Before and during PaleoFest 2004—Part 1

On the 19th, two days before the PaleoFest, most of the members of the JANE panel arrived at Burpee Museum to examine new and old developments with JANE’s bones. The panel is a six-member team composed mostly of tyrannosaurid experts who will try to determine what species JANE is.

The members that came were Robert Bakker, Pete Makovicky, Peter Larson, Mike Parrish, and, of course, Mike Henderson of Burpee.

The members present spent many hours postulating and brainstorming in the lab classroom until fatigue drove them to hobnob with labsters who were preparing JANE’s bone portions for display. Bakker, in particular, feels at ease with Burpee employees and volunteers; he is well liked.

On the 19th as I roamed the dino lab, I caught sight of Jim Holstein and Connie Vanbeek, two bone preparators on loan from the Field Museum of Natural History of Chicago. Both were busy vacuuming dust and other sedimentary material from JANE’s pelvic area in the big pod.

Suddenly appearing in my path was bone preparator Deb Moauro. Deb proceeded to tell me about a bone brought back from Montana in two packages of tinfoil and plaster outside the big pod.

Yes, it was one of those bones that got rained on. The bone was fragmented, and the pieces came together a few months ago, but no one was sure what it was or where it belonged. Later, it finally found a home between two pieces of skull. The problem was, it appeared no other tyrannosaurid skull had a similar bone.

On the 19th, Robert Bakker and Peter Makovicky made it official; this skull bone was indeed unique to JANE. It was a bone never before seen, so Bakker and Makovicky temporarily named it Articulatsio Deborhe mediosa. “Deborhe,” of course, was for Deb, who found the bone, worked on it, put it together painstakingly and helped to figure it was unique. Bakker told me that the new bone was basically a ply or wedge between two other bones that made all three stronger. Evolution in action, at least in JANE. On the 21st, the first day of lectures and workshops, speaker David Peters got my vote for most interesting paleotalker. Peters is an author and paleoartist, and his unusual research techniques involving those flying reptiles known as pterosaurs have drawn a lot of attention.

It’s Peters’ contention that ancestors of the pterosaur had wing membranes that were distal decorations instead of body wall parachutes.

Using computers to color code the myriad of different body parts in pterosaur fossils, Peters believes he can ID the normally near-impossible-to-ID scramble of pterosaur bones usually found smashed and pancake-like in stone.

One pterosaur that he talked about in great detail was the Jeholopterus, a Chinese creature he believed had a diet of blood.

There are only two vertebrates known that drink blood from a living host. One is the vampire bat; the other is a bird known as the oxpecker.

The oxpecker drinks blood from insect bites on the large herbivores like cattle. He probably enhances the bite wounds with his powerful beak.

The Jeholopterus resembled a bat more than anything else, and it gave birth, according to Peters, as many fossil specimens had young with them and inside.

One fossil had one youngster hanging upside down on the adult’s chest. Jeholopterus had feathers that resembled hair, two fang-like teeth on the upper dentery and long, narrow webbed wings like the feathered wings of the nighthawk, a common representative of the goatsucker family of birds. Goatsuckers are adept at catching insects on the wing. They don’t get the flying credit they deserve; they are skillful, graceful insect catchers.

Peters contends that a number of pterosaurs were insect eaters. I’m thinking perhaps Jeholopterus developed a taste for blood-filled, jumbo, prehistoric mosquitoes. Then, perhaps over many years, the Jeholopterus developed a taste for just blood!

Rod Myers is a local resident with an interest in the environment and disability issues. He has an associate’s degree in science and a bachelor’s in fine arts. Rod is a member of the Audubon Society, the Wild Ones Natural Landscapers and Rockford Amateur Astronomers, Inc.

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!