Dave Hone over at Archosaur Musings had the good fortune to do an investigation into some tooth marks on the upper arm of a really well preserved Saurolophus (a kind of Hadrosaur, or duck billed dinosaur).
The marks came from Tarbosaurus, a very close Asiatic relative to that other, really famous dinosaur… you know the most famous dinosaur.(well known for eating Lawyers off toilets)
So when he asked me if I’d be willing to wave my digital pen around a bit to make some pretty pictures… er, I mean sensible illustrations, I was happy to oblige!
I already had something in mind, Tarbosaurus charging into the unfortunate victim with its jaws agape, using its weaponised head as a giant battering ram/cookie cutter! There’d be blood and maybe some tastefully rendered guts….
Of course Dave’s study didn’t actually reveal the scene I’ve described(poop!). Instead it does that really great thing Science does, uncovers something which changes your perception of nature.
As it turns out the Tarbosaurus found the Saurolophus lying around, already dead and half buried with pretty much only the arm above ground. So it did what anything offered a free lunch would do, it snacked out. I’d probably do the same thing if I came across a block of chocolate sticking out of the ground…. or……. er…. anyway…
So this wasn’t quite as exciting as my scenario, which I was considering pitching to Dave to use as an illustration of what didn’t happen. I reckon I could have sold him on that angle too as I knew, as usual, the media would let Dave down and make his study all about something it wasn’t. (seems things are already heading that way, see below*)
The cool thing the paper shows is that Tarbosaurus was a discerning, even delicate, eater. Instead of gorging the arm whole, Tarbosaurus has used small nips and bites to get the good bits off. So here we have a 5 ton predator with impossibly big teeth the size of railway spikes, using them precisely to get at all the good bits. Like me separating the white chocolate from the milk chocolate on a block of top deck which I may or may not have found, er, sticking out of the ground.
So, by about now you’re saying “Shut Up and show me some pictures! It’s not the Optimistic Writing Blog! I could be over on Facebook telling everyone I’m making a cup of tea!”
Dave needed 2 images, one of each biting strategy used by Tarbosaurus.
We had some lovely discussions about how much flesh would be left on the bones and I found some really gross reference images of skinned crocodiles and their stomach contents, as well as many and varied decomposing animals.
Dave has a penchant for melaninistically challenged (black and/or white) animals and as it seems to suit Tarbosaurus I set out to make him monochromatic.
I have to admit I was a little daunted. At the start of the painting I didn’t have a firm idea of how I was going to approach this animal’s skin. I hadn’t done a complete image of a large, scaly, dinosaur in many years.
So I did a lot of research which has hopefully made for a convincing animal.
*There’s been a long running debate in Palaeontological circles about whether that really famous dinosaur, you know the one, was a hunter or scavenger. Because the Tarbosaurus in this study did what anyone who likes chocolate would do in a similar situation, some of the press are already crying “this proves it was a scavenger!!!!!!” Of course it does nothing of the kind, but it is the sort of sensationalist stuff that gets lots hits on websites..
Plus, anyone knows that given the opportunity I will ambush chocolate as well as scavenge it…