March 1, 2014
Christine Argot of the MNHN, Paris, drew our attention to this wonderful old photo (from here, original caption reproduced below):
I found a different version of what seems to be the same photo (greyscaled, lower resolution, but showing more of the surrounding area) here:
What we have here is a truly bizarre mount of Diplodocus – almost certainly one of the casts of the D. carnegii holotype CM 84 — with perfectly erect, parasagittal hind-limbs, but bizarrely everted elbows.
There are a few mysteries here.
First, where and when was this photo taken? Christine’s email described this as a “picture of a Diplodocus cast taken in St. Petersburg around 1920″, and the caption above seems to confirm that location; but then why is it copyright the Paleontological Museum, Moscow? Since the web-site in question is for a Swedish museum, it’s not forthcoming.
The second photo is from the web-site of the Borisyak Paleontological Institute in Moscow, but that site unfortunately provides no caption. The juxtaposition with two more modern Diplodocus-skeleton photos that are from its own gallery perhaps suggest that the modern mount shown in the more recent photographs is a re-pose of the old mount in the black-and white photo. If so, that might mean that the skeleton was actually in Moscow all along rather than St. Petersburg, or perhaps that it was moved from St. Petersburg to Moscow and remounted there.
Does anyone know? Has anyone out there visited the St. Petersburg museum recently and seen whether there is still a Diplodocus skeleton there? If so, is it still mounted in this bizarre way? Better yet, do you have photos?
The second question of course is why was this posture used? This pose makes no sense for several reasons — one of which is that even if Diplodocus could attain this posture it would only serve to leave the forefeet under the torso in the same position as erect forelimbs would have them. The pose only makes any kind of sense at all if you imagine the animal lowering its torso to drink; but given that it had a flexible six-meter-long neck, that hardly seems necessary.
Of course Diplodocus does have a history of odd postures: because of the completeness of the D. carnegii holotype, it became the subject of the Sauropod Posture Wars between Tornier, Hay and Holland in the early 20th Century. Both Tornier (1909) and Hay (1910) favoured a sprawling posture like that of lizards (see images above and below), and were soundly refuted by Holland
But the Tornier and Hay postures bear no relation to that of the mounted skeleton in the photographs above: they position the forefeet far lateral to the torso, and affect the hindlimbs as well as the forelimbs. So whatever the Russian mount was doing, I don’t think it can have been intended as a representation of the Tornier/Hay hypothesis.
But it gets even weirder. Christine tells me that “I’m aware of [...] the tests that Holland performed on the Russian cast to get rid of the hypothesis suggesting a potential lizard-like posture. So I think that he would have never allowed such a posture for one of the casts he mounted himself.” Now I didn’t know that Holland had executed the mounting of this cast. Assuming that’s right, it makes it even more inexplicable that he would have allowed such a posture.
Or did he?
Christine’s email finishes by asking: “What do you think? do you think that somebody could have come behind Holland to change the position? do you know any colleague or publication who could mention this peculiar cast and comment its posture?”
Can anyone help?
- Hay, Oliver. P. 1910. On the manner of locomotion of the dinosaurs, especially Diplodocus, with remarks on the origin of birds. Proceedings of the Washington Academy of Sciences 12(1):1-25.
- Holland, W. J. 1910. A review of some recent criticisms of the restorations of sauropod dinosaurs existing in the museums of the United States, with special reference to that of Diplodocus carnegiei in the Carnegie museum. American Naturalist 44:259-283.
- Nieuwland, Ilja. 2010. The colossal stranger. Andrew Carnegie and Diplodocus intrude European Culture, 1904–1912. Endeavour 34(2):61-68.
- Tornier, Gustav. 1909. Wie war der Diplodocus carnegii wirklich gebaut? Sitzungsbericht der Gesellschaft naturforschender Freunde zu Berlin 4:193– 209.
February 14, 2014
Last time, we took a very quick look at YPM 1910, a mounted skeleton that is the holotype of Camarasaurus (= “Morosaurus“) lentus, in the dinosaur hall of the Yale Peabody Museum.
Here’s the whole skeleton, in various views. Skip down to the bottom for the science; or just enjoy the derpiness. First, in anterior view:
Here’s a more informative right anterolateral view. As you can see, this little Camarasaurus is in every sense in the shadow of the the much more impressive Apatosaurus (= “Brontosaurus“) excelsus holotype, YPM 1980: click through for the full image:
And here’s the corresponding photo from Lull (1930: figure 1) (see below):
It’s interesting to see such a familiar mount in such unfamiliar surroundings. Judging by the cabinets in the background, YPM 1910 was mounted in what’s now the dinosaur hall at Yale — i.e. it hasn’t moved since the photo was taken. But back then, Brontosaurus hadn’t been mounted, and Zallinger’s mural hadn’t been painted.
If you thought this animal looked dumb from the front, check out this left anterodorsolateral view, taken from the balcony above the hall. The foreshortening of the neck makes Cam look like a particularly dense puppy.
(Once more, click through for the full version of the photo, including the much more impressive Apatosaurus.)
Right lateral view, with Zallinger’s justly famous mural in the background. Note the Diplodocus-type double-beamed chevrons in the tail:
Here’s the justly under-rated posterior view:
And finally, Lull’s left posterolateral photo — taken from a position that can’t now be replicated, due to the inconveniently located Brontosaurus. (The Archelon in the background, which was previously featured on SV-POW!, has been moved to the end of the hall since Lull’s time.
How much of this skeleton is real? Happily, not the skull. We can only hope that the real thing wasn’t quite so troubling. But much of the rest of the skeleton is real bone. To quote Lull (1930:1-3):
In the Yale specimen the entire vertebral column is present from the second or third cervical to the tenth caudal with one or two later caudals. Of the limbs and their girdles there are present the left scapula, right coracoid, both humeri, the left radius and ulna, both ilia, the right pubis and left ischium, and both femora, tibiae and fibulae. One cervical rib is present but no thoracic ribs. The disarticulated sacrum lacked one rib from either side.
(How could Lull have been unsure whether the most anterior preserved cervical was the second or third? C2 in sauropods, as in most animals, is radically different from the subsequent cervicals. He does go on to say that only the centrum of the most anterior vertebra is preserved, but the axis has a distinct anterior central articulation.)
Lull is quite ready to criticise the mount, and notes in particular:
The cervical ribs in the Yale mount are not long enough by half, and the thoracic ribs may be somewhat heavy and their length a little short [...] both carpus and tarsus are probably incorrect, as the elements in each instance are fewer than shown, there being no more than two at most. There is apparently no justification for the fore and aft extensions of the distal chevrons, as these were not preserved and the Osborn-Mook restoration was followed. [...] A probable error lies in too great an allowance for cartilage between the [pelvic] elements, thus making the acetabulum seem rather large.
He also notes a scheme that sadly never came to pass:
[The holotype of Camarasaurus (= "Morosaurus") robustus], a very perfect specimen, we intend to mount when the great Brontosaurus excelsus type is completed. The three sauropods, ranging in length from 21 to nearly 70 feet, should make a very impressive group.
They would have done! But in the end it fell to the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin to give us the world’s first three-sauropod combo (unless someone knows of an earlier one?)
Finally; the mounted Yale Camarasaurus also crops up in three of the plates of Ostrom and McIntosh (1966). Plate 60 depicts metacarpals I and II in all the cardinal views except for some reason posterior; plate 61 does the same for metacarpals III and IV); and plate 70 shows the right pubis in every aspect but anterior. Here it is:Judging by this, it’s a beautifully preserved element with some very distinctive morphology. But we’ve been burned by Marsh’s plates before, and I don’t trust them at all any more — at least, not until I’ve seen the elements for myself. Now I wish I paid more attention to Derpy’s pubes.
And on that line, I’m out.
Ostrom, John H., and John S. McIntosh. 1966. Marsh’s Dinosaurs: the Collections from Como Bluff. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT. 388 pages including 65 positively scrumptious plates.
Horrible sauropod skulls of the Yale Peabody Museum, part 1: Morosaurus lentus, the world’s most foolish sauropod
February 13, 2014
Matt’s harsh-but-fair “Derp dah durr” / “Ah hurr hurr hurr” captions on his Giraffatitan skull photos reminded me that there is a sauropod with a much, much stupider head than that of Giraffatitan. Step forward YPM 1910, a mounted skeleton that is the holotype of Camarasaurus (= “Morosaurus“) lentus, in the dinosaur hall of the Yale Peabody Museum.
Full details on this specimen next time!
(But a spoiler: the skull isn’t real.)
February 6, 2014
In a recent comment, Doug wrote:
If I want to be a truly educated observer of Tyrannosaurus rex mounts, what 5 things should I look for in a reconstruction to assess if it is true to our current scientific understanding? I’m not talking tail dragging/upright at this point…we are well past that I hope.
If he had asked about Apatosaurus, I could have written him a novel. But it is a point of pride with me not to contribute to the over-application of human attention to T. rex; not only would it be vulgar, it would also be a waste of resources, considering how many people already have that covered. So, you theropod workers and avocational “rexperts”, we’re finally inviting you to the high table. Please, tell us–and Doug–what separates the good T. rex mounts from the crappy ones. Big piles of SV-POW! bucks will be showered on whoever brings the most enlightenment, especially if you adhere to the requested List of 5 Things format.
The comment lines are open–go!
November 22, 2013
As a nice little perk–presumably for being early adopters and users of PeerJ–Mike and I each have been given a small number of referral codes, which will allow other folks to publish in PeerJ for free, as long as the papers are submitted by March 1, 2014. Here’s the scoop, straight from the monkey’s mouth:
If you have colleagues who would like to publish at PeerJ, then we want to give them the opportunity to try us out for free. Therefore, as a Published PeerJ Author, we are providing you with 5 unique ‘Referral Codes’ (which expire on March 1st) to distribute to your colleagues. Each code entitles the recipient to an entirely FREE PeerJ publication. They simply need to quote your referral code in the “Notes to Staff” field, when they submit to PeerJ, and as a result they will be able to publish that article for free (assuming it passes peer-review). Please disseminate these codes to colleagues who you feel will use them, but please make sure that they realize that this code is only valid for submissions made before March 1st, 2014.
Note that this is alongside the current promo wherein, if you post a preprint to PeerJ PrePrints (which is a smashing way of getting fast feedback, or at least it was for us), that manuscript can be published in PeerJ for free, as long as it is formally submitted before January 1, 2014. So if you can get the lead out before the end of the year and don’t have an allergy to fast feedback, you don’t actually need one of these codes.
So. If you’re not a PeerJ member but you have a manuscript that you’d like to send to PeerJ before the first of next March, let us know and we’ll hook you up with a referral code. If you’re fairly sure you will use one but aren’t ready to ship yet, let me know and I’ll set one aside for you, with the proviso that I can give it away if we’re getting close to the deadline and you’re not realistically going to make it.
If we get more takers than codes, we’ll figure out some fair way of choosing who gets a code, probably randomly. I will be strongly biased toward people without big paychecks* or institutional support, like grad students and postdocs. (If you’re an undergrad, you can already publish in PeerJ for free, at least for the duration of the pilot program.) So if you’re a grad student or postdoc with a serious plan to get published, speak up and you’ll go to the head of the line. So if you let us know why getting a code would benefit you, you’re more likely to get one.
* I know in academia none of us think we have big paychecks, but compared to most grad students and postdocs, those of us with steady full-time employment are living the dream. I’m trying to reach the folks for whom the $99 lifetime membership fee would be a genuine impediment.
As is apparently the usual thing now when I’m writing about PeerJ and don’t have any images of my own queued up, I’ve borrowed images from Brant Bassam’s astoundingly cool BrantWorks.com to spice up this post. Explicit permission to reproduce the images with credit can be found on this page, which is coincidentally where these images themselves are from. Get on over there and prepare to lose some time looking at sweet stuff.
Update! Five more Golden Tickets available!
As noted in the comment below, Heinrich Mallison also has five PeerJ vouchers to distribute to deserving causes. So if Matt and I run out, the options are still open. Feel free to contact Heinrich directly or to go through us if you prefer.
October 11, 2013
But not “funny ha-ha”. More like, “funny how that neck is clearly impossible.” I mean, really.
This is another shot from the Museum of Osteology in Oklahoma City. A few hundred more posts like this and I’ll be done.
For more flamingo-related weirdness, check out Casey Holliday’s work (with Ryan Ridgely, Amy Balanoff, and Larry Witmer) on the wacky blood vessels in flamingo heads. Unfortunately, Holliday et al. found no evidence of the antigravity generators that are obviously present in flamingoes somewhere. So there’s more work to be done here.
Kinda makes me sad, to ponder all of the sweet soft-tissue adaptations that extinct organisms must have had, that we will probably never know (enough) about. At least we have freaks like this around to remind us.
September 9, 2013
I was at the Oklahoma Museum of Natural History in March to look at their Apatosaurus material, so I got to see the newly-mounted baby apatosaur in the “Clash of the Titans” exhibit (more photos of that exhibit in this post). How much of this is real (i.e., cast from real bones, rather than sculpted)? Most of the vertebral centra, a few of the neural arches, some of the limb girdle bones, and most of the long bones of the limbs. All of the missing elements–skull, neural arches, ribs, appendicular bits–were sculpted by the OMNH head preparator, Kyle Davies. Kyle is one of those frighteningly talented people who, if they don’t have what they need, will just freaking build it from scratch. Over the years he has helped me out a LOT with the OMNH sauropod material–including building a clamshell storage jacket for the referred scapula of Brontomerus so we could photograph it from the lateral side–so it’s about time I gave him some props.
Case in point: this sweet atlas-axis complex that Kyle sculpted for the juvenile Apatosaurus mount.
Most fish, amphibians, and other non-amniote tetrapods only have a single specialized vertebra for attaching to the skull. But amniotes have two: a ring- or doughnut-shaped first cervical vertebra (the atlas) that articulates with the occipital condyle(s) of the skull, and a second cervical vertebra (the axis) that articulates with the atlas and sometimes with the skull as well. Mammals have paired occipital condyles on the backs or bottoms of our skulls, so our skulls rock up and down on the atlas (nodding “yes” motion), and our skull+atlas rotates around a peg of bone on the axis called the odontoid process or dens epistrophei (shaking head “no” motion). As shown in the photos and diagrams below, the dens of the axis is actually part of the atlas that fuses to the second vertebra instead of the first. Also, reptiles, including dinosaurs and birds, tend to have a single ball-shaped occipital condyle that fits into the round socket formed by the atlas, so their “yes” and “no” motions are less segregated by location.
Anyway, the whole shebang is often referred to as the atlas-axis complex, and that’s the reconstructed setup for a baby Apatosaurus in the photo above. In addition to making a dull-colored one for the mount, Kyle made this festive version for the vert paleo teaching collection. Why so polychromatic?
Because in fact he built two: the fully assembled one two photos above, and a completely disassembled one, some of which is shown in this photo (I had to move the bigger bits out of the tray so they wouldn’t block the key card at the back). I originally composed this post as a tutorial. But frankly, since Kyle did all of the heavy lifting of (a) making the thing in the first place, (2) making a color-coded key to it, and (d) giving me permission to post these photos, it would be redundant to walk through every element. So think of this as a self-study rather than a tutorial.
Oh, all right, here’s a labeled version. Note that normally in an adult animal the single piece of bone called the atlas would consist of the paired atlas neural arches (na1) and single atlas intercentrum (ic1), and would probably have a pair of fused cervical ribs (r1). Everything else would be fused together to form the axis, including the atlas pleurocentrum (c1), which forms the odontoid process or dens epistrophei (etymologically the “tooth” of the axis).
Here’s the complete Romer (1956) figure from the key card, with a mammalian atlas-axis complex for comparison. Incidentally, the entire book this is drawn from, Osteology of the Reptiles, is freely available online.
And here’s the complete Gilmore (1936) figure. Sorry for the craptastic scan–amazingly, this one is NOT freely available online as far as I can tell, and Mike and I have been trying to get good scans of the plates for years. Getting back on topic, single-headed atlantal cervical ribs have been found in several sauropods, especially Camarasaurus where several examples are known, so they were probably a regular feature, even though they aren’t always preserved.
Also, as noted in this post, it is odd that in this specimen of Apatosaurus the cervical ribs had not fused to the first two vertebrae, even though they normally do, and despite the fact that the vertebrae had fused to each other, even though they normally don’t. Further demonstration, if any were needed, that sauropod skeletal fusions were wacky.
For comparison to the above images, here is the atlas-axis complex in the synapsid Varanops, from Campione and Reisz (2011: fig. 2C).
Those proatlas thingies are present in some sauropods, but that’s about all I know about them, so I’ll say no more for now.
There is a good overview of the atlas-axis complex with lots of photos of vertebrae of extant animals on this page.
Previous SV-POW! posts dealing with atlantes and axes (that’s right) include:
- A fused atlas and axis in Apatosaurus
- Yet more uninformed noodling on the future of scientific publishing and that kind of thing
- Another mystery: embossed laminae and “unfossae”
- Tutorial 15: the bones of the sauropod skeleton
- Campione, N.E. and Reisz, R.R. 2011. Morphology and evolutionary significance of the atlas−axis complex in varanopid synapsids. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 56 (4): 739–748.
- Gilmore, C.W. 1936. Osteology of Apatosaurus with special reference to specimens in the Carnegie Museum. Memoirs of the Carnegie Museum 11: 175-300.
- Romer, A.S. 1956. Osteology of the Reptiles. University of Chicago Press, Chicago. 772 pp.
August 30, 2013
Here’s the mounted skeleton of Brachiosaurus altithorax outside the Field Museum in Chicago, based on the holotype FMNH P25107, with missing parts filled in from the mounted Giraffatitan brancai MB.R.2181 at the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin. To see it with humans and other animals for scale, go here.
And here’s the same thing in silhouette. It may be informative to compare this to the very different silhouette of the mounted Rapetosaurus krausei, also at the Field Museum.
I’m putting these up so they can be used. Like everything on this blog, these images are released under the CC BY license, so you can do with them what you like as long as you credit us. Go nuts!
June 30, 2013
Well, I’m back. Been on the road a lot–to Flagstaff for a few days around Memorial Day, and in Oklahoma to visit family in the first half of June. Now I’m busy with the summer anatomy course, but I finally found time to post some pictures.
One of my favorite museums in the world is the Museum of Osteology in Oklahoma City. It hits all the right notes for me: just shedloads of stuff on display, mounts you can walk all around and even touch (all they ask is that you don’t climb on them), and nary an interactive gizmo in sight. Plus a gift shop at the end where I could easily spend an hour (and several thousand dollars, if I had that much disposable dough and someplace to put all the loot). This was my second visit, but I never got around to posting the photos from my last visit, so maybe I can make up for that this summer. This post just has some highlights–I’ll try to get more photos up before another month goes by.
One of my favorite things in the museum is this awesome and appropriate triple display of the three-banded armadillo.
And old friend, from a new perspective.
In my experience, in the Great Plains states it is a rare museum indeed that does not have a two-headed calf. Not just natural history museums, either–historical museums and roadside attractions usually have at least one. The first I ever encountered was at the Dalton Gang Hideout in Meade, Kansas–maybe someone knows if it is still there? Even as a kid, I understood that the link between bovine developmental anomalies and Old West outlaws was pretty tenuous–basically, both crop up in Kansas–but I didn’t mind then and I don’t mind now. IMHO, finding two-headed calves on display in unexpected places only reinforces the concept of museums as cabinets of wonder.
Of course, it is entirely appropriate to find two-headed calves in an osteology museum, and the Museum of Osteology has more specimens than I’ve ever seen in one place.
The herp case is rad: the anaconda in the middle is a 14-footer, and the king cobra at lower right is 13’7″. And check out the super-fat Gaboon viper below the anaconda. If you’re wondering about turtles and crocs, they’re in the next case over.
As anyone who followed Darren’s multi-part series on matamatas (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) knows, they are fabulously weird. As I conceive it, there are two kinds of turtles: matamatas, and “regular-ass turtles”, the latter being the paraphyletic group that includes all non-matamata turtles.
My favorite mounts in the Museum of Osteology are the smallest: a pair of impossibly tiny ruby-throated hummingbirds.
I spend a lot of time with vertebrate bodies and skeletons, both taking them apart and putting them back together, and I am not exaggerating when I say that these are the most astonishing skeletal mounts I have ever seen. Unfortunately there aren’t any external indicators of scale with these skeletons, and perspective effects would defeat any attempt to put a scale bar up against the glass. These ruby-throated hummingbirds are slightly longer-billed than the Anna’s hummingbird mentioned in this post, but even so the skulls are probably no more than 30mm long. I recently helped London clean up a rat skull (yet another thing I need to blog about), and that skull was about as big as one of these skeletons minus the bill.
That’s all for now. If you’re ever in Oklahoma City, go check out the Museum of Osteology. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in bones, anatomy, animals, nature, or even, like, things.
April 19, 2013
Up top there is a commercially obtained
cast sculpture of a thumb claw of Megaraptor. Down below is an unpainted urethane cast of one of my favorite inanimate objects in the universe: OMNH 780, a thumb claw of Saurophaganax. I dunno how much of the Megaraptor claw is real [none, it turns out, but it's based on a true story]; certainly the cast is faithful enough to record some tool-marks in the rugose part near the base. But I know how much of OMNH 780 is legit, and that is all of it. I would have put in a photo of the actual specimen but irritatingly I forgot to take any during my recent visit, and I didn’t have the Megaraptor claw back then anyway. Hopefully I’ll get back to the OMNH this summer, and then it is ON.
The kaiju-loving fanboys of CarnivoraForum undoubtedly want to know how these two compare. Well, much to my disappointment, the Megaraptor claw is a shade longer (28.7 cm max straight-line distance) than the Saurophaganax claw (26.3 cm). But the Saurophaganax claw is about twice as thick and way more robust, and the flexor tubercle which anchored the tendon that powered the claw’s movement is friggin’ immense. It’s like pitting an NBA forward against an NFL linebacker: one is a little taller, but the other one will pound you like a tent stake.
If anyone’s wondering, these claws are both waaay shorter than those of Therizinosaurus (half a meter and up), which still holds the longest-claws-of-anything-ever title. The problem for fans of excessive violence is that Therizinosaurus probably wasn’t doing terribly exciting things with its claws–grooming its feathers, making veggie kabobs, and scratching its ample behind, most likely.
The same was not true for Saurophaganax, which the unbelievers call Allosaurus maximus, a red-blooded all-American murder machine with a triple PhD in kicking your ass. When it wasn’t drinking camptosaur blood straight from the jugular, it was eating mud-mired diplodocids butt first while they were still alive. And what about those rumors that Saurophaganax was completely feathered in $100 bills, or that it was the direct linear ancestor of Charles Bronson and Steven McQueen? It’s probably too soon to say, since I just made them up, but I’ll bet your mind is blown nonetheless.
How dangerous was Saurophaganax? Let me put it this way: it’s still dangerous. Thanks to the high concentration of heavy elements in Morrison dinosaur bones, you’re supposed to air out the specimen cabinets before you start working so the radon can escape. Otherwise you might breathe in freakin’ radioactive gas and get cancer (in contrast to some “facts” in the previous paragraph, this is actually true). That’s right, Saurophaganax can kill you, just by lying around in a drawer. After 145 million years, it’s still reaping souls for Hades. By god, that’s giving them what for!
In short, the thumb claw of Saurophaganax is the most impressive instrument of dinosaurian destruction I’ve yet laid eyes on. If you want to see it in context, check out the mounted skeleton at the Oklahoma Museum of Natural History in Norman.