kottke.org posts about dinosaurs
After years of the Flintstones lying to me, I'd just gotten used to the idea of the Brontosaurus not actually being a dinosaur. But a recent study of the classifications given to various species and genera within the diplodocid group of dinosaurs has determined that the Brontosaurus and the Apatosaurus are different enough to be two separate species.
Very broadly, their tree confirmed established ideas about the evolutionary relationships among diplodocids. But the scientists also concluded that Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus were different enough to belong in their own genera. Many of the anatomical differences between the two dinosaurs are obscure, Tschopp says, but Apatosaurus's stouter neck is an obvious one. "Even though both are very robust and massive animals, Apatosaurus is even more so," he adds.
Tschopp and his team thought very carefully about their decision to reinstate Brontosaurus, and they expect some pushback. "We knew it would be a major finding because Brontosaurus is such a popular name," he says. "I'm pretty sure there will be a scientific discussion around this. I hope there will be. That's how science works."
Huzzah! Now reinstate Pluto to full planetary status and we'll be all set. See also The Kindly Brontosaurus. (via @coudal)
There's a new king of the dinosaurs: Dreadnoughtus schrani. A skeleton of the species was unearthed in Argentina in 2005 and the results of the recently released analysis show this Dreadnoughtus was 85 feet long, weighed around 65 tons, and had a powerful "weaponized tail". The kicker? It was not yet an adult and still growing when it died.
While other giants from Patagonia are known from a handful of bones, almost half of the Dreadnoughtus skeleton has been recovered. What's more, the fossilised bones are in such good condition -- even revealing where muscles attached -- that the skeleton could provide unprecedented insights into the biology, movement and evolution of the group of huge plant-eating dinosaurs it belonged to, called the titanosaurian sauropods.
By comparison, an Apatosaurus (née Brontosaurus) is ~75 feet long and weighed 22 tons while a Boeing 737-900 weights around 50 tons. Here's some more background on the Dreadnoughtus and a video showing some of the fossils:
Dinosaur feathers have been found preserved in amber, Jurassic Park-style.
Dinosaur and bird feathers preserved in amber from a Late Cretaceous site in Canada reveal new insights into the structure, function, and color of animals that date back to about 78 million years ago.
Researchers led by University of Alberta paleontologist Ryan McKellar say these specimens represent distinct stages of feather evolution, from early-stage, single filament protofeathers to much more complex structures associated with modern diving birds. After analyzing the preserved pigment cells, the authors add that these feathered creatures may have also had a range of transparent, mottled, and diffused colors, similar to birds today. They can't determine which feathers belonged to birds or dinosaurs yet, but they did observe filament structures that are similar to those seen in other non-avian dinosaur fossils. Their findings appear in the current issue of the journal Science.
Click through for a slideshow of photos.
Is there a word for a scientific fact that is accepted, only to be proven false some years later?
I'm sure there are more of these, vagaries of science we learned as children ripped cruelly from our pathways in an effort to embarrass us in front of our children (well, your children, mine are imaginary). Let's make a list? Hit me with an @reply if you know of something that should be on this list.
This post didn't quite come out the way I wanted. The triceratops was only momentarily in danger as scientists decided to do away with the Torosaurus instead. Also, Jason wrote a post about a similar topic a couple months ago. Mesofacts are the name for facts that change slowly over time. It's an important distinction, though, that these 'facts', Pluto and Brontosaurus, at least, were ripped away suddenly, instead of changing slowly over time. The only Twitter suggestion I thought fit completely was the loss of RBI as a telling baseball statistic.
Did you know the Brontosaurus isn't actually a dinosaur?
The question of the popular Brontosaurus name verses the technically-correct Apatosaurus name came to a head in 1989 when the U.S. Post Office decided to release a set of four stamps illustrating "dinosaurs." One in the series was a picture of a large sauropod labeled Brontosaurus. This upset some dinosaur enthusiasts who accused the Postal Service of promoting scientific illiteracy, an ironic accusation given the number of museums that had the animal mislabeled for decades. While there was a hue and cry over the Brontosaurus name, few even mentioned the other, more glaring error, which was the inclusion of a Pteranodon (a flying reptile) in a set of dinosaur stamps. By definition dinosaurs do not have wings.
I totally had no idea this had happened...I must have been brainwashed by all those hours of the Flintstones I watched as a child. (via unlikely words)
Evolutionary biologist Olivia Judson speculates about the Tyrannosaurus rex's sexual equipment.
We now have a robust understanding of how sexual pressures -- the pressures to find, impress, and seduce a mate -- influence the evolution of males and females. So much so that if you tell me a fact, such as the average size difference between males and females in a species, or the proportion of a male's body taken up by his testes, I can tell you what the mating system is likely to be. For example, where males are much bigger than females, fighting between males has been important - which often means that the biggest males maintain a harem. If testes are relatively large, females probably have sex with several males in the course of a single breeding episode.
According to paleontologist Gareth Dyke, "fossil evidence that [predatory] dinosaurs were feathered is now 'irrefutable'". Digitally remastered Jurassic Park can't be too far down the road.
Evolution shocker! The discovery of a dinosaur footprint on the wall of a contemporary Brooklyn school proves that the earth is less than 6000 years old (and, perhaps, that dinosaurs could walk vertically). No word on the Flying Spaghetti Monster's involvement.