Happy Holidays!

There are so many wonderful holidays all around the world this time of year, with many beautiful traditions.

I’ve always wanted to do something special for the holiday season, especially Christmas. It’s a tradition in my family to have an Advent calendar. Ours is made of fabric, with little pockets for all the classic nativity characters like the sheep, shepherds, and baby Jesus. Each day, the kids love taking one of the characters out of its pocket and placing it around or in the felt stable. Over the days, the little scene fills out as we talk about each character and what it means as we prepare for Christmas.

I’ve made an Advent calendar for us to enjoy here at the shop. Only instead of angels and shepherds, we have prehistoric critters. Each day until December 25th a new box will be opened to reveal the dinosaur, pterosaur, or other critter behind it. I’ve tried to mix in a good blend of different creatures, and only one is anything I’ve ever drawn before.

The critters are all drawn in the cute “sticker” style, and each creature revealed will have a few fun facts along with it.

After Christmas, I’ll be taking the usual break in January to plan for the next year, and will see you again on February 1st for the first Critter of the Month in 2023. Until then, enjoy the countdown!

Anchiornis: the “Near Bird”

Anchiornis was a small, very birdlike dinosaur from Late Jurassic China. It’s fossil is so beautifully preserved that one can imagine what it must have looked like in life, even have a good guess on color!

Certain pigments, or colors, on feathers and skin actually have different shapes under a microscope. The fossil is almost perfect, and under a microscope one can see the shape of red, black, gray and white patterns. Even with this though, I still say guess because there are never two critters that look exactly alike. We don’t know if there were differences between males and females, younger critters and older critters, breeding plumage, change of seasons, slight changes from eastern or western species or subspecies. Were the black feathers pure black or iridescent? Where the “reddish” feathers pure red, or more of a rusty brown?

Even the most well preserved fossils still give us plenty of questions!

And the Critter of the Month is…

Nanosaurus was a “Small Lizard” from Late Jurassic North America, and lived in the shadow of giants like Apatosaurus and Stegosaurus. They stand a little under waist high at the shoulder compared to a human, and may have filled a place in the food web very similar to the modern day Rhea. Rheas are large ground birds only a little bigger than Nanosaurus, and eat plants, seeds, roots, insects, and the ocassional small mammal. They like to hang around deer and cattle (the more eyes to watch out for predators, the better), and I imagine little Nanosaurus may take similar advantage of the company of other herding dinosaurs like Camptosaurus or Dryosaurus.

The history of this small dinosaur is quite complicated. Fragments of many different creatures like Othnielia, Othnielosaurus, Drinker, and Laosaurus were all determined to be Nanosaurus after more recent, more complete fossils were discovered. It turns out that these little guys were simply everywhere, and possibly roamed in herds. Not quite like how Nina is pictured down below, but I’ll just say that the other members of her herd are hidden in the thick undergrowth of cycads, ginkgos, tree ferns, and conifers.

Foliage would have been dense in areas near rivers, lakes, and lower portions of land that flooded during the rainy season. Drier areas were like savannah with drought hardy ferns instead of grass. Larger herds of many different animals may have gathered in these more open areas, just like many modern animals do. Creatures that keep to themselves in the shelter of the forest gather together out on the open plain depending on the time of day, season, or age of the animals.

Imagine a group of about twenty Nanosaurus. Through the night they roosted in a thick grove of cycads, the stiff, prickly fronds some small protection against any stalkers in the night. They leave the small depressions in the earth that they’ve dug for their small haven, and venture out into the cool morning.

It’s the wet season, and dew clings to the damp ferns and slowly drips from the ginkgos high above. A droplet falls on the creamy head of one Nanosaurus, which shakes and fluffs its shaggy feathers. Silently, cautiously, they creep to the stream. Crocodilians lurk in the water, and predators watch in the shadows on the opposite bank. With darting feet and bobbing heads the flock of Nanosaurus drinks their fill, and only then do they melt into the foliage to forage for food.

In the undergrowth their patterns make them dissapear, so they stay together with quiet chirps and murmurs as they snip ferns with their beaks and scratch through the leaf litter for centipedes. The oldest male listens intently as the females and his three young sons scratch in the undergrowth, and every now and then he chirrups to the younger males and listens to their return call. All is well, and no females are wandering too far.

Sometimes he finds a fallen cone or a beetle, and he calls softly to the females nearby to take the gift. Many hear him and come closer, but only three come up beside him. Under his stern gaze the three females pause and fidget, communicating silently, then one is allowed to approach and take the gift while the others disperse back into the foliage. This ritual repeats through the morning as the air grows hot and dense with humidity.

At last the swampy air and clouds of biting insects grow too irritating, and the male leads his flock to the edge of the forest. A passing herd of enormous Diplodocus has gathered the attention of many other animals. Pterosaurs circle in the air and stalk the ferns for insects and small animals forced out of hiding by the giant stomping feet of the sauropods. Camptosaurus low to each other like cattle scattered among the ferns, and the ever watchful Dryosaurus watch the approaching Nanosaurus with large, watery eyes.

The Diplodocus are careful not to place their enormous feet on boulders or fallen limbs, but pay no heed to the small, birdlike troodontids darting between their legs after insects. The smaller dinosaurs must be mindful not to be crushed. The Nanosaurus weave between the giants, careful to keep their distance but also keeping watch for any potential snacks. They are nervous, flighty creatures in the midst of all the giants, quick to crouch down into the ferns, or dart away from an oncoming Camptosaurus.

Out here, the Nanosaurus flock wanders farther from each other than they would in the forest, creamy heads bobbing up above the ferns to keep track of the rest of the flock. The males are still watchful, but with so many eyes around them they soon grow more relaxed. Only the head male still remains vigilant of his flock, the Camptosaurus that lumbers slowly as it mows down ferns, the Dryosaurus darting towards a bark from another group of their kind, the constant low rumbling of the Diplodocus, the calls, cries, and twitters of the pterosaurs and troodontids…

A sharp cry tears through the rumbling mass of life, and pterosaurs take to the air with croaks and shrieks of alarm. Diplodocus raise their heads towards the cry, Camptosaurus grunt and snort as they gather together. The creamy heads of the Nanosaurus all pop up from the ferns at the shrill call of the head male, and they all gather close together as they look to the Dryosaurus and other animals for signs of the threat.

A great Torvosaurus stalks the plain, and all eyes watch as it walks. It pauses, lifts its great head, and stares at the wary herds. The nervous Dryosaurus bark at it in alarm, but the others nearest to the great predator stand silent and tense, ready to run. The Torvosaurus shakes the flies away from its face and turns away, towards the forest and the river in its depths. Its spotted skin dissapears into the dappled shadow.

Pterosaurs drop back down to the ground, grazers resume the business of eating, and creamy Nanosaurus heads disappear under the ferns again. After some time, the older Nanosaurus male chirps to his flock, and they weave back through the Diplodocus to return to the forest.

Nina is up for adoption over on Redbubble! I forgot that she was my last critter painted on the computer with my old tablet, so it was interesting to try and create a background that she fit into. I’ve been having fun with different brushes on Procreate and really enjoyed creating her environment. She makes me happy, and I hope she brightens your day too.

You can click on the picture or CLICK HERE to go to Redbubble and see her there.

Here is a Youtube video of an axis deer barking at a threat. I imagine the Dryosaurus behaving in a very similar way in the scene above.

See you February 1st for the next Critter of the Month! Don’t forget to come back each day for the countdown to the 25th! After that I’ll be taking my usual time in January to plan for the new year.

This dino loves to splash in the kid pool, no matter what time of year it is.

Share your guess in the comments! She’ll be one of the critters over on the critter page. 🙂

5 thoughts on “Happy Holidays!

  1. I love this already! But where do I start? By analyzing top to bottom of course!
    First of all, I love your idea of a prehistoric-themed advent calendar. And must I say, you started off with a good one, Anchiornis is rather noteworthy for its fossil revealing prehistoric coloration, and I really like how you considered the possibilities of alternate colorations of the animal. I have also decided on a similar idea where I will bring up a different critter for the time being via my comments. For me personally, Qikiqtania, a relative of the “fish apps” Tiktaalik described and named this year for approximately the same area where Tiktaalik was found, would be my pick.
    Anyways, I’m glad you have focused on Nina, a recent addition, for this month. I like the story you gave for Nanosaurus as well as your analysis on its complicated history. Looking forward for tomorrow (don’t know if there are any restrictions on time periods but I’m guessing the advent calendar will only include Jurassic animals).
    Nessie is my guess for February.


      1. Thank you so much! I hope you enjoy the rest of the Advent Calendar too. 🙂

        Qiqiktania looks to be a really interesting critter, and is one I’ve never heard of before. Of course, I don’t know much about the Devonian yet, so that’s not too hard to do at the moment. I know about Tiktaalik and Dunkleosteus and that’s about it.

        I’m glad you like Nina’s flavor story. I hope to do more of them for future featured critters, as I have quite a bit of fun with the thought experiments. I would like to do more experimental art sketches too…so many things I would love to do!

        Yes, the critters for the Advent calendar will be restricted to Jurassic animals for the time being. They are scheduled in advance, so even though the critters are popping in every day from now till the 25th, I am not online every day and may not see comments right away.

        Ah, I forgot to change “dino” in the clue. I should’ve said “critter”. Nessie does like water, but a kid’s pool would be too small.


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