|Deinonychus © John Conway|
We just finished a very productive week of work at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History (e.g. the LACM). I am back in Pittsburgh, and working over the final details of a paper we have put together for a top peer-reviewed journal. We cannot disclose the details at this time, except to say that the paper involves feathered dinosaurs (such as the wonderful Deinonychus above by John Conway of Ontograph Studios). The realization that many theropod dinosaurs were feathered really started to solidify in the 1990's. The number of known specimens with feathers continues to grow steadily, and these extremely bird-like animals have greatly changed our understanding of bird origins and the systematics of dinosaurs. However, there has been relatively fewer rigorous biomechanical investigations. As you might expect, we have gone and done exactly that for one species of note. With any luck, we will be posting a followup about this research when it's accepted for print!
We also worked on our analysis of mosasaur swimming. Mosasaurs were marine reptiles of the Cretaceous, found to be closely related to modern snakes and monitor lizards. The group included some real aquatic giants, the sort of animals you probably would not want to go swimming with...
Mosasaurs were traditionally reconstructed with snake-like body plans (look at images on Google to see some traditional illustrations). However, in 2010, a team reported on the best mosasaur fossil in the world. This fossil greatly alters our knowledge of mosasaur body plan. In a nutshell: they were more "whale-shaped" than snake-shaped in many respects. Here is a photo of the fossil, and the simple reconstruction from the PLoS ONE manuscript showing the updated body plan:
I have been consulting for Creative Differences on their upcoming show Dinosaur Revolution (for Discovery Channel). One item of note that came up recently in my discussions with the crew working on the show is mass estimations in mosasaurs. Some of the estimates out on the web treat the animals as if they their mass scaled similar to whales. You'll note, however, that while the streamlined body shape is similar, whales have huge heads. They also have comparatively short tails. What this means, overall, is that mosasaurs would have probably been rather less massive than a whale of similar length. However, the available power for propulsion may not have been terribly different. We will talk more about what this all means in future posts, but be ready for some rather fast mosasaurs (at least in short bursts).