Alamosaurus cover art image

Nesting AlamosaursWhen I set out to create a cover for my new short story, “Hatching Alamosaurus,” I had no idea how things would turn out. Now that the job is finally done, I’m actually quite pleased. These big beasties essentially combine a giraffe’s neck with an elephant’s body and an iguana’s tail, so I developed my portrayal by cutting and pasting photos of those three creatures together to arrive at a composite image of Alamosaurus. By doing so, I think I may have come upon a few new concepts about how these majestic beasts looked and behaved. Click for a closer image and have a detailed look around. While you’re at it, notice the heroes of the story, Kit Daniels and Chase Armstrong, who wisely brought Chase’s tranquilizer-dart rifle as they stroll too close to these temperamental animals.

Every schoolchild learns about long-necked sauropod dinosaurs like brontosaurus, apatosaurus, brachiosaurus, and on and on. Paleontologists have dug up the bones of dozens of species all over the world. Of course, sauropods are extinct now, so scientists are left with only speculations as to how they looked and behaved. And I think they may have gotten a few things wrong.

Sauropod lipsLipless wondersFor instance, compare the giraffe-based head of my Alamosaurus to the view recently painted by Mike Skrepnick of a related species, Abydosaurus. I’m not knocking Mike’s interpretation, with bare rows of teeth and lizard eyes sunk in their sockets. That’s generally the way dinosaur experts have chosen to represent these creatures. But while working with giraffe head images, I realized there was no reason why the dinosaurian equivalent could not have had lips and a tongue with which to nibble tree branches and leaves, and eyes that stick out like giraffe eyes to better see the world around them. So I left those giraffe features on my creatures, and I think they look pretty believable. Again, click for some close-up comparisons.

Here are a couple of interesting facts: fossilized tracks have shown that sauropods traveled in herds of young and old alike; fossilized nests have shown the eggs were laid in double rows in long, narrow foot-scrapes; bone cross-sections have shown the animals grew incredibly fast, reaching giant sizes in just a few years. Beyond that, all is speculation. The prevailing theory is that the nests were covered with sand and left to hatch on their own, following the sea-turtle model. Well, I disagree.

How could baby sauropods grow so fast, unless they were cared for and fed by their parents? So I decided to do what nobody else seems to have done before me–I decided to paint some images of Alamosaurus lying down on its nest to cover and incubate its eggs and babies the way modern birds do.

Careful! Fragile eggs!That’s a tough proposition. Most scientists feel that the largest creatures ever to stride the earth could not possibly have lain down over their nests without either injuring themselves, or crushing their eggs and babies. But I was undaunted.

I found some film of an elephant at a zoo lying down. It was clear that a stupendously big beast was quite capable of settling down gingerly onto the ground. So I used several stop frames of that film, and the bodies and legs you see in the cover painting are of that one elephant in various stages of “getting down.” At the rear-center of the painting, it was walking. At right-rear, it had squatted onto its left thigh. At center, it was gingerly walking its two front feet forward to get its elbows down. At left, it was fully settled on the ground. I simply added a couple of long nests to the scene to complete the depiction of mighty Alamosaurus parents gently covering their nests. And, oh, while I was at it, I put in a row of hatchlings following one mom as she walks along. Rather like ducklings, no?

Finally, the tails of sauropods have been proposed as nasty bullwhip weapons for fending off predators. To get the right effect, I gathered some images of iguana tails and pasted them onto my composite beasts and viola! giraffe-elephant-lizard dinosaurs!

I then hit the publish button on my computer, and the story is already available at Amazon and Smashwords. It ought to show up at all the other ebook sellers in the next week or two. I’ll make a formal announcement soon.

Meanwhile, I’ll leave it to the public, and the dinosaur experts, to decide if they prefer my new model for sauropod looks and doings, or if they prefer the old, bare-toothed, sunken-eyed, baby-abandoning model. It’s not for me to say. But I’ve done my best to give the big beasties a make-over.

I hope you like it.

About Tom Hopp

Thomas P Hopp is a scientist and author living in Seattle. He writes Peyton McKean mystery stories and the Dinosaur Wars science fiction series.
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