Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Tyrannosaurus Sex: A Love Tail (Omni magazine, Feb 1988)

Beverly Halstead accomplished rather a lot in his life; geologist, palaeontologist, holder of professorships at universities around the world, author and science populariser, and more besides. Halstead (full name Lambert Beverly Halstead) died in 1991, and in spite of having written numerous popular dinosaur books, didn't figure into my childhood dinosaur obsession; I was probably a tiny bit too late. In fact, my first notable encounter with his work was when I got hold of a copy of his 1975 book The Evolution and Ecology of the Dinosaurs back in 2012, a significant book for those a little older than me, and perhaps what first comes to mind for many when they hear Halstead's name.

That and all the sex.


In the last few years, I've heard some remarkable stories about Halstead from Those Who Were There - he was, shall we say, quite the colourful character. In 1988, he was interviewed by Sandy Fritz for a feature in Omni magazine on dinosaur mating habits, having become the leading authority on the subject. (In fact, Halstead was so well known for his remarkably detailed thoughts on dinosaur procreation, newspaper articles continued to quote him as the leading expert some 20 years after his death.) Quite apart from written work, Fritz also describes how Halstead would deliver lectures on the subject, demonstrating dinosaur mating poses on stage with psychologist Helen Haste. During one lecture, Fritz writes,
"Halstead's audience became very uncomfortable to suddenly see a picture of their lecturer naked in the branches of a tree. 'I showed this picture of me up a tree with my penis hanging down,' [Halstead recalled]. 'It sort of freaked out my audience.'"
Yikes.

Accompanying Fritz's article are a series of paintings by Ron Embleton, depicting various dinosaur species doing the deed. Given that the article is inevitably titled Tyrannosaurus Sex: A Love Tail, 'tis only proper that two amorous tyrants should be the first to feature. The art style is rather painterly, with a subdued palette, and is highly reminiscent of Zdenek Burian's palaeoart. It's artistically accomplished work, but its closeness to Burian's style (and even, in some cases, specific Burian pieces) makes it come across as an hilarious parody. Sex before Man, if you will. The Tyrannosaurus pair, with their more brightly-coloured heads and crocodilian (lack of) lips, appear to be inspired by Burian's famous painting of an edmontosaur-chasing individual. Why they're thrashing it out on the water's edge isn't clear, but at least the beautifully painted splashes add a sense of movement and, er, power to the scene.


As per the tyrannosaur scene and a further illustration depicting two Diplodocus kissing cloacas, Embleton is certainly fond of his dramatic skies. This pair appear to have chosen the suitably romantic location of a cliff overlooking the ocean, with a tremendous storm brewing in the near distance. At least they'll be able to cool off afterwards.


The brachiosaur mating scene appears to be an altogether more calm and composed affair, no doubt due to the sheer size and weight of the animals involved. Indeed, Halstead suggests that sex would have been conducted very carefully and precisely by large dinosaurs, lest they inadvertently crush each other. Embleton's brachiosaurs appear particularly Burianesque, right down to their rather lizardy feet, although (it being 1988) they aren't in any need of water to hold them up while they reproduce.


This doesn't stop the brontosaurs from indulging in the sex aquatic, of course. For where else do brontosaurs belong? The seas look a little rough, and one can't help but feel for the female trapped below the waves, her head barely breaking the surface. Once again, I love the painterly quality of the water here, even as the dinosaurs continue to sport a rather retro, dull grey-brown look.


And finally...Edmontosex. Embleton opted for a plain black background for this one, perhaps because it was reproduced at a much smaller size than the others. These two don't appear to be enjoying it quite as much as the others, but it's not my place to speculate on another couple's personal life. The removal of a backdrop also takes away any sense of scale, making these animals appear smaller than they should, even if I can understand the artist's decision.

So...you've seen Halstead's ideas on how dinosaurs made it, as brought to life by Embleton. But just how likely are these particular positions? Can we safely assume that they would have appeared in a saurian Kama Sutra? Well, Bob Bakker (for it was he) was also interviewed for this article, and he wasn't so sure.
"If any of them humped like birds...they'd have to get past that thick, powerful dinosaur tail, and for that they'd have needed a corkscrew-shaped penis about nine feet long. Yet there is no evidence they had such an organ."
 By Bakker's beard! No one tell Memo Kosemen.

Many thanks are due to Charles Leon for supplying me with the scans of this article - your help is much appreciated as always. Please feel free, dear reader, to explain your views on dino-sex in the comments - after all, this stuff is rather more common these days (why, there's even a mount of two Rexy specimens frozen mid-hump). No naked photos though, please. We're just not that sort of a blog.

10 comments:

  1. Do skeleton photos count as naked?

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    1. You wish to share an x-ray of your own skeleton?

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  2. How would a Stegosaurus mate? 'Ouch! Mind your thagomizer, dear.'

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    1. This is discussed in the article (along with Kentrosaurus), and even Bev Halstead was at a loss.

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    2. Memo Kosemen did come up with an answer in All Yesterdays, involving a giant hypothetical organ not dissimilar to what Bakker describes in the above quote (hence my mentioning him).

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  3. You're not the only one to take the illustrations as almost a parody of Burian; I've seen the Brachiosaur image in multiple places on the internet captioned as "Little Golden Book of Dinosaur Reproduction".

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  4. Re the Bakker quote, what sort of evidence would we expect of such an organ?

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  5. "In 1988, he was interviewed by Sandy Fritz for a feature in Omni magazine on dinosaur mating habits, having become the leading authority on the subject. (In fact, Halstead was so well known for his remarkably detailed thoughts on dinosaur procreation, newspaper articles continued to quote him as the leading expert some 20 years after his death.)"

    Was Halstead really a leading authority/expert on dino mating habits? What credentials qualify him as such? I only ask b/c I haven't been able to find out on my own. Carpenter is the only 1 who comes to mind as that kind of expert. Please correct me if there are others.

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    1. Well, I get the impression that it was almost by default...

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  6. Dr. Robert Bakker mentions it a bit in Dinosaur Heresies.

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