March 25th

At the Boundary Between Life and Death

Non-avian dinosaurs don’t exist anymore. And while our feathered contemporaries inspire their own sense of insatiable wonder, we will not see living dinosaur giants in our short sojourn on planet Earth. Yet, these mysterious creatures live on in our culture–moreso than any other prehistoric animals.

FossilMuseum.net

Dinosaurs have become something more than animals. They are beyond nature, beyond myth, beyond monsters. They are all of these and yet none of them individually. Dinosaurs have been resurrected by us–not in a literal, Jurassic Park way, or in the still-distant and slightly peculiar retrofitted chicken way. We infuse those old bones with art, and movies, and music, and memories and recreate dinosaurs within our imaginations. Each one of us has a distinctly unique vision of them, as individual as our fingerprints.

And because we perform this miraculous reconstruction of ancient life, and because we love the dinosaurs we’ve each created in our own minds, the Mesozoic megafauna transcends extinction. Dinosaurs live on, both as living birds and as humanity’s favorite creatures from the past. They proliferate in our cerebral recesses. Inside our brains their calls echo through eternity. Because of us, they dance, duel, and die again.

We want to know what you think about dinosaurs and why our fascinations with the extinct creatures persist. Share your thoughts and favorite dinosaur photos with us on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #TDIDinos.

March 24th

1945 – Happy Birthday Robert Bakker

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.

Alchetron

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.

Share your favorite photos of, and with, Robert Bakker with us on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #TDIDinos.

March 23rd

At the Extremes

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.

BBC

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.

Share your favorite paleo-art of dinosaurs at the extremes with us on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #TDIDinos.

March 22nd

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.

Blu-Ray.com

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.

MovieWeb

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!

Share your favorite dinosaur movie photos with us on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #TDIDinos.

 

 

March 21st

2007 – Oryctodromeus described

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.

Oryctodromeus burrow / Dinosaur Pictures

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.

March 20th

What Trace Fossils Tell Us

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 footprint / Wikimedia Commons

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.

March 19th

2014 – Anzu Named

On this day in dinosaurs, North America’s largest oviraptorid was named. Anzu, whose moniker is derived from the Sumerian feathered demon, was around 5 feet tall and 10 feet long.

Wikimedia Commons

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.