Friday, May 30, 2014

Documentary Review: Flying Monsters 3D

I must admit to being as guilty as pop culture is in terms of pterosaurs. Pterosaurs have always played second fiddle to the dinosaurs. When they’re not actually mislabeled as dinosaurs themselves, they’re often passed over as inferior prototypes to avian dinosaurs.  Pterosaurs often seem to be token bit players in the world of dinosaurs-Pteranodon and Pterodactylus have an ocean and nearly 100 million years between them, but they’re synonymized in the public eye.
That’s why I was glad to finally see a pterosaur documentary. In 2011, this documentary, called Flying Monsters, hit IMAX screens in 3D. Despite the relatively short running time, this film was ambitious-David Attenborough was the host, pterosaur evolution and biomechanics was the focus, and CGI was used extensively. Does it do pterosaurs justice? Well, that’s what I’m going to talk about now.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Paleontology Week in Review: 5/24/14

This week, starting every Saturday, I’ll do a paleontology week in review. I’ll go over new discoveries, recommend articles on them, and give my perspective on it.
First up is Leinkupal laticauda, discovered by a team led by Palbo Gallina of the Universidad Maimoides, who has a right to be cocky about his find.  Leinkupal, like most dinosaur finds, is sadly incomplete, mostly vertebrae. However, the vertebrae indicate a small (30 foot) sauropod, and a unique one at that.  This is because the vertebrae are unmistakably, distinctly diplodocid. Diplodocids were long-snouted,  whip-tailed sauropods that reached their heyday in the Late Jurassic with their banner species: the legendary Apatosaurus, the famous Diplodocus, Barosaurus, African Tornieria, Portuguese Dinheirosaurus, and the gigantic Supersaurus among them. Like their stegosaur compatriots, they went into a sudden extinction at the end of the Jurassic. As the stegosaurs were replaced by ankylosaurs, diplodocids were replaced by the titanosaurs, broad-toothed, box-headed sauropods that conquered every continent and lasted until the end of the Cretaceous.
What makes Leinkupal unique is its being in the Bajada Colorado Formation, about 133 million years ago. It’s been 12 million years after the Jurassic extinction, and no diplodocids have been found in the Cretaceous until now.  It’s a survivor, and survivor species are fascinating. What allowed them to survive? What kind of environment did it have? What were the other species? Unfortunately, little is known on this formation and so we don’t know, but it’s a great discovery and I hope Gallina et all will find more about this unique animal.
Here’s the paper:

The other news is even bigger, but also a South American sauropod. I was talking about Titanosaurs earlier, and they include the giant sauropods Paralititan, Antarctosaurus, Puertasaurus, and Argentinasaurus.  This team includes Drs. Diego Po, Pablo Puerta and Jose Luis Carballido from the Museo Paleontologico Egidio Feruglio.  They announced that seven specimens were found, with the huge bones being excavated for the past three years and will continue for a long time in the future.  The animals are estimated to be up to 130 feet long, larger than any other sauropods found.  Matt Wedel used a femur to calculate one specimen to be the size of the current record holder for largest dinosaur, Argentinasaurus, while other experts argue for a larger size. Regardless, this is a close relative of the giant Puertasaurus and Argentinasaurus, and in the same titanic size range.

Here are two good articles on the find
The formation is not reported in most of the press releases, but the location-Chubut, and the report of Tyrannotitan teeth, suggest the animal is from the Cerro Barcino formation. The environment, according to earlier finds, was a dry plain, so dry that the resident crocodile predator Barcinosuchus seemed to be specialize in terrestrial prey. Other dinosaurs include the giant predatory carnosaur Tyrannotitan, the smaller ceratosaur (perhaps the last non-abeliosaurid) Genyodectes, and the smaller titanosaurus Chubutisaurus.    I hope to soon make an article on the succession of South American formations, but it preceded the other giants Argentinasaurus, Antarctosaurus, and Puertasaurus the same way Tyrannotitan preceded Giganotosaurus, Mapusaurus, Aerosteon and Orkoraptor.

Sadly, there's been no paper and no name given to this new giant, but I'll give you updates as they come up in the news! Right now we can just cheer on Carbadillo and company and wish them the best of luck on this amazing discovery.

That’s all the news for this week , and I’ll see you the next Saturday if anything comes up!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Documentary Review: Walking With Dinosaurs-the Ballad of Big Al

In December I reviewed the sequel to the BBC’s smash hit Walking With Dinosaurs, Walking With Beasts. However, this wasn’t the only 2001 followup. It’s a sign of the original series’ success that they not only made a sequel, but also made a spinoff around the same time. This was not a complete series, however, but a single episode explicitly based on a specific fossil. It has the same opening sequence as the rest of the series, and follows the same format. The name of this special, however, is much less dramatic, despite the story being as grim and violent as the other stories in the series: The Ballad of Big Al.