Liz Butler Draws The ROM: Dinosaurs!
This week I was off to the James and Louise Temerty Galleries of the Age of Dinosaurs. These are definitely my favourite galleries, no question. Drawing dinosaur bones is tricky, but it’s so much fun to spend that time imagining the creatures that must have belonged to the bones! Who needs dragons when you have dinosaurs?
I chose to draw the skulls of a Corythosaurus and an Acrotholus. The Corythosaurus, like many hadrosaurs, had a beautiful crest, and you can see many examples of these crests at the museum (Corythosaurus, Parasaurolophus, and Lambeosaurus, as well as some crest-less relatives). Acrotholus has a pretty amazing skull, too, only instead of a crest it had a super thick, bony head. Awesome!
Which dinosaur is your favourite? Does your favourite dinosaur have special teeth, claws, crests, spikes, horns or plates?
- Liz Butler is an artist and teacher who loves natural history and museums. She loves drawing, painting, and making crafts of all kinds. She is happiest when she can find ways to combine art projects with science content.
- Liz’s Website – Liz Butler Draws
- Liz’s Blog – Saw Whet Studio
- More guest posts from Liz HERE!
- Do you like to sketch? Love museums? Are you a full time student in Canada? The ROM is yours to explore, FREE, every Tuesday! MORE!
- All photographs: Kiron Mukherjee.
Guest Post By Liz Butler. Last Updated: November 18th, 2013.
New Research from the Burgess Shale: Thorny worms that swarmed in the Cambrian seas
Hallucigenia sparsa is no ordinary animal. This poster child of the Burgess Shale biota is the ultimate weirdo, and the ROM holds the world’s largest collection of specimens. New research published July 31st in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, Series B, provides fresh new revelations about this fascinating creature.
Recreation of Hallucigenia in motion!
Hallucigenia was originally described as a creature walking on sticks. Drawings from the time showed a tubular body supported horizontally on what looked like sets of stilts.
This idea of how Hallucigenialooked was literally turned upside-down when pairs of bona fide legs equipped with sharp terminal claws on its other side were discovered. The legs, now visualized as facing down, were previously thought to be some sort of feeding tentacles projecting vertically above the body in the search for food. In this new portrayal, the “walking sticks” were reinterpreted as lethal defensive needles to ward off predators that might have been interested in snacking on Hallucigenia’s otherwise soft body parts.
Don’t be alarmed – this animal is thankfully, well, really tiny – no longer than an eyebrow. It lived 505 million years ago in a long lost world, before plants or animals lived on land, when the biggest creatures known lived in the oceans. Today’s closest relatives to Hallucigenia are the velvet worms. Unlike their spiny Cambrian ancestors, velvet worms have lost all their defensive spines and plates. Evidently these structural defenses became useless during the course of evolution, but when the modern forms lost these features is unknown. Modern velvet worms, or onychophorans, as they are commonly called by scientists today, live exclusively on land, in tropical forests. They are nocturnal ambush predators, lurking among decaying trees and feasting on arthropods and other small preys they trap with sticky slime shot out of glands near their mouths. By contrast, Hallucigenia might have lived on sponges or decaying matter on the sea floor.
It turns out that Hallucigenia had many close relatives all over the world during the Cambrian period, a fact that eluded scientists for decades. Even the species name, “sparsa,” means rare. So how did we figure out that this animal was, in fact, quite common, and had a much bigger family tree than was previously thought?
The problem, if we can find one with the Burgess Shale, is that few sites in the world preserve soft-bodied organisms. Because Hallucigenia was entirely soft-bodied, it had few chances to be preserved under normal conditions. The only exception was its spines, which are slightly more robust than the rest of the body. But even though the animals in the Burgess Shale are preserved exceptionally well, it is still only one site, representing only one place and period of time. Looking at only one site alone does not provide enough information to learn about the spatial distribution of species during the Cambrian period more broadly, or exactly when an animal like Hallucigenia might have first evolved.
What we discovered was fairly serendipitous. Using a powerful microscope called a scanning electron microscope, we saw that the spines of Hallucigenia had tiny little projections on them that formed specific and unique patterns. The spines were also constructed like a stack of ice-cream cones, with the sharp end pointed upwards.
Similar spines had been discovered all over the world in fossil sites where soft-bodied animals were not preserved. At these sites, only tiny bits and pieces of tough or mineralized body parts withstood the fossilization process (to learn more follow link). Most of these disassociated spines found at those sites remained mysterious even to paleontologists – they did not seem to belong to any known creature. In fact, nobody had a clue what these spines were before our discovery. However, because sites with these microfossil spines are relatively common, they had provided information on the distribution of species during the Cambrian period. Now that we know the spines belong to Hallucigenia or its closest relatives, we are able to piece together Cambrian ecology in even more detail.
This story emphasizes the complementary role that different types of fossil deposits can bring to our understanding of life on our planet. It also shows that, despite its exceptional preservation of soft-bodied animals, the Burgess Shale does not provide answers to all questions!
What’s next? Well, we still have lots of work to do. For instance, we still do not know for sure which end of Hallucigenia is the front and which is the back! A full redescription of Hallucigenia is currently underway, thanks in large part to the fantastic Burgess Shale collections at the ROM – the world’s largest. Surely there are more discoveries to be made, and this little critter has not yet finished surprising us. Stay tuned for more news!
On Saturday November 2nd, we’re running a special programs focusing on Jean-Bernard’s work on Hallucigenia and other Burgess Shale creatures. Jean-Bernard’s PHD student Cédric Aria will be out talking about the ROM’s latest research, as well, he’ll have rarely seen fossils out from our Invertebrate Palaeontology collections. Finally, we’ll also have art projects for the kids. More information HERE!
- Research paper reference: Caron J.-B., Smith M., Harvey T.H.P. 2013Beyond the Burgess Shale: Cambrian microfossils track the rise and fall of hallucigeniid lobopodians. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences First published online July 31st, 2013.
- A press release about this new research can be found in the ROM’s Newsroom.
- See also a National Geographic article by Ed Yong: “When hallucinations walked the world”
- Jean-Bernard Caron, Curator of Invertebrate Palaeontology (links to bio page; research page)
- To learn more about the Burgess Shale location in Yoho National Park and they mysterious creatures that were fossilised there, visit the interactive multimedia website developed by the ROM and Parks Canada.
- Original blog post can be found HERE.
- Hallucigenia sparsa (ROM 61513). Nearly complete specimen, head to the right. Approximate specimen length = 14 mm. Walcott Quarry.
Image credit: ROM.
- Historical reconstruction of Hallucigenia by Marianne Collins in Gould’s “Wonderful Life” (1989).
Image credit: Marianne Collins.
- Hallucigenia sparsa by Phlesch Bubble (2011).
Image credit: ROM.
- Elements of Figure 1 in Caron et al. 2013. (e–i) ROM 57776, scanning electron microscope image of spine showing internal cones and lineations; (g) ROM 61513, scanning electron microscope image showing lineations and a distal cone; (j–o) ROM 62269, backscatter images of several spines, showing elemental distribution of carbon (l) and phosphorous (m) and details of ornamentation near spines’ mid-length (n) and base (o). C, cone; L, lineations. Scale bars: (e,j–m) 100 mm; (f – i) 50 mm; (n–o) 10 mm.
Image credit: Jean-Bernard Caron.
- The modern velvet worm, Euperipatoides kanangrensis from the Blue Mountains, New South Wales, Australia – a distant living relative to Hallucigenia sparsa.
Image credit: By Velvet_worm.jpg: Geoff Gallice derivative work: B kimmel (Velvet_worm.jpg) [CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Guest post by Jean-Bernard Caron. Last update: October 28th, 2013.
Happy Thanksgiving, Canada! OR You’re eating a dinosaur!
Once you’re done with your turkey dinner, considering taking a trip to your local museum. Google “turkey skeleton" and compare what comes up to a group of dinosaurs called theropods-those awesomely vicious dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus rex and Deinonychus.
Does anything look familiar? Take a look at those wings, legs and that wonderful head. Doesn’t it look strikingly similar to that of a Deinonychus? The feet could be the same. Throw some teeth in that turkey beak and you’d have a nightmare that could only be a dinosaur! As well, doesn’t that Deinonychus look shockingly familiar if you cover it with feathers?
Though it’s difficult to figure out exactly where they fit on the family tree, especially with the increasing evidence that many dinosaurs had feathers, most scientists (like almost all!) agree that birds are dinosaurs and that they rest upon the theropod branch. But perhaps the even more mysterious question is how did avian dinosaurs survive, while the rest of the dinosaurs vanished?
So for those carnivores out there (like me!) taking part in a dinosaur dinner, enjoy! And to those who choose to pass and sample a tofu or vegetable option instead, take comfort that you’ll have no guilty dinosaur eating dreams tonight!
- Wikipedia: Origin of Brids
- Smithsonian: What Kind of Dinosaur is Coming to Dinner?
- xkcd: Birds and Dinosaurs
- Discovery: Modern Birds Are Really Baby Dinosaurs
- Archosaur Musings: Your Thanksgiving / Christmas theropod
- Archaeopteryx detail. (Reproduction of the the Berlin specimen). Kiron Mukherjee.
- Deinonychus skull. Kiron Mukherjee.
- David Lewis, “Turkey" May 2, 2007 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.
Written by @kironcmukherjee. Last update: October 13th, 2013.
The Abnormal Shrimp, Anomolocaris!
Anomalocaris had two long “arms” (you can vaguely see them on the left side of the fossil) which grabbed, killed & guided food into the circular mouth on the underside of this wonderful creature.
As much as I love dinosaurs, it’s great to look a bit further back and see what other special creatures lived on our amazing Earth.
#romkidsgoeswhere: Pearson International Airport & “A scene from the late Jurassic”
Our adventure to New York has wrapped, but even though @anastagee and I were back in Toronto, we had to make ONE FINAL trip to see some dinosaurs at Pearson International Airport.
Wait, what?! Dinosaurs at an airport?
Next time you’re at Pearson, drop by Terminal 1 and you’ll be able to check out this awesome “scene from the late Jurassic”! Learn more below!
Needless to say, it was a great way to say “hello” to home, with a piece of the ROM, a set of dinosaurs, and Toronto firmly below my feet.
CHECK THIS OUT: Research Casting International installs the exhibit!
DESCRIPTION OF THE SCENE
Othnielia rex, a small, agile, plant-eating dinosaur fed on low-growing vegetation, which it cropped with its turtle-like beak and then chopped with chisel-shaped cheek teeth.Othnielia walked on its hind legs, and used its stiff tail for balance. Unlike other herbivores, Othnielia lacked defenses such as bony spikes or plates, and it likely relied upon speed and agility to escape predators such as Allosaurus.
Allosaurus was the most common large meat-eating dinosaur in the Late Jurassic period. It grew to 11 metres (36 feet) in length, and weighed up to 3 tonnes. Allosauruswas a formidable predator, possessing powerful legs for swift pursuit. Its front limbs were equipped with large claws for grasping prey and its powerful jaws were trimmed with dozens of serrated teeth for tearing flesh.
The scene takes place against a backdrop of fossil-rich sedimentary rocks of the Morrison Formation. The sediments that formed the rocks were deposited on a vast lowland plain in a seasonally dry environment rich in dinosaur life. Morrison rocks, and the fossils they contain, are exposed widely throughout the western United States, from New Mexico to Montana. The Morrison fauna is best known for the giant plant-eating sauropods such as Apatosaurus and Barosaurus, but also includes the well-known plated dinosaur Stegosaurus, and the horned carnivore Ceratosaurus. Fossil remains of plants, fishes, frogs, salamanders, crocodilians, lizards, pterosaurs, turtles, and even small mammals provide a detailed picture of the environment in which the dinosaurs lived.
The display was conceived and overseen by Dr. David Evans, Associate Curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology in the ROM’s Natural History department and was constructed by the craftsmen of Research Casting International (RCI), one of the world’s largest providers of museum technical services. RCI recently mounted the first fossil Barosaurus skeleton, the 27-metre (90-foot) centrepiece of the James and Louise Temerty Galleries of the Age of Dinosaurs in the ROM’s Michael Lee-Chin Crystal. The Barosaurus is the largest dinosaur on permanent display in Canada and one of only two Barosaurus skeletons on display in the world.
- Learn more about the Allosaurus exhibit and other displays at Pearson HERE.
- Check out the ROM press release for the exhibit HERE.
- Learn more about Allosaurus in this great piece from Brian Switek HERE.
- Catch up on the rest my trip to New York HERE.
- See all of our previous #romkidsgoeswhere HERE!
- Thanks for joining us for our latest #romkidsgoeswhere: Kiron Goes To New York!
Day Four: Ichthyosaurus Skull
This ichthyosaurus skull was discovered by Mary Anning, a female fossil hunter from the United Kingdom’s fossil rich area of Lyme Regis. If you take a moment to read her biography, her experiences speak to the still-continued sexism that permeates not only paleontology, but most scientific fields. Equally, class issues played a dominate role in the barriers that limited Anning in celebrating the full potential of her discoveries, most of which were collected up by male enthusiasts to be discussed and analyzed by other males.
Obviously, female paleotologists are digging all around the world and this recent publication explores the history of women in paleontology while capturing some of the contemporary conditions.
If you want a real-time read, check out this blog of a female paleontology student at the University of Alberta.
Mary Anning is a palaeontology hero, a science legend, and an incredible person.
REASONS FOR MARY ANNING
- Found some of the most iconic prehistoric marine reptiles ever, like ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs as well as various crocodiles and pterosaurs.
- More than just a collector of fossils, she was a true scientist. She carefully took notes of finds, studied the geology and location where the fossils came from, completed wonderfully detailed illustrations (see below), and could have published an immense amount of work if society had let her.
- She did all of this through incredible financial hardship and illness, but most importantly persevered in a field and era where female scientists weren’t accepted.
- In short, a champion.
Letter from Anning, detailing her plesiosaurus find. By Mary Anning (1799-1847) () [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
LEARN EVEN MORE ABOUT THE LEGEND
- Mary Anning’s wikipedia page (also one of the most complete for any palaeontologist).
- Trowelblazers has a great write up for Anning’s birthday HERE.
- The @NHM_London calls Mary Anning "The greatest fossil hunter ever known" HERE. Also has a cool timeline of her life with context against what else was going on in England.
4 yr old convinced that Mary Anning went to ROM school. Well, obviously. She was a palaeontologist. cc: @ROMKids— HisFeministMama (@HisFeministMama)