor Project again. Go to GoFundMe to contribute to this monumental effort.

A Moment of Paleoart Zen

It was an obvious pick, but I had to go with Emily Willoughby's stunning Serikornis illustration. The kind of paleoart you just lose yourself in.

Serikornis by Emily Willoughby, shared here with her permission.

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Big Animals of Long Ago - The Dinosaurs

Remember being a child in the 1970s? I don't (on account of not yet existing), but having reviewed so many remarkably similar kids' dinosaur books of the era, I feel like I've been there. Tail dragging yet sprightly tyrannosaurs, chunky title fonts, sauropods taking to the land, vibrant yellow-green colour palettes, the oil crisis, flares, the birth of punk; yes, they were probably the days. Let us now introduce Big Animals of Long Ago - The Dinosaurs, yet another identikit children's dino book from 1979. But for one very important twist. (This is another one sent to me by Charles Leon, by the way - cheers fella!)


Written by Ruth Wheeler and illustrated by Harry Baerg, Big Animals makes its level of ambition very clear by its cover, which is a competently executed but rather bland Neave Parker knock-off. Note the standby ferns and horsetails, but otherwise remarkably little in the way of vegetation; the generic beasties in the background are pretty dull, too, although one does sport a peculiar head crest, resembling some sort of corythosaur-cum-retro-sauropod. Three-fingered Rexy (look carefully) is suitably sneering and dismissive.


Shortly after the book's opening, we are introduced to the motley crew of prehistoric beasts. I love the quietly smiling styracosaur-thing, happily walking by as the world's tiniest brachiosaur emerges from the water. The odd beast in the foreground is probably one of those new ornithischian theropods I've been hearing so much about.


Perhaps the most accomplished illustration in the book features none other than Our Bronto - accurate it ain't, but the shading, while simple, is executed effectively to indicate muscular bulk. It appears powerful and hefty, but not overweight.  The classic camarasaur-like head might be wrong, but at least it's drawn with a nicely squared-off snout and retracted nostrils (as was typical at the time). The sweep of the tail is quite graceful - the neck, not so much.


The book pays little heed to chronology (for reasons that will become apparent later), skipping from Jurassic sauropods to Cretaceous ornithopods, and then back again. These are fairly typical pre-Renaissance hadrosaurs (with webbed hands and all), but the more '70s 'Gangly Dork Hadrosaur' (a la McLoughlin) does also make a notable appearance on the right. That one Corythosaurus is all legs, all the time, baby.


A wild Neave Parker Iguanodon appeared! What will you do?

FIGHT
RUN
WARM NOSTALGIC EMBRACE
ROLL EYES

It's nice enough for what it is; I always find those humanoid arms endearing.


Iguanodon gives way to Brachiosaurus, and it's enough to make one wish that Baerg had copied an established palaeoartist a little more closely in this case. The Burianesque feet and fat, lengthy tail are all well and good, but that head is plain weird. It appears to sport a bifurcated crest, like a dilophosaur. It's almost as if Baerg was given a copy of Burian's famous brachiosaur piece that was missing the top of the image, and had to draw the animal's head based on vague descriptions of its appearance.


Given that we've had Brontosaurus and Brachiosaurus already, the inclusion of Diplodocus is only right and proper. This is perhaps one of the most unusual illustrations of this animal that I've seen, simply based on the pose alone. The text obscures a chunk of land that would presumably answer the many, many questions I have about how the perspective works here. I suppose the neck and tail are both in front of the body, with the tail projecting towards us from the base, else there's a vertical drop on the left hand edge. Having said all that, the shading on the body is, again, actually rather nice - one can see the influence of the skinny-o-saurs movement that was gaining momentum in the late '70s, although this remains a healthy-looking creature. At least in terms of fleshiness.

But I've been hiding something from you, dear reader. For this isn't quite a normal kids' dinosaur book.


Turkeys and giraffes, together at last! Oh yes, I'm afraid this is one of those creationist books, although as Ken Ham wasn't yet on the indoctrination scene, it isn't too screamingly in-your-face about it. That doesn't mean there isn't a fair amount of absolute nonsense. The above scene, I imagine, is intended to depict some sort of fantastical paradise in which drooling, toothy wolves leave those tasty deer well alone, because there isn't any Sin around just yet. Unfortunately, it's conspicuously missing a pair of naked people. What Eden is complete without a naked lady with long hair artfully arranged to cover her breasts? And also a man, hidden in the undergrowth except for his manly torso.


In addition to lacking humans, the first Eden scene lacks any saurians. Which is odd, given that that is the focus of the book. For some reason, dinosaurs only arrive when Sin comes. Because someone did a bad thing, Eden's turned all monochrome, and hideous giant diapsid reptiles have invaded in all their ferocious, primordial horror. It'll also now be necessary to have a Pope at some point. At least there's a lot more vegetation here than in the other scenes; if it weren't for the anachronistic species mash-up, it'd be by far the most convincing-looking illustration of the lot. Oh, and Chazza K is presumably hidden behind one of the trees on the right while those hadrosaurs pose for him.


And finally...how did the dinosaurs die? Was it a giant asteroid? Volcanoes? A disease? I read a book by this guy named Bakker, and he said dinosaurs died of disease. But according to Willer, it's none of the above. Rather, there was a great Flood, and they were subsequently all drowned and covered in mud, which hardened to rock in the intervening...number of years. But where did all the water go? Now you're asking too many questions.

Coming next time: something more orthodox, I imagine!

Dragon Fruit: Benefits and Uses (Pitaya)


The health benefits and uses of dragon fruit also known as pitaya. 

1. The dragon fruit or the pitaya is a delicious fruit which comes from large cactus type plants, native to Central America, but are now grown all over the world.

2. There are three main varieties of this fruit:

Pitaya Blanca (Pink Skinned with White Flesh)
Pitaya Roja (Red Skinned with Red Flesh)
Pitaya Amarilla (Yellow Skinned with White Flesh)

Each variety has a slightly different taste. The red flesh variety is said to taste sweeter. 

Many people are worried that these are genetically modified, however they are 100 percent natural, as the red colouring comes from the natural pigment hylocerenin. 

3. These exotic, tasty fruits are excellent for increasing energy levels and mental focus. It is recommended to eat these in the morning to provide the body with energy and get rid of grogginess.
4. The fruit contains phytochemicals which help to improve blood circulation and improve the health of the heart.
5. The seeds within are very healthy and contain a natural oil, which helps to stimulate digestion, and relieve constipation.
6. The fruit contains a strong dose of Vitamin C and flavonoids which destroy cold and flu infections when eaten regularly. 
7. It also contains Vitamins B1, B2, B3, Calcium, Iron, Protein, Niacin, Fiber and Phosphorus.
8. The peel of the fruit can also be steeped in hot water to make a cancer fighting tea. This is due to the polyphenols and flavonoids contained within.
9. Dragon Fruit also contains oligosacchardies. These are prebiotics which improve the health of the gut, helping those with obesity, vascular diseases and hypersensitivity.
10. The fiber in the fruit also helps to stabilise blood sugar, and has been proven to reduce the risk of diabetes and associated symptoms
11. The seeds are rich in omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, which also decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
12. Eating a dragon fruit a few times a week can boost the amount of antioxidants you consume. This alongside the phosphorus, helps to keep the skin looking young at the cellular level.
13. Lycopene found within dragon fruit can help in preventing prostate, breast, liver, skin and lung cancer.

How To Eat Pitaya (Dragon Fruit)

The pitaya fruit should be slice in half length ways, and scooped out using a spoon. This can be eaten in fruit salads, blended into smoothies or juices.

You can use a melon baller to scoop out perfect balls of this seeded fruit, for excellent presentation.

The skin around the fruit is also healthy and can be steeped into boiling water to make a herbal tea, with extra health benefits.

The flowers of the pitaya are often cooked and eaten in soups and stir fries in Asia. They can also be dehydrated to make a powder and also used as a tea.

To learn more about exotic fruits and natural remedies, please see our other videos. 


Bottle Gourd Juice: Benefits (Lauki/Calabash)


The health benefits of bottle gourd juice, also known as lauki juice.

1. The bottle gourd is one of the healthiest fruits and is often used in Asian cuisine. Juice from this fruit has some fantastic health benefits for the human body.

2. This is also known as Lauki or calabash. This is a gourd which is grown on a vine, and comes in a variety of different shapes and sizes. 


3. It is known as the “bottle” gourd as it is one of the oldest fruits ever cultivated, as the shells were used as water containers.

4. The juice within the bottle gourd contains some fantastic nutrients including vitamin C, B, A, K, E, Iron, Folate, Manganese and Potassium.


5. It contains around 92 percent water and is an excellent way of keeping the body hydrated.

6. Drinking this often can help to maintain a healthy heart by bringing down bad cholesterol levels.


7. Like many other fruits and vegetables, it helps to stabilise blood glucose levels and can be beneficial for those with diabetes.

8. It is very important that bottle gourd juice is drank quickly after opening the fruit, as the nutrients can decay quickly.


9. The natural sugars within the drink can be used to re-energise the body after a workout. The protein and other nutrients help muscles to grow, and restore the body to full energy levels.

10. The juice has a cooling effect, helping to reduce body heat in the summer. In Ayurvedic medicine, this is used as a remedy to treat nose bleeding, pimples and ulcers.


11. The bottle gourd or calabash is perhaps best known for its ability to aid weight loss. The fruit is packed with fiber which is the number one key to losing weight. 
The extra vitamins and minerals also help the body to flush our fat.

12. Many use a mixture of lime and bottle gourd juice to treat urinary tract infections.

13. Choline has been found within bottle gourd juice. This is a neurotransmitter that boosts brain function, helping to prevent stress, depression and other mental disorders.


14. The soluble and insoluble fibre found within helps to cure constipation and trapped wind.

15. The juice can be made by blending the fruit of the gourd and then sieving to remove the pulp.  Be sure to add a little mint and black pepper to improve the bitter taste.

16. The juice can be mixed with a little sesame oil and massaged into the scalp. This has helped many people to treat insomnia and have a better night’s sleep.

17. Did you know the shells of bottle gourds are sometimes used to make utensils, containers and musical instruments?

Rosehip Seed Oil: Benefits and Uses


The health benefits of rosehip seed oil, and how to use this for your skin.

1. There are beauty products available to improve and tighten the skin, however many celebrities use rosehip seed oil.

2. Rosehip Seed Oil a completely natural oil which was used by the ancient Egyptians, the Mayans and Native Americans for its healing properties.


3. Unlike many other oils, this is none greasy and doesn’t feel as heavy when applied to the skin. This makes it soak into the skin faster and easier.

4. It is excellent for those with sensitive skin, and is well known for its anti-aging properties. When applied regularly the skin retains youth, and elasticity.

5. Many in the beauty industry have claimed that this is as powerful as botox. 

6. The Vitamin A, C and lycopene within the oil, helps to repair the skins surface from blemishes, pimples, dermatitis, age spots and sun damage. 

7. Those who have scars from acne, can use this wonderful oil to heal the skin, and even out red areas.

8. This in turn slows down the appearance of aging, making wrinkles much less likely to occur.

9. The Vitamin A also works with the essential fatty acids in the oil to create an even skin tone, reducing pigmentation.

10. Those who suffer with eczema have found that rose hip oil works wonders in hydrating the skin and easing the condition.

11. It can also be used on the scalp to rapidly heal dry scalp, dandruff and itchiness.
12. These seeds are usually grown and harvested in Chile from a specific type of rose bush. They are then cold pressed to extract the oil, which preserves their antioxidants and essential fatty acids.

13. Some people believe that this smells like rose flowers, however it has more of a woody aroma as it is made from the hips of the plant.

14. Research has also shown that rose hips can ease rheumatoid arthritis pain and improve mobility by 25 percent.

How To Use Rosehip Seed Oil

To use this on the scalp to treat dryness and irritation, simply add a few drops to your favourite shampoo, massage into the scalp and let sit for 2 hours before rinsing.

As a massage oil for arthritis and muscle pain, mix a few drops with some carrier oil and massage the skin using circular motions.

To treat skin conditions, use a mild soap to clean the skin and then use a cotton pad to rub as much rosehip seed oil as needed onto the affected areas such as the face, neck, arms and legs. 


Thank you very much for listening, a like is always appreciated and remember to subscribe for more healthy videos. I wish you great health, wealth and happiness.

Green Coffee: Benefits (Weight Loss)


The health benefits of green coffee beans.

1. Losing weight can be very difficult for those who aren’t very active or struggle with exercise. 

Green Coffee Beans have become one of the most popular products in recent years as they are fantastic for weight loss

2. These are unroasted coffee beans which contain a high amount of Chlorogenic Acid.

This is one of several polyphenols within the bean which acts as a natural fat burner and weight loss aid.

3. Green Coffee is much higher in this wonderful antioxidant compound than regular roasted coffee, making them much more effective.

4. The best way to take this is in capsule or tablet form. You can buy green coffee extract and take this on a daily basis. This will cause weight loss in 1-2 weeks.

5. Studies have shown that the healthy compounds within green coffee beans are easily absorbed by the body.  

6. The caffeine present also increases alertness and energy levels, as it causes the body to release hormones. However too much can make you restless and anxious, keeping you awake at night. This is the same as regular roasted coffee.

7. The nutrients within the bean cause the body to burn glucose and body fat for energy, whilst reducing inflammation. This may also help to prevent the onset of diabetes.

8. Studies have shown that this green coffee bean extract lowers blood sugar levels and makes you less likely to crave high energy snacks and junk food, which helps the weight loss process.

9. Evidence also suggests that the extract can lower blood pressure, and get rid of cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations in the blood. 

10. You should not take green coffee beans if you have heart problems such as heart arrhythmia as the caffeine can cause further problems.

11. The antioxidants within coffee beans also have anti-aging properties and may help the skin to look healthier, also preventing early wrinkles.

12. It is also not recommended to consume green coffee bean extract whilst pregnant, or for those who suffer with anxiety.

13. To learn more about natural remedies and healthy foods, please see our other videos. 

Dinosaurs of China in Nottingham: part 2 - Feathered Flyers

While the reconstructed skeletons of big scaly beasts dominate the main downstairs area of Dinosaurs of China, the real treasures are upstairs, where far more delicate, intricately preserved and altogether fluffy animals await. While some of our scientist readers will have seen these in person before, DoC is a unique opportunity for us mere laypeople to get up close to feathered beauties from China. And yes, many of them are originals, including Stripy Longtail here!

Notice the fish, bottom left.

This specimen, referred to Sinosauropteryx, represents an animal preserved in absolutely stunning detail; near-as-damnit complete, articulated and with soft tissue and integumentary outlines all over the place. Before this, the only remotely comparable specimen that I'd seen up close was the Berlin Archaeopteryx, which is revered enough to have a whole (small) room to itself. Dinosaurs of China is host to a number of original specimens like this, each one worth the price of entry alone as far as I'm concerned.


As I mentioned previously, the exhibition is intended to take visitors on a journey from Ground Shakers (the 'classic' dinosaurs) to Feathered Flyers. After walking through the museum's regular taxidermy bird gallery - now host to an iffy Oviraptor skeleton and another, much cooler non-avian dinosaur that I'll get to later - one must ascend a suitably grand staircase to enter the Realm of the Birdosaurs. When compared with the main hall, it's a fairly unassuming space, but the alarmingly large Gigantoraptor mount at its centre more than makes up for any lack of architectural grandeur.


It's impressive and startling, in the way that only an absurdly overblown Cretaceous turkey-saur brandishing an alarming set of claws could be; but it's 'just' a cast, of course. Not to worry, though - if it's a real oviraptorosaur* that you're after, DoC is happy to oblige.


It may be missing a head, but the Caudipteryx on show at the exhibition is extremely impressive all the same. Note the feathers and possible gastroliths, but also the extraordinary fidelity of the preservation. The arms look like they could've been torn from Jack Horner's genetically modified roast chicken. I was continually astonished by the claws; on both the original specimens and the better casts, they were inevitably much longer and tapered to a much finer point than I expected. Couple that with a keratinous sheath, and there's a good chance that many artists are understating the claws on their paravian dinosaurs.


Caudipteryx is lovely and all, but the real star of the show must surely be the Microraptor gui holotype, a breathtakingly complete specimen preserved in endlessly fascinating detail. Rearing sauropod spectaculars are fine, but nothing at DoC captures the imagination quite like this.


Again, the delicate, intricate details in this specimen are absolutely incredible. The skull has suffered somewhat from being smooshed, but the rest of the body is laid out like a skeletal diagram, or that daft dromaeosaur skeleton that's being dusted off at the beginning of Jurassic Park. It seems almost too good to be true. Natee and I could have stood there and pored over this one for hours, but we had to let other people have a peek!


In case you were wondering, DoC does indeed tackle the "Archaeoraptor" hoax, and presents it alongside a real specimen of Yanornis (above). It's wonderful to be able to compare this toothed bird with Microraptor, a contemporary, or at least near-contemporary.


Another notable bird on display is Confuciusornis, an original specimen complete with clawed hands and two very long tail feathers, the likes of which you'd never know where there had you only skeletons to work with. Confuciusornis was toothless but less well adapted for flight than Yanornis, which just goes to show that the evolution of birds was a bloody confusing mess (although that is how evolution tends to work; we humans just want it to be a neat and linear march of progress as we're often engineers at heart).


The original specimens are complimented by a number of truly excellent casts, sometimes virtually indistinguishable from the originals. I'd never seen the remains of Sinornithosaurus (above) up close before - the specimen used for this cast is quite jumbled, but in such cases there's always nearby signage to help you out. (In fact, the signage throughout this section continues to be excellent, especially as it always explains which specimens are casts, and which are originals.) I was especially struck by how Velociraptor-like its skull was, at least superficially, and once again the wicked-looking, pin-sharp claws on its hands.


Additional casts include Dilong (above - always great to see an early tyrannosauroid) and weirdo Epidexipteryx (below). Again, it's a superb cast, and while I haven't seen the original, it's hard to imagine that much detail has been lost.


Out on the balcony, overlooking the Mamenchisaurus (and being overlooked by its tiny towering head), visitors will find an amazing Protopteryx cast. Again, those hand claws are endlessly fascinating to me for some reason. Perhaps it's because it's so rare for one to imagine Cretaceous non-avian dinosaurs at this scale. There's also an inevitable tendency for pop culture renditions of small, feathered dinosaurs to become cutesy and non-threatening, when in reality their rapacious tendencies probably made them the tiny terrors of whatever they could get into their needling clutches.


Oh yes, and for all you Mark Wittons and David Unwins out there, there's the cast of a pterosaur, Wukongopterus. Positioned alongside so many paravian dinosaurs, the skeletal differences are thrown into stark relief, which is a Good Thing; of course, the signage still makes the point very clear.


Neaby is a 3D print of Yi qi, which is a cool thing for the exhibition to have, but suffers from being a rather poor quality reproduction - it's conspicuously lacking in detail and false-looking when compared with the far superior casts elsewhere in the exhibition. Still, it's more than made up for by...


...an incredible 3D printed Mei long! It's the aforementioned 'much cooler non-avian dinosaur' in the bird gallery. Along with the slightly duff oviraptorosaur, the intention is to draw parallels between the behaviours of modern birds and their extinct theropod cousins. There's something quite magical about Mei; a frozen moment of theropod behaviour, preserved in three dimensions. This 3D print is a remarkable achievement. It's worth mentioning that the regular (and by now, quite historic) bird dioramas at Wollaton Hall are also excellent, and have recently undergone a little refurbishment. Even if you miss DoC, there's a wealth of natural history material here, and more to come in the near future.


And finally...here's the Mamenchisaurus' dopey face, as captured by Natee. If you have the chance, please do go and check out Dinosaurs of China - it's inexpensive, host to some amazing specimens that are rarely seen outside of China, and represents an enormous effort by people truly enthusiastic about educating the people (and even their parents) on the wonders of palaeontology in the 21st Century.

Byeeee! Photo by Natee.

*Your phylogeny may vary

Dinosaurs of China in Nottingham: part 1 - Ground Shakers

Have you ever wandered among the imposing corridors and grand halls of an historical stately home and thought about how much they could be improved by the addition of dinosaur skeletons? Then boy, do I have an exhibition for you. But more importantly, it's a showcase of numerous impressive skeletal mounts of Chinese dinosaurs, many never seen before outside their native country, along with an array of breathtaking original specimens. Dinosaurs of China is a huge coup for an obscure museum, a wonderful achievement of international co-operation, and a unique opportunity for British dinosaur enthusiasts - and Natee and I were fortunate enough to tour with curator Adam Smith.




Adam works as a curator at the natural history museum based in Wollaton Hall, a 16th Century manor house a short distance from Nottingham city centre. He's also a palaeontologist (specialising in marine reptiles) and set up the Dinosaur Toy Blog and corresponding forum, which is how I ended up meeting him originally. He's justifiably proud of this exhibition, having had a hand in pretty much every aspect of it, and was keen to explain all the careful thought that went into what we were seeing.

Rare photo of Adam in casual garb
Subtitled 'Ground Shakers to Feathered Flyers', the idea is to lead the visitor from a 'traditional' (read: expected) display of large, impressive skeletal mounts in spectacular surroundings, on to a more low-key exhibition of some of the most beautiful (real) fossil feathered dinosaurs found in China in the last few decades. Visitors enter via a side entrance, and must walk up a fairly nondescript corridor and staircase into the main hall, where the space instantly opens out and they are greeted by a stunning rearing Mamenchisaurus, in addition to a beautiful wall-filling artwork by Zhao Chuang. It's an effective way of immediately grabbing a visitor's attention. You won't see a Mamenchisaurus posed in front of a fanned-out array of guns anywhere else...


The large skeletal mounts were provided by the IVPP, and the casts do vary somewhat in quality. One of the best is a lovely Sinraptor, posed almost as if cowering or skulking around the rearing sauropod. Although space can be tight in Wollaton Hall (it wasn't designed to be a museum, after all), it's still possible to view the skeletons from multiple angles and take photos largely unimpeded by barriers. Adam mentioned this as being quite deliberate. The accompanying signage strikes a perfect compromise between relaying the necessary information, and not overwhelming the more casual visitor; I overheard a number of actual parents relaying information that they'd read on the signs quite accurately to their children, which is more than I can say of many museums I've visited.


While one might expect a heavy emphasis on 'birds as dinosaurs' in the floof-o-saurs section, the link is made throughout the exhibition. Consequently, a Guanlong mount is presented next to an ostrich from the museum's collections. The skull on the Guanlong is notably peculiar, with the orbit and temporal fenestra seemingly being combined; it may be a result of the original being crushed and distorted, but it's a little strange that it wasn't 'fixed' for a mount like this. Still, it's a treat to finally see a mount of this tyrannosauroid, which is seldom seen outside of China.


Behind Guanlong, and utterly dwarfed by its much larger, later relative, stands Lufengosaurus. The forelimbs are rather strangely mounted, but this is otherwise a pleasingly modern, horizontal, but bipedal take on the animal. A nearby display explains the history of its discovery and classification; the palaeontologist who described it, Yang Zhongjian, was tutored by Friedrich von Huene in a lovely early example of palaeontological East meets West. His contemporary reconstruction of the animal, much like Von Huene's of Plateosaurus, is strikingly forward-thinking and has held up incredibly well.


There's a Protoceratops in the main hall too because, hey, you've got to have Protoceratops. I've seen plenty of excellent Protoceratops casts, including those used in Dinosaurs: Monster Families, so it's very strange that this one is so poor. In particular, the head looks like a sub-par sculpted copy, and is really lacking in detail. I think the wee fellow slapped on too much foundation.


But that hardly matters when, in a case immediately adjacent, you have an original juvenile Pinacosaurus fossil, with a beautifully preserved skull. Perhaps more important even than being a gorgeous genuine specimen, it's quite simply utterly adorable. Bless its petrified spiky chops. As the specimen is still embedded in the matrix, it's surrounded by 'excavation tools' in typical natural history musem stylee. They're from Adam's cupboard, by the way.



Coming up next: a trip upstairs to see the feathered flyers! (And gliders. And freakishly big, long-armed, pin-headed monstrosities.)

Book Review: Dinosaur Empire

Cover art for Abby Howard's 'Dinosaur Empire' book

The gradual shifting of popular visions of prehistoric life has been a theme of this blog almost since the start. Looking at how old, mid-century or earlier ideas stick around longer than scientific consensus would dictate is fun, but one thing that's been rewarding has been watching in real time as the world embraces modern paleontology's increasingly nuanced and diverse view of dinosaurs.

Another cobblestone in that road has been placed with Abby Howard's wonderful Dinosaur Empire, now available from Amulet Books. Told in comic form, Howard takes the reader on a thorough tour of the Mesozoic, as a paleo-geek named Ms. Lernin takes a child named Ronnie on a time-travel adventure via the wibbly-wobbly power of "science magic." Anyhow, the book is awesome, and you should buy it, and here are five reasons why.

It embraces current palaeontological knowledge in an approachable way.

It's undeniably fun to get together with fellow paleo-geeks and talk prehistory. But sometimes, many of us will readily admit, talking with folks with only a superficial grasp on ancient life can be taxing. Dinosaur Empire is perfectly aimed at helping everyone understand and appreciate the history of life on Earth, no matter how in the dark they are to start - or what old notions they're holding on to. Howard's art is bright and humorous, her animals stylized but recognizable. Mark Witton recently praised Johan Egerkrans for his balance of stylization and anatomical fidelity, and Howard deserves the same praise.

It's funny.

If you're into Howard's comics Junior Scientist Power Hour or The Last Halloween, you'll be happy to hear that Howard's sense of humor is deployed just as effectively here. Using the form to her advantage, animals get to have humorous little reactions to and interactions with their environment and other animals.

An interior page from Abby Howard's 'Dinosaur Empire,' featuring a collection of pterosaurs.
A page dedicated to pterosaurs from Abby Howard's Dinosaur Empire graphic novel. Image courtesy Abrams Books.

It's about more than T. rex, and goes well beyond dinosaurs.

Howard realizes what any of us who have done education with kids realize: they want to hear the biggest hits, and quick. Her character of Ronnie reminds me of many kids I've met - her first order of business is to get to Tyrannosaurus rex. But Dinosaur Empire begins in the Triassic, and readers are soon introduced to aetosaurs, placodonts, ichthyosaurs, thallatosaurs, pterosaurs, insects, and more. Smok wawelski gets a page to itself. Eocaecilia, Castorocauda, Fruitachampsa, Morganucodon, Anatosuchus, Ocepechelon... they're in here. There's a page geeking out about the wonderful and gruesome world of parasitic wasps - in fact, where some books might include stinkin' arthropods as an aside, Howard returns to them multiple times. I was delighted to see how deep Howard went with her cast of critters - and just for good measure, she includes a brief appendix highlighting a collection of animals she couldn't fit in to the main story! I'm writing this with a big silly grin on my face in a tastefully decorated, quiet coffee shop, and I don't care what the other patrons think.

It's a heck of a lot more than just a simple roster of animals.

It's clear that Howard wanted to not only feature the amazing creatures of the past but put them into their context in time and in their environments. IMHO, she totally succeeds, taking the time to explain some foundational concepts of anatomy, evolution, phylogeny, and geology. She talks about protofuzz, pycnofibers, feathers, scales.

An interior page of Abby Howard's 'Dinosaur Empire' featuring a collection of triassic animals.
A page from the Triassic section of Abby Howard's Dinosaur Empire graphic novel. Image courtesy Abrams Books.

Abby Howard's love of prehistoric life is obvious.

Howard's animals are depicted naturalistically. They're nesting, socializing, drinking, feeding, hunting. Shrink-wrapping is markedly absent. Integument is believable, never too over-the-top with color schemes but not avoiding colorful and gaudy display structures, either. It's obvious that Howard wasn't just ticking off a checklist to fit so many of these obscure taxa in the book. She just loves drawing them. And when Ronnie finally gets to see her T. rex, it's a beautiful moment that Howard allows to breathe.

I hope I've made my case. This book deserves to be part of any paleontology book collection. It's perfect for elementary schoolers, but older paleo-geeks will get plenty of joy out of it. Pick it up, and send abundant plaudits Howard's way!

Pumpkin Juice: Benefits and Uses


The health benefits and uses of pumpkin juice, and how to make this yourself at home.

1. Pumpkins are large orange gourds which are often used to make Jack O’lanterns at Halloween. 

Many people do not realise that these large fruits have some excellent health benefits and are used as natural medicine.

2. Pumpkin Juice is excellent for those who have trouble sleeping at night or suffer with insomnia. It contains tryptophan which regulates brain hormones and helps the mind and body to relax.

3. Drinking this tasty juice regularly helps in protecting eyesight, as the carotenoids within are fantastic for vision and eye disorders.

4. These carotenoids also improve your skin complexion, preventing pimples and even lowering the risk of cancer

5. This juice is also a natural remedy for morning sickness in pregnant women, and provides the body with a host of healthy nutrients. It is loaded with vitamins A, C, E and B, also containing minerals such as potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, manganese, sodium and zinc.

6. The vitamin C supports the immune system, protecting the body from invaders and diseases.

7. The effect of the tryptophan also calms those who suffer with anxiety, and also regulates the mood. This has been used to ease depression and cause relaxation.

8. Drinking this also strengthens the blood vessels and helps in clearing our arterial plaque. The potassium treats high blood pressure and boosts blood circulation, making heart problems less likely.

9. Live enzymes within the drink break down food and waste in the digestive system. This boosts kidney and liver performance, and gets rid of toxins which may be causing illnesses and inflammation.

10. Vitamin A found in pumpkins and other live foods is essential during pregnancy for excellent health, and nursing mothers.

11. You can also use this juice on the skin to treat burns and inflammation. The antioxidants make this a fantastic healing agent. 

12. Pumpkins are also used to make pie and soup, however raw pumpkin juice is much healthier as it contains live enzymes which are destroyed in the cooking process.

13. Making fresh juice from pumpkins at home is the healthiest way to reap these wonderful benefits. 

To Make This You Will Need

1 Freshly Harvested Pumpkin

Blender/Juicer

Method:

Peel the outer skin of the pumpkin and discard. Slice the pumpkin into quarters. Remove the seeds and save for later use. Place the pumpkin pulp in a blender or juicer and process. Run the mixture through a sieve to remove the fibres and serve in a glass of ice.

You can also add fresh carrots or apples to improve the flavour and add extra health benefits if you wish.

Be sure to choose a fresh pumpkin, with a firmly attached green stem. 

Drink this once or twice a day to enjoy these wonderful benefits. It’s best to drink this a few hours before sleep if you are using this to treat insomnia.

The seeds of the pumpkin are also very healthy, please see our other video on these to learn more.

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Animals of Yesterday

As regular readers will have noticed, I've received a great many scanned books by e-mail from Charles Leon, all very gratefully received (even the dino sex article). Animals of Yesterday, originally published in 1941 (with this edition arriving in 1966) is mostly a rather run-of-the-mill pre-Renaissance dinosaur book, stocked with the usual Zallingerian swamp beasts. All the same, it does present certain mysteries that I'd love for any readers familiar with museums in Milwaukee to clear up, and moreover it's a book from Charles' personal collection. I feel quite honoured!


The cover illustration is by far the most spectacular and visually arresting of the lot, and is credited to Harold Price. It depicts the sort of murky, green-brown, primordial swamp world so typical of art of the era; the theropod in the foreground sports a vacant expression reminiscent of the pot-bellied beasts that inhabit Zallinger's Age of Reptiles mural. Still, at least there's a lot going on here, with plenty of lush vegetation and a pair of curious temnospondyl-looking fellows inhabiting the lower right. The waves being kicked up as the centre sauropod powers its way through the water succeed in giving an impression of the animal's massive heft. Fans of freaky giraffoid barosaur memes may also wish to note the curious 'neck seam'.


Sadly, the illustrations inside the book aren't credited; they could have been by Price, too, although the style seems somewhat different. The text (by Bertha Morris Parker) starts off as a fairly typical "imagine yourself back in the Jurassic, look! There's a big lizardy fellow! Blimey, it's hot" second-person narrative, but breaks with this (and chronological order) later. The art is competent enough for the most part, with the above Stegosaurus actually being rather good for its era - note the elevated head.


Stegosaurus is followed by Diplodocus (rather than the more typical Bronto), and here it becomes rather apparent that the illustrator unfortunately lacked a decent reference for the head.


Hurr durr. I do like Parker's musing that Diplodocus would have been wonderful for a parade, although "it would hold up the parade, for it would not be able to move at all fast." I'd still take it over one of the frequently stationary vintage diesel buses that were used for Brighton Pride this year. Especially the one that farted a huge black cloud into my face.


Back to Stegosaurus, here attempting to fight off an amazingly limber Allosaurus. The posture of the theropod on the left is quite wonderfully contorted and bizarre, but you've got to love those wicked crocodile smiles. These are your properly old-school, tail-dragging, spindly-fingered lizardy beasts - none of your "my third nephew's a bird" nonsense around here, thanks.

Most intriguing here is the caption next to the beast on the right - "Models Courtesy of Milwaukee Public Museum." Searches for dinosaur models at said museum turn up lots of photos of a huge diorama featuring a rather '80s/early '90s looking T. rex, but nothing quite as old-school as the creatures featured here. I did manage to turn up one photo of a large Stegosaurus model on its way into the museum, but that's about it. If anyone out there is familiar with the models that some of these illustrations were apparently based on, please let me know - I'm very intrigued! (Here's hoping at least some have survived.)


The dinosaurs are followed by rather dull illustrations of marine reptiles and "A Pterodactyl" (how queer it looks!). They're rather lacking in detail when compared with the other pieces, but at least we're treated to a plesiosaur squatting on a rock, looking rather sorry for itself. Rather oddly, neither marine reptile is named; they're simply "Reptiles of the Sea of Long Ago", and their appearance is described in the text. Amusingly, the text implies that ichthyosaurs couldn't have stayed underwater for very long, 'cos they breathe air don't you know. Try telling a whale.


As previously mentioned, the book rather abruptly ditches the second person narrative and general Jurassic setting halfway in, and instead discusses various prehistoric animals from disparate time periods. So here's Dimetrodon, looking rather handsome. It seems this one was also based on a model, and the leap in detail is quite telling - note the carefully shaded musculature and skin folds, especially around the shoulder region. The artist also depicts Dimetrodon with 'lips', which was the norm before 'shrink wrapping' came into vogue, and is a look that artists have returned to in recent years.


The sole full double-page illustation in the book depicts Eryops - described as having three eyes, "one in the middle of its forehead". It's pretty enough, featuring a decent-looking brown and warty one. When compared with the rest of the book, it emphasises how much a fully-realised scene (with plants, varied terrain etc.) can capture the imagination - I wish they'd allowed the artist to paint a few more scenes like this.


Archaeopteryx next, never knowingly caught with its wings neatly folded. I have a feeling that the one on the left is based on an older piece by a different artist, an impression bolstered by the fact that the feathers are attached more-or-less correctly to the hand, unlike the more typical "wings...but with hands!" version on the right.


And here are some mammoths, reproduced in 1/40 scale. There's a lovely painterly quality to their hair, but in the end, who cares for mammoths? They're just elephants dressed for winter. Boring. Boring mammoths. Total losers. SAD.


And finally...the obligatory timescale, helping the reader grasp the vastness of gelogical time! Except...it's lacking dates. When DID the red bar turn into the yellow bar? How long ago? I must know! At least we get a nice illustration of Triceratops and a rather bony-looking Rexy having a chat, while a mammoth strolls nonchalantly away from a bear. Also some trilobites and stuff. Neat.

Coming up next: I'm off to see Dinosaurs of China in Nottingham! At last.