ornithomimus in dinosaur provincial park sounds trippy

Es­ti­mated reading time is 7 min­utes.

LIKE MANY BOYS of my gen­er­a­tion, I went through a di­nosaur phase in the early 1960s when I was 10-12 years old. I was fas­ci­nated by these huge beasts and my par­ents in­dulged my in­terest by buying me most of the better books on the sub­ject. And there were also those few movies that had been made up till then that had some­thing ‘di­nosaurish’ about them.

Along with my brother Charles and our best friend Donny Flynn, we saw every di­nosaur movie ever made at the Sat­urday mati­nees shown every Sat­urday at the many movie the­aters in our part of North­eastern Penn­syl­vania that made more than a little pocket money by giving moms a day to her­self once a week.


“By knowing that this method was being used so early in the ori­gins of birds we can get im­por­tant in­sight into the evo­lu­tion of tem­per­a­ture con­trol in large ground-dwelling birds like os­triches and emus.”


And we saw them all: any­thing that fea­tured Ray Har­ry­hausen’s stop-motion an­i­ma­tion was in­cred­ible, starting with his King Kong pas­tiche, Mighty Joe Young (1949). Al­though his best work was on fan­tasy films like The Sev­enth Voyage Of Sinbad (1958) and Jason And The Arg­onauts (1963).

But we also suf­fered through ‘di­nosaurs’ that were harm­less modern lizards with horns or sails glued to the backs. They would film the crit­ters and then overlay them into a movie (some­times the edges of those ‘di­nosaurs’ bor­dered on blurry).

But com­bine the two and there re­ally weren’t many movies that dealt with di­nosaurs. And, de­spite the hu­mon­gous world­wide suc­cess of the Jurassic Park movies, we haven’t had a lot of di­nosaur movies in the twenty-some years since that first movie in 1993.



All About Di­nosaurs (1953) by Roy Chapman An­drews was a classic of its time. An­drews was the former di­rector of the Amer­ican Mu­seum of Nat­ural His­tory and ac­tu­ally did im­por­tant field work. And he knew how to write to—not down to—a younger reader. 

All about dinosaurs

There re­ally weren’t that many books on di­nosaurs pub­lished prior to 1963—those that I would have been ex­posed to during my Di­nosaur Phase. I loved the ones that we found and I es­pe­cially en­joyed the books with full-page il­lus­tra­tions in color, which I would at­tempt to copy in my sketch­books. 1

Un­like the lack of ef­fect that Jurassic Park had on other movie-makers, there has been an un­ending flood of books on di­nosaurs in the last few decades: comic books, chil­dren’s books, teen books, trade fic­tion, non-fiction, and books that re­quire ad­vanced de­grees to un­der­stand. Kids who have gone through their own Di­nosaur Phase since 1993 have no idea how lucky they are!

Anyway, I ‘grew out of that phase’ (a term I now re­gret ever having used) and moved onto other in­ter­ests, like base­ball and rock & roll records and girls. But the fas­ci­na­tion remained.

In fact, enough fas­ci­na­tion is still there that an ar­ticle I re­ceived in an email newsletter mo­ti­vated this ar­ticle that you are reading.



A re­con­struc­tion of an Or­nithomimus skeleton on dis­play at the Royal On­tario Museum.

I get to go as far as I can with it

In 2009, a team of sci­en­tists from the Uni­ver­sity of Al­berta dis­cov­ered a re­mark­ably well-preserved par­tial skeleton of a di­nosaur. It was un­earthed in a fossil-rich area known as Di­nosaur Provin­cial Park. This par­tic­ular spec­i­men’s head and arms were missing, so, at the time, the team of pa­le­on­tol­o­gists de­cided it was less of a pri­ority than some of the other un­cov­ered fos­sils and shelved it.

A few years later, the team handed it off to un­der­grad­uate stu­dent Aaron van der Reest to see if there was any­thing worth ex­ploring fur­ther. Just min­utes into the project, van der Reest made a mon­u­mental dis­covery: well-preserved di­nosaur feathers.

In 2013, van der Reest was given a large fossil that had been dis­cov­ered in Di­nosaur Provin­cial Park in 2009. Still en­cased in rock, it had sat un­at­tended be­cause it was missing its head and fore­limbs, thus it was given a low pri­ority. So van der Reest found him­self the right man in the right place at the right time due to serendipity.

“I started in the tail area. Twenty min­utes into it, I hit this black area here, and that turned out to be feathers,” said van der Reest. “This is my baby. I get to go as far as I can with it.” He has dreamed of working on such a find since he was a teenager and vol­un­teering at the Royal On­tario Museum.

The team had dis­cov­ered the skeleton of an Or­nithomimus (Latin for “bird mimic”), a di­nosaur that lived over 75 mil­lion years ago.

“Or­nithomimus is a genus of or­nithomimid (‘os­trich di­nosaurs’) from the Late Cre­ta­ceous Pe­riod of what is now North America. It is usu­ally clas­si­fied into two species; the type species, Or­nithomimus velox, and a re­ferred species, Or­nithomimus ed­mon­ton­icus.

Like other or­nithomimids, species of Or­nithomimus are char­ac­ter­ized by feet with three weight-bearing toes, long slender arms, and long necks with bird­like, elon­gated, tooth­less, beaked skulls. They were bipedal and su­per­fi­cially re­sem­bled os­triches. They would have been swift run­ners. They had very long limbs, hollow bones, and large brains and eyes.

The brains of or­nithomimids in gen­eral were large for non-avialan di­nosaurs, but this may not nec­es­sarily be a sign of greater in­tel­li­gence; some pa­le­on­tol­o­gists think that the en­larged por­tions of the brain were ded­i­cated to kines­thetic co­or­di­na­tion.” (Wikipedia)

To date, sci­en­tists have dis­cov­ered three Or­nithomimus skele­tons, but the dis­covery of such well-preserved soft tissue and feathers makes this a rare and ex­em­plary spec­imen. After years of ex­ten­sive prepa­ra­tion and ad­di­tional re­search, the team pub­lished their analysis of the feathers last week: the struc­ture of the feathers is very sim­ilar to a modern-day os­trich feather. 2



The Little Golden Book Of Di­nosaurs (1959) fea­tured il­lus­tra­tions for kids that were comic-bookish in a good way. This se­ries of books was ubiq­ui­tous in Leave It To Beaver house­holds throughout America in the 1950s and ’60s. 

Proof of an important missing link

The Or­nithomimus was a fast-moving, flight­less crea­ture. Why did it have feathers? Like the Or­nithomimus, os­triches are fast-moving, can’t fly, and have bare legs. They use their feathers as an ef­fi­cient way to reg­u­late their body tem­per­a­ture. Van der Reest and his team be­lieve that Or­nithomimus most likely used its feathers in the same way.

While it’s widely ac­knowl­edged birds and di­nosaurs have an evo­lu­tionary con­nec­tion, this dis­covery pro­vides proof of an im­por­tant missing link. Ac­cording to van der Reest:

“By knowing that this method [of tem­per­a­ture reg­u­la­tion] was being used so early in the ori­gins of birds we can get im­por­tant in­sight into the evo­lu­tion of tem­per­a­ture con­trol in large ground-dwelling birds like os­triches and emus.”

Birds are thought to have de­scended from car­niv­o­rous preda­tors like Ar­chaeopteryx, and Hes­per­ornis, due to their bone shape and egg fea­tures. But this break­through sug­gests there may be a common an­cestor at the top of the avian family tree.


CFD582 Hoodoos in the Badlands of Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta, Canada

These hoodoos in the park would make al­most anyone as­sume that this photo was taken some­where in the Amer­ican South­west, not al­most 2,000 miles north in western Canada! 3

Dinosaur Provincial Park sounds trippy

The text above be­gin­ning under the sub-heading “I get to go as far as I can with it” is lifted al­most in­tact from an ar­ticle ti­tled “A col­lege stu­dent found pre­his­toric proof of an evo­lu­tionary con­nec­tion be­tween di­nosaurs and birds” by Erin Canty for Up­worthy (No­vember 7, 2015). It turned me onto Di­nosaur Provin­cial Park, a new va­ca­tion goal:

“Ex­plore the World’s Richest De­posits of Di­nosaur Bones! Vis­iting Di­nosaur Provin­cial Park is like step­ping into an­other world. There’s a chance for a new dis­covery around every corner! Ex­plore bad­lands, camp under the stars, or par­tic­i­pate in an au­thentic di­nosaur dig.

Be amazed by the abun­dant fos­sils, un­usual wildlife and stun­ning land­scapes of this UNESCO World Her­itage Site near Brooks, Al­berta. If you’d like to take a guided tour into the park’s Nat­ural Pre­serve, we highly rec­om­mend booking your tour seats ahead of your visit. These pro­grams are very pop­ular and sell out during the summer months.” 4



HEADER IMAGE: The su­perb il­lus­tra­tion of an Or­nithomimus in its en­vi­rons at the top of this page is by Julius Csotonyi. His art is so in­cred­ible that I in­cluded If you like sci­en­tific art, you should visit his web­site, Pa­le­oart and Sci­en­tific Il­lus­tra­tion, and his book The Pa­le­oart of Julius Csotonyi. This is the kind of art I dreamed of doing when I was 12 years old.



1   Di­nosaurs were per­haps my ear­liest mo­ti­va­tion to draw like an adult rather than just doing comic-book-like im­ages. In would start by end­lessly tracing them on onion-skin paper and then using a stan­dard No. 2 pencil on white sketch-paper. I was pretty good for a 10-year old! 

2   The feather im­prints were found in the sand­stone that makes up much of Di­nosaur Provin­cial Park. As there had been no real ev­i­dence that sand­stone could sup­port such im­pres­sions, it is en­cour­aging to pa­le­on­tol­o­gists for fu­ture feather finds.

3   A hoodoo (also called a tent rock, a fairy chimney, and an earth pyramid) is a tall, thin spire of rock that pro­trudes from the bottom of an arid drainage basin or bad­land. Hoodoos may range from 1.5 to 45 me­ters (ap­prox­i­mately 5 to 150 feet). They typ­i­cally con­sist of rel­a­tively soft rock topped by harder, less easily eroded stone that pro­tects each column from the el­e­ments. They gen­er­ally form within sed­i­men­tary rock and vol­canic rock for­ma­tions. (Wikipedia)

4   The text is lifted from Al­ber­ta’s of­fi­cial web­site for Di­nosaur Provin­cial Park.


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Dang, there’s so many sim­i­lar­i­ties in child­hood fascinations.
I read those same books, as well as any of the “All About Books” that piqued my curiosity!
That led me to to the WVHS, over by the Os­ter­hout, as you know, at be­tween 10 and 12 and on my trusty Schwinn. From there, I was hooked.
Torn be­tween wanting to be an arche­ol­o­gist and an en­gi­neer (me­chan­ical or aero­nau­tical), I fi­nally did what Dad wanted. Oh Well!
The final bit was that while in KHS, circa 8th grade, I got to par­tic­i­pate in one of the digs at the Shawnee Site in W. Pittston. Mostly, we shlepped buckets of water to or buckets of dirt away from the real dig­gers, but once in a while a sharp eyed kid might no­tice some­thing and get a pat for their trouble!
Thanks for the mem

i still think that bird/dinosaur would taste like chicken

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