January 21st

1996 – Original Universe of Energy pavilion closes at Walt Disney World’s EPCOT Center

On this day in dinosaurs, one of the most iconic Walt Disney World attractions closed for refurbishments, never to be the same. After more than a decade of entertaining park guests, Disney opted to reinvigorate its Universe of Energy pavilion in early 1996. The ride featured animatronic  dinosaurs similar to those first used in the 1964-65 World’s Fair for the Ford Magic Skyway exhibit. These dinosaurs were later moved to Walt Disney Land in California and became part of the Disneyland Railroad. For Disney’s EPCOT Center in Orlando, Florida, the dinosaur era was set as part of the larger story of how humanity produces energy–powering civilization through the use of fossil fuels.

Walt Disney World News Today
Walt Disney World News Today

Universe of Energy was reopened briefly (with minor alterations) for the summer of 1996 when peak season tourists would be keen to see the dinosaurs. But it was closed again in September to allow the final changes for the ride’s new features. Just a few weeks later, Ellen’s Energy Adventure opened to the public, incorporating Ellen DeGeneres and Bill Nye the Science Guy into the show’s narration and even into some of the moving dioramas.

Several minor updates have been made to the pavilion over the years, but either the story of Earth’s energy either has become outdated as EPCOT becomes more focused on thrill rides and Disney franchise attractions, or fossil fuel production has become too political an issue for Disney. In either case, the ride is rumored to close in order to make way for a Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster.

Share your favorite memories of Universe of Energy or Ellen’s Energy Adventure with us on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #TDIDinos.

January 20th

1978 – Happy Birthday Omar Sy

On this day in dinosaurs, we celebrate the birthday of French actor Omar Sy. Known by dinophiles for his portrayal of Barry in Jurassic World, Sy spent time wrangling the film’s wily raptors. His respect for the animals and his understanding of their presence and power echoes the franchise’s development from fear in the early films to a mature reverence.

omar-sy-jurassic-world-470
HeroesandHeartbreakers.com

We’re hoping to see more of Barry as the Jurassic World franchise unfolds.

We wish Sy a birthday untroubled by genetic mutant dinosaurs of any kind! Share your photos of Barry and thoughts about Jurassic World with us on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #TDIDinos.

January 19th

Thinking About Time

On this day in dinosaurs, we examine the distance that separates us from the Mesozoic superstars. The know there is a great deal of time between our modern world and that of the dinosaurs, but it’s difficult to understand how much time has passed. For one, our brains aren’t hardwired to easily comprehend time at a millennial scale. This sort of reasoning does not improve our daily survival, but for our longtime survival, it’s becoming increasingly important that we understand our place in the narrative of life on earth–a narrative that we are shaping more with each passing year.

 

So how can we begin to fathom the enormity of time recorded in our planet’s geologic history? We can start on the scale of our universe. This was the tactic Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan, and Steve Soter used when creating the original series of Cosmos in 1980. They envisioned a cosmic calendar that compressed the history of our universe into a single year. Imagine that the big bang takes place in the very first instant of the year, 12 a.m. on January 1st. And the last second of the year is the moment you are reading these words.

 

With the entire year established in mind, you may find it interesting to learn that our star and its planetary system do not take shape until August. For most of the cosmic calendar, our home and the solar system don’t even exist.

 

Multi-cellular life doesn’t appear on earth until November. Almost the entire year has passed before life really gets going into anything we’d recognize today. So where do the dinosaurs arise? Christmas Eve, December 24th. The long, long reign of the non-avian dinosaurs is over on December 29th. The seemingly interminable dinosaur kingdom ends in less than a week on the scale of our universe. And modern humans, we appear at 11:54 on New Year’s Eve. Civilization is just a few seconds at the end of the year.

 

While cosmic thinking can be humbling and provides context for our world, it’s not always the most useful way to describe the history of life on our planet. Let’s re-calibrate and think on a different scale.

The Mesozoic Era–the age of reptiles or the age of the dinosaurs–began 252 million years ago. Paleontologists call this early portion of the Mesozoic the Triassic period. Dinosaurs, small and inconspicuous, arrived toward the end of Triassic. From a scientific standpoint, the Triassic lasts 51 million years (255 times the duration that anatomically modern humans have existed).

Beginning around 200 million years ago, the Jurassic period sees the dinosaurs rise to terrestrial dominance. Throughout the next 56 million years, giants like Brontosaurus, Apatosaurus, Stegosaurus, and Allosaurus take their place in the dinosaur pantheon. Dynasties rose and fell. Species adapted to their environment for a few million years and then gave way as continents changed, seas rose and fell, and mountain ranges were thrust up.

The third and final dinosaur epoch, the Cretaceous lasted from 145 million years ago to the mass extinction event 66 million years ago. Tyrannosaurus, Triceratops, the “duck-billed” hadrosaurs, and other favorites represent some of the very last dinosaurs to evolve during this time, a duration of 79 million years. The Cretaceous itself lasts longer than the time that separates our present day from the asteroid impact. It’s also worth remembering that there is more time between the famous Jurassic dinosaurs and T. rex than between the tyrant lizard king and us.

All this time is mind-boggling. But next time you’re outside and hear birds chirping, you’ll have a much better appreciation for their staying power. And I hope a better appreciation for your own tiny part in this epic and ongoing story.

Share your thoughts and pictures of your favorite lifeforms from earth’s history with us on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #TDIDinos.

January 18th

The Dinosaur-Bird Connection

Birds are dinosaurs. It’s a concept some people struggle to understand, let alone endorse. Like many of the startling conclusions made by the scientific community, the road to those conclusions took decades of data and discovery to turn opinions around. This simple, baffling idea has repercussions on our view of dinosaurs, birds, and ourselves.

Let’s start at the beginning. Sir Richard Owen, when he invented “dinosauria” as a classification of extinct reptiles in 1842, likened their limb structure to those of “heavy pachydermal mammals.” The structure of their limbs distinguished dinosaurs as being separate from modern reptiles, but also from the marine reptiles being described at around the same time.

Later, Thomas Henry Huxley (popularly dubbed “Darwin’s bulldog”) outlined the similarities between theropod dinosaurs and modern birds. But many origins for birds were being discussed and for decades, scientists debated where birds diverged from the main reptile lineage.

The Berlin specimen of Archaeopteryx / Photo - National Museum of Wales
The Berlin specimen of Archaeopteryx / Photo – National Museum of Wales

In 1969, Yale’s John Ostrom published his description of Deinonychus, which compared this agile predator to Archaeopteryx. By outlining the many anatomical similarities between the two creatures, Ostrom demonstrated that birds and dinosaurs could have closer affinities than many paleontologists of the era recognized.

In the 1980s, Jacques Gauthier published pivotal cladistic analyses that showed a large number of shared characteristics. According to the University of California Museum of Paleontology, dinosaurs and birds share:

  • Pubis (one of the three bones making up the vertebrate pelvis) shifted from an anterior to a more posterior orientation (see Saurischia), and bearing a small distal “boot”.
  • Elongated arms and forelimbs and clawed manus (hands).
  • Large orbits (eye openings in the skull).
  • Flexible wrist with a semi-lunate carpal (wrist bone).
  • Hollow, thin-walled bones.
  • 3-fingered opposable grasping manus (hand), 4-toed pes (foot); but supported by 3 main toes.
  • Reduced, posteriorly stiffened tail.
  • Elongated metatarsals (bones of the feet between the ankle and toes).
  • S-shaped curved neck.
  • Erect, digitgrade (ankle held well off the ground) stance with feet positioned directly below the body.
  • Similar eggshell microstructure.
  • Teeth with a constriction between the root and the crown.
  • Functional basis for wing power stroke present in arms and pectoral girdle (during motion, the arms were swung down and forward, then up and backwards, describing a “figure-eight” when viewed laterally).
  • Expanded pneumatic sinuses in the skull.
  • Five or more vertebrae incorporated into the sacrum (hip).
  • Straplike scapula (shoulder blade).
  • Clavicles (collarbone) fused to form a furcula (wishbone).
  • Hinge-like ankle joint, with movement mostly restricted to the fore-aft plane.
  • Secondary bony palate (nostrils open posteriorly in throat).
  • Feathers. Small, possibly feathered dinosaurs were recently found in China. It appears that many coelurosaurs were cloaked in an external fibrous covering that could be called “protofeathers.”

“So, dinosaurs are birds,” some may say. “So what?” Yes, it means dinosaurs are still with us today, but it also means that some dinosaurs avoided extinction 66 million years ago–making their terrestrial dominance all the more impressive. It’s also important to remember that modern birds are different from the first birds that split from the non-avian dinosaur lineage 150 million years ago.

Dinosaurs give us a profound context for time as well. Modern humans have existed for around 200,000 years. Non-avian dinosaurs existed for nearly 200,000,000 years. It’s worth remembering just how long they ruled the world in comparison to our own kind’s short sojourn.  We marvel at how dinosaurs still survive and proliferate, with more species alive today than ever before.

Post your favorite non-avian and avian dinosaurs on Facebook and Twitter and share them with us using the hashtag #TDIDinos.

January 17th

Dinosaurs at the Movies
Since motion pictures were invented, dinosaurs have been cinematic blockbusters. In 1925, audiences were so convinced by the stop-motion special effect sequences in The Lost Worldthat they thought the film was shot on location on a prehistoric plateau–with real dinosaurs. In 1933, during the worst of the Great Depression, lines to see King Kong stretched around city blocks. Jurassic Park became the highest grossing film of all time in 1993, and its sequels continue to top box office charts today.

 

So why are dinosaurs such a success at the movies? It’s obvious that dinosaurs make excellent monsters on the silver screen, and even moreso because they really existed unlike dragons and other cinematic beasts. And although dinosaurs are often cast in the role of monster, or as the perfect foil to humanity, I don’t think that’s the only reason generation after generation of moviegoers purchase tickets to see them.

 

Most of the dinosaurs we see on a daily basis are static–museum skeletons, plastic toys, roadside statues, and illustrations in books or online. Only the movies can make the dinosaurs really move–hunting, chasing, fighting, and courting. While many documentaries intend to bring dinosaurs to life, they do so with an educational touch. In the movies, unfettered by scientific accuracy (for good or ill), dinosaurs become living, breathing animals again.

 

Movies begin conversations and plant the seeds for an interest in dinosaurs and science at large, but they do more than that. They are a bridge for the imagination, informing our societal constructs of dinosaurs and their behavior. Through this experience–which is fundamentally different from learned knowledge–we understand these great animals in a more substantial and unique way.
Share your favorite dinosaur movie photos and more with us on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #TDIDinos.

January 16th

2014 – Dinosaur 13 Hits Sundance

On this day in dinosaurs, it’s a double feature at the movies. In 2014, Dinosaur 13 roared into Sundance Film Festival. The film chronicled the curious tale of Sue, the world’s largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex–from her discovery in South Dakota, through a decade of legal troubles, and ultimately to her new home at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

dinosaurstop.com
dinosaurstop.com

While critics praised the documentary, the film was criticized by the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology who released a statement outlining some of the misconceptions that the film might have helped to perpetuate.

Whatever the effect of the film, it only adds to the mystique and legend surrounding one of the world’s most charismatic dinosaur skeletons.

 

1901 – Happy Birthday Marcel Delgado

On this day in dinosaurs we also celebrate the life and work of Marcel Delgado, an artist who revolutionized stop motion animation. Delgado was born in Mexico and his family moved to California to escape the revolution. At just six years old, he began sculpting and as a teenager, he enrolled at the Otis Art Institute. There he met pioneering special effects wizard Willis O’Brien. Impressed by the young sculptor, O’Brien tried to recruit him to work on films, but Delgado was resolute in wanting to work as an artist and resisted several of O’Brien’s offers. When O’Brien was recruited to work on the original motion picture version of Conan Doyle’s The Lost World in 1925, Delgado was invited to tour the workshop. He couldn’t resist another offer.

Delgado at work / LatinHeat.com
Delgado at work / LatinHeat.com

Before Delgado animation was done using clay figures, but his technique of building a metal armature inside the models allowed for greater movement and control. After The Lost World, Delgado worked with O’Brien on King Kong in 1933, and the two became a partnership for several films thereafter, including Mighty Joe Young.

There’s much more about dinosaurs in the cinemas coming your way tomorrow! Until then, post your pictures of Sue and your favorite cinematic dinosaurs on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #TDIDinos.

January 15th

1941 – The Carnegie Museum asks the American Museum to name its price for Tyrannosaurus

On this day in dinosaurs, Andrey Avinoff, Director of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, answers Barnum Brown’s letter. We discussed Brown’s offer in an earlier post, and Avinoff received Brown’s floated offer with a call for a more concrete proposal.

http://www.carnegiemnh.org
http://www.carnegiemnh.org

Avinoff gently declines Brown’s request to speak in Pittsburgh, and then while saying he is “keenly” interested in purchasing the Tyrannosaurus skeleton, makes “no immediate assurances that such a tempting possibility can materialize into a completed transaction.” Avinoff says a “definite proposition” would be “most carefully considered” by the Carnegie Museum. He then asks for the AMNH’s price for the T. rex.

You can read the full letter here.

We’ll examine Brown’s response in due time, but while you’re waiting, we want to see your pictures with T. rex! Share them with us on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #TDIDinos.

January 14th

2008 – Dinosaurs Reproduced as Teenagers

On this day in dinosaurs, researchers announced that dinosaurs achieved sexual maturity before they were done growing. Studying the skeletons of the herbivorous Tenontosaurus and the famous predatory Allosaurus, paleontologists discovered medullary bone–a kind of bone produced by expecting mothers. The expectant Allosaurus mother was only 10 years old when she died, while the Tenontosaurus was 8 years of age. In an earlier study published in 2005, researchers identified an 18-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex with medullary bone. It appears all three of these dinosaurs would have been able to rear young prior to their untimely deaths. With tumultuous adult lives, this strategy of breeding as adolescents ensured dinosaur species would continue to proliferate despite many hardships.

2011 – Eodromaeus described

The dinosaurs were just beginning their ascent 231 million years ago when Eodromaeus strode across what is now Argentina. The “dawn runner” was one of the earliest dinosaurs and was a prototype for the body plan that would come to dominate terrestrial ecosystems throughout the Mesozoic.  Paleontologist Paul Sereno likened the animal as close to the “Eve” ancestor of all subsequent dinosaurs. Whether or not it’s Eve, Eodromaeus was undoubtedly one of the pioneering dinosaurs way back in the Triassic period.

Smithsonian
Smithsonian

Eodromaeus was around 4 feet long and weighed around 11 pounds. This little racer might have been able to run as fast as 20 miles per hour.

We hoped you enjoyed today’s double feature! Share your pictures of both early and late dinosaurs, agile hunters, and expectant mothers with us on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #TDIDinos.

January 13th

2005 – Dinosaur-eating Mammal Described

The oft-repeated popular notion that mammals scuttled about during the entire reign of the dinosaurs is true–mostly. On this day in dinosaurs, a group of paleontologists led by Yaoming Hu published a paper describing Repenomamus, a mammal that ate dinosaurs.

How were the scientists so sure of this? Repenomamus was fossilized with the remains of a Psittacosaurus in its stomach. Researchers can’t be sure whether this three-foot-long mammal killed the dinosaur or scavenged it, but in either case, the discovery proved that at least some mammals ate dinosaurs.

by Julius Csotonyi / Prehistoric Mammals Pinterest
by Julius Csotonyi / Prehistoric Mammals Pinterest

So next time you think of mammals scuttling through the Mesozoic undergrowth, remember that 130 million years ago, at least one of our ancient relations was snacking on psittacosaurs.

Share photos with your favorite mammals–even if they’re not Mesozoic–with us on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #TDIDinos.

 

January 12th

1890 – “Scientists Wage Bitter Warfare”

On this day in dinosaurs, the most famous, or infamous, feud in all of paleontology went public. The New York Herald ran a headline that read “Scientists Wage Bitter Warfare,” and the private animosities and accusations of Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh–the two giants of American vertebrate paleontology–became a tabloid delight.dino_timeline_1890If you have more than a passing interest in dinosaurs, paleontology, or the history of science, the names of O. C. Marsh and E. D. Cope will be familiar to you. Many books have been written about their individual careers and their enormous contributions to science and our understanding of dinosaurs. However, in an ironic twist, they will always be thought of together. Their mutual enmity forged a unity in the collective imagination so that today, one is rarely mentioned without the other.

O. C. Marsh and E. D. Cope. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
O. C. Marsh and E. D. Cope. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

This clashing of science, popularly known as the “Bone Wars,” began in scientific journals where the two men were hasty to discredit each other’s work, and to name more species of prehistoric animals than their rival (Paleontologist Robert Bakker referred to some of their willy-nilly naming practices as ‘taxonomic carpet bombing’). The battles continued in the rich bone beds of the American West, where legendary encounters took place between opposing work parties. Bones were hidden, smashed, and even stolen from rival worksites.

But the New York Herald headline was something more. Cope presented his ‘Marshiana’–a collection of notes and observations he had been keeping for years to bring Marsh down. He contended that Marsh had misused government funds through his work with the U.S. Geological Survey. Marsh fired back with his own accusations about Cope and the two clashed in print like bull Triceratops for weeks.

The newspaper battle was perhaps the high point of their lifelong tussling, and it was the beginning of the end for both of them. The rivalry became so fierce that it consumed them–men who at one time had been friendly enough to name species after each other. This hatred would, in the end, rob both men of their fossil collections, their working positions, and in some ways, their sanity (Cope was said to be paranoid even on his death bed of Marsh finding his private notes).

Their feud lasted beyond the grave. Cope left his body to science so that his brain could be measured. He was sure it could be scientifically proven that he was more intelligent than Marsh. But Marsh never reciprocated, and we know now that measuring brains is not an accurate measure of intellect.

Though they may have been the worst of rivals, Marsh and Cope are responsible for many of the most famous specimens in the hallowed dinosaur halls of the East Coast natural history museums. They named most of the iconic dinosaurs from the Jurassic and many from the Cretaceous as well, and their collections are still used for research today. Although it became a tabloid travesty, the Cope and Marsh feud was one of the most fruitful rivalries in science and we dinophiles are indebted to them both.

Share photos with your favorite Cope and Marsh dinosaurs on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #TDIDinos.