Okay, well, allow me to explain myself. It was World Penguin Day not too long ago and I got the lovely idea to create a semi-fluffy Spinosaurus…with penguin color patterns. It doesn’t make too much sense to have king/emperor penguin yellow hues around the neck, but it certainly does look striking, doesn’t it?
Spinosaurus was a large theropod – possibly the biggest ever known – that spent most of its time in the water. Its hind limbs, laughably tiny (its legs were to it as arms were to T. rex) made it…awkward on land, at best. I restored it with webbed feet and a weird pseudo-fin on its tail to enhance its swimming power. The extremely tall vertebrae along the back formed a strange “M” shape instead of a semi-circle. It was also likely not thin. The bones wouldn’t have been visible in life, giving the structure more of a hump-like appearance.
I’ll make a short essay on the voyage of Spinosaurus from weird Dimetrodon-a-saurus to the amphibious monstrosity it is today (upon completion of a more serious restoration).
Before we begin, I’d like to point out a fun fact: Tyrannosaurus rex is often abbreviated as T. rex (and more often erroneously written as “T-rex”) and is one of two organisms, the other being Escherichia coli…E. coli, that are commonly known to laymen by their scientific abbreviations. One of the largest killers in history and one of the smallest, respectively.
If you’re reading this, you should have a rudimentary understanding of what a Tyrannosaurus is. T. rex was a large theropod dinosaur that lived in the later years of the Cretaceous, right up until the K-T extinction event some 66 million years ago. They pushed thirteen meters in length, four meters in height (at the hip), and probably maxed out at around 6,000 kilograms. Estimates on weight depend on who you talk to and the body composition configuration you’re most comfortable with. The 1.5-meter skull was capable of exerting 12,000 PSI. To put that in perspective, a big dog can put down 300 PSI with its jaws. The saltwater crocodile holds the trophy for the strongest bite force of all extant organisms at a whopping 7,000 PSI…which is still only a little bit more than half of T. rex‘s.
I appreciate Tyrannosaurus as arguably one of the most well-studied prehistoric animals…ever, really. Its only contender is none other than Triceratops, whose scattered remains rest buried all over the American midwest alongside that of Tyrannosaurus. If we owe the extensive studies done on rexes on their popularity as the dinosaur is another argument for another day, but we cannot ignore the amount of information we know about them.
Approximate average size
Some indication of sexual dimorphism
Growth trends & aging
…and we can’t ignore the amount of information that we can only infer or straight-up don’t have.
Locomotion extrema (i.e. max speed, whether it could sprint, etc.)
Sounds/colors/other soft tissue-dependent traits
How paleontologists attempt to skirt around some of the more…nuanced aspects of Tyrannosaurus‘ (and really any other extinct animal) biology is through something called phylogenetic bracketing. Consider the figure below.
Tyrannosaurus belongs in a subdivision of theropods called Coelurosaurs – which includes tyrannosaurs, dromaeosaurs, ornithomimids, extant birds, and so on. Phylogenetic bracketing is simply looking at the traits of relatives and ancestors of an organism to create a well-informed guess to fill in missing details (until we find direct evidence that either contradicts or supports standing inferences). From the list of unknowns above, we can only really derive conclusions about one detail: Integument.
Integument is, bluntly, body covering. Skin, scales, feathers, scutes, you name it. For decades, dinosaurs had been assumed to be scaly. That’s not exactly an incorrect assumption. From their discovery until the late twentieth century, evidence for any other covering besides scales was minimal if not nonexistent. The link between Archaeopteryx, birds, and dinosaurs was not yet fully understood, though we did know there was a relationship. It wasn’t until small maniraptors preserved in similar substrates as Archaeopteryx (i.e. Microraptor & co.) did paleontologists realize how common feathers were in theropods.
But Tyrannosaurus, the size of a school bus, along with other gargantuan predators of the Mesozoic, were kept completely scaled in life restorations. Once more, this wasn’t an erroneous assumption. So far, only small theropods had been found with hints of feather preservation – until the freak that is Yutyrannus was discovered in 2012. A tyrannosaur of a similar size to Tyrannosaurus (really only about ~3m of a difference), Yutyrannus is the largest dinosaur to have been preserved with direct evidence of bearing feathers. A dinosaur of comparable size to Tyrannosaurus – which belonged in the same family group, as well – wearing a coat of fluff? What does this mean for our favorite movie star?
With this new information, along with prior assumptions made from Dilong, T. rex being completely scaly is likely a thing of the past. Bear in mind that the quantity and placement of feathers on Tyrannosaurus will remain unknown until more direct evidence is found.
But, uh, I’ve only slightly opened this can of worms about phylogenetic bracketing and integument. Crocodilians have primitive feather production genes. Birds have feather production genes (duh). Birds and crocodilians,are archosaurs, meaning they share a common ancestor that gave rise to crocodilians, dinosaurs, and extant birds.
This common ancestor needed to have the feather production gene for this to happen.
All dinosaurs might’ve been able to grow feathers.
Mosasaurus hoffmani – An ancient relative of modern snakes and monitor lizards, Mosasaurus was a titanic predator of the seas during the Cretaceous. It reached measurements pushing thirteen meters.
A quick little thing I did during my environmental economics class. We were watching a series of films about fisheries, and I thought to make the illustration topical – with a marine reptile cruising along at the surface. She’s enjoying herself, I believe.
I favor pink skies over blue. Though I’m typically on #teamcoolcolors, a pink sky is more…aesthetically pleasing…I guess.
I’m sure many artists whose subjects are people cal relate to this sentiment. The hand’s too big. The arm’s not long enough. Something else isn’t long enough. It’s tough to stay consistent without a strong baseline. People, cars, extant animals, and plants are as abundant as they come, so creating references is as easy as asking a friend to stand still for a few moments. So, lately, I’ve been focusing on making side profiles for the animals I draw with designs I intend to refine later.
The most recent illustration of a brach, whose colors are derived from a moray eel.
Hartman’s skeletal reconstruction, based on available data as of 2014.
The painting on the left is a skinned, muscled, and colored Brachiosaurus altithorax. Next to it is a skeletal reconstruction by Scott Hartman, whose works have been used by many in the paleo art community for reference or to make their own references. An agreeable man who has embraced and allowed others to use his illustrations (unlike some people with rather over-inflated egos), I thank Hartman for helping me create one of my more favorite reconstructions.
My most recent Mosasaurus reconstruction is also derived from a Hartman illustration. It should be noted that none of the illustrations I make that have used a Hartman skeletal (or from any other source) will be available on RedBubble. This is concept work, as I take the time and effort to eventually create actual art that departs from these bland posed shots.
I’ll also take the time to acknowledge that this is my first ever WordPress blog post! Rejoice! No longer will I have to cram descriptions on Instagram or Reddit – all my blabbering will now remain here. I don’t know when my next original illustration will come through, since I’m still doing a ton of skeletal “dress-up” work like above in preparation for future projects, but I do guarantee that it’ll involve something feathery.