Sunday, July 6, 2014

Brachiosaurus, Riverdogs, and Frog Hunting (Day 1, SC 2014)

Here's a brain teaser: how can you tie the 4th of July to Brachiosaurus, South Carolina, and air travel altogether?  It's probably pretty difficult unless you were with me on the 4th of July when my family and I traveled from South Carolina by airplane, while having a layover in Chicago's O'Hare airport in Illinois, where they have a mounted Brachiosaurus skeleton!
My family unwittingly taking part of a scheme I concocted to have them act as scale bars for my Brachiosaurus picture.  They had no idea that I was manipulating them in such a fashion.
But the connection goes a little bit deeper than that, though.  It was actually on the fourth of July, way back when in the year 1900, when H. W. Menke, an assistant of the paleontologist Elmer Riggs, first discovered dinosaur bones at what would one day be called Quarry 13 in Grand Valley, Colorado.  From this quarry, the bones of a unique sauropod were uncovered.  It wasn't until several years later, in 1903, when Riggs gave a scientific name to this new leviathan, Brachiosaurus altithorax.
Today, a cast of this now-famous dinosaur is mounted in the Chicago O'Hare airport, and we got to see it on our layover!  Here are some pictures of this fantastic beastie!  It was originally at the Chicago Field Museum, but apparently was moved to the airport several years ago, to make room for the most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton known, nicknamed "Sue."
Brachiosaurus, as you can see in the pictures, in an extraordinarily large animal!  A sauropod, or long necked dinosaur, its remains have been discovered in the Morrison Formation from the Late Jurassic Period, deposited approximately 150 MYA.  Brachiosaurus differs from other Morrison Formation sauropods such as Apatosaurus and Camarasaurus in that the fore limbs of the animal are much larger than the hind limbs.  In Apatosaurus, the opposite is true, with the fore limbs about twice as short as the hind limbs.  As a matter of fact, the name Brachiosaurus even means "arm lizard!"  
Myself standing next to the brach of Brachiosaurus!  Photo Credit: Julie Neher
A very closely related dinosaur, now known as Giraffatitan brancai, used to be referred to as another species of Brachiosaurus.  Giraffatitan (whose name literally means "giant giraffe"), an African sauropod, is known from the Tendaguru Beds in Tanzania, a formation which is approximately contemporaneous with the Morrison Formation from the western United States.  Other dinosaurs, such as Stegosaurus from the Morrison and Kentrosaurus from Tendaguru, seem pretty closely related.
The foot of Brachiosaurus
We were flying to O'Hare from Charleston in South Carolina.  Although we are back from our trip, I wanted to start with the end of our trip, the Brachiosaurus, as it had that fun little tie-in to the Fourth of July.  But starting from the beginning....
Just from the airport to the rental car place, a pretty short drive, I saw a ton of fun and exciting birds, including cardinals, herons, osprey, and egrets!  South Carolina has a ton of birds, many of which you can see all over the place!  I didn't get any great pictures on the first day, but here we have one of a Mississippi kite (Ictinia mississippiensis)!  I wasn't entirely sure what it was, thinking it might be a harrier, but a quick email to my friend Anne Price, the Curator of Raptors at the Raptor Education Foundation confirmed that it was indeed a Mississippi kite!
This I am almost positive is a Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus), the state bird of South Carolina!  The only other bird that I think is a possibility is the Bewick's wren (Thryomanes bewickii), but the body coloration of this bird makes me think it more likely that it is the Carolina wren.  It is a little tough to see in the photograph below, but the bird is in the middle of the photo.
We love visiting South Carolina so much so that we can see our very good friends the Beckleys!  Once we got to their house and got settled, I went out back to look around for a few minutes, which is when I took that picture of the possible harrier.  They also have different squirrels here in SC: in Boulder, Colorado, we commonly see the fox squirrel (Sciurus niger), while in SC you see another member of the same genus, the eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis).  Apparently, the eastern gray squirrel is the most commonly seen mammal east of the Mississippi River!
Here's a picture of Honey, one of two of the Beckley's dogs!
To celebrate the Fourth of July, our families went to a minor league baseball game featuring the local Charleston RiverDogs (affiliated with the New York Yankees), playing the Rome Braves.  Although the RiverDogs lost, you, the reader, will end up winning, as you get to learn about riverdogs.  
Pete Perez, the pitcher for the Rome Braves.
An awesome RiverDog hat that I got at the game!  On it, you can see that the logo is simply a dog, and not an otter, a salamander, or a turd.  If you are confused, then you are clearly not familiar with the associations that the word "riverdog" has with different people.
At first, I assumed that a riverdog might be a nickname for the otter.  Although the connection seems tenuous (with other, slightly more raunchy suggestions out there), it looks like riverdog might be the nickname for the Hellbender salamander (Crypotobranchus alleganiensis), the largest aquatic salamander in the United States!  The hellbender can often grow to a foot in length, but apparently can sometimes grow to more than two feet!

I thought it was interesting that other salamanders are sometimes given dog-like nicknames, such as "mudpuppy."  Apparently, this nickname is due to the fact that the mudpuppy and waterdogs, all members of the genus Necturus, make a dog-like vocalization.  Like the axolotl, the mudpuppies and waterdogs retain their external gills as they mature.  

Later on in the day, after the sun set, I went out gator huntin' with a flashlight and my camera.  I didn't see any gators, but I saw lots of fun critters on the golf course at night!  First, here we have what I think is a squareback marsh crab (Armases cinereum).  This crab is semi-terrestrial, and I saw it maybe 20 or 30 yards from the nearest pond.
There were also a ton of frogs and toads, many of them concentrated around the sand traps on the golf course, and others in the little sprinkler areas.  I have attempted to identify these frogs to the best of my ability, but I'm not 100% certain about them!  The lighting was weird (it was at night, and I had a flashlight shining on a lot of them), and sometimes the colors of the frogs got washed out.  But I think the frog below is a green tree frog (Hyla cinerea).
I think both of the amphibians below were American toads (Anaxyrus americanus), with the second one actually pretty large, maybe three inches long when sitting like in the picture!
Another little critter that I got a good picture of was the southern leopard frog (Lithobates sphenocephalus).  
Apparently, cockroaches are found in Colorado, but I don't think I've ever seen any of them.  I did see an American cockroach (Periplaneta americana) on my little walkabout, however.  I thought that was kind of cool, because on the airplane today, I read a paper entitled "Cockroaches Probably Cleaned Up After Dinosaurs" (Vršanský et. al.).  The paper discussed how members of the family of proto-cockroaches, the Blatullidae, have been linked to the byproducts of certain types of dinosaurs, using interesting fossil amber from Lebanon.  So I got way more excited about this cockroach then really anyone else would, ever.  

Works Cited:

Cockroaches. (n.d.). Types Of In South Carolina. Retrieved July 4, 2014, from

Cockroach Identification. (n.d.). Cockroaches In Colorado. Retrieved July 4, 2014, from

Descriptions and articles about the Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) - Encyclopedia of Life. (n.d.). Encyclopedia of Life. Retrieved July 4, 2014, from

Eastern Hellbender. (n.d.). Eastern Hellbender. Retrieved July 4, 2014, from

Frogs and Toads of South Carolina and Georgia. (n.d.). Frogs and Toads of South Carolina and Georgia. Retrieved July 4, 2014, from

Hellbender Salamander Facts | The Nature Conservancy. (n.d.). Hellbender Salamander Facts | The Nature Conservancy. Retrieved July 4, 2014, from

Mudpuppies, Mudpuppy Pictures, Mudpuppy Facts - National Geographic. (n.d.). National Geographic. Retrieved July 4, 2014, from

SERTC: Crustacean Photo Gallery. (n.d.). . Retrieved July 4, 2014, from

Squareback Marsh Crab. (n.d.). Squareback Marsh Crab. Retrieved July 4, 2014, from

Taylor, M. P. A Re-Evaluation of Brachiosaurus altithorax (Riggs 1903) (Dinosauria, Sauropod) and It's Generic Separation From Giraffatitan brancai (Janensch, 1914). Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, 29. Retrieved July 4, 2014, from

Vršanský, P., de Kamp, T. v., Azar, D., Prokin, A., Vidlička, L., & Vagovič, P. Cockroaches Probably Cleaned Up After Dinosaurs. PLOS ONE. Retrieved July 4, 2014, from

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...