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Some Quickie Drawings of Late Triassic Life

Hi everybody. As many of you already know, I occasionally volunteer at the Garvies Point Museum in Nassau County, New York. One day, I decided to hash out some drawings of Late Triassic creatures when I had a few moments of spare time, and I stuck them on the wall over the bulletin board. Recently, I went back to the museum for their annual Native American Feast, and to tell you the truth, I had completely forgotten about these pictures. I decided to take some photos of them while I was there. I’m hoping that the museum staff uses them for coloring activities with the children that visit the museum every week.

Book preview: Illustrations from “The Great Illyrian Revolt”

Hi everybody,

A couple of people have asked me to see a preview of my upcoming history book The Great Illyrian Revolt, which will be released sometime next year in either February or March 2019. While I cannot show any text material yet because the editing process is still going on, I am able to show you the illustrations that I made for this book project. Time contraints prevented me from adding in more.

The first image that you see below is a geographic map of the various mountain ranges and rivers in southeastrn Europe

The next image is a map of southeastern Italy, in the region that is now called Apulia. However, during the BC centuries, this region was inhabited by three Illyrian tribes who were collectively referred to as the Iapygians. These tribes were the Daunians, the Peucetians, and the Messapians.

The third image is of “the Glasinac Warrior”. This was an Illyrian nobleman who lived during the 7th Century BC, and whose grave was discovered in Glasinac, Bosnia. In addition to the skeleton, the grave also contained jewelry, a bronze-handled sword, two spears, a pair of highly-decorated bronze greaves (armor for the lower leg), and what appears to be the remains of a shirt that was affixed with rows of metal studs as an early form of body armor. The material that made up the shirt rotted away, but it was probably leather of some thick fabric. Although a shield was not found in the grave, we know what shields from this time period looked like, so one was portrayed here.

The final image is a representation of an Illyrian noblewoman’s clothing and jewelry, dated somewhere from the 6th to 4th Centuries BC. The illustration is based upon graves and artifacts found at Donja Dolina, Ribić, Zaton, Gorica, Stična, and Opačići. Items include a veil with a decorated metal band, large hoop earrings, circular fibulae, a cloak, a long-sleeved dress with a pleated skirt, a triangle-shaped amber necklace, a wide belt decorated with metal studs, and bronze wrist bangles. Clothing styles are based upon illustrations found in ancient Greek art as well as descriptions of Illyrian clothing found in Greek and Roman literature. Collectively, this is likely what an Illyrian noblewoman of this time period would have dressed herself like. Since the emphasis for this illustration was on her clothing and jewelry, I chose to give the subject a blank mannequin-like face.

Coelurus

This is a little-known theropod from the Morrison Formation named Coelurus. You don’t see Coelurus very often in Jurassic paleo-art, but I think it’s an interesting creature. It had a much thinner build than its Morrison coelurosaurid counterpart, Ornitholestes, and it was also bigger. Ornitholestes measured 6 feet long and scarcely 2 feet tall, while Coelurus measured 8 feet long and 3 feet tall. Note the unusually long metatarsal bones. With its long lanky legs, Coelurus was probably a very good runner. I imagine it having the same ecological niche as a Secretary Bird today on the African Savannah.

There are two images here. The first is an uncolored pencil drawing, and the second is a colored drawing that I made using Prismacolor colored pencils. I don’t like coloring my drawings because it tends to wash out the detail. Black and white is more my “thing”.

 

Dakotaraptor

Hi everybody. Here is my latest Hell Creek paleo-art. Say hello to Dakotaraptor steini, a large dromaeosaurid raptor that lived in South Dakota at the end of the Cretaceous Period. How large? We don’t have an exact measurement because this animal is known only from partial remains. However, enough was recovered to give a ballpark estimate that the creature measured somewhere around 15 to 20 feet long. Not as big as Utahraptor, but still pretty impressive.

Dakotaraptor steini. © Jason R. Abdale. May 26, 2018.

This drawing was made with No. 2 pencil, Crayola and Prismacolor colored pencils, a black felt-tipped marker, and A LOT of touch up work on the computer in order to make the scanned image as bold and vivid as it is in real life.

Lukousaurus: The first “raptor”?

In either the late 1930s or in the year 1940, the front half of a fossilized skull was discovered in Huangchiatien (also called Dahungtien), Yunnan Province, China. It was named and described as Lukousaurus yini by Chung Chien Young in the year 1940 (Young, Chung Chien. “Preliminary notes on the Lufeng vertebrate fossils”. Bulletin of the Geological Society of China, 20 (3-4) (1940). Pages 235-239), and it was described further in 1948 (Young, Chung Chien. “Further notes on Gyposaurus sinensis Young. Bulletin of the Geological Society of China, 28 (1-2) (1948). Pages 91-103). The holotype specimen is housed within the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, which is located in Beijing, China, and it has been given the identification code of “IVPP AS V.23”.

Below is a drawing of the partial skull made by Tracy Ford.

Partial skull of Lukousaurus yini. Illustration by Tracy Ford. From The Dinosaur Society Dinosaur Encyclopedia, written by Don Lessem and Donald F. Glut. New York: Random House, Inc., 1993. Page 279. Image used with permission.

Lukousaurus lived during the early Jurassic Period, approximately 195 million years ago (MYA). Based upon the size of its remains, which consist only of the front half of its skull, it may have been six to eight feet long.

Some may cite Lukousaurus for its old age, but what grabbed my attention was when I read that the teeth had serrations only on the back edge. I had been told that this is a feature that is only found in the carnivorous dinosaurs commonly called “raptors”, more properly known as Deinonychosauria. This clade is divided into two families: Dromaeosauridae and Troodontidae. According to this source, all dromaeosaurids had teeth which were serrated only along the posterior (back) edge, and some troodontids had this feature as well. Although all raptor dinosaurs are found during the Cretaceous Period, paleontologists have hypothesized for years, based upon phylogenic analysis, that the ancestor of the raptors appeared millions of years earlier during the Jurassic Period. It may well be that Lukousaurus is that ancestor. Could it be that Lukousaurus is the oldest-known “raptor”?

Unfortunately, the information which I had read concerning raptor tooth serrations was later shown to be incorrect. I proposed this idea of Lukousaurus being a basal raptor on an online paleontology forum. In response, I was contacted by Jim Kirkland, a well-known paleontologist from Utah, who corrected me by saying that Deinonychosaurians actually DO have serrations on both the front and back edges of their teeth, but their anterior (front) serrations are much smaller than the posterior (back) serrations. In fact, in many specimens, the front serrations are so small that they are practically non-existent – you need a microscope to see them. This shows the danger of basing a hypothesis upon incorrect information, because this taints your reasoning and your conclusions.

I myself have not seen the actual specimen of Lukousaurus, nor do I know anyone who has. The claim is that Lukousaursus had absolutely no serrations on the front edge of their teeth. However, it was also claimed in another source that raptor dinosaurs didn’t have any serrations on the front edges of their teeth either – a statement that was proven false. Is it true that Lukousaurus had no anterior tooth serrations, or are the serrations so tiny that they cannot be seen with the naked eye?

If it is true that Lukousaurus had absolutely no serrations on the front edges of its teeth and only had serrations on the back edges of its teeth, then this invalidates the hypothesis that it might be a basal Deinonychosaurian, and it must belong to some other dinosaur group, if indeed it is a dinosaur at all; it has been proposed by at least one person that it might, in fact, be a crocodilian. However, what if Lukousaurus possessed teeth that are similar to raptors, with prominent serrations on the posterior edge, and miniscule serrations on the anterior edge, serrations that are so small that they were not noticed? If this is the case, then it is possible that Lukousaurus might, in fact, be a very primitive raptor dinosaur.

Evidence to back up this claim is very thin. But let’s assume for the time being that it is a dinosaur. Is there any evidence which suggests that Lukousaurus might be a member of Deinonychosauria, or perhaps a close relative?

The first piece of evidence to support the hypothesis that Lukousaurus is a very primitive raptor is its age. Paleontologists have speculated that raptors appeared during the Jurassic Period, specifically either the early or middle Jurassic. The reason why is because birds are believed to have been descended from raptors, and the oldest-known birds come from the late Jurassic – therefore, raptors must have appeared earlier. Lukousaurus comes from the early Jurassic.

The second bit of evidence is geographic location. Raptors are believed to have originated in Asia and then spread elsewhere. Lukousaurus comes from China, specifically the Lower Lufeng Formation in Yunnan Province, China. It would have shared the landscape with the prosauropods Gyposaurus, Lufengosaurus, and Yunnanosaurus. It would have also lived alongside the early carnosaur Sinosaurus and the ornithischian Tatisaurus (we’re not sure if it was an ornithopod or an early thyreophoran; it might have looked similar to Scutellosaurus).

The third piece of evidence, which I have already mentioned before, is tooth structure. Lukousaurus’ teeth are very thin and blade-like, and are sharply recurved backwards. What is especially noteworthy is that it is claimed that the teeth have serrations only on the posterior edge. This feature was stated to also be present in raptors, but as I said earlier, this was dis-proven.

This brings about the fourth piece of evidence, although this is subject to intense debate – taxonomy. It has been hypothesized that Lukousaurus was a coelurosaur, and the coelurosaurs were the ancestors of Maniraptora. This clade includes the ornithomimids, the therizinosaurs, the oviraptorosaurs, and the raptors. However, due to the incredibly fragmentary nature of Lukousaurus – it is, after all, known only from one fragmentary snout – its phylogenic position is uncertain. Yes, it has been classified as a coelurosaur, but it has also been classified as a ceratosaur, and even as a crocodilian. So, using taxonomy as evidence is incorrect; it’s more likely an opinion rather than evidence.

Lukousaurus might be an early raptor, but personally, I think it is an advanced coelurosaur which shows the beginning of raptor-like traits. This would make Lukousaurus a borderline coelurosaur-maniraptoran. Until more material from this particular species is uncovered, any assertions made as to which clade this creature belongs to will always be tinged with uncertainty.

Sources:

Caenagnathus, or Chirostenotes, or…um…something…

During the early 1920s, Charles W. Gilmore, a paleontologist from the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, was prospecting for fossils in Alberta, Canada. While on this trip, he would discover several new species of dinosaurs, including a strange creature known only from a pair of incomplete hands. These hands had long slender fingers, which was highly unusual for theropods known at the time. He officially named and described them as Chirostenotes pergracilis in 1924.

The hands of Chirostenotes pergracilis. Illustration by Tracy Ford. From The Dinosaur Society Dinosaur Encyclopedia, written by Don Lessem and Donald F. Glut. New York: Random House, Inc., 1993. Page 109. Image used with permission.

Chirostenotes was originally believed to be a member of the family Elmisauridae. This is an enigmatic group of dinosaurs, whose members consist of only one genus, Elmisaurus. This animal lived in Mongolia during the late Cretaceous Period about 80 MYA, and the only evidence that we have of its existence is one incomplete foot and a hand found in 1970. Scientists recognized that the hands of Chirostenotes and Elmisaurus looked similar, and so Chirostenotes was placed into that family. By 1990, Elmisauridae was recognized as an invalid family name, and it was discarded.

Chirostenotes is now classified as a member of the family Caenagnathidae, named after the genus Caenagnathus, which might actually be the same animal as Chirostenotes (as early as 1990, scientists suspected that these two might actually be the same animal). The caenagnathids were a group of bird-like theropod dinosaurs who belonged to a much larger group called the oviraptorosaurs, who are well-known from Asia. Their presence in North America only adds further proof to a faunal exchange between Asia and North America. Caenagnathids are distinguished from oviraptorids by their feet, which look more like those of the ornithomimids, more commonly-known as “ostrich dinosaurs”. This suggests that the oviraptorosaurs evolved from the ornithomimids. According to current phylogenic analysis, the ornithomimids are more primitive than the oviraptorosaurs, so this hypothesis might be plausible.

The lower jaw of Caenagnathus collinsi, with a hypothetical upper jaw. Illustration by Tracy Ford. From The Dinosaur Society Dinosaur Encyclopedia, written by Don Lessem and Donald F. Glut. New York: Random House, Inc., 1993. Page 79. Image used with permission.

Because Caenagnathus and Chirostenotes are known from incomplete specimens, nobody can make up their minds as to whether or not they’re two separate genera or if they’re the same animal. Some paleontologists firmly believe the former, while others firmly believe the latter. Because of their incompleteness, we are also not 100% sure what the animal looked like. It’s reasonably certain that it bore a strong resemblance to Oviraptor, Citipati, or Anzu, but any recreation of what the entire animal looked like is guesswork. During the 1980s and 1990s, there were a wide range of images crafted by various paleo-artists which took a stab at what the whole animal would look like if it were fleshed out. Ever since the discovery of Anzu, which is both the largest and most well-known caenagnathid, the diversity of images has largely disappeared. Now, modern depictions of both Caenagnathus and Chirostenotes, if you can find them, are really nothing more than clone copies of Anzu, which I disagree with not only as a paleontology buff but also as an artist.

Below is my own rendition of what I think Caenagnathus, or possibly Chirostenotes, or both, would have looked like. Since no complete skull of either species has been found, the design for the head is based upon a hypothetical skull drawing made by Tracy Ford. My drawing was made on printer paper with No. 2 pencil, Crayola and Prismacolor colored pencils, and a black felt-tipped marker. Since my scanner has a tendency to wash out a lot of the detailing, I had to do a bit of touching-up on my computer to replicate how the image looks in real life. Hope you enjoy, and keep your pencils sharp.

Caenagnathus collinsi. © Jason R. Abdale. May 11, 2018.

UPDATE: In the year 2020, a research paper was published by Gregory F. Funston and Philip Currie which stated that new fossils of Chirostenotes had been discovered in Alberta, Canada. These fossils were distinct enough from those of Caenagnathus to support the idea that Caenagnathus and Chirostenotes ought to be considered as two separate genera.

For more information, please look at the following sources:

  • Funston, Gregory F.; Currie, Philip J. “New material of Chirostenotes pergracilis (Theropoda, Oviraptorosauria) from the Campanian Dinosaur Park Formation of Alberta, Canada”.  Historical Biology: An International Journal of Paleobiology (February 2020). DOI: 10.1080/08912963.2020.1726908. Published online.
  • Funston, Gregory (July 27, 2020). “Caenagnathids of the Dinosaur Park Formation (Campanian) of Alberta, Canada: anatomy, osteohistology, taxonomy, and evolution”. Vertebrate Anatomy Morphology Paleontology, volume 8 (1): Pages 105-153. https://journals.library.ualberta.ca/vamp/index.php/VAMP/article/view/29362.
  • Greg Funston Paleontology. “The Caenagnathids of Dinosaur Park” by Gregory F. Funston (July 27, 2020). https://gregfunston.com/2020/07/27/the-caenagnathids-of-dinosaur-park/

 

Habrosaurus, a Late Cretaceous siren amphibian from the Hell Creek Formation

The Hell Creek Formation of the north-central United States is famous for its dinosaur fossils, notably those of Tyrannosaurus, Triceratops, and others whose names are well-known to children and adults. However, this fossilized environment was home to more than just dinosaurs. The Hell Creek Formation was home to a wide range of fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. One of the animals that called this landscape home during the late Cretaceous was Habrosaurus.

Despite its name, Habrosaurus was not a dinosaur, and it wasn’t even a reptile. It was, in fact, an amphibian, and a large one at that. Habrosaurus dilatus was a three-foot long siren, a type of salamander that bears more of a resemblance to an eel than the lizard-like forms that we associate salamanders with. Unlike most salamanders, sirens are fully-aquatic amphibians that retain gills throughout their whole lives, unlike other amphibian species that possess gills only in the early development stages of their lives. Sirens also possess small rudimentary lungs, and are able to breath air. There are four species of sirens that are alive today, and all of them are found within North America. Depending upon the species, they can have one to three gill slits on each side of the head. They have completely lost their hind limbs, and their front limbs have shrunk considerably, with three or four short stubby fingers on each hand. Sirens have tiny eyes and no eyelids, and possess a long tail reminiscent of an eel or a sea snake – ideal for swimming. Sirens prefer to live in slow-moving or static bodies of water with lots of underwater vegetation and muddy bottoms. They might occasionally come onto land during the night if the ground is wet or if it’s raining.

Habrosaurus is, to date, the oldest-known siren genus. So far, there are two species known: H. prodilatus, which was found in Alberta, Canada in rocks dating to the Campanian Phase (83-70 MYA) of the late Cretaceous, and H. dilatus, which is much more widespread in the western United States, being found in Montana and Wyoming (with more specimens being found in Wyoming) and dating to the Maastrichtian Stage (70-65 MYA) of the late Cretaceous, as well as being found in the early Paleocene Epoch of the Tertiary Period. This means that H. dilatus was one of several species to survive the K-T Extinction, if only for a short while. It may be possible that H. dilatus is simply the evolved form of H. prodilatus.

Habrosaurus dilatus was named by the eminent paleontologist Charles W. Gilmore in 1928. To my knowledge, six specimens have been found of this animal, and all of them have been found in stream channel deposits. The presence of this type of animal, as well as its impressive size of three feet in length, indicates the presence of large bodies of fresh water, such as slow-moving rivers or ponds. However, the possibility of a dry year was ever-present, and for a fully-aquatic or mostly-aquatic animal like Habrosaurus, that could spell doom. During dry periods or droughts, modern-day sirens are able to dig burrows into the mud and encase themselves in a cocoon, like a lungfish, and Habrosaurus might have adopted the same strategy.

Habrosaurus had rows of blunt teeth arranged in the roof of its upper jaw, which indicates that these jaws were designed for crushing rather than grabbing. Presumably, it fed upon tiny mollusks and arthropods, such as snails and shrimp. Modern-day sirens feed mainly upon worms, aquatic snails, shrimp, and occasionally algae. Like fish, sirens possess lateral lines to find prey by indicating differences in water pressure and underwater vibrations.

An appropriate modern-day analog for the three-foot long Habrosaurus dilatus is the Greater Siren (Siren lacertina), which also grows to three feet long and is the largest siren species in the world today.

Below is a simple drawing of a Habrosaurus that I made with a felt-tipped marker. This style is a considerable departure from my usual style of highly-detailed pencil drawings, but I wanted to do some artistic experimenting.

Megalneusaurus, Before and After

Back in 2013, I posted a picture of the 25 foot long pliosaur known as Megalneusaurus, which swam in a shallow sea that once covered the central part of North America during the middle and late Jurassic Period. The illustration that I put up was based heavily upon a skeletal drawing of Liopleurodon, it had hardly any detail, and the skull was shockingly shrink-wrapped. Not my best work.

I’m happy to say that I have recently done a revised drawing of this 25-foot long marine reptile, and I think that it’s a substantial improvement over the earlier illustration. Here is the “new and improved” version…

This drawing was made in 1/20 scale with No. 2 and No. 3 pencils on roll paper, with some touch-up tweaking on my computer. From the tip of its nose to the tip of its tail, this animal measures 15 inches long, which would make it 25 feet long in real life. As for the fish swimming around it for protection, they’re just generic fish, I suppose. I tried to find images of fish fossils from the Sundance Sea, but I couldn’t find anything worthwhile.

Hope you enjoy it. Please like and comment.

Ornithomimus, Before and After

Hello all. I’ve recently finished an important writing project that I’ve been laboring upon for months. Now that it’s finished, I have a little breathing room to do art, and this is what I’ve done so far. I decided to do an updated version of an old illustration that I had made of an Ornithomimus. While the general color scheme was what I had in mind, I was never truly happy with the end-product. This latest version is much more in line with what I was imagining the “Bird Mimic” would look like.

Here is the “before” picture, made in 2013.

 

And here is the “after”, made today.

 

You’ll notice several differences right away, the most noteable of them being the re-shaping of its wing feathers. While Ornithomimus, or perhaps ornithomimids in general, had pennaceous feathers, I don’t think that they had primaries, because those would have been attached onto the wrist and the hand. This would have been difficult for ornithomimids because, unlike “raptor” dinosaurs (dromaeosaurids and troodontids), ornithomimids could not flex their hands backwards. I also increased the size of its tail feathers, made the neck thicker, changed the shape of the skull so that it was more anatomically accurate, and added Secretary Bird-style feathers to the back of its head. So much for form. In terms of color, I made it more vibrant, with deeper richer yellows and oranges and a lot more black patches. I changed the color of its bare skin from pink to a mixture of tan and black. I made its beak black, I changed its eye from yellow to blood red, and gave it black feet.

I can definitely see this character rushing about on the plains of the Hell Creek Formation. This shows that artists should never be stagnant. They must always strive to improve their work, and in so doing, improve their skill.

This drawing was made on computer printer paper with a No. 2 pencil, Prismacolor colored pencils, markers, and a black felt-tiped pen. The size of the drawing, from the tip of its nose to the tip of its tail feathers, measures 10.75 inches long, which is almost 1/12 scale, as the real animal possibly measured 12 feet long with its neck and tail fully stretched out.

Keep your pencils sharp.