Illustrating a Devonian Predator: Part 2

Academy scientists worked with author and accomplished fish artist Flick Ford in 2009 to create a stunning illustration of Hyneria lindae. The scientists advised Ford on many of the details of his reconstruction based on what they knew then about this aquatic predator. Read more about the evolution of Hyneria lindae, both in art and in life, in Part 1 of Illustrating a Devonian Predator.

2009: Hyneria lindae by Flick Ford

Comparing and contrasting the illustration immediately below with the new painting by Jason Poole demonstrates the wealth of information the scientists have gathered since 2009, as they recovered more and more fossils from the research site in Clinton County, Pennsylvania. Notice that, on this fish, the skull is quite narrow and more rounded than the wide and flat skull of the fish painted in 2018 (below, on green background). The eye is larger and higher on the head, and more space appears below the eye. Finally, the gill covers are wider than those of the fish painted in 2018. 

Hyneria lindae by Flick Ford

A side-by-side review also highlights the range of choices available to illustrators as they reconstruct a creature that scientists have never seen in life. In the above illustration of Hyneria lindae, Ford has chosen to paint the animal in a static position rather than in life. It is painted from the side and appears on a solid white background. The artist has chosen gorgeous pastel colors for the fins and body.

2018: Hyneria lindae by Jason Poole

In his painting below, Poole has chosen to paint Hyneria lindae in life, showing the sides of the fins to illustrate the motion of the tail. He has situated the animal facing the viewer, inviting the onlooker to interpret the fish’s facial expression.

Hyneria lindae by Jason Poole

Fascinated by the lacey margins of Hyneria lindae’s scales, Poole made the body a silvery white color, allowing the scales to show through. He made Hyneria lindae’s fins reddish to show that they are reflecting red light from the sun, which is penetrating the surface of the water. He added green spots to the body, helping the fish blend in with the murky water while waiting to ambush prey. The white dots of paint in the water add sparkle as light bounces off the debris.

Examining the proportions of Poole’s fish alongside the proportions of Ford’s shows how much scientists have learned from fossil material over the past nine years. Daeschler and Downs asked Poole to paint Hyneria with a  wider and flatter skull and narrower gill covers than the 2009 fish as a result of recent fossil finds. The fish also has a smaller eye with more space above it, as the eye has been found to be located lower on the head. These differences demonstrate the value of continued fossil collecting, as new fossils of Hyneria lindae have helped us learn more about what the fish may have looked like in life. 

By Mary Alice Hartsock

This is adapted from Illustrating a Devonian Predator, first published in the spring/summer 2018 issue of Academy Frontiers.

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