Wednesday, May 9, 2012

WTF Nature? Four Derpy, Scary, and Otherwise Weird Prehistoric Creatures

Note from Tom: Hey there Internet! It's Finals week over here and...well, I can't write a post. Filling in for me this week is my good friend Ivy, come to share her love of Dinosaurs. YAY DINOSAURS! Posts by yours truly will happen again next week and a new poll is up again this week. YAY POLLS!


Um…well…hi, Internet!
I’m sure you’re all on here expecting our dear, lovely Tom…but I’m afraid he won’t be making this week’s announceme--..writing this week’s blog. Unfortunately our gallant author encountered a nasty little accident while researching our topic, something I’m afraid I warned him of a great many times!

You just can’t study the inner workings of a marine reptile’s jaws in the Cretaceous while wearing a meat thong. (It was hard Salami. wink wink--Tom)

But not to worry, Internet, dear ol’ Tom’ll pop out eventually I’m sure. For now, however, I’m afraid you’re stuck with me. So allow me to introduce myself; my name is Ivy. Yes, like the plant. Yes, like the Batman villain. YES, like the Christmas Carol. I’m a buddy of Tom’s and, upon his desperate urging while being swallowed alive, have courageously taken on this endeavor. I don’t usually write things like this, but I’ll give it my best shot as I indulge in a favorite subject of mine… Weird-Ass Beasties from the Dawn of Time.

It sounds a bit like a horror movie from the 20s, doesn’t it? But don’t get your hopes up for two-headed Tyrannosaurs battling it out in black-and-white on a claymation screen; the little tour I’ll be taking you on is much more colorful, much more fun, and honestly, much weirder. 

Well...Okay, it's pretty hard to top that.

To start off we’re gonna take a trip to China. Well…China several hundred million years before it was China. Nope, this here is the early Cretaceous period, the “beginning of the end” section of time where dinosaurs hit a virtual evolutionary explosion of creativity and superiority. This is the period of time where the most famous dinosaurs in the world waltzed; from the massive Stegosaurus with his heavily plated back  and spiked tail, to the powerful Triceratops with his three-horns and enormous frill, and the enigmatic villain of the movie Dinosaur—Carnotaurus. 

Hard to forget that..uh...attractive mug shot.

But while big names like Diplodocus and, yes, Tyrannosaurus rex were strutting about and making children stare in awe, the Cretaceous period was busy making clever little things behind their backs. And one of those clever little things was an early oviraptosaur; the group of specialized dinosaurs who would be known for their powerful, blunt beaks, long neck, long legs, and long-fingered, bird-like arms.

Essentially they were ostriches with nutcrackers instead of beaks, hands instead of wings, and a strange penchant for stealing eggs from animals that could bite them in half
But unlike the heavily beaked Oviraptor for which oviraptosaurs are named, the primitive Incisivosaurus had a rather…unusual evolution. Well…that’s perhaps not quite accurate, as it was in the process of evolving that famous beak for which its relatives—a very species named “egg-thieves”—are known. You see, Incisivosaurus was buck-toothed.
Like the strange little mutant baby of a rabbit and a bird, Incisivosaurus is even named for his outrageous teeth, teeth which shrink steadily as the Cretaceous period rolls on and its relatives take form.

Paleontologists also suspect the “derp” gene might have originated in this future egg-stealer.
Okay, so the sweet little herbivore that wants to grow up to eat eggs might not be the most terrifying of beasties. He might lean a teensy bit towards the cutest, or the most likely to sire Derpy Hooves. Next on our list, however, is a fellow you might already know the name of…might have seen on TV…or in a very old book. But this handsome devil has an evolutionary trait that even the most creative of monster movie writers would never imagine.

Well we’re still in the Cretaceous, Internet, but we’re not quite in China anymore. More like off the coast of it. The coast of anywhere, actually; this special “little” guy is pretty much worldwide. In fact, if he hadn’t been stricken from the record 65 million years ago, we’d probably have our oceans practically ruled by these toothy reptiles. You see, they were the top predators in their day…and for a good reason. Not only were they ridiculously numerous—coming in every size from 9.8ft to 45ft—they were spread everywhere. There was a mosasaur of some sort in almost every sea on the planet during their time period and there were very few things that threatened to eat them once they hit adulthood (except other mosasaurs, who were partial to the taste of their smaller brethren.).

Mosasaurs are my personal favorite creatures of practically all time. Sure, they nearly exactly match the nightmarish sea monsters that sailors told elaborate stories of, and sure there are drawings of creatures that look disturbingly similar to them eating ships. Sure, they’re the horrible offspring of a snake, a crocodile and a seal. And maybe they swim through the water with an undulating motion and with large, intuitive eyes and some crazy good hearing…but how can you say no to those gaping jaws and pleasantly flared flippers? D’aw in a bucket, babies.

But my love affair with this giant lizard relative—as hot and semi-kinky as it may be—isn’t what I’m here to tell you about. Nope! I’m supposed to tell you about the very reason our dear Tom is missing—Mosasaurs had an extra set of jaws.

Open your mouth and put your finger to the roof of your mouth and tell me what you feel.
The roof of your mouth, right?
Well if you were a mosasaur who somehow had fingers and you put your pointer to the roof of your mouth your hand would come back bloody. If it came back at all. See, these pretty guys had a second set of upper jaws at the center of the roofs of their mouths that allowed them to literally drag food down their throats. That’s right. They had this nice little handle that pulled you into their mouths. So even if you had some amazing chance of escape, it would be too late because you were already past the gums and heading on your way to digestive fluids capable of rending the scales of a fish that could have eaten a bus into nothing but mush. Think about that for a minute and try to sleep soundly tonight.

Look  right there, where the throat would be. See those rather randomly placed teeth? That’s a mosasaur equivalent of a grappling hook.

Oh, but I’m not done. While you’re now properly afraid of large bodies of water, I’m about to make the braver of you a little more paranoid. See, that lovely little evolution? It isn’t just prehistoric monster news. Nope, there’s a living, breathing creature that has that lovely little development. More than one, in fact. And there’s a good chance you’ve seen one. Might have even touched one!
Boa constrictors.
That’s right, those sweet little snakes you keep in your homes? The ones that grow big enough to eat a cow? That wrestle crocodiles in the amazon and win? They have mouth hooks. And they climb up drains. So, ya know, don’t be looking to bathe anytime soon. You might get dragged down the grate by a three-jawed gulper.

Now imagine that big enough to swallow a great white shark whole.

Sharovipteryx (Shar-ovee-terrix. Stupid Silent P's--Tom)
Lizards and their relatives are probably pretty low on your to-love list now, aren’t they? I wouldn’t blame you, honestly. Its hard to maintain love for something that could swallow you whole and pull you  back down if it tried to vomit you up. But don’t worry, reptiles don’t just come in big bad and toothy and this next guy will sooth your lizard-shaped fears. We’re going back a few million years, past the beginning of the Cretaceous, through the Jurassic, and to the Triassic period. This is a time of all sorts of silly looking creatures, a time where the fun fellows were struggling to find their place in the world. Dinosaurs were still a fad—something that was probably expected to just roll along like the famous frilled Dimetrodon or the lesser known Postosuchus. And amongst these new developments was a small little lizard with big ideas.
Weird ideas, but big!

See, Sharovipteryx apparently looked at the sky and, like the Wright brothers, made a weird decision.

He must’ve seen some blueprints for a pterosaur and said, “That looks cool, but they’ve got it copyrighted. I better think of some great, creative way to do the same thing!” And well…he pulled it off! Sharovipteryx is a gliding lizard.

A gliding lizard who propels himself through the air with a membrane stretched between its back legs.

No, that wasn’t an error.

Its back legs.

It’s believed it took to the skies in a manner similar to a delta wing aircraft, but however it did it, it must have been a sight to see with its butt doing the steering.

Dracorex hogwartsia
Back to the Cretaceous, folks, but never fear! We won’t be going near the water and we’re also going to be leaving China and all of its neighbors far behind. For me its home sweet home, here in North America where the grass is mostly green and the trees are essentially trees. But we’re not here to ogle at North American pines, or to hold discussions about Bermuda grass…which wasn’t even around back in the Cretaceous. Nope, we’re here to see a strange pachycephalosaur—a domeheaded dinosaur.
(Packey...No, no fuck I give up.--Tom) 

All you dragon fans and all you world of wizarding fans are going to love this stunning beast—Dracorex hogwartsia. A flat-headed pachycephalosaur, which in itself is strange, Dracorex  is famous for its very dragon-like head. When it was first discovered it created quite a stir, being the first dinosaur to really look like a dragon. I mean, look at that fellow and tell me you wouldn’t think it to breathe fire at any second?

Since that first discovery by amateur fossil hunters, however, some things have come up. Famous paleontologist Jack Horner is more than a little certain that the Dracorex is actually a juvenile of the much larger Pachycephalosaurus. This is made more likely as only adults of Pachycephalosaurus have been found, and only juveniles of Dracorex have been found. He also believes that Stygimoloch—who, one must admit, looks right smack dab between a Dracorex and a Pachycephalosaurus—is is an older form of Dracorex. Because Pachycephalosaurus was the first found and first named, however, if this belief is found to be true by the majority of the paleontology world, the rather wonderful name of Dracorex hogwartsia, as well as Stygimoloch, will be lost and all known specimens will be re-identified as Pachycephalosaurus.



This sort of thing is actually fairly common, for those of you unfamiliar with that concept. The most famous incident is the Apatosaurus/Brontosaurus episode, in which two fossils were identified as two different species only to be found to be the same dinosaur. As Apatosaurus was the first to be officially named, all specimens of Brontosaurus became Apatosaurus.

So there you have it, Internet. Three prehistoric beasties you’ve probably never heard of and one given to you in a new light. Know any of these facts? Recognize any of the creatures? If you do give me a shout out! These are only four of the dozens of weirdos I know, and I’m always happy to share some of my love of prehistory!

Thank you, Goodnight.


  1. This was hilarious. I'm saving the Pachycephalosaurus picture for a reaction whenever someone's talking shit.