Reconstructing Buttercup, Part 1

One of the nice things about the discovery last year of the baby whale “Buttercup” is that we were able to determine that it belonged to the species Diorocetus hiatus. We also have another example of Diorocetus, “Sinistra“, which is an adult specimen. Even though we only have a small part of “Buttercup’s”, this raises an intriguing possibility; maybe we can reconstruct the missing portion of the skull using the nearly complete skull of “Sinistra” as a model.

This isn’t quite as straightforward as it sounds. The first problem is that “Buttercup’s” skull is in six pieces (above). Because “Buttercup” was a young animal, the sutures were apparently still somewhat cartilaginous when the whale died and the fragments don’t have a lot of surfaces for gluing. Since I didn’t really want to slop glue all over the specimen, we decided to try a different route. Ray made individual molds of each “Buttercup” fragment:

Then we made resin casts of each fragment:

Finally we glued the casts together, using gap-filling glue to fill in the areas that were presumably cartilaginous in the living animal. (Actually we made two copies, and painted the one shown below to resemble the original bone):

So we now have a reconstruction of the parts of “Buttercup” that are actually preserved. In part 2, we’ll start to look at the next step: reconstructing the missing parts of the skull.

This entry was posted in "Buttercup", Carmel Church mysticetes, Carmel Church Quarry, Chesapeake Group, Paleontological techniques and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Reconstructing Buttercup, Part 1

  1. George says:

    This is really neat.. Any relationto Hepertocetus

  2. altondooley says:

    Only distantly, I think. Diorocetus is probably closer to things like Parietobalaena than to Herpetocetus.

  3. Doug says:

    it looks like so little, but once the casts are pieced together… well it’s still very little, but now i can actually see what parts of the skull are there. I’m actually quite excited to see part 2. The LA Museum reconstructed a 2 year old T. rex from just a snout. I want to see in more detail how a juvenile skull is reverse engineered from an adult.

  4. Bobby says:

    What a cute little mysticete! That would be great if more bits of this little guy come to light from other jackets. Has this specimen yielded anything insightful as far as ontogenetic changes in skull anatomy go?

  5. altondooley says:

    So far we haven’t found any other definite pieces of Buttercup. We did find the distal tip of a tiny mysticete dentary nearby, but I think it may actually be too small for Buttercup!

    Looking at other mysticetes, it seems that the back of the skull reaches adult proportions earlier than other parts of the skull (I’ll talk about that a bit in part 2). However, one point worth noting in Buttercup is that the posterior process of the periotic seems to grow later than the rest of the periotic (excluding the posterior process, the periotics of Buttercup and Sinistra are very similar). Moreover, the posterior process may grow longer first, and later gets thicker. I’m not positive about this; I haven’t quantified it, and I have the impressive sample size of two!

  6. Courtland says:

    Hey, Butch!
    So I was touring East Tennessee State University a few weekends back, and of course I had to go check out the Gray Fossil Site while I was in the area! Anyway, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with this or not, but some of the curators at the Gray Fossil Museum (Shawn Haugrud and Brian Compton) came up with this nifty little trick that I thought you might be able to put to use. Essentially, they found that one can use Butvar to not only glue specimens together, but also to create a “Butvar webbing.” This webbing is able to serve as a temporary place-holder for missing fragments. It can also be dissolved in water if you ever find the fragment that fits there. Obviously, I’m no expert on the chemicals, but I think you might be able to make some use out of it. However, there may of course be some drawbacks (cost, availability, time, etc.), but I think it’d be worth it to check it out when you’ve got a sec! Here’s a link to their presentation:
    Let me know what you think!

    – Courtland

  7. altondooley says:

    @Courtland: I’m familiar with the techniques the guys at Gray use, and it makes for pretty impressive results. Al Sanders used to use a similar technique at the Charleston Museum, using Butvar as a filler and (as I recall) using an artificial “cotton” fiber to increase the volume for large fills.

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