Paleo-powered pictures for everyone on Sept. 24: Bakker’s back with a big book of dinosaurs

Our esteemed curator of paleontology, Dr. Robert T. Bakker, is back in town and on campus at HMNS Tuesday, Sept. 24 for a very special book signing and lecture.

Coinciding with the release of his brand new picture book, The Big Golden Book of Dinosaurs, Dr. Bakker will lead a lecture in the Giant Screen Theatre, to be followed by a book-signing session at the Museum Store.

From the Google

Among the topics to be addressed during the lecture with Dr. Bakker’s inimitable enthusiasm are: Was T. rex a slow-footed stumble-bum? (No!) Were tyrannosaurs devoid of any gentle, nurturing gestures? (No way!) Were gigantic meat-eating dinos ticklish? (You bet!) Could you out-run an angry charging triceratopsine? (Don’t even try.)

Kid-friendly dino activities will be available throughout the Grand Hall prior to the lecture, beginning at 5 p.m. For more information or to book your tickets in advance, click here!

How To Stuff Your Archaeopteryx For Thanksgiving

Serves 1/20th of a person.

You must become pubis-savvy to understand Archaeopteryx. The pubic bone commands the guts – and gut evolution was huge in bird origins.

1) Check out an allosaur, a typical big meat-eating dinosaur. Note that the pubic bone points down. This position limits the size of the guts because the intestines must stop in front of the pubis.

2) Check out a chicken, a typical modern bird. The pubis has been pulled way back so it points backwards. Now the guts can expand all the way to the rear of the bird.*

3) Now examine Archaeopteryx. If it were a typical bird with a big gut, the pubis should point backward. It doesn’t. It points down, like in an allosaur.

4) So……Archaeopteryx was a gut-less wonder, compared to a modern bird. The space for the intestines was still small. It couldn’t digest food as fast as a modern bird can and it couldn’t digest tough food items.

5) Modern-style bird guts didn’t evolve until the Cretaceous.

* that’s why we can stuff a bird with so much stuffing on Thanksgiving.

How To Get Your T.rex to Perch on Your Finger
Evolution of the Back-Grabber Toe in Birds

Here is our Archaeopteryx hind foot. Note that it’s got a “back-grabber toe,” an inner toe that points inwards and a little backwards.

Modern birds usually have an even bigger back-grabber toe that points further backwards. This inner toe lets the bird grab a branch or a finger and hold on.

(The toe is equivalent to our human big toe).

The other three toes in Archaeopteryx point forward and attach to three long ankle bones that are bound together tightly by ligaments. The inner toe has just a stub of an ankle bone.

Anchisaurus

Look at a primitive dinosaur, like Anchisaurus. No back-grabber. Instead the inner toe is thick and long and points forward. The toes attach to four long ankle bones that are loose and can spread.

Here’s the key step:

Meat-eating dinosaurs evolved an inner toe that pointed inwards – like a bird’s. Its ankle bone is a stub – just like a bird’s.

The three main toes have ankle bones tightly bound together – like birds’.

Raptor-type dinosaurs were even more bird-like, with thin, long ankle bones.

Archaeopteryx evolved from a raptor-type dinosaur by enlargement of the inner toe.

Hittin’ the road with the HMNS Paleo crew!

BB describing boomerhead

I got the chance to travel from Houston to Seymour, TX and explore the Texas Redbeds in search of fossils with David and the HMNS Paleo Program. HMNS staff and volunteers have been making these trips for four years now. They have found several excellent specimens and brought them here to prepare for our new and improved Paleontology Hall. I’d had some experience looking at the bones and things that the crew had been bringing back to the Museum but this was my first experience actually in the field – and I was pretty excited!

Drawing of a Diplocaulus

The first morning we arrived at the site and looked around at a few different locations before settling down in the “pit” to dig. I got to spend a little time training my eyes to see fossilized bone, teeth, cartilage and coprolites among the rocks at the “spoil pile” which is a great experience because the ratio of fossils to rocks on the surface is such that you have a pretty good chance of closing your eyes and picking up a fossil! Then we moved over to learn the digging technique where fossils were a bit more hidden in the pit; it took a few minutes to get the hang of how to hold the tools and make sure that you are using enough force to move the dirt but not so much that you break a hidden bone. All and all it was really enjoyable first day at the site.

Over the next two days after Dr. Bakker arrived we visited several other sites on the property and I got a chance to work on excavating a dimetrodon spine, map some dig sites (here’s a fun school dig site mapping activity), learn about other findings like the diplocaulus or “boomerang head” skull we’re looking at in the photo above. I enjoyed the opportunity to work alongside the experts and learn about all of the preparation work that is required for each and every specimen that will be in the new Paleontology hall (coming soon!) here at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. I can’t wait to see everything on display in the new wing of the Museum – it’s going to be so exciting!

For more information about what fossils are found at the dig site in Seymour check out some of the entries on the Prehistoric CSI blog, you can also find some really awesome illustrations on that site to bring the animals to life!

VIDEO: Mapping a dinosaur with Dr. Bob Bakker

As you can see from our newly-installed widget (see: right), we’re already excitedly counting down to the opening of Dinosaur Mummy CSI: Cretaceous Science Investigation, a world premiere exhibition HMNS is developing to showcase Leonardo, one of the most spectacular dinosaur mummies ever found – and the only herbivore discovered with preserved stomach contents.

Oh, yeah – it’s also covered over 90 percent of its body with skin impressions. Until someone develops a time machine, looking at Leonardo is the closest you can get to seeing a living dinosaur.

Until it opens Sept. 19, we’ll be bringing you a series of behind-the-scenes videos of our paleontology department preparing for the exhibit – traveling to Montana, where Leonardo was discovered, working to prepare the fossils of another hadrosaur named Peanut for display and much more. What do you want to see? Let us know and we’ll do our best to get it on film.

In our first video, Dr. Bakker, David Temple and several of our paleontology volunteers create a map of Peanut that will help them study the specimen as it was discovered – even after the fossils have all been removed and mounted.


You can also download the audio-only version to listen on your mP3 player by right-clicking here. UPDATE: If you can’t see the video above, you can now check it out on YouTube.
UPDATE: Check out the second video in the series – Dr. Bakker explains why Leonardo is such an extraordinary find.