Myth of the six-foot super-owl

I've been seriously thinking about letting Tet Zoo lay fallow for a while, as I have a lot on right now and it's a horrendous distraction that I really shouldn't spend time on. Producing long articles like the one on the Sakhalin Island carcass are very satisfying, but they soak up a lot of time. The day job keeps me busy, well, all day, and academic and editorial commitments keep me busy most nights - and this is on top of having a new baby in the house. Today I made a special effort to just go out on my own and waste time looking at stuff in shops, purely because I feel immense pressure to be on the computer and doing something whenever I'm in the house. What I think I'll do is resort to 'posting lite' for a while. And speaking of which...


Here's a picture I've been thinking of using for a while. It's another Gregory Irons drawing from All New Dinosaurs and Their Friends, and it shows what is - to my knowledge - the only published life restoration depicting a 'bradycnemid'*. You will note that this animal, wrongly labelled Brachycneme (it should be Bradycneme), is depicted as a gigantic (literally, 2 m tall) Cretaceous owl. Some dwarf nodosaurid ankylosaurs (Struthiosaurus) wander by in the background. Bradycneme draculae and a second form, Heptasteornis andrewsi, were named by Harrison & Walker (1975) on the basis of tibiotarsal fragments from the Upper Cretaceous sediments of the Haţeg Basin in Romania. The fossils were argued by these authors to most resemble the tibiotarsi of owls. Ergo, both taxa were identified as members of Strigiformes, albeit gigantic, Cretaceous members. This idea was soon criticised. Because I can now see myself elaborating and writing loads more here, I am going to make a concerted effort to stop, sorry. I will end by saying that the 'bradycnemids' have turned out to be non-avian maniraptorans (though not troodontids or dromaeosaurids as suggested by some authors), and that one of them - Heptasteornis - might be an alvarezsaurid (Naish & Dyke 2004). I've mentioned this before, but, ironically, I didn't elaborate on it then either.

* This might not be entirely true as an unspecified modern-looking owl was also shown in a Cretaceous scene painted by Giovanni Caselli during the 1970s.

UPDATE: I screwed up, the pic of Bradycneme is not from All New Dinosaurs and Their Friends, but from its sister volume, The Last of the Dinosaurs.

Refs - -

Harrison, C. J. O. & Walker, C. A. 1975. The Bradycnemidae, a new family of owls from the Upper Cretaceous of Romania. Palaeontology 18, 563-570.

Naish, D. & Dyke, G. J. 2004. Heptasteornis was no ornithomimid, troodontid, dromaeosaurid or owl: the first alvarezsaurid (Dinosauria: Theropoda) from Europe. Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie, Monatshefte 2004, 385-401.

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Sorry to hear you'll be scaling back here, but it is in
a good cause. I'll have to do some looking around-there
was a Greg Irons who was a pretty good underground cartoonist-and the illustration looks like his style.

And while its diappointing that there were'nt super owls
on the wing in the Cretaceous nights, maybe it'll show
up on Primeval :] ( Starts broadcasting here in
the states on Friday next-I'm stoked. )

By craig york (not verified) on 04 Apr 2009 #permalink

What's interesting in Alvarezsaurids is their paleogeographical consequences: Basal genera like Achilessaurus and Alvarezsaurus came from Argentina, and Patagonykus came from Middle Cretaceous; Asiamerican genera like Mononykus and ALbertonykus were of Campanian-Maastrichtian age. The logical conclusion is that Alvarezaurians migrated from South to North (like Alamosaurus), the opposite way of Placentals, Marsupials, and maybe hadrosaurs and neornithes.
Heptasteornis in Europe may represent an offshoot from Eastern North America or Africa. Maybe in the future it'll be found some "Indonykus", "Antarctonykus" or "Australonykus" in another Gondwanan landmasses to fit the paleogeographical scheme.

By J.S. Lopes (not verified) on 04 Apr 2009 #permalink

Rapator ornitholestoides has been suggested as a possible Australian alvarezsaur (Holtz & al. 2004), but is apparently more similar to Nqwebasaurus thwazi (Salisbury & al. 2007)

Holtz, T. R., R. Molnar & P. Currie (2004). "Basal Tetanurae." In D. Weishampel, P. Dodson & Osmolska (eds.), The Dinosauria: Second Edition. University of California Press. 861 pp.

Salisbury, S.W., F. L. Angolin, M. D. Ezcurra & D. F. Pais (2007). A critical reassessment of the Cretaceous non-avian dinosaur faunas of Australia and New Zealand. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 27(supp. to 4):138A.

Thanks indeed for the comments. Primeval is on series three here, and I watched ep 2 earlier today: it featured an unnamed and unidentified bipedal predator that was, I'm pretty sure, based on the chupacabras (so far they've very much been going down the 'myths and monsters' route). I should note that I played a very, very minor role in the content of series 2. Incidentally, when I worked at Impossible it was said that a new name would have to be invented for the American screening, I think because there was already some TV show with the same name.

Alvarezsaurids: a much longer paper explaining why Rapator is not, after all, an alvarezsaurid is in the works. I reviewed one version and agreed with the authors on this. Oh well: the idea of a gigantic Australian alvarezsaurid was nice (albeit paradoxical) while it lasted :)

Darren, even if its light, thanks for keeping stuff coming so we can all comment about it!!

J.S. Lopes wrote: "The logical conclusion is that Alvarezaurians migrated from South to North (like Alamosaurus)"

They island-hopped through the Proto-Caribbean...

For those interested in tremendous owls, I recommend any article on the flightless Cuban monster Ornimegalonyx, estimated by Arredondo to be 1100 mm tall. It's only about 1/2 the size of the fictitious bradycnemids, but that's still impressive at any rate. The best resource seems to be:

Arredondo O. 1976. The great predatory birds of the Pleistocene of Cuba. Smithsonian Contributions to Paleobiology 27: 169-187.

I know of no more recent articles on this animal, but if anyone else does I would be most intrigued.

By Adam Pritchard (not verified) on 04 Apr 2009 #permalink

They island-hopped through the Proto-Caribbean...

I'd just like to thank you for the mental image of a hopping titanosaur.

By Andreas Johansson (not verified) on 04 Apr 2009 #permalink

I hope you will (and will be able to) go the 'posting lite' route. I'd hate to see maintaining TetZoo become a drag on the enthusiasm of energy that drives you. While the big, information-dense and challenging posts are wonderful, your 'lite' posts, that I think of as 'snapshots from Darren's curio cabinet', are a treat. I'd badly miss my fix of TetZoo if you suspended it entirely.

By Mike from Ottawa (not verified) on 05 Apr 2009 #permalink

That is a very.. likeable! ..drawing. Whether wrongly owled, or no!

Little 'uns are wonderful (humanly speaking). And little 'uns are perfectly acceptable (bloggingly speaking) as well.

Darren, it's not as if even your most minimal blog doesn't contain ample to pique the interest and to follow up, for those who so desire!

Personally it's a real effort for me to keep up-to-date.. you write so much that I want to read. All. Of. It. All.

Enjoy doing less, with my full approbation! :-D

All the best to you, Toni, and the kids.

Darren Naish wrote: "Alvarezsaurids: a much longer paper explaining why Rapator is not, after all, an alvarezsaurid is in the works."

My large-scale phylogeny of theropods agrees with you: I find no support for an alvarezsaurid status nor for a link with Nqwebasaur for Rapator. I hope that work on Rapator will be published soon!

Wait.... so he illustrated these nodosaurids as living in trees?

By Pete Buchholz (not verified) on 05 Apr 2009 #permalink

"I'm pretty sure, based on the chupacabras"

I read some stuff on them from the creators, and it says they are based on gremlins. They have seemed to be going down that whole route too, which is kind of sad. Hopefully, they will get back to normal (or whatever is normal for that show) when Diictodon and Giganotosaurus pop up.

By Metalraptor (not verified) on 05 Apr 2009 #permalink

Dude, give yourself a break! It would be perfectly okay to let Tet Zoo be just a blog for a change, instead of a one-man online journal/Attenboroughesque tour through time and space/data- and reference-packed shotgun blast to the brainpan. Not that we don't all appreciate it--we do! So much, in fact, that we'd all much, much rather go on reduced rations for a while than see you hang up your spurs.

Giving yourself a break would be perfectly acceptable even if you just had the normal demands of life, but you've got a new baby fer cryin' out loud! As long as you're keeping the kid alive, you win. Everything else is gravy.

How about if some of your loyal readers start bombarding you with tetrapod photos for POTD-type shorties, and you exercise a little self-control and try not to write more than 500 words about each one? And remember, loyal readers, these don't have to be exotic things that no one has ever heard off. As Darren has shown, there are fascinating stories to be told about even--perhaps especially--the most apparently mundane critters like gulls and rodents. In fact, Darren, I and other like-minded tetrapod photo vigilantes are going to do this whether you like it or not, so you'll just have to deal.

Wipes tear from eye...

All very cool, thanks, Matt, for those words. I may well take this on. But, believe it or don't, I've already gone and produced a week-load of scheduled posts. All will be revealed, starting tomorrow...

Oh, and, Pete: no, the nodosaurids are (sadly) not in the trees, they are walking through a fern meadow. The conifer and the giant owl are in the foreground.

I don't think I need to say much more than I whole-heartedly agree with Dr. Vector.

By Metalraptor (not verified) on 05 Apr 2009 #permalink

"I will end by saying that the 'bradycnemids' have turned out to be non-avian maniraptorans (though not troodontids or dromaeosaurids as suggested by some authors"

Any ideas what Bradycneme might be, if not a deinonychosaur or alvarezsaur?

Matt: Naish & Dyke (2004) couldn't find any characters that allowed Bradycneme to be identified beyond Maniraptora.

> I read some stuff on them from the creators, and it says
> they are based on gremlins. They have seemed to be going
> down that whole route too, which is kind of sad.

The problem with the "Gremling" is the total lack of background or explanation, one can only guess it's some sort of primate, and from the future. BTW, what happened to the grand old Primeval tradition of showing Hannah Spearitt in her underwear?

Primeval does like its bizzare future primates (see the Mer if you don't know what I'm talking about).

Well Johannes, the episode guide says that the cast is going to spend two or three episodes trapped in the future...with a giant killer beetle. Animal inaccuracies aside (I'm looking at you, killer tiger beetle), this may be interesting to see what the future world looks like, since we only got a glimpse of a freaky coastline in one episode. From what I've heard (though don't take my word for it), expect a lot of bats, primates, and rodents...sort of like After Man but with Spec's pokemurids and the infamous future predators instead of carnivorous rats. And of course the ferocity on these things will be turned up to eleven.

By Metalraptor (not verified) on 06 Apr 2009 #permalink

In the background.... I see that now. It's hard with pen and ink to really give anything the idea of foreground and background.

And I wholeheartedly agree with everyone saying you can and should reduce the frequency of posts here. I have no idea how you even get near a computer with a new baby in the home, much less run this blog!

By Pete Buchholz (not verified) on 06 Apr 2009 #permalink

Maybe you could invite some of the more prolific and preternaturally knowledgeable commenters to fill in. Hai-Ren, for instance, or Jerzy, John Scanlon, Allen Hazen. These people need to be put to work, and where better than here?

By Nathan Myers (not verified) on 06 Apr 2009 #permalink

" ... a one-man online journal/Attenboroughesque tour through time and space/data- and reference-packed shotgun blast to the brainpan ... "

I just had to say how wonderfully Dr Vector captured TetZoo with that line.

By Mike from Ottawa (not verified) on 06 Apr 2009 #permalink

Face it, Darren: you're just lazy!

By John Scanlon FCD (not verified) on 06 Apr 2009 #permalink

> sort of like After Man but with Spec's pokemurids (...).
> And of course the ferocity on these things will be turned
> up to eleven.

A killa chilla? I thought this was the ex-boyfriend of Patsy Kensit :)?
Speaking of predatory euarchontoglirans, people with cardiac problems probably should avoid this coffee:

Thanks for the heads up on Primeval airing. Our cable system isn't very up to the moment when it comes to promoting BBC America.

A killa chilla indeed. Unfortunately they also have giant tiger beetles running around, on account of their "design a creature contest". And since we all know Primeval loves giant arthropods (killer camel spiders, arthropleura, the whiptail scorpions, the millipedes, and so on), even putting them where they technically should not be, the beetle was guaranteed to win. I just wish for once they would realize that tetrapods can be cool too.

By Metalraptor (not verified) on 08 Apr 2009 #permalink

re.: craig york's comment...

Yep, it's the same Greg Irons. He did a the two coloring books mentioned, and I could swear i saw I saw a couple of dinosaur posters by him in a bookstore when I was in Berzerkeley to visit UCMP a couple of years before he died(This being back when UCMP had decent displays for the public - what the Hell happened to the Dilophosaurus and the Paleoparadoxia and all the others??). This stuff is all long out of print, so you who's got copies need to start posting scans!

#25 Oh, I'm glad I visited that coffee site, to see it was Brown & Jenkins, rather than the Lovrcraft-spawned rodent-like thing called Brown Jenkin..

By Marcus Good (not verified) on 26 Jun 2011 #permalink