Friday, December 25, 2015

Monkey Lizards of the Triassic

Another exciting entry in the "Primer" series (which started with hupehsuchians)! Again, we're tackling a Triassic oddity. There are lots to choose from. Indeed, I sense a theme!

The Late Triassic was an exciting time in the history of life on Earth. Ecosystems were finally in full recovery after the brutal Permio-Triassic Extinction in which life nearly died, and the ancestors of modern groups were becoming established—this is where you find the great-great granddaddies of birds, mammals, and crocodilians. However, even though the world’s food webs and the roles within it were similar to today, the actual composition of those roles was much different. Mother Nature was going through a period of divine inspiration: the predator guild was ruled by large, vicious (distant) relatives of crocodiles—Postosuchus, Carnufex, and Teratosaurus—preyed on their own herbivorous relatives, the armored aetosaurs. These critters looked like a cross between an armadillo and a crocodile, but grubbed around on the ground for plants. The other big role in the herbivore guild went to the dicynodonts, therapsid holdovers from the Permian with tusked, toothless, beaked jaws, some of which grew to be the size of cows.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Secret (Fossil) Origin of the TMNT

Yes, even these Ninja Turtles.

What are turtles?

Everybody knows what turtles are. They're those reptiles that have enormous shells. Most turtles live in freshwater lakes and streams, but others are entirely terrestrial (tortoises) and a few are specialized for a marine life. The upper half of the shell is called the carapace and the "belly" shell is called the plastron. They lay a ton of eggs so that a few of the babies will survive to adulthood. Snapping turtles are really bad-ass and can bite your finger off.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Scansoriopterygid FAQ

Sorry I'm a bit late to this party. You've probably already read Darren Naish's and Jaime Headden's excellent takes on Yi qi, but I'm going to try something a little different. It's a FAQ. Let me know if you like this format or not for covering news.

So I heard there’s a new dinosaur in town!

That's no sauropodomorph...

Indeed there is! It’s a basal tetanurine from Chile named…Chilesaurus. It’s weird because it’s a theropod that has reverse-engineered some sauropodomorph and ornithischian features.

Wait, what? Did it have bat wings?

Oh, you’re talking about Yi qi, from China, also announced in two weeks ago.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Whale Lizards of the Triassic, Part I

How many modern marine reptiles can you name? I count two, broadly speaking: sea turtles and marine iguanas. Back in the Cretaceous, there were a few others. Many of the world’s oceans hosted the deadly mosasaurs, which were essentially marine-adapted monitor lizards. You also had the familiar but puzzling plesiosaurs; with their long necks, tiny heads, and wide rounded bodies, it’s still difficult to determine exactly how they made their living. Also still going strong were the ichthyosaurs—dolphin-shaped marine lizards with huge eyes and a taste for cephalopods. Marine iguanas weren’t a thing yet, but sea turtles were actually more diverse (and bigger) than they are today.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Aquilops in My Hand

Aquilops americanus, by the incomparable Brian Eng.

There's a new basal neoceratopsian in town. It's from Montana's Cloverly Formation, and it's a raccoon-sized critter that is the oldest definitive horned dinosaur in North America: Aquilops americanus, an eagle-faced cutie. It was described by Andy Farke, Desmond Maxwell, Richard Cifelli, and Matthew Wedel. Andy wrote about it at The Integrative Paleontologist, and Matt Wedel has been covering it extensively--as well as public outreach--at SV-POW. Check it all out.