Monday, August 30, 2010

Balaur's Gate

Ok, I know everyone and their moms is going to be posting on this but, as many of you have noted, I'm heavily biased towards maniraptorans and this is one of the coolest of the decade.

Hyperbolic Jurassic Park fanboys, meet Balaur bondoc, the dromaeosaurid with not one, but two sickle claws on each foot.

Above: Boom. From NatGeo.

Note that the two sickle claws are on digits one and two, and digit one is essentially anti-retroverted, pointing forwards as in therizinosaurs. Balaur also has a lot of fusion in the hand, with digit two and three fused together and digit 3 reduced, as in caudipterids. Balaur lived on the island of Hateg in Maastrichtian (latest Cretaceous) Transylvania, a location known for its insular dwarfism among herbivorous dinosaurs, including the dwarf sauropod Magyarosaurus and dwarf hadrosaur Telmatosaurus. While Balaur is about the size of the larger contemporary dromaeosaurs at around 2 meters in length, its unique suite of derived skeletal characters also fits into the "island rule," according to Sues in an accompanying write-up to the official paper. While herbivorous forms tend to "shrink" on islands to conserve resources, predators often grow larger to better exploit the dwarf herbivores, relatives of which would be out of their league elsewhere. A good example of this are the famously small, extinct Stegodon dwarf elephants of Flores (or indeed the apparently dwarf humans, Homo floresiensis), and the contemporary giant monitor lizards like the Komodo dragon. However, no teeth of any carnivore larger than Balaur have been found in the Hateg basin deposits. Teeth are usually the most numerous and obvious indicators of the local carnivore population, so Balaur was probably the largest predator in its ecosystem. This would seem to fit with its stocky build and double sickle claw: here was an animal that truly met the popular image of dromaeosaurs grappling with prey larger than themselves. The extra claws and solid build of Balaur would have come in handy when taking down a hadrosaur or sauropod.

You can read more on this find at National Geographic.

Update: It seems like there's some confusion about the name. Tom Holtz on the DML, and some parts of the above NatGeo article, reported it as Baldaur bondac. Others (and other parts of the linked article) use Balaur bondoc. The later is he correct spelling.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Trendsetting: DinoGoss Committed (or possibly Commended)

Just a quick note that the blog over at is featuring DinoGoss among a multitude of far more worthy paleo-blogs, intended to be a list of resources for Paleontology students. I can't say I disagree with any of the selections, and most of these are mandatory subscriptions for anyone interested in paleo.

As you can probably tell, the main impetus for this post was as an excuse to use a picture from Back to the Future II.

While I'm here, and advertising myself, I might as well post a link to my ongoing attempt to put together a "field guide" to the lower Yixian Formation flora and fauna. You can check out the gallery at DeviantArt. And don't be afraid to comment on them, the harsher the anatomical nitpicks, the better!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Triceratops Exists, Learn to Read

Above: "Evil scientists want to kill me!"

By now many of you may have seen the headline on science news sites proclaiming that Triceratops has gone the way of Brontosaurus thanks to Scanella and Horner's new paper which suggests it may have been a sub-adult form of Torosaurus. If you understand the very rudimentary basics of science, you may be thinking, "WTF?"

Unfortunately, it should be clear by now that the vast majority of "science reporters" out there are among the most incompetent people being paid to ostensibly "do" the "job" of "reporting news" "accurately." I've already covered the backstory here. Needless to say, just because Triceratops is a juvenile Torosaurs doesn't mean it no longer exists, and furthermore Torosaurus is the newer name, so the name Triceratops is safe and sound (well, except from the shadowy threat of Agathaumas, but that's a different story). Also, David Orr at the awesome blog Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs has already addressed this failure of journalism and journalistic integrity. So I'll just add a few thoughts because really, this is just getting ridiculous.

You've heard it said before that most mainstream science reporters do not understand any single part of the subjects they're covering, and they can therefore be classed not only as useless, but as actively detrimental to human progress. Let's just accept that and call out a few of these hacks by name, shall we? Here are two articles that came up among the top hits when I typed "''Triceratops''" into Google, and are therefore doing the most damage to intelligence in the English speaking world.

Casey Chan, an apparently illiterate Gizmodo blogger, writes: "Scientists sure enjoy crushing my childhood memory of The Land Before Time (they nixed Brontosaurus a while back). Hopefully they won't delete Triceratops too." Immediately after this is a link to a site explaining why they won't, which Casey either read but did not understand or didn't bother to read at all.

Dan Satherley, 3 News NZ reporter of alarmist half-truths, writes: "It seems however that despite its juvenile status, its popularity with the public means that it'll be Torosaurus that ceases to exist. Horner says Torosaurus specimens will now be considered Triceratops." Yeah. You read right. This directly contradicts the headline. Unlike Casey, above, who is merely a simpleton, Dan read the original report, understood most of it (it's not the fact that Triceratops is popular that it remains valid, it's that it's the older name), and wrote the opposite as a headline in an effort to attract more hits. Classy. This is like beginning a review of the movie Backdraft with the headline "Fire in local theater kills dozens."

I should also mention that DinoGoss is not responsible for any head-desk collision injuries caused by reading the comments in these articles. You've been warned.