The Paddlefish Has a Real Weird Face.

I’ve been having a great time following Paleoart Twitter for the last few years. You might like it, too!

Of particular interest to me is Darren Naish (you can help fund his amazing work over here) of the Scientific American blog, Tetrapod Zoölogy. Last week, he published a drawing of the Paddlefish, a kind of sturgeon, that, while not closely related to sharks, has a similar cartilaginous skeleton. But what’s most wonderful about it to me is its weird-ass face.

Continue reading “The Paddlefish Has a Real Weird Face.”

Tyrannosaurus Rex in His Sunday Bonnet

Our vision of dinosaurs keep getting more and more weird. I’m not claiming any particular accuracy here, but I’m pointing out just how little we know, and how speculation like that in All Yesterdays can be a powerful tool to help us get our heads around just how weird the universe is. Continue reading “Tyrannosaurus Rex in His Sunday Bonnet”

The Tully Monster is So Weird, It’s Hard to Draw

The Tully Monster, Tullymonstrum gregarium, is an extinct creature from about 300 million years ago (That’s tens of millions of years before there were dinosaurs). It looks like a squid, has a single arm — elbow and all — and has a spinal cord, completely unlike a cephalopod.

It’s insanely weird.

Continue reading “The Tully Monster is So Weird, It’s Hard to Draw”

Tokarahia: a Sleek, Small Ancestor of the Largest Animal in History

The Tokarahia is a small (about 6m long), extinct ancestor of the modern baleen whales. It has a few, probably vestigial, peg teeth in the front of its jaws, but the rest of its mouth was almost certainly filled in with baleen. I love its sleek shape.

Continue reading “Tokarahia: a Sleek, Small Ancestor of the Largest Animal in History”

The Quetzalcoatlus Northropi

This story is funded by Patreon patrons like you! Thank you!

We might see a lot of dinosaurs and associated paleocritters around here for a while. After all, the past is an alien world to which we cannot go, and from which we get brief, weird glimpses that we must use to furiously speculate. And, unlike most alien worlds, it’s something that actually happened!

We can see here, for instance, a Quetzalcoatlus Northropi. Scientists have speculated about whether it could muster the strength to make powered flight at all because of its enormous size.

The human smudge by the left knee is the size of a modern human, who showed up some 65,000,000 years after this guy died. BIG NOTE! This stance is wildly inaccurate, and based on what turns out to be crappy science! Thanks to Paleo Twitter for helping me figure out that they weren’t like the seabirds I grew up with, but probably more like bats!
The Quetzalcoatlus was a big-ass animal. With a wingspan somewhere around 54 feet, it’s bigger than many aircraft. Current thinking is that it probably ate on land like a stork, since grabbing fish on the wing would have caused too much drag, crashing it into the water.
I’m speculating here that it doesn’t want its prey (really, you-and-me-sized dinosaurs) to see it up in the air, so it has a white underside to disguise it against the sky. From above, though, it’s got bold stripes that, from a distance, break up its profile against the ground: in an air rivalry, whoever’s got the greatest altitude wins. I’m also speculating, though, that these guys are so big and consume so many calories that they’re territorial; once you’re actually up close, the bold stripes are a bit of a “come at me, bro!” They’re a bold warning; “I can have stripes THIS BIG and you still can’t take me down!” Sort of the equivalent of a fiddler crab’s claw, where it’s gotten so big, it’s not actually useful for claw-based activities other than display.
I’ve also given it a big nasal passage. It’s got a crest of bone over its head that most artists use as a display. I’m speculating that it’s a support for the giant jet intake that such a prodigious consumer of oxygen must have had.
In this image, it’s making a run to launch itself into the air. Though the wings are foreshortened by the traditional side-on perspective of this drawing, its wingspan is twice the whole length of its body. The ground is sloping away because it’s moving into slope lift. It’ll pull up its feet as soon as it’s got just enough airspeed to catch some lift, and then suddenly, like the Northrop flying wing it’s named after, it will be a sleek, low-drag flying wing. With no long tail like its early ancestors, its shape is extremely unstable; just turning its head dramatically changes the forces on its body, making it terrifyingly maneuverable for such a huge creature.
An interesting note: I started to paint the ground green. Grass, though, had just evolved when this guy was coming into existence, so I don’t know what weird form it had. So I made the background a blue-grey, as though it’s on a rocky cliff.
To give you an idea of the size, I’ve added a humanoid glob to its shadow. By its knee, you can see roughly how big I would be standing there. But I gotta say, I don’t think I’d stand there.