Promoting this to a post of its own, because dang, it deserves it. Frequent commenter Warren just brought to our attention this video, in which legendary* make-up artist Michael Westmore reveals that he based the design of the Klingon foreheads in Star Trek: The Next Generation on dinosaur vertebrae. Lots of discussion on this point between 3:40 and about 5:40 in the video.

*Westmore has won an Oscar and nine Emmys for his make-up work, and made make-up kits for CIA spies. His Wikipedia page is worth a read. If you saw some weirdo in a Trek series between ST:TNG and Enterprise, it was probably Westmore’s design.

Many thanks to Warren for letting us know about this. Fittingly, he put it in a comment on the final post in the Umbaran starfighter saga, in which we hypothesized and then confirmed that the Umbaran starfighters from Star Wars: The Clone Wars were based on cervical vertebrae of Apatosaurus.

I wonder how many other sci-fi universes will be – or already have been! – invaded by dinosaur vertebrae?


Facial tilt in extant leporids is strongly correlated with locomotor mode – fast movers have more strongly tilted faces. There’s a lot of homoplasy, which is to be expected with characters that are strongly driven by current function. Kraatz and Sherratt (2016: fig. 5).

Judgmental readers will recall that I have dabbled in mammal skulls, thanks to the corrupting influence of my friend and colleague, Brian Kraatz. At the end of my last post on this sordid topic, I mentioned that Brian and Emma Sherratt were working on a version 2.0 based in 3D morphometrics. The first volley from that project was published today in PeerJ.

Happily for all of us, Brian and Em confirmed the relationship between facial tilt and locomotor mode that we first documented last year, using more taxa, more landmarks, and two more dimensions (Kraatz and Sherratt 2016: 12):

…in accordance with previous findings by Kraatz et al. (2015), facial tilt angle is correlated with locomotor mode (D-PGLS, F(2,17) = 11.13, P = 0.003), where lower facial tilt angle, meaning more pronounced cranial flexion, is found in cursorial species, and high angles are found in generalist species.

That’s just the most personally relevant tip of a very large, multifaceted iceberg, including a monster supplementary info package on FigShare with, among other things, 3D models of bunny skulls. It’s all free and awesome, so go have fun.


That homoplastic pattern shown in figure 5, above? It’s been going on for a while. I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that Hypolagus was a rocket. Kraatz and Sherratt (2016: fig. 7).



Not much to say this time – the pictures tell the story for now.


It was a pretty transcendental experience, as I imagine it must be for anyone who loves dinosaurs, or has a pulse.


A huge thank-you to Dan Chure, the Park Paleontologist for the Monument, who conveyed us safely up and down the Wall, taught us about the prehistory of the site and the human history of its excavation and conservation, held scale bars, moved backpacks, took photos, and generally seemed to be having just as much fun as we were. This has been a common theme on the trip – every single person we’ve interacted with at a museum or fossil site has been unfailingly welcoming and generous with their time and knowledge. Whatever challenges vert paleo faces, a lack of wonderful people is not one of them.


I was up there, too, for the second time in my life – that will be a post for another day. For now, just bask in the glory of Mike basking in the glory of a literally mind-numbing array of amazing fossils.

The European Commission is putting together a Commission Expert Group to provide advice about the development and implementation of open science policy in Europe. It will be known as the Open Science Policy Platform (OSPP).

This is potentially excellent news. The OSPP’s primary goal is to “advise the Commission on how to further develop and practically implement open science policy”.

But there’s potentially a downside here. We can be sure that the legacy publishers will attempt to stuff the committee with their own people, just as they did with the Finch committee — and that, if they succeed, they will do everything they can to retard all forms of progress that hurt their bottom line, just as they did with the Finch committee.

Unfortunately, multinational corporations with £2 billion annual revenue and £762 million annual profit (see page 17 of Elsevier’s 2014 annual report) are very well positioned to dedicate resources to getting their people onto influential committees. Those of us without a spare £762 million to spend on marketing are at a huge operational disadvantage when it comes to influencing policy. Happily, though, we do have one important thing on our side: we’re right.

So we should do what we can to get genuinely progressive pro-open candidates onto the OSPP. I know of several people who have put themselves forward, and I am briefly describing them below (in the order I hear about their candidacy). I have publicly endorsed the first few, and will go on to endorse the others just as soon as I have a moment. If you know and admire these people, please consider leaving your own endorsement — it will help their case to be taken on to the OSPP.

Björn Brembs is a neuroscientist who has been a tireless advocate for open access, and open science more generally, for many years. He has particularly acute insights into the wastefulness of our present scholarly communication mechanisms. His candidacy is announced on his blog, and I left my endorsement as a comment.

Cameron Neylon falls into the needs-no-introduction category. Every time I’ve talked to him, I’ve come away better informed and wiser, thanks to his exhaustive knowledge and understanding of the issues surrounding openness: both the opportunities is presents, and the difficulties that slow our progress. His candidacy is announced on his blog, and I left my endorsement as a comment.

Chris Hartgerink is an active researcher in text and data mining, whose work has repeatedly been disrupted by impediments deliberately imposed by barrier-based publishers. He knows what it’s like on the ground in the content-mining wars. His candidacy is announced on his blog, and I left my endorsement as a comment.

Daniel Mietchen both practices and advocates openness at every stage in the scientific process, with a special focus on the use of Wikipedia and the ways its free content can be enhanced. Fittingly, his candidacy bid is itself a wiki page, and endorsements are invited on the corresponding discussion page.

Konrad Förstner develops open source software for reasearch, works on how to make analyses reproducible, promotes the use pf pre-print servers and creates generate open educational resources. His candidacy is announced on his blog, and I left my endorsement as a comment. [H/T Daniel Mietchen]

Finally (for now), Jenny Molloy, is the manager of Content Mine and co-ordinator of OKFN, the Open Knowledge Foundation. She has announced her candidacy on a mailing list, but doesn’t yet have a web-page about it, to my knowledge. I’ll update this page as soon as I hear that this has changed.


That’s it for now: get out there and endorse the candidates that you like!

Have I missed anyone? Let me know, and I’ll update this post.


In praise of Jack McIntosh

December 14, 2015

A short one today, and a sad one.

I heard last night on Twitter that Jack McIntosh has died at the age of 92. It would be hard to overstate what an inspiration he’s been to me. As a professional in a non-palaeo field who went on to do crucial work in sauropod palaeontology, he blazed a trail that I have tried in my small way to follow. I think it’s true to say that, without his example, I would never have got into palaeo research — never even considered it a possibility.

Jack McIntosh, still going strong at a conference late in life. Picture from this tweet by ReBecca Hunt-Foster.

Jack McIntosh, still going strong at a conference late in life. Picture from this tweet by ReBecca Hunt-Foster. Hans-Dieter Sues for scale.

Others have written more about McIntosh’s crucial work — for example, determining the correct skull skull for Apatosaurus (McIntosh and Berman 1975), his careful historical work in collections (McIntosh 1981), his detailed monographic descriptions (e.g. McIntosh et al. 1996) and most recently his re-evaluation of Barosaurus (McIntosh 2005). When I made my own start in palaeo, around 2000, his chapter in The Dinosauria (McIntosh 1990) was the definitive overview of the sauropods.

Perhaps the best overview of his life and work is the interview that Jeff Wilson and Kristi Curry Rogers conducted with him for the afterword of the volume that they edited in his honour in 2005 (Wilson and Curry Rogers 2005). It’s well worth reading.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA --- Leading sauropod expert Jack McIntosh beneath Apatosaurus Louisae at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, a forty-ton vegetarian named after Andrew Carnegie's wife, which is over seventy-seven feet (over 23 meters) long and is the longest mounted dinosaur in the world. --- Image by © Louie Psihoyos/Corbis

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA — Leading sauropod expert Jack McIntosh beneath Apatosaurus Louisae at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, a forty-ton vegetarian named after Andrew Carnegie’s wife, which is over seventy-seven feet (over 23 meters) long and is the longest mounted dinosaur in the world. — Image by © Louie Psihoyos/Corbis

I’ll close with my own brief experience of meeting Jack, a privilege that I had only once. It was the 2007 SVP meeting in Austin, Texas. I somehow got invited to a sauropod workers’ lunch one day. By careful manoeuvring, I managed to sit myself next to Jack. At that stage I had two very minor papers to my name — the 2005 note on the phylogenetic taxonomy of diplodocoids and the 2006 Mesozoic Terrestrial Ecosystems short-paper on dinosaur diversity. In short, I was a nobody.

But Jack was fascinated by what I was working on. At that time, the Xenoposeidon paper was in press — no-one had seen it but Darren (my co-author), the handling editor and three peer-reviewers. I sketched the holotype dorsal vertebra — literally on a napkin, if I remember rightly — and explained all the unique features. At this point, Jack was 84 years old and could certainly have been forgiven for just wanting to have his lunch in peace, but he was deeply interested. Even at the time I was aware of the honour of showing this work to a man who’d been at the forefront of my field for four decades.

I don’t remember whether we discussed it at the time, but I’d spent the previous week, with Matt, Randy Irmis and Sarah Werning, in the collections at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, working on the remains of a sauropod from the Hotel Mesa quarry in the Cedar Mountain Formation. When the paper finally came out four years later (Taylor, Wedel and Cifelli 2007), we named the new dinosaur Brontomerus mcintoshi in Jack’s honour. Very nearly but not quite a year earlier, Chure et al. (2010) had beat us to the punch by naming their brachiosaurid Abydosaurus mcintoshi after him.

To the best of my knowledge, that makes Jack the only person in history to have had two sauropods named after him in a year. A fitting tribute indeed.

Update 1 (16 December)

Ken Carpenter writes: “Mike, Here is the electronic card I made for McIntosh’s 90th birthday. I’d like to have posted at SVPoW.”

For Jack

Update 2 (16 December)

Jeff Wilson has written a piece that goes into much more detail about McIntosh’s scientific achievements. Well worth a read.


  • Chure, Daniel, Brooks B. Britt, John A. Whitlock and Jeffrey A. Wilson. 2010. First complete sauropod dinosaur skull from the Cretaceous of the Americas and the evolution of sauropod dentition. Naturwissenschaften 97(4):379-91. doi:10.1007/s00114-010-0650-6
  • McIntosh, John S. 1981. Annotated catalogue of the dinosaurs (Reptilia, Archosauria) in the collections of Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Bulletin of the Carnegie Museum 18:1-67.
  • McIntosh, John S. 2005. The Genus Barosaurus Marsh (Sauropoda, Diplodocidae). pp. 38-77 in Virginia Tidwell and Ken Carpenter (eds.), Thunder Lizards: the Sauropodomorph Dinosaurs. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indiana. 495 pp.
  • McIntosh, John S. 1990. Sauropoda. pp. 345-401 in: D. B. Weishampel, P. Dodson and H. Osmólska (eds.), The Dinosauria. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles.
  • McIntosh, John S., and David, S. Berman. 1975. Description of the palate and lower jaw of the sauropod dinosaur Diplodocus (Reptilia: Saurischia) with remarks on the nature of the skull of Apatosaurus. Journal of Paleontology 49(1):187-199.
  • McIntosh, John S., Wade E. Miller, Kenneth L. Stadtman and David D. Gillette. 1996. The osteology of Camarasaurus lewisi (Jensen, 1988). BYU Geolgy Studies 41:73-115.
  • Taylor, Michael P., Mathew J. Wedel and Richard L. Cifelli. 2011. A new sauropod dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous Cedar Mountain Formation, Utah, USA. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 56(1):75-98. doi: 10.4202/app.2010.0073
  • Wilson, Jeffrey A., and Kristina A. Curry Rogers. 2005. A conversation with Jack McIntosh. pp. 327-333 in: Kristina A. Curry Rogers and Jeffrey A. Wilson (eds.), The Sauropods: Evolution and Paleobiology, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles and London. 349 pages.

I imagine that by now, everyone who reads this blog is familiar with Mark Witton’s painting of a giant azhdarchid pterosaur alongside a big giraffe. Here it is, for those who haven’t seen it:

Arambourgiania vs giraffe vs the Disacknowledgement redux Witton ver 2 low res

(This is the fifth and most recent version that Mark has created, taken from 9 things you may not know about giant azhdarchid pterosaurs.)

It’s one of those images that really kicks you in the brain the first time you see it. The idea that an animal the size of a giraffe could fly under its own power seems ludicrous — yet that’s what the evidence tells us.

But wait — what do we mean by “an animal the size of a giraffe”? Yes, the pterosaur in this image is the same height as the giraffe, but how does its weight compare?

Mark says “The giraffe is a big bull Masai individual, standing a healthy 5.6 m tall, close to the maximum known Masai giraffe height.” He doesn’t give a mass, but Wikipedia, citing Owen-Smith (1988), says “Fully grown giraffes stand 5–6 m (16–20 ft) tall, with males taller than females. The average weight is 1,192 kg (2,628 lb) for an adult male and 828 kg (1,825 lb) for an adult female with maximum weights of 1,930 kg (4,250 lb) and 1,180 kg (2,600 lb) having been recorded for males and females, respectively.” So it seems reasonable to use a mass intermediate between those of an average and maximum-sized male, (1192+1930)/2 = 1561 kg.

So much for the giraffe. What does the azhdarchid weigh? The literature is studded with figures that vary wildly, from the 544 kg that Henderson (2010) found for Quetzalcoatlus, right down to the widely cited 70 kg that Chatterjee and Templin (2004) found for the same individual — and even the astonishing 50 kg that seems to be favoured by Unwin (2005:192). In the middle is the 259 kg of Witton (2008).

It occurred to me that I could visualise these mass estimates by shrinking the giraffe in Mark’s image down to the various proposed masses, and seeing how credible it looks to imagine these reduced-sized giraffes weighting the same as the azhdarchid. The maths is simple. For each proposed azhdarchid mass, we figure out what it is as a proportion of the giraffe’s 1561 kg; then the cube root of that mass proportion gives us the linear proportion.

  • 544 kg = 0.389 giraffe masses = 0.704 giraffe lengths
  • 259 kg = 0.166 giraffe masses = 0.549 giraffe lengths
  • 70 kg =0.0448 giraffe masses = 0.355 giraffe lengths

Let’s see how that looks.

Arambourgiania vs giraffe vs the Disacknowledgement redux Witton ver 2 low res

On the left, we have Mark’s artwork, with the giraffe massing 1561 kg. On the right, we have three smaller (isometrically scaled) giraffes of masses corresponding to giant azhdarchid mass estimates in the literature. If Don Henderson (2010) is right, then the pterosaur weighs the same as the 544 kg giraffe, which to me looks pretty feasible if it’s very pneumatic. If Witton (2008) is right, then it weighs the same as the 259 kg giraffe, which I find hard to swallow. And if Chatterjee and Templin (2004) are right, then the giant pterosaur weighs the same as the teeny tiny 70 kg giraffe, which I find frankly ludicrous. (For that matter, 70 kg is in the same size-class as Georgia, the human scale-bar: the idea that she and the pterosaur weigh the same is just silly.)

What is the value of such eyeball comparisons? I’m not sure, beyond a basic reality check. Running this exercise has certainly made me sceptical about even the 250 kg mass range which now seems to be fairly widely accepted among pterosaur workers. Remember, if that mass is correct then the pterosaur and the 259 kg giraffe in the picture above weight the same. Can you buy that?

Or can we find extant analogues? Are there birds and mammals with the same mass that are in the same size relation as these images show?


  • Chatterjee, Sankar, and R. J. Templin. 2004. Posture, locomotion, and paleoecology of pterosaurs. Geological Society of America, Special Paper 376. 68 pages.
  • Henderson, Donald M. 2010. Pterosaur body mass estimates from three-dimensional mathematical slicing. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 30(3):768-785.
  • Witton, Mark P. 2008. A new approach to determining pterosaur body mass and its implications for pterosaur flight. Zitteliana 28:143-159.


Now that, faithful readers, is a monument to evolution and its endless forms most beautiful. I’m talking about the wall of ceratopsian skulls at NHMU, of course, not the back of Brian Engh’s head (bottom center).


If you don’t know them all on sight (yet!), here’s a cheat sheet. I goofed on a couple myself: before I looked at the sheet I figured Coahuilaceratops as Pentaceratops and mistook Kosmoceratops for Vagaceratops. Still, 12 out of 14 isn’t bad for a minor-league ceratopsian scholar such as yours truly.


Here’s the chasmosaurine-centric view from lower right.


And the centrosaurine-centric view from distant left.

The world needs more things like this. Good on ya, NHMU.

For other NHMU posts, see:

Natural History Museum of Utah: Barosaurus