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Tetrapod Zoology

Tetrapod Zoology

Amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals - living and extinct

Where did all these Phorusrhacos come from?

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If, as I have, you’ve spent copious time wandering the British countryside, visiting amusement parks and visitor attractions that feature life-sized ‘prehistoric animals’, you’ll surely have seen all those Phorusrhacos* models. Look, here’s a little montage I made...

* You might have seen the name Phorusrhacos written as Phororhacos (and Phorusrhacidae written as Phororhacidae). The former is the older, and thus correct, spelling, coined by Florentino Ameghino in 1887.

Phorusrhacos models at various outdoor attractions. Clockwise from top left: Dan Yr Ogof National Showcaves of Wales (Swansea); Paulton’s Park (Hampshire, England); Wookey Hole Caves (Somerset, England); Drayton Manor Theme Park (Staffordshire, England). All images by Darren Naish except one at bottom left, by Colleen Goh.

Here are two more of the things, this time at Dinosaur Adventure, a theme park in Norfolk (England).

Image (c) Dinosaur Adventure, Lenwade, Norfolk.

There was a time when all, or nearly all, of these models had the same black and white livery, unashamedly based on Zdeněk Burian’s excellent painting (shown below). The pose is also based on the bird in the Burian painting. I best know the image concerned from the version that appears in Zdeněk Špinar’s and Burian’s palaeoart classic Life Before Man (Špinar & Burian 1972) but this only features half of the whole painting and crops out the male bird on the left (the male is meant to be giving the larger female a ‘gift’). Nowadays, some or many of these models have been given different paint jobs. As I’ve said on several occasions now, the Burianesque black-and-white Phorusrhacos is one of those palaeoart meme things, the look for the creature being copied by artist after artist for no reason other than that they must have looked at Burian’s painting and thought that the colour scheme he devised was the ‘right one’ for this animal.

Look at this... it’s a slide from the section of my All Yesterdays (Conway et al. 2012) talk on palaeoart memes... (incidentally, I plan sometime to write an article - perhaps even a proper technical one - on the 'palaeoart meme' subject. It really warrants serious study)...

The contention: Charles Knight's Phorusrhacos of 1901 (top left) was inspirational to Burian, who illustrated this bird twice (top middle and top right). And these illustrations were integral to the reconstructions used by.. just about everyone else who depicted the bird in the decades that followed!

But here’s the interesting thing. Where do all of these identical models actually come from? Who makes them? I mean, is there some little factory somewhere in the UK that churns these models out? It would explain why you see identical models of several prehistoric animals at these places: there are identical Iguanodon and Styracosaurus models, too. After a modicum of research, I’ve found out about a Chinese company called simply Dinosaur Maker, based in Zigong, that manufactures the exact Phorusrhacos you see here. If you want one, seems this is where you order them from (oh, and yes, I’d love one, by the way). But is this really where all the British examples from? I really don’t know. Does anybody know? And -- do you see these models in countries other than the UK?

There is quite a lot about phorusrhacids and related birds in the Tet Zoo archives. It's mostly very dated and in dire need of revision, but, if you're really interested...

Refs - -

Conway, J., Kosemen, C. M. & Naish, D. 2012. All Yesterdays: Unique and Speculative Views of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals. Irregular Books.

Špinar, Z. & Burian, Z. 1977. Life Before Man. Thames and Hudson, London.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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