Friday, May 22, 2009

Dinosaur Comics is a constrained webcomic by Canadian writer Ryan North. It is also known as "Qwantz", after the site's domain name, "qwantz.com". It has been online since February 1, 2003, though there were early prototypes. Dinosaur Comics has also been printed in two collections and in a number of newspapers.

Comics are posted on most weekdays. Each comic uses the same artwork, with only the dialogue changing from day to day. There are occasional deviations from this, such as several episodic comics. It has been compared to David Lynch's The Angriest Dog in the World comic, and also made references to it. The strips take on a wide variety of topics, including ethical relativism, the nature of happiness, and the secret to being loved.

Main cast

The main characters' names are each dinosaur's genus (with the notable exception being "T-Rex", an abbreviation of the Tyrannosaurus' full binomial name). Although other dinosaurs have been mentioned in the strip, they are rarely shown.

* T-Rex is the main character. He is a green, 27-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex. His character is portrayed as self-confident, but frequently shown up by other characters, especially Utahraptor. He is good-hearted, but occasionally shows signs of being egotistical or selfish. T-Rex appears to be stomping a log cabin and a woman in the third and fourth panels of the comic, respectively.
* Utahraptor, T-Rex's comedic foil, appears in the fourth and fifth panels of the comic. One early comic says one of his identifying features is that he "frequently debunk[s] [T-Rex's] theories." Utahraptor is gay, as North confirmed in the title of the RSS feed for the December 13, 2007 comic:

“ i received several dozen emails about utahraptor either being a girl or being gay in yesterday's comic! he is gay, guys. only he doesn't talk about it all the time, on account of having interests outside of being gay? ”

* Dromiceiomimus appears in the third panel. She is generally friendly to T-Rex, answering either neutrally or with mild, friendly criticism. She has been a romantic interest of T-Rex's.

Supporting cast

* Several comics take place in a mirror universe. In this arc, the standard comic has been flipped horizontally, as if seen in a mirror. All of the dinosaurs, in addition to being literal mirror images, sport drawn-on goatees to demonstrate that they are the mirror-universe counterparts of the normal characters.
* God and the Devil make frequent appearances in the strip, speaking from off the tops and bottoms of the panels respectively, in bold and capitalized letters and with the Devil's font in red. They also speak with little or no punctuation and can be heard only by T-Rex. Topics of conversation between T-Rex and God vary, but the Devil and T-Rex mostly discuss video games and Dungeons & Dragons.
* T-Rex's neighbors: families of raccoons and cephalopods who talk to T-Rex in unsettling tones, with capitalized italics.
* Morris: a tiny bug, lacking in self-confidence, who mostly appears on T-Rex's nose and speaks in lowercase letters.
* A fictionalized version of 19th-century poet Edgar Allan Poe first appears offscreen, supposedly relaxing on T-Rex's couch, and later as a needy, annoying friend of T-Rex's, following T-Rex around and only wanting to talk about their relationship with one another.
* A fictionalized version of actor Patrick Stewart appears in several comics.
* A fictionalized version of William Shakespeare appears in an intermittent series called "Literary Technique Comics."
* Mr. Tusks: an elephant affected by island dwarfism. He speaks only in the sixth frame and makes puns on the word "short" and its variants every time he speaks. He is the Vice-Mayor of a fictional place known in the comic as Tiny Towne.

Giant trilobites had complex social lives

Friday, May 8, 2009

The trilobites grouped together to molt, much like modern-day horseshoe crabs (Geological Society of America)

By Heather Catchpole for ABC Science Online

The discovery of giant trilobites in northern Portugal reveals the once ubiquitous marine creature mated en masse and used its numbers for protection, say European researchers.

The new find, published in the current issue of the journal Geology describes giants that grew to 90 centimetres in length, the largest ever found.

Trilobites once roamed the sea floor, but were wiped out in the Permian-Triassic extinction, 250 million years ago.

These marine arthropods, typically less than 8 centimetres long, are distant relatives of modern-day lobsters and spiders.

The researchers, led by Dr Juan Carlos Gutiérrez-Marco from the El Instituto de Geología Económica in Madrid, Spain, discovered trilobites from 15 genera in 465-million year old rocks in Arouca Geopark in northern Portugal.

They found a complete specimen 70 centimetres in length and others whose tail remnants indicated they grew to up to 90 centimetres long.

Most of the trilobite species they collected have been found elsewhere in Western Europe, but never before of such giant size.

Their size was probably an adaption to the polar waters where they dwelt, say the researchers.

"Metabolism of invertebrates is slower in cold water, so it takes longer to reach adulthood and they also tend to live longer. Also if you are bigger you are better able to deter a predator attack," sasy co-author Dr Diego García-Bellido, also of the El Instituto de Geología Económica.

Molt together, mate together

The researchers found clusters of trilobites with up to 1000 individuals, indicating they grouped together to molt, much like modern-day horseshoe crabs.

The researchers assume that like horseshoe crabs, the trilobites may have also mated en masse. The hormones that instigate molting are related to those that induce sexual reproduction, says García-Bellido.

Several trilobites in the deposit were also found in burrows and under the shells of larger organisms, where they may have hidden after molting as their soft bodies made them more vulnerable to predators.

The trilobites are believed to have died when the stagnant seawater became oxygen-depleted, which also helped their preservation as fossils, the researchers say.

Spectacular find

Palaeontologist Dr John Paterson from the University of New England in Armidale, describes the find as "spectacular".

"It's really exceptional in that you rarely find trilobite fossils complete," he says. "Mostly you find a piece of the head or the tail, so to find them in congregations where there are many complete individuals is astounding."

Paterson says his own research in the Flinders Ranges in South Australia has shown that trilobites grouped together during the Cambrian era about 520 million years ago, when the diversity of life really kicked off.

"You've got a better chance of survival if you are [molting] in a group as you've got less chance of being picked off yourself.

Back Lots of the Lost: The Implausibility of the Cliched "Lost World"

Monday, May 4, 2009

Paul T. Riddell

Since the Victorian period, shortly after the discovery and scientific description of the first recognized examples of the class Dinosauria, individuals have speculated on the possibilities of areas where dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures may still exist. Back before aerial surveys and satellite photographs, the idea of lost continents brimming with tyrannosaurs and pterosaurs fevered the imaginations of fiction writers and readers. After serious exploration efforts turned up no signs of previously unknown saurians, speculation turned toward parallel evolution of dinosaurs on alien worlds, or in isolated patches of jungle unknown to humans. The "lost world" cliché soon became almost universal, demanding a Frank Frazetta canvas: mention "lost world" to nearly anyone and ask for the first images that pop up, and invariably the first response concerns cavemen (and rather shapely cavewomen) watching as a Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops duke it out in a landscape shadowed by giant volcanoes and fern trees.

The perception is popular, and certain lost worlds exist today. However, the prediluvian world of the Galapagos rift vents, with animals and bacteria probably related to the first organisms that left the confines of the vents and struck out for the wide, cold ocean just don't have the same appeal. If we don't get dinosaurs, then at least we need prehistoric mammals (usually saber-toothed cats and mammoths, although titanotheres and creodonts have their possibilities), or maybe some of the reptiles that predated the dinosaurs. They're not as impressive as T. rex, but being chased by a Lycaenops or a Dimetrodon still offers adventure and suspense. For those seeking the less familiar, the creatures of the mid-Devonian are passable, between giant four-meter-long sea scorpions and early amphibians on land and gigantic predatory fish like Dunklosteus in the oceans, and then there's always the singular (if diminutive) animals of the early Cambrian as preserved in the Burgess Shale.


The History of Dinosaur Comics

A genuine dinosaur comic is a rare thing. A true dinosaur comic is something unique, unblemished by human characters.
So writes comic book artist Steve Bissette in his history of dinosaurs in comic books. The essay appeared in the graphic novel bringing together the first six issues of Paleo: Tales of the Late Cretaceous, but it also was published in nine pieces over at Palaeoblog along with pictures from the comics mentioned in the essay.

It is worth reading if you are a fan of comic books or dinosaurs in general.