Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Story of Lori

The origin of birds has always been a dicey subject. If you define "bird" as the clade including Archaeopteryx and modern species, as most paleonotolgists currently do, then the Late Jurassic Archaeopteryx ("Archie"--all the really cool and/or important fossils need a good nickname!) has always been the first bird, and because of the definition, probably always will be unless some of it's very close cousins are ever unearthed. The problem is that the closest supposed relatives of birds, the deinonychosaurs ("raptors" and relatives) should naturally pre-date Archie, if they're generally ancestral to it. Unfortunately, fossils from this group come almost exclusively from the Cretaceous period, well after Archie went extinct. The dwindling bird-are-not-dinosaurs crowd (BANDits) has historically seized on this as an attempted "gotcha" to rational human beings. After all, if birds evolved from dinosaurs, how come all the bird-like dinosaurs lived after the first birds?

It's true that the fossil record of pre-Archie maniraptorans is pretty slim, but paleontologists infer they must exist based on ghost lineages (see previous post on this topic). In that previous post, I mentioned the case of "Lori", the pre-publication nickname Scott Hartman has given to his (wait for it) Late Jurassic troodontid! Found in the Morrison Formation (not exactly known for its small dinosaur preservation, its more of an 8-foot vertebrae kinda spot), Lori would have lived at roughly the same time as Archaeopteryx, not early enough to be ancestral, but still enough to shoot down the old ghost lineage problem pretty thoroughly.

Scott (pic at right) first started discussing this find in more private venues like Gondolend, but it's safe to say the goss has spread far and wide in the years since then. He's provided some of us with an exclusive sneak peak at his own skeletals (he's pretty much a skeletal illustration guru, check out his awesome Web site), but the years have gone by and Lori has still not seen print nor a proper name.

Well, inside sources have sent the goss stunning evidence that a name has indeed been chosen, and possibly, that an official publication is getting close (it appears to be a cladogram for the paper, with the old Lori skeletal clearly labelled with its shiny new genus name). Far be it from me to leak the name pre-pub and risk creating sticky nomen nudum situations (I'm sure Scott doesn't envy Jim Jensen), but rest assured it preserves a traditional troodontid naming convention, as well as bearing some similarity to a recent dromaeosaurid name.

I wanted to post some of the great reconstructions of Lori that have already been produced and shared by members of the private boards where it's a well-known subject, but I can't seem to find any online. Scott is a pretty active member of these communities so it's only natural people are showing his find a little more discretion than would be normal for exciting, unpublished dinosaurs. I feel the same way, so the censored clipping of my source is all you're getting out of me. I'm sure a 3-year backlog of killer illustrations will appear out of the woodwork once it's officially published (didn't we even do a Lori draw-off at some point?) so as Tom Holtz would say, W4TP...

(pic above right: Jim Jensen with his Ultrasauros. He probably would have preferred to use a 'u' at the end there instead of an 'o', but the goss got a little out of hand).

5 comments:

  1. We did..with variable success. I think it was the last attempt to do a "draw off", but it never got quite of the ground unfortunately. :( Did you see this cladogram at a presentation of some sort?

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  2. That sounds about right, I remember doing a prelim sketch but nothing ever became of it. Might have to revisit the subject.

    And I can't disclose my sources but no, not a presentation :)

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  3. Hesperonychosaurus?

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  4. Can't find any online? How about this? http://www.flickr.com/photos/keesey/511828645/in/set-72157600607422987

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  5. Lol...nicely played. And a paper IS getting close...

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