Photo of the Day #18: Amphicyon stalking its prey


Yesterday my friend Julia commented that one of the best times to visit a museum is in the late afternoon during the winter, and these two photographs will give you some idea why. While the fourth floor of the AMNH is usually bathed in natural lighting during most of the day and artificial lighting from above during the evening, there's a few minutes during the winter months while the sun is getting low in the sky but the overhead illumination hasn't come on yet, a time when shadows sweep across the ancient bones. These two photographs of the "Bear Dog" Amphicyon were taken during that short interval, and they are among my favorite pictures I've been able to shoot at the museum. Perhaps I'm appealing a bit much to the imagination, but the top photograph gives me the impression that I captured the picture as it was trying to sneak up on me, but then again the pose makes sense as the carnivore was reconstructed chasing a pronghorn antelope Ramoceros off camera.


I'm sure that I have mentioned this before (and I probably will again), but my fondest museum memories aren't from brightly-lit galleries but of dim, almost gloomy fossil halls where everything took on a bit of mystery. My first encounters with "Brontosaurus" in the now long-gone Hall of Early Dinosaurs during the 1980's left a great impression on me, and although I'm sure others have different aesthetic preferences I feel that skeletons "come to life" in environments of dark and shadow more than when they are under direct illumination. Either way, I am somewhat glad that I don't have to worry about bumping into Amphicyon these days (as much as I would have liked to see one in life), as I have no doubts that it was one of the fiercest predators of its time.

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Holy mother of f...! And I thought your last shot of that mount was scary!

(The lighting in the top photo makes it look to me like the beast just strode very slowly from behind a pillar, making no hurry at all, because it doesn't matter a damn how fast you run. Eventually, it will get you.)

I swear, it turned to look at me... *shudders*

I'm really visualising one of those CGI sequences, where you've got a skeleton suddenly magically reassemble itself from a heap of bones. Then it takes a stride and works those jaws it hasn't used for 15 million years. It begins to pick up speed before breaking out into a flat-out sprint, and as it does so, layers of muscle and fat appear on the bare bones. And in that final moment as it pounces onto a terrified museum-goer, the final layer of skin, fur and other soft tissues are finally overlaid, bringing the terrifying Amphicyon back to life.

Thanks for the comments! Like you both have noticed, these shots really pick up a sort of predatory mood not noticeable under full lighting. Fortunately the mount is out in the open a bit so I can get up close and maneuver around it for different angles, a luxury not afforded with some other skeletons (and there's a window close by, which helped with the angled lighting).

Still, the top photo especially gives the impression of movement, and it really is eerie. If anyone wants a creepy desktop picture, I can send them the full-size 8 MP shot for Halloween.