Friday, October 30, 2015

A Paleonerd's Analysis - BBC's Walking With Dinosaurs Part 2

Well then, amongst the paleo-media sensation which is Dakotaraptor, I just managed to finish  Part 2 of my analytical dive the series which is Walking With Dinosaurs. If you haven't read my analysis of the first two episodes, you can be sure to check them out here. For those of you which have, however, this next part will be covering the third and fourth episodes of the series, Cruel Sea and Giant of the Skies. Oh, and if you haven't heard about Dakotaraptor yet, go now! It's awesome! Seriously, I'll wait for you. Heck, maybe I'll even find the time to write a post on it.

Like last time, these notes are not just limited to me checking over the facts presented, but just observations on a variety of things in the series, good and bad (but mostly bad). I will also not go into too much detail about all the animal models, as that would take WAY too much time and probably end up sounding rather repetitive.
Cruel Sea
  • Only 15 seconds in and we’re already over-embellishing this Liopleurodon by giving a poor Eustreptospondylus the axe.
  • Also, how the heck did the Liopleurodon get that close to shore? I’m sure we all know that the moment an eighty foot long animal tried to do that, it’d be beached.
  • The idea for the above probably came from knowledge that orcas will skid to catch prey in shallow water, but even then orcas are much smaller than this Liopleurodon, and they preform it on sandy beaches, not rocky slopes.
  • Time frame is Oxfordshire during the Tithonian 149 mya. Most of the animals in this episode actually do manage to hail from Oxford, but a lot are actually from the older Oxfordian (157.3–163.5 mya). (Hint: note the names…)
  • Speaking of things too heavy to haul out on land, how the heck are the Cryptoclidus, which the documentary says weigh eight tons, hauling themselves around a beach?
  • Also, recent discoveries have shown that cryptocleidoid plesiosaurs had tail flukes, which was a surprise when first announced in 2010. Nobody knows how or if they worked in locomotion, but they still definitely had them.
  • The Rhamphorhynchus are skimming. Short answer: this probably didn’t happen. Long answer: read Mark’s post over on his blog.
  • Also, the Rhamphorhynchus have some really ugly models, even by the standards at which scientists often describe them as snagly-toothed ugly little bulldog-pterosaur things.
  • “Most sea reptiles return to the land to lay eggs” – Presumably they’re talking about other marine reptiles at the time with that statement, but that seems no longer true. In fact live birth is now known in almost every major group of Mesozoic marine reptiles (sea turtles are an exception), or can be inferred from their anatomy.
  • Speaking of which, I also wish they expanded on the possibility of parental care in ichthyosaurs. Sure it’s a bit speculative, but there’s a close correlation between live birth and parental care in reptiles (there are outliers from this trend though).
  • Bit glad that they mentioned that the sharks were honing in on the pregnant Ophthalmosaurus via hearing rather than the rather stereotypical explanation of smell.
  • Oh crap the Liopleurodon is back. What? No I’m not worrying about the Ophthalmosaurus, I’m worried about the number of inaccuracies and embellishments I need to sit through.
  • Wait, when the back half of the Ophthalmosaurus hits the seafloor, it no longer has the tail of the baby sticking out of its cloaca. Did it escape the jaws of the pliosaur?
  • Few people know the story of why the Liopleurodon in this episode is so big, so I’ll explain. Some early size estimates based on the scaling of a Liopleurodon skulls found that Liopleurodon might’ve reached something like 12 meters in length based on some of the larger Oxford skulls. These same models were then used in another study which scaled the skull’s teeth up to the same sizes observed in the bones of some cryptocleidoid plesiosaurs, thus producing some ridiculous 25 meter estimates, which was used in the documentary. Obvious to say, these methods of scaling were shown to not be very accurate. Later, more accurate modeling methods based on what was known from more complete pliosaurs (notably the Australian Kronosaurus) shrunk Liopleurodon down to a much more believable 6 meters in length that it is today.
  • Going with the idea that its 25 meters long, I should probably note that animals of this size DO NOT like to live so close to shore. Even orcas, which are only around 7 meters long, actively avoid shallow reef-like waters while hunting because it doesn’t provide enough space to launch hunts or ambushes. An animal of this size should be living in the open ocean far away from reefs.
  • Liopleurodon. At 150 tons, it is the largest and most powerful carnivore ever to live on the planet.” - Sounds like something I’d expect someone pandering to fanboys to say. Quickly! Someone write an awesomebro fanfic about the WWD Liopleurodon fighting the Jurassic World Mosasaurus! You’ll make millions!
  • “His size means he is probably over 100 years old.” – I object to that. Do we even have any studies on pliosaur/plesiosaur longevity? I don’t ever remember seeing one.
  • There’s a mention rather briefly about how Liopleurodon smells its prey using a water-movement system in the nostrils as “radars to hone in on prey”. Presumably this is a butchered explanation of the dual waterflow system in pliosaurs (and possibly other marine reptiles), in which water enters the mouth, flows through the nasal cavity, and exits the nostrils, allowing for a constantly active sense of smell.
  • The Ophthalmosaurus hide in underwater caves at night for protection against predators, despite the fact that, you know, they need to breathe.
  • The way that the Eustreptospondylus in this episode manages to swim should be some kind of meme. I’m not sure what the meme would be for, but it would be downright hilarious.
  • The Eustreptospondylus is presented as some kind of specialist sea-combing dinosaur. This speculation, as far as I know, is unique to the documentary as I cannot find any specific suggestions for this lifestyle prior to the show’s airing. I think it was presented because the only known specimen of this genus was found in the ocean near an island, but it could equally be parsimonious to say that the animal was simply washed out to sea from a larger island area. There are no particular traits in its anatomy suggesting a sea-combing lifestyle.
  • Two Eustreptospondylus squabble briefly over a “sea turtle” plastron. Given that modern type sea turtles first appeared during the Cretaceous, this plastron is probably meant to be from a Plesiochelys, which were a major component of Late Jurassic shallow water ecosystems, but not true sea turtles themselves.
  • There’s a brief scene where a young Rhamphorhynchus digs into some tree bark looking for beetle larvae. Interestingly, despite the obvious diet of seafood in older induviduals, “flapling” Rhamphorhynchus (and many other pterosaurs for that matter) show short, triangular snouts which might prove superbly adapted to feeding on small invertebrate prey. Sadly, the individual itself doesn’t look at all like what we know of “flapling” specimens, simply being a shrunken down juvenile. (Note that most Rhamphorhynchus specimens are of half-grown juveniles, with only a handful of true adults known.)
  • After a group of horseshoe crabs breed, a flock of Rhamphorhynchus settle down to feed on their eggs. Not sure if this is based off the behaviors known for migrating Calidris canutus, but it seems so.
  • Ok, this is weird. While the Rhamphorhynchus are feeding, a Eustreptospondylus tries to snag one while they’re preoccupied. If you follow the movement of its jaws closely, you can clearly see it grab two separate Rhamphorhynchus, let both of them go, and then finally settles on a third one it manages to pin beneath its foot. Um… why?
  • Also, these poor Rhamphorhynchus aren’t utilizing proper quadrupedal launch. Instead they’re just skipping across the ground on their hind legs flapping their forearms aimlessly. No wonder they’re so easy to grab while taking off.
  • Just noticed this now, but the Eustreptospondylus puppet model has its earhole in the wrong place. Dinosaurs had their ears behind their skulls, not on top of the temporal fenestra. Having it in the place shown here, it wouldn’t be able to hear at all because there’s a major jaw muscle in the way.
  • Back in the ocean, another female Liopleurodon shows up in the male’s territory, which leads the male to confront her in a fight. This is rather strange, as I’d expect the male to be more interested in mating. Didn’t we just clarify a little while ago that it was still the mating season for other marine reptiles? Why are the Liopleurodon acting different?
  • “Her flipper has been badly ripped...” – Looks fine to me. There isn’t even any visual trauma on it as she swims off.
  • After the big storm, the big male Liopleurodon becomes stranded on a beach. See, that’s what happens when you’re a 150 ton animal living in a shallow-water reef ecosystem. You’re basically asking to get stranded.
  • Also, the Liopleurodon looks at lot smaller than 80ft when lying out on the beach next to the Eustreptospondylus. It appears to be 50ft maximum, which might be in line with the largest unpublished pliosaur specimens.
  • “The greatest carnivore the Earth has ever seen.” – I can hear the fanboys panting. Stop it. Don't encourage them.
Giant of the Skies
  • “In life he was the most magnificent beast ever to take to the wing.” - Quetzalcoatlus is pretty magnificent too, and we knew it was more massive than Tropeognathus at the time this series was made. Then again, I guess that is all interpretative.
  • The model used by the documentary has minute pycnofibres on it, but most of the body still looks like bare skin. This doesn’t fit in with what we know (and knew at the time) about pterosaur body coverings.
  • Time frame is 127 mya, which would be the Barremian period of the early Cretaceous. However, half of the animals in this episode are actually from the Albian (100.5 - 113.0 mya), including the Tropeognathus, and one is even from the Cenomanian (93.9–100.5 mya).
  • Also, Branagh states that the continents by the early Cretaceous had only just started to break up outside of the typical Laurasia-Gondwana distribution. While that might be true for some parts of Gondwana (notably the tentative dates behind the separation of South American and Africa), the rest of the world should have already been breaking up since at least the middle Jurassic. Heck, the last episode was all about the broken island chains that would eventually become Europe.
  • It’s now Tropeognathus mesembrinus, not Ornithocheirus, as this species was found to be distinct enough to warrant its own genus.
  • Size is WAY too exaggerated on the Tropeognathus. Even for the time, I’m pretty sure the 12 meter estimated wingspans were heavily doubted by the scientific community. Most modern estimates put it around 6-7 meters, which is roughly the same size as other giant flying oceanic avemetatarsalians (Pteranodon, Pelagornis, etc.). Brings up an interesting question as to why they all group around this size…
  • The Tropeognathus holds a human-like, bipedal stance for a few moments while it’s landing. David Peters, anyone?
  • The specific species of “Tapejara” used in the episode, T. navigans was reclassified to the genus Tupandactylus in 2007. Also, they are completely disproportionate, and based on what we now know about tapejarid pterosaurs, this group were probably inland-dwelling omnivores, not oceanic piscivores.
  • “…but on the land they are cumbersome” - That’s true for some specialist oceanic species featured in the show, like Tropeognathus and possibly Rhamphorhynchus, but almost every other pterosaur featured on the show were competent walkers, and possibly even runners in the case of many azhdarchoids like the Tupandactylus.
  • They show different-sized crests for males and females, which predicted the actual discovery of sexual dimorphism in pterosaur crests.
  • “What he is about to undertake, is the most astounding journey in the animal kingdom.” First of all, how the hell do you know that Kenneth Branagh? Second, have you ever heard of a little bird called Sterna paradisaea? Flying from Brazil to Europe across an Atlantic (which is only half the size it is today) cannot compare to what tiny little Sterna paradisaea do twice every year.
  • The “Iguanodon” the Tropeognathus encounters in North America were reclassified to the genus Dakotadon. Also, Dakotadon are from South Dakota, while Branagh claims that the Tropeognathus had only just reached the southern tip of North America. That’s like seeing wild American plains bison (Bison bison bison) in Central American rainforests…
  • The Polacanthus accompanying the herd is even more lost. Polacanthus fossils are only known from Britain, not North America. I guess this could possibly be a Gastonia (which the WWD model somewhat resembles), but even then it’s the same problem that the Dakotadon have.
  • Tropeognathus, an oceanic pterosaur which probably spent months flying out over the sea at any given time and would probably need to encounter storms regularly, can’t fly in rain. People really need to stop underestimating what pterosaurs were capable of. So glad we have such great pterosaur experts now setting our views of these animals straight.
  • “[Iguanodon] are among the most successful dinosaurs on the planet, populating every continent…” – Then, everything changed when the taxon splitters attacked…
  • Branagh says that Iguanodon were the first large herbivorous animals capable of advanced chewing. If he is referring to the Iguanodontia as a whole and not just Iguanodon, I guess that’s somewhat true, but many other groups of dinosaurs could also masticate and developed advanced chewing techniques at around the same time. (Ankylosaurs come to mind, for example.)
  • There’s a short segment about how flowers "originated" in the Cretaceous. Depends a bit on what you mean by "originated". True flowering plant fossils are known from the Early Cretaceous, 130 mya, but what looks like angiosperm pollen has been found from as far back as the Triassic, and some molecular clocks suggest the ancestors of true angiosperms split off from other plant groups 300 mya. Still, if they're going by "true flowers", then I guess this is true as well.
  • We get a cool look at what we thought at the time to be the parasitic flea-like creature called Saurophthyrus. Saurophthyrus and other insects like it were once thought to be specialist pterosaur parasites, using their elongate blood-sucking mouthparts to feed on the blood-filled wing membranes of pterosaurs. More recent studies have been more skeptical of them being “pterosaur specialists,” as their mouthparts don’t seem any more specialized to specifically pterosaurs than they do various other Mesozoic animals.
  • The pterosaurs be-a-skimming. As I mentioned above with Rhamphorhynchus, this needs to stop.
  • The pliosaur in this episode is officially listed as being Plesiopleurodon, despite being just re-used stock footage of the Liopleurodon from last episode. Either way, Plesiopleurodon is known from the Cenomanian of North America 98 mya, not the Barremian 127 mya, so both are equally distant in time (give or take 20 to 30 million years) from the age this is supposed to be set.
  • While bringing up the pliosaur, Branagh also mentions that there’s dangers to flying low over the ocean, as if the pliosaur is actually going to jump up and eat our Tropeognathus. This, of course, goes back to early paleoart showing marine reptiles jumping out of the water to try and catch pterosaurs, but it’s always been a stupid idea IMO. How is massive marine predator going to manage to jump out of the water at a small, fast-moving animal in flight when, by the time it’s in view and you’re ready to strike, it’s already passed by? Moreover, how worth it is it to do this to eat something that weighs, at the absolute most, only about 50 kg? This concept has always sounded incredibly stupid to me.
  • Ok, this “European species” of Iguanodon seems to confidently be Iguanodon bernissartensis, and not one of the countless European iguanodonts that was lumped into its genus at the time. The model itself also looks great, and actually manages to stay pretty accurate to this day. Unlike the next critter...
  • And now, for the moment you’ve all been waiting for… *Drumroll* UTAHraptor in EUROPE!
  • Is it just me, or are the Utahraptor models are really ugly? Not only are they shrink-wrapped and look anorexic, but they have a lot of features in the skull and neck which remind me of varanid lizards. (Not that varanids aren’t beautiful animals, just that it’s a bad reference.) Oh, and they have their ears in the temporal fenestra too. Is this a problem with all the models that I'm just now noticing?
  • “…long fingers help [the female Utahraptor] to latch onto swift-moving, larger prey…” Dromaeosaur fingers were pretty immobile and stiff, actually, which likely helped keep their wings strait. However, juveniles had more flexible fingers than adults, which with a growing body of evidence suggests that they might have been partially arboreal while young.
  • After the Utahraptor is unsuccessful at jumping on the Iguanodon, the Iguanodon stops running, turns around, and seems to be taunting it for a moment. A lot of large herbivorous mammals actually do similar things, so I wonder if that’s what they were going for.
  • Branagh says that dromaeosaurids were not fast runners, but rather had the short, stalky legs of a sprinting and wrestling animal. Finally! A documentary that gets this trait common to dromaeosaurinae correct.
  • I’ve noticed that the Utahraptor, despite having no wing feathers, are actually managing to hold their forelimbs consistently in a bird-like pose, even while running. Props on them for getting this right, as even recent documentaries incorporating feathers have a tendency to have the hands droop or be held in odd positions.
  • “These though are birds, flying dinosaurs that share the same ancestors as the carnivorous raptors. Instead of scales, they have evolved feathers…” If only they knew... Oh wait, they already did…
  • He mentions something about feathered wings being more resistant to damage than membranous wings. Not sure exactly how true this is, but bats can manage to fly around with huge holes in their wings and are still competent in the air, so I don't think a few bumps or scrapes would really effect a pterosaur's wings.
  • When the old male finally makes it to the mating grounds we see that the female Tropeognathus have sexually dimorphic jaw crests. There have been proposed cases of sexual dimorphism in the crests of ornithocheirid pterosaurs, but it has not been studied in detail or confirmed, despite the large number of fossils perfectly available for such a study. (Wink, wink, nudge, nudge…)
Whew, that was a lot of note-taking. A lot of stuff certainly has changed in the time since the series aired, but with these last two episodes at least, I was still able to find some admirable things about them. Will definitely be fun to look at the last two episodes soon. I remember the fifth episode in particular to having always been my favorite growing up, so I'm definitely psyched to get to that one soon.


P.S. If you don't know what Dakotaraptor is by the end of this post, shame on you. Go look it up right now.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

A Paleonerd's Analysis - BBC's Walking With Dinosaurs Part 1

Not to be confused with the telepathic Pachyrhinosaurus of a certain 2013 movie.
Walking with Dinosaurs was a landmark documentary series which first aired in the Spring of 1999 and remains to be relatively popular today. The series took a novel approach to educating people about dinosaurs by using actual wilderness and backdrops of nature alongside CGI and mechanical puppets of extinct animals in an effort to simulate a Planet Earth or Life-style nature documentary. And it worked too, as the Walking with... series has come to span a large range of media, including two sequel series, a prequel miniseries, three spin-off specials featuring Nigel Marvin, a spin-off that Nigel himself started which was based off the spin offs he was featured in, a computer game, an arena spectacular show, a movie featuring telepathic Pachyrhinosaurus, a better version of said movie without telepathic dinosaurs, a spiritual successor, and endless merchandise that's too vast for me to list off.

However, one thing many people forget about this series is just how controversial it was when it first came out, especially among paleontologists. Even today minds are split on how much the show put a big emphasis on speculation and sensationalism rather than using a much more factual approach. The creators of the original series have said that their goal was to entertain, and that since theories about prehistoric animals are always changing, they couldn't possibly keep up with informational input. Even at the time the series came out, there was a number of "facts" presented which were wrong, and many more ideas which were correct at the time have since become dated.

This all made me curious just how much the show has aged with time, as well as how our view of these animals has changed too. So, after something like seven years, I sat down and decided to watch the series again. I'm still looking through the other episodes again and jotting down notes, but as soon as the next batch has been viewed I will be sure to post my observations here.

Here's some notes of things I noticed while watching the first two episodes of the series: First Blood and Time of Titans. Keep in mind that these notes are not just limited to facts presented, but also just observations I experienced about the show as a whole. I'll also try to note if the fact presented was true at the time or not, but just assume when reading through that the info was unknown at the time. Note also that I'm not going to go into too much detail about all the animal models, as I would take WAY too much time on the theropods alone. (i.e. broken wrists, shrink wrapped, tail too skinny, feather this, feather that, etc.)
-New Blood-
  • The program claims to take place in the Chinle Formation 220 mya, which would correlate roughly to the Blue Mesa and Sonsela Members of the formation. If that's the case, the environment is all wrong. Much of the Chinle 220 mya was a huge, dense swamp with a number of meandering rivers, and fossil preservation shows dense vegetation, large fish, massive metoposaurs, and phytosaurs making up a big portion of the fauna. It was only during the younger Owl Rock Member (~207 mya) that the environment started to become much more arid and desert-like.
  • Tying into the above, Coelophysis remains are supposedly from the Petrified Forest Member of the Chinle (~211 mya), which puts the star of this episode ~10 million years later in time than presented in the documentary. This can also be said for a number of other animals in the series as a whole, but I'll get to them when they come.
  • Kenneth Branagh (the narrator) is treating dinosaurs like they're some ultimate animals which are better than everything else in every single way. This reflects a lot of thinking in the late 1990s that dinosaurs were somehow superior to all other Triassic reptiles, but in fact, most recent research shows that they were not very unique in regards to anatomy, and in fact there were many other archosaurs (particularly things like Postosuchus and Effigia) which had almost all the same abilities dinosaurs had. Current consensus is that, as is the case with many evolution and extinction scenarios, dinosaurs just happened to get lucky and survived the Triassic-Jurassic Extinction event, allowing for their diversification.
  • I know at the time nobody really cared and that some people still don't, but can we please stop referring to synapsids as "reptiles?" They're not "reptiles", nor are they "mammal-like reptiles". Proper terminology would be stem-mammals, proto-mammals, or, ya know, just "synapsids".
  • The whole comment by Branagh on how the Placerias are the last of their kind and an "endangered species" might sound overly poetic, but in fact Placerias are only known from the very lowest parts of the Chinle, suggesting they disappeared rather early in the formation's history. Still, an “endangered species” title is rather bizarre choice of words.
  • The Placerias are so slow. Seriously, why? I understand they're big herbivores with semi-sprawling feet, but Hippos are pretty fast runners, and crocodilians can gallop, so why? I know tortoises who can outrun these things.
  • The "cynodonts" in the show are probably based off Kraterokheirodon colberti teeth in the Chinle. Although initially assigned to cynodonts, a 2005 study found them to be very distinctive to the point that they can't be confidently assigned to any known amniote group, leaving no evidence of cynodonts in the formation.
  • WWD had hairy, milk-producing proto-mammals before it was cool. Although, they do seem strangely a bit too carnivoran-like in behavior. Not that that's a bad thing.
  • "Postosuchus, a merciless ambush predator. The largest carnivore on Earth." Any number of the 6+ meter phytosaurs from the same formation would like to object to that. Also, Poposaurus got nearly as big as Postosuchus, and there were even bigger rauisuchids from elsewhere in the world at the same time. Postosuchus is far from the largest.
  • Postosuchus has upright limbs, long hind legs, and was recently shown to be capable of bipedal movement. So why the heck is it so slow? Seriously, all the animals outside of Coelophysis are moving at a snail's pace. I feel this is all a plot just to make the dinosaurs seem more interesting.
  • Peteinosaurus is from northern Italy, not the Chinle formation. Given, there are small isolated pterosaur bones from Chinle, but they seem to come from a very different type of animal than Peteinosaurus. (The Chinle specimen/s seem to be more similar to Eudimorphodon.)
  • Everyone always says in these documentaries that pterosaur wing membranes were delicate. Never mind most of the work that's come out (especially in recent years) talking about the layers upon layers of tissue reinforcements that's been found in their wings.
  • Peteinosaurus hunting dragonflies. I'll let Darren explain why this is unlikely.
    "Sorry, I still think it's dumb when artists show prehistoric animals chasing dragonflies. Have you ever tried to chase a dragonfly?" - Darren Naish
  • Seriously though, early pterosaurs including Peteinosaurus don't show the best flight capabilities, and much of their anatomy suggests they hunted prey (like lizards, small mammal-y things, and decent-sized insects) on the ground rather than in the air. It was only more specialized pterosaurs like anurognathids which developed the wings and bodies to catch flying insects, and even these animals likely lacked the speed required to catch high-speed insects like dragonflies regularly.
  • The wound on the Postosuchus' thigh really doesn't look that bad considering the injuries most Mesozoic archosaurs have been shown to live through, and she doesn't even really limp. I guess Postosuchus are just really wimpy. (Pro-dinosaur propaganda, say!)
  • With their dinosaur-chasing abilities and constant snarling, I'm wondering if cynodonts were the honey badgers of the Triassic. Was that the actual inspiration for their behaviors in the show? Heck if I know.
  • I might be wrong, but the male Postosuchus marks his territory with urine, which is pretty mammal-like and not what I think is typical of most reptiles. Most reptiles use visual signals to assert dominance, and when marking with scent they tend to use pheromones or "musk" rather than urine. If anyone knows otherwise, please tell me.
  • "...the dinosaur’s unique serrated teeth..." Uh, serrated teeth is a pretty common trait among reptiles, and animals in general. It sounds like they're trying to make dinosaurs look ultra-superior or something, but it just comes off as goofy.
  • Something for future dinosaur documentary makers to keep note: DON'T make your animals scream, squeal, roar, screech, hiss, and call ENDLESSLY when they're just wandering around foraging. During confrontations, communication, and courtship behavior its fine, but these Coelophysis are screeching every second for no good reason. And yes, it's really annoying.
  • How does a tiny wound on a single leg lead to full hindleg paralysis? They don't mention infection or anything, and the wound doesn't look like it's gotten any worse at all.
  • The music is telling me I should feel bad for the Postosuchus, but what exactly did she do this whole time? Eat a Placerias, roar a few times, and walk around a lot. I don't feel this is sad music worthy material.
  • Kenneth Branagh goes into gory detail about how the Coelophysis "use their jaws and front teeth to reach under the Postosuchus's scales and eat her from the inside out", but isn't this just how all predators eat? Open up the abdomen and dig in from the inside?
  • A key point argued for why dinosaurs took over the Earth and left other reptiles in the dust after the Triassic is they were better-adapted to drought because they excrete very little water. There is a theory proposed that archosaurs were better adapted to the dry Pangean climate after the Permian-Triassic extinction event because they didn't loose very much water when they excreted, but here they're arguing that dinosaurs were somehow better at conserving water than every other reptile group. Someone care to explain how dinosaur poop is any different from other archosaur poop? I highly doubt this is true.
  •  Coelophysis cannibalism reference. Coelophysis was long thought to have been a cannibal due to the discovery of juvenile Coelophysis bones in the gut regions of a few adults. However, many of these were eventually shown to be from the sphenosuchian crocodylomorph Hesperosuchus instead, leaving the evidence for that idea invalid. Even so, given that cannibalism is a common behavior in living organisms, and it's now known in later theropods, I don't doubt that Coelophysis was any different. Still, the fact that this trait is so commonly tied to the animal gets annoying.
  • Plateosaurus is from Europe, not the Chinle. Yes there are basal sauropodomorph footprints known from older layers of the Chinle, but then why even call them Plateosaurus? Why not just call them "prosauropods" like how the narrator was ambiguous with naming the cynodonts?
  • Plateosaurus could not walk on all four limbs like shown, as the hand was unable to pronate in such a way to allow quadrupedal movement. There are other "prosauropods" which could walk with a quadrupedal gait, but Plateosaurus was not one of them. (More reason to just call them "prosauropods".)

-Time of Titans-

  • This episode starts off with a female Diplodocus laying her eggs via an egg elevator. At the time scientists postulated as to whether or not sauropods utilized an egg elevator, or simply squatted. I’m pretty sure that the idea they simply squatted has won out these days, but this was mostly just speculation on the documentary’s part.
  • Mention that Diplodocus was the largest Jurassic dinosaur. Err, it’s really complicated as to which sauropod was likely the “biggest”, but Diplodocus definitely wasn’t one of them. Heck, I don’t even think it’s in the top twenty anymore. Average size is supposedly around 12 tonnes.
  • The Diplodocus hold their necks vertically out in-front of them and parallel to the ground. WWD was made during a time when many people were arguing over the position of sauropod necks, with a certain group arguing that they held them out parallel. More recent research has shown that this is most certainly not correct, and that sauropods probably held their necks in an S-shaped fashion like all other known land tetrapods.
  • All the sauropods also have nostrils on the tops of their heads. This was thought for the longest time since most saurpods have the nasal skull openings above the eyes, but it was more recently found that sauropods had fleshy nostrils which extended down past the bony openings to the end of the skull. No idea why they had this weird feature, but it might have had to do with a resonating system or for cooling the brain. They definitely didn't have noses on top of their heads though.
  • We get a time frame of ~152 mya, which would place this episode smack-dab in the middle of the Morrison's depositional history. This suggests that the Diplodocus presented are D. carnegii, but the setting is Colorado, while D. carnegii was best known from Wyoming at the time the series was made. However, D. longus, which is known from Colorado, was recently  found to be a nomen dubium in the big Brontosaurus paper, and is now lumped into D. carnegii, so I guess it works out now. *EDIT: see bottom.
  • Ornitholestes with a horn. This interpretation was suggested by Paul in his ever-famous book Predatory Dinosaurs of the World, in which the nasal bones were broken and made it look like the animal had a nasal horn in life like Ceratosaurus. This was corrected in later studies.
  • Just wanted to point out that Ornitholestes is literally the only non-avian dinosaur in the whole series which has feathers, and even these are hard to interpret as feathers (they're just tiny mobile quills). I should also note that dinosaur feathers had been discovered three years prior to the show's airing, and had been suggested by scientists as early as the 1980s. In other words, the show has no excuses. Even for the time, we knew feathers should've been included in a variety of the dinosaurs.
  • The "sauropodlets" are pretty cute. Not sure if they're spot-on to what we know of hatching sauropods, but they look pretty good to me even by today's standards.
  • Mention that the necks are stiff. Again, I think this was heavily disputed at the time, and I think even today it's still a controversial topic, but from what I've heard most experts now agree sauropod necks were decently flexible and could move in a range of motions. Although, it might differ a bit from species-to-species.
  • Diplodocid tails were rather flexible, but I don't think they were that flexible. They look more like someone tied a ribbon to the tail than an actual functioning tail in some scenes. They also mention that the tails were used in visual communication, but don't mention the idea that it could make a sonicboom like some models suggest. The sonicboom idea was first proposed in 1997 though, and had a fair deal of skepticism at the time, so I guess they just wanted to go the safe route.
  • Everything about the Anurognathus. Seriously, everything. Wrong lifestyle (based on what we know from it's anatomy), wrong appearance (even by late 90s pterosaur standards), and wrong side of the world. Anurognathus is known from the Solnhofen limestone of Germany, not the Morrison rocks of Colorado.
  • Anurognathus hunting damselflies. Look above to the Peteinosaurus comment.
  • There's a short segment of the episode talking about dung beetles and how they had their start feeding on dinosaur dung in the Jurassic. However, this might not be correct. Recent research into the origins of true dung beetles of the subfamily scarabaeinae has shown that while they originated in the Mesozoic, much of their diversification was tied to the Cenozoic mammal radiation, and that they were rare components of Mesozoic ecosystems. Instead, there's now evidence that an extinct group of cockroaches called the blattulidae were the primary consumers of Mesozoic dinosaur dung.
  • The "sauropodlets" form creches with individuals of the same age, which fits well with all the recent research suggesting that non-avian dinosaurs primarily tended to live in age-related groupings.
  • The Stegosaurus individual pumps blood into it's plates in only a few seconds, which is highly unlikely given that stegosaur osteoderms were likely covered in keratin. Keratin, as we all know, is dead tissue which doesn't have active blood vessels in it. Thus, it pumping blood into it's plates at such a rapid rate is extremely unlikely.
  • Branagh talks for a bit about how sauropods probably altered the environment around them during their foraging, which was a rather new idea at the time, but has become an increasingly interesting topic with research on how elephants affect African landscapes, as well as what computer simulations tell us about how the existence of sauropods and other large dinosaurian herbivores literally altered the Mesozoic climate.
  • This might be a nitpick, but Branagh mentions that the Diplodocus use gastroliths to grind up the food they consume. However, Wings and Sander (2006) analyzed this idea in detail and found that it didn't hold up, as sauropods only have a tiny percent of the required gastrolith numbers to preform proper grinding. Instead, they propose that gastroliths were instead swallowed primarily for detangling the mouthfuls of thick vegetation the dinosaurs consumed and preventing it from clogging the digestive system.
  • The juvenile Diplodocus are so slow when running away from the forest fire. Branagh mentions that they're this slow because "they always need three legs on the ground," but elephants have the same issue and they can run pretty fast when they need to.
  • Now Branagh says that Brachiosaurus was the biggest Jurassic sauropod, and while that's probably closer to the truth than Diplodocus, there are a number of bigger sauropod candidates.
  • Adult Diplodocus are said to be "programmed" to respond to juvenile calls. I don't know, sounds a bit too elephant-like in behavior to me, and sauropods don't care for young to begin with. Then again, soft shell turtles were recently shown to do something similar. Guess it's up to interpretation.
  • The next segment is all nothing but speculative courtship behaviors for sauropods, and while it is an interesting interpretation, I wish Branagh wasn't speaking during it, because then it seems like he's presenting all these courtship behaviors as true facts. If they had left it silent and the behaviors were just left to be interpreted, then it would be much more factual.
  • There's mention that female Diplodocus have fused hip vertebrae in order to support the weight of the male. This was actually a postulated idea in the late 90s which had some support behind it, as some sauropod specimens were found to have fused hip vertebrae and some didn't. However, eventually this trait was singled out as more likely representing ontegenetic features rather than male-female differences. I lost track of the paper proposing this though... (Anyone know of a link?)
  • These are some terminator Allosaurus. One of them falls off the back of a sauropod onto it's tail (Ouch!), and the other gets smacked in the side by a massive 100ft individual and shakes it off. I'd expect the latter at least to have an internal skeleton resembling Big Al or the Smithsonian Institution's specimen; completely riddled with injuries.
  • The Postosuchus in the last episode is poked in the leg by a Placerias tusk, creating a tiny wound which leads to agonizing pain and suffering lasting for months and costing her her life. Meanwhile, the Diplodocus has her entire belly torn into by an Allosaurus' massive jaws and forelimb claws, and Branagh is like "Eh, don't worry, she'll recover."
  • Mention that sauropods can live over a hundred years. In fact, the oldest sauropod to which we have directly estimated the lifespan of was roughly 50 years old, and the majority of Diplodocus individuals seem to have been between 12 and 25 years of age, so we lack any evidence of hundred-year lifespans in these animals. However, given that many sauropods did get much larger than the species with lifespans studied, and that most dinosaur specimens are immature, I wouldn't be surprised if larger sauropods had century-spanning lifespans. Just probably not Diplodocus.
  • Branagh goes on to say sauropods were "displaced by later dinosaurian herbivores." This really only seemed to happen in North America during the Late Cretaceous, 95 mya after the Cretaceous Thermal Maximum. North America prior to that time, as well as the rest of the world, was still sauropod-filled right up until the end of the Mesozoic. Not just that, but sauropods did manage to recolonize North America during the Maastrichtian in the form of Alamosaurus, and fossil discoveries from other late Cretaceous bonebeds might suggest they were there even earlier. So yeah, they weren't displaced and were going strong till the end. At the very most, they just had a rough period in just North America.
*EDIT: I was informed after writing this that the Diplodocus longus specimens have be reassigned to D. hallorum, NOT D. carnegii. This would actually make it more likely that  the species featured in the documentary is meant to be D. hallorum, as they are actually found in Colorado and got to much larger sizes than D. carnegii.

And that's about all I can say about the first two episodes. As you can tell by the length of the list, a lot of things have changed since the show has come out, and a lot of the information is definately now dated. Of course, that could just be due to my academic mindset; after all this is supposed to be a series for the public, but even then it's falling a bit short. Oh well, hope the next two episodes are better......

Wait, the next episode has the blue whale-sized Liopleurodon... Crap.