Maniraptoran spotting in the Late Cretaceous Gobi

When I was a kid I drew lots of dinosaurs. My efforts weren't too bad, but of course I got a lot wrong (by modern standards) and - like so many dinosaur fan-boys and girls growing up in the 80s and 90s - I became a very good copier of Greg Paul. Here's a Late Cretaceous Mongolian scene I drew once (I cheated, as some of the animals shown here might never had met). Your challenge: name them.

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As might be obvious, I always liked filling in all the little details. Plants, rocks, bugs and such. In fact, I always thought I might make a reasonably good mural artist: in Prehistoric Life Murals, William Stout explains how there are small lizards, birds and other creatures hidden in various of his murals. In the detail below, the parent whatever-it-is is meant to be defending its chicks from the other whatever-it-is. That might not be an accurate bit of behaviour, but what the hell.

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Beautiful! You should have made a career from this!

Is that Estesia at the lower left (monster[saur]ing the Mononykus family)? And some iguanian in the middle, can't say which.

As I always say, archosaurs may rule, but you need lepidosaurs for scale.

Odd thing about the Gobi Cretaceous fauna is the high diversity of lizards but complete absence of snakes, although snakes were otherwise pretty widespread by the Cenomanian.

I suppose that's a Mononykus olecranus defending its brood from an Estesia mongoliensis.

The oviraptorosaurs (L-R): Oviraptor philoceratops, "Ingenia" yanshini, Conchoraptor gracilis. The bird in flight might be Gobipteryx minuta, or Apsaravis ukhaana.

Indeed, one thing I've found so interesting is that small coelurosaurs appear to be so abundant and diverse in the Gobi, as well as in the Early Cretaceous Liaoning beds, as compared to herbivores such as sauropods and ornithischians. Of course, it's probably partly due to sampling, and stratigraphy might eventually show that not all of these coelurosaurs were contemporaneous, but it does make you wonder how the ecosystems supported all these different species of alvarezsaur, oviraptorosaur, dromaeosaurid, troodontids, but only a small handful of ceratopsians and ankylosaurs.

In the air: Gobipteryx?; in the distance, long-feathered birds might be Apsaravis.
From left to right, background: Citipati sp. (GIN 100/42, although the neck is too short and it's too small), Conchoraptor? (although way too big, and the hand suggests an ingeniine while the skull has a more conchoraptorine shape).
From left to right, foreground: Estesia ("monitor") encountering Shuvuuia (although I would presume as the other taxa are not Nemegt, this would not be Mononykus, even though it lacks the extraneous fingers), while a set of what seem like troodontid GIN 100/44 chicks walk around, and two Avimimus bicker (only Nemegt taxon represented).

By Jaime A. Headden (not verified) on 08 May 2010 #permalink

I've read that alvarezsaurs are sometimes interpreted as specialized termite-diggers, but this makes no sense to me. The claws might be robust and well-anchored, but I just can't imagine it digging into a termite mound with those short little arms- not without the neck and head getting in the way. Am I missing something?

As for the picture, very nice. (I'll leave the identification to the experts and just enjoy the linework.)

I once did a Carnotaurus for my friend's children in firebrick red shades. Nothing lights up a kid's eyes like DINOSAURS.

This is really good artwork certainly as good as a Paul mural. Since you talk of detail I guess that little squamate in the shadow of the oviraptorosaur was meant to be Xihainia or an Anchaurosaurus. So where did the iguanids first emerge ---Asia or NAmerica?

Nice, you would also make good colouring books for children. ;)

Excellent! I would love to see a full-scale version.

By Kevin Schreck (not verified) on 08 May 2010 #permalink

What the others said. Though Apsaravis was not described until 2001, and Darren implied that this drawing is from the '90s.

By Brad McFeeters (not verified) on 08 May 2010 #permalink

Great picture! Hai-Rai stole all my answers. I was going to say Apsaravis as the bird, but if it was described in 2001, that might be too late. Isn't Gobipteryx flightless, or am I thinking of somebody else?

Thanks for comments. The picture was done in 1993 (just after Mononykus was published [as Mononychus]), which explains why GIN 100/42 is an exact copy of Paul's 1988 composite and why the Mononykus is so obviously based on the skeletal reconstruction published in Perle et al. (1993). And, yeah, the animals are scaled completely wrong: the oviraptorosaur at back right is based on Brian 'where is he now' Franczak's Conchoraptor gracilis.

The bird is meant to be Gobipteryx, but when I drew this I had no idea that it might be an enantiornithine (if anything, I was more familiar with Elzanowski's hypothesis that it might be a palaeognath). Apsaravis does not, of course, appear in the picture (Zach, the flightless enantiornithine you're thinking of is - I presume - Elsornis keni, named in 2006). Estesia appears at left, but the other lizard is, for shame, just a generic little squamate. The two avimimids are supposed to be a mated pair, with the male passing nest material to the female.

And... Jerzy's right - I'd love to do a colouring book :)

There are differences, the above picks have a certain, slightly exotic, primitivism, more akin to Stout's (and earlier artists) work than Paul's. The Animals have personality which is a bit of a trade-off for actually looking exactly like animals that you could bump into in the wilderness. I think DN could have made it as an artist providing he had or could learn painting skills as well.

I'm too late. :-( All I can do is second the statements that the art is wonderful; maybe do a coloring book first and ask for a publisher later?

archosaurs may rule, but you need lepidosaurs for scale

ROTFL! Day saved! :-D

I just can't imagine it digging into a termite mound with those short little arms- not without the neck and head getting in the way.

It had to walk up all the way to the termite mound. Perhaps bumping its shoulder girdle against it.

The shortness is not a bug, it's a feature; it's the maximization of power at the expense of useless speed.

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 09 May 2010 #permalink

David MarjanoviÄ:

Yeah, I guess I could see that. I think maybe I'm just used to seeing all the modern day termite specialists. They all seem to have proportionately longer and stouter arms, like pangolins, giant anteaters, etc.

If Mononykus & Co are accused of eating termites, do they have modified jaw bones to support the long tongue?

They all seem to have proportionately longer and stouter arms

Yes, because they're all quadrupedal. They can't afford to shorten their arms any further.

That's why there are no cursorial ant/termite specialists anymore.

do they have modified jaw bones to support the long tongue?

AFAIK that's not quite clear.

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 10 May 2010 #permalink

The drawing evokes one of my pet peeves: lack of ground-cover plants. Something MUST have filled the "grasses" niche (and it seems like it's important to know what it was), the niche is too important to longterm ecosystem stability and too "available" to have not been occupied, even if we're not sure by what.

I know, how do you draw an unknown plant type, but dinosaurs frolicking in a tree- and shrub-filled parking lot just seems wrong.