Meet Ajax. He’s a gentle giant with a big heart and a big appetite. He’ll do anything for food and a belly rub. And when I say anything, I mean anything…
Ajax is big, heavy, and always hungry. He’s got a knack for sniffing out treats and getting into places he shouldn’t. He really didn’t think things through when he squeezed into the shed that one time…
I thought it’d be fun to take another look at the older version of this big guy. I’m not entirely happy with how the light turned out on this one, but what changes I’ve made to it over the past 20 minutes haven’t changed much, so now I know I’m just procrastinating. 😛 Best try again some other time, after I get fresh eyes on the subject. 🙂
It sure is different than the original though. I think I’ve figured out the style for these guys, and now I just need to practice plants and backgrounds more. 😀
Things are coming along quite nicely, now that I think about it…
I’ve been able to keep up with two posts a week for the 3 months Pete’s shop has been officially open.
I’ve figured out the style I want to use for the illustrations.
I have almost all the critters on the original list complete, and I’ll begin creating their proper pages once the list cycles through again.
I’m getting faster at painting the critters each week, and my skills are improving.
I’m getting more comfortable with drawing and writing in general.
and soon I’ll be able to have a free ebook on Amazon for you. 😀
That’s a longer list than I thought it would be when I started writing it, now that’s awesome. 😀
Hooray for progress! Isn’t it great when you take the tiny baby steps, trudge along for a while, then realize how far you’ve come when you take a look back? It may not be much, but it’s a lot more than nothing, which is what I started with. And that’s good enough. 🙂
As my special treat for you, here’s a sneak peak at my “super secret project” 😉 Spoiler alert, if you can interpret my scribbles. 🙂
Coming Next Week…
The oft-proclaimed smallest dinosaur in the world is!…not as small as you might think. 🙂
First up is Ajax (hi there Ajax! Give’em a smile), because really he’s the first critter of the lot I ever drew, and he shows up in my sketch book a lot. Plus he’s just an all around friendly guy, and anyone knows a brontosaurus (ahem, Apatosaurus) when they see one. 🙂
So what’s science and what’s art? To keep this post short, I’ll cover three main points (there are always more, but we can save those for later). All drawings in these posts are quick doodles to illustrate a point, with not as much reference as I usually use, so there are plenty of inaccuracies for you to point out for me. But I do have this great toymodel replica to look at when I’m clueless as to how something looks at certain angles. 😉
1. Toothy grin, or soft smile?
For starters, let’s talk about Ajax’s smile in the picture above. There’s a lot of discussion on dinosaur lips- did they have a toothy grin like crocs, or closed lizard-type lips?
On one hand there’s the study by Ashley Morhardt (unfortunately I can’t find it, so I’m relying on 3rd party sources). She compared the skulls of prehistoric and modern animals, and looked at the clues left behind by beaks, lips, etc…and her study suggests that sauropods like Ajax had a face more like a crocodile’s than the fleshy lips of mammals.
Ajax’s teeth, like most dinosaur teeth, have a pretty healthy coating of enamel, the same stuff that coats our teeth and makes them hard. Enamel does best when it’s bathed in saliva 24/7, which is why mostly all animals that have enamel-rich teeth have mouths sealed shut by lips of some sort.
Anyway, Ajax eats whatever he can get a hold of. He does replace his teeth every once and a while (unlike our permanent set of adult teeth), but still, it takes a while to get a replacement tooth, so he needs to use each set for as long as he can.
With that in mind, I’ve decided to reconstruct Ajax and the other sauropods with closed, lizard-like lips.
It’s one of those things that we can’t know for sure, because even a mummy can’t give you a perfect picture, anymore than a raisin can tell you what a grape looks like.
2. How far can he stretch?
Oh boy, paleontologists have gone back and forth on this one for over a century. First thin, graceful necks like swans, then BBC’s Walking With Dinosaurs comes out and shows the fruit of research claiming that Ajax & Dippy held their necks out like suspension bridges. They held their heads and tails in almost a straight line, and were unable to lift their heads higher than their shoulders.
More recent work has pointed out that if you add space for cartilage between the bones, then the necks of many sauropods had the flexibility to loop in a complete circle. The brilliant minds behind the SV-POW! team over at svpow.com (always enjoyable to read, but definitely more on the technical side) helped rekindle my love for the long-necked giants by holding their heads high again, and regain neck flexibility by taking soft tissues into account.
In short, we don’t really know. But Ajax would probably have a great deal more flexibility than Walking With Dinosaurs would have you believe. The bendiest part would be the middle of Ajax’s neck, with the ends less flexible.
I always think that animals are more capable than we usually think, so one of Ajax’s buddies has reached back to scratch at an itch on his leg. 🙂
Oh, and those two in the back with the puffy necks…that’s entirely speculative. Something weird was going on with Ajax’s neck though, that’s for sure. 😉
Ajax’s legs are like solid pillers, and all the finger bones are wrapped together to form a fleshy, padded, hoof-like structure. Only the “thumb” has a claw, which has some limited mobility depending on the species. Ajax can move his thumb claw up and down a little bit. 🙂
Scientists disagree on how much Ajax could move his wrist. So how far he has his front foot bent at the wrist is a bit speculative.
I’ve done a terrible thing and made his wrist flexible based on an elephant’s range of movement. 😛
Quick Question: Is there anything in the popular media you can think of about Ajax and other sauropods? What common misconceptions do movies like Jurassic Park and The Land Before Time give about Ajax and his cousins? 🙂 I’d love to hear your answer in the comments!
Meet Rosie. She’s a bit shy, and might need a little encouragement to come closer. A few treats should do the trick. Before you know it she’ll be perfectly content to snuggle close and put her head on your lap. 🙂
Rosie is smaller than your average dinosaur, about the size of a deer. Like a deer, she can be a bit jumpy, and she feels much better if she has friends to keep her company and watch out for troublesome, over-exuberant types like Opie. He’s far too excitable, and that makes her nervous. She’d much rather curl up under the shade of spiky cycad fronds for a little siesta.
Much safer there. And Rosie always wins at hide-and-seek. 😉
If you take the time to give her treats and coax her out of the thicket, then she’ll get to know you rather quickly. Then she’ll be your friend forever, and come running when you call. 🙂 I hope you don’t mind having a second shadow…
I’m working on something super top-secret at the moment. Well, not really super top-secret, since I told my family about it- but anyway, I want to mention it here too.
Since it may be a while before the picture book is finished, I want to work on a smaller, short term project so that you have something sooner.
In short, I want to create a collection of shortstories, mini-comics, illustrations, what-have-you. My question is about what topic to cover…
Feeding time at the shop- Walk with Pete as he shows us how he feeds Tigger at the lake, or takes care of Elmer’s stubbed toe.
Letters to Pete- Frustrated paleo pet owners send letters to Pete with their questions. What do you do when Big Al keeps tearing up the furniture?
Critter cam- So what do dinosaurs do when you’re not looking? Find out what happens if you give Dippy a giant ball.
The Paleo Pet handbook- a small book with all the basics of the care and feeding of your paleo pets.
Please let me know what looks the most interesting in the comments! Thank you for sharing a little of your time with me here on the site, you guys are awesome, and I want to do whatever I can to make your stay better than great. 🙂
Coming Next Week…
Food is the first (and just about only) thing in mind for this gentle giant. 🙂
So there’s a long and a short way to go about this. I do something really tedious and boring, and pull out the scientific papers, fossils, diagrams, anatomy jargon, and articles written by people much smarter and more knowledgeable than me in all things paleontology…
I can save you the big snore (because the technical stuff is tough to read, and I like this sort of thing!) and have an excuse to draw yet more cute critters, while sneaking in a few quick fossil facts in a bite-size post or convenient picture. 🙂
Why am I doing this?
The truth is that I got a little frustrated. All the dinosaur books for kids fall into one of two categories-
Super cute story and dinosaurs, but no science. For example, “Pteradactyls” lumped in with the dinosaurs, and dinos stuck with the appearance of rubber toys from the 80s.
“Educational”, but tough to read. Because after reading a list of names like Tyrannosaurus rex, Euplocephalosaurus, and Parasaurolophus 20 nights in a row, I know that book is going to put aside for “some other time”. Plus the computer graphics always look a bit unpleasant to me.
Pete’s Paleo Petshop is the best of both worlds. A cute story with illustrations based on the latest scientific research I can find. But I also want to make clear what part of the illustration is something we actually know as fact, or really just an educated guess. Speculation. A hypothesis. 🙂
So this is the start of a new series called The Art & Science of Pete’s Paleo Petshop. That’s super long though, so I’ll have to shorten it somehow. 🙂
For your convenience, I’ll keep a list of all posts in the series here on this page, and I’ll update the list with links as we go along. I’ll begin with the main cast, and we’ll see where we go from there. 🙂
Bonus Question: Any special requests? I’ll be going over these critters in no particular order, so if there’s one you really want to see first, let me know. First one to answer in the comments gets first pick! 🙂
Meet Opie. He’s a happy little fella who loves to curl up in your lap, so it’s a good thing he’s about the size of a big dog!
Yes, Opie seems to think he’s a big lapdog, and he loves it when you stroke his feathers. Where is he off to now? It looks like he’s going to show you his favorite toy…Opie carries Teddy around everywhere. He’s gone through quite a few “surgeries” to poke the stuffing back in after Opie nibbled on him.
Oh! That’s Miss Kitty peaking around the corner. She’s a little shy after Opie tried playing a game of snatch with her. He’s just a big softie though, and he only wants to play. He’ll get a little droopy when Miss Kitty doesn’t understand. So he’ll curl up in his bed to snuggle with Teddy, and he’ll chirp happy chirps when he snuggles. He sounds a lot like this…
Speaking of soft and cuddly, those feathers are rather like those on an emu or kiwi. Looks a lot like fur, doesn’t it? 🙂
My biggest discovery this week is Pinterest! Not a lot to do or say about it just yet, since I’m just in the learning phase…but let’s just say that for a website heavy on illustrations like this one, it sounds like an image-centric site like Pinterest will be a great way to spread the love. 😀
Coming Next Week…
This small plant-eater is a bit shy, but she’ll snuggle for treats. 🙂
Let’s revisit our friend Mr. B from the first post of this series on fossilization (Who’s Mr. B? Refresh your memory here). We’ve dug up his bones, put them together, figured out all the soft stuff like muscle and skin, and we’ve got a pretty good idea how he lived…but he didn’t live all by himself on a desert island, or on a blank white sheet of paper (ahem, I’m looking at you, boring sideways diagrams).
So how do we figure out about the big picture? Where does Mr. B fit in?
First let’s take a look at old Mr. B…what do we know about him?
We know he’s a Brachiosaurus.
We found it in Colorado while digging at the Morrison Formation.
He’s a very large mega-herbivore, and rare in this particular formation.
This isn’t a lot to go on, aside from the fact that Mr. B would need plenty of plants to eat and water to drink, and lots of space to roam.
Who’s in the neighborhood? It would be tough to figure out what makes a Savannah with only a giraffe to look at, so let’s take a look at some of Mr. B’s neighbors.
There were also all sorts of other non-dino critters, like flying pterosaurs, several small land and water-loving crocs, all sorts of insects (including termites that built 90ft-tall mounds), fish, frogs, turtles, lizards, crayfish, clams, and even a few egg-laying mammals no bigger than rats.
Now we’re getting somewhere. We know that this environment has to support several very large herbivores and carnivores, along with a very diverse population of smaller dinosaurs and other animals. We’ll have to assume that many small and delicate animals were not preserved.
What we can’t really figure out from looking at all these animals is…what where all those giant plant eaters eating?
The Green Stuff. Of course, plants are essential to any ecosystem, and in the Morrison Formation we find stuff kinda like this…
A conifer tree, probably a type of juniper.
Ponderosa pine trees. These are in the middle of the desert in the southwestern states of the US.
A pinyon pine. Pine nuts would be a tasty treat for any dino I’m sure. 🙂 Images courtesy of in-the-desert.com
A reconstruction of a Jurassic ginkgo branch. Image courtesy of Wang Chen
A modern day Ginkgo biloba tree. Wikipedia commons.
These images are courtesy of Aneyefortexas.wordpress.com
Some ferns don’t even look like ferns!
This one looks dead, but will freshen up into a lovely green again as soon as the rains come. You can see more beautiful pictures like these by clicking the link to desert ferns above. Images courtesy of Aneyefortexas.wordpress.com
Dirt isn’t just dirt. Sand, mud, ash, sediment at the bottom of the ocean or a lake…they all turn into different kinds of rock. So what kind of rock a fossil is buried in can tell us a lot about plants, which can then tell us a lot about the local weather.
The Morrison Formation is made of layers of mudstone, sandstone, siltstone and limestone, and is light grey, greenish gray, or red in color. Most of the fossils occur in the green siltstone beds and lower sandstones.
To translate into plain English, this means that the area was an area laced with a few rivers, and had seasons of drought and flood. Since the area was relatively flat, it would flood and turn into swamp in the wet season, but have dry Savannah during the dry season.
But there was no grass or flowering plants in the Jurassic, so what sort of plants would there be in a Mesozoic Savannah?
Take a look at modern ecosystems. In areas that have no grass or flowering plants, what is the primary groundcover?
Let’s take another look at those desert ferns…
Dead looking and dry during the long months of drought, but give it a little water and it transforms. The grassy-looking brown fern further up does the same thing. Dead and brown when it’s dry, lush and green when it rains.
Biological what? (my thoughts when I first read that)
Biological soil crust, or cryptobiotic soil, is a community of bacteria, moss, and lichen that holds moisture, prevents erosion, and provides valuable nutrients for plants (and possibly dinos 😀 ). It looks all brown and crusty during the dry season, but like the ferns, turns green when it rains.
One last picture, and here we have something that is probably very similar to what the Jurassic Morrison habitat was like. Only instead of the flowering shrubs we see here, imagine many different shapes of cycad and bushy areas of dried out ferns waiting for rain…closer to the river we get horsetails, ginkgoes, and giant, more water-loving ferns and tree ferns.
The padded feet of dinosaurs, like camels, kangaroos, and ostriches today, doesn’t break the slow-growing crust underfoot.
Quick Question: Now that we have a more complete picture, how do you think Mr. B fits in now? My guess is as good as yours, so it’s all fun speculation. I’d love to here your answer in the comments! 🙂
Meet Terry. He’s a chipper little guy who would love to scramble up onto your shoulder and nibble your ear (just a little nibble, it tickles). And could he please, pretty please have a tiny bit of that sandwich?
Terry always likes a snack, especially small morsels like snails, grubs, and worms he digs up. That sandwich looks quite tempting though, and he won’t turn his nose up at an opportunity to snatch it out of your hand, so keep an eye and a firm hold on it. 😀
He might not look it, but this little pterosaur (not dinosaur), is very good at walking and running around on the ground. He spends a lot of his time poking his sensitive beak in the dirt for all sorts of burrowing creepy crawlies. When he feels one, he nabs it with his tiny teeth and gulps it down. Yum!
These flying reptiles have a layer of furry fuzz covering their bodies. To make a long (and possibly boring) story short, we know this covering is not fur, but we’re not 100% sure if it’s some kind of feather or not. It might be something totally new. If the fuzzies are feathers, as some paleontologists suggest, then that says a lot for how many dinosaurs probably had feathers. Pterosaurs aren’t dinosaurs, but they’re like 2nd cousins. 🙂
Also notice how the wings are not saggy skin. The wings are actually super awesome (insane genius levels of cool!), and they deserve their own post, but I’ll try to give you the short version. They’re “smart” wings with layers of muscle and inflatable air pockets, and they behave a bit like the wings on a plane. I can tell you this for sure, they’re not anything like bird or bat wings.
Oh yes, one more thing. The beak is speculation on my part. I read a paleo article somewhere about the possibility of terries having beaks, so I figured I’d draw it and see how it looks. I’ll have to do more research from more paleo experts to figure out if this is just a wild idea or actually plausible.
Just to clarify, this beak is a thin, keratinous layer over the skull, so not exactly like a bird’s beak. Similar, but this little guy still has teeth. 🙂
Well, after about a month I’ve determined that trying to get a buffer down is failing. All it takes is a little hiccup in the week, and then I’m back to working on my posts the weekend they’re due. 😛
So I’ll be trying something else to help streamline things. Two posts per week is a realistic number, so I can stick to that, but I think I’ll trying incorporating actual work on the picture book into my Monday posts. 🙂 That way I can make progress on the whole reason this site exists.
Critter of the Week is here to stay. It’s too much fun! And I like having a new critter to practice on each week. 🙂 So we’ll see what I can do for Monday. Hehe, experiment time. 😀
Coming Next Week…
This little guy loves to curl up in his bed with his favorite teddy. 🙂
Now we’ve put all the pieces together and figured out what they mean (sort of). We’ve done our best to cloth the muscle and bone with fatty tissue, skin, and maybe even feathers. Now we can really get wild.
But surely there’s no way to have any clues on behavior? It’s all just guesswork right?
Well no, fossils can leave behind clues even for how an animal lived. Here are a few ways we can speculate (or make an educated guess based on fossil evidence) how wild these critters could get. 🙂
Bones & Teeth
Teeth can tell us a lot about what an animal ate, and the rest of the skeleton can give clues as to how it ate. For example: the slender, notched jaw of Dilophosaurus suggests that it usually ate fast, slippery prey.
It’s not fool proof though, just look at pandas and fruit bats.
A replica of a fruit bat skull, also known as the flying fox. Image courtesy of skullsunlimited.com
Just look at those chompers! Image not mine, so if you know who to credit please let me know.
Sometimes an animal that looks specialized in one thing is just specialized to survive during hard times. Example: seals that have teeth “specialized” for eating krill don’t only eat krill. They eat everything they can get their teeth on, with the added bonus of pigging out on krill when they can, just because they can.
Sometimes animals are buried suddenly and quickly. In especially rare cases, these complete skeletons preserve “candid shots”, moments frozen in time by a collapsing sand dune, mudslide, or drifting down into a deep, cold lake.
Click on the pictures for more info. 🙂
Citipati fossil on eggs. Photo courtesy of Nature (December 1995)
Reconstruction of Citipati by Apsaravis.deviantart.com
Reconstructed Citipati fossil. Credit unknown, so please let me know
Velociraptor vs. Protoceratops (sheep-sized cousin of Triceratops)
I couldn’t find who to properly credit for these images, so please let me know. Thank you.
There are many more tracks than bones, and they offer a unique look at prehistoric animals in action. Here are a few things we can learn from tracks…
How they moved
How fast they moved
How different animals interact (like traveling herds, or pursuit of prey)
Swimming pterosaurs! There are many tracks of the flying critters swimming. Interestingly enough, the tracks only have back paw prints.
Other Trace Fossils
Fossil dino poo is even better at telling us what a dino ate than its teeth. The only problem is figuring out who it came from (unless you have a fossil of an animal mid-poop!)
Dino burrows give great insight into the social nesting behavior of some dinos.
Nests, teeth marks on bones, and dino bottom prints (true story) are all great clues left behind by living prehistoric animals. Put together, they offer a glimpse into the animal’s story.
Since crocs are living relatives of dinosaurs, and birds are dinosaurs, then they are a great place to look for clues. Take a closer look, and we may get a glimpse of exactly how strange, beautiful, and wonderful dinosaurs could be.
The croc family may look tough and mean, but here are a couple of normal behaviors that show how gentle and social they can be.
Here are a few funky bird dances. Bright colors not required. 😉
Quick Question: Which was your favorite dancing bird? How do you think looking at modern animals like these can inspire our vision of prehistoric animals? I’d love to hear from you in the comments! 🙂
Meet Elmer. He’s a little shy, and likes staying in his comfort zone, but he’ll be your best giant friend if you give him some greens and a big hug.
The best way to a dino’s heart is through his stomach, as they say. Well, that’s not really the phrase, but I’m sure it’s just as true, especially when it comes to these long-necked sauropods. 🙂 I think the rough estimate is a solid cube- 5ft x 5ft – of vegetation in a single day to feed one of these guys.
Speaking of feeding longnecks…it reminds me of that scene in Jurassic Park. The one where Dr. Grant and the kids are enjoying a few moments not running away from hungry Rexy, and they get a chance to pat the brachiosaurus (totally my inspiration for paleo pets, by the way).
If you’ve ever watched Jurassic Park, you may notice that Elmer’s head looks a little strange…that’s because the longneck in Jurassic Park is an African cousin of this guy (and until recently the critter with more complete fossils). There’s a few differences between the two even a novice dino enthusiast like me can easily recognize…
Completely different head. The African cousin (Giraffatitan) has a head like the one in Jurassic Park. The American Brachiosaurus (Elmer here) has a much gentler slope to his forehead, and longer snout.
Body shape is different. The African Giraffatitan has a shorter torso and overall more stocky build. While Elmer the Brachiosaurus has a longer body, and generally is a bit more slender. Not skinny, just not as stocky as his African cousin.
They live on entirely different continents. The Atlantic ocean was already forming in the Jurassic period, so Brachiosaurus and Giraffatitan were separated by a lot of water. 🙂 That leads to the same sort of thing that makes a mountain lion (cougar, puma, etc…) in the Americas different from a lion in Africa.
Also on the subject of greenery, I tried experimenting with something different this time. All these critter profiles are an experiment in style really, as I practice how I want to illustrate the pictures in the book.
This time I really focused on making my shadows dark and my highlights light. It sounds obvious and hard to mess up, I know, but you’d be surprised how hard it is! Especially working with color, it gets really easy to let the color do all the work, and not see how dull and gray everything is. So I changed the whole picture to grayscale, so I could see how it looked in black, white, and gray tones.
It all looked about the same shade of gray. Not good. I like it much better now after I added more light and shadow. 🙂 So I’ll do that test from now on.
Another experiment is the vague hint of background. I don’t generally paint backgrounds, so this is me dipping my toes in the river to see how cold the water is. I like to ease my way into things. Baby steps. 😀
Do you like the profile pictures better this way, or are they better with simple painted color? Let me know in the comments! 🙂
I’m having fun experimenting with new artsy techniques. As an artist, it’s always a joy and a challenge to improve my work. Plus it’s an important bonus that I can give you something better and better each time you stop by. 🙂
On a related sidenote, I think I’m getting into the swing of these little profile pictures. I think I’m getting a little faster at it, or at least not as many starts-&-stops as before. 🙂
Coming Next Week…
Look up to see this critter, before he nabs that sandwich out of your hand! 🙂