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Dino Docs! Prehistoric Planet

Prehistoric Planet: Season Two Wishlist

It’s never too early to speculate, right?

Apple TV’s Prehistoric Planet was paleontology’s magnum opus of 2022 (sorry, Jurassic World: Dominion).

Unfortunately, its excellence has only left (us) paleo-geeks craving more. Dramatic right?

Is it too early to make this article? Probably, especially so when you consider that a second season of Prehistoric Planet has yet to be confirmed by Apple. However, I have never been one to shy away from discussing paleomedia in advance. While the creators and showrunners of Prehistoric Planet tease anxious dinosaur lovers about the series’ future, I will try to envision what a second season might look like.

Velociraptor, courtesy of Apple TV’s Prehistoric Planet

While it would be relatively easy to select specific locations throughout the Mesozoic to make my choices, this would not honour Prehistoric Planet. The series follows prehistoric animals during a single time in prehistory instead. In the case of the first season, 66 million years ago.

While not all the dinosaurs featured lived precisely 66 million years ago, they all existed within a few million years of this date. So, while it would be awesome to have Stegosaurus and Argentinosaurus in the same episode, the Argentinosaur-sized 50+ million years separating them is too large to ignore. For consistency, a 10-15 million-year window will be practised for my selections.

So, we must look for a short period (relatively short, it is millions of years after all) with a lot of dinosaurs. No problem, right? Dinosaurs were around for over 160 million years and the dominant land animals for over 120, so certainly not! Yet we must narrow this down to one period that presents a diverse community of dinosaurs.

Campanian Alberta, courtesy of Andrey Atuchin

The first potential candidate is the Campanian Stage of the Late Cretaceous Period, between 83 and 72 million years ago. During this time, dinosaurs like Velociraptor, Parasaurolophus, and Styracosaurus emerged. Prehistoric life in Mesozoic North America reached peak diversity, as dinosaurs, alligators and crocodiles, pterosaurs, and marine life were all abundant at this time. 

However, the period that we choose must demonstrate global diversity. Besides North America, Mongolia was the only location to have experienced a burst in dinosaur diversity. Besides, many of the dinosaurs and other prehistoric life from the Campanian already appear in Prehistoric Planet, so to prevent repetition, the Campanian isn’t the choice for us.

Stegosaurus, the most famous Late Jurassic dinosaur. Courtesy of John Conway

Another logical choice is the Late Jurassic Period, between 152-145 million years ago. Dinosaurs reached new heights – literally and figuratively – during the Late Jurassic, with species like Brachiosaurus, Stegosaurus, Allosaurus and more appearing. In places like North America and Asia, sauropods and stegosaurids reached their peaks in diversity, while allosaurids and ceratosaurids presented dangerous carnivores to combat them. Other dinosaur lineages, such as the ankylosaurids, ceratopsians, and the tyrannosaurids, first evolved during this time too.

Yet the Late Jurassic feels wrong to me. At this time, many global ecosystems had similar species occupying top roles. In places like Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America, the top predators and herbivores were all quite similar. So, while the Late Jurassic is an excellent candidate, it isn’t my preferred choice for Prehistoric Planet’s second season

Ubirajara, a theropod from the Early Cretaceous. Courtesy JohannesVIII on Tumblr

The most appealing destination, in my opinion, is the Early Cretaceous Period, specifically during the Barremian and Aptian Stages (129-113 million years ago). This time is marked by extreme dinosaur diversity as well as the evolution of flowering plants. While flowers are universal features of nature in the 21st century, their appearance and rapid spread during the Early Cretaceous would be an intriguing topic for Prehistoric Planet to explore.

First Stop: Cretaceous China!  

Without a doubt, the top location from the Early Cretaceous is the Yixian Formation of northeastern China. Yixian could be subject to its own full-length documentary, so it seems a natural fit for my second season of Prehistoric Planet. The expanding diversity of birds during the Cretaceous would best be depicted by Yixian, with dozens of early bird species being known from this location.

Speculative Beipiaosaurus, Yixian’s Therizinosaur.

The dinosaurs of Yixian were incredible too. Most common were the dromaeosaurids and troodontids, small carnivores that lived in both the treetops and on the ground. Therizinosaurids and oviraptorids, two lineages that became more common in the Late Cretaceous, are known from Yixian. A few sauropod species filled the role of large herbivores, while ornithischians like the early ceratopsian Psittacosaurus and the strange ankylosaurid Liaoningosaurus represented smaller ones. Lastly, early tyrannosaurids ran amok, ranging in size from the dog-sized Dilong to the one-tonne Yutyrannus. 

Other wildlife is overly abundant at Yixian too. Pterosaurs, turtles, lizards, extinct aquatic reptiles, and early mammals are just some of the animals found in abundance at Yixian. One notable mammal is Repenomamus, a badger-sized critter which has been found with baby dinosaur bones in its stomach. Prehistoric Planet’s only featured mammal is promptly eaten by a troodontid, so perhaps the producers could let the mammals get a little revenge in the second season…

Repenomamus and Psittacosaurus. Courtesy of James Gurney

Another location in China that could be explored is the Jiufotang Formation. Located farther west than Yixian and dated younger, Jiufotang’s life was similarly diverse to its more famous counterpart. Though some species were shared between the two – such as Psittacosaurus and the primitive bird Confuciusornis – Jiufotang also featured its own unique animals. Two notable species from Jiufotang were Microraptor and Sinotyrannus, a gliding species of raptor with crow-coloured feathers and a crested tyrannosaur bigger than Yutyrannus. Though it is not from Jiufotang or Yixian, the Chinese stegosaurid Wuerhosaurus was also around during the Early Cretaceous, opening the possibility for another intriguing subject. 

Next Stop, Europe!

The Wessex formation on England’s Isle of Wight provides the best glimpse of European dinosaurs during the Barremian stage (129-125 MYA). Wessex was home to a wide variety of dinosaurs, including Multiple sauropods and iguanodontids, the nodosaurid Polacanthus, the small ornithischian Hypsilophodon, two spinosaurids, the tyrannosaurid Eotyrannus, and the larger carcharodontosaurid Neovenator.

Baryonyx. Courtesy of Julio Lacerda

The Weald Clay Formation from Southern England contains similar fauna to Wessex except for Baryonyx, a large Spinosaurid that practised aquatic behaviours. While Spinosaurus didn’t live during the Barremian, Baryonyx would be an excellent stand-in. Both formations have plenty of other prehistoric life to explore too. Mammals and pterosaurs from Wessex are common, while the pliosaurid Leptocleidus of Weald Clay could be used to represent marine life.

The La Huérguina site from Spain also provides a glimpse of prehistoric Europe during the Early Cretaceous. La Huérguina’s most remarkable dinosaur is the carcharodontosaurid Concavenator, a predator with a strange hump on its back. It would be interesting to see how the hump is portrayed. Would the hump be isolated on Concavenator’s back, as it is in most paleoart, or rather be presented as a fat hump like a camel? Other intriguing Spanish species include the primitive ornithomimid Pelecanimimus and the pterosaur Europejara.  

Concavenator and it’s Europejara dinner. Courtesy of Jack The Vulture on twitter.

Now Across the Atlantic…

In North America, the Cedar Mountain Formation of Utah and the Antlers Formation of Oklahoma and Texas are the best locations for Prehistoric Planet to explore. The nodosaurid Gastonia, and the iguanodontid Tenontosaurus, are two intriguing species from Cedar Mountain. If the creators were lenient with the time, the giant raptor Utahraptor could appear too.

Acrocanthosaurus at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

The Antlers Formation lives up to the saying that ‘everything is bigger than Texas.’ The sailed carcharodontosaurid Acrocanthosaurus, a dinosaur the size of Tyrannosaurus, took the role of top predator. Its prey included the sauropods Astrodon and Sauroposeidon; the former weighed 20 tonnes, while the latter is among the biggest dinosaurs. Also living amongst them was the raptor Deinonychus, the inspiration of the Velociraptors in Jurassic Park and a formidable predator itself.

A Quick Trip to the Land Down Under…

In 1999, the polar forests of Cretaceous Australia provided fascinating content for the BBC series Walking With Dinosaurs. While I would prefer to avoid repetition, the fauna of this unprecedented setting is too good to miss out on. While WWD focused on the small herbivorous dinosaurs of the area, I would shift focus to Koolasuchus, a giant amphibian capable of preying on those dinosaurs

Koolasuchus, courtesy of PaleoGuy

Though not from the same polar forests, the Australian marine reptile Kronosaurus would also be a fascinating subject. A ten-meter-long pliosaur, this formidable carnivore could seamlessly replicate the role of Liopleurodon in WWD, although at a smaller scale.

…And Back Across the World to South America!

The Paja Formation of Columbia can provide another complex view of marine life. With a mixture of long-necked plesiosaurs, carnivorous pliosaurs, and some of the last Ichthyosaurs, the Paja Formation presents a blend of Cretaceous and Jurassic fauna. Elsewhere in South America, giant sauropods roamed the land, such as the sailed Amargasaurus. While the paleontology of Cretaceous Brazil is still in its infancy, it has already produced intriguing results. The primitive abelisaurid Spectrovenator and the only feathered dinosaur from South America, Ubirajara, are both recent discoveries and fascinating species.

Amaragsaurus. Courtesy of Rebecca Dart.

Last Stop, Africa

The final stop on the Early Cretaceous world tour is Africa, best represented by the Elrhaz Formation of Niger. A diverse group of predatory dinosaurs, including the spinosaurid Suchomimus, the carcharodontosaurid Eocarcharia, and the abelisaurid Kryptops, were present at Elrhaz. The herbivores were strange too. The sail-backed iguanodontid Ouranosaurus and the box-headed sauropod Nigersaurus were oddities in their respective families. The most spectacular animal from Elrhaz is not a dinosaur at all; instead, it was the giant crocodile Sarcosuchus. This formidable carnivore was twelve meters long and would have preyed on the dinosaurs of the region. 

Sarcosuchus. Courtesy of Raul Ramos

The Early Cretaceous Period is a perfect candidate for Prehistoric Planet’s second season. Not only are most dinosaur lineages present at this time, but they are found throughout the world. Although famous dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus and Brontosaurus were not around during this time, many intriguing species were. While some may see their absence as a drawback, I see it as a positive. Why not introduce audiences to some of the most intriguing dinosaurs known to science, even if they aren’t household names?

Who knows? If they’re portrayed correctly, which Prehistoric Planet has demonstrated before to be capable of, they may become household names themselves…

Thank you for reading today’s article! If you enjoyed reading about Australia’s winter amphibian Koolasuchus, I would recommend an article about it here at Max’s Blogosaurus!

Or, if you’d like to hear more about Prehistoric Planet, then check out a whole series of articles dedicated to Apple TV’s masterpiece under the “Prehistoric Planet” category.

I do not take credit for any images found in this article.

Header image of Sir David Attenborough found here

Velociraptor courtesy of Apple TV’s Prehistoric Planet

Campanian Alberta courtesy of Andrey Atuchin, found here

Stegosaurus courtesy of John Conway, whose art can be found at his website: https://johnconway.art/

Ubirajara courtesy of Johannes VIII Dream on Tumblr, whose work can be found here

Beipiaosaurus courtesy of sameerprehistorica, found here

Repenomamus courtesy of James Gurney, found here

Baryonyx courtesy of Julio Lacerda, whose work can be found at his Deviant Art here

Concavenator courtesy of @jackthevulture on twitter, whose art can be found at his twitter here

Acrocanthosaurus located at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences courtesy of Extinct Monsters, found here

Koolasuchus attack courtesy of PaleoGuy, found at his DeviantArt here

Amargasaurus courtesy of Rebecca Dart, found at her twitter here

Sarcosuchus courtesy of Raul Ramos, found here

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