Monday, October 25, 2010

Dinosaurs: where and when, then by what name, are they on your iPhone and ... what you may not have known of T-rex

More monsters in Papua New Guinea: I made mention of dinosaurs in Papua New Guinea before. Here is another report on a dinosaur sighting there from Ghost Theory.
The creature was described as having a long tail and a long neck and was 10–15 metres in length, with an appearance like a ‘very large wallaby’ and having a head like a turtle’s head.

It walked slowly on two legs and had smooth, shiny brown skin. The top of the head was estimated to be as high as a house and the underbelly of the creature was as high as an adult.

The creature was described as being fearful-looking, with the sighting being made from a distance of about 50 metres. The sighting was made in the late afternoon and was observed for a considerable length of time (not sure of the exact duration of time) and the creature was eating vegetation. Robert and Tony followed the creature from a distance and watched it go into the water after it finished eating.

When shown the handbook by Hazel Richardson, Dinosaurs And Prehistoric Life, Robert identified a picture of a Therizinosaurus as closely matching the animal he observed, with the exception of one feature, i.e. the creature’s head.

Pretty neat, I guess. Whether it's a dinosaur or not, it's cool that people are seeing big awesome things out there. There's still some mystery in the world, let's hope.

Imagine bumping into this mofo in the woods!

Encyclopedias for the elementary

Encyclopedia Britannica has decided to develop iPhone apps to teach kids about dinosaurs, which is cool. I don't have an iPhone, but the idea that you could learn more about dinosaurs by simply having one is good, for kids. For me, you don't need (nor have you ever needed) an iPhone to learn about dinosaurs.

Top dinosaur hunters are worst at naming
Those palaeontologists who name the most new dinosaur species are the least likely to get it right, a survey of nearly two centuries of research has found. The trend is as true for modern researchers as it was for their nineteenth-century forebears.
This article goes on to suggest that the "top" 10 paleontologists who named the most dinosaur species, have had many of their discoveries become invalid. For example, the teeth or toes or in some cases, entire species, just aren't useful enough to stick.

The famous example is the brontosaurus v. apatasaurus snafu, where one species was identified two years before the other (1877 v. 1879) and HAD E.D. Cope bothered to compare his discovery with the research of others, he would have discovered that the species were the same.

Why are there problems with validity?
[Michael] Benton [a palaeontologist at the University of Bristol, UK] suggests two reasons for the trend. First, prolific namers may have been, to use the taxonomic slang, 'splitters' rather than 'lumpers', meaning that they tended to subdivide species rather than ascribing small differences between similar fossils to, say, sex differences or individual variation.

Second, dedicated dinosaur hunters may have been especially driven by the kudos or extra funding that can come with naming new species and so may have jumped at each chance. Authors with wider interests, who named fewer species, may have felt less pressure and so might have taken more care, suggests Benton.
I've read an entire book on the feud between Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh, who basically went neck and neck to name more dinosaurs for their respective museums. In any case, they would basically spend all their time desperately trying to name a new species to say that their museum had the greatest dinosaur collection and greatest dinosaur researchers - in this instance, they were not necessarily interested in identifying or analyzing the bones and species, but simply just cranking out the names.

This type of "research" obviously doesn't help the scientific field in any way - and we can see with the success rate of their validity that it didn't help their causes, either. BUT - they're both long, long gone - so what do they care?

T. Rex Ancestors Turned Out to be Tiny Rex
Stephen Brusatte of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, one of the study leaders, says:

"Up until about ten years ago we only knew about T. rex and a handful of its closest relatives - all colossal, apex predators from the end Cretaceous in North America,” Brusatte explained. “Now we know of about 20 tyrannosaur species that span a time period of 100 million years, most of which are very small.”

Indeed, just in the last year scientists have discovered six new species. The team writes in the study that one of those newly discovered species was “100 million years older and 1/100 the size of T. rex.” University of Maryland tyrannosaur expert Thomas Holtz, Jr., added: “I like to call [early tyrannosaurs] the jackals of the Jurassic and Early Cretaceous. “They were tough little guys, but they were little guys, sort of hanging out in the wings and taking out young dinosaurs and small dinosaurs but leaving the big prey to things like Allosaurus,” said Holtz, who was not involved in the new review.
So it goes to show, predictably, if you ask me, that Tyrannosaurus developed from a smaller version of itself. There has been a lot of Chinese discoveries that show that these small (well, small compared to the final version of Tyrannosaurus) actually had downy feathers at one point, as well, which is ... crazy/weird.

Weird, right? Or is it right, and that's weird?

Some believe that the feathers might have existed while the animal was in its infancy, while others believe that the feathers might have been specific to an entire species, where you'd have tyrannosaurs running around with feathers all over them all the time. Weird stuff.

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