Critter of the Week: Leedsichthys

Meet Gulper. He’s the biggest, most easy-going fish in the sea.  All he wants in life is to drift through nice sunny waters.  He’d love it if you joined him for a swim, and you’re welcome to hitch a ride on his fin. 🙂



Gulper has a giant mouth, but don’t worry, all he eats are tiny sea critters called plankton- just like whales. 🙂

Also like whales, this guy is enormous!  Here’s a short video of a whale shark and diver, just to give you a hint on how big they are.


As big as the shark is, Gulper is even bigger. 😀

Probably not much bigger, and most reports you’ll find are greatly exaggerated.  But hey- whale shark size is still huge, and anything bigger than that is just about mind blowing!

Just for fun, here’s another clip.  This one is from the TV show River Monsters.  I’m not a fan of the way he talks about these fish as monsters- Gulper is pretty laid back- but it’s still interesting.  Keep in mind the length of the fish is probably exaggerated in the clip. 🙂


Making progress…

This week was better for staying on track. 🙂

I rather like having the A&S posts every two weeks, with a shorter sort of preview post in between.  It gives me more time to research on the chosen critter. Good research makes sure the critters are accurate to science, but also lets me know what I can speculate on the details.

So you can look forward to more youtube videos and possibly links to other awesome posts. 🙂


Coming Next Week…

He’s a flying ace!  He’ll swoop, dive, and swim anywhere for a shiny fish. 🙂

Share your guess in the comments! He’s one of the critters over on the critter page. 🙂

The Art & Science of Terry

Hi there!  Terry is here with us today, a rather odd looking critter isn’t she?  If I asked you to tell me what she is, what would your answer be?  Flying dinosaur?  Terradactyl?  Pterosaur?




If you said Pterosaur then clearly you’ve done your homework.  If not, don’t feel bad (I’m not pointing fingers), because the sad fact is that most books, movies, toys, and pretty much anything to do with dinosaurs always lump Terry and her many relatives into the same pile.

Terry is a Pterosaur (Don’t mind the P there, it’s confusingly silent), a group of flying reptiles closely related to dinosaurs.  To be specific, her wild cousins are Pterodactylus kochi.  Pterodactylus is the pterosaur, where we get the name for the whole group.  So now you know she’s special. 😀


1. Is that…fur?

Terry, like all pterosaurs, is covered in a fuzzy layer of pycnofibers.  They’re made of the same keratinous proteins as our hair and fingernails.  But they appear to be hollow inside, which makes them much more like feathers than fur.

I say “appear to be”, because not everyone agrees.  Most of the fossils are a bit squashed, and even the 3d fossils can be hard to tell if what fills the space inside was part of the living animal or just more of the fossil (or a part of decomposition after the critter died, but before it fossilized).

Last week we saw the basic structure of a feather.  If pycnofibers are indeed hollow, then that could mean that they are similar in structure to feathers.

Terry and her many relatives are related to dinosaurs in the same way that crocs are related to dinosaurs (They are all Archosaurs).  A bit like a great aunt.

Since many dinosaurs are known to have feathers of various kinds, it would be pretty significant if pterosaur pycnofibers are determined to be feathers as well.

How significant?  More fluffy dinosaurs!  It’s possible that the earliest dinosaurs had a coat of fur-like feathers. 🙂


2. Hard Beak or Fuzzy Snout?

fuzzy beak copy.jpg
Terry & Ron are both pterosaurs, but look very different from each other.  Fuzzy snout vs. hard beak.  The difference in texture of fluffy pycnofibers is my own speculation.  We don’t really know what these might’ve looked like in life.

Now I’m not quite sure where I first heard of the idea of hard-beaked pterosaurs…I think I remember Petrie from The Land Before Time had a beak.  Come to think of it, I guess there are plenty of interpretations with beaky pterosaurs, but I’m not sure how many are based on fossil evidence.

So why does Terry have a soft, fuzzy snout?

The fossils don’t have a beak.  In fact, in several beautifully preserved ones we see only soft tissues, complete with a soft crest and that lappet on the back of head.  There’s a lovely diagram showing how clear the fossil is over at Mark Witton’s wonderful blog.  I’d highly recommend you check it out, because he’s an excellent artist, and an expert on all things pterosaur. 🙂

Terry’s friend on the left is a Rhamphorynchus (that’s a mouthful, sorry, let’s call him…Ron).  Some illustrate Ron and his wild relatives with just the toothless tip of his snout with a beak, but I’ve based mine off of Mark Witton’s lovely illustration.

Honestly, it’s hard to imagine those crazy teeth with any kind of soft tissue, and that seems to be the argument for a hard beak over the bone.


3. The original pole vaulting masters


Pterosaurs had powerful wings, but their legs weren’t really strong enough to jump up to fly like birds.  So does that mean they’re helpless on the ground?

Not at all, look at Terry scamper around!

Pterosaurs were Earth’s first pole vaulting masters.  Their powerful wing-arms were strong enough to push their bodies (even the biggest ones) up into the air.  Mark Witton proposes that even the largest, giraffe-sized pterosaurs could lift off from the ground.  Many could probably take off from the water!

Helpless?  I think, not. 🙂  Here’s a quick video so you can see it in action. 🙂

How is it possible?

Unlike birds, pterosaurs have most of their muscle dedicated to their wings.  Birds need enough muscle in their legs to jump up before flapping, while pterosaurs pole vault into the air with the same power they use for flying.

So no need to jump off a cliff or wait for warm updrafts of air. 🙂


Quick Question: Ah, the nostalgia of so many movies and documentaries…I must say I still rather like the leathery, cliff-clinging bats in Fantasia (so many great retro-saurs in that one).  Are there any pterosaurs from books or movies that have colored how you see these animals? 🙂  I’d love to hear your answer in the comments!  

P.S.- You can always hop over the the A&S page to pick out who you want to see next! 🙂

Critter of the Week: Camarasaurus

Meet Bella. She’s big, she’s loud, and she’s really happy to see you!  She’s happy to see anyone really, except Alfred, but can you blame her?  There’s about a-bazillion years of conflict going on there…



There she is!  She is the most accommodating of Pete’s very large camarasaurus herd- voted least likely to accidentally trample the equipment.  They can be an excitable bunch, and don’t always pay attention to what they’re bumping into.  I’ll just say that when Pete finally got her separated from the herd there was a tractor, some flags, an air horn, and a rubber chicken involved…

These Camaras are more closely related to the smaller wild species, C. lentus (there are 3 🙂 )which are only about 49 feet long.  But that’s still a lot of sauropod on the move, especially when you multiply it by 80!

Why so many?

Paleontologists may call Bella the ugliest sauropod, but they’re pretty popular for anyone with plenty of pasture.  Their friendly and calm, cow-like attitude makes them an easier alternative to the larger giants like Elmer.

If only they weren’t so loud!  But some may call Bella’s singing endearing.  It’s lovely to hear their chorus far out to pasture.



Have the video play in the background while you look at Bella above, I can’t help laughing at the mental picture of 50 or 100 of these fat, happy sauropods calling to each other constantly.  In a herd of such large animals, you don’t really need stealth. 😀


Making progress…

The past couple of weeks it’s been tough to keep up.  I need to rethink how I do things, or get better at more efficient use of my time during the day.  One of the two. 😛

I’ve kind of fallen into the bad habit of keeping right on the posts.  It feels a bit like plugging holes in a leaky dam.  As I get one done, then I’m scrambling to get the next one done, half afraid I won’t be able to keep up.

I’m not saying this to complain of course, just as a way of evaluating where I’m at, in a way that I can look back later and remember where I came from. 🙂  Looking back at earlier posts has been the best way for me to see my progress, slow as it’s been.  It keeps me going by knowing how far I’ve come. 🙂

Speaking of earlier posts, I used to have a list of future posts, and I would update information and write little snippets whenever I could.  I’ve been kinda scrambling ever since I wrote all the posts on the list.

Time to write up another list!  And perhaps have a couple of posts with relevant youtube videos like Monday.  If you like those, I can do it a little more often. 🙂


Coming Next Week…

This giant likes to bask in warm, sunny waters.  He’d be super easy to care for if only the tank didn’t need to be the size of the Mediterranean…

Share your guess in the comments! He’s one of the critters over on the critter page. 🙂

A Few Fast Feather Facts

It’s about time that we have a short chat on feathers.  They are very complex, beautiful structures, and you could probably write entire books about them, but we’ll just cover a couple of things I didn’t know about until I researched it (Pretty cool when something so ordinary becomes amazing, just by taking a closer look).


Feathers are keratinous (like our hair or fingernails) structures that grow from the skin, and there are many different forms that serve many different functions.  Here’s a video where we can see the basic structure of a feather quite nicely. 🙂



Remember our emu friend a while back?  Here’s a closer look at its feathers…




These feathers are like the peacock feather.  The shaft, or rachis, branches off into many barbules, but those barbules don’t have the little hooks that ziplock together.  Since Emu’s don’t fly or swim much, there’s no need for the streamlined contour feathers flying birds have.

Emus have no problem with staying dry in the rain, because just like any other bird, they spend a good part of their day combing their beaks through their feathers and coating them with oil from a gland near the base of their tails.

Here’s another video, this one about how varied feather shapes can be, and what they can be useful for.  It focuses on birds of paradise and their crazy display plumage, but try to think about what it means for other feathered, flightless animals (like feathered dinos), and how they might use feathers. 🙂



Next week, we’ll finally get to see the Art & Science of little Terry.  Keeping this post in mind will help keep that one short, because flying reptiles like Terry are rumored to have a fluffy coat of feathers… 😉

If you want to know more about feathers, here’s a spiffy (yes, I said spiffy) link- everything you need to know about feathers. 😀

Quick Question:  What was your favorite out of the wacky feathers displayed by the birds of paradise?  Do you think feathered dinosaurs could’ve had similarly weird and wonderful feathers?  I’d love to hear your answer in the comments! 😀




Critter OTW Sneak-Peak: Camarasaurus

A sneak-peak for this week’s critter of the week.  I’m afraid I’ve had a bit of trouble wrangling Bella.  She won’t leave her friends when they’re in the middle of choir practice.


Maybe it’s the squarish shape of her snout, her stout proportions, and that thick, kinda stumpy neck (for a longneck anyway)…but for some reason poor Bella is often quoted as the “ugliest of sauropods”.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and Bella certainly doesn’t care about beauty contests.  She’d much rather sing with the other hundred Camarasaurus in the herd.

Just imagine hearing a hundred of these first thing in the morning… XD



Just sit tight and listen to those busy longnecks gossip.  I’m sorry to keep you waiting, but just like any animals, these dinos can be a bit of a handful to handle.  I’ll have to see if Pete will help me with the tractor…I’ll be back with Bella as soon as I can!  

Designing a Book Cover

We interrupt our regular Monday program (The Art & Science of Pete’s Paleo Petshop) to give you a bit of quick behind-the-scenes sneak peak.  I’m deep in the heart of picture-book production, and I’m at the point where I want to have the front cover all nice and shiny, so it can be the proverbial carrot at the end of the stick for me.

If I have a clear image of what I’m headed for, then it may be easier to keep heading that direction. 🙂

I would like it very much indeedy if I could have a bit of feedback.  Doesn’t have to be much, just enough to help me steer in the right direction. 🙂

First though, a quick (and brief!) rundown of what’s needed in a picture book cover.

  • Visually appealing- obvious is of course obvious.  What’s your first reaction when you see it?  A resounding yes!  Or…not quite hitting the mark?
  • Gives hints about the story- it makes you want to know what happens.
  • Gives you a “feel” of the story.  Style, general mood, if it’s funny or serious, etc…
  • Text is clear, and can be read from a distance, or at least get you to take a closer look.
  • Would you buy it if you saw it on a shelf?


There’s more to designing a book cover, but those are the basics.  So I have a couple of questions for you…

  • What’s your first reaction when you see the picture?
  • Would you pick up the book if you saw it on a library shelf?  Please tell me why or why not. 🙂
  • Are there any questions you have about the characters or the illustration?  Does it make you want to know more, or know the story behind it?


With those questions in mind then, here is the sketch.

Cover copy.jpg


And here is the colored version as I have it now.  It’s only colored as much as necessary to get an idea of style and general look.  It doesn’t have fine details yet.




Thank you for swinging by my little corner of the internet, and thank you for taking the time to chat with me today. 🙂  I think it’s pretty awesome that indie publishing is an option, and that you can be a part of this.

Here are those questions again, and it would be most helpful if you could answer the questions for each image above.  Whichever ones work best for each picture. 🙂

  • What’s your first reaction when you see the picture?
  • Would you pick up the book if you saw it on a library shelf?  Please tell me why or why not. 🙂
  • Are there any questions you have about the characters or the illustration?  Does it make you want to know more, or know the story behind it?

Thank you again for taking the time to help me give you something better. 🙂  I love to read your answers in the comments! 😀

Critter of the Week: Compsognathus

Meet Twig. He’s a lot more travel-sized, if you’re looking for a dinosaur that’s not a bird.  He makes up for his size by being extra fluffy and huggable.  Can you resist that fuzzy tail?


Twig may be small, but he’s not nearly as teeny as most “educational” sources would have you believe.  Almost all the dinosaur books I’ve come across claim this little guy as the smallest dinosaur. “As big as a chicken” is the phrase often used.

Twig would have you know he’s the size of a turkey, not a chicken (makes a big difference if you’re standing right next to it).  All those other reports are actually based off a German fossil of a juvenile compy, not an adult.  Another well-preserved fossil was discovered in France in the 1970’s, but paleontologists weren’t sure it was a compy until more recent years.

Twig doesn’t mind the confusion though.  He’s not really bothered by much as long as he can snatch a lizard or two out of the bushes. 🙂

Just for fun, here’s a picture of Jurassic Park’s Compsognathus.  This picture is from the Jurassic Park Wikia, but did not have any credit associated with it.  It looks like it was cut from a screenshot of Jurassic Park: The Lost World.  It’s really quite a nice little puppet, and the film makers were able to give it the very lifelike, birdy movements described in the first book of the series.


The model has a few glaring inaccuracies, but I really enjoyed watching it in the film anyway.

  • Shrinkwrapped skin on muscle on bone, with no soft tissue in between.
  • Two fingers instead of three
  • Broken bunny arms
  • The lack of feathers is not technically inaccurate, because some relatives preserve feathers, and others preserve scales on the tail. So it’s a coin toss really, at least until we can find more data.  🙂

Making progress…

Just inching along on a couple of big projects.  I’ll reveal more as I get closer. 😀


Coming Next Week…

Why, oh why must everyone call her ugly?  I really don’t know.  She may not be winning any beauty contests, but she’s a real sweet heart with anyone she meets. 🙂

Share your guess in the comments! He’s one of the critters over on the critter page. 🙂

The Art & Science: Steggy

Hello there Steggy!  She’s followed me here because she wants the bucket of tasty fern balls I’ve brought with me.  That works out nicely, since she’ll stay here and munch while we point and chat about her for a few minutes.  Just like when we talked about Ajax last week, I’ll stick with 3 research tidbits for now, to keep things short. 🙂


A&S_steggy copy


1. Soft or hard-shelled turtle?

Steggy’s a bit smaller than the average wild stegosaurus, but she’s still quite a bit taller than we are.  If you reach up on your tip-toes you might be able to touch the biggest of her plates, the one right above her hips there.

There’s been some speculation in recent years on if these plates were hard and covered in keratin- like a turtle’s shell or cow’s horn- or if the plates were soft and covered in scales or skin.

I did a bit of digging (research wise), and came across this lovely gem of information written by Darren Naish. He cites a paper provided by Christiansen & Tschopp (2010), who reported a continuous sheath-like covering on one of the plates they referred to another spiketail known as Hesperosaurus.

hesperosaurus copy.jpg
Hesperosaurus. A much smaller spiketail, but so close a cousin that there was a bit of disagreement a couple years back if it should be lumped in with Stegosaurus.

So there you have it.  Hesperosaurus is a very close cousin of Stegosaurus, so in the realm of phylogenetic bracketing that makes it more likely that Steggy had a smooth, hard sheath of horn on her plates and spikes.


2. Armed to the teeth.

tough steggy copy.jpg
One of Steggy’s wild relatives, a Stegosaurus ungulatus to be exact. We should probably back off.  He doesn’t look too happy that we’re so close.

The same Hesperosaurus described had another very rare insight on spiketails- fossil skin.  As you can see on Steggy here, most of her body is covered in small, non-overlapping scales, called tubercles.  They look a bit like pave stones don’t they?  Now look up here, a bit higher up on her side.  Interesting isn’t it?


steggy skin copy.jpg

Steggy has some pretty tough scales.  These large oval scales are called osteoderms, just like the large, hard scales on the backs of crocodiles.  They’re covered in keratin, like our fingernails, and they do a pretty good job as armor.  I’m sure Alfred‘s wild relatives had a tough time munching on wild stegosaurus. 🙂

  • Large, horn plates protect the spine
  • Bony neck armor protects neck from predators and prickly plants
  • Short front legs can bring head lower to the ground (harder to reach) and spiky end up, or push the body up to swivel on powerful hind legs.  Awesome for quick, sharp turns.  No way a hungry predator can get to anything soft and vulnerable if that spiked mace is always between it and the stego.


3. She might not be the sharpest rock, but she’s one tough cookie.


spiketails copy.jpg
Yeesh, I definitely need to practice these guys more.  Fun fact, there are track ways of stegosaurus in small family groups, with young juveniles with a few adults, or a few “teenagers” traveling together.  🙂

Steggy might have a brain the same size as a dog’s, but she’s not nearly as dumb as movies and the media would have you think.  (I’m looking at you Spike, in The Land Before Time).  I think most encounters would not have ended up like the stego in Disney’s Fantasia (which is totally what inspired my love for them in the first place 🙂 )

With all that armor, and tons of fossil evidence with some serious dino damage on Alfred‘s wild relatives, it looks to me that spiketails had an attitude to match their prickly array of spikes and plates.

Because of that, I’ve given Steggy a  bright warning pattern.  Someone told me it reminded her of a skunk, and that’s exactly what I’m going for.  Steggy’s color is something that says “stay away!”

Good thing Steggy is a calm and peaceful pet then, a domesticated spiketail.  Domestic spiketails have a tendency to be nervous, and spook easily (like horses), but Pete works with her a lot, and hardly anything bothers Steggy now. (horses can be trained like this too)

Just for fun, here’s my reasoning on why Steggy may not be as dumb as you think.  A quick check on Youtube brings up plenty of smart tortoises.  Yep, after discovering that it couldn’t fit through the pet door, this one figured out how to open a sliding glass door.


Quick Question: Animals do all sorts of crazy things we wouldn’t expect.  Do you have a story about an animal or pet that did something unexpected?  I’d love to hear your answer in the comments!  

P.S.- You can always hop over the the A&S page to pick out who you want to see next! 🙂