The 10 Best Dinosaurs In The Jurassic Park Franchise, Ranked

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

There have been numerous dinosaurs introduced in the Jurassic Park franchise ever since 1993, but these are among the best of the best.

Jurassic Park: You come for the dinosaurs, and you care because of the people. This means that most people check out about caring after the first movie (often considered a masterpiece) and just watch the rest to see the people get eaten. But at the end of the day, some pretty great dinosaurs were brought to life for some cool scenes throughout the franchise.

Here's a rundown of 10 of the best dinosaurs to join the roster in the franchise, based more on their screen presence and what they represent rather than the actual power or real-life creatures.

10 - Indominus Rex

The Indominus Rex is the artificially created dinosaur that was put together using the various genetic codes of other animals to create a deadly hybrid. It can camouflage itself, it has superintelligence, it's albino, and it's apparently sponsored by Verizon Wireless. The dinosaur itself isn't terribly original or fascinating, so much as the idea behind it.

The idea that people would get tired of reconstructed dinosaurs quickly is sadly probable, and the idea that an animal would be bought out by corporations is even more realistic. The dinosaur has a pretty sadistic streak to its nature and doesn't act like it's following its nature so much as that it's following what it was engineered to do.

9 - Stegosaurus

The stegosaurus is a great big spiky herbivore that can present a lot of danger when threatened. While that can be said for many of the creatures encountered in the series, the stegosaurus encounter in The Lost World managed to feel like the most compelling and thrilling of them.

It's a bit strange that dinosaurs haven't fought each other on-screen more often in this franchise, or at least the classic encounter of prey vs. predator. Seeing a stegosaurus fight an allosaurus or something to that tune would sort of rule.

8 - Triceratops

The triceratops is one of those dinosaurs that every kid knows growing up, as it seems many children have a fascination with dinosaurs at some point in their upbringing. And apparently, Alan Grant was one such kid (who retained it into adulthood, as a paleontologist).

The triceratops gets a seemingly unmajestic scene in the first film that is actually one of the most wondrous. A sick triceratops is found by the tour group, and while it can't really be up to its full potential, seeing Alan touch it and feel it breathe is spellbinding in its own way.

7 - Pteranodon

Pteranodons are NOT dinosaurs. But frankly, leaving the flying prehistoric reptiles off of this list would be blasphemous. In the original book by Michael Crichton, the pteranodons got a pretty exhilarating scene dedicated to them in an aviary, but that scene didn't make it into the first film, with it instead appearing in Jurassic Park 3.

The pteranodons are bad news whenever they appear in the franchise, as they present a new area to watch out for: the sky. If people can barely handle being assaulted by seagulls on the beach or pigeons in the street, imagine their terror at a pterosaur swooping down with their huge wings and pointy beaks.

6 - Compsognathus

The small Compsognathus gets its due in The Lost World, and it's a great debut for the little critter, nicknamed as "Compies." In a scene originally akin to Hammond's encounter with them in the original novel, the compies show that they can overwhelm adult humans with their overwhelming numbers and persistence.

Of all the dinosaurs on this list, compies would be the most likely to serve as pets, but with talk like that, pets become attractions and attractions become mass civilian casualty makers.

5 - Dilophosaurus

Dilophosaurus got a lot of artistic license for its design, but that worked in its favor. The dinosaur is actually much smaller than the real-life creature, it sports a colorful frill around its neck, and it can spit poison.

The cute little chirps and squeals it hosts can become a hideous hissing screech when it enters kill mode and is representative of the entire Jurassic Park idea. It looks and seems nice, but it's actually deadly and unpredictable.

4 - Spinosaurus

The spinosaurus was a pretty great replacement dinosaur to take the spot that typically went to the T-Rex for "big killer theropod." In Jurassic Park 3, the spinosaurus served as a welcome change of pace from the typical raptor/T-Rex combo. It was also good to see the effort put into an actual animatronic for several shots, something the Jurassic World films are critically lacking in.

The ringing cellphone in the stomach was ridiculous, and the goofy slasher film elements are detrimental to the film, but it never stooped to the point of Fallen Kingdom. And hey, it looks like the scene of the spinosaurus swimming underwater wasn't too inaccurate!

3 - Velociraptor

The "clever girls" of the franchise are actually closer in appearance to the dinosaur "deinonychus," but frankly, the word "velociraptor" really rolls off the tongue more. The velociraptors in Jurassic Park seem to get gradually more intelligent with every film, to a somewhat ludicrous degree, but they're pretty imbedded in pop culture by this point.

Their eerie hissing and inquisitive personalities are quite memorable, and the "raptors in the kitchen" sequence in the first film is one of the most stress-inducing and tense scenes in Spielberg's filmography. And that guy made Jaws.

2 - Brachiosaurus

The brachiosaurus is the first fully visible dinosaur seen in Jurassic Park. It's presented in a beautiful and uplifting shot, with the swelling John Williams score swooning the audience. The brachiosaurus' introduction represents the majesty and wonder of Jurassic Park, and it justified the 1.81:1 aspect ratio that Steven Spielberg presented in the first film, to make the dinosaurs seem as massive as possible.

The brachiosaurus' huge neck fit the expanded vertical landscape and is epic to see on a big screen. Likewise, the scene where Alan and the kids feed the dinosaurs in the first film hits all of the sweetest moments that Spielberg could conjure through the presentation of nature.

1 - Tyrannosaurus Rex

It's the film franchise's most iconic logo mascot for a reason. The T-Rex is the absolute most badass and terrifying element of the Jurassic Park franchise. The sheer scale and realistic puppetry/CGI displayed in the original film hit a high mark that few filmmakers since have been able to hit.

The T-Rex is both awe-inspiring and horrific, but at the end of the day, it's just an animal (that actually existed) fulfilling its instinct. Yet it carries an aura of grand showmanship, something that really represents the spectacle that Jurassic Park could offer.


What Are Dinosaurs?

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

(Orla/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Dinosaurs are a diverse group of mostly land-based animals that are related to today's reptiles and birds. 

In fact, while dinosaurs are commonly seen as extinct and known only by their fossils, paleontologists technically include modern birds as a surviving group of avian dinosaurs.

Both avian and non-avian dinosaurs evolved from a more ancient group of reptiles roughly 240 million years ago, diversifying in shape and size before mostly dying out in a mass extinction event around 65 million years ago.

In the so-called Mesozoic era, dinosaurs filled just about every imaginable ecological niche on land imaginable. 

There are three main clades of dinosaur, or evolutionarily linked categories. Precisely how each of these related to each other is still a matter of debate.

The clade Ornithischians includes familiar names like Triceratops and Stegosaurus. The term means 'bird hipped', thanks to a pelvis that looks like that of a bird's. Confusingly, birds didn't actually evolve from this group.

Meanwhile, sauropods are the long necked, long tailed creatures like brontosaurus and diplodocus, which often grew to jaw-dropping sizes. These belong to another clade, called Saurischians, or 'lizard hipped'.

And then there are the theropods, like Tyrannosaurus rex and pals. Because nothing can be simple in paleontology, these animals have also been described as a 'lizard hipped' kind of dinosaur, even though they gave rise to avian dinosaurs. 

Only a small handful of dinosaur species, such as Spinosaurus, are known to have been at least semi-aquatic (and even then, somewhat awkwardly), with no non-avian dinosaurs known to have taken to the air.

What about those weird flying things in Jurassic Park, you say? Those are pterosaurs, which are technically non-dinosaur reptiles. Still cool, though.

So what makes a dinosaur a dinosaur?

One of the most significant evolutionary features that helped early dinosaurs conquer the land was a simple shift in the position of their legs.

Closely related reptiles had legs positioned to the sides, with their body suspended between them, like a crocodile.

A subtle change in anatomy allowed the legs of dinosaurs to be pulled beneath the body to act as towers rather than bridge supports. This small adaptation meant it took less effort for dinosaurs to move around, allowing them to devote more energy to survival and reproduction, giving them a huge advantage.

In addition to this major anatomical connection, dinosaurs can also be identified by a number of less obvious characteristics. These include a hole in their skull between their eye socket and nostrils and two more holes behind each eye socket; a hole in their hip socket; a uniquely 'hinged' ankle; and at least three sacral vertebrae, which are near the hip.


All topic-based articles are determined by fact checkers to be correct and relevant at the time of publishing. Text and images may be altered, removed, or added to as an editorial decision to keep information current.


How Dinosaur, A Movie You’ve Forgotten Existed, Shaped The Disney Landscape Forever

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Credit: Buena Vista Pictures / Walt Disney Animation Studios

If you saw Toy Story 2 when it opened theatrically in the winter of 1999 or owned a copy of Tarzan after its home video release in early 2000, you probably still remember it — a wordless, five-minute-long prologue that played before the film. It followed a dinosaur egg as it careened through an unforgiving primeval landscape while accompanied by soaring, Lion King-esque music (intentionally so — as the song featured Lion King vocalist Lebo M) and some truly stunning visuals. The fact that it was promoting a movie being released next summer was almost beside the point; this was a breathless blast on its own, with all the drama and emotion and raw power of the best Disney had to offer. The prologue was also frightfully misleading.

When Dinosaur finally opened in theaters on May 19, 2000, audiences were treated to a very different movie, full of cutesy characters and a familiar story. While it wound up being a sizable hit for the studio, the stakes could not have been higher for Dinosaur. And while it may not be remembered 20 years later and was a production plagued by difficulties, it was also one of the most important movies Disney had released at the time — for better or worse.

The idea for Dinosaur started way back in 1986 on the set of the ultra-violent RoboCop between director Paul Verhoeven and visual effects producer and animator Phil Tippett. "We were doing the scene where ED-209 falls down the stairs," Tippett tells SYFY WIRE. "We're sitting in this stairwell and everybody started bitching about how there were no good movies made anymore. And I said, 'Well I have an idea for a movie about dinosaurs.'" Verhoeven was instantly excited.

"That could be cosmic," Tippett recalls Verhoeven saying. "There could be meteors and the death of the dinosaurs and huge battles with geysers of blood." Rumors swirled that the dinosaurs would poop and have sex and rip each others' heads off; Tippett confirms that yes, that was what they had planned.

When the pair wrapped RoboCop and returned to Los Angeles, producer Jon Davison made an appointment to pitch the untitled dinosaur project to then-Disney president Jeffrey Katzenberg. They entered with armfuls of books, countless illustrations, and a plan to make the movie in stop-motion with Tippett and Verhoeven co-directing. Katzenberg gave them the go-ahead to hire a writer and the team chose Walon Green (The Wild Bunch). "It would be an experiential sort of trip into the Cretaceous world, with a simple story about dinosaurs that people could follow and relate to without dialogue," Green explained in the making-of book Dinosaur: The Evolution of a Feature Film by Jeff Kurtti. "They thought it was challenging and daring, something different." Tippett says that what Green produced "wasn't a screenplay per se. It was a story so that they could understand it." Green and the team looked at Disney's Bambi and the company's early nature films for inspiration. "The whole thing was a pretty revolutionary idea," Green admitted in The Evolution of a Feature Film. "We thought for 84 minutes, this could work."

In 1990, Walt Disney Feature Animation president Thomas Schumacher had made a trip to Eastern Europe following the release of The Rescuers Down Under. While he was looking for traditional animators for some main features, he was also seeking help with the stop-motion dinosaur project. "While I traveled around Eastern Europe looking for my traditional animators, I was meeting with people who had also been talked with about the stop-motion animation to make this dinosaur film," Schumacher told Kurtti.

Budgetary concerns were immediately raised. According to The Evolution of a Feature Film, then Disney production chief Marty Katz reeled at the proposed $72 million budget since the studio wanted it to cost around $20 million. The studio executives realized the film could be accomplished using a combination of various disciplines: stop-motion animation, animatronics, and live-action photography. Disney asked Green to do a "voice over version" where the characters wouldn't speak but their thoughts would be heard (this idea would return later). "I did a version like that and I thought, 'I don't know if this'll work or not,'" Green told Kurtti.

Unbeknownst to Verhoeven and Tippett, the meteor was bearing down on them. "It went from bad to worse," Tippett says. "They did the typical Disney thing where they wanted eyelashes on the dinosaurs and wanted them to talk and sing songs." Unhappy with the way things were headed, Green, Davison, and Verhoeven told Tippett that they were going to skip a meeting scheduled with Katzenberg. "We're going to blow him off," they told the animator. "Don't go down there." Tippett says the perceived slight led to him getting banned from the Disney lot "until Katzenberg left" in 1994. (He claims the executive didn't even know Tippett was working on 1989's Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.) "It devolved into nothingness," Tippett says.

Not that Tippett was totally out of the dinosaur game. While waiting on one of the Katzenberg meetings, producer Kathleen Kennedy had sent Tippett a galley for an upcoming novel — Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park. Later, Tippett says, Verhoeven called him. "I know Spielberg has contacted you about Jurassic Park, you should do that instead," Verhoeven told Tippett. "And you should forget the dinosaur movie."

"And that's what happened," Tippett says with a deep breath.

Jurassic Park, of course, would go on to become the biggest movie of all time (at the time) and won Tippett a Best Visual Effects Oscar for his pioneering work on those dinosaurs. Still, Tippett admits, his other dinosaur movie "would have been cool."

Credit: Buena Vista Pictures / Walt Disney Animation Studios

In 1990, following the opening of its ambitious Disney-MGM Studios theme park in Orlando, Florida, Disney looked to open another new park, this time centered around animals. Imagineer Joe Rohde, known for his attention to detail and his flamboyant style (he's the guy on The Imagineering Story with the crazy earrings), was tasked to lead the project.

"Really all that existed was a germ of a notion from Michael Eisner that the company should do something with animals," Rohde told the Orlando Sentinel about the development of Disney's Animal Kingdom. By 1993, the idea had expanded to involve mythological creatures and extinct animals — dinosaurs.

"Eisner said, 'Let's bring back the dinosaur idea,'" Schumacher told Kurtti. "Developing the film along with an attraction would create a kind of reciprocal process between the studio and Imagineering."

And so Dinosaur trekked along, tied to the park. For a while, the movie was called Countdown to Extinction, like the theme park attraction at Disney's Animal Kingdom. There wasn't a story exactly, but there was a corporate mandate. Then-senior vice president of production for Walt Disney Feature Animation Kathleen Gavin told Kurtii that the "first reason" to make the movie was that "it tied into the Animal Kingdom project." At one point during production, Kathleen Kennedy stopped an executive working on the project and asked them why they were making the movie. The executive didn't have a good answer.

"Piles of scripts" were developed, according to Schumacher, and Gavin considered farming the project out to Industrial Light & Magic (it would have been too costly), but when Disney acquired Dream Quest Images in 1996 — after Eisner had been blown away by the group's work on Disney's Crimson Tide, according to Disney historian Jim Hill — it had its answer. According to Gavin, they would build a "digital studio for the entire Disney company," one that would support Imagineering, live-action movies, television, and stand-alone computer-generated features — like Dinosaur. Disney would renovate an abandoned Lockheed building (once part of the famous Skunk Works operation) and the four-story, 200,000-square-foot space would be home to this new, as-yet-unnamed digital studio (with a slight assist from animators at Disney's satellite studio in Florida, down the street from the Animal Kingdom at Disney-MGM).

A team was put together, led by directors Ralph Zondag (who had directed We're Back: A Dinosaur's Story and worked on The Land Before Time) and Eric Leighton (a stop-motion veteran who had worked with Tippett). Leighton replaced longtime Disney Animation stalwart and Oliver and Company director George Scribner (who'd left to join Imagineering). Leighton already had a relationship with the material, making him the perfect fit. "The first time I read a script for this movie was in 1988," Leighton told Kurtti. He had been pitched on it by Tippett. The team also included producer Pam Marsden, who now runs animation at Sony, and producer Baker Bloodworth, a longtime Disney man who had just finished Pocahontas for the studio. Noted illustrator William Stout, who also worked on the Animal Kingdom attraction, provided early designs.

But the film's story was still foggy. They tried the version that Green had last submitted, with a tiny mammal narrating, then another with the voice-over proposition. A proof of concept test for this version of the movie (now known as the "Noah version") was likened to Disney's live-action hit Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey. Eisner hated it. "The characters conversing without mouth movement felt strange – and actually emphasized a technical inability to accomplish the sophisticated facial animation required for believable mouth movements," Eisner told Kurtti.

The earthy believability, outlined from the very beginning by Tippett, was now out the window. Tippett's worst fears were coming true: The dinosaurs would speak.

On April 22, 1998, Countdown to Extinction the ride opened with the rest of Disney's Animal Kingdom. Utilizing the same ride vehicle and track layout as Disneyland's Indiana Jones Adventure, guests boarded a "Time Rover" and were sent back to the time of dinosaurs. The attraction, at the time sponsored by McDonald's (you could order a Big Mac next door), was a herky-jerky thrill ride and in 1998 was full of special effects and tiny flourishes that were later abandoned or not kept up. Another attraction, the Discovery River Boats, also opened along with the park. Guests floated down a serene river setting, at one point passing an animatronic Aladar bathing in the water. As the Animal Kingdom attractions opened to guests, work on the feature barreled forward.

Credit: Buena Vista Pictures / Walt Disney Animation Studios

On October 29, 1999, Disney officially announced its secretive "digital studio," which finally had a name: The Secret Lab. The press release indicated it would combine Dream Quest Images with what was then known as Walt Disney Feature Animation. The new studio would be jointly overseen by former Dream Quest executive Andrew Millstein and Schumacher and, while the press release stated the team would work out of the Feature Animation building on the lot (the one with the giant Sorcerer Mickey hat), their actual location was the former Lockheed building over by the Burbank airport. "Merging Dream Quest and Disney's computer animation operation represents a tremendous pooling of talent and resources," Schumacher said at the time. "Disney has built a first-class digital animation studio and together with Dream Quest Images will continue to push the boundaries of digital filmmaking." Dinosaur would be The Secret Lab's first feature film.

But the implications and expectations for both Dinosaur and The Secret Lab were much bigger than the press release was letting on. With the formation of the new unit, Eisner saw a way of making Pixar-quality animated features and besting old guard visual effects studios at the same time. They'd toggle between an animated feature like Dinosaur and then shift to working on, say, creating the complex dragon effects for Reign of Fire. At this point, Disney's relationship with Pixar was beginning to sour after Eisner's insistence that Toy Story 2, since it was a sequel, fell outside of the studios' original agreement. If Pixar bowed out of its deal with Disney and Feature Animation was still handling traditionally hand-drawn animation like 2000's The Emperor's New Groove (which featured a joke aimed at the new studio), then Eisner needed a viable alternative for computer-generated animated features — and that was The Secret Lab.

In fact, The Secret Lab had already quietly begun work on its second feature. On the visual effects side, The Secret Lab had produced groundbreaking early tests for a Jerry Bruckheimer project at Disney called Gemini Man for director Tony Scott (the project would finally get made last year at Paramount with Ang Lee and Will Smith). The future of The Secret Lab seemed bright.

A few months later, Dinosaur roared into theaters. (Down in Florida, Countdown to Extinction's name had been changed to the much-more-generic "Dinosaur," and a Dinosaur statue out front had been replaced with an on-model statue of the film's hero Aladar. The Discovery River Boats were already closed.) The final story followed a collection of misfit dinosaurs — led by the impressionable Aladar (D.B. Sweeney) and his adoptive lemur family — on their journey to find a place to safely live after a devastating meteor strike. Unlike Verhoeven and Tippett's proposal, the film would not end with the dinosaurs dying out.

With a reported budget of $127.5 million (undoubtedly not factoring in the costs of building The Secret Lab or those associated with the Walt Disney World attractions), it was the most expensive computer-animated film of all time and the most expensive film released that year. On its opening weekend, it beat out Gladiator for the No. 1 spot at the box office with $38.8 million. Critics, though, were largely unimpressed — dazzled by the visuals but left cold by the story.

"The aim was to blend computer-generated characters with live-action backgrounds, and, on the visual level at least, it works beautifully," Kenneth Turan wrote in The Los Angeles Times. The wordless prologue was largely cited as the movie's highpoint (Turan called the "bravura opening" Dinosaur's "most effective sequence"), while the rest of the story (ultimately attributed to John Harrison, Robert Nelson Jacobs, Thom Enriquez, and Ralph Zondag) felt limp and familiar. "They totally f***ed it up," Tippett says of the final product. "It was awful."

Still, it was a hit (of sorts), bringing in $350 million worldwide, enough to make it the fifth highest-grossing movie of the year and Disney's No. 1 earner of 2000. And it made almost $200 million more the following year in home video sales (then a huge part of the business). Disney had plans for a Dinosaur sequel. But disaster was about to strike.

A little over a year after Dinosaur's release, in October 2001, Disney announced that the Secret Lab was closing its expensively remodeled doors. ("Disney can't keep Secret" was Variety's cheeky headline.) Its final two features would be Reign of Fire and Bruckheimer's Down Under (later called Kangaroo Jack) for Warner Bros. The second Secret Lab animated feature, an edgy satire of '70s culture called Wild Life, directed by Howard Baker and Roger Gould, was canceled, in part because Roy Disney objected to its risqué humor. There would be no Dinosaur sequels either. "The studio had no contingency plan in place for its Secret Lab," said Disney historian Jim Hill.

By the time Disney made the announcement, the Secret Lab was already in tatters: Millstein had moved to Florida to oversee the Disney Animation satellite unit there (it would also close just a few years later after the company switched primarily to computer-animated features). Hundreds of animators were let go or reassigned. "We're not actively soliciting outside work under the banner of the Secret Lab anymore," Schumacher told Variety. Dream Quest Images co-founder Hoyt Yeatman stayed at Disney and later directed G-Force for the studio and Jerry Bruckheimer. The tale of secret agent talking guinea pigs would have been an ideal project for The Secret Lab.

In the 20 years since Dinosaur was released, Disney successfully made deals to acquire Pixar and, later, Lucasfilm (which includes owning effects house Industrial Light & Magic). It also now owns Connecticut-based computer animation studio Blue Sky, which came along as part of the more recent Fox deal; it is now run by Secret Lab stalwart Andrew Millstein.

Had Dinosaur been a truly meteoric phenomenon along the lines of Jurassic Park, it would have theoretically profoundly changed Disney and, potentially, the industry as a whole. It's all-in-one approach to visual effects and feature-length animation was unprecedented and bold. Unfortunately, it came and went. And all we have left are the fossilized remains — and Dinosaur.


Megaraptor: Fossils of 10m-Long Dinosaur Found in Argentina

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The fossils were found during field work in Patagonia. REUTERS

Palaeontologists have found the fossils of a new megaraptor in Patagonia, in the south of Argentina.

Megaraptors were large carnivorous dinosaurs with long arms and claws measuring up to 35cm (14in) in length.

They also had powerful legs and long tails which made them more agile than the Tyrannosaurus rex and allowed them to catch smaller herbivorous dinosaurs.

The new megaraptor is one of the last of its group, before dinosaurs became extinct, the scientific team says.

What did the scientists find?

The team led by Fernando Novas from the Natural Sciences Museum in Buenos Aires discovered many fossils during its month-long field work in Estancia La Anita, in southern Santa Cruz province.

The most unusual ones were the remains of a large carnivorous dinosaur belonging to the Megaraptoridae family.

The scientists uncovered vertebrae, ribs and part of what would have been the dinosaur's chest and shoulder girdle.

A large number of fossils have been found in Patagonia, in Argentina's south. ARGENTINE NATURAL SCIENCE MUSEUM

The fossils they found belonged to a specimen measuring approximately 10m (33ft) in length, one of the largest of the Megaraptoridae found so far.

In a statement [in Spanish], the team said that the remains date back 70 million years - towards the end of "the age of the dinosaurs".

Fernando Novas told Reuters news agency that "this new megaraptor that we now have to study would be one of the last representatives of this group" before the dinosaurs became extinct.

What did it look like?

The megaraptor had long, muscular arms with sickle-like claws and a long tail which provided it with balance.

Slimmer and more agile than the T. rex it is thought to have used its arms and claws rather than its jaw as its main weapon when hunting its prey.

"It had powerful and elongated legs which allowed it to take big steps," palaeontologist Aranciaga Rolando said.

The scientists from the Natural Sciences Museum believe it would have used its speed to hunt ornithopods, plant-eating dinosaurs which walked on two legs.


Fishing Rod 'Selfie Stick' and Scientific Sleuthing Turn Up Clues To Extinct Sea Reptile

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

An artistic life reconstruction of Nannopterygius. CREDIT: Andrey Atuchin

Skeleton high on a London museum wall -- mostly ignored for a century -- spurs a study finding that the creatures swam in seas from England to Russia to the Arctic, Baylor University researcher says.

A Russian paleontologist visiting the Natural History Museum in London desperately wanted a good look at the skeleton of an extinct aquatic reptile, but its glass case was too far up the wall. So he attached his digital camera to a fishing rod and -- with several clicks -- snagged a big one, scientifically speaking.

Images from the "selfie stick" revealed that the creature, whose bones were unearthed more than a century ago on a coast in southern England, seemed very similar to a genus of ichthyosaurs he recognized from Russian collections.

He emailed the photos of the dolphin-like ichthyosaur to fellow paleontologist Megan L. Jacobs, a Baylor University doctoral candidate in geosciences. She quickly realized that the animal's skeletal structure matched not only some ichthyosaurs she was studying in a fossil museum on the English Channel coast, but also some elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

Jacobs and paleontologist Nikolay G. Zverkov of the Russian Academy of Sciences -- who "fished" for the ichthyosaur -- merged their research, studying their collective photos and other materials and ultimately determining that the Russian and English ichthyosaurs were of the same genus and far more common and widespread than scientists believed.

Their study is published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.

"Ichthyosaurs swam the seas of our planet for about 76 million years," Jacobs said. "But this 5-foot ichthyosaur from some 150 million years ago was the least known and believed to be among the rarest ichthyosaurs. The skeleton in the case, thought to be the only example of the genus, has been on display in the Natural History Museum in London since 1922.

"Nikolay's excellent detailed photos significantly expand knowledge of Nannopterygius enthekiodon," she said. "Now, after finding examples from museum collections across the United Kingdom, Russia and the Arctic -- as well as several other Nannopterygius species -- we can say Nannopterygius is one of the most widespread genera of ichthyosaurs in the Northern Hemisphere."

Additionally, the study described a new species, Nannopterygius borealis, dating from about 145 million years ago in a Russian archipelago in the Arctic. The new species is the northernmost and youngest representative of its kind, Jacobs said.

Previously, for the Middle and Late Jurassic epochs, the only abundant and most commonly found ichthyosaur was Ophthalmosaurus, which had huge eyes and was about 20 feet long. It was known from hundreds of specimens, including well-preserved skeletons from the Middle Jurassic Oxford Clay Formation of England, Jacobs said.

"For decades, the scientific community thought that Nannopterygius was the rarest and most poorly known ichthyosaur of England," Zverkov said. "Finally, we can say that we know nearly every skeletal detail of these small ichthyosaurs and that these animals were widespread. The answer was very close; what was needed was just a fishing rod."


Jurassic World 3: Problems From The First Two Movies Dominion Needs To Fix

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Jurassic World: Dominion must fix the mistakes made by Jurassic World and Fallen Kingdom, which relied too much on Jurassic Park nostalgia.

As the sixth feature film in the Jurassic Park franchise and the third in the Jurassic World franchise, Jurassic World: Dominion needs to fix the problems of the first two World movies. Despite the financial successes of Jurassic World and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdomthe sequel trilogy has so far been met with mixed to negative reviews, with many applauding it for its effects and entertainment value yet agreeing that it lacks the magic and innovation of its predecessor.

Set for release in 2021, Jurassic World 3 sees Colin Trevorrow returning to the director’s seat after having helmed 2015’s Jurassic World. Trevorrow also co-writes the screenplay alongside Emily Carmichael, having previously co-written the screenplays to both Jurassic World and Fallen Kingdom. Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Jake Johnson, Omar Sy, Daniella Pineda, Justice Smith, BD Wong, and Isabella Sermon are all set to reprise their roles from previous films, with the addition of Mamoudou Athie, DeWanda Wise, Dichen Lachman and Scott Haze in as of yet unconfirmed roles.

The plot details are of course being kept under wraps, though it is likely Jurassic World: Dominion will further explore the plot threads established in Fallen Kingdom, namely the consequences and applications of human cloning and dealing with the surviving dinosaurs now scattered around the globe, perhaps even recovering and relocating them to another island or sanctuary. Jurassic World 3 has a chance to redeem the sequel trilogy and recapture some of the magic that made Jurassic Park an instant classic, something which the Jurassic World movies have so far failed to do.

Jurassic World 3 Needs To Make Dinosaurs Scary Again

Who can forget the utter terror felt by millions of movie-goers when the famous T-Rex made its first appearance in Jurassic Park? It is easy to forget, in the age of CGI, how awe-inspiring and often frightening the sight of dinosaurs were in 1993. Whereas the original movie is a horror science-fiction adventure, the Jurassic World films have so far stayed comfortably in the realm of action blockbusters. Onscreen dinosaurs seem to have gone the way of most cinematic villains and monsters, in that they are now too familiar to be frightening. Claire Dearing (Howard) likely said it best when explaining why the scientists felt compelled to genetically engineer the Indominus Rex: “no one’s impressed by a dinosaur anymore.”

At the very least, that is the case for dinosaurs in and of themselves. Horror can still be achieved from creating tension, uncertainty, and presenting a real threat to the characters, as the 2019 short film Battle at Big Rock managed to do. A big reason why Jurassic World failed in that department was because there was too much insistence on the humanization and de-animalization of the ‘good’ dinosaurs. It was far too clear which of them were friendly and even, for instance in Blue’s case, tame, and which are ‘evil’ and predatory.

There are two ways in which Jurassic World 3 can return to its horror roots. The first would be to go back to dinosaurs as animals, with unpredictable and predatory behaviors. It’s fine enough to have herbivores be gentle giants, but carnivorous creatures have to act like predators rather than large pets, as Jurassic World tried to do with the raptors. Tension can be relied upon to create fear when visual horror has become too familiar to its audience; it is the reason why the Jurassic Park scene of the raptors in the kitchen remains one of the scariest moments of modern cinema, a complete masterpiece of dread.

A second way, which might sound a little defeatist, would involve Dominion moving away from dinosaurs as a source of horror and instead leaning into the human cloning element introduced in Fallen Kingdom. Think how effectively The Silence of the Lambs set up Buffalo Bill as the villain, only to turn Hannibal Lecter into the real source of terror. Perhaps turning away from the well-trodden dinosaur arena and to the uncanny, as-yet unknown territory of human clones and their uses can make the franchise scary again.

Dominion’s Characters Need Compelling Arcs

Both Jurassic World and Fallen Kingdom failed to provide any compelling human drama alongside its dinosaurs. In order to be both afraid of the dinosaurs and afraid for the characters, viewers first need to be invested in the characters’ survival. Yet thus far, the characterizations of Owen Grady (Pratt) and Claire Dearing are thoroughly flat and uninteresting. Owen is too cool and laid-back, an amalgamation of tropes from the motorcycle-riding bachelor, to the burly, off-the-grid lumberjack and genius animal behaviorist. He is just a convenient set of talents and provider of quippy one-liners, without any particular depth or backstory. He never looks or acts as though he’s in trouble, and so the audience never feels compelled to care about him.

Likewise for the trilogy’s other main character, Claire is a cold, frosty stock character. As far as the uptight, workaholic career-girl trope goes, Claire is right in there, minus the agency of said career-girl. If anything, she is eventually reduced to the role of damsel in distress, despite having been initially portrayed as tough and independent. She barely has enough characterization to act as a foil to Owen’s freewheeling, bad boy with a heart of gold stereotype. Likewise, in Jurassic World her nephews are simply there to serve as the children that need saving.

The main issue with the characters of the Jurassic World movies is that they seem purely functional. The audience feels no emotional tie or investment in their storyline, and they are barely afforded any depth or development that would make them anything other than interchangeable cogs in the storytelling machine. Jurassic World 3 has a chance to develop its characters, primarily Owen and Claire, in a way that keeps audiences emotionally invested and raises the stakes, something which the trilogy has yet to achieve.

Move Away From Jurassic Park Nostalgia (& Remember Why The First Movie Worked)

Though this applies more to Jurassic World than to Fallen Kingdom, both movies still felt like they were keeping to a checklist of Easter eggs and visual references to Jurassic Park, without ever hitting the core beats of what made the original a stand-out. From a close-up to a blinking dinosaur eye, to near misses as a human holds his breath to avoid dinosaur detection (despite the fact that the I-Rex has heat vision). Paying homage is one thing, but relying on nostalgia to keep an audience interested will only be successful for so long, particularly when Jurassic World rang so hollow, coming across as a cheap rip-off rather than a deferential tribute to Jurassic Park.

It is therefore unfortunate thatwhile respectably attempting to move away from the original movies, Fallen Kingdom was such a messy film. However, perhaps the attempt to go into riskier storytelling territory with its plot involving corporate conspiracy, bio-engineered weaponry on the global black markets and human cloning, will all pay off as these same threads are further developed in Jurassic World 3.

However, with Goldblum, Dern and Neill set to return to Dominion, the signs worryingly suggest that the newest movie will continue to milk audience nostalgia. It has already been established that the Jurassic World franchise cannot recapture the same feeling of wonderment that Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park evoked, yet what has damned Jurassic World is its reluctance to aim for daring new plot directions. What Jurassic World 3 needs to realize is that audiences have already seen Jurassic Park; they now want something new.


New Dinosaur Unearthed in Australia

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Life reconstruction of the first Australian elaphrosaur. Image credit: Ruairidh Duncan.

Paleontologists in Australia have found a fossilized vertebra from an elaphrosaurine theropod dinosaur that walked the Earth 110 million years ago (Cretaceous period). It is the first elaphrosaur known from the Australian continent.

The newly-discovered dinosaur belongs to Elaphrosaurinae, an enigmatic group of gracile ceratosaurian dinosaurs known from the Late Jurassic period of Africa and Asia, and the early Late Cretaceous period of Argentina.

“Elaphrosaurs were strange looking dinosaurs — they ran low to the ground on two legs, with a slender body, long neck, stubby arms, and a delicate toothless skull,” said Dr. Tim Ziegler, collection manager of vertebrate palaeontology at Museums Victoria.

“They started life eating a wide range of foods, but shed their teeth as they aged. Elaphrosaurs are unusual among theropods because adults had a plant-based diet, rather than hunting prey.”

“Young elaphrosaurs might have hunted the tiny monotremes along with snapping up insects and fruits.”

The 110-million-year-old neck vertebra of the Australian elaphrosaur. Scale bars – 10 mm.Image credit: Stephen Poropat, Museums Victoria.

The nearly complete neck vertebra of the new elaphrosaur was found at the Eric the Red West site — which is part of the Eumeralla Formation — near Cape Otway, Victoria, by Dinosaur Dreaming volunteer Jessica Parker in 2015.

This is the first record of Elaphrosaurinae from Australia and is only the second Cretaceous record of the group worldwide.

In tandem with the recently-described dinosaur Huinculsaurus montesi, the new elaphrosaur extends the record of Elaphrosaurinae by more than 40 million years.

“New discoveries like this elaphrosaur fossil overturn past ideas, and help to interpret discoveries yet to come,” Dr. Ziegler said.

The discovery is reported in a paper in the journal Gondwana Research.


Stephen F. Poropat et al. First elaphrosaurine theropod dinosaur (Ceratosauria: Noasauridae) from Australia – A cervical vertebra from the Early Cretaceous of Victoria. Gondwana Research, published online May 6, 2020; doi: 10.1016/


Man Broke Into Australian Museum, Took Selfies With Dinosaur Skull

Monday, May 18, 2020

What a bonehead!

A man was busted on Sunday for allegedly sneaking into a museum in Australia and taking selfies with dinosaur bones.

The 25-year-old spent 40 minutes roaming around the Australian Museum in Sydney, beginning around 1 a.m. on May 10, according to the New South Wales Police Force.

He allegedly stole a piece of artwork and a staffer’s cowboy hat off a stand.

Surveillance footage of the man’s night at the museum caught him taking a photo of himself with his head inside a dinosaur skull, The Age reported.

He was charged with breaking and entering and is due to appear in court Monday.


Dinosaurs: 10 Things You Never Knew About The Nostalgic Show

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Dinosaurs: 10 Things You Never Knew About The Nostalgic Show

In order to make Dinosaurs so striking, a lot of work was put behind the scenes, which lead to a variety of fun facts and stories.

Remember Dinosaurs, the 1990s children's sitcom about a suburban nuclear family of Jurassic creatures? Today, it is fondly remembered as one of the most iconic shows on ABC's famous TGIF lineup. Dinosaurs was a visual feast and relic of its time.

The puppetry and animatronics were stunning, and watching it today provides a rush of nostalgia like no other. In order to make Dinosaurs so striking, a lot of work had to be put in behind the scenes, which lead to a variety of facts and stories that happened during the making of the show. Here are 10 things you probably didn't know about it.

10 - Jim Henson Thought Of The Show In The Late 80s

Legendary puppeteer and television producer Jim Henson tragically passed away in 1990, one year before Dinosaurs aired its first episode on ABC. However, the show still sprouted from the man's creative mind, as he came up with the idea back in 1988 whilst developing technology for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie (more on that later).

Unfortunately, Henson did not live long enough to see his dino-vision come alive on screen, but the Muppets creator's influence is still all over the series, from the one-of-a-king aesthetic right down to the irreplaceable humor.

9 - The Dinosaurs' Names Are Oil Companies

The primary family in Dinosaurs is the Sinclair family, transparently named after the Sinclair oil company whose gas station mascot is a giant green dinosaur. As kids, we may have been able to pick up on that one, but we probably missed how several of the other dinosaurs' names came from big oil corporations as well.

Roy Hess, B.P. Richfield, and Grandma Ethyl Phillips were all characters on the show. Reading their names today, we cannot help but notice a pattern, a cryptic nod to what these prehistoric beings would slowly turn into over a few million years.

8 - Jim Belushi Turned Down Playing Earl Sinclair

Earl Sinclair is the main character and blue collared patriarch of the Sinclair family on Dinosaurs. He was played by none other than Stuart Pankin, yet Pankin was not actually ABC's first choice for the role. The network originally offered the role to Jim Belushi, brother of comedy legend John Belushi.

Jim turned down the role of Earl because he wanted to become a movie star rather than a TV actor. Ironically, Belushi would eventually become best known for playing a family man in the hit sitcom According To Jim. His role on that show is not that different from Earl Sinclair... except, of course, According To Jim didn't have any dinosaurs.

7 - The Baby Shared A Voice Actor With Elmo

Ever noticed that the iconic Baby dinosaur in the Sinclair family had a familiar voice? One that sounds similar to that of a certain little red monster on Sesame Street? Well, such is probably because Dinosaurs' "The Baby" was voiced by Kevin Clash, the man best known for voicing Elmo.

Clash created Elmo's signature falsetto tenor and worked as the character's primary puppeteer from 1985 to 2012. Between 1991 and 1994, he evidently made time to voice The Baby as well. He also performed in LabyrinthTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and several Muppets films, more than giving back to the Jim Henson Company that launched his career.

6 - TMNT Led The Way For Dinosaurs

We promised we'd say more on how Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles influenced Dinosaurs, well here it is! Not only did working on TMNT inspire Jim Henson to create Dinosaurs, but the 1990 film also provided his Creature Shop with the technology that would bring the show to life.

Animatronic costumes being operated remotely via radio controllers was very novel stuff in the early 90s. As an homage, there were tentative plans to have a crossover between the Turtles and the Dinosaurs, but the former being a New Line Cinema production and the latter a Disney property sadly ensured that this never took place.

5 - The Simpsons Tried To Mock The Series

In 1992, Dinosaurs got jabbed at by another iconic family sitcom, The Simpsons. At the beginning of The Simpsons' season 3 episode "Black Widower," the titular family is watching a show that resembles Dinosaurs on their television.

Bart exclaims, "It's like they saw our lives and put it right up on screen," suggesting heavy-handedly that Dinosaurs ripped off The Simpsons. In reality, as we know, Henson conceived Dinosaurs in 1988, one year before The Simpsons aired its first episode. Still, getting mocked on The Simpsons is somewhat of a badge of honor, even if that badge is factually unwarranted.

4 - There Was Almost A Movie

During Dinosaurs' fourth and final season, Disney was considering a feature film spinoff for the show. Unfortunately, the series was facing declining ratings at this point in its run, leading to its cancellation and no movie. Plans for the film were still just developmental by the time it got scrapped, so we have no idea what it would have been about, or whether it would have been a theatrical release or a television special.

From the likes of The Muppets Movie, though, we know that the Jim Henson Company usually does a fantastic job transitioning from TV to the movies. Seeing what they could do with Dinosaurs would've been a sure treat.

3 - Nintendo Considered A Video Game

The Dinosaurs movie was not the only alternative media spinoff considered for Dinosaurs. For a while in 1993, Nintendo was contemplating making a video game based on the series for its Super Nintendo console.

Discussions for the game took place in a time when many popular TV shows were getting video game adaptations. These games rarely succeeded, though, often straying from their television source materials and facing scathing reviews. Thus, the TV-to-game model of the 1990s passed by the time Dinosaurs reached its height, and Nintendo lost interest in the project.

2 - It Was Outrageously Expensive

On top of the declining ratings, one of the biggest reasons that Dinosaurs met cancellation after its fourth season was the series' unbelievably costly budget. Each half-hour episode allegedly required over a million dollars to make. Between the elaborate sets, special effects, animatronics, puppets, skilled crews, and actors, the show was simply far too expensive to sustain.

Today, a million dollars per episode is somewhat standard for a sitcom, but back in the 1990s, the dollar went farther and shows were put together more frugally, placing Dinosaurs in a pricey class of its own.

1 - The Finale Was Planned From The Beginning

Dinosaurs' harrowing final episode remains far too ripe in our childhood memories. During the finale, Earl's company accidentally wipes out all vegetation on earth and then creates a global winter. The episode ends with the Sinclair family huddled in their freezing home as the outside world becomes an ice age.

Evidently, this is the end of dinosaurs everywhere and watching it more than frightened the show's young target audience. To make matters more disturbing, this ending was planned from the show's very beginning, as the creators always knew that extinction was on the horizon for the dinos and could not imagine wrapping up the series without depicting it.


New Research Examining Dinosaur Tooth Fossils Provides Crucial Insight Into Vertebrate Evolution

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Robert Reisz examined fossils from the embryos of Lufengosaurus, an early sauropodomorph species that predates more recognizable sauropods. Credit: David Mazierski

In the age of giant reptiles, sauropods were the biggest of all. Long-tailed, long-necked species like Diplodocus and Apatosaurus were the largest dinosaurs. From tip to tail, some sauropods were up to 40 metres long.

These giant herbivores ranged across the globe and thrived throughout the age of dinosaurs, nearly 150 million years.

"Sauropods are the one group that was successful from the beginning of the age of dinosaurs until the very end," says Robert Reisz, a paleontologist and professor of biology at U of T Mississauga.

Despite their enormous size, sauropods had relatively small heads and mouths. They fed by ripping plant material from trees and bushes, and would have needed to eat almost constantly.

But sauropods did not have the extensive chewing capabilities of the large headed duckbill dinosaurs which are well known for their massive dental batteries. Instead, sauropods like titanosaurs and diplodocids evolved a different strategy for dealing with harsh, hard to process plant materials, using simplified, small, pencil shaped, rapidly growing new teeth that were worn down and replaced very quickly.

In research published in Nature Communications, Reisz examined fossils from the embryos of Lufengosaurus, an early sauropodomorph species that predates more recognizable sauropods like titanosaurs and diplodocids, which came later. Found in China's Yunnan province, the fossils provided a record of Lufengosaurus at different stages of development, and showed distinct phases of tooth development.

In one of these phases, Lufengosaurus embryos had pencil-like teeth that resemble those found in some adult diplodocid and titanosaur sauropods. The finding suggests that the similar tooth structures that emerged in later sauropod species evolved through the retention of features present in the early stages of development of their distant predecessors.

"This evolutionary phenomenon, called paedomorphosis, is more frequently associated with small animals, but in this case, we seem to see it in big animals too," Reisz says.

While Reisz' sauropod research relied on rare embryo fossils, his examination of an even more ancient reptile relied upon a relative abundance of specimens.

Captorhinus aguti is a reptile that lived in the Permian Period (289 million years ago), well before the age of dinosaurs. In research published in Current Biology, Reisz studied 95 Captorhinus fossils to identify whether these four-legged reptiles displayed traits associated with brain lateralization—the asymmetrical brain function that can be observed in humans, birds, mammals and reptiles.

"The best-known lateralization is human right-handedness, and we know that right-handed people also prefer to eat on the right side," says Reisz.

This project came about because Diane Scott, research assistant to Reisz, noticed that in one nearly perfect skull of this reptile one side of the dentition was more worn than the other side. Reisz's team used the large number of lower jaws of this reptile, all from a single site, in order to understand it's population-level chewing preferences.

"When you only have one specimen, it doesn't really tell you a story," says Reisz. "Maybe there was something wrong with that individual—a muscle anomaly that caused it to happen. But here, we have a population-level examination, all from a single pocket."

The right jaws of Captorhinus showed more wear than the left, suggesting that even 289 million years ago, reptiles were displaying traits associated with brain asymmetry.

"It's circumstantial evidence, but we think this indicates a subdivision of the brain, and suggests that functional brain asymmetry is a deeply nested phenomenon in vertebrate evolution, and this is the first time that we've seen it in fossils."

More information: Robert R. Reisz et al. Early Jurassic dinosaur fetal dental development and its significance for the evolution of sauropod dentition, Nature Communications (2020). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-16045-7

Robert R. Reisz et al. Lateralized Feeding Behavior in a Paleozoic Reptile, Current Biology (2020). DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.026

Journal information: Nature CommunicationsCurrent Biology 

Provided by University of Toronto Mississauga