Emily Willoughby

Paleoart and bird illustration

Balaur bondoc is a Bird July 2015

Medium: Photoshop CS4 + Wacom tablet
Time taken: ~80 hours
Published in: Press releases for Cau et al. 2015
High resolution: Purchase print

I am very pleased to be able to share my illustration of new research on Balaur bondoc by Andrea Cau​, Darren Naish​, and Tom Brougham. Best known as the "double sickle-clawed dromaeosaur", Balaur was in fact more likely to be a flightless bird placed more crownward than Archaeopteryx. The new paper, freely available at PeerJ, outlines ample rationale for this placement: perhaps most noteworthy, the enlarged hallux—previously thought to be a second sickle claw to enable a predatory Balaur to murder everything in sight—is more parsimonious as a highly mobile digit whose main function was to aid in climbing.

My life restoration of Balaur shows it as the pheasant-sized, omnivorous bird that it probably was in its Hateg island environment of Maastrichtian Romania (70 million years ago). The male, top, displays to a female who is much more interested in examining some berries.

The Hateg basin has provided great insight into its floral composition, which differed from most other known Cretaceous environments in a number of ways. Most of the plant life here is based on the Lindfors et al. 2009 paper, which described Eurya-like Ericales seeds in the Hateg basin, so I based the foreground plant in the upper left on Eurya japonica. There is also a lot of evidence for seeds and berry material in the Hateg, including a fruit described as having a distinctly pitted endocarp wall characteristic for some drupaceous fruits (e.g. in the Rosacae; comprising several fragments of rather large endocarp). This isn't too dissimilar from a modern raspberry or blackberry fruit, so the berry plant is based on something along those lines.

They also found abundant evidence of the Normapolles pollen grain, which they associate with the modern order Fagales that includes Betulaceae (birches), Rhoipteleaceae, Juglandaceae (walnuts) and related families. As such, I based most of the trees, including the central fallen log, on birches, beeches, and hornbeams.

Read the paper for free here: peerj.com/articles/1032/