Hello, ladies!

March 28, 2019

To my shock, I find that we seem never to have posted Bob Nicholls’ beautiful sketch Hello, ladies! on SV-POW!. His recent tweet reminded me about this piece, so here it is!

Like so many classic sauropod sketches, this was executed during a mammal-tooth talk at SVPCA: this one back in 2013, the year of our first Barosarus talk. (Our second was in 2016.)

Bob’s sketch shows speculative sexual display behaviour. We have no direct evidence for (or against) such behaviour; but while we don’t believe sexual selection was the main reason for sauropods evolving long necks, it seems inevitable that long necks evolved for other purposes would be exapted for sexual display.

I always love Bob’s sketches — in fact, for most palaeoartists, I tend to like their sketches more than their finished pieces. Among the many things about this one that make me jealous is all the females in the background admiring the male: the economy of line where Bob can not only summon up a perfectly cromulent diplodocid head in a few strokes, but imbue it with a sense of being inquisitive about the display. It’s magical.


Whatever happened to that 2013 Barosaurus project?, you may ask.

Well, the first thing that happened is that after we submitted the abstract, entitled Barosaurus revisited: the concept of Barosaurus (Dinosauria: Sauropoda) is based on erroneously referred specimens, we realised that there was a tiny, tiny mistake in our work. So by the time I gave the talk at the actual conference, the title slide was this:

Then you will recall we did an efficient job of converting the conference presentation into a manuscript, which we submitted as a preprint less than a month after the conference. The preprint quickly garnered amazingly helpful comments, which we used to extensively revise the manuscript.

For reasons we don’t understand, there was a three-year delay before we got it submitted for peer-review in 2016; but when we did finally submit, we did it in the confident hope that it would sail through peer-review, having already been extensively reviewed and revised.

But it was not to be. When we got the reviews back, they asked for a ton of changes, and that process was just too dispiriting to face having already made a ton of changes based on the first set of comments just prior to the submission. So the tedious process got back-burnered, and the suddenly three more years passed.

The upshot is that I still need to handle the reviews on the 2nd version of the paper, and shove the blasted thing through the peer-review process. I will, to be frank, be glad to get it out of my POOP chute, so I can think about other things — not least, the 2016 Barosaurus project.


On the morning of Tuesday 1st December, on SVPCA day 1, I gave my talk about apatosaur neck combat. In one of the afternoon sessions, I sat next to Bob Nicholls, and found myself thinking how awesome it would be if he sketched some apato-combat.

But I didn’t want to come right out and say “Hey, Bob, how ’bout you spontaneously illustrate our palaeobiological hypothesis?” So instead I used a tactic that Fiona often uses when she wants me to do something: she starts to do it herself, badly, and waits for me to take over. (This is often how I find myself cooking in the evenings.) In the same spirit, sat next to Bob, I started a horrible sketch of wrestling apatosaurs. Sure enough, Bob, saw what I was doing, internally decided it ought to be done properly, and produced this:

WrestleBronto2a (c)Nicholls2015

What I love most about this (beside the casual way he knocked it out in fifteen minutes) is the sense of heft about the apatosaurs. These are big, solid animals. Someone’s gonna get hurt.


Inspired by Bob Nicholl’s brilliant sketch Failed Ambush, my son Matthew reinterpreted it in this video — also titled Failed Ambush.

NOTE: this video is officially endorsed by Dr. Mathew J. Wedel, who testifies as follows: “it’s awesome”.


We’ve blogged a lot of Bob Nicholls‘ art (here, here, and here) and we’ll probably continue to do so for the foreseeable future. We don’t have much choice: he keeps drawing awesome things and giving us permission to post them. Like this defiantly shaggy Apatosaurus, which was probably the star of the Morrison version of Duck Dynasty. Writes Bob:

On my way home at the airport I did a sketch of your giant Apatosaurus* — see attachment.  My thought was that massive thick necks were probably pretty sexy things to apatosaurs, so maybe sexually mature individuals used simple feathers (stage 1, 2 or 3?) to accentuate the neck profile.  The biggest males would of course have the most impressive growths so in the attached sketch your giant has one of the biggest beards in Earth’s history!  What do you think of this idea?

Well, I think it’s awesome. And entirely plausible, for reasons already explained in this post.

“Now, wait,” you may be thinking, “I thought you guys said that sauropod necks weren’t sexually selected.” Actually we made a slightly different point: that the available evidence does not suggest that sexual selection was the primary driver of sauropod neck elongation. But we also acknowledged that biological structures are almost never single-purpose, and although the long necks of sauropods probably evolved to help them gather more food, there is no reason that long necks couldn’t have been co-opted as social billboards. This seems especially likely in Apatosaurus, where the neck length is unremarkable** but the neck fatness is frankly bizarre (and even inspired a Star Wars starfighter!).

I also love the “mobile ecosystem” of birds, other small dinosaurs, and insects riding on this Apatosaurus or following in its train. It’s a useful reminder that we have no real idea what effect millions of sauropods would have on the landscape. But it’s not hard to imagine that most Mesozoic terrestrial ecosystems were sauropod-driven in a thousand cascading and ramifying chains of cause and effect. I’d love to know how that worked. At heart, I’m still a wannabe chrononaut, and all my noodlings on pneumaticity and sauropod nerves and neural spines and so on are just baby steps toward trying to understand sauropod lives. Safari by way of pedantry: tally-ho!

For other speculative apatosaurs, see:

* “My” giant is the big Oklahoma Apatosaurus, which I gave a talk on at SVPCA a couple of weeks ago. See these posts for more details (123).

** Assuming we can be blasé about a neck that is more than twice as long (5 m) as a world-record giraffe neck (2.4 m), for garden variety Apatosaurus, or three times that length for the giant Oklahoma Apatosaurus (maybe 7 m).

If your museum doesn't look like this, you should reconsider your existence.

If your museum doesn’t look like this, you should reconsider your existence.

We’re just back from SVPCA 2013 in Edinburgh. The first part of the meeting was held at the Royal Society of Edinburgh, but on Friday we moved to the National Museums Scotland. Which is awesome. And free to the public. The design process for the museum seems to have been, “Okay, let’s get one of, oh, every interesting thing in the world, and put it right here.” We have tons more photos of amazing things from the museum, and maybe we’ll get around to posting them sooner or later, but today I have other things to do.

This pathetic, racially senescent freak is destined for evolution's dustbin.

This pathetic, racially senescent freak is destined for evolution’s dustbin. And he knows it.

Like make fun of Mike. And talk about vomiting dinosaurs.

Dude, this party totally ro-BLAAAUUGGH!!

Dude, this party totally ro-BLAAAUUGGH!!

This groovy stuffed fulmar, Fulmarus glacialis, is shown in the act of puking, which it does to dissuade predators. And probably everyone else. I am reliably informed by Darren that this is unrealistic fulmar vomit, and that the real thing is  more of a thin stream, like the world’s nastiest water gun, which can be directed with considerable accuracy. Note to self: don’t piss off the fulmars.

Vomiting sauropod by Wedel and NichollsLast year cemented “drawing goofy sauropods down at the pub” as a regular SVPCA Thing. So one night I was out with Mike and Darren and paleoartist Bob Nicholls, who is famous around these parts as the creator of the Greatest. Paleoart. Ever. I did a goofy sketch in my notebook illustrating the “defensive vomit” hypothesis, which Brian Engh and I cooked up during this alligator dissection. More on that another time, maybe. Anyway, after bashing out a fairly pathetic sauropod-puking-on-theropod scene, I passed the notebook to Bob and said, “Make this not suck”. Which he did. (Seriously, if you could see my original scrawl, you’d be the one throwing up.)

So now I have an original Bob Nicholls sketch–heck, the world’s first Wedel-Nicholls artist collaboration!–in my notebook, of one of evolution’s most majestic successes responding appropriately to a vulgar, overstudied theropod. Bob drew it right in front of me and I got to drink good beer while I watched him work.

And that, more or less, is why I attend SVPCA.

Giant Irish Mike - cut out

I couldn’t sign off without giving you another version of Giant Irish Mike, with the background cropped out so he can be dropped right into posters, slide shows, and other works of science and art. I really, really hope that he turns up in conference talks and other presentations in the months and years to come. If so, send us a photo documenting his miraculous apparition and we’ll show it to the world.

Greatest. Palaeoart. Ever.

September 15, 2012

Just over a year ago, I described Niroot Puttapipat’s “Giraffatitan just being awesome while wave after wave of Incisivosaurus perish in its glorious presence” as the most awesome piece of art EVER. That may have been true at the time. But now it’s been eclipsed by this Bob Nicholls original:

Entitled “failed ambush”, it realistically depicts a sauropod (Dipodocus?) trashing no fewer than five theropods simultaneously: pulling one apart with its mouth, slicing the head off another with its whiplash tail, crushing one under a tree, stomping one with its forefoot, and — perhaps the highlight — pooping on the last.

Bob dashed this off in half an hour during a session of mammal talks at SVPCA 2012. I like to read it as an atonement, of sorts, for this earlier piece, “Double Death”:

which I admire hugely as a piece of art, but can’t approve of.

It would be great if Bob were to work “Failed Ambush” up into a complete piece some day. I’d like to see that. But I especially love sketches, which often have a spontaneity and life about them that more carefully constructed pieces find hard to match. I have the biro-on-notepaper  original in my safekeeping, and it will go up on the wall of my office tomorrow.