Saturday, July 8, 2017

Bristol Zoo, This Time with Animatronic Ornithodirans

Bristol Zoo is currently host to one of those temporary animatronic dinosaur exhibits that show up at zoos every so often. Though I didn't visit with the express goal of seeing it, I go to the Bristol Zoo often enough that running into it was almost inevitable.

My general impression is that many zoo aficionados view these animatronic exhibits with disdain, considering them little more than a cheap way to increase zoo attendance, especially when they take up space that could be used to exhibit more real live animals. I certainly sympathize with the view that the live animals should be the main draw of a zoo, but I also appreciate (and encourage) the integration of paleontology and evolutionary biology into a zoo setting. That being said, what little I know about these animatronic dinosaur exhibits suggests that their educational value is frequently lacking.

The first animatronic I came across was not a dinosaur, but this Quetzalcoatlus and its young. They're not flawless (perhaps most notably, pterosaurs are thought to have buried their eggs rather than constructing bird-like nests), but they are surprisingly not terrible, even having a covering of filamentous integument.

The accompanying sign, however, was a complete mess.
  • It uses a... very, very loose translation of "Quetzalcoatl".
  • It incorrectly identifies Quetzalcoatlus as a dinosaur.
  • It wrongly attributes the locale of Quetzalcoatlus to Mexico. (All definite specimens have been found in the U.S.)
  • It uses an outdated mass estimate. (More recent estimates put Quetzalcoatlus over 200 kg).
  • It implies that Quetzalcoatlus fed primarily on fish. (Azhdarchid pterosaurs almost certainly hunted on land. I could envision them foraging in shallow water occasionally, which isn't too different from stalking over the ground, but they were unlikely to have been specialized piscivores.)
  • That silhouette is awful.
It would be quicker to list what this sign doesn't get wrong.

This Stegoceras tried to give me the side-eye.

Unexpectedly, this Pachyrhinosaurus correctly had clawless outer fingers.

This Chasmosaurus, however, was not so fortunate, and even has its ear opening in the wrong position.

Considering that Chasmosaurus lived a few million years prior to Tyrannosaurus, the only way the former would be on the latter's menu would be if one of them was a time traveler.

Their obligatory Tyrannosaurus. It's not great, but I've seen worse. Largely unremarkable.

When I heard that they had a Utahraptor, I feared the worst. However, it was surprisingly one of the less-terrible animatronics. It still looks a little "gorilla suited" (especially when you see it up close), but the base model is not bad (even having non-pronated hands) and the extent of the plumage is fairly plausible.

Implying that most Mesozoic dinosaurs were cold-blooded though... Uh, no.

This Dilophosaurus could spit "venom" (water) at visitors. Groan.

At least the sign makes it clear that there is no evidence for such behavior.

All in all, it could have been worse, but the signage especially could use some improvement.

Naturally, the actual dinosaurs at the zoo were far more interesting. Here are some marbled teal.

Some greater flamingos, pied avocets, and a common redshank.

A white-winged duck.

A Visayan hornbill.

A Victoria crowned pigeon with a crested partridge below.

Funnily, one of the signs signalling the presence of the animatronics was right next to the Sumatran laughing thrush exhibit. I'd like to think that this was intentional.

A red-billed leiothrix.

I was fortunate enough to see this Palawan peacock pheasant displaying to a female. Unfortunately, he wasn't facing me. I don't make a very good female peacock pheasant.

The female, however, didn't appear to be particularly impressed and soon wandered off. Here is the male on his lonesome (with a wonga pigeon in the background).

A European turtle dove getting some shut-eye.

An Inca tern.

A wild Eurasian jackdaw getting rid of a molted feather.

A humorous sign at the exit of the walkthrough lorikeet aviary (which I hadn't been to on previous visits).

The non-avian residents of the zoo gave a good showing as well. The red panda was out and about.

A yellow mongoose.

Actually got an acceptable picture of a Turkish spiny mouse. It was sitting completely still under decent lighting (by nocturnal house standards). I probably won't get a better photo of one than this!

A Henkel's leaf-tailed gecko

A Lord Howe Island stick insect.

Some purple jewel beetles.

A blue tree monitor.

A Pearse's mudskipper. I see mudskippers more often out of the water than in it, so I took the chance to get this shot.

To accompany the animatronics, the gift shop had been stocked with some dinosaur-themed products. At least the title of this one is honest.

Pterosaurs mistaken for dinosaurs again.

There was also this book. Many of its illustrations look awfully familiar...


  1. For some reason that Turkey Spiny Mouse picture reminds me of the song One Little Coyote.

    As I rode my pony 'cross the west'rn plain. We stopp'd and heard a sweet and sad refrain. It filled the sundown skies with a lonesome tune.
    'twas One little coyote howling at the moon...
    Two wise ol'night owls calling come home soon. And one..
    Three big elk bugling through the trees..
    Four Li'l dogies lowing in the breeze..
    Five Prarie Dogs, whistling at a snake, four little dogies..
    Six Beavers Slapping tails 'pon a lake, Five..
    Sev'n Geese Honking 'cross the sky...
    Eight mustang whinnying wild 'n' high.. Nine buffalo stampede and run away..

    As I rode my pony 'cross the West'rn plain.
    We heard Ten cowboys singin' loud cos it's payday, Nine Buffalo Stampede and runaway. Eight mustang, whinnying wild 'n' high, Sev'n geese honking 'cross the sky. Six beavers slappin' tails 'pon a lake.....
    And that one little coyote howling at the moon.

  2. I've seen that Pachyrhinosaurus at the Houston Zoo. Is the presence of unguals only on the first three manual digits still a sure thing? I remember seeing Darren Naish tweeting something a while back alluding that there may be more to the story...

    1. The three-claw rule for archosaurs isn't as strict as some (including myself) have made it out to be. (Ornithopods in particular may have regained claws IV and V at several points.) However, it does appear to be a widespread trait. For ceratopsians, it still holds up.

  3. Did you see the quoll on this trip?

  4. So can I see some pictures of exotic animals you can't see on the blog?

    1. You mean photos I've taken but not yet uploaded on the blog? I'm happy to share them, but the problem is that if I had had the time and motivation to go through and pick them out, I would've posted them already. I do plan on uploading them at some point, but I don't have time to do that right now.

  5. Do you think Sugar Glider should be mixed with
    A. Budgerigears
    B. Kiwis
    C. Neither of these choices?
    You decide!

    1. Budgies would make more sense from a biogeographic standpoint, but I wouldn't trust the sugar gliders not to try and prey on the parrots (or at least on the eggs and young). I would expect conflict would be less likely between the sugar gliders and kiwis. Additionally, both sugar gliders and kiwis are nocturnal so visitors would be more likely to see both active at the same time.

      However, as someone who prefers when mixed exhibits house animals that live in the same region in the wild, my final verdict would probably be neither.

  6. And more info on exotic species for you:
    Common Waterbuck: None present in the US.
    Kafue Flats Lechwe: None present in the US.
    Hoatzin: in 1931 first ones came to London, lived for a very short period of time. In the later 1900s, some came to Bronx Zoo, dying out in either 2001 or the very late 1900s. Some came to a Mexican refuge, but did not survive either.
    Lowland Paca: resides at San Diego.
    Commerson's Dolphin: moved from a SeaWorld park to the company's water park.
    Also Short Beaked Echidna no longer present at San Diego.

    1. Shame about the hoatzin. I didn't know San Diego had lowland paca, but I remember seeing pacarana there during my first visit (which took place before I started this blog). Don't know if they still have them. I'm glad I got to see their echidna before he passed. (He was the oldest mammal in their collection.)

  7. Are the pheseant and pigeon in mixed enclosure or is that a wild one?

    1. They're kept in the same enclosure. Wonga pigeons are from Australia, so seeing a wild one in Bristol would be a big deal!

  8. To celebrate 6 months since April Fools Day: At Bronx Zoo, Zorillas, Platypus and Numbats have moved into Mouse House at Bronx Zoo! Come quickly, they'll begone by the 4th October!

  9. OK, it was a joke.

  10. Yes, if you ACTUALLY want to see the three however;
    Zorillas are kept at 4 private and 1 public collection in the UK, and unsure, but DeYoung Family Zoo might keep them as well.
    Platypus and Numbats however, you have a good chance of seeing the two in one day; Numbats run straight to Healesville's Nocturne House, and platypus arrange a taxi to drive you 1hr 20 mins to Melbourne. That is, if you get the chance to go to Australia!

    1. I've wanted to visit Australia for a long time. We'll see if it ever happens...