Belatedly, Nemoramjetia (= Avisapiens)

I've been so busy over the past several weeks that I've totally failed to keep up with several of my favourite blogs. One of them is Andrea Cau's Theropoda, written in Italian but translatable into English thanks to the wonder of google's translator widget (incidentally, my grandmother on my dad's side was Italian). The amount of detail Andrea puts in to his posts is awesome, as are the many novel excellent illustrations he uses (virtually all of which he produces himself). And I've only just seen this, dating from early October...


Andrea posted it here, basically as a guessing game (all those bits belong to real theropod taxa). But of course this is only the latest incarnation of the big-brained smart theropods that have become a recurrent Tet Zoo theme over its three years of operation. Here is a timeline...

-- It started in August 2006 with ground hornbills, specifically with the suggestion that these neat birds might be regarded as avian pseudo-hominids. See Bucorvids: post-Cretaceous maniraptorans on the savannah.
-- This idea (which is not novel to me) inspired Nemo Ramjet to create a new-look version of Russell and Séguin's post-Cretaceous big-brained troodontid. In November 2006, still at Tet Zoo ver 1, the results were discussed and Avisapiens saurotheos was loose upon the world: see Dinosauroids revisited.
-- By March 2007, Avisapiens had evolved its own culture. Cave art once produced by the species had been discovered: see Dinosauroid cave art discovered.
-- And by March 2008 I covered the debut of Avisapiens in the literature (Hecht 2007, Socha 2008), and also drew attention to the additional smart theropods invented by John McLoughlin and Mike Magee (How intelligent dinosaurs conquered the world). I later cannibalised this material for the literature and, after getting rejected by Nature, Science and PNAS, decided to bite the bullet and try a far superior venue. To my astonishment, I succeeded, the result being Naish (2008) [which has already been cited at least once, by Karl Shuker no less].
-- In May 2008, Edman Goodrich invented another dinosauroid (unfortunately it's since disappeared from the web) and in April 2008 Asher Elbein had created another, Venatosapiens erectus.
-- In September 2008, Simon Roy of RobotBlood invented yet another smart big-brained theropod. It's a corvid, inspired by the tool-using abilities of New Caledonian crows Corvus moneduloides.
-- And here we are, with - in October 2008 - Andrea's new take and new name. What a long, strange trip it has been. If only someone made a toy Avisapiens: then the journey would be complete.

Ref - -

Hecht, J. 2007. Smartasaurus. Cosmos 15, 40-41.

Naish, D. 2008. Intelligent dinosaurs. Fortean Times 239, 52-53.

Socha, V. 2008. Dinosauři: hlupáci, nebo géniové? Svĕt 3/2008, 14-16.

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Thanks for the plug, Darren! I for one can't wait to get around to describing Venatosapiens more fully in a scientific journal, as my work with them has revealed some very interesting habits and customs. As always, though science must march on, andI feel certain yet more intelligent dinosaurs are waiting in the (ahem) wings.

Oh, and a quick question. What are the affinities of Cryolophosaurus? Is it a basal tetanuran ora ceolophysid? I want to know because I'm reconstructing it for PT and I don't have access to the literature.

I've always loved Ramjet's Avisapiens. One of the most brilliant pieces of science-inspired art I've seen. I hope he expands on it, on its universe and the creatures that lived alongside it. It's so eerie and enchanting at the same time. I would eagerly pay for one of this "cave" paintings from that project. I'd love to see some artwork of those creatures and their world.

Thanks for the link, Darren!

Thanks so much for bringing this into light! A dinosauroid toy WOULD be interesting - yes!

If you want to purchase dinosauroid art, it could be arranged. Drop me an e-mail :)

So, what is position of Homo in THEIR classification? ;-)

I have often speculated (in the privacy of my own room) what might have happened if that bolide hadn't smacked Earth at the end of the Cretaceous. Creatures from Earth might have begun exploring the galaxy 50 million years ago....

Interesting stuff, indeed. If anyone's interested I can send the article mentioned in references. I've also written a tale on possible dinosauroid civilisation ("Before the asteroid"), but it's only available in Czech and i'm too lazy to translate it :-)

I'm actually brainstorming my own speculative future biology project called "Neozoica" where after the extinction of Man (and most other mammals) birds begin to dominate. The most intelligent of them is a dromaeosaur-like crow not unlike SimonBoy's. Perhaps crows will be the next next intelligent species on earth. More likely than squibbons!

By Gray Stanback (not verified) on 13 Nov 2008 #permalink

djlactin: Many people today are advocating development of the technology to cause bolides to smack Earth at the end of the Holocene. (Or to prevent, as they say.)

By Nathan Myers (not verified) on 13 Nov 2008 #permalink

Seeing the bones in that picture, I had a moment of hope that someone had found fossils of a big-brained dino...

By William Miller (not verified) on 13 Nov 2008 #permalink

"The amount of detail Andrea puts in to his posts is awesome, as are the many novel excellent illustrations he uses (virtually all of which he produces himself)."

Darren, thank you very very much!

Only one note: Nemoramjetia differs from Avisapiens in the position of the external naris, the former's snout being more plesiomorphic and less avian-like.

Ah, so maybe Nemoramjetia is a more basal member of the lineage? I was going to say 'of Avisapientidae' then I realised I haven't got the slightest clue how to properly formulate a 'family' name for Avisapiens. Anyone?

Errata corrige:
Avisapientidae: the MOST inclusive clade containing Avisapiens saurotheos but not Panraptor troglodytes.

By Andrea Cau (not verified) on 13 Nov 2008 #permalink


You got it completely right. :-)

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 14 Nov 2008 #permalink

Going to Chester Zoo last week (first trip to a zoo in over twenty years!) I was keen to look at the Ground Hornbills as well as the Rattites (sp?), in light of what I've learned recently about the bird / dinosaur relationships.

Sadly, health issues make me slow and easily tired, so even though I was there for the full day, I only got around less than half of it. I never reached the Hornbills, but I did get to see an Okapi and Red River Hogs :) And some extremely interactive Cheetahs...

Seeing these animals in real life, instead of just images, is an amazing experience, and makes me all the more appreciative of Evolution and its effects.

By DunkTheBiscuit (not verified) on 14 Nov 2008 #permalink

The last time I was at my local zoo (Marwell, Hampshire) I had (what I consider to be) an incredible personal interaction with a ground hornbill. Will (my boy) was on my shoulders and as usual he and I were playing silly-buggers. He over-balanced me and I had to run backwards to keep my balance. We were laughing and my feet made a lot of scuffing noise on the shingle. One of the ground hornbills seemed to think this was a game and ran parallel to me. So I did it again, and the hornbill did it again. Then it lay down on its left side, raised its right wing, got up, and ran around some more. I continued to run around like an idiot (still with Will on my shoulders). The hornbill became more excited and flapped around the enclosure, eventually flying straight against the mesh fence and thrusting its bill thought the wire. I don't think this was aggression as once it calmed down it sat directly opposite, making low vocalisations and passing leaves and twigs through the fence in our direction. I tried to film this on my mobile but wasn't quick enough. My interpretation is that the bird was playing, and that we'd done something that had triggered this behaviour. It was very neat, and also pretty hilarious.

Gray Stanback, can you give a direct link to your site???

By Pavel I. Volkov (not verified) on 14 Nov 2008 #permalink

Darren, that does sound very funny :) and it does sound as if it was wanting to interact / play. How wonderful.

I had a young Cheetah come right up to the glass viewing pane and rub up against it in front of me. It was vocalising, but I couldn't hear through the glass - looked like it was chirruping. It certainly looked as if it wanted some sort of physical contact and attention. Dratted pane of glass was in the way...

Since I'm just a lay-person I can let myself go all gooey-eyed and silly thinking about cuddling a cheetah (chortle). I'd love a more local zoo - even Chester means an overnight trip for me, sadly.

By DunkTheBiscuit (not verified) on 14 Nov 2008 #permalink

"Then it lay down on its left side, raised its right wing, got up, and ran around some more."
Do you mean to say that you DIDN'T lie down on your right side (facing it), and raise your left arm, before getting up to run some more?
(But at least you WOULD have if Will hadn't been on your shoulders, right?)

By Allen Hazen (not verified) on 15 Nov 2008 #permalink

I think that some bird species make regular attempts to communicate with other species, even outside a zoo setting. I remember seeing a raven and a bald eagle sheltering high up on opposite sides of a big spruce tree. It was a North Pacific wet gale and likely the birds had been there for a while. I was out walking my dog, who didn't care how wet it was outside. So I was letting him run around on the beach while I huddled with my back to the wind and watched these two birds. Every once in a while, the raven would sort of mutter "Yock." To which the eagle would reply, "Quork." Then they would resettle themselves and look away for a while.

It could have been, "I acknowledge your existence, but it's too frickin' lousy out to fight over who gets to sit in this tree." Or maybe the two had a prior association based on happening to end up defending a source of food from all other birds and winning more than either of them could eat--just maybe, they both realized, "That other bird being around equals food, this is good, let's hang out until one of us enters mating season and turns goofy." Maybe this was their inter-species signal, "You are a member of my group, no matter how weird you look, so let's not fight." Or maybe they were just two bored birds who happened to have landed in the same tree, trying to pass the time by making non-aggressive noises at each other. I don't know.

I also once saw the cat of the house and the new puppy trying to play. They were both sending enthusiastic play signals, but nothing happened because neither was fluent in a second language. I'm sure they figured things out eventually.

To gallop completely off on a tangent, here's something to chew on:

Let's say that there is a real Pegasus. Perhaps it only resembles a winged horse as much as a manatee resembles a mermaid, but it can fly. Say handwavium-powered super-science created it or say that some type of limited magic was used. In any case, the animal obeys the following rules:

1. It is a terrestrial animal, not something from Ceti Alpha Five--that is, however it came to be, it was formed from an animal that does or did really exist here on Earth. You can cheat and say that its maker duplicated some limbs if you wish.

2. It flies, with wings. It canna break the laws o'physics. Obviously it isn't going to be big enough for a human being to ride. Nevertheless:

3. It resembles a winged horse at least as much as a manatee resembles a mermaid. Or perhaps as much as a hippopotamus resembles an aquatic horse. Consider Pegasus the traveler's tale and this animal the reality behind it.

I have a couple of possible answers, but I am strictly armchair when it comes to animal anatomy, not having gotten very far beyond the parts of a crayfish and drooling over Gregory Paul's dinosaur restorations. Any pros care to play with this idea?

By Jenny Islander (not verified) on 28 Nov 2008 #permalink

Jenny Islander--
About a year ago (?) it was announced that a group of gene sequencers had found evidence that bats, carnivores, and Perissodactyls were more closely related to each other than to other mammals: that they formed a subclade of Laurasiatheria. The name proposed for this group was "Pegasoferae": "ferae" for the Carnivora, "pegaso" to cover both bats and Perissodactyls.
As for your hypothetical animal... Standard artistic representations show the legendary Pegasus with four legs and two wings: total of six "limbs." Having four paired appendages is something that goes back a LONG way in vertebrate evolution, at least to before the split between the ancestors of ray-finned fish and Tetrapods. You can reduce the number (think whales and snakes), but no (non-teratological) six-limbed vertebrate is known. "Nature," back in the 1980s, published a joke article about Dragons: pretending the legendary dragon was a real animal and analyzing it using current concepts in biology. The six-limbed bit (like Pegasius, four legs and two wings) was taken as evidence as a very early split in vertebrate evolution: Dragons as sister-clade to Tetrapods+fish. (The superficailly similar Wyvern has only two legs + wings, and so could be derived from ordinary land vertebrates: the article claimed that Wyverns and Dragons were a remarkable instance of convergent evolution.)
So lose the front legs? Still not clear where in the mammalian family tree you'll find an appropriate ancestor for Pegasus. In cursorial mammals like horses, the joint anatomy constrains the legs to stay beneath the body and move fore and aft. So a horse-like creature would, it seems to me, be LESS likely than (e.g.) monkeys or cats or rodents or... to evolve in the direction of using its forelimbs as wings. But if you come up with a plausible story about how a mammal resembling the legendary Pegasus (as much as a manatee resembles a mermaid)might have evolved, I'd love to hear it!

By Allen Hazen (not verified) on 29 Nov 2008 #permalink

I was allowing for artificial manipulation using handwavium-powered [reverb]SCIENCE!!![/reverb], so you could say that somebody had managed to dig up the old genetic command "produce six limb buds" and activate it successfully in a tetrapod. Working from that idea, I imagined a dainty little creature, not more than forty pounds, that had several hoofed toes on each foot and a body that combined lift membranes with wings. It would fly with its forelegs tucked under and its membraneous hind legs and tail outstretched, alternately flapping and soaring. Its specialized niche would be sea stacks and islets in the temperate zone, where it would be the only large herbivore, browsing/grazing on miniature meadows enriched with generations of bird poop and supplementing its diet with seaweed.

I also thought of a big golden pterosaur whose wing fingers stuck up above its back when it walked. It would have a weirdly horselike head (sans ears), a relatively level back, and a thin mane in mating season. But I couldn't figure out what it would be eating with a head that shape, since it wouldn't have grass-grinding teeth in its lineage for the wizard to bring forth out of its genes (right?).

By Jenny Islander (not verified) on 29 Nov 2008 #permalink

Jenny Islander--
Great stuff, the old Handwavium! My problem with it is that I never know when to stop: how much Handwavium is just enough and not too much? Grin!
Pterosaurs evolved before grass did, so, no, their genome wouldn't have much potential for grass-eating specialization. Actually, grass is problematic from the start here: it's a low-energy, hard to digest foodstuff: grasseating ungulates need a lot of gut (if, like perissodactyls and elephants, they are hind-gut fermenters) or a lot of stomach (if cud-chewing like ruminants): I don't think there ARE any flying vertebrates that eat grass (the robin on the front lawn, after all, is looking for worms, no cropping the green stuff). Recommendation: start with a carnivore instead of a horse. (Maybe, to get something domesticable, with some social carnivore: flying meerkats, maybe?)
Handwavium-powered genetics is one thing, but the functional anatomy is going to take some hard engineering work. One of the things about mammalian functional anatomy is that the rib-cage is essentially involved with the breathing machinery. It will take some care to design a six-limbed mammal whose extra limb-girdle doesn't mess up its breathing!
I'm not trying to be negative: it's just that I find even wild speculation more interesting if I try to make it as realistic as possible (so, minimum Handwavium). ... I also feel that this topic is getting a bit far from Tetrapodzoology's usual area: if you want to continue the discussion, write to me off-board: "allenph atsign unimelb dot edu dot au".

By Allen Hazen (not verified) on 30 Nov 2008 #permalink


I don't think there ARE any flying vertebrates that eat grass

You are absolutely right regarding the general points you're making, but actually there are a few flying birds that eat grass. Geese and some ducks (e.g., wigeons), for example.

I'm definitely interested in making the beast functional according to what is known about real animals; it just has to pass the drunken-sailor-at-a-hundred-feet test (women have tits; that thing has tits; therefore it's a woman that lives in the water). I think it is relevant to this blog in that (a) it involves speculation as to how diverse tetrapods can be (who would have expected poisonous birds? or dinosaurs convergent with ground sloths?) and (b) it's good silly fun, like those things that hopped around on their noses.

Could the hypothetical pega-pterosaur have a horselike head that was shaped that way for display? It need only look horselike in silhouette, to people who had never encountered such a beast before and lacked a frame of reference closer to the facts. Its teeth need not be adapted for grass. Of course, a horselike flying hexapod would be cooler, but if it isn't possible--

By Jenny Islander (not verified) on 30 Nov 2008 #permalink

Could the hypothetical pega-pterosaur have a horselike head that was shaped that way for display?

Sure, in profile at least: pterosaurs go wild with crests on the top of the head.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 01 Dec 2008 #permalink

I just blogged on this link this morning. Of all the interesting threads you've put up, this has to be the coolest. Someone ought to contact all the folks who have proposed non-mammalian sapient critters, plus try to get concepts or commentary from some of the other leading lights in paleontology, ornithology, herpetology, etc. (e.g., ask Neil Shubin what his fish with feet might have given birth to under different conditions) and collect text and artistic representations in a book. (To go off on a tangent, you could have mammalian concepts too - what if the rodents or marsupials had evolved the smart critters instead of the primates?)
I really think such a book would sell. It might even be a great way to educate people who don't know much about natural selection or evolutionary pressures but who would buy a book of fascinating speculation like this. You could title it something like "Sapiens 2.0" or "Man Without Man."

Sorry, Paul. I don't have a site. All I have is a few sketches at home-- but the creatures are awesome!

By Gray Stanback (not verified) on 22 Feb 2009 #permalink

I don't see why any of this is cool; no offense, but the idea of sapient or intelligent dinosaurs even if intriguing, doesn't prove they were just as smart as any of the great apes that once dominated the african forests; sure it's exiting; but these dinosaurs couldn't have fashioned tools; indeed if they did have thumbs like some raptors had they lacked something essential: they were locked in body that required a carnivore like diet; Human beings survived the great extinctions of the Plesocienne period due of corse to their resourcefulness but also thanks to their opportunistic and omnivorous diet; furthermore our ancestors had not to suffer any more major change in the plant kingdom as dinosaurs did in the late Cretaceous (angiosperms coated their seeds with a rich in vitamin envelope which thrived in warming and more humid world).
There is little hope i guess to say that dinosaurs didn't leave any trace of tools in the lime stone strata of the cretaceous or could have the slightness chance to compete with the mammals and birds that aided the new kind of plants to dominate the world under the form the the early paleocene forests.

Dinosaurs are known for their very efficient digestive system a trait they evolved from their ancestors in the late Triassic period, that overspecialized on eating fast reproducing plants found themselves in an evolutionary trap destroying their precious and dwindling food supply replaced by fruit seeded angiosperms. The desperate dinosaurs consequently having eaten what was left found themselves starving because they had not switched their diet....

(Sorry for the double post i needed to develop my hypothesis)

Martian, with all due respect, you need to do a lot more homework on dinosaurs and on Mesozoic ecosystems before you start thinking you're on to something. All of your basic assertions from the two messages above are flat-out wrong.

Incidentally, you seem to have misunderstood the whole 'big-brained theropod project' discussed here: these animals (viz, Avisapiens etc.) are hypothetical creatures that never evolved; they are NOT meant to be real Mesozoic theropods.

Dinosaurs are known for their very efficient digestive system

Erm... no. :-|

Most importantly, angiosperms already were very common fifty million years before the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary mass extinction, which already has a very good alternative explanation, so why bother in the first place?

(Sorry for the double post i needed to develop my hypothesis)

First develop your hypothesis. Then test it. And then write it down.

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 28 Feb 2009 #permalink

Hey Paul! Remember what I said about my "Neozoica project," and how I didn't have a site up yet? Well, now I have it online at last-- it's on the Speculative Evolution forum.

By gray Stanback (not verified) on 17 Nov 2009 #permalink