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Anchiornis: sexual dimorphism

Though this was intended as an entry for an envelope art contest on James Gurney's blog, it gave me an excuse to draw something I've wanted to for a while: my speculative perception of sexual dimorphism in the troodontid Anchiornis.

Anchiornis is the first non-avian dinosaur for which true colors have been determined from the fossil, and as such we now know that it looks strikingly similar, coloration-wise, to a modern woodpecker. Most woodpeckers (with some notable exceptions, like the pileated woodpecker) are sexually dimorphic, in that the male typically possess bright red coloration on its head, while the female lacks most or all of the red. Here, I've drawn the male closer to the viewer, with his characteristic red crest and facial markings. The female, behind him, lacks the red facial markings and her crest is a duller greyish-brown.

This was drawn on a regular #10 envelope with ink, Prismacolor marker & pencil, and white acrylic highlights. Working on such a small scale with traditional media is a pain in the butt, and the details suffer somewhat as a result. This has also been touched up digitally, but the physical contest entry will not enjoy this benefit.

[Edit] This ended up winning second place in the contest. :) Very pleased.
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Atlantis536's avatar
This is an interesting theory.
8bitAviation's avatar
why haven't you been doing much traditional art lately?
EWilloughby's avatar
That is a very good question!

In essence, I think it's that I simply find digital art more versatile and more efficient. I can do a very wide variety of styles, it's easier to experiment and try new things, and it's easier to correct and improve mistakes. It's cheaper (high-quality oil paints, materials and canvases can be a real pain in the wallet) to produce, makes no mess, and is easier to reproduce at high-quality without scanning issues. I can take it with me wherever I go, provided my tablet fits in my bag. Digital painting allows for a huge amount of detail, where the detail possible in traditional painting is limited by canvas size and brush size. Digital has its drawbacks, I admit - it's too bad that I don't have originals to sell or do with whatever I'd like, and high-quality digital prints can be expensive to produce.

That said, I don't intend to give up traditional art entirely. I have been commissioned by a friend to do a pretty large-scale acrylic bird painting before Christmas, so that will be up before too long. I have noticed that my digital pieces tend to get more attention from both DA fans and professionals, so that has been a big motivator to go digital as well.

At times I do miss the scratch of pencil on paper, and the texture that paint allows for on canvas, though.
8bitAviation's avatar
oaky doke! what tablet do you use?
EWilloughby's avatar
I have a large Intuos 5 Touch. :)
PaleMount's avatar
prehistoric chickens!! :la:
fabulous by the way!
Lake-Michigan's avatar
Gosh, these things are beyond cute. :)
MattMart's avatar
Awesome! Great detail, especially in the feathers and foliage. Very impressive that this was all done on an envelope!
Psithyrus's avatar
Awesome work, love the odonate. Some dinosaurs must taste pretty good :)
EWilloughby's avatar
Thank you! I love putting dragonflies into my paleoart. :)
FatCaiman's avatar
This is fantastic! It must have been hard to make such a detailed drawing on a relatively small medium. :D I think it turned out wonderfully though. I think the sexual dimorphism makes sense too, since it's so common in birds and lizards. I like the colors you chose for the female. :D

Also, random and possibly stupid question: when did mushrooms first appear? I haven't seen them in paleoart much, or if I have, I don't remember. =P I should probably research more about the plants/fungi/etc that were present during the various time periods, but it's kind of difficult to find info on them, sometimes.
EWilloughby's avatar
Thank you, I appreciate that. :D I think more people should illustrate sexual dimorphism in dinosaurs - as you said, it's extremely common in birds and reptiles so it stands to reason that dinosaurs would have employed it also.

As far as I know, the oldest fossil containing elements that resemble basidiomycotes (the group that includes modern-day mushrooms) is Palaeoancistrus, from the Pennsylvanian, so around 310ish million years ago. After the Permian-Triassic extinction, there was a fungal "spike" where many groups of fungus suddenly flourished and exploded in diversity. I think this was the event that led to the evolution of "modern" mushrooms, so I think it's safe to say that they were pretty common in the Mesozoic. :)
ZhaKrisstol's avatar
Cute floofy little chicken butts! Seriously, this is an amazing illustration you've created, and all in traditional media on an envelope!
babbletrish's avatar
Holy cow, you didn't really draw all this on an envelope did you? Incredible!
EWilloughby's avatar
I did, and it was frustrating, haha. I scanned this before putting the stamp on, but the addresses went on the back. And thanks. :)
Maicreations's avatar
It's beautiful! :p
chid0's avatar
wow, they look so lifelike. amazing job.
Tarturus's avatar
Nice pic ^^

Just a question though: How did anyone manage to determine true colours from a fossil?
EWilloughby's avatar
Thanks. :)

In early 2010, paleontologists studying a new specimen of Anchiornis - which was extraordinarily well-preserved and revealed a full body covering of feathers, including legwings - had fossilized melanosomes embedded in the feather imprints. Melanosomes are a type of pigment cells found in the feathers of birds that are responsible for their colors. By studying these tiny fossilized structures with a microscope, scientists were able to compare their morphology to the melanosomes of extant birds. Different colors of melanosomes have certain structural differences, i.e., the structure of black melanosome cells looks slightly different from red ones, etc. Using these comparisons, it was possible to determine with a high degree of accuracy almost the entire color scheme of the animal from head to toe. The only thing missing was the tail, since it was not well-preserved enough in the fossil to derive melanosomes from it. I reconstructed the tail to be consistent with the rest of the animal, as most artists who've drawn this animal have also done.

For more information, here's the NatGeo article on the color determination in Anchiornis, and here's the original article in Science if you're interested.
Tarturus's avatar
Fascinating stuff. Up until now I'd always thought it was impossible to know the colours of a fossilised creature.
You just taught me something new. Thanks. ^^
Saxophlutist's avatar
Think body covering eh? Did they live far north or south? Or was this just an artistic choice?
Anyways, very nice. I'd cuddle with them if it weren't for their sharp claws of death. :D
EWilloughby's avatar
Artistic choice, I guess. I made them look essentially like birds - poofy. Feathers are insulators from both heat and cold, so I figured there was no reason to skimp on the feathers.
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