Thursday, April 24, 2014

Monitor Lizards: The Living Dragons

Note from Christian Ryan: I have a big announcement to make: this blog has officially reached 10,539 pageviews!!! I can't believe it! Thanks to everyone who reads my blog!

Can you believe it's already the end of April? I can't! The time has flown so fast. For those of you that are interested, “The King on a Cross” drama went quite well. We had well over 100 people in attendance on Friday night, and around a quarter less on Saturday. It was a great turn out. By the way, my next stop-motion series episode (Animal Face-Off: Brown Bear vs. Siberian Tiger) is in the works. I should have that finished very soon, perhaps by either next Thursday, or the Thursday following it. Without further ado, let's dive into our “usuals”.

Days Till
It is: 16 days till Mother's Day
It is: 52 days till Father's Day
It is: 71 days till Independence Day

In the Spotlight
With filming underway for the long-waited-for third sequel to Jurassic Park, Jurassic World is still keeping the lid on a lot of information regarding plot, details on specific characters, which dinosaurs will be in the film and etc. However, some more information regarding the film has been released this week.

Not too long ago, you'll recall that one of the extras in JW took some pictures of one of the JW sets (presumably of the theme park itself) and posted them onto the internet. This week, more photographs from the set have emerged. Here they are below:

Disclaimer: I don't own any of these photographs; if you own them and would like them taken off, politely make the request and it will be done.

Exactly what the structure is or what it will be used for is uncertain at this point. This has got many fans wondering what it is. If you look closely at the pictures, it appears that the structure has what might be electric fencing at the top. Also, the surroundings of the structure indicate that this area of the park isn't for tourists and is for staff only. This suggests one of two things: either this is what's left of the raptor pen from the first film, or it's where a species of dinosaur – maybe Velociraptor or a scary new dinosaur – is kept. Who knows?

And is if those pictures didn't get you excited enough, we have more photographs from the JW set via Entertainment Weekly:

One photograph shows Bryce Dallas Howard's character (who is believed to be named Beth) in what looks like a control room of some kind. The second is of a construction vehicle which appears to have suffered some dino-damage (dino-damage insurance anyone?). The third is a photo of the director's chair overlooking the picaresque Hawaiian flora.

And if you still aren't excited enough, Empire Magazine had the chance to interview JW's director, Colin Trevorrow. Trevorrow didn't only reveal some details about the film he's directing now, but also that the chances are that Jurassic World won't be the last of the Jurassic Park films. Trevorrow is quoted for saying:
"We wanted to create something that would be a little bit less arbitrary and episodic, and something that could potentially arc into a series that would feel like a complete story"
He also went on to explain a little bit about a relationship between Chris Pratt's and Omar Sy's characters in the film:
"They work together and have some pretty cool action scenes together. I wanted to create a relationship there that could be memorable and potentially carry on to future films."
Last but not least, he revealed something that gets a Jurassic Park fan like me extremely excited: plot details (AWESOME!!!). I've been hoping for more plot details for quite a while, and I finally got my wish. Here is what Trevorrow had to say concerning the film's plot:
"so now we’ve brought back another that happened to be the alpha species during its time, and we have to co-exist, so what is that relationship."
Perhaps the alpha species he's referring to is that scary new species of dinosaur that's been talked about since last year. If that's the case, then we're are getting closer to figuring out the identification of this mysterious creature! Since it might be the “alpha species” Trevorrow talked about, the scary new dinosaur is probably relatively intelligent, like raptors. And it's probably relatively small like raptors too. To me, this makes it seem clear that the new scary dinosaur is a Troodon, or a similar theropod dinosaur. Troodon definitely fits the bill, as it was the most intelligent dinosaur and in the Jurassic Park franchise, has spooky-looking glowing eyes and a nightmarish venom . . . definitely a dinosaur who's appearance will make you want to leave the lights on at night!

Of course, this is all speculation. We'll have to wait until the movie is released to find out!

Last but not least, in an interview with Empire Magazine, Trevorrow confirms the usage of live-action dinosaurs along with CGI dinosaurs, just like the first three films.

Topic of the Week by Christian Ryan
Most species of lizards God created are harmless and rather small, but nothing could be further from the truth when talking about a special group of lizards called monitor lizards! They arguably some of the coolest reptiles God made; at first glance, they look a lot like dinosaurs; but unlike the dinosaurs, monitor lizards are still alive today. The Komodo dragon is probably one of – if not the most – popular species of monitor lizard, but the many species come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Let's learn more about the monitor lizard – the living dragons!

Monitor lizards come in all shapes and sizes.
Being terrestrial, God created monitor lizards on the Sixth Day of the Creation week, 6,000 years ago. There are 73 species of monitor lizards currently described, and while many of them have slightly different appearances, diets and sizes, these lizards share many common features. All monitor lizards – like other lizards – walk on all fours and possess somewhat elongated skulls filled with loads of needle-sharp teeth, long powerful tails and strong claws on their limbs. Various species of monitor lizards are native to many parts of Africa, southeastern Asia and Australia. However, they have been introduced to Florida – especially in the Everglades. As mentioned before, monitor lizards come in different sizes; some of the smallest species of monitor lizards grow only 7.9 inches in length. What about the biggest? Well, that title belongs to none other than the Komodo dragon, of course! Komodo dragons can grow on average between 7.5-8.5 feet from nose to tail! But that's nothing compared to the largest monitor lizard (and the largest terrestrial lizard) ever to exist on the planet: Megalania! Megalania – which looked like a giant version of the Komodo dragon – lived in Australia during the Ice Age and grew 23-26 feet in length!

The size of various monitor lizards compared to a human.
One of the first things you'll notice about monitor lizards is their skin – their unique scales are reinforced with tiny bones known as osteoderms. These osteoderms are kind of like natural chain-mail and keep the lizards safe from many dangers.

The scales of a monitor lizard act like chain mail and protect the lizard from harm.
Now let's look at some of the other features of the monitor lizards. Monitor lizards like the Komodo dragon can see up to a distance of 980 feet, but their eyesight isn't all that great. Nor is their hearing. However, God had these lizards excel in two of their other senses: smell and taste. Like snakes, monitor lizards smell using their forked tongues instead of their nostrils. They do this by first, flicking their tongues out of their mouths to taste and collect scent molecules. With the scent molecules on its tongue, the lizard retracts it back into the mouth where it is able to decipher the scents its tongue collected using the Jacobson's organ. Pretty cool, huh? Did you know that a Komodo dragon can smell carrion from over 2.5-5.9 miles away depending on how the wind is blowing?

Monitor lizards smell with their tongues like snakes do.
They may not look it, but did you know monitor lizards are very intelligent reptiles? Studies have proven that not only are some species able to count, but they also can figure out clever ways to get food. In the wild, a monitor lizard was once observed luring a mother crocodile away from her nest, allowing his fellow lizard to sneak to the nest and eat the crocodile's eggs! Then the first monitor lizard got his turn to steal eggs. Monitor lizards have also been known to gang up on prey. And Komodo dragons at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. are able to recognize their keepers and even have their own unique personalities. Monitor lizards aren't nearly as dopey as they might look!

Komodo dragons and other monitor lizards are very smart animals.
The habitat in which a monitor lizard lives and the lizard's size influences what prey it eats. Most monitor lizards, like the Lace and Nile monitor lizards, are carnivorous and aren't very picky eaters – they will consume birds, eggs, fish, small mammals and even smaller reptiles. Others prefer larger meals. Komodo dragons would starve if they had to live off of what their smaller relations eat! No, dragons prefer to eat a wide variety of food including carrion, other reptiles (including smaller dragons!), birds, eggs, monkeys, small mammals, wild pigs, deer, goats, horses and water buffalo! Despite their large size, Komodo dragons are surprisingly fast and can reach speeds of 12 mph in short bursts and will even dive up to 15 feet underwater in pursuit of a meal. Monitor lizards can maintain higher rates of activity than most other reptiles because they have a relatively high metabolic rate for reptiles.

Monitor lizards are expert swimmers, climbers and runners.
You might be wondering how on earth a creature like a Komodo dragon is able to bring down water buffalo. Sure, its got strength and sharp teeth . . . but it is a lizard, and it's relatively low to the ground compared to the buffalo. Well, you might have heard that Komodo dragons can kill their prey thanks to special deadly bacteria in their mouth. The bacteria was believed to thrive in their jaws because little bits of meat from previous meals would get stuck in between the teeth and rot. Once bitten, the buffalo or other prey animal later dies of infection. But guess what? Recent studies have revealed that the bacteria of Komodo dragons actually isn't actually that deadly. In fact, it's no more deadly than the bacteria found on one of their prey animals, or in the mouth of a lion, or even in the mouth of a kindergartener! So what's the secret?

The mouth of a Komodo dragon isn't actually filled with deadly bacteria-filled saliva.
It wasn't until very recently that scientists took a close look at the flaps of skin hanging from where the lower jaw bones are, and this is the same location where you'll find a venom gland in many venomous snakes. See the connection? Perhaps Komodo dragons were actually venomous? Scientists examined the head of a Komodo dragon and found their hypothesis to be correct: venom glands were indeed present in that spot. So how does a Komodo dragon kill its prey? What it does, is it sits and waits patiently for a prey animal to get close before it strikes! It bites the prey and allows it to escape. However, the venom causes the bitten animal to suffer from blood clotting, lowering blood pressure, muscle paralysis and other nasty effects that cause shock and loss of consciousness. Then the dragons move in for the feast. Afterward, researchers also found out that other monitor lizards, such as the Lace monitor, also have a venomous bite. Yikes!

Komodo dragons kill large animals like buffalo with a venomous bite.
Now let's look at several species of monitor lizards:

Lace Monitor (Varanus varius)
As one might suggest based on this photograph, Lace monitors often climb trees in the wild.
This species of monitor lizard is the second largest in the world, measuring almost seven feet in length, most of which being due to their long tails. The largest individuals weigh around 44 pounds. Lace monitors make their home in eastern Australia and unlike the largest lizard in the world, these guys are largely arboreal. Their diet consists of bird eggs, other reptiles, insects, small mammals and birds. Like other monitors, they love eating carrion. Up until recently, Lace monitors were thought to possess deadly bacteria in their mouths like the Komodo dragon was thought to have. Today we know that they're mildly venomous.

Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis)
Komodo dragons are the largest lizards living today.
As its name suggests, the Komodo dragon lives on the island of Komodo in the Indian Ocean. With the largest of the species growing up to 10 feet long and weighing on average about 150 pounds, these lizards are far larger than most other monitor lizards. Often times once an animal species reaches an island, it will either grow larger or smaller over time through a process of natural selection (which is different from evolution). When a creature that reaches an island grows larger, the process is called Insular gigantism. No one is quite sure why this occurred in Komodo dragons, but some scientists theorize that they grew big is because they hunted the island's now-extinct population of dwarf elephants known as Stegodons. As you read a few paragraphs before, Komodo dragons are now known to be venomous, and they use their venom to bring down large prey that can be found on Komodo Island such as wild boar, deer and water buffalo. After the initial attack, the dragon follows the victim via its acute sense of smell and once the animal dies from the venom or is too weak to put up a fight, the biter and other nearby Komodo dragons join in the feast. These lizards have also been observed using their tails to knock down large mammals. Sometimes, dragons will also eat humans, but these attacks are rare (fortunately). When it comes time for a mother dragons to lay their eggs, they either dig large burrows to lay them in, or they lay them in abandoned nesting mounds of the local Orange-footed scrubfowl. Around 20 eggs are laid and they incubate for approximately 7-8 months. Once they hatch, they emerge from the nest into an unforgiving world. Mother dragons don't show any parental care for their young and adults are known to be cannibalistic – juvenile dragons make up 10% of the adults' diet! So the young dragons are mostly arboreal, meaning they live mostly in trees, since adults can't climb and there's plenty of food for the young lizards in trees. Komodo dragon babies also have another way to avoid being eaten by older individuals: they roll around in dung. Yes, it's disgusting, but adult dragons can't stand eating faeces. It's a tough life for a young dragon!

Nile Monitor (Varanus niloticus)
Nile monitors are known for stealing eggs from crocodile nests.
A relatively large species of monitor lizard growing up to five feet from snout to tail. Some specimens have been known to reach sizes of around eight feet though. As their name suggests, they live around the Nile River, but they can also be found just about everywhere else on the continent of Africa as well. Though not native there, populations of these lizards are found in Florida and they are suspected to be responsible for many missing pets from that area. Nile monitors make their home around rivers and feed mainly on crocodile eggs and young, fish, frogs, carrion, small mammals, snakes, birds, large insets and snails. Thanks to a relatively high metabolism for a reptile, Nile monitors an run rather fast on land and are excellent climbers and swimmers.

Gray's Monitor (Varanus olivaceus)
The Gray's monitor, also known as the Butaan, is one of the few largely fruit-eating monitor lizards.
Like all other species of monitor lizards, Gray's monitor – also called the Butaan – possesses an acute sense of smell, a forked tongue, sharp teeth, strong claws and limbs and tough scales. But this lizard's diet might surprise you: while it occasionally supplements its diet with crabs, birds, eggs, snails, spiders and beetles, the Butaan mainly eats ripe fruit! That's right! The 180-centimeter long relation of the ferociously carnivorous Komodo dragon eats mainly fruit – especially the ripe fruit of the Pandanus. This might explain why it's largely arboreal. Unlike many monitor lizards, Butaan are rather shy creatures and will hide from humans if possible. They are unique to the lowlands of some islands in the Philippines. Why do these lizards have such a bizarre diet? Scientists believe that it might be so that it doesn't compete with water monitors, which live in the same places.

Megalania (Varanus priscus)
Megalania was the largest terrestrial lizard and possibly the largest venomous creature ever to exist on the planet.
The largest species of monitor – as well as the largest species of terrestrial lizard – is the Megalania. It isn't the largest species of lizard of all though; that title belongs to an unrelated extinct family of marine lizards known as the mosasaurs, some of which grew over 50 feet in length! Megalania made its home in southern Australia during the Ice Age that occurred soon after the Genesis Flood had ended; back then, around 4,250 to perhaps 3,650 years ago, Australia was a much wetter place than it is today. Forests stretched over much of the now-dry continent and made a perfect hunting ground for the giant lizard. Very few Megalania fossils have been found, so it's a good thing their relations still live on today. Scientists look at Megalania's relatives, Komodo dragons, Lace monitors and other monitor lizards to help piece together what Megalania would have looked like and behaved. Megalania grew about 23-26 feet long and weighing 710 to a maximum of around 4,280 pounds. That's a big lizard! What on earth would feed such an awesome lizard? How about a rhino-sized wombat or a ten-foot tall kangaroo? Extinct relatives of many of today's marsupials were giants when Megalania was alive. Procoptodon was a giant ten-foot kangaroo, and Diprotodon was a giant wombat, the size of a rhino or a car! It is also likely that Megalania had a venomous bite like its monitor lizard cousins. We can't be completely sure, as venom glands don't fossilize, but if it was indeed venomous, it would have been the largest venomous animal ever known to exist on the planet! How did the Megalania go extinct? Well, we don't know for sure, but it's likely that the great lizard's food supply was greatly effected by the loss of its main food supply. Its main food supply probably died off due to the drying of the Australian continent as the Ice Age progressed. With no food, Megalania would have starved out of existence.

I'm very glad that God created monitor lizards, and who wouldn't be? They're cool looking and have really amazing features that help them survive. But there's still much to learn about these incredible lizards!

Venomous, carnivorous, predatory and dangerous, monitor lizards deserve respect.
PS 1: To post a comment (this is highly encouraged), please simply click the post you wish to comment on, scroll to the bottom of the page and put what you wish to say or ask in the comment box. Then in the box below the comment box choose who you’re going to comment as. And then click preview or publish. If you aren’t signed into Google, you’ll be asked to type in a word and a number in the space provided. Type the word, put a space and then put the number. Then your comment is on the blog!

PS 2: Have a puzzling question about animals (including dinosaurs), myself, my latest book, my stop-motion movies, Creation or etc? Please post your question as a comment or send me an email at

PS 3: What’s the new in the news? Check it out at SMILEY’S NEWS.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Animal Face-Off is Back!!!

Yes, you read the title of this blog post right: my very first stop-motion series, Animal Face-Off is back! But that's far from the only news I have to share (more on Animal Face-Off later)! In other news, our Easter drama, “The King on a Cross” is this weekend! I can't believe it! It seemed like just yesterday that we began memorizing our lines and the such. There will be two dramas held: one on April 18, which is today, at 6:00 p.m. and one on April 19, which is tomorrow, at 2:00 p.m. The cast and I can't wait to once again portray the end of Jesus' life, death and eventual resurrection and its far reaching implications. I'm also so excited that we'll be celebrating Christ's resurrection this Sunday! Easter's almost here!

Days Till
It is: the Friday night performance of “The King on a Cross” today!
It is: 1 day till the Saturday performance of “The King on a Cross”
It is: 2 days till Easter Sunday
It is: 4 days till Earth Day

In the Spotlight
As many of you already know, Jurassic World (formally called Jurassic Park 4) is in the filming process; they are filming in Hawaii. Some photographs from the first day of shooting can be viewed below:

I do not own any of these images, they are from this link.
I don't know what scenes they shot for the film, but based on the images, it appears that the theme park in the film will be quite busy! Let's hope the T. rex doesn't get too hungry if she breaks out . . . again!

In other news, while Jurassic World is still filming, another sequel to a popular movie has just released its first trailer! The movie I'm talking about it Dolphin Tale 2, which will be coming out on September 19th! You can view the trailer to the upcoming film below:

I for one really like this trailer; it appears that it will have the same story qualities that we loved from the first one. But hey, so long as its family friendly, has a good story, Nathan Gambles, Cozi Zuehlsdorff and Winter in it (which we know it does), I'm good to go!

Topic of the Week by Christian Ryan
This week, our topic isn't going to consist around an article. I had an article in mind of course, but I decided that I'd bring my latest stop-motion video to everyone's attention since it's been almost a year since I published my last one! As you've already guessed based on this post's title, I have officially started season 2 of my Animal Face-Off series! I'm really impressed by how the first series turned out. As you might recall, there were nine episodes in the first season: Lion vs. Tiger, Hippo vs. Bull Shark, Elephant vs. Rhino, Velociraptor vs. Protoceratops, Velociraptor vs. Ankylosaur, Tyrannosaurus vs. Ankylosaurus, Tarantula vs. Scorpion, Tyrannosaurus vs. Spinosaurus and The Battle at Kruger. I'm not exactly sure how many episodes this season will have, but probably close to 11 episodes. I can't wait for them to be completed!
Here are many of the creatures planned for Animal Face-Off season 2!
Last year, you probably remember that I was working on a series called Planet of the Dinosaurs. Why did I not do episodes 3-6 and skip to Animal Face-Off season 2? Well, frankly, for several months I didn't have the time or space to set up to create the stop-motion videos. But now that I do, I wasn't really “into” doing Planet of the Dinosaurs, so I figured I'd start with something short and relatively easy to do before mounting the huge Planet of the Dinosaurs project.

So with all that out of the way, what's in this first episode of Animal Face-Off? Well episode number one is called Cougar vs. Gray Wolf. These two creatures are natural enemies. I would now like to take some time to actually talk about each of the creatures before I show you my face-off.

The cougar is also known as the catamount, the mountain lion, the puma, the Florida panther and the painter.
The cougar is known by many different names: the catamount, the Florida panther, the puma, the mountain lion and the painter. It can grow almost three feet tall at the shoulders, nine feet in length and average a weight of 220 pounds. These cats are also very adaptable and can be found in a variety of different habitats. Some are found in the high, rocky mountains of the Rockies – where today's face-off takes place – others live in desert canyons and lowlands, and still others can be found in tropical jungles, swamps and everywhere in between. They can be found in both North and South America. Cougar's used to have a much wider range than they do today and used to live pretty much all the way to the eastern seaboard of the United States; today they're restricted mostly to the western side of the country (though there are some in Florida's Everglades). Did you know that the cougar also has a wide dinner menu? They have been known to eat anything from small mammals to deer and elk! The cougar likes to use the element of surprise to attack its dinner and when it attacks, it rarely misses and uses a swift neck bite to kill the prey quickly. Cougars are fascinating leapers, jumping 45 feet straight into the air!

The gray wolf uses numbers, speed, endurance, craftiness and teamwork to bring down prey larger than itself.
The gray wolf is also quite adaptable and is found through much of North America. It grows around five feet in length, 32 inches tall at the shoulders and weighs around 79 pounds. Unlike the cougar, wolves hunt in packs to bring down their prey, which usually consists of small birds and mammals to large elk, moose and bison. Wolves don't usually try to muscle prey larger than themselves to the ground. Instead, they use teamwork to chase the prey over long distances until they either tire the prey out, or bite particular parts of the leg that cause the animal to stumble and fall. The wolf's howl is one of the most iconic of animal sounds; contrary to popular belief, they don't really howl at the moon. Instead, the wolf howls to communicate with other wolves – often times a whole pack will howl at a rivaling wolf pack in the distance to keep them off their turf! Wolves can run up to 40 miles per hour when chasing after prey.

Now that we know a little bit about each animal in today's face-off, let's watch the video! Here it is:

Well, how did you all like the face-off? Please be sure to let me know in the comments below. Have a very, very Happy Easter everyone!

PS 1: To post a comment (this is highly encouraged), please simply click the post you wish to comment on, scroll to the bottom of the page and put what you wish to say or ask in the comment box. Then in the box below the comment box choose who you’re going to comment as. And then click preview or publish. If you aren’t signed into Google, you’ll be asked to type in a word and a number in the space provided. Type the word, put a space and then put the number. Then your comment is on the blog!

PS 2: Have a puzzling question about animals (including dinosaurs), myself, my latest book, my stop-motion movies, Creation or etc? Please post your question as a comment or send me an email at

PS 3: What’s the new in the news? Check it out at SMILEY’S NEWS.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Dinosaur Renaissance pt. 3: The Dinosaur Revolution Continues!

Hey everyone! I have some great news to share about Jurassic World and Dolphin Tale 2. So before Palm Sunday gets here (yes, it's that time of year again! Hooray!), let's dive right into it before we go into the third and final part of my series, The Dinosaur Renaissance.

Days Till
It is: 3 days till Palm Sunday! Happy Palm Sunday everyone in advance!
It is: 8 days till the Friday night performance of “The King on a Cross”
It is: 10 days till Easter Sunday

In the Spotlight
Normally, I'd start off this section of the blog post with some Jurassic World news, but I'll do things a little differently today by starting with another great upcoming film: Dolphin Tale 2! Loads of information has been revealed concerning this movie, right down to some key plot points.

For those of you who haven't seen the first film (inspired by a true story), it's a film about a dolphin found with its tail caught in a crab trap. An 11-year old boy named Sawyer Nelson (portrayed by Nathan Gambles), one of my favorite characters in the film, “finds” the dolphin on washed up on the beach (technically, a local fisherman found it, but that's another story) and workers from the local Clearwater Marine Aquarium (at the time called the Clearwater Marine Hospital) headed by Dr. Clay Hasket (portrayed by Harry Connick Jr.) rescues the dolphin and brings it back to their facility. Unfortunately, the dolphin – whom the Dr. Clay's daughter (another one of my favorite characters), Hazel Hasket (portrayed by one of my favorite actresses, Cozi Zuehlsdorff) named Winter (another one of my favorite characters in the film) – suffers from a nasty infection on her tail which has to be removed. The movie portrays how Winter struggled to overcome the obstacle of losing her tail needed for swimming by using a prosthetic tail that Sawyer thought up.

According to USA Today, the Dolphin Tale 2 movie is again about Winter. This time, her foster mother, Panama, dies (she really died in reality) and Dr. Clay is forced to try and find a new friend for Winter. All the original main cast is coming back in this sequel and we'll also see a new dolphin named Hope. Like Winter, Hope is also a real dolphin who lives at the CMA in reality. Several images from the film were released this week. Personally, I think they're totally awesome! Here they are below:

Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman from DT2.
Cozi Zuehlsdorff, Harry Connick Jr. and Morgan Freeman.
Nathan Gamble and Cozi Zuehlsdorff.
Nathan Gamble, Cozi Zuehlsdorff and a dolphin (possibly Winter?).
So what's the other big news bit about DT2? Well, the first trailer for the film is coming out tomorrow in theaters! It's going to be shown with the movie Rio 2, which can be seen below behind Cozi Zuehlsdorff in this photo she posted onto her twitter account:

The first trailer of Dolphin Tale 2 -- with a cast including Cozi Zuehlsdorff seen in the photo above -- will be appearing alongside Rio 2 starting tomorrow!
Dolphin Tale 2 comes out on September 19, 2014! I'm practically leaping up and down in excitement . . . literally!

Anyway, a bus-load of news concerning Jurassic World (formally known as Jurassic Park 4), which is coming out on June 12, 2015. Last week, it was announced by the film's director, Colin Trevorrow, that three as-of-yet unannounced female actresses will be in the film. This week, the names of the three actresses were revealed: Judy Greer, Katie McGrath, Lauren Lapkus!

Judy Greer will be portraying Bryce Dallas Howard's character's sister in Jurassic World!
Katie McGrath is going to be in Jurassic World!
Also, a fan recently asked Judy Greer if she would be portraying Bryce Dallas Howard's character's (who's name is believed to be Beth) sister, due to their similar appearance. Greer confirmed that she would be. Given this fact, many fans believe that since the two young stars in JW, Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins are playing the nephews of Bryce Dallas Howard's character, that Greer is going to be playing Robinson and Simpkin's characters' mother.

Yet, after all that exciting news, I'm still not done. Here it is guys, probably the most thrilling Jurassic World news ever heard since it was revealed that the movie was being made is, drum-roll please . . . *drum-roll*: Universal Pictures is going to start filming TOMORROW in their Hawaii location!!! I'm really excited about this! Finally, after 12 long years, Jurassic World is leaving the pre-production stage and moving onto the actual production stage of development! We Jurassic Park fans should remember this grand moment. Finally, this movie will get to see the light and we'll see packs of Velociraptors, Tyrannosaurus and the new scary dinosaur we've been teased about roaming around Patel Corporation's new theme park! Get your seat-belts on, because with the movie entering the filming stage of development, we should be getting a lot of news coming in . . . a lot of news!

Velociraptors will prowl Jurassic World on June 12, 2015!

Topic of the Week by Christian Ryan
Part 1 of my series, “The Dinosaur Renaissance”, focused on the early beginnings of our view of dinosaurs. These discoveries helped us to see that there were once creatures God created that aren't still with us today. In fact, there were entire ecosystems that don't exist today! And in part 2, we looked at the ever evolving view of dinosaurs as our knowledge continued to grow (so there's no confusion: our views of dinosaurs evolved, not the dinosaurs themselves). The final part of this series will look at the most recent change in our understanding of dinosaurs and how it's still ever-changing to this day!

Dinosaurs have changed a lot over the years, as one can see by looking at this Victorian-age depiction of Megalosaurus.
This is how Megalosaurus looked in real life.
By the early 1900's, dinosaurs were becoming more and more famous and made numerous appearances in books and movies. The famous author Conan Doyle, popular for creating Sherlock Holmes, published what is probably the first book featuring dinosaurs as a major part of the story. He called his book The Lost World, and published it in 1912; the book also inspired a movie by the same name which was released in 1925. By this time, audience loved the monsters dinosaurs were portrayed as. These creatures were nothing like the dinosaurs we know in the 21st century! Here's what was written concerning the descriptions of the dinosaur known as Iguanodon at the time from The Lost World novel and you'll see what I mean:
There were, I say, five of them, two being adults and three young ones. In size they were enormous. Even the babies were as big as elephants, while the two large ones were far beyond all creatures I have ever seen. They had slate-colored skin, which was scaled like a lizard's . . . All five were sitting up, balancing themselves upon their broad, powerful tails and their huge three-toed hind-feet, while with their small five-fingered front-feet they pulled down the branches upon which they browsed . . . they looked like monstrous kangaroos, twenty feet in length . . .
This is a picture from The Lost World novel; a herd of inaccurate Iguanodon are feeding. Near the bottom left side of the picture, some explorers can be seen.
And here is a description of the carnivorous theropod Allosaurus from the same novel:
Suddenly from the near belt of trees there broke forth a group of twelve or fifteen Indians, running for their lives, and at their very heels two of those frightful monsters which had disturbed our camp and pursued me upon my solitary journey. In shape they were like horrible toads, and moved in a succession of springs, but in size they were of incredible bulk, larger than the largest elephant . . . indeed they are nocturnal animals save when disturbed in their lairs, as these had been . . . their blotched and warty skins were of curious fish-like iridescence . . . Their slow reptilian natures cared nothing for wounds, and the springs of their lives, with no special brain center . . . could not be tapped by any modern weapons.”
Of course, these two excerpts from The Lost World would be looked upon with scorn by scientists and the general public, as these two descriptions of dinosaurs are incredibly inaccurate. But they perfectly portray how dinosaurs were believed to look like and behave at the time. When would the view of slow, dimwitted, cold-blooded monsters change?

Dinosaurs used to be portrayed as slow and dumb reptiles that dragged their tails along the ground.
Well, as we've learned in Part 2, most two-legged dinosaurs were portrayed basically the same way – standing completely upright in a tripod posture, using the tail, which dragged along the ground behind the animal, as a prop. But this was all to change back when the 1960's came around; paleontologist John Ostrom made the alarming discovery of an all-new species. Meet Deinonychus!

Deinonychus was unlike scientists' ideas of dinosaur; it was a fast, agile and relatively intelligent carnivore.
Now known to be a member of the raptor, or dromaeosaur family, this dinosaur was completely different from the way we thought dinosaurs looked like. Instead of the big, lazy and cumbersome dinosaurs of earlier times, Deinonychus was lethal and agile that grew 11 feet long and stood about three-five feet tall, depending on its stance at any given time. It had an ferocious set of jaws filled with sharp teeth, grasping and clawed forearms, a long stiff tail for balance while running and, it's most deadly weapons, a sickle-shaped, retractable six-inch claw on the second toe of each foot. These claws are thought to be used to finish off its prey. Perhaps one of the most interesting things to note about this dinosaur, was that it could run, fast! Paleontologists believe it ran in excess of 30-40mph! In order to be able to be an efficient predator, Deinonychus couldn't be sluggish and lazy. Later tests would prove that it wasn't a dimwit either! There was no way around a new fact: Deinonychus wasn't what everyone thought a dinosaur was at the time and the view people had of dinosaurs had to be changed. The Dinosaur Renaissance had officially begun!

There were some other things about Deinonychus that scientists such as John Ostrom noticed: he didn't discover one Deinonychus, but four of them AND an herbivore called Tenontosaurus. The herbivore had bite marks on its bones and scattered around its body. Maybe some theropods weren't solitary hunters, but instead hunted in packs like modern wolves or lions? This was definitely a possibility! Deinonychus was also an unusually smart dinosaur – perhaps owning the intelligence of a modern eagle or wolf – and this got scientists thinking that maybe their ideas about other dinosaur species were wrong as well.

As depicted in Jurassic Park, dromaeosaurs like Deinonychus might have hunted in packs.
Paleontologist Robert Bakker was one of the most influential scientists in the Dinosaur Renaissance movement. He argues that fossils prove that dinosaurs were much more agile, active and intelligent than we initially gave them credit for (and today this is known to be true). But before we go into the topic of our new perception about dinosaur behaviors and physiology, let's discuss how their very appearance changed! After looking at the skeletons of many dinosaurs, scientists found out that many of their reconstructions – the ones that portrayed bipedal dinosaurs standing in a tripod posture – were wrong! Why? Well, the reasons were obvious: by reconstructing dinosaurs in these positions, they had to break the dinosaur's back, neck and tail! They also began taking a closer look at the muscle scars on dinosaur fossils.

Contrary to initial depictions, dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus rex walked with their backs parallel to the ground.
Muscle scars were used to determine how and where the tendons once were attached to the bones. It turned out that the muscles and tendons would not have allowed for the tripod posture for dinosaurs – instead, scientists learned that theropods such as T. rex and Allosaurus, actually walked with their heads, necks, backs and tails held horizontally to the ground. The hadrosaurs and iguanodonts, it turned out, were primarily quadrupeds, meaning they walked on four legs. They only used their two back legs alone when running. There's also another major problem with the tail-dragging idea – few, if any, dinosaur tracks have been found with evidence of tail drag marks, like the ones you find in the trackways of living reptiles, such as crocodiles and lizards (not to mention the fact that the muscles and tendons in their tail would not have allowed the tail to be dragged in any species of dinosaur). Dinosaurs never dragged their tails. Instead, scientists now believe that dinosaurs were more like birds and mammals in many ways, rather than reptiles. This however is not because they're related to birds (as evolutionists would have you believe), but because both birds and dinosaurs have the same Designer! During the 1970's, thanks to the work of scientists like Bakker, restorations of dinosaurs portrayed the creatures more like the ones we see in movies such as Jurassic Park. This isn't where the Dinosaur Renaissance stops though.

Even our ideas about dinosaur physiology changed. We used to believe that dinosaurs were cold-blooded brutes that had to bask in the sun like modern reptiles to keep themselves energized (this is why modern reptiles are sluggish on chilly days). But in recent decades, scientists have been able to study dinosaur growth patterns and their possible behavior in finer detail than before thanks to new technology (e.g. CAT scan machines are used to see inside dinosaur bones). Beginning in the 1960's, Bakker suggested that dinosaurs were capable of sustained rates of high activity, which is very unlike modern reptiles. By looking at dinosaur growth patterns, we can see that many species of dinosaurs reached adulthood quickly (the sauropods could reach sexual maturity within a few decades!). The rates in which dinosaurs grew in unheard of in modern reptiles. This suggests that instead of being cold-blooded, dinosaurs were warm-blooded.

Did you know that T. rex had a teenage growth spurt, just like we do?
Another piece of evidence that dinosaurs were warm-blooded comes from studies that took place in 2013. The study concluded that based on what we know about dinosaur behavior, they couldn't have been cold-blooded because a cold-blooded metabolism wouldn't have allowed for the types of dinosaur behavior we know about from fossils! For instance, many dinosaurs could run at fast speeds that would have left modern reptiles (quite literally) in the dust. Dinosaurs also stood with their legs relatively straight underneath their body (unlike some older reconstructions which portray them splaying out like a lizard's). Only warm-blooded animals today stand and walk with their legs relatively underneath their body, so there really isn't much of a reason for dinosaurs to have been any different. The evidence points to warm-blooded dinosaurs!

Even since the 1960's, our knowledge of dinosaur behavior has changed dramatically! As mentioned before, new evidence suggests that their behaviors were more akin to birds and mammals than to lizards and crocodiles. Many times, many of the same species of dinosaurs from various kinds of dinosaurs including hadrosaurs, ceratopsians, ornithomimids, ornithopods (e.g. Iguanodon) have been found in the same place and all died at the same time. Sometimes, hundreds of the same species of dinosaurs all died at the same time and place – this means that these animals were probably herding creatures, just like many modern mammals. Another thing that's worth noting is that many of these dinosaurs that lived in herds have elaborate head structures, for instance: ceratopsians, like Triceratops, are famous for their horns and frills and hadrosaurs, such as Parasaurolophus has large crests, just to name a few examples. Paleontologists now believe that these dinosaurs were not only herd animals, but they also might have had hierarchy within the herd. The brilliant spikes of the leader of a herd ceratopsian Styracosaurus could send a message to other members of the herd, as if to say, “I'm a strong and healthy individual! It would be a waste of time for you to fight me for dominance.” This is similar behavior to what we see in bison, deer and other mammals with crazy headgear. These vast herds of dinosaurs, some of which hundreds of members strong, were escaping from the destruction of Noah's Flood when the flood waters overcame them and buried them quickly, leaving them to fossilize.

The mighty Styracosaurus probably lived in herds.
Theropods – the group consisting mostly of carnivorous dinosaurs – might have also lived in groups. Remember the Deinonychus we mentioned earlier that were found together? In Utah, over 60 specimens of Allosaurus have been found in one location. This probably doesn't represent one pack, but perhaps as the waters of Noah's Flood rose higher, multiple packs of Allosaurus were driven together before they were eventually overcome with water. Trackways in Asia reveal that a few dromaeosaurs related to Deinonychus were probably walking together as a pack. We even have evidence for pack-hunting in tyrannosaurs. In Canada, the fossils of a few Daspletosaurus (a close relative of T. rex) were found next to the fossils of a hadrosaur; maybe these dinosaurs worked together to bring down the hadrosaur for lunch! Some Tyrannosaurus rex fossils have also been discovered in close proximity to each other. So as you can see, there's tremendous evidence for herding and packing behaviors in many species of dinosaurs.

Carnivores such as Daspletosaurus might have hunted in packs.
Sauropods and stegosaurs seemed to have lived in herds; trackways have been discovered that portray multiple members of the same species moving together (if you ask me, it's extremely unlikely that these were just solitary animals following each other's footsteps!). Bakker even has a theory about how sauropods moved in their herds: he believes that, based on the footprints, many sauropods traveled with the younger members of the herd in the middle, with the adults forming a protective ring around them.

A herd of traveling sauropods would be an amazing sight!
Did you know that study of dinosaur behaviors goes deeper than just mere herding and packing? Before the Dinosaur Renaissance, it was believed that dinosaurs laid their eggs (sometimes as many as a hundred, depending on the species) and moved on, leaving the youngsters to fend for themselves. In the late 1970's, another paleontologist important to the Dinosaur Renaissance, Jack Horner, and his team discovered a nesting colony of a new species of hadrosaur. The nests they found were filled with adults and both young and eggs (some of which containing embryos of the unhatched young). Based on the fossils, scientists learned that the hatchlings were weak upon hatching, and they couldn't have foraged by themselves, so at least one individual – presumably the mother – must have fed and protected them. Horner named the dinosaur Maiasaura, appropriately meaning “good mother lizard”.

Maiasaura probably cared for its eggs and young until they were old enough to fend for themselves.
Also, a discovery in Mongolia hailed another dinosaur parent: Oviraptor. Many different specimens of this dinosaur have been found actually sitting on their nests, just like modern birds do when they're incubating them! Troodontids, small dinosaur similar to the dromaeosaurs, have been found sitting on their nests as well. In 2013, nests of a not-too-well understood dinosaur, a therizinosaur, were discovered in Asia. Dinosaur nests, including the ones from the therizinosaurs, are often found in a circular pattern (similar to the way modern birds lay their eggs); this suggests that other theropods cared for the young as well. We don't have any direct evidence (yet) for parental care in tyrannosaurs, they might have cared for their young too, just like modern crocodilians and birds do.

But despite these new discoveries, dinosaurs were still viewed in the exact same way by the general public . . . at least until the movie Jurassic Park, roared into theaters in 1993! This was when the general public finally caught up. Jurassic Park was the very first dinosaur movie to not only portray dinosaurs that looked real, but also overall reflects how they most likely behaved. In the movie, they portray dinosaurs moving about in herds, actively moving about and catching prey (mostly humans), and in sequels, they even portray the dinosaurs investing in parental care. Into the 21st century, dinosaurs are still popular in the public eye and are the main focus in movies, books, museums, games, TV shows, and even toy shops. They're practically everywhere!

Since Jurassic Park was released in theaters, dinosaurs continued to become more and more famous!
The Dinosaur Renaissance has rapidly changed our view of these amazing animals that once used to walk the earth. Yet, there's still a lot of things that we don't know and are only just learning (for instance, it was only discovered late last year that Edmontosaurus regilis, had a fleshy head crest). In fact, the Dinosaur Renaissance is far from over . . . it's really only just beginning! As we continue to learn more and more about these reptiles, one thing remains clear: these animals were not poorly evolved brutes and monsters destined for extinction as evolutionary failures as initially depicted; instead, these were animals that really existed and were regally designed by an intelligent Creator – God – that beautifully showcase His mighty handiwork!
Dinosaurs are awesome!

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