Monday, December 17, 2012

These are a few of my favourite things.

Well, it's been ages and ages since I posted, yet again. I have good reasons (as always) and will post more details soon, but for now I wanted to highlight some books and art by some of my friends, colleagues, and folks I just know from the blogosphere but who I think are pretty cool. Although it's probably getting too late to ship things in time for Christmas, I hope you'll keep these folks in mind throughout the year when you find yourself in need of palaeo-related gifts.

Niroot Puttapipat is an illustrator based out of London. His work is unlike anything else out there, and his dinosaurs have a lot of heart and humour. You can purchase books and prints via the Folio Society, and prints and other giftware at deviantART and RedBubble.

Lara Shychoski lives in Drumheller and is an awesome wildlife and palaeoartist! Her scratchboard illustrations always completely blow me away. You can purchase prints of her work at deviantART.
Dinosaur family crests, what more can I say? I'm a total sucker for minimalist graphic design, so I'm a big fan of David Orr's work. You can buy prints and other giftware at Red Bubble
All Yesterdays probably needs no introduction to anyone reading this blog, but having received my hardcopy in the mail last week I really have to reiterate what many others have said: it's a great book with a creative take on the way we reconstruct ancient animals. Make sure to look for the mountain manatee in the "All Todays" section. You can purchase it in ebook format from Amazon, or as a paperback from Lulu.
I'm looking forward to ordering a copy of A Field Guide to Mesozoic Birds and other Winged Dinosaurs after Christmas - it looks like a great compendium of information on animals that don't always get much play in popular dinosaur books. It's available at Amazon.

Published by the University of Alberta Press, Deep Alberta (by John Acorn, the Nature Nut) is a great resource for those interested in the palaeontology of Alberta - and not just the dinosaurs, either! Each two-page spread features a short story about special fossils, places, and people in Alberta.

The "Moment in Time" books are a little harder to get these days, but you can often find used copies through Amazon or Chapters. There are four books in the series - A Moment in Time with Troodon, Albertosaurus, Centrosaurus, and Sinosauropteryx. Each book is a little vignette into the life of a dinosaur, followed by lots of detailed information about the science behind the story.

And finally, please consider helping out the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum in Grande Prairie, Alberta, which recently got the go-ahead to begin construction! They are offering Cretaceous Christmas Gift Packages, which include t-shirts, fossil replicas, museum society memberships, and more. Or, you can donate directly to their IndieGoGo campaign, which has some really cool perks like signed copies of the Moment in Time books, palaeoart by Julius Csotonyi, and even the sold-out glow-in-the-dark Pachyrhinosaurus coin!

Monday, October 22, 2012

SVP, you're so silly.

Those chairs nearly killed me.
The annual Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting wrapped up yesterday. This year we got to visit the very nice city of Raleigh, North Carolina. There were many, many interesting talks and posters which I can't possibly cover in detail here, but I will look forward to the papers that will hopefully eventually come out of this meeting. SVP is the big-time serious palaeo conference for most of us here in North America...and yet, although at times the talks are SO SERIOUS, what I really like about SVP is how much fun everyone is having. And this brings me to the chairs. The chairs at the Raleigh Convention Centre seem to have built-in whoopie cushions. If you sat down too quickly, the result was unavoidable. (Raleigh Convention Centre: please don't change this!) And so, during the transition between each talk as people moved in and out of the session, a low murmur of toots resonated throughout the room. This was pretty funny during the talks, but was almost unbearable during the final banquet and awards ceremony on Saturday night. As we recognized the contributions of various members of the SVP, we would rise to give standing ovations. And as about 1000 people sat down simultaneously, the squeaky chairs were that much more noticeable.
Now, I don't mean to go on and on about the chairs...but the thing was, as the awards ceremony went on, I'm pretty sure the majority of people in the room were making a conscious effort to make the chairs squeak more loudly. SVP, I love you even more for this.
I love that our society gets the conference started with a big party in a museum, this year the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. We got to hang out with Jane and Acrocanthosaurus!

Meatballs! In! Space!

I love that the SVP hosts a giant silent auction to raise funds for various society projects. And I love that so many people donate so generously, and that so many talented people make awesome stuff for the auction.

I love that my colleagues wear ALL THE PINS.
I love that the auction committee dresses up for the live auction. Avengersaurs, assemble!
I love that the conference ends with a giant dance party featuring "Walk the Dinosaur", "I am a Palaeontologist", and "Time Warp". I love that so many of my colleagues are awesome dancers!
There's a lot to love about SVP and palaeontology, but most importantly I love that we don't take ourselves too seriously. We're passionate about our science, we're doing awesome and interesting research, and we're having fun. See you next year in Los Angeles!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Let's Build the Currie Museum!

A message from my colleague Dr. Phil Bell:

Hi all,
Some of you are already aware of the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum, which is scheduled to be built in Grande Prairie, but certainly all of you are aware of Philip Currie himself. As part of the final push to raise the remaining construction funds, we have launched a crowd-fundraising campaign on The aim is to raise $1,000,000 in 120 days. In the first hour alone, we raised $1,600!
Every donation, no matter how small, is important and donors are rewarded with a range of increasingly cool gifts including a museum logo pin, t-shirts, and original artwork by palaeo-art master Julius Csotonyi. It's all outlined on the website, so please check it out, spread the word, and help us build a world-class museum and research institute.

Many thanks!
Phil Bell
Head Palaeontologist
Pipestone Creek Dinosaur Initiative
The Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum has been working hard to raise funds for the construction of the museum, which will showcase fossils from northwestern Alberta and support research and education on Albertan dinosaurs. They've raised $17.4 million of the $30 million needed. Even without a museum building, the crew from the Currie Museum is doing an incredible amount of education, outreach, and research. Just last week, Phil visited the University of Alberta to CT scan a hadrosaur with skin impressions from Red Willow Creek. But it can only continue if the museum is funded and built. Please support the museum - they are good folks up there, and every little bit helps!

Aluk the Pachyrhinosaurus visits the Wapiti River Bonebed in 2009.

Hadrosaur mummies have been collected along Red Willow Creek.

New fossil lizards have been described from Kleskun Hills, the northernmost outcrops of badlands in Alberta.

The Wapiti River Pachyrhinosaurus bonebed has been excavated each year since 2007. We're still preparing material from that bonebed in order to figure out which species of Pachyrhinosaurus we have!


Sunday, September 30, 2012

Crystal ROM

Now that I've talked about the ROM's current offerings of temporary special dinosaur exhibits, I thought I'd turn my attention to the permanent fossil galleries. The ROM has long been one of my favourite museums, and as a student of palaeontology the only museum I have visited more often for my research is the Tyrrell. The last five years have seen some major renovations at the ROM, including the construction of the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal.

The former entrance to the museum was grand and ornate and ushered you into the entrance hall known as the Rotunda, which featured a mosaic dome ceiling. The last time I visited the ROM's previous dinosaur galleries was in 2003, before I had a digital camera, so I'm afraid I don't have any photos of the old exhibits. Although I was fond of the dinosaur skeletons in fake-foliage jungle setting, it was clear that the fossil halls were in need of updating to reflect current ideas in palaeontology.

In 2007, the ROM opened a new addition to the museum, called the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, which houses (among other things) the Mesozoic and Cenozoic fossil halls. Although at first I had mixed feelings about the crystal, I've come to really like the way it sprouts from the original museum building, and it certainly attracts attention.
The most recent iteration of the dinosaur galleries are housed within the bright, white rooms of the crystal. A lot of specimens are on display, in particular the ROM's large collection of Cretaceous Albertan dinosaurs.

The dinosaur exhibit does not overwhelm with a lot of text, but there is good information about each specimen (what's cast, what's real, etc.) provided nearby. In particular, I like the display of ontogenetic changes in the hadrosaurs Corythosaurus (shown here) and Lambeosaurus.

The ROM has one of the more extensive collections of ankylosaurid material, and a little bit is on display. The skull on display is the very nice ROM 1930, and the tail club, ROM 788, at 59 cm wide, is the second largest tail club referred to Euoplocephalus. I CT scanned this club before it was put on display, for my research on ankylosaur tail club swinging and impacts, and it only just fit through the aperture of the scanner.
The ROM also has a very nice collection of fossil mammals, including this really unusual Desmostylus....
...and wonderful South American megafauna, like this giant armadillo (foreground) and glyptodont (towards the back).
Another thing that is much appreciated about the ROM's new galleries is that extra care was taken to make sure that all of the specimens that are on display are accessible to researchers! One of these days I'll try to dig out some of my photos of the old galleries for comparison...

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Remarkable ROM

The ROM has another temporary dinosaur exhibit on display right now, Dinosaur Eggs & Babies: Remarkable Fossils from South Africa. It showcases nests and embryos of the prosauropod dinosaur Massospondylus, which were described by ROM and University of Toronto scientists in 2005 (with a subsequent paper in 2010).
The nests were found in Golden Gate National Park, South Africa.
Preparation of the eggs revealed wonderfully preserved embryos! In addition to the nests, eggs, and embryos, there is a nice set of cast skulls showing growth changes in Massospondylus, and a very cute sculpture of a hatchling.
There's a nice mount of the related prosauropod Plateosaurus (shown here in correct bipedal posture!).

I've always loved prosauropod hands. Check out that thumb claw!

It's always fun to add new dinosaurs to my list of stuff I've seen - here is the snout of a juvenile Dracovenator, a Dilophosaurus-like theropod that lived alongside Massospondylus. The exhibit also has some adult skull fragments, and a panel-mounted Dilophosaurus skeleton.
I'm not sure how long this exhibit is on display, but it's well worth checking out if you're visiting the ROM for Ultimate Dinosaurs. It's located between the Jurassic and Cretaceous galleries.

Ultimate ROM

This summer, the Royal Ontario Museum unveiled a brand-new exhibit all about the dinosaurs of Gondwana. When Pangaea rifted apart during the Triassic, it split into two continents - Laurasia, represented by the modern northern continents of North America, Europe, and Asia, and Gondwana, represented by the modern southern continents of South America, Africa, Australia, and Antarctica, plus India, Madagascar, and New Zealand. The dinosaurs and other extinct terrestrial vertebrates of Gondwana differed from their northern neighbours, and we don't often see them in exhibitions in North America.
Ultimate Dinosaurs: Giants of Gondwana features lots of interesting and sometimes obscure dinosaurs, some really great artwork, and some neat technological things (of which I am sometimes skeptical, but can wholeheartedly endorse here).
After a brief but informative introduction to plate tectonics, we're introduced to some of the earliest dinosaurs, like Herrerasaurus, Eoraptor, and the early ornithischian Pisanosaurus. In an exhibit that is definitely dominated by saurischian dinosaurs, it was neat to see this little fellow! Take note of the beautiful murals in the background, painted by Canadian palaeoartist Julius Csotonyi.
Ah, Cryolophosaurus. My second favourite dinosaur from Antarctica! ;)
This restoration of Cryolophosaurus definitely seems to have a more Dilophosaurus-y look to the skull, perhaps a result of recent phylogenetic analyses recovering a close relationship between the Antarctic taxon and other early, crested theropods.
As we move into the Cretaceous, the dinosaurs are arranged by geographic area on platforms. First off are African dinosaurs, including Malawisaurus, Nigersaurus, Carcharodontosaurus, and (shown here), Suchomimus.
I was super excited to see a mounted skeleton of Ouranosaurus, a bizarre sail-backed iguanodontian.
Ok, hands-down my favourite critter featured in this exhibition was one of the smaller skeletons, and not a dinosaur! I am sorry, dinosaur colleagues! But his adorable stubby tail and marvelous coat of osteoderms stole my heart. This is Simosuchus, a herbivorous crocodilian from Madagascar.
 I'll perhaps also add that the Madagascar 'pod' of Majungasaurus, Rapetosaurus, Masiakasaurus, and Rahonavis was probably my favourite part of the exhibition, just because I've never seen any of these taxa as mounted skeletons before, and because they're just so, so weird. Also, Majungasaurus just wants a hug, WHY DON'T YOU LOVE ME, RAPETOSAURUS?
I was very fortunate to get to see a lot of Patagonian dinosaurs last November during my visit to Argentina, but I'd never seen Austroraptor before. He is BIG! This 'pod' also features Buitreraptor, Carnotaurus, and Amargasaurus.
Although the dinosaurs are the main attraction, the main take-home messages of the exhibition are 1) continents move and 2) evolution happens. The dinosaurs are just the vehicle for delivering an exhibit that is actually all about the effects of plate tectonics on evolution, and I think that's awesome. Palaeogeography is prominently featured throughout the exhibition, and there's even an interactive team puzzle where you reassemble the continents into Gondwana. However, one of the most incredible things in the exhibit were the two giant Blakey palaeomap globes, animated to show the drifting of the continents. As you enter the exhibit, Pangaea breaks apart, and as you leave, the continents assemble into their current positions, and then keep going into the future! The video projections are staggeringly beautiful.
Honestly, I think this is one of the best dinosaur exhibits I have seen. It is bright, colourful, up to date, and packed with really good information not just about dinosaurs, but about broader themes in geology and evolution as well. Ultimate Dinosaurs is at the ROM for a limited time (I think until the end of 2012) and then it (hopefully!) goes on tour. GO SEE IT!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

What I Did on My Summer Vacation: Fine Feathered Friends

The Royal Alberta Museum is also currently hosting a temporary exhibit on the use of feathers in hat-making (millinery!) and fashion, called Fashioning Feathers. I'm not usually all that into the history of costume and fashion in museums, and so I was pleasantly surprised by how interesting I found this particular exhibit. I think it was the intersection of biology and fashion that was so neat.
There was a wide variety of taxidermied bird specimens showing what species were used for different styles, like in the photo above.
Besides the usual pheasants and roosters, there were some really unusual birds on display, like this Western Crowned Pigeon (Goura cristata).
I was pretty shocked to learn that many brilliantly coloured tropical birds, like birds of paradise, were dyed black for use in hats.  These three parrots are actually dyed Carolina parakeets (Conuropsis carolinensis), which, through a combination of hunting, habitat loss, and the plume trade, went extinct in 1918.
Audubon's Carolina parakeets, via Wikipedia.
Why not use naturally black or dark-coloured birds? Whatever would possess someone to harvest such colourful birds only to dye them black, when there are SO MANY shiny black birds present in North America? The mind boggles.

Friday, September 14, 2012

What I Did on My Summer Vacation: From Wolf to Woof

I had a chance to visit "Wolf to Woof", a travelling exhibit hosted by the Royal Alberta Museum this summer. This exhibit does a nice job covering the biology and evolution of dogs, and the relationships between canids and humans, and overall I was pretty happy that I got to see it.
The exhibit opens with the wolf ancestry of domesticated dogs and showed the variety of shapes and sizes of modern dog breeds. I liked these creepy cutaway dog skeletons, which show some of the differences in the skeletons of a St. Bernard, saluki, and French bulldog. There were quite a few models of dogs throughout the exhibit which were just slightly uncanny - I think it might have been the way that fur was sculpted and textured, that just made them feel slightly...slimy. It's hard to describe.
The domestication of dogs from wolves was explained in detail, but there was actually very little on the evolution of canids as a whole. A single station had a few replica skulls of Hesperocyon (an early canid), Canis dirus (the dire wolf), and Borophagus (the bone-crushing dog), and a cladogram showing the relationships of fossil and extant canids. I would have liked to have seen a bit more about the fossil history of dogs, but I guess I'm probably biased.
A real treat was the chance to see some taxidermied specimens of canid species you just don't really see in zoos or even in most museums, like this bush dog (Speothos venaticus)...
And a maned wolf (Chrysocyon brachyuris). There were also several foxes, a coyote, and a wolf.
There was a great station where you could listen to a variety of canid vocalizations and their 'translations'. But much of the remainder of the exhibit, on dog senses and roles in society, fell a little bit flat for me (e.g., a recreation of what it would be like to be rescued by a St. Bernard via crawling into a plastic snow pile; acute sense of smell in dogs demonstrated by wafting weird simulated bacon smell at your face, etc., and some out of place art pieces about dogs in media and life as a wolf). A final criticism was that the exhibit is clearly showing its age, with a lot of scuffed and scratched surfaces and some truly ancient interactive computer stations with roller balls. But the exhibit was reasonably popular on the summer day that I visited, and kids seemed to be getting a lot out of it, so perhaps I'm not exactly the target audience for something like this. I could see this exhibit working very well as a school field trip.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

What I Did on My Summer Vacation: Take the Left Turn at Albuquerque

I visited the New Mexico Museum of Natural History in June for a couple of days with my friend and colleague Mike Burns to look at [top secret specimen yet again, sorry!]. OH MAN was Albuquerque toasty in June. But we had a very fine time indeed eating southwest food and visiting the museum.
In part I liked the museum because it has such a large collection of Triassic vertebrates, which I don't really see too much of in my travels to look at Late Cretaceous dinosaurs. I hadn't really realized just how BIG Placerias was.
There was a wonderful big block of Ghost Ranch Coelophysis, which you could definitely spend a good amount of time poring over.

And I also enjoyed the various walls-o-Triassic-skulls, like these phytosaurs.
I know Stegosaurus is a staple of many dinosaur halls, but the subdued yet modern pose of this particular mount is really pleasing. Note also that the manus is correctly mounted!
The Jurassic gallery is dominated by this Seismosaurus and Saurophaganax pair, as well as a deliciously weird but detailed mural. Many of the original bones used to create these mounts are laid out on the bases of the mounts, and there are helpful skeletal diagrams to show what original material is known.
A temporary exhibit celebrating 100 years of discovery in New Mexico reveals a new exhibit case each month. One month featured a relatively recently named tyrannosaur called Bistahieversor.
The Cretaceous hall was pretty neat, with lots of living trees and other plants and a mural of the seaside enveloping the room. Two life reconstructions of marine vertebrates of the Cretaceous, a mosasaur and the swimming bird Hesperornis, were particularly cool. I really liked the grebe feet on the Hesperornis! I'm not sure if there's any evidence for it, and now I want to find out!