Prehistoric Crocs Had Glossy Skin Like Modern Day Dolphins, Say Experts

Thursday, August 12, 2021

An illustration by German scientists shows a primeval crocodile with soft skin instead of rough scales. (Dinosaur Museum Altmu?hltal:Zenger)

A prehistoric crocodile did not have scaled armor but instead had soft skin similar to that of dolphins, a team of American and German scientists say.

The research, led by a team of experts at the Dinosaur Museum Altmühltal in Denkendorf, Germany, examined several previously unpublished fossils from Bavaria that were estimated to be around 150 million years old.

After evaluating fossils from the Altmühltal and Wattendorf sites, study leader Frederik Spindler said: “These reptiles must have felt something like today’s dolphins, taut and supple.”

The fossils belonged to a primeval crocodile from the Dakosaurus genus, which is an extinct genus of crocodylomorph in the family Metriorhynchidae that lived during the Late Jurassic and Early Cretaceous periods. The species had a dinosaur-like head and primitive rear flippers.

Evidence from American and German scientists suggests that primeval crocodiles did not have rough scales but were covered by smooth skin. (Dinosaur Museum Altmu?hltal:Zenger)

Dakosaurus, which was large and had serrated teeth, was a carnivore that went after larger prey. It spent much of its life at sea, where it most likely mated. Since no eggs or nests have been discovered referring to the genus, it is still unknown how it delivered its offspring.

Spindler said after evaluating the evidence under normal and ultraviolet light, the researchers discovered the extinct family of aquatic crocodyliforms called metriorhynchidae were entirely smooth and scale-free.

The same characteristics were found in ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs, which represented a group of large extinct marine reptiles and had limbs shaped like flippers, according to previous research.

The particularly smooth skin made it easier for these marine reptiles to move around in the water.

Spindler was satisfied his team managed to almost completely recover a tail fin that belonged to a 3-meter-long (9.8-foot) sea crocodile that was bent at the bottom part, while the upper part consisted of soft tissue, which remained fossilized.

Together with the skin surface, the fin represents an evolutionary find that shows how marine reptiles were completely different before they transformed into land-dwelling crocodiles with scales and armor, researchers said.

The museum said this is the first time the characteristic has been observed in prehistoric crocodiles, which resembled dinosaurs.

The research team comprised Spindler from the Dinosaur Museum Altmühltal; Lauer Foundation for Paleontology, Science and Education curator Rene Lauer from Chicago; Helmut Tischlinger from the Jura Museum in the Bavarian town of Eichstatt; and Matthias Mauser from the Natural History Museum Bamberg, Germany.


Catastrophic End-Cretaceous Extinction Was Not Dramatic for Sharks, Study Shows

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Bazzi et al. found that shark-tooth diversity remained relatively constant across the mass extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous period. Image credit: Karen Carr / CC BY 3.0.

Paleontologists have examined tooth morphologies in multiple lineages of sharks that lived during the 27.6-million-year interval around the end-Cretaceous mass extinction event.

Sharks are iconic marine predators that have survived multiple mass extinctions over geologic time.

Their prolific fossil record is represented mainly by isolated shed teeth, which provide the basis for reconstructing deep time diversity changes affecting different shark lineages.

Approximately 66 million years ago, the end-Cretaceous mass extinction eradicated roughly 75% of the animal and plant species on Earth, including whole groups such as non-avian dinosaurs, ammonites, and large marine reptiles like mosasaurs and plesiosaurs. But what happened to the sharks?

In the new research, a team of paleontologists from Uppsala University and the University of New England analyzed the morphology of 1,239 fossil shark teeth, including species in eight existing orders and one now-extinct order.

“These groups include the following: the Galeomorphii orders Carcharhiniformes, Heterodontiformes, Lamniformes, Orectolobiformes; the Squalomorphii orders Echinorhiniformes, Hexanchiformes, Squaliformes, Squatiniformes; and the extinct Synechodontiformes,” they said.

The shark teeth span a 27-million-year period from the Late Cretaceous epoch 83.6 million years ago to the early Paleogene epoch 56 million years ago.

The researchers found that shark dental diversity was already declining prior to the end-Cretaceous, but remained relatively constant during the mass-extinction event itself.

Some groups of apex predators, particularly those with triangular blade-like teeth, did suffer selective extinctions during the period studied, which may have been linked to the extinction of their prey species.

However, other shark lineages increased in dental diversity after the end-Cretaceous.

For example, sharks in the Odontaspididae family, which have narrow, cusped teeth adapted for feeding on fish, showed increases in diversity that coincided with the rapid diversification of finned fish in the early Paleogene.

“This pattern of selective extinctions may reflect an ecological shift from specialist tetrapod predators to more general bony fish diets,” the scientists said.

Their paper appears in the journal PLoS Biology.


M. Bazzi et al. 2021. Tooth morphology elucidates shark evolution across the end-Cretaceous mass extinction. PLoS Biol 19 (8): e3001108; doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3001108


Ypupiara lopai: New Feathered Dinosaur Species Revealed

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

An artist’s reconstruction of two individuals of Ypupiara lopai foraging in an alluvial river, the setting of the Marilia Formation during the Maastrichtian age of the Cretaceous period. Image credit: Guilherme Gehr.

Paleontologists in Brazil have unveiled a new species of unenlagiine dromaeosaurid dinosaur from the Maastrichtian age of the Cretaceous period.

The new dinosaur species walked the Earth between 72 and 66 million years ago (Late Cretaceous period).

Named Ypupiara lopai, it was a type of unenlagiine, a subfamily of feathered theropod dinosaurs in the family Dromaeosauridae.

“Dromaeosauridae are present in all continents during the Mesozoic Era,” said Arthur Brum from the Museu Nacional-Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro and his colleagues from Brazil.

“In Gondwanan landmasses, the Unenlagiinae lineage constitutes a diversification of dromaeosaurids, comprising five species recovered from Argentinean localities.”

“These dromaeosaurids are diagnosed by numerous teeth, which lack denticles and both carinae, and which have longitudinal grooves on the crown.”

“Among all unenlagiines, only two species — Buitreraptor gonzalezorum and Austroraptor cabazai — have cranial elements, including maxillary and dentary teeth, which limits the study of dental traits in the group.”

“The presence of Unenlagiinae specimens in Brazil is restricted to a single dorsal vertebra from the Campanian-Maastrichtian sequences of the Adamantina Formation.”

The specimen of Ypupiara lopai was recovered at Peiropolis, a rural district of Uberaba municipality, in the Brazilian state of Mina Gerais.

“Our study presents the first evidence of unenlagiines in the Maastrichtian Marilia Formation (Bauru Group, Brazil) and the second confirmed evidence of this clade in Brazil (as well as the first cranial remains referred to the Bauru Group in the country),” the paleontologists said.

The specimen they examined consists of a partial upper jaw bone with associated teeth and a portion of a lower jaw.

Ypupiara lopai provides new information on the evolution of Gondwanan dromaeosaurids, and its preserved teeth provide new data to enable the assignment of isolated dromaeosaurid teeth from the Bauru Group,” they said.

The discovery is reported in a paper published in the journal Papers in Palaeontology.


Arthur S. Brum et al. A New Unenlagiine (Theropoda, Dromaeosauridae) from the Upper Cretaceous of Brazil. Papers in Palaeontology, published online August 5, 2021; doi: 10.1002/spp2.1375


Paleontologists Find Frog-Legged Beetle Fossil in Colorado

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Pulchritudo attenboroughi. Image credit: Krell & Vitali, doi: 10.1002/spp2.1398.

A new species of leaf beetle that lived nearly 49 million years ago (Eocene epoch) in what is now the United States has been named after Sir David Attenborough.

Beetles are sturdy when they are alive, but they do not easily fossilize as a whole beetle. They float on water, and when they sink and reach the sediment, they often fall apart.

Usually, only single wing cases are found in the fossil record.

Some deposits with a fine-grained sediment and particularly favorable conditions provide us with very well preserved, often almost complete fossils. These deposits are called Lagerstätten.

The Eocene-epoch Green River Formation in northwest Colorado is one of them.

“I was delighted to have the opportunity to work on such a magnificent and unique fossil,” said Dr. Francesco Vitali, a curator at the Luxembourg’s National Museum of Natural History.

“We looked at all the preserved details. It was the beetle’s crooked legs — its curved hind tibiae — that gave away its true identity: a frog-legged leaf beetle (subfamily Sagrinae).”

The new beetle species is the second known fossil representative of the subfamily Sagrinae from North America.

“This is one of the most magnificent beetle fossils ever found,” said Dr. Frank-Thorsten Krell, a curator at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

“The patterning is preserved in unsurpassed clarity and contrast, making this one of the best-preserved beetle fossils. It is most definitely deserving of its name.”

Digital reconstruction of Pulchritudo attenboroughi, based on part and counterpart of holotype. Image credit: Krell & Vitali, doi: 10.1002/spp2.1398.

The beetle needed a new genus name, because it did not fit in any existing frog-legged leaf beetle genera.

Because of its beauty, Dr. Krell and Dr. Vicente chose the name Pulchritudo, which is Latin for beauty.

Scientists often dedicate new species to colleagues who have contributed significantly to science, or to people who are special to them.

For Dr. Krell, one person immediately came to mind: Sir David Attenborough, English broadcaster and naturalist, who has inspired him, his family and millions of others through his documentaries on the natural world.

“Nobody imparts the grandeur and beauty of nature more impressively than Sir David,” Dr. Krell said.

“This fossil, unique in its preservation and beauty, is an apt specimen to honor such a great man.”

The discovery of Pulchritudo attenboroughi is reported in the journal Papers in Palaeontology.


Frank-Thorsten Krell & Francesco Vitali. Attenborough’s beauty: exceptional pattern preservation in a frog-legged leaf beetle from the Eocene Green River Formation, Colorado (Coleoptera, Chrysomelidae, Sagrinae). Papers in Palaeontology, published online August 5, 2021; doi: 10.1002/spp2.1398


Jurassic Park: 9 Things That Still Hold Up Today

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Steven Spielberg's groundbreaking dinosaur-infested '90s blockbuster Jurassic Park remains just as thrilling and mind-blowing to this day.

Apparently discontented with having only broken the record for highest-grossing movie ever made twice (with 1975’s Jaws and 1982’s E.T.), Steven Spielberg went and did it a third time with 1993’s Jurassic Park, one of the greatest and most influential blockbusters in Hollywood history.

Almost three decades later, Jurassic Park remains a timeless gem. Its re-releases still draw huge crowds looking to see the dinosaur-infested masterpiece on the big screen. From John Williams’ score to trailblazing CGI effects, the dinosaur movie doesn't get old.

9 - Jeff Goldblum’s Irresistible Dr. Ian Malcolm

Sam Neill and Laura Dern anchor the cast of Jurassic Park as Drs. Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler, but they have strong support from Jeff Goldblum as the irresistibly charismatic Dr. Ian Malcolm.

Goldblum steals every scene he’s in as the eccentric, wisecracking mathematician, delivering some of the movie’s most memorable lines, from “Life, uh, uh... finds a way,” to “When you gotta go, you gotta go.”

8 - The Groundbreaking CGI Effects

A lot of the CGI effects from the 1990s – and from the 2000s, for that matter – have aged horribly, because the technology is always advancing and the early stuff is primitive and clunky by comparison. But the groundbreaking effects in Jurassic Park still hold up today.

Spielberg pioneered CGI technologies to bring the film’s dinosaurs to life, but used it sparingly (as all blockbuster filmmakers should). Most closeups of the dinosaurs use state-of-the-art animatronics which, unlike most CGI, are timeless.

7 - The Thrill Of The T. Rex’s Escape

The first big action set piece in Jurassic Park arrives somewhere around the halfway point. Disgruntled employee Dennis Nedry shuts off the tour vehicles going around the park right next to the T. rex’s enclosure. Spielberg masterfully builds up to the T. rex’s escape with moments like water dripping in the cup.

The appearance of the monster doesn’t disappoint because of this tense build-up, and because Spielberg frames its gargantuan size from the perspective of the puny humans it’s targeting.

6 - Laura Dern’s Empowering Turn As Dr. Ellie Sattler

Laura Dern’s Dr. Ellie Sattler is one of the great feminist icons of ‘90s cinema. When Dr. Malcolm says, “God creates dinosaurs, God destroys dinosaurs, God creates man, man destroys God, man creates dinosaurs,” she adds a couple more steps: “Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the Earth.”

When the power goes out in the park, Ellie takes matters into her own hands – and before doing so, she points out John Hammond’s outdated view of gender roles and “sexism in survival situations.”

5 - John Williams’ Sweeping Score

John Williams has composed a lot of Steven Spielberg’s most memorable scores, from Jaws to E.T. to the Indiana Jones movies. His score for Jurassic Park is one of his most understated works, but also one of his greatest.

The main theme in particular – one of Williams’ most hummable themes – captures the grandiose ambition of the story and the loftiness of the thought-provoking subtext.

4 - The PG-13 Sensibility

A faithful adaptation of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park novel would’ve been ultraviolent hard-R fare, but Spielberg aimed for a PG-13 rating and the resulting movie is much more accessible than its source material.

While a blood-soaked version of Jurassic Park would certainly be fun, it would have a narrower appeal. Spielberg’s movie is a crowd-pleasing blockbuster that’s fun for the whole family.

3 - Dr. Alan Grant’s Character Arc

A lot of contemporary reviews of Jurassic Park criticized it for favoring special effects over story and character development, but Sam Neill’s Dr. Alan Grant has a real arc.

At the beginning of the movie, it’s made clear that he hates kids. So, when he’s lumbered with Hammond’s grandkids at the park, he thinks it’ll be a nightmare. Then, he’s suddenly thrust into a survival situation where the kids’ lives are in his hands. Under these extreme circumstances, he becomes endeared to Lex and Tim and has a change of heart.

2 - The Tension Of The Kitchen Sequence

Jurassic Park’s climactic set piece, in which the raptors attack the T. rex – essentially showing nature course-correcting itself and life finding a way – is certainly a glorious finale. But the most thrilling set piece in the third act is when the raptors stalk Lex and Tim in the kitchen. This scene is a masterwork of Hitchcockian suspense.

From tight framing to using shiny metal doors as mirrors, Spielberg uses all kinds of cinematic techniques to wring as much tension out of this sequence as possible.

1 - The Cautionary Message About Playing God

As the story of a egocentric genius playing God and facing the consequences, Jurassic Park is a classic Frankenstein story. John Hammond is a modern-day Victor Frankenstein: the embodiment of corporate hubris.

Ian Malcolm sums up the story’s themes perfectly when he says, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”


Thapunngaka shawi: Fossil of New Crested Pterosaur Discovered in Australia

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Life reconstruction of Thapunngaka shawi. Image credit: Richards et al., doi: 10.1080/02724634.2021.1946068.

Paleontologists in Australia say they have discovered the fossilized skeletal remains of a new species of flying reptile that lived between 113 and 100 million years ago (Cretaceous period) and had an estimated wingspan of 7 m (23 feet).

Pterosaurs were highly successful reptiles (not dinosaurs, as they’re commonly mislabeled) that lived between 210 and 65 million years ago.

Some pterosaurs, such as the giant azhdarchids, were the largest flying animals of all time, with wingspans exceeding 9 m (30 feet) and standing heights comparable to modern giraffes.

Pterosaur fossils from Australia are exceptionally rare, comprising fragmentary and predominately isolated bones from the Cretaceous of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia.

Since the discovery of the first Australian pterosaur fossils almost four decades ago, fewer than 20 specimens have been described.

From these, only three species have been named: Mythunga camaraAussiedraco molnari, and Ferrodraco lentoni. They come from the mid-Cretaceous rocks of the Rolling Downs Group, part of the Eromanga Basin in Queensland.

“The new pterosaur, which we named Thapunngaka shawi, would have been a fearsome beast, with a spear-like mouth and a wingspan around 7 m,” said Tim Richards, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Queensland.

“It was essentially just a skull with a long neck, bolted on a pair of long wings.”

“This thing would have been quite savage. It would have cast a great shadow over some quivering little dinosaur that wouldn’t have heard it until it was too late.”

Thapunngaka shawi belongs to a group of crested pterosaurs known as Anhangueridae.

“What was particularly striking about this new species of anhanguerian was the massive size of the bony crest on its lower jaw, which it presumably had on the upper jaw as well,” said Dr. Steve Salisbury, also from the University of Queensland.

“These crests probably played a role in the flight dynamics of these creatures, and hopefully future research will deliver more definitive answers.”

A partial mandible of Thapunngaka shawi was found by local fossicker Len Shaw in June 2011 at a site known as the ‘water pond’ near Richmond, North West Queensland, Australia.

Originally developed as a quarry for road dressing, this site exposes a heavily weathered 4-5 m (13-16-foot) thick sequence of marls and coquinas of the Toolebuc Formation.

“It’s quite amazing fossils of these animals exist at all,” Richards said.

“By world standards, the Australian pterosaur record is poor, but the discovery of Thapunngaka shawi contributes greatly to our understanding of Australian pterosaur diversity.”

“It is only the third species of anhanguerian pterosaur known from Australia, with all three species hailing from western Queensland.”

The discovery of Thapunngaka shawi is described in a paper published today in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.


Timothy M. Richards et al. A new species of crested pterosaur (Pterodactyloidea, Anhangueridae) from the Lower Cretaceous (upper Albian) of Richmond, North West Queensland, Australia. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, published online August 9, 2021; doi: 10.1080/02724634.2021.1946068


The "Sexual" Truth Behind the Steven Spielberg Classic 'Jurassic Park'

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

One of Steven Spielberg’s most ambitious projects, this 1993 sci-fi action thriller had a seminal impact on the discourse of popular culture during the ’90s. Jurassic Park is Spielberg’s unforgettable attempt to illustrate how dangerous it is to mess with the natural order. The film documents the disastrous consequences of bringing dinosaurs back to life in order to amplify the machinations of commercialism.

“I really believe that when I read Michael Crichton’s book, I flashed back to Jaws and I flashed back to Duel… I’d wanted to make a dinosaur picture all my life because I was a huge fan of Ray Harryhausen,” Spielberg admitted. “Jurassic Park was the first movie where the entire success or failure of the story was dependent on these digital characters.”

A major reason behind the unprecedented success of Jurassic Park was its efficient use of special effects, ranging from computer software that animated the dinosaurs as if they were stop-motion puppets to a great sound design. Spielberg wanted this to be the first film with digital sound, funding the development of the Digital Theatre System. In addition, the sound effects team worked under the supervision of George Lucas.

Throughout the film, a significant part is played by the velociraptors who assert their terrifying presence on the screen as well as in the minds of the audience. Their on-screen depiction is unique, evoking fear even though their design deviated from the physical characteristics of the genus in question. Discoveries that were made after the release of Jurassic Park led experts to believe that dinosaurs from this specific genetic family were probably covered in feathers, a fact that was taken into account in the sequels.

As for the sound of the velociraptors, the sound crew went to great extents to get it just right. According to sound designer Gary Rydstrom, a mixture of various animal sounds was formulated to simulate the hypothesised vocal features of a velociraptor. Those individual soundbites included the hissing of geese, the bellowing of walruses, dolphin screams, mating calls of birds and even human voices. However, one of the sources of the sounds definitely stands out: tortoise sex!

“It’s somewhat embarrassing, but when the raptors bark at each other to communicate, it’s a tortoise having sex,” Rydstrom explained. “It’s a mating tortoise! I recorded that at Marine World…the people there said, ‘Would you like to record these two tortoises that are mating?’ It sounded like a joke, because tortoises mating can take a long time. You’ve got to have plenty of time to sit around and watch and record them.”

Adding, “The bark that (the velociraptor) makes. When it comes in the kitchen and it barks. ‘Arp! Arp!’ That’s the sound of a tortoise that is mating. The male tortoise would go up, and then fall off, and then go back again. It’s riding on the back of the female tortoise. So it’s climbing up her shell basically, and then it falls off. It’s a little sexual.”

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Jurassic Park Is a Quietly Thoughtful Exploration of Parenthood

Friday, August 6, 2021

Jurassic Park has its fair share of chaos and dinosaur terror. However, just under the surface is a film that explores two aspects of parenthood.

Jurassic Park is one of the most beloved science fiction films from the last century. Its ability to balance ethical debates over the limits of modern science with the constant battle between humanity and nature are unparalleled. However, in all of that, it still manages to entertain and terrify its audiences by making them believe that dinosaurs have truly been reborn. Because of these factors, it's easy to miss the thoughtful exploration into parenthood that serves as the foundation for the first film.

The movie introduces Dr. Alan Grant as a man so focused on his passion for dinosaurs that he forgets how to interact with children. This is evidenced by how he terrifies a young child by explaining the hunting methods of a velociraptor. His girlfriend, Dr. Ellie Sattler, teases Grant about this while also trying to convince him about the possible joys of having a child of his own. Sadly, Grant is so focused on his work that he adamantly turns these ideas down. However, once he meets John Hammond's grandchildren, Lex and Tim, he quickly learns his capacity to be a good father when he is tasked with protecting them.

Before the power goes out, Lex's younger brother Tim shows his admiration for Grant by talking about his adoration for dinosaurs and Grant's book, along with other theories he's heard on dinosaur evolution. Grant tries not to entertain him and eventually manages to hitch a ride with the adults, leaving the kids to enjoy the tour with Hammond's lawyer, Donald Gennaro. But once the power goes out and the T-Rex escapes, Grant focuses on the children's safety while Ian Malcolm distracts the creature. From there, Grant and the children are left stranded in the jungle, trying to survive. In that time, Lex sees Grant as a father figure there to keep her and her brother safe, and rather than avoid that label, Grant embraces it, showing affection and consistently comforting them by reassuring Lex he won't leave them like Gennaro did.

As Jurassic Park evolves Grant's character to be a more open and caring figure to the children, their grandfather, John Hammond, represents an aspect of parenting that feels less organic. To Hammond, Jurassic Park and its dinosaurs are his children, and he admires them so much he wants to show them off to the world. However, he doesn't fully understand that they are still animals and that keeping them in cages is no way to treat children of any species.

Malcolm and Sattler later explain to Hammond that his illusion of power is never meant to last, and that's proven the moment the power goes out. However, even after Hammond's helicopter parenting fails and people start dying, he still can't grasp the severity of it all. It ultimately takes Sattler to offer more motherly wisdom by reminding him that people they both love are out on an island where Hammond's "children" are constantly hunting them. It's a hard lesson to learn, and even in future Jurassic Park films, Hammond still can't help but keep tabs on his creations.

Both Dr. Grant and John Hammond share a common adoration for dinosaurs. But Grant understands the beauty and importance of them, whereas Hammond merely admires them. The same parallel can be seen in how they care for those younger than them. While Grant never has children, the final shot of him embracing Lex and Tim as they sleep shows that he still has a natural inclination to care for them. Juxtaposed to that is Hammond, who simply stares at the mosquito encased in amber on his cane, thinking about his failings and how he could have changed them. The brief shot reveals the importance of parenting and explains that anyone can create life, but nurturing that life is the real challenge.


Jurassic Park: Trespasser Was the Most Ambitious Movie-Based Video Game Ever

Friday, August 6, 2021

The cult hit Jurassic Park: Trespasser was thoroughly ahead of the curve -- too far in fact. Here's why it may be the most impressive flop ever made.

The Jurassic Park franchise has received plenty of video game adaptations since the original film's 1993 release. Some of the best include the beloved park simulation game Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis and its spiritual successor Jurassic World Evolution. However, one game in particular has earned an incredibly dedicated fanbase, despite being largely unsuccessful both critically and commercially.

Trespasser is a 1998 PC game intended as a direct sequel to The Lost World: Jurassic Park. This first-person survival title failed rather astoundingly when it was released, with some outlets even considering it the worst game of the year -- so why has this game maintained such a passionate fanbase?

Trespasser follows protagonist Anne, who becomes stranded on Site B after a plane crash. From there, she must try to survive the many perils of the island and find a way to escape. Developed by Dreamworks Interactive, Trespasser's design philosophy was one of hyper-realism. The game contains no HUD whatsoever, players monitor their health by looking down at a heart tattoo on Anne's breast, and weapons feature no crosshairs or ammo counter of any kind. When picking up firearms, Anne will weigh the weapon, note how full or empty the magazine feels, and count shots as it is fired to monitor ammo reserves.

The game's control scheme was utterly groundbreaking for its time, but also incredibly clunky. Trespasser is recognized as the first major video game to implement a full physics system. The player interacts with the environment and objects by extending an arm and manipulating the world directly. Almost anything can be used as a means of self-defense; players can, theoretically, grab a rock from the ground and use it to beat back an attacking Velociraptor as they make their escape to a nearby refuge.

Theoretically is the keyword here, as this incredibly impressive control scheme is so unruly and difficult that players will find themselves unable to do anything with precision. Bumping a keycard, rifle or log slightly on a wall will often cause Anne to drop it immediately, ruining any chance of escaping or fighting back under pressure. Hostile dinosaurs are swift and powerful, and this control scheme is not conducive to combating agile enemies. These dinosaurs were designed to have a complex system of emotions and were intended to switch between them naturally as the world around them changed.

Still, Trespasser's environments are vast and filled with physics-based objects for players to interact with. Isla Sorna is incredibly atmospheric, with the lack of HUD creating an immersive and sometimes unsettling experience. In place of cutscenes, voiceovers provided by the late-great Richard Attenborough himself play when Anne reaches certain areas or makes specific discoveries. When wandering the island completely alone and exploring the ruins of the Site B facilities as dinosaurs wander the wilds, it's easy to see the game's appeal.

Trespasser was a victim of its ambition. Machines at the time simply couldn't handle the game's massive world, advanced AI and then-impressive graphics. To top it all off, the game was rushed to meet an October 1998 release date after management made a deal with AMD without consulting the developers. The groundbreaking physics system was implemented in an unintuitive manner that made performing simple actions a chore. Dinosaur AI was underdeveloped, and the complex emotions were axed, turning carnivores into standard FPS enemies.

With more development time, Trespasser could have been one of the most important games of all time. Still, Trespasser was influential thanks to its impressive physics engine, which would inspire the likes of Octodad, Surgeon Simulator and even Half-Life 2. iD Software's John Carmack cited Trespasser's voiceovers as directly inspiring DOOM 3's audio logs.

Trespasser was even one of the first games to utilize ragdoll physics with enemy deaths. The unique ideas of the game spawned a dedicated modding community, which has created their own maps, enemies and puzzles, as well as even attempting to completely remake the game in new engines. Despite its issues, the core concept of Trespasser was incredibly strong, and the game has cemented its place in gaming history as one of the most ambitious and impressive flops of all time.


Burkesuchus mallingrandensis: Jurassic-Period Crocodile Ancestor Unearthed in Chile

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Burkesuchus mallingrandensis and a group of Chilesaurus diegosuarezi. Image credit: Gabriel L. Lio / de Anatomía Comparada y Evolución de los Vertebrados (LACEV), Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales ‘Bernardino Rivadavia.’

Paleontologists have identified a new genus and species of small-sized mesoeucrocodylian from the fossilized remains found in the Patagonian mountains of southern Chile.

The newly-discovered crocodile species roamed Earth during the Late Jurassic period, some 148 million years ago.

The ancient creature lived alongside giant titanosaurs and other sauropod dinosaurs as well as smaller herbivorous species such as Chilesaurus diegosuarezi.

Named Burkesuchus mallingrandensis, it was a relatively small animal roughly 70 cm (27.5 inches) long.

It belongs to Mesoeucrocodylia, a group that includes all living crocodiles and their fossil relatives.

“The discovery of Burkesuchus mallingrandensis expands the meagre record of non-pelagic representatives of this clade for the Jurassic period,” said Dr. Fernando Novas, a researcher in the Laboratorio de Anatomía Comparada y Evolución de los Vertebrados (LACEV) at the Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales ‘Bernardino Rivadavia’ and CONICET, and his colleagues.

“Previously recorded members of non-pelagic Jurassic Mesoeucrocodylia are the presumably fresh-water Atoposauridae, Goniopholididae and Paralligatoridae.”

Burkesuchus mallingrandensis expands the taxonomic diversity of Jurassic crocodylomorphs,” they added.

“Nevertheless, its body size falls within the size range (i.e., less than 1 m — or 3.3 feet — in whole length) that was usual for most Triassic and Jurassic terrestrial crocodyliforms.”

The fossilized remains of Burkesuchus mallingrandensis. Image credit: Novas et al., doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-93994-z.

The fossilized remains of Burkesuchus mallingrandensis were collected from beds of the Toqui Formation, cropping out in the mountains flanked by the Maitenes and Horquetas rivers in southern Chile.

“We found part of the skull, the vertebral column and the lower extremities of the animal,” Dr. Novas said.

“This was a small crocodile no more than 70 cm long, in clear contrast to the 6-m- (20-foot) long marine crocodiles that were thriving back then in what is now the Chilean province of Neuquén, which was previously covered by the sea.”

Skeletal reconstruction of Burkesuchus mallingrandensis based on holotype and paratype specimens. Image credit: Novas et al., doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-93994-z.

“Although we didn’t find the snout of this species, its small size as well as its small and sharp teeth make us think that Burkesuchus mallingrandensis was a small carnivore that possibly fed on invertebrates such as insects or crustaceans, or small vertebrates such as fish,” said Dr. Federico Agnolin, a paleontologist in the LACEV laboratory at the Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales ‘Bernardino Rivadavia,’ CONICET and the Universidad Maimónides.

“What we know about Burkesuchus mallingrandensis that it didn’t have the ability to capture large prey, or tear large chunks of meat as living crocodiles do.”

Burkesuchus mallingrandensis shows how the radiation of terrestrial crocodiles occured,” Dr. Novas said.

“The shape of its body, its skull and its hind legs also shows us that it was on its way to modern crocodiles that inhabit lagoons and rivers.”

paper on the findings was published in the journal Scientific Reports.


F.E. Novas et al. 2021. New transitional fossil from late Jurassic of Chile sheds light on the origin of modern crocodiles. Sci Rep 11, 14960; doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-93994-z