Tetrapod Zoology

My mate Bob Nicholls (of Paleocreations) has been producing some awesome artwork lately. Why, for example, there’s this…

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… and this…

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The first illustration (both pics © Bob Nicholls and used with permission) shows the Jurassic pliosaur Liopleurodon Pliosaurus performing its usual trick: modifying other plesiosaurs such that they become manageable chunks. In the second piece, a group of the Cretaceous ichthyosaur Platypterygius prey on fish. As I’m sure I’ve said before, Platypterygius encompasses a pretty substantial diversity: numerous species have been named and it’s likely that ‘over-lumping’ has partly obscured our view of Cretaceous ichthyosaur diversity (and I say this despite Maiaspondylus lindoei Maxwell & Caldwell, 2006).

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And it would be wrong to depict Mesozoic marine reptiles and not advertise once again the seminar happening at the end of this month: Sea Dragons of Avalon: the early radiations of the marine reptiles and recovery from the Triassic-Jurassic faunal crisis, with special reference to Street in Somerset and the wider British record. For more information, please go here and follow the links.

Those of you attending the Street meeting will know how important the place is in terms of the history of Mesozoic marine reptile research. And I only recently learnt the following, here passed on from Mike A. Taylor (that’s marine reptile Mike Taylor, not sauropod vertebra Mike Taylor)…

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“The ichthyosaur crest adopted in the late 19th century by the then Street Urban District Council is still used by Street Parish Council on its headed paper, and it can also be seen, for instance, on the name signs marking the road entrances to Street and – particularly appropriately – as the emblem of the local Swimming Club. It was also, happily, resurrected for the mug which Street Parish Council gave to every schoolchild in the town to mark the Millennium in 2000.

“Street remains the only British town with an official marine reptile, as far as I know. Maidstone in Kent has its coat of arms ‘supported’ by a lion and the local dinosaur Iguanodon (Oakley 1975). Barrow upon Soar in Leicestershire (whose former quarrying industry exploited the same strata as at Street) has a stylised representation of the local plesiosaur Rhomaleosaurus megacephalus on a plinth within the village – but that is not official heraldry [go here to see it].

“Interestingly the Street emblem is, in a sense, archaic, in that it shows an ichthyosaur with an almost straight tail, although it is now known that most ichthyosaurs, and certainly the Jurassic ones found at Street, had kinked vertebral columns in the tail, with the tip of the tail skeleton sweeping down into the lower lobe of a double-lobed tail fin much as in sharks (but inverted by comparison to these fishes). This presumably reflects the understanding of the time, though I am looking into this further.

“Here is a photo of the sign (above) if anyone needs more encouragement to attend”.

And here’s a closeup of the ichthyosaur on the sign (both images National Museums Scotland).

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For previous Tet Zoo articles on plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs see…

Comments

  1. #1 Mike Keesey
    July 1, 2009

    Neat!

    Platypterygius encompasses a pretty substantial diversity: numerous species have been named and it’s likely that ‘over-lumping’ has partly obscured our view of Cretaceous ichthyosaur diversity

    Over-lumping and, more insidiously, the idea that a genus is a unit of diversity….

  2. #2 Matt Wedel
    July 1, 2009

    Wow, those are some sweet paintings. Lovely use of light and shadow.

    I have to give mad props to Bob Nicholls for letting me use his painting “The Last Brachiosaur” for the cover of my Fundamental! publication in 2007. It was all done on super-short notice and he was very generous and a real gentleman.

    Plus, he had the extreme good taste to do a full-on painting of Sauroposeidon, which makes him among the most discerning of artists.

  3. #3 Michael P. Taylor
    July 1, 2009

    That’s all very well, but how come he’s never done a Xenoposeidon painting?

  4. #4 Willy
    July 1, 2009

    Awesom artwork… its trully impressive!!

    Im too a bit of paleoartist… but I do it more like a hobby than a real job… and must say that the best thing this guy have is the light and shadow work

    the only thing thats calling my attention is that liopleurodon that looks a lot more like a Brachauchenius

  5. #5 Michael Erickson
    July 1, 2009

    That’s some beautiful artwork. It’s stylized, almost cutsie, and yet so amazingly realistic. In that sense it sorta reminds me of the Great Master Charles R. Knight. I am a palaeontographer (to use John Conway’s term) myself, although I mostly do pen-and-ink or pencil life restorations, and pen-and-ink skeletal recontructions. I’ve never really attempted a serious painting, though, but with folks like Bob Nicholls out there, I doubt I’d even have the guts to try.

  6. #6 Zach Miller
    July 1, 2009

    I never knew they found a duck-mimic ichthyosaur!

  7. #7 Nathan Myers
    July 1, 2009

    Zach: I’ve been looking at his illos an that page and haven’t spotted anything ducky. Clue?

    I wonder if the threat of lightning strikes would have applied enough selective pressure for sauropods to instinctively keep their heads down during storms.

  8. #8 Matt Wedel
    July 1, 2009

    I think Zach was referring to the duck-billed ichthyosaur on the sign, but c’mon, that is clearly the head of a platypus. Probably one of those Cope’s elasmosaur/Apatosaurus skull-type mixups, they happen all the time…

  9. #9 The other Adam
    July 1, 2009

    As to lightning and sauropods, I wonder if anyone has looked at lightning strikes and giraffes. It must happen sometimes (quick google search indicates that it does, but usually nearby taller trees offer protection). Perhaps sauropods stuck to wooded areas–which brings up another question. Just how tall were trees in the Cretaceous?

  10. #10 Darren Naish
    July 1, 2009

    I have some info on giraffes and lightning strikes: I thought I’d put it on Tet Zoo but can’t seem to find it. About the only useful info that I recall comes from an introduction programme where giraffes were put into a new area prone to lightning strikes – and, surprise surprise, deaths were (comparatively speaking) high.

    Someone else will have to answer the bit about sauropods and trees – I have pizza to eat… Short answer: sauropods lived worldwide for about 150 million years, so lived alongside all the kinds of trees you might imagine.

  11. #11 Mark Evans
    July 1, 2009

    Bob’s work is very nice, as ever. I particularly like the backlighting on Liopleurodon’s teeth. Incidentally Liopleurodon and Brachauchenius are probably closely related. Intuitively they should form a clade, and they do in analyses in which they’ve both been included, but along with things like Pliosaurus which just doesn’t seem quite right…

  12. #12 Colin Swift
    July 1, 2009

    While we’re on the subject of Marine Paleo-art (one of my favourite subjects), and at risk of a little shameless self-promotion…

    Liopleurodon Snack

    (3 recent commercial 3D CGI models I have created) The 3 models were created specifically with an eye towards Mike Frederick’s upcoming Leedsichthys article in the next issue of Prehistoric Times, but I couldn’t resist the urge to include marine reptiles Liopleurodon and even Metriorhynchus. From a scientific/behavioural perspective, one might quibble at the pliosaur’s attack on a bony pectoral fin rather than a more nutritious bodypart, but call it ‘artistic license’ – I didn’t want to obscure the poor moribund Leedsichthys, which was, after all, the nominal subject of the image.

    “Me, I loves marine reptiles, I does!”

  13. #13 Dave Godfrey
    July 1, 2009

    As usual, Bob Nicholls shows himself to be an indecently good artist. I agree about the stylisation- especially in the second painting. But they’re beautifully done, and are yet another reminder that I really ought to pull out the graphite again.

  14. #14 Zach Miller
    July 1, 2009

    Colin, I like your models and the picture itself, but you don’t see this kind of oppotunistic predatory behavior against modern whales (or do you? I guess I don’t know), so why would it apply in the Cretaceous?

    Leedsichthys is an awesome fish, though, one I’ve always wanted to know more about.

  15. #15 Dan Varner
    July 1, 2009

    Superb work by Bob. This is the finest pliosaur image I have seen. He’s a master of composition, drawing your eye in and out and around. You feel the three dimensions in a graceful and stately fashion. These images should appear life-sized on a museum wall to be truly appreciated.

  16. #16 wolfwalker
    July 1, 2009

    That painting of Liopleurodon is really impressive. But isn’t that color pattern a little complex for a vertebrate?

  17. #17 Nathan Myers
    July 1, 2009

    wolfwalker: You mean, compared to O. orca?

  18. #18 Colin Swift
    July 1, 2009

    Re Comment #14: Zach, when I was researching the Leedsichthys model, I seem to recall reading about scars on at least one Leedischthys fossil which indicates a non-fatal attack by a large pliosaur – i.e. the wound had apparently healed, indicating that the fish survived the encounter. Sadly, I cannot immediately find the specific reference, so I can understand your skepticism.

    In modern terms, however, there are documented attacks on large mysticetes and especially their young, by pods of orcas (Orcinus orca). Last week, I watched a documentary of a June 2004 attack on a northward-bound Grey Whale (Eschrichtius robustus) and her calf in Monterey Bay by a ‘superpod’ of orcas (which comprised several individual family pods which were seen to converge at the site over several hours), filmed by several different research and whale-watching groups as word of the attack spread. The attack was ultimately unsuccessful, as the mother was able to guide her calf to shallower waters where the orcas’ attack techniques were lessened. Analysis of the various reports by Monterey Bay Aquarium researchers lead to the conclusion that the adult orcas were teaching their young how to attack mysticetes. Here is one web account of the incident: http://creagrus.home.montereybay.com/MtyBayOrcaattack.html

    and another, non-technical but informative newspaper story on the various orca/gray events of the 2004 season and beyond: http://www.montereycountyweekly.com/archives/2004/2004-Jun-03/Article.coverstory/1/@@index

    It also seems there are other examples of predation on large whales by apex marine predators. I believe it is generally accepted that cetaceans constituted the prime foodsource for Carcharocles megalodon, perhaps the most famous prehistoric shark.

    Finally, as I alluded in my original post, if a pliosaur were to attack a Leedsichthys, it seems intuitively more likely that a bony pec fin would probably not be the prime target. However, the image was composed for artistic license, as I wanted to depict the Leedsichthys relatively unobstructed.

  19. #19 Zach Miller
    July 2, 2009

    Geeze, freaky. Thanks for that info, brother.

  20. #20 Nathan Myers
    July 2, 2009

    Darren: Doesn’t “exceeds expectations” suggest you normally don’t expect Bob Nicholls to produce jolly good artwork? Or are you talking about your expectations of paleographicists in general?

    And about that first image: isn’t that an example of forced perspective. I.e., the plesiosaur is actually in the background, and the pliosaur is coming sharply about to make a run at it? The plesiosaur looks oblivious.

  21. #21 Tim Morris
    July 9, 2009

    My only real shortcoming with most plesiosaur artwork is the failure to recognise that almost all of the existing skeletal restorations are outdated and wrong. These paintings seem to show the correct shape, which is good.

    As far as I know, recent research has found that the “barrel-chested” look usually given to plesiosaurs is mistaken. More recent recostructions give plesiosaurs a more flattened, muscular body. What opinion do you have on this, Darren?

  22. #22 Dinosaurzzz
    August 31, 2010

    I’m a paleoartist as well, but you see, it’s a hobby, since I’m still in high school, but those two pictures certainly hit the spot!! I’d say that Pliosaurus looks a bit Kronosaurus with the REALLY short neck,but I ain’t complainin’ ’bout nothin’!!!
    Superb pics up there, and it’s good that Platecarpus has got his own makeover; it’s really struck me some time back, that,while looking at shastasaurs and early ichthyosaurs, and mosasaurs that they look quite similar. Then I went to Plotosaurus of the Maastrichtian. It looks darn pretty “ichthied-out” with its high tailfin kinda thing, fat body and narrow snout. Seems like the mosasaurid line might’ve gone so far as to not only take over at the start of the Cenomanian but get into the inchthyosaurs’ shoes.
    Platecarpus tympaniticus has proved it recently, and heck, I suppose it’s tail flukes, but sans dorsal fins. Don’t mind…yep…don’t mind at all