Know Your Ankylosaurs: Gondwana Edition

Last time, I talked about the ankylosaurids of China, and today we’re talking about Gondwanan ankylosaurs. Gondwana basically refers to the continents of today’s southern hemisphere; when the supercontinent Pangaea broke apart, it split into two large continents – Laurasia in the north, and Gondwana in the south. Gondwana includes South America, Africa, Australia, and Antarctica, and, somewhat nonintuitively, India (India kind of beelined into Asia from Australia and that’s why we have the Himalayas). Almost all of the ankylosaurs we know about are from the Laurasian continents, which means that the few found in Gondwana are phylogenetically and biogeographically interesting: do they represent southern branches of the ankylosaur family tree, or new migrations into Gondwana from Laurasia? Let’s take a closer look:

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Know Your Ankylosaurs: China Edition

I’m in Utah digging up dinosaurs! But also, one of the last big chunks of my PhD thesis has just been published online at the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology. They are generously allowing free access to the paper through the end of August, so head on over and grab a copy while it’s free! This time, I’m taking all of the knowledge gained from my previous taxonomic revisions, adding in some more taxa, and doing a revised phylogenetic analysis building on previous analyses to see how everyone shakes out and to learn a little bit more about ankylosaurid biogeography. I’ll cover some of the taxonomic stuff over the next few posts, and finish off with the big picture of ankylosaurid evolution.

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Cornelius says hello

Updated on July 8, 2015! 

“Cornelius” now has a scientific name – Wendiceratops pinhornensis!

You can read the open access paper here:

Evans DC, Ryan MJ. 2015. Cranial anatomy of Wendiceratops pinhornensis gen. et sp. nov., a cnetrosaurine ceratopsid (Dinosauria: Ornithischia) from the Oldman Formation (Campanian), Alberta, Canada, and the evolution of ceratopsid nasal ornamentation. PLOS ONE 10:e0130007.

Say hello to Cornelius! I got to meet him during a brief visit to the ROM last week, and he seems like a pretty nice guy.

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May your mountains dark and dreary be.

Just wanted to give a quick shout out to some old fossil friends of mine. Horton Bluff/Blue Beach is a pretty cool place and I have fond memories of field trips out there during my Dalhousie days. Between this new paper and the recent paper describing the Permian to Jurassic assemblage of tetrapods, it’s been a good time for Nova Scotia palaeontology.

Your friendly neighbourhood ankylosaur palaeontologist, in the before time (i.e. 2003), at Horton Bluff, following in her tetrapod ancestor’s footprints. It’s goopy there.

Which of course makes me miss it all terribly.

Anderson JS, Smithson T, Mansky CF, Meyer T, Clack J. 2015. A diverse tetrapod fauna at the base of ‘Romer’s Gap’. PLOS ONE 10:e0125446.

Sues H-D, Olsen PE. 2015. Stratigraphic and temporal context and faunal diversity of Permian-Jurassic continental tetrapod assemblages from the Fundy rift basin, eastern Canada. Atlantic Geology 51:139-205.

It’s #SciArt week on Twitter!

I think we often downplay or take for granted the role that art plays in science. High quality art is obviously a hugely important aspect of public science communication. A paper describing a new species of dinosaur will have much more impact on the public if it’s accompanied by an excellent life restoration of that dinosaur. Astronomers and their spacey kin use illustrations to show us satellites, the solar system, and far-off planets we can’t photograph. Biologists dealing with the very small need illustrators to show us the cells in our bodies, what’s inside those cells, what DNA looks like and how it works – the list is endless. Continue reading

Animal, mineral, or vegetable?

Today is World Pangolin Day! And given my fondness for armoured animals, I would be remiss in not sharing at least a little bit of information about pangolins today. I think it’s a shame that many people have never heard about pangolins. It’s weird they don’t show up in more kids books about mammals and animals in general – I recall my first encounter with them was in a high school biology textbook, where there was a little two-tone illustration of one on a page about mammal diversity. Who knew there were scaly mammals?

Imagine my delight when I found out that the zoology collection at the University of Alberta included a pangolin skin (and mounted skeleton!). Pangolins really look like giant walking pinecones. Their hairs are modified into tough, overlapping scales. They have massively strong arms and claws, which they use to rip open termite mounds (at least for ground pangolins). This makes their genus name, Manis (hand) appropriate, although I’m surprised they weren’t named after their scales! The pinecone pangolin I’m holding is either a ground pangolin or a giant pangolin, but there are also tree pangolins that climb and have prehensile tails. In total, there are 4 species of pangolin in Africa and 4 in Asia.

Pangolins are the closest mammalian analogues to dinosaurs I think we’ve got – ground pangolins walk on their hind feet with their tail stretched out behind them, and tuck their front legs up, maybe using them to balance occasionally as they trundle along. (In a sense, they walk like we do when we’re pretending to be velociraptors. This is a thing other people do, right?) They can also roll up into a ball. They are basically the best animal ever.

They are pretty neat little creatures, but their populations are at risk due to habitat loss, the bushmeat trade, and the pet trade. I would dearly love to see a living pangolin during my lifetime.