Tetrapod Zoology

Lately I’ve become quite fond of those really weird depictions of fossil animals that were utterly, utterly wrong, yet somehow managed to persist in the literature for decades. Last time round, we saw how the meme of the ‘demonic Quetzalcoatlus‘ passed from artist to artist, and had its genesis in a single, speculative illustration. Here’s another example of the same sort of thing: during the 1970s, 80s and 90s the diplodocid sauropod Barosaurus was repeatedly depicted as a very, very strange beast…

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Above is the oldest of these renditions I’ve been able to find: it comes from the multi-authored 1975 volume The Prehistoric World (Bartram et al. 1983; first published 1975); I’m afraid I haven’t been able to find out who the artist was (the book is interesting for palaeo-art fans in including some particularly early John Sibbick pics). We’ll call it the ‘Cox 1975′ Barosaurus for convenience (as Barry Cox’s name is at the top of the credits page: he was advisory consultant). Check out its grotesque freakishness. The nostrils on the forehead are forgiveable, given that everybody thought that this is where they should go until quite recently. But look at the flexible tongue, the disturbing veininess on the neck (I’m going to hope that the artist had been looking at thoroughbred racehorses for inspiration there), the weird frilly line of tissue that runs along the ventral surface of the neck and chest, the massively muscled shoulders, and the short tail. And, yes, the animal is meant to be galloping: the accompanying caption states that “it is obvious from its bones that it held its neck upright and could gallop away from danger like a reptilian giraffe” (Bartram et al. 1983, p. 110).

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Of course, if you know your dinosaur history, you’ll recognise the probable inspiration for the ‘Cox 1975′ barosaur: during the 1970s, Robert Bakker was suggesting in magazine articles and such that sauropods were not just terrestrial, endothermic ‘elephantine giraffes’, but also that they could gallop, that they held their necks up, and that they were supercharged, muscular creatures. Bakker’s iconic pencil drawing of two fast-walking barosaurs is the obvious genesis of this meme: his sauropods had muscular, erect necks, the suggestion of a seam or skin fringe along the neck’s ventral midline, and they were shown moving at what appears to be a reasonably fast pace. This illustration has appeared lots of times in the literature, but I know it best from a news piece (Anon. 1971) that accompanied Bakker’s Nature article ‘Ecology of the brontosaurs’ (Bakker 1971), and from Adrian Desmond’s The Hot Blooded Dinosaurs: A Revolution in Palaeontology (Desmond 1975), where it appears as Fig. 48.

Barosaurus – like other diplodocids – was a particularly long-tailed, long-necked sauropod with proportionally short forelimbs. Its skull is unknown* but – like its close relative Diplodocus and its more distant relative Apatosaurus – it almost certainly had a fairly long head with a ‘squared-off’ mouth. Bakker knew all of this, and the animal he showed in the background of his drawing clearly has a long tail. The one in the foreground is obviously meant to have been affected by foreshortening.

* Though McIntosh (2005) suggested that some skull material referred to Diplodocus may belong to Barosaurus instead.

I assume that some authors misinterpreted the drawing, however, and went away thinking that Barosaurus had a short, brachiosaur-like tail. A shortage of information on Barosaurus may have contributed to this idea, as perhaps it wasn’t clear to everyone at this time that Barosaurus was a long-tailed Diplodocus-like form: I note that a 1977 mural (depicting dinosaurs of the Morrison Formation) by Mark Hallett (and not showing any obvious indication of being based on Bakker’s drawing) shows Barosaurus as noticeably shorter-tailed than Diplodocus (Hallett 1987).

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Anyway, after the ‘Cox 1975′ barosaur’s debut, the meme of the ‘freaky giraffoid Barosaurus‘ then showed up in David Lambert’s 1978 book Dinosaurs (I previously used this scene back in April 2008, when advertising the Dinosaurs: A Historical Perspective conference*). This version shows a whole herd of the creatures: the animal at far left is obviously based on the galloping animal from the ‘Cox 1975′ illustration, while an individual seen in left lateral view, over on the far right of the scene (detail below), is obviously based on the background animal from the ‘Cox 1975′ piece. Again, I’ve been unable to track down the name of the artist: I think the piece was produced by an agency (the book used the work provided by several: The Tudor Art Agency, Linden Artists, The Garden Studio and Temple Art Agency); if so, it’s likely that the artist concerned was not a prehistoric animal specialist (picture agencies here in the UK typically use people who are reasonably good painters – and sometimes reasonably good painters of living animals – but they tend to know nothing whatsoever of the dinosaurs they are often asked to portray).

* The multi-authored volume resulting from this conference is due to be published in September 2010.

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Having said that the 1978 version may have been the first to appear after the ‘Cox 1975′ one, it was actually preceded by a painting produced in 1976 [shown here]. However, this painting wasn’t published (so far as I know) until as recently as 1995 (Špinar & Burian 1995). What makes it particularly interesting is that it was produced by none other than Zdeněk Burian, one of the greatest artists of prehistoric animals. Life Before Man, the book that includes the painting (p. 119), was republished several times after its first, 1972 appearance, but (so far as I can tell), the Barosaurus only appeared in the 1995 edition (it does not appear in the 1977 edition, and there weren’t any other editions issued between then and 1995.. at least, not in English). Burian’s barosaurs (said in the accompanying caption to be an ‘Original reconstruction by Špinar-Burian’) are presumably based on Bakker’s; while one is reaching up to feed from the crown of a tree, the other has just plucked a fish from an adjacent pool! By the way, I’m not 100% that the painting really does date to 1976 – what appears to be ’76′ is written below the signature at bottom left. If you own the book, have a look and let me know what you think.

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Bernard Robinson showed the ‘background Barosaurus‘ from the ‘Cox 1975′ picture again in this illustration [above] from 1978: this version comes from David Lambert’s The Age of Dinosaurs, republished in 1987. The barosaur is in the middle ground of a Morrison Formation scene, with centre stage being taken by a very rotund Apatosaurus. Diplodocus is in the far distance (incidentally, this illustration includes another of these historical memes: the ‘magpie Archaeopteryx‘). Again, we see that distinctive mast-like, vertical neck, a skin fringe of some sort along the neck’s ventral midline, and a comparatively short tail.

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You’ll probably know that I’m all for the idea that sauropods routinely held their necks in raised postures (Taylor et al. 2009), but the mast-like neck, trim body and horizontal, well-off-the-ground tail of this barosaur stands in real strong contrast to the massively fat apatosaur with its thick, elephant-like skin (ugh) and the droopy-tailed Diplodocus in the background (shown close to a lake; certainly a nod to the fact that Diplodocus was always shown as an amphibious lake-dweller). It’s as if the Barosaurus is an inter-dimensional tourist, just in from a parallel ’1960s Bakkerian’ universe and now strangely juxtaposed against the flabby, massively over-weight swamp-dwelling behemoths of the Zallinger era (hey, great idea for a comic).

If I’m right that all of these artistic renditions of Barosaurus – none of which look at all like the real thing – are connected and form an ‘artistic meme’, then this one hung around for three decades, just like the Quetzalcoatlus one we looked at previously. I recall the ‘freaky giraffoid Barosaurus‘ from childhood (I first saw it on the wall of the Dorchester Dinosaur Museum during the 1980s), and I thought then that it was very odd and not at all like the sauropods I’d seen in art before.

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For previous articles on the whole ‘historical meme’ thing, see…

There could be a book in this, but how the hell I’d get round copyright is a problem.

Refs – -

Anon. 1971. Changing dinosaurs – but not in mid-stream. Nature 229, 153.

Bakker, R. T. 1971. Ecology of the brontosaurs. Nature 229, 172-174.

Bartram, A., Booth, B., Chinery, M., Clarkson, E. N. K., Cox, B., Edwards, D., Maynard, C. & Rolfe, W. D. I. 1983. The Prehistoric World. Galley Press (London).

Desmond, A. J. 1975. The Hot-Blooded Dinosaurs: A Revolution in Palaeontology. Blond & Briggs (London).

Hallett, M. 1987. Bringing dinosaurs to life. In Czerkas, S. J. & Olson, E. C. (eds) Dinosaurs Past and Present, Volume I. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County/University of Washington Press (Seattle and Washington), pp. 96-113.

Lambert, D. 1978. Dinosaurs. Grisewood & Dempsey (London).

- . 1987. The Age of Dinosaurs. Kingfisher Books (London).

McIntosh, J. S. 2005. The genus Barosaurus Marsh (Sauropoda, Diplodocidae). In Tidwell, V. & Carpenter, K. (eds) Thunder-Lizards: The Sauropodomorph Dinosaurs. Indiana University Press (Bloomington & Indianapolis), pp. 38-77.

Spinar, Z. V. & Burian, Z. 1995. Life Before Man. Thames and Hudson (London),

Taylor, M. P., Wedel, M. J. & Naish, D. 2009. Head and neck posture in sauropod dinosaurs inferred from extant animals. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 54, 213-220. [free pdf]

Comments

  1. #1 Dartian
    June 14, 2010

    Burian’s barosaurs (said in the accompanying caption to be an ‘Original reconstruction by Špinar-Burian’) are presumably based on Bakker’s; while one is reaching up to feed from the crown of a tree, the other has just plucked a fish from an adjacent pool! By the way, I’m not 100% that the painting really does date to 1976 – what appears to be ’76′ is written below the signature at bottom left. If you own the book, have a look and let me know what you think.

    I’ve never seen that particular Barosaurus image before, but it could very well both be from 1976 as well as directly inspired by Bakker’s illustration. Burian remained surprisingly productive throughout the seventies*, and he was not oblivious to the ‘dinosaur renaissance’. For example, this picture of two chasmosaurs by Burian clearly harks back to another famous Bakker illustration. Note that the date next to Burian’s signature looks like ’76′ (or possibly ’75′).

    * In my personal opinion, compared with Burian’s earlier work his 1970′ies output became increasingly ‘kitchy’ and thus less aesthetically appealing.

    The fish-catching by the barosaur on the other hand… where the heck did that come from?!

  2. #2 Onychomys
    June 14, 2010

    So is there an example of what a barosaur correctly looks like somewhere?

  3. #3 J. S. Lopes
    June 14, 2010

    I had David Lambert’s The Age of Dinosaurs.

  4. #4 Dartian
    June 14, 2010

    Some more random musings…

    this illustration [above] from 1978: this version comes from David Lambert’s The Age of Dinosaurs

    When I saw the illustration I recognised the book immidiately. The title on the other hand… Sheesh, how many books called (The) Age of Dinosaurs are there anyway?

    this illustration includes another of these historical memes: the ‘magpie Archaeopteryx

    Never mind its colour; what is Archaeopteryx from Solnhofen, Germany, doing among all those North American dinosaurs?

    Incidentally, if you thought those erect-necked Barosaurus were bad, what do you think of Zdeněk Burian’s Tanystropheus reconstruction? (I can’t see from which year it is, but I suspect that it’s from the seventies as well.)

  5. #5 Michael P. Taylor
    June 14, 2010

    Darren, Bakker’s superb Barosaurus drawing dates back at least to fig. 4 of his 1968 paper The Superiority of Dinosaurs (Discovery, Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven 3(2):11-22).

    Onychomys asked “is there an example of what a barosaur correctly looks like somewhere?” To the naked eye (i.e. unless you were prepared to go cutting into it and looking at the vertebrae) it would have appeared very similar Diplodocus, but with a longer neck.

    My favourite Diplodocus art-work is Mark Witton’s beautiful recent piece showing a whole herd, most of them with their necks in (what Darren, Matt and I think is) the correct habitual posture, i.e. with elevated necks. You can see it here

  6. #6 Mike Keesey
    June 14, 2010

    Enjoying these paleo-art meme posts.

    “…the weird frilly line of tissue that runs along the ventral surface of the neck and chest…”

    I’ve seen that elsewhere, too, not just in Barosaurus illustrations. Example: http://www.marshalls-art.com/images/ipaleo/paleopg17/Brachiosaurus.jpg

    Is it that weird? I never thought it looked that odd, although, now that I think about it, I can’t think of any extant sauropsids with something similar. Could be forgetting something….

  7. #7 Noni Mausa
    June 14, 2010

    Forget the frilly throat — what’s with the snakey neck? Looks like a reptilian refugee from the cephalopod school of fantasy painting, where unicorns and dragons and other jointed quadrupeds are drawn with apparently cartilaginous Gumby-joints.

    For an example: http://knowyourmeme.com/i/30386/original/2007-09-14-happy-pink-unicorn.jpg?1260612416 which includes, for bonus points, “knee” joints that bend backwards. ~gag~

  8. #8 Noni Mausa
    June 14, 2010

    P.S. Is it possible that the throat-frill springs from some unconscious memory of the seam up the back of silk stockings http://www.uktights.com/tightsimages/products/normal/ja_lycra_seam_heel_hold_ups.jpg (Not safe for really stodgy workplace.)

  9. #9 Stu of the Peak
    June 14, 2010

    Louis Psihoyos’ book ‘Hunting Dinosaurs’ has a painting by John Gurche that shows a fleshed-out version of the Barosaurus mount in the AMNH (although I can’t recall seeing the painting when I was there). No frilly line of tissue on the ventral surface, but a truly elephantine look to the animal complete with heavily creased skin (albeit beige-orange) and plenty of wrinkles.

    The DK book ‘Encyclopaedia of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Life’ has several models of Barosaurus look in very Diplodocus-like, once more with grey skin.

  10. #10 Brian Switek
    June 14, 2010

    “The multi-authored [Dinosaurs: A Historical Perspective] volume resulting from this conference is due to be published in September 2010.”

    Glad to hear there is a pub date for this one! I was beginning to wonder if Written in Stone was going to beat my Huxley paper into press. :)

  11. #11 kris
    June 14, 2010

    (I’m going to hope that the artist had been looking at thoroughbred racehorses for inspiration there)

    gaaaaaaah, if only! on top of the …odd… tongue, that is about as much as i can bear thinking about!

  12. #12 neil
    June 14, 2010

    Mike Keesey wrote:

    Is it that weird? I never thought it looked that odd, although, now that I think about it, I can’t think of any extant sauropsids with something similar. Could be forgetting something….

    Not exactly the same, but the dewlap of Iguanids bears a certain resemblance before it gets hypertrophied in dominant males. I went looking for a picture and stumbled upon some posted on some zoology blog.

    I like the notion of the flap being a Freudian manifestation of stocking fetishism, but I suspect the artist was thinking about bovids. Though Darren’s troubling observation about the veiny neck, I suppose it could also be a raphe. Ew.

  13. #13 AnJaCo
    June 14, 2010

    the weird frilly line of tissue that runs along the ventral surface of the neck and chest

    Reminds me a bit of the dewlap of Zebu cattle. Zebu ‘use’ the extra surface area as an aid in cooling. Of course the Barosaurus illustrations don’t go that far. But might it not be plausible speculation? Zebu may not be pneumatized, but then they don’t weigh umpteen thousand tonnes either [or whatever current estimates are], and their surface-to-volume ratio must be much greater than all non-baby sauropods. A sauropod with a little supplementary skin area wouldn’t surprise me a bit.

  14. #14 Don Cox
    June 14, 2010

    The first dinosaur book I owned was “So Long Ago” by E Boyd Smith (1944). Two pictures from this are here.

    The Diplodocus seems to have its head at a reasonable angle.

  15. #15 Jerzy
    June 14, 2010

    Barosaurus = waterhole-going reptile.

    Sorry, just couldn’t resist. ;)

  16. #16 Jerzy
    June 14, 2010

    BTW – I thought sauropods had smooth skin, not elephant-like folds?

  17. #17 Ivan Hennessy
    June 14, 2010

    I’ve been assuming that the dewlap type thing was a choice made for the sake of illustrating the orientation of the head and neck. It’s easy to get lost when looking at a huge cylindrical appendage, especially one which snakes around a bunch. Giving it a nice centerline lets the viewer what’s going on.

  18. #18 Howard
    June 14, 2010

    In some of those illustrations, esp. Bakker’s, I get the impression that the center of mass of the animal might be as much as a quarter of the way up the neck. This looks too unstable to me. Sure, there would have been weight-saving cavities in the neck bones, but still….

  19. #19 Nathan Myers
    June 14, 2010

    Apropos memes, that couldn’t be a red pterosaur in the upper margin of the Robinson, could it?

    There’s no getting around it, barosaurus was a freaky animal, whether galloping, trotting jauntily, or wallowing in a swamp. Add in the occasional case of polycephalia that must have been so advantageous for the lucky individual — so much so that none apparently died under circumstances that led to preservation — and we have a winner even without a graboid or neck frenulum.

    But I still worry about that upright neck posture. Giraffes need extreme circulatory adaptations for far less. A series of muscle rings to move the blood along, peristaltically?

  20. #20 Jura
    June 15, 2010

    Jerzy – Sauropod “skin” impressions show them to have been scaly. As to whether or not those scales folded over in places, the Auca Mahuevo titanosaur hatchlings seem to indicate that some folds may have been present along the sides. I doubt they were as wrinkly as elephants though.

  21. #21 Vladimír Socha
    June 15, 2010

    The Burian’s painting of Barosaurus indeed comes from 1976.

  22. #22 Darren Naish
    June 15, 2010

    Thanks Vlad :)

    Nathan (comment 19): the little pterosaur in Robinson’s scene is grey, not red, but I like your style.

    Sauropod skin: what fossils we have show polygonal scales/scutes that are typically small (10-30 mm in the Howe Quarry diplodocid); even the biggest scutes on some titanosaurs (e.g., ‘Pelorosaurusbecklesii from the Wealden) are no bigger than 60 mm. So, sauropods were definitely scaly and would have looked mostly smooth-skinned from a distance, bar a scattering or covering of osteoderms and/or spikes present in some groups. No clear evidence for folds in the skin: yes, there are possible folds in the Auca Mahuevo titanosaur embryos, but these are embryos, preserved as if folded up in their eggs (and I need not remind you that embryos typically have peculiar folds in their skin: even unborn dolphins have creased skin, with a prominent set of subparallel lateral folds). The idea that sauropods had a thick, deeply wrinkled skin is of course based on elephants. I don’t know who started it (Charles Knight?), but it must have come from someone who wasn’t aware of the fossil evidence.

  23. #23 Warren B.
    June 15, 2010

    Just to clarify: are we talking no overall texture (scaly = no elephantine wrinkles, definitely); no folds around joints, wattles/dewlaps, etc.; or both? I’m getting some hints of the latter, which seems a little odd. (probably on my part)

    I’m enjoying the palaeoart meme-theme and analysis a lot. Are there any others on the cards?

  24. #24 Willem van der Merwe
    June 15, 2010

    I saw the upright-necked Barosaurus first in the nineteen eighties and it looked very freaky to me, very different from any sauropod illustration I’d seen before. I was very disappointed when I finally figured out Barosaurus didn’t really look like that.

    Another ‘meme’ I’m interested in is ‘Scolosaurus’. The restoration where it has those two spikes sticking up from the centre of its tail club. How many times has that representation appeared and who came up with it first? And for a time I really believed such a dinosaur existed.

  25. #25 Practically Uninformed
    June 15, 2010

    I am liking these posts on dinosaur memes! I hadn’t really known that such things as design memes existed beyond the most general (e.g. scaly theropods). Then again, looking back, I think there really were a few such themes that I noticed.

    Will you be doing anything on the puffin-beaked Dimorphidon meme next, or the pigeon-bodied Archaeopteryx?

  26. #26 Tim Morris
    June 16, 2010

    FYI, the recent Greg Paul skeletal recon did not show a short-tailed Barosaurus, but it did show one without a whiplash, is there any reason for this?

  27. #27 David Marjanović
    June 16, 2010

    What? Did Bakker really ever claim that any sauropods could gallop? Walk fast for long periods, faster than mammals usually do, yes, but gallop???

    BTW, has anyone else noticed how incredibly long the metatarsus is in the first and the third picture, and how that artificially high heel was misinterpreted as the knee in the sixth? And how the bennettites have morphed into palm trees (angiosperms!) by the time we reach the sixth?

    The fish-catching by the barosaur on the other hand… where the heck did that come from?!

    From ideas from the 1920s or so that sauropods must have been omni- or carnivorous (that is, eating molluscs and/or fish) because of their relatively tiny heads that didn’t allow mammal-style herbivory. It took a long time to get completely rid of them.

    (And now some people speculate that sauropod hatchlings must have been insectivorous or something, based on their phenomenal growth rates and stuff, but that’s another story. …Me, I still wonder if sauropods had cellulase. Maybe that will one day be testable by some isotope ratio or other… actually, the insectivory stuff is already falsifiable by nitrogen isotope ratios, assuming there’s enough nitrogen left in any sauropod bones at all whatsoever.)

  28. #28 Darren Naish
    June 16, 2010

    Thanks for comments, am glad so many people enjoy the ‘historical meme’ stuff. I may do more: I certainly have one more thing to say on the ‘demonic Quetzalcoatlus‘. On ‘Scolosaurus‘, I’ve always been interested in the historic depictions Willem (comment 24) mentions; so much so that there’s a bit of discussion about them in The Great Dinosaur Discoveries (pp. 78-9) – infuriatingly, we weren’t able to get any of the images I wanted to use, not least being Cutler’s specimen, now on display in London.

    Regarding David’s comment (# 27), the only Bakker comments I can find about the specifics of sauropod locomotion refer to the possibility of “slow-acting, ambling locomotion” (e.g., Bakker 1968, p. 16). But I’m absolutely sure that he did posit galloping behaviour during the 1960s; I recall reading about it in one of the many magazine articles that discussed his ideas. Doug Henderson produced a scene where a herd of brachiosaurs are galloping away from a storm, and I reckon that was Bakker-inspired too. Incidentally, a publication on the possible running abilities of sauropods is due to appear soon.

    As for screwing up the metatarsals and such on those barosaurs, while specialist artists (viz, those who know their dinosaurs) do things fine, it’s otherwise normal for artists to get the hands and feet of dinosaurs completely wrong, despite the efforts of people like myself to educate them. It isn’t only dinosaurs that get screwed up in this way: I could point you to sources that show elephants (both living and fossil) illustrated with hocks!

    Ref – -

    Bakker, R. T. 1968. The superiority of dinosaurs. Discovery 3 (2), 11-22.

  29. #29 Paul W.
    June 17, 2010

    The use of the word ‘meme’ is a meme which is a bit ironic.

  30. #30 Nathan Myers
    June 17, 2010

    That’s not what “ironic” means. The meme meme is merely metacircular.

  31. #31 Dartian
    June 17, 2010

    Darren:

    am glad so many people enjoy the ‘historical meme’ stuff. I may do more

    Do you take requests? Could you please write an article on how palaeoartists always used to portray ichthyosaurs as jumping from the water, dolphin-style?

  32. #32 David Marjanović
    June 17, 2010

    Could you please write an article on how palaeoartists always used to portray ichthyosaurs as jumping from the water, dolphin-style?

    It’s been remarkably common, but is there something wrong with it in principle? Several shark species are able to leap very high out of the water.

  33. #33 Darren Naish
    June 17, 2010

    I agree with David – are you implying that there’s something wrong with this? Dolphins aren’t the only aquatic vertebrates that do it: the other thunniform swimmers do it too (lamnids and scombroids like billfishes) and so do various non-thunniforms; ergo I’d predict it in ichthyosaurs.

  34. #34 Dartian
    June 17, 2010

    David:

    is there something wrong with it in principle?

    No, absolutely not, but my point is that it’s the kind of behaviour for which there was absolutely no actual evidence and yet depicting it did became all but standard practice in reconstructions of this particular group of extinct animals for many decades. To my knowledge, nobody ever portrayed pliosaurs or mosasaurs frolicking in the water in similar fashion – it was only ever ichthyosaurs that were thus portrayed.

    Darren:

    Dolphins aren’t the only aquatic vertebrates that do it: the other thunniform swimmers do it too (lamnids and scombroids like billfishes) and so do various non-thunniforms; ergo I’d predict it in ichthyosaurs.

    That’s prefectly reasonable, but I’m willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that virtually no palaeoartist working in the 1920′ies or 1930′ies would have primarily had sharks or tunas in mind when producing paintings or drawings of ichthyosaurs; for most of the 20th century it was explicitly dolphin appearance and dolphin behaviour that served as models.

  35. #35 Dartian
    June 17, 2010

    Forgot to add: in addition to the jumping, another fairly certain dolphin influence in 20th century ichthyosaur illustrations is the fact that they were routinely portrayed as peaceful herd (or perhaps ‘pod’) animals; this Burian painting is a typical example. (In contrast, mosasaurs and plesiosaurs were more often portrayed as lone hunters, and with a decidedly more ‘reptilian’ look.)

    Again, there is nothing wrong in principle with the idea that ichtyosaurs travelled in herds (just like there is nothing wrong in principle with the idea that Rhamphorhynchus was red). The point is that, at least as far as I can tell, there was never any solid scientific evidence behind portraying ichthyosaurs that way – it was just informal, and perhaps even unconscious, artistic convention.

  36. #36 Andreas Johansson
    June 17, 2010

    Further re: ichthyosaurs, I haven’t done any statistics, but it seems to me they’re remarkably often dipicted as dolphinishly grey, while plesiosaurs are often more colourful (because they’re, as their name says, more lizard-like, appearance-wise?). Ichthyosaur integument is, IIUC, comparatively well known – can we say if there’s any factual basis to this?

  37. #37 Jura
    June 17, 2010

    I agree with Dartian. The jumping ichthyosaurs are definitely being modeled after dolphins. Dolphins jump out of the water like that to speed up their movement (and possibly save some energy). While lamnids and tunas (marlins and crocs too) all are known to jump out of the water, I think dolphins are the only group known to actually use that as a mode of transport. Judging from many of the depictions of ichthyosaurs (including the one Dartian posted) it appears that this is what the artists were trying to portray too.

    While ichthyosaurs could have and probably did jump out of the water from time to time, I doubt they were using it as a mode of transport, like dolphins. At the very least, if they did, I would expect them to be doing it on their sides, as this would go in line with their lateral tail movements (contrasting with the dorsoventral movements of dolphins).

    Definitely a worthy subject for the ‘historical meme’ stuff.

  38. #38 Darren Naish
    June 17, 2010

    I definitely agree that the artists were thinking of dolphins (typically steely grey bottlenose dolphins) when painting those jumping or porpoising ichthyosaurs, yes. Were the ichthyosaurs in the paintings definitely porpoising though, or are they just leaping? I suppose they are meant to be porpoising. Porpoising isn’t unique to dolphins; sea lions, penguins and otters do it too, both because it conserves energy (apparently) and because they want to keep watch of things above the surface while moving. However, sharks and scombroids don’t do it so far as I know.

    As for the body orientation of leaping ichthyosaurs, I don’t agree that they’d have to emerge on their sides: when fish leap out of the water (lamnids, carcharinids, billfishes, Asian carp, flying fish) they typically do so with dorsal side uppermost.

  39. #39 Andreas Johansson
    June 17, 2010

    FYI, that (some) ichthyosaurs may have relied on dolphin-style leaping for sustained locomotion is argued in the below link:

    http://mygeologypage.ucdavis.edu/cowen/ichthyosaur.html

    Makes sense to me, but I’m not in much of a position to judge.

  40. #40 Darren Naish
    June 17, 2010

    Oh yeah, Carrier’s constraint. I read this years ago and had forgotten it. Klima suggested that ichthyosaurs rolled onto their sides to grab breaths, and proposed that this might explain the asymmetry often seen in their nostrils. Ichthyosaur nostrils are actually pretty weird. Nobody’s studied them properly (as far as I know).

    Can’t remember which of Klima’s ichthyosaur articles includes the relevant section, but it’s one of these…

    Klima, M. 1992a. Schwimmbewegungen und Auftauchmodus bei Walen und bei Ichthyosauriern. I. Anatomische Grundlagen der Schwimmbewegungen. Natur und Museum 122, 1-17.

    - . 1992b. Schwimmbewegungen und Auftauchmodus bei Walen und bei Ichthyosauriern. II. Vergleich des Auftauchnodus. Natur und Museum 122, 73-100.

  41. #41 Jura
    June 17, 2010

    For one off leaps in out of the water, I can see the dorsoventral arc, but for something like porpoising, it seems to “help” to have the body arc follow the normal axis of undulation.

  42. #42 Jerzy
    June 17, 2010

    Well, BBC team in “Walking with Dinosaurs” deliberately made footage of leaping ichtyosaur exactly the same as the memorable footage of leaping bottlenose dolphin in BBC’s earlier “Life on Earth”.

  43. #43 Jerzy
    June 17, 2010

    What about freaky emaciated snake-necked maniraptorian meme? These thin necks are drawn even now, when fossils show that plumage on the neck was long and creatures looked as neckless as an average titmouse. But Jurassic Park would not be half so scary…

  44. #44 Benjamin
    June 18, 2010

    Regarding ichthyosaur colorations, didn’t some study somewhere along the line say one species was reddish brown?

    Memes, memes, memes. I’m also curious about the “Scolosaurus” double-spike club tail. There’s a part of me that’s a little sad that it never existed. (But showed up in so many books and even more toys.) Also, “Altispinax” just having a sail over its shoulders.

    The dewlaps and throat wattles seem to go all the way back to Knight. His Agathaumas has that glorious dewlap, as do the fighting Laelapses. I’ve always been a fan, though I’m sure they’re somewhat dubious. (I guess I’m more artist than scientist.)

  45. #45 Dartian
    June 18, 2010

    Darren:

    Were the ichthyosaurs in the paintings definitely porpoising though

    In that well-stocked personal library of yours, do you happen to have a copy of Alfred Leutscher’s Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals (another children’s book from the seventies, published by Hamlyn IIRC)? There you should find a picture showing a huge herd of ichthyosaurs* travelling towards some unknown destination by porpoising. Not the most authoritative literary source perhaps, but the clearest example that I could think of.

    * Probably meant to be Stenopterygius; if memory serves me right, they looked like they had been faithfully copied from this Burian painting.

    Porpoising isn’t unique to dolphins

    Funnily enough, in contrast to dolphins actual porpoises (i.e., phocoenids) seem to do it much less often, if at all.

    sea lions, penguins and otters do it too

    Otters do it too? That’s news to me. Curmudgeonly sceptic that I am (or try to be), I would really like to see it with my own eyes. Are there any photos or videos available online that show porpoising otters?

  46. #46 Darren Naish
    June 18, 2010

    A few quick comments…

    ‘Snake-necked’ maniraptorans (comment 43): the fossils do not unambiguously show that the neck was surrounded by as much tissue as it is in many living neognaths. I’m more inclined to think that non-avian maniraptorans had necks like those of palaeognaths, waterfowl, herons etc.: in other words, the ‘true’ shape of the neck is not hidden. In fact, I think that the pigeon-necked or passerine-necked configuration you have in mind is limited to (mostly small) volant birds: it might be something to do with streamlining or heat conservation.

    Scolosaurus (comment 44): look at p. 79 in Great Dinosaur Discoveries! I won’t give the story away here… I suppose I’ll have to devote an article to it.

    Otters can porpoise? (comment 45). Yes, I only learnt this a few days ago, thanks to BBC’s Springwatch TV series. A night-vision camera, set up to film otters, caught one pursuing a goose during the middle of the night. The otter very obviously porpoised (it leapt four or five times) right toward the camera. Googling ‘porpoising behaviour in otters’ yields other reports in various otter species.

  47. #47 Dartian
    June 18, 2010

    Darren:

    A night-vision camera, set up to film otters, caught one pursuing a goose during the middle of the night. The otter very obviously porpoised (it leapt four or five times) right toward the camera.

    Wow! Was it a real predation attempt, or was the otter only playing?

    Googling ‘porpoising behaviour in otters’ yields other reports in various otter species.

    After a quick search I found a decade-old paper saying that Cape clawless otters Aonyx capensis ‘sometimes ‘porpoise’ in and out of the water’ when they are foraging in the sea* (Somers, 2000:475). In other words, this kind of information has been out there for many years now, had it only occurred to me to look for it. Oh well.

    * They, like many other otter species, do that sometimes; they aren’t exclusively restricted to freshwater.

    Reference:

    Somers, M.J. 2000. Foraging behaviour of Cape clawless otters (Aonyx capensis) in a marine habitat. Journal of Zoology, London 252, 473-480.

  48. #48 Gwen
    June 19, 2010

    I also had a copy of “The Age of Dinosaurs” a while back, although I’m not really sure where it ended up. Some of the mistakes in that book would make your toes curl.

  49. #49 Paul W.
    June 20, 2010

    The irony depends on whether you are conscious of it and care if you are suckered in by it or not. It’s the use of the word, not the fact that the concept exists, that I was referring to.

  50. #50 Devonian
    July 3, 2010

    Is there some sort of “yellow Archaeopteryx” meme, too? For some reason, I vaguely recall depictions of them often being that color…

  51. #51 James Robins
    July 3, 2010

    Darren, Apropos of not a lot…I recall a TV production many years ago, crumbs it may have been black and white, seeking explanations for the Loch Ness monster, showing half a dozen otters porpoising in line across the Loch, possible to misinterpret as the undulations of a larger beast…..incidentally is David Lambert still with us ? need to contact over his old NHM T-rex mount photo.

  52. #52 Darren Naish
    July 5, 2010

    Hi Jim – I’m guessing you’ve been contacted by the same TV company then :) I haven’t been in touch with David for a while but will see if I still have his email.

  53. #53 richard rawlings
    March 20, 2011

    Darren

    How can you say that none of these artistic impressions looks like the “real thing”. Quite common are they – things? First, you draw one, and publish it and wait around 40 years for critique. It was always popular to critic people who are in their sunset years. Come on, give over.

    Give your profession some credibility.

  54. #54 Dartian
    March 21, 2011

    Richard:

    It was always popular to critic people who are in their sunset years.

    I can assure you that in science, everyone gets criticised at some point by their peers. It’s part of the job description. (If there is a scientist somewhere whose ideas are never criticised, it would be either because his/her ideas are perfect and flawless, or because they are so trivial that everyone else ignores them. Guess which one of those alternatives is more likely.)

    And science moves on, so yes – eventually much if not most of what has been published gets outdated (except perhaps for the purely descriptive stuff). This, by extension, also applies to science-related art such as the Barosaurus restorations that are the subject of this Tet Zoo article.

    Looking at it another way, one could say that it might even be seen as a compliment to those dinosaur artists from the seventies and the eighties that Darren is still writing about their work decades later, thereby rescuing it from total oblivion. Frankly, Darren seems to be pretty much the only person who writes about this stuff!

  55. #55 Darren Naish
    March 21, 2011

    Richard: reconstructions of fossil animals should be based on the fossil evidence. As explained in the article above, the ‘giraffoid Barosaurus‘ meme emerged as artists copied their predecessors, not because these people went back to the fossils and tried reconstructing the animal accurately. While it’s true that the anatomy of Barosaurus is better understood today that it was in the 1970s or 80s, even a cursory examination of either the fossils themselves or of the primary literature will demonstrate that Barosaurus did not look like the short-tailed, giraffoid monster shown above. As I explained (I thought clearly) this image was erroneous, stemming from a misinterpretation of Robert Bakker’s drawing from the late 1960s.

    Anyway, I have to say that I can’t work out what your point is – are you actually saying that we shouldn’t criticise the decades-old efforts of artists, or were you being sarcastic? As Dartian says, criticism is integral to what we do, and in fact downright essential.

  56. #56 Tim Morris
    March 21, 2011

    Just to make an incidental comment. I once saw a truly enormous “throat fringe” on a very old childrens dinosaur book that made its bearer look like an enormous penis with legs, right down to the pinkish hue of the neck, brr, disturbing.

  57. #57 David Marjanović
    March 21, 2011

    eventually much if not most of what has been published gets outdated (except perhaps for the purely descriptive stuff).

    While descriptions and illustrations do often remain useful for 150 years or longer (I’ve used and cited a paper from 1876 in my own work, and several from 1910, 1911, 1935…), they get outdated in the senses that anatomical and other nomenclature changes, that the choice of which characters to emphasize and which to completely overlook changes enough that old descriptions can be pretty frustrating to interpret, and that ideas change about which bones should be illustrated from which angles. And of course a description cannot compare the animals it describes to animals that hadn’t been discovered yet. These are reasons why redescriptions are sometimes undertaken.