Dinosaur Island

 

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Batman #1, New 52

In Batman #1 in the New 52, we see a giant animatronic dinosaur kept in the Batcave as a trophy. The T. rex is a reminder from an early adventure on Dinosaur Island (Batman #35, from June 1946). In that story, Murray Wilson Hart, a wealthy industrialist creates an amusement park named Dinosaur Island, filled with robot replicas of dinosaurs and robotic cavemen, but a criminal takes control of the mechanical dinosaurs and attacks Batman and Robin. Eventually, the dynamic duo defeat the criminal and Batman take the T. rex as a souvenier.

A second and definitive version of Dinosaur Island appeared in the Spring 1960 issue of Star-Spangled War Stories #90. Based on The Land That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the saga follows a group of American soldiers, stranded on an uncharted island during the Pacific War which they discover is populated by dinosaurs. The original novel was set on World War I and is a reminder of Jules Verne’s novel Journey to the Center of the Earth, and Arthur Conan Doyle’ s The Lost World.

Cover of The War that Time Forgot by Ross Andru & Mike Esposito

Almost three decades before Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, Rodolphe Töpffer (1799- 1846) published a peculiar geological tale. Töpffer was a Swiss author considered the first comics artist.  In Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), Jules Verne incorporated the knowledge of the time. Verne was inspired by Charles Lyell’s Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man and Lyell’s earlier ground-breaking work Principles of Geology.

Arthur Conan Doyle began to write The Lost World in 1911. One year later it was published in book form by Hoddar and Stoughton. By that time he already was one of the most popular author around the globe, thanks to his most iconic creation, Sherlock Holmes. Probably, one of the most influential works in Doyle’s novel was “Extinct Animals” by Ray Lankester,  Director of the Natural History Museum. The Lost World has much in common with Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and has contributed significantly to the fascination with dinosaurs and pterodactyls. Even more, the first full-length science fiction film was based on Conan Doyle’s novel.

 

References:

Conan Doyle, A. 1912. The Lost World. Hodder & Stoughton, London.

Verne, J. G. 1864. Voyage au centre de la Terre. Pierre Jules Hetzel, Paris.

Edgar Rice Burroughs, The Land That Time Forgot,  Blue Book Magazine, 1918

Batman #35, DC Comics, 1946

Star-Spangled War Stories #90, DC Comics, 1960

 

 

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Solving the mystery of Megatherium diet.

Megatherium americanum, MACN.

Around 10,000 years ago, Argentina was home of numerous species of giant Xenarthrans, giant ground sloths (relative to tree sloth) and glyptodontids (relative to tiny extant armadillo). Sloths, characteristic of the mammal fauna of the Pleistocene of South America, show a great diversity with more than 80 genera, grouped in four families: Megatheriidae, Megalonychidae, Nothrotheriidae and Mylodontidae.

For more than a century different hypotheses on the dietary preferences of giant ground sloths have been proposed. In 1860, Owen gave an extensive explanations about their possible diet and behavior. He based his conclusions on the morphology of the skull, combined with peculiarities of the rest of the skeleton, but always by analogy with living tree sloth. He wrote: “Guided by the general rule that animals having the same kind of dentition have the same kind of food, I conclude that the Megatherium must have subsisted, like the Sloths, on the foliage of tree…”. In 1926, Angel Cabrera discussed the diet of Megatherium, rejecting some theories on myrmecophagy or insectivory, and agreed with Owen’s statements about a folivorous diet.

Megatherium americanum lower right tooth series. Scale bar: 5 cm (From M.S. Bargo and S.F. Vizcaíno, 2008)

The dietary preferences of extinct mammals can usually be evaluated through their tooth morphology, but the application of stable isotopes on fossil bones has yielded very important information to solve debates about the diet of extinct large mammal groups, by comparing the carbon and nitrogen isotopic composition of their bone collagen with those of coeval herbivorous and carnivorous taxa. Another isotopic approach is to mesure the difference between the carbon isotopic abundances of the collagen and the carbonate fractions of skeletal tissues. An animal with a herbivorous diet, exhibits significantly larger differences than a carnivore. The values measured on bone collagen from Megatherium, clearly fall in the same range as the large herbivores such as the equid Hippidion, the notoungulate Toxodon and the liptoptern Macrauchenia, for which there is no doubt about their herbivorous diet. Therefore, the hypotheses of insectivory or carnivory for these extinct mammals are not supported by the isotopic data.

 

References:

Hervé Bocherens et al. Isotopic insight on paleodiet of extinct Pleistocene megafaunal Xenarthrans from Argentina, Gondwana Research (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.gr.2017.04.003

Bargo, M.S., Vizcaíno, S.F., 2008. Paleobiology of Pleistocene ground sloths (Xenarthra, Tardigrada): biomechanics, morphogeometry and ecomorphology applied to the masticatory apparatus. Ameghiniana 45: 175-196

Introducing Zhongjianosaurus.

 

Photograph of Zhongjianosaurus yangi holotype (From Xu & Qin, 2017).

Dromaeosaurids are a group of carnivorous theropods, popularly known as “raptors”. Most of them were small animals, ranging from about 0.7 metres in length to over 7 metres. They had a relatively large skull with a narrow snout and the forward-facing eyes typical of a predator. They also had serrated teeth, and their arms were long with large hands, a semi-lunate carpal, with three long fingers that ended in big claws. The earliest known representatives are from the Lower Cretaceous Jehol Group of western Liaoning, China. The most recent described dromaeosaurid is Zhongjianosaurus yangi. The new taxon was named in honor of  Yang Zhongjian, who is the founder of vertebrate paleontology in China.

The Early Cretaceous Jehol dromaeosaurids not only display a great size disparity, but also show a continuous size spectrum. Zhongjianosaurus represents the ninth dromaeosaurid species reported from the Jehol Biota. It was first reported in 2009, and is notable for its small size (about 25 cm tall), compact body, and extremely long legs.

Zhongjianosaurus yangi holotype. A. right scapulocoracoid in lateral view and furcula in posterior view; B. right humerus in anterior view; C. left ulna and radius in lateral view; D. ‘semilunate’ carpal, metacarpals II and III in ventral view and phalanges II-1 and -2 in lateral view; scale bars equal 5 mm (From Xu & Qin, 2017)

The holotype is an adult individual distinguishable from other microraptorines in possessing many unique features, most of them are present in the forelimbs. For example, the humerus has a strongly offset humeral head, a large fenestra near the proximal end, and a large ball-like ulnar condyle. Zhongjianosaurus also displays several other features which are absent in other Jehol dromaeosaurids. For instance, the uncinate processes are proportionally long and fused to the dorsal ribs, the caudal vertebral transitional point is located anteriorly, and the pes exhibits a full arctometatarsalian condition.

The coexistence of several closely related Jehol dromaeosaurids can be interpreted as niche differentiation. Tianyuraptor have limb proportions and dental morphologies typical of non-avialan carnivorous theropods, suggesting that they were ground-living cursorial predators, meanwhile Microraptor are more likely to have been arboreal or even gliding animals.

References:

Xu X , Qin Z C, 2017, in press. A new tiny dromaeosaurid dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous Jehol Group of western Liaoning and niche differentiation among the Jehol dromaeosaurids. Vertebrata PalAsiatica

Xu X, 2002. Deinonychosaurian fossils from the Jehol Group of western Liaoning and the coelurosaurian evolution. Ph.D thesis, Beijing: Chinese Academy of Sciences. 1–322

Tilly Edinger vs. the nazis.

Tilly Edinger (Photo,Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA)

“Tilly” Edinger was born on November 13, 1897 in Frankfurt, Germany. She was the youngest daughter of the eminent neurologist Ludwig Edinger and Dora Goldschmidt, a leading social advocate and activist. In 1914, her father became the first Chair of Neurology in Germany, at the newly founded University of Frankfurt. He encouraged her to take science courses at the Universities of Heidelberg, Frankfurt, and Munich. Her research at Frankfurt was directed by Fritz Drevermann, director of the Senckenberg Museum. After her graduation in 1921, Edinger worked as an assistant in the Geological Institute of Frankfurt University. In 1927, she was  named Curator of Fossil Vertebrates at the Senckenberg. At that time, she had no colleagues in vertebrate paleontology in Frankfurt with the exception of Drevermann. She described the positive and negative aspects of that environment in a letter addressed to A. S. Romer: “all fossil vertebrates [at the Senckenberg Museum] are entirely at my disposition: nobody else is interested in them . . . On the other hand, this means that I am almost autodidact”. 

Among her early projects were descriptions the endocranial casts of Mesozoic marine reptiles, pterosaurs and Archaeopteryx.  In 1929,  she published Die fossilen Gehirne (Fossil Brains), the book that established Edinger’s membership in the German and international paleontological communities. This work would serve as the major scientific support for her wartime immigration to the United States.

Senckenberg Naturmuseum (Senckenberg Museum of Natural History)

After the death of German President Paul von Hindenburg on August 2, 1934, Chancellor Adolf Hitler became Führer of Germany. In the months following Hitler’s ascension to the power, the Nazis took control of all of the nation institutions. The universities were not excepted. Soon, Jewish professors were dismissed, arrested, or simply disappeared. At the time, Tilly Edinger was working  as curator of fossil vertebrates at the Senckenberg Museum of Natural History in Frankfurt, so the influence of the new rules on her professional life was slower than on many other persons of Jewish descent because the Senckenberg was a private institution, and her position there was unsalaried. She continued working at the Museum thanks to protective actions of Rudolf Richter, the invertebrate paleontologist who had succeeded Drevermann at the Senckenberg.

Although urged by friends to leave the country, she chose to stay, as did their brother, Friedrich, who later (1942) became a victim of the Holocaust. But, on the night of 9–10 November 1938, her paleontological career in Germany ended.  Nearly 100 Jews were killed and thousands were imprisoned in the infamous “Kristallnacht” (Night of the Broken Glass). Decided to leave Germany as soon as possible, she wrote to her childhood classmate Lucie Jessner, a psychiatrist who had immigrated first to Switzerland in 1933 and then to the United States in early 1938. Jessner contacted the eminent Harvard paleontologist Alfred S. Romer (1884–1973), writing: “My friend—Dr. Tilly Edinger, paleontologist in Frankfurt am Main, Germany—wants me to ask you about different matters, very important for her. She believes you might know her name by several of her papers and you might be friendly enough to give me the opportunity to speak with you”

Interior of Berlin’s Fasanenstrasse Synagogue, opened in 1912, after it was set on fire during Kristallnacht on November 9, 1938

With the positive response from Romer, Edinger applied for an American visa at the American Consulate in Stuttgart on 1 August 1938. Forced to look for another, short-term solution, she contacted Philipp Schwartz, a former pathology professor at the University of Frankfurt who had established the Notgemeinschaft Deutscher Wissenschaftler im Ausland (Emergency Association of German Scientists in Exile), a society dedicated to helping scientific refugees from Nazi Germany. Waiting for a solution, she wrote to Rudolf Richter to thank him for his supportive testimonial. She shared her conviction that “One way (England) or the other (United States), fossil vertebrates will save me”. 

Thanks to her pioneering works and the contacts she made from a previous trip to London in 1926, Edinger emigrated to England in May 1939. She started working at the British Museum of Natural History, alternately translating texts and working on her own paleoneurological projects. She described her life in London as considerably freer than in Germany: “It sounds funny, to one who was ‘at home’ not allowed to enter even an open museum, or a cinema, or a café, to apply the word ‘restrictions’ anywhere in the beautifully free life I am leading here”

Tilly Edinger and colleagues at the Museum of Comparative Zoology. Sitting left to right: Tilly Edinger, Harry B. Whittington, Ruth Norton, Alfred S. Romer, Nelda Wright, and Richard van Frank. Standing left to right: Arnold D. Lewis, Ernest E.Williams, Bryan Patterson, Stanley J. Olsen, and Donald Baird. (Photo: David Roberts, from Buchholtz, 2001)

In 1940, with the support of Alfred S. Romer, she moved to Massachusetts to take a position at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology. By the early 1950s, she was not only the major contributor to the field of paleoneurology but also the mentor to a younger generation that was following in her footsteps. She received several honorary doctorates for her achievements, including Wellesley College (1950), the University of Giessen (1957), and the University of Frankfurt  (1964). She was elected president of SVP in 1963. Her last book: “Paleoneurology 1804-1966. An annotated bibliography”, was completed by several of her colleagues and is considered the necessary starting point for any project in paleoneurology.

 

References:

Buchholtz, Emily A.; Seyfarth, Ernst-August (August 2001), “The Study of “Fossil Brains”: Tilly Edinger (1897–1967) and the Beginnings of Paleoneurology”, Bioscience 51 (8)

Susan Turner, Cynthia V. Burek and Richard T. J. Moody, Forgotten women in an extinct saurian (man’s) world, Geological Society, London, Special Publications 2010, v. 343, p. 111-153