Discovering the osteology, musculature, and function of Asian Therizinosaurs

Backed by Eric D. Walters and WEEMING
Raised of $4,840 Goal
Ended on 1/08/20
Campaign Ended
  • $6
  • 1%
  • Finished
    on 1/08/20

About This Project

Therizinosaurs were Laurasian theropods related to birds. They had a number of unusual characteristics, including small heads, pneumatic skulls and vertebrae, long arms and claws, and avian-like legs. We currently know little about the biology of therizinosaurs. Only recently were they even recognized as theropods. Much material is in China. This project will include travel to Asia to study therizinosaur specimens there for description, illustration, and inclusion in a new book.

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What is the context of this research?

Therizinosaurs were unusual, possibly herbivorous, Cretaceous theropods from Asia and North America close to the origin of birds. They had many unusual characteristics, including small pneumatic heads, long hands and claws, and avian-like legs. Although knowledge of these animals is expanding with recent discoveries in Asia and North America, there is much about the biology that remains uncertain. Therefore, they have been the subject of recent research by myself and others, given their unique morphology and ecology. Some aspects include evolution, neurology, pneumaticity, musculature, functional morphology, and osteology. Much remains, however, to be learned about function and movement. This research will attempt to resolve some of these questions.

What is the significance of this project?

We will explore the osteology, musculature, and functional morphology of therizinosaurs. We would include descriptions and photographs of the different taxa, and quarry sites, thus providing important data for testing hypotheses about their ecology, evolution and biology. We will use these results to commission detailed, accurate artistic reconstructions of these fascinating animals. These descriptions will greatly increase what we know about therizinosaurs and would be published in a text by Indiana University Press.

What are the goals of the project?

The goals of this project are to collect figures and detailed biological data on the osteology Asian therizinosaurs and model the soft tissue. We will provide expanded descriptions of the available material and visit the quarry sites to obtain information on the sedimentology and ecology. Available material at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Beijing would be studied, photographed, and 3-d scanned to obtain important osteological data. Then, we hope to go the Mongolian Academy of Science, Ulaan Baatar to look at their material. Results would supplement our data on the North American taxa Falcarius and Nothronychus. As part of the biological process, we want to collaborate with our Chinese colleagues to describe the more poorly known taxa.


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The budget for this project would permit travel from Phoenix, Arizona to the Institute for Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, China to photograph and study the therizinosaur material, including Alxasaurus and Beipaiosaurus, with Chinese colleagues. From there, we want to go to the Mongolian Academy of Science in Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia to access their specimens of Erlikosaurus, Segnosaurus, and Enigmosaurus. The work requires detailed description of the osteology to reconstruct the muscles, how the bones moved relative to each other, and pneumatic systems. We are very interested in how these systems changed with evolution and how they compare with North American repersentatives.

Endorsed by

I've known Dr. David Smith 15+ years since his graduate school days at BYU in paleontology. He is a dedicated, fine researcher in both laboratory and in the field. He is an excellent communicator and thus a great teacher. I read one of his recent papers on cranial dinosaur species evolution research based on CT scans. His excellence in research work and attention to detail remain strong. I recommend him highly for any research project in any aspect of vertebrate paleontology or anything else related. He is a strong asset to lead any project.

Flag iconProject Timeline

Most of the timing is related to providing sufficient time to obtain permits and funding to support this project. It is planned for the summer so as not to interfere with teaching schedules in the Fall and Spring semesters in the United States. Therefore, travel times are expected to begin in June and conclude in July of 2020.

Dec 09, 2019

Project Launched

Jun 05, 2020

Travel to Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Beijing, China for description and specimen photography.

Jun 14, 2020

Travel to Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia for description and specimen photography.

Meet the Team

David Smith
David Smith


Northland Pioneer College
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David Smith

I began with a degree in geology from the University of Arizona. After that, I started to emphasize biology, and started studying dinosaurs, earning a Masters degree at the University of Bridgeport in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The thesis topic was a description of the Chinese theropod Archaeornithomimus. At this time, I studied the Mongolian theropod Oviraptor and erected a new hypothesis that it represented an herbivorous theropod. This argument was one of the first that supported a functional model for herbivory in a theropod. Later, I completed a PhD at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. My dissertation was a statistical analysis of the North American theropod Allosaurus. While in Utah, I got interested in the unusual theropods therizinosaurs, as a result of the recent discovery of the North American taxa Falcarius and Nothronychus. With the collaboration of Jim Kirkland and other Utah paleontologists, I presented a series of descriptions of therizinosaur braincases. Since then, my attention has turned to other aspects of therizinosaur biology, including paleoneurology, basicranial and vertebral pneumaticity, osteology, muscle reconstructions, and functional morphology. Therizinosaurs are characterized by an opisthopubic pelvis. I am also interested in how its development impacts other aspects of the anatomy. My research agenda lately has focused on studying the North American species Nothronychus graffami and N. mckinleyi from multiple aspects. This year, I want to ct scan the pelvis to examine how extensive air sacs invade the vertebrae and what that means for lung development. I also plan to get SEM's of the teeth to model diet. These activities are in addition to my teaching human anatomy at a community college in Arizona. Recently, we started dinosaur class. It incorporates many of the topics currently under study in therizinosaurs.

Lab Notes

Nothing posted yet.

Additional Information

Lautenschlager, S. 2014. Morphological and funcitonal diversity in therizinosaur claws and the implications for theropod claw evolution. Proceedings Royal Society B 281:20140497.

Smith, David K.; R. Kent Sanders; Douglas G. Wolfe. 2018. A re-evaluation of the basicranial soft tissues and pneumaticity of the therizinosaurian Nothronychus mckinleyi (Theropoda; Maniraptora). PloS ONE 13:e0198155.

Smith, David K. 2015. Craniocervical myology and functional morphology of the small-headed therizinosaurian theropods Falcarius utahensis and Nothronychus mckinleyi. PloS ONE 10:e0117281.

Zanno, L. E., D. D. Gillette, L. B. Albright, and A. L. Titus. 2009. A new North American therizinosaurid and the role of herbivory in ‘predatory’ dinosaur evolution. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 276:3505–3511.

Project Backers

  • 2Backers
  • 1%Funded
  • $6Total Donations
  • $3.00Average Donation
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