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(Dinosaur Guy is currently being tortured by the Time Traveling Cynodont, Mr. Conductor, and a bird with an exaggerated Spanish accent. Thankfully, he has prepared a couple of reviews for just such an occasion. Never hurts to be prepared.)
If you are reading my blog, chances are you are very interested in dinosaurs (and if you’re not perhaps a few jokes have gone over your head). And if you’re interested in dinosaurs you know that therizinosaurs are weird. So weird in fact that they changed our entire perception of Theropoda. Things used to be so simple, you used to put theropod dinosaurs in two distinct groups:
…and little theropods.
And all of them ate meat. And none of them had feathers.
Even if they looked ridiculous without them.
But then comes along the therizinosaurs, who didn’t seem to fit into either of those predetermined groups. This doesn’t even account for the fact that they actually ATE PLANTS!!!
You heard right.
A theropod that eats plants? That sir is the talk of creationists.
Nice to meet you too.
I’m so sorry. He’s my cousin and he’s visiting for the week. I know he can be hard to deal with.
So, if you’re Melodramatic T. Rex, he must be-
Easily Angered T. Rex. Yeah, my family’s quirky.
I can see.
Well anyway, imagine the confusion scientists have had over the years trying to make sense of these interesting creatures. But it all started in 1954, when giant hand claws were discovered in Mongolia.
Scientists weren’t exactly sure what to make of these, and one of the first theories was that the came from some gigantic turtle.
It wasn’t until the 70’s when it was determined that these claws actually belonged to a theropod, but exactly how it looked no one was certain. Some depictions showed the creature as basically a carnosaur with giant hand claws, similar to it’s depiction in Dino Crisis.
Only problem is, this game came out when they really should have known better.
These bones weren’t given much attention for a while, and in the mean time other strange theropods came into light. During the 70’s and 80’s, two new relatives of Therizinosaurus were discovered: Erlikosaurus and Segnosaurus. Only problem is, scientists were still in the dark. All these fossils had one thing in common.
Their fossils don’t tell us a lot.
During the 80’s Segnosaurus was often seen depicted in books in this way. With the fossil remains being pretty scarce, we didn’t have a good image of this guy. One of the prevailing theories of the time was that these creatures were fish eaters, although there wasn’t any direct evidence of this.
One controversial theory at the time was that these creatures weren’t theropods, but instead sauropods. This idea was perpetuated by Erlikosaurus, who was the first of this group to have a skull discovered. The skull wasn’t that of a normal theropod, and resembled more that of herbivore. It was thought by some that this group of dinosaurs represented a Cretaceous form of prosauropod, even though such creatures died out in the early Jurassic. Despite this, the theory is will represented in many depictions of the dinosaur.
It wasn’t until the 90’s when scientists discovered that these three creatures were actually related, but even then there was still debate over just how these creatures lived. One other theory was that these creatures used their claws for digging, and may have raided anthills and termite mounds for larvae.
Heck, I’ve seen many an image that basically compared these creatures to giant anteaters.
These are more stylistic choices, however.
Even during this time, you were hard pressed to find a therizinosaur that didn’t look like a semi-normal theropod. A lot of depictions decided to take the generic route.
Maybe some people thought we were over-blowing just how weird these dinosaurs were, and decided to show they could have been just normal theropods. I don’t know.
Finally, through a combination of fossils from past discoveries and newer ones like from that of Nothronychus, a pretty decent picture of a therizinosaur was now painted. For a while, therizinosaurs were shown standing in a horizontal position, much like other theropods.
However, despite conventional thinknig, we now believe that therizinosaurs stood upright like a tripod, being one of the few dinosaurs to actually walk like this. Therizinosaurus is indeed a conundrum wrapped in an enigma.
Now, therizinosaurs were for the most part pretty large animals; with the largest of the kind rivaling Tyrannosaurus in size. So there has been a debate over whether these guys should be feathered, because if they are feathered, that means T. Rex might be feathered too.
Oh no! We can’t let that happen! Not in my America.
Every once in a while artists would put some tufts of feathers on these guys, but for a while naked therizinosaurs were the norm.
We were aware of the smaller primitive therizinosaur Beipiaosaurus that had feathers, but they were small so that’s OK.
However, now that we’re pretty comfortable with feathering our big dino’s therizinosaurs are now pretty well ornamented with ornithology. Weird that these guys were the first large dinosaurs many people were OK with feathering.
When studying the neck feathers of Beipaosaurus, scientist theorized that they were the kind of feathers that puffed up like a chicken or a pigeon. This has led to quite a few reconstructions with therizinosaurs displaying this feature.
Therizinosaurs certainly are weird creatures. They are theropods, but they eat plants. Instead of using their huge claws to disembowel prey. they were used to rummage through plants to eat, like ground sloths or pandas.
Unlike other theropods, they stood up like a tripod. And they were covered in feathers, and looked like a huge chicken. You can see why scientists have been puzzled by these dinosaurs for over 60 years, but it is good to finally have a better picture of what exactly these guys looked like.
A similar fate fell upon the dinosaur Deinocheirus, who for the longest time was only known by two giant hands,
No one knew at all what this guy looked like for the longest time. It was obviously a theropod, but of what kind nobody knew. Some depictions showed it as an otherwise normal carnosaur but with huge arms, but most books decided to just depicted the known extremities, knowing that they wouldn’t be able to do an actual restoration justice. They probably did the right thing.
Some did decide to reconstruct what this animal would have looked like. The prevailing theory of the time was that the creature was a giant ornithomimid, like a Gallimimus but bigger. Sometimes the animal was depicted with abnormally long arms…
…but other times the arms were made proportioned to what other ornithomimids were, making the dinosaur very large.
Most of these restorations were, to be fair, pretty conservative. For a little bit, I was one the boat that perhaps this creature was some crazy looking monster that was unlike any other dinosaur, but I eventually went on the boat that it was a fairly normal dinosaur except with big arms/huge. None of us were expecting what was about to come.
In 2014, new specimens showed that this dinosaur was absolutely WEIRD!!!
It had the head of a hadrosaur, the hump of a camel, giant hand claws, covered in feathers, and had fish remains in it’s belly. Doesn’t sound too weird? Take a look.
What the frick is that?!
Yes, this dinosaur is strange. REALLY STRANGE.
Nobody expected anything like this, but this is what we got. And I am glad. It’s so weird, so unlike any other dinosaur out their. I’m only sadden that we didn’t know about this sooner.
And you know who we can blame for that?
The original arms were discovered to have the bite marks of a Tarbosaurus. That means the rest of the body was eaten by a tyrannosaur.
Looking at dinosaurs like these you can really see the progress of paleontology. Who knows what we will eventually find in the coming years? That is something I am eagerly awaiting, and perhaps we’ll find something that makes these dinosaurs look normal.
Join me next time as I take a look at those water bound long necks in “Trope-osaurus: Sauropod Swamps.”