My Top Ten Paleontological Stories of 2014

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I've been thinking about this for a while. So I made one of my own. 2014 has been an impressive year for paleontology. But I think these are the best. This list includes published data AND unpublished data. NOTE: NONE of the images used here belong to me. They belong to their rightful owners. One image is scribbled on by me.

UPDATE: I accidentally included an extra entry even though their should be ten. I chose to remove my least favorite on this list which in this case is Qianzhousaurus. Sorry Qianzhousaurus.

10. Nanuqsaurus-From The North Came The Furry Tyrannosaurs
Disappointed about Raptorex and (probably) Nanotyrannus? No worry! We have another pygmy Tyrannosaurid and this time it ISN'T a juvenile of a known species (or unknown in the case of Raptorex). Nanuqsaurus holds the distinction of being the northern most Tyrannosaurid and for being unusually small. It is also likely that it had feathers due to it's location and small size.

9. Amphicoelias No More-The Shrunken Giant
This is a REALLY recent find but I found it fascinating enough to give it it's own spot here. Basically a new study found out that there might have been a typo in Cope's description of Amphicoelias Fragilimus' neural arch height. Cope listed it as 1,500 milimeters, but it may have actually been 1,050 milimeters. This reduces the size of Amphicoelias Fragilimus (still results in what is probably the largest animal of the Morrison though). 
Worse, Amphicoelias and Diplodicus might be the same genus. Since first name has priority, Diplodicus is at risk of becoming of the next Brontosaurus. However, Diplodicus might qualify for the status of nomen protectum (protected name) and Amphicoelias will become a nomen oblitum (forgotten name). But we need more bones to clarify if these two are the same genus. 

Np by LordOfstamps 

UPDATE: It turns out the paper for this claim isn't the proper final version. The final version will come out some time later. There is also some skepticism about the "typo" claim. Stay tuned.

8. Atopodentatus-da fuq?
Atopodentatus-unicus.jpg
AAHH!!!!

Atopodentatus unicus. by MALvit
AAHH!!!!!!!!

Atopodentatus wins the award of having the most fucked up mouth of any vertebrate. Ever. It essentially had what looks like a vertical chelsea smile on the upper lip. A less disturbing description would be like that of a zipper. An even more baffling description comes from the authors. They compared it to flamingos. Really. But I guess the flamingo analogy is apt since Apodentatus was probably a filter feeder. 

7. Triassic Titan-Biggest Biped Ever?
A new Prosauropod has been discovered. It may have been bipedal. Ok but here's the catch. It was bigger than T. Rex and may have been the largest biped ever.
 
Amphicoelias has shrunk, but prosauropods have grown. Grown to a size never expected. Until now, it was thought that dinosaurs didn't reach impressive sizes until the Jurassic. The Triassic Titan (doesn't have a proper name yet but I will go with the nickname made up by :iconhodarinundu: for now) shows us that not all dinosaurs were restricted to a certain size by croc relatives in the Triassic. It gives potential for future finds of giant Triassic dinosaurs.
However I would like to caution that it may be too early to conclude that this animal was an obligate biped. It was probably a relative of Aardonyx. Aardonyx had evolved some quadrupedal attributes. It's forearms were capable of limited pronation and may have even occasionally walked quadrupedally. If that is the case, then the Triassic Titan may not have been an obligate biped but rather a falcutative biped or even an obligate quadruped. More data will give us an answer. 


6. Dreadnoughtus-Titanosaur Rosetta Stone
When I first heard Dreadnoughtus, I thought it was that unnamed gigantic Patagonian Titanosaur. It turned out it was a different dinosaur altogether. Personally I thought that Dreadnoughtus was overhyped (which is why it isn't higher on this list) because other than it's completeness, it isn't a terribly interesting dinosaur, appearance-wise. Nevertheless, it gets a spot on this list due to it's relative completeness compared to other dinosaurs of it's size. Better yet, the holotype wasn't fully grown at the time of death! Thanks to this find, we can reliably estimate it's size.


5. Spinosaurus-Crocoduck Of Doom
I would go on a rant about extended abstracts, the "Wait for the monograph" cop-out and what a terrible venue Science (and to a slightly lesser extent, Nature) is, but I know better. 
Anyway Ibrahim et al. found some new Spinosaurus material. Apparently Spinosaurus is semi-aquatic (no surprise there) and was mainly piscivorous (again, not surprising). But this new material reveals what is apparently an unusually small pelvis and hind limbs. They even suggested that Spinosaurus was quadrupedal (there are some issues with this). Also they gave Spinosaurus a dip in the sail for no explainable reason and placed the tall spine in the unlikely (IMO) sacral position (I find the Headden/Cau/Hartman shape from a few years back to be more likely but I will explain this later). 
So we basically have a unique dinosaur! So why isn't it higher? It's this low on the list for pretty much the same reasons as Dreadnoughtus: hype. We were first teased about this new reconstuction a few months back. We were all pumped up for the paper and what did we get? A low-detail extended abstract that caused more problems than it solved. They didn't even bother to provide photos of their bones for reasons that elude me. Worse, their conclusions are impossible to independently verify due to the very nature of the paper and the presentation of the data.
Don't think I'm being too harsh on Ibrahim et al. though. I WILL move them up to the #2 spot if they somehow manage to publish the monograph before the year ends (which is unlikely but not impossible. It depends on when they started writing the monograph).


4. Archaeopteryx-Black Is Back/The Origin Of Flight (Again)
Ryan Carney has recently responded to the 2013 study that claimed that only the tips of the wing feathers were black. He stood by his original conclusion about the entire wing feather being black at SVP this year. So what does that mean? Archaeopteryx may have been a Mesozoic crow after all!
On a related note, another SVP presentation seemingly presented an answer to the From-The-Ground-Up/From-The-Trees-Down debate: Both theories are correct. Proto-birds could have orginally been arboreal four-winged gliders/fliers like Microraptor. They then lost their leg feathers and four-winged aerial abilities. They then proceeded to evolve true two-winged flight from the ground up. Archeopteryx is transitional between the four-winged fliers/gliders and two-winged gliders/fliers. 
Illustration of feathered dinosaur at scale

3. Cartorhynchus-U Mad Creationists?
We found another crucial missing link! Cartorhynchus is a small Ichthyosaur relative that could probably move about on land like a sea lion. Even more interesting is it's lack of teeth. This suggests that it was a suction-feeder and probably wasn't a direct ancestor of Icthyosaurs (basal Ichtyosaurs had teeth) but a relative of that ancestor.
Cartorhynchus also solved the mystery of the relationships of Hupehsuchia. For many years it was debated if Hupehsuchia was related to Icthyosaurs or not. At one point, it was even suggested that Hupehsuchia were Archosaurs! Thanks to Cartorhynchus, we can now confidently say that Hupehsuchia are Ichthyosaur relatives in Icthyosauromorpha which also includes Icthyosaurs and Cartorhynchus. Ichthyosauromorpha seems to be related to Thalattosaurs and Wumengosaurus.

2. Kulindadromeus-Feathers For All?
An exciting new discovery from Siberia. Not only is this dinosaur fucking adorable, it has some really complex integument patterns. The tail and some parts of the legs and arms seems to be scaly, but the body is covered in fuzz and has something similar to type 3 protofeathers on it's upper arms and thighs. The upper part of the lower legs have a kind of integument that is unique to Kulindadromeus. They appear to be a bunch of ribbon-like filaments emerging from a base plate. Godefroit et al. straight out call them "Feathers" but I am skeptical that the structures on Kulindadromeus are homologous with protofeathers. A bunch of filaments emerging from a single base plate is not predicted by any hypothetical feather morphology. Regardless of whether or not they are feathers, Kulindadromeus is a unique little dinosaur. 


And the number one paleontological find of 2014 is...............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................

1. Deinocheirus-The Nemegt Moose-Mimic
Move over Struthiomimus. I now have a new favorite Ornithomimosaur! What was once the most mysterious dinosaur of the 20th century is now an animal who's appearance and lifestyle are well understood. Thanks to two new specimens (one of which is bigger than the holotype!) we now have a good picture of Deinocheirus. It was no typical Ornithomimosaur. Unlike it's smaller relatives, it was rather fat and probably couldn't run very fast. It also had a structure on it's back that wasn't a hump or a sail, but something in between. Previously this year we speculated it had a flat spoonbill-like beak based on preliminary info, but this new description reveals that it's head was sort of a cross between a Hadrosaur's and an Ornithomimosaur's. It even has possible indirect evidence of feathers in the form of a pygostyle (though not everyone is convinced it's a pygostyle). That adds a third independent development of a pygostyle in Coelurosauria. Speaking of which, how well known are the tail tips of other Ornithomimosaurs?
We can now clarify the dietary habits of Ornithomimosaurs thanks to this find. It has long been suspected that Ornithomimosaurs were omnivores/herbivores and it seems this is now correct. This new find reveals that Deinocheirus had gastroliths, chunky proportions, a downturned dentary, and a REALLY low EQ compared to other Theropods. These are all in line with herbivory, but the fish remains suggest that Deinocheirus wasn't 100% herbivorous. Due to it's enviornment, Deinocherius may have behaved like a moose. It would have waded into the water and sucked up water plants and occasionally small animals. But the gastroliths do seem to suggest that Deinocheirus sometimes fed on plant material harder than water plants. Rather than weapons, the claws were likely used for pulling down tree branches and uprooting plants. All in all, a very exciting find and the best paleontological find of the year without a doubt.


So that's it. Anything that I missed or could have re-ordered? Opinions are welcome.
Published:
© 2014 - 2020 ProcrastinatingStill
Comments38
anonymous's avatar
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TheMightyBrachiosaur's avatar
It's not 60m was ever a probable size for the titan. At best, it was only ever likely to barely scratch out the other largest ones based on reasonable estimates. It being nothing exceptional is nothing surprising IMO.
ProcrastinatingStill's avatar
Are you talking about the Triassic Titan or Amphicoelias?
TheMightyBrachiosaur's avatar
Amphicoelias. I generally don't call it by name because I can never remember how to spell it. Also, was it suggested both species are within Diplodocus (one way or another)? Because the giant wasn't the type species.

As a sidenote, I've not read the paper yet, but plan to.
Orionide5's avatar
I think several fish can challenge Atopodentatus for freakiest jaws on a vertebrate! 
ProcrastinatingStill's avatar
You sure? I don't think any of them can top zipper-face here.
randomdinos's avatar
randomdinosHobbyist Traditional Artist
I think you were too soft on ''there are some issues with this'' on the quadrupedal Spinosaurus. :P
ProcrastinatingStill's avatar
I don't feel like elaborating further.
randomdinos's avatar
randomdinosHobbyist Traditional Artist
True, I think every paleo-fan knows which are those issues.
Lamastok's avatar
As long as Spinosaurus is still considered bipedal - which I doubt TBH - it remains the heaviest biped. With full bones, there's no way it could've been less than twenty tons.
ProcrastinatingStill's avatar
There is NO reliable evidence for the twenty ton estimate. That estimate was from a 2007 study which was full of flaws.  Also the ONLY bones of the body that are solid are the legs. The rest of the body probably had air sacs, lungs, etc. that would lighten up the body.  An eight ton estimate is more likely.
ProcrastinatingStill's avatar
Read that again. AFAIK only the LEG bones of Spinosaurus are solid. Also a Spinosaurus is not like a Paraceratherium. Spinosaurus would have had air sacs and lungs that would have made the body lighter. Do you want me to bring in Scott Hartman so he can explain why the 20 ton estimate is unlikely?
Lamastok's avatar
Even with air sacs and with only solid leg bones, there's no way Spinosaurus could've been eight tons. Other Spinosaurs, such as Suchomimus (the example Incinerox used here) would need to be much heavier compared to their size than Spinosaurus for it to weigh 8 tons. 
ProcrastinatingStill's avatar
Scott had this conversation on his journal. 

My only doubt about it is the massive weight, how a long bodied animal thats 20 tonnes could sustain itself on two limbs? Even with your corrected measurements i just feel that this thing might be just way too heavy to support such a massive weight on two legs, it'd either need specific adaptations to do so, either Very strong, powerfull legs, which it didn't in any way have, even considering your reinterpretations or a completely reworked body plan, which would make this thing even weirder than it currently is. At the moment, the weight is the only thing that makes me think that it was still a quad, but i do agree with most of your corrections  on the papers.

 I'm glad to see people like you working to give us a better understanding of this animal and prehistoric life in general, keep up the good work!
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:iconscotthartman:
ScottHartman Sep 17, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
Where do people keep coming up with 20 tonne mass estimates? There is no reliable support for such an absurdly sized mass estimate. Further more, 20 tonnes is no where near the biomechanical limits of bipedality (as easy evidence, we know that sauropods reached at least 60 tonnes and possible 100 tonnes or more, and they only had twice as many limbs!).

There simply is no rational connection between mass estimates and quadrupedalism in Spinosaurus, and wherever this internet meme came from I hope we can shut it down before it becomes more prevalent.

Please check out my website www.skeletaldrawing.com/ for more of the science behind drawing dinosaurs!
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:iconaustroraptor:
Austroraptor Sep 17, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
IIRC its a calculation based on some details on the paper, mainly the fact that it had full bones rather than the pneumatic "hollow" ones of other theropods.  

Considering even smaller animals with full bones weighted as much or more, its not that far fetchedeither.   

Still, you're the specialist here, so im taking your word for it.
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:iconscotthartman:
ScottHartman Oct 28, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
The solid bones do indicate a change in density, probably from the .85-.9 range up to 1.0-1.3 or so. Note that while this is a fairly significant increase in mass relative to volume, it's still on the order of 17-25%, not doubling or tripling it.
Lamastok's avatar
I guess Scott is the specialist here, as Austro said. You're probably right about this. I still doubt the eight tons estimation though. 
ProcrastinatingStill's avatar
Dal Sasso came up with the eight tons estimate and he worked with the "neotype".
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Archipithecus's avatar
ArchipithecusHobbyist Traditional Artist
Aquilops? That's a pretty interesting little dinosaur.
vasix's avatar
vasixHobbyist Digital Artist
The shrinking of Amphicoelias is pretty interesting...as is the suggestion that it could actually be a rebacchisaur as I read somewhere but I can't remember where...
theropod1's avatar
theropod1Student Traditional Artist
As regards Amphicoelias, giant Apatosaurus specimens would probably be bigger if their downsized figure were correct (but one also shouldn’t ignore the huge size of their extrapolated vertebra using Cope’s measurement). But it turns out that irrespective of this not even being the final version, the measurements of the shrunk version which they use to support their suggestion of a typo actually deviate more from those given by Cope than the ones based on the original size, both probably just using the wrong landmarks anyway. furthermore the typo scenario would be totally inconsistent with what cope writes about the vert’s overall size ("at least 6 ft and probably more") So there isn’t really anything to support their suggestion, and considering that I’d stick with the original figure. The claim of this being a typo also is nothing new, but has never byyn supported by anything compelling.
ProcrastinatingStill's avatar
The authors of that study are making a more "proper" version of that paper. I can't believe I'm saying this but wait for the paper. 

I know that sounds hypocritical of me considering the fact that I've been ragging on Ibrahim et al. for telling us to not criticize them and to wait for the paper (So these controversial ideas are gonna be allowed to run around unchallenged for what might be years or decades? "Wait for the paper/monograph" is indeed a cop-out).
theropod1's avatar
theropod1Student Traditional Artist
I’m aware this is only a sort of preprint, and of course I will wait for the paper before "passing my final judgement" on the issue.
But yeah, it’s annoying. I also find it annoying when authors (as in the case of Ibrahim et al.) make statements that, if called into question, they claim will be substantiated at a later date. It’s understandable that they can’t manage to put everything into a single paper published in Nature or Science, but the logical option would be to turn to a proper journal ( a journal that won’t cut down your paper to 6 pages or less and put it behind a paywall in exchange for a huge fee). In this case however, lenght and quality of documentation don’t appear to be the issues tough.

I also don’t really believe in the "the finished paper will show major changes as compared to draft" logic. I know lots of papers that I also knew from preliminary versions, and usually the revisions to the content are minor and don’t affect the key statements. Of course it may well be that the authors are actually checking discussions on this matter on the internet to see what points are made about it, so imo there is anything wrong with discussing its contents.

So on the plus side, 1.05m for the height of the preserved part is actually a conceivable typo, because if the right hand types one character ahead it’s this sort of thing that results from it. But sadly, this figure isn’t more consistent with anything else. Also (and especially due to Cope’s rivalry with Marsh), I can’t seriously believe that he wouldn’t have checked his figures for typing errors before sending a manuscript whose main point is the size of the specimen to the journal.
ProcrastinatingStill's avatar
You didn't finish your sentence in the first paragraph.
theropod1's avatar
theropod1Student Traditional Artist
Oh, and while I’m at it, the cranial material of Nanuqsaurus is pretty much the same size as that of Lythronax, so it isn’t alltogether that small (almost 7m long).
theropod1's avatar
theropod1Student Traditional Artist
Thanks, finished it now.
anonymous's avatar
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