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Raptor Red: a review (long)



Well, I just finished Bob Bakker's _Raptor Red_, which I got as birthday
present.

I'll start with the worst thing about this book.  The worst thing
is on the last page of the acknowledgments, specifically the penultimate and
ultimate paragraphs.  Here they are:

"The Cowboy State [Wyoming] has filled exhibit halls all over the world with
spectacular Mesozoic skeletons.  But the hundreds of bone-hunters who have
visited the state during the last dozen decades have given little in return.
        I'm happy to devote the rest of my life to digging here and helping
the expansion of our musuems so Wyoming fourth-graders - and dinosaur lovers
of all ages - can enjoy our prehistoric heritage."

Okay, the second paragraph isn't so bad, although one wonders why you would
devote a book about Utah's past to Wyoming, and why Bakker is going to devote
his life to Wyoming rather than the whole of the West.

What got my hackles up was the second sentence of the previous paragraph. As
one of the hundreds of bone-hunters who have visited the state, my first
reaction was "Bob, Bite me!"

My second reaction was, "Now, wait a minute.  We've devoted our time to help
educate Wyomingians about their past.  We spend our money in their
restaurants and bookstores and grocery stores and bars.  Any paleontologist
worth their salt acknowledges local collectors and hosts in their papers.
How dare he cop this attitude!"

My third reaction, in relation to that sentence and the final paragraph,
was, "Now, wait another minute.  Wyomingians (and Montanans, and Dakotans
(South and North), come in droves to eastern museums like the Smithsonian
and the American Museum.  In fact, some statistics indicate that a western
dinosaur on display at the Smithsonian will be seen by more citizens of a
western state than would a western dinosaur in a western museum.  I would
suspect thjat the AMNH has similar stats, and that the Carnegie, and the
ANSP, and the Field Museum can't be that far behind." 

Not that I mind people building up the collections of the western museums.
I'm all for that.  It's just that the argument that "Wyoming dinosaurs
should stay in Wyoming" is a hollow one, if your criteron for displaying a
skeleton is to get as many locals as possible to see it.

My fourth reaction was "What does Brent Breithaupt think about this?"  I
guess I'll have to wait and find out.

Okay, off that soapbox.  On to the review:

As most of you know, the basic premise is about a Utahraptor ("Raptor Red"),
and her travels and travails in Early Cretaceous Utah.  Along the way,
Bakker explores ideas about display (sexual and otherwise), pair bonding,
pack structure, intelligence, disease and extinction, and migrations.

There is a fair amount of good in the book.  One the other hand, there are
these problems:
The fauna Bakker portrays is a very artificial one, combining genera from
two different parts of the Early Cretaceous.  Utahraptor itself is from the
base of the Cedar Mountain Formation, equivalent in age to the Lakota fauna
elsewhere in the west, and the Wessex and Vectis Formations in Britain.
These are in the Barremian Stage (131.8 - 124.5 Ma).  Thus, these dinosaurs
are all known only from 4.5 million years before the book's setting of 120 Ma.
Other Lakotan dinosaurs are Iguanodon (which does show up in the book),
Hypsilophodon, an unnamed brachiosaurid, an unnamed camarasaurid, and a
polacanthid which is either Polacanthus itself (if one accepts Xabier
Suberbiola's synonyms) or else Hoplitosaurus (if you don't). There are some
who claim that a velociraptorine dromaeosaurid (the same family as
Deinonychus) is present in the Lakotan fauna, but I haven't seen those fossils
yet.

Most of the dinosaurs in the book, however, are proper Aptian-Albian
dinosaurs (which fit the 120 Ma date, but are all too late to have
encountered Utahraptor).  These include the Trinity-group predator
Acrocanthosaurus, the Arundel (and Trinity? and Cloverly?) brachiosaurid
Astrodon, the Cloverly (and mid-Cedar Mountain) dromaeosaurid Deinonychus, and
the mid-Cedar Mountain polacanthid Gastonia. Strangely, the ubiquitous
Aptian-Albian dinosaurs Tenontosaurus and Sauropelta are nowhere to be seen.

Curiously out of place are the unnamed diplodocid (at least Bakker now
recognizes that they did make it into the Cretaceous), a North American
montane segnosaur (no unquestionable segno..., er, therizinosauroids are
known from North America, although the 120 Ma date is the age of Asia's
Alxasaurus), and troodontids (some teeth from the Morrison may be troodontid,
but they could be any of the other dinosaurs which also have the same teet;
good troodontid teeth don't become common in the U.S. until  the Late
Cretaceous). The turtle Trinitychelys is in its proper time, but I'm not
sure about the mammal Aegialodon or the plesiosaur Kronosaurus.  Bakker is
apparently unaware (or chooses to ignore) the abundant evidence that
ammonoids did not have muscular tentacles nor a biting mouth, but instead a
fringe of small tentacles and an aptychus for filtration and protection (see
review by A. Seilacher in the 1993 Ostrom Festschrift in American J of
Science).

Bakker has some unnecessary migrations, at a time where Asia-North American
connections seem to be cut.  He has the species Utahraptor ostrommaysorum as
an immigrant from Asia, but there is no evidence for Jurassic or Neocomian
Asian dromaeosaurids, while the tantalizing Dry Mesa maniraptoran and the
Laurasian (or at least Eurasian) distribution of Jurassic archeopterygids
suggests the presence of dromaeosaurids in Cretaceous North America may be a
Jurassic holdover.  Futhermore, definite evidence of Early Cretaceous Asian
dinosaur groups (therizinosauroids, troodontids, ankylosaurids, the abundant
psitaccosaurids, etc.) in North America is lacking.  Europe-North American
connections seem to be very strong in the Barremian, since Iguanodon,
Hypsilophodon, and possibly Polacanthus are shared between the two (and
maybe Utahraptor will show up on the Isle of Wight?).  Connections in the
Aptian-Albian do not show up as well, but the appropriate European
formations are admittedly poor.

Despite all this griping, I did like the book (at least until the last
page), and the art is generally fairly subdued (by Bakkerian standards: the
only jumping dinosaurs this time are raptors and troodontids).  Bakker's
tendancy towards "cutsey-wutsey" names (acro, astro, aegi, gaston,
deinonych, etc.) gets less annoying as you read along.  (Tro-odont still
bugs me.  I guess he's trying to make sure people don't read it "true-dont").

Anyway, I better get back to work.  Take care all.

Thomas R. Holtz, Jr.
Vertebrate Paleontologist
Dept. of Geology
University of Maryland
College Park, MD  20742
Email:Thomas_R_HOLTZ@umail.umd.edu (th81)
Fax: 301-314-9661
Phone:301-405-4084