Monday, October 29, 2012

To the Gnostics the dragon represented chaos, while in Hebrew tradition the deepest meaning of the mystery of a dragon must remain a secret. In other legendary tales, the dragon was driven to extinction because humans didn't understand the dragon and because of its size and ferocious appearance were feared and sought to be destroyed.

Arms of the City of London.—Two dragons are the supporters of the arms of the City of London, the crest a dragon's sinister wing. They are thus blazoned: Argent a cross gules, in the first quarter, a sword in pale point upwards of the last. Supporters, on either side a dragon with wings elevated and addorsed, argent, and charged on the wing with a cross gules.

As you might expect of the world's most majestic and powerful creatures, dragons are featured in all manner of heraldic devices and coats of arms. Though culture in the world isn't monolithic enough for widespread, unified systems of heraldry, everyone is familiar with the traits of dragons. Images of dragons can appear as charges (appearing in one of the divisions of a shield) or supporters (figures that stand to either side of the shield and appear to be holding it upright). Dragons are also used as crests. small figurines that top helmets.

Each variety of dragon symbolizes different qualities or virtues. Chromatic dragons in heraldry are viewed as martial, aggressive devices and usually belong to individuals or families who made themselves known through battle. Metallic dragons are regarded as devices signifying dominion and status, and they often reflect titles bestowed for loyalty and accomplishment. However, exceptions abound, and the dragons featured carry no real connotation of the owners' alignment or trustworthiness. A family whose coat of arms features a red dragon is as likely to be honorable and good as one whose coat of arms includes a gold dragon.

The dragons most commonly used in heraldry, and their heraldic qualities, are these:
Adamantine: Pride, immovability, or stoicism. Heroes who successfully defend some place against attack are often associated with this device.
Black: Death, tragedy, or terror. A black dragon device usually bears a negative connotation, but families that endure curses or heroes renowned for fearlessness In the Face of the supernatural sometimes choose this device.
Blue: Ambition, superiority, knowledge. The blue dragon device often suggests arcane magic, but might also suggest arrogance. Families that include famous wizards often choose this device.
Copper: Wealth, prosperity, or mercantile Interests, possibly also luck or good fortune. Families that have roots as merchants often choose copper dragons.
Gold: Divine right, nobility, or law. Gold dragon devices are considered royal in many lands and are usually reserved for the highest levels of the nobility.
Green: Cunning, revenge, beauty, or fey. Families sworn to overturn some ancient wrong might bear this device, as might those who claim eladrin or elven kinship.
Iron: Determination, courage, or zeal. The iron dragon connotes single-mindedness and ardor for battle, but it can also stand for mercilessness.
Red: Strength, power, or destruction. Families that took their lands by conquest often feature a red dragon in their heraldry.
Silver: Honor, duty, or sacrifice. The silver dragon is a favorite of families that Include famous knights or paladins.
White: Rage, ferocity, or the hunt. The white dragon device often connotes a willingness to feud or a refusal to overlook slights.

Smaug Lives!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tolkien artist Maria Lombide Ezpeleta has surmised that a rescue party saved Smaug from Bard's infamous Black Arrow!

One of the last great dragons of Middle-earth, Smaug rose to prominence by laying waste to the town of Dale and capturing the Lonely Mountain (Erebor) with all of its treasure. These events occurred some 150 years before the events of The Hobbit, and Smaug was already centuries old at the time. The book recounts the tale of a party of dwarves (consisting of a few of the original residents of the Lonely Mountain and their descendants) and Bilbo Baggins (the titular hobbit) to recapture the mountain and kill the dragon. In the book, he is sometimes called Smaug the Golden or Smaug the Magnificent.

Centuries spent sleeping atop his gold hoard caused gold and gemstones to become embedded in his flesh, creating essentially an impenetrable armor. However, when Bilbo met him in his lair, he discovered a small bare patch on Smaug's left breast. When Bilbo told his Dwarf companions about Smaug's weakness, he was overheard by the thrush that roosted by the mountain's secret door. The thrush in turn told Bard the Bowman of Esgaroth. When Smaug attacked the town, Bard shot his Black Arrow into Smaug's left breast, the armour's weak spot, killing him?! However....

Battle scars reveal dinos were head bangers

Jennifer Viegas
Discovery News

Fossilised skulls of dome-headed dinosaurs retain signs of injuries from violent head butting or head shoving, say US scientists.

The dinosaurs, known as pachycephalosaurs (meaning "thick-headed lizards") have long puzzled paleontologists, who wondered why the heads of these dinosaurs looked to have built-in football helmets.

It's been suspected that dome-headed dinosaurs fought with their heads, but the latest investigation provides some of the most direct evidence for this antagonistic behaviour.

"Aggressive behavior is rampant in modern vertebrates, and birds and crocodiles are no exception," says Joseph Peterson, who presented the research at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology's 72nd Annual Meeting held in Raleigh, North Carolina.

"While neither group has a bowling ball-like structure on top of its head, the head-slapping behaviour of crocodiles and the face-pecking observed in a variety of birds suggest that 'using your head' is not unique to pachycephalosaurs and domes likely evolved in response to such behaviour."

Peterson, a professor in the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh's geology department, and his colleagues took CT scans of the skulls and compared the distribution of lesions to those on the skulls of birds, crocodilians, and mammals - particularly mammals with horns.

The investigations reveal that "larger domed pachycephalosaurs such as Pachycephalosaurus may have been head-butting like Dall sheep or head-shoving like bison, while smaller, high-domed taxa such as Stegoceras may have been flank-butting like mountain goats," says Peterson.

While the sex of the studied dinosaurs is unknown, he suspects that males were the ones fighting. As for today's head-banging animals, the dinosaurs perhaps fought over mates, territory and rank.

The CT images further revealed areas of low bone density, suggesting that some of the dinosaurs' injuries were in the process of healing.

"It is not known if these injuries resulted in the death of the animal, and actually appear to be surface damage followed by a secondary infection," explains Peterson.

Jurassic batteground

He added that cranial injuries have been identified in a number of ceratopsians like Triceratops. These dinosaurs are known for their stocky bodies, head horns, beaks and fondness for plants.

It is likely that these dinosaurs also fought with their heads, possibly locking horns as some horned and hoofed animals do today.

Other animals therefore might have regularly heard the sounds of dinosaur heads bashing into each other during the Jurassic and Cretaceous eras.

"While no other animal has a head built like pachycephalosaur, cranial ornamentation ... is not all that rare in nature," he says.

Andrew Farke, curator of paleontology at the Raymond M Alf Museum of Paleontology in California, says evidences shows it is likely that pachycephalosaurs butted their heads against 'something' - probably each other.

"Everything, including the new work from Peterson and colleagues, is consistent with this idea.
"Certainly, not all dinosaurs butted heads - some have skulls better suited to this than others. But, for the thick-headed pachycephalosaurs, there is little doubt in my mind that they were ramming their skulls," Farke says.

He says it's also possible that the dinosaurs were ramming their heads into the bodies of foes, and not just engaging in head-to-head combat.

"In any case," Farke concludes, "I find it hard to imagine that such a heavy structure was only for showing off."

Ancient 'Predator X' sea monster named

Monday, October 22, 2012

It's official: A giant, marine reptile that roamed the seas roughly 150 million years ago is a new species, researchers say. The animal, now named Pliosaurus funkei, spanned about 40 feet (12 meters) and had a massive 6.5-foot-long (2 m) skull with a bite four times as powerful as Tyrannosaurus rex.

"They were the top predators of the sea," said study co-author Patrick Druckenmiller, a paleontologist at the University of Alaska Museum. "They had teeth that would have made a T. rex whimper."
Combined with other fossil finds, the newly discovered behemoth skeletons of P. funkei paint a picture of an ancient Jurassic-era ocean filled with giant predators.

In 2006, scientists unearthed two massive pliosaur skeletons in Svalbard, Norway, a string of islands halfway between Europe and the North Pole. The giant creatures, one of which was dubbed Predator X at the time, looked slightly different from other pliosaurs discovered in England and France over the last century and a half.

Now, after years of painstaking analysis of the jaw, vertebrae and forelimbs, the researchers have determined that Predator X is in fact a new species, and they have officially named it for Bjorn and May-Liss Funke, volunteers who first discovered the fossils.

The pliosaurs, marine reptiles that prowled the seas 160 million to 145 million years ago during the Jurassic period, had short necks, tear-shaped bodies and four large, paddle-shaped limbs that let them "fly through the water," Druckenmiller told LiveScience.

The new species likely lived closer to 145 million years ago and ate plesiosaurs, related long-necked, small-headed reptiles.

The new analysis shows P. funkei had proportionally longer front paddles than other pliosaurs, as well as slightly different vertebrae shape and different spacing of teeth within the jaw, Druckenmiller said.

In 2008, scientists initially estimated that Predator X could have been up to 50 feet (15 m) long. The current study suggests the creature is smaller than that, but still bigger than the largest living apex predator, the killer whale, which tops out at about 30 feet (9 m) long, Druckenmiller said.

The Pliosaurus funkei fossils were just two of nearly 40 specimens discovered at the Svalbard site. In the Oct. 12 issue of the Norwegian Journal of Geology, the authors also describe two new ichthyosaurs, or dolphinlike reptiles, the longest-necked Jurassic-era plesiosaur on record, and several invertebrates.

Together, the fossils suggest an ancient Arctic sea teeming with fearsome predators and invertebrate fauna, said study co-author Jorn Hurum of the University of Oslo in an email.
"It's not just that we found a new species, we've been discovering a whole ecosystem," Druckenmiller said.

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Friday, October 12, 2012

First known as early as the 1780s from the Late Jurassic SOLNHOFEN limestones of Bavaria, pterosaurs, the ``winged reptiles'' of the MESOZOIC ERA, have been regarded as biological oxymorons ever since. That they flew, using wings of skin stretched from the body and supported by the forelimb and a tremendously elongated outer finger, is generally accepted, but nearly every other idea about their paleobiology has been contested at one time or another. Currently, their known stratigraphic range is from the latest Triassic (Norian) through the latest Cretaceous (Maastrichtian), and they have now been found on every continent. They are known to range from sparrow-sized to giant forms with wingspans exceeding 10 or 11 m (Quetzalcoatlus), and as far as the available record indicates, they seem generally to have occupied many adaptive zones that the birds took over during the Tertiary, after coexisting with them for approximately 85 million years.

Pterosaurs, like birds and bats, used a down-and-forward stroke in flight that creates a ring-shaped vortex wake that provides the forward thrust component of flight (Padian, 1983, Padian and Rayner, 1993). Pterosaurs had expanded, keeled breastbones like those of birds, and the coracoids braced the shoulder girdle to the sternum. The humerus also had an expanded, proximally concentrated deltopectoral crest for insertion of the flight muscles. Even the earliest known pterosaurs had a fully developed flight apparatus; but the largest pterosaurs, like the largest birds, undoubtedly spent most of their time soaring (Padian, 1987).

Sereno (1991) defined Pterosauria as a list of commonly accepted taxa and all the descendants of their most recent common ancestor; hence it may be regarded as a node-based. According to cladistic analyses by Padian, Gauthier, and Sereno (see Sereno, 1991), pterosaurs are the closest major sister group to dinosaurs within the ornithodiran archosaurs, and the small, poorly 614 Pterosauria preserved Late Triassic (Carnian) form Scleromochlus is their closest known sister group. Scleromochlus has a large skull and long limbs in which the humerus is longer than the scapula and the forearm is longer still. The bowed femur is exceeded in length by the lower leg, in which the fibula is greatly reduced and fused to the tibia. The ankle is mesotarsal and there are four elongated, closely appressed metatarsals, plus an aberrant, somewhat reduced fifth metatarsal. These features are only found otherwise in pterosaurs, but most other bones of the pterosaurian skeleton are so modified for flight that it is difficult to establish many skeletal comparisons to other ornithodirans.

Pterosaurs have been traditionally divided into the Rhamphorhynchoidea (long tailed, with moderately long metacarpals and a long fifth toe of two tapering, curved phalanges) and the Pterodactyloidea (short tailed, with elongated metacarpals and a fifth toe reduced to only a nubbin of the metatarsal); the former group ranged from the Late Triassic to the Late Jurassic and the latter from the Late Jurassic to the Late Cretaceous (Wellnhofer, 1991). The ``Rhamphorhynchoidea'' has now been generally abandoned as a taxon because it is not monophyletic: The Pterodactyloidea evolved from this general group of basal pterosaurs, and Rhamphorhynchus itself is one of its closest known.

If the indications of their biology are correct, pterosaurs could not have flown as soon as they hatched and must have been cared for while they grew rapidly to fledging size. Some evidence indicates that they lived in large terrestrial colonies (Bell and Padian, 1995). By the end of the Maastrichtian their diversity had apparently dwindled to little over a few species in a subclade, the Azhdarchidae, that included both the giant Quetzalcoatlus and smaller forms. The record is too sparse at the species level to provide any indication of catastrophic extinction or rapid decline, although through the Late Cretaceous the other pterodactyloid subclades disappeared from the record one by one (Wellnhofer, 1991). Whatever their ultimate fate, pterosaurs were the first vertebrate fliers, and their geological time span of success is only now being matched by the birds.