The Dinosaur Times
Reports about giant reptiles in the news: plesiosaurs and mosasaurs
in the Sahara, fast-growing sauropods, Jurassic fish, more!
They call me the wanderer – Neurovascular anatomy of dwarfed dinosaur implies precociality in sauropods (bioRxiv Paleontology, 4 Aug 2022).
Some parents flaunt their precocious kids, meaning they like to brag about how prematurely smart they are. Precociality in sauropods, though, has nothing to do with intelligence. It means they grew up fast. One sauropod had big ears for a youngster.
Macronaria, a group of mostly colossal sauropod dinosaurs, comprised the largest terrestrial vertebrates of Earth’s history. However, some of the smallest sauropods belong to this group as well. The Late Jurassic macronarian Europasaurus holgeri is one of the best-known sauropods worldwide. So far, the braincase material of this taxon from Germany pended greater attention. With the aid of microCT, we report on the neuroanatomy of the almost complete braincase of an adult individual, as well as the inner ears of one other adult and several juveniles (also containing so far unknown vascular cavities). The presence of large and morphologically adult inner ears in juvenile material suggests precociality. Our findings add to the diversity of neurovascular anatomy in sauropod braincases and buttress the perception of sauropods as fast-growing and autonomous giants with manifold facets of reproductive and social behavior. This suggests that – apart from sheer size – little separated the island dwarf Europasaurus from its large-bodied relatives.
It’s fun to translate scientific names to their English equivalents. We could translate the first sentence to, “Big-Noses, a group of mostly colossal Lizard-Footed Terror-Lizards, comprised the largest Landlubber Backboned-Animals of Earth’s history.”
Any evidence that these precocious and colossal creatures evolved? Not much is shown in this paper, unless you close your eyes and imagine dinosaur cartoons from your childhood.
Whereas bipedal early sauropodomorphs (in which sauropods are phylogenetically nested) were probably capable of swiftly tracking down prey, the later evolutionary history of the group is characterized by an unrivaled increase in body size (among land-dwelling vertebrates), accompanied with herbivory, an extreme elongation in neck length and graviportal quadrupedality.
For fun, try translating the Latin jargon into plain speech: e.g., “sauropodomorphs” into “Lizard-footed-forms” and so forth. That’s all the terms really mean.
Fossils of 30-foot prehistoric marine lizard unearthed in Texas (Phys.org, 4 Aug 2022).
A local reporter tells how some Texas fossil hunters found some bones from a mosasaur in a riverbed northeast of Dallas. A museum curator describes mosasaurs as the ‘great white sharks or killer whales’ of prehistoric times: the apex predators. “Imagine a 30-foot swimming pointy-nosed Komodo dragon with flippers and a forked tail,” said Ron Tykoski to describe a mosasaur. Why was it in Texas?
He says 80 million years ago, pretty much all of central Texas was underwater. The shallow, warm seawater and abundance of food in the area created the perfect habitat for creatures like mosasaurs.
Tykoski seemed mostly focused on “how the creatures evolved over time,” but we don’t see him looking for soft tissue in the bones, or speculating on how such large creatures fossilized without decaying. Even modern whales don’t fossilize in place. They are quickly devoured by marine worms. Somehow, this one waited 80 million years for rains to reveal its bones along the riverbank. Lucky for its discoverers to be there when they became exposed!
Mosasaur fossils have also been found in western Kansas in soft sediments that are now on the surface of the Great Plains. The Fick Museum in Oakley has samples on display.
Plesiosaur fossils found in the Sahara suggest they weren’t just marine animals (University of Bath, 26 July 2022).
My, how times have changed. Mosasaurs in Texas? Plesiosaurs in the Sahara? The theme of this story is that plesiosaur bones found in the Sahara might have swum in fresh water, judging from other bones nearby. If so, they were adapted to fresh water and salt water. River dolphins “evolved” that ability four times, the press release claims.
Freshwater dolphins evolved at least four times – in the Ganges River, the Yangtze River, and twice in the Amazon. A species of freshwater seal inhabits Lake Baikal, in Siberia, so it’s possible plesiosaurs adapted to freshwater as well.
They claim the bones are 100 million Darwin Years old. If adapting to fresh water is so easy, why don’t we have freshwater tuna and freshwater sailfish? No need to think or ask questions; the experts have spoken. Just enjoy the artwork of a Spinosaurus attacking a freshwater plesiosaur. Ooh. Aah.
100 million-year-old footprints of world’s biggest dinosaur species found at restaurant in China (Phys.org, 21 July 2022).
A restaurant owner in southwest China looked down at his courtyard floor and saw a dinosaur track. It was the print of a sauropod that when alive would have stood as long as three school buses lined up in a row. What a surprise! The article notes, “The restaurant previously had been a farm and the footprints had been buried by layers of dirt to shield them from weather damage.” What? After 100 million years, they were worried about a little weather damage?
‘Fossil Fishing at the Farm’ – Jurassic marine world unearthed in a farmer’s field (University of Manchester, 29 July 2022).
A photo of someone holding a beautiful fossil of a Jurassic fish begins this press release about a “remarkable site” of fossils that was found in a farmer’s field in Gloucestershire, England. One must see it to believe it. The fish has its mouth open, suggesting it was buried extremely rapidly while still active.
Among the best finds were several fossil fish with excellent details of their scales, fins and even their eyeballs. One of the most impressive discoveries was a three-dimensionally preserved fish head, belonging to a type of Jurassic fish called Pachycormus. The fish looks as if it is ‘leaping off the rock’ that it was contained inside.
In addition to the fish head, the area revealed “three-dimensionally preserved limestone concretions, the remains of fish, ancient marine reptiles, squids, rare insects and more” that will surely keep paleontologists busy for years. How could such Lagerstätte, as exquisitely-preserved fossils are called, be covered up so rapidly? By a flood, perhaps?
Field observations and preparation of the fauna found so far indicate that the Court Farm fossils were rapidly buried, as suggested by the absence of any encrusting animals or burrows in the sediment. The layered concretions around the skeletons formed relatively early before the sediments were compacted, as the original sediment layering is preserved. These concretions prevented further compaction and compression from the overlying sediments during burial and thus preserved the fossils in three-dimensional time capsules.
Though unusual, such well-preserved fossils are not rare. The press release mentions other famous Lagerstätte in nearby locations. “The site is quite remarkable, with numerous beautifully preserved fossils of ancient animals that once lived in a Jurassic sea that covered this part of the UK during the Jurassic,” said paleontologist Dean Lomax. But how did insects get buried with fish?
Bizarre Meat-Eating Dinosaur Joins “Rogues’ Gallery” of Giant Predators from Classic Fossil Site in Egypt’s Sahara Desert (Ohio University, 8 June 2022).
Speaking of the Sahara, this story also mentions Spinosaurus but no plesiosaurs. Perhaps because the Abelisaurid theropod that left its bones in the sand stayed away from the water’s edge, or maybe it was too far to walk from Egypt to Morocco where the plesiosaurs swam.
The fossil in question, a well-preserved vertebra from the base of the neck, was recovered by a 2016 MUVP expedition to the Bahariya Oasis. The vertebra belongs to an abelisaurid, a kind of bulldog-faced, small-toothed, tiny-armed theropod that is estimated to have been roughly six meters (20 feet) in body length. Abelisaurids—most notably represented by the horned, demonic-looking Patagonian form Carnotaurus of Jurassic World and Prehistoric Planet fame—were among the most diverse and geographically widespread large predatory dinosaurs in the southern landmasses during the Cretaceous Period, the final time period of the Age of Dinosaurs. Along with Spinosaurus and two other giant theropods (Carcharodontosaurus and Bahariasaurus), the new abelisaurid fossil adds yet another species to the cadre of large predatory dinosaurs that roamed what is now the Egyptian Sahara roughly 98 million years ago.
The article doesn’t mention evolution, but wonders about the ecology indicated by the bones.
“During the mid-Cretaceous, the Bahariya Oasis would’ve been one of the most terrifying places on the planet,” says Salem, a new student in the biological sciences graduate program at Ohio University. “How all these huge predators managed to coexist remains a mystery, though it’s probably related to their having eaten different things, their having adapted to hunt different prey.”
A possibility not considered is that they didn’t die there. Maybe they were washed by water currents that concentrated and sorted animals by mass, shape or density. There’s only a hint of evidence for that in the article: “Unlike more thoroughly explored rocks of the same age in Morocco that tend to yield isolated bones, the Bahariya Formation appears to preserve partial skeletons of dinosaurs and other land-living animals with a relatively high degree of frequency.”
Animals today do not fossilize when they die. Even the largest mammals or reptiles quickly decay on the surface; they are devoured by scavengers, or decompose under the steady onslaught of fungi, insects, worms and bacteria. Marine animals typically float on the surface and are picked apart by birds or fish, or fall to the bottom and are devoured by worms. Those that do get buried are often disarticulated and rendered unrecognizable because of bioturbation. To have large reptiles well preserved requires very special conditions. Slow and gradual evolution doesn’t provide them. A global catastrophic flood does. A recent flood also explains the high incidence of soft tissue preservation in dinosaur bones (see list of evidence at ICR). The geologic column may enjoy the status of a consensus to many scientists, but consensus is not science. It’s only the currently accepted narrative. The evidence against it is often ignored, reinterpreted or even censored. Last year, David Catchpoole reported for Creation.com that bacteria on the seabed have been revived from the age of dinosaurs! How could they stay alive for 100 million years? Doesn’t it make more sense to say they are not that old? The article dubs the evolutionary belief “the millions-of-years fiction.”
Those who believe God created dinosaurs might wonder how so many big beasts could coexist, as the scientist wondered in that last article. Remember, though, that the Earth is a very big place! Take a look at some of the areas where large animal density is highest: the Serengeti, for example, where conditions are favorable to large herds of wildebeest, antelope and zebra, elephants, giraffes, hippos and other magnificent animals, with predators like lions and cheetahs on the prowl. If you were to fly a drone over these popular safari lands, the big animals would not be standing shoulder to shoulder. They would be scattered about with large areas between. In the ocean, areas with some of the densest populations of marine mammals, like off Dana Point in California where Captain Dave has one of the best whale-watching cruise services around (highly recommended), his customers will occasionally see a whale or two, and maybe a big dolphin stampede with about 100 members, but there’s plenty of room for all the mammals—and fish and birds, too. The same would have been true when dinosaurs were alive. If the landscape could have been observed from an airplane a few hundred feet up, the biggest dinosaurs would quickly look small, with plenty of space between them for roaming, hunting, and living. The predators would not be devouring every prey animal as soon as it was born. Like in Africa today, many prey animals live long and healthy lives before being attacked by a lion or crocodile. Quite a few die of old age.
Don’t expect that the age of dinosaurs was filled with “terrifying places” as shown in the Jurassic World movies. Nobody can say for sure if they would have attacked humans. That’s Hollywood. John Stonestreet at Breakpoint (4 Aug 2022) pointed out that our entertainment industry that thrives on shock value has to keep upping the ante.
Take the Jurassic Park series. In the first movie back in 1993, a mere five people were eaten by dinosaurs, all of whom were confined to a tiny island. Fast-forward a few inferior sequels, and a score or more people are gobbled by a host of mutant CGI dinos prowling the entire planet along with giant killer grasshoppers. The lesson is clear: Audiences had already been shocked by dinosaurs coming back to life, and they wanted more. The old thrill would no longer do.
As people become more desensitized to death by CGI monsters, Stonestreet continues, Hollywood is now turning to human cannibalism in order to keep raising the shock index.
Don’t be deceived. God’s world was designed as a functioning ecosystem of balance, harmony and life. Death entered at the Fall, and evil still reigns today. But God has not left himself without witness, Paul assured the pagans in Lystra: “he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17). That was in a society that knew the terror of deadly beasts. But throughout history, most people have understood each creature’s place in the big scheme, and lived long and satisfying lives in spite of the dangers.
It would be fascinating to go back in time and see what the age of dinosaurs was really like. Did humans coexist with them? They did if one accepts Genesis, because all mighty beasts were created on Day 5 and 6 before man. And why not? The book of Job mentions powerful creatures like Behemoth and Leviathan, that aroused awe in the eyes of people who must have known what the Lord was talking about. Some day in heaven I’m hoping to download the videos in heaven’s library and watch the replays of Genesis 1-9 to learn how things really looked during Creation and the Flood. That’s a hope that only Christians can have.