On this day in dinosaurs, we celebrate the birthday of a dinosaur evangelist, a science communicator, and one of the leading voices in the dinosaur renaissance. Robert Bakker, famed by name and caricature in the Jurassic Park franchise, has been one of the most outspoken and vivacious paleontologists of the modern era.
He’s written both novels and scientific works on dinosaurs and has helped to educate a generation of scientists. As one of the most eloquent and impassioned dinosaur hunters of our age, Bakker has appeared on television on countless occasions. He is also a great paleo-artist and an ecumenical minister.
Thank you for your imagination and inspiration, Dr. Bakker! We hope you have a sauropod-sized celebration today.
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We’re accustomed to thinking of dinosaurs on Jurassic floodplains or in Cretaceous jungles. But dinosaurs lived all over the world, and the ancient continents boasted a variety of different ecosystems. Dinosaurs adapted to these surroundings, and lived in environments that we don’t often associate with the Mesozoic.
It’s easy to think of paleontologists digging in deserts because that’s where rock is easily exposed, but dinosaurs lived in deserts too. The Gobi Desert in modern Mongolia was a desert during the Cretaceous period too, and many of the breathtaking, near-complete fossil discoveries made there are due to dinosaurs being trapped beneath sand dunes or caught in sandstorms. The sandstone preserves their remains and paleontologists liberate the beasts from the habitat they called home. And it was home–dinosaurs evolved methods of coping with desert extremes, just as animals do today. Did they stay out of the heat of the day and operate, at least a bit, at night? Did they have special anatomical features not preserved in the skeleton that helped them deal with extreme temperatures? The answers to these questions and many others lay buried in the stones.
But birds and a range of “cold-blooded” dinosaur relatives live in deserts today so perhaps it doesn’t seem too big a stretch to think of dinosaurs eking out an existence in the blazing sun and shifting sands. But what about the other extreme?
The polar regions were different during the Mesozoic. Continents were in different positions and the greenhouse effect was in outrageous overdrive–ensuring much higher temperatures. Today’s Antarctic and Arctic regions were home to great forests. Dinosaurs who lived in these areas–and they have been found in Alaska and Antarctica–faced months of darkness and likely snowstorms and colder temperatures, even if they weren’t as cold as today’s poles.
So don’t think of dinosaurs as reptiles playing it safe in the swamp. Think of them as pushing themselves to Earth’s extremes–and the range of birds that call the deserts and the icy regions home today continue the tradition.
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1985 – Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend is Released
On this day in dinosaurs Touchstone Pictures took us into the African jungle where researchers attempt to rescue a baby sauropod dinosaur from the clutches of privateers and military moguls. Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend was inspired by the tales of Mokele-mbembe, a folk legend of a dinosaur (or dinosaur-like) creature that survives somewhere in the depths of the Congo rainforest.
The movie was most notable for its full-size animatronic dinosaurs, which thundered through the trees and reacted to the human actors in ways that previous stop-motion animation didn’t allow. But with the release of Jurassic Park several years later, Baby and many other films became instantly outdated. “Don’t you mean extinct?” Regardless of popular opinion, Baby still has a warm place in the hearts of many dinophiles, especially for its appearances in the dinosaur documentaries of the late 1980s.
1995 – Happy Birthday Nick Robinson
Also on this day in dinosaurs, Jurassic World‘s Nick Robinson was born. Robinson’s character, Zach Mitchell, undergoes quite a transformation during the course of the film–from aloof teenager to his brother’s caretaker.
There’s no other big brother we’d pick to protect us from genetically engineered pseudo-dinosaurs. Hope you have a great, Indominus-free day Nick!
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On this day in dinosaurs, we meet a little herbivore from present day Montana and Idaho that introduced paleontologists to an entirely new kind of dinosaur trace fossil (like those we discussed yesterday). Around 95 million years ago Oryctodromeus was digging burrows.
At 7 feet long and around 50 pounds, Oryctodromeus was excavating protective burrows for their young. Three juveniles were discovered in a burrow that was about as long as an adult. Parents likely cared for the young in the burrow, much as modern digging animals do. This protection was ultimately the family’s downfall. The youngsters were found buried in sandstone that had filled in the mudstone burrow. Something must have befallen the parents and the children were stranded without food or aid.
While the fossilized family paid a terrible price, we are able to glimpse their world more vividly because of their tragedy. Now, we can imagine dinosaurs frantically tunneling into hillsides, preparing for nest sites. We can picture these creatures entering and exiting their quarries, bringing food to their offspring. It’s a vivid and dramatic Cretaceous scene–and more exciting than just the discovery of skeletal fragments. The trace fossil burrow really brings these dinosaurs back to life.
Post your favorite Oryctodromeus photos or other dinosaur trace fossils and share them with us on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #TDIDinos.
When we think about dinosaur remains, most of us usually imagine gigantic fossil bones. But body fossils are just one line of evidence in the search for the everyday reality of dinosaur lives. Dinosaur trace fossils, which comprise non-skeletal remains, tell us an enormous amount about our favorite extinct creatures–some would argue even more than corpses do.
Let’s start with dinosaur eggs. Fossilized eggs are somewhat taken for granted these days, but when Roy Chapman Andrews and company returned from Mongolia’s Gobi Desert with the first dinosaur eggs in the 1920s, they were a source of bewilderment. In those days, dinosaurs were still overgrown lizards–monstrous and dim-witted. Eggs, though previously hypothesized (and mis-identified), allowed dinosaurs to be seen as living animals, rather than primeval leviathans awaiting extinction.
If eggs were a sensation, complete dinosaur nests were even more illuminating. Half a century after Andrews, Jack Horner and Bob Makela–with the help of Marion Brandvold–described the first dinosaur nesting grounds in Montana. Not only did dinosaurs breed like modern animals, they were parents. This, along with many other factors, was another key development in the modern understanding of dinosaurs as caring, nurturing beings.
Dinosaur footprints have been known to science for much longer than eggs. In the 1800s, New England was the primary locale to find them. They were initially thought to come from remotely old birds, even from “Noah’s raven.” As the frequency of fossil footprint sites increased, and our understanding of Mesozoic life progressed, trackways revealed that dinosaurs weren’t as slow as we once thought, that they moved in herds as social animals, that they migrated.
Evidence for all these ideas is corroborated by another form of trace fossil–coprolites–fossilized dung. Excrement always draws giggles, but dinosaur waste is a valuable source of information that tells us about ancient ecosystems, what dinosaurs fed on, how their digestive systems operated, about the snails and beetles that relied on the dung for sustenance. Herbivorous dung is often trampled by the feet of the herd, while predatory dung is often undisturbed. Coprology is a fascinating, if peculiar, line of inquiry into dinosaur lives.
Other trace fossils, like gastroliths (the grinding stones that dinosaurs may have swallowed to help grind up plant material), and tooth scratches on bones continue to give us evidence about how the beings that left behind those mysterious skeletons thrived in a time long before our own.
We’ll talk about another interesting trace fossil and the dinosaur that created it tomorrow!
Until then, we want to hear about your favorite trace fossils! Share the stories of your favorite discoveries and photos of your favorite non-skeletal dinosaur fossils with us on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #TDIDinos.
Jokingly described as the “chicken from hell” because its remains were found in the Hell Creek Formation in the Dakotas, Anzu seems to have been a generalist–an herbivore, or perhaps, an omnivore. Even though its beak as not as robust as its relations, it was probably formidable enough to tackle a range of vegetation, along with small animals and, possibly, eggs. One of its most distinctive features is its large head crest–larger than those of its cousins. Resembling today’s cassowary, Anzu most likely used this crest for display.
The fossil bones of several individuals of the species were found in mudstone, suggesting that Anzu lived on ancient floodplains. Its enchanting skeleton stands in the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh.
Share your favorite feathered oviraptor photos with us–including snaps with Anzu–on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #TDIDinos.
On this day in dinosaurs, Othniel Charles Marsh published famous illustrations of the most iconic dinosaurs–Triceratops and Brontosaurus.
The plates are still aesthetically pleasing today, although science has pushed past many of their limitations. Marsh’s descriptions are also dated–he imagined Brontosaurus eating aquatic plants and Triceratops moving very slowly. While Marsh had published earlier descriptions of fossils and even a Brontosaurus skeleton in previous years, these illustrations (and a Stegosaurus reconstruction we’ll discuss a few months from now) became definitive for generations.
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