Few people would argue that 2014 has been anything other than a cracking year for palaeontology. More specifically, dinosaur fans got to open their Christmas presents early, with the release of new reconstructions of Deinocheirus and Spinosaurus. The latter has been a mainstay of popular palaeontology literature for over half a century, with many dinofans relatively confident of the animal's real-life appearance. On the other hand, Deinocheirus has often featured in those very same books for the opposite reason (explained here simply for those weary blogonauts who may have stumbled across Pteroformer by accident). Deinocheirus mirificus was discovered in the mid-'60s by Professor Zofia Kielan-Jaworoska, during a Polish-Mongolian expedition to the Gobi desert. The mostly-scattered skeleton of D. mirificus comprised some vertebrae, ribs and two enormous arms and scapulae. In spite of a few peculiarities, the arms resembled those of other ornithomimids. The key is in the 'enormous' bit: 2.4 metres is a lot of arm. And it's easy to see why that would cause excitement. Deinocheirus is a theropod and theropods are traditionally murderers. Enormous heads full of lots of teeth, which themselves are always compared to steak knives - well, at least in '80s dinosaur books. But it's their arms which this is all about, and when someone finds what is, at the time, the biggest set of theropod arms ever, well, they must belong to the biggest theropodan murderer ever.
|Deinocheirus mirificus: Reaper-saurus or nay? Speculative reconstructions of this animal depicted it as everything from a giant dromaeosaur to a tyrannosaur. It's as if people wanted it to have been a killer. Available on a t-shirt here! (Copyright © Gareth Monger)|
And so 2014 happened. Papers were released and rumours confirmed. Museums and dinosaur parks alike bulldozed their now-redundant mounts and fibreglass monstrosities and Dorling Kindersley deleted its back catalogue. I exaggerate, of course. But of the two animals, Spinosaurus was the major upset. Its new look rendered nearly all previous reconstructions inaccurate, but also caused a bit of a stink among fanboys, many of whom didn't like the new 'design'. The paper written by Ibrahim, et al (2014) showed Spinosaurus to be heavily modified towards a largely-aquatic lifestyle, its hindlimbs reduced to the extent that running around on land was unlikely. It didn't take long before people took to social media to complain about the new reconstruction, and that's understandable - it's awkward. It doesn't fit with people's preconceptions of how theropod dinosaurs should look. Even some dinosaur workers remained unconvinced (see here and here for initial responses from Mark Witton and Scott Hartman). It's worth noting that, as an aquatic non-avian theropod, it represents something of a first, so there's nothing to compare it to. In case you missed it, here's Davide Bonadonna's illustration for National Geographic:
|Two Spinosaurus aegyptiacus swim for their food in Davide Bonadonna's dynamic illustration. (Copyright © National Geographic. Used with permission.)|
|Deinocheirus mirificus wades out into the shallow waters of a Late Cretaceous Mongolian landscape. (Copyright © Andrey Atuchin. Used with permission.)|
Big, big thanks must go to Andrey Atuchin and Davide Bonadonna, both of whom supplied digital versions of their excellent illustrations at very short notice, allowing me to use them in this article. Click their names to visit their websites.