Thursday, May 1, 2014

Dinosaur Babies: The Crèche

The new May issue of Ranger Rick magazine has an article on baby dinosaurs that I illustrated. One of the paintings shows an adult Parasaurolophus grazing amid water lilies, while several juveniles hunt insects nearby.

I started with a pencil underdrawing on illustration board. I sealed the drawing with acrylic matte medium and then applied oil paint. I chose effects of light and color that would make the painting match up with the look of the wildlife photography that comprises most of the magazine.

The idea evolved from a variety of sketches that I did after reading the book Eggs, Nests, and Baby Dinosaurs: A Look at Dinosaur Reproduction by paleontologist Kenneth Carpenter, director of the USU Eastern Prehistoric Museum.  I also read several books about how crocodiles and birds raise their young. The purpose of the sketches is to try a lot of ideas and not get attached to any of them, but rather to use them as a stimulus for expert feedback.

The magazine's editors reviewed the sketches, as did Dr. Carpenter himself. He cautioned me against showing dinosaur young in the nest, pointing out that large-bodied dinosaurs brooding on eggs would crush them, and reminding me that for most dinosaurs, there's not that much conclusive proof of altricial (helpless or dependent) behavior among dinosaur young.

He said, "The parental care business is on shaky ground. Yes, there are oviraptorid skeletons that appear to be surrounded by eggs, but that cannot be translated into ALL dinosaurs as has been done....I do not think it co-incidental that groups of baby dinosaurs are NOT found with adults (except when faked). To me, that does not argue for babies remaining in a nest with parents lovingly bringing food, but rather babies on their own."

Following his suggestions, I moved away from illustrating a nesting scene, or even a scene of the parent actively feeding or regurgitating food for the young. Instead, I imagined the scene as a crèche of young sticking close to the adult for safety. Very young dinosaurs completely on their own would be killed by predators. The adult—which would not necessarily be a parent—might be eating a plant diet, but it might stir up some insects that the young would eat. This is a common behavioral scenario for many birds or reptiles, and does not suggest a very high level of altricial behavior.

Read the article online or pick up a copy at the newsstand.


Janet Oliver said...

As always, I love seeing your process. Thank you for sharing your expertise.

Unknown said...

You make dinosaurs look sweet and caring. I love it.

Salty Pumpkin Studio said...

Skin folds, pouch/nests can protect eggs. Soft tissue on dinosaurs is mainly speculation anyway. Right? Incubate until its ouch-get-out of the pouch time.
The bury and hatch method doesn't feel right because other creatures might step on them, that are way heavier than the parents. The dig up to eat factor I think would be high in that kind of environment. I'm guessing there's also giant bugs in the ground that would make going turtle not practical. Of course if the parents stuck around to protect the area, that might work.

Tom Hart said...

This and the following one are wonderful!

On this one, it's interesting how many elements in the chosed thumbnail remain in the final. I know that's not always the case, but you nailed this one early!

Unknown said...

Aw, so extra cute. I've always loved Dinosaurs and I have all of the Dinotopia books.