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Dino Docs! Dinosaurs Prehistoric Planet

Prehistoric Planet Episode Two: Deserts

Moving away from coastlines and into the barren Mesozoic sun, Prehistoric Planet continues to blaze through all expectations

The dinosaur event of 2022 is here! Throughout the week of May 23rd, Apple TV’s Prehistoric Planet will release one episode per day. Gracing audiences with beautiful effects, entertaining storytelling, and modern dinosaurs that you can sink your teeth into, Prehistoric Planet is for all prehistory lovers! Each episode will be dissected and reviewed here at Max’s blogosaurus through the week! 

Prehistoric Planet currently is 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, with a 97% audience score. 

Apparently, people can like realistic dinosaurs after all. 

Yesterday I discussed Prehistoric Planet’s premier episode, entitled “Coasts,” and some of my initial thoughts regarding the series. Today, I will discuss the second episode, entitled “Deserts,” with more focus on the episode’s best moments and science. Get ready; things are about to get heated. 

As per my last article, spoilers are to be expected. I will include a brief spoiler-free summary for those interested, but then get into the juicy bits. 

What’s it about? 

Deserts moves away from the comfort of the coastline and into the desolate deserts of the Late Cretaceous period. Viewers travel to the deserts of South America, Central Asia, and Northern Africa. While dinosaurs are the primary focus, pterosaurs also feature prominently in the episode. By depicting both predators and prey, life in deserts is presented as an unforgiving – yet hopeful – experience. 

SPOILERS BEGIN HERE

Titanic Dinosaurs Expressed to the Max

The start of the episode follows a gathering of Dreadnoughtus, a genus of titanosaur sauropod, as they prepare for mating season. Their waltz through the heat of the South American desert is breathtaking due to the series ability to make these animals seem massive. Prehistoric Media often neglects to include scale for animals like sauropods, instead stating their dimensions and leaving it at that. 

Prehistoric Planet makes them feel titanic, however. Each step they take almost reverberates through the screen, building an intense feeling of grandiose and intensity for their every motion. Seeing a flock of birds land on top of one’s back makes them seem even more massive, helping to remind the audience that dinosaurs like Dreadnoughtus were indeed giants that would dwarf even the largest modern life forms. While bringing them to life has proven cumbersome in the past, Prehistoric Planet excels at immersing the audience in the sauropods presence. 

Tarbosaurus and the Diversity of Tyrant Dinosaurs

I promise you, that headline is not a Hardy Boys title. 

Following the Dreadnoughtus, the audience travels to Central Asia, where we meet a cast of characters such as Tarbosaurus and Velociraptor. I won’t spend too much time on Velociraptor; all I will say is that those who think a feathered raptor isn’t intimidating have been proven wrong:

Now, onto Tarbosaurus.

The first thing to note is their appearance. With muddy-brown skin adorned with yellow spots, Prehistoric Planet’s Tarbosaurus are not just marvelous to look at, but also quite different from the series depiction of Tyrannosaurus. While you’d think that this is nothing special, unique appearances for closely related dinosaurs is often a rarity in dinosaur documentaries. Two of my favourite dinosaur docuseries, Walking with Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Park, fall victim to this principle.

The patterning of Tarbosaurus also shows the attention to detail amongst members of the Tyrannosaurid family. Three members –Tyrannosaurus, Tarbosaurus, and the Chinese Qianzhousaurus – have unique colourations and patterns. It feels like the producers are basing their tyrannosaurids on modern big cats, with members having different colours and patterns despite their close relation. This decision adds a sense of realism, as dinosaurs likely evolved in response to environmental conditions as big cats do today. 

Lastly, seeing a group of Tarbosaurus scavenging a sauropod is a rarity for paleo-media. Tyrannosaurids in Asia and Europe lived alongside sauropods, and there has been increasing evidence that Tyrannosaurus may have lived alongside the 40 tonne sauropod Alamosaurus. Yet despite this, depicted interactions between the two are rare. Depicting scavenging is a good first step, which may one day lead to a Tyrannosaurid hunting a sauropod. I am all here for it.

Mononykus, the Adorable Bug-Eater?

While a feathered animal living in a desert may seem strange, it’s actually quite normal. Numerous feathered animals live in deserts today, including hawks, owls, and roadrunners. Seeing Mononykus, a small feathered theropod, continue this trend by hopping around the desert to search for bugs was a fun experience. 

Mononykus was an Alvarezsaurid, a family theorized to be specialized insect eaters, which explains how they used the singular claw on each arm. We see that here, with Mononykus using it to dig termites out of a nest. One thing to note is that Alverezsaurids likely ate large insects and other small animals, including lizards and perhaps birds, making Mononykus’ confusion when hunting them seem a tad uncharacteristic. The genuine joy I felt watching her curiosity and excitement at hunting made up for this, however, in what was likely the episodes best segment.

At the Watering Hole: Teasing?

I wasn’t surprised to see Tarbosaurus come down to a watering hole to drink and not hunt herbivores. I was surprised to see the legendary Therizinosaurusa strange theropod dinosaur with feathers, a long neck, and meter-long claws. What was frustrating was how brief its appearance was, only a few seconds being on screen without it even being referenced: 

Why ignore it?? I know Therizinosaurus may appear in subsequent episodes, but it was unfortunate that such a fascinating and awesome dinosaur only appeared briefly. 

The Gender Conundrum of Pterosaurs: 

When the episode shifted to Northern Africa to focus on pterosaurs, I think we all expected a joust of some sort between competing males. While we did get a dogfight with a devastating crash landing, most of the sequence focused on a “sneaky” pterosaur male disguised as a female attempting to mate. 

I think a lot of us had the same thing in mind: 

The premise of a male pterosaur disguising himself as a female was hilarious, and the science wasn’t too far-fetched given that some species exercise this behaviour presently. However, the issue is that it’s difficult for paleontologists to determine whether individuals were male, or female, based solely on fossil evidence. Without any reliable method for determining sex, it’s entirely possible that the long-crested pterosaurs were female, or both sexes had some variation of the long crests.

Despite this, sexual selection was the most probably use for such unorthodox crests. While it’s unclear if both males and females had them, their utilization aligns with that depicted in Prehistoric Planet and thus is acceptable. 

Hadrosaurids & Elephants: Talking Through the Ground

The final part of the episode follows a herd of South American hadrosaurids known as Secernosaurus as they search for water. Eventually they were able to locate an oasis using two methods: following star constellations and detecting sounds through the ground. While this may seem strange, animals in the present utilize both means to travel. Seals and (oddly) dung beetles follow star constellations, meaning that dinosaurs may have too.

The detection of sound underground – known as infrasound – was also possible. Elephants famously use infrasound in the present, and studies undertaken on Tyrannosaurus has revealed that they communicated through infrasound. Though no research has been performed on hadrosaurids like Secernosaurus yet, it’s likely that they would have been able to use infrasound on some level.

Final Thoughts

Prehistoric Planet’s second episode is an exciting episode that highlights the extreme fortitude of dinosaurs across the world. With breathtaking scenes interspersed with fun and playful moments, Prehistoric Planet continues to bring the world of the dinosaurs to life. 

I do not take credit for any images found in this article. All images credited to Apple TV

Deserts TV Spot:

Prehistoric Planet “Deserts”: Uncovered:

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