Bakker Blogs: The kleptomania continues with a Sid Vicious Julieraptor — Dino Rustlers Part II

Part Two: Julieraptor — The raptor rescued from rustlers.

Small and mid-sized raptors swarmed over the landscape in the Late Cretaceous. Velociraptor, as heavy as a coyote, haunted the sand-dunes of Mongolia. The Rocky Mountain states hosted Bambiraptor, a predator no bigger than a rotisserie chicken. Here is our cast of “Julieraptor,” a close relative dug from near Malta, Mont.

julieraptor
Courtesy of Black Hills Institute of Geological Research, Inc.

These mini-raptors were big-brained by dinosaur standards — as smart as a wild turkey (not the dumbed-down domestic version).  Their eyes were huge — an adaptation for chasing nimble prey, like furry mammals and tree-climbing lizards. The extra-long arms and fingers gave the raptors three-dimensional abilities — they could scramble up trees quadrupedally, grabbing branches with claws on front and back paws. Long feathers on the arms and legs let the raptors glide from branch to branch like dino-flying squirrels.

Even little raptors could be dangerous to larger dinosaurs — these carnivores were armed with the standard raptor-fighting claw on the hind leg, a weapon that could inflict ghastly wounds.

“Julieraptor” played a central role in a modern-day case of dino-rustling. The original specimen was found in 2002 by a crew of talented amateurs working with the local non-profit museum in Malta, Mont. Mark Thompson, a leader of the group, nicknamed the animal after his sister, Julie. Mark picked up some finger bones and claws and bits of the skull. These fossils were lying on the surface where the rock had been washed away by rain and wind. He suspected that most of the skeleton was still buried in the ground, but he didn’t dig down.  Since the spot was on a private ranch, the fossils actually belonged to the land owner, so the crew would have to wait until the museum and the land owner could negotiate a full excavation. The original box of fingers and bits stayed in a museum drawer.

A few years later, another individual working with the Malta museum claimed to have found a second raptor from a totally different spot in another Montana county. He planned to make money for himself by selling replicas of the skeleton, which he nicknamed “Sid Vicious.”

But the folks from the Malta museum became suspicious. This “new” specimen was exactly the same size as Julieraptor. And the anatomy was exactly the same, too. Even the color of the bones matched perfectly. The two specimens seemed to be from identical twins. Finally, the museum crew compared the finger bones of both specimens side-by-side. The broken ends of the bones of Julieraptor fit precisely onto the hand of “Sid Vicious.”

Then museum investigators went out to where the original Julieraptor bones had been picked up from the surface. There was a huge hole. Clearly, someone had snuck in and excavated the rest of the skeleton.

Case closed! There was no second Sid raptor. All the raptor bones came from one and the same specimen. The fellow who claimed to have found “Sid Vicious” was a raptor-rustler! He admitted his crime and spent several months in jail. The skeleton was returned to the land owner, who arranged to sell the specimen to the Royal Ontario Museum, a non-profit institution which specializes in Late Cretaceous dinosaurs.

Our cast of Julieraptor was made by the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research, who worked closely with the land-owners.

Blog Contest: Draw a Dinosaur!

Leonardo da Vinci said: “I don’t understand a thing ‘till I draw it.” When you draw, your finger tips teach your brain what’s important.”

Dr. Bakker paraphrased Leonardo da Vinci in his recent post, Draw Dinos Right, to explain why great  paleontologists tend to be great artists, too. Now that the world premiere of Dinosaur Mummy CSI: Cretaceous Science Investigation is open at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, you can test this hypothesis on another Leonardo – the mummified dinosaur that was found in Malta, MT, with skin and internal organs preserved. And when you do, you can enter to win great paleo prizes – like a signed dinosaur drawing by Dr. Robert T. Bakker himself – as well as a $200 gift certificate to Texas Art Supply, for all your future dino-drawing needs.

The contest is simple: pick a dinosaur and draw it for us. In this video, Dr. Bakker takes you through drawing a T. rex – but your entry can be any dinosaur you like. On Nov. 1, Dr. Bakker will choose one winner for each of two categories – one for scientific accuracy, and another for artistic effect.

So, head on over to the drawing board – you’ve got until Nov. 1 at 5 p.m. to enter.

Entries must be no larger than 11 x 17 inches and they can be turned in to the Museum Services desk at the Museum or scanned and submitted online to blogadmin@hmns.org. Make sure to include your name, phone number and e-mail address with your entry – otherwise, we’ll have no way to contact you if you’ve won. Two identical prizes will be awarded – one to recognize the most scientifically accurate dinosaur drawing and the other to honor the best artisitc effect. Click here for contest rules.

UPDATE: Our winners have been posted! Along with a slideshow of all of the fabulous entries – a huge thank you to all the very talented kids who entered.

Beyond the Bones: ABC-13 features Leonardo in 30-minute special

Ack! Paleontologists often take their lives in their
hands to get to fossils. In this shot, they’re looking
at some T. rex fossils on a two-foot ledge that’s
hanging over a 100-foot drop.

Thanks to Hurricane Ike, most of us were still without power when the Discovery Channel aired their documentary about Leonardo, the mummified dinosaur.

Luckily, a local ABC news crew came along on our recent trip to Malta, MT (it’s quite a trek) to see Leonardo, the mummy dinosaur, and venture out to the very remote site (about 2 hours outside a town that is 4 hours from the closest city) where this famous dinosaur was discovered.

It was an amazing experience – and ABC captured it all for their newest 30-minute special, Beyond the Bones: Dinosaur Mummy CSI, airing tomorrow night – Saturday, Oct 4 – after the 10 p.m. news. They braved the elements, trekked to the top of the highest cliffs, risked the ire of some very enthusiastic cows – and even hung outside of vehicles to bring you the story of an extraordinary 77-million year old duckbill dinosaur. If it sounds dramatic – that’s because it was.

Now that’s commitment.

As a photo, this is kind ofimpressive – in the sense that nowadays, anyone who doesn’t wear a seatbelt is perceived as a crazed loon. But I was in the car in front of this one – and what you don’t see is the foot-thick mud we’re fish-tailing through, the 200-foot cliff that’s only slightly to the left of this frame, the forty-degree incline of the hill and the pouring rain that’s obscuring all of the drivers’ vision. I felt like a crazed loon just for being there, and I was buckled in, windows up with a white-knuckle grip on the hang-bar. Mike (holding the camera) is just crazy-awesome – and I can’t wait to see the shots he got.

Art Rascon interviews paleontologist Mark Thompson,
who was on the dig that uncovered Leonardo.

The rain and the mud were so bad that only extremely tough vehicles could make it through to the site where Leonardo was discovered – which is located in one of many, many almost unbelievably gorgeous ravines that – out of nowhere – just fall away from solid ground. (It’s a good idea to watch where you’re going.)

It’s actually pretty tough to get there in normal conditions – so, our transport options were limited. When Mark, one of the paleontologists who was there when Leonardo was uncovered, jumped in the back to ride down to the site – Art and Mike rode with him to get an interview along the way. (Notice I am taking this photo from the safety of the car’s interior). This shot really does not do justice to the madness of trying to avoid being thrown from a vehicle that’s descending 40 degree, unpaved inclines littered with boulders – in the rain.

You can get in on the action – which covers everything from Leonardo’s life 77 million years ago and the site of his unexpected discovery in Montana to behind-the-scenes shots of the exhibit in Houston and the second hurricane Leonardo experienced – when ABC airs the special this Saturday night. Tune in – and come by to see Leonardo for yourself; he’s in Houston through Jan. 11, 2009.

VIDEO: The mummified dinosaur Leonardo – too good to be true?

“Unbelieveable!”

“Too good to be true…”

“A dinosaur with its last meal meal still preserved inside its stomach…..no one could hope for that….”
Those were some of the skeptical comments heard by Dr. Robert Bakker, Curator at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, from distinguished colleagues in the dino-science word.

“I was unconvinced too….until I came up to Malta, Montana myself,” says Bakker.

“One glance showed that all us PhD’s were wrong. Leonardo the Dinosaur MummyDOES have his gut contents superbly – beautifully – fossilized. At last, we know what the single most important family of dino-species ate.”

Over the past four years, a talented crew of hi-tech, x-ray specialists have scanned and probed and computer-manipulated Leonardo, inventing new techniques. “Northing’s the same anymore…” Bakker mused, “from now on…all us dino-hunters will search for bones on the outside AND the secrets on the inside.”

Now, Leonardo has made his way down to Houston, for a very special exhibit, Dinosaur Mummy CSI: Cretaceous Science Investigation. In this second video in our ongoing series (check out the first video in the series here), Dr. Bakker explains the inner workings of Leonardo’s species from The Great Plains Dinosaur Museum in Malta, Montana.