July 27, 2010
I’ve mentioned Safari Ltd. a few times already on this blog (here and here, for example), so I probably don’t need to tell you that they tend to leave any competition in the dust when it comes to producing museum-quality plastic animal reproductions. One of their flagship brands is the Carnegie Collection, a line of toy dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures that first came out in 1989. Originally based on fossils from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the design of these replicas has become increasingly detailed and scientifically accurate over the years. Most of these figures are scaled 1:40, but there are exceptions, such as the 1:10 scale Ichthyosaurus, which just came out last month.
The Safari Ichthyosaurus is 8 inces long and painted with a color pattern similar to the modern Common Dolphin (Delphinus). The coolest feature of this sculpt is, of course, the Mesozoic ammonite gripped tightly in its jaws.
Ichthyosaurs (“fish lizards”) were a group of highly-specialized marine reptiles that dominated the world’s oceans for much of the Mesozoic era. They were most definitely not dinosaurs…but you knew that already, right? Appearing in the fossil record in the first part of the Triassic period (~245 million years ago), ichthyosaurs thrived during the Jurassic, but they went extinct before the end of the Cretaceous period, about 90 million years ago. Their fish-like body shape is often compared to that of modern dolphins as a classic example of convergent evolution. Fossil stomach contents show that some species definitely preyed on ammonites and belemnites, and it’s likely that cephalopods were an imporant part of a balanced breakfast for most ichthyosaurs.
The genus Ichthyosuarus itself, which lived in the Early Jurassic seas that covered what is now southern England and continental Europe 199-189 million years ago, was first discovered in early 1800s. These finds, including many complete skeletons, played an important role in how we came to understand the age of the earth and helped define the then brand-new science of paleontology.
I picked this up from the gift shop of the NC Museum of Life + Science (along with Cryolophosaurus, this year’s other new Carnegie dinosaur) as a birthday present for myself. Suggested retail is $8.99, and if you don’t have access to a museum gift shop or speciality toy store, you can order it online from Amazon.com or directly from Safari.
May 28, 2010
I’m still in a paleontological mood after yesterday’s big news, so here is another big fossil…literally. Parapuzosia seppenradensis is desmoceratid ammonite from Late Cretaceous Germany, and it is the largest known ammonite species. An incomplete specimen found in 1895 had a diameter of 1.95 meters (~6 ft), and in life it is estimated to have been 2.55 meters (over 8 ft) across.
As big as P. seppenradensis was, it was by no means the largest prehistoric cephalopod. That honor goes to the giant Ordovician orthoconic (i.e. straight-shelled) nautiloid Cameroceras, which may have been as much 11 meters long (~36 ft). Of course that is the topic for another post…
December 30, 2009
I realized that I left out a couple of things from last night’s post, so here’s there rest…
The big book is Prehistoric Life: The Definitive History of Life On Earth by DK Publishing. It’s opened to the the section on Cretaceous invertebrates, and the reconstructed ammonite depicted there is the genus Scaphites.
The ceramic octopus was a gift from my friend Mur, and as soon as I know who made it (or where she got it) I will post an update here.
Lastly, we have one of this year’s Hallmark Keepsake ornaments. “Learning with Mr. Ray” depicts one of my favorite scenes from Disney/Pixar’s Finding Nemo. One of Nemo’s classmates is a young Flapjack Octopus (Opisthoteuthis californiana) named Pearl. Flapjacks, like all Cirrate octopuses, are deep-sea cephalopods, so, if she could have even survived living in a coral reef at all, Pearl must have been a transfer student or something. All the same, it’s nice to see obscure cephalopod species depicted in popular culture!
October 23, 2009
This awesome replica of a turrilitid ammonite is from the Cretaceous Seas diorama at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. I don’t know exactly which type of turrilitid this is, but my best guess is the genus Pseudhelicoceras.
Members of the ammonite family Turrilitidae are characterized by shells that are not typical tight spirals—a condition known to paleontologists as heteromorph. It isn’t clear what ecological niche the turrilitids filled, but at least some species are thought to have drifted up and down in the water column. They lived world-wide during the late Cretaceous period, but, like all ammonites, they went extinct in the same global catastrophe that killed off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
July 21, 2009
June 30, 2009
The career of Ray Harryhausen, the master of stop motion animation, has spanned eight decades. His memorable creations include Mighty Joe Young (1949), the cyclops form The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), the warrior skeletons of Jason and the Argonauts (1963), the dinosaurs of The Valley of Gwangi (1969), and Bubo, the mechanical owl from Clash of the Titans (1981). He is also responsible for two memorable movie cephalopds.
It Came From Beneath The Sea (Columbia Pictures, 1955)
This black and white film tells the story of a rampaging giant octopus, “blasted loose from the depths of the Pacific” by a hydrogen bomb. It terrorizes Pacific shipping lanes before turning it baleful gaze on San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. It takes the United States Navy, an atomic torpedo, and a whole bunch of flame throwers, but the monster is eventually destroyed. (Ooops…Spoiler Alert!)
This may very well be the largest cephalopod in movie history (with one possible exception?), but it is hard to gauge exactly how big this octopus is supposed to be. Judging by its size relative to the Golden Gate Bridge, a single arm could be almost 500 ft long, which would make it something like 30 times the size of the largest reported living octopus.
Mysterious Island (Columbia Pictures, 1961)
This adaptation of Jules Verne’s sequel to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea features a number of Harryhausen classics: a giant crab, a Phorusrhacos (a type of prehistoric flightless bird), giant bees, and, the reason we’re here, the giant ammonite. I haven’t seen this movie in ages, but if I recall, the ammonite encounter occurs near the end of the film during an underwater salvage operation. With the island literally falling down around them, the American castaways (with the help of Captain Nemo’s men) attempt to use their hot air balloon to raise a sunken ship to the surface.
Ammonites are an extinct variety of cephalopod known for their distinctive coiled shells. They lived throughout the Mesozoic Era (251 to 65.5 million years ago) and were wiped out in the same event that ended the dinosaurs. Most are believed to have lived in the open ocean, and the largest known species (Parapuzosia seppenradensis of Late Cretaceous Germany) had a shell 6.5 feet in diameter. The movie ammonite is obviously a tad unrealistic, but that’s the whole point isn’t it?