The BDP Monster Mash – The Bristol Dinosaur Mission

Halloween Particular 2023

The Zombie Apocalypse is a standard Halloween trope. It’s a time when the concept of the lifeless rising from the grave just isn’t solely accepted, however actively celebrated. And to the shock of none, amongst the rotten hoard this yr is a well-known face; the BDP Weblog.

We’ve completed Halloween particular posts earlier than, like once we explored the spookiest factor about bats. This yr although we’ll be matching icons of horror media with their prehistoric equivalents in a listicle. That’s proper, the true horror right here is that we’re going full Buzzfeed.

Freddy Kreuger

There may be maybe no extra apparent analogy between Palaeontology and Horror movie villains than that of the blade handed bloke from Elm Avenue and the weird scythe-armed theropods, the Therizinosaurs. I’ve put this one first as a result of, let’s be trustworthy, a whole lot of you solely clicked on this text to verify that I included it.

A reconstruction of Therizinosaurus, showing a stout body, long slender neck, and large claws on the forearms.
That is your boyfriend now, Nancy. (Reconstruction of Therizinosaurus by PaleoNeolithic)

The blades Krueger possessed have been a number of inches lengthy, metal, and connected to a glove he wore on his proper hand. Therizinosaurus in the meantime had claws a meter lengthy, on each fingers, and much from a glove, they’d cores of bone coated in a keratin sheath, fused to their fingers by fleshy tissue. I’ll have glammed up the outline there to make it sound cooler, however it’s. Let’s be trustworthy, Krueger wears a prickly mitten, Therizinosaurus is the actual deal.

A comparison of fossil Therizinosaurus claws with the glove used by Freddy Kreuger.
Some say Therizinosaurus appeared to Wes Craven in a dream and impressed him.

The place they differ is how they used them. Krueger goes into the goals of teenagers and murders them of their sleep, as revenge for being burned in a boiler room by their dad and mom. Typical household film hijinks. Therizinosaurus’ motives nonetheless have been a bit extra pure.

Regardless of being a part of the theropoda (the group together with the vicious hunters like Tyrannosaurus), Therizinosaurus was a herbivore. Its head was gotten smaller and perched atop a slender neck. These claws, have been most likely used to rake down foliage from the bushes. Much less Grim Reaper, and extra common reaper. Much less Nightmare on Elm Avenue, and extra Nightmare for Elm Bushes. I’ll cease with the wordplay now.

That’s if they’d any actual operate in any respect after all. Biomechanical evaluation of the claws has proven no actual mechanical practical speciality, leaving them a bit mysterious. They apparently weren’t really that good for something.

We additionally haven’t any data on the plumage color of Therizinosaurus. Thus we are able to’t rule out that this dinosaur was patterned with inexperienced and purple horizontal stripes like Freddy’s sweatshirt. There could be completely no evolutionary profit to this colouration in any way, however I’m saying there’s an opportunity.

In order that’s one among our Halloween connections down, and by far the clearest reduce. Brace yourselves, the remainder are much more tenuous.


No piece of equipment screams horror movie than the standard chainsaw. This obnoxiously loud wooden reducer was most famously wielded by devoted household supplier, Leatherface, in 1974s Texas Chainsaw Bloodbath. However may evolution ever create one thing as elegantly stunning as a chainsaw?

Image of a small chainsaw with an orange body and grey saw.
“Infinite types most stunning and most great” – Charles Darwin within the woodworking part of B&Q

In brief, not a lot. Round rotation of this type isn’t actually present in nature (or not less than on a visual scale – the tiny processes by which mobile flagella transfer really do operate considerably like this, so they’re actually in every single place, however this isn’t a weblog on mobile biology).

Spirals are way more widespread, like within the iconic ammonites. A few of these ammonites have their keels ornamented with spines, and I suppose you would liken them to a prehistoric chainsaw, however there’s a higher contender on the market.

The enamel of sharks are widespread fossils the world over, as a consequence of their excessive preservation potential, and as a consequence of sharks being so widespread and having fixed tooth substitute (rotary dentition – which you would declare is a really gradual performing model of nature’s chainsaw).

Although the enamel of their relative Helicoprion stand out above the others. Fossils of their enamel are present in a mathematically-pleasing spiral whorl, in contrast to every other organisation seen of their trendy relations (which, for the document, are literally Ratfish and never true sharks).

A Helicoprion tooth whorl fossil, showing a spiral of black triangular teeth in a grey and brown matrix of rock
“Spiral” (2021) Starring Chris Rock (It’s a superb joke, cease judging me)

Admittedly the best way the whorl would sit within the mouth made the animal resemble a buzzsaw greater than a chainsaw, however it might be shut. And a few of these enamel may attain 14cm, giving an estimate for the total animal of over 7.5m, considerably bigger than the instrument utilized by Leatherface (something above 1.5m is simply extreme).

An image of Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre using a Helicoprion reconstruction in place of a chainsaw
Oh what may have been if Helicoprion hadn’t gone extinct within the Permian.

It’s thought that Helicoprion would have fed largely on smooth bodied cephalopods, and the descriptions of how the ‘buzzsaw’ functioned make for horrific studying on their very own; ripping ammonoids out of their shells, then slicing by their flesh and mashing them up between their jaws. It may fittingly go along with the horror theme of “Drag Me To Hell” too, however with much less financial institution loans.

(Oh, and sure, Helicoprion fossils have been present in Texas).

Hannibal Lecter

For such a supposed connoisseur of the positive arts, Hannibal Lecter definitely does have poor style in drinks. I’m referring after all to the truth that a chianti doesn’t pair properly with darkish meats, and as such could be a bitter accompaniment to a meal of liver and fava beans, a combo he suggests in 1991’s Silence of the Lambs. Although it may appear odd to be taking subject together with his wine pairing selections over his penchant for consuming folks, cannibalism does not less than seem a number of occasions within the pure world, making it the far much less heinous crime.

Although it’s been instructed for a number of dinosaur species, among the strongest proof for a carnivore sourcing their meat so extraordinarily regionally is Majungasaurus. This abelisaurid (small-armed, strong-legged, and stout-faced theropods – suppose the Carnotaurus from Disney’s Dinosaur) lived on Madagascar, already an island by the late Cretaceous.

A mounted skeleton of Majungasaurus in a museum
Good vitamin has given this Majungasaurus a wholesome size of bone (A solid at Stony Brook College)

Tooth marks on the bones of Majungasaurus specimens seem to match precisely these made by their kin. The truth that these traces all appeared to occur autopsy signifies that we are able to’t make sure that it was Manjungasaurus itself who had been the killer in addition to the diner, however we are able to’t rule it out both. It’s doable that competitors for assets on the island meant that having an outdated pal over for dinner was the one course.

And if ever apprehended for his or her crimes, the masks would nonetheless be mandatory, however Barney may forgo with the straight jacket. Abelisaurids had notoriously tiny arms, and there’s no manner Majungasaurus may attain up and undo the straps.


Let’s not overthink this one when Vampire Bats actually exist. Now whether or not there’s proof of blood sucking vertebrates within the fossil document is trickier, because it’s a troublesome behaviour to show and fairly a slender ecological area of interest.

Fossil proof of Vampire Bats goes again to the Pliocene of Venezuela, and among the earlier species might have been 25% bigger than these discovered right this moment. Admittedly that’s not precisely a mind-blowing determine of a previous big, however bats aren’t precisely pterosaurs on the subject of maximising scale.

A chocolate biscuit bat from Gregg's
“Nobody however the restricted version chocolate biscuit bat from Gregg’s may help a person when he’s in bother of the center.” We’re not sponsored by Gregg’s, I simply actually like these biscuits.

Although it might be a cool factor to finish this part of the article by saying there are positively dinosaurs who survive by consuming the blood of others. However in an analogous hype-killing transfer I can verify I’m after all talking of recent small birds like Oxpeckers, and never big scaled theropods.


So far as science can inform, no creature has ever utilised mechanical traps (that are for some cause usually type of dripping moist with no explaination?) to behave out needlessly gory video games on victims. However absence of proof just isn’t proof of absence.

Traps do exist within the pure world, and animals will ceaselessly fall prey to them. The tar pits of La Brea in California have preserved hundreds of animals from the final 40,000 years, together with Large Floor Sloths, and Sabre-toothed cats. We even have one among these Smilodon specimens within the lobby of our Earth Sciences Division in Bristol.

Smilodon skeleton in the foyer of the University of Bristol Earth Sciences department. The skeleton is wearing a pirate hat, has a Grim Reaper scythe, and is above two pumpkin balloons.
Our Smilodon even attire up for Halloween (Pictured right here screaming in a reconstruction of the Glass Field entice from Noticed V)

It’s believed that lots of the animals discovered right here might have first been tempted to the realm for a drink, standing rain water sitting atop the tar and concealing its true nature. Their thirsts quenched they realise they’ll’t transfer their limbs, now lodged within the goo. They’re left with a selection, sit there and die, or reduce off their very own limbs and perhaps escape, maybe with a brand new sense of respect for his or her lives (most Pleistocene macrofauna are so ungrateful to be alive, however not them, not anymore). See? It’s actually Noticed.

Human stays have additionally been discovered within the La Brea Tar Pits, so we are able to’t completely rule out the concept there weren’t folks morbidly watching animals trapped within the mud over 10,000 years in the past. And who’s to say that, in no matter manner they communicated again then, they didn’t utter their equal of “I need to play a sport.”?

(Bear stays have come from La Brea too, which means you’ll be able to neglect Noticed’s ‘Reverse Bear Entice’, as a result of it is a literal Bear Entice).

Jason Vorhees

Earlier than the rest, a nit-pick. Jason wasn’t even the primary villain of the primary Friday the 13th film (sorry if that’s a spoiler however the film is over 40 years outdated and I’ve not mentioned who the precise killer is, so you’ll be able to nonetheless go watch it). However he did drown in a lake, which means in a manner, Jason is represented by all fossils who have been preserved in lacustrine sediments. Such a setting has been answerable for some wonderful fossil areas, such because the Messel Sediments of Germany, and Jehol Biota of China.

A fossil of an early horse relative from Messel in Germany with a photoshopped Jason Vorhees mask
I do know he didn’t have the masks within the first movie both, however he additionally wasn’t an Eocene Stem Horse from Germany, so let’s not poke too many holes on this picture.

Had Jason not gone on to placed on a hockey masks and search revenge on promiscuous teenagers, I’m certain he would have made a positive fossil from the longer term lagerstätte of Crystal Lake. However no, he selected to go to house as an alternative.


As may very well be predicted, by the top of this text the comparisons turned summary to the purpose of matching characters with the ideas of depositional environments. As such it’s most likely finest to chop the article there, however hopefully it’s been an entertaining and informative jaunt by the intersections of palaeontology and horror movies, with sufficient area of interest references to maintain the cinephiles as comfortable because the palaeos. Completely satisfied Halloween all!

About The Writer

Rhys Charles is the Engagement Officer for the Earth Sciences division of the College of Bristol, and has headed the Bristol Dinosaur Mission since 2016. (@tweetodontosaur)


Czaplewski, N. J. & Rincón, A. D. (2020) An enormous vampire bat (Phyllostomidae, Desmodontinae) from the Pliocene-Pleistocene El Breal de Orocual asphaltic deposits (tar pits), Venezuela. Historic Biology. 33, 2438 – 2443

Lebedev, O.A. (2009) A brand new specimen of Helicoprion (Karpinsky, 1899) from Kazakhstanian, Cisurals and a brand new reconstruction of its tooth whorl place and performance. Acta Zoologica. 90, 171-182

Pardiñas, U.F.J. & Tonni, E.P. (2000) An enormous vampire (Mammalia, Chiroptera) within the Late Holocene from the Argentinean pampas: paleoenvironmental significance. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology. 160, 213-221

Qin, Z., Liao, C., Benton, M.J., & Rayfield, E.J. (2023) Purposeful house analyses reveal the operate and evolution of probably the most weird theropod handbook unguals. Communications Biology. 6, 181

Rogers, R.R. et al. (2004) Paleoenvironment and paleoecology of Majungasaurus crenatissimus (Theropoda: Abelisauridae) from the late Cretaceous of Madagascar. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. 27, 21-31

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