In our 82nd episode, we had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. David Hone, a Lecturer in Zoology at Queen Mary University of London. He has a blog called Archosaur Musings where he talks about dinosaurs and pterosaurs, and he has contributed to the naming of more than a dozen animals (mostly dinosaurs). His research focuses primarily on how dinosaurs behaved, and he recently published a book titled The Tyrannosaur Chronicles: The Biology of the Tyrant Dinosaurs.
Episode 82 is also about Ouranosaurus, an herbivore with long neural spines, similar to Spinosaurus.
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In this episode, we discuss:
- The dinosaur of the day: Ouranosaurus
- Name means “brave lizard”
- The word ourane is Arabic and means courageous, bold. And some nomads in Niger, where it was found, call local monitor lizards ourane
- Type species is Ouranosaurus nigeriensis
- Species name refers to Niger, the country where it was found
- Paleontologist Philippe Taquet named Ouranosaurus in 1976
- Taquet found the bones in January 1965, and fossils were excavated in 1966
- Taquet first used the name Ouranosaurus in July 1972 at a public presentation of the skeleton
- Two specimens have been found, in 1965 and 1972
- Holotype is of a nearly complete skeleton and a skull, and is mounted in the Nigerien capital Niamey (can see a cast at the Museum national d’histoire naturelle)
- Taquet’s memoir, called “Dinosaur Impressions: Postcards from a Paleontologists,” said the the first Ouranosaurus specimen “was placed in the National Museum of Niger in Niamey, inaugurated by the president of the National Assembly of that country, Boubou Hama. A small Niger girl, very timid and cute, with her plaited braids, dressed like an ouranosaur in silk colored like the Niger flag, presented the president with a pair of scissors to cut the ribbon across the entry door.”
- Herbivore that lived in the early Cretaceous in what is now Africa
- Taquet said it weighed about 4 tons and was 23 ft (7 m) long, but Greogry S. Paul said in 2010 it was probably 2.2 tons and 27 ft (8.3 m) long
- Had a short tail
- Had a short, flexible neck
- Had thumb claws or spikes on each hand, and broad hoof-like second and third fingers, which means it may have been able to walk on them (may have been quadrupedal)
- Had narrow feet with three toes each
- Had pretty short forelimbs (about 55% the length of the hindlimbs)
- Could also walk bipedally. Femur was longer than the tibia, and where the muscles connected to the base of the tail was weakly developed so it was probably not a fast runner
- Skull was as high as it was wide
- Skull was about 36 in (67 cm) long, and had a long, flat heat and a long snout
- Had small rounded horns in front of its eyes
- Had a low bump between the nose and eye on each side of its face, though why it was there is not clear (for mating displays? socialization?)
- Probably spent a lot of time quadrupedal for grazing on low-lying plants
- Probably browsed low vegetation
- Had a broad beak, somewhat like a duck billed hadrosaurid (used to pull soft, leafy plants from out of water)
- Nostrils were high on the snout (easier to breathe while eating low vegetation)
- Had a wide beak and cheek teeth, and had two sets of teeth (one set of replacement teeth)
- Probably ate tough plants, as well as fruits and seeds
- Could eat tougher plants with its cheek teeth too (but not too tough, because of weak jaw bite)
- Had weak jaw muscles
- Had a large sail on its back with long neural spines (looked somewhat like a Spinosaurus)
- Spinosaurus and Ouranosaurus lived millions of years apart
- Somewhat similar to Dimetrodon, but had thicker spines than Dimetrodon
- Spines probably covered in skin
- Supporting spines were thick and flat, and the spines at the back were stiff and bound together with ossified tendons, and the tallest spines were over the forelimbs
- The tallest spines were nearly 2 ft (0.6 m) tall
- Spines may have been used for thermoregulation, display, or as a hump with muscle tissue or fat (like a camel), used to store energy
- Hump in case of a low rainy season?
- In 1997, Dr. Jack Bowman Bailey from Western Illinois University said that Ouranosaurus‘ spines looked like a modern bison’s. But not everyone agrees, since Ouranosaurus may not have needed to store fat
- Jack Bowman Bailey’s paper was published in the Journal of Paleontology in 1997 and was called “From Neural Spine Elongation in Dinosaurs: Sailbacks or Buffalo-Backs?
- Bailey wrote that Ouranosaurus and Spinosaurus and other long-spined dinosaurs had more bison-like humps than sails, because they lived in tropical climates and probably didn’t need a sail for thermoregulation, and that humps were probably used to store energy, help sheild from heat, help with long distance migration, and help with conserving energy when nesting/brooding
- Ouranosaurus lived in a river delta
- Other dinosaurs included Lurdusaurus and Nigersaurus, as well as fish, pterosaurs, and sharks
- Possible predator was Suchomimus, primarily a fish eater but also lived near the river delta (could have gone after juveniles)
- Another potential threat was Carcharodontosaurus
- Also Sarchosuchus, a giant crocodile
- Originally Ouranosaurus was considered to be part of Iguanodontidae (similar thumb spike) but now it’s considered to be part of the clade Hadrosauroidea, as a basal hadrosauroid
- Hadrosauroidea is a clade of dinosaurs that includes the duck billed dinosaurs (hadrosaurids, and dinosaurs more closely related to them than Iguanodon)
- Fun fact: Humans have two types of sex chromosomes X and Y, every embryo gets an X from the egg and if the sperm has an X the resulting XX is a female, while an XY makes a male. Some animals (including birds) have a ZW scheme where the egg alone determines the gender. And unlike humans the “homogametic sex” is the male with a ZZ and the female is a ZW. Crocodiles and Alligators do not have sex chromosomes and the gender is instead determined by temperature (with higher temperatures typically resulting in more males). And since all modern birds have ZW genes, it’s likely that non-avian dinosaurs did too.
For those who may prefer reading, see below for the full transcript of our interview with Dr. David Hone:
GARRET: We are joined this week by Dr. David Hone. He is a lecturer in Zoology at Queen Mary University of London. He has a blog called Archosaur Musings where he talks about dinosaurs and pterosaurs, and has contributed to the naming of more than a dozen animals, mostly dinosaurs. His research focuses primarily on how dinosaurs behaved, and he recently published a book titled The Tyrannosaur Chronicles: the Biology of the Tyrant Dinosaurs.
So, I saw that you were originally working with living animals as a zoologist before making the switch to dinosaurs. Can you tell us a little bit about why you decided to switch?
DR. DAVID HONE: I think decided is probably a strong word. As with so much in academia with research opportunities at Masters, PhD level and even beyond, it’s really more about serendipity in how these things go. So as a child I’ve always been interested in any live animal, virtually. Few things really didn’t grab me. But any live, and plenty of dead things including dinosaurs, Dimetrodon, Megalosaurus, various, you know all the key things that everyone always cites that got them excited.
I had no real preference for living or dead. Probably living slightly edging it. I wasn’t a child who was dinosaur, dinosaur, dinosaur, even though of course I thought dinosaurs were great. And so I did a degree in zoology, which was obviously a much more general degree. Though I actually did the one available paleontology course as part of that. And it was only when I was doing my Masters course that a project on dinosaurs actually came up and was available for a research project, and I thought well that looks kind of fun. And a good friend of mine was kind of into dinosaurs and was kinda getting back into it at the time. And so I took that on, and then of course I’m hunting around for a PhD and I’ve just done a thing on dinosaurs.
So obviously when a paleontology PhD became available and I was somewhat suited to it and I was already in contact with the supervisor over what I’d done for my Masters, then well it wasn’t a big surprise that I kind of fell into it. But I’d applied and obviously not got for projects on fish behavior and birds and I’d applied for a whole bunch of PhDs, but the one that I got offered first was in paleontology. It was actually on pterosaurs. And then of course once you’ve done a PhD you’re kind of a paleontologist at this point.
And so yeah I do still retain an interest in lots of living species. I try and work them into my research. It forms a major part of my teaching as well. But yeah when you speak to a lot of paleontologists, and obviously particularly guys who do dinosaurs and the big Mesozoic reptiles, it’s that what I always wanted to do from age dot. And I’m quite an anomaly in that sense in that I was just interested in everything and that’s what I happened to drift into.
GARRET: Yeah well I can relate because I was interested in everything too, and I have a degree in engineering, and now I’m just immersing myself in dinosaurs so I totally understand just loving all of the science.
DR. DAVID HONE: Yeah, and it just, whatever bit grabs you or becomes available or is appropriate at the time. If I’d not taken it, I took a year out between my degree and my masters, if I hadn’t done that, that project would probably have never been available and none of this would have happened, so it’s…
GARRET: There’s a lot of coincidence and luck and chance that goes into this, for sure.
DR. DAVID HONE: Oh huge amounts, I think more than a lot of people realize. Yes you’ve obviously gotta be interested and dedicated, but the number of people who say well you know, I always had this fascination with mammals, but then I was asked to look after the slugs for a couple of weeks, and now they’re mad on slugs or snakes or jellyfish or amoeba, of which they probably never considered before.
GARRET: Yeah it’s great. So in that respect do you have a favorite dinosaur?
DR. DAVID HONE: I do, and for the dinosaur kinda literate audience it might make sense that I keep saying I need to find a new favorite because I do lots of outreach stuff and I do lots of events with kids, and they always ask this, and I bring it up and then of course they’ve never heard of it. And then I have to try and explain why I find it interesting. But the attention span just drops because they think I’m gonna say T-rex.
But my favorite thing is actually Amargasaurus. Even though I’ve never seen one, I’ve never even seen a cast of one, and for those who don’t know this is a sauropod but it’s very odd because it’s really quite small for a sauropod and it’s got a pretty short neck for a sauropod and then it’s got these really weird row of kind of double spines coming out the neck, which is something virtually no other sauropod has. It’s part of the group called the dicraeosaurs and they do have rather unusual kind of getting towards ornamented necks, but compared to every other sauropod these are quite unusual. So I like it because it’s a kind of a rule breaker. It’s small, not big, it’s got a short neck, not a long neck, and the neck is actually really interesting and I do have a lot of work and a great deal of interest in signals and communication, socially sexually selected structures, displays, and this has pretty much all the hallmarks of that. And that’s actually quite odd when the rest of the sauropods are largely free, or at least if they are doing something like this they’re doing it in a very very different way.
GARRET: Yeah that’s a great one, we have a little model of that one.
DR. DAVID HONE: I’ve got two tiny ones that I picked up at some fossil show years ago for a Euro each in Germany, and they were Chinese and hand painted. And they’re one of the most accurate little dinosaur models that I’ve ever seen. I’ve never seen them again. The guy had like a whole crate of them, and I just bought a couple because I went oh they’re neat, and everyone who sees them go wow where the hell did you get them? No idea. Never seen them before, never see them again. This one day this guy, and he had nothing else, he had nothing else but Amargasaurus in two colors. So I have the grey one and the orange one and that’s it.
GARRET: That is great. Yeah I kinda had the same problem. Mine is a little bit more common. My favorite is Ankylosaurus, but I was just at the grocery store and I was wearing a Stegosaurus shirt, and the woman said that’s my favorite dinosaur. And she mentioned like well maybe it wasn’t the smartest dinosaur but I still like it. And I was like Ankylosaurus is my favorite and he probably wasn’t too bright either. And she looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language, so…
Jumping into a little bit of your work, you wrote about Protoceratops and that it likely developed its frill for either sexual display or social dominance. So can you tell us a little bit about how you got to that conclusion and what you think?
DR. DAVID HONE: Yeah, well as I just said with the kinda socio-sexually selected signaling structures, this is something that I’ve been a major part of driving for the past few years, and I think it kinda comes from my background as a more general biologist. And so just looking, you know, everyone’s familiar with some of the more exaggerated things you see in various dinosaurs. You have the armor in ankylosaurs, but the plates in Stegosaurus, the big crest in the hadrosaurs, the obviously the frills in the ceratopsians, but there’s horns and stuff in various theropods and so on and so forth. And bizarrely these have kind of been written off from being sexually selective. I mean you take one look at these in anything like a deer and lion, so many birds, and go well this is a sexually selected […] (00:06:43), it’s a big look at me signal. In some way shape or form this is an animal either looking for a mate and going hey I’m healthy, you know, let’s get more intimate, or just a look I’m big and healthy I’m in charge. Or you know, I get to eat first kind of dominance structure.
This kinda got discussed in like the late 1800s, early 1900s, and then kind of been abandoned pretty much on the grounds that most of the time when we see it we see it in virutally every specimen. So you know every Triceratops we’ve ever found, and there’s dozens of them, they all have a frill and it’s all pretty big. And people are going yeah but that’s not what you see in sexual selection. What you see is the really pretty peacock and the dull peahen. You see the maned lion and the maneless lioness. You see the giant elephant seal with the inflatable nose, and the females are kind of small and boring. That’s not what we see here, therefore it must have been something else. And this was rampant in, particularly rampant in paleontology. It’s actually pretty common in biology.
But where people have gone wrong is there’s a thing called mutual sexual selection which is basically where males are advertising to females and going hey look at me I’m big and sexy and strong, but also females are advertising to males. And of course they’re advertising using exactly the same signal.
And actually, Thomas Henry Huxley, you know, a contemporary of Darwin who was writing with Darwin or wasn’t collaborating, but writing similar things and was a very strong proponent of evolution and natural selection had written as early as something like 1905 about mutual sexual selection and we should look out for this and it’s probably a real thing. Darwin had even mentioned it in his original book about sexual selection and then kind of ruled it out because he didn’t think that there would be a reason that you might get this. So he said maybe there’s a thing called mutual sexual selection with males and females, and then said but I can’t think of any examples so I’m gonna drop it.
But hopefully we kind of taken this up and run with it a little bit, but both sides where still kind of shorn of an example and therefore didn’t really go anywhere, even though as a concept it was out there. But it was only I think in the 80s but then particularly in the 90s and 2000s that the biologists realized that actually not only is it out there but it’s really quite common. And what it’s probably linked to, at least to a certain degree, is care. Where we see the big exaggerated male and the boring female it’s because the males are probably contributing little if anything to the upkeep of their offspring, so basically it’s all about the advertising. Because as far as they’re concerned, the female is just there to raise their offspring. Therefore they should be having as many partners as possible and the females aren’t getting anything back from the male. So it’s one male, lots of females, provided you’re a healthy male of course.
What you see to mutual sexual selection is well the females are relying on the males. So to a certain degree, so the males are helping build the nest for example or helping catch food for the offspring or keeping predators away, or just keeping the female generally well fed while she’s getting ready to lay eggs, et cetera, et cetera. And then of course it’s in the male’s interest to get hold of a good female, because it’s not just a question anymore of just mating and running off and never seeing them again. You’re now putting tons of effort into this, and if you’re putting in tons of effort you don’t want to put that all into a very low quality female who’s gonna have rubbish young or may not be able to have any at all. You want a good female, and so suddenly, not quite the glove’s on the other foot, but it’s much more closer to a partnership. A female wants a good male for the best of her offspring, but now the male wants a good female for the best of her offspring. Well how’s a female going to explain as it were that she’s a healthy mate? Well the obvious thing to do is do exactly what the male’s already doing and go down the route of showing off.
And this is what we actually see when we start looking; huge numbers of species now that people are really studying this have this mutual sexual selection, mutual advertising features. The common starling, the European starling which I know is also introduced into the US and so is very common over there, these big glossy animals, or little glossy animals. But it’s been shown on both sexes that’s a sexually selected structure. If you dull down the brightness of that iridescence, and it’s of course particularly bring under UV which birds can see, then the males become much less interested in a dull female as well as females being less interested in the dull male.
It’s really rampant in birds, actually, which of course is interesting because they are dinosaurs. It’s quite common in fish. We’re starting to see it in a few other groups as well. It’s probably a lot more common than we think once we actually get around to looking for it properly. Very long story short we need to stop thinking that dinosaurs can’t be under sexual selection just because males and females look the same. We simply can’t rule it out. And actually once you do that you realize that actually these frills and spikes and horns and crests have a huge amount of commonly selective structures, both in terms of their general appearance a lot of the time with various other species, but also how they grow. And this is because when you’re a baby you’re mostly interested in not being eaten and getting big enough to one day mate yourself.
Once you’re an adult, you’re very interested in mating, and therefore attracting a member of the opposite sex. And therefore exactly as you see in living species babies of things like deer basically don’t have antlers at all, things like cows, various antlered sheep, they might have a nub. The horn might start to grow, but it’s not really doing much. And then suddenly when they’re nearly an adult these things grow massively overnight. So what you see is very small size early on and then very rapid growth just when they start to hit basically reproductive maturity. And actually if you look at the dinosaurs that’s exactly what you see, and in particular we looked at […] (00:12:16) because it was a species where we had lots and lots of individuals, we had very small juveniles, mid-sized juveniles, sub-adults and adults. They’re all from the same formation so actually it’s pretty much one population rather than scattered specimens from all over Mongolia and China, and when you measure the frills, yeah that’s what you see. They’re basically nonexistent in the babies, they’re sorta growing in the juveniles but they’re still tiny, and then the sub-adult and adult animals which as far as we can tell are reproductively mature, they’re enormous. So they’ve grown very very quickly just when these animals are probably starting to look for a mate. So they have everything in common.
GARRET: Makes sense.
DR. DAVID HONE: Well it does, and yet some people are surprisingly resistant to this as a hypothesis.
GARRET: Do you think part of that is just that in mammals, like humans for instance, males and females don’t look the same and don’t have the same sexual you know alpha male looks totally different than alpha female so they assume dinosaurs must too?
DR. DAVID HONE: Yeah I guess so, but there is obviously still mate choice you know obviously in advanced Western society, but even if you go back and look at early tribal societies really as what we understand of them and all the rest of it, you know, you still expect to see the same things. That they’re still advertising effectively on both sides, and there is choice and investment on both sides. Yes, I think there is a still a kind of human inertia or dimorphism inertia because it’s what people expect, and if you don’t know about a lot of these bird and fish examples and others, it’s still what you see because it is still very common in mammals a lot of the time. So I think that is almost certainly a big part of it.
The other thing that I’d say is, not that I don’t think it isn’t the solution to a lot of this stuff, but we’ve also got to be very careful about what we say about even big groups of individuals in the fossil record. Even things like Triceratops where we’re now somewhere in the region of a hundred decent specimens for this. We don’t know what their behavior was like. We don’t know if in addition to obviously all the other biases we have when we go out and find fossils whether or not there’s actually a male female one. There’s a whole bunch of species you can go and look at, and the males do one thing and the females do another. They live different lives, mostly in different places doing different thinks, and kind of come together to breed and go back again. So if one group is living in the lowland flood plain areas where anything that dies has a decent chance of being buried and ultimately becoming a fossil, and another group is living in the upland areas and only wanders down for a few weeks each year, and maybe that’s when the rains aren’t so there’s no flooding, you’re almost only ever going to sample one sex and not the other.
And this is the big deal, you know, you will see Centrosaurus famously and a few of the others, you know, we have bone beds with a hundred, two hundred individuals in. And several people have gone well no dimorphism and that’s gotta be fifty-fifty. You know, you can’t sample a hundred animals or two hundred animals and not have something close to a hundred males and a hundred females. Yeah you can. I’ve seen a herd of over a hundred giraffe before, and they were all females or juveniles because males don’t usually hang around with the females at all. Loads and loads of antelope in particular have what you call bachelor herds, and they’re all the young non-breeding males. And then what you have is a harem of females with one male. So actually if you sample an entire herd, what you’ll almost certainly sample is either one male with like twenty females and young, or about fifty males. What you won’t ever get is fifty males and fifty females. So it can be ludicrously misleading, even when you’ve got huge numbers of individuals.
And of course there’s mortality rates. Male giraffes die at three or four times the rate of females because they live on their own and they spend all their time wandering from herd to herd to herd looking for estrous females, whereas females live in groups where they’ve got some kind of mutual protection and defense. So actually even if you sampled all adult giraffe today in a population, you wouldn’t expect a fifty-fifty ratio. You’d probably expect four or five to one. The classic fifty-fifty sex ratio is therefore a reason at birth, but that doesn’t mean that’s what you’d expect in a normal, evolving, natural population. So that’s the other factor. I would not be at all surprised, in fact I would actually suspect, that some of these species that we know of from ten, twenty, fifty, a hundred animals we’ve only actually got one sex represented.
The problem is we don’t know which one that is and we don’t’ know what sex it is. So you know it’s a problem that I’m sure exists. How we solve it, it’s probably unsolvable. But plenty of people have said that before only to find out they were wrong by fifty years later.
GARRET: Yeah that’s the nature of science. I know you’ve found a big group of Protoceratops in the same area, and made a couple of inferences about how they behaved and how they lived together. Is this related to that discovery?
DR. DAVID HONE: To a degree. So we certainly use that data as part of a progress paper. And I should clarify I didn’t find these, or at least I found them only in the sense that they were in a museum in Japan I was in at the time and asked if anyone was working on them and was told no. That was the limit of my discovery. I actually only found out literally just before we sent the paper off that they’d been found something like fifteen years earlier and had just been sitting around. I’d assumed they’d been dug up a couple of years before, otherwise somebody would have leaped on them first time they saw them, so I was shocked to discover that these things had been knocking around since the 90s, it was ridiculous.
But yeah it’s a little group of four Protoceratops. They’re young, very young, we haven’t got any histology work, we don’t know how old they are. Based on their size and what we know my guess would be under a year old though, so they’re pretty small animals. Maybe about fifty centimeters, probably less. More like thirty five, forty, from snout to the tip of the tails. We are talking about small individuals here. You know, the skull is about the size of my fist pretty much.
And yet, so it was a group that was found together. There are a whole bunch of dinosaurs which are known from groups in particular from deserts. It seems to be common that whatever the preservation there does then to preserve whole groups locked up. But what was neat about this was there was a very young group of Protoceratops already known, actually at the same museum, which had been described as being in a nest. Which we were very skeptical of, but regardless the point is still generally true. So you had this very small group, they’re about half the size of even our tiny ones. These things really weren’t very young. Then we have at least one group of what are […] (00:18:48) called sub-adults and not quite adult size, but retaining a lot of those features, you know, the human equivalent being a kind of late teenager, fifteen, sixteen. You kind of look like an adult but you’ve probably got a couple of years growing […] (00:19:01) to go. And then adults.
And there were groups known for all of these. So we’ve got four different life stages, effectively, and they’re always in a group. And that had never been seen before. Yes we have lots of groups of dinosaurs, but actually being able to demonstrate that the same species formed in particular age-segregated groups throughout their life. We don’t find big ones with babies, we don’t find sub-adults with adults, we don’t find adults with juveniles, we don’t find juveniles with tiny juveniles. They’re always of about the same size and age, and this is as far as we know unique. I’m very sure it’s not unique among dinosaurs but it’s obviously extremely difficult to determine. You need multiple, multiple records of entire groups having been preserved together, and you also got to be confident that it’s the same species every time. Because of course juveniles don’t always look just like adults.
The reason we can get away with this with Protoceratops is that Protoceratops andrewsi has a unique tooth. It has a little kinda fang-like tooth at the front of its jaw that other Protoceratops species and close relatives don’t have, and that is present even in the hatchlings. So we’re very confident that we’ve got the same species, and that actually helps enormously with this ID and the inference.
But yeah what that tells you is that these things are hanging around in groups. It also actually helps the socio-sexual stuff because it means it’s probably not a dominant signal. Even juveniles will generally have a leader or an alpha of some description, and that hasn’t grown a bigger frill. So you know even though they’re still living in a group, so it suggests that it really is a much more adulty function. But also it tells you that this isn’t anything like armor or protection from predators because again the juveniles are gonna be vulnerable, probably more vulnerable to predators than the adults. Why haven’t they grown the frill? But also in particular it tells you that these things are actually hanging around together, and we know that one of the biggest drivers of group living in herbivores is predation, it’s a vigilance defense and a dispersal defense against carnivores. So we have every reason to think that this group living, and this clustered group living throughout ontogeny for Protoceratops is basically a fundamental defense against being eaten.
GARRET: Makes sense. Are there living animals that kind of have the same behavior that you would equate that to?
DR. DAVID HONE: To a degree. The problem that you have with this stuff of course is what we like to use often for behavioral models are either birds because they are dinosaurs or mammals because they are at least big terrestrial animals. They’re large macroscopic things. Which is at least an ecological, so even an evolutionary match for something like a large herbivore, or at least an ecological match for a large herbivore.
The problem that we’ve got of course is that both birds and mammals typically have or at least all except marsupials have offspring at a very appreciable percentage of adult size. You know, birds are often hatching chicks that are thirty percent of adult mass and they’re rearing them within just a couple of months. You know, they lay their eggs in March and by June you’ve got a fully fledged bird which is ninety percent the size of mom and dad. Mammals perhaps aren’t quite so extreme, but even so, you know a baby elephant is you know a couple hundred kilos. She’s still a big percentage of two three ton female for an African elephant, whereas this isn’t the case for dinosaurs. They’re much more like crocodiles where they’re laying, you know, forty fifty a hundred eggs and each one is coming out, you know, an adult Protoceratops is about two meters, and these hatchling slash nestling things, which already maybe a few weeks or months old, this is the quote unquote next, you know they’re like ten, fifteen centimeters long. It’s going to be one percent or less of the mass of the female. Probably more like half a percent of the mass of the female. So you know they’ve got years and an awful lot of size to grow through. So they’ve actually got a very, very different trajectory. A much better analog is some of the bigger lizards. You know, komodo dragons, […] (00:23:00) big iguanas, and of course the crocodiles. That’s exactly what the crocs are doing. But of course we don’t know that much about their biology because for all the study that we do watching a crocodile going through its whole life it lives in water, there are adult crocs around, seeing what it does day and night and underwater is basically impossible. So tracking that whole group, and of course they’re often macro carnivores, you know, even very young baby crocodiles, other than big adult crocs and maybe a few big turtles and fish, not a lot’s gonna eat them. That’s gonna be a very different case for baby Protoceratops, but also most baby dinosaurs to be honest. So it is really difficult to line up a really good analogy, whether that be ecological or evolutionary for what these animals are doing.
So yes, do a lot of animals do that? Sort of. I think a lot of the lizards do that, the iguanas certainly form clusters of single age groups throughout their life, and then they kind of split off as they get close to adult size. That’s probably the best we can do. But it does all fit with what we know of the ecology of various living species, what we see for the dinosaurs are things like bite marks, stomach contents, we know that juveniles are getting targeted. I think it makes a lot of sense absolutely demonstrating it going to be tricky. As so many things are, you know, even for the basics of how big an animal was is hard enough to do in paleo let alone what was their behavior throughout their lifetime.
GARRET: Yeah, definitely. You’ve spent a lot of time working in China, and I couldn’t find too much about working in other parts of the world, but I was wondering if you’ve found differences in excavating in the UK versus China. I know that China has some amazing perseveration of things like feathers and small fossils.
DR. DAVID HONE: Yeah, well the funny thing is I’ve never really dug in the UK because we don’t have too many good dinosaur beds over here. And mostly what we do have are very well exploited, and in particular they’re exploited by local collectors. So the kind of southwest coast where Mary Anning was starting out every single day there will be a hundred, a hundred and fifty professionals out scouring the cliffs for anything that’s fallen out the cliff, washed up, been exposed by the tide. We’re not gonna compete with that so paleontologists just generally don’t try.
GARRET: So there’s no restrictions on like private collecting on those cliffs?
DR. DAVID HONE: Well so it’s the beach and the coast in the UK is basically owned by the queen and therefore it is effectively public land, and anything you find there is yours. So again the laws vary from country to country. Having spent two years in Germany they also vary from state to state in Germany. So the laws in Bavaria are different to the rest of Germany. Brazil has recently and correctly tightened up their laws on collecting ownership and export, but anything collected before that law came in don’t count. When someone just turns up with a rock and says oh well I dug it up fifty years ago, you try proving they didn’t. You know, so things get complicated.
In the UK in the Jurassic Coast as it’s called, it goes actually from Triassic through to end Jurassic, entertainingly the cliffs themselves are world heritage sites. So all the fossils are basically falling out the cliff. You’re not allowed to dig in the cliff because that’s damaging a world heritage site, but it’s constantly eroded because twice a day the tide comes in and washes some of it down. So you are allowed to pick up anything that has fallen off the cliff or has fallen out of the cliff. In other words if you see a piece of bone sticking out you are allowed to pick that up and pull it out. You are not allowed to dig behind it for what you think might be there. This has led to some fantastic complications. There’s an amazing Scelidosaurus, an early armored dinosaur, arguably one of the best preserved and most important […] (00:26:46) full stop is from here, and it is collectively owned by three different people because three people pulled different bits of it out of the cliff at different times. We know it’s all one specimen because all the bits line up. This is actually on display in a museum in Bristol, and actually there are some casts of it which have been sent to the US and sold, but the specimen itself is still owned by three people. And of course getting that into public hands is almost impossible. Because whoever folds first and sells their piece has just made the others more valuable. So who’s going to sell first? No one. Are you gonna get them to agree? Well one guy basically owns the head. So it’s by far the smallest piece, but it’s also the most valuable scientifically. And you, just dude, not that I’m wishing this on them but until people start dying and bequeathing it to another generation or run into money troubles and are actually forced to sell it’s in no one’s interest to give up, sell, or give away any part of this specimen. And while it is on display and some tentative bits have fitted into the literature because there are some photos and things doing the rounds, it’s kinda off-limits to research even though it’s sat there in plain view. And we know we’re never gonna get our hands on it. So yeah that’s really annoying.
Going back to answer your actual question so yeah I’ve dug up one day and one afternoon in Oxford I did some digging and found a few bits. I’ve done a little bit of digging in Mexico, just a couple of days in Coahuila, the area of Coahuila ceratops and velafrons and bunch of new stuff’s coming out, and I’ve done a little bit of kind of prospecting in Alberta around the Tyrrell Museum in Dinosaur Provincial Park. The only serious digging I’ve actually ever done was when I was in China and ended up digging all over China, though I never really got into actually into the Liaoning in northeast where actually you get all these spectacular preservation of all the feathers, filamentic pterosaurs…
DR. DAVID HONE: Yeah yeah, all of that. I’ve been there and I’ve had a couple of afternoons, you know, smacking stuff with a hammer to see if anything fell out, but I’ve never been part of a serious organized dig up there. Where I have been is in the Gobi deserts, so in the Cretaceous stuff; Protoceratops, Velociraptor and all of that stuff. Or in the northwest or very west, up in the north. Which is the middle Jurassic stuff, […] (00:29:00) but Guanlong, crested tyrannosaur and a lot of early interesting radiations going on there. And then down south or south center in Hernan I’ve done some work and some digging down there where we pulled out a new hadrosaur whose name suddenly escapes me because I can’t remember what it was called in the end. But I helped dig that up and a bunch of eggs and some other things.
GARRET: Yeah I looked up a few of the dinosaurs that you were involved with discovering, and there were a couple where I’m like I’m not even going to try to say this one.
DR. DAVID HONE: Yeah, some of the names in China particularly get political because you’re often allowed to dig only at the kind of behest of the local authority, and as soon as you turn something up they want it named after their province or region or town. And given that you probably want to go back it’s quite a good idea if you name it after them. It’s not the end of the world, but I do get a bit bored of placenamesaurus, placenameraptor, you know, placenametitan and similar things like this. But yeah there’s a reason for a few of them at least.
GARRET: Yeah, especially because if you look at that species it almost certainly wasn’t just in that town, and it might give people that impression.
DR. DAVID HONE: Of course, of course, but of course you may never find another one so until you do it’s only named from six square feet where you dug it from.
GARRET: Very true. You were also involved in the discovery of Anchiornus huxleyei, which is one of my favorites because it had such well-preserved melanozomes, which gave a pretty complete color pattern. But I don’t think when you guys dug it up that you knew that, but was there anything about the fossil that you could tell was in pretty good shape or anything where you thought there might be something?
DR. DAVID HONE: Again that’s one of those ones where I had nothing to do with its excavation. I’m not sure the IVPP, so this is where I was, the Institute of Virtual Paleontology and Paleo Anthropology. That trips off the tongue, which is why everyone calls it IVPP. I’m not sure it was actually dug up by our group. I think it was actually dug up by another group over there and it ended up with us. It may have even been a farmer who dug it up, because obviously they’re digging up a lot of stuff over there. And again there’s some confusion over the specimens because anchiornus now turns out to be one of these ludicrously common things now that we know what we’re looking at. So the original specimen which we named is not very well preserved at all, and as I recall it’s headless. The one everyone associates with Anchiornis was described a few months later in Nature or Science, one of the two. And that’s a spectacular specimen with complete feathers on the arms and hind limbs, and a great skull, and it’s this beautiful specimen split in half with the left and right sides on display.
By that time we’d already named Anchiornis after a fairly broken fragment, and then actually the one which was mostly sampled for the […] (00:31:48) was another specimen again. I’m pretty sure it was a third one, which again is not as good as the spectacular one, but considerably better than the one we named.
So when we named it we kind of knew what it was in the sense that although it was badly broken, crushed, and bits missing, the characters lined it up very obviously as this super base of the split between birds and dromaeosaurs and […] (00:32:14), and depending on quite whose analysis you used and quite which data and characters of the anatomy you looked at, it kinda flitted between it’s a dromaeosaur, it’s a troodontid, it’s a bird. It collapses the branches between the two so you can’t tell them apart anymore, et cetera. And so yeah, Anchiornis, near-bird, it’s as near to a bird as anything seen at that point. But of course with a few bits missing.
And then the new specimen, the second specimen, the Nature specimen came out, and it was pretty clear that it was a troodontid, but it still had an awful lot of ties. And obviously we already had Microraptor, this famous dromaeosaurid with big long feathers on the legs. Actually, Archaeopteryx has that but people don’t realize because the best specimen, the Berlin one, someone actually cracked them off. So if you look at photos of the Berlin Archaeopteryx back from the 30s and 40s it’s got these amazing leg feathers. You look at it now and it doesn’t. But of course it’s therefore public and even a lot of scientific imagination has archaeopteryx as not having these big feathered legs or trousers as they’re often called.
But actually we had that in Archaeopteryx, we had that in Microraptor. And then we turned it up in Anchiornis and suddenly very obvious that this is a universal, and feathery legs and feathery feet are actually kind of an ancestral condition for birds, and actually there was big shift early on.
So yeah, it is a great question, but it tells you actually something about the science. I had almost nothing to do with Anchiornis. I helped out on writing some of the paper and looking at a couple of the characters, but I think there were ten or twelve authors on the paper that named it. And then, as I say, as soon as that happened we realized there was an infinitely better specimen up the road. And once the naming was taken care of and we knew roughly what it was, other people went to work on that. So I didn’t discover it, I didn’t dig it up, and I had very little to do with the description or indeed the naming. In fact my major contribution to the naming was moaning about the species name, because it’s Anchiornus huxleyei, huxley, named after TH Huxley. So I had mentioned, not that I have anything against him, in fact I have an awful lot for him, but he’s one of those people who keeps having stuff named after them, and I felt that there were a few other early evolutionary biologists, early bird and early dinosaur researchers who hadn’t really been honored in that way, and wasn’t it a good time to give one of them a name or name something for their credit? And I got overruled. Again, nothing against Huxley, and you know Darwin is perhaps the ultimate one. Not suggesting Darwin is not due an awful lot of credit, but the number of species that are darwinei now, it’s like there are other biologists. You know. It’s a great honor for people but not everyone has to name something from every family after him.
GARRET: That’s funny. So you didn’t really discover it but you kind of opened the floodgates of talk about it I guess, so that’s really good.
DR. DAVID HONE: Yeah it was, It’s one of those things that in hindsight I think everyone saw coming, that split between the birds and some of the other dromeosaurs were not going to be as clear cut as you expected. But it’s one of those things in paleo: knowing that there’s almost certainly a lot more to that story than you can see and actually finding the specimens that demonstrate that’s the case are two very different things indeed. You know, if we did not have the Liaoning beds I think we would still be just as confident that dromaeosaurs like Velociraptor are very close to Archaeopteryx in telling you something about the origin of birds. But this super-fine splitting between the troodons into the dromaeosaurs and the early birds would not be the case at all, because we’ve just got so many things from the same time and the same place shortly after the split that it’s really hard to tell them apart.
GARRET: Makes sense. I kind of like those specimens the best though because they really show the evolution of it, and without the basal ones you wonder who do these fit together anyway?
DR. DAVID HONE: Yeah, well they do and they don’t because of course they’re all flat, so all of them have got kind of flattened, crushed by […] (00:36:05). Some of them are split down the middle. So the second classic Anchiornis specimen, as I say, it looks like a left and right. What it actually is is you sectioned through the bones, so you’re seeing the inside of the left and right bone on each side, not the outside where we’ve been seeing everything else. So they looked spectacular as a kind of first approximate view. And yes, of course, there’s ludicrous and critical information in them, and in particular in the feathers and stuff, but actually when you go hmm I wonder if this has that little nub on the bone that you see in Velociraptor, well I can’t see it because I’m looking at the inside of the bone, not the outside of the bone. And to get to the outside I’d have to crack into the rock from the other side and almost certainly destroy it. So you just kinda sit there twiddling your thumbs going yeah it’s shattered. It looks like someone’s hit it with a hammer, and I’m kind of out.
So yeah they can look a lot better than they are, but that doesn’t mean they’re not very very important.
GARRET: Cool. So I have one more question before we talk about your book, and I want to ask you about it because I think being a zoologist you probably have a better understanding of this than anybody else I’ve talked to.
DR. DAVID HONE: We’ll see how this goes.
GARRET: I’m hoping, because it’s a question I’ve been wondering for a while. So I’ve seen estimates that there are maybe eighteen hundred different genera throughout the Mesozoic of dinosaurs.
DR. DAVID HONE: Yeah, fifteen hundred is the one I’d go with, but yeah we’re in the ballpark. It depends on how you argue the…
GARRET: I was erring on the high side because of the…
DR. DAVID HONE: Yeah yeah yeah, I mean some people tell you there’s eleven hundred. It really depends on your quite what you’re prepared to synonimize. But sorry, carry on.
GARRET: So right now thought here are twenty two hundred bird genera… how does that, it doesn’t make any sense to me that you can have these hundreds of millions of years of dinosaurs and have less than birds. Is it that birds fill so many more niches, or is there…
DR. DAVID HONE: Yeah I’ve been meaning to write a paper about this, a little kind of speculative review paper on this for awhile so I hope I’m not giving it away and someone’s going to rip me off. Basically the dinosaur numbers are simultaneously far too high and far too low, which is problematic. So basically, and trying not to drag this out for twenty minutes because I can really talk about this because I’ve thought about it a lot, yeah we should expect a shedload more because simply yeah the volume of time we’re looking at is a fraction of what it is for the other, so we need to add lots more in. Secondly we need to add a shedload more because there’s lots of areas which are under or totally unexplored. Yes, we’ve got a spectacular entire formation for China, but that’s still only one place at one time. What we don’t have is fifty million years later and fifty million years earlier at the same spot. And of course we’re almost certainly never going to get that. But it also we’re not, you know, animals don’t get buried and fossilized in mountain ranges, so okay they’re quite rare, they don’t have too many species, but we’re never gonna sample anything from the alpine environment pretty much ever. Things from rainforests don’t preserve well because they just break down too fast, so again we’re short on species.
So once you start adding those together, yes of course we’re missing ludicrous numbers of species. There must have been thousands more, tens of thousands more than we’ve named and described, because so much time and not sampling so much, […] (00:39:28) we’re not sampling so many environments not sampling. That’s gonna push the number way way way way way up.
Unfortunately we then need to cut it down enormously, first of all because one thing we do know is that over time diversity does tend to decrease. Even when you account for all the fossil biases that we know of, there are more species alive… well I’d say now but obviously we’ve got a big human-driven mass extinction, go back a few thousand years or a few tens of thousands years, but there are generally more species and indeed more clates than there were fifty million years ago, a hundred million years ago, two hundred million years ago, because stuff does split up more and more and more. There’s a reason we’ve still got coelacanths and sharks and things like this hanging around. There’s only a few of them but they hang on.
So that will cut the number down because life was probably just less diverse in the Mesozoic. And then the second thing we need to cut down is yeah birds in particular are going to be good at exploiting niches that a lot of the dinosaurs aren’t. Because when you’re very small you can exploit a small niche. It does not take much food to feed an entire population of birds that are ten grams each. That won’t feed one sauropod. So inevitably you’re going to have more species if things are small and actually most dinosaurs are quite big, so that actually is gonna cut the number down. One sauropod is gonna fill the niche of maybe multiple species of antelope because it just consumes so much.
And then you need to cut it down again because we’ve probably got multiple niche occupation. Again that point I made earlier about how these animals grow, you know, female antelope or female elephant is feeding herself, but she’s still exploiting the same food that she feeds on to keep herself going as she does to get her baby from naught percent of her mass to ten, fifteen percent of her mass post-birth and post-lactation period. And then the baby starts feeding for itself, and it’s now thirty, forty percent of mom’s size. Certainly fifteen, twenty percent of mom’s size. Not true of the dinosaurs. A hatchling sauropod might be a meter long, and it’s gotta get to thirty, forty meters in length and multiply by a thousand, two thousand times in mass. Oddly enough that’s probably occupying at one size, if you go to the Serengeti just because I know it well, you know a hatchling sauropod is feeding on stuff that the dic-dic are eating. One that’s a year old is eating stuff that the dicah are eating. One that’s three years old is eating the stuff that the zebra are eating, and so on and so forth. So that then strips out a whole bunch of niches.
So how do these two trade off? I don’t have a clue, but ultimately yes, the number needs to go up, and it needs to go up a lot because I suspect that the niche occupation and the reduced diversity going back in time, is way, way, way less than the numbers we need to add on and multiply by because we’re sampling two or three percent of the Earth’s surface and a fraction of the environment. You know, look at how many, yes we dig in deserts now, but a lot of them were deserts then as well. And they’re going to be low species diversity areas.
GARRET: Yeah, it almost seemed like the fifteen hundred or eighteen hundred, whatever number, is based on like how many we’ll find. It’s like okay, we might find that many, but that has nothing to do with how many were actually there.
DR. DAVID HONE: Yeah, I suspect you know ballpark pulled out of the air figure but with a little bit of knowledge and intuition, you know, tens of thousands of species over hundreds of millions, you know, a hundred million years, a hundred and twenty million years.
GARRET: It seems like it has to be to me.
DR. DAVID HONE: Pretty much. But we’ll see.
GARRET: Oh yeah, one more little tidbit about that. It seems to me, and not being a zoologist, but when I look at birds you’ll see two birds that are super similar but they can be in different genera, whereas in dinosaurs as long as their bones were relatively similar you might assume they were the same.
DR. DAVID HONE: Yeah that’s also totally an issue and one that I suspect prevents us from splitting a lot of stuff. It’s actually probably true in the areas where stuff is smaller, and indeed the way we get a different kind of preservation. So actually I’d say this is almost certainly true of some of the, actually big pterosaur clusters but yeah things like Liaoning, you know, Microraptor’s two or three species depending on quite who you believe from a few hundred specimens that actually probably cover about ten million years. I am convinced there’s probably fifteen or twenty species in there. You try telling them apart based on the bones. We can’t do it, and it’s because as paleontologists we’re limited to a morphological species concept, and if we had a time machine to go back, or if those things were alive now, we could look at their behavior, we could look at their genetics, we could look at their, you know, ecology and go you know what actually those guys never breed with those guys. That’s two species, we need to split them up. Can’t do it. Can’t be done.
So yeah there are almost certainly a ton of cryptic species in at least a couple of these areas.
GARRET: Great, well you answered the question I’ve been wondering the most about for a long time, so thank you.
DR. DAVID HONE: Oh good. And as I say so often the answer is we don’t really know, or at least I’m pretty confident that those are the factors that are influencing it judging which one outweighs the other and by what kind of magnitude is, yeah, you know, this will probably increase it, this will probably shrink it. Okay, but multiply by ten and divide by two. Multiply by five and divide by fifty.
GARRET: Okay, so why don’t you tell us about your new book the Tyrannosaur Chronicles and what people would learn if they read the book.
DR. DAVID HONE: Well hopefully it’s a kind of one-stop shop start to finish this is what tyrannosaurs were in every way that I can really get through them. So it’s not just T-rex, it features very heavily, very inevitably for actually a number of reasons, not just because it’s obviously the most famous and arguably the most popular, but you know I really try to start at the beginning. So there was a little kinda introductory section with a bit of background on anatomy and systematic and how we put family trees together and the origins of the group, and then I kind of basically follow it through: what species have we got, where are they from, how did they change over time, what are their anatomical features, what does that tell us then about how they moved, lived, fed, ran, killed each other, what the ecosystems were like, who are they competing with, who are they eating, briefly on what killed the dinosaurs because tyrannosaurus was one of the last dinosaurs, it would have seen the asteroid coming in, and then a little bit about kind of, you know, fact and fiction or controversial areas.
So I hope in at least a number of the reviews, and not just from friends and colleagues but actually entirely independent naturalists and even just book reviewers in places have said yep, you can pick this book up knowing little about dinosaurs and it’ll teach you the stuff you need to know, as in these […] (00:46:27) need to know to understand it, and then it will take you through the whole subject. So yeah that’s kind of what it is, so it is hopefully a kinda self-enclosed thing or entity just on these dinosaurs.
And the reason beyond it really does go, it’s not just a T-rex is awesome. Partly I picked the subject when I was asked to write a book by the publishers because I have worked on tyrannosaurs, I’ve named a tyrannosaur, I’ve done a fair bit of work on tyrannosaurs in particular, on bite marks and feeding ecology and behavior, but also because actually tyrannosaurus in particular is something of a […] (00:47:01) for paleontology at least and dinosaurs in particular in that we know more about this animal than any others. It’s had more research dedicated to it, we have more good specimens than many other species, and people have just worked on it endlessly. And once that happens you get this enormous snowball effect, because okay I want to work out how a dinosaur did this. Well what dinosaur am I gonna pick? Well which one do we know most about that gives me the biggest foundation of knowledge? Well it’s T-rex, so I pick T-rex, and I publish my paper. And the next guy comes along and goes well I want to work something out about dinosaurs. Well T-rex has even more known about it now, so that’s definitely the one that I should pick. So on and on and on and on it goes, and so you know just as every major project on genetics is done on […] (00:47:51) the fruit fly, every developmental work is done on […] (00:47:55) this little nematode worm, it’s actually if you’re doing a big study on muscles or joints or speed or vision or predation behavior you pick Tyrannosaurus. That’s what you do. And therefore actually if I had to pick a group of dinosaurs to write about, that’s a small comfortable group rather than all sauropods or all ceratopsians, it pretty much has to be the tyrannosaurs because one above the rest, Tyrannosaurus rex stands out as the animal that I can say most about with confidence because there are so many papers on it.
GARRET: Yeah it’s a great reason, and it is definitely the most popular dinosaur. There’s a reason it’s on our logo too.
DR. DAVID HONE: Yeah, I’d be lying if I said it certainly didn’t help my case to the publisher when they went well everyone’s heard of it. You know, however cool they are the Ankylosaur Chronicles, and ankylosaurs are awesome, it’s not going to resonate with someone who’s never picked up a dinosaur book before. That’s not why I wrote it, but equally the publishers weren’t going to publish a book that they didn’t think people might buy. And you know after Tyrannosaurus, Triceratops, Brontosaurus, Diplodocus, Stegosaurus, you’re starting to run out of the names that most people could name.
GARRET: Yeah. You might have Velociraptor but they’re all imagining the wrong dinosaur.
DR. DAVID HONE: Yeah, probably now Velociraptor, Spinosaurus of course, yeah Tyrannosaurus is first amongst equals. And in fact it’s probably first among not equals as well when it comes to what people know. Actually then it’s kind of a cool springboard in that sense because then people do at least know the basics. They know it stands on its back legs, they know it’s got a big head, they know it’s a carnivore. They’ve seen it in Jurassic Park, you have a cultural touchstone when you want to relate to things. How quick was it? That’s a really hard question to answer and we’re not great at it. As quick as that film what you’ve done seen twenty times, no. They exaggerated it. That’s really easy to communicate, and that really helps.
GARRET: So other than the speed in Jurassic Park is there anything else that you think is a little bit off or anything you wish they would change the way they depicted?
DR. DAVID HONE: Oh in the films? Well they could stick feathers on it for a start. That would improve my mood enormously. Yeah, that’s the single greatest annoyance is the lack of feathers, partly on Tyrannosaurus, also particularly on the Velociraptor, but you know there’s a whole four-hour podcast on what’s wrong with Jurassic Park Velociraptors and how did they get there and why didn’t they change it. Yeah that’s the one thing, at least for Jurassic World or the newer films. Yeah the original one had some issues, the can’t see you if you don’t move, run thirty miles an hour, there are some let’s say at best half-truths in those statements.
GARRET: It made a better monster movie though, so…
DR. DAVID HONE: Well yeah, but that’s the problem, is this stuff sticks. And one argument that I get from people is oh but it’s just a fiction and people know the difference. One, no not everyone does. A friend of mine at the Tyrrell Museum has said about once a year someone comes up to him and says well where are the real ones? And it’s because they’ve seen them in the cinema now and they’re so realistic that they assume that, they don’t think it’s a documentary but they think someone’s actually done it, and they’re genuinely surprised. And we can, you know, you can always laugh and go well some people are so ignorant, so dumb. And it’s like okay, but if those people, if there are at least a fraction of the population dumb enough to think that we have actually recreated a T-rex but bizarrely you’ve never seen it in the zoo or on TV, how many people actually think that it’s a realistic portrayal and that’s going to be a realistic percentage.
GARRET: And there’s so many people that that’s probably the only T-rex they’ve ever seen depicted in any way, so what else would they think?
DR. DAVID HONE: Yeah, almost certainly. So yeah it’s a big deal, and it bleeds into other things. I was one of a number of consultants on a tyrannosaur special and they wanted Velociraptor attacking Tyrannosaurus because it was in Jurassic Park. They explicitly asked for it. And I said don’t do it, A because they lived in different times in different places, and B because it’s ludicrous. Meercats don’t attack lions, even a whole pack of them. And that’s about the thing you’re making.
GARRET: It’s probably more realistic to show humans attacking a T-rex…
DR. DAVID HONE: Yeah, but in the final version they had dromaeosaurs, because of course that is from the same formation as Tyrannosaurus, or at least Acheroraptor or one of them, and I haven’t actually seen it because I couldn’t bear to watch. I was assured that the voice over said of course this would never happen normally, but we just want to show you it. And if you believe that I’ve got a Nigerian prince I know who has a few million dollars he’d like to transfer to your bank account.
But they wanted to show this because people wouldn’t want a T-rex documentary that didn’t have it fighting dromaeosaurs. So it really does actually have a huge impact, and this was otherwise a very serious thing. And they were making tiny changes to the anatomy that I was suggesting, and then just being yeah but we’re filming this full stop end of story no argument. Well then what’s the point of quibbling over the pupil shape in the eye if you’re just going to show something like that, because that’s what people are going to remember I can assure you. But there we go.
GARRET: Are there any other links or things you want to talk about?
DR. DAVID HONE: Not in particular. Buy the book. The link to Amazon? No it is out in the US on the 5th of July, so it’s not quite out yet. So, it will be out shortly and then the paperback will be out the following year. Yeah you mentioned my blog. I have another blog at the Guardian newspaper, their online stuff called Lost Worlds Revisited which I write with a number of other colleagues. I inevitably do the dinosaur bit, and that’s kind of it. I continue to pump out the outreach as and when I can, which is ever more restricted having to spend the best part of two years writing a book, which oddly enough kind of ate into my time. But yeah if you hunt around on the web because you liked this and want to read more or hear more there’s lots on the blog, and actually there’s a link on there to all the various podcasts and YouTube interviews and stuff that I’ve done which are all archives and various people. So if you’re not sick of me after an hour, there’s a few more hours out there answering often many of the same questions. So this was quite different for once. Normally what’s your favorite dinosaur is the highlight of the afternoon, followed by who would win in a fight between T-rex and Spinosaurus.
GARRET: Yeah, our listeners are a little bit more advanced than most.
DR. DAVID HONE: Well quite, which is why I was quite pleased that I actually got to talk about Amargasaurus rather than spending twenty minutes explaining what Amargasaurus looked like and why it’s interesting, and then what a sauropod is. It does make a difference.