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Documentary reviews Prehistoric Planet

Prehistoric Planet Episode Four: Ice Worlds

Presenting a chilling view on life at the poles, Prehistoric Planet highlights the immense adaptability of dinosaurs.

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! 

Today’s episode of Prehistoric Planet was pretty cool, to say the least.

Ok, fine. Enough with the bad puns.

While dinosaurs living in polar climates may seem unfathomable, fossil evidence has revealed this was not the case. Dinosaurs from both Antarctica and the Arctic Circle are becoming increasingly well known, as Prehistoric Planet’s fourth episode sets out to depict.

For those who hate spoilers, I will give a brief spoiler-free summary to start this article for you. After that, not so much. You probably will notice the point where the spoilers start however, so no need to worry.

What’s it About?

Entitled “Ice Worlds,” episode four follows a myriad of dinosaurs as they fight for survival in the globe’s polar regions. Life in these regions is portrayed as a fight for survival, against both the other dinosaurs living alongside each other, and the harsh climate. Most of the episode focuses on polar dinosaurs from North America, particularly Alaskan species, but also spends time in Antarctica and Siberia. The episode manages to capture the beauty of polar regions, while at the same time conveying the year-round struggles that accompany life in these environments.

SPOILERS BEGIN HERE

Migrating Giants?

Alaskan Hadrosaur

Ice Worlds opens with a pack of dromaeosaurids pursuing a herd of hadrosaurs in present-day Alaska. Watching a dromaeosaurid hunting an insect highlights the difficulties of living in these locations, with even a small meal engaging the raptor’s predatory instincts. While hadrosaurids were likely migratory creatures as depicted, the remains of infant hadrosaurs found in Alaska could point to year-round survival in polar regions. Nonetheless, it is possible these juveniles were like Wildebeest, capable of walking and accompanying their parents at early ages. Another piece of evidence that points towards migration is that the Arctic hadrosaurs shown are likely Edmontosaurus, a genus found throughout North America. Living in the poles year-round was a tough endeavour, and through migration, large dinosaurs like Edmontosaurus may have been able to make the most of their environment.

A Combed-Over Dinosaur

Ah yes, a dinosaur with a comb over. Following the journey of the Edmontosaurus, the audience is introduced to a group of male Ornithomimus preparing nests for mating season. I loved the designs of the Ornithomimus, with a downy coat of feathers that appear as though they will be shed before the summer months. The feathers on their arms aren’t too long and are brightly displayed, which indicates their use for sexual display akin to that of modern birds. I will say that their haircuts were a tad over the top, though they certainly made for an interesting display:

Ornithomimus

The nest-building, or shall I say the nest stealing scene was amusing too. You cannot convince me that the moment when the thief almost got noticed by another Ornithomimus – and looked around like someone caught staring – was unintentional. Seeing a dinosaur act like a guilty toddler was delightful, and a good change of pace from watching baby dinosaurs getting eaten by frogs (see my Episode Three review for more details).

Dinosaurs vs Vampires?

Prehistoric Planet’s next stop is the volcanic fields of Siberia, an area home to the hadrosaur Olorotitan. As David Attenborough explains, the nesting fields of Siberia are perfect for incubating dinosaur eggs. This reminded me of the classic BBC series Prehistoric Park, where titanosaur sauropods lay their eggs in the foothills of volcanoes in Cretaceous China for incubation. The young dinosaurs are adorable, and their lack of crests is a brilliant touch given that these structures developed over the course of the animal’s lifetime.

Unfortunately, no infant dinosaur is safe in Prehistoric Planet. Soon, the lush volcanic ecosystem is overrun by mosquitos, which take their toll on both infant and adult. One moment that stands out is the focus on an adult hadrosaurs face that is littered with mosquito bites:

Olorotitan

As someone who (very recently, I may add) seems to be a magnet for mosquitos, I empathized with these animal’s pain. Mosquitos evolved sometime during the age of dinosaurs, no doubt taking advantage of massive animals with plenty of blood to go around. So, every time you get bit by a mosquito, you have dinosaurs to blame.

Through the Fire and Flames of Miscellaneous Species

Back in Alaska, a troodontid takes advantage of a forest fire to hunt after small mammals. The design of the troodontid, with piercing eyes and elongated feathers on top of its skull, is breathtaking. Though I am not sure how the troodontid managed not to burn its feet, watching it start a fire and chase after mammals, all while the landscape around it burns, is badass to say the least. And man, the Hans Zimmer score in the background is incredible. This was my favourite sequence of the episode and might be up there for best in the series so far.

One thing to note about this episode is the lack of names attributed to some of the episode’s central stars. The troodontid, and the dromaeosaurid and hadrosaurid from earlier, are all left nameless. For the Troodontid, the uncertainty stems from the fact that Troodon may be an invalid taxon, meaning that the Alaskan troodontids have no assigned species. The hadrosaurid may be Edmontosaurus, or a junior synonym of Edmontosaurus known as Ugrunaaluk. Paleontologists aren’t sure if they represent the same genus, so leaving it vague makes sense. Lastly, the dromaeosaurid may just be Dromaeosaurus, or a currently unnamed genus from the north.

Besides, Clint Eastwood taught us some time ago that names are overrated.

Iced-out Ankylosaurs

Our one trip to Antarctica features a group of young ankylosaurids known as Antarctopelta as they seek shelter from the coming polar winter. Antarctopelta resembles the nodosaurids, a family of armoured dinosaurs without the tail clubs of their more famous cousins, the ankylosaurids. Their appearance is highly speculative, for two reasons. First, Antarctopelta is known from just a few fossil bones, leaving plenty unknown. Second, Antarctopelta is part of a newly discovered lineage of southern armoured dinosaurs called the parankylosaurids, a group whose other members have strange appearances and traits. Because of this status, Antarctopelta probably had derived traits and thus looked quite unique.

Antarctopelta (left) and Antarctic hadrosaurids

Their behaviours are spot-on, however. Fossils of juvenile armoured dinosaurs have been found together, signalling herding behaviour amongst younger individuals. Their armoured bodies likely prevented them from going on long migrations, meaning that its probable that these animals survived in polar regions throughout the year. And what better way to live out the winter than to relax in a bioluminescent cave!

Clash of the Titans

The episode’s final sequence follows a herd of ceratopsians, the genus Pachyrhinosaurus, as they defend against a pack of the tyrannosaurid Nanuqsaurus. The series’ subtle details continue to amaze me, this time in the form of quills atop the Pachyrhinosaurs shoulders and tail. These structures have been found in basal ceratopsians like Psittacosaurus, which has led some paleontologists to theorize that they may have been present on later species as well. Though the notion of feathered ceratopsians is still a debated topic in palaeontology, the quills seen in Prehistoric Planet show a realistic version of quilled ceratopsians.

The chase between Pachyrhinosaurus and Nanuqsaurus is an intense and thrilling scene. The Pachyrhinosaurus forming a circle is likely based on Muskox, large herbivores that also live in the Arctic and use this strategy to defend against predators like wolves. The flat nasal boss of Pachyrhinosaurus almost takes the shape of Muskox horns as well:

Nanuqsaurus is the first adult tyrannosaurid to have feathers in the series so far, and they couldn’t have been placed on a more fitting individual. One of the known tyrannosaurid genera to have feathers – the Chinese Yutyrannus – was about the same size as Nanuqsaurus and lived in seasonally frigid climates too. By portraying Nanuqsaurus and Pachyrhinosaurus with varying levels of feathers, Prehistoric Planet continues to push the limits of portraying dinosaurs with brilliant success.

Nanuqsaurus

Final Thoughts

Ice Worlds is another daring, creative, and exhilarating addition to Prehistoric Planet’s amazing run. This episode really felt like a test run for a lot of bold theories and behaviours not depicted frequently in dinosaur media, and I absolutely loved it. A perfect blend of action and serenity, Ice Worlds provides a remarkable view of life in the most chill places of Cretaceous Earth.

With the series (season????) finale looming, Prehistoric Planet enters the final day of its run on a high note.

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

…once again, except for the Wolves vs Muskox video, which is credited to the BBC.

To read more about how dinosaurs were able to survive at the poles, check out “Dinosaurs on Ice,” an article here at Max’s blogosaurus about polar dinosaurs.

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