If you’re a blogger, then you choose when and how often you blog, what you blog about, and even whether you blog at all. There’s no pressure, do what the hell you like. I’ve always been determined not to do stuff on Tet Zoo that I don’t want to. No participation in pointless, boring memes for example. But if people send me books to review then, yikes, I suppose I better get reviewing them…
A recent-ish addition to the Tet Zoo library is Don Glut’s Dinosaurs The Encyclopedia: Supplement 5, a 798-page synthesis of new stuff in the dinosaur literature, as of April 2007. Don published Dinosaurs The Encyclopedia – from hereon D:TE – in 1997, and since then has published a new supplementary volume every couple of years. As Ken Carpenter says in the foreward to Supplement 5, it’s testament to the current highly active phase of dinosaur research that supplements continue to be required, and indeed will continue to be for the foreseeable feature, at least so far as we can tell from extrapolations about dinosaur diversity and discovery rates. While including a lengthy introductory section that discusses new work on dinosaur phylogenetics, palaeobiology and extinction, the core of the volume is an alphabetical review of both new dinosaur taxa, and of new work on not-so-new taxa. Covering as it does 2004 to 2007, Supplement 5 is therefore the book of Albertaceratops, Changchunsaurus, Dracorex, Dracovenator*, Erketu, Europasaurus, Galveosaurus, Guanlong, Juravenator, Koutalisaurus, Ligabuesaurus, Shanag, Sinocalliopteryx, Trigonosaurus, and so many others.
* Don’t forget to check out Adam Yates’s new blog of the same name.
I have mixed feelings about these books. For starters, they’re prohibitively expensive. To make an understatement of obscene magnitude, I am not exactly flush with cash, and these books are totally out of my league. D:TE costs $295 (£150, ?189), with Amazon currently doing it at a knocked-down $156.35 (£79.92, ?100). I don’t own it and don’t think I ever will, with even the bargain price being just flat-out non-affordable. Supplement 5 is $145 (£74, ?93) so, likewise, I would never get to buy this book. Of course, this is more of a complaint about the unjustifiably disgusting cost of books, and not about this book in particular, but you get the point. Moving on, the raison d’être of D:TE and its supplements is to report and summarise the dinosaur literature. To give some idea of how much literature we’re talking about for Supplement 5, the bibliography is (at 10 point text) 53 pages long.
On the one hand it’s great to have pretty much all the recent literature condensed in one place, and colleagues tell me that the volumes really are useful for this reason. I roughly estimate that all of the papers summarised here would – if printed out – require shelf-space of 1 to 2 m, yet here you have it all in one volume about 50 mm thick. But on the other hand, the books are redundant for the same reason. I appreciate that I might not be typical in this respect, but if you know and/or own the primary literature, there is very little here, if anything, that will be new to you. Importantly, rather than providing a new take or novel set of observations on any given dinosaur, Glut synthesizes the literature he’s discussing, meaning that, if you’ve read the papers concerned, you won’t get anything new at all: all the entries are retellings, with large sections of papers sometimes paraphrased or rewritten. I can’t be the only dinosaur worker/enthusiast who really does read pretty much all of the dinosaur literature, so I regret to say that I don’t ever use these volumes in my technical work (but, hey, let me say that I still very much enjoy owning them).
Most of the many included figures are lifted straight from the relevant papers, so there’s also nothing new in the way of technical illustrations. However, I like the fact that Glut includes lots of images of museum mounts, field digs and behind-the-scenes collection photos (wow, a photo of the Gigantspinosaurus mount: another one [from here] shown in adjacent image), many of which are new to me (although some are too dark and appear poorly focused). Like the other supplements, Supplement 5 also includes a lot of great new artwork by Beri Krzic. There is also at least one contribution by Mark Hallett, and new Greg Paul Acrocanthosaurus and Giganotosaurus drawings that I haven’t seen before.
Obviously, Glut goes to great lengths to obtain, collate and read and read and read the literature, and this alone must make him one of the best-informed, most up-to-date individuals on contemporary dinosaur literature. However, I think that he sometimes accepts the opinion of an author all too uncritically, effectively assuming that what that author says is accurate, and/or that it reflects the current consensus view in the field (Glut is not a technical palaeontologist, so he might not know exactly what current thinking is on particular problem areas). He also might mislead some readers in reporting controversial views without critiquing them.
In the section on the Madagascan maniraptoran Rahonavis ostromi (p. 562), for example, Glut reports how both John Ruben and Larry Martin have proposed that the only known specimen might be a chimaera (this opinion was also published by Geist & Feduccia 2000). The bones of the Rahonavis holotype were discovered closely associated, are of the right size to belong to a single individual, make anatomical sense in view of what we know about other maniraptorans, and were found in a cladistic analysis to group together, even when coded as separate entries (Forster et al. 1998: reconstruction of Rahonavis shown here). There doesn’t seem to be any good reason for the chimaera claim, but of course Ruben and Martin (and Geist and Feduccia) contend that birds are not theropods, so fossils that combine traits of both non-avian maniraptorans and birds are problematical for them and hence they seek to explain them away.
By simply reporting this as an opinion that’s apparently worthy of merit, Glut runs the risk of misinforming readers, and I think it would be helpful in such an instance to set the record straight, however briefly. Rahonavis has most recently been found to be an unenlagiine dromaeosaurid (Makovicky et al. 2005, Senter 2007, Turner et al. 2007a, b), and quill knobs – the one character used by Martin et al. to demonstrate the avian affinities of Rahonavis‘ forelimbs – are now known to occur in other dromaeosaurids, specifically Velociraptor (Turner et al. 2007c). They are not unique to birds. What’s all the weirder is that Glut reports the inclusion of Rahonavis within Unenlagiinae elsewhere in the book, so why not mention it in the section on p. 562? [cladogram below, from Turner et al. 2007b, shows body size evolution within basal birds and deinonychosaurs. Unenlagiinae is the clade at the base of Dromaeosauridae that includes Buitreraptor, Rahonavis and Unenlagia].
Another example is provided by his repetition of Manning et al.’s (2006) conclusions on dromaeosaurid claw function without critique. These authors argued that dromaeosaurid sickle claws were for climbing and not for killing, and that these dinosaurs climbed up the bodies of their prey and used their jaws as their primary weapons. It seems wrong to report these conclusions as if they’re reasonable, as – to put it mildly – a significant body of evidence weighs against them. Finally, a more extreme example is provided by Glut’s apparent acceptance of Sullivan’s work on pachycephalosaurs. Sullivan (2005, 2006) contends that domed skull roofs are primitive for pachycephalosaurs, that flat heads within pachycephalosaurs are derived, and that pachycephalosaurs and ceratopsians are not really close relatives and hence that Marginocephalia is an artificial grouping (see also Bakker et al. 2006). Glut apparently accepts all of this as valid, as he both discusses it favourably, and writes Marginocephalia as ?”Marginocephalia” elsewhere in the book. However, Sullivan’s arguments don’t appear to be strong, it seems unlikely that he’s right, and his views have not been supported by other workers who have looked at pachycephalosaurs and their phylogeny (Xu et al. 2006, Butler et al. 2008). It’s only right that Glut reported Sullivan’s work, but I find it surprising that he accepted Sullivan’s various unorthodox opinions as representing the status quo [pachycephalosaur Dracorex shown below, from Bakker et al. 2006].
I’m sure that most dinosaur workers will do something vain and shameful on first seeing Supplement 5 or any of the other supplements to D:TE: thumb through the pages in order to see if their own work has been cited and/or discussed. And if you do this and find that your research hasn’t been cited and/or discussed, do you deem the book a failure? On receiving a review copy of the then-brand-new Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs (Academic Press, 1997), one palaeontologist I know immediately checked a section relevant to his own research, only to find that a major work of his own was not cited. In disgust he wrote to the publishers, asking for a refund or something. The person I’m discussing is not quite right in the head, but anyway… how does Supplement 5 perform in this little test? I didn’t publish much in the period of time that the book covers (there’s Taylor & Naish (2005) on diplodocoids [available free here], and that is indeed discussed), but my overall impression is that coverage is indeed pretty complete [in image below, the Glut supplements are the huge black tomes to the right].
And despite my comment above about the redundancy of these volumes, I need to back-peddle a bit as, while these volumes might prove useful or even essential to some palaeontologists, there were probably not compiled with a technical audience in mind. It would be fairer to say that they do a sterling job in bringing a summary of the dinosaur literature to the public, and it would be snobbish to assume that the technical literature is just out there and available to everyone, as it’s clearly not. So hats off to Don, on balance I think he does a great service and I hope he continues to produce these weighty tomes. If only they weren’t so bloody expensive.
Full reference: Glut, Donald F. 2008. Dinosaurs: The Encyclopedia, Supplement 5. McFarland & Company (Jefferson, North Carolina, and London), pp. 798. ISBN 978-0-7864-3241-7.
The volume can be ordered from www.mcfarlandpub.com (order line 800-253-2187).
Refs – –
Bakker, R. T., Sullivan, R. M., Porter, V., Larson, P. & Saulsbury, S. J. 2006. Dracorex hogwartsia, n. gen, n. sp., a spiked, flat-headed pachycephalosaurid dinosaur from the Upper Cretaceous Hell Creek Formation of South Dakota. In Lucas, S. G. & Sullivan, R. M. (eds) Late Cretaceous Vertebrates from the Western Interior. New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Bulletin 35, 331-345.
Butler, R. J., Upchurch, P. & Norman, D. B. 2008. The phylogeny of the ornithischian dinosaurs, Journal of Systematic Palaeontology 6, 1-40.
Forster, C. A., Sampson, S. D., Chiappe, L. M. & Krause, D. W. 1998. The theropod ancestry of birds: new evidence from the Late Cretaceous of Madagascar. Science 279, 1915-1919.
Geist, N. R. & Feduccia, A. 2000. Gravity-defying behaviors: identifying models for Protoaves. American Zoologist 40, 664-675.
Makovicky, P. J., Apesteguía, S. & Agnolín, F. L. 2005. The earliest dromaeosaurid theropod from South America. Nature 437, 1007-1011.
Manning, P. L., Payne, D., Pennicot, J., Barrett, P. M. & Ennos, R. A. 2006. Dinosaur killer claws or climbing crampons. Biology Letters 2, 110-112.
Senter, P. 2007. A new look at the phylogeny of Coelurosauria (Dinosauria: Theropoda). Journal of Systematic Palaeontology 5, 429-463.
Sullivan, R. M. 2005. Pachycephalosaurs from Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta: taxonomy, biostratigraphy, and paleobiogeographic implications. In Braman, D. R., Therrien, F., Koppelhus, E. B. & Taylor, W. (eds) Dinosaur Park Symposium: Short Papers, Abstracts, and Program. The Royal Tyrrell Museum (Drumheller), pp. 121-126.
– . 2006. A taxonomic review of the Pachycephalosauridae (Dinosauria: Ornithischia). In Lucas, S. G. & Sullivan, R. M. (eds) Late Cretaceous Vertebrates from the Western Interior. New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Bulletin 35, 347-365.
Turner, A., Hwang, S. H. & Norell, M. A. 2007a. A small derived theropod from Öösh, Early Cretaceous, Baykhangor Mongolia. American Museum Novitates 3557, 1-17.
– ., Makovicky, P. J. & Norell, M. A. 2007c. Feather quill knobs in the dinosaur Velociraptor. Science 317, 1721.
– ., Pol, D., Clarke, J. A., Erickson, G. M. & Norell, M. A. 2007b. A basal dromaeosaurid and size evolution preceding avian flight. Science 317, 1378-1381.
Xu, X., Forster, C. A., Clark, J. M. & Mo, J. 2006. A basal ceratopsian with transitional features from the Late Jurassic of northwestern China. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 273, 2135-2140.