STL Science Center

STL Science Center

16 February 2018

Giant Skeletons

One of the best skeletal reconstructions I have ever seen is that of Futalognkosaurus as illustrated by Nima Sassani. The image is enormous and I am going to link it here rather than describe the image in great detail. Enjoy this enormous dinosaur and its enormous skeleton.

15 February 2018

Quietly Documented

The turnaround time from fossil recovery to description for Futalognkosaurus is actually fairly standard. Discovered and recovered in 200 and described in 2007, Futalognkosaurus was only unknown to the world for approximately 7 years (with the 87 million year fossilization and exposure period). In the grand scheme of fossils that is actually not that bad a return from fossil to publication; considering it includes transportation of a number of very large skeletal elements and preparation, study, and characterization as well it is actually somewhat impressive. Since that publication Futalognkosaurus has somewhat been lost in the general awe of titanosaurs instead of standing out on its own very much.

As one of the most complete large dinosaurs ever discovered, it is famous for that distinction if for nothing else. That is a point that has been highlighted numerous times on popular media like the Smithsonian's online magazine and Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week (SVPOW), a popular venue for discussing sauropods. Dinosaur books describing the landscapes of South America that were written after the description was published make mention of the giant and even detail what inferences have been made about the animal, though there are not any singularly dedicated books, for children or otherwise, available on the market at the moment. An application launched in 2013 has probably been the most active way of viewing and interacting with Futalognkosaurus for the public. In conjunction with the Royal Ontario Museum, the app Scopify created a vignette for the display piece of Futalognkosaurus in the museum, bringing the sauropod to life on handheld devices and cellphones.

For the most part Futalognkosaurus does not make a giant impact on popular culture in visible media. However, despite a lack of popular media and materials, Futalognkosaurus has appeared in murals, many illustrations, and features prominently in the Royal Ontario Museum. The name is not well known, but many may recognize the sauropod as a titanosaur in illustrations and murals.

13 February 2018

Anatomy of a Titan

When Calvo, et al. (2007) described the titanosaur Futalognkosaurus they knew that their animal was one of the most immense animals that ever lived and that it was big for a sauropod, which we can all admit is saying something. Imagine someone describing a whale as "enormous, for a whale" and you might have a good idea of the scale of intensity of describing a sauropod that was larger than others of its kind. The description that Calvo, et al. released included some nice photographs, location details, and skeletal maps of Futalognkosaurus. It is not like we do not expect this kind of thing from a description paper, it is just always fairly delightful when this kind of thing is done well and in vibrant colors, as this paper is.

12 February 2018

One Worthy Video

Perhaps because Futalognkosaurus is difficult to say, the titanosaurid sauropod has not appeared in any official film media. There are plenty of amateur images of displays from museums and other things (like illustrations that were scanned). The video from WizScience shown here makes use of both illustrations and display photos. It is also one of the only videos online that talks about Futalognkosaurus in any length.

10 February 2018

Same Hemisphere, Different Continent

©Nobu Tamura
The western hemisphere is not the only side of Earth where we find giants, but we do find a lot of them. Many of these giants come from the tropical Cretaceous of Patagonia, an era and land rich with titanosauriform sauropods. Some of these have very straightforward names (e. g. Argentinosaurus, Titanosaurus) but some have names that are nearly impossible to spell correctly on the first try, such as Futalognkosaurus dukei. Futalognkosaurus is known from a large portion of the skeleton, which is a large skeleton. The neck is composed of 14 tall, deep vertebrae leading to an estimation that the neck itself with soft tissue may have been as wide as 1 m (3.3 ft). The pubis is a 1.37 m (4.5 ft) long bone, meaning that the pelvis is amazingly enormous in this dinosaur. These bones are not the only known fossils of Futalognkosaurus. The entire known skeleton, attributed to three specimens and accounting for 70% of the total skeleton, allows for a well inferred estimation of total length. Estimations run between 26 - 30 m (85.3 - 98.4 ft) of total length for the sauropod. The name reflects the enormous estimations and is, as many dinosaur names are, derived from language of the local indigenous peoples. Mapudungun, the native language of the Mapuche people of Chile was used to name the dinosaur by Calvo, et al. in 2007 and translates to "Giant chief lizard" (pronunciation of this name is given as "foo-ta-logn-koh-sohr-us").

09 February 2018

Adult or Juvenile Size?

Instead of a wonderful work of art this week, we will end this week with a size comparison of Siats and Siats. The fossil remains of Siats that have been discovered and analyzed indicate an animal approximately the size of the darker shaded version of Siats in the image here. The estimated size of Siats, as we can see here, is around 9 m long and 2.5 m tall at the hips. If this theropod was indeed a juvenile, the estimated full grown size of Siats would have been slightly larger than a Tyrannosaurus at 12 m long and 3.5 m tall at the hips. The largest known Tyrannosaurus, Sue at the Field Museum, is 12.3 m long and 3.66 m tall at the hips. The largest estimation for Tyrannosaurus is approximately 13 m long, only slightly larger than Sue or the estimation of an adult Siats.

08 February 2018

What You're Made Of

Reading the description paper or watching the interview with Pete Makovicky allowed one to look at what fossil remains Siats is composed of. In terms of fossil discoveries, from Utah, Montana, China, or anywhere else, Siats is a pretty average fossil. Unfortunately, as someone that studies the skull, there is only post-cranial material for Siats so we do not know much about how its head looked or functioned. Another thing we do not have direct evidence for at this time is feathering on this dinosaur. Inferences can be made regarding the feathering of Siats based on familial evidence, but it is important to note that the illustrations that show feathering are using phylogenetic inferences and not evidence directly from the fossils; in case anyone asks if there are feathers on this fossil when you are discussing dinosaurs one day it is important to have the correct answer.

Despite not knowing much about the skull of Siats there is enough information in the fossils for researchers like Zanno and Makovicky to know that Siats is a theropod dinosaur. These include the shapes of the pelvis and the known vertebral elements, as one would suspect. Seeing those bones on a table and hearing what they are does not necessarily tell anyone where they are in the body or where they were positioned exactly. For that reason we have skeletal illustrations that we can refer to, such as this one. Additionally, there are elements of the legs and feet, specifically portions of the tibia and individual phalanges belonging to both feet. These are not enough to flesh out the entire feet and tell us exactly what the feet looked like either, but remember, a lot of what Siats looked like comes from its known familial relationships. These relationships are well enough known that the scientific illustrations that have been created using the inferences and knowledge of these dinosaurs are well received and considered accurate.
From Zanno and Makovicky 2013