Free Dino Art Lessons for Kids!

I have been blessed with the chance to lead free art lessons at events held by the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center. And now I can share some of the lessons I started making.

These are mainly for the little artists in your family, but feel free to try one yourself, if you want.

Here are Brontosaurus, Velociraptor, and Stegosaurus. Entirely free. No copyright. Just print and follow the directions. Make copies if you want.

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Another Plausible Monster? Direct Evidence for an Unknown Marine Predator

A few months ago, I wrote a post arguing for the likelihood that there is a big, unidentified animal living in the Congo Basin. (Future posts on the same topic are on the way) And while I tend to not hold my breath for the discovery of creatures like Sasquatch or Nessie, in this case the skeptics’ explanations are neither convincing nor parsimonious. The available evidence is best accounted for by a real animal rather than folklore.

This past week, not only has someone brought my attention to another massive, unidentified creature that’s likely to exist, but he has presented evidence that is, in a scientific sense, more compelling.

Max Hawthorne is the author of a horror novel called “Kronos Rising,” which I am reading and thoroughly enjoying. It has drawn many favorable comparisons to “Jaws,” involving a prehistoric reptile that terrorizes a seaside community.

But in one of those beautiful moments where life imitates art, Max’s extensive knowledge of marine creatures sheds light on an enigma that has stumped marine biologists for over a decade.

In 2003, something ate a 9-foot Great White shark off the coast of Australia. The shark had been tagged with a tracker that could measure temperature and depth. But what could it have been?

Come on, I know you're thinking it.

Come on, I know you’re thinking it. Copyright Universal Pictures.

At first, most of the scientific community was supremely confident that there was nothing “sensational” to the event, and that the predator was simply a bigger Great White. The only problem was, that made no sense whatsoever given the available evidence.

I’ll let Max take over with a hypothesis he posted on Facebook (reproduced here with his permission), and then contribute some brief thoughts afterward.

###

SUPER PREDATOR – IT’S NOT WHAT THEY SAY IT IS by Max Hawthorne

I watched the documentary “Super Predator” recently. It’s the follow-up to last year’s “Hunt for the Super Predator.” I enjoyed both shows, but after having studied all the data, I find myself compelled to weigh in, because something’s not right.

Last year’s show (and I have no doubt they’ve set things up for a third episode for next year) ended with the premise that the creature that devoured a 3-meter great white shark (named “Shark Alpha” in the Bremer canyon off AU was simply a larger (i.e. 5-meter) great white. I thought this was rubbish. There was no definitive proof of the claim, and it was, IMHO, a fluff piece to quell the media storm and put people’s minds at ease.

In this year’s show, the filmmakers changed their story. Now they’ve presented the theory that a MUCH larger shark, i.e. a Carcharodon megalodon – one that inhabits the abyssal depths – was responsible for the attack on Shark Alpha. They backed this up with a photo of an 80-foot pygmy blue whale sporting a bite scar on its peduncle measuring a whopping 5 feet across. They also stated that the shark that unsuccessfully attacked the pygmy blue would have measured nearly 40 feet in length.

The facts dictate otherwise.

1- Per http://www.cwr.org.au/research/bluewhales.html, the pygmy blue measured 20-21 meters, i.e. a maximum of 69 feet.

2- Also, per the same site’s data, the bite on the whale’s tail measured a maximum of 1.2 meters across. That’s a smidgen less than 4 feet, not 5, indicating a shark around 32 feet long. A sub-adult Megalodon? Possibly. Or maybe just a really huge great white.

3- There is no indication that this pygmy blue whale was attacked in the Bremer canyon, so any insinuation that the shark that bit the whale is the same animal that devoured Shark Alpha is a stretch.

4- Per her satellite tag/tracker, Alpha’s body temperature, when attacked, was confirmed at 46 degrees Fahrenheit. Her body temperature, again per the tag, went from 46 to 78 degrees almost instantly after she was devoured.

5- White sharks have a body temperature that normally ranges from 10-14 degrees Fahrenheit above the surrounding water (the inside of the belly being the highest temp differential). Under extreme circumstances, the maximum differential has been listed at a difference of 25 degrees.

6- Based on body temperature alone, there is no way shark alpha was eaten by another great white. The temperature difference is too extreme. Moreover, if Megalodon is still alive, and has a body temperature anything like its relative, the great white, (a reasonable assumption), it would also fall within this range.

7- Megalodon was a shallow water predator. It makes no sense that it would loiter in the extreme deep where little food exists. Especially not when a banquet of whales waits at the surface.

8- The “Hunt for the Super Predator” special showed that the creature that ate Alpha remained at depths ranging from the surface to 300 feet immediately after feeding, and for the next 8 days, until the tracker/tag was excreted. This was ignored by the new show, assumedly as it would derail their “Abyssal Megalodon” theory. In fact, the “super predator’s” movements in the water column are, in actuality, similar to those of an Orca. It indicates an air breathing predator that does NOT live in the darkness of the abyss.

9- This fact is backed up by Alpha’s behavior, immediately prior to her being consumed. Once attacked, she dove to nearly 2,000 feet at high speed before she was caught and killed. This indicates an attacker that was both fast and capable of deep dives, as well as being able to accurately track fleeing prey in complete darkness (echolocation, anyone?).

10- Retreating/emergency diving to extreme depths when threatened or attacked is a documented tactic white sharks employ when one of their number has been killed by Orcas. This raises the possibility that Shark Alpha may have instinctively tried to employ this same tactic in an attempt to flee what she recognized as a large, air-breathing carnivore.

11- Per the tracker/tag, the digestive process of the “super predator” took 8 days. A great white’s digestive tract takes 24-48 hours, from what I’ve read. Something else digested Alpha – something that dissolves its meal slowly – and based on my experience keeping large crocodilians and such, that would seem to indicate a reptile.

12- Lastly, adult leatherback sea turtles have been known to have core body temperatures 32 degrees Fahrenheit above the surrounding sea water. If the water temperature around shark alpha was 46 degrees and you add 32 to it, you get the EXACT 78 degree body temperature of the Super Predator. Of course, leatherbacks eat jellyfish, not 3-meter white sharks. But the interesting thing about them is that they ARE marine reptiles. This implies that the creature that ate Alpha may ALSO have been a marine reptile of some kind.

SUMMARY: THE EVIDENCE SUPPORTS MY HYPOTHESIS THAT SHARK ALPHA WAS EATEN BY A LARGE, AIR BREATHING ANIMAL: ONE THAT COULD NAVIGATE IN TOTAL DARKNESS, SURVIVE THE PRESSURES OF THE ABYSS, CATCH A FLEEING GREAT WHITE SWIMMING AT 30+ MPH & SWALLOW IT WHOLE, HAD A BODY TEMPERATURE 32 DEGREES HIGHER THAN THE SURROUNDING WATER, HABITUALLY STAYED NEAR THE SURFACE FOR 8+ DAYS AFTER EATING ITS MEAL, AND TOOK 8 DAYS TO DIGEST.

CONCLUSION: SHARK ALPHA WAS CONSUMED BY A HUGE MARINE REPTILE: DISCLUDING UNKNOWN SPECIES AND FOCUSING ON THE FOSSIL RECORD, POSSIBLE CANDIDATES INCLUDE EITHER A GIANT MOSASAUR OR A PLIOSAUR. GIVEN THE DEPTHS THE PREDATOR DESCENDED TO IN PURSUIT OF THE SHARK, AND THAT MOSASAURS WERE SHALLOW DIVING, COLD-BLOODED REPTILES LIKE THEIR MODERN RELATIVES, MONITOR LIZARDS, I’M BETTING ON THE LATTER.

Looks like KRONOS RISING may not be pure fiction after all 😉

Max Hawthorne, author
www.kronosrising.com

###

Well done, sir.

Keep in mind, whatever ate this Great White was too warm for another shark, and whales don’t get that cold. Orcas and Sperm Whales have a body temperature that corresponds with ours, and the digestive process of both whales and sharks takes far less than eight days.

But given the temperature and the amount of time the tracker spent in the predator’s body, an enormous marine reptile appears to be the most satisfactory candidate. Finding one of these creatures would settle the question of whether it is a living fossil like in Hawthorne’s book, or a new kind of animal altogether.

Max has also pointed out in my correspondence with him that predators tend to give a wide berth to bigger predators. This could help explain why we haven’t seen more of these animals, if they think large, noisy boats are simply bigger creatures they’d rather avoid. And if a reptile were to come up for air, it could easily be mistaken for a surfacing whale.

Even today, the ocean is surprising us far too profoundly for us to scoff at the notion of an unknown giant predator. Anecdotes of reptilian sea monsters go back thousands of years, but today’s skeptical community waves those off, because in their view, anecdotal evidence “doesn’t count.” I can’t tell you how refreshing and satisfying it is, to find that even the evidence they allow for is marshaling against the old orthodoxy. Our world is still full of surprises.

Here there be monsters.

Godzilla’s Back

The greatest blockbuster movies do three things: They go big, they go loud, and they take their subject matter seriously.

This new Godzilla movie looks like it’s going to accomplish all three in monumental fashion. I grew up with cheesy old Godzilla movies, and actually enjoyed the 1998 movie (Jean Reno helped improve the experience a lot). But this time, it looks like Godzilla has grown up, in more ways than one. The radioactive dinosaur is bigger than he’s ever been, and apparently doing battle with two other monsters.

One word: Imax.

Pacific Rim Deserves Success

Readers, I am going to shamelessly ask you a favor. I implore you, go see Pacific Rim. Here’s why. Not enough? Here’s another reason. If you end up loving it, go again or buy a ticket for a friend. Give it some love. I’m going to be at the theater as soon as possible to show some support. I haven’t even seen it. But I know I’m already going to love it.

Two reasons why: It has giant monsters and equally huge robots — things I’m obviously programmed to love — and it’s being put down before it’s even given a chance to succeed. Here’s the sad part.

Hollywood reporters should hang their heads in shame for predicting terrible opening weekends for big adventure films that aren’t part of a series that’s already lucrative (e.g. The Avengers or Star Trek, which are excellent movies in their own right). That same useless prediction was a self-fulfilling prophecy for John Carter, and I pray it won’t happen again with Pacific Rim.

How could you not love this? Picture courtesy of SlashFilm

How could you not love this? Picture courtesy of SlashFilm

Yes, I’m telling Variety to shut up. Why put the emphasis on the pile of cash from a movie’s first days in the public square? Isn’t the story it tells more important? What of the sense of joy and thrills Hollywood used to get from adventure movies? What happened to enthusiasm?

It seems everything’s more about money and picking something apart, today. We can’t just enjoy a movie anymore. Even when films end up being great, my Facebook feed clogs up with nitpicks and negative opinions that drag the whole mood down. Before I realize what’s happening, I’m paying more attention to a movie’s flaws than I do to its strengths.

Can we please try celebrating a good film more than we criticize it, or at least try to not cut its legs out from under it before opening night? We ought to encourage more movie-makers to go big and take risks. And don’t you want to watch movies made by people who care, instead of cynical marketing teams? That is where the classics come from. Star Wars and Lord of the Rings could have failed big, but found the support of people who believed in them. Those people are rare in Hollywood. And it shows.

Encourage filmmakers to love what they do, and make new classics. Pacific Rim could sure use some encouragement.

Thanks for your time.

Another feathered dinosaur ramble?! On Jurassic Park IV, Science, Plausible Doubt, etc.

Hey, guys. Just when I thought I couldn’t possibly say anything more on why fellow paleontology geeks need to loosen up on feathered dinosaurs, I had a couple of extra thoughts to contribute (or reiterate, in some cases). I don’t want to make a huge deal out of this again, except it seems others are bent on making a big deal out of the issue. I wonder if anyone else is going to call them out on it.

Not really a unified angry rant so much as it is a couple of thoughts bundled together. And I’m trying to be charitable and composed here. Honest.

Xiphactinus, on the other hand...

Xiphactinus, on the other hand, isn’t. My thanks to Dinomemes.

One

Sometimes it’s hard to be charitable with other paleontology enthusiasts when they make such a big deal out of “OMG why aren’t the ignorant masses accepting feathered dinos?! We’re shoving the facts down their throats as hard as we can! Facts! Science! Argh!”

Maybe that’s the problem? Perhaps we can afford to back off from the battering ram? Entice people with the awesome fact that some dinosaurs had feathers (as XKCD does, quite admirably). Facts coupled with charity and grace will generate a greater impact. The problem isn’t that science is making dinosaurs less cool. The problem is that those with facts on their side are addressing the subject in such an adversarial manner that they alienate everyone else.

[One-B]

There’s a lot of derisive humor at the expense of outdated raptor depictions. Oh, so scaly raptors would have been pathetic and ill-equipped for survival…because they lacked feathers? A large, warm-blooded archosaur needs plumage (crocodiles and Carnotaurus notwithstanding), or else it’ll keel over and die? The muscles, intelligence, claws, pack hunting, etc. all count for naught? All righty then. Let me know when the cloned raptors are stalking you in Jurassic Park’s kitchen and immediately collapse because this essential tool of survival is not available for their use. Stupid geneticists. What do they know?

Two

Not everyone who’s less than ecstatic about feathered dinosaurs is anti-science, or a stick in the mud, or someone who’s overtly nostalgic for the scaly movie monsters of yore. Sometimes people’s aesthetic tastes (mine, for example) just lean more toward scaly raptors. I know they’re inaccurate. I am not contesting that. And if I ever design a painting of a Raptor for a museum exhibit, you can bet your Dinosaur Revolution DVDs it will have plumage in plenitude.

For crying out loud, I’m editing (well, I’m supposed to be editing) a fantasy novel that has dinosaurs in it, and I’m putting feathers on the appropriate species to keep the animals as accurate as possible. A fantasy novel!

But sometimes, people simply find the Jurassic Park Raptors awesome or frightening. Those people are neither lame, nor out of date, nor anti-progress. It’s a testament to the excellent work of Stan Winston and his animatronics crew, Steven Spielberg, and the CGI crew in bringing the movie’s versions of Velociraptor to life. Talking down to someone for appreciating a good movie monster doesn’t make you pro-science. It makes you look like a condescending jerk.

Three

The transition to feathered raptors being considered “cool” by the public will take time. Patience is required, but it’ll happen eventually. Here’s what I want to know: why is it so important that a Deinonychus with feathers be considered “cool” right now? What cosmic fate balances on the public’s awareness of the sort of body covering an extinct animal had? Normally I want animals to be accurately portrayed, or as accurate as possible. But I don’t scream for a boycott of adventure movies when the hero comes face-to-face with a “poisonous” jungle snake, and I can see it’s a harmless kingsnake or garter snake. I take the movie with a grain of salt, and enjoy it all the more when Indiana Jones encounters a real, live cobra.

Four

One large Tyrannosaur we know had feathers — Yutyrannus — doesn’t automatically mean all large Tyrannosaurs had feathers, too. The region where most of the known feathered dinosaurs lived — China and Mongolia — was, if I remember correctly, a colder region at the time, which would be conducive to feathered dinosaurs, at least when the feathers are being used as insulation against the cold (Note: please correct me on this and show your sources if I’m wrong!).

[Additional note: Yutyrannus is much more closely related to the other feathered Tyrannosaur we know of — Dilong — than it is to T. rex, so strutting around and pretending this is “proof” that T. rex had feathers is overreaching with the available evidence.]

T. rex and other large Tyrannosaurs, on the other hand, seem to have inhabited warmer climates, where they might not have needed any such insulation. Nothing to do with feathers that are used for display, of course. Tyrannosaurus rex may very well have had feathers anyway. I grant that. But it’s a plausible scenario, for the time being. Not knowledge. Until we can confirm it through physical fossil evidence, please don’t tell me we “know” T. rex had feathers. I don’t dread a discovery of T. rex having feathers, but I worry that it’ll be abused as another cudgel, wielded by OCD dino-nerds against those Ignorant Masses they love to rail against.

Five

So Jurassic Park IV isn’t going to put feathers on its raptors. Yes, I know it’s a huge fricking deal. Museums will have to close their doors. Paleoartists will be forced at gunpoint to strip their paintings and sketches of every quill and feather, because that’s how much people hate scientific accuracy. People will riot in the streets. Fossils will be smashed.

It’s a movie, guys. A movie that includes “Genetically engineered theme park monsters” in the words of Alan Grant. Dinosaurs that can change sex thanks to frog DNA being used to patch up their degraded genomes. Maybe they look a little different than the creatures from prehistory? It seems the OCD dino-nerd crowd is just hurt that the Jurassic Park franchise isn’t catering to their demands.

Consclusion

If I read one more of Brian Switek’s tantrums on this subject, I’ll need to visit my physician and request some blood pressure medication. I know, I’ve complained about him before. My apologies; I ought to be better than picking on one person. But I don’t like it when someone sneers at others who appreciate dinosaurs in a different way than he does, and I hate it when his fans join in with outright insults and ill will.

I am excited about paleontological discoveries. I’m grateful that there are surprises around every corner, that a new discovery can change our view of these animals completely upside down. But a smarter-than-thou attitude ruins the fun for everybody.

EDIT: I’m not sure if it’s Brian or me who’s doing the most whining, but I know one thing for certain: This has got to stop.

Books and Movies for Halloween

Nothing fancy today. Just a recommendation list of novels and movies that would be great to watch on All Hallow’s Eve. I welcome any additional suggestions from you, of course. Feel free to add them in the comments.

Books

  • Cain, by James Byron Huggins — An inventive, action-packed thriller about a supersoldier who gets possessed by the devil. Not only is it scary, it’s just plain cool with all the lovingly described weaponry.
  • The Terror, by Dan Simmons — Fictionalized account of the doomed 1845 Franklin Expedition as they look for a trading route near the north pole. I’ve only begun this book, but I’m fascinated by Simmons’s approach of having a supernatural creature stalking the men and picking them off one by one. A perfect book to read on a cold night.
  • Threshold, by Sara Douglass — This fantasy novel is mainly about a servant girl and her master falling in love, but there are truly terrifying episodes of some creature or presence using a pyramid as a gateway into the world. Highly recommended.

Movies

  • The Mummy (1999 remake) — Not particularly unsettling, but it’s still kind of scary, and lots of fun. Plus, Rachel Weisz is one of those actresses whose mere presence can improve a film’s quality.
  • The Invisible Man (1933) — Claude Rains knows how to enrapture and frighten using only his voice. The special effects are way ahead of their time, too.
  • Jurassic Park (1993) — Odds are you see big flesh-eating dinosaurs as either scary or awesome. Either way, it’s a good night to watch this.
  • The Others (2001) — Captivating ghost story that relies less on jump scares and more on sounds and suspense. A masterpiece among haunted house films.
  • Fright Night (2011) — In my honest opinion, the remake is completely awesome and a whole lot smarter than the original. I’m a sucker for remakes, I know. But Colin Farrell excels as the vampire next door, and David Tennant very nearly steals the show
  • The Thing (1982) — A movie about a shapeshifting alien piling up bodies in the isolation of Antarctica? This is just begging to be watched on Halloween.
  • Sleepy Hollow (1999) — In my opinion, this is Tim Burton’s best movie (that I’ve seen so far). Christopher Walken as the horseman? Genius! That alone makes the film worth watching.
  • Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) — Let’s face it, any night is a good night for this astounding trilogy.