Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Dinosaur Round-up 10

Some kid discovers dinosaur bones | me? I'm jealous. Do have any idea how many hours I spent as a kid digging in my back yard (in one spot, admittedly) to find dinosaur bones? Next thing you know, there has never been a dinosaur fossil uncovered in Ontario because of the f-ing Canadian Shield. Thanks allot geography - you ruined my childhood dream!

New dinosaur from Arizona
Sterling Nesbitt spent his youth as a dinosaur detective digging in the Arizona desert.

The Mesa native started collecting fossils of sea urchins and other small creatures at age 8. At 15, he made his first formal foray into paleontology, helping to unearth bones of a Columbian mammoth found at a Chandler construction site.

"He was always outside digging," said his mother, Noreen Nesbitt.

And now all that digging has paid off.

Last month, Nesbitt was featured as the lead author of an article in the prestigious journal Science in which he documented his team's discovery of a new dinosaur species during a four-year dig in New Mexico.

The discovery was a significant one in the competitive world of fossil hunting. The skeleton was not only found intact, which is rare, but it also provided an evolutionary link between older Triassic-era dinosaurs and the relatively younger Jurassic Period relatives of Tyrannosaurus rex.

My wife and I visited [there's an awesome pic of a Tyrannosaurus facing off against a Triceratops] the Cleveland Museum on our last trip to Ohio (I think back in late March?) and had a chance to check out the exhibit. Anyhow, this new exhibit is taking Tyrannosaurus down a peg -

Cleveland Museum updates
Tyrannosaurus rex of "Jurassic Park"? Scary, yes, speedy, no -- not in real life. Scientists have figured out that the terrible lizard couldn't run that fast.

At "Dinosaurs: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries," on exhibit through Sunday, Jan. 31, at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, you can view a T. rex in motion in 3-D animation. You'll also see full-scale models of dinosaurs along with a 700-square-foot diorama depicting a 130 million-year-old forest in China where a feathered dinosaur, Beipiaosaurus, once lived.

If you're wondering how the extinction of the giant beasts occurred -- by climate change and/or a meteor strike, among other theories -- this interactive exhibition from the American Museum of Natural History in New York will give you and the kids something to ponder.

Here are some facts from the exhibition that may even help answer the age-old question: Which came first, the chicken or the feathered dinosaur?

Really? Modern birds and dinosaurs are related?

The evolution of feathers is the early link of dinosaurs to the modern bird. Although some, like the Caudipteryx, which lived about 124.6 million years ago, had birdlike feathers (numerous thin filaments called barbs that extended outward), they could not fly because of short arm length. Modern feathers evolved long before the ability to fly.

Here's another avian connection -- some dinosaurs left tracks very similar to those of modern ground birds like the wild turkey.

How fast could a Tyrannosaurus rex move?

The Tyrannosaurus rex walked at a pace that was comfortable to its weight and the stresses on bone, muscle and tendon created by movement. Scientists estimate that the T. rex moved at about 7-10 mph. The T. rex may have moved faster for short bursts; however, even at top speed, it moved slower than portrayed by Hollywood.

Not quite on the same side as dinosaurs - but more about their extinction (or, not about their extinction, more accurately) ...

Fox news makes a mistake, but don't expect anyone to let them live it down

Does Fox News' "zero tolerance for on-screen errors" also pertain to articles on FoxNews.com? If so, somebody's head ought to be on the chopping block for a recent article on FoxNews.com, marked as "updated" on January 7, 2010, which asserts that a volcanic eruption "killed more than 70 percent of plants and dinosaurs walking the planet 250 million years ago." The problem? Fox News made the dinosaurs extinct before they had actually evolved. Fox also suggested that the same volcano erupted coal.

The FoxNews.com article begins:

The tremendous volcanic eruption thought to be responsible for Earth's largest mass extinction — which killed more than 70 percent of plants and dinosaurs walking the planet 250 million years ago — is still taking lives today.

Scientists investigating the high incidence of lung cancer in China's Xuan Wei County in Yunnan Province conclude that the problem lies with the coal residents use to heat their homes. That coal was formed by the same 250-million-year-old giant volcanic eruption — termed a supervolcano — that was responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs. The high silica content of that coal is interacting with volatile organic matter in the soil to cause the unusually high rates of lung cancer.

In addition to pointing out that there were no dinosaurs walking the earth at the time, the Highly Allocthonous blog notes that Fox is making the ludicrous suggestion that coal erupted from the volcano.

This is probably about as interesting as paleontology actually gets - you find a fractured piece of fossil, then you have to figure out where the hell on a dinosaur it came from, and somehow conclude which dinosaur it came from. Not easy. And in some cases, the fossils will remind you of a paper you read years ago - and then you think, hmm, what if we applied that paper to this fossil? This is what you get:

Gator breath may explain how dinosaurs ruled the world

New insights into the breathing habits of alligators may explain how the dinosaurs' ancestors thrived after a Permian-Triassic extinction that eradicated 70% of all land life and 96% of all sea life some 251 million years ago.

A University of Utah study published in tomorrow's Science discusses how the structure of alligators' lungs may have allowed the dinosaurs' archosaur ancestors to survive Earth's low oxygen environment after "The Great Dying," a massive extinction which killed off most of the synapsids, reptilian precursors to the dinosaurs that eventually evolved into mammals. According to Utah researcher C.G. Farmer,

"A few of the synapsids survived the mass extinction to re-establish their dominance in the early Triassic, and the lineage eventually gave rise to mammals in the Late Triassic," says Farmer. "However, the recovery of life in the aftermath of the extinction involved a gradual turnover of the dominant terrestrial vertebrate lineage, with the archosaurs supplanting the synapsids by the Late Triassic."

From then until the dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago, any land animal longer than about 3 feet was an archosaur, says Farmer, while mammal-like synapsid survivors "were teeny little things hiding in cracks. It was not until the die-off of the large dinosaurs 65 million years ago that mammals made a comeback and started occupying body sizes larger than an opossum."

Had the Permian-Triassic extinction not occurred (and oxygen levels dipped to 12% as opposed to 21% today), it'd be intriguing to see what sort of proto-mammalian forms could've evolved. Heck, had "The Great Extinction" never occurred, I'm betting we'd be sitting pretty with some Kryptonian-grade superpowers by now.

Are dinosaurs awesome? Yes - so good they can even fix the Detroit Zoo! For the record, I did an article on this for In Business Magazine last summer - and I even blogged about it back then.

Dinosaurs help revitalize Detroit Zoo attendance

Royal Oak -- Attendance at the Detroit Zoo last year jumped 14 percent over the previous year, with zoo officials giving credit to the Dinosauria exhibit.

There were 1,271,633 visitors in 2009, compared with the 1,114,221 people who visited in 2008, according to a press release. It was the fourth consecutive year-to-year increase for the zoo. Officials credit the zoo's advertising campaign and new offerings.

Disturbing or outstanding? A lot of people really love the Jurassic Park franchise, but each movie has ventured away from the awe that the first film inspired - and people seem to cringe when they see what might happen in the next few films. That being said - prepare to cringe:

A 'Completely new trilogy' on its way for Jurassic Park

Is it possible that we'll actually take a return trip to "Jurassic Park" at some point in the future? Judging by the amount of Hollywood remakes, retreads and reboots, it's more or less a certainty that the dinosaur-filled franchise will rear its head again before too much longer.

"Jurassic Park III" director Joe Johnston spoke about the topic at length in an interview with Box Office, during which he also described his upcoming work on "The First Avenger: Captain America." According to the filmmaker, not only will we see future installments of "Jurassic Park," those films will also go in a brand new direction.

"There is going to be a 'Jurassic Park IV,'" said Johnston. "And it's going to be unlike anything you've seen. It breaks away from the first three — it's essentially the beginning of the second 'Jurassic Park' trilogy. It's going to be done in a completely different way."

Different you say? Different as in dinosaurs in space? Dinosaurs in prison? Dinosaurs... in love?!?! At this point, it's just too early to say exactly what direction the new series is going in, but Johnston insists that there are more films on the way.

"If they keep working — and if audiences keep going to them — there's no reason why there wouldn't be," he said. "We just want to make them justified in their own right. We don't want to make sequel after sequel just because there's a market for it. We want to tell different, interesting stories. You don't want to just sell hamburger."

No, you don't. You want to sell dinoburger. Dinoburgers that can communicate not just with each other but also with particularly savvy paleontologists.

Oh, Hollywood. Can nothing stay pure anymore?

Alright - I've got a tonne more dinosaurs stuff - BUT no more time to blog right now. If you like dinosaurs, I hope you've enjoyed this little survey on the subject.

Be good.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Here's a dinosaur cartoon from my "Oh, Brother!" cartoon I do with Jay Stephens. Hope you enjoy it!
www.ohbrothercomics.com/comics/july-25-2010

bob Weber Jr.