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Ladies and gentlemen, we are in the midst of another dinosaur renaissance. The 2010’s, especially 2014, have been incredible in terms of new dinosaur discoveries. But it’s not just that we’re finding new species of dinosaurs. It’s that we are making discoveries that are completely changing the way we look at dinosaurs we already know, sometimes doing away with images we have deemed accurate for decades. Times are changing at an alarming pace, and we are all just struggling to keep up. Dinosaurs look completely different now then they did four years ago! So now, I give you a Top 10 of the recent discoveries that have changed how we look at dinosaurs. It was originally going to be a Top 10 discoveries off 2014, and many of the entries here are from this year, but I didn’t want to limit myself, and I wanted to show just what the 2010’s has done for dinosaur science. So put on your seat belts, because these ain’t your parents dinosaurs.
10. Edmontosaurus Comb
Edmontosaurus was one of those dinosaurs we thought we knew everything about. It was an incredibly common dinosaur with several complete specimens, many of which included preserved skin! Sure, we’ve made mistakes along the way…
…but we were pretty confident about it in recent times (even with adding the infamous Anatotitan as just a species of Edmontosaurus). But science decided to throw us a curve ball, and gave us something new to talk about. Recent skin preservation’s suggest that Edmontosaurus actually had a chicken-like waddle on it’s head, making the infamous flat headed hadrosaur much more similar to it’s crested lambeosaurine kin. This just goes to show how little we can know about dinosaurs just from their bones alone, and even well documented dinosaurs can surprise us.
On a similar note, the famous unicorn horned hadrosaur Tsintaosaurus has also gone though a recent change.
As it would turn out, the weird crest that we always portray this dinosaur with is actually the result of a damaged skull, and the actual crest looked a bit more conventional.
But, that’s just a normal hadrosaur….
On the bright side, at least this puts an end to those reconstructions that make 6th graders everywhere giggle by their, suggestive look.
Freud was right.
9. Dinosaur Growth Metamorphosis
Let’s face it, scientists are eager to name new dinosaurs. But if they are too eager, mistakes may be made along the way. Sometimes what looks like a new species is just a jumble of bones from two known species, or in this case, just the young of an already known species. This has happened with dinosaurs such as Monoclonius…
…just a young Centrosaurus…
…really just a young Tyrannosaurus.
These discoveries show just how much dinosaurs change over their life time, even to the point of being mistaken for separate genus’. But to me, the most dramatic and surprising changes are from Stygimoloch and Torosaurus.
Monoclonius and Nanotyrannus were always more or less controversial names, but Stygimoloch and Torosaurus were unquestioningly valid for the entirety of their history. It wasn’t until Jack Horner proposed that these two dinosaurs were actually members of known species at different age groups, with Stygimoloch being a teenage Pachycephalosaurus and Torosaurus being a mature Triceratops.
Alternatively, Jack Horner proposes that perhaps a third of all dinosaur genus’ known are invalid, and if that’s the case, it could dramatically change how we look at the entirety of Dinosauria.
8. Dinosaur Coloration
One of the things that many a dinosaur fan is sadden by is that we may never know exactly what color dinosaurs were. We can make assumptions, but we’ll never know for sure. At least, that’s the case for most dinosaurs. In some feathered dinosaurs, scientists have discovered a way to conclude the coloration in a process that is way to sophisticated for a simple guy like me to explain. Here’s article that explains the process much better than I ever could.
The true coloration of Achiornis.
Microraptor had iridescent feathers like that of a modern crow.
Sinosauropteryx, the feathered dinosaur that started it all, with chestnut brown feathers and white stripes.
I guess this kind of puts to rest those really tropical looking ‘sparkle raptors’ we’re used to seeing these guys depicted as.
Microraptor’s weren’t macaws.
They were ravens.
7. Baby Feathered Megalosaur
In 2012, a fossil of a baby theropod was found with a distinctly fluffy tail, and was named Sciurumimus (meaning ‘tree squirrel mimic’). Now, at this point people have pretty much gotten used to feathered dinosaurs, even feathered tyrannosaurs. But for the most part, people only put feathers on coelurosaurs, which were much closer to birds than any other dinosaur. But what makes Sciurumimus so special is because it’s the most primitive known theropod known with confirmed feathers. It was a megalosaur from the Jurassic period, and megalosaurs were a comparatively more primitive group of dinosaurs than the ones we knew for a fact had feathers. It’s also the earliest dinosaur known to have feathers, with most specimens being from the Cretaceous (I remember a time not too long ago where only Cretaceous coelurosaurs were ever portrayed with feathers). So this dinosaur is just another nail in the coffin that feathers on dinosaurs were the rule, not the exception.
6. Ornithomimus Wings
Sigh, I remember reading an old (but not that old) book saying that ostrich dinosaurs would have looked like a lot like ostriches, just with a long tail and no feathers.
And to that I say HAH!
In more recent times, we’ve suspected that ornithomimids also had feathers, but there was no direct evidence of such. I’ve seen many depictions of fluffy ornithomimids, but most have been conservative to say the least.
But more recent discoveries paint an even more bird like picture. Quill nobs have been discovered on Ornithomimus’ arms, suggesting the arms sported long, wing like feathers.
With this in mind, ornithomimids may have been almost indistinguishable from modern ratites like ostriches and emus. The term ‘ostrich dinosaur’ is becoming more literal every day.
5. Triceratops Quills
Triceratops, another dinosaur we thought we knew so well. For decades the image of this creature has changed very little.
These two images have been the basic look for the creature for over a century.
But like with Edmontosaurus, it seems that the best studied dinosaurs seem to throw us the biggest surprises. It would seem that Triceratops has an array of quills that covered it’s back. Now, it’s been known that the early ceratopsian Psittacosaurus sported quills for some time now.
Some have speculated that more advanced ceratopsians may have had remnants of this trait, and I’ve seen quite a bit of paleo art depicting that. But according to Luis V Rey, one of my favorite paleo artists, we may have reason for this depiction to be confirmed.
I follow Luis V Rey’s blog, and on one of his posts he shows off an updated pic of Triceratops (the image of the quilled Triceratops above to be precise) and one of the comments asks if there is any proof for such a depiction. Here are his two cents.
A recently discovered mummified Triceratops with preserved quills.
Triceratops will never look the same again. Who knows what surprises other well known dinosaurs hold for us?
The famous Yixian formation has sported several feathered dinosaurs, but most of them have been fairly small, and bird like in skeletal structure anyway. Yutyrannus is the biggest dinosaur with confirmed feathers yet found. It’s discovery was an immense change in the field of paleontology. Long have scientists and paleo artists speculated that large carnivorous dinosaurs may have had feathers of some sort, but there was no evidence to back these hypotheses up. Not until this guy was found. At first it was described as a tyrannosaur, which lead to most modern reconstructions of the tyrant lizards being shown with at least some feathering.
But it turns out that Yutyrannus was actually a carnosaur, much more related to the likes of Carcharodontosaurus, Allosaurus, and Giganatosaurus than the likes of tyrannosaurs, which where much closer to birds. This means that much more primitive dinosaur types could be feathered.
Allosaurs with feathers. Who knew we would ever see the day.
Some people think adding feathers on all these big carnivores don’t look as scary with a fuzzy covering. Well first of all, get used to it. And second of all…
Your argument is invalid.
Kulindadromeus is an incredible dinosaur. Discovered in 2014, it is the first (well, kind of) ornithischian found with confirmed feathers. At first, it was thought that feathers were regulated to only the theropod side of dinosaurs. Sure, we’ve found feather like structures on dinosaurs like Psittacosaurus and Tianyulong, which itself was also a big deal.
Even then, these quill structures where thought to be independent from feathers. It wasn’t until Kulindadromeus was found that the final nail in the coffin was hammered. Not only did it have a covering of feathers, but it’s tail was scaly and covered in crocodile like scutes, which shows that feather covering varied from dinosaur to dinosaur.
The implications of this are huge. I am now confident that every dinosaur had feathers or feather like structures at some point in it’s life. Perhaps the big herbivores only had as many feathers as a modern day elephant or rhino (or even less) has fur, but I’m confident they were present in at least their babies.
Behold, a baby feathered hadrosaur.
And an adult hadrosaur, with sparse feathering akin to an elephant or rhino’s hair.
Deinocheirus was always an enigma. For decades all we had to go by was these giant hands and claws found in the Mongolian desert.
So for the longest time illustrated texts books would depict the dinosaur in a couple of ways: either as just a pair of hands…
..or as the artist’s best guess of what the dinosaur may have looked like. This ranged from flesh eating carnosaurian beasts to giant ornithomimids to a creature more akin to a therizinosaur. The truth, however, was much stranger then anyone could have imagined.
With a spoonbill-like beak, a camel like hump, huge arms and more than likely covered in feathers, this giant is one of the strangest dinosaurs we’ve ever found. At the end of the Cretaceous, lots of dinosaurs were taking extreme looks, with this creature no exception. If you would like to read more about this dinosaur and it’s recent discoveries, read my post Dinosaurs Over The Years: Therizinosaurs and Deinocheirus.
This is probably the biggest shocker of the year by far. Spinosaurus was a fan favorite dinosaur, and the recent finds that it actually was a sprawled legged exclusively aquatic slumped over dinosaur has flabbergasted a great number of people. Now, there are still people who deny these findings, and personally I wouldn’t be surprised if they are proven false, but for now I have accepted this new image of Spinosaurus as a literal dinosaurian crocodile. This just goes to show you than any dinosaur can throw a curve ball at you, and what seems to be indisputably right can be proven wrong with the next big discovery.
In the meantime, however, enjoy these hilarious and satirical Spinosaurus cartoons.
Only time will tell if these depictions turn out to be true, but I’m sure that given enough time we will have a definite answer. Until then, short Spinosaurus is here to stay.
As I’ve stated in this blog before, dinosaur science is changing in an unprecedented rate. It seems like every year we discover something that completely changes what we thought about dinosaurs, whether that effects a single known species or Dinosauria as a whole. I am so fortunate to be around in a time that is so exciting for dinosaur science, and all I wonder is what the next decade will bring to the table. Who knows what dinosaurs will look like in 2020, or 2030. Man, and it seems like it wasn’t to long ago people were arguing whether dinosaurs were warm blooded or took care of their young. Doesn’t that seem so arbitrary now? Either way, I’m excited to see what the future holds, and I welcome any new development with open arms.
Join me next time as I review the dinosaurs of Disney’s classic movie Fantasia: The Rite of Spring.
Get ready for some 40’s dinosaurs.