Friday, July 26, 2013

Pacific Rim and Kem Kem's Water-Loving Theropods

Striker Eureka vs. Otachi in a promotional poster for Pacific Rim
I just went to see the new blockbuster Action/Sci-Fi/Mecha,/Kaiju movie Pacific Rim on Wednesday, and by God it was awesome. It was by no means the best movie ever, being plagued with numerous stereotypes and clichés (and I heard some complaints of bad acting, but I didn't really notice that when I watched it), but for the most part it stood up very well. It had great CGI, cool Kaiju and Jaeger designs, and it knew exactly where, when, and what to do to please the audience, so I found myself thoroughly enjoying the experience, and I recommend the film to everybody even remotely interested in the concept. You won't leave the theater disappointed.

Director Guillermo del Toro took his inspiration from Japanese animes and Kaiju movies, and I could definitely see the resemblance to the former. I watch anime when I can, and many of the characters in Pacific Rim (despite undoubtedly being stereotypes) had an uncanny resemblance to characters in animes I had seen before. This was probably intentional on Guillermo's part. I also noticed some resemblances to Evangelion, an anime series with a similar story of giant monsters called Evas fighting human-powered mechas in order to protect the world. Other people have also noticed the similarities, but apparently Guillermo had never seen Evangelion, so all these parallels are probably coincidental.

Despite having seen numerous animes though, I've barely seen any Japanese Kaiju films before, so I couldn't see if there were any parallels there (other than, well, the fact they both have giant Kaiju in them). Maybe after seeing this movie it will encourage me to start watching some more Kaiju films. Hmm, I have always wanted to watch the original Godzilla movie.

Here's a funny story though. I've been watching another anime right now called Attack on Titan. It's about giant humans called Titans that eat normal-sized people alive just for fun, and how the last piece of humanity has been driven back into the dark ages and forced to retreat behind three giant walls that were built to keep the Titans out, but that's besides the point. The main antagonist's name in that show is Eren Jäger, whose last name has the same root as Pacific Rim's mechas, both being derived from the Germanic word for hunter (Jäger). *Spoiler Alert* This is also ironic seeing as mid-way through the show Eren learns he has the ability to transform into a Titan, and he uses his power in order to fight off the Titans as they slowly try to break their way past the walls to devour the people hiding within. So all in all, Attack on Titan and Pacific Rim are both about giants trying to annihilate the human race and both have heroes named Jaeger that are trying to protect what's left of it. Kind of left me confused...*Spoiler Ends*

There was, however, one HUGE problem with Pacific Rim that seriously brought down the movie for me. Watch this scene and you'll know what it is:

Eh, I would devote this whole post to ranting about that one scene, but luckily, Darren Naish on Tetrapod Zoology did it for me, as well as talk about a lot of other cool aspects of the movie. Be sure to check that out when you can.

Now, onto important science-y things...

I made another video a few days ago which I posted on YouTube, this one concerning the Kem Kem beds in Morocco. I was inspired to make this due to a lot of work being published on those beds, notably a paper that came out a few months back by Emilie Läng and others, called Unbalanced food web in a Late Cretaceous dinosaur assemblage. I was able to read it about two weeks ago and was inspired to look more into the ideas presented. I then learned that Dale Russel suggested in 1996 a similar theory, I read a post by Duane Nash at another small blog called Antediluvian Salad on the topic, and I had a chance to watch an Attenborough documentary about the effects of the Salmon Run in Canada and what it does to the local predator populations. By the end of that, I had enough info for a video, so I made one. Voila:

It's an interesting idea, and while I'm not completely persuaded by all of its points, nevertheless I do like the theory and I have no particularly big reason to doubt it based on current evidence. Besides, the image of a Carcharodontosaurus ripping a shark out of the water is just dang cool. Land sharks vs. Sea sharks. :P

I've already gotten a lot of attention via PMs and comments about the theory, with people telling me why they agree or disagree with it. I'd like to hear your opinions about it too, so be sure to leave a comment and feel free to make a suggestion for future topics. Until next time...stay sharp, everyone! ;)

Saturday, July 13, 2013

"Porpoise Turtles" and Repenomamus

Well, this goes right up there with Sharktopus, Dinocroc, and Pizza the Hut.
(Are you catching the movie references?)
Marine reptiles are awesome. One of the "big three," as I like to call them, (the other two being Dinosaurs and Pterosaurs), marine reptiles are any group of reptiles that evolved into an aquatic niche. They include a number of unrelated groups, from giant marine squamates like Mosasaurs, to sauropterygian Plesiosaurs, to living Marine Iguanas. I get the honor of seeing some of the best extinct marine reptile specimens in the world every week, at my local museum where I recently began to volunteer. It has both the world's most complete Mosasaur as well as the only known specimen of a pregnant Plesiosaur on display. It's a nerd's paradise. Hopefully I can take some pictures of the specimens to share with you in the future.

While I would like to discuss those specimens in depth, I'll have to do that at another time. Sea turtles are going to be the topic of today's post. What few realize is that sea turtles are the only marine reptile family known to have survived the K-T extinction into modern day. You're probably all familiar with the extinct giant sea turtles like Archelon and Protostega, which are within a family called the dermochelyoidae, whose sole surviving representative is the Leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea). However, recently on PLOS, a new member of the giant sea turtle family was announced, named Ocepechelon bouyai, which has to be one of the most awesome sea turtles I've ever seen.

A big, weird, and freaky skull.
Almost hard to believe it comes from a turtle...
Why is Ocepechelon so awesome? Because it is just plain freaky (but in a good way). When I first saw the artist's rendering above, I almost thought it was a fish-eating crocodilimorph like a Phytosaur (by the position of the nostrils), but after reading it was a turtle I was shocked. Its skull (which is sadly the only part we have from this giant) was more than two-feet long, elongated, and tubular, and a horny beak, while probably present, would've been extremely abbreviated and ineffective in capturing prey. The fact that this giant was found in late Maastrichtian rocks of Morocco makes it even more exciting, as we lack virtually any fossils from Late Cretaceous Africa.

Ocepechelon's living habits are even more amazing. The authors make a compelling case that this guy was a suction feeder, and they drew a huge number of adaptations for such a lifestyle. However, he is unique among tetrapods in apparently being a pipette-feeder, like seahorses and pipefish. While most suction feeders alive today have short, wide jaws to maximize water flowing into their mouth, these fish focus on smaller prey and pick them out of the water selectively. Apparently Ocepechelon fed in a similar way as seahorses and, to a lesser degree, beaked whales, which it shares numerous adaptations with as well. The latter features inspired the nickname I posted above: the Porpoise Turtle.

So, great job to the researchers who discovered and described Ocepechelon! He's now officially my favorite Mesozoic sea turtle, and he's just further evidence that the Mesozoic was teeming with reptile diversity. A lot of recent research into other reptile groups outside of the big three also shows that virtually every reptile during the Mesozoic was doing great. We have fossil squamates, snakes, mesosaurs, crocodilians, and sphenodonts running around during the Mesozoic, doing all sorts of things. Almost makes me feel sad for small mammals, as they were the only Mesozoic group that had virtually no diversification. As with most everything, however, there were a few exceptions.

There are a few really cool mammals that lived during the Mesozoic. Repenomamus, the dinosaur-eating mammal found in Yixian, is one of my favorites, as it has guts. These guys reached huge sizes compared to other mammals, exceeding ten pounds, which is a lot for a mammal back then. Not just that but one specimen was found to have a baby Psittacosaurus in its gut, showing that these guys ate dinosaurs. The four-episode Discovery television series "Dinosaur Revolution" had a few clips that included small mammals, such as the beaver-like Castorocauda and flying squirrel-like Volaticotherium. I understand they were also going to include a section on Repenomamus, but it got cut from the project. Nobody knows why the segment got scrapped, but my guess is because it included the now-dubious taxon Raptorex kriegsteini.

Luckily, I was able to find a storyboard sequence of the scene on YouTube. Enjoy, but be warned...I was ROTFL so much after watching this. :)

Until next time, stay sharp!

Click here for Part 2:
Nathalie Bardet, Nour-Eddine Jalil, France de Lapparent de Broin, Damien Germain, Olivier Lambert & Mbarek Amaghzaz (2013) A Giant Chelonioid Turtle from the Late Cretaceous of Morocco with a Suction Feeding Apparatus Unique among Tetrapods. PLoS ONE 8(7): e63586. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0063586

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Awesome Pterosaurs and the Blog's Promo-Video

Well as I said before, since I just finished up with school I am getting more free time to do more things, like write on here. However, recently I've been caught up in reading Mark Witton's new book Pterosaurs (which BTW, is probably the best book on these extinct reptiles to date, and I highly recommend it to anyone even remotely interested in them) and have not had the attention span to tear myself away and write a new post, and during the time that I wasn't reading, I was getting ready to submit my new-and-improved version of my article to AncientPlanet Online Journal.

However, to make up for the lost time, I decided to make a new video, which I posted on YouTube yesterday covering Pterosaur diversity. It includes some new scientific information revealed in the book, as well as coverage of many of the extremes of pterosaur diversity. Enjoy:

After I was done with that, I decided that I needed something to spice up my YouTube channel and get more publicity for my blog, but I couldn't put my finger one what. Then it hit me. I needed something to promote it: a promotion video! So, I decided to throw this together over the weekend and put it up earlier today. It's not the best video I've ever made, and I was limited to using only my Windows Movie Maker program (which isn't the best for these types of videos) but I'm still pretty proud of it and it's a good start.

If anyone here has a suggestion for a future blog post or video, or simply has a question they'd like to have answered, feel free to send it by me. As always, stay sharp! ;)